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Chapter Thirty-One—The Sharp Edge of Forgiveness
Harry stares at the sniveling man sitting in the ropes in Snape's office. Snape has shut and locked the door behind them. He doesn't say anything. Neither does the man in the ropes.
Harry can't truly believe this man is Scabbers. Or the one that betrayed his parents. He didn't even know anyone had betrayed his parents until recently. In his mind, they just—fought and died.
He takes a deep breath, and the man looks up. His eyes widen at the sight of Harry. "You look just like James," he breathes. "But with Lily's—"
"My mum's eyes, I know," Harry interrupts. He's heard that enough, and he doesn't want to hear it from this traitor. "What are you going to tell me that's useful?" He steps forwards and circles carefully around the man, staring at him. He's short and pale, and there's a scraggly brown beard making its way across his jaw. And he keeps blinking as though his eyes aren't used to the light yet.
"I'm sorry," Pettigrew says, his head weaving and bobbing back and forth. "I didn't mean to—I panicked—I never meant to betray your family to the Dark Lord! I didn't want to!"
"Rubbish," Snape says, which is so unexpected that Harry turns to stare at him. Snape meets his gaze and gives both Harry and Pettigrew a nasty smile. "Pettigrew was the keeper of a Fidelius secret, Mr. Potter. There is no known torture that can take the secret from someone. He must have betrayed it willingly." Pettigrew flinches back as if each word is a lash.
"I was afraid," Pettigrew whispers, and he's looking at the floor now and not anyone else in the room. "You have no idea what it's like to be that afraid. You don't know—"
"Oh, really?" Harry snarls. He's already shown the scar once today, so it doesn't seem like such a big deal to pull back his sleeve and show it again. Pettigrew still won't look at him, so he shoves his arm under the rat's nose and makes him squeak and flinch again. "This is a bite from a basilisk. I faced that in the Chamber of Secrets last year. I killed it. Then I killed the thing that was possessing my friend. I was scared to death! But I still did it."
Pettigrew doesn't say anything. Harry waits, and finally says, "And I was a Gryffindor then, just like you were. So don't give me this—this shit about how you can't do anything because you're too afraid."
"Language, Mr. Potter," Snape murmurs, but he doesn't sound as though he believes what he's saying himself. He strides forwards and takes Harry's arm, turning it back and forth. "I may have a potion that would reduce the scarring."
Harry shrugs and lets his sleeve fall again, hiding the ugly thing from sight. "I'm used to it by now."
Snape frowns, but Harry turns back to Pettigrew. "So I won't ask you how you could do it, because I already know that. I'm going to ask you if you feel proud knowing you condemned an innocent man to prison. Do you feel proud knowing I had to grow up with abusive Muggles and get scarred by what they did, too? Do you feel proud—"
"No! But I was afraid."
Harry rolls his eyes. "Fear isn't an excuse. For anything. I know you might think it is, but that only proves how stupid you are." He makes Pettigrew flinch with just his eyes this time. "And you're still afraid. Well, now you get to see what it'll be like to sit in Azkaban and be afraid of Dementors."
He gives away secrets about himself and does not even realize it.
Severus clamps a hold on himself that he's perfected through long years of spying and does not snarl when Harry shows Pettigrew the scar from the basilisk—a scar even Severus has not seen until today—or when he talks about the abusive Muggles he grew up with, or when he reveals just how much he knows of fearlessness. Pettigrew is blinking, taking it in.
Time to give him something more to think about.
Severus moves a step forwards. Pettigrew immediately snaps his gaze to him. His breathing quickens until Severus thinks he can hear each individual laboring movement of his lungs. He curls his lip.
"You will go to trial at the Ministry," he says. "As soon as we can locate Black."
Harry stares at him with his lips slightly parted, as if to ask what Severus is thinking, giving away Pettigrew's ultimate fate, but Severus ignores him. The point is to see how Pettigrew reacts.
And that way is to scream and thrash against the ropes. "Not—you can't! No! The Dementors!"
Severus smiles a little. Yes, of course. Pettigrew's cowardice would mean that creatures who exude fear would be one of his ultimate nightmares. "That is what will happen," he repeats. "The only reason that you survived in rat form for as long as you did is that no one thought to question Black under Veritaserum. But they will, and that means that you should have a swift trial and be thrown into Azkaban within a month at most."
He is exaggerating the speed, but again the point is Pettigrew's reaction, not reality. The man is staring blank-eyed past Severus, as if he can already see the Dementors coming to get him.
"So." Severus moves to the side, but Pettigrew doesn't turn to face him. "If you could resign yourself to your fate—"
"Severus." Pettigrew seems to have decided that Harry, the boy he condemned, doesn't matter anymore. He turns around in his ropes and gives Severus a look of desperate appeal. "I have a secret that no one else knows."
"I'm afraid that many people will know it now," Severus drawls, and catches a brief, quickly-hidden grin of what looks like pure appreciation from Harry.
"Not that secret. Another one." Pettigrew shakes his head and leans in. He's trying to look mysterious and composed, Severus is certain, but he doesn't look it at all. He doesn't smell it, either. "I know where the Dark Lord's wand is hidden."
Severus lets his eyes fall half-shut, into the look of calculation that fooled so many Death Eaters when he was pretending to be one full-time. "That would be useful knowledge."
"Right. But I'll only reveal it to you if you let me go." Pettigrew looks down at the ropes that wind around his arms and legs. "I mean, if you promise to let me go."
"Useful," Severus repeats, and stares Pettigrew straight in the eye, which makes him flinch yet again. Honestly, he's so entertaining that Severus can almost see why Potter, Lupin, and Black kept him around so long. "But hardly tempting."
"Your betrayal led directly to the death of the only friend I ever had. And you dare ask forgiveness from me?"
Severus comes closer. Pettigrew scrambles as if he'll piss himself, and ends up panting, wide-eyed and wide-mouthed. Severus lays his wand against the rat's tongue and wishes so much did not depend on the truthful words he must speak. He would take great pleasure in dissolving it and suffocating Pettigrew by stuffing his throat full of the scraps of it.
"They are dead," Severus tells him, never looking away. "Because of you. Mr. Potter spent years in the hell he told you about. Because of you. An innocent man—much as I hate the entire concept of Black as innocent—spent a decade in prison. Because of you. And you think that I am going to let you go?"
"That means you never really served the Dark Lord!"
Severus turns his wand sideways and casts without words. If Pettigrew truly has come to that conclusion, then Severus cannot let the knowledge survive in his brain. Pettigrew freezes, and his body seems to vibrate. He stares blankly for a second before he slumps and shakes his head a little and goes back to whining for his life and freedom.
Harry is watching with a frown. Severus has no chance to indulge him now and explain his own variation on a targeted Memory Charm. "Keep begging, Pettigrew. It is amusing."
The man turns back to Harry instead. "You don't really want me dead, do you, Harry?" he asks, and lifts his bound hands as if he's going to kneel down and pray for mercy. "I played with you when you were just a baby! I never really meant to hurt you! I could be your pet rat, you know. And I could tell you all the answers that you want to know on your exams!"
Severus thought nothing could bring him to laughter in this situation, but the utterly disgusted look on Harry's face comes close.
Why is he begging like that? Why does he think I would forgive someone who helped murder Mum and Dad? I'm not going to forgive Voldemort!
But staring at Pettigrew, Harry decides that he does believe that. Either that, or he's so scared that he doesn't think he has anything to lose. That was the way Harry used to beg Dudley and his gang to lay off him. Harry never thought they would do it, but by the point that he was begging, he was willing to try anything.
Harry just hardens his heart and shakes his head. "You made Sirius suffer," he says, and sees the way Snape starts and looks displeased over the fact that Harry is speaking Black's first name. It doesn't matter, though. The only thing that matters is impressing the truth on Pettigrew. "I can't forgive you for that, even if I wanted to forgive you for Mum and Dad and the Dursleys."
"I was scared."
"You can say that all you want. It's not an excuse." Harry turns to Snape, because honestly, he's tired of looking at Pettigrew. "Sir, can I go outside and call Sirius in? I don't think he would believe many other people."
"Not yet. We will wait until more of the students have gone to bed and will not spread the secret around."
Harry pauses. Without knowing it, he just assumed that Snape had already told Dumbledore. "So no one else knows?" he asks, a little dumbly, if the look Snape gives him is true.
"No one else knows. I did not think it safe as yet."
Harry nods slowly. Yes, he can see why Snape would think that, at least about Dumbledore. Dumbledore might still want to send him elsewhere to live during the summer. He might bring up his stupid idea about living with Dudley again. He wouldn't like it that Harry could live with Sirius.
And Harry hates that he has to think things like this about Dumbledore. But Snape told him the truth. And that's that you have to distrust people who want certain things from you.
As long as you're willing to pay the price for defying them.
Well, Harry was always willing to do that with the Dursleys. And Dumbledore is stupid sometimes, but he's nowhere near as bad as the Dursleys.
"In the meantime…"
Harry takes a step back even though he knows Snape isn't going to torture him. It's just the look on Snape's face as he waves his wand and conjures up a desk and chair.
The desk has a single piece of parchment and an inkwell on it. And there's a quill there, too. Harry stares at Snape. He knew Snape said something about punishing him for sneaking out after Sirius, but he didn't…
"You're not going to punish me in front of the man who betrayed my parents, are you, sir?"
There is a sigh so long and loud that Harry winces a little. Then Snape waves his wand again, and Pettigrew is snoring without even the red streak of a Stunner hitting him. Snape nods to him and then to the desk.
Harry sits down and looks at the line on the piece of parchment he has to copy. It turns out there are actually three of them.
My life holds value.
I am not worthless.
I have as much of a right to safety as other students do.
"I already know this," Harry mutters. He resists the urge to stab the parchment with the quill.
"You do not act like it," Snape replies calmly. "You will write the lines, forty of each. Then I will ask you questions that will seek to show you have learned the lesson."
"What if I don't answer them the way you want?"
"That is why it is a week's worth of detentions, Harry," Snape says. He looks smug for the first time this evening.
Harry closes his eyes and wants to bang his head against the table. Everyone always thinks that he doesn't understand these things. But he really does. It's just that he doesn't always have the chance to sit back and spout bloody philosophy when there's an insane professor casting spells at him or a basilisk charging him!
And Snape can think it all he wants, but Harry doesn't think even most of the adults in the school would be much help in situations like that. Professor McGonagall disbelieved him and Ron and Hermione when they tried to tell her about the Stone in first year. And look how bloody useless Lockhart was.
But from the way Snape is staring at him, pointed and still, Harry knows he isn't going to get out of this by thinking about reality. With a heavy sigh, he picks up the quill.
As he waits for the castle to quiet enough that they can chance summoning Black, Severus watches Harry write.
The boy is scowling over the parchment, even though Severus also thinks he is copying each line faithfully. Now and then he shakes his head as though he has flies buzzing in his ears. Severus is satisfied to note that the punishment is mimicking the exact sensation Harry gives him when he is in trouble.
He does seem to be writing a little more slowly and thoughtfully as the night goes on, but Severus honestly has no idea if some of the lesson is sinking in, or if his wrist is simply getting tired. He goes and removes one piece of parchment when Harry lays it aside, and slides a smooth new one onto the bottom of the stack.
"This is useless," Harry mutters.
Harry shoves his glasses up his nose and glares at him. "What is the point of this? Sir."
Severus would allow no other student to get away with such disrespect, but the point of this punishment in the first place is to make Harry think. He will not shut down the thinking aloud part of the punishment. The only thing that would happen is the boy going silent—and Severus has seen what happens when that occurs.
"Part of the point is to make sure that you won't do something as stupid as charging after a suspected Death Eater on your own again, because now you know what is waiting for you." Severus nods at the desk covered with parchments. "And the other part is that repetition sometimes makes people think more about what they are writing, or saying, or doing. You may think a little more next time before you decide your life is worthless—"
"I never thought that!"
"Then what did you think?"
The question rocks Harry back on his heels, as Severus also intends. For a second, he flails around as if he actually thinks that he'll find the answer floating in the air next to him. Then he draws himself up and says, "That I can protect other people!"
Severus sighs. He knew there was a piece of the puzzle he was missing, and now he thinks he's found it. "Why do you think you have to protect them?"
He expects some answer about how hard it is to trust adults. Instead, Harry laughs, and the sound is bitter ashes. "That's what everyone's been bloody telling me since I've been here, isn't it? I saved them all once, I have to save them all again. And last year, when they were calling me the Heir of Slytherin and saying I was evil, it got personal. I had to prove I was good instead of evil."
"You are neither," Severus says, staring him in the eye. Even though he doesn't mean to, he catches a flash of a thought that seems to center around the Dursleys. "Because you are human, and no human can be described or captured in those words. You are a mixture, you are not a hero, and you do not have to be."
"Then why call me the Boy-Who-Lived? And even Voldemort thinks I am. Even Tom Riddle, the shade I saw last year." Harry pulls his glasses off and rubs his forehead. "Why do they want me to save everyone else if I don't have to?"
Severus is about to answer when something scratches at the door. His mind immediately flashes to the full moon, but then he remembers it is not tonight. He still draws his wand before he goes to the door. Perhaps it is Mrs. Norris, still urgently trying to get at the rat she helped him track down.
He opens the door partway, only to have it literally slammed into his face. And then there's a huge black dog standing over him, snarling, and dividing its gaze between Severus's face and the man bound in ropes in the corner.
"Sirius!" Harry is on his feet, but he must not be close enough to see the look in the dog's eyes. Something has happened to enrage it—him. Severus thinks that Black has only hesitated so far because he doesn't know whether to rip out Severus's throat or leap and try to kill Pettigrew before he can escape.
So Severus turns to the trick that will serve better than a spell.
"I apologize for believing the worst of you, Black."
The gape he gets, even as a dog, gives him plenty of time to cast the Stunner.