Snape felt numb.
The war was over, and somehow, beyond all expectations they'd won. More astonishingly, Snape had somehow managed to survive.
Actually surviving the war wasn't something that had ever occurred to him. Voldemort was vicious enough even with his loyal servants. Life as a spy had been precarious; a single stray thought or a single misspoken word could have led to his death at any time.
Even between wars he'd kept in touch with death eaters, many of him were sociopaths. It would have been easy to get stabbed in Knockturn alley or to be killed in any number of ways by suspicious cohorts.
And if he survived all that, he still had to survive Longbottom and Weasley in his potions classroom. Four of his predecessors had been killed in potions accidents in the past thousand years; it wasn't advertised in Hogwarts a history to avoid frightening parents off.
His entire profession as a teacher was so that he would have a reason to keep in contact with the parents of students, especially Pureblood Slytherins. It was also so that Dumbledore could keep an eye on him.
He gone straight from being a student to being a death eater. He'd then become a teacher and then a spy. He'd always had a purpose; he'd always worked from someone else.
Never his own man, he'd always worked for others.
Now he didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't enjoy teaching, not really, and the real money in potions was in research.
The Ministry didn't appeal, assuming the Ministry survived the deaths of so many of its members.
The sound of a throat clearing behind him pulled him out of his reverie. He turned, startled. With classes temporarily dismissed no one should have been there except staff, but instead there was a familiar form standing in the doorway.
"Can I help you Mr. Universe?"
"I was just wondering what you were planning to do," Steven said. "Now that you don't have to be a spy anymore."
"What business is that of yours?" Snape asked sharply.
He'd been right to worry about Steven Universe all those years ago. Someone with the power to steal a man's entire life was terrifying enough even without the physical strength to beat a troll.
At some point it would occur to someone that Steven and his aunts had decimated the majority of Voldemort's army on their own. They were a major force to be feared and to be catered to. Politics in the Wizarding world would never be the same, but it would likely involve the gems in some way.
"I just wanted to make sure you were going to be all right," Steven said.
"I'm sure you have more to worry about than my welfare," Snape said. "I understand there are celebrations going on everywhere."
"My father once told me there was no such thing as a good war," Steven said. He stared down at his hands. "I thought I understood what he meant, but I didn't. I can't help but think that if I hadn't been here...if the gems hadn't been here not so many people would have died."
Snape was silent for a long moment, then said, "I can almost guarantee you that more of the people you call your friends would have died."
"But I should have been able to find another way," Steven said. "I should have been able to save everyone."
"Some people can't be saved," Snape said. Whether he was talking about Voldemort or himself he wasn't sure.
"That's what Garnet told me about gems, but I don't believe that. That's why I tried...what I did with Voldemort."
Steven looked away. "I didn't mean to hurt him. I just thought if I could make him better that at least someone would be saved."
"There is a reason that the Cruciatis is one of the Unforgivables, Mr. Universe," Snape said. "Stealing someone's free will is one of the greatest crimes you can commit, even if you believe it is for their own good."
If someone didn't get through to the boy, he'd try it again someday. Steven's power was strong enough that he needed to be careful. With his aunt's backing, and that of Dumbledore and Harry Potter, he'd likely have enough political power to be dangerous as well.
A powerful do-gooder who thought he knew better for everyone than what they knew for themselves wasn't all that far from becoming a Dark Lord themselves.
"Do you think what I did was unforgivable?" Steven asked quietly.
Snape hesitated. "I'm not the one who needs to forgive you. The dark...Voldemort wouldn't forgive you, but that's not surprising given his nature. The only other person who can forgive you is yourself."
"Should I forgive myself?" Steven asked.
"Only if you do better in the future. Feeling guilty but repeating the same mistakes is worthless, as is beating yourself up for a past you can't change."
Steven smiled suddenly. "That sounds like really good advice, professor!"
There was something...knowing about his expression. Snape didn't know how he knew, but somehow the boy knew about what had happened with Lily, about how he'd inadvertently gotten her killed. It would have been just like Sirius to tell the boys as a way to undermine what little relationship he had with them.
"We are not discussing my personal life," Snape said. "Not now, not ever."
"What about your professional one?" Steven asked. "I really came to tell you that I think you should stay on, at least as head of Slytherin."
"What I choose to do is none of your concern."
Steven looked up at him. "The thing is, there's going to be a lot of kids who are really going to need you when school starts back. A lot of them are going to be missing moms and dads, and a lot of that is my fault."
Snape frowned. It was likely that many of the Slytherins would be treated as traitors because their families had sided with Voldemort. The Ministry had been quite vindictive toward those who didn't still have power after the last war. Many families would likely be stripped of property and income, their children driven into poverty.
Steven continued. "I don't know how I'm going to look them in the eye when school starts, but I'm going to have to try. Running away wouldn't be right. My dad always told me you have to face your fears."
Although he had never known the man, Snape said., "Perhaps you are right, Mr. Universe."
Perhaps if he got a teaching assistant to teach the first three years teaching would be more tolerable. It was something to think about. It wasn't as though his snakes would have anyone else watching out for them; the other side had won, and had done so decisively.
Lost in thought, he didn't see Steven leave.
"I can't believe it's over," Ron said. "There's been so many people missing in the Ministry that dad got promoted to Adviser for the Ministry of Magic."
"With so many Purebloods gone, I'm sure the Ministry is just trying to convince people that there won't be any reprisals. Hiring one of the few loyal Purebloods was just common sense," Hermione said.
"Are you saying they just hired him because of his blood status?" Ron asked. He stared at her incredulously. "I'll have you know my father worked hard for that position."
"Have you seen the statistics on how many Muggleborns actually got hired to the Ministry over the past hundred years?" Hermione asked. "I have, and it's not pretty."
"I suppose that's going to have to change now," Steven said. He sounded a little melancholy. "At least something good might come out of all of this."
"There are still a lot of Purebloods and Halfbloods in the Ministry," Harry said. "The war didn't entirely gut it, at least according to Sirius. It's just that a lot of new hires are going to have to be Muggleborns."
Noticing the looks on Hermione's and Ron's faces, Steven said, "If we start talking about politics, I think we'll start fighting...and I'm tired of fighting."
The others stared at him for a moment, then reluctantly nodded. They'd had enough fighting to last their entire lives, even Ron, who'd been inside Hogwarts helping students escape.
"What are we going to do now?" Harry asked.
"I'm going into politics," Hermione said. At the looks from the others, she said, "What? I actually have a chance now. As soon as I finish school I'm going to start trying to fight for equal rights for magical creatures."
Glancing at Steven, she said, "Given what the gems did for the country, I think I might actually have a chance."
By some lights, Steven could be considered a magical creature. The laws restricting half humans had already been dismissed, although the Ministry had done nothing for the House Elves or the Goblins or any of the others.
"What do you plan to do?" Steven asked.
"Now that I don't need the blood protections at the Dursleys, Sirius has asked me to move in with him," Harry said. "I'm going to become an Auror."
The others stared at him, but Harry shook his head. "I'm going to have to work toward being the most powerful wizard around, just in case Baby Voldemort goes bad again. Being an Auror is the best kind of practice for that."
"You could go monster hunting with me and the gems," Steven said. "Hermione said she might try it this summer, if Garnet thinks it's OK. They've agreed to put a limited Floo connection in at the temple so that Hermione can visit more often anyway."
The sudden coloring of Hermione's cheeks fascinated Harry for some reason, as did her look of embarrassment.
"It's not going to be the same, going to Hogwarts without all the death threats," Harry said.
Ron grinned, "It's going to be better. The worst thing we're going to have to worry about is pranks from my brothers."
"They aren't going back," Steven said. At the sudden sharp looks from the others, he said, "They're opening a store on Diagon Alley; I'm lending them the money to get it started. Garnet said it'd be a really good investment, especially because it'll keep Amethyst and the twins apart."
"Mum's going to go mental," Ron said.
Steven shrugged. "Apparently Garnet wanted to avoid some kind of incident involving a thousand pounds of chicken feathers, thirty cherry bombs detonated in the toilets simultaneously and a giant animated artichoke. She said fifteen hundred galleons was more than worth it."
Harry found himself wondering just how epic a prank they were avoiding; he'd have liked to see it. On the other hand, Garnet's ability made pulling off any truly epic pranks extremely difficult.
"I hear Lupin is going to be a professor again," Steven said.
Everyone stared at him, astonished.
"There were some people from the Ministry who asked if there was anything I wanted," Steven said. He shrugged. "I told them about how Professor Lupin was one of the best professors I'd ever had. Next thing I knew, he was on the schedule to teach."
"I thought nobody wanted a werewolf to teach their children?" Hermione asked
"That was mostly the Pureblood parents," Ron said. "And they're gone now."
Steven winced. "I'm just happy he'll be teaching potions from now on."
"Snape's gone?" Ron asked. "Good Riddance."
"He'll be teaching Defense," Steven said, with a sharp look at Ron. "And I'm sure he'll be a lot happier teaching that than potions, where he has to be stressed out all the time."
"Now I'm the one who's going to be stressed all the time," Ron said. He sighed and said, "Well, at least now that all this war and death nonsense is over with, we can get back to what's really important in life."
"What's that?" Steven asked.
The sounds of everyone's laughter was like music.