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The details that followed were a sight for sore eyes – and that made him even more suspicious. He kept his muscles tensed and his eyes determinedly open as the light pulled back, leaving a few familiar objects stranded like desert islands amid seas of cool, green-tinged shadows.

He was in the Slytherin common-room – or somewhere remarkably like it. It had the same high ceilings, with narrow windows clustered around the top, at what – in the outside world – was ground-level. Ivy was growing thickly over the glass, tinting the sunlight green, giving the whole room the feel of some bosky woodland grove.

It seemed right – although he wasn't going to allow that feeling of rightness to trick him into letting his guard down – that he should end up here. At one end of the journey was all that hissing, steamy chaos, and, at the other end, the Slytherin common-room, with its comfortable shadows and textured silence. Down here, the air was rarified and cool, as though all the weight of the castle – all the weight of those centuries of tradition – was pushing down on it, and squeezing out the impurities.

Severus had to fight very hard against the lulling effect this room had on him. His injuries helped. He was sitting in a chair by the fireplace – not one of the luxurious, creaking leather armchairs he was used to, but a high-backed wooden throne, with ornately-carved hand-rests – and, all over his body, tender new bruises were protesting about it. Come to think of it, all the chairs in here were wooden, lined up like chessmen on a floor of bare, uncarpeted flagstones.

And some of the familiar fixtures of the common-room were out of place. The death-mask of Carolus the Cornishman – a twisted, grimacing mess of wax that had been traumatizing new students for over five hundred years – was missing. The tapestries were not unraveling at the corners. The ceiling wasn't blackened and stained from centuries of smoke and illicit potion-experiments. The place looked almost… new.

Had he really been on Platform Nine and Three Quarters a moment ago? Or had he been here the whole time, wrestling the furniture? Well, if he had, the furniture had put up a good fight. His ribs were throbbing insistently, and he could still feel Lupin's knuckle-marks imprinted on his kidney.

But there was no time to pay attention to that, even if he'd felt inclined to, because the deepest shadow in the room – the one that enclosed the contents of an even bigger wooden throne positioned directly in front of his – was stirring. From its depths, a wand was waved, causing the fireplace to ignite, and throw a flickering, dramatic light on the chair's two occupants. Only one of them appeared to be conscious.

The unconscious one was beautiful. She was lying, limp, across the lap of the conscious man, like some kind of ventriloquist's dummy, her chest rising and falling rapidly. This was quite noticeable, because her gown was just as low-cut as it was in all those quasi-historical oil-paintings she featured in.

Severus didn't know how he felt about the fact that the Boggart-Lily had once possessed the body, mind and memories of Salazar Slytherin, but he knew how he felt about the fact that she had once been in a close, obsessive, sadomasochistic relationship with the permanently under-clothed Elizabeth Hartwell – and, since he didn't have many feelings that weren't excruciatingly painful at the moment, he concentrated on that one for quite a while.

He didn't want to look at the man whose lap she was sprawled across. This was the only time in his life he was going to get to meet his hero, and his blood was still boiling from the encounter with Potter; his heart was still thumping with resentment, and he didn't trust himself not to be surly and irritable throughout the whole of the meeting. It was easy to look at Elizabeth Hartwell – that low-cut dress did kind of draw the eye – and at least she couldn't look back, and be disappointed in him.

It would have been nice to just sit back and observe a genius at work. It would have been nice to do that with Dumbledore too, but, for some reason, the geniuses he admired from afar always turned out to be irritating close-up. He supposed it was his own fault for getting close. Getting to know somebody better had only paid off once in his entire life, and Lily was kind of a special case.

Of course, Salazar Slytherin wasn't really his hero. The Slytherin temperament didn't lend itself naturally to hero-worship. But he was certainly clever, and subtle, and all the things Severus had tried to be in his short, unhappy life.

In the end, it was his instincts for self-preservation – hah, as if that should mean anything to him now – that made him raise his eyes. Slazar Slytherin – or the Boggart-Slytherin, if you wanted to be fastidious – had a lined, quizzical and slightly-amused face, with a fussy little beard that tapered to a point just past the end of his chin. He was dressed in black robes, with silvery details that complemented his grey hair – although it was a dark, distinguished, sleek iron-grey, which suggested hidden vitality, as though he was only pretending to be old to lull you into a false sense of security.

All Snape's impressions of Salazar Slytherin were like that. You got the feeling that everything about him was a trap, designed to trip you up or catch you out. He probably wasn't as evil – or as callous – or as clever – as he wanted you to think he was, but he certainly had all of those qualities in spades, and so you were never quite sure where to draw the line.

Severus wondered, in a vague, distant way, whether there would be explanations. He wondered if he cared to hear them. He also wondered – because it was impossible to switch off that quiet, observant part of his brain – why Salazar Slytherin was staring fixedly at a point two inches above his head.

"The first thing you'll want to know is what I am," said the dark figure, without preamble. "Telling you who I am will, I hope, be unnecessary. You must be reasonably educated, or you wouldn't have made it this far. I wonder if you were educated at my school, or even in my House. I wonder if you had help out there, and the Phoenix Curse was, in fact, broken by committee. That seems to be the way things are going these days."

"As you will soon see, I am content to go on wondering. I don't wish to meet anybody who possesses talents that I do not. Long experience has taught me that I will only find them irritating. This, therefore, is a form of recorded message, rather than an interactive illusion. I can neither see nor hear you. Quite apart from my tendency to be irritated by everyone I meet, there is a lot to get through, and I thought it prudent to ensure that interruptions would be impossible. People will persist in interrupting me, despite the fact that they couldn't possibly tell me anything I didn't already know. I used to tell my students that any communication between us must of necessity consist of my talking and their listening, because I am very wise, and they are very stupid. That is practicality, not snobbery. If they haven't the sense to shut up when a great wizard is speaking, they don't deserve to be educated."

Severus kept very still, not quite trusting the assurance that he wasn't being observed. The voice was right, though; the voice was just like he'd imagined it – as was the withering and enduringly practical attitude to his students. Naturally, all Snape's insides were writhing with grief and anger – and a lot of the anger was directed at the annoyingly dignified man in front of him – but a tiny part of him was actually enjoying this.

"Incidentally," Slytherin went on, "if you're wondering why you can understand what I'm saying – because language changes beyond recognition over the centuries, and I'm reasonably confident that it will take centuries to unearth somebody capable of breaking the Phoenix Curse – it is because of a fiendishly difficult charm called Interlocutus, which ensures that, whatever your nationality or linguistic persuasion, you will hear me in your native idiom. I dare you to work out how it's done. You may have been patient enough to break the Phoenix Curse, but I am certain you're not patient enough to spend twenty years devising a charm which goes straight to the cerebral cortex and delivers meaning directly into the brain. If it was my only achievement, it would still be phenomenal. I effectively rebuilt the Tower of Babel, for the sole purpose of insulting god in his own language and at close range." Slytherin spent some moments idly smoothing out the wrinkles in Elizabeth Hartwell's skirts, his brow furrowing. "I found him not at home. Make of that what you will."

He looked down at the flagstones, as if ordering his thoughts. Severus took the opportunity to admire the chair he was sitting in. He couldn't believe he hadn't recognized it before! It was still in the Slytherin common-room – although nowadays surrounded by a glass case and a thousand protective enchantments, because anyone who sat in it would die instantly if they weren't of impeccable magical lineage. In the eighteenth century, the chair had been used as a scary initiation rite by some of the most notorious pure-blood cults – most of them run by a man named Mr. Malfoy. If you had so much as a non-magical third cousin, the chair would kill you.

Dumbledore didn't like having it in the school, for all that it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was carved ebony, decorated with so many snakes that, in a certain light, they appeared to be writhing all over the woodwork. But Dumbledore had never learned to appreciate the beauty in dark magic. He tried to have it removed – to his vault at Gringotts, of all places! – but he got so many letters from parents and ex-pupils – pure-bloods and muggle-lovers alike – that he reluctantly had to bow to the pressure and have the chair reinstated. He vented his frustration by designing fiendishly-complicated enchantments to keep students away. Severus had looked at it in his fourth year – just for something to do – and the magic was nasty. Not quite as nasty as killing anyone of muggle-blood who had the audacity to sit there, but it was a close-run thing. That was always the way with Dumbledore. The effects of his anger might be less violent, but they were enduring. You had to live with Dumbledore's disapproval. Voldemort – by killing everyone he didn't like – let them off easy.

"Perhaps," said Slytherin, steepling his fingers pensively, "you would like to know about the illusion which preceded your arrival here. I daresay you thought of it as a test, but I designed it as a kindness. I thought anyone who'd been through the Phoenix Curse and not risen to the temptation to kill would like a chance to get all that anger out of their system. You weren't to know that, of course – and I hope you resisted for hours before caving in. It gives me a lovely warm glow to think of the man who could beat the Phoenix Curse when I couldn't biting his tongue, and clenching his fists, and trying to keep his miraculous fucking temper."

He leaned his chin on his hand, looking both languorous and surly. "That's the wonderful thing about growing old, you know. You're never under any illusions about the purity of your motives. You've been yourself too long. But you can still feel grimly satisfied that at least you realize you're a bastard." He sniffed. "Doesn't comfort everybody, but it works for me. I've always valued knowledge above happiness. The very fact that you're here means you do as well."

He clapped his hands together, causing Elizabeth Hartwell to start in her sleep. Slytherin looked down at her, with an expression remarkably like tenderness, but she didn't wake up. She settled back down into her fitful slumber, whimpering faintly.

"Well," said Slytherin, in a quieter voice. "So much for the explanations; now for the story. I have become remarkably good at telling stories – although they generally have to be blood-curdling ones, to keep her in thrall." He shut his eyes, and pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. "You have no idea how exhausting it is to keep somebody constantly terrified. A man of lesser resources would have been quite… inconvenienced."

"In any case, this is a blood-curdling story. It has a happy ending but, since you are it, you may well disagree with me. Most of the protagonists are dead now – even the chief villain – so I suppose that gives the narrative a restful quality, but it still ends with a threat to the living, because dark magic, like healing magic, never really dies."  

He leaned back in his chair, shifting his weight under Elizabeth's body as much as he was able. He looked comfortable, though. Perhaps he thought of her as a kind of garment now – a warm, sexy comfort blanket that he never liked to be without.

"The Phoenix Curse found me," he said, "not I, it. One of its victims was wandering the fens outside my house. The local muggles thought he was possessed by demons, which rather makes me despair of the muggle temperament because he was, in fact, nothing more glamorous than a sleep-walker. He had his eyes open, of course; but it was obvious that the outside world was not what he was looking at. He thrashed about and muttered unintelligibly, but not in response to anything the muggles said or did – although, doubtless, they had difficulty discovering this, because they said and did all the moronic, threatening things which would make a man thrash about and mutter to himself."

"Let me emphasize that I felt no impulse of mercy towards him; only an impulse of curiosity. You see, I had become very interested in healing magic since – well, I suppose I should call it my resurrection. I will not patronize you by claiming that it was not a shock to open my eyes two hundred years after my death, and find that I could continue my work only if I was prepared to spend a large portion of my time frightening and enslaving a woman who had done nothing to injure me. But neither will I patronize you by claiming that I was unwilling to do it. The woman in question was not hard to look at – and nor, it proved, was she hard to terrify. The situation became… mundane. But it struck me, after a while, that it was very similar to the situation a healer finds himself in when he first takes up healing magic. I thundered and snarled and was terrible, because I knew that to let her in would be death. And this is exactly the healer's dilemma. In order for their magic to work, they must care perilously but, in order to preserve their identities, they must pull away at a crucial moment, or lose themselves completely. I became fascinated with the science of Healing Magic – and, believe me, when I am fascinated with something, it has no opportunity to be coy. I wanted to find out more about what was ailing the man on the fens. (After several weeks of listening patiently to his mutterings, by the way, I discovered that his name was Morpeth.) And, with a combination of Legilimency and creative thinking, I managed it. I walked beside him through his woefully unimaginative nightmare. I forget what it was now –," he waved a hand dismissively – "some dark forest with twisted oaks and headless horsemen. Very droll – particularly for a Boggart. I have assumed the form of a headless horseman before, you know, and, let me assure you, they are not cunning strategists. With no brain, eyes, ears, mouth or nose, they are helpless to do anything other than look creepy. Fortunately, nothing else is required of them – but you would think, wouldn't you, that people would have the sense to fear creatures which can actually outwit them, rather than blind, blundering automatons?"   

He looked down at Elizabeth Hartwell, and his lined face became inscrutable. "I had intended to make a detailed study of fear, and its effects on the human mind, but I don't suppose there will be time for that now. She has two hours to live, did I  mention that? If I liked her a little bit less –," he grimaced, and then shrugged – "alright, a lot less – I could use the Resurgam Charm on her. I'll explain about that later. But, as it is, it's impossible, so she will die. And I don't even know if Boggarts can die so, wherever she's going, I doubt I'll be able to join her."

"I imagine, if you made it this far – if you have the marks of mercy and destruction – you wouldn't call yourself a sentimental creature. Therefore, I won't burden or bore you with lovesick laments. She will die, and go on. I will disappear, and go on. I'll probably spend the next few centuries as an Acromantula or a three-headed dog, in which case I doubt I'll have the brainpower to remember that she ever existed, or that I ever loved her." He looked up, again focusing on that spot two inches above Severus's head. "You'll know, however – and that's both better and worse than nothing."

He sniffed, straightened out his legs, and went on, with barely a tremor in his voice: "In any case, I followed Morpeth through his naïve nightmare and, to my astonishment, I found the landscape malleable. I could alter things – small things, at first: the colour of the grass, or the height of a headless horseman – soon, however, the very physics of the place came to respond to my commands. I found I could influence the way water fell, and the shapes it pooled into. I used my abilities to make Morpeth's sufferings less intense. If he died before I found the cure, I would have no way of getting back into the dream-world to administer it. Again, let me emphasize that I didn't care about Morpeth – any more than I initially cared about Elizabeth. I simply cared about winning. I had never met an opponent worthy of me before. Even Gryffindor – who was not stupid, in spite of all the belching, hero-worshipping idiots he chose to surround himself with – had never quite presented me with a challenge. Oh, we fought – and I probably owed my survival to the fact that he was too 'honourable' to try fighting me with a sword. In fact, we were prevented from finding out who was the better wizard, due to the irritating interference of Helga and Rowena, who used the Vinculus Charm to blind us and – incidentally – everyone within a twenty-mile radius of the castle. The Vinculus Charm isn't nice, for all that it is collaborative."

"But, in a way, I was grateful to them. It would have been silly to fight Gryffindor for any length of time. He kept getting up, and trying the same tactics, as though he thought that sheer persistence could do the work of rational thought. The Phoenix Curse was not like that. It was not alive, as such – I was not fighting a conscious mind – but then, I had never found a conscious mind that was capable of inconveniencing me. It was more like fighting fear itself; the dark, opportunistic principles of fear that operate so insidiously to keep mankind spellbound. It was an amusing opponent for a Boggart to have. We were both nightmares, but – and here is the crucial thing – I knew I was better at it."

"The hardest part was determining the nature of the curse. It was naturally obscure, because nobody had ever come through it alive, and all the symptoms were rather tidily confined to the victim's mind. I visited every library in Europe, lugging my two afflicted companions around with me. In Bologna, I found a reference to a living spell-book, carved on the walls of a cave which extends for seven miles under the Great Rift Valley. I would have found the place sooner, but I had to spend my waking hours keeping Elizabeth terrified, and my sleeping hours keeping Morpeth alive. Once I had found the cave, and read about the nature of the Phoenix Curse, it was almost too easy. The curse worked by resurrection. It was reborn through an act of killing, and so it seemed reasonable to assume that it could be killed through an act of saving. The Resurgam Charm was already known to me – although, admittedly, I knew it as an ancient and rather idiotic piece of healing magic, practiced only by the insane. It began to seem, however, like the only solution."

Slytherin rubbed his temples wearily. A sour note was creeping into his expression. "Let me explain about the Resurgam Charm. It is unlike every other piece of healing magic in existence, because it is fuelled by disinterest. It does not work if you love – or even particularly like – the person you are attempting to resurrect. But, crucially, it cannot be performed in a spirit of contempt. It is the ultimate selfless, unnatural act, because you have to believe in what you are doing – you have to want to give life to the victim – but you cannot do it to gratify your feelings. That is why the Charm is so woefully obscure – because most of us, if we were to lay down our lives for another, would be doing it out of love or loyalty – not pure, cool, disinterested respect. It is an inhuman piece of magic."

"Incidentally, it has always amused me that acts of killing and torture are so persistently described as 'inhuman'. That kind of thing – fuelled as it is by fear, anger and insecurity – could not be more human. But the Resurgam Charm involves ignoring every instinct of affection and self-preservation in order to prove a point. I understood the principles of the Charm, but had always considered its performance to be impossible by anyone who wasn't emotionally subnormal."

"And there – right there – was the rub. I saw the solution with perfect clarity and, just as clearly, I saw that I was incapable of implementing it. I saw the fool Morpeth suffering every day and marveled that he didn't kill everyone in sight sooner – although, in his case, I think it was muddle-headedness, rather than forbearance, which stayed his hand. I always taught my students to know their own limitations, and I finally had an opportunity to practice what I'd preached. I had never discovered a limitation before, but there it was, as plain – and as rude, and as vulgar – as daylight. I could not beat the Phoenix Curse. I could solve the riddle, but I hadn't the strength – or perhaps we should say the weakness – required to break the curse. Nothing to be done about it. I have always known when to cut my losses. So I used my ability to shape the dream-world to embed clues as to the nature of the curse, and the possibility of its defeat, in the fabric of the dreamscape. The Phoenix Curse didn't know what I was doing. Morpeth died soon afterwards – that, I had always known, was unavoidable – and I captured the curse in a little box, and spread glamorous rumours that only a world-weary healer could break it, and awake to the bliss of immortality."

"It was my last act – my epilogue, if you like. A tiny postscript at the end of a long, distinguished career. I recognized what I did not have – what I could not do – and tricked the more able into doing it for me. Call that whatever you like. It is true Slytherin heroism and, as such, I expect it to go unrecognized. It doesn't matter. For we are Healers, are we not? Contingent beings. We live through others, and their recovery – their fatuous content – is the only thing we seem to require. Let it be that way."

He took a deep breath through his nose, and then smiled. "You probably realized it all along, but immortality was a red herring. Your reward will be a Healer's reward – and, as horrible as that sounds, it's worse. What you get is the knowledge that you have destroyed the Phoenix Curse; you have put a stop to a hideous epidemic, and saved countless lives as yet un-lived. Eternal life through other people, you see? A posterity of beating hearts, and nothing for you personally, not even gratitude. Your only reward is awareness, and the continuance of life. Since all healers are, at heart, masochists, I imagine this will satisfy you, but since all healers are also, at heart, healers, I imagine you will complain. Go ahead. Feel your anguish echo and dissolve into the night. It is of no consequence."

"But then, perhaps you think your disposition isn't suited to healing? After all, you have the mark of destruction, as well as the mark of mercy, so you must feel at least ambiguous towards human beings. Perhaps you would say to me: 'I always see the flaws in others, and healers are supposed to find the good in them'. But you yourself know how moronic that is. Sympathy does not come with the confident belief that the person with whom you are sympathizing is an unblemished angel. Seeing someone's flaws is an excellent place to start. Understand their flaws and you will understand what they have to contend with, every day of their lives."

"This is a common misconception about healing. You do not have to esteem your patient as a particularly admirable person. You do not have to revere them or pity them – you just have to see them, on the same level as yourself, as flesh and blood, striving – albeit with varying degrees of success. If you are here, sitting in front of me, it ought to be obvious that you are well-qualified."

He pinched the bridge of his nose again, and then looked down at the sleeping Elizabeth Hartwell. "How long do we have now, my love? An hour?" He played with the creases in her skirt, as though he was inwardly debating something. "Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to give him the other reward." He turned back to the point two inches above Severus' head, looking more than usually irritated. "Healers should expect all their tasks to be thankless tasks, let me make that absolutely clear. But, as it happens, I have something else for you. Perhaps you will know how to value it. I certainly do not."

He produced a tiny glass bottle from the pocket of his robes. It had one of those cut-glass stoppers that catch the light like a massive diamond. In fact, knowing Slytherin, it probably was a diamond. There were certainly some in the ornately-carved chair, serving as eyes for all those intertwined snakes.   

"I wonder if you can tell me what this is," he mused, holding the impressive stopper up to the light. "Again, I wonder, but I don't care, because I'm going to tell you anyway. There's nothing I love more than the sound of my own voice, and you should not let anything you've seen here today lead you to believe otherwise."

Severus was staring at the bottle. The light was glancing off it in an almost hypnotic way. And, inside, glowing feebly, was a little green flame. It wasn't dancing, but wallowing sadly at the bottom of the bottle, like the dregs of some luminous drink.

"In the Ancient Egyptian Underworld, the god Anubis is said to weigh your heart against a feather, to see how much worth you have accumulated in the course of your life. I do not know how my heart will be judged – or even if there will be anyone around to judge it – but, if my works were to be placed in the scales, this is what you would see, counterbalancing the feather – and counterbalancing it so emphatically that the feather would probably be catapulted fifty feet into the air. This is the Purifire: a distillation of worth. It consists of tiny particles which are produced as a by-product of healing magic. This is twenty years of diligent study – twenty years of applying my mind to the sufferings of grotesquely boring human beings. I have no use for it. I do not know how to value it. I never wanted to help others but, apparently, intentions are immaterial."  

"Particles of empathy and human connection," he went on, with a grimace. "When I first heard of them, I could only think about how unsanitary that was. But, as it turns out, they have uses. Mind-boggling uses. They can cure – and, believe me, after twenty years as a Healer, I do not use that word lightly – they can cure the most virulent curses. Alas, not the Phoenix Curse, or we wouldn't be having this delightfully one-sided conversation, but many others, according to my research. If you drink this flame, and let it burn through your nerves and sinews, any curses you've been suffering under will simply evaporate."

He hesitated, almost shyly, and put the bottle down on the flagstoned floor. "I just had a feeling… about you. I had a feeling you would need my help, even though you may be skilled in patience and forbearance and all the things I never had time for. After all, someone who has lived through this curse needs all the help they can get."

Severus stared straight ahead of him, hardly daring to breathe in case the motion knocked his thoughts off-course. With a strange, painful crunch, all the facts he'd been juggling suddenly locked together. That was why the Boggart had told him there would be hope. She remembered being the Boggart-Slytherin. She remembered the Purifire, and the things it could do.  

But she had never actually believed in the Unicorn Curse, had she? She was always telling him it was his despair – not the unicorn's vengeance – that had ruined their lives. Had she really thought the future could be changed for Lily Evans?

Probably not. You couldn't trust a Lily Evans to look after a Lily Evans. She had probably only wanted to save the future for Severus Snape – to convince him that he wasn't responsible for his daughter's death. She probably didn't believe in the Unicorn Curse. She just wanted him to believe he was free of it.

But maybe it would be enough to believe he was free of it…

Snape stared suspiciously at the little glass bottle. At first, he felt too sick to want it and too tired to believe it. After everything he'd been through, he couldn't bring himself to believe there was a future that didn't contain horrific things for him and Lily. If he reached out for hope, it would be snatched away again. It couldn't be that easy.  

But… Jesus, it hadn't been easy! He hadn't slept or eaten in forty-eight hours! He had endured sixteen Cruciatus Curses, a slash on the face and a fifty-foot fall from a cliff-top. He had seen things that would be replayed in his nightmares for decades to come. He had watched the bodies dropping like flies. He had watched Lily bleed to death on that beach…

Wasn't that enough? Wouldn't that satisfy even the most vindictive unicorn?

He stared wretchedly at the bottle, feeling desire unfurl within him like some horrible, poisonous snake. This must have been how his father felt when he was staring at a bottle of whisky. He could be with her. He could keep her safe, and away from Potter – and maybe, at a push, even happy.

And the Boggart-Lily was the most cynical creature in the world. If she could believe there was hope, then… well… it really meant something. But was he only clinging to it because it was what he wanted?

After all, Slytherin hadn't specifically said that the Purifire could cure the Unicorn Curse. 'Many others' was no guarantee. 'Many others' was not good enough to gamble Lily's life on...   

But what was the alternative? A child of prophecy and a dead body on the lawn in Godric's Hollow? (Two dead bodies, actually, but Severus had never taken much account of Potter's).

When your choices were that bleak, surely any hope was worth clinging to. It was hope or go insane.  

Severus reached out a hand, furious with himself. He couldn't help it. He had been through so many shocks and disappointments – and, worse, the catastrophes that weren't shocking or disappointing at all, but were exactly what he'd expected, in his grim, pessimistic way. Ten minutes ago, he couldn't have imagined the possibility of ever feeling hope again.

He wasn't learning. He was setting himself up for a fall again. As though he enjoyed it.

But he couldn't help it. Hope came flooding back, like the strength that had blundered so rudely back into his muscles on Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It was wedded to Lily – and it would be easier to learn how to write with his toes than stop thinking about Lily.

He clasped his fingers round the bottle. The glass was quite cool; the Purifire must have been giving off a pitiful amount of heat. He couldn't believe that this tiny thing could contain a whole new life – an infrequently-troubled-ever-after.

It was heavy, though; Severus had to use both hands to lift it.

And, all he could think about, as he lifted the bottle suspiciously to his lips – braced for disappointment as much as pain – was the fact that it wasn't going to help his mother.

Then it slammed into him – not pain, or disappointment, but a horrible, crippling sensation of understanding. A thousand little voices chittering in his ears about love, and loneliness, and loss. It would take him decades to forget it. All the idiots he despised had their own voices, their own feelings, their own excuses. He was aware of them all at once, and he didn't know what was right or what was wrong – what was stupid and what was clever. Each voice was an incomparable whole that refused to associate with any of the others. They all demanded the spotlight of attention – and they all got it, that was the incredible thing. Another second of it would have wrenched his skull apart from the inside. He was aware of everything. He was aware with parts of his body that had never been aware before. Even the dead cells in his hair and fingernails were singing with sensation – pure, white-hot, agonizing, exhilarating sensation.

But the fire burnt itself out remarkably quickly. For one horrifying moment, he had known where everyone was coming from, but, a second later, the human race was just as mystifying and infuriating to him as it had been before.

When it subsided, he realized he had slid out of his chair and onto the floor. Slytherin's eyes had followed him – presumably not because they could see him, but because he understood that the effects of the Purifire were unlikely to be endured standing up.

"Now, the warning," he said, holding up one long, thin finger in a gleefully officious way. "Dark Magic and Healing Magic evolve to balance each other out. That is the way it has always been. And the Phoenix Curse was a big weapon in Dark Magic's arsenal. Huge. Something will arise to take its place. Healing Magic cannot be at an advantage for long. Something is coming. I advise you to be on your guard."
Continuing from All is Full of Hate: [link]

Phew, you have no idea how good it is to get these two chapters posted! Sorry Slytherin went on a bit!

OK, I think some dinner, and then I'll write some proper artist's comments. Have been sitting at my computer for five hours. It got dark around me. My hands are cold.

Anyway, sorry, thank you for reading. :hug: :hug: :hug:
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28dragons Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2013
Another amazing chapter. There are so many things I like - where do I begin? umf. Slytherin's relationship with Elizabeth Hartwell is fascinating, and oh, if Voldemort had been the one to go into the cave, he would have Avada Kedavra'd his ancestor in the face! Which reminds me of the last chapter - how he would have felt had he known he was going to kill the Boggart that had been Slytherin, revived, rofl!

Who knows if Severus was really cursed? Maybe the Purifire will work simply by the Placebo effect, and he'll feel better about himself. I can only hope...
JustBecause62 Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Ooh, very cool. :-o

I was just thinking—many, many chapters ago, when Boggart-Lily first appeared, it was mentioned that boggarts rarely have the capacity to speak. But in PoA, Hermione's boggart (if I remember correctly) is Professor McGonagall telling her she failed a test. Does Hermione just have an extraordinarily well-developed fear of failure, then? :hmm:

And I may be wrong, but I thought it was Anubis who performed the Weighing of the Heart.

In any case, great chapter; so happy that Sev got the Purifire; Slytherin's awesome. :D
ls269 Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012
Wow, you're racing through this story! :w00t: I'm going to have to hurry up and write the next installment. SO glad you liked Slytherin - he was lots of fun to write! :heart:

Oooh, I think you're right about Anubis. (I guess I got confused, because this ceremony is sometimes called 'the judgement or osiris', but it looks as though Anubis is the guy who does the actual weighing). Thanks for pointing that out - will change it.

In terms of the Boggarts, maybe they only speak when they're embodying the fears of very intelligent people (although this would involve thinking of dead-eyed Sally as very intelligent, which I'm not too sure about! ;))
JustBecause62 Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, this story is now my main daily source of amusement, and I've been having quite a bit of free time these days, so I get to read lots! :dance:

I honestly don't know why I remembered that about Anubis, seeing as we learned that in 5th grade.... :P

Maybe, with the Boggarts, they can speak, but only when they take the shape of something that speaks (which wouldn't be very often, since they're usually busy being Banshees, Acromantulas, Dementors, mummies, and disembodied hands).

Must go read more've made a hopeless addict of me. :D
lilynoelle Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2012  Student General Artist
I was just thinking, is Severus EVER going to get rid of that damn curse?! And he did. Nice. :) I wonder, though, if it was really a curse or just a reallly bad run of luck. ;p

Slytherin, while not how I personally imagine him (truth be told I've never given him enough time to BE imagined) is very Slytherin, very suave and kind of a creep. But I like the bogart idea, and that chair, and the way he left clues in the dreamworld.

Every time I read of Poppy I just can't see her the way you've described her - I don't know why! I keep seeing that actress who played Rowena Ravenclaw's daughter. At first it drove me crazy, but now it's all I can see and I like it. haha

Poppy is such an interesting contradiction. She's so filled with hate and sorrow and yet continues to cure people - I suppose that's why the Resurgam charm worked for her. Or why it occurred to her at all.

I think the one thing I don't really like too much is that Lily - young Lily, not Bogart Lily - seems just a tad too submissive and weak. I would love to see her really show some power and strength, without getting any help from anyone else. She's just too self-loathing for me ... I still love the way you've written her, but I suppose it just contrasts with how I feel about her ... that she isn't really a death-starved, docile young lady but is almost greedy for life and its energy. I don't know. It's difficult to explain what Lily is to me. and always interesting to see how she is for someone else.

You have Severus down so perfectly, I don't know how ANYONE could disagree; he's SEVERUS, perfectly and scathingly Severus. I love him.
ls269 Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2012
You know, I've recently found myself thinking the same things about Lily. I knew I'd never exactly stuck to the canon description of her (even though we don't have very much to go on!) but, recently, I've been worrying that I made her too submissive (although I think a lot of that is probably due to the fact that she lost her magic for a long time, which made her feel lost and powerless). It's strange, because, whenever I read romantic fiction which has powerless women in it, it makes me feel really uncomfortable. That's one of the reasons the Twilight books frustrated me (but only one of the reasons! ;)) I really hate powerless heroines, so it's distressing to think that I may have written one into my own story. :(

I think I've written Lily this way partly because I don't know how to write Gryffindors. I don't really understand impulsive, forthright people, because I'm constantly worrying about the possible effects of my actions (to the point where I just end up doing nothing! :faint:) I do hunger for life and its energy, but my constant worrying often gets in the way!

It might also be because I'm not sure the canon Lily could have ever made Severus happy (or even had a conversation with him for longer than ten minutes without shouting! ;)) I guess I may have altered her just so that she and Sev could have longer conversations without getting into a fight!

I can't say too much without giving away stuff that happens in the next four chapters, but I do address these concerns a little bit there. Narcissa's worries about losing her independence through her love for Malfoy come from my anxieties about Lily. (I also think you'll like the 'Eat Slugs' chapter if you want to see her showing some power and strength!) But she's still unhappy with herself for projecting all her anger onto Severus and refusing to talk to him for months. That's a big thing for her to get over before she can like herself again. She has quite a lot of confidence in her own cleverness, but not in her own goodness, and I think that's what makes her submissive.

But remember that the Boggart Lily is her too (or a version of her, anyway). All the Boggart Lily's strength and power is in Lily somewhere, she just has to find a way to let it out without hurting anyone. (I guess that's always the problem with powerful people!)

Anyway, sorry this has turned into a bit of an essay! Your comments certainly gave me a lot to think about. Lily will definitely show some strength before the end of the story, but I don't think she'll ever be close to the forthright, impulsive canon character that inspired her.

Anyway, will shut up now... :blushes: Thanks again for reading and commenting! :hug: :hug: :hug:

lilynoelle Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2012  Student General Artist
hehe I'll reply to this tomorrow - it IS long, but I want to answer it properly, and I'm about to get ready for bed. :)
polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2011
Ah Slytherin, you rock my world. And he reminded me a lot of Severus. Especially when he was talking about being a teacher, it was Snape spot on.

Great chapter, I can't believe I've come to the end of what you have posted! Write more! lol Can't wait for the next chapter but I also don't want this story to end. :(
ls269 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2011
:w00t: Sooooo glad you liked reading about Slytherin, because I loved writing him! I'm annoyed I didn't manage to write a bit where Elizabeth Hartwell wakes up and he has to put on his big scary voice to terrify her! I probably won't get the chance now. :( Will have to write a Slytherin-related prequel! ;)
polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2011
I was just thinking about how awesome that would be and then you went and came up with the idea. :) It would also be awesome if you wrote a little bit with the four founders. Perhaps the famed Viniculus (sp?) charm that Bathilda and Rowena perform on the dueling Slytherin and Gryffindor. It would probably be very entertaining come from you. :)
angelStained Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2011   Writer
I love it that Slytherin went on and on! Can't wait for the next chapter. And the progression is brilliant.
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2011
Yay, thank you! :hug: I'm so glad you didn't mind Slytherin's speeches, because they were enormous fun to write! It was like writing Severus, but as an erudite old man who just doesn't care who he offends anymore! :giggle: :heart:

Anyway, thank you for the comment! I'm so happy to hear you're still reading and enjoying this story! :glomp:
laventadorn Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2011
My reward for not checking DeviantArt for too long is two chapters of awesome! Dang, look at that! :D

(Something about that statement makes me feel vaguely Severus-like... not that I'm that cool, y'know, but that I have to punish myself by staying away from DA in order to gain its rewards...)

For a second there, when Boggart!Lily died and Sev was thinking he'd have to stay away from Lily forever and etc., I was like NOOOOOOOO *wilt* But then Boggart!Slytherin came to the (dubious?) rescue with his badass pun-fire and I was like YAY! *blossom* (Although, like Sev, I am reserving my morbid apprehension... but hoping at present.)

And there's something about the whole concept around Boggart!Slytherin and Elizabeth Hartwell that I love so much, I wish I'd thought of it myself! But I'm not awesome enough to have done it. Luckily, you are! :D
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2011
Yay! Thank you, my dear, I'm so happy you liked these chapters! :hug:

You're right, there is something Severus-like about staying away from things you love so that you can get the best out of them! It's a kind of cerebral, Slytherin thing to do! (Having been diagnosed as a Hufflepuff on numerous occasions, I'm quite envious! ;) I love the Slytherins, as you can tell from all the time I gave to the man himself in this chapter!)

(BTW, you soooo made me giggle with the Boggart-Slytherin and his 'badass pun-fire'! :rofl:)

I'd really love to write more about the Boggart-Slytherin. Maybe, after I've finished this fanfic, I can write some back-story about him (and Morry, who I've been missing a lot!) I'm sure I'll come back to various aspects of this story, because the prospect of writing original fiction afterwards is scaring me! :fear:

Anyway, thank you so much for the comment, I'm happy to hear you're still reading and enjoying this fic! :dance:
loyanini Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2011
I'm sorry it's taken me this long to review these last two chapters. I've been super busy lately moving and adjusting that I hadn't been on Deviantart at all. These chapters were very engaging I must say and we are so close to a proper reunion between them! I've been waiting so long! XD I really liked the way you tied the whole light mark back into the story, honestly I was wondering a while ago what the significance of it was. Anyway, sorry for taking so long and thank you for sticking with this lovely story and giving my imagination such beautiful imagery to work with. :3
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2011
Thank you, my dear! :hug: I'm so happy you're still reading! (And you've been waiting soooo long for the Sev/Lily reunion, you poor thing! I'll have to make it extra long when it occurs! And, knowing me, it will be extra mushy too! ;) Although Sev has been through so much, I think he'd just like a few hours in a quiet room, where he gets to look at Lily's face as much as he likes without her looking back and telling him he's crazy! :giggle:)
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
Sorry to keep you waiting, my dear! My life is craziness on a string lately.

This was truly fantastic! I was chewing my fingernails all the way through!
I've always valued knowledge above happiness I like Slytherin's echo of Sev's earlier thought. It's a great line, too, because it so often seems to come to a choice between one or the other (at least in my life). Or, similarly (Sev can certainly relate to this too), a choice between anxious imaginings and assumptions toward the worst vs faith and hope in flimsy things like love.

And, another great moment of truth:
It is true Slytherin heroism and, as such, I expect it to go unrecognized.

It is a testament to your great dialog writing skills that Slytherin's speech isn't slow or boring for a single moment.

And let me also just take this moment to say that I love the fact that this particular Salazar Slytherin is, in fact, a boggart. One of the (many) things I so love about this fan fiction is how beautifully Fear is personified. From way back when our hero was sitting in Hogwarts tormenting himself with the Boggart-Lily, facing his fear in the most literal, masochistic, knowledge-hungry way, all the way to the second incarnation of Salazar Slytherin and Elizabeth. You so gracefully examine the way fear can sustain people, how it needs a 'host' to survive, and yet how dependent survival can be on fear. That is not an easy thing to accomplish! Especially without being heavy-handed.

I'm reading/listening to a lot of Pema Chodron lately (an American Buddhist nun, if you haven't heard of her), and one of her most repeated lessons is on facing fear. Looking anxiety full in the face, and understanding it, rather than hiding from it or trying to disguise or deny it. I can't help but think back to Sev and the Boggart-Lily in the early days of their relationship.

Fear is given an articulate, empathetic voice in this story of yours, and it's absof*ckinglutely brilliant.
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2011
Thank you, my dear! :hug: I'm so happy Slytherin's speech didn't get boring for you (I loved writing it - in fact, he's probably my favourite character so far, because he gets to be as eloquent as Dumbledore, as cynical as Severus and as snooty and shallow as Narcissa! :giggle: My only regret is that he doesn't have enough dazed, messy-haired Regulus about him!)

Ooooh, I'm soooooo glad you liked this line too:

It is true Slytherin heroism and, as such, I expect it to go unrecognized.

That was totally a comment on Severus Snape in the canon story, and how everyone seems to want to change him into a nice, Gryffindor hero who has big, heroic last-stands. The thing I love about Severus Snape's heroism is how Slytherin it is - subtle and clever and totally the opposite of all those Gryffindor fireworks! :heart:

I haven't heard of Pema Chodron, but I should definitely check out her writing, because I'm fascinated by fear (and by how it runs my life!) It's very fitting that it should be a character in this story, because it's definitely something I'm preoccupied with!

Anyway, thanks again, dear, I'm really happy you liked these chapters! :tighthug:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
Yes! It bugs me when people take "I think we sort too soon" to mean Severus should have been placed in Gryffindor (regardless of how Dumbledore might have meant it). I really liked DD's comment a couple chapters back, talking to Lily, about how he hoped she wouldn't believe that people can't act outside their houses' tendencies. But Snape was a Slyltherin to the end. I've often thought that it requires a lot more strength of spirit to do what Snape did, sleeping in the dragon's lair and all, than it does to face a confrontation head on. At least for me, it's easier to be brave in the moment, but extremely difficult to be brave when my life isn't in immediate danger.
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2011
It bugs me when people take "I think we sort too soon" to mean Severus should have been placed in Gryffindor (regardless of how Dumbledore might have meant it).

Me too! As if being a Gryffindor is the highest honour, when they had Peter Pettigrew amongst them! :faint:

And I agree about Sev's bravery: being brave constantly and repeatedly, without any adrenaline rushes to help you out, or anybody to confide in, must have been way harder than anything Harry ever did!
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2011
Wow, I'm finally all caught up!! What a ride it's been, this is just such an amazing story! Every time I read through a chapter I'm struck by a million little details and so when I get to the end it's just overload. I never know what to say. But as I'm up to date now I just thought I should stop in and say...nope...I still don't know what to say so it's just going to have to be a big old WOW
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2011
Yaaaayy! You've caught up! Well, that deserves a llama badge, my dear! :hug: :) I'm so glad you're still enjoying the story! (Hope you don't get annoyed by my infrequent updates now! ;))
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2011
I think it would be pretty ungrateful of me to get annoyed!! Perhaps I'll start again from the beginning to keep myself occupied.
swordhawthorn Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2011
Oh, and thanks for the llama! Confused but happy
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011
I love how creatively you write about magic! I love the spells and the magical objects - it's so obvious that you love the magical world you've carried on and made your own, and think about it all the time :)
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2011
Thank you! :hug: :heart: It was fun to write about so many spells in this chapter (especially through Slytherin's eyes, 'cause he gets to be relentlessly sarcastic about everything! ;)) I'm going to miss writing about him, I know it!
Melorik Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2011
I don't even know what to say. Two massive chapters. My brain is in overload. Smoke is coming out of my ears and I'm still trying to process the pure awesome.


Will add more later ;)
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2011
Hooray!! :hug: Thank you! Honestly, it's such a relief to hear from my long-standing (and probably long-suffering! ;)) readers on these chapters! I felt as though I couldn't relax until I'd heard your and *WeAreSevenStudios's reactions to this! (Not that I want to pressure anybody into commenting, but it means a lot to know that the people who have stuck with this story so long are still with me!)

Anyway, I hope you liked the Sev/Potter fight - that was part one of the three things you asked for before the story ends (even though it was kind of a cheat because it happened in the dream-world! Still, I think it was cathartic for poor Sev!)
Preseli Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
Salazar, you crafty old ... :iconheartdarkgreenplz:
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
:giggle: Salazar is fun! :iconblackheartplz:
JulesDrenages Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
Slytherins truly ARE the most awesome characters to read (and I think write too) of.
Resurgam Charm: the perfect balance for decades of Dumbledore's rambling about the power of feelings.
Love it.
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
Thank you, dear! :hug: I love the Slytherins so much! :heart: (Honestly, long as Slytherin's monologue was, I had so much more that I wanted him to say! Example of a line I cut out:

"I miss them sometimes - especially Rowena. My God, she was a cold, logical bitch!"


Maybe I can have him come back in some future chapter, just to bad-mouth the Hogwarts Founders!
JulesDrenages Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2011
That would be totally awesome. U_U
bobbyStadler Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
Thank you for not leaving that cliffhanger.

This was definitely an interesting read. Salazar sure does like to hear himself talk, but I find I do too.
ls269 Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2011
Yay, thank you! :hug: I'm glad you didn't mind the lengthy Slytherin-monologue (I did have fun writing him! :heart:)
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