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Passing the Threshold

 

A cauldron full of antidote bottled into small flasks with a wane flick of the tired witch’s wand. Leonor checked Severus’ blood thoroughly and altered Richard’s recipe slightly. She yawned, yearning for some sleep. Eileen and Marcus slept still next to Severus who hadn’t moved. The man was still pale, the pulse low. The venom paralyzed all signs of life. Leonor sighed and forced a vial full of the opalescent brown liquid down Severus’ throat, hoping for soon improvement. Then she cuddled on the other side of the bed and slept exhausted holding her arm protective above her family.

 

A tawny owl floated through one of the open windows in the upper floor and woke first the midwife who jumped the second time that night. Then the owl soared downstairs and landed on Leonor’s shoulder with an urgent ‘kee-wick’. Leonor tried to wipe off the intruder until the owl began to peck her head.

 

“Bugger off,” swore the witch and opened her eyes reluctantly. The weather was murky, clouds blocked the daylight and that made it more difficult to awake.

 

Leonor summoned a Sickle and said, “Here you go!” before falling back into the pillows with a strangely thin newspaper in her hand. She detected that she slept just a bit over an hour, and it felt even less. It was still early morning and the sun just rose above the horizon.

 

“The Prophet is getting thinner every week,” moaned Leonor without a real interest to read before realizing that it was just one printed page, nothing more than a flyer.

 

She rubbed her eyes and looked at the headlines above a blurred picture of the schools’ ruined cloisters, the courtyard a terrible battlefield:

 

HARRY POTTER VANQUISHES HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED!

 

MANY WIZARDS AND WITCHES DEAD OR INJURED OR MISSED!

 

HOGWARTS DESTROYED!

 

 “It’s true, it’s indeed true!” called Leonor beaming and immediately wide awake. “Sev, the Dark Lord’s gone! Potter managed it. I cannot believe it.” She showered the babies and Severus with kisses.

 

Caryn bustled in, alerted and wrapped in a pink dressing gown. Leonor hexed the leaflet flying like a paper plane towards the midwife who conjured some reading glassed to read aloud. Then the old witch smiled, and the aged eyes filled with tears.

 

“Indeed, the boy was the ‘Chosen One’! And he survived it!” shouted Caryn and sent the leaflet flying to Eileen who tried to catch it mid-air. They all laughed when that didn’t work, and Eileen summoned it with unspoken wide-eyed magic, smiling about the success.

 

“Yes, it’s been an immense battle,” said Leonor. A frown returned to the tired face and swallowed the justifiable happiness. “I just watched from a distance, haven’t seen the extent of destruction nor the sacrifices.”

 

“You watched it?”

 

“It was hard to overlook, like thundering fireworks. I haven’t been in the centre and needn’t go there to find Severus. I’ve been lucky to get a hint where to find him. It was no minute too late.”

 

Leonor checked now on the former Hogwarts’ potions master; his condition was still the same.

 

“When will he wake up?” asked Caryn.

 

“Dunno. I just cannot believe that I got him out of that hell and from below Voldemort’s hands when many lost their lives. There’s just one little step — wake up, Sev. I know Severus delivered the message to Harry Potter, information from Dumbledore, and that was the last remaining task, likely the last impulse for Harry to attack the evil wizard and kill him for good. Severus completed the mission as promised to Dumbledore.”

 

Tears sprang to Leonor’s eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. “It feels awkward to just care for your loved ones when others fight and die. They died for the wizarding world.” Leonor embraced Caryn, tears of joy and shame flowed freely. “I feel so useless in the past weeks, felt the whole year like that,” whined Leonor.

 

“You are not, just frazzled, go back to bed,” suggested Caryn but Leonor shook her head.

 

After a while she whispered, “Let’s have breakfast.”

 

She carried Eileen to the highchair in the kitchen and conjured porridge and a bottle of baby food for Marcus.

 

“I’m not able to cook today. The waiting feels so wrong and it’s not unusual that snake bites cause a comatose state. Sometimes it is so hard to be patient. If I could just keep me busy with something useful, help to heal the insured,” snivelled Leonor.

 

“Oh, my dear! I doubt that you would have been a lasting fellow combatant yesterday. If you want, I offer to go to St. Mungo’s instead of you. I have done that in the last months too when they were short of staff. You need to care of your family. All three are helpless without you,” murmured the midwife quietly knowing already Leonor’s answer. The younger witch ate restless, moving in her chair.

 

“Well, I should go to Hogwarts now. The fight’s over, but maybe they need potions or a healer. There are so many people I know and what if one of them is no more? I hate to be in the dark, it’s my colleagues, my students. I taught many of them in the past four years,” mused Leonor looking out of the window.

 

“And Severus?”

 

“He got the altered formula of the antidote already. It can only be handed every twelve hours. I think he’s stable; the watching and waiting is so difficult. It drives me crazy. He wouldn't want me to let the others down when they need help. If you check the pulse and temperature and call me immediately if anything changes? Would you do that, please?” implored Leonor eagerly.

 

“Here, my ‘Goddess Brigid’ and I take yours,” suggested Caryn with a stern look. “Find your reassurance in Hogwarts and I leave when you return, or I get too much attached, Ms Scott. I believe what you told me about Severus being a double agent. I saw him with you and Eileen and Marcus. He’s a good man. Come back soon, you are needed here too.”

 

“Sorry, I didn’t want to take too much for granted.”

 

“It’s alright. I understand. Eat something more, a long day is ahead,” scolded the old midwife hoarsely.

 

XXX

 

Leonor landed in the apothecary an hour later, took all reserves of ready-made potions and walked through the deserted village and along the sloping path towards Hogwarts. She had no clue what to expect but needed to know, better sooner than later.

 

Hagrid’s hut collapsed in a heap of smoking wood. The pumpkin patches didn’t exist anymore. Everywhere lay debris and ash, brown fume emanated here and there. A disgusting smell of burned things hung in the air. The battle destroyed parts of the ancient building; piles of dirty stones had fallen from the towers and the roof. An eerie silence clasped the grounds. No bird flew across the lawn and not even an animal made a noise — a victory without applause.

 

A few people sat in the Great Hall, staring into vacancy, mourning their losses, supporting each other, crying. The ministry arrived already. Leonor hoped that St. Mungo’s healers took care of the life-threatening injuries; medical staff was nowhere to be seen. Officials walked along the rows of covered bodies escorted by Minerva McGonagall. The robes of the former headmistress were powdered with dust as everything here and Minerva hid her face in an overlarge handkerchief, staunching new flows of grief with every name written on the white paper.

 

Leonor hurried with head down upstairs to the hospital wing, wrenching the doors open to find loads of occupied beds, hushed whispers and fragile cries. She’d never seen so many beds right and left from the aisle. Most of the injured had visitors; families and friends found a refuge; happiness and disaster in one hand.

 

Madam Pomfrey turned hearing the creaking of the door. She measured the healer expressionless, finished the task at hand and walked then towards Leonor.

 

“Are you here to help or just to look after Snape?” Poppy Pomfrey emphasized the last word with hatred.

 

“I’m here to help, at least as long as I can leave my children alone,” said Leonor.

 

The matron flinched on the mention of ‘children’ but said, “Snape made a bunk and left every student to the evil. I haven’t heard that he was found, or he would be locked up in Azkaban like the Malfoys. Anyway, we need every help. I don’t care if coming here clears your conscious or not.”

 

Leonor didn’t argue about the accusation and said, “I brought some potions, Dittany and others.”

 

Poppy frowned, sniffing on some bottles. “Can you make more?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Slughorn’s devastated and never filled the stocks as good as — oh that doesn’t matter anymore. I doubt Horace brews anything usable in the next days.”

 

“Brewing is easy for me. What do you need?”

 

“I prepare a list while you look after the boy behind the curtain,” the matron pointed to a hidden bed. “He shakes uncontrollable with strange red marks on the arms, looks like marks of a poisonous jellyfish. We found him too late in the grounds, only when the St. Mungo’s emergency squat left already and I tell you they are busy, cannot come back soon.”

 

“Anything else I can do?”

 

“Not anymore. I deal with the others here,” spluttered the matron briskly and run away to her office.

 

Leonor nodded guessing that the boy was hit by a bit of dark magic, perhaps related to the curse she once used on Severus when she panicked in the dungeons. The boy looked miserable with the ugly red lines all over the skin. His arms shook and it didn’t help that he tried hard to stop them.

 

“I’ll fix that for you,” smiled Leonor and began to mumble incantations. She tried several things and finally wetted the boy’s lips with a purple potion and the shaking stopped. The boy sat upright, still dizzy and white-faced.

 

“Do I die?”

 

“Not yet, maybe in a hundred years if you are wise enough to leave the world,” grinned Leonor and a bit happy that she’d studied the Dark Arts. It was soothing to help.

 

Then the matron hurried behind the curtain, handed Leonor a wish list and grunted, “How is he?”

 

Leonor addressed the boy again, “Alright, not infective. I prepare a medicated salve until tomorrow and then you get also rid of the red spots, though it will take at least a week if not longer, bed rest till the marks begin to fade.  How old are you?”

 

 “I turn thirteen next month and I don’t mind if everybody sees the marks,” intoned the boy casually. “My siblings haven’t seen them yet.”

 

“Oh, these are ‘war hero marks’?” smiled Leonor.

 

The boy nodded eagerly and Madam Pomfrey’s eyebrows travelled higher and higher until they reached the hairline.

 

She sniffed and scolded with uncontrollable worry, “Fred, Lavender, Colin, Remus and Nymphadora and many others died, and you do present injuries like a trophy? My ward is full of stubborn children sneaking into an adult fight! Dumbledore would be delighted —”

 

Poppy grimaced and rushed away that the curtain flew open.

 

Leonor looked after the fleeing matron, hands over her mouth in icy shock.

 

“Dora and Remus just had a baby boy,” she whispered, shaking her head and the bitter truth clenched her heart.

 

XXX

 

June 1998

 

The busy streets in London made Leonor nervous. The bustling rush of traffic and business appeared loud and unfriendly. She’d not been in the city for a while and missed the sedate flow of life in Scotland and Wales immediately. Leonor walked straight across a pedestrian crossing and vanished behind the large windows of the derelict department store that hosted St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. She hurried through a side door and took the steps to an upper floor.

 

Richard told her to come at this time, and he answered the door promptly when Leonor knocked, entering carefully and a bit shy after a long time of limited contact.

 

Richard shouted ‘Leonor’ and came running from behind the desk to hug her forcefully before the younger witch mumbled a greeting in return.

 

“You’ve made yourself scarce during the war,” scolded Richard softly and ushered her into a seat.

 

“Sorry, I’ve been busy with Eileen and potion supplies,” answered Leonor looking around carefully. The piles of false files had left. The houseplants shone in a vivid green. Post-war life burst into bloom.

 

“Yes, yes, read your ‘closed’ sign on the apothecary in Hogsmeade, wanted to visit you recently. How’s little Eileen, more magic?”

 

“She develops fine, improves the summoning skills that I get headaches. I’m looking forward to Eileen’s first birthday in about four weeks. She’ll make big eyes if seeing the first birthday cake,” answered Leonor rather unhappy and that didn’t go unnoticed with Richard.

 

“You should get some fresh air with the little one, brings her to other ideas. The summer is not too bad for England this year — you still stay on the British Islands, don’t you?”

 

“Of course,” said Leonor hastily.

 

“You never said, where you go when you disappear. It’s not that house near Regents Park, isn’t it?”

 

“No, it’s still leased to some muggles.”

 

Richard leaned over the desk and stammered a bit embarrassed, “You are slim, too slim and sallow for my taste. You looked healthier in January when we met last. What’s wrong, you are not on a diet, are you?”

 

Leonor shook her head; she refused to meet Richard when she got tubbier with Marcus and within all the stress at work even Richard didn’t ask. She had to say something now, needed his help.

 

“My son Marcus was born in April. I’ve been visibly pregnant in January already. Eileen is delighted to show magic to her brother.” Leonor grinned seeing her daughter’s cheers and Marcus’ interested looks when she gave him the summoned toys to touch.

 

“Blimey! You are indeed a secret keeper, aren’t you?”

 

Leonor frowned. “It was necessary.”

 

“So, a daughter and a son? And both in the same Hogwarts year?”

 

“Not in the same year and there’s still eleven years until they are due for the letter.”

 

Richard heaved a sigh. “And Severus Snape is missing? You never denied my guess about the father of your children, didn’t you?”

 

“No, I didn’t.”

 

Richard sighed again, “Dumbledore knew something about Snape, and you did. Everybody else was in the dark. He’s been a double agent if I understood the Daily Prophet correctly. There’s several vacancies in the hospital after the war, good jobs if you like them.”

 

“I manage with the apothecary, that’s not the reason for my visit. I must collect my thoughts. It’s not been easy to have a second child within a year.”

 

“I’m not putting pressure on you, just saying that I still like to employ you as a healer as I always did. St. Mungo’s has a nursery school. Perhaps it’s worth a consideration.”

 

“I cannot,” sniffled Leonor.

 

Richard frowned. “Do you want to talk? Is it about Snape?”

 

“That’s why I’m here,” Leonor whispered; the eyes brimmed with tears.

 

“Hark! You disclose a mystery, finally,” cheered Richard forcing a small smile to Leonor’s cheeks. His voice more sympathetic than in the past when the name ‘Snape’ was mentioned. 

 

She wiped her wet face and asked simply, “What can I do if snake poisoning creates a comatose state? The blood is free of any venom. Pulse, blood pressure and breathing are regular.”

 

Richard frowned now, lines on his forehead signalled that he thought hard.

 

“I don’t understand,” he said after a while.

 

“I rescued Severus Snape after Voldemort’s snake bit through his neck, the same snake that bit Arthur Weasley.”

 

“You?”

 

“I altered the antidote and made sure that the venom left the blood and body. When that happened after about ten days all vital signs improved.”

 

“That is good. I remember you asked for that specific counter poison a year ago already.”

 

“Well, obliterating the venom was more than a month ago. Severus is still not awake,” said Leonor out of desperation. Richard had always been loyal and if he had no idea than nobody knew what to do next.

 

“Oh, my dear! You are hiding somewhere with him and your kids? You must go mad.”

 

Leonor looked to her feet; ashamed to ask for help after so many secrets. Hope changed to despair and the ‘lucky day’ into forlorn attempts.

 

“You love him, don’t you?”

 

Leonor nodded, more tears streamed down her cheek, warm and salty.

 

“I’m sure you did your best. You are an extraordinary healer if it comes to dark magic, venoms and beasts.”

 

“But what should I do now?”

 

“Well, textbooks are often not enough. The healing goes sometimes beyond. Tell me something about Severus Snape. Who is he? First devil and now saint if I trust what leaked in the open.”

 

Leonor retold the most important snippets of Severus’ mission, as she’d done before with Caryn. Richard listened carefully and asked questions now and then.

 

When she was ready, Richard summarized, “Your Severus is a very private man.”

 

“Obviously.”

 

Richard hesitated to answer. He stood up and sat again before speaking. “You have to let go, Leonor.”

 

“Let go?”

 

“Let him go. You cannot dictate him to return.”

 

“Can’t you check on him?” asked Leonor bewildered.

 

“I can but from everything you told me there’s no healer’s mistake. I wanted to say that he may not want to return. We healers are powerless if a soul is — let us say a soul is bitten through.”

 

“No, no, Eileen and Marcus need him. We love him. We are always near him, he’s not alone. Marcus doesn’t yet smile, he’s very stern and cries often and calms only if I sit with him next to his father. It is as if Severus and Marcus have a special relationship after that night when he was born.”

 

“Perhaps that’s true. Do you think that Severus can live a normal life? Will the injuries heal completely? He certainly wouldn’t want to be a handicapped veteran and a burden to you.”

 

“I’m sure. There will be scars on the neck of course, but it improved because of Flint’s tears.”

 

“Give Severus silence to contemplate the decision, a new place. You need rest, he needs rest. He’s ill and I doubt he would want to be the centre of all attention. That’s not in his character.”

 

“It feels like rejection, betrayal if I just move him somewhere else,” Leonor bit her lips.

 

“I’m not suggesting bringing him to St. Mungo’s; that would be far too much attention. Don’t you have a separate room?”

 

“Upstairs is enough space.”

 

“Good, try that. It is more difficult to heal the loved ones. The view is blurred by fear. Send me a missive if it doesn’t work in the next couple of days.”

 

Richard enclosed Leonor’s hands gently.

 

“I’d like to see Marcus, and Eileen of course — and I’d love to learn to know your Severus Snape. Francesco and Maria return with Matteo and his little family. I’m sure they’d like to see you four too. Imagine that pleasant surprise! Can’t wait to see Maria’s gaping mouth! Francesco will be delighted; he’s always been in favour of Ms Scott and Mr Snape.”

 

Leonor smiled under tears. “Are they already in London?”

 

“Not yet, but Francesco plans to reopen in September. He checked everything two weeks ago and returned to Italy. Guess they’ll spend the summer on the beach before returning to the British drizzle.”

 

XXX

 

The smaller of the two rooms in the upper floor of the cottage was prepared for Severus. It had a nice window to the east; the morning sun tinted it in a bright yellow. The larger room on the other side of the house offered a view along the coast with Whitesands Haven in the distance. It was the ideal teenager’s room for either Eileen or Marcus or both in the future.

 

Leonor levitated Severus upstairs, acting on Richards’s suggestion. Now she sat on the edge of the bed, kissing Severus’ pale cheeks; stubbles grew again, and Leonor smiled.

 

“Wake up,” she whispered. “The war is over. You are free. There was a note in the Daily Prophet that Harry Potter gave testimony about people that helped to bring Voldemort down. You’ve been on that list too.”

 

She checked again the vital signs and the drip with the sugar potion. Severus recovered. The bite on the neck knit together and fresh rosy skin waited for fresh air.

 

“I take the bandage off. The scars will become almost invisible if the skin ages. Flint did a great job.”

 

Leonor double-checked everything again, apprehensive to forget something before going downstairs.

 

“Find the rest you need; we visit you.” — and she was sure to check in very often, with Eileen and with Marcus in her arms. “We love you,” she murmured finally. She said those words every day and hoped that Severus heard it.

 

XXX

 

Hushed whispers disturbed the perfect silence now and then. The whispers existed for an eternity as a constant hustle and bustle and now they got lost in the background. It felt cold without that feeble noise of intimacy.

 

A man with black hair sat on a white stone, motionless. He was alone.

 

“How long are you sitting here?” said a foreign voice and the man looked up moving his lips without answering the question.

 

“I watched you for a while,” continued the voice.

 

“What did you find out about me?” croaked the man.

 

“Nothing, except that most men move on. You are lingering.”

 

“Where am I?”

 

“What does it look like?” questioned the voice.

 

The man looked around. He groped for the stone beneath, touching the glossy surface reflectively.

 

“I’m sitting on the threshold. One side of the threshold shows a marble hall, no margins, a maze of solid columns. The place doesn’t look very comfortable, clean, sterile, a hospital perhaps. Am I right?”

 

“It looks different to everybody,” said the voice a bit bored.

 

“On the other side I see the countryside, though it is a strange mix of green mountains, yellow fields and the blue sea. The clouds are pink in an azure sky, like in the evening sun. It isn’t real, is it?”

 

The voice answered amused, “You can see it, why shouldn’t it be real?”

 

The man turned his head gazing from one to the other side, frowning because the voice wasn’t much of a help.

 

“There are whispers.”

 

“Where do they come from?”

 

“From the side with the peculiar landscape. I cannot understand them.”

 

“Interesting,” confirmed the voice. “Do you see anybody?”

 

There was nobody in the countryside and the man squinted against the dazzling light in the marble hall.

 

“A woman walks towards me. She’s dressed like the flower people, climbs a swing and looks at me, unsmiling. I know her. I’ve seen that flying red hair before.”

 

The voice didn’t answer. The initial curiosity in the man’s eyes disappeared and changed into a mix of shame and anger. He straightened fixating upon the woman’s beautiful green eyes.

 

“I apologized, Lily. Why didn’t you accept? You know I didn’t mean it,” pressed the black-haired man through gritted teeth; the dark eyes glowed.

 

“Everybody told me that you are not worth it.” The woman stopped swinging. “I came to pardon you now. You became a better man.”

 

The man gazed, something in him wanted to give a sharp retort. He learned it better meanwhile and answered with a simple ‘thank you’.

 

“You saved my son, Harry. I’m in your debt.”

 

The man gazed at her, surprised and ashamed hearing those words. An insecure smile curled his lips.

 

Another man with round glasses and messy hair approached Lily and put an arm around her shoulder. He snapped at the man with the overlong black curtains of hair.

 

“He made Harry’s life miserable whenever he could.”

 

“As you did with me,” said the black-haired man quietly.

 

“Harry was a child!” roared James.

 

“I’m not proud. I’ll apologize to Harry if the time comes. I’d say we are even, James,” smirked the man on the white stone.

 

Lily smiled at him acknowledging the use of her husband’s first name.

 

“Do you want to join us?” asked Lily sweetly. She smiled at the man on the threshold cuddling tight in the embrace of James.

 

The man with the black hair and the sallow skin didn’t care suddenly, neither about Lily nor the big-headed smile in James’s face; that feeling was new to him. He asked with a tinge of curiosity, “Where do I go, if I follow you?”

 

“It’s the place where we all live now. No worries, you’ll find everything you need. We can see each other whenever you like. It is an easy life here.”

 

James puffed and Lily whispered something into his ear.

 

The man on the threshold squinted again. The light in the marble hall flashed his eyes. He hesitated to stand up from the white stone, looked over the shoulder to the strange pink sky. The green and blue was soothing, although he missed the darkness of a dungeon, a cosy candlelit place, the night a shelter.

 

The whispers from the countryside returned. A fine voice piped ‘daddy’. It repeated. Other words wriggled through his head such as ‘ we need you’, ‘I miss you’, ‘Marcus loves to play near you’, ‘it’s Eileen’s first birthday soon’, ‘I love you, Sev’ — the noises replayed in fast motion.

 

Lily was still wrapped in James’ embrace. Her smile faltered and the disapproving frown in the youthful face returned. The woman and her husband hadn’t grown older.

 

“Do you join us?” She expressed her impatience.

 

The man hesitated. “My task is completed.”

 

“Then come, we are friends again,” demanded Lily with a bossing look and James nodded pleasing her. Not much had changed except that Lily approved.

 

“Somebody waits for me on the other side,” said the dark-haired man with a firm voice. Then he stood up, a new spring in his step. He didn’t turn to explain further and walked towards the countryside.

 

XXX

 

Golden rays of sunshine warmed Severus Snape’s skin. Sea gulls shrilled. Severus sat up, cautiously feeling and stretching arms and legs; the limbs felt numb and the throat was dry and sore. A strange weakness swallowed the temporary youth that flooded his body on the threshold, the knees too wobbly to get up. The window stood open and salty sea air filled his lungs and a refreshing breeze tickled the nose. Then he closed the eyes — he arrived at home.

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