LOST PERSPECTIVE II
Disclaimer: All canon characters are the property of JKR. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: The story so far: In Lost Perspective Harry discovers that Snape is his father and, in revenge, betrays him to Voldemort. They escape, but not before Snape has been severely tortured. Harry learns that he has been under the influence of the Obligatus Curse… He is desperate to find out more about his parents' relationship…
The story follows on immediately from the end of Lost Perspective. Harry has just had his first abortive conversation with his father…
CHAPTER 1: GOOD INTENTIONS
The gargoyle skewered him with a stony stare and the spiral staircase remained obstinately static. Harry climbed the stairs reluctantly. Before he had a chance to knock, the polished oak door yawned open.
"Come right in, Harry," called Professor Dumbledore. "Make yourself comfortable. Do sit down if you can find a space."
The old wizard was teaching a recently fledged Fawkes how to cling onto his perch with one foot while holding a purple grape in the talons of the other.
"He retains so much complicated information from one incarnation to the next, but sometimes the straightforward things, such as how to eat a grape while maintaining his balance, simply elude him. Fascinating evolutionary anomaly." The Professor turned to Harry with a convivial smile. "Some light refreshment, my boy? A Hairy Humbug perhaps?"
Harry declined as politely as he could. He wanted to get this interview over quickly and be on his own. During the last three days since he had been discharged from the hospital wing, Harry had adopted an isolationist policy. At his request, Dumbledore had temporarily excused him from lessons and authorised his use of the Room of Requirement as a bedroom. Dobby brought him his meals there and he ate in self-imposed solitude.
He had spent the days either pacing aimlessly in the grounds, oblivious to the weather, hardly aware of the direction in which he was walking; or else up in the deserted Astronomy Tower, sitting hunched on the ledge staring out into an eternity of self-loathing; or else in the Owlery with Hedwig, where she nibbled his ear and tolerated the occasional tears that dripped onto her snowy feathers.
He was avoiding his friends. How could he face Draco's sneering contempt, or Ron with his baffled matey-ness, or, worst of all, Hermione's reproachful sympathy? The one person he might have talked to - Sirius - was dead.
How could he face anyone, when he no longer knew who he was? Over the past three months, ever since he had received James' letter, his identity had been systematically shredded. Not just his sense of self-esteem, but his entire belief system, his values, his confidence in his own judgement had all been undermined to the point of collapse. When he tried to reassemble the pieces, he found he no longer had any idea what shape his world should take.
In exacting his revenge, he had believed himself to be acting correctly and honourably, and it had all turned out to be a sham; he had been deceived and manipulated. He, in turn, in his self-righteous quest for justice, had cheated and lied to his friends, ending up a mere wand's wave from committing a cold-blooded murder. Now he didn't trust himself to tell the difference between right and wrong - and if he didn't trust himself, how could he ever trust anybody else?
He floated in deep space, orbiting in solitary limbo, leaving the shattered blue planet below to piece itself together without him. And now Dumbledore was dragging him back to earth to confront his behaviour and its consequences. Why couldn't he leave him alone? Or, if Dumbledore was going to discipline him, why couldn't he drop the geniality and just get on with dishing out the punishment? As yet, Harry had received no reprimand at all for his actions, beyond the headmaster's muted expressions of disappointment and Madam Pomfrey's starchy tuts of annoyance. Perhaps Dumbledore considered that being Snape's son was, in itself, punishment enough.
Harry looked listlessly round the Professor's office. He was self-consciously aware that over the past few days he had been the subject of gossip and conjecture. He had the uncomfortable impression that, prior to his arrival, the portraits, which were now all unconvincingly engrossed in some business of their own, had been discussing him too.
Even Dumbledore could hardly disguise his curiosity as he enquired,
"Well then Harry, have you finally spoken to your father?"
An image of James automatically presented itself to Harry's mind, and he had consciously to substitute that of Professor Snape. The portrait of Dilys Derwent shook her head, the limp, silver ringlets swaying, and she wagged her finger reprovingly. Phineas Nigellus, however, tapped the side of his nose and gave him an encouraging wink.
"Yes, Professor," he replied.
"And have you reached any kind of, er, understanding?"
"No, Sir," Harry admitted. He cringed at the memory of that first painful interview. Far from ascending the heights of reconciliation or achieving some kind of psychological entente, both he and Professor Snape had been stranded at base-camp. His blundering apology had taken him a few steps forward, but Snape had not exactly come to greet him with open arms. 'It's a start,' Snape had conceded, but he had not been looking happy. Snape had agreed to the meeting - what irrefutable arguments had Dumbledore used to effect that, Harry wondered - but Harry had found him just as daunting and unapproachable as ever, his distrust falling fractionally this side of outright hostility.
Harry had resolved that the next time he saw Snape he would ask him - ask him for answers to the questions that nagged like an infected abscess, growing more pressingly urgent with each passing day. But it had been too soon. In the actual presence of the Potions Master, the enormity of his own guilt had lanced Harry's tongue. It just hadn't seemed the right time to mention James and Lily.
Nor had Harry been able to find the words to articulate an apology that had even the remotest ring of sincerity. Normal, everyday words like 'I'm sorry I hurt you. How are you feeling, Sir? Are you still in pain? I wish it had all never happened.' He simply couldn't say them. He could not voice his regret. He knew, he could see, that Snape's injuries were not fully healed, and, knowing that he was responsible, he found that part of him did care - he couldn't pretend to himself any longer that he was wholly unmoved - but he couldn't bring himself to show it. To show sympathy was to invite rejection: Snape might snub his concern just as he refused Madam Pomfrey's healing potions.
Snape had not made things easy at all.Tongue-tied and clumsy, Harry had eventually tried another tack.
"I mean… I didn't mean to… It wasn't me, Sir, it was the Obligatus…"
That was a cop-out. Harry knew it and so did Snape. The Professor's gaze frosted. Harry swallowed miserably, waiting to be verbally sliced, simmered and reduced to scum like just one more potion ingredient.
"That excuse is unworthy of you, Potter," Snape said coldly, after a pause. He was making an effort to control his temper. "Professor Dumbledore has acquainted me with that Curse and its stipulations. As I understand it, no actual method of retaliation was specified in James Potter's letter. Am I correct?"
Harry didn't answer. Let slicing commence.
"Am I correct?" Snape repeated, articulating the words with iced clarity.
Snape's logic was like tendrils of Devil's Snare wrapping themselves around his throat and dragging him down into a bog of digestive acid. Harry knew not to struggle. It would only make things worse.
"So, Potter, - and do correct me if I am wrong - the inspiration for your lurid scheme for my demise was yours, and yours alone. Is that not so?"
"Yes, Sir." Harry was being eaten alive now, consumed by his own bile of guilt and regret.
"You told me once that you had been able to resist the Imperius?" Snape continued his cross-examination.
"Yes, Sir, but… …but that was in a lesson. I was expecting it, so I had a chance to prepare myself." Harry rallied on the witness stand. "I wasn't expecting a letter from my fa… from him to be cursed."
"Very well. I will concede that point." Snape's voice had dropped to a low, husky whisper. He pinched the prominent bridge of his nose, channelling his depleted energies, warding off a gathering headache. "And you, Potter, you decided that it would be fitting, appropriate - amusing - to betray me to the Dark Lord?"
Harry had no answer. This first step towards rapprochement wasn't progressing half as well as he had hoped. True, Snape hadn't hexed him on the spot, but he clearly would have liked to.
"Well, Potter? Was it worth it? Were you amused?" Snape's whisper cracked into a seizure of painful coughing, the lingering legacy of the pneumonia. Harry stood at a loss, petrified in his own reticence.
"Get out!" Snape choked, gesturing Harry away with an angry wave. "Leave me alone!"
No, it had not been an auspicious meeting.
Harry felt that Dumbledore expected some kind of explanation. But how could he describe that utterly abortive clash in anything but the most negative terms, which made him appear even more of a vindictive loser?
"We talked about the Obligatus, Sir. But Professor Snape wasn't feeling well. I didn't stay long."
Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes focussed acutely on the subtext and Harry realised that the old wizard understood everything whether Harry told him or not. He might as well come straight out and say that he thought it was futile to expect to repair the damage between Snape and himself. Forgiveness has its limits. They would have to agree to differ - a lot.
"Harry, my boy… This situation between you and Severus grieves me more deeply than you can possibly know," Dumbledore said in a benign, sorrowful tone that Harry found, frankly, cloying. The wizard gave the baby phoenix one last grape and brushed away a few stray millet seeds that had lodged in the folds of his cloak. He seemed to be waiting for a response.
Harry fidgeted, entertaining a faint hope that he might be going to get off with a verbal warning. Sticks and stones…he thought. Yeah, I can hack being slated by Dumbledore. Just cut to the chase though…
Harry quailed. It was rare for Dumbledore to address him so formally. The vague, cardigan mildness, derisible and blandly deceptive, had been sloughed. The headmaster turned to him, stern, unsmiling and formidable.
"I have been waiting, Harry, for some slight indication that you feel a shred of remorse for your actions. But none, it seems, is forthcoming. I have, I think you will agree, accorded you considerable latitude over the last few days. I have acquiesced to your request for privacy, in the vain belief that in solitude you might contemplate the error of your ways.
"You could have come to see me at any time. My office is always open to my students, as you well know. But no, you have spent your days wrapped in self-absorption, cocooned in self-pity. It has been necessary for me to instruct you to visit Professor Snape and, moreover, summon you here afterwards to see me.
"Your demeanour, Harry, does not suggest regret. In fact, you seem more worried about making excuses and minimising your responsibility. That simply will not do - you cannot pretend that all this never happened and that you are not accountable."
It was true. Harry had felt that by turning his back on the world, somehow things would sort themselves out. Perhaps he was starting to take the happy endings for granted…
"You arrive in my office and your attitude can only be described as unrepentant and blasé. I see no evidence of contrition. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
Harry hung his head, abashed by the uncompromising reprimand, indignant at the unfairness of this 'grown-up' interpretation of his reaction, and trying to formulate a defence against the sheer injustice of Dumbledore's criticism. Had they all conveniently forgotten about the Curse of Compulsion?
Dumbledore sat at his desk and leaned forwards, contemplating Harry over a crooked steeple of long, bony fingers.
"What I see, Harry, is a young wizard who has yielded to the lure of Dark Magic and got himself into a situation beyond the compass of his powers. A situation which will have far-reaching ramifications. I do not condemn you, Harry, for falling prey to the Obligatus… It is the fervour of your response which causes me concern – grave concern. You could have challenged Professor Snape to a duel: honour would still have been served.
"I know it is not wholly your fault. Who is to say whose fault it is? Your life, your upbringing, a lack of moral guidance in your formative years… For that I myself must shoulder some of the responsibility. You have been compelled to undergo more troubles in your short life than any child should rightly encounter in his entire lifetime. It is unfair, undeserved and, I should say, unprecedented. Although…" For a moment the old wizard's attention meandered into an intellectual ox-bow. "…the 12th Century martyr, Sir George of Nottingham, did endure some remarkable ordeals at a very early age … But that is by the by.
"Whatever the reason," Dumbledore reverted to the subject in hand, (though Harry had welcomed the digression and was quite ready to continue discussing the unhappy childhood of some medieval Knight in the east Midlands), "…whatever the reason, Harry, you display a cavalier attitude to rules and authority; your past successes have merely served to reinforce that lack of respect. The gloss of your - er - 'celebrity' has left you shiningly unaccountable. You have not courted favour or recognition, but you enjoy unequivocal status as 'The Boy Who Lived'. In dealing with your past misdemeanours I have, perhaps, erred on the side of leniency.
"You seem to think that the end justifies the means. That, my boy, is a dangerous ideology. It has ruined many otherwise great wizards."
Still Harry offered nothing in the way of self-defence. What was the point? Who would listen? If they had a problem with his attitude, what could he do about it? It was the Snape in him coming to the fore. Bad blood will out.
Dumbledore frowned, troubled by Harry's continued silence.
"I find myself in a dilemma as to the most suitable form of punishment to impose. A whole year's worth of detentions would be an insufficient penalty. Expulsion would, I fear, be the easy way out, both for Hogwarts and for you, Harry. No, we will not abandon you and throw you into the clutches of Voldemort.
"It will be more difficult, however, to evade the summary justice of the Ministry. Why, your wand alone, Harry, is enough to get you a life sentence in Azkaban. Ministry policy demands that it should be destroyed forthwith. If it ever got into the hands of an Auror, well, Merlin help you! It will, however, remain confiscated until I have decided whether or not to delete its spell memory. That would, you understand, make me complicit in your act of folly."
Dumbledore had taken Harry's wand out of a slim drawer in his desk. He sat now, twisting it between his gnarled fingers, an expression of deep distaste on his face.
"Ollivander warned me that this wand would spell trouble," he said grimly. The ice-bright blue eyes chilled with anger. "Do you know how many Dark Curses this wand has cast in the last week? No, of course you don't. Do you have any idea what you have done, child? You of all students are aware of the consequences of prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus. You have met Longbottom's parents. Is that what you intended for Professor Snape? Have you no compassion? Perhaps I have been mistaken in you. I had believed you graced with the power… the power that Voldemort knows not. The power that will enable you to prevail and survive. The power of love, of humanity. But you have proved me wrong. Severus almost died in that cellar!"
Dumbledore took off his half-moon spectacles and polished them on the sleeve of his cloak. When he next spoke, he sounded thoughtful.
"I understand that it is difficult for you to participate in school activities at the moment. Speculation is rife as to the nature of your disappearance. Young Malfoy, I hear, has rigidly defended your 'alibi' - that you were summoned by Voldemort - and Miss Granger has lent credence to the theory that Professor Snape went to your assistance. There was, may I say, a strong contingent who insisted that Severus would happily see you fry in Lobalung lard before lifting a finger… You have been lucky to have two such staunch supporters, especially in view of the fact that they appear to have been told differing versions of the actual truth…"
He let the implied accusation dangle for a moment, before shoring it up with his next reality check.
"Up until now I have not divulged the truth to anyone. In doing so, I am primarily respecting Severus' wishes and, I hope, protecting your best interests. Have you considered what you've started with your thoughtlessness, Harry? There will be repercussions, you know. Voldemort will not let this rest. Not only have you hazarded your own future, but you have risked the career, the reputation and the very life of a most esteemed, a most trusted member of staff.
"Did you, at any point, stop to think what you were really doing, and how it might affect anyone other than yourself?
"Your meeting with Professor Snape this morning may not have ended cordially. It is hardly surprising after what you put him through. However, it is essential that the two of you come to some accord on the subject of your relationship. Until I know what you are going to do I cannot proceed with any very useful 'damage limitation' measures.
"I have a proposal, Harry, which you may find unappealing. It will be a challenge. It calls for a maturity beyond your years…"
Great, thought Harry. Bring it on…
"What do you want me to do, Sir?" he asked tremulously, though knowing full well that whatever it was that Dumbledore required of him - slaying Dragons, taming Manticores, writing very long Potions essays - he would end up doing whether he liked it or not.
"I want you to help Professor Snape," Dumbledore said simply.
Harry's eyes widened and he felt his stomach go into freefall. He was in no fit state to help anyone; he could barely function himself. Help Snape? Father or not, the man hated him. They couldn't be in the same room for five minutes without arguing. The best thing Harry could do to help was to stay out of his way.
"When I say 'help' I mean try to understand him," Dumbledore continued gently and persuasively. "You owe him that much. Try to see things from his point of view."
If I knew what that was. If he would actually speak to me. Harry was sceptical.
"If it makes it any easier, think of it as a project or a job I am asking you to do…"
But what if I don't want this job? Do I have any choice? Harry felt his options closing in on him. A week's detention with Professor Umbridge would have been preferable to this.
"Don't look so worried. Severus won't hurt you. I will forbid it! He's no angel, but he won't ask you to walk the plank… Oh dear, I seem to be mixing my metaphors somewhat." A flash of humour entered the headmaster's voice as he added, "But at least this Captain Hook has tamed his crocodile…eh, my boy! Tick tock!"
Harry was more than ever convinced that Dumbledore had lost the plot. Either that or the doddery duffer routine was an exceptionally clever smokescreen. The Headmaster looked a little crestfallen.
"Evidently my attempt at Muggle humour has fallen flat. Well, well. You will find out for yourself soon enough." That sounded ominous. Then, serious once more, he said softly, "You know, Harry, he wants this to work out as much as you do."
And how much is that? Harry asked himself. Probably a lot, he admitted, ruefully.
"Don't expect too much too soon. You will have to spend time in each other's company to reconcile your differences. It will not be plain sailing. Severus is a proud, independent man. He is no more willing to come to terms with his past than you are. But you, Harry, are the one, the only person who can help him. The two of you have much in common… I am fond of you both - it pains me to see you so estranged, especially now. Especially now…"
He repeated the last phrase, shaking his grey head sadly, lamenting the folly of wayward youth. And in a pinprick of empathy, Harry caught a glimpse of himself and Snape through the old wizard's eyes: errant students both, spanning the generations with a bridge of shared trauma.
Harry didn't have the energy to protest. He was aware that he was in the presence of a great wizard and that, as Ron would say, 'resistance was futile'. Dumbledore's mild, sage manner concealed power and unparalleled magical skill. Although he was feeling about as self-assertive as a Flubberworm, Harry's sense of awe and deference was clouded by irritation - couldn't the old guy just back off and leave him to sort out his own life? It wasn't easy to forget the years of half-truths, white lies and well-intentioned subterfuge - the patronising protectiveness of Dumbledore's 'need to know' policy. The anger and mistrust that had so distanced him last year, the unintentional link he had provided between Dumbledore and Voldemort, had left their mark. Now that Dumbledore was finally investing his confidence in Harry, Harry felt obliged to repay him with obedience. He had been manoeuvred into it. Though he failed to see what he could possibly do that would be of any benefit to Snape whatsoever. He assumed the headmaster had a plan in mind. No such luck. Even this great wizard had no magic balm to heal the wound that separated father and son. He was throwing them in the ring together to fight it out between them.
"I do not want Professor Snape to resume his teaching duties for at least a week, until he is fully recovered from his ordeal. He is still not quite himself. I should like you to spend that week together, away from Hogwarts. Take time to get to know each other. You will both feel the benefit. Oh, and Harry …"
"Look after him, Harry. Allow yourself to be kind."
Harry's emotional tourniquet took another twist. Dumbledore's parting sentence left his eyes pricking with unshed tears. How did the old man know? How was it that in five short words he could express so concisely the barrier that Harry was barely able to identify, still less acknowledge. He wasn't callous. Part of him wanted to reach out to Snape, to treat him decently and at least give him a chance to explain what had happened sixteen years ago. They might discover a core of humanity on which they could begin to build their relationship. He wanted to be 'kind'. In Snape's sitting room earlier, the phrases had been formed in Harry's mind: 'Look, Sir, I can see you're not up to this. I'll come back another day and we can talk about it then. ' But he had shied away from saying them.
In Harry's box of Every Flavour Emotions, the soft-centred Kindness Candies had been ousted by defensiveness, flippancy, scorn, aggression. Indifference tasted safer.
All his life Harry had nurtured a secret dream: that James was not really dead; that one day he would return and be reunited with his son. In Harry's dream his father was strong, almost superhuman, someone he could admire and respect; someone who would love him unreservedly and be proud of him. Snape, on the other hand, had been his enemy for six years, inviolable, powerful, unassailable - and Harry had longed to discover his adversary's tragic flaw. And now Snape was his father, and he was fallible. Love thine enemy? Harry didn't think so. He wrestled with the paradox of human frailty.
When Hedwig had hurt her wing he had nursed her, smoothed her ruffled feathers, reassured her with soft, silly nonsense, like Ron with his baby Dranda - there had been no shame in tenderness. Today, seeing Snape coughing and obviously aching in every muscle had left Harry helpless, with a feeling of distaste for his own insensitivity, trapped inside his detachment like an insect in amber. Since when had sympathy been a sign of weakness?
End of chapter 1. Next chapter: SMALL TALK