A/N/ My take on what would happen if Snape didn't die. A mixture of movie verse and book verse.
Huge thanks to AlElizabeth for beta reading.
The Way It Is Supposed to Be
The battle was over. The Great Hall was once again buzzing with sound and movement. It was, however, so different from the usual student activity, that when the moans of the wounded, hectic conversations of those who tended to them, the crying of those whose loved ones who no longer needed help, ceased and the Hall became suddenly quiet, the first thing Minerva McGonagall felt was relief. It lasted for only a few seconds, though. A few precious seconds of serenity, until the professor realized that this silence and the tension that accompanied it, could mean nothing else than more trouble, more tragedy. Suppressing a sigh, she turned slowly towards the entrance and froze. Not many things could still surprise her, but if anything, this was one of them.
Aberforth Dumbledore, accompanied by his brother's phoenix, who had not been seen for over a year now, and with a wand pointed at a stretcher he was keeping in the air in front of him. And on the stretcher, a body so familiar to her, to every one present at this room.
Minerva swallowed down her emotions once again and slowly moved forward, but Aberforth had already turned away, his eyes fixing on Madame Pomfrey.
"Quickly, he's alive, but barely!" he yelled at the nurse, who immediately got up to approach them.
McGonagall quickened her step to catch up with Aberforth.
"How?" she asked curtly, eyeing the blood-stained skin and clothes of her unconscious colleague.
Aberforth waited until he laid Severus on the makeshift bed indicated by Poppy Pomfrey, and only then he turned to face Minerva. But taking a look at Fawkes landing gracefully at the injured man's feet, she realized that she already knew the answer.
"Phoenix tears," explained Aberforth, validating her suspicions. "It seems that Snape was loyal to my brother after all."
"Harry Potter's words seem to confirm it," she answered levelly. She was not ready to face her own feelings about it, not yet.
Using this moment to compose herself, she glanced around her and finally noticed the small crowd that was gathering around them. Many had wands in their hands, and their expressions were suspicious at best. McGonagall frowned, adopting her normal strict face again.
"Put that down, Mister Shacklebolt. It's not like he is going anywhere soon." She glanced at Severus, who looked no less dead than a few moments ago.
Madam Pomfrey raised her head to look at them.
"No," she confirmed. "And I'm afraid there is not much I can do. Whatever kind of venom this snake had, it is far beyond my skill. The phoenix did all it could, but the rest is up to him." She indicated the unconscious professor with her chin.
Kingsley Shacklebolt nodded slowly and put his wand back in his pocket.
"I will post a watch here anyway," he suggested.
Minerva nodded in agreement. Shacklebolt was a sensible man, and besides, no matter what side Snape was really on, he had a lot of enemies.
She turned to the rest of the crowd.
"Don't you people have anything better to do?" she scowled, conjuring up a screen to shield Poppy, Aberforth and Severus from the curious eyes. "If not, I suggest you go and find Harry Potter for me. Tell him I need to talk to him as soon as possible."
"And that's the whole story, professor."
They were sitting on a window ledge in one of the empty corridors adjacent to the Great Hall. Well, at least Harry was sitting. Professor McGonagall was just leaning against it heavily, because apparently no matter how tired, she would never do something as little graceful as sitting on a windowsill.
"So he was helping us all that time? And all of that because of Lily?"
Harry nodded. He was about to tell McGonagall everything he saw in Snape's memories, but he stopped at the last moment, resorting only to the necessary details. He had no illusions that the hated professor had showed him so much only to make sure Harry not only got the necessary information, but also believed it. He had probably also thought neither of them would survive the battle anyway. If Snape lived, then he would never want anyone to know that much about him. And if he died… Well, it was still a private information and keeping it hidden was the least Harry could do.
"Do you think he will live?" he asked after a moment of silence, starring at the painting opposite them, even though the corridor was too dark to really make out what exactly was painted there.
McGonagall smiled at him, but her eyes remained sad.
"I don't know. Madam Pomfrey says it is up to him now," she answered. "I wonder if he even knows that we won..." Her voice trailed off.
It was obvious she was exhausted, and the fact that the whole school was her responsibility now probably only made things worse. Or maybe it was more than that? Harry felt as tired as she seemed, but at the same time all the emotions swirling inside him made it impossible to rest for more than a few moments. Hermione was with Ron, trying to comfort him. Neville and the rest were still in the Great Hall, trying to aid Madam Pomfrey the best they could. Harry could not face them, not yet. He had walked up to the Great Hall twice, and twice turned away. Even though he knew it was necessary, even though they had won, he couldn't help the little voice inside his head reminding him over and over again that they were all dead or wounded because of him. Snape too…
"Can we clear his name?" he asked suddenly, jumping down to his feet. "Make sure everyone knows he was loyal to Dumbledore all that time, but without drawing too much attention to my mom?"
McGonagall blinked twice, as if coming back from deep inside her own mind.
"I think we can." She sent Harry a tiny smile. "It's the least we can do."
"I can testify, I can tell them what I told you." Finally seeing a purpose, something to think about other than the past, Harry felt a new surge of energy. He began pacing. "I think we could prove professor Snape was the one who put the false Gryffindor sword in Bellatrix Lestrange's vault. There must be more..."
"He… I think he was trying to protect the students, in a way, during the last year," said McGonagall thoughtfully. "And he never actually fought back. Remember, Mister Potter, just after you appeared in the Great Hall and I… intervened? Severus not only didn't send a single curse at us. He deflected my own spell so that it hit the Carrows. I thought it was a mistake, but now that I think of it."
"It wouldn't be a kind of mistake Professor Snape would make, would it?" Harry smirked, remembering the man he had hated for so many years. Some of that hate was still there, it probably always would. Snape was mean, harsh, spiteful, vindictive, cynical, downright unfair, and loved bullying Harry more than anything else. He was far from being a good man, there was no question about it. But he was also a hero.
"Yes, I suppose it would not," McGonagall agreed.
"He didn't also strike back when I chased him after… After the Astronomy Tower." They both knew what Harry was talking about. "He just made fun of my attempts to attack, but never actually used his wand other than blocking my spells."
"And then there is Fawkes," added professor McGonagall. "Professor Dumbledore's phoenix would never come to the aid of his murderer. Go and rest, Harry," she said suddenly, straightening up and assuming her normal, strict expression.
"You should get some rest too, professor," Harry suggested. Normally he would not speak to the head of Gryffindor and apparently the new headmistress of Hogwarts so bluntly, but that little moment of honest conversation, so unlike their previous encounters between a pupil and a teacher, gave him the feeling McGonagall would not be angry with him.
And indeed, she just sent him a sad smile.
"I still have something to do, Mister Potter. And then I think I will go and speak to a certain portrait about a certain colleague of mine."
"How is he?"
It had become a habit for her to visit the hospital wing every day after breakfast. So much so that she did not think about it anymore, just stood up from the table in her old rooms (the Great Hall was still under renovation, and she refused to move into the headmaster's headquarters until she was officially appointed that position), folded the copy of 'The Daily Prophet' that usually accompanied her there, and slowly walked to Poppy Pomfrey's kingdom. On the first days she had been fighting numerous emotions on her way there, although anyone who would have seen her could never guess them from her calm, poised conduct. Then, as days went by, patients left one after another to rejoin their families, and the flow of time added new duties she needed to take care of, she let other thoughts occupy her head on the way to the hospital wing, sorting them out only as she finally approached the door.
"No change." There was only one patient left, so Madam Pomfrey did not need to ask..
Minerva thanked her with a nod and as always slowly approached the bed. She stared at Snape for a minute or two, marveling at how he could get even skinnier and paler than before. His hair, getting longer and messier that she was used to see, successfully shielded the part of his neck where Nagini's fangs had left their marks. White hospital gown, so unlike his regular black clothes, and accentuating his paleness even more, had stopped attracting her attention after the first two or three days. It had been over two weeks now, so Minerva was used to the sight, used to the emotions she had felt when she had first visited him. Nothing changed indeed, and it did not seem as if it was about to change.
They weren't friends, not really. It was hard to get close to a man like Severus Snape, and now she understood why even better than before. How he had managed to trick everybody, literally everybody, including the powerful Dark Lord who was a master of Legilimency, it seemed unimaginable to her. The toll it had to have on his soul, too. The constant stress, being on his toes all the time, weighing carefully his every word, his every move. And being suspected at best, then openly hated, called weak and cowardly, while he had been in fact saving them all… No, they had never been friends, but they shared mutual respect and they both cared deeply about the school and their students — even though it was often hard to see in Severus' case, especially when it came those belonging to other houses than his own. But maybe it was only fair too. The Slytherins needed someone to believe in the good in them the way Dumbledore believed in Snape.
And then there was the last year. Minerva felt a pang of remorse, thinking about it now, but she knew, there had been no other option. She understood now why Severus had had to do the things he had done, and the fact she had truly believed him to be a traitor, a murderer, it only meant he had done his job well. Nevertheless, she sometimes wondered if there had perhaps been some sign she could have seen, should have seen. Maybe if Severus and Dumbledore had deemed her worth their trust, things would be different now, if only a bit?
She quickly dismissed these thoughts, whenever they appeared. And they appeared less and less often. Professor McGonagall was not prone to sentiments, usually, and with a lot of weight on her shoulders, she had little time for them anyway. These short visits to Severus were the only moments when she allowed herself to dwell on her emotions for a few minutes, taking advantage of the fact she was alone. That is, not counting the unconscious man on the bed. Which was so ironic, she thought bitterly, that Severus Snape was right now the only person in whose presence she let her guards down. Were he awake, he would probably mock her or just turn away in disgust.
She smiled sadly and turned away, just in time to almost knock over Madam Pomfrey who had just entered the room with a tray in her hands.
"Anything new?" Minerva pointed to the potions which clinked loudly with the nurse's abrupt halt.
"Oh, no, just the regular stuff. I stopped by to give you this." Poppy put the tray on the table and took a copy of "The Daily Prophet" from her pocket.
"Thank you, Poppy, but I have already read it."
"Yes, but have you read it to him?"
Professor McGonagall frowned.
"I was under the impression Severus cannot hear us," she pointed out.
Madam Pomfrey eyed her patient.
"Maybe he cannot, and maybe he can? We do not really know what the venom did to his mind. But you know, Minerva, I keep thinking to myself, does he actually have any reason to come back?"
McGonagall's frown deepened. She opened her mouth, but then closed it again, finding herself short for any answer. Didn't she have similar thoughts just a few moments before?
"Talk to him." Madame Pomfrey patted Minerva's shoulder, then turned to pick up her tray. "It definitely won't harm either of you." And she left.
Minerva glanced at the newspaper the nurse left behind. "SEVERUS SNAPE: TRAITOR OR HERO?" said big, flamboyant letters on the cover, immediately betraying the author. The article, although written in The Prophet's usual outrageously sensational style, answered the question in a more or less truthful way. It seemed that the Ministry had been already starting to accept the facts. Nevertheless, McGonagall was sure Severus would hate the article at least twice as much as she did. She made the newspaper disappear in a burst of flames, just like she did with her own copy, then glanced at her pocket watch, shrugged to herself, and sat down.
"I suppose you have already heard the news about our victory, Severus?" she murmured, feeling a bit foolish. "I'd like you to know we are all aware of your role in it. Aware and very grateful indeed. You have been cleared of all charges, there was even talk about giving you an order, but I suppose the idea was not extremely popular in some circles, and the Ministry let it go." She smiled dryly. "Not that I think you would care much about it. I imagine should I be in your place, I would be quite tired of all that. Terribly tired, I suppose..." Her voice trailed off. Was it the case with Snape? Poppy was right suggesting that he had nothing to come back to anymore. For the past seventeen years, all his life was concentrated on fighting Voldemort, on avenging Lily… "I knew about the two of you," she spoke up, first making sure no one was eavesdropping. "At least back then, when you were merely schoolchildren. I was your teacher, Severus. It was so long ago it seems weird now, but sometimes I look at you and still see that skinny boy who was best friends with Lily Evans. I do not know what exactly happened between you, but I am not stupid, Severus. And I know one thing. Lily was one of the kindest souls I have met. Whatever it was, I am sure she would want you to live, to move on. You saved her son. You had a good share in saving us all..." There was a tiny quiver in her voice. "Please, Severus, we have already lost enough. I could use your help. We all could." Revenge was not the only thing in his life, she realized now. He was also a teacher, even if not always a particularly devoted one, and Hogwarts had been his home for a huge portion of his life. "There are still many traces of the dark magic that was used here. We need to deal with them, make sure the school is safe before the students come back. There are aurors working on them, of course, but I am sure I could use your expertise." She was calm and collected again, never letting emotions to take over her for too long. "Just… just consider it, alright." She rose to her feet and as if on second thoughts, leaned down to awkwardly pat Snape's hand. At this moment she really, really hoped both that he was aware of what was happening around him, and that he was not aware of it at all.
Talking to Severus quickly became a new habit for her, although she never let her emotions slip like during that first time. She mostly talked about Hogwarts, about the work they were doing to restore it to its old glory, and even more important, its former levels of security. She hoped the school might still interest Snape, who, she felt, despite his cold, even contemptuous behaviour cared about it more than he would ever admit. Besides, it helped her as well. Always calm and composed, she had been making sure to behave as if she had everything under control, especially now she had been officially appointed the headmistress. But the truth was she had not. There was a lot of dark magic used during the battle, some of it very dark indeed. They did all they could, her and Flitwick, mostly, with the help of a couple of aurors, and some suggestions from Dumbledore's painting. But sometimes it felt good to just say some of her concerns and ideas out loud without expecting answers, but also without the feeling of foolishness for talking to herself. Severus had always been a good listener, provided, that is, that the topic was of any interest to him, but as Minerva also disliked trivial chatter, this was never a problem between them. And he remembered every word, ready to throw it back at you months, if not years afterwards. It was unsettling, sometimes annoying, but could also be useful. McGonagall supposed it was also a part of being a spy. A constant need to control every conversation and every context, making sure he lets nothing slip. Still, it made her like to discuss certain subjects with him, and to avoid certain other ones as well. And the fact that he could not hear her and scowl at her, well, it made confiding in him a bit easier, in a way.
It was well over three weeks after the battle, most of the castle and its grounds were safe and more or less presentable. The teachers started to leave one after another to take just a few days of vacation before resuming the work. Two aurors still stayed behind to make sure everything was in order, but as they found nothing dangerous, Minerva decided it was time to take three days off as well. And of course, proving that fate was indeed a malicious force, this was exactly when the curse struck. There was at least some luck involved there as well, since the first and only victim that alerted everyone about the danger was not a person, but a cat. Although McGonagall did not particularly like Argus Filch's pupil, especially after having a few unpleasant interactions with the animal when she was running around the castle in her feline form, she knew how important Mrs. Norris was to the Hogwarts caretaker. Nevertheless, she was sure even he could sense that her condolences were not exactly sincere. What if it was not Mrs. Norris but her owner, or even worse, a student, who would stumble upon the curse they all had apparently missed?
Despite their hardest efforts, neither aurors, nor teachers managed to deal with the curse yet, so they resolved to taking turns standing sentry next to it, making sure it did not attempt to spread. It was only in the morning after an almost-sleepless night that Minerva reminded herself about Severus. Or not exactly reminded as found herself subconsciously marching to the hospital wing the way she had done each day after breakfast. Poppy wasn't around, and McGonagall had not seen the nurse since her hasty return to Hogwarts, but she doubted there was any news that could interest her anyway. She passed Madam Pomfrey's office and walked to the private room to the left of it, only to freeze in its doorway when she eyed the sight that welcomed her.
"Severus," she whispered unwittingly.
The man didn't move nor meet her gaze, which only told her he must have heard her long before he saw her.
"You look just awful," she offered with a faint smile. He did, in fact he looked almost as bad as when she saw him the last time, but he was bound to know it anyway, and saying these words gave her a moment to compose herself. True, she had wanted him to wake up and get well, but she somehow got used to visiting him when he was unconscious, and she had not found herself prepared to speak with him now when he was finally awake. What were they supposed to speak about, anyway? She wanted to tell him a few things, true, but she knew he would hate every word of it.
She let her gaze wander around the room for a while and noticed a pile of newspapers lying on the small table next to the bed. It was a bit messy for Snape, which told her he had not touched it since Poppy had left it there, but it gave Minerva something to latch onto.
"I see you are already up to date," she suggested and sat down in a nearby chair, knowing all too well there was no point waiting for an invitation.
"I think you should know that your name has been cleared, so you can live in peace now that everything is over," she offered after a few painfully long moments. Only when she uttered these words, once again it hit her what they meant for him. Everything was indeed over. He had done his job, the one he had been occupied with for seventeen years. McGonagall looked at his tired, pale face and the way he was slumped in the bed, just like an old man exhausted with his life and ready to part with it. And he was only thirty eight. He could even be her son. She had never thought about him this way, but there it was. The man had lived through, had done himself more bad and good things she had even had an opportunity to encounter in her life. He had every reason to be tired. And yet he was still so young. Yong enough to still live a happy life, yet he had apparently given up, as his sole purpose was no longer there.
"Congratulations on your advancement, professor. Or should I say 'headmistress'?" Snape's quiet, raspy voice broke through her thoughts. There was no venom in it, however. Just words, uttered because he probably felt the need to break the awkward silence as much as she did.
"Thank you, professor," she answered in a similar manner.
He finally turned his gaze to her.
"I am no longer a professor," he stated flatly.
His eyes were empty. True, they had usually been devoid of any emotions, Minerva was used to that, he was after all a master Occlumens. But they had never seemed empty in the way they were now.
"I never received your resignation," she pointed out.
"Why would I like to be back?" Snape sneered, the first emotion she saw from him that day.
"And what other plans do you have, may I ask?' she retorted. "I do not see a line of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher candidates to choose from. Many still believe the position remains cursed. Besides, I do not think there is one better qualified than you," she tried offering more logical arguments.
Of course, many would be opposed to her choice. But even more would accept it, if not for Severus himself, then because of their trust in her judgment. In Dumbledore's judgment, which had just been proven right after all.
Suddenly she thought about something.
"There is a curse we cannot seem to grasp," she began. "It was overlooked at first, found only yesterday morning after Mrs. Norris activated it. The cat is dead now. And we are none the wiser."
Just as she expected, she saw a flicker of interest in Snape's eyes. Satisfied, she continued her story. She kept it short, seeing that he was much weaker that he would want her to believe. But at least he actually listened to her, chimed in with a few comments and questions. And Minerva has happy enough to pretend she didn't notice how he dozed off the moment she finished. Smirking to herself, she silently left the room, directing her steps to the library. Actually, one of Severus' suggestions might have even proven useful.
The next morning, she made sure to prepare safe topics for conversation, hoping to grant Snape some reprieve to the thoughts she supposed must be tormenting him. However, he managed to surprise her again. As she entered the hospital wing, she immediately stumbled upon Poppy Pomfrey trying to argue with her patient, who was already fully clothed and, although a bit unsteadily, towering over her.
"What do you think you're doing?" asked McGonagall in a voice she usually used against her students.
Snape sent her an annoyed look. Good, that was something. Still better than the almost complete lack of emotions from the other day.
"Show me the place the curse is located," he simply demanded, after greeting her with the tiniest of nods.
Minerva raised a brow and looked questioningly at Madame Pomfrey. The nurse shrugged.
"He has taken enough potions to keep him upright for an hour, maybe two, although I don't want to be in his shoes when they run out."
"HE is in the same room," Snape sneered, though it came out rather weakly, considering his still raspy voice. "And HE was told he is apparently a free man who can do as he pleases." He sent McGonagall a challenging look.
She just smiled at him.
"As long I don't have to carry HIM back to his bed," she retorted, and nodding at Poppy, lead on in the direction of the cursed corridor.
She slowed down her walk as soon as they were out of the hospital wings, fearing whether Severus was really up to her normal pace. He didn't comment upon it, just obediently fell behind.
"It seems you were right about the kind of curse we are dealing with," she offered after a moment of silent walk. "What I don't understand is why it is still so strong. If it is supposed to feed on life, I am sure Mrs. Norris could not sustain it for longer than a couple of hours."
"That's why I want to inspect it myself," Snape murmured back, obviously already aware of the fact his long-unused voice sounded worse the louder he spoke.
"If you think you are up to it, Severus."
He looked as if he wanted to throw a snarky retort and her, but gave up before uttering the first sound. It worried McGonagall. Snape was never much of a talker, but rarely missed an opportunity to express his disdain for the world.
He started slowing down even more, so Minerva adapted her pace to his, acting as if it was her who was getting tired. Even if Snape was too smart not to notice it, he pretended he didn't.
"You know you can trust me?" she asked, halting suddenly.
Snape eyed her with surprise.
"Are we going to discuss it now?" he sneered.
At least it will give you a moment to rest, thought Minerva before she continued:
"Wherever I think about the past year, Severus, it pains me you and Dumbledore did not think me deserving of a benefit of your trust."
Even though she had already pondered about it enough to at least think she understood their reasons, it still felt good to finally get it of her chest.
"Trust?" Snape snorted, turning to face her. "And did you trust me enough to give me a benefit of doubt?"
"I did. At least until..." Until you killed Dumbledore, she thought, and it made her fall silent. "I understand," she offered finally with an apologetic smile, not really wanting to continue the confrontation.
"No, you do not." Snape's voice again was washed off any emotion. But to McGonagall's surprise, after a moment he spoke again: "What would you do if you knew what needed to be done? Would you just accept it? Would you leave Carrows be without trying to intervene?"
"You tried to protect the children from them," she pointed out. "I can see it now."
"To an extent," he agreed. "But I didn't need that famous Gryffindor bravery of yours."
"You needed credibility." McGonagall nodded. She knew he couldn't risk, not with so much at stake. It wasn't Severus she was angry with, it was Dumbledore. Yet somehow it was so much easier to talk about it even to her withdrawn colleague than to the portrait on her office's wall.
Snape turned away, indicating the conversation was over. Then, suddenly, three deer in the painting above their heads took off in fright, and Severus jumped backwards, almost colliding with McGonagall. It did not take her long to notice a big painted snake hiding in the painted grass.
"It is just a picture, and you know that," she tried to reassure her companion, who was panting heavily, his gaze still fixed on the snake.
Convinced he didn't even hear her, she gently put her hand on Snape's shoulder, only then realizing it was a terrible mistake.
She was surprised he could move so fast, especially in his current state. Within a fraction of a second, she had her back to the wall, her colleague's hand clasped around the front of her robe, his wand inches from her throat.
"Don't. Ever. Touch. Me. Again," Severus snarled at Minerva, finally letting go.
"You're paranoid," she rasped, clutching her chest in an attempt to calm her heart.
Snape took a step back, conjured a potion and a glass of water, and handed it to her.
"Of course I am paranoid." His answer was surprisingly calm. "This is what kept me alive all these years."
McGonagall shook her head, but accepted the glass, knowing it was offered as an apology. She couldn't blame him, could she?
"I'm getting too old for this," she complained instead. "It seems that I could use a bit of air." She gestured towards a nearby balcony, and let Snape escort her there. She was perfectly capable of getting there without help, but sensed that he needed to offer it — and that was exactly the difference between her and Snape, she mused, as she finally leaned against the balustrade.
They stood there in silence, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun, which, Minerva thought, Severus could use even more than her old bones. Only after a couple of minutes she turned to see what her companion was looking at.
"It looks different, doesn't it?" she spoke, eyeing the bright green vegetation and the mountains surrounding them, so strangely serene. She could still see the way it had looked these three weeks ago. She probably always would. "Most of the trees have already been replanted, but Pomona says it is better to let them grow a bit on their own before she helps them. They should be tall enough when the students come back."
"How many…?" Snape's voice trailed off, but McGonagall knew what he meant wasn't trees.
"Over fifty in total. Almost half of them students." She hoped he didn't expect her to list their names. It still hurt too much to even think about them. "Vincent Crabbe too," she offered, remembering there was at least one Slytherin among the fallen. She didn't need to mention what side he had died on.
Snape nodded slowly, but said no word, his eyes still fixed on the castle's grounds. They stood there for a while longer, and finally turned back to their original destination.
Luckily it was Flitwick who stood on sentry there, not the aurors, as despite the official pardon for Severus Minerva was not sure how would they behave if they suddenly met the most famous, as of last, double spy of the just finished war. There were many people who hated Snape, she was sure, on both sides. And some of them probably had a good reason to. Another argument to convince him to stay at Hogwarts. In his present frame of mind, the survival instinct that had kept him alive for so long may be just about to run out.
"Professor McGonagall. Professor Snape."
Either the charms master also shared her judgment, or it was merely slip of a tongue, but nevertheless he seemed genuinely happy to see Snape out and about.
Soon both men concentrated on the curse, and McGonagall took a step back, knowing that Flitwick's expertise with charms doubled with Severus' knowledge of the dark arts was more than she could offer anyway.
She could hear Snape's still raspy voice suggesting something, to which Filius shook his head.
"Tried that too. It should work just the way you said, but I believe there is something the curse draws power from, which we still cannot pinpoint. We even moved all the paintings and statues away from this corridor and the adjacent rooms, even though they had much less life in them than the poor cat." Flitwick shrugged and moved his wand, highlighting the places the curse held the strongest.
Snape stared at them for a moment.
"It is a strange place for a curse to be located, unless its caster expected the defendants to fly," he observed.
"A fair amount of it was closer to the ground, but Mrs. Norris seems to have exhausted that part of the curse. It has already started growing back, though," explained Flitwick, taking a step back to eye the ceiling.
Severus took out his wand and murmured a couple of spells, then shook his head.
"I need to think," he admitted.
Which Minerva quickly interpreted as I need to lay down.
She watched Snape carefully, as they slowly made their way back, and got surprised when he passed the hospital wing and turned to the stairs leading down.
"I told the elves to move my things to my old headquarters," he explained wearily, seeing that McGonagall stopped in her tracks. "No one lived there during the past year, so I believe I can still use them during my recovery?"
Minerva would rather have him stay near Madam Pomfrey, as there was still no certainty as to what damage had Nagini's venom really caused. But she refrained from saying so out loud. Being a potion master, Severus was also a capable healer on his own, and besides, Poppy had even less experience in this particular field of medicine than him.
"But don't think it will stop me from checking up on you," she smiled.
Snape did not answer, but McGonagall thought she noticed his expression soften a little bit until he turned his back on her, black robes flowing about him as he slowly descended the stairs.
To her surprise, she didn't need to go down to the dungeons to check up on Snape, as next morning she saw him stride across the newly renovated Great Hall towards her.
"You look better," she welcomed him, but he seemed too preoccupied to properly listen to her.
"Filch says nobody has seen Peeves for the past few days."
It was neither an indicative, nor a question. Minerva put down her cup and was about to invite her colleague to join her at breakfast, when her eyes suddenly widened.
"Peeves has always enjoyed tormenting Mrs Norris."
"Indeed." Snape sat down, trying to conceal his shortness of breath. "And although he is not, technically speaking, alive, he has life in him that the curse can feed on, and he cannot die, which makes him a perfect source of energy."
"Mrs Norris didn't activate the curse, she only fell victim to it?" said McGonagall, remembering to fill a cup for her companion.
"Leaving invisible Peeves a prisoner, which prevented you from destroying the curse." Snape accepted the coffee and took a small sip, then put the cup down and begin rising to his feet.
"Stay." This time Minerva remembered not to touch him, she only gestured at him to sit down. "You are not up to it yet, and Flitwick is perfectly capable of doing it on his own." She could only hope he would listen to her, something which he rarely did.
But Snape only nodded curtly and slumped down in his chair, turning his gaze from McGonagall to the full plates.
"You know, Severus," she added on a sudden thought. "This only proves I was right in offering you the position. Just consider it, please."
He did not answer, pretending to be busy spreading butter over his toast. However, as she was leaving the hall, McGonagall heard his a bit less raspy voice saying:
"I thought you of all people would know cats can sense dark magic like that."
She smiled under her nose, turned into her feline form that granted her more speed, and ran out of the hall.
The new school year was about to begin and the Great Hall was once again busy with chatter and laughter, witch an occasional round of cursing indicating that Peeves was also in a great mood tonight. It seemed so weird, Harry thought, looking around the room and still seeing the way it looked just a few weeks before. It felt even weirder knowing him and Ron were no longer a part of it. They were sitting at the end of the teachers' table as guests to the ceremony, staring from the above at the students, Hermione among them. She understood their choice to stay away and help fighting the remnants of Voldemort's army, just like they hadn't been surprised by her choice to come back and finish the school. Nevertheless, it felt so strange to see her from that perspective, alone among the other Gryffindors.
Harry looked at the four tables before him, and although not surprised, felt a pang of anger seeing that most of the people sitting at them were acting as if nothing had happened. Finally his eyes met Luna's and they shared faint smile across the room. The Ravenclaw tried to gesticulate at him, but before Harry managed to get her message, the hall fell silent, indicating that it was the moment of the headmaster's, or in this case headmistress', speech.
Harry turned his chair slightly back and left, moving a bit backwards to prevent Hagrid's huge form from obscuring his view of the centre of the teachers' table. Then he froze, meeting, as he realized, the only pair of eyes which seemed as empty as he felt.
McGonagall kept her speech shorter than Dumbledore, welcoming the students in a few words, briefly remembering the Fallen Fifty, and then turning to introducing the new teachers.
"First, we are happy to welcome professor Arthur Weasley as our new Muggle Studies teacher."
The first name was no surprise to Harry, and as he joined the cheer, pretending to cover his ears when Ron whistled loudly, he even felt his spirits raise a bit. The position allowed Mister Weasley to come in and teach his classes only three days a week, making it possible for him to spend the remaining time with Molly and the rest of the family who needed him more than ever. And to continue helping the members of the Order to track down the remaining Death Eaters, although a little bit less officially than others, to not upset his wife.
"I'm also happy to announce that professor Snape is back in the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher."
Snape gave a curt nod, as the room fell even more silent that before. Then, one after another, the students began clapping, and soon the whole hall was rolling with ovation. Harry looked at the students. A few faces wore a disgusted expression, which didn't surprise him, some obviously clapped only because others did it. Years of bullying his students didn't gain Severus Snape much sympathy, but the series of articles published on the man by "The Daily Prophet", outrageous and liberal with the facts as they were, had apparently managed to convince many that their professor was one of the heroes of the last war. Harry eyed Snape and with satisfaction observed that he man was uncomfortable. Making sure that the professor was aware of his attention, he grinned at Snape, thinking that he could consider it as his little revenge for the seven years of being the man's student.
After the ceremony was over and Harry finally managed to slip away unnoticed, he hesitantly walked down to the part of the dungeons that was still painfully familiar to him He wasn't going to pretend he wanted him and Snape to be friends now, and he knew his former teacher would probably welcome him with as much hatred as before, but he needed to get that one thing off his chest.
Of course it was Snape who managed to surprise him, not the other way round.
"I need to speak with you, professor," Harry answered, his voice as flat as possible.
"We have nothing to talk about," Snape snarled at him.
"Your memories were restored to you just after the battle," said Harry quickly, blocking the professor's path. "I assure you no one else has seen them. I don't know where the Prophet got their revelations from, but I swear it wasn't me."
"Move away, Potter," if possible, Snape's voice got even more threatening, but Harry realized that it neither scared, nor annoyed him anymore.
"I will, as soon as I am finished." Still, he made sure it sounded more or less polite. "Just one more minute, professor, please. You might even take one hundred points from Gryffindor, I don't care."
"You are no longer a Gryffindor, Potter," Snape pointed out, but if he didn't want to forcefully push Harry away, he needed to stop, giving his opponent a chance to say what he had to say.
"I may look like my father, professor, but I am not him. And I have no trouble admitting you're the bravest person I've ever known." Harry made sure he was looking straight into Snape's black eyes, knowing that the man's Legilimency abilities would confirm that he meant every word.
"I don't need your praise, Potter," Snape growled at him, but Harry stood his ground.
"I know, sir. But maybe I needed it."
A moment of silence.
"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Potter."
"Thank you, professor."
They both knew what he was really thanking for.