At some point in all of our lives, we must question ourselves, whether it is our own decisions, our fates, our luck, or even the need for our own existence. Most of us, at one point or another, when looking in the mirror, hate what we see. It doesn't matter if we see what's on the inside or the outside. It doesn't matter if we really understand what it is we're seeing. We simply wake up, glance in the mirror while washing our face or brushing our teeth, and there it is: us. Him. Her. You. Me.
Perhaps it's just a passing feeling, that groan that you really shouldn't have gotten up that morning, or nothing in your closet looks quite right on you. Perhaps it's a short term day-to-day thing, like that awkward week where you're growing your hair out and it doesn't want to do a damn thing.
For some of us, it's deeper than that. It's self-loathing that comes from those deep, dark places everyone has, but nobody likes to talk about. Not quite depression, but not exactly living it up in the Big Happy. When this happens, there's no physical reaction that anyone else can really see, unless they're looking closely. It's a pause, a searching glance, an inward sigh.
Yup, still alive.
The Fates really have a sense of humor, and we are center stage.
Harry Potter sat quite alone in a quiet corner of the Gryffindor Common Room, apart from the noise and hustle of those around him. He was no longer a participant, no longer even scenery. An audience, perhaps, though not an active member as he leaned over one of his textbooks, open to the same page for almost an hour.
Harry's eyes weren't reading the book or writing an essay. They were watching the room, trying hard not to be noticed. Not really spying. Just trying to remind himself why he was still here.
It wasn't working though.
Fellow students were skirting around him, and though he didn't really want to be bothered, he didn't exactly want to be treated like a leper. Perhaps he should walk though the corridors crying out 'Unclean! Unclean!'
The worst part about sitting where he was at that particular time was that he could see Ron and Hermione across the room, sitting on the couch. The worst part was seeing them sitting so far apart from each other while he was sitting here in the room. The worst part was knowing that they would still be sitting that far apart, even if he weren't in the room.
The worst part? Knowing it was his fault. His doing.
From where Harry was sitting, he could see both of them with their necks craned down toward their books. Once in a while, one would sneak a glance at the other in that longing kind of way, then look quickly back down at their book. Perhaps every few glances, they both look up at the same time. At this point, their reactions differ. Hermione's eyes kind of flash in a panicked-tortured soul kind of way, as if she sees in Ron's eyes, for that split second, the crazed maniac he had been forced to become over two weeks ago, before it is cleared by a forced smile.
Ron, Ron's the one that's really heart wrenching, because there's hope in his eyes. After everything he'd seen, everything he'd been through, there's still that pure, undying hope, as clear as anything else in the world. And for just that split-second, even though that look isn't toward him and isn't meant to give him any kind of solace, even Harry feels like everything might be alright again,.
But it never stays. It always clouds as reality sets in.
The hope is gone.
Nothing is ever going to be the same again.
A couple of students came though the portrait, and Harry, unable to bear being in this room any longer, slipped out unnoticed. Though he had no goal in mind, he knew exactly where his feet were taking him. He burst through the doors of the school into the chilly November evening and gulped in the air as if he'd been drowning all this while. He gripped the wall, pressing his forehead against the cold stones, trying to clear his mind, calm himself.
A glance at the sky trapped him.
The moon, full and golden orange, clung low to the horizon, its face peeking over the trees like some strange deity who wanted to check up on its supplicants. A werewolves' moon.
Remus hadn't spoken to him for over a week ago. Harry couldn't really blame him for that, just like he couldn't blame Ron and Hermione for becoming very tense when they were around him, but it all hurt just the same. Not that they were doing it on purpose. Harry got the distinct feeling they were trying not to do it. That's what got to him: knowing that it wasn't a mental choice, but a gut reaction. Instinct.
Over a week. Since Sirius's funeral, actually. It had been surreal standing there in the Hogsmeade cemetery with the small gathering of mourners, most of whom were strangers to Harry. Harry stood between McGonagall and, surprisingly, Snape, who seemed as always coldly distant. Harry glanced around at those gathered. A bald black man, who stood with Mad-Eye Moody and a heart-faced girl with long hair, who had been introduced as Tonks, Sirius' cousin. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stood with Charlie, Fred, George, and Ron a few feet away, and though the others offered Harry weak smiles, Ron wouldn't even meet his eyes. Remus was there too, looking as if he would fall over at any moment. McGonagall held his hand in both of hers, patting it reassuringly.
Even before the funeral actually began, Harry knew he didn't want to be there. Not out of any disrespect or lack of feeling. On the contrary, it was because of all the feelings swelling up within him that made him want to flee. He had loved Sirius. He was like a father to him, or would have been if given the chance. But more than that, it was the feeling that everyone was looking at him, that they all knew it was his fault. They could see the guilt as if it were painted on him.
He was to blame for the death of yet another member of the Order. First his parents, and now Sirius.
Dumbledore began to speak, but Harry heard nothing of what was said. His hands were shaking as he looked down into the deep hole where his godfather would soon be placed. A deep, black hole where he would be out of reach forever.
Sirius was dead. His parents were dead. The Dursleys were dead. So much blood was on his hands.
A hand clamped onto his shoulder, and though Snape was the only one standing near enough to steady, it didn't register who it was. Even as Harry glanced up, Snape didn't look down at him, but merely continued to look forward, though his eyes didn't even seem to focus on anything.
The soft lilt of Dumbledore's words continued to swirl in the air, but Harry's ears began to buzz. He was cold, but not on the outside. His insides were cold, as if he would never be warm again.
A shiny black casket was brought forth.
The buzzing became worse and dots appeared before his eyes. As he raised a trembling hand to his face, his knees gave way, and he was kept standing only by that hand on his shoulder that pulled him against a warm black cloak and began to walk him away from the graveside. After only a few steps, Harry felt his body slipping as he began to slump toward the ground, relying almost totally on the black cloak to bring him to a bench some ways from the gather.
"Sit down, Potter," Snape's voice told him.
Harry sat and a vial was pressed into his hands.
"Drink that. It'll help."
Harry drank it down and felt warmth spread through his body. He remained slumped over for a few moments, allowing the dizziness to pass before looking up at his Potions Master.
"Why are you here?" he asked, passing the empty vial back with unsteady hands.
"If I am not mistaken, you were going to pass out."
"No, I mean, why are you here," he reiterated with a vague gesture toward the gathering. "You hated Sirius."
Snape raised an eyebrow toward him, his eyes darkening as if he were going to make a sarcastic remark, then bit it back at the last moment.
"To pay my respects." He looked back toward the funeral. "I don't like Black, but we were on the same side, fighting for the same cause."
Harry dropped his head into his hands. The cause. Him. That's what Snape meant. They're all trying to keep him alive, and he keeps causing their deaths.
"It's not about you, Potter," Snape said, as if he could read Harry's mind. "Believe it or not, this war is not about you. It was started before you were even born."
Harry pressed his fingers against his eyes to stop the tears threatening. That hand appeared on his shoulder again.
"Go away," he hissed, but instead of listening, Snape removed his hand and sat himself down on the bench, leaving a comfortable distance between them.
"After you were kind enough to give me an excuse to leave before I could be reminded of my own mortality? I think not."
"Fine!" he answered, rubbing furiously at his eyes with his sleeve. "Fine! I'll go back. You stay here." He rose to his feet, but before he could take two steps, his legs were rubbery again, and Snape caught him again just before he sunk to his knees.
Harry couldn't control the tears anymore. They streamed down his face, and he was trembling uncontrollably again. It just wasn't fair! How could Sirius be gone and him stuck here with Snape? But he knew why. He knew. He did it. He caused this.
"I'm so sorry, Sirius! I'm so sorry," he sobbed, rocking back and forth on his knees. "I tried to stop him. I tried, but he was too strong. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry!" Harry continued crying, unaware of the arm across his shoulders or of Snape kneeling beside him until the trembling had weakened him and the tears had dried, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down in the cold grass and die himself. Only then did Snape pull him to his feet, as the service was ending, and mourners were beginning to disperse.
"Come, Potter. I'll take you back to the school."
They walked, rather than taking the carriage that was awaiting them, and by the time Snape had helped Harry back to Gryffindor Tower, he was already almost asleep on his feet.
Harry wiped his eyes again, and began walking away from the school, toward the lake. He was feeling closed in just from the nearness of the walls. He needed air. He needed- he needed to get away.
Snape had been almost human to him since then. He was one of the few people who treated him like he was neither a monster in disguise nor a crystal vase that would break at a word, although after tonight, Harry wasn't sure that would last.
The only other person who treated him that way was Dumbledore, but Harry didn't want to face him. Not after what happened in the corridor.
Harry reached the pier where he had seen Hermione and the Weasleys on that day that seemed so long ago. He remembered wanting to reach out to them, to be there with them, even though he didn't know who they were. He just wanted to be down there on that pier with them.
And now he was here on this pier, and he was completely alone.
He sat down, dangling his feet just over the water below and leaned his head against the banister.
The moon was rising higher in the sky and the air was getting colder. Harry shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. He was only wearing his robes with his school clothes underneath, but he didn't want to go get anything warmer. He didn't want to face anyone again, didn't want to see those faces.
He saw them too many times when he closed his eyes. He could see their faces twisted in agony, hear their screams echoing. It was too much. Everything. Waking up in the morning was too much. The nightmares at night were too much. Walking through the hallways with the other students. Sitting in his dorm alone. Everything was just more than he could handle.
Harry had spent four months trying to remember everything, his life, his friends, his past… and now, when he had all of this jammed back in his brain, his only wish, as he slumped over the water, staring at his shadow reflecting back at him, was to forget it all.
"Are you sure, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, as he stared out the tower window overlooking the lake. A shape was sitting on the pier, slumped against the rail, and the old headmaster had a very good idea who it was.
"Positive," came the answer. Dumbledore turned back toward his office, facing the heads of Slytherin and Gryffindor. Minerva sat primly in a cushy chair, an untouched cup of tea in her hands as she listened to the Potions Master. Severus sat uncharacteristically forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees, hands hanging. "I've suspected since Black's funeral. I believe Potter forgot I was there for a few moments while he broke down. He kept saying that he had tried to stop him over and over."
"Yes," Severus answered. "My suspicions were confirmed during his Occlumency lesson earlier this evening."
"How much does he remember?" Minerva asked softly.
"Everything." Snape held her eyes, confirming in this his answer. "I saw nearly the entire episode before he was able to force me out."
Minerva looked at him curiously.
"That long? I thought he was improving."
"He was. Either the memory threw him off or he wanted me to see it," Snape answered grimly.
"It is a cry for help," Dumbledore said at last, staring again at the lonely figure near the lake. "By revealing these memories to Severus, he is asking for help without actually having to ask."
"But why you? No offense, Severus, but you're not exactly known for your compassion and understanding."
"Because he knows it would annoy me," he returned, though there was no bitterness or sarcasm in his voice.
"Minerva," Dumbledore said without turning again from the window. "It's cold out. Go bring Harry in." When the Deputy Headmistress had left the room, Albus turned to face his Potions Master. "How serious is it, Severus?"
"It rivals anything I have in my own memories. Because of his relationship with those people involved, it's even worse." He paused and only continued when the Headmaster nodded to him. "But the emotion I get from his is the worst of it. It's- desperate I'm not sure is strong enough."
"Help him, Severus." Snape rose from his seat and turned toward the door, only to be stayed by a hand on his shoulder. "He chose to reveal this to you, Severus. Perhaps it was an accident, though I suspect he thinks you can help him more than any other. You've been there. He feels dark, evil, a place you yourself have been. Help him in any way you can."
Snape nodded, giving no argument, and swept from the room. Dumbledore returned to his perch by the window and watched as Minerva's shadow crossed the lawn to the lake, and finally pulled the boy to his feet, leading him back to the warmth of the school.
"Thank you, Harry," the Headmaster whispered, closing his eyes. "Thank you for finally asking for help."
* * *
Thank you, those of you who have been so patient while I finished this. I'm so sorry it took so long. Not more than a few days after the last chapter was posted, my best friend, my sister in all but blood, was tragically killed in a car accident. Because that incident paralleled what I was having to deal with in this chapter, the sudden loss of a loved one, I found it impossible to write until tonight when it all spilled out within a few hours. It was simply too much to deal with. If this chapter seems very dark or depressed in Harry's voice, it is because I am dealing with a few of my own issues through his voice, though I tried to incorporate some of the dark humor I've used throughout. I realize my writing style has changed with this final installment, but that was unavoidable.
I have not decided whether or not I will actually write a second part to this. I wanted to leave this up in the air for a couple of reasons.
1. I'm not great with happy endings. They're just not my style.
2. Loose ends. There are always loose ends in real life, and I didn't want to tie this up like a very special sitcom episode where everything is fixed by the end of the episode.
3. If I decide to come back to this, I still can.
Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone who read this, whether or not you left comments for me.
This chapter is dedicated to Amelia- my best friend, my sister, my partner in crime.