Title: A Thing Strange and New
Warning (highlight to view): For mentions of past character deaths.
Word Count: 3893
Summary: On the cusp of freedom, Severus finds himself with company as he undertakes one final duty.
Disclaimer: This piece is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling; various publishers, including, but not limited to: Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Written for snape_rarepairs' July Snuna/"Lost" Challenge. Thank you, xanthophyllippa, for beta'ing.
Wiltshire, at war's end, could only boast of eight white chalk horses carved into its hillsides; the oldest carving, in Westbury, was no more, and the Muggles of that area had immediately removed all traces of the Mosmordre that Voldemort had left in its place.
Severus still did not understand why the Dark Lord had felt it necessary to draw so much attention to himself by conducting his Dark power-raising ritual near the landmark toward the end of the war, but it did not matter: Potter had succeeded in his task as Severus had succeeded in his, and now the only thing left for survivors to do was to repair or hide what damage they could and go on with their lives—after they buried their dead, of course, or made proper goodbyes to those they had not been able to save.
The latter was what had brought Severus into Wiltshire and to the blasted Westbury hillside that still stank of pitch, despite the fact that there was no trace of it. Until the end, Lucius had trusted him. At the end, when there were no more Malfoys in Britain, Severus had discovered that Lucius had named him executor to the Malfoy estate.
That had been a surprise; the shock had been that he was to be allowed to carry out his duties. Scrimgeour himself had held the documents proving Severus' innocence, documents which Albus, it seemed, had left in the Minister of Magic's care.
"Just as you didn't know who all the Death Eaters were," Scrimgeour had said, "you didn't know every Order member. Discretion, as you very well know, was crucial."
Discretion, Severus thought, walking alone in the ruined grasses, was everything. But what to do, now?
With only one duty left to him, Severus would soon be free; he had never felt more trapped in his life. It had been years since his actions were his to direct. Scrimgeour had suggested to him that he might seek reinstatement at Hogwarts, but Severus, however adrift he felt, had no intention of seeking to anchor himself to the school. There were too many memories there, too many emotional revenants drifting through its halls to allow him a comfortable return.
And one portrait I never wish to see, Severus thought, turning his mind to his task.
It was not quite true that there were no more Malfoys in Britain. Soon, there would again be an heir, no matter that Pansy Parkinson was loathe to admit to the paternity of the child she was carrying. When Severus had gone to see her to make the necessary and appropriate arrangements, Pansy had been too furious, too grief-stricken, too frightened to listen to him.
"I don't know if I want the baby to carry his name. It's . . . it's so dangerous for us, now—it may never be safe again. If I could have spoken to Draco, just once . . . ."
Severus did not believe that Pansy's fears were justified because Scrimgeour was determined to set wizarding society to rights again by ignoring as much of the unpleasantness surrounding its "unthreatening" wrongs as possible—much as Fudge had been wont to do.
Pansy wasn't a Death Eater. No one will trouble her, Severus thought, examining the earth for traces of the burial mound.
For two years, the Dark Lord had suffered Draco's presence among his ranks, two long years in which Severus had done everything within his power to see that the younger wizard remained safe while also funneling information to the Order. Meeting with his unlikely contact had been his only respite from the nightmarish existence in which he had found himself.
Severus had confided things to his contact that he had barely admitted to himself, and she had taken his words in stride and urged him to remember that "everything will be over, soon."
Her assurances had never comforted him, and "soon" had been a long time in coming. It had not come before Lucius had fallen to an Auror's hex, before Narcissa had fallen into suicidal despair and been committed to St. Mungo's, and before the Dark Lord had elected to exsanguinate Draco to power his last, fruitless ritual.
So much pointless waste, Severus thought. So much failure. So much condemnation.
Potter, who knew everything, would never forgive him. Of that, Severus was certain. It did not matter that Severus had his Order of Merlin, First Class.
Without Potter's approbation, no one will ever forgive me.
Being honest with himself, Severus knew it was his fear that Minerva would not forgive him for killing Albus that kept him from pursuing reinstatement at Hogwarts; he was afraid to see her, afraid to see the betrayal burning in her eyes.
But he did not care, he told himself, how Potter saw him.
And so he had come to Westbury to see to Draco's remains. It was not fitting that Draco be left to rot in the chalk when the Malfoy estate and its greedy cemetery lay hard by.
But I don't know if the ritual bound him here. If I can't move him, what—
The soft sounds of a woman's voice interrupted Severus then. Someone was just on the other side of the hill. Drawing his wand, he climbed it, walking up and over the slippery chalk to discover a blonde witch charming broken pottery back together.
"Epoximise!" the young woman cast.
Severus saw that the pieces of pottery were, in fact, white clay dragon figures. He did not know the witch; her cowl was drawn up over her hair, obscuring her face, but her voice was familiar.
Severus froze; he had never thought to hear that voice again. Lovegood. Here. But why?
"Epoximise!" the witch cast again, before collecting the dragons and placing them carefully in a sack. Turning, she exclaimed, "Oh! Professor! I didn't know you'd be here."
"Miss Lovegood," Severus greeted her, sheathing his wand to cover his surprise. "What . . . what is your business here?"
"I wouldn't call it 'business', exactly," Luna replied, walking toward and then past Severus as she made her way down the hill in the direction he had come. "It's more a duty, really."
Confused, but not displeased to find himself again in Lovegood's undemanding company as he undertook his depressing errand, Severus followed Luna, who walked toward the slight convexity of the earth for which he had earlier been searching and began to place the figures around it.
"What are you doing?"
Luna turned toward Severus and slid the cowl off her hair, staring at him with those odd, wide blue eyes of hers.
"Pansy is terribly frightened, you know. She doesn't believe that the Ministry won't come after family members of the Death Eaters, no matter what I tell her."
"That doesn't answer my question, and how do you know Miss Parkinson? How did you know that—" Draco was buried here?
The sudden tightness in his chest would not permit Severus to complete his question.
I failed him. I failed Narcissa, he thought, turning away from Luna.
"I don't know Pansy well, of course. I see her sometimes when she comes to visit Mrs. Malfoy—that's how I found out she was pregnant and that Draco was dead. They were both desperate that he not be left here, you see."
"What are you talking about?" Severus asked, turning to regard Luna again.
"Pansy told me that Draco loved these figures. They were in his bedroom at the estate, and—"
"You've been inside the manor?"
"The wards are gone. There's no one left," Luna said, as if that explained everything.
"Miss Lovegood, would you—"
"Oh, am I being unclear?" Luna asked, smiling sadly. "People tell me I'm unclear. I always understand myself, but then—"
"Why. Are. You. Here?"
"I'm paying my respects, in a way—for Mrs. Malfoy and Pansy, too. I did say to Pansy that she might try herself to give Draco a proper burial, but she refused, and Mrs. Malfoy's in no fit state to see to it."
I don't doubt that, Severus thought, with some bitterness.
"Why are you here?"
"I'm the executor of the Malfoy estate." I was here when the Dark Lord murdered him. "I . . . I suppose I'm here to do the same thing as you."
"No wonder you look so sad," Luna replied, staring at Severus expectantly.
He stared back, wondering for what it was that she was waiting.
"No, I suppose you don't want to talk about it. Of course not—although people sometimes talk to me without telling anyone they have, and you can do that too, again, if you like," Luna said, her voice both hopeful and sad. "You know I'm discreet."
What you are is lonely, Severus thought, recognizing the condition easily but feeling that it would be inappropriate to accept the young woman's offer. "Miss Lovegood, I don't think—"
"Of course. I was just—well, are you going to move him? Because, if you are, I can pay my respects to him wherever it is you're taking him."
Severus' chest tightened again. "He cannot be moved."
"Oh," Luna replied, frowning slightly. "Do you really believe that?"
"Harry believes it, too. He told me what Voldemort did here, which I suppose you told him?"
Severus nodded, remembering the conversation in question. It had gone on longer than either he or Potter had cared for, but it had been necessary.
"I thought as much," Luna continued. "But I don't think that Draco's soul has to stay here, you know, and I want to try to free it. It doesn't seem like a nice thing at all, to be bound to all this chalk."
No, it doesn't. "I couldn't speak to the matter of souls."
"Well, I think I might be able to. It's a simple thing, really. That's why I brought Draco his toys. He can fly away with them. You don't mind if I try, do you?"
"No," Severus said—because he could not think of anything else to say—as he watched Luna pull a silver flask from her robes, uncork it, and apply a drop of whatever potion it held to each of the figures, thinking, You were never quite sound, but at least you're harmless. At least you're here. "Just what is it, exactly, you intend to do?"
Luna drew her wand, made a circular motion around the dragon-surrounded mound, and cast, "Flagrate!"
A ring of flame appeared in the air, and Luna, by virtue of "tapping" her wand downward, caused the ring to lower itself around Draco's resting place.
"Draco? I know you're here. It's safe now. You should—"
Alarmed at the thought that Lovegood might actually succeed in conjuring Draco's resting ghost, Severus said, "You can't be seri—"
"—come out, now," Luna continued, before tucking her wand back up her sleeve and waiting.
A moment later, the ethereal form of Draco Malfoy unfurled itself from the earth.
"Hello," Luna said to the ghost.
"Draco," Severus said, and the ghost turned to regard him, its eyes narrowing. "I'm . . . sorry."
"You should be. You left me here!"
Severus flinched, and the tightness in his chest pressed against his ribs painfully. It had never occurred to him, as it had obviously occurred to Lovegood, that Draco might not go beyond the Veil. He had no idea what to say.
Nothing I could say would make up for how badly I failed him.
When the Dark Lord had murdered Draco, in fact, Severus had been certain that his own death would follow at once by virtue of the Unbreakable Vow he had sworn to Narcissa. In the long months since Draco had died and Narcissa had run mad, Severus had never been able to decide whether he was relieved or disappointed that the vow had not taken him, as well.
"I . . . know," Severus admitted. But it all happened so fast!
"Would you two like a moment?" Luna asked, looking from Draco's ghost to Severus and backing away.
It stirred something within Severus that she would think of his privacy.
"What are you doing here, Lovegood?" Draco said, attempting to cross the barrier of flame.
"That . . . that won't work," Severus said, hoarsely.
"No," Luna agreed, "it won't. You're bound to this place, at least, for now. I had to be certain you'd stay long enough to listen to me."
Petulantly, Draco insisted, "I don't understand. Why can't I leave? I don't like it here. I want to leave!"
Guilt making him angry, Severus snapped, "Then perhaps you should leave off whining and allow Miss Lovegood to help you."
Eyes widening, Draco said, "All right."
"Well, if you're sure you don't want to stay, all you really need do is follow them," Luna told Draco, indicating the dragon figures with a nod of her head.
Severus began to think he understood what Lovegood was playing at. But what if it doesn't work?
The thought of Draco being bound to the place in which he had died, bound and alone, was not something he wanted to contemplate. He had come to say goodbye because he had thought that was all he could do for Draco. He barely dared hope that the enigmatic witch standing next to him might be able to do something more.
"Hey, I know those—they're mine! How did you—"
"Don't you want to say something to Professor Snape, first?"
"Why should I? It's his fault that I'm here! Voldemort put me here, and he let him!"
Luna made an irritated clucking sound. "You never were very nice, Draco, but, now that you're dead, you might—"
"Yes, you are. I thought you understood that."
Draco scowled in confusion.
"Draco," Severus said, with some effort—he was as confused as the ghost—"I'm sorry. I couldn't stop him."
"You didn't even try!"
"I don't think you're being fair, Draco," said Luna, "and you might try to be. Can't you see how upset Professor Snape is?"
"He's no professor. He's a Death Eater. He . . . he killed Dumbledore!"
"I know that. But he had to—Harry told me that."
Severus started. "Potter told you that I had to?" He understands? He accepts that I—
"Harry's still angry with you, of course, but he's not so angry that he can't be fair. I think," Luna continued, looking at Severus with concern and walking toward him to lay a warm hand on his arm, "that he'll understand in time. I understand, you know."
Severus stared into Luna's eyes, and the compassion he saw shining from them burned into him. I don't deserve your understanding. I never have. "Potter won't—"
"This is all rather touching, but I'm still stuck! Are you going to help me or not?" Draco demanded, pacing within the confines of the circle.
"Of course I'm going to help you," Luna said, drawing her wand, "after you make things right, Draco."
"But he left me here!"
"No, he didn't. Well, all right, he did—but only for a while. Everyone was rather busy with Voldemort and Death Eaters and the war, you know. And you saw how it was, so you should know that—"
"Oh, fine! I know it's not your fault I'm dead," Draco said to Severus, before almost at once turning toward Luna to ask, "I'm really dead?"
"Father will be furious with me."
"I don't see how, inasmuch as he's dead as well, but why?" Luna asked.
"Because I died without an heir! I suppose mother could remarry, but—"
"Don't tell him about Narcissa!" Severus hissed.
Luna did not appear to hear him as she replied to Draco, "Pansy's pregnant."
Luna smiled. "Pansy's pregnant, and Professor Snape's handling your family's affairs. But I think that Pansy's being stubborn about things. Perhaps you could—"
Draco turned to Severus. "Pansy won't accept our child's inheritance?"
"She's afraid of the potential repercussions of doing so, at least, as she perceives them," Severus replied. "I don't believe she'll be giving your child your name, either."
"What? That's nonsense! Where is she?"
Luna whispered to Severus, "That was a good idea—to get him mad, I mean." To Draco, she said, "The dragons are charmed to take you home."
Draco appeared impressed. "Yeah? You did that, Lovegood? But why?"
"I've . . . I've been working as your mother's companion. She's been ill."
Ah, so that's it. Lovegood must work at St. Mungo's, Severus thought.
In their meetings together, he had never discovered what she had been doing since she had left Hogwarts. There had never been much time, and Severus had never actually been good at making small talk.
"And Pansy visits your mother, you see," Luna continued, "which is how I found out that she was pregnant and frightened."
"Who won?" Draco demanded. "Oh, of course. They did. No wonder—she must be terrified to be behaving so stupidly. It's not as if the Parkinsons ever had much money."
"I don't know about that," Luna replied, "but I do think that it's no good for Pansy to be so worried while she's pregnant. I thought that, if you were still here, I could help you return to the manor and then persuade Pansy to visit you. Would you like that?"
"Do it! Do it—please," Draco said. "I'll talk to her. My son should be a Malfoy."
Severus smirked. He had not thought to ever see Draco again, to see him looking anything other than terrified or numb. However surreal the moment was for him, that Luna Lovegood had affected such a change in Draco was gratifying. It amazed him that she had even thought to attempt to help Draco.
But then, she tried to help me, didn't she?
"Draconifors!" Luna cast, pointing her wand at each figure in turn and then banishing the fire circle. "Well?" she asked Draco, as the figures transmogrified into tiny, living dragons and took to the air, "aren't you going to follow them? I promise to do everything I can to bring Pansy to the manor."
"You're all right, Loony," Draco said, his form fading and stretching as it reached out to follow the dragons toward the Malfoy estate.
Luna sighed as she watched Draco go, and Severus held his breath as he watched Luna.
Releasing his breath, he told her, "He should not have called you that."
"What? Loony? People have always called me that," she replied matter-of-factly, looking rather pleased with herself. "I think it worked, but we won't know until we return to the manor. Would you like to come with me?"
"Where on earth did you find a soul-guiding spell?"
"I read a lot, you know."
No, I didn't. I . . . I know nothing about you. "When do you find the time?"
"There's always time to read, Professor. I'm studying to be a mediwitch, and the library at St. Mungo's is really rather complete. You'd be surprised."
I am surprised, Severus thought, looking at Luna as if he had never seen her before and wondering why she was still bothering to speak to him now that her task was completed.
Attractive young witches had never spared any time for him in the past.
Unless it was their 'duty' to do so, Severus told himself, feeling low.
"If you don't mind my saying so, Professor Snape, you seem rather tired. Are you hungry? I brought lunch with me. I'm sure Dad packed enough to share."
"I never thanked you, Luna—may I call you Luna?"
"You just did," she replied. "And if you want to thank me for something, you should probably tell me about what."
"For taking my information to the Order, for what you did for Draco." For not treating me like an ogre. "Thank you."
"Oh, you're welcome. I really do want Pansy to be calm, you know—Mrs. Malfoy is often agitated enough without her guests upsetting her—and I just didn't like to think about Draco being bound to this place, you know."
"I do know. I didn't like the idea, myself."
"I'm sure Draco really does forgive you, you know," Luna said, conjuring a blanket and sitting on it.
I know he doesn't. "Whether he does or not, it's . . . good to have that over with. What are you doing?"
"I told you. I'm hungry," Luna said, as she pulled a tiny basket out of her robes and charmed it full size so that she could look inside of it. "Oh, good! Dad packed roast beef sandwiches—and so many—I told him it was just going to be me, today, but Dad's never got the hang of preparing meals for just one person."
Severus had no idea what to say to that. He felt awkward talking to Luna as if everything were normal, as if she had not just raised a ghost and set it free from a site blasted by Dark magic.
As if we were friends.
Severus felt as though he should leave.
But where else do I have to go?
"I'm not your professor anymore. You . . . might—if you wish—call me Severus."
Luna smiled so widely that the dimples in her cheeks stood out. "Would you like to share my picnic, Severus? It looks like you could use a sandwich, you know. Oh! That was a rude thing to say, wasn't it?" Luna asked, flushing a bit.
Severus watched the blush travel from Luna's face down her neck and lower, and he fought the relieved smile that threatened to spread across his face. "No, it wasn't, and I am hungry," he told her, settling down next to her on the blanket. Suddenly shy, he admitted, "I've never had a picnic before."
Luna laughed. "And I've never had a Potions master before—I mean, for company," she added quickly, blushing more deeply as she began to root around in her basket. "But now that the war's over, I suppose it's all right to expect strange things, new things."
"Are picnics considered strange?" Severus asked, as he accepted the sandwich Luna had offered and surrendered to the surreality of the moment.
"Well, it's a bit strange, for me, to have company on one," Luna replied, handing Severus a mug of pumpkin juice.
It's a bit strange for me to have company at all, Severus thought, watching Luna over the rim of his mug as he sipped from it.
There was a moment's silence, but it was not an awkward one.
Eventually, Luna broke the silence by saying, "You know, I'm really rather glad I found you here. I was nervous about my guiding potion."
"Mmm, hmm," Luna said, nodding as she chewed a bite of sandwich.
"Tell me, where did you find the directions for brewing this guiding potion of yours? I'm not familiar with its like."
Luna swallowed and laughed.
"What is it?" Severus asked, suddenly concerned. Is she laughing at me? What did I say to make her laugh at me?
"Oh, it's nothing, really. It's just that I never expected us to have a conversation."
"We've had several conversations."
"Yes, but that was when we had to. Now, it's because we want to—isn't it?"
Any nervousness Severus had been feeling dissipated in the face of Luna's own. He found himself, in fact, inexplicably encouraged by it.
"So it is. Perhaps we should toast to it."
"To desiring conversation?"
"To expecting strange new things," Severus replied, and he was gratified when Luna did not hesitate to tap her mug against his. And to someone with whom to share them.