True North

The last room was the bedroom. It was large and comfortable, with a four-poster, a fireplace, and a wardrobe.

The bed was made. The cupboards cleared out. Snape's clothes lay neatly folded on a chair by the window. He must have known that he was going to die that day.

She ran a hand over his jacket, memory sharpening at the touch. His flair for dramatics, which was so effective in the classroom. His pride – the kind that was born out of a perceived inferiority. The dry sense of humour most students took for pure derision. His fluster when offered a compliment. The way he was prone to melancholy.

On the bedside table lay a torn photograph of Lily Potter, next to it, a piece of parchment that carried her love.

Minerva picked them up, watching the sweet, young face break into a smile. There were shrivelled patches on it, as though tears had fallen on it and dried there. He had still had the heart to weep when he looked upon her.

She was not usually a woman of faith, but a long-forgotten quote came to mind then.

When I looked for good, then evil came unto me…

Fair, cruel Lily. Had she not been the one to break him?

She could recall a time -long ago- when they had been friends.

'Don't sink to his level, Sev.' Miss Evans' voice was clear as a bell.

When Minerva had entered her classroom, the young girl had taken hold of Snape's hand, staying him from pointing his wand at a classmate.

She sighed, making them both turn around sharply.

'Professor!' Miss Evans smiled brightly, surreptitiously pulling Snape's wand out of view.

'What is going on here?' she had asked, directing the question at Snape, and though he tried for innocence, he was ill equipped to pull it off.

But the girl placed herself between them.

'Nothing,' she said. 'James Potter placed a hex on Severus' chair, but it's all sorted now.' She glanced at her housemate, who was slinking over to his usual seat in the back. 'We didn't do anything to him, Professor. Honestly.'

'Very well.' Minerva let it go, already aware that the raging battle between Potter and Snape was partially due to this very girl.

But she of course, was still unaware of this, and as Minerva made to go up front, she heard her whisper close to Snape's ear.

'He's not worth it. You shouldn't let them get to you.'

It was so very unusual to see that boy thaw, that the memory had stayed with her.

'I'll try,' he said fondly. 'For you.'

'Thank you.' She squeezed his arm, making his eyes shine. 'I've got your back, Sev,' she said. 'You know that.'

It had often puzzled Minerva then, that Lily would be such a fierce friend to him.

Snape was possessive and jealous around her, always seeming too serious and intense for the fair girl. Besides came their difference in appearance, Snape having never been anything to look at with his hair and nose and teeth and attitude.

She had put it on Lily back then. Thinking her a better person for seeing something that was hidden on the the inside. When Lily broke with him, she thought it was because that light in him had gone out. But she was not so sure anymore.

Later, when the two were no longer friends, she once accidentally paired them for a transfiguration project.

For years, they had been compatible partners in her class, both of them bright and dedicated, and they had always finished their tasks without a fuss. But this time, as she was advising Lupin and Pettigrew on how to adjust a switching spell according to body weight, she heard raised voices from up front.

'Grow up, Severus!'

She could see from the corner of her eye that Black was nudging Potter in the side. Both boys snickered, watching Lily snatch the mouse they were practicing on away from Snape.

'I'm not going to put up with your nonsense anymore,' she told him.

Potter whistled at that, earning a rude hand gesture from Snape, but Lily ignored them both.

'If you want to go outside the book, do it after class.' She held the mouse to her. 'Or I won't ever talk to you again. I'm so tired of your mishaps. This here is a living creature for flip's sake!'

Minerva straightened, too surprised by their argument yet to interfere. Snape frequently liked to experiment with the spells she taught, as he did in most classes, and his books were always full of notes and cross-outs. Being as transfiguration was not his top subject, he was indeed prone to the odd accident, but this had never seemed to bother Lily before.

'It's not as though I've injured him,' said Snape defensively. 'I was just trying to see if I could switch his colour too.'

'You've no idea what that could have done to him!' Lily stood, bringing her bag over to the table where her current boyfriend sat, a Gryffindor named Stebbins. 'You're a truly nasty person, Severus,' she said. 'I've no idea why I ever bothered with you.'

Black laughed as Snape's cheeks flushed an ugly red. 'Fine,' he said. 'Go then. I don't need you anyway.'

But the hurt in his voice belied those words.

Sometimes, Minerva wondered if Lily had held the power to save him. That maybe, if she hadn't spurned him, she could have pulled out his light. Made herself his salvation rather than his undoing.

Had she not evoked the attention of almost every boy in her year, would she have remained his friend?

But Snape had been drawn to the darkness, and in the end, she was not her brother's keeper. When their paths had parted, he had chosen the godforsaken road, and since then it all fell apart. Yes, it was harsh of her to turn him away. Yet at that point he was already well on the way to destroying himself.

And James and Sirius, they were such handsome boys. How charming they must have seemed to a girl who had only just begun to become aware of her unusual beauty.

When Lily broke his heart by becoming the sweetheart of his enemy, Snape cloaked himself in bitterness. For a long time then, Minerva simply thought that he was lost, that such is the way of the world.

Yet still, -and by no means did she think that informing Voldemort of the prophecy was excusable- but in the end, when he had realised his error, he had let it go.

Instead of letting his bitterness consume Lily's memory, he had made her into his lone purpose. His redemption. True north on his crooked moral compass.

Her death made him turn back, and from there on out, he never wavered in his duty.

True, he had not been loved. He had been hard on everyone. On his colleagues, on the students, and on himself. He was not an entirely good man. He was broken. In his soul, and in his heart, and he knew not how to be kind.

Yet, he had sacrificed all that he was to the protection of a boy who reminded him of everything that he had lost, or would never have.

No, he wasn't loved by many. But love, he did.

Before the burial, Minerva had gone to see his body, as she had seen all the dead in an attempt to understand.

Greasy black hair, matted with congealed blood lay fanned out on a sheet that must once have been white. The deep groove between his eyes followed him to the grave. The buttoned coat was wrinkled and torn.

She reached out to touch his cheek then, but withdrew her hand before making contact.

Had she hoped that his pale, bloodied corpse would somehow tell his tale? That it could explain his harsh actions and lowly words, and defend his flawed character and redeem him?

Maybe. But he had been cold and still, and the fight had long since left his eyes.

Minerva rubbed her lower back. Snape's personal belongings were packed away now. Nothing remained in the bedroom, but she wasn't all done. There was yet another thing that needed to be buried.

But she did not want to remember it because it stung. Because it forced her to look inside her own soul, and this was the most painful thing of all.

They had all made attempts to kill him that year. She was no exception; she had taken his betrayal personally.

'Where is she?'

The moor was turning yellow and red-brown outside the Headmaster's window. Many of the students had not returned that fall, and others still would never return at all. Snape looked like he had seen better days.

'What is it, Minerva?'

Though she had insisted upon addressing him formally that year, or not at all, he never stopped using her given name.

'What have you done,' she asked. 'Albus. Charity. Alastor. Scrimgeour…' She threw her arms wide.

'Miss Longbottom.' She took a deep breath. 'Were is she?'

Snape slowly shook his head.

'This madness has to end,' Minerva said. 'Severus, I once called you my friend. I implore you to see reason. Tell me where she is, I know you know. It might not yet be too late.'

'You are wrong,' he said. 'They are all lost.'

But she had caught something breakable in his eye, and it had angered her. She had wanted to hurt him then, to make him feel what she felt.

'Say where she is,' she said, 'or I shall name you her killer.'

'Don't,' he said. 'Just stop, Minerva. I don't want to argue. Let me in peace.'

'You don't deserve it.' She was bristling. 'I have a right to know.'

But he stood his cold ground below the mute portrait of his predecessor.

'They were casualties of war.'

'Tell me it wasn't you who killed them. Tell me!' She could have killed him - later, she would try. Could have done it with bare hands just then. 'Is there no soul left in you?'

'Perhaps there isn't,' he conceded, offering no defence. Fooled, she believed him.

'Then shame on you,' she said. 'You murdered them all in your wretched folly.'

She searched his eyes for compassion, finding only a bottomless abyss. Then she took a step back, holding his gaze, and spat at the ground near his feet.

'You will burn in hell, Severus Snape. Your soul is shrivelled and black, and the world shall rejoice when you rot in the grave and we are finally rid of you.'

Then she turned and left, never to look him in the eye again.

She knew better now.

She had searched with the eyes of the blind, so firm in her belief that he was the wicked one.

But it was written there. In the window to his soul. She could see it now, in her mind's eye. He had desperately wanted her to know, wanted someone to know, that there was good in him, after all.

But she was only cruel to him that year. Had not given him the time of day, had not even cared to. She chose the wild, forsaken road, and gave him no peace in the hardest of times.

Did he have peace where he was now? She despaired, not knowing.

But such was her plight, and there was no rest for her. Life would go on and she held no power over the past. Only over the future. What else was left to her, but to accept the aid of time?

Not all diamonds shine bright and true, she would take this fact to heart. She herself would try to shine a little brighter. She would forgive him. She would forgive herself. For truly, what else could she do?

She took the bottle of Firewhiskey from the desk, and poured herself a measure, using the tumbler that had been his.

She held up the glass to the portraits, and then downed it all to the former Headmasters' salute: 'To Snape.'

'To Severus,' said Dumbledore, bowing his head.

'May he have peace,' said Minerva, and it came from the heart.

She left her glass and the bottle on the desk, and put the last case on top of the other two, watching as millions of tiny specks of dust twirled around, illuminated as the last ray of light from the setting sun broke through the clouds.

The content of those cases were the sum of Severus Snape's last year. A photograph of a fair-weather friend, and the parting words of a letter addressed to an enemy.

But his legacy lived on.

She stood quite still, until the light disappeared completely, leaving her shivering in the twilight.

Then she shrunk the two cases, casting a last look around before she left the empty office and closed the heavy door behind her back.