A/N: Well, this is it, my dear readers. This is the end. Mum and I cannot thank you enough for the wonderful experience we have had writing, posting, and hearing your thoughts on this story. I think I can safely say this is the best fanfic I have ever written, though of course I have Mum to thank for that. I hope you have all enjoyed the story as much as we've enjoyed writing it, even in the parts that make you cry. In my defense, I had a pretty good bawl after finishing this one. We'll miss getting posting and reading your reviews every week so much. And without further ado, here it is…
Epilogue: Changed For Good
One of the advantages of St. Mungo's over the Hogwarts hospital wing was the better Sound-Dampening charms in the walls of the private rooms. As a result when Severus was left alone—and he usually was—there was nearly total silence. The bare, white walls and the clean, repeat-Scourgify smell only added to the sensation of being completely isolated, of solitude. Which was precisely how Snape liked it. The Healers and staff who came by now and then to check on him had very little to say; it went against their grain to report bad news, but Severus knew enough about human biology and wizard ailments to be aware of the prognosis. On the other hand, they spared little more than the requisite professional courtesies to their patient.
Who cared a wit about a dying, old ex-Death Eater?
As it happened, neither did he. Severus was only sorry that his wild youth (put diplomatically) had not caught up with him sooner. His reaction had been quiet amusement the last time he'd been to Hogwarts five years ago, when Madam Pomfrey had reluctantly told him his health was starting to fail.
Life as a soldier had its costs. Life as a spy in the service of a creature who adored pain and suffering even from his followers had serious consequences for one who lived that way for years. Severus had known what the cost would be to his health and life expectancy even when he had offered to return to Voldemort's side as a spy. It had been one of his least pressing concerns in making the decision.
He had allowed Minerva and Poppy to escort him to St. Mungo's, but then extracted a promise from each of them not to return, and to make it clear to the other members of the former Order that he did not desire visitors. He wished to spend his last days as he had spent the last twenty-five years: alone, in peace.
So it was something of a shock to him—although perhaps it shouldn't have been, considering—when the attendant witch on duty stuck her head through the door and said, "You have a visitor, Mr. Snape."
And before Severus could respond, in walked a man, not terribly tall and slight in stature, with untidy black hair and bright green eyes.
Breathing was difficult enough these days; it was several minutes before Severus could speak. So his visitor spoke first. "Hello, Professor."
Even a self-designed hermit such as Severus Snape could not have failed to observe the progress of Harry Potter's life over the years. The Daily Prophet still printed a front-page story if the boy so much as sneezed. The wizarding public never got enough of him.
Of course, he was hardly a boy anymore. But he looked far younger than Severus and his contemporaries had when they were that age. The boy who had lived through war as a child had found peace as a man, and had spent his adulthood without the shadow of fear hanging over him as it had over the previous generation. It showed now in him, a healthy wizard in his prime, his large eyes bright and alert. Although…there was a difference between Potter and others his age. His green eyes, unusual in their own right, had a wisdom, and understanding that men thrice his age often could not boast.
It startled Severus somewhat to realize that something in Harry Potter's eyes reminded him of Albus Dumbledore.
Then it occurred to him that his visitor was still waiting for an answer. "Potter. I suppose I should have expected this."
He had always been unpredictable as a child…defiant and headstrong one minute, frightened and vulnerable the next. Apparently, that hadn't changed; all at once, Severus fancied he could see the boy, innocent, so easily provoked to anger or hurt, standing where the man had been a moment ago.
"I did what you asked," he said softly, making no move to come further into the room. "I stayed away."
Perhaps it had been Snape's imagination after all…as unguardedly sad as Harry's gaze was, it was also steady. Instinctively, Severus tested his defenses. "Until now, I see. You never could keep from intruding where you did not belong."
To his surprise, Harry chuckled. "And you could never keep from baiting people, sir. We've both always been set in our habits." Taking advantage of Snape's reaction, he added, "Besides, you knew you would see me at least once more. I promised, remember?"
What the devil was he talking about—oh. "Whether you want to be forgotten or not, I won't. And you won't die like one of them." So he did know his former professor, bane of his childhood, was dying. It saved Severus the difficulty of having to tell him. He changed the subject. "How is the Minister?"
"She's fine. She's here, actually. She came with me."
But she didn't wish to join her husband in paying her respects to old Snape, he translated. He wasn't surprised, and knew the lady's motives had nothing to do with the political implications of the Minister of Magic visiting an ex-Death Eater. Minister of Magic Ginevra Potter, like her mother, had a long memory where slights to Harry were concerned. The Weasleys had never forgiven him for sending Harry away. But that was always the case with that family's thinking; Severus's reasons hadn't mattered, however correct or well-intentioned. All they had cared about was Harry's grief. And Molly had made it very clear after Harry left Hogwarts just how much Snape's decision had hurt the boy.
Severus had seen Harry only a few times as the years went by. He had seldom ventured outside the school, but one evening some five years after the end of the war, he had gone to the apothecary in Diagon Alley for some specialized supplies. Halfway back to the public Floo, a pair of rowdy young men had stumbled out of a pub, singing at the top of their voices, and the light from the windows had shown on red hair and black hair. Severus had stupidly stopped where he stood, and Ron Weasley had sobered at once upon spotting him. But he'd rallied fast and steered his friend quickly away from Snape. Harry, tipsy on spirits and life, never saw him.
Which, Severus had reminded himself on numerous occasions, was all the better for Harry.
Some years after that, one of the only occasions Harry had ever seen Snape in public, it had again been in Diagon Alley. It had given the Potions Master more than a small shock to see Harry and Ginevra accompanied by a red-haired, green-eyed child: Lily Potter. Her hair was a much darker red than her mother's. Remus Potter's eyes were brown, but he had that same untidy black hair. He had heard the Potters telling Florean Fortesque, in a conversation Severus had made no move to join, that their twins would be starting at Hogwarts the following year.
One week later, Severus had given Minerva his notice. He had had enough of history repeating itself at Hogwarts. Despite Minerva's entreaties for him to participate in Board discussions or staff reunions, he had remained in his small house in the woods of Wales and had not returned to Hogwarts once during the years that Potter's children were there. Teaching a second Percy Weasley had been bad enough.
No doubt Lily Potter, Remus Potter, and Melanie Potter had been raised on their parents' legends. It was an amusing thought, to wonder what they had been told about Snape.
"How is your family?" he asked.
Potter sighed. "Well. Lily starts with the Auror Program next year, and Remus is going to university. Mellie's captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team."
"I suppose you are still living with Black in that cottage next to the Weasleys'."
"It's expanded a bit, but yes. Sirius loves the kids, and the Weasleys are their grandparents," he said. "I like it too."
He supposed Harry would surround himself with family, having been deprived of it in his youth. The last Severus had heard, Ron Weasley and his wife, Granger, were living at the much-improved Burrow, to the great delight of Molly and Arthur. Between their assorted broods (Potter's three children and Weasley's two sons) it was a wonder anyone in either house could hear themselves speak.
He was tired. As Harry came closer to his bedside, he told him, "You have done well, then."
The boy who was now a man smiled faintly and said, "Yeah. Daresay I have. I have a lot of people to thank for that." Severus snorted. "You were always too hard on yourself. You deserved a better life."
"My life has been to my satisfaction, thank you. And I don't want your pity."
Now it was Potter who snorted. Where had he picked that habit up? "I never pitied you. At least, not for your adult life." Severus bared his teeth at him; he knew full well what Harry meant. Surprisingly, the thought of the boy pitying him for what he'd seen in Snape's childhood did not trouble Snape terribly. Harry changed the subject. "You've heard I'm starting at Hogwarts this year?" Severus nodded. There had been much weeping when Harry Potter had retired from his very successful Auror career a few months ago. "I'm teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts."
It was difficult to find the breath anymore, but Severus could not help but laugh. At Harry's startled reaction, he said weakly, "Knowing that school, you may find more excitement as a teacher than you did as an Auror. Your dark foes have been rather tame since the end of the war."
Despite the Resurrection Spell that Wormtail and the other Death Eaters had developed, the efforts of Potter and the Order in the years after the war had prevented it from ever being used. No one but Sirius Black had ever returned through the veil, and the last of the Death Eaters had died in Azkaban. None of the late, unlamented Voldemort's followers remained alive now...aside from Severus Snape.
Harry smiled at him. "Good point. I think I understand now why the teachers were always so tense. It's never dull with children around." Snape laughed again.
And unlike myself, you enjoy being surrounded by urchins. The boy's desire to spend all his time with loved ones had made it a foregone conclusion. To live in a house full of family was undoubtedly the boy's greatest desire. Like Andromeda Black, love had been his supreme goal in life. He had got what he wanted, and for that, Severus could not deny he was glad. Nor could he deny the boy had deserved it.
You've gone soft, Snape. Then again, you went soft a long time ago.
A voice floated past the open door then, some witch exclaiming, "Harry Potter came to see him, of all the…" Harry grimaced and went to close the door.
"I expect they wonder why their sainted hero would stoop to visiting a creature such as me," Severus remarked.
"Let them wonder. It's none of their bloody business," Harry said curtly. Severus eyed him. The boy had, as Snape had asked, refrained from speaking about Snape, even when public opinion and talk had been most decidedly unkind to his former professor. But Snape could see now that Harry was well aware of what had been said—and resented it. "You deserved better than that. You should have gotten the same things we did."
"I was surprised they even gave me Second Class," Severus said dismissively. He suspected Harry had been involved in bringing that about. However, he didn't voice that suspicion now; it didn't make any difference. "In any case, I cared little for their accolades or lack thereof."
"You did once," Harry pointed out, undoubtedly thinking of the first encounter he'd witnessed between Snape and Black.
"Much changed after that, as you well know." He met the younger man's distressed gaze and said firmly, "I am the last of the Death Eaters, Harry. The last of those who were taught by Voldemort. There will be much rejoicing when I am gone."
"You're not a Death Eater," Harry said quietly, stubbornly.
Silly child. "You saw me take pleasure in debasing you your first year, Potter. You were a child, and I did everything I could to hurt you. Do not absolve me."
"But you changed," Harry replied. "You stopped. I couldn't have defeated him without you."
Severus scowled and looked away. "You should go."
"You know I won't."
With a sigh, Severus muttered, "I see your naivete remains as strong as ever. In any case, I haven't the energy to argue the point." He heard Harry take up a seat beside the bed. He knew the boy had always wondered what had brought about Snape's apparent change of heart…and Severus had no intention of telling him. The boy had wondered a lot of things.
"WHICH PART OF ME DO YOU HATE MOST, SNIVELLUS? MY FATHER'S FACE OR MY MOTHER'S EYES?"
It had been a toss-up, really. It had changed from day to day. James Potter had tormented Severus beyond measure during their school days, but Lily Evans…she had been a source of torment too, in her own right. Severus had hated James all the more when he had learned of their marriage and the birth of their child. James Potter had been the last man in the world to deserve a child with those eyes. And it had only grown worse when the boy had come to Hogwarts, like a character from a nightmare. Severus had hated him. He had hated the father, who had been just as capable of cruelty as most aspiring Death Eaters in his year, and the mother, whose artless green eyes had revealed generosity and pity and kindness, and who had been the last woman James Potter deserved. Severus had hated them both.
Until America. Severus had never believed James Potter capable of the kind of love Lily Evans sought. But there had been no denying it in the battle beneath the Capitol. The boy who had taunted and teased without mercy had grown up capable of enough love to blow apart a magical stone pillar. The kind of love that moves mountains and all that. The shade Severus had seen had not been James the boy, but a man, who Severus had never met. And Lily…in her face that day, he had seen her plea: to protect her child. The boy with her eyes.
To change his mind after years of hating with all his heart had not been easy, but…he had not been able to refuse her.
And against his will, he had come to know her son. Harry Potter, the boy with James's face and Lily's eyes. Harry was not like James as a child. He was like Lily. And as with his mother, there had been times when the boy's innocence, his goodness and devotion and honesty had made Severus hate him. But at the same time…no one could look into the mind of such a child without being affected.
The question had occupied Snape's mind many times over the years. Had he not been forced to spend so much time in the company of Harry Potter…would he still have tried to save Draco? The boy might have lived longer if he had not become so attached to Severus, and yet…he had died free. And in the arms of one who loved him. Severus had made certain that the boy knew, in the last year before his death, that his worth was his own to determine, not based on servitude or the word of any other.
Harry was silent, watching Severus lose himself in memories. It happened often, these days. A hazard of dying, but a welcome distraction from the pains of a failing body. Again, his mind strayed to the years away from Harry, and pondered possibilities…no. Harry was not Draco. He was Black's godson. Severus had no right, as he had reminded himself more than once over the years. He had no right to a place in the boy's life.
I did not deserve it.
And yet, it was Harry who had driven him, somehow, to view the war against Voldemort as a battle worth fighting, not merely for his own survival. To view Draco as one worth fighting for, rather than a lost cause. It was Harry who had led him to hope.
And yet Draco was dead. Practically canonized, a martyr who had turned from evil only to be butchered by his own father, but dead. Severus had been left alone.
By my own choice, though. If there was one thing Harry had made plain, it was that the existence Severus had faced since the war had been his own choice. For some unfathomable reason, the boy would have had it different.
Through the haze that had begun to cloud his senses, he became aware of a sensation that he had not experienced in a very long time: the feeling of a hand, lightly clasping his. Through dimming eyes, he sought its source, and found Harry sitting close beside the bed, watching him intently.
"You won't die alone," Harry whispered.
Severus drew a painful, labored breath, and saw the younger man tremble. A tear slid down his face, and Severus watched it, fascinated.
How many of those who sneered and derided this former Death Eater may boast that the Boy Who Lived wept for them?
What an odd thought. And yet…a gratifying one. Even comforting. Forcing his waning energy to speaking, Severus met Harry's brimming green eyes and whispered, "Thank you."
Harry had learned many things from Severus Snape. Not all of them were terribly pleasant lessons (particularly the one about how pointlessly cruel people could be), but the most important ones…well, they had been worth learning.
At seventeen, he'd been too young to understand why Snape had done what he did after the war, and even when he had understood, it had been a long time before he'd forgiven the Potions Master. But he had, and here, now, Snape knew it. The man had always been able to read Harry ridiculously easily. Harry just hoped that the self-imposed exile had given Snape the time and solitude he needed to finally forgive himself. He deserved it.
School would be starting in a few weeks. No doubt, the Ravenclaws had ideas that Professor Potter would be sympathetic to them, since his youngest daughter was in their House. But Melanie knew better. Arthur, Ron's youngest, was constantly demanding to know if Harry would be the new Head of Gryffindor House, but somehow it seemed unlikely that Professor Tonks would give up her post. She was more fun anyway.
I just hope I do as good a job protecting Hogwarts as you did, he thought, tightening his grip on the former Potions Master's hand. Snape's strength was waning fast, but Harry thought he felt an answering squeeze.
The man had changed so much, even in those first seven years—good lord, was that all?—that Harry had known him. In the end, Harry supposed that was what he had realized from the time he'd spent with Snape. It was never too late to change. Snape had taught that to Draco, and even if Draco hadn't lived, it had been the right thing. And Harry knew, as he'd tried to explain to Snape, that Draco had never regretted it.
And as for Harry, he had meant what he'd told the dying man. I couldn't have defeated Voldemort without you. Snape had made him strong, and not just by pushing him around. When he thought about it, Harry could think of few people he had ever known who were that strong. Who could make the sacrifices that Severus Snape had made, or try as hard as Snape had to do what was right. A strange thought, but it was true: in the end, Snape had tried very hard to do right, by Draco, by the Order, and at last, by Harry.
He tried to protect me by sending me away. Snape had been a harsh judge, of himself most of all, and had sought to protect their side after the war by distancing himself. He'd understood things about Harry that Harry himself hadn't understood. I wouldn't have cared what people thought. I'd have stood up for him. I wasn't ashamed. Snape had known that, of course. That was why he'd done it.
Silence was thick in that clean, white room as he sat there, his hand on Snape's to remind the man of his presence. The only sound, very faint, was Snape's increasingly-weak breathing. When it finally stopped, Harry gave his hand one final squeeze, and let him go.
Ginny was in the waiting room when he came out, wiping his face, and silently took his hand, watching him with sympathetic eyes as they left the hospital. She tried to steer him past the little news stand near the door, but he saw it: a special edition of the Prophet, the only one Severus Snape had ever rated.
Last of Former Death Eaters Dies At St. Mungo's!
As they made their way out of the hospital, Harry closed his eyes for a moment, remembering what he had seen in the aftermath of the battle at Godric's Hollow, and the people who had met him there. He hoped Snape would get the welcome he deserved.
At that thought, he whispered aloud, "Be nice to him, Dad. He's a friend of mine."
Fare ye well for now, my dear readers.
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