From the first year Severus Snape taught Luna Lovegood in Potions Class, she was always getting on his nerves by being unfailingly cloudy in the head. She lived in a dream world, he decided, and he was determined to knock her out of it. In his class, he made a point to frighten everyone out of their day-dreams. Because dreams, he believed, were lies spun out of thin air to comfort the gullible with the idea of a loving universe, a meaningful life. But the universe was far from loving. And life wasn’t fair. Better to give his students a taste of it, to strengthen their nerve to face worse things.
But sometimes she was so clear, so crystalline, translucent clear, it frightened him. She said things no one would say, did things no one would do, and seemed unfazed by what the world thought of her, or more imperatively, the way he tried to scare her straight. She never seemed to scare, just kept being her innocent, imperturbable self. She smiled when he scowled at her, never complained when he gave her detention, and seemed sometimes to see a completely different person in everyone she encountered. No one could fluster her.
And then there were the muffins. Somehow, the obstinate little witch had dug up the date of his birthday, and every morning on that day, he found a basket of muffins on his desk. She had a habit of making them for teachers on their birthdays, but he was determined that she should write him off the list. The very idea that a student should dare presume upon him personally in such a way unnerved him, and he was determined to break her of the habit.
The first year she baked for him he had simply reprimanded her sternly, and shove the basket back at her, ordering her to vanish into the mists with it. The second year, though, when she dared to come back with more muffins, he had incinerated her baked goods in front of her eyes. She had looked hurt, and he was sure that would be the end of it. But the next year she was back, with another basket, and he promptly put her to work in the dark, cold dungeon for detention, hoping that scrubbing potions bottles and cleaning out erasures would cure her of the disease. She did so without protest, and it puzzled him. Surely she should whine, like his other students, decry him for a bullying vampire. Surely she should bemoan the unfairness of her lot.
But she just did as she was asked, and hummed, and smiled at him. And it frightened him. He wanted to make her hate and fear him, and to stop trying to reach for something inside him he knew was long dead. He did not need anything; he did not need anyone. Least of all that air-headed slip of a girl and half-baked, overly sugary kindnesses. To hell, to hell with them all, as far as he was concerned. All he wanted was to be left alone, in his own interior hell, where no one else could come and no one would ever dare to stay.
He never found out if he had cured her. The next year the war began in force, and everything changed. He had become headmaster under a reign of terror, and then been ordered executed by the Dark Lord, only to be revived by his true masters, the Ministry officials, who found him barely alive and decided to use him for their own purposes. He was only a death-eater, after all, and had showed little promise of personal change, even if he had spent years aiding them with information against Voldemort. He had done his job, and his life was worth little beyond it. He had no family, no friends, nothing to live for, they decided.
So they took him, and they toyed with him. He was partially crippled from the venom, and couldn’t fight back well, but in their secret chambers, they played with his mind to see what he knew, to see if he was keeping anything back from them, and they tore through his memories. At first he fought it with all his cunning and intelligence, putting up blocks to their intrusions. But they kept working him over, again and again, and they broke him down further, and he fought like a savage animal, spitting and swearing, until all the fight was out of him. And for the first time in so many years, he cried. And they watched him, like a fascinating science experiment yielding its natural results. He cried, and they watched, as the painful memories wracked him, and he begged them to stop, to let him sleep, even though he knew they wouldn’t.
And when they were all through, all done with him, they dumped him off at his house, knowing full well he would be unable to do anything but shake and stammer in the darkness until he died. He did not know how long a time passed after they left him there. His ability to measure time and decipher reality from flash-backs had all but dissolved. He vaguely remembered trying to crawl to the sofa, and lying there for a while. He knew someone had come once. It was the landlord, who long ago had wanted to sell the land so the ugly little house could be knocked down. Snape could not remember how it unfolded, but he must have demanded rent money which was non-existent, and the potion master’s tongue must have bit hard, as it usually did, then he had felt the pain of being struck, and knocked to the floor.
All he knew after that was panic, trying to get up, and falling down, and being unable to move as the landlord marched out with threats to throw him out in the snow by the end of the week. He remembered thinking he might have broken something in the fall, but by then there was no one there to hear him cry out. He just stayed there in his pain, and grew colder and colder. It was January, and the bare floor felt like ice. And his last bit of resistance seemed to melt, and he kept crying, unable to stop until his nose bled. And he was afraid.
Then his next memory was of her, the muffin girl, almost like an apparition, hovering over him, her fingers at his forehead, and him all trembly. But he knew, somehow, this, for once, was real. “Cold…” he rasped, not striving for logical thought, only expressing desperate need. “C-c-cold…” He reached his arm up, not knowing exactly what he was doing, but instinctively wanting her closer to him, so the body heat would take away the cold. She obliged him, and was soon holding him very tight to her.
He remained still, soaking in the warmth for a long moment, then started to twitch, his memories flashing like nightmarish Christmas lights that kept blowing out and blazing on again, like the buttons his tormenters had pressed to see how he would react. “Please stop, please stop, please…” It was all he could say, over and over, as she cradled him against her. “Please, please, please…not again, please…”
“There there, there,” she soothed him rubbing out his shoulder. “I won’t let them do it again…won’t let them do it…shh…”
“B-but they’ll make it…come back…and…and bite me, they will…” They had shown it to him, many times in his mind, the horrible moment, over and over, until he had screamed. “I don’t want to see it…anymore…”
“You won’t,” she whispered. “I’ll scare it away if it comes back. Promise.”
He leaned his face into her shoulder a little and tried to calm down. After a long time, he managed to speak, regaining some of his mental cool. “Why…why did you come…silly girl?”
“Why, to bring you muffins, of course,” she explained. “I learned some things, some rumors…found out where you were…”
“Mmm-hmm. It’s your birthday. I always bring all the teachers muffins for their birthdays, you know that.”
“But…but I’m not…teacher…anymore…”
“But it’s still your birthday.” She smiled down at him. “Come on; let’s get you up on the sofa so we can talk, hmm?”
“And eat my muffins.”
He felt numb as she helped pull him up onto the soft, how she leaned him up against the single pillow, and tucked him in with the threadbare blanket nearby. When she set down the basket of muffins in front of him, something absolutely primal took hold of him. He had forgotten how long it had been since he had eaten, forgotten just how close to starving he was, until he saw food. Now he reached out and snatched at one of the muffins, devouring it desperately, like an animal, without constraint, just to quell the gnawing in his belly.
Then he saw her watching her, and the pity in her eyes, and he shuddered, trying so hard to control himself. Had he gone over a week without a crumb passing between his lips? He was beginning to think it was so. And here he was eating her muffins…her muffins…
“It…it’s good,” he whispered, then turned away ashamed. “I…I punished you for…I don’t…deserve…”
“Of course you do,” she assured him. “It’s your birthday. Go on, you can eat them. They’re all for you. Next year, you really must tell me what kind you want, as I usually make blueberry, but I can many anything you like, really…”
This made him struggle against a sob. She touched his shoulder, and he shrank back against the couch. The trauma was breaking him entirely. “D-don’t you know…this…is my last…b-birth-birthday…I’ll…die…this winter…”
“No,” she told him. “No, you won’t.”
He shut his eyes, and murmured quietly, “You…you can take…whatever you like, from here…or they’ll just…throw it out.” His eyes flashed around the practically bare room, and settled on the book shelf. “Books…or my equipment…in the tool shed. Could…could fetch a price…” He coughed and shivered. “For…for your trouble…” Again, he felt her body close to his, holding him, and he started to sob again.
“I don’t want your things,” she said simply. “I want you to get better, see? That’s why…I’m taking you home with me.”
“Can’t stay here, can you? Besides, this place has something bad about it. You need to go away from it, hmm?”
He nodded mutely, not knowing how she could possibly know all the horrible memories tied up in this place of his parents fighting and his father beating him against the wall until he was bruised and bloodied. He felt that way inside now. He wasn’t even strong enough to snarl at anybody anymore. And she was being nice to him. He didn’t know why, but she was, and he was supposed to hate it, but he was just too tired…and he didn’t want her to go away…
“You just get some sleep,” she told him.
“You’ll go away…” he said blankly.
“No, I won’t,” she promised. “In the morning, I’ll take you home. And you know what? I can make scrambled eggs and cinnamon toast and tea. And everything will be alright…”
Luna Lovegood was seemingly cut out to be a nurse. In the first year of their living together, Snape was in too bad of shape to recognize where he was most of the time. But he knew he preferred sleeping on the sofa than in the bed he had been offered, so he could be warmer by the hearth and he got used to the flower patters on that sofa, and every stitch of the quilt she would lay over him. And he knew her presence was always with him.
Luna had an extraordinary bedside manner, and was unfailingly sweet and gentle with him, even when he was coherent enough to growl at her for and claimed her wanted her to go away and that she had to be more stupid than he originally thought to take him in like this. But she wouldn’t budge. She could incredibly firm, and wouldn’t let him push her away.
It wasn’t as if he could go anywhere, not really, not unless she forcibly threw him out. He was sick, very sick, and needed to be cared for. And she was the only one alive in the world with enough heart to bother, it seemed. So she just stayed and helped him through his pneumonia with lots of tea and broth and silly television programs she put on while she sat next to him and knit. And would snark. And she would just smile.
Since her father had been killed ruing the wars, she was all alone in the small cottage where they had once lived as a family. Her mother had died years before as well, and Snape marveled how the suffering seemed not to have made very much of a dent on her. Far from being embittered by her fortunes, she seemed positively undaunted.
When he couldn’t sleep, she would sit up with him and tell him stories, and sometimes he was annoyed by them, and sometimes they were his salvation. And when he would shake and ramble incoherently, she would hold him, and calm him, and he knew there was no one else who would have so willingly given without reserve to a one-time death-eater. He wondered if she put up with him just because she was lonely. Maybe that was part of it.
But the truth was she was kind to everyone and everything she encountered. She had random bird feeders all over her yard, and never fretted over the squirrels goring the most, even though Snape had a mind to. She took in a plentitude of stray, abused, or lab tested cats, some with missing ears or eyes from alley fights, and would feed them cans of tuna and fresh cream and comb out their matted fur, and put up with them being cranky, and even forgive them if they scratched. But they mostly seemed to adore her as their saving angel, and follow her around thankfully.
With people, she sparkled, although some thought her odd and found her inherent honestly more repulsive than welcome. But she was always there for the outcasts. She would be the one to make hand-made gifts for all the poorest people she saw on the street at Christmas. She was the one who would remember the Hindu immigrant family would be celebrating Diwali and bring them a basket full of brightly colored candles.
She would be the one to go visit the gay couple moving in across the way, bring them lots of muffins to welcome them and invite them over for tea and scones and television (she considered movie marathons the best thing to be had). She was the one who would encourage the eccentric itinerant painter to keep painting no matter how many rejections she got. And she was there for cripples…and Snape was a cripple, at least partly.
But she was determined to help him stand anyway. He always managed to get halfway up before falling, and swearing, and telling her not to try again. She always did. She said he had to get used to falling and getting up again. That’s the only way he’d learn. She insisted someday he’d be able to walk with a cane if he really put his mind to it. But there was a more pressing problem than walking: it was sleeping. Some nights he couldn’t sleep at all, and it terrified him. All those nights kept awake by the mental tests, he feared, would be his undoing.
“I can’t sleep, I won’t be able to, you know that, why don’t you?” He kept repeating it to her one night when he felt so rattled he could not close his eyes. “I can’t sleep…I can’t sleep…” He thought he would go insane. But she seemed to reach to the root of it, of the memory keeping him awake.
“What is it?” she asked softly, having crawled into the couch beside him. “Tell Luna, hmm?”
He tucked in his chin. “Sn-snake,” he shivered through his teeth, but it sounded altogether uncertain.
“Now it’s more than that this time,” she sighed. “We both know it is.”
He stayed quitet for a long time. “What…will you do to me…if…I don’t…talk?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“They…they wouldn’t stop…I couldn’t stop them…they br-broke me trying to…find out…everything…”
“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” she assured. “But…it might help.”
He just found himself resting his face against her shoulder, hoping the question would go away. She rubbed his shoulder a little, and made him feel safe.
Finally he murmured very quietly, almost in a form of defeat, “He…he beat me one day…he was very drunk…and I was light-weight, and he held me down…I think…to break my neck…I was no more than nine, so…couldn’t fight…much…he held it so tight, I thought I’d hear it snap…and I couldn’t breathe…” His hand clutched Luna’s sweater for comfort. “She pulled him off…and I ran…very fast…outside…hid under the porch…but I heard him…beating her…and I didn’t go back in…I should have, but didn’t…I…I was afraid…”
“Of course you were,” she sympathized. “Anyone would have been.”
He shut his eyes. “Said…said I was…mistake…he was fixing…” He bit his tongue. “Just…just a snap…and I’d be gone…so very easy, like that…I should have let him kill me…but I was so afraid…”
“Afraid to die?”
He nodded. “It’s…all dark…”
“No, no it isn’t,” she insisted, shaking her head. “It’s very light and warm. That’s what my mother told me.”
“Maybe for you…it would be,” he conceded. “But…I’m far from you…and you know that…well enough.”
She smiled a little. “Everyone says I’m loony, so not being like me may not be a very bad thing. Besides, everyone’s different, you know?”
“But some difference is…is worse than others…” He blinked. “Even when I was…young…people said there was…darkness in me…when they caught me in town. I wasn’t…evil, not then…not truly…I was…cold…” He shivered. “And…afraid…had a sore throat…I only hated when I was hit…and when they…y-yelled at me…so I snarled, and swore…”
“That makes sense,” she said softly. “You wanted scare them off, so they’d leave you alone.”
He nodded. “Sh-she came and found me…she took care of me…”
His eyes flashed with something like guilt, and the name rung softly, with a deep quiet hurt, “Lily….she gave me her coat…and stayed with me a while…after what happened…”
She regarded him softly. “You miss her, don’t you?”
Something about the way she acknowledged this cut him to the quick. Everyone else had thought he was obsessed or guilty or something perverse. But here this girl had just said it out, and summed up everything. And the tears came down now.
She rubbed his shoulder again. “It’s alright,” she told him. “I miss people too. We all do, you know?” She paused for a moment, then asked, “So…what would you do with her, if you saw her again?”
He exhaled bitterly. “You mean…other than…beg her not to look on me…with ever so much disgust for…what I’ve done and…what I am?”
“Oh, when you see her again, all that will be quite over and done with,” she assured. “Then what would you do together?”
Her certainty of forgiveness caused a lump to form in his throat. “I…I don’t know…”
“Surely you’d ask her things after being away for so long,” she said.
He shuddered. “I’d ask her…if she watches stars come out…anymore…and if her eyes are still…green…”
“Of course they’re still green,” she said, “to you, forever, because that kind of green is her heart’s green, you know? It’s what it means…it’s how you see love…”
He buried his face in her shoulder again in anguish at her achingly lovely words. “You should…leave me outside…and…and end it,” he murmured into her shoulder. “Just…get it over with…there’s no meaning here, no hope for happiness or peace…nothing…just…let me die…”
“No, you don’t want to go out there,” she insisted. “It’s cold, and you’re shivering…you want to say inside, where it’s warm, and you sleep…”
“But I can’t sleep…I told you…”
“Fine, we’ll stay up together then,” she said, “and you can at least rest…like this…”
And so she stayed with him, and started to sing, “Deep and dark are my true love’s eyes, blacker still is the winter’s turning…and when in drinking seek good company, my ears will ring with the tavern’s laughter…and I’ll hear not his last sweet sigh…and who’s to know in the morning after how I long for his dear dark eyes…”
And though restless it pulled him under into the safe, sleepy darkness, like some restorative womb, and when he woke several hours later with his head in her lap, and her gracing him with a tired smile, he thought surely there was something exquisitely divine in it, like receiving a glimpse of an ever-elusive God. And it was very hard to be a cynic looking into the face of an angel.