The Gift


Parings: Light Luna/Harry nearing the end, but that's not my ship, at all.

Rating: Pg-13, as always, for disturbing imagery and war.

Distribution: Schnoogle, Twisting the Hellmouth,, or simply email to ask.

Summary: (Severitus' Challenge) The death of Albus Dumbledore leaves a mountain of questions for the Light. Along with Luna, Ginny, Ron, and the unlikely help of a Slytherin, Harry learns that answers often bring hearbreak as the final conflict approaches.

A/N: This fic has been a journey. It was begun on December 21, 2002. Three losses, one severe illness, eight classes, countless papers, five graduate school applications, and one year later, it is nearing completion. As always, most of this fic has been written as of the posting time. It currently sits at 85 pages, eleven chapters, and will have at least one and an epilogue to go before the final words are penned, placing the grand total pushing one hundred typed pages. I've had emails asking why it is so long between new stories — there is your answer. I have aproximately 500 pages of aborted or short, unpublished fic on my computer, and that's only counted what's typed up. Some of these, like this fic itself, will ultimately be finished. Others will waste away on my harddrive, as lost ideas are want to do. New stories will come as they're finished, I promise it.

This fic, at least, is based on Severitus' challenge — or, actually, an offshoot of it as posted on the Severitus list. The challenge guidelines will be posted in an extended author note at the close of the prologue. Updates will be frequent, since the story itself is mostly done. So, until the note at the bottom, enjoy The Gift.


October 6, 1980

Just as he had for the past three months, Severus Snape knelt next to a pair of graves, beneath an ancient willow, on the edge of the Hogwarts grounds. The site overlooked the lake, just as Beth would've wanted. She'd loved the lake — her passion had been the study of the creatures living in the magical ecosystem beneath the waves. The mermen, the squid, the grindylows, and the little fishes, each with their own purpose in life... she'd once said that seeing their purpose gave her own life meaning. The grave on the bank was Severus' way of giving his lover a final purpose — just as she'd want, her body would give life to the soil and nutrients to the lake, as would the body of little William, who never had the chance to breathe the Scottish air.

Though the voice at his shoulder startled him, long months of despair held Severus in a web of apathy so tightly that nothing could shake his beaten façade. "You can't do this anymore," Albus murmured. The old man carefully shifted to his knees next to Severus, using William's headstone to steady himself.

Severus glared darkly at the perceived slight to his son. "There's nothing else for me to do. At least when I served the Dark Lord, I had a family to return to."

"Their deaths weren't our fault," Dumbledore snapped. Severus couldn't remember the last time Albus had lost his temper — but his mentor's disappointment failed to move his heart, weighted so heavily in sorrow. "Beth should never have been allowed to have a normal birth. She should've been at St. Mungo's, in the hands of a qualified specialist. The child was dead already, and she bled too much for us to save her. Even magic couldn't save her! I mourn her loss, Severus — but you cannot stop living."

"I have nothing to live for," was Severus' simple reply. He reached out and slowly traced the letters carved into marble, unable to hold back the tears. Elizabeth M. Potter, 7 January, 1961- 29 July, 1980. "She was too young to die. We should've been more careful. It was my fault — all of it was my fault — if I'd been present for the birth maybe I could've -"

The old man snorted and glared. "You could've done nothing. She died. The baby died. I gave you a second chance, and you've repaid me with nothing. Misery — mourning — it's time to get over it."

His finger froze over the b' of her nickname. Beth. His lovely, charming, beautiful Beth. "I can never stop mourning."

"I didn't save you from Azkaban for this," Dumbledore growled, gnarled hand reaching out to snatch Severus' fingers from the gravestone. "Your life is mine, until the debt is repaid. You have a duty to me — not to a dead woman or a dead child. There are children in terrible danger, Severus... their lives are worth as much as your son's... they have lived to draw breath, while he did not."

Your life is mine. It wasn't the first time he'd heard those words, though his last master had been twice as demanding; twice as terrible. Every word was true, though, as painful as it was to admit it. "My life is yours, Headmaster. I will take up my duty tomorrow. If Lord Voldemort doesn't kill me upon my return, I will report back the next night." He could feel his heart freezing to ice at the thought of leaving Beth to face the dawn alone, even if she could no longer see the light. And William... who would never have the chance to see it.

"I await it eagerly. There are lives to be saved." Dumbledore rose and left before Severus had a chance to respond.

Lives more important than yours remained unspoken, but Severus could hear it in the undertones of the old Headmaster's voice. No life was less important than Severus' was — should he give his in the fight, at least Beth and William would be waiting at the end. Slowly, he created a new mask to hide behind: cold, unfeeling, and rigid. Never again would he make himself to vulnerable to anyone. Albus held the cards now, and the old man knew it. Voldemort waited.

Severus slipped his wand from his pocket and held the tip to the earth, between the two graves. "Floris," he whispered, and a branch sprouted from the cold ground, sprouting buds, and finally blossoming into pale pink roses. They would bloom, for all time, where his family rested — and one day, he would be allowed to join them.

The mask slid firmly into place.

December 18, 1997

Minerva McGonagall knelt to plant the first poppy. "They will spread over the field between the Forest and the school, to honour the life of Albus Dumbledore, as ageless as he could ever hope to be."

Along with the rest of the school, Harry Potter sank to his knees and planted a poppy flower, magically sprouted and in bloom by the work of Professor Sprout, forever in bloom as a memorial. The funeral was a blur for the Boy Who Lived, as the painful battle only two days prior was relived, time and time again.

Voldemort had entered the school, using the very passage from Hogsmeade that Harry refused to reveal, and moved stealthily down the halls to the Gryffindor Common Room. It had been night — Harry would have been sleeping, the perfect target — but, somehow, Dumbledore had known that the Dark Lord was planning the assassination, and Harry was awake and waiting. Tonks, and Remus Lupin, and Hagrid. The battle had come to them. They fought... Tonks fell to a Death Eater, gravely wounded — Remus took a scrape of Wormtail's silver hand and may not escaped the battle alive — Hagrid fell to Lucius Malfoy — and, finally Harry had faced Voldemort alone. There was no Priori Incantatem to save him, then. And, with everyone else incapacitated and Harry vulnerable, Dumbledore threw himself at Voldemort and ended it all.

Voldemort did not die... but Albus Dumbledore did. He fell sending the Dark Lord out of Hogwarts, leaving Harry behind to pick up the pieces. And that was why, on a snowy day in early December, the whole student body of Hogwarts stood crowded in an empty field around a freshly filled grave, planting magically blooming poppies.

Hagrid's funeral had been held only a few hours earlier, as he was put to rest in the garden behind his hut, one with his beloved forest forevermore. Tonks limped along at Harry's side, one leg a mass of bandages and flesh, scarred — and possibly useless, due to the unidentifiable curse that had touched it. Lupin couldn't attend, still unconscious in the Hospital Wing. In one day, Harry's entire life had been turned upside down with the same severity as one night in 1981.

Dumbledore's gift had been a second chance; a chance for Harry to destroy evil forever... but the gift was empty, without a plan and a hope for success.

Harry didn't care that the rest of the school saw tears on the face of the Boy Who Lived. "Don't lose hope," Ginny whispered in his ear, grabbing his hand and pulling him to her side. "He won't have died in vain."

"I can only hope," Harry murmured back. But then there was Tonks, still in pain and forever scarred, and Remus Lupin, put close to death by a man he'd once called friend. Harry entangled his fingers with Ginny's and laid his head on her shoulder.

Ron clapped him on the back — it could only be Ron, that flash of copper in the corner of his vision — and he wiped the tears away with his free hand. "Come inside, mate, I'm getting cold. Everyone's on their way... Hermione's off crying on Seamus' shoulder. We can see the flowers from the Common Room, if you want."

"Not everyone," Harry murmured. A tall, dark figure had caught his gaze, sweeping past Tonks, who was struggling on her crutches in the deep snow. "Ron, Gin, could you help Tonks? I want to see what Snape's up to."

Ginny glared as Ron nodded and swept across the poppy-strewn field to help. "Leave him alone in his grief, Harry. Who knows how he's going to mourn? If it hadn't been for Dumbledore, Professor Snape would've been thrown in Azkaban back around the time you were born. Did you watch the way Snape acted around him? They seemed almost like father and son."

"I won't bother him," Harry countered. He gave Ginny a wan smile. "Don't worry, I won't be seen. He's just going toward the Forest — and I know that's where Goyle's body was found. There might be more Death Eaters hanging around, waiting to see if any more Slytherins turn."

"Not just Slytherins," Ginny snapped, before turning and stalking off.

Harry sighed. While she spoke the truth (Ernie MacMillan had disappeared with the retreating Death Eaters), being friends with Ginny was twice as difficult as being the object of her crush — she had mood swings and quirks that he thought he'd never get used to. Snape was far enough ahead, though, and Harry took off at a slow jog across the frozen field. Snape's arm was still held tight to his body in a sling and the limp was still in his step, a bruise still on his face all signs of the unknown horrors he'd endured at the hands of Voldemort before escaping, on the same night the school was attacked. He'd been held captive for a mere week — but he'd told no one. Dumbledore had been dead by the time he'd stumbled back onto the Hogwarts grounds and waded through the blood of his students.

The snow crunched loudly underfoot, and Harry was more than a little afraid that Snape would hear him coming but if he did, the professor gave no sign. At the edge of the lake, Snape followed the frozen water until it intersected with the forest, then along for a short distance before stopping at three mounds of snow beneath a willow tree. Harry charmed his footsteps silent and snuck around through the trees until Snape's actions were only just visible. He'd never been this way before — it was too close to the forest, and Ginny was right about the Death Eater threat — but on the day of Dumbledore's funeral, it seemed especially odd for Snape to be leaving himself so open to attack. He dug the snow away from two stones — gravestones — and diligently cleaned it away from a bush full of roses, still blooming despite the freeze. That chore completed, the professor stood and, as Harry huddled against a tree, afraid of being seen, walked off along the shore in the direction of the school.

Temptation proved itself too much for Harry to handle, and as soon as he thought the coast clear, he scurried out of the cover of the trees and to the clearing on the lakeshore. The bush he examined first: just as with the poppies they'd planted over the field for Dumbledore, these were charmed against the seasons and forever in bloom. Next were the gravestones, which Snape hadn't cleaned so well as Harry would've expected. Ignoring the chill, he knelt in front of the larger and dusted away the snow, forcing himself to suppress a gasp at what he found. "Potter?" he murmured to himself, before taking a closer look at the dates on the stone. The woman, whomever she'd been, had died only two days before his birth.

The first gravestone had been a shock but, after dusting away more snow, Harry uncovered the life-changing second. Unable to believe his eyes, he read it aloud, to the whistling breeze. "William Potter Snape. 29 July, 1980... stolen away before his first breath."

Harry gulped and repeated the name before it finally made sense to him. Here lay Snape's son... two days Harry's elder... whose mother had been a Potter. Suddenly, the hate between James Potter and Snape took on a level of meaning that Harry had never considered — meaning that made Harry's stomach churn.

He took the journey back to the school at a run.

A/N2: Herein lie the guidelines of this particular bastard child of Severitus' challenge:

-Snape is Harry's father.

-Lily is not Harry's mother.

-Dumbledore reported that the child was stillborn. There is a grave on the Hogwarts grounds bearing the child's name.

-Remus or Sirius must play a role.

-Dumbledore is orchestrating the whole thing.

-Grave has a pink rosebush planted on it, which must be seen in full bloom, covered in snow.

Now, a second piece of the Author Note, for those readers of Prayer of a Child on Within the next few days, I will be returning that story to its intended end. As noted in a chapter of the fic, the original outline ended two chapters previous to what is posted now. Why this extension? Reviewers begged to know what was to happen to Herodos Snape and, for the first time writing as I posted, I gave in. I can assure you, it won't happen again. After the release of Order of the Phoenix, the muse for Prayer of a Child donned a new hat and skipped fandoms. I have no notes about what else was to happen in the story, as no real plan past my written end existed. I have no ideas, as everything was being written off the cuff. I feel the last two chapters to be some of the most shoddy writing I've ever posted, and for that I apologize. However, I feel guilty abandoning the fic entirely, which is partially the reason why this Severitus challenge got picked up again when I had break time to write. So, Prayer will return to its original ending. This particular fic will have no sequel, nor with Our Fathers or Sunday Bloody Sunday, no matter how many protests erupt. I feel my talents to be best represented in new fic, rather than rehashing bunnies long gone.

And, with that, thank you for reading the long, probably rambling author's note. I look forward to hearing from all of you lovely readers. The first chapter of The Gift will be up in a few days, wherein... Harry learns about James' past, the Trio spends the holiday apart, and all the changes since Sirius' death come to light. Cheers!