Title: Midsummer's Eve

Author: ReeraTheRed

Date: August 1, 2003

Rating: PG - angst, intense emotions.

Summary: A 15 year old Severus returns to his ancestral home to carry out one final task. COMPLETE

Disclaimer: Every character you recognize is the property of J.K. Rowling, I'm just borrowing them.

Author's Note: I think Ms.Rowling has a more conventional (and thus, more horrifying) background for Snape, but this story just jumped into my mind when I was thinking about him (amazing what your mind can come up with at 3 am), and I ran with it. So call it an alternate universe Snape - this is probably why I didn't use his name throughout the story, although, in my mind, it is him.

The boy appeared in the tall grass; one moment, nothing, then a shimmering mist, then he was there as if he had always been there, not with a pop or a bang, but soft as a whisper. But then he'd been Apparating since he was seven. He wore long robes, and an old trunk floated behind him.

He could smell the sea over the ridge, the sky was clear and soft blue, a cool wind hit his face - it was the right time, Midsummer's Eve, and the stars would be bright. A night of power. Am I frightened? I should be frightened, this time tomorrow, it will be over, three years of work and planning done. But no, he felt only exhilaration, even a lightness in him. I suppose I have Potter to thank for that, he thought, with a wince of pain. No, don't think of him, he's behind you, he's in the past now. I have only this to think of, concentrate on this, for this is all that matters now.

Would they realize he was missing? Term was as good as over, but the students weren't supposed to leave for several days yet. Some were still taking exams. But he'd been Apparating home quietly for years now, and no one had said anything, although he hadn't brought his things with him before.

He turned and faced the Tower, where it stood on a high point overlooking the sea. No one would be able to see it but him, no one would be able to find it unless he told them where it was and allowed them to be here. There were guarding spells on it that were over a thousand years old, as old as the building itself, and he was the last one left who could control them. His parents had died when he was quite young, but there was no one to know or care, at least, no one that he would let in here. Tobbs, the house elf, had taken care of him when he was little. After Tobbs had died, he'd managed on his own. The Tower provided nearly everything he needed, and there was money, for those things it did not.

He took a deep breath and walked towards it, his trunk following behind like an obedient dog. The Tower was ancient, it looked as if it would crumble into dust at a touch, but in its time it had withstood forces that would flatten far sturdier looking buildings. Our legacy, ugly and evil, just like the family. As he drew closer, a blast of cold air hit him - the Tower was always cold. Even in the hottest days of summer, there was a chill here.

Even after three years, he still instinctively expected the main doors to open, and to hear Tobbs's husky voice calling his name. But, of course, they were closed. Tobbs is dead, he told himself, he won't be calling for you anymore.

He spoke a word, the doors opened before him, and he entered. The inside was much larger than the building outside, and he wondered if any new passages or rooms had added themselves or vanished while he was gone. The Tower would build itself. It had been great fun when he was little, exploring. He'd never felt in danger, with Tobbs and Sally there, even after his parents died. Tobbs told him he was the master of the Tower, and it would never harm him, as long as he didn't go up into the high Tower Rooms. Even then, it wouldn't be the Tower that would harm him there, though Tobbs would never tell him any more than that. The old house elf had kept the family secrets.

He nearly gasped - up on the landing, the door leading up into the high Tower was open. Then he relaxed. Of course it's open. It's been clean for over a month now. He'd left it open as a gesture of triumph when he'd last returned to school. But it still made him uneasy.

I need to take the trunk up to my room, he thought, and then thought, Why? It's not like it's going to matter after tonight, don't be stupid. And then, feeling stupid, he directed it up the stairs anyway, to the little room he'd had since childhood and set it down. I won't unpack, though, he decided. No point. He threw off the hated school robes - good-bye, stinking Slytherin - and put on plain old black ones that hung loose on his thin frame. No glance in the mirror, he wasn't a pretty boy, and he had the family hair, and that was bad enough. Good-bye to all that, too.

He padded down the stairs again, back to the main hall. Hello, Tower door, yes, you're open, just one more thing to do in there. Every horror had been stilled, every hidden door had been found, every spell had been reversed, every shred of human remains reverently burned and cleansed - all but the last. It had taken him nearly three years to do it all. He'd spent all his spare time at school deep in the most terrible books of the blackest arts. He could still hear the comments of the other students - Look at him, mad about the Dark Arts - in tones of contempt and disgust. And then they'd say, Well, of course, considering who his family is. The darkest of the Dark Wizards, even the Malfoys were afraid of them.

"It doesn't have to be tonight," Sally's voice came from overhead. He looked up. There she was, floating above the fireplace. She was paler than normal; he could see the mantle clearly through her. She looked even smaller - every time he saw her she looked smaller. That's because I'm getting bigger, he told himself. I'm fifteen, and she's only nine, even if she's been only nine for a thousand years.

"Aren't you going to say hello, Sally," he said, flinging himself down on the ragged, old sofa, a cloud of dust puffing into the air. No one was here to clean anything, not since Tobbs was gone. "Aren't you glad to see me?"

"You know I am." She didn't sound glad, though. "But it doesn't have to be tonight, or even this year. There's plenty of time. You should wait until you're older."

"No, this is the right night, I can feel it. I've gotten clean away, and it's Midsummer, when the world turns from light to dark. And I don't want to wait any longer. If anything happens to me, you'll be trapped here forever, no one will be able to find this place."

She didn't answer, just pulled her robes, or the cloudy substance around her that passed for robes, more deeply around her. She'd died naked, covered in terrible wounds, but she'd managed to conjure up misty tendrils to cover her ravaged body and face. He'd grown up with it, it had never bothered him as a child, that was just how Sally was. Now, he ached every time he saw her. She never said so, but he was sure she was in pain, every moment of her existence.

"You were all for this three years ago. We've dug up all your bones, they're there, in the chamber, it's all ready. Don't you want to be free?" he asked.

"I can wait," she said. "Let's wait. You're home, it's summer, you don't have to go back to that school of yours yet. Let's wait until the Autumn Solstice instead. You'll be older, you'll be more powerful."

"Midsummer's better. And I'll have to sneak back from school if we wait until the Autumn Solstice, it's not like sneaking home early after term's over, they'll come after me."

"You can leave your things there, they wouldn't notice then, they'd just think you were out late for the day."

"No," he said. He frowned - he could have done that, but something in him didn't want any of his things left at school, he didn't want anything of his left out where people could find them and sneer.

He got up, and walked to the main doors, said the Open command, and went outside. The sea air hit his face and he breathed it in, the wonderful salt smell of it. He walked to his favorite spot on the point, and flopped down onto his belly on the grass, looking down at the beach below. There were rocks there, and the waves foamed in and out between them.

Further on, down the beach, there was a Muggle village. Once, Tobbs had found him some Muggle clothes, when he was about nine years old, and he'd Apparated down below and walked along the beach and through the town. It had been marvelous - there were other children there, he hadn't played with them, but how wonderful to see them up close, instead of from here, so far back on the point. There had been a stall on the beach, where an old man had sold ice cream. He didn't have any Muggle money, and the old man had given him an ice cream for free, and then had told him about the village and the people there.

And then the old man had said, you'd better get back to your folks, now, it's getting late, and it's no place here for children to be out late, the Tower'll get you. His neighbor's little daughter had vanished, many, many years ago, she'd never been found, and the police thought she'd drowned, but the old man knew, the Tower had got her, and sometimes, on certain nights, you could even see it, up there, on the point. And there it was, an insane, twisted form perched against the sky, the old man couldn't see it, but he could, clearly.

He'd never gone back, although he would look for the old man sometimes. He'd wondered, among all the horrors he'd found in the Tower rooms, which one had been the old man's neighbor's daughter. But there had been things there that may have come from hundreds of little girls, and he had no way of knowing which was from her, or if she had simply been used to raise power and discarded afterwards. Or if she were any of the hundreds of ghostly forms that had lingered there, until, one by one, he had been able to release them. He tried to see if he could spot the old man from here, but he hadn't seen him in over a year. Perhaps he was gone, too. Good-bye, old man, if you're there. I've done all I know how to do, and if the little girl isn't free now, then she should be after tonight.

He got up and went back inside. Sally was still there, but she was quiet, just looked at him with her sad, child's eyes. I can remember when I had to look up to see you, when I was eye-level with your belly, and now, if you stood on the ground, you'd come just past my waist. Tobbs had been even smaller, but he'd always seemed taller than he was. I'd still be looking up to you, Tobbs, even though you'd be just over my knee now.

He looked up at the open Tower door. Tobbs would never tell him about the things in the Tower. He'd known it was bad, Sally had told him that much, but that was all. Tobbs said he'd know when he was older, but that, in the meantime, Tobbs would take care of it, the way Tobbs took care of everything.

And then there'd been that terrible night, three years ago, he'd been home maybe two weeks from his first miserable year at school, so happy to be home, in his own room, with Tobbs and Sally, both glad to see him, and he so glad to see them. He'd tried to hug Sally when he first got there, he knew you couldn't hug a ghost, there'd been that nasty, cold clammy feel as he fell into her little chest, but he didn't care. She hadn't been much smaller than he was, then, he'd only been twelve. And he'd lifted Tobbs off the ground, the old elf had laughed and tried to tell him that this wasn't proper, but he'd felt those bony little arms grip tight against his ribs for a moment.

And then, that night, Sally had come through the wall, screaming that Tobbs was in trouble, in the Tower room, and he'd Apparated right from the bed, falling down on the floor of the landing. And he'd seen the Tower door open, for the first time since his parents had died - he knew Tobbs did whatever he had to do in there late at night, but he'd never seen it open before.

He'd scrambled to his feet, terrified, and he'd taken a deep breath and rushed to the door, but stopped and looked inside first (a Gryffindor would have rushed bravely in, he'd thought. And gotten himself killed outright, said another voice in his head).

So he'd looked, and there was Tobbs, lying in the middle of the floor of a large room, a room full of tables and glass cases, and doors and black openings, and a door in one wall that looked as if it had exploded open. And over Tobbs were three . . . things. One was kneeling over the little body, its mouth, or something that looked like a mouth, dripping in blood, the other forms howling and reaching for Tobbs's arms and legs. I have no wand!, he'd thought, and then it was there in his hand - Sally had brought it - good Sally! And she flew into the room, straight at the horrors. They'd jumped back, but she could only go through them, and she only stopped them for a moment.

And he'd raised his wand, and shouted a word - he'd never heard it in class, and he'd always wondered, later, if he hadn't heard one of his parents using it. But a powerful light shot from his wand - he could feel it all the way up his arm - and one of them had exploded into flying gobs of flesh that splattered the room.

The other two pulled back, and one of them mouthed a sound, it sounded like his family name, but whatever it was, the creature's hatred was powerful enough to feel tangibly. He hadn't hesitated, he called out the word again, and the second one shot to pieces as well. The third, pulling itself up from Tobbs's body to try to run back, got the same. He checked to make sure the pieces didn't keep moving, but they lay still, then he'd run to Tobbs' side, picked him up, and fled the room, slamming the door behind him.

He'd laid Tobbs on the sofa, calling his name, and Sally had placed her cold hand on his, and bowed her head. And he'd fallen across Tobbs's body and sobbed until he'd passed out. Sally had floated over him, keeping watch; she hadn't sobbed, but she'd seen so many people die.

He caught himself. It was now, today, three years later. That is over. Now, he just had to prepare, and at midnight, it would happen. He went through the door. The big room was empty, now, so different from when he'd first seen it. Just the sad little pile of bones there, he'd tried to be respectful about them, and had laid them on a cloth - it should be velvet for you, Sally, he thought, but I could only find an old tablecloth. It had been a difficult task, getting them all. They were placed beneath all the strong points of the foundation, and the Tower had been raised over them, a thousand years ago, and her spirit had been bound here.

But here it was, the last night, and, compared to the other things he'd had to learn, to combat all the monsters that were in here, it was absurdly simple, given what he wanted to accomplish. I probably know more Dark Arts than the Master at school, he thought, a smug smile crossing his face. He hadn't learned much of use from the fellow, who'd stuck with easy, conventional monsters like pixies and haints. But you couldn't do the Boggart, said a nasty voice in his mind - the simple Boggart that Third years could do. But his had turned into Potter, sneering at him, and he'd folded completely - No! he banished that thought, that was just one time, the next time the Boggart did that, I blasted it apart with anger, I didn't need laughter.

He'd had to creep into the restricted section of the library to find what he needed to know, at least until he'd found the cache of books at home - he'd had to be careful, though, and didn't dare bring those to school, he'd sneaked home and studied them here instead. All kinds of things were there that weren't going to be taught in school. His ancestor's journals had been particularly enlightening. Revolting, and more than once he'd run for a pot to throw up in, but they'd probably helped more than anything, explaining what was in the Tower.

He was amazed that no one had noticed he kept sneaking home, although he'd been very careful - you couldn't Apparate from the school grounds. He'd had to steal into the nearby village and travel from there, but the school was riddled with secret tunnels. The other students wouldn't have been able to Apparate, they'd have been detected both for using magic and Apparating while under age, but as long as he came straight here, to the Tower, and only did magic here, he would not be detected.

Still, he was surprised he had never been caught. The Headmaster was very clever, and very powerful, and sometimes he thought the old man was watching him. Then he'd think, the Headmaster only thinks about his precious Gryffindors, he doesn't care about the Slytherins, no one cares about the Slytherins. He ought to feel grateful, he thought, but it always made him sad. Don't tell me you still want the old man's approval, he thought, in disgust - he'd wanted it so badly, when he first got to the school, everyone knew about him, and he'd seemed so wise and kind. And so far away, too far away, up there on the dais. He'd smile at the Gryffindors, everyone knew it was his favorite house, it was his old house, before he'd become Headmaster. Never a look at the Slytherins, that was certain. Gryffindors hated Slytherins. Everyone hated Slytherins, it had been "Stinking Slytherin" from the day he arrived. Gryffindors were out there in the light, the shining ones. Slytherins were down in the dungeons, despised. And he was despised, even for a Slytherin - they all knew who he was, his family, their reputation. And, he had to admit to himself, he was not likable, no matter how much he tried. He seemed so off from the rest of the students, could never say the right thing, could never keep up or even understand, so much of the time.

Do you think for one moment, if the Headmaster knew what you had been doing, all these years, if he had seen that room, that he would look at you with anything but revulsion? That any of them - Potter, Black, Lupin, or any of the others - would look at you with anything but even more disgust than they show now? Nothing you do will be worth anything to them, because it's you doing it, Snivellus of Stinking Slytherin. That's all you'll ever be to them. And, for one moment, he felt the old ache, the longing - how much I want to be one of the shining ones, to be admired, to be liked. And yes, to see a look of real approval and acceptance on the Headmaster's face. He tried to imagine it, hating himself for it. The old man's face, a smile on it, yes, my boy, you have done well. He couldn't make it happen.

But I have done well, he thought, and after tonight, it won't matter to me whether anyone knows or not.

He looked down at Sally's sad bones, then turned to the one little table at the wall, with his chalk, candles, and everything else he'd need. Better begin the runes now, he thought, I want them to be perfect. He picked up a piece of chalk and was just about to squat on the floor to mark out the pattern, when an old, gentle voice said behind him, "I wouldn't start just yet, I think you and I need to talk first."

He dropped the chalk and turned in amazement to see the tall form of the school's Headmaster, standing in the doorway.

"How did you get here, you can't possibly have been able to get here," he sputtered. Oh, brilliant one there, how terribly articulate - of course, he was able to get here, he's here, you idiot.

The Headmaster smiled gently. "I am here because you called me here. Otherwise, I would not have been able to come."

I did NOT call you here, I do NOT want you here, that's rubbish. But you were thinking about him, just a moment ago. You did want him, little baby crying for mommy. Now you've done it.

"Perhaps we can talk out here," the Headmaster nodded out towards the main hall.

He gave one angry nod, and followed the Headmaster out and down the stairs. He saw Sally floating up among the rafters. The Headmaster gestured to the big chair by the empty fireplace, "Perhaps I might sit here?" he said. (He's not saying your name, he thought, but he must know that you hate your name, he knows everything - No, he doesn't, he can't!)

He nodded again. I'm being rude, he thought, don't be stupid, your anger gets you into trouble, this is a man who has real power over you. He sat down in the chair opposite.

"That's better." The Headmaster smiled again and leaned back in the chair, not noticing, or at least appearing not to notice, the dust. "And perhaps we might have a fire - it's a little late in the year for one, but I felt a chill in the air outside - the sea breeze, I expect - and I always feel better with a nice fire, don't you?" And, suddenly, without any wand waving or magic words, a bright fire sprang up in the grate. "Perhaps you might introduce me to your friend up there?"

"Sally," he said, "please come down and meet our guest."

Sally flew down, hovering close by him. Sally hadn't seen an outsider in years, and that was when his parents were still alive, and any guests they invited weren't people Sally wanted to meet. But the Headmaster smiled at her, and he could see Sally relax. You traitor, he thought.

"Your name is Sally, then," the Headmaster said.

"Not to begin with," she said, quietly, "but -" Oh no, don't tell him! "- the young master, when he was little, he couldn't say my real name, so he started to call me Sally." She smiled at him, and he wanted to sink into the floor.

"I see." And the same warm smile back at him now. You faker, he thought, miserably, Trying to soften me up before the hatchet falls.

"You know," said the Headmaster, settling back into the chair, "I've wanted to come here before, but the spells around the Tower are immensely strong. Although they do seem to have lessened in the past few years," he added, looking around the room. "That's your doing, I expect?" Now he looked straight at him, no smile now, but no frown, either, just a straight look.

He looked down at his shoes. "I'm just a student, how could I do anything here?" He managed to keep any trace of a smirk off his face. This man is no fool, don't treat him like one.

The Headmaster smiled again, and nodded his head. "You left the school early, you didn't wait for the train."

Ah, that was it, just the stupid school stuff. He looked straight into the Headmaster's face. "Term is over for me, and I wanted to get home, I didn't want to wait for the train." That was certainly the truth.

"No end of school celebrating, no trips to Hogsmeade, no games with your friends?"

That hurt, but what did he expect? You think he knows about you? You think he knows you don't have any friends? "No, sir, I didn't feel like it, sir. I was tired from exams, and I wanted to come home."

"Ah, yes, the exams. They are very tiring, aren't they? Although your examiners tell me you seemed distracted."

He nodded, wary now. It was true, he'd only done minimal studying for the exams; he'd had other things to think about. He hadn't thought it would make anyone suspicious. Stupid, stupid.

"I'm sorry I left early, sir. If I'd known it would cause such a problem that you'd feel you had to take care of it personally, I never would have done so. I will accept whatever punishment you think appropriate."

"Perhaps you might accompany me back to the school, and you can finish out the term and take the train home with the other students, so they won't think anything is wrong."

No, I can't leave! "Yes, sir. But it is late, perhaps I could stay here tonight, and go back first thing in the morning?"

"Oh, no, I don't think that would do at all, what would your dorm mates say, seeing an empty bed?"

"I don't think they'll miss me, sir," he said. And that is also the truth, they'll think, good riddance, he's gone, the miserable git.

"Won't they? They wouldn't worry about you at all?" With that same gentle smile - you bastard.

"The truth is," the Headmaster said, "is that you must be home tonight, mustn't you, on Midsummer's Eve, that you intend to perform a spell of great power, in that room, where I saw you standing over a pile of bones."

"They're Sally's bones" he said, "I want to lay her to rest."

"Is this true?" the Headmaster turned to Sally, who gulped and nodded. Sally, you're ruining things, you should look happy, this is for you. He'll never believe you if you look like that.

The Headmaster stood up and held his hand toward Sally, who pulled back. "Don't be afraid, child, I'm just seeing . . ." he moved his hand around her, "I'm sensing a tremendous spell around you, my dear, a spell that ties you to the very stones of this place."

Sally turned sad eyes up at him, and nodded.

He got up, angrily, "She was kidnapped, a thousand years ago, by one of my ancestors, she was the daughter of a king. They killed her here and they raised the Tower in one night over her, she's the source of the protection spells! She's been trapped here ever since!"

"This is a very difficult spell you're thinking of breaking. It could destroy the Tower completely."

"I don't care, sir." And it WILL destroy the Tower completely, that's the idea.

"And there's a grave danger to Sally, she might be destroyed, too, you know."

He started to say, "Not if" but stopped himself in time. And then realized, with this man, it doesn't matter. He stared at the floor again, and said nothing.

"He's going to let himself die with the Tower!" Sally cried.

"Sally, be quiet!" he said, but she didn't look at him, she stared at the Headmaster.

The Headmaster nodded, and looked at him. He wouldn't look back.

"And you don't want your young master to die, even if it will free you?"

"No!" Sally cried. He glared at her, but she ignored him.

"He is the last of a family that has held you in bondage, a family with a terrible reputation." The Headmaster nodded at the open Tower door. "I've heard stories about that room, although it seems to be empty now."

"He's not like them at all, he's completely different. And he's been working so hard to undo everything his family has done, you don't know - "

"Sally!" he said, and she stopped. But she looked at him defiantly.

"I see," the Headmaster said, leaning back in the chair. He made a steeple out of his hands and stared thoughtfully at them. "You know, I'm sure we can find another way, if you had, say, the help of an experienced wizard, " a smile and nod there, " that would free Sally and spare you. And even keep the Tower intact."

"The Tower goes," he said, "It was raised by Dark Magic, it's cursed. Evil is in the very stones of this place." Keep calm, he thought, keep calm, this man can do what he says, and that's not what your plans are.

"I think you've done as good a job of cleaning it out as the best Aurors I know."

"And what about all the victims who died here? What about all the things my ancestors have done? You didn't see that room. You didn't see what was in there."

"No, I didn't, but your ancestors are dead, and you didn't kill anyone, did you?" A quick turn to Sally, "Did he?"

"Of course not," she said.

"There," the Headmaster said, "Now, I do agree, the idea of heir to evil family sacrifices himself in the falling stones of his family Tower in atonement does have a nice, romantic ring to it, but I find that most romantic things are rather silly, don't you?"

He stared fiercely at the floor. "I disagree, sir, I think it has a very good sound." And then he turned, "And don't try to tell me that you care, because you don't."

"My boy - "

"No, you just feel sorry for me. You don't want to know me, I'm sure you find me terribly unpleasant; everyone else does." He bowed. "I absolve you from any guilt. You have tried to stop me. But I am done with school and you have no say over me anymore. I am the master here, and I want you to leave. Now go."

A great moaning, like a powerful wind, came from the stones of the Tower walls, and the Headmaster's form flickered. Hah, he thought, with satisfaction, I AM the master of this place and it will send you away.

But the moaning died, and the flickering stopped, and the Headmaster still sat there, in the chair, still smiling.

"It would seem," he said, "that you do not want me to leave after all. Not in your heart."

NO! He turned and slammed his hand into the sofa back. He'll stop me, he'll take me back to school, like a little child. It's because you're afraid, he thought, what a miserable coward you are.

He turned back, "Don't you understand? I deserve this; I am a Dark Wizard, it's in my blood, for generations! Do you know how good I was at this, how naturally all this came to me? The other students, they all know, they can tell." He looked down at the floor again. "I don't fit in this world, I don't belong in it, and I hate it."

"I'm sorry, my boy," the Headmaster said, "but I cannot allow you to go through with this." The old man stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Now, you and I will set Sally free."

No, I won't go. And, once again, he tried to will the Tower to banish the old man, but there was nothing. He's managed to overcome the spells, he's very powerful, he thought, feeling sick inside. I'm caught. And, without a word, he let the Headmaster guide him up the stairs and into the Tower room. Sally floated up after them - he thought he felt her cold hand on his arm, but he wouldn't look at her.

The Headmaster moved him to the center of the room, and, with a gentle push on his shoulder, guided him down to the floor, where he sat beside the pile of bones. Sally hovered above them. The Headmaster stood quietly, closed his eyes, and he could feel a stirring in the Tower, in every stone, he could see thousands of threads coming out of the walls and the floor, all connected to Sally's misty form, suddenly bright, and then, slowly fading. Sally's form shimmered, and her eyes were on his, and then, she, too, faded away. Good-bye, Sally, little sister-mother, I wish we were going together. Now I have no one. And that was all, no great flashes of light, no crumbling stones, the Tower still stood.

And he sat, in the room, willing himself not to cry. The Headmaster came over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder again - a great sob rose in him, and he fought it down, I will not cry, I will not cry. And he let the Headmaster guide him again, to stand up, and walk out the room, and down the stairs, to call down his trunk, and then, quiet as a sigh, the Tower vanished around them, and they were in front of the school grounds entrance.

"There now, I'll see that your trunk is returned to your room. You'll be staying here for the summers from now on, of course." The Headmaster spoke calmly, as if nothing unusual had happened. "You should get to your chambers now. If you go straight back, I can arrange that no one will see you."

The Headmaster gave one last gentle push with his hand, and he found himself walking woodenly back to the school, one foot in front of the other. How I wish I could just sink into the ground here, but no, he must keep on, walking slowly, knowing the Headmaster was watching him with every step, and the school an agonizingly long way away.

The Groundskeeper, walking across the lawn, saw the boy walking stiffly towards the school building - that one, the odd, unpleasant one, then saw the Headmaster standing at the gate, and walked over to him.

"Something going on with that one, sir?" he asked.

"He'll be staying on for the summer - he's had a bad time, and I'm afraid he's in for still worse ahead."

"He's not very happy here, I know, and he's not well liked among the students."

"No, he isn't. Pity, he's got brains, and talent, and he's stronger than he realizes, but he's had more challenges than any child should ever have to face. But there's hope for this one, I think. It takes amazing strength of character to do what is right, even when there is no hope of reward, or honor, or even happiness." The Headmaster watched the sad, awkward figure, small now. "There are dark things ahead, and there may come a time when that boy will be of pivotal importance to us all."

"He don't look it, right now."

"No. But he still may, all the same. He is vulnerable now, and I'm afraid he will have to remain vulnerable, but when he grows older," the Headmaster looked sadly at the figure as it disappeared into the school, "we'll have to see."

Author's Note: This is a one shot - I couldn't bear to write another story after this. Besides, you know what happens, he goes back to school, is totally miserable, joins up with Voldemort, is still miserable, turns back to the good guys and spies on Voldemort, and is still miserable. Snape just breaks my heart.