Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

"Visiting Hours" by Christine Anderson aka Lilly Malfoy

She doesn't believe it when she is told. Doesn't believe it though he sits beside her bed, takes her hand, speaks softly, refuses to meet her eyes. She doesn't believe it even when he smoothes back her hair, kisses her forehead, whispers that he is sorry.

Why would he be sorry? He hated Sirius, and Sirius hated him, and he can't be dead, because Severus would never be sorry. He has never apologized for anything.

It can't be true, it can't be. Not Sirius with his name uncleared, unredeemed in the eyes of the world. Not Sirius, not before the man who'd framed him had been caught and punished...

Severus tells her, again, that it is true. That the others had seen it- seen Bellatrix Lestrange cast her curse-

"I am sorry," Severus says. "I tried. But Dumbledore with his grand schemes, he asked too much. Potter couldn't trust me, I couldn't trust Potter, he never studied, and somehow Voldemort *knew* it- And that bloody damned house elf-"

"Oh, Merlin," she whispers, "oh, *damnit*." And it hits her like poison, this thing she doesn't want to face, and yet cannot look away from.

"I'm sorry," he says again.

"Why? You hated him."

"Yes," he says. "But he was one of us, a member of the Order... It's just not fair, damnit!" he cries out, loudly enough that the patient in the next bed gives a start. He lowers his voice and goes on. "Yes, I hated him, Minerva- but I hate *them* quite a bit more."

Yes, she can see that. How he must loath the Death Eaters, after all of these years... She nods slowly. She begins to weep then, tears trailing unchecked down her face. He doesn't say anything, but he passes her a handkerchief.

"I've lost almost all of you now," she says. "And it's silly, I know, but I just keep thinking- if I could save just this little group, just him, you, Remus- If I could do that, then I wouldn't have failed."

"Is that what you think?" he asks, stroking her hair with long, slender fingers. "Is it?"


He sighs, shakes his head. "Only a Gryffindor would blame herself-"

"I was responsible," she says. "When Erik Vance went to Voldemort in your seventh year, and you didn't have a Head of House anymore, you became my responsibility."

They hadn't known then that it was Voldemort he'd gone to, of course- only that he had gone, amid whispered rumor of his joining a Dark wizard...

"Do you think Vance ever claimed *responsibility* for us?" he asks, incredulous. "That he ever watched over us the way you did your Gryffindors?"

"No. Of course not. Why do you think I did it? You were *children*, and you needed somebody-" She sighs. "I tried."

"But you didn't fail for trying," he says. "Truly. They all made their own choices, and for most of them, that meant following in the footsteps of their families. The ones you blame yourself for having lost had forsaken the light a long time ago."

"And how many of them do you think actually made a conscious choice, Severus?" she counters. "Don't you think that most of them just- turned out that way, products of their own upbringing?"

"Aren't we all?" he replies. "It's been fourteen years, Minerva."

"And losing Sirius brings it all back, clear as if it were yesterday."

"I know. But it wasn't your fault." He sighs, as if he knows she will not believe this.

"What about Peter, then?"

"What *about* him?" he replies, annoyance in his voice. "You're hardly the only one he fooled."

"You'd be surprised how little that helps," she says.

"Would I? You may as well blame yourself for Erik Vance's betrayal, it would do as much good."

She shakes her head. "You don't understand."

"Really. It must be someone else, then, who's been trying to save the children of the Death Eaters from the easy road into darkness. Oh, I understand alright, my dear. I am perhaps the only one who does." His hand comes to rest on her shoulder. "I know," he whispers, "that no matter how many you save, it's the ones that slip away that will haunt you the rest of your life. I know, too, that you cannot count Sirius Black amongst your failures. Yes, he is dead, and we would all much rather he wasn't- but look at what he died fighting for. How and *where* he died. Fighting Bellatrix, not standing with her. It *matters*, Minerva. Never believe that it doesn't."

She is still crying, but she nods slowly, then gives a great, choking gasp.

"Here-" his arms slide beneath her shoulders, lifting her up. "Try and sit up, you're going to suffocate otherwise..."

With his help she sits up in her bed, her sobs slowly subsiding. She waits for him to pull back his arms, but he doesn't.

Instead he whispers, "Come here," and then he is holding her, they are holding each other. "I know," he says, as she bursts into tears against his shoulder. "I know. I can't replace any of what you've lost, and I know that too. But I am still here. Tell me what I can do, and I will do it..."

"Just don't let go," she whispers, and kisses him. He responds in kind, and true to his word, does not let go.

He breaks the kiss gasping for breath, holds her to him, his hands trembling upon her back. "We were afraid we'd lost you, you know," he says. "Moody insisted you were too tough, but I-"


"I was afraid for you."

"Well, there's no need to be anymore. I'm going to be alright," she says, barely holding back another sob.

He smiles slightly at her. "I know." Looks to the hourglass- "Oh, damn. I have to go, I've got a meeting-"

She nods. "I know. Tell them- Tell them I said-" But what can she say? That she's alright? He won't believe it, and nor will the others. Her hands start to shake, and he grasps them tightly.

"I know," he says. "I will be back when I can."

"Best hurry, Severus," she whispers. "Before she passes another bloody Decree-"

"I don't see how she can," he says, sounding amused. "It doesn't relate to the subject she alleges to be teaching, does it?"

She shakes her head, gives a choking sort of laugh, but her expression is serious. "Don't do anything foolish, please..."

He laughs shortly. "Such as?"

"Damnit, I'm not kidding. That woman is dangerous, Severus-"

"So am I, my dear."

"Touché," she murmurs, one of her hands drawing loose from his and coming up to touch his face. "Go on."

He kisses her gently before he goes.

And she waits his return like all of the times before, weeping silently for the friend she will never see again.