Title: Death is not a Railway Station
Beta Reader(s): bambu345 and scatteredlogic
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: A brief stop on the way.
Consciousness did not return gradually. Instead of fading back in, it was suddenly there. He was suddenly there. The last thing he he remembered was Lily's son and those green eyes looking at him with astonishment before everything had faded to peaceful, quiet black.
The light of return was not blinding, nor was it white. It fact, it shone a muted gold through the frosted windows of two double doors, the sign over which read Library. Severus Snape frowned. He was supposed to be dead, sacrificed on the altar of Albus Dumbledore's Deus Ex machinations. Snape stretched out his arms, his black robes billowed at the exercise. He peered down at his body; all was as it should be. No blood stained his torso. No pain seared through ripped apart tissue at his throat. Unconsciously, his right hand rose to feel his whole and unharmed skin.
Nothing living appeared in the hallway that extended infinitely to his right and left. Hard wood floors and beige walls and ceiling lit by candle-filled sconces faded into quiet vanishing points. The only signs of life appeared to be person-sized shadows moving behind the illuminated glass panels in the doors before him. He reached into his sleeve, but found no wand. His arms fell limply to his sides. He pondered the doors and unconsciously reached a hand out, but before he could open one of the doors, they swung open of their own accord. Robes flapping, Severus jumped aside in amazement as a rat-faced Peter Pettigrew wheeled out a book-laden cart.
"Do not dawdle, Mister Pettigrew," called a female voice. "You have quite a few carts to send back to the stacks."
Severus' former house-mate said nothing nor did he look at the Potions-master, with whom the former marauder had shared a house. The rat-faced, partially transformed animagus slowly pushed his book-laden cart down to the right, his rodent's tail dragging on the floor behind him.
"Do stop loitering, Headmaster." The female attached to the voice came into view. She was a red-haired woman, but did not have Lily's green eyes. "Come in, dear, come in. Your section is waiting for you."
Severus blinked. "You have the better of me, Madam," he said, but also followed her instructions and entered the room the opened doors had revealed.
"Welcome to the library, Headmaster Snape," said the woman. "You are welcome to browse any section you wish, but your special section is number twenty."
"You!" exclaimed a voice Severus had thought he'd never hear again. "Ariana! You can't let him in here!"
Severus glanced to his left as Sirius Black, dressed in the same shabby suit from his demise at the Department of Mysteries, came from a shadowy alcove.
"I do beg your pardon, Mister Black," said Ariana, "but you have no say over the operations of this library. I believe you have shelving to complete." The librarian gestured to several book trucks waiting by the desk to her left. "You know the rules, Mister Black, no work, no rest."
"Ariana, my dear librarian." Sirius sauntered over to the red-haired librarian, shoving his way past Severus as he went. "You don't understand, love." Ariana crossed her arms. "That's Snivellus. He's a bad-seed."
"Mister Black, I believe we had this conversation previously," said Ariana, "when Mister Pettigrew arrived for his term."
"Yeah, but he's pushing carts, the two-faced rat," said Sirius. "You've snivellus here doing what? Reading? Just reading? For a Death Eater?"
Ariana ducked under the arm Sirius had tried to throw over her shoulders. "Mister Black! That behavior is entirely inappropriate! Do you wish to be aiding Mister Pettigrew with the book carts? Perhaps I have been too lenient with your behaviour?"
"Aw, don't be like that," Sirius said, cajoling.
"You forget I am not my brother and do not find your antics amusing." Ariana turned toward her desk. "For your rudeness and cheek, you will switch duties with Mister Pettigrew, until such time as I deem your punishment sufficient."
"What have you done, Snape?" Sirius Black stalked over to where Severus had been standing watching the whole scene. "She'd never take your side, Snivellus. What dark magic have you done?"
Severus, for his part, had been fascinated by the interplay between the witch, who he had identified as Ariana Dumbledore, the younger sister of Albus and Aberforth, and Sirius Black, who still seemed inclined to blame everyone else but himself. Severus looked at Black, who looked like he wanted to knock down the Potions master. For his own part, Severus felt nothing but mild curiosity as to why he and Black had been put into the same -- he paused to think about what to call the library before him -- illusion? It seemed as good a word as any.
"Mister Black," said Ariana, "your book carts wait. You'd best get busy as they mount up." As her words were spoken, four more book carts silently materialized. "If you please?" She looked pointedly at the book-laden carts.
"You watch your back, Snape," growled Sirius. "I'll be watching you." He whirled around to push the first cart out the doors, just as the rat-faced Pettigrew walked through to pick up a stack of books from the carts on the left of the doors. He still said nothing nor looked as if he recognized Severus.
"What is this place?" asked Severus. He'd had a chance to take in the wood paneled walls and large reference desk at the front of the room. Beyond the desk and banks of book carts stood shelves for as far as the eye could see.
"This is the library," replied Ariana. "You are here because you require knowledge as opposed to direction."
"I see." But he plainly did not see. "What knowledge do I require?"
"That is for you to discover for yourself." Ariana moved behind the reference desk and took up a stamp and started stamping a pile of books that had materialized on desk beside her.
"And you can't help me?"
"You will find what you need." She didn't look up from her task, but waved her free hand back toward the infinite shelves. "But you will probably be most comfortable in alcove number twenty. The last I saw it, it was down on the left, but the stacks move, so it could be any where."
Severus saw no other option but to move in the direction that was indicated.
The stacks appeared to be infinitely tall and wide. The snick-thump-snick of Ariana's book stamping echoed a soothing pulse as Severus entered the stacks. The first alcove contained many linear feet of scrolls. A translucent shade dressed in a filmy toga made a mark on an equally ethereal tablet and nodded as Severus passed. Severus, feeling curious for the first time in his recent memory, started to enter into that first ancient-looking alcove, but was stalled by the shade, who raised a shaking finger in admonishment before pointing toward the shadowed back of the library.
"I'm not allowed anywhere but my own alcove?" asked Severus.
The phantom shook its head and drew an ethereal line blocking the alcove of scrolls, but waved indicating the other alcoves were open.
"Just not this alcove?" asked Severus.
The ghost bowed and turned back to its work.
Severus returned the bow and turned back into the main corridor. The echoing snick-thump-snick kept time with his steps. As he wandered even deeper into the library, he discovered the numbering system that Ariana had mentioned wasn't consecutive and yes, the shelves moved. He watched several alcoves slide away as new alcoves slide forward. Turning around, he found alcove 55 next to alcove 1357.
At one point, he had stopped to browse a set of shelves containing a collection of works with no titles on the spines. Severus ran his fingers against the fine calf bindings until he came to one volume that wasn't flush with its companions and pulled it from the shelf. The book was fairly thick and its weight felt good in his hand. Looking around, he spotted an upholstered chair in the alcove's corner. He sat down and leaned his head against the chair's back and enjoyed the silence that now cloaked the unending shelves. He tilted his head; Ariana must have finished stamping her stack of books.
Severus briefly shut his eyes, enjoying the lack of noise and the absent compulsion prodding him to get things done. A peace stole over his mind and body and he almost fell asleep, but his hand slid over the cover of the book in his lap, and his mind returned to wondering about the text. He opened the book and commenced reading about a thirteenth use of dragon's blood.
He did not know how long he read, for it seemed that no matter how many pages he turned, the book's conclusion never drew closer.
"Hello," said a voice.
Severus looked up to see a boy standing before him. Clutched in the boy's hands was a book.
"I'm Tom," said the boy and he held out the book out to Severus. "Would you read me a story?" The book was a compilation of Mother Goose rhymes. "I finally found my book, but the man who was going to read to me has gone."
"Gone?" asked Severus. Tom handed his book to Severus and climbed up into a similar chair that had just appeared next to Severus' own seat.
Tom nodded. "He came to where I lived with all the other children without parents. He said he'd take care of me, but then he left after I wanted the three-headed snake as a pet." Tom swung his legs against his chair. "He never read me a story."
"A three-headed snake?" asked Severus. "That does seem to be a dangerous choice for a pet." He frowned. There was something he should know about three-headed snakes -- what were they called? He thought for a moment. "You wanted a Runespoor for a pet?"
"It told me its names," said Tom. He looked down at his hands and held up three fingers pointing to each. "The right head was Fred. The left head was Reg, and the middle was Tom. Like me!" Then he frowned. "But the man said the snake wasn't good. But I didn't understand why." He looked up at Severus. "Do you know why?"
"I don't," said Severus, who also frowned. "Do you have other names besides Tom?"
"Why? Do I need other names?" Tom shot Severus a puzzled look. "Do you have other names?"
"Greasy git," came the voice of Sirius Black.
Tom squeaked and hid behind Severus' chair.
"Still true to form, eh, Snivellus? Can't stay away from your Master."
Severus narrowed his eyes at his nemesis. The usual obsessive need to assault Sirius Black didn't push at Severus' psyche. Instead, all he felt was a resigned sadness. Their conflict would never end, and at this point Severus was hard-pressed to even care about it.
"I fail to understand your meaning, Black," he replied.
"Mister Black, Ariana is looking for you." Another female voice came from the main aisle, and Charity Burbage entered the alcove. "You'd best run along as there are book carts cluttering the entrance." Her hand shooed at Sirius, who scowled but left the alcove.
"Severus! It's so good to see you!" The blonde witch rushed over to Severus' chair and hugged him. "I'd hoped you wouldn't turn up in the library, but it is lovely to see you." She sat down in the chair Tom had vacated. "Tom, you can come out now."
The boy crawled out from behind Severus' chair. "I don't like him. He's mean. Says I'm bad."
"I know, dear. Did you find your book?"
"Severus has it," said Tom. "He was going to read to me." The boy climbed into Charity's lap and settled himself. "You'll still read to me, won't you?"
"I will read to you," said Severus solemnly. "Should I start at the beginning?"
Tom giggled and nodded.
Severus smiled and opened the book to start with, "Bye, baby bunting, Father's gone a-hunting, Mother's gone a-milking…"
He didn't know how long he read as the book of rhymes seemed never ending, just like the volume on dragon's blood. Rhyme followed on rhyme, the only thing lacking from the pleasant experience was a cup of tea, although even that was more for the ritual than any sort of felt thirst.
As Severus finished, "...and so she makes music wherever she goes."
"I think he's asleep now." Charity gathered Tom in her arms. "I'll take him. When he wakes up he'll want to look for his Runespoor."
"Is that?" asked Severus.
"Yes," said Charity. "One of those left behind." She stood up. "Everyone here is someone that was left behind. Many of us know the risks, but many of us, like Tom, didn't know or understand."
"Charity, I am…"
"You don't need to say anything, Severus. I was one of the ones who knew. Not that it made anything easier. But at least, I knew." She turned and carried the boy out of the alcove. Severus sat for a moment and listened to her footsteps fade away before returning to his book about dragon's blood.
He continued to read in the peace and quiet. Severus found he enjoyed the quiet; it was one of the things he'd missed during the final years of his war effort. Either one or another master would always be calling him to respond to this or that inquiry. Then there were the students, especially in that final year, who needed constant mediation to keep them from the worst of the Carrows' predations. Those fading memories caused him to close the book he had stopped reading and lean his head against his chair's high back. He sighed and again thought of a cup of tea. A hand rose to rub the skin at his neck. His throat felt scratchy. Surely if this were his illusion, he could find a cuppa somewhere among the endless shelves?
Severus rose from his chair and tucked the brown tome under his arm and set back out into the main aisle. He strolled along seeing alcove after alcove until another voice called out to him.
"Snape!" Alastor Moody stepped out from an alcove numbered 2467, which happened to be by alcove 13, and was glowing from within.
"Ignore that alcove," growled Moody. "It's the books about goblin gold. Most boring books on the planet. All written in gobbledygook. Willya let me walk with you?"
"If you like," replied Severus. "Why are you here if this is my version of heaven or hell?"
"Why hell?" Moody clomped along beside Severus. "Be careful there, Snape!" He warned just as a series of shelves, like the Hogwarts staircases, moved aside to show a blank wall with a sharp right turn. "The shelves move as you need them to move."
"I didn't realize I needed to turn right."
"Must be the way to your alcove. The shelves move, but they usually point the way," said Moody. "Tell me, why hell?"
Moody grunted. "That's not so strange."
"Moody, I do not at all understand your meaning," said Severus.
"Didn't that Burbage witch explain anything?" asked Moody.
"Said something about being left behind," replied Severus. "That most knew the risks but not all."
"And you can't figure why Black would be here?" Moody asked. "What he wanted and left behind?" He started patting his pockets and finally pulled out a clay pipe and pouch of tobacco. He tamped down the weed into the pipe's bowl and started to chew on the pipe's end. "Ariana won't let me light it, but lets me pretend."
"She's Dumbledore's sister, isn't she?" asked Severus.
"Aye," said Moody. "Left behind by her brother. He could'a done much for her, but he had his obsession with Grindelwald."
"So why are you here?" asked Snape.
"Lost me eye," said Moody. "It's supposed to be here somewhere." He turned off toward the left as the stacks shifted. "You'll be fine if you head down that way." Moody waved as the shelves shifted again, closing off the old Auror and revealing a straightaway in front of Severus.
The Potions master cocked his head, but he heard nothing echoing in the library. All was quiet. Further on in the aisle he faced, a light glowed in the distance. Shrugging and trying to clear what felt like dust out of his throat, he set off toward the light. He passed many darkened alcoves, some with numbers and some with letters. When he finally reached the lighted one, he saw the number 20 on each of the framing bookshelves. He stepped in to survey the shelves.
They were empty. His alcove consisted of empty shelves, a study table, a candelabra with unlit candles, and a leather wing-back chair. He had one book, the tome about dragon's blood that had been tucked under his arm for all this while, but for some reason he was loath to place the book on the shelves. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure peering into his alcove.
"No books, eh?" drawled Sirius Black. "Even in this place, you have nothing."
Severus stood back to allow the Marauder to enter the alcove. While Sirius prowled the empty space, Severus considered the presence of the other wizard, especially in light of Moody's question about what Sirius had wanted and left behind. Severus saw Sirius as if from afar. Severus was on a hill and looking down at his school-days nemesis. He tilted his head and thought back. The memory of the awful night in the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack had faded into hazy impressions. He remembered the terror, but it was tempered in the face of the more immediate terror of dealing with Voldemort and Nagini.
Severus held his ground as Sirius invaded his personal space. He looked at the one-time handsome face. Sirius' expression showed Severus many things, but what struck him most were the man's eyes. They were tired and haunted by want. Severus understood. He understood it all.
"Kneazle got your tongue?" Sirius taunted.
"What do you want, Sirius?" Severus asked. The question hurt his throat, which was suddenly inflamed with pain.
Severus swallowed as the other wizard took a step back. The swallow stuck in his throat, now starting to throb.
"Dittany!" called a voice overhead. "We need dittany!"
"C'mon Hermione, I know it's in that bag somewhere."
Severus closed his eyes. Potter. Of course, it would be Potter.
"Harry?" Sirius called out. "Harry? I'm here!"
A grinding noise drew the wizards' attention to the end of the alcove. The empty shelves moved aside to reveal a door.
"Snape! You're bleeding!" Sirius said. He pointed to the front of Severus' dark frock coat, which was now wet with blood.
Severus lifted a heavy hand to his throat; the skin was torn and bloody. He tried to speak, but nothing came out except a guttural groan.
To his left, the door clicked and opened into pitch black.
"Com'on Professor," Harry Potter's voice called out.
Sirius tried to run through the door but bounced back as if hitting a wall.
"You can't die. Not now. We won." Potter's pleas echoed over the stacks. "You cannot die, sir. Please."
"Mister Potter, perhaps a warming charm." That was Lucius Malfoy. "Then we'd best move him to the infirmary."
"What? Oh, yeah, right. Hermione? You're better at charms."
"Honestly, Harry," said Granger's voice.
Severus suddenly felt warm, very warm.
"It's time to go, Headmaster," Ariana Dumbledore said from Severus' right. "You need to walk through the door, please."
Severus blinked against blurry vision. He lifted a heavy foot and then put it down.
"Now please," commanded Ariana.
Severus looked blindly at the librarian, who had one arm around Sirius Black's huddled forlorn form.
"Go on now, Snape," Moody stood behind Ariana. "Best get a move on."
He could walk, Severus thought, and pushed leaden feet, one in front of the other. He slowly shuffled to the open door; the darkness beyond revealed nothing. With a moan, he tipped his body forward.
Consciousness returned this time courtesy of shouted whispers.
"Shouldn't he be awake now?" Potter's voice.
"Madam Pomfrey said everyone was different, Harry." Granger's voice. "Sit down and be quiet."
"Potter, cease that racket and shut up." His own voice, raspy and sore, but still there. His hand rose from the bed to prod at newly formed scar tissue at his throat.
"Severus!" Pomfrey's voice. "Stop that. You should know better."
As his hand dropped heavily back to the mattress, Severus opened tired eyes to the familiar view of the Hogwarts infirmary ceiling. He ran his gaze over the seamed stones, down the wall, and finally to Harry Potter staring at him with wide green eyes and an enormous grin on his face. A passing memory of Lily Potter wafted over Severus' brain, but there was only lingering regret, not the bone-crunching guilt. Another whiff of idea, Lily hadn't been in the library. Behind the green-eyed young man stood Granger. She held out a book. It was the brown-covered tome on dragon's blood. The front and back boards and page ends now stained a brownish red.
"I tried to clean it for you," she said and placed the book on the small table beside the bed where he was laying.
"All right, everyone out," Pomfrey commanded. "I need to see to my patient."
Severus turned his head as Poppy Pomfrey ran her diagnostic spells.
"You were very lucky, Severus," said Poppy. "However, you've really upset many people. How could you keep everything to yourself? How? Minerva is ready to flay you alive and Filius is not amused at all."
Severus met the caring eyes of the Hogwarts infirmarian. She patted his shoulder.
"Don't fret," she said. "It will all sort itself out." She picked up a glass of purple potion. "Drink this. Don't worry; it's your own brew."
The soothing potion slid down Severus' worn throat and settled in his belly to provide pain relief and a somnambulant effect.
As his eyes slid closed, he saw the brown book in his periphery. Severus smiled. He'd finally have time to read.