My dear readers, this is the end.
Betaed by Barbara
Thanks for the reviews, author's notices on the bottom.
**************************************************************************Chapter 20 – Coming off the ropes
"Shh, quiet! Don't wake him!"
"He has to wake up sometime! He..."
"Don't yell, idiot. Madam Pomfrey thinks he needs sleep."
"He's been sleeping for two days! It's unnatural!"
"She gave him Sleeping Draught. She said he was under a severe shock and he broke down twice that day..."
"He can't sleep forever!"
"It's Pomfrey's job to decide when to wake him, not yours!"
"Snape is still unconscious," said the person who wanted to wake Harry.
"Shut up!" hissed the other voice. "Idiot!"
The voices moved away and faded. Harry slipped back to nothingness.
"I think we can wake him, Headmaster. His bodily functions are better, and even his nerves seem to work properly," Madam Pomfrey's voice was stern and businesslike.
"Are you sure, Poppy?" Dumbledore's voice was like velvet: soft and smooth. "I'm afraid the bad news will push him back into shock."
"No," was the firm answer. "He is a strong boy, Headmaster, stronger than his father was. He will succeed."
"If it's indeed your opinion, Poppy..." Dumbledore was unsure.
"It is," Pomfrey was not.
Dumbledore inhaled deeply and stepped to the bed. Harry felt as the mattress sank under his weight.
"Quietus, Headmaster," Harry answered with shut eyes. "And I'm awake."
Silence fell on them.
After a while Harry opened his eyes and struggled himself into a sitting position. There were only two other people in the room: the nurse and the Headmaster. Madam Pomfrey wore her usual expression: attentive, but a little bit distant. Dumbledore, on the other hand, was tense.
"Is dad alive?" Harry suddenly asked.
Madam Pomfrey's face softened and she turned her head away from the boy. Harry wasn't sure, but he saw something gleaming in her eyes. Tears?
Dumbledore nodded his head slowly.
"Yes, Quietus. He is alive," Harry sighed in relief, "but he isn't well."
"What..." Harry didn't know how to finish the question.
"They tried to break through his Obliviation."
Harry suddenly hugged his blanket tightly to his chest. His pulse began to throb painfully in his ears.
"No," he whispered.
"He is in St Mungo's. He is unconscious."
"NO!" Harry cried. His head throbbed painfully. He reached to the back of it and felt the healed injury under his fingers.
"The Healers think it's a good sign, Quietus," said Madam Pomfrey suddenly. "If he had lost his... mental sanity he would be raving now."
A tiny hope began to rise in Harry, but he squashed it.
"Perhaps he won't be insane then," he said and gulped, "but the Ministry's intervention made almost sure that he, most probably, won't regain his Obliviated memories."
The nurse paled slightly.
"How do you know it?" she asked.
"The Charms homework," Harry shrugged.
They remained silent for long minutes.
"What's now?" Harry finally asked in a dull tone.
"You have some visitors," Dumbledore smiled slightly. "May they come in?"
"I suppose they can."
The Headmaster nodded to Madam Pomfrey who opened the door.
"Gentlemen, come in!" he called out.
Sirius and Lupin answered her call. The nurse closed the door behind him. Lupin hurried to Harry's bedside, Black, however just stood uncertainly next to the door.
"Sirius! You're free!" Harry somehow managed to say aloud. "How?"
"I caught Peter after the meeting," Lupin explained. "That's why I wasn't there for you then," he looked at Harry guiltily, but the boy only shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"Bamberg would have taken him anyway. How did you catch him?"
"I managed to bind myself to him before he Disapparated after Voldemort had broken the Aurors' Wards. When he noticed that he was followed, he transformed into his Animagus form. I took Snape's modified Wolfsbane then, I transformed too, and after a long time I caught him."
"How long was it?" Harry asked. "You must have arrived to Hogwarts after the Headmaster. I don't remember you arriving."
"Longer than a few hours. In reality it took almost a whole day. Then I brought him to the Ministry," Lupin said and smiled softly. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without your potion. But I wanted Sirius out of prison, finally."
Black and Harry looked at each other, and their eyes locked.
"So, you're free," Harry smiled tentatively.
"You- you need at least one guardian, Harry," Black said hoarsely and Harry could see the man was embarrassed.
Harry froze a moment later.
"So, you know," he said while Dumbledore squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"The Wizengamot declared him innocent," Dumbledore said. "They officially apologised to him. There was no need to keep the truth from him after that any longer."
"It won't give him back his magic," Harry muttered, his eyes still on Sirius.
"I'm a Squib now," Black blushed.
"But you're alive," Harry said calmly. "And you know who you are."
Black took a hesitant step towards Harry.
"I'm sorry about Severus," his tone was sincere and soft.
"I'm sorry about lying to you for so long," Harry said.
"It was necessary. If you had told me, the Ministry had already learned your identity, and by now you would be like me: a nonmagic Squib," Black sighed. "I'm glad you're alive. Even if you're not James's son."
"Are you... Is it okay for you?" Harry asked in a tiny voice.
Black, not being confident of his vocal cords, just nodded. He still hadn't approached Harry's bed.
"But... Severus now is like a dad for me," Harry gulped and stared expectantly at his godfather.
"I know it, Harry," came Sirius's answer, "and I don't mind."
Harry's body went limp with relief.
"But," Sirius suddenly went on, "do you still want me to be a godfather for you?"
Harry looked directly into his eyes.
"Of course, Sirius. And I think even Severus would agree with me about it," he turned his head back to the Headmaster. "And what happened with Voldemort? Why did he flee? I thought he could overcome some Aurors!"
The three adults laughed in unison. After a while, Dumbledore said-
"My dear boy, there wasn't only 'some Aurors'. There were all the Ministry corps, thirty-three groups precisely, that's more than two hundred Aurors. And while they aren't a match for Voldemort, they are better trained than the majority of his followers. He is a good strategist, and he knew their position was too disadvantageous to fight. Perhaps he could overcome the Ministry's Aurors, but the majority of his servants would have been killed by then. On the other hand he wasn't sure I wouldn't appear even though he knew my relationship with the Ministry. He hates risks. So, he fled instead."
Later that day his friends came to visit him: Ares, Neville, Fred, George, Seamus and even Ron. They occupied his bed and dragged chairs next to it. When finally everybody was seated, Harry asked them-
Their happy faces fell.
"His parents' funeral will be tomorrow," Neville said quietly.
"What?" Harry managed to stutter. "When did her parents die?"
"There were several attacks on Muggle families the day you were kidnapped," Ares began to explain. "You-Know... Voldemort assaulted those Muggle families that have wizarding children and massacred them. Almost every family."
"Malfoy gave him the addresses," Fred added explaining. Ares nodded and went on.
"Even Zabini's family was murdered."
Harry winced. He didn't like the slimy boy, but this...
"Who else?" he asked hoarsely.
"Dean, the Creevey brothers, Angelina and Lee from our house," George said, "Justin from the Hufflepuff... that's all I know. But there are many more."
"Eighteen families," Ron said. "The others were warned in time. They could flee..."
"Dumbledore's group warned them," Fred explained enthusiastically. "As soon as he heard about the first attacks, he sent urgent messages to the others to run. And that was our luck. As the Muggles fled, the attack reports stopped and Fudge, who in the meantime was compelled to hand in his resignation by the way, ordered the Aurors back to the Ministry keeping them ready for another mission. It was then that McGonagall's alarm reached them. She gave them the precise address of the Death Eater meeting, and..."
"Fudge is fired?" Harry interrupted him. "The first good news I've heard from days!"
"Oh, yes!" George exclaimed. "Dad said that until the official elections Arcus Patil would be the Deputy Minister..."
"Parvati is behaving so disgusting now as if she were the Minister herself, not her dad," Seamus buffed.
"...Patil's first thing to do was to restore Dumbledore to his position and gave a proper trial to Sirius Black," George continued ignoring Seamus's remark.
"I know," Harry nodded. "I've already met both of them."
"Both? Sirius Black was here?" Ares stared at him surprised. "Why?"
Harry looked at them and realised that nobody was aware of his identity in the room. So, the good old lies again.
"After Harry's funeral dad let him and Anne stay in his manor. Later, professor Lupin joined them after he was released from the hospital. Now, Black offered me his guardianship until... until..." he couldn't continue.
Nobody say a word.
"Bamberg was arrested yesterday," Neville suddenly said. "Gran sent me a message."
"And the Deputy Minister brought charges against twenty-six Aurors," Fred added less enthusiastically. "Percy is amongst them. They are accused of physical abuse and of misuse of authority."
"Gentlemen," Madam Pomfrey's voice startled the little group. "It's time to leave Mr Snape alone to have a rest. Tomorrow, he will be released, and you can spend him as much time as you want. But now – out!"
They obeyed her command reluctantly. Harry accepted the Sleeping Draught obediently and slipped into an empty sleep.
There were only four weeks to the OWLs and two professors were missing from the staff. Dumbledore – with Patil's support and, naturally, under severe control – asked Lupin to teach the defence classes until the end of the year, but he had greater problems with the Potions classes. Neither he, nor Patil trusted the Ministry's Potions Masters enough to let one of them teach the children – one of them was even under charge – and two other candidates refused Dumbledore's request.
In the end, it was McRee, one of his old friends, who applied for the job, but 'only for this month' as he said. He was the Potions Master who had checked Severus's truth potion one year ago.
"Albus, dear, I'm too old to accept it permanently. Otherwise, I think our dear Severus – who is the most promising talent of the field by the way – will be better in some months and he can teach from September on again."
Dumbledore shook his head hopelessly, but didn't press him any further. At least, he had found two trustworthy applicants for the jobs – and since he was still aware that there was still a leak in the staff he was relieved that he didn't have to worry about the old-new colleagues.
Lupin's lessons brought nothing unexpected, but after the first Potions class (6th year Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff) everybody looked forward the (hopefully short-timed) future classes with deep worry.
The kind, smiling, old man was crueller and sterner than their previous teacher – and it was something NOBODY had expected.
"At least he didn't favour the Slytherins," Seamus muttered after their first Potions class.
"Just Quietus," Neville snickered. "Oh, Mr Snape, the consistence and the colour... per-fect. Per-fect," he said mimicking the old teacher.
"Let me bow down before you..." Seamus joined Neville and inclined his head to Harry.
"Leave him alone," Hermione snapped at them. "Quietus was the only one who could brew that potion well."
"Not only 'well', Hermione. Didn't you hear? 'Per-fect-ly'!" Seamus added and they laughed. Even Harry joined them.
"Well, it wasn't really a fair compliment," Harry confessed after the laughter faded. "I've brewed this potion many times with dad." Harry stopped calling Severus any other way. Just dad. Many times he feared it was the only remainder of their relationship.
Silence fell on them. It was Neville who asked finally-
"And... how is he? You... you visited him yesterday, didn't you?"
"Still unconscious," Harry said.
Still unconscious. This was the sentence he repeated over and over again whenever his friends asked him, because the term was almost over, but Severus was still unconscious.
Harry spent all the weekends at his bedside with his schoolbooks studying and watching him lying flat and stock still in the bed. Sometimes, he talked to him, telling him the events of the school, the wizarding world, Voldemort's attacks and everything he could think about. His heart was always heavy as Sunday evening came and he had to return to Hogwarts, but he didn't complain, he put his books into his bag, pressed a kiss onto Severus's forehead and left.
All the Healers agreed that he was the best son they'd ever seen and – despite the fact that the younger ones of them knew and hated professor Snape from their schooldays – tried to give him everything he just needed there. The Head Healer of the Spell Damage department even gave Harry permission to spend Saturday nights in the hospital after his second visit. This fact had informed Harry that Severus's condition had been really grave – and when he had asked Dumbledore about it afterwards, the Headmaster hadn't even tried to deny.
But he was still alive; Harry tried to calm himself from time to time. There was still hope remaining.
Finally, one day before the OWLs Dumbledore called Harry into his office for a talk.
"We have to decide where to send you for the holidays, Quietus," he said. Harry just shrugged. It made no difference to him.
"Sirius offered for you and Miss Granger to stay with him and Anne during the summer," Dumbledore stood up, and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You three are familiar with the Muggle world. Sirius said he wanted to learn how to live without magic. You can help him."
"Why Hermione?" he asked suddenly.
"She has no family to take her. Her only grandparent lived with her parents. She died alongside them."
So, it was settled. Harry and Hermione would spend the summer with Sirius in Black Manor where the Order's Headquarters were this time.
"But if Severus recovers I will move in with him again," was the only clause he did.
"Of course, Quietus."
The OWLs passed fast. Harry found them simple and extremely boring, except for the Arithmancy exam.
"You will be the Head Boy next year," Ron told him after the last exam (which was History of Magic) as they were walking out of the building to make a short trip around the lake.
"I don't intend to," Harry snapped back.
"I didn't tell it to unnerve you. I just think you deserve it. You are the best student in our year, or perhaps in the whole school. Better than Hermione."
Harry just shrugged.
"I've never intended it either." He reached to the ground and took a piece of stone in his hand. "All I wanted was to live a normal life, finally. But it's denied me. It's always denied," he muttered desperately.
"Who denies it to you?" Ron asked.
"Nobody. Everybody. Fate. Life. God. I don't know," he said and with every word he threw the stone in the air and caught it. "I don't know," he repeated this time only whispering the words.
"Quietus, I- I wanted to talk to you," Ron said suddenly.
"I know," was the flat answer. "This is why I'm here. But not here. There isn't anybody there," he pointed to an empty place next to the lake.
"Right," Ron agreed. None of them said a word until they arrived there.
Harry launched his arm and threw the stone into the lake.
"Why did you do that?" Ron looked at him with curiosity.
"I just... did." He sat down showing Ron to follow him. "So?"
Ron shifted uncomfortably and didn't look at Harry.
"You were right then... in the bathroom," he began struggling for words. "I just... I was... I was confused. About myself. And deluded too. I've... I've never thought of myself as having so much cruelty in me. You know, I lost my friend. And I was mad at your father – and you as well. I hated you. But I wasn't right. I wasn't because... because Harry was only my friend. Not my family, my parents. And now, I see Hermione, Dean and the others who lost their families and I see that they don't accuse anybody; they don't try to hurt others, just because they are hurt... And as for Hermione... Harry was her friend too. And she never accused you or professor Snape, even though she missed Harry as much as I did." He paused. Harry didn't interrupt him, he was admiring the sight on the other edge of the lake: a green hill with some trees. "I treated you like shit. I was unfair and disgusting. And after... after I attacked you in Hogsmeade..." he shook his head desperately, "I was just sitting there and I was ashamed. And... I was frightened of myself. And later, when I apologised then... you were right. I didn't do it because of you, but because I needed an excuse to forgive myself. And you sent me away, and you were right. I wanted to hate you because of it, but finally, I couldn't. And that day when Voldemort kidnapped you, I saw that you're just a human being like me, like any other boy in the school. Until that I always saw a perfect creature – and a Snape of all people! – who was flawless. Perfect student, perfect human, perfect son – perfect in everything. It just made my hatred stronger. But that day... When the Aurors took your father from you, I saw how..."
"Pathetic?" Harry asked sarcastically. Painful sneer crossed Ron's face.
"No! I'd say fragile. You were so fragile. And lonely. Just like me. Just like everyone."
"I have been lonely through the first semester, Ron. Your behaviour drove the majority of the Gryffindors away from me," Harry said accusingly.
"I couldn't help it!"
"You should have thought before acting, but you didn't. You let your feelings drive you," Harry didn't stop the chastising.
"I know!" Ron exclaimed. "And now I- I'm sorry."
Harry sat up and looked at Ron, directly at his eyes.
"Your apologising is worse every time. This was the most humiliating one for me. You pity me and your pity stirred some not-so-negative feelings in you... No, Ron. I don't need your pity. I don't need anyone's pity."
Harry stood up and turned to leave.
"Well. It means that I can never have your forgiveness. I'm humiliating myself..."
"But what are you waiting for?" Ron yelled desperately.
Harry stopped. Really, what was he waiting from Ron? The boy had already apologised three times or more and he refused to forgive him again and again, but why? What did Harry miss from the apologies? Sincerity? This time Ron was sincere. Regret? Ron regretted what he had done, even if his motives were in the beginning rather selfish. Sympathy? Ron somewhere inside him sympathised with him.
Harry folded his arms over his chest and looked this time into himself.
No. He had other expectations towards Ron. He was waiting for his liking. He was waiting for his friendship.
But despites his regret and pity Ron didn't like him, and wouldn't like him either. Perhaps sometime, when he learned Harry's true identity... but as long as he was Quietus Snape, Ron didn't like him.
He turned slowly to his ex-friend and lifted his gaze.
"You are right, Ron. I was stupid to wait for more than your pity or sympathy. I have no reason not to forgive you," he reached his hand to Ron firmly. "Your apology is accepted."
This time, unlike their first meeting in the Flourish and Blotts, Ron accepted the offered hand and shook it as firmly as Harry reached it.
"I've never imagined you expected me to feel more than sympathy," Ron said ashamed. "I thought you hated me."
"Me? Hate you?" Harry smirked. "As a little minion of Voldemort I only wanted to gain Potter's place in your life, as you told Hermione once."
"But you aren't You-Know..." Ron stopped and narrowed his eyes. "You mean friendship?"
"I meant friendship. Once, long ago. And I'm sorry, I failed," Harry said and departed leaving behind a genuinely shocked Ron.
The Great Hall was the usual bright the last evening. It was decked out in the Gryffindor colours of red and gold to celebrate Gryffindor's winning the house cup for the fifth year in a row. A huge banner showing the Gryffindor lion covered the wall behind the High Table. It was so obvious that Gryffindor won – the three Weasleys, Neville and Seamus each had earned thirty points for their rescuing attempt and Harry had been given sixty for saving Fudge's life. It was amongst the first things Dumbledore had done the very day he had returned to his office. Although this year Ravenclaw won the Quidditch Cup, the extra-curricular points put Gryffindor to the first place for the end of the term.
The end-of-year feast was much happier than the year before. Despites their losses in the war's past year, the greater part of the wizarding society – including teachers and students as well – welcomed the changes that had occurred in the last few weeks. Harry knew that the memorial for Mrs Figg and the killed parents and their children had already been taken place while he was in the hospital wing, so the Headmaster had decided that the last evening be as happy and cheerful as possible. Harry was watching Hermione, Dean, Colin and the others, examining their feelings and behaviours and he had to realise that he was the only one who couldn't laugh and chatter freely and thoughtlessly. However, even he had many things to be happy about.
He was back in his House, and not only physically: his mates accepted him totally and without reservations. He wasn't sick any more of sharing dormitory and bathroom with others, even if they had managed from time to time to catch Harry without his usual concealing charms – they had never mentioned it and Harry hadn't found it necessary to discuss the topic with them either. They thought him a little secretive and perhaps not only a little paranoid, but they never harassed him about it. He finally could also bear being touched unexpectedly, and Lupin in the last month had finally taught him how to conjure shields even if it was he who was attacked and not another person.
His ropes finally came off.
Well, a part of them. There was one which bound him stronger and much more painfully that anything before: his relationship with Severus.
His relationship which now seemed to be going towards its end as Severus's life energies were lessening in the long coma. He simply couldn't laugh or chatter happily knowing that his dad was dying in the hospital just because some Aurors... but it was a dangerous line of thought. It brought too much hatred and desire for revenge.
He stood up and excused himself from the table. He didn't want to remain at the feast any more. He made his way outside the school doors and sat on the stairs. The sky above him was clear and bright with myriads of stars but he didn't even look at them. His eyes were pointing at the ground, but he didn't see the ground either, he saw Severus lying pale and weak and...
"Quietus?" asked suddenly a quiet, tentative voice from behind. Harry didn't turn around, just flicked with his hand offering a place next to him. "I wanted to apologise."
Harry lifted his eyes and looked into Janus's. He wasn't frightened of the boy's presence, the Headmaster had already questioned him with Veritaserum and he was declared innocent in his sister's affair.
"It wasn't your fault, Janus," he said in a toneless voice.
"I should have known. I was thinking and I... do you remember the Opening feast this year?" he asked suddenly. Harry nodded. "I told you then that the older Malfoy had visited us during the last summer," Harry nodded again remembering some parts of that conversation. "I think she well... she offered her services to him at that time. And I said I should have known because I've seen her talking to Malfoy. I just... I just..." his voice faded and for Harry's surprise he began to cry. "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND!" Janus erupted between hard sobs. "Everybody loved her! Mum, Dad, I... We've never teased her about being in Hufflepuff or anything..."
Harry felt awkward as he put a comforting hand on Janus's shoulder and patted it slightly.
For long moment, there wasn't any other voice, only Janus's sobbing.
"Janus, look," Harry said after a while, "I'm not mad at you and I don't think you're responsible for your sister's deeds."
"Thanks, but it's not that..." Janus shook his head. "But, Quietus, what if not only my sister supported You-Know-Who? What if my Mum or Dad is a Death Eater like Ares's father? What if everything good in my life and family was nothing but lies?" he hugged his knees strongly, rocking himself back and forth. "I'm dreading going home."
"There will be everything okay, you will see," Harry tried to reassure him, but he was aware of the lack of conviction in his own voice. Janus didn't even react. They continued to sit in silence.
It was finally Ares who found them and led them back to the school. Harry helped him to bring the dazed Janus to the Slytherin common room. When the door was closed after Janus, Ares turned to Harry.
"See you on the train I guess," he said.
"No," Harry sighed. "I will remain here for a few more days."
"Then... good bye and have a nice summer," Ares cracked a tiny smile.
Harry didn't ever pretend to smile back.
"I don't know. Dad is... in very bad shape."
Ares looked at him, his eyes wore an understanding, sad expression.
"Tell him, his House needs him. I... we... I think that in Slytherin almost everybody likes him. Even Draco. And we need him to help us in this war. He is the only one who can balance You-Know-Who's effects on us."
Harry shook his head firmly.
"No, Ares. Remember, once you told me that you are Slytherins and not criminals – and you were right. Even with Severus gone you will be able to resist him and the powers he offers. And no matter who the next Head of House will be, you must follow your common sense and conscience."
"I'm glad we have a supporter in Gryffindor," Ares said playfully.
"I'm my father's son, Ares. I'm almost a Slytherin," Harry reached his hand for a handshake. "Nice summer to you too..."
"Never mention it," Ares's face darkened. "I'll be glad if I can return in September without being marked. However..." he winked at Harry, "I heard the Headmaster is in need of a new spy..."
"NO!" Harry cried and grabbed Ares's shoulder. "You don't know what are you talking about! Don't even think of it! It's not a joke!" and lowering his voice he added, "and you can't be marked while you're a Hogwarts student. And after – you can live your own life."
Ares was surprised as he looked at Harry.
"What's this... vehemence?" he asked.
"If Voldemort learns your role, he kills you and everybody you hold dear. He won't hesitate," Harry said. "He wanted to send my tortured corpse back to father... that night. And... you can't defend everybody you love. And you can't know how long this war will be. I think it's more useful if you fight on the Light side as an Auror, for example. The current Minister is a decent man. You don't have to give up your conscience to work with him. Dad trusted him."
"And he WILL trust him," Ares looked at Harry. "Don't give up the hope, Quietus. Professor Snape will be fine, you'll see."
"I hope you're right."
Although he was supposed to go to Black Manor with Hermione and professor Lupin, Harry excused himself and went to the hospital just as he had sent his trunk (Severus's trunk, he corrected himself) with them. Harry took only some books and apples and left just after Lupin had promised to pick him up and bring him to Black Manor at eight.
The Healers greeted him with their usual kindness, but Harry felt something wrong behind their behaviour, something scary...
Severus was really in a bad shape. His face lost even its usual sallowish colour, it was white, his cheekbones were standing out prominently from the lack of proper nourishment. Harry leaned and took Severus's hand into his, but the hand was cold and lifeless. Harry felt a lump in his throat, but swallowed it and turning on his heels he went to search the Head Healer.
"Is there any hope for him?" Harry asked with brutal sincerity.
"I don't know, child. I..."
"Can we arrange a proper bath for him?" Harry interrupted the woman.
"My last gift to him," he said dully.
Suddenly, the Healer's eyes were clouded and her face softened as he looked at Harry.
"There's a bathroom next to his room. With a tub. You can use it."
"Thank you, madam," Harry nodded seriously and left.
He didn't want to levitate Severus there. He prepared the tub and opened the doors, then he gathered the cold, but very, very light man into his arms and transported him to the tub. He closed the door and stripped the hospital's nightclothes from him and put him slowly, cautiously into the bath.
Harry didn't know how long he was washing Severus and crying voicelessly over him. Harry poured all his gentleness and love into his washing, tenderly, slowly, with dignity. He felt as if he was preparing Severus for his funeral, but he fought this feeling and chased it away every time it attacked...
"You have to wake, dad. We are here waiting for you. Me, your house, Dumbledore, and your friends... The Slytherins asked me to tell you: they need you. I need you. Please, wake up, please..." his litany was long and he began it over and over sobbing and choking.
He lifted the man from the tub and dried him with the prepared towels then lifted him again.
But now, something was different.
Harry's heart almost stopped with panic.
Something was different. Severus was lighter.
But it was impossible. Severus couldn't be lighter, it was...
Then, he understood. Severus's body was limp and unconscious when he brought to the bathroom. Now, it seemed less limp, more collected, which could only mean that...
Harry hugged him close and carried him to his bed.
"Lay still, dad, until I tuck the blanket..." he said quietly. "Here you are... now. I hope you're better."
Harry looked at Severus's face. It had a slightly healthier colour than before... or was he only imagining things?
The next moment he was looking directly into a pair of black orbs. They were scrutinizing him for an instant, then they went shut again.
"Much better, thanks," a weak, hoarse voice came, but it was Severus's nevertheless. Harry suddenly wanted to jump, to scream, to dance.
"Not for long. I'm going to sleep," the man mumbled with closed eyes. He turned to his side and curled up.
His even breathing showed Harry he had fallen asleep.
Harry stormed out from the room to call a Healer, but to his utter surprise he bumped into the Head Healer right in the door.
"He..." he began.
"... regained his consciousness," the woman smiled at Harry. "I know. The Monitoring Spells alerted me. He is sleeping now, isn't he?"
"I think it happened in the bathroom. And he spoke to me too," Harry looked at her, hope rising in him. "Is it possible that... he will recover?" he asked timidly.
"The fact he woke up from his coma is only the first step. It means that he will live. As for his mental health... We'll see after he wakes."
"I have to alert professor Dumbledore, madam."
"Do it then."
The next time Severus woke both Harry and Dumbledore were at his bedside, and in a few moments the Head Healer arrived as well. They looked at the man expectantly and he looked back at him annoyed.
"Headmaster..." he croaked. "Where I am?"
"In St Mungo's," Dumbledore answered calmly.
"Oh," Severus paled. "Why?"
"Somebody tried to break through a Memory Charm you cast on yourself."
Severus closed his eyes in thought.
"The Ministry," he whispered after a while. "I was in the Ministry again. And Bamberg..." his face twisted painfully and he lifted a hand to his forehead. "The bastard... I could have gone mental."
His last remark made Harry's breathing faster. It meant that he was of sound mind, didn't it?
"What else do you remember, Mr Snape?" the Healer asked calmingly.
Severus frowned his burrows.
"I don't know... not many things, really. I don't know how I got to the Ministry..."
"Where were you before the Ministry?" she asked again.
"I... I don't know precisely. It's too... blurry. I remember being in Hogwarts, then a large manor..." his eyes opened all of a sudden. "Excuse me, madam. I want to talk to Headmaster Dumbledore privately."
She nodded and left. Severus looked at Harry.
"Didn't you understand, boy? I said privately."
Harry looked at him in shock, but Dumbledore put a calming hand to Severus's arm.
"I told you, Severus, you cast a Memory Charm on yourself. The boy must remain here."
"Are you sure, Albus?" Severus sneered.
"Completely. He's well aware of your... affairs, my friend."
Severus cast a suspicious glare at Harry and shrugged.
"All right, Headmaster," he said in a businesslike tone. "I was at Hogwarts brewing some potions for Poppy and talking with Minerva in the library about some order stuff. Then I felt the summoning," a bad foreboding touched Harry, "and I answered it. Voldemort summoned me to Nightmare Manor. I was waiting outside for further commands – and that's all. The next thing I remember being in a Ministry torture chamber with Bamberg."
Dumbledore had to reach out for Harry, because he was collapsing.
Bamberg apparently hadn't broken through Severus's mental wards. He remained mentally sane but without any memories of... of what? Harry asked himself. Of the most important thing in their lives. Of their relationship.
"Who is he, by the way, Albus?" he heard Severus's voice confirming his worst fears.
"He is Quietus."
"I've never heard that name before," both Harry and Dumbledore inhaled sharply, but Snape ignored their reactions. "But what is he doing here?"
Dumbledore and Harry looked at him seriously.
"You have never heard this name before, Severus? You have never heard about Quietus Snape?"
"Quietus SNAPE? Are you kidding?" Severus looked mad. "What kind of joke is this, Albus?"
"You don't remember your brother," Dumbledore suddenly looked extremely sad. "You've Obliviated your memories about him – and I will never know why..."
"My... my brother?" Snape stuttered and gulped. "Do I have a brother?"
"Why did you change sides, Severus?" Dumbledore asked suddenly.
"Because..." Severus began but he couldn't finish the sentence. He blushed and looked at his lap. "I can't remember, Headmaster. I know there is something, but I can't recall it."
Long silence fell on them. Severus was the first to break it. He looked at Harry, but he addressed his words to Dumbledore.
"Well, Headmaster, I'm not stupid. I now checked my memories and I found I have some… gaps in it. But every gap is at least...fifteen years old. Well, if we are in 1995."
"Today is the 4th of July, 1996," Dumbledore said quietly.
"Well, well, well..." Snape's sneer deepened. "So I have lost memories from the first half of my life and I've lost last year. All in all it means that he," Severus pointed at Harry, "can't be my brother. He is about sixteen and I have perfect memories of the last years, except for the last, as it is."
"He is not your brother, Severus," Dumbledore shook his head. Snape lifted any eyebrow.
"Really? First you said he's Quietus. Then you told me that I Obliviated my memories about Quietus, my brother," his voice deepened into a dangerous hiss. "And now, you tell me he is not my brother? Then I ask you again, Albus: who is he?"
Dumbledore looked at Harry, then at Severus.
"He is your son," he said simply.
Harry couldn't help but gape at him in shock. Severus, on the contrary shut his eyes tightly.
"Oh, no," he groaned. "Albus... he can't be my son either. As I said I have perfect memories..."
"... of the past fifteen years. So, I've been told. But he's seventeen. And you have no memories of the last year."
Harry shook his head in anger. Dumbledore was telling Severus those lies he had had to tell everybody last year. But it wasn't fair. Severus deserved more than those lies.
"Headmaster, I..." he began angrily, but Dumbledore's stern gaze silenced him.
"I think we'll leave you alone for a few minutes, Severus. You can get accustomed to the news."
The man just nodded with shut eyes. As they were out of the room, Harry turned to Dumbledore and exploded-
"Why did you lie to him?"
"Because I had to," Dumbledore's voice was calm, but his expression was sad and the twinkles were missing from his eyes. "Come on. Take a walk in the garden," he nodded towards outside.
"Why?" Harry asked again as they were alone.
"What else could I do, Harry? He has no memories of you or his brother. He is the Severus I knew from last year. He hates Harry Potter and he has no memories of the only man he loved either to ease his hatred. If I had told him the truth I'm afraid he couldn't handle the fact that he has to pretend to be Harry Potter's father. He doesn't even remember the oath he made to your mother to protect you!" he looked at Harry desperately. "And the show must go on. We are in a war, and you, Harry, play a very important role in it. We have to maintain the façade as long as we can. And perhaps in the meantime, Severus will grow closer to you again, and we can share the secret with him."
"He will learn it in no time," Harry protested. "And he won't believe us again. He will feel betrayed. We can't do this to him."
"No," Harry said steadily. "I won't do this."
"You have no other choice. We are in a war, and the victory and the life of many people is more important that your and Severus's feelings. You're not ready to face Voldemort, Harry. Not yet. It's vital to stall for more time. You have to put aside your personal good."
"But why?" Harry cried impatiently. "Why always me? I'll die in the end, won't I? So why can't I do what I want?"
"Why you? Because it's the strong who have to carry the weak's burden. And I don't think you have to die, Harry. Whatever you think about that prophecy."
Harry fell silent.
"Alright then," he said later as they approached the hospital's door on their way back. "I will play my role. But, Headmaster, later I want you to remember: I don't agree with you."
"I will remember, I promise."
They returned to Severus's room. The man wasn't asleep: he was lying on his bed, his eyes fixed on the ceiling.
"How are you, my friend?" Dumbledore asked warmly.
"I don't know," he shrugged. "It was a little... sudden."
The Headmaster nodded.
"I will leave you two alone now. Please, feel free to call for me if there's anything I can do."
"I will," Snape said shortly. When the door clicked behind the leaving Headmaster, Severus sat up and looked at Harry expectantly.
"So you are my son," he said hoarsely, his throat was painfully dry.
Harry poured a glass of water and brought it to him.
"Yes," he said shortly not trusting his voice.
"How long do you know me?"
"Almost for a year."
"How much did I miss?"
This question took Harry off guard.
"What do you mean?"
"Were we on good terms?" Snape looked at him again.
"Very good terms, to tell the truth."
"I still don't trust you," Snape said.
"I'll try to earn your trust again then," Harry answered.
"It won't be easy."
Harry sighed and looked at Severus openly.
"I know. But give me a go."
Severus didn't answer. Harry looked at him, and suddenly, he remembered a conversation they had had more than a month ago:
'And what would you do if I turn back to my old self all of a sudden?'
'I'd find the way to get through your walls again.'
Yes. He would find that way. Harry smiled. Severus was alive and it was all that mattered. He knew this man. He would succeed.
So, that was it.
Information about the sequel: if you beg me, you can get it. But you must beg!
Anyways, the first chapter of the sequel will be on(line) or 1/ in the second half of August (less probable) 2/ in the first half of September (more probable).
I very curious about your opinions, or perhaps about the things I forgot to explain. Or everything you think worthy to mention.
Waiting for your reviews and mails I wish you a pleasant summer and holidays.