PART ONE - SEVERUS
Chapter 1 – A flashy entrance and an old friend
Severus Snape should have felt utterly frustrated with the fact that no one batted one eyelash at his flashy entrance. Really, with his black attire, his hood and other accoutrements, he could have earned a medal as Drama Queen of the year.
The scenario was a crowded food court in a non-descript mall. There were lots of adolescents and a few families. In his black hood, black cloak and heavy boots, Severus should be attracting every eye in the court.
But no one saw him.
By now he was used to being invisible in the world. The only one who could see him was the client, and even then, he could only be seen at the last moments. The arrow pointed to a morbidly obese teen boy with a huge mane of black hair and fiery face hidden in his dark skin.
Severus looked at his watch: ten seconds. The boy was with others of his age, but he had stopped being rowdy and loud. He had his back to Severus and had gone rigid. His friends had already noticed something wrong. In the next moment, he keeled over to the ground.
In a flash, Severus was there. The friends swarmed around him, shouting his name ('Reginald!' Reginald!'). The boy couldn't be more than sixteen years old, big eyes bulging as he looked at Severus and recognized Death.
In a swift movement, with the agility earned in years of practice, Severus knew the boy had expired, so he collected the soul and put it in his bag, a sort of pouch that came with the cloak. The teens were in different states of disarray and despair, shouting for help, shouting for their friend, crying the way children do when they find themselves in a pickle away from an adult. But Severus's concerns related only to the dead. The living would have to take care of themselves.
Using the special boots, he crossed the food court in a few strides and took the lift to the garage, where Mort awaited him. Mort, his trusted pale limousine, a shade between twilight and dusk, raised no attention and could go anywhere in the world. For Mort was Death's steed, and tradition dictated Death rode a pale horse. Actually, Mort could be any means of transportation necessary: car, horse, plane, motorcycle. Being magical, he could travel faster than light and indicated the most efficient way to travel the distance to the next client. Severus called Mort a male, instead of neutral. They had become friends – sort of.
The teen boy had been the ninth client that morning, and the watch told him he had no other jobs for the next three hours. He could take a break.
'Let's go home, Mort.'
The limousine shifted its gears, and Severus experienced the familiar sensation of fading colors around him. In a few seconds, Mort could cross the world. Often, he did just that. So, in a matter of a few ticks of the watch, they were home.
Spinner's End, of course.
Where else would Severus be home? Hogwarts was out of question, of course, with that maddening, meddlesome headmaster still in the school. The old man would love to see Severus take residence in the hallowed halls – he actually said so once. Only Albus Dumbledore would agree to mix Death itself with kids. Barmy old geezer.
Severus stepped out of Mort and said, 'We are on a break, my friend. You can relax for a while.'
The vehicle pulled off and turned the corner, disappearing in broad daylight. Severus stepped inside this childhood home, now turned into Death's home.
To outsiders it was a ruin. Even wizards had difficulties to see beyond the magic that concealed the place. And the paperwork of Spinner's End was lost until Severus's term as Death was concluded.
Severus picked up his accoutrements and went straight to his home office. After hanging up the much useful cloak and that nifty hood, he put the bag with the collected souls on the table and turned to the wooden cupboard to his right. He opened up the big door, then pulled the small drawer and produced the two magical spheres, the ones that weighed the good and evil of each soul. One was white and the other was black. The ritual was about to begin.
Every time he did that ritual, Severus pondered on his office and everything that actually had been his life (or half-life) since he became Death. Because he did not collect each and every soul in the planet. Even magic had limits. He knew that because he had been a wizard. Other Deaths had been Muggles and had no idea about magic.
No, Death was only required to collect extremely balanced souls. Those who merited a personal visit from the Grim Reaper were the ones with a very close amount of both good and evil in the tally of their lives. But Severus had no say in who would go to Heaven or who would go to Hell. It seemed the Universe took care of that. But Severus was required to collect the souls so they could pass through his Scales – the magic spheres he was currently holding in his skeletal hands.
Severus reached the pouch and took the first soul neatly folded. The spheres sensed the presence of the soul and floated from his hand towards it. Then they became even, one beside the other. Severus never failed to be fascinated by that. Because it took a few seconds and then, slowly, gently, one of the spheres would move.
And one of them did.
This time it was the white one. As usual, it moved upwards. That meant the soul was on its way to heaven. Slowly, the sphere moved upwards until it reached the ceiling and a white vapor unclasped from it, moving beyond the ceiling. The sphere then gently returned to its place beside the black one. Severus opened his gloved hands and the spheres gently came to his palms. He realized he had been holding a breath and sighed. Then he took another neatly folded soul from the pouch.
The process was repeated eight more times, and not every soul went upwards. Severus was used to that. Yet sometimes he wondered about his clients. Take that teen boy, for instance. He was so young, yet his soul was already grey. What evil could he have done to deserve his soul to be taken by Death itself?
Severus was also used to think which way would his own soul go when his time came. He had died quite young, too. But he had evil in him, oh yes, he had. Every time he repeated the tally ritual Severus thought about his own situation. It just couldn't be helped. He knew, at least, that Death was no part of the judgement itself. There were some other devices responsible for placing each soul in heaven or hell. And he was not even assuming there was a Purgatory. At least, not one besides the Administration itself.
Many times Severus also pondered about how he came into Death's office in the first place. It was a strange method of succession, that was for sure. But a very efficient one.
That fateful day, the day he had inherited the job, would be etched in his memory forever and beyond. He often revisited it, each time a new detail surfacing.
'Are you there, Death?'
The trouble with being one of the Incarnations of Immortality is that his peers had similar powers. Doors and windows certainly didn't stop him, and so it didn't stop them either.
Severus turned around to find a middle aged woman smiling gently at him. 'Are you busy?' she asked.
He put away the magical spheres and turned around. 'Never too busy for you, Marlene.'
'I've told you to call me as my office, Death. It is a joke from the Universe that we knew each other's former identities. Besides, Marlene McKinnon never made it to this age.'
'Pity,' said Severus. 'The world could use more beautiful, mature women.'
'Are you paying me a compliment me, Death?' She looked amused and relaxed. 'Flattery may improve your destiny.'
'I wish,' he said dejectedly.
'Don't be such a sour puss. Anything new?'
'Same old, same old. Souls to collect, places to go. And you?'
'Pretty much the same. Threads to spin, yarns to make, lives to watch. I may be three, but the job doesn't become easier.'
'Would you like to trade places?'
'Merlin, no. I couldn't stand the gore.'
'You said Merlin," he snickered.
'Old habits die hard. Even Fate cannot change that.'
'Marlene, why are you here? And don't come with that pun about wanting this place because it is called Spinner's End. After ten years, the joke has really worn thin.'
She shrugged. 'I still think it is a good joke. Any ways, the old man would like a word, if you have a minute to spare.'
Severus sighed, between bored and irritated. 'What does the old goat want now?'
'I didn't stick around to hear him. Be warned: if he tries to look at my tapestry again…'
Severus recalled the incident and nodded. 'Understood. You'd think he had learned his lesson, but you know how Dumbledore is.'
'My point exactly,' said the personification of Fate, changing her form to young Clotho, the attractive twenty-something woman. 'Now I have to go and grab a customer. Bye, Death!'
'Please call me Severus!' he yelled, but she had already disappeared. He sighed once more and checked the watch. He had a client due in 20 minutes, but after that was taken care of, he could go to Hogwarts.
Against all his instincts, Snape went to Hogwarts.
Since he became Death, he had lost all his wizarding powers. So Apparating was out of the question. But the powers of the new office were quite handy. After all, Severus could only imagine what it would be like if students and staff could see him striding the big corridors, making his way to the Headmaster's office, scaring even the resident ghosts.
All portraits went silent when Severus came inside the headmaster's office. It was strange that Dumbledore could only see him when Severus allowed, but the portraits could watch him all the time. Some of the strange circumstances of his condition never ceased to amaze him, but he quit looking for explanations. Better accept things as they were, he decided.
Dumbledore noticed the behavior of the portraits and looked around, calling, 'Severus? Is that you?'
Severus made himself visible, and he did not make any effort to hide his annoyance. 'Yes, it is me. Please state the nature of your call with expediency. I am not at your beck and call.'
'Do not think I don't appreciate your coming. But there are matters that I believe you would like to know.'
'I quite frankly find it hard to fathom. The business of the living does not concern me.'
Dumbledore casually mentioned, 'I thought you might want to know Lily's son will start attending Hogwarts come September.'
A chill came to the pit of Severus's stomach. He remembered the boy. He remembered… that night. All his emotions came flooding back in a flash. Outwards, though, he tried to sound nonplussed, 'Oh?'
'Little Harry Potter is coming to Hogwarts,' repeated Dumbledore. 'He has been kept in the Muggle world all those years, but now he will come to the wizarding world. I thought you might want to take a look at him.'
'And why would I do that?'
'I thought you might be interested in protecting Lily's son. You were her friend.'
'Had not been in a while. Besides, she is gone.'
'Have you heard from her?'
Severus tried not to sound too bitter. 'I am Death, but I don't attend the other side.'
'I thought my little token of appreciation would have come in handy.'
Now he couldn't contain his irritation. 'And you still didn't tell me what you want in exchange for that.'
Dumbledore didn't flinch. 'All in due time, my boy, all in due time. I really hoped you could help me protect the child.'
Severus became even more irritated. 'I am Death! I have many appointments to attend. I cannot play babysitter to some Potter brat! I am sure you have many more candidates to your manipulations!'
'Oh well', said Dumbledore, sounding disappointed. 'And that information I requested?'
'I have no answer for you. Actually, I have already told you that he probably went straight down without needing my assistance.'
'Were you not supposed to weigh his soul? Or make sure his soul didn't escape from its destiny?'
'Check your definition of Death. My job is to preside and assist the passage of the living, not to retrieve lost souls or to chase down eventual fugitives.'
'Excuse me. I believe Lord Voldemort is quite keen on escaping his encounter with you. He might have escaped from hell.'
'It would not concern me. I am not a bounty hunter for Satan. That would be the Ghost Rider, or so I hear. Once they are dead, they are beyond my reach.'
'So you keep saying. I still maintain Lord Voldemort is not dead. He will return some day. When he does, I think young Harry Potter will be in great danger. I also think you will have much work to do.'
'We'll see. Well, if you will excuse me, I have a very demanding work schedule.'
'Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you soon.'
Severus snorted. 'No, you don't.'