5 days after the Battle of Hogwarts
On the third day he rose again. Severus chuckled internally at the irony. It was now 5 days after the Dark Lord had set that blasted snake on him, 5 days since Severus had resigned himself to death, and 2 days since he had awoken to the madness of the Hogwarts hospital wing.
Severus was propped up on pillows, observing the bustle of the hospital wing. He couldn't speak and he was too weak to move much, so all he could do was lie there and watch. Poppy checked on him regularly; initially pleased that he was awake, the old hen had then proceeded to pester him continuously about going back to sleep. Severus would merely shake his head and turn away from the vial of Dreamless Sleep in her hand. Eventually, Pomfrey would just huff and leave.
After a dinner of onion soup, Severus was back to watching again. As he watched, the door cracked open a fraction and a bespectacled young man with a familiar mop of untidy black hair poked his head around the door. Severus watched Potter cast his gaze over the room as though looking for something. His eyes settled briefly on Severus and they maintained eye contact for a moment, but then Potter continued his sweep of the room. In the end Potter seemed to find what he was looking for in Madam Pomfrey's office, and from Severus' own glance in that direction, he concluded that the young man was looking for Poppy herself.
When Potter finally entered, however, he didn't head towards the office. Instead, Potter was walking towards Severus' bed. He arrived with purpose and confidence, but then stood awkwardly at Severus' bedside.
"Hello, Professor." He greeted with half a smile that soon disappeared when he received only a narrow-eyed glare in return.
"Right." Potter answered himself. "The healer said you couldn't speak yet. That'll probably make things easier for me anyway." He let out an awkward chuckle. "I realise you've only just woken up, but I wanted you to know that I've spoken with Kingsley and we've cleared your name with the Wizengamot. You'll probably have to testify at some point, but at least you don't have to worry about the Aurors storming in to cart you off to Azkaban." Harry paused his ramblings as though the Professor would respond, but he swallowed noticeably when Snape's glare didn't falter.
"Don't worry, I didn't reveal anything personal." Harry assured as though Severus had voiced his concerns aloud. "They don't know anything about your motives for spying for the light, they only know that you risked your life to do so."
Severus allowed his features to soften somewhat as the boy before him looked down at his shoes.
"Which kind of brings me to why I'm here." The boy peeked up from beneath his fringe and made eye contact with Severus. "I have to - I want to thank you, for saving my life, over and over again. I know you don't want my thanks and I know you didn't really do it for me, but I'm grateful anyway. And I know you didn't expect to live, but I'm glad you did, because you deserve to have a happy life, Sir, where you're not indebted or enslaved to anyone, and because it means that I'm able to tell you how grateful I am. So, thank you. Really, Sir, thank you for everything."
Severus was rather glad he couldn't speak, because he wasn't sure what he would say. He held Potter's gaze for a prolonged moment and then he nodded. Potter seemed to take that as acceptance as he smiled in a relieved way and his shoulders lost some of their tension.
Severus thought Potter might leave after that, but the boy remained and reached into his robes for something. He pulled out a small object and when Potter held it up, Severus could see that it was a potion phial filled with a shimmering, swirling substance. His memories.
Severus glared at the boy and Potter looked sheepish once more. "I also came to return these to you." The icy glare remained. "I know you probably wouldn't have given them to me if there had been any other way to tell me what I needed to know, or if you hadn't thought that you would die soon, so it seems right that I should return them to you, even though I can't un-see them myself." Harry proceeded despite the Professor's hostile expression and placed the phial of memories on Snape's bedside table. "No one but me has seen them, I swear, and the only people that know what was in them are Ron and Hermione. You're probably pissed that I told them, but," he shrugged. "I tell Ron and Hermione everything."
"Harry James Potter!" The confident young man turned into a nervous looking schoolboy at the sound of Madam Pomfrey's voice.
Harry looked up quickly and then turned back to Snape. "Um, I've got to go. It was nice talking to you, Professor." He turned his back on Snape and made towards the door to leave.
"Harry Potter, don't you dare leave this infirmary again!" Severus watched with interest as Potter was stopped in his tracks by the fearsome medi-witch.
The Saviour of the wizarding world turned slowly to face her. "Um, hi, Madam Pomfrey, I was just –" He pointed a thumb at the door behind him.
"You were just going to disappear on me again." Poppy frowned at him.
"No, I –" Harry started to protest.
"Mr Potter," Pomfrey interrupted. "You have been avoiding me for 5 days. You need a full medical scan."
"I'm fine, really." Potter assured earnestly.
"Really? Have you slept yet?"
"Of course I've slept –"
"I don't mean catching a few hours here and there, Harry. I mean a full night, and probably a day too, of uninterrupted sleep to catch up on the severe exhaustion that you are so clearly exhibiting."
"I –" Potter had no excuse. He looked over to Severus for an exit strategy, but the Professor gave him a disinterested look back.
"I didn't think so." The medi-witch said smugly. "You need to rest, Potter, so that you can recover. Not just from the battle, but from whatever in Merlin's name you've been doing for the last year."
"Yes, Madam Pomfrey." Potter answered, appropriately cowed.
"And are you eating properly?" Poppy continued her interrogation.
"Really? Because you are quite clearly malnourished." Harry squirmed as the medi-witch eyed him appraisingly.
"I swear, I'm eating!" Potter promised. "My house-elf is quite insistent on it."
Poppy narrowed her eyes. "You had better be, Potter. Don't think I won't set Molly Weasley on you." She threatened.
Harry held up his hands in mock surrender. "That's not necessary, I promise you."
"Very well." Poppy seemed to accept his promises with reluctance. "I still want you to spend the night while I do a full body scan and run some other tests on your magical core."
"That's really not necessary – " Potter began to protest, backing towards the door as Pomfrey brandished her wand.
"It most certainly is necessary when you go around defeating Dark Lords single-handedly."
Her approach was interrupted by the opening of the infirmary doors.
"Ah, there you are, Harry." Kingsley popped his head around the door. "Are you free? Madam Bones and I were hoping to pick your brains on the last Death Eater whereabouts."
Severus watched Potter's face light up like a Christmas tree as he grasped at this chance of escape.
"Yes!" "No!" Potter and Pomfrey answered simultaneously.
"Er…" Kingsley looked between the two of them. "It won't take long."
"Of course, Kingsley, I'll come with you now."
"Potter!" Poppy objected.
"I'll come back later, Madam Pomfrey." Potter lied badly, following Kingsley out the door.
"Potter!" Pomfrey called again after him, but Potter had already escaped.
The medi-witch turned back, muttering irritably. "Silly boy. Of all the irresponsible –" She cut off as she caught Severus' eye. She waggled her finger at him as she walked past. "And don't you go getting any ideas."
Severus attempted an innocent expression, but, if he managed to achieve one, it was wasted on Poppy who had already stormed back to her office.
Severus felt tired. He shuffled further down the bed and closed his eyes. Potter had been there. Potter had thanked him. Potter had defeated the Dark Lord. Potter was alive.
Merlin. Would wonders never cease?
12 weeks after the Battle of Hogwarts
"So Severus, I trust you have made a full recovery?" Minerva inquired without much preamble. She looked at home behind the grand oak desk of the headteacher's office, Severus thought. It fit her in a way that it never had him. Severus had always felt like an imposter in the elaborate office, despite Hogwarts' acceptance of him as headmaster, and as a result, he had never felt comfortable sat behind that imposing desk, like it truly belonged to someone else, a someone far greater than he. But Minerva had made the desk, the whole office for that matter, hers. Gone were Dumbledore's garish furnishings; the office now had a more subdued, classic feel. And yet, there remained small touches of their predecessor, the odd intricate ornament floating from the ceiling or peculiar instrument on a shelf, and Fawkes of course, sat preening on his perch, having returned to the castle in the wake of the final battle.
Minerva was composed and confident as she poured out tea for them both, a backdrop of headmasters-and-mistresses-past watching on. She passed Severus a cup and saucer, waiting patiently for his answer.
Severus knew what she was asking. "Poppy has finally cleared me for work, yes."
Minerva smirked at his disgruntled response. It had taken 4 weeks for Poppy to release him from the infirmary and a further 6 weeks before she had deemed him fit enough to do anything beyond a mild summoning charm. Severus had very nearly gone stir crazy, stuck in the castle while all the rebuilding was being done, but unable to help. The insufferable medi-witch wouldn't even let him brew. It had been a frustrating summer for the Potions Master; he did not approve of this forced relaxation.
"Good, good." Minerva nodded. "I am pleased. We couldn't start the term without our Deputy Head now could we?"
Severus inclined his head in response. Severus had still been in the hospital wing when Minerva suggested he should become Deputy Head, approaching him with her usual brisk Scottish tones, it was barely even a question in her mind, she'd already decided. Severus hadn't even thought he'd have a job at the school anymore. Being cleared of all charges on the say-so of the Boy-Who-Conquered is one thing, but after all that had taken place during his reign of Hogwarts, he hardly expected to be allowed anywhere near people's children ever again.
Severus had resisted at first, but the witch had been persistent; insisting that Severus was exactly what the school needed and that the pupils, parents and public would be fully supportive of her decision. Severus' resolve was weakened by his recovery induced exhaustion. He relented.
Back in the Headmistress' office, Minerva sipped her tea. "I think we've finally got the staff sorted for the start of term."
"Excellent. Weasley confirmed?"
Minerva nodded. "He's been able to get out of his contract with the dragon sanctuary, so that he can return to England and be with family. That means the Transfiguration and Head of Gryffindor positions are both filled and you've finally approved Horace's replacement."
The potions position had been a bone of contention between the Headmistress and her deputy for numerous weeks, with Severus not willing to fill the position himself but not approving of anyone else that Minerva suggested because they failed to meet his high standards. At last Minerva had suggested Order member Hestia Jones and after carefully scrutinizing her qualifications, Severus had agreed.
"I don't approve of mediocrity." Severus replied without apology.
Minerva rolled her eyes. "Well it's all sorted now, anyway. We're all set to start the year, and I think we've got the best staff to re-open Hogwarts with.
"Now I want to talk to you about the eighth years." Minerva said, her tone suddenly business-like."
"Eighth years?" Severus' eyebrow rose in questioning confusion.
"Yes, Severus, the eighth years. Those students who were unable to complete their education due to the circumstances of last year. I must have told you."
"Not to my recollection, Headmistress." Severus responded dryly.
"Oh, I do apologise, Severus. I'm afraid with everything there is to be done, some things are just slipping my mind. I don't think I've ever been so frazzled."
"It is no matter, Minerva. And you are coping tolerably well as a new Headmistress, given the circumstances."
The Scottish woman chuckled heartily. "Well, that is high praise indeed from you, Severus, thank you."
"You are most welcome." Said Severus, tone dry like the desert. "How many students will be returning for the extra year?"
"I have received 12 confirmations of attendance for next year. Some were here last year but were understandably distracted from their studies. Then there are those that were completely unable to attend." Severus saw the deep sadness in his colleague's features. "This is why I wanted to talk to you about them. To a certain degree they will be separate from the other students. I've had new dormitories created for them, where they will each have their own room and a shared common room. Do you approve?"
"They are students different from any the school has seen before, with a unique set of needs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to adjust the way we approach their schooling. They are more mature now than before in many ways, so I believe it is wise to have removed them from residing with the younger years."
"Precisely." Minerva agreed. "Which is why I would like you to keep an eye on them. Be a sort of Head of Year, if you like? Someone they could go to with whom they could talk."
Severus nearly choked on his tea. "Me? Minerva, you can't be serious. I'm the reason half of them are damaged in the first place. I'm the worst person to be responsible for them."
"Nonsense, Severus." Minerva stopped his objection briskly. "We all understand what you did for the cause and how you protected the students to the best of your ability."
"But Minerva, these students will be vulnerable and damaged. They need someone sympathetic and comforting, neither of which I am. Get Pomona to do it."
"Severus," Minerva responded in her stern Professor voice. "If these students wanted to be coddled they would stay at home with their mothers. What they need is someone who truly understands the harsh realities of war that they have experienced." Suddenly the headmistress lost all her fight and appeared to be actually weighed down by heartbreak. She whispered, "Good God, Severus, the things they have been through, the horrors they've seen. It's a wonder they're still functioning, let alone preparing to return to school."
Severus nodded. There was nothing in Minerva's assessment he could disagree with. No-one had left the war unscathed and unfortunately it was the young who had experienced the brunt of it. Severus believed they had shown a remarkable resilience of character; he said so to Minerva.
"Oh, yes." She reached for a piece of parchment to the side of her impressively large desk. "This is a list full of resilience." She looked sadly down at what Severus assumed was a list of the students returning before she looked back up intently. "So you'll do it?"
Severus gave a long suffering sigh. "If you wish it, Headmistress."
"Good. In that case I believe we should have a quick discussion about the pupils returning. Some are especially worth highlighting."
Severus merely rolled his hand to indicate she should proceed.
McGonagall needed no further encouragement. "Right. Well, first you've got those who were here last year. Abbot, Bones, Boot, Corner, Cho, Finnegan and, of course, Neville Longbottom. They were all part of the student resistance last year, if I recall correctly?"
"To varying degrees, yes." Severus confirmed. "All came under the discipline of the Carrows at some point. Longbottom was particularly targeted since he became the unofficial leader of the whole thing." Speaking of Longbottom, Severus reminded himself that he needed to send the boy a large gift basket or something for finishing off that blasted snake.
"Indeed, the boy certainly came into his own last year. He's coping fairly well, from what Augusta tells me, and wants to pursue a career in Herbology, but we'll keep an eye out nonetheless. I rather hope his strong character will be something the others can lean on."
Severus nodded. He could see that being the case since the boy had already provided that to his friends last year. It would be nice for the teachers of Hogwarts to be able to take credit for the remarkable maturation of Neville Longbottom. Severus could admit to himself though, that it was down to two things that Longbottom had become a brave wizard and confident leader: war and Harry Potter.
"The rest were all absent last year. Dean Thomas, who was on the run from the authorities, apparently ended up imprisoned at Malfoy Manor, along with Miss Lovegood, who was taken from the train and will be returning to 7th year in September. Although, and I'm a little fuzzy on the details here, they somehow ended up at Bill Weasley's house where they began their recovery a little time before the final battle. There may be some issues there from their imprisonment." Snape nodded. "Which leads us on to the next pupil: Draco Malfoy."
Severus was surprised; Draco hadn't mentioned returning to him, although admittedly he hadn't seen the boy in a few weeks.
"Draco is returning? That could raise some issues. Will he be the only Slytherin?"
"He will. I am hopeful that old rivalries will have passed and Mr Malfoy assured me in his letter that he merely wishes to keep his head down and get his qualifications. You know the boy better than I, of course, so you can keep me apprised of the situation."
"Naturally." Severus assured. He was impressed that Draco had the courage to face the school again after everything. But then, he supposed, the boy didn't really have anywhere else to go.
"Which brings us, finally, to the so called 'Golden Trio.'" Minerva concluded the list.
This time Severus couldn't stop his eyebrows from rising in surprise. "Potter? Potter's returning to school?"
"Yes, Severus." Said Minerva in a tone of tired patience. "Along with Weasley and Granger."
"I would have thought those three would be offered ministry positions immediately."
"They were." McGonagall confirmed. "Kingsley informed me that they were each offered a job in whichever department they chose. Apparently, the three of them wished to finish their education first."
Severus snorted incredulously. "Weasley cares about his education?"
Minerva huffed. "Well perhaps not, but Hermione certainly does. Harry, of course, has always been very attached to Hogwarts, and it seems that where one goes they all go these days."
"Well that's hardly surprising. They always were attached at the hip."
"It's more than that now." Minerva said seriously. "I've been speaking to Arthur. He and Molly are very worried about the three of them."
"How so?" Severus asked, interested.
"Arthur says none of them will talk about what they've been through or what happened while they were away last year. They barely leave each other's side and haven't stayed even a night apart."
"I heard they were staying at the Burrow."
"Only for part of the summer. They also went to Australia to retrieve Hermione's parents."
"Retrieve them?" Severus queried.
"Oh, you didn't know? She performed a complex memory charm on her parents so they had new identities and forgot all about her." Minerva said sadly.
"Merlin." Severus murmured. He really couldn't ever deny that Hermione Granger was a brilliant witch. "That must have taken great skill."
"And great courage too." Minerva nodded. "She didn't even know if she would be able to reverse the charm. The poor thing." She sighed. "Anyway, since they returned to the UK they've split their time between the Grangers', the Burrow and Grimmauld Place."
"Grimmauld Place? I didn't think anyone had been back there since…" His eyes drifted over to Dumbledore's sleeping portrait. "Since the Ministry fell."
"They hid there for a while apparently." Minerva explained. "Now they go whenever they need to get away. Arthur says the main reason he won't push them to talk is because whenever someone does, the next day the three of them leave for London. He'd rather have them there with family, not speaking, than shut up on their own in Grimmauld Place."
Severus pondered this seriously. Perhaps he had underestimated the effect the war had had on Potter and his friends. How foolish he was to think the boy would now be bathing in the glory of his victory when he had just lost close friends and mentors. Severus decided he had a lot to answer for when it came to caring about the boy's welfare.
"Those three, plus Draco, are likely to need the most support." He surmised before continuing glumly. "And, unfortunately, they are also the least likely to ask for it."
"Very true." McGonagall agreed.
"Nonetheless, I shall ensure they receive the help they need." Severus said firmly.
"Thank you, Severus." Minerva gave him a fond smile which made him feel slightly uncomfortable. "I knew I could count on you."