|beholder_mod (beholder_mod) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2009-04-18 12:01:00
|Entry tags:||beholder 2009, fic, filius flitwick, severus snape, slash|
FIC: "Jigsaw Pieces" for purplefluffycat
Title: Jigsaw Pieces
Word Count: 8050
Warnings: Character death as per canon.
Summary: During a very difficult week, Filius finds himself considering a puzzle.
Author's/Artist's Notes: Thanks for H and R for the beta help. Despite the warning there, this recipient asked for a happy or hopeful ending. She also asked for hot sex, but I concluded the relationship and a hopeful ending were more important to get in there so that was where I focused; I hope that was the right call.
It was dim in the interior of the shack, despite the bright late-afternoon sunshine outside and the general cheer of the castle and environs. Of the wizarding world at large, actually. But this room didn't change. This room was quietly still, dust motes glinting pink-white in the few beams of light that broke through the cracks high in the window coverings.
With its high walls and cool silent interior, the room might almost have been taken for a broken-down and forgotten place of peace, Filius supposed, but for the horror of the floor.
Harry had told him hours ago that Severus was here, in a poured-out response to the question Filius had kept as neutral as possible as the trio had exited the Headmaster's office. He'd looked at his compatriots and waved them on toward their home tower, and then waited a moment before starting in the middle of an explanation that was the antithesis of his composure in battle. It had only been thirty years of practiced calm that had kept Filius in check, had prevented a return of gushing emotion as the tumbling words resolved into a clear picture of what had gone on.
It had surprised him, how little he was over anything at all. They'd been enemies, of a sort, this year and more, but the ten years before that were apparently more deeply imprinted into him than he'd let himself realize, and now he was mourning the year lost and the man.
He picked up one foot and then the other to cross and look down, then hastily retreated back to the doorway, from where it looked only like a misshapen dark bundle with shoes and abstract white shapes that didn't resolve into hands and a nose until one looked a great deal more closely.
Perhaps he wasn't up to this task after all. No one would think badly of him for leaving it to those who had known the man less well in life.
But no; Harry had bitten back sobs as he described watching the light go out of the black eyes, feeling the weight leave the body--maybe the soul, after everything--and if a child could bring the kind of strength of spirit Harry had done, then Filius owed it to both of them to see to the disposition of what remained.
He glanced over his shoulder out of long habit, making sure he was not going to be overheard by impressionable children, before letting out a sob of his own, followed by a string of curses. Not the sort that would harm anyone; Filius didn't hold with cursing anyone on purpose. The sort that were cathartic, to be shouted in frustration or fury.
They didn't help much, but then, they never did; it was more the idea of them.
He cast a complex impassivity charm on himself, then stepped forward once again. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it well, and that was going to require keeping calm and taking one step at a time.
"I suppose you'll leave them all bloody excited about wand-waving," Severus said, his omnipresent scowl dark and heavy as he examined the timetable.
"Who's that, then?" Filius asked. Severus had always been an angry boy, and sad; those qualities were increased and combined into something like simmering rage in the so-young man now returned to teach.
"The first-years, of course; the older children have the sense, or perhaps the experience, not to become overwrought about the simple swish and flick." Severus pointed at the timetable with a stabbing finger, there, and there. "You've the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws just before me on Monday and Thursday--the two most excitable lots."
Filius pursed his lips and hmmed. "True," he said after a moment. "However, you've the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs just before me on Tuesday and Friday. I suppose we shall have to come to agreement. I won't wind them up about the beauty of a well-executed wand movement, and you won't depress them into despondency for inadequate fineness of lacewing-mincing."
"Slytherins know better than to become despondent over knifework."
"Perhaps, although I recall a certain Slytherin who spent his Saturdays in the potions laboratory developing formulae for the degree to which--what was it? The viscosity of decoctions was determined by different chopping methods? In any case, the Hufflepuffs take scathing criticism very much to heart."
Severus only scowled, then spun on his heel and billowed out of the room. Filius shook his head. Rage and youth were a bad combination, weren't they? And regardless of his position on the faculty and Albus's trust, Severus was still very young.
The dust motes no longer stood suspended, once Filius had begun. The simple currents of magic disturbed their stillness and they spun in tiny eddies and sidestepped into one another as he looked up, hands blood-smeared and sticky.
He was doing much of this work magically; for one thing, he was hardly physically imposing enough to manage the task by brute force, and for another, he hadn't brought with him anything with which to do it manually. Still, there were times, as he cleaned up the mess, when he needed to touch. Needed, for his own peace of mind; he didn't think anyone ever really needed to touch the body of a onetime lover.
It was horrible, the lifelessness of the body, the smooth stillness of the sallow face. Severus had died in pain, in desperation as Harry had described it, and that was harder to look at than, for instance, the bodies of the children who had gone suddenly in the heat of battle. They'd been surprised, certainly (he'd seen enough of their faces to draw the generalization without much concern), but that wasn't the same thing. That wasn't a horrible end to a horrible year they had themselves been party to bringing about.
He ran the back of his fingers along the cold plane of Severus's jaw and shuddered, then went back to pulling blood out of the fabric and floor and setting it aside for charming clean. He feared that in his state, Evanesco performed directly on the corpse would clear away everything, up to and including the body. Charms were occasionally tricky.
After a long time, as the dust went more golden than pink in the sunset, he sat back, forearms propped on his knees as he leaned against the edge of the seat of an overturned chair nearby. This was as clean as it was going to be, and he didn't feel any better for it; nor did he think Severus would have. The abstract shapes of death and hands were still all there, only augmented by the jagged gaping tear in the throat, the dry skin unsuffused with the thrumming lifeblood just under the surface.
Finally, he stood. The small rips in the collar of Severus's robes--he didn't want to imagine scrabbling fingers trying to tear at the constriction under gushing blood--were easily repaired, and the robes arranged into a semblance of composure. He levitated the body to the height of his waist, easiest to control, and set off along the tunnel.
"Honestly, it's as though the girl tries to tumble over something--a foot, a book; it doesn't seem to matter whether her path is clear. She worse than she was last year!"
Severus rarely was so unguarded as to rant unchecked in the staff room, but then, the two of them were alone and it was late, and they'd come to an odd sort of friendship over time. Filius refilled both their glasses with a charm and leaned back into the old wingback chair next to the fireplace. It was chilly for so early in the autumn. "Perhaps it's puberty," he said.
Severus made a rude noise with his lips and knocked back his third whisky. "Or perhaps she's just as bloody clumsy as her father."
"Ted's a good man," Filius said mildly. "And as I recall, it was Andromeda that was more likely to sprawl down the steps. I certainly had to patch her up a time or two, when she was a girl."
"I don't remember that."
"You weren't paying attention, Severus. Especially in your first year or two, before your apparent feud with all of House Gryffindor began. And by the time you arrived here, she'd grown into herself some. Head girl, remember?"
"Of course I remember." Severus said, voice nearly a growl. "I did pay that much attention."
Filius chuckled. "I suppose Nymphadora's simply got the worst of that tendency, between a changing body and inherited lack of grace."
"Odd, though, that she would be."
"Andromeda. I thought all the Blacks were raised to a certain grace and style."
"Hardly," Filius said. "Bellatrix was never exactly stable, as I recall. Kieran nearly had her removed from his class during their examination of Doxies, because her inclination, even then, was to remove their wings and watch them try to survive the procedure."
"I suppose Albus looked the other way?"
"He spoke with the girl. She professed a curiosity, and of course, he always did like that."
Severus shook his head. "Of course he does. I don't think. Sometimes I wonder whether we do the children a disservice, shutting them up here, away from the world in order to teach things that we know will have context in the real world."
Filius sat forward in his chair, feet kicking slightly as they hung off the floor. "How do you mean?"
"I don't know. I suppose it's just that children come in from all sorts of backgrounds. I came in with knowledge but no practical exemplar; whereas, someone like Bellatrix would have come in with a whole world of magic, and someone like Ted Tonks... he'd have come in with no familiarity at all."
"So you believe we ought to separate by blood? Perhaps in lieu of the House system?" Filius cocked his head, waiting to hear the answer. He'd never heard Severus talk about the relationship between blood and skill before, even during the years he'd been a lonely boy who occasionally hung about the classrooms of the faculty as they marked papers, hungry for more learning.
"Not necessarily. However, sometimes I think we handle the issue badly. I haven't yet thought of a valid solution. Maybe I never will. Maybe the only choice is to let them mingle and learn from their assumptions and errors." Severus shook his head and stood. "And maybe I'm merely a bit drunk. I've your lot early, in the morning. Fourth years, which is a bloody difficult age, all tied up in contemplations of sex and frustrated by the lack thereof."
Filius chuckled; it was true, fourteen was a difficult age. "Ah. You should see yourself to bed, then. Aside from that, my lot is ready to question anything at any time."
"I shall." Severus started to the door, then turned back. "I wondered: perhaps this week-end, whilst most of the students are out of the castle, you'd like to accompany me on a day trip into Edinburgh? There's a reading at a book shop I've sometimes visited, and then I mean to see what the playhouse there has running. I remember you used to like that sort of thing."
"I've no plans otherwise," Filius agreed, surprised by the invitation. "I'd like that."
Severus paused just long enough that it was clear that he was surprised his invitation had been accepted, too, then flashed a brief grin--shaky and unpracticed as it was, but a grin none the less--and headed off to bed.
The trip through the tunnel was awkward and difficult. As he walked, Filius remembered the story--told in pieces from a number of sources, none of them willing to reveal all--of a previous occasion on which Severus had been brought this way unaware. He took care not to let him hit any wall or gnarled uprisen root, unwilling to dishonor this body any further than the many offenses already committed against it.
It was dusk as he exited beneath the subdued willow tree, and it occurred to him that right this moment, the castle looked rather like the ruin of its Muggle-dissuading façade. It had been his home for over thirty years, and it was more than a little startling to see it like this, but looking down at Severus was not an improvement, so he breathed deeply through his nose and continued on, looking at the still-standing peak of Ravenclaw tower as he walked.
He delivered Severus into the Great Hall, ignoring the handful who suggested he didn't deserve to lie there amongst the others and looking straight at Harry, who had returned finally from a well-earned rest and was sitting with the Weasleys at the end of the hall. Harry nodded, and as this was essentially the only opinion about which Filius cared in any degree, that was that. He let the body rest at the end of the line, and went back to his quarters.
It never ceased to surprise Filius how enthusiastic a lover Severus was.
He wasn't accustomed to being loved, physically; neither of them was. Severus was not the sort of man whose face or body usually attracted a second glance, and Filius wasn't exactly rolling in offers either. Especially from men. The persistence and vigor with which Severus initiated every possible sort of contact, therefore, was both welcome and rather astonishing.
And long-lasting; they'd been discreetly spending occasional nights in each other's quarters for the better part of two years now, since some time after their fourth shared day trip to Edinburgh. They'd bought a bottle of wine, and while Filius certainly wasn't unfamiliar with the effects of a nice nightcap and knew well how his own small stature responded to it, he'd been unexpectedly overcome and receptive to what he later realized was exactly what he wanted to happen.
They'd been steadily more intimate ever since. Albus probably knew; he tended to be aware of anything the portraits knew, and surely at least several of them had observed their movement between quarters.
"I suppose you're watching me sleep or some such nonsense," Severus said, disrupting Filius's reflection.
"I might be, at that."
Severus didn't open his eyes to talk. "You might douse the light and get some sleep, instead."
Filius chuckled. "Are we done for the evening, then? Usually you're more. shall we say, persistent?"
"Only if I'm forced to remain awake speaking rather than resting before undertaking additional activity."
"Ah, but I like talking to you, as well. Which you very well know, I'm sure; we talk every day, sometimes for quite a while."
Severus turned toward him, going up on one elbow as he opened his eyes and shoving the falling hair off his face. "Then, what shall we discuss now?"
"Oh, anything. Your opinion of your NEWT students. Troubles you've had with supplies. Your thoughts regarding the House Cup. The usual."
"Ah, yes. I see how these are topics that require midnight analysis. Although the House Cup will likely go to Gryffindor if the second Weasley doesn't manage to injure himself working with Kieran again."
"Ah, yes. I don't think I'd wager on that one. He really is quite keen on--"
"Yes, but I don't care to discuss him in bed."
"I see." Filius glanced to the side. "And what would you care to do?"
"Sleep." Severus's tone was perfectly even and his face didn't betray his teasing, but Filius knew him well. He reached over and doused the light, then pushed his hand under the covers.
His door was off its hinges, which was somehow surprising despite that the whole wing had taken a fair amount of damage, but Filius didn't bother fixing it. He merely opened it anyway with one charm, then sealed himself in. The sealing charm was of poor quality, but as his intent was merely to avoid someone else opening the door for the next little while, it would do.
It looked as though a particularly indignant and malicious pixie had had a tantrum in his sitting room, though the structure was sound enough. As his rooms were of ordinary height, but his things were primarily stored where he didn't require a charm to reach them, the damage was less than it might have been, but then, a glass lamp dropped from a meter rather than two still shattered. He stopped to look around, then shook his head. Cleanup was going to have to wait.
The bedroom was less disarranged, probably because the furniture in here was low and wide, and built of sturdy oak that Filius had fitted himself with his grandfather many years before. The candle on the bedside table had fallen to the floor, but the rug under the bed was thick enough to have cushioned that fall, and all he had to do was pick it up and light it.
He did, placing it back in the holder, then stopped short upon seeing the box in the middle of the bed.
It certainly hadn't been there before, though by Filius's calculation he'd last visited his quarters some thirty-nine hours earlier so it might have appeared quite some time ago. He considered opening the box now, then considered whether it was likely anything bad would happen if he set it aside until the morning. Probably not, unless it included some sort of presence-detecting charm, and likely if that were the case, it would have already responded to his presence.
He was curious, not only about the contents but also about who might have brought something in here and by what means; however, he was also exhausted.
He carefully levitated it to rest on the trunk where he kept his winter clothes, then went on into the adjacent bath for enough of a rinse that he wouldn't befoul the sheets by simple proximity. The gift, or whatever it was, would just have to wait. And not, he hoped, turn out to be some sort of latent weapon left here by Bellatrix Insane or another of Voldemort's beleaguered and defeated minions.
Just in case, he erected a somewhat haphazard but serviceable shielding charm around his bed before he slept.
"That boy has no place here."
Filius watched Severus drink down the last of his second glass of wine. He was starting to repeat himself, and at this rate was going to work himself into a snit before midnight. And then he wouldn't sleep at all. "I don't believe there are standards beyond being magical," he said mildly. "Even for James Potter's son."
"Oh, come to bed."
"I've work to do. The boy needs looking after, if all our suspicions--"
Filius sat up, allowing the sheet to fall forward into his lap. "Severus. No minion of He Who Must Not Be Named is going to arrive here and attack the child the very first night of his residency. For one thing, no one knew until this evening in which dormitory he'd be sleeping. Unless you think Minerva is an agent, I suspect any plan will take time to implement. Now come to bed and allow me to distract you."
Severus set down his glass rather harder than strictly necessary and had to pick it back up to wave his hand over the crack in the base. He set it back down, repaired, and pushed up out of the chair. "A moment." He disappeared into the bath, most likely to fetch one of the dozen potions he kept here. Perhaps something to cut short the effects of the wine.
"You're going to need the distracting, you know," he said slightly louder to the half-open door a moment later when Severus hadn't returned. "You've the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw OWL group tomorrow, right?"
"Are you ever going to learn not to antagonize me?" Severus came back through the door and waved out all the candles, then crossed to slide into the bed.
"Perhaps I like you slightly aroused."
"Yes. I like when your blood is moving a bit. Especially when it moves into this area." Filius chuckled when Severus jumped, then rolled closer and nuzzled at his chest.
The shielding charm was unaltered when Filius awoke. It was well past noon, by the sun, and Filius felt stupid and slow as he pulled himself into an upright position to have a look, and he alternated between squinting both eyes and closing one as he tried to convince himself getting out of bed was the right thing to do.
Eventually there was noise enough--the bustle of others in the castle and outside--to make it clear he was one of the last abed, and even if he hadn't been, he had no business lolling about indefinitely. He groped at the nightstand for his wand and pointed it across at the tea service, then located his slippers under the bed and shuffled across to pour a cup.
Only when he stopped finding keeping his eyes open difficult did he consider returning to the mystery box, and then he first paused to get properly dressed before taking down the charm and carrying the box across to his worktable.
He nearly dropped it when he realized he'd missed something, the night before. He'd missed the careful tiny § on the lower-left corner of the box.
He set the box down carefully and pressed his lips together tightly. There had been a lot of water under the bridge since he'd last had any of Severus's personal possessions in his quarters, and that this was here now--it couldn't be a coincidence. It had come here one of two ways: by Severus's own hand, ahead of the events of two days past, or by Severus's own charm, on the event of his death.
Either implied something, though Filius wasn't sure he was prepared to call it forgiveness.
He stood at the table he'd shortened from its compromise height the day after Severus had fled the castle, and considered for a long time, then set his wand carefully on top of the box and went into the bath.
He hadn't kept anything from that time, but the medicinal potions in the hospital wing had always been largely Severus's brewing, so he supposed the vial he uncorked was probably one of his as well. He couldn't work out whether the notion of being posthumously soothed by Severus was comforting or not.
"How did he get it to do it?" Severus paced the width of the room and back. He'd been pacing a lot, of late. Karkaroff had made him nervous from the first minute--and Filius understood that; Severus's past and present were no mystery to him, and he trusted what he saw--and now there was the matter of the Goblet and Harry Potter.
Filius shook his head. There was always a matter of Harry Potter, wasn't there? "Severus, I've already said I don't bloody know. It should have been foolproof--"
"Clearly not," Severus spat.
Filius chuckled. "Yes, yes. Though the boy is hardly the fool you make him out to be, even if he is rather prone to jumping in without a particularly clear picture of the situation. But you were there when the charms were laid down. It was good work. Solid work. And Harry could be a prodigy and not unmake all that. Not without anyone noticing." He stood and poured each of them a cup of tea, then carried Severus's to him. "It is very worrying, but I do wish you'd let it go for the night. And stop wearing a rut in the rug."
"I'll fix the sodding rug in the morning," Severus grumbled. He took the cup and sipped, then lifted a brow. "This is unusual. And quite good."
"Just arrived yesterday." Filius sat in the low chair and pushed back into the wings, resting his feet out before him. "It is good, although you may be responding to the fret-not charm on your cup."
"Oh, perfect. It isn't enough I've spent the day coping with the effects of those blasted twins' experimental pharmacopeia; now my own lover is dosing me."
"No, charming you. And you can stop continuing to pace just for effect."
Severus glowered, but did slow to a stop and then sit down in the other chair. "Even Granger couldn't have done it. Not that she would, I think, but if we don't know how it happened, then how in the world are we to prevent all manner of other out-of-control trickery?"
"I suppose we shall just have to keep a weather eye out for it."
"I don't know whether it's come to your attention, but I have been watching the boy virtually constantly for over three years. So far, I've been unable to prevent a bloody thing."
"That's not true! You followed them, just last spring--"
"And was stunned, battered, and dismissed for my troubles"
"But you were there for him. Eventually it will all be clear to him, how much you've done."
Severus shook his head. "I have my doubts." He held up the cup before him, squinting at it. "It's just as well that I trust you," he said. "What, did you tie it into the pattern?"
"Nothing so clever. It's merely that the interior surface is charmed, and the tea, being green, is an excellent conductor."
"Mmmyes. You'll have to show me the maths later."
Filius shook his head. "No bringing theory into bed."
"As I recall, you rather like theory in bed."
"Not theory of tea." Filius hopped down out of his chair and set his own cup on the table, then held out his hand to take Severus's. Severus swallowed the last out of it first, then handed it over and watched as Filius insinuated himself between his knees.
"Is this the point at which I should note that as we are not in bed, I am free to wax eloquent on tea theory?"
"No; this is the point at which you allow me to employ a rather more obvious and certainly less theoretical method of helping you to get a good night's sleep before we begin watching like overbearing hawks in the morning." Filius unbuttoned a select section of Severus's robe and pushed open the sides. "Unless you've a better idea?"
Severus pursed his lips. "Sometimes I wonder if our relationship is only about you discovering new and ever more effective ways to force my compliance via orgasm."
"I could always stop."
"But just think what it would do to the student population, if I were to be unusually grumpy tomorrow."
Filius chuckled and Summoned the small pot of oil they kept in the bedside table, then Banished his pants and allowed Severus to help him up into the chair. He could have got there on his own; levitation wasn't such a difficult trick as all that. However, he'd learned early on that Severus found the general physicality of their interaction as gratifying as he did, and he took every chance he got to take advantage of that.
When he was able, Filius went back to the table and set both hands on the box, feeling the smooth softness of the wood, the tingle of the magic that surely held layers of access here. It felt cool under his fingers, cool like Severus when he was hurt. Smooth like the fine soft skin above his hipbones. Soft like his chin deep in sleep.
He lifted the lid, wondering whether this box would have been found elsewhere, had he perished in the battle as well. Probably that depended on the contents, though. Certainly this must be something personal; Severus didn't bother keeping things just to keep them, and definitely didn't place anything in a box under magical protection just for fun.
He didn't do--hadn't done; Filius was going to have to get used to thinking of him in the past tense--hadn't done much of anything for fun. Not in recent years. Certainly not in the past year.
Filius shook his head. There had been a moment, a look they'd shared just a moment too long, when Severus had first returned to the castle. He'd almost thought they had something to say to one another. And then Severus had turned away.
He should have been more persistent.
As the lid came free, the contents of the box shifted slightly, and Filius found himself looking at a stack of photographs covering an uneven object beneath.
He lifted the photographs, noting that several of them, perhaps all of them, were written-upon, and found, underneath, a shallow bowl of silvery memory. It wasn't a Pensieve, not a proper one; however, any such dish could work adequately, were the inside smooth.
Filius glanced at it, then blinked as the figure of Severus rose, spinning unbidden up out of the memory.
The figure didn't look at him; it merely spoke like the recording that it was. "Glance through the papers first, Filius. And for the record, there is a fret-not charm on the inside of this hurried Pensieve. Let it never be said I was anything but forthcoming with you in death."
Filius gaped at the image for a moment, then gathered the photographs into a sheaf and headed for the bath. He had only just rinsed off, the night before, and it was clear he was going to need the fortifications of hot water and soothing lavender bubbles to look through this.
It was oddly still outside, as though the Forbidden Forest were petrified. Filius knew Albus had gone off on some sort of quest again, and it seemed as though he'd taken Harry with him; he knew this latter bit because his small stature meant he was often not noticed as the children whispered amongst themselves, and he'd heard Potter's friends worrying an hour earlier.
This was why he was up here, looking out over the balustrade into the silent trees. Severus had arched a brow when he'd made his way up to his own quarters after supper tonight; they'd taken to staying in the dungeons whenever Albus was away, simply because Minerva tended to have the tower sections well in hand, and it was therefore more likely that a student would come to Severus, in a moment of need, than to Filius. The staff would find him either place, so it didn't matter, as far as his availability to them.
And he was likely to be needed.
Somehow, he just had a feeling that something was going to happen. It wasn't Divination, of course; as much as he did essentially like Sybill and despite that he was aware there was a Prophecy at work, he didn't much trust the art, and had no talent for it anyway. But the feeling remained, and despite his efforts to read, or to work on his latest carved dragon claw--the second of a pair of charmed wizardspace book-ends which he intended to give Severus next month on the tenth anniversary of their relationship becoming something more than a convenience--he'd only managed to conclude he wasn't going to get anything done, and had returned to watching out the window.
The rap at his door startled him, but it was firm and clear. He stepped back from the window and pointed his wand to unlock the handle. When the door swung open, Minerva didn't wait to be greeted. "Death Eaters in the castle. Get Severus; get everyone." And then she was gone.
He didn't pause to consider whether a Death Eater invasion might have been something about which Severus could have given them warning as he hurried down the stairs, leaving the door ajar. As he neared the dungeons, the thought occurred to him, and it gave him pause; perhaps it meant Severus's cover had been compromised. Perhaps what he ought to be doing was warning him off--but no. No, his first duty, their first duty was to the school, the children, Albus.
He came around the corner and barreled past the two girls standing there to announce the news.
A moment later, he woke, head pounding, eyes unfocused, to find Poppy leaning over him and half a dozen others talking about what had happened. Severus had... He was.... Albus... Oh.
Getting out of the hospital bed and joining the rest of the staff nearly made him ill; however, it was better than considering what it all meant. He'd have time to be sick about it later.
It didn't take long to realize that not all of the papers were photographs. The first several were, though as Filius flipped through as his arse acclimated to the hot water in the bath, he wasn't sure what the theme was. They were all from scenes he recognized, some with more precision than others, scenes from outside of the walls of Hogwarts. Edinburgh, Gloucester, Spinner's End. And then he found the pages that looked like nothing so much as water-stained parchments, folded together into a sort of self-locking booklet. He set that aside for a few minutes, then flipped through the photographs one more time. The writing on them, he realized at some length, wasn't so much writing as cryptic commentary, notes on the surrounding events. Sometimes the images were from days that had ended with Severus called away, out to Voldemort's side. Others were from happier times, days spent on leisurely strolls through the museums of Scotland, Muggle and magical. Filius had no idea where the photographer had been, or indeed whether the photographs were literally always from the days themselves, but regardless, it was clear that Severus had been keeping a sort of memoir for a very long time.
Finally, he set aside the photographs and unhooked the lock on the papers. The pages fell open easily, though the creases remained. He looked at them critically, considering, then frowned and conjured a platform to set across the tub. He reheated the water, then spread out the pages before him.
Something about the feel of the thing reminded him of a charmed parchment he'd seen years ago, and while that, as far as he understood it, had been the work of several, Severus had always been a creative wizard and he was very likely to have managed something similar. Certainly there was hidden content; there would have been no point in hiding the little booklet for no reason, nor in including it in the parcel.
He wondered whether the commentary on the photographs was related to whatever it would take to unlock the content, or whether he was meant to know--to remember--on his own.
The water cooled again around him, and it occurred to him that it was perhaps odd that he was so fascinated on a day he ought to have been distracted and unfocused.
But then, Severus had known him well, evidently right up to the time of his death; he knew he wouldn't have been surprised.
"I suppose you've no comment, once again, on my students being harassed by your little friends?" Filius was the only one of the staff still asking this; Minerva's students were certainly the ones most frequently stopped and cursed, and she'd only made a cursory effort.
"Filius." Severus lifted his chin and looked down his nose. "I believe I've explained on several occasions that I do not require assistance in staff oversight. Perhaps you ought to concern yourself with seeing to it that 'your' students refrain from engaging in activities designed to disrupt their own education."
"Of course." Filius sighed. "Of course it's all their fault. They're children, Severus."
"Yes, I expected as much, when I took on a position of leadership at a school."
"A position for which you are apparently even more ill-suited than anyone ever realized. It isn't as though your predecessor took a great deal of advice regarding the management of the school. Of course, I had supposed that your position relative to him was not that of a mentored son as you so long pretended. After you murdered him, it seemed your priorities must have shifted."
He knew when Severus's nostrils flared that he'd probably pushed more than he ought, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He wanted to make him respond. Wanted to get at something personal.
Of course, he got none of that. Severus glared at him for a moment then spun, robes fluttering behind him as he made his way to the front of the Great Hall to settle into place at the center of the table. The room went silent as he made his way, three houses cowering and one largely gloating. Filius followed at his leisure, stopping to speak to Luna Lovegood to make sure she was all right after the incident two days earlier. She'd said she was, but then, given her usually-unique perspective, for all he knew that meant she was shattered.
He ignored a rather pointed invitation from Severus to please refrain from disrupting supper, and stopped again to check on the Corner boy. He had a job to do, more than ever, and he was going to do it unless it killed him, a possibility that seemed increasingly likely as this year dragged on. He knew there were students who were no longer here--some gone home because their parents had called them back, some in hiding or imprisoned. And then there was Harry.
No amount of sympathetic tea from Minerva, who had circumspectly said nothing whatsoever about any of it even as she poured gallons upon gallons of Earl Grey and Darjeeling during late hours in the staff room and lunchtimes in her office, could make him feel better about any of it, so he took what he could get, which wasn't much: he could listen, and occasionally he could manage small acts of assistance that mattered.
The odd House-Elf that had once belonged to the Malfoys drifted into the periphery of his vision, hovering about the end of the hall out of the line of sight of both the Carrows and Severus, and he nodded to it, then went back to moving along the tables. For all its species-inappropriate independence, the creature couldn't yet bring itself to act entirely without direction, so every time it came up, Filius gave it. The children who couldn't come to supper tonight would find themselves fed, and if they were injured, he'd hear about it.
Someday, this was all going to be over. Someday, Severus was going to pay and things were going to get better. He hated himself for feeling black vengeance in his heart, but it was better than feeling nothing.
The skin of Filius's knees and toes was wrinkled--more wrinkled than usual, anyway--by the time he floated the platform off the marble ledges of the tub and got out. He wasn't particularly keen to get up; soaking away his troubles had been a lifetime habit, and this was one of those times when it felt as though leaving the water amounted to inviting every bit of frustration back into his day. He supposed he ought to be starving, though he didn't feel very much like eating, and remaining in the tub continued to hold some appeal.
However, one could only rationally reheat the water so many times, and casting a water-repelling charm on the skin whilst soaking in the bath struck him as faintly ridiculous, so he reached for his towel and rubbed himself down before starting a piece of toast browning and tea brewing. The platform, with the photographs and the parchment, had followed him obediently into the bedroom and deposited itself onto the bed while he was locating soft trousers and a thin pull-over shirt, and he considered it as he nibbled at the toast.
He listened to all the activity outside, and considered leaving off his puzzle long enough to go help, but then, when he went to the window and glanced out, idly carding through his thinning hair, he realized that for the moment, the work was all heavy lifting of a sort that didn't lend itself well to charms.
And he was good at any number of things with magic, but brute force was never going to be amongst his skills. Oh, there was probably something he could do; however, right now, he was feeling a bit raw and a bit selfish, and he wanted to understand why Severus had left him this box. Perhaps the Pensieve would explain more.
He checked that the platform was self-stabilizing, then brought the bowl onto it and started to lean forward.
"Impatient, are we? Determined to understand everything all in one go? How Ravenclaw of you."
He jumped, startled, then looked around. The voice, rather than emanating from the Pensieve, had come from the other side of the room.
Severus made a remarkably dark and firm-looking ghost.
There was no question as to what he was; the outline of the winter trunk was quite plain behind his thighs. However, Filius couldn't quite restrain his mouth before it asked anyway. "What are you?"
"Centaur. I'm afraid my forelegs have been lost in transit, so I've been left to wait."
"You..." Filius gaped. "...made a joke?"
"I have been known to make them before, you know."
"Not whilst dead."
"Well, no; however, I'm a bit new to the world of discorporeality. I do feel unaccustomedly light, so perhaps it will happen more often." He floated up until the top edge of the trunk instead showed through his calves.
Filius shook his head, struggling to process the strange sudden shift in emotion. He'd been angry with both of them for a long time, at himself for misjudging, at Severus for betrayal, at both of them for not trusting each other, and the today, at both of them for not dealing with the bloody situation. He didn't trust the way all at once he felt lighter, and it took a moment to work out that this was what it meant to lose the burden of anger. He hadn't ever experienced anything quite like it before, and for several seconds, he couldn't get his mouth to form words that were likely to make any sense. "I don't know whether to shout at you, shake you, or hug you," he finally managed.
"Two of those three would fail." Severus spread his arms and floated back down, dropping into the floor for a moment. "You'd run right through me."
"Shout, it is, then. An entire year, Severus. An entire year, and then yesterday, and I'd no idea, and there was Harry, explaining, and then the box, and I'm quite overcome, and--"
"I'd have come sooner, but among other things, I'd a bit of study to do. Ghostly locomotion is somewhat different from human."
"I don't care how you move, Severus."
"And then I had to listen around a bit. Find out how badly my appearance here was likely to be taken, after everything."
"Told the entire world all my business, yes. So I've gathered."
"You can't be upset about that."
"I can be surprised. And perhaps I can be upset; in one monologue, the boy's upset all my careful decades of work to be ranked amongst history's great villains
"You were never a villain, Severus. I believe that was largely the point."
"Oh, yes I was. I was. I like to think I balanced the scales, at least a bit, though."
"All right." Filius tilted his head. "And you assumed once I had a complete picture, I'd forgive you for keeping me in the dark and forcing me to allow you to do this alone?"
"I hoped. I was willing to face up to that; less willing to find myself exorcised into oblivion for the crimes I didn't have a choice about."
"Fair enough. But then, why the parchment and pictures?"
"Those," Severus said, his face going somewhat more sober, "were my insurance policy."
"That by the time people were ready to hear it, my story would be ready to be told, of course. Villain or hero, I did want the truth of it out there."
"Of all of it, excepting perhaps a few details regarding specific items."
"And you wanted me to tell it?"
"Of course. Who else would I want to trust with it? Who else would care to get it right?"
"I couldn't count on that, though I think I'd like if you and he were to each tell a part."
"You know the boy, Severus. He can't not be truthful to save his own life. Literally, it turns out."
"But I couldn't be sure I would have the time to tell him. And you were the only one for whom I could leave a puzzle and know you'd solve it. Eventually."
Filius pursed his lips. "I assume this explains why you chose to reveal yourself to me just as I was getting to work on that?"
"I had no reason to expect that you'd be willing to open the box very soon. As I say, I merely wanted the story to be told eventually. I thought it might give you something to do, working out how it was put together. Now that you no longer have student incursions to encourage."
"You did know, then?"
"I was Headmaster."
"I see. So then, why are you here now? Surely you'll be able to tell me how it works, so if puzzling things out was to be part of the task--I could just put it away for a while."
"Able, but not willing." Severus took a step back and sat down on the trunk. "I'd hate to ruin your fun. But yes, you can put it away, or look at it, as you please. As you might have surmised, some of it is only for you; the means to revelation certainly is."
Filius glanced back down at the bowl of memory. "So, your last act was to set me a task." When he looked back up, Severus was gone.
Not a speck of dust floated in the air.
Filius floated the platform off the bed, contents and all, and let it come to rest on the floor.
He pulled his barely-worn shirt and trousers back off and dropped them on the floor, ignoring the untidy pile they made, and crawled back under the covers.
He wasn't ready for today yet, after all.
"Something to do with Leeds, then. But not the time exhibit, and not the time we were interrupted by the two tots and their overenthusiastic and somewhat frightening great dog." Filius didn't pause for an answer; he never knew, on any given day, whether Severus was going to offer commentary. "That leaves the Rhentz display and the incident with the water lilies; I have no idea how either fits into your scheme. You know, you might have kept notes--for future researchers, if nothing else."
"I did. In my mind."
"It's going to take me years yet to work out your obscure little riddles. Perhaps you forgot the elegant simplicity of Revelatio?"
Severus would have looked smug, except that the flourish on the sconce showed through his face just such that it left the optical illusion his nose had gone upturned and puggish.
"Of course, years of entertainment is what you had in mind, isn't it? A game, to make up for one silly bump on the head."
"It was hardly only that."
"No, but that night was the only part for which you owed me an apology."
Severus shrugged. "I'm fond of the grand gesture."
Filius lifted an eyebrow and tilted his head. "Water lilies, then."
"Perhaps that wasn't a clue."
"Ah, but perhaps it was." Filius jotted a note on the very long scroll on which he'd been collecting his thoughts, then rolled it up and set it on the nightstand. "Are you staying, tonight?"
"To watch you sleep?"
"To keep me company."
Severus floated over and positioned himself in the chair next to the bed. "Perhaps."