Notes: Thanks to rosskpr for beta reading and giving good suggestions. She has been very patient with me. Thanks to my readers for their patience, too! To reward you for this patience, this time there will be TWO chapters posted today - both of which are two parters due to length!
Comments and questions are always welcome. I find they inspire me to write further, knowing someone else cares about the story.
On to the Chapter:
Chapter 19 - Part 1
May 16, 1998
Severus stood and gazed out the narrow window. It had no bars, but it might just as well have had them. Had this been a Muggle castle, he would applaud the narrow windows as easily defended. With charms easily applied to obscure the openings from outside, and wards to prevent intrusion, the narrowness of the window was of no use, and only served to remind him of his captivity. The small field of vision showed a stretch of open field, the shadow of the Forbidden Forest, and a bit of dawn sky.
It had taken him half an hour to lever himself from the bed and make the short journey to this small opening. He ignored the inner voice that scorned his weakness and snarled that the result was unworthy of the effort. Dawn light was always worth the effort. He had never taken it for granted, in all the years living in the Hogwarts dungeons, and was not about to start now.
His energy diminished, his pride gave way and he leaned forward, hands extended to support himself on the window sill. There was no one but himself present to witness, and he well knew his strengths and weaknesses.
He saw a solitary figure walking across the dew-silvered grass. He recognized the gait. Potter. How was he still alive? Had he flinched from his task, condemning them all to relive the horror again? What had Potter done with the memories he had bled for him? Had he even bothered to view them? He certainly didn’t mind invading a person’s privacy. The same thoughts had circled through his mind since he first awoke. Had it all been for nothing? He despised the fact that after all of his work, after giving so much of his life to the task and the monster he had served, it ultimately depended on Potter to finish the task, or not.
When Poppy had checked in on him the night before, he told her he needed to speak with Minerva. The Mediwitch made no promises, but after so many years in her care, both as a student and as a spy, he was adept at reading her. She wanted to know the truth. She wanted to know why he had done as he had since that day—the day he had killed the only man who trusted him. He was not looking forward to talking with Minerva, knowing he would have to relate to her what he had done… most of what he had done, over the past year, and why. He was certain that Minerva would relay the gist of it to the Mediwitch, and Poppy knew it too.
Breakfast was delivered by house elf, and Minerva waited until after he had eaten before making her appearance. The significance of that was not lost on him. One does not break bread with one of uncertain allegiance.
He met her still seated in the room’s only chair. Better to be seated than to begin standing, and have his weakness become obvious. She conjured her own chair. He was reminded of Albus, who conjured chairs, pillows, and tea services as needed, although her conjuration was far less fanciful than his.
They looked at each other in silence. There had been silences between them this past year, but those grew out of all of the things he could not say. They were bitter silences. He could feel her judgment in each glance, memories of Albus between them like a repelling charm. He knew those silences. He understood them.
This silence was awkward. He could feel her uncertainty. With no need to guard his role, his old pattern felt out of place.
“Your memories are in my office.”
Fury rose in him. He had given those memories to Potter, fully expecting to die, never to have to deal with the consequences. Now, they were out of his control. Potter had had them, and left them like lost luggage, for anyone to see. He pulled his Occlumency shields around him, letting the impassive mask that was so natural to him fall over his face, as if that could guard him from exposure. It was a futile move, when some of his most private memories were outside of the shields.
“Did you view them?” His voice was rough, but he did not deceive himself that it was solely due to the damage to his throat. His skin felt as raw as his voice.
“So you know.”
“Harry wanted me to know that you were not—“
“Not the betrayer you thought me?”
“Your act has always been convincing, Severus.” She paused. “You could have told me. Albus should—“
“No. He did what was necessary. So did I. Don’t start to imagine me to be some sort of hero, Minerva. I am not a nice man.”
“I think, after all this time, I may have the chance to see the man beneath—“
“Do not expect me to change.”
“But surely, there is no longer a need—“
“I do not like people. I don’t care to be around fools, and there are altogether too many of them. That has not changed, nor has the fact that I will always do what is necessary to succeed, Minerva. I was sorted Slytherin for a reason.”
She was about to break the awkward pause when Severus interrupted. “Tell me about the battle.”
“What do you wish to know?”
“Potter. He defeated the Dark Lord? You saw it?”
“At first we all thought he was dead—Harry I mean. He Who Must Not Be Named had Hagrid carry him toward the battle. He hung so limp in Hagrid’s hands. I was so sure—”
“But he wasn’t, I presume.”
“You Know Who proclaimed him dead.”
Severus didn’t know what to make of that.
“He believed we would all give up, that we would cower before him at the news. I doubt he ever understood how much Harry is loved.”
He repressed a snort, not wanting to antagonize the witch before him until he heard the full story. He had to know what happened while he lay unconscious, all but dead.
She told how Neville stood up to Voldemort, and killed his snake, and how Harry’s body disappeared, only for the boy to reappear and take up battle with the monster. How the great hall had fallen silent as defenders and death eaters alike listened to their conversation, and how Harry had revealed Snape’s loyalties. To her shame, she had needed to see for herself, to view the memories Harry had left in Dumbledore’s Pensieve before she believed it.
“In that case, why am I here?” Snape asked, diverted from the questions still burning. Was Voldemort truly gone?
“Words spoken in battle have many meanings. I know Harry, I was his Head of House for six years, and even I had difficulty believing what he had said. Others… They might well believe that Harry was merely trying to unnerve his opponent, using whatever lies or truth were at his disposal to do so. It is a tool Voldemort has used many times. Stories of your loyalties, mixed in with fables come to life—it would have been difficult for one who does not know Harry to understand that he rarely spoke anything but the truth.”
This time, Severus did snort. That was too much. Potter had lied to him many times; it seemed to be his third favourite pastime, after finding trouble and Quidditch.
“Nevertheless, not many have the strength to kill a friend for mere strategy.”
Her words stabbed more deeply than she could have intended.
He had never explained himself. He never wanted to defend that action, but the words were at his lips, and he gave them voice. “Albus was dying. He had been, since before the school year started. He had encountered a cursed object.”
“His hand. He never said. He told me it was a minor thing...”
“It was killing him.”
The bald words echoed in the silence.
“That night, when he called for me,” he continued after a moment, “whatever he and Potter had been doing had broken through my last protections. He was holding himself upright by sheer force of will.” Up on the Astronomy Tower with Draco, with Bellatrix there for witness, as well as Greyback and the Carrows circling like the vultures they were, Albus had still allowed himself one plea, aimed directly at him. It was the single most difficult thing Albus, or anyone, had ever asked him to do, but he had done it. It had been necessary.
“He would not have survived the night.” His tone ended the subject. He would not justify himself further.
Minerva closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded. “You are here because you are ill, and were near to death.” She turned the conversation back to his original question. “We kept you here instead of taking you to St Mungo’s to ensure you live long enough for the truth, whatever it is, to come out. There was enough room for doubt to give you that much.” She paused, and he knew he would not like the words that followed.
“If you are to have a life of your own after this, Severus, you must have a trial, and you must survive until then.”
Trial. The last time he’d been on trial, he’d had Dumbledore standing up for him. Who would stand up for him this time? Who had the political power to free him from the consequences of the decisions that had been required of him?
His body was healing. He was no longer in constant pain. He had yet to test his magic, to discover the effects of near death on his magical strength and ability. He longed to hold his wand.
He was free of the Dark Lord, free from the need to act the spy. He was even free of his promises to Albus. His vow to Lily’s memory was fulfilled. Potter had survived. The Dark Lord was dead.
He was alive. For the first time, he stopped to consider that fact. He was alive. He found he wanted to survive, and to remain free. He wanted to experience the world for which he had set aside his life for over sixteen years.
Suddenly Minerva’s words repeated in his mind. Fables come to life. “He spoke of the wand? In a room full of Death Eaters? Has he no circumspection at all?”
The look on her face would have daunted a lesser man. He could almost imagine storm clouds gathering around her and for a moment she reminded him of Albus in those rare times when he exhibited fury.
He continued, relentless. “It puts him in danger from every dark wizard who has ever reached for more power, and not a few ambitious wizards who have never before explored the dark. There is a reason for the legend. There is a reason that wand is followed by bloodshed. I would not have this,” Severus gestured to the crimson scar running jaggedly down his neck,” if the Dark Lord had not believed me to be the master of the Elder Wand. From what you say, Potter is its master, and declared so in a room full of dark wizards! He taunted the Dark Lord with the fact.”
“The Dark Lord is dead.”
“Are you sure?”
“I saw his body. I checked it.”
“He came back before.”
“Last time, his body disappeared. This time it did not.” She said that as if she believed it meant something.
Not for the first time, Severus wished Albus were alive. “I need to speak with Potter.”
“Severus... I know you and he had—“
“This has nothing to do with how I feel about him. Only he can tell me what occurred. I know the questions to ask. I need to know for certain. I deserve this, Minerva. After all these years, I deserve to know for certain.”
She searched his face, as if trying to determine his motives. Since he had no plans to kill the Potter brat, he relaxed his Occlumency shields just enough for her to see his need.
“Very well. I’ll see what I can do. I cannot—I will not force him, Severus.”
* * *
May 16, 1998
Harry felt as if he should knock. He had been in the hospital wing more times than he could count, but this was different. He was not a patient. He was not even currently a student. The wing was full of people who really needed help, either from the battle, or from whatever it was that had the castle marked and blocked off with purple barriers. He knew it had to be serious, to have required that the castle be all but evacuated.
More Mediwizards and Mediwitches bustled around than should be in a school infirmary, but probably fewer than he would expect for the aftermath of a battle. Probably those patients that could be transferred to St Mungo’s had been.
It took a few minutes before Madame Pomfrey noticed him. She finished examining the results of a charm she had cast on a woman in one of the beds, a flicker of yellow and pale green lights that hovered over the patient, made a note, and then walked over to him. She cast a practiced eye over him, noting his wind-tousled appearance and ruddy cheeks. He suddenly realized that she had not had the chance to examine him since he had died, and wondered at the wisdom of coming voluntarily into her domain.
“Professor McGonagall, I mean, Headmistress McGonagall said there was a patient here who asked to speak with me.” She had also said not to mention his name. He hoped the Mediwitch knew who he was talking about. Apparently she did, for she motioned for him to follow her into her office. She closed the door behind her, and cast a silencing charm. He wondered how often she did that. Patient details were confidential. He imagined them learning it as part of their training, along with diagnostic charms and which potion to use to heal a broken bone.
“You are considerate to come at his request.”
“I know why he did some of what he did.” Finally. He wondered what he might have done differently, had he known even a little of what Snape had revealed when it was almost too late.
“Do you know how to disillusion yourself?”
Remembering all the times he, Hermione and Ron had cast the repelling, silencing and invisibility charms on their campsite, and at other times on themselves and each other, Harry nodded. He was not nearly as good as Hermione, but they’d all taken turns. They hadn’t used the disillusionment charm on their campsite, but they’d had opportunity to use that one often enough. They were no longer so small as to all fit under his cloak. He was glad, for he didn’t want to pull out his cloak in full view of a staff member. Old habits died hard.
“I will ask you to cast it on yourself in a minute. Severus—Professor Snape—is in a ward behind another patient. The guards do not know that he is there. I’d like to keep it that way until he is well enough to—“ she paused as if trying to find the proper word.
Harry remembered the Pensieve memories Dumbledore had shown him from the end of the last war. “He’s going to have to stand trial, isn’t he?”
Harry didn’t know what to make of Snape, but he was glad that someone like Fudge was no longer Minister. He suddenly wondered who was head of Magical Law Enforcement, and who was now the head of the Wizengamot. Anyone who had been placed during the previous year would likely be suspect.
“Do you think he’ll be set free?”
“At this point, it is unlikely. He no longer has a powerful supporter, as he had last time.”
“That shouldn’t matter! What should matter is what he did, and why he did it.”
“That is the problem. He did terrible things.”
“You think I don’t know that? I was there for some of them, for some of the worst of them! It was war. We all did terrible things. The only thing that matters is if they were necessary.” He had to believe that. Snape was a murderer, but so was Harry. Harry had used two of the three Unforgivables. Now that the war was over, he hoped never to find himself in a position where it seemed necessary to use one again.
Her expression softened.
“Mister Potter, you know what you did was ... “ The mediwitch struggled to find a word that did not condone murder but expressed her gratitude all the same. “A gift to us all. He Who Must Not Be Named was a monster. This school last year, led as it was by Death Eaters and directed by He Who Must Not Be Named – it was something no student should ever experience. For ending that, for ending the destruction of our society, I can only say thank you.”
Harry wished he could leave. He didn’t want gratitude.
“I should tell you the reason I brought you in here. In order to get to Snape’s room, we will have to go through Lucius Malfoy’s.”
Harry wondered that he didn’t feel more anger at the name. After everything that had happened at Malfoy Manor, to Hermione, to the prisoners, he should be furious. Instead, he felt—empty. It was over. “I didn’t realize he was injured in the battle.”
“He wasn’t. He and his family were as healthy as can be expected when they were imprisoned. He caught a cold.”
Harry couldn’t help it. He snickered. After Voldemort, after all that happened, during the final battle and before, Lucius Malfoy was in the Hospital wing with a cold.
He started to laugh. He doubled over, laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop.
Madame Pomfrey looked at him sharply. “I never thought you’d be one to laugh at the misfortunes of others, Mister Potter.”
“It’s... it’s just...” Harry couldn’t continue. He sat on a chair, tears streaming down his face. “A c-cold!”
“I will return when you have composed yourself.” She turned and left, bringing down the silencing charm, subjecting those near her office to the sound of the Boy Who Lived howling with laughter. He was no longer laughing at the idea of Lucius Malfoy catching a cold, he was laughing because the war was over, and they could concern themselves with such things as catching a cold, and he was alive and Voldemort was dead. He laughed, pounding a fist against the Mediwitch’s desk, stomping his feet on the floor.
The war was over. Harry laughed.
* * *
When Madame Pomfrey returned, Harry was again composed. He had wiped the tears from his eyes, and run his fingers through his hair, making it even messier than it had been before.
“Do you think you can get through Lucius Malfoy’s room without revealing yourself? Professor Snape’s situation depends on it.”
“I can. Perhaps I should cast a silencing charm on myself, just in case.” He had long ago discovered the use of that in conjunction with his cloak.
With the spells cast, they left Madame Pomfrey’s office. She paused after opening the door, as if trying to remember what she intended to do, and then continued on when he brushed past her.
They continued through the hospital wing, which seemed bigger than it usually was. Madame Pomfrey made sure to choose the least travelled path, and finally ended up in an area where Colin Creevey had been kept when he had caught a very contagious form of Dragon Pox. A guard was at the door. Madame Pomfrey had a few quiet words with him, and he held the door open for her while she carried two boxes of potion bottles in, making two trips. Harry recognized this for the ruse it was, and darted in between the first and the second trip.
In the bed, indeed, was Lucius Malfoy. He was asleep, and looked haggard. He had never seen the elder Malfoy looking less than pristine... except perhaps when they were brought to the Manor. On the surface, he had held himself as usual, but he hadn’t exuded the poise he normally did. Harry had other concerns at the time, and could be misremembering it entirely. This time, however, the head of the Malfoy family looked like someone with a cold.
Madame Pomfrey put the second crate of potions next to the first, unlocked a cabinet, and put one of them on an empty shelf, and then relocked the cabinet door behind them. Closing the door the guard had opened for them, she turned to open a second door, and returned for the second crate. Harry ducked through the open door and waited until she had come through and closed it behind them.
“You can remove the charms now, Mister Potter.”
He did as she asked.
She cast her expert gaze over him again. “One more thing Mister Potter: you will make time this week to come see me. After the stories I have heard about the battle, and of your experiences over the past year, it would be best to do a full diagnostic on you.”
She held him in her gaze for a few moments, waiting until he nodded, then turned and walked down the corridor. He followed her past several closed doors. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure why he had come. Snape had belittled him the entire time he had been a student, doing everything he could to make Harry’s life miserable. But the memory of his mother, bringing life to a flower, reminded him. This man had given him a gift, mixed in with the terrible truth of what he would have to do. Harry now had a memory of his mother when she was not screaming. He had several images of her, swinging on swings, talking with Snape, growing up. How many sons could remember their mother growing up? He could not remember her as a mother, but he could see her as a child, as a schoolgirl, as someone his own age.
Snape had given this to him. Perhaps not willingly, perhaps not intentionally, but he had nevertheless given it to him.
Without Snape, Harry might not have triumphed over Voldemort, and that was important, but the memories of his mother were something Snape had not had to give. He could have chosen fewer memories. He could have convinced Harry with fewer.
He would see what Snape wanted.
When they got to the room, he had not been sure what to expect. Was the man lying invalid in a bed, or pacing around the room like a caged Potions Master, like he had in his classroom, ready to pounce on unwary Gryffindors? He remembered the man lying in his own blood, skin paler than usual, eyes expressive, with a plea in them Snape would never express aloud. The words he used were close enough. Look at me. How had he survived?
Snape was seated in a chair by the window, a blanket over his lap. Harry suspected the work of Madame Pomfrey in that. Another chair was in the room, and Snape gestured to it. Harry was glad. At least he was not expected to stand, like a naughty schoolboy, in front of his teacher.
He sat. Snape nodded to Madame Pomfrey, and she left.
Silence descended as they studied each other.
“You do not look dead.” Snape commented, as if that were a failing on Harry’s part. His voice was softer and rougher than usual, not quite a whisper, but not the deadly smooth Harry was expecting.
“Neither do you.”
“Granted. Minerva McGonagall led me to believe you had viewed the memories I ... shared with you.”
“Yes.” Harry’s voice croaked.
“Yet you live.”
“I died.” Harry had not told many people this. It felt odd to share it with Snape. He suddenly understood what the man wanted.
“I died. Voldemort killed me. I stood there while he cast Avada Kedavra on me.” The words tumbled out, as if mere speed would get the older man to believe him.
Snape raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
Harry found he wasn’t quite ready to talk about it after all. “I got better.”
“You... got better.” Snape’s voice was dry.
“He is dead.”
“He said—” by Snape’s tone, Harry understand that this was a different he. “He told me the Dark Lord could not die while you lived.”
“I saw.” Harry remembered his realization, as he watched Dumbledore explain the necessity to Snape, and remembered Snape’s horrified reaction. Not on his own behalf, but on his mother’s. Harry could respect that, perhaps even more. Snape had done what few others had done: react to him as the son of his mother. Not some sort of hero, not an icon, not even the son of his father. He decided Snape deserved an explanation.
“Voldemort took my blood to come back to life. Just as I tied him to life, having used my blood in the ritual at the cemetery tied me to life while he lived. When he killed me, he killed the part of himself within me.”
“But you survived.” The again was unspoken, but nevertheless heard.
“I survived. Again.” Harry survived, while so many others had died.
“Can you be certain—“
“I saw something when I was dead. I saw something – I think it was the bit that was part of him. It died with me, and did not come back.” Harry raised his hand to his scar.
“I don’t feel him anymore. I have not felt even a prickle since then.”
Snape closed his eyes. Harry could see the man relax, just a little. Seeing that, he realized the fear the older man must have held, when everything had not gone as he had been told it must.
The older man’s eyes opened, and gazed dispassionately at Harry. “My mother—“
“I will not talk about her.”
Harry deflated, but could not help but press on.
“You knew her and never said.”
“When should I have told you? When you were in class, for all your peers to hear? For Draco Malfoy to hear, and report back to his father? For Pansy Parkinson to hear, and use to her advantage? Or perhaps when you were in detention? Should I have rewarded wrongdoing with stories of your mother?”
“We were in the same castle for six years!”
“Go away, Potter.”
“The memories you viewed, and then left for the next person to find? Perhaps you should have set up a queue: two galleons to view the Death Eater’s memories? Go away!”
“They’re in the Headmistress’ Office. I told her about them, so she would know. I thought you were dead. I wanted someone to go get your body.”
“After you left me to die.” Snape twisted his words, his hoarse voice making them sound even more harsh.
“You told me to! You told me to look at you. You gave them to me as you were dying! Should I have ignored your wishes? Those memories bled out of you.”
“And yet you live. You never could follow instructions.”
“I—“ Harry stopped. He took a deep breath, refusing to get into this again. “If you want them back, I can get them for you.
“If I want them back? Do you think I want my memories in a Pensieve for anyone to see?”
“I just thought, since they convinced me—about your motives, I mean—that perhaps you could, I could, someone could bring them to your trial.”
Harry recognized the fury in Snape’s face. He’d seen it often enough. Still, he kept on.
“You were horrible to me, you know. But that isn’t a reason... I just thought you should know where they were.”
Madame Pomfrey must have set an alarm on the door, because she came through the door at the end of the corridor soon after.
After Harry again cast the two spells to make himself undetectable, the Mediwitch guided him through the Hospital Wing again. Harry didn’t even notice Lucius Malfoy, did not even notice his surroundings as he walked, faster and faster through the castle, until he reached the main doors. Bursting outside, he breathed in deep, ragged breaths. He had tried. He had given the man who loved his mother a chance, and Snape had thrown it back in his face.
Harry headed for the broom shed, cast the unlocking charm that Madame Hooch had shared with him, and grabbed a broom, any broom. He needed to fly.
Chapter 1 (If you've not read the story yet, start Here...)
Chapter 18 Part 1 (if you missed the previous chapter, click here)
Chapter 18 Part 2 (or click here if you only missed Part 2)
Chapter 19 Part 2 (On to the next chapter)