Chapter 18: Theft of Mind
Harry woke again, his head throbbing, a persistent ache running down his right side. Kreacher and a man he barely recognized were attending to him. He was lying on a faded divan that smelled strongly of mold and dead puffskein. The last weak rays of dusk filtered in through the dusty windowpane. He sat up, and Kreacher yelped. There was something hugely important-something gold, something that had to be killed-Harry hefted himself onto his elbow painfully, and it felt as if the mouths of a thousand tiny cuts opened and shifted and screamed with pain as he did-but this was important, a pen, or a feather, or something, and he had to be sure-
"Is it gone?" Harry demanded, not entirely sure what he was asking after.
The man seemed to start-Snape, Harry remembered his name, his name was Severus Snape, and there was a lot of something attached to that name, fear and loathing and a certain small measure of respect by turns. Snape turned to him over his shoulder. "You have not lost your mind, then?"
"Was I supposed to?" The memories were resurfacing slowly, muddily. The cuts were due to the quill. It was a quill, a golden quill that they had destroyed together.
Snape turned away. "It was a possibility."
"Did you know it was going to do that?"
"No." Snape was measuring out something into a cauldron and stirring, and this seemed right, this seemed like something he should be doing, although Harry couldn't say why. "I destroyed it before it destroyed you. It resisted my first few attempts, so it got rather farther than it should have."
Harry rubbed his forehead and felt the scar there. He shook up his sleeve, and found half of the word always there, peeking above a bandage. "Huh. More scars, I guess." The bandage had ridden up, as if he had tossed and turned or struggled while he was unconscious, and it oozed blood.
"Master-" Kreacher moaned. Snape handed the house-elf a flask, and Kreacher sniffed it suspiciously, and then pressed it into Harry's hands. "Drink," the house-elf begged.
Harry did, and the pain ebbed. He tried to empty his mind of it. He lifted up the hem of his jeans and slowly, silently unwound the bandage, and read there, Lily Evans was raised in a loving home by-
"Who's Lily Evans?" Harry asked. A face swam before his, but it seemed nothing was connected to it. It seemed so important—like something that had mattered to him desperately years ago, or something that was dearly important to a friend. "Do I know her?"
Snape set the jar of roots down and turned to him, face unmoving but eyes bright, glittering, and wide. He seemed about to speak, but instead pursed his lips and moved forward, plucked the end of the bandage out of his hand, and rewrapped his ankle. The words were already blurring together with beaded blood. Not looking at him, Snape finally managed, with great effort, to say, "You don't remember?"
"I can-sort of-" Harry screwed up his face and another dull lance of pain seared him as Snape tapped his wand on the bandage to hold it in place again with a charm. "Not really. But I wasn't sure who you were, either, but I think I've got it. You were my professor, but you're really-well, you're something else now. Who was Lily Evans?"
Snape's mouth twitched, and he finally said, "She was your mother." He took Harry's hand and a long spool of gauze erupted from the end of his wand. He began wrapping Harry's wrist, covering up the word "always" again.
"She was murdered."
Harry rubbed his scar again with his free hand. "Voldemort?" He shook his head, laughed. "What a ridiculous name. Voldemort. Like a kid's show. That can't be right." He looked up. "Is it?"
Snape stared at him, and Harry felt the uncomfortable prickling sensation again, and visions flooded his mind's eye-but they hurt, they seared him horribly, and they seemed like they belonged to someone else, to another person's life. But when his vision cleared, the world seemed much sharper and made much more sense. And he knew, with a horrible empty, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, exactly who Lily Evans was.
"Interesting," Snape said, dropping Harry's rebandaged wrist and moving back to the table, where he worked over three cauldrons.
Harry was mute and clenching his teeth with the pain of it. "What was that?"
"It tried to draw the memories out of you. It didn't just try to bleed your body dry. It tried to bleed your mind as well."
Harry looked up at him with loathing. "A memory charm?"
"Rather darker than that, but similar in effect."
"And you—broke it?"
"In a way. At least, the part blocking those particular memories."
Harry's anger flared. "How can I tell if I'm . . . missing anything else?"
"There is no way to know until you miss it."
"Dumbledore," Harry said, saying the name like a curse. "Dumbledore expected me and my two best friends to take on—to try to destroy that? Something with that kind of power? By ourselves?"
"No," he said waspishly. "He expected me to do it."
"That's no better," Harry spat. "No wizard alone could manage any of it alone. If that's what was on the quill itself, I can only imagine how bad the other protections must have been."
"That was one of the last ones the Dark Lord made. Its protections were remarkable. Many Muggles died on that site."
"Yeah, I'm sure Voldemort's really torn up about that," Harry muttered into his knees, wincing as the cuts shifted again. "Of course I can remember him and not my own mother. I don't think you broke it all the way, I still don't have any real memories-"
"You never knew her."
Harry looked up and Snape almost seemed to flinch away from him. "What?"
Snape did not turn. "You never knew your mother. Everything you know about her is through other people. She died when you were very young."
Harry rubbed his scar again. He breathed deeply, once, in and then out. "I remember her voice. I remember-" he winced, "-she begged him not to kill her." He took another breath.
"My dad told her to run, but it was too late."
Snape was looking at him, eyes still wide but unmoving. "You remember?"
Harry didn't look up. He rubbed his temples, trying to dissipate the ache in his skull. "Not really. Bits and pieces. It's-it's what I hear when there are dementors nearby."
"What do you hear?"
Harry scrunched his eyes shut. "My dad-my dad tells her to take me and run, and then Voldemort's just there, and he tells her to stand aside, but she doesn't-" Harry rubbed his eyes. "I was just a baby. I don't even know if it's real or not."
Snape's tone was clipped. "It's real." And he turned before Harry could look up, astonished. He continued stirring.
"Were you-were you there?" But Kreacher was shoving another vial into his hands, and Snape was not looking at him. He pushed the vial back into Kreacher's hands and swung his legs around to hit the floor. "Answer me."
"Those are cursed wounds and you are preventing them from healing. Take the potion."
"That's not an answer,"
"You will not get one."
Harry tried to stand and swayed, and Kreacher let out a tiny squeal of terror, but Harry steadied himself on the edge of the divan and pointed at Snape. The world swam before him, but the dark figure at the center of his vision remained clear. "I remember now," Harry said, malice bubbling up from deep within him, mixing with his physical pain and holding him up, puffing him full of life despite the exhaustion and agony. "You're the one who got them killed. You're the one who told Voldemort about the prophecy." Snape seemed frozen before him, arms crossed, face so still it might have been dead. "Did he let you watch them die? As a reward, maybe?"
The words hung there horribly, but Snape snarled, under his breath, "You haven't the faintest clue what I have done-"
"No, actually, I've got a pretty good idea what you've done-"
Snape's wand was in Harry's face before he could blink, and a vicelike hand on his uninjured shoulder pressed him irresistibly down into the divan again. "You ungrateful little-"
"Ungrateful?" Harry could almost spit in his face. "Who defeated Quirrel? Who killed the basilisk? Who believed Sirius long enough to find Peter Pettigrew? I didn't see you rushing in to save the day when my name came out of the Goblet, or when Draco brought Death Eaters into the school right under your great sodding nose-"
"Boasting," Snape shouted, matching Harry's tone, "of rule-breaking and the senseless luck that ensures your survival beyond all likelihood, despite your determined efforts to make all the lives that have been sacrificed for your benefit go to waste. I note you failed to list," he began snidely ticking events off on his long fingers, "how your participation in the Triwizard Tournament allowed the Dark Lord to return with more power than he had before, your constant antagonizing of the children of Death Eaters who know enough Dark magic to kill you without a second thought, your regular excursions out in the castle and onto the grounds after hours under your cloak when the mundane dangers of the world could kill you, or your insistence on barging into the Department of Mysteries and endangering not only yourself and your friends-"
"What else was I supposed to do?" Harry shouted, trying to rise again. His injured leg shook violently with the effort, and the pain welled up in him to match the anger. Harry mastered both. "Maybe you wouldn't know-maybe you've never really cared about anyone else in your entire life-but that's what you do when you think someone you care about going to get hurt! You try to stop it however you can!"
Snape made a slashing motion, as if he wished to cut Harry's throat himself. "If it had been up to me, you would have been shut in Petunia's cupboard until all this was over."
"For what? To make sure I was as miserable as possible? To keep me from making any friends at all?"
"You have no idea what has been sacrificed for you, sacrifices you have tossed aside carelessly before me!" Snape was flushed now, and he towered over the seated Harry, quivering with rage. "You have no idea the scope of the effort better wizards than I have gone to, just to keep you safe!"
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but found it empty. "Safe?"
"What," he snapped, "do you think I have been doing these years? Trying to be your friend in some misguided effort to see to your feelings?" A malicious look flitted across his face. "Perhaps you would prefer if I were more like your sainted godfather, trying to make you become my dead best friend, or perhaps-"
"Don't," Harry ground out between gritted teeth. "You don't get to talk about Sirius like that."
Snape made a scoffing sound and turned, face a blank mask once more, voice returning to a normal volume. "Too many good witches and wizards laid down their lives in the service of Harry Potter. Your parents are the least among them. But I suppose you must not put much stock into their memory if that is how you treat it."
"How many times," he spat, still not turning, "How many times have you willfully flung yourself in the path of danger, knowingly, as if all the people who have protected you all these years mean nothing to you? How many times have you disobeyed Hogwarts rules such that you might allow other, more powerful wizards to be injured and die for your cause?"
"There was no one else! I had to!"
"There is always someone else," Snape snarled. "You could have gone to Minerva, Dumbledore, myself, any one of the Aurors who would surely love to dote on you-"
"Yeah, because you inspire loads of confidence. Because I have lots of reasons to trust you." The scathing, sarcastic bite in his tone rose. "You've always been so nice to me, and you've always made sure I felt I could really open up to you, sir, you know, it's just difficult since I found out you got my parents killed, and you personally murdered the only man who ever really acted like a father to me."
Snape paused, almost seeming to sag imperceptibly, as if some huge weight had settled around his neck. His voice was brittle but defeated when he spoke. "Drink the potion, Potter. I am trying to heal you."
"Is that supposed to be enough?" Harry shot, not assuaged, eyes still blazing.
"I don't expect it to be. If you are waiting for me to supplicate you for your forgiveness or explain everything to you, you will be waiting for quite some time."
Harry looked at the vial again, and took it from the elf. The pain was incredible, and his anger was ebbing. Kreacher wouldn't have let him have it if it weren't for the best, a tiny voice of logic spoke from somewhere deep inside him. Kreacher would probably be able to tell if it were poison, at least. "To unhappy alliances, then," he muttered. "Bottoms up." He quaffed the liquid down. It cooled like menthol down his throat and left him tingling and awake. The pain seemed to thrash in his gut once, twice, but it ebbed away and left him clear and almost calm. Harry wiped his mouth on his sleeve, shivered slightly, and then said, "So the cup is at Hogwarts, then. How soon can we leave?"
"Not til you are healed. Those wounds want desperately to keep harming you, and they'll succeed if we're not careful."
"How healed would I have to be?"
"As completely as I can."
Harry shook his head. "How about healed enough so I can walk by myself? The faster we get rid of . . . you-know-who, the better. Doesn't really matter what happens to me besides that." Harry took a glass of water that Kreacher proffered and sipped from it, grimacing. The coldness of the water hurt his teeth and helped his headache return. "Don't really expect to live through it anyway, so it doesn't matter how healed I am."
"I don't have the patience to listen to you pity yourself."
"Pity?" Harry set down the glass next to himself. "Is that what you think it is?"
"What is it, then?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't know. There just-there might not be any point in waiting for me to be healed all the way. That's all." He rubbed his scar, and it prickled again. "I can't even fathom what it'd be like to live without him controlling my life. I don't even know what it'd be like. Maybe it'd be for the best if I don't go on after. Save myself the trouble of trying to be-normal."
Snape dropped a perfectly minced bit of root into a cauldron and stirred, but did not reply. He turned then, and Harry looked up at him, and saw something totally alien on Snape's face, behind crossed arms and his knitted brow. It was almost compassion, hidden under layers upon layers of loathing and exasperation. Snape searched his face, though Harry had no idea if what he found satisfied him, and then turned away again. "You are not alone in that," he said shortly.
It took Harry a moment to suss out Snape's meaning, and even longer to understand what a confession it was. And for the first time in his entire life, Harry wondered who Snape really was, beyond the inherited hatred he still felt for Harry. "Yeah, I guess I'm not."