We are finally here. The very last chapter of this story. I hope you will enjoy it!

Chapter 56

Darkness. That was all that Harry was aware of. He couldn't describe anything else even if he wanted to. Darkness was his only companion but that was fine. It didn't demand things of him. Didn't put him in impossible situations. And it didn't hurt him. Darkness was just… there.

But Harry did have questions. Was he dead? Was this what death was? If so, he was in for an eternity of boredom.

But then there was something else. Some kind of… noise, he thought. Yes, it was definitely a sound. He focused on it. Tried to look past the darkness but it didn't go away. And yet, he was starting to make out the source of the sound. It was a voice. No, there were two different voices. Harry knew both, he thought. He just couldn't remember from where.

He floated there for a long time. In between vague awareness and the danger of permanent unconsciousness. At least, that's what it felt like. And all that time, Harry was not sure of what direction he would prefer to take.

I'm willing to get to know you. You. Harry Potter. If you'll allow me to.

Right. Someone had said that to him a long time ago. Back when Harry had chosen death instead of life. Yet, this person had selfishly refused to let him go.


Slowly, the memory of the sardonic yet protective potions master seeped into Harry's blank mind. He had gotten to know Harry. Intimately so. There had been… Occlumency, yes. And there was some sort of connection… though Harry couldn't quite recall how that had happened.

But Severus knew Harry now. So Harry should, in turn, choose awareness, he supposed. Otherwise, Severus would surely be disappointed in him. And Harry didn't think he could scrub any cauldrons right now. His arms just felt so heavy.

Why were they heavy again?

One of the voices nearby came from Severus, Harry now recognised. The tone was calm and soft but Harry didn't think it was directed at him. The other voice belonged to a girl, he realised.

I'm glad you decided to tell us.

With a jolt that seemed to jumpstart his brain a little more, Harry realised who the second voice belonged to.


Why was Hermione talking to Severus? Maybe Harry had died after all because he just couldn't imagine a situation in which the two of them would talk to each other so calmly.

But it was them. Harry was sure of it. The darkness was fading a little bit and Harry thought that he could probably see daylight behind his closed eyes. He tried moving his fingers but they still felt too heavy and it would take far too much effort to move them. The same went for his eyelids, apparently. So, for now, he would just try to focus on the conversation.

" – was the most difficult test, to be honest, but I think I probably still passed it." That was Hermione.

"I'm quite certain that you do not require my assurance to be sure of your own knowledge and skill level. Fishing for compliments from a Slytherin rarely works, Ms Granger." Oh, yes. That was unmistakably Severus.

"I didn't mean it like that, Sir. I just…"

"It is still your turn."

There was a long moment of silence before Severus spoke again. "I see that you've been practising."

Hermione chuckled. Actually chuckled. In front of Severus. "I thought you just said that Slytherins don't often compliment someone."

"Ah, but I did not say that," Severus replied. "I said that attempting to coerce one into providing you with one will almost always fail. Unless said Slytherin is trying to get something from you."

"So, you're saying that I could use a set-up like that to find out a Slytherin's intentions? Check, by the way."

"If you possess the finesse to do so, yes," Severus replied easily. "As for now, I would advise against that. Checkmate."

Hermione sighed. "Again?"

"Well, I'm not planning on going anywhere."

Harry listened to the sounds of what had to be the board being set up again. Why were they here? Why was Harry here? What was going on?

The last thing he remembered was a stag. A black one. And then a sense of indescribable loss. Severus had been there as well, Harry knew. Were they still there, in that dark cave? But how did Hermione get there? And why were they playing chess?

"Has there been any kind of change, Professor?"

"No. Not for the better but neither for the worse."

"I wonder how he'll feel about missing his O.W.L.'s," Hermione said. "I would be devastated."

"I'm certain that he should not worry about such things if – when he wakes. The Ministry owes him a tremendous debt, after all."

Hermione scoffed. "In more ways than one."


Harry didn't understand. Wake up? But he was awake. He could hear everything they said. And Hermione had to be mistaken. The O.W.L.'s were still months away. Maybe she got to take them early or something. For outstanding academic prowess, perhaps. He just wished that he could tell them that he was here.

I'm awake. I'm here.

The words seemed to stick in the muddled cotton that was his brain. He wished that he could talk but his mouth didn't feel like it could open, even if he wanted it to.

"How is Mr Weasley doing?"

"Still punished," Hermione revealed. "Mrs Weasley has got him copying every textbook he has. Without magic."

"Well done," Severus said. "And has he made progress?"

"Oh, yes. He's copied every book from fifth year and is now working on those from fourth year. Well-deserved, if you ask me."

"I concur wholeheartedly," Severus said. "Though I presume that Harry will find it too harsh of a punishment."

Right. Ron had tried to kill him in that forest, hadn't he? Because his mother and brother… Poor Ron. It had been a horrid thing to do but Harry could still understand where he had been coming from.

I forgave him. Shouldn't that count for something?

"Sir?" Hermione asked. "How are you doing?"

"Is there anything specific you are referring to?" Severus replied dryly. "I assure you that my complexion has always possessed the same pallor."

"Oh come on, don't do that," Hermione said. She almost sounded as if she were reprimanding him. Severus Snape! "You know very well what I mean. Have you been sleeping, at least?"

"I am certain that that is none of your concern."

"Sometimes, you're impossible, you know that?!"

Tell me about it.

Harry heard the loud screeching of a chair and then the sound of a loud bang as if it had fallen over.

"Professor, what –"

"Quiet, Ms Granger," Severus urged. Harry heard more than felt the movement of Severus' robes as he approached him. He could practically feel the man staring at him but there was nothing he could do. It was as if he was trapped in his own body.

"Harry. Can you hear us?" The concern in Severus' voice nearly broke Harry's heart. It sounded so deeply weary that Harry couldn't help but wonder for how long the man had been worried.

I hear you.

There was a sharp intake of breath and Harry thought he could feel someone grab his hand. "Can you squeeze my hand, Harry?"

Harry tried with all his might but he knew that he lacked the strength.

I can't move. I don't think that I'm awake yet.

"You're awake," Severus replied. "But your mind seems to have blocked itself off."

I don't know what's going on.

A hand covered Harry's forehead and then he felt the familiar warmth of Severus' painted waters as they entered his mind.

I will help you. We can use this link. One last time.

There's so much I don't understand. Or forgot about.

We can worry about that later. For now, I need you to relax.

Harry didn't think he could relax more if he tried. But for Severus, he would give it his best effort.

Are we still in the cave?

We were never in a cave, to begin with, Harry.

No. I distinctly remember a cave. There were snakes and… other animals I think. Hey, why would you bring Hermione here?

We are not in a cave and Ms Granger came here of her own volition.

Harry tried thinking beyond his murky brain but he couldn't make sense of it.

She wasn't invited, though. Voldemort doesn't like muggle-borns much.

Harry could feel that he was sort of distracting Severus but he needed to understand.

Did she come here to bring Ron his textbooks? For his punishment?

Harry. You are in the Hogwarts medical wing. Everyone has been rescued from the forest months ago and the Dark Lord is gone.

Oh… When will he be back?

Never, this time. He's quite dead. Ah, here we are. Be quiet for a moment.

Harry stilled the words in his mind while Severus did his thing. His soothing waters remained in Harry's vicinity and their calm almost rocked him back into oblivion.

Then there was some slight tugging at the back of Harry's mind. And it almost felt as if there was some sort of void there. As if Harry was missing something. Something important. The words were thought before he realised it.

Did I get brain damage?

Severus stilled for a moment.

Your befuddlement is most likely caused by the mixture of potions you have been taking on a daily basis. Your confusion will clear soon after you manage to wake up.

But there's a hole in my head.

Nothing vital has gone missing. I assure you.

Severus' tugging and prodding began anew and Harry decided to just simmer in his private thoughts. So something was really gone. But it was nothing too important, Severus said. An ear, maybe. Preferably his right ear, if he had to choose. He always faced off against his adversaries with his right side. He would need his left ear to hear what was happening behind him.

Or maybe he was missing a nose. It would be a fitting price to pay for offing Voldemort, he supposed. Though it would make him even less popular with the girls if that was the case. Did the magical world have prosthetic noses, maybe?

An eye would be the worst of it but Severus wouldn't think his eyes weren't vital, right? After all, he had his mother's eyes. They were important to a lot of people. Maybe, if he had lost one, he could give it away to someone. Would Severus like that as a Christmas present? What potions needed human eyeballs, Harry wondered.



I don't want to look like Voldemort.

Harry could practically feel Severus sigh deeply. Harry, whatever makes you say that?

The hole in my head… it's my nose, isn't it?

No, it's not your nose. Hold on for just a few more seconds. I've nearly got this.

Feeling slightly flushed, Harry allowed Severus his requested seconds. And that was all it took. Harry felt relief wash over him, though he knew that it wasn't his. And then, Severus retreated from his mind.

"Professor?" Ah, that was Hermione again. "What just happened?"

Severus ignored her. "Open your eyes, Harry."

It was still hard. It was almost as if Harry had forgotten how to do so. He scrunched up his nose in concentration and heard Hermione gasp in response. And then, finally, he opened his eyes. Both of them. So he hadn't lost either.

"Harry!" Hermione made a move to throw her hands around Harry's neck but Severus stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder.

Harry slowly raised both of this hands to feel his ears. Relieved to find them both still there, he dropped his hands back onto the mattress.

"I'm still in one piece," he whispered in relief. His throat felt dry and raspy but, almost immediately, Severus conjured a glass of water for him.

"Gently now," he warned. "A few sips at a time. Good. Now wait here while I go fetch Madame Pomfrey."

His glass still in hand, Harry watched as Severus took quick and steady strides before heading into Pomfrey's office. He glanced back at Hermione and saw how she was biting her lip.

"He's gone," he said. "You can hug me now." He put the glass down and sluggishly opened his arms as if to invite her and it took her but a mere second to comply. She all but flung herself at Harry and started crying into his pyjama shirt.

"I'm so glad you're back," she whispered. "I was worried that you were never going to wake up."

"I'm sorry," Harry said, still not sure what had exactly transpired. "I'll try not to do it again."

Hermione chuckled wryly. She still hadn't let go. "You really need a shower," she said sadly.

Harry flushed a bit. "I do? I'm so sorry. You er… don't have to hug me, you know."

"Just a while longer," Hermione replied.

"Ms Granger!"

Severus and Pomfrey had suddenly come into view and Severus seemed to be more than appalled that Hermione had defied him. She quickly let go.

"He said it was alright," she argued.

"Be that as it may, you will not put any more strain on his body from here on out. Is that clear?" Severus growled.

"Yes Professor."

"Good. Now let Madame Pomfrey do her job. I presume that you wish to inform Mr Weasley as soon as possible."

"Oh, goodness, of course!" Hermione squeaked. "I'll be back later, Harry. Ron's going to be so happy!"

Madame Pomfrey ran a series of diagnostic tests that took over an hour to complete. Meanwhile, Severus didn't allow anyone else to enter the medical wing. In the end, though, both adults sighed in relief when all of the tests came back normal. Harry would have some trouble getting around at first because he hadn't used his limbs in such a long time but other than that, he would be fine.

"Does that mean I can go?" Harry asked hopefully. "I already missed a lot, didn't I?"

"More than you realise," Severus said. "I suggest that we move this conversation into my chambers where we don't take the risk of being interrupted. Does that sound agreeable to you?"

"Yes, please," Harry said gratefully. The fog was quickly lifting from his mind, now, and he thought that he saw things more clearly. "Let me just put on my robes."

Severus merely flicked his wand and Harry's pyjamas changed into his customary Hogwarts outfit.

"Oh. Thanks," Harry muttered.

"Don't forget his potions, Severus," Pomfrey said as she shoved a few into Severus' hands. Then she turned to Harry. "You have to take these once a day. Only until your muscle mass has become what it used to be."

I bet it tastes horrible.

"Well, it surely won't taste like pumpkin pie," Severus said honestly. "Let's go."

They used the floo to get to Severus' quarters quickly. And it somehow felt nostalgic for Harry to do so. Sure, he had been released from these quarters but it hadn't been long after that that he had been whisked away to the forest. They both sat down in their customary spots and Harry folded his hands in his lap, preparing to listen intently. Severus conjured a tea set but poured himself a glass of whiskey.

"Where to begin," he mused.

"The forest," Harry urged.

"Ah, the black forest," Severus said. "An enormous stretch of forest somewhere in Germany."

"Germany?" Harry repeated. "Why there?"

"I assume that the Dark Lord didn't want to be found out before he could complete the ritual. No one could imagine that we were no longer in Britain. And even if someone had somehow deduced that we were in the black forest, it would still take weeks if not months for anyone to find us. Even with the help of magic."

"But what was he trying to do?" Harry asked.

"What he has always tried to do," Severus said plainly. "Acquire more power." He sighed and took a swallow of his whiskey. "The night in the graveyard the Dark Lord got the first taste of what your blood and your innate magic are capable of. I imagine that that occurrence is what instigated his plan this year. He found a ritual that would use the full range of your own magical core to strengthen his. And because your blood already ran through his veins, he was certain that he'd be successful."

"But it wasn't just about me," Harry pointed out.

"It was," Severus argued. "Everyone else was just a pawn. Imagine a chessboard. But this one only has a king on each side and besides that nothing else but pawns. And while the Dark Lord made it look as if your pawns were on his side, that was a lie. He needed them to kill you because, that way, the ritual would assign him the victor and grant him your power. It was as simple as that. The Death Eaters were there to share the costs of the ritual. He could have done it by himself but that would have meant him taking every blow when something went wrong and that's just not his style. The reason he gathered his Horcruxes is that, after the ritual would be completed, his magical core would be so different that the connection between him and his Horcruxes would disappear, leaving him vulnerable. And it's a good thing that he did that, really."

"People didn't really attack me, though," Harry said. "Only every now and then but even most of the Slytherins didn't have their heart into it."

"And that's precisely what prompted his downfall," Severus said. "He didn't understand the mindset of normal people. It is hard to kill another human being. Even if your loved ones are threatened. Not only that, but they all knew who they'd be helping if they killed you. And there were few students who truly wanted to assist the Dark Lord. The way that you orchestrated house unity was absolutely splendid. It was the key to his downfall."

Harry took a while, sipping his tea as he mulled that over.

"What about Mrs Weasley and Bill? And Neville's mum and dad? What about –"

Severus raised his hand. "I'm deeply sorry to say that loss of limb is not something we can restore. Not even in the magical society."

Harry bit his lip. None of them had deserved what had happened to them. How horrible.

"It is probably a small comfort," Severus then continued, "but we are able to produce some rather capable prosthetics."

"Right," Harry said, doubt disturbing his voice. Moody sure didn't paint such a pretty picture.

But Severus seemed to pick up on that. "Some people prefer to trigger horror and fear in others with their… predicaments. But not everyone has to. I assure you that suitable replacements can be bought"

"I'll help," Harry said sullenly. "I still have some money in my vault that –"

Severus interrupted him again. "There is no need for that either," he said. "Professor Dumbledore has sponsored each and every person that lost something in the final battle. He said that it was the least he could do."

"He's back then?" Harry asked. "Does that mean Umbridge is gone?"

Severus' face darkened considerably. "Oh, yes," he said icily. "She's gone from here. In fact, I escorted her into Azkaban myself just so I could be sure that there would be no interference from the ministry. But only after I… showed her the error of her ways, of course."

Harry couldn't help but smile a little. "What did you do?" he asked.

"Let's just say that I prepared some potions just for this occasion," Severus said. "Potions of the permanent variety."

"Meaning…" Harry urged.

"I believe that you've encountered enough violence for one lifetime," Severus said, waving the question away.

Harry nodded. Severus was probably right about that. There was one more thing he wanted to know about, though.

"Sir," he said. "I remember this black stag. In our encounter…"

"Ah, yes," Severus said. "The piece that went missing. The hole in your mind."

Harry huffed. "I'm going to need a little bit more than that."

"We've discussed the Horcruxes. And you managed to battle those in a most fantastic manner. But when the fifth Horcrux appeared, I was not sure how we would manage that. Until that stag appeared as well."

"What was it?" Harry asked.

"A sixth Horcrux," Severus said heavily. "Professor Dumbledore imagines that it was created when he killed your mother. By accident."

Harry was completely horrified. "What?"

"I'm afraid it's true," Severus said. "It was a surprise, however, that its allegiance belonged to you rather than to the Dark Lord. Professor Dumbledore has another theory as to why that is…"

"My mother," Harry said softly.

Severus leaned forward a bit. "Precisely so. The nature of her sacrifice bonded the Horcrux to you in a way that the Dark Lord could never have imagined. Its loyalties changed from the moment it nestled into your mind. It might be one of the reasons why the Dark Lord never managed to kill you before. What I have always perceived as luck might actually have been some kind of…innate understanding about how the Dark Lord moves and operates."

"It's gone now, though, isn't it?" Harry asked.

"It is," Severus said. "Whatever else it might have been, it was still a part of the Dark Lord's soul. It had to be destroyed. And so it was. It self-destructed when it collided with its maker in a most spectacular fashion."

"I remember," Harry said dryly. "I think I… miss it."

"It was a part of you for many years," Severus said. "That is only to be expected. But the feeling will fade."

They sat in amicable silence for a long time. Harry refilled his cup of tea a few times as he mulled over the information he got. Voldemort was gone. That was the most important part. He would never hurt anyone else again. Harry would finally be able to move on with his life. He would be able to live. But…

"Do I have to redo my fifth year?" Harry asked sullenly. "Hermione mentioned that the O.W.L. exams were over, right?"

Severus snorted. "Oh, I think not," he said. "The magical world owes you a great debt, Harry. And Fudge's resignation was not enough to pay that debt back."

"Wait, what?" Harry urged.

"You will proceed into your sixth year alongside your friends," Severus said. "Your O.W.L.'s have all been graded with a passing grade. You will be allowed into any class of your choosing."

Harry stared at Severus. "I'm still dreaming, aren't I?"

Severus laughed. "You are most certainly not. It's finally over, Harry. And you did so very well."

Harry smiled and took another sip of his tea. Severus' praise would never get old.


Spells were flying every which way, bouncing off of walls and leaving scorch marks in the wooden floor. Harry watched from behind his cover how Severus cast curse after curse at Sirius while the man valiantly tried to block each. If Harry didn't act fast, Sirius would lose. He grabbed his wand tighter and moved behind desks and tables. Scattered objects lay strewn across the floor and Harry had to do his best to avoid them lest he made a lot of noise. He knew that Sirius had noticed him and was doing his best to keep Severus eyes on him and away from Harry.

"Is that really the best you can do, Black?" Severus sneered.

"Oh, you have seen nothing yet," Sirius said, a maniacal grin spreading across his face. He waved his wand in an intricate pattern before flinging a curse in Severus' direction. He deflected it into the chandelier above them that now trembled dangerously.

This was Harry's chance. He leapt from the shadows and threw his arms across Severus' neck, forcing him backwards. The man stumbled and tried raising his wand but Harry grabbed his arm before he could. Sirius quickly disarmed him.

Breathing heavily, the three of them sank to the floor. Harry let Severus go and shot him a brilliant smile. "I can't believe you fell for that."

"I will admit that your skills in the art of stealth have improved vastly," Severus said. "Without you, I assure you that Black would have lost. Again."

"Yeah, yeah," Sirius said. He tossed Severus his wand back and used his own to repair what had been broken.

"Dinner is served!" Came a happy and familiar voice.

All three wizards got up eagerly, feeling especially famished after their work-out.

While Voldemort was now well and truly gone, Sirius still didn't like having Grimmauld Place all to himself. And even though Harry now stayed here during the summer holidays, the man still preferred to have as many people around him as possible. Being exonerated from all his crimes helped with that but he wasn't all that sociable around strangers just yet. Having the members of the Order stop by every now and then lifted the man's spirits tremendously.

When they entered the dining room, they found Molly Weasley bustling at the stove. Her mechanical arm was fitted with all sorts of handy cooking tools that she could employ with the click of a button. She had become so adept at using it that she cooked even faster than before.

"It smells delicious, Molly," Sirius said jovially. "You really are a treasure. Tell her, Severus!"

Severus sighed. "You understand my sentiments on the matter, Molly," he said evenly. "You truly are an accomplished cook."

"How'd it go, Harry?" Ron asked. He was helping his mother cook as he had done ever since they got back from school. At first, Mrs Weasley hadn't wanted to accept any help, almost insulted that she would need it, but now it was clear that she enjoyed having her youngest son's company.

"We beat Severus!" Harry said as he sat down. "Easily!"

"Easily?" Severus echoed. "Are you quite certain of that?"

"Okay, not easily," Harry admitted. "But without injury, at least."

"I will concede that point," Severus said as he poured himself some tea. "Do you require any assistance, Molly?"

"Of course not, Severus," Mrs Weasley said. "You just sit back and relax, alright?"

"Yeah, Sev," Sirius said. "Sit back and relax. You probably need it."

"Don't call me that, mutt," Severus warned. "You never know what I might let slip in your tea."

Sirius laughed. "I have the nose of a bloodhound," he said. "But you are welcome to try."

"Leave me out of it, please," Harry said. "It was hard enough to find the antidote to the last potion you – how did you say it – let slip."

"Ah, but you deserved that, didn't you?" Severus said slyly.

"It was a cruel and unusual punishment," Harry said.

"But it was hilarious!" Sirius pointed out, barking a laugh. "Too bad that Hermione found an antidote."

"Have you decided on what courses you're going to take yet, Harry?" Ron asked.

"Oh, I'm taking those necessary to become an Auror," Harry said easily. "You?"

Ron hesitated. "I would but –" he glanced at Severus. "I don't have an O in potions so I can't."

"Oh, I think you'll find that you can," Severus said easily.

"Really?" Ron asked, turning from the bread he had been cutting.

"It would appear that you will be getting a new more lenient Potions Master next year," he said.

Harry frowned. "You're quitting?" he asked.

"Oh, most certainly not," Severus said. "But now that the ah… curse has been lifted, Professor Dumbledore finally sees merit in me taking the Defence Against the Dark Arts post."

"No," Ron breathed, earning himself a smack from his mum.

"Oh yes," Severus said. "I think we will be starting the year learning about –" he winked at Harry, "Acromantulas."

Ron's whimpering showed that that had the desired effect. Harry burst out laughing, quickly followed by Severus.

Sirius smirked and grabbed a roll as well just in time for the cauliflower soup that was deposited into his bowl by Ron.

Harry smiled as he took in the scene. Now, this was what it meant to be a part of a family. It may not be conventional. And it definitely was strange in many ways. But Harry wouldn't want it any other way.

The End

Thank you all for sticking around until the very end. It has taken me eight months to write this story and it sure has been a rollercoaster. The Subterfuge refers to so much more than the start of the story in which Severus goes to take Dudley's place. It also refers to Umbridge's position in Hogwarts, Draco's position with both Umbridge and Harry and, of course, Severus' position with Voldemort, especially near the end.

I really want to thank my beta Pagemaste4TW (or SneakyPrawn on the Discord) who has spent hours of his life working on this story with me. He has given me ideas, brainstormed with me and really helped make this story into what it became. So thanks, Big Bad Beta. You were tough on me at times but we did it!

I am going to take a break now. I expect to be gone for a couple of months before I get started on a new fic.
Until that time, please leave me a review!