Author's note: Re-reading this chapter (a few years after I wrote it), I realise how harsh it comes across. Please battle through, like Harry and Snape have to, because the final chapter makes it worth it, I promise. It's important to me to keep Snape in character throughout and see if I could make the final scene of the story work (note: not yet posted as of Oct 2015). One reader mentioned it's a bit like the seven circles of hell. I can't comment on my own work, but I do lean naturally toward the "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" and "The darkest hour is just before dawn" way of thinking. Think of this chapter and the next one as the darkest hour.
21. Complete agreement
'Of course, I was against giving you special treatment.'
Snape was pacing somewhere around the edge of the shadows. Harry stared ahead in his seat; he did not want to look. He could not bear the thought of meeting those cold, lifeless eyes.
'All my students are set to equal or better their averages over the year. All, that is, but one.' There was a silence, and Harry knew he was watching to see the effect. 'Naturally, an "Outstanding" was always going to be beyond you. But even by your low standards you have done appallingly.' He paused. 'You remember our remedial Potions, Potter?'
Harry stared at a pickled newt. 'Yes.'
'Good. Because so do others.'
Of course. Snape was just thinking of his own neck as usual. People – a word that could only loosely be applied to Slytherins – would start to question what they had been doing shut away in Snape's office all this year if he failed Potions. Harry could have laughed.
Draco – and everyone else – believed he had got away from Voldemort using a Portkey. It would take just a few words for them to discover the truth. Maybe his memory too. If Draco didn't believe him, he could borrow Dumbledore's Pensieve, use that to prove it. Then Draco would tell his father, and he would tell Voldemort, and then…
He knew he would never do it, of course. Not to Draco, or any other Slytherin – the thought of their delight made his stomach turn. But it felt good to imagine himself having the courage.
'What your grades are in your other subjects is no concern of mine,' Snape said. 'But if there is to be the slightest chance of your being in my Potions class next year, you will have to ask yourself whether your summer is worth the sacrifice.'
What sacrifice? Now that Sirius was gone, there would only ever be the Dursleys.
'Who knows, if you actually make an effort this time you might even scrape something approaching a decent grade.' He came to a stop near his desk. 'What do you think, Potter? Do you think you can manage to make the effort?'
'Yes,' Harry said stiffly.
'And so that my summer isn't completely wasted, you can save me the job of straightening my stores – it seems some person or persons wantonly put much of it out of place recently. Everything will need reordering to make sure no potions are spoilt with incorrect doses.'
Reflexively, Harry turned his head, but he managed to stop it so that his glare landed on a spot one inch from Snape's face. 'I was trying to save your life.'
He didn't think even Snape would snort at that, but he did. 'Funny – I was under the impression it was I who ended up saving you. Wanting to take all the glory?'
'No. I don't think I need to. I don't think I did anything wrong.'
'Meaning that maybe – maybe I'll tell Dumbledore you tried to Cruciate me.'
Harry looked then, and felt a thrill on seeing Snape's stare. So this was what it was like to find triumph in hate.
'You would lie to the Headmaster, Potter?'
'Lie? I don't need to lie about anything. I heard you.'
'Of course you heard. As did Lucius Malfoy. Who naturally expected nothing less than the Cruciatus.' His dark eyes narrowed. 'Surely even someone as dim as you would recognise an Unforgivable? I used a different curse.'
'No you didn't. I didn't hear any other one.'
'It was nonverbal. And harmless. More's the pity, perhaps.'
Harry's heart was thumping. 'But I heard—'
'It is possible to say one thing and mean another. You should know that, Potter. It goes hand in hand with arrogance.'
Harry said nothing. His skin was getting clammy though the room was as cold as ever.
'Did you think you had defeated the Cruciatus?' Snape's lip quivered. 'Or perhaps – perhaps you thought me deficient?' His eyes glistened. 'Is that what you thought?' Harry watched, captivated by his anger as it smouldered then ebbed. It seemed to take an age to reach the soft light of realisation. 'Oh, I see.' The scorn was unmistakable. But it was the cruel amusement suggested by the sneer that made Harry feel sick. He tore his gaze away.
'Perhaps you are confused on some other points? Then let me help you. Whom do you think it was who ran risks for your neck?'
Harry stared at a table leg. He didn't think his stomach could take another dead thing in a jar.
'Is it plain who saved your neck?'
'Remind me whom it was.'
'It was you. Professor.'
'Correct, Potter. It was I.'
He had a sudden urge to run, to get out of the airless room and just keep on running. He didn't want to be in Snape's debt. He would rather Snape had left him there. Why couldn't he have just left him to Voldemort if he hated him so much? 'I was only there because I was trying to help you. Doesn't that count for anything?' He looked into his sneer. 'I wish I hadn't. I wish you'd really been dying and I hadn't.'
'So.' Snape's nostrils flared. 'This is the thanks I receive. My efforts were indeed wasted.'
'You don't deserve to be alive. You shouldn't be. You should have died years ago.'
'Deserve? I'll tell you what I deserve.' He bent down so that he was inches from his face and spat: 'I deserve some respect for saving your ungrateful skin!' He savoured Harry's frustration for a moment, then straightened. 'But of course you want all the credit, don't you, Potter? Naturally.'
'I didn't do it for you – I did it because I don't want Voldemort to win.'
Snape looked ready to snarl at Voldemort's name, but then a gleam appeared in his eyes, and his mouth curled higher so that he was showing a row of yellow teeth. 'On that, Potter, we are in complete agreement.'
Harry looked at his coldness. He wondered if this is what he himself would have to be like to be able to kill Voldemort. Would he have to think nothing of his friends' lives, only set their worth, like they were weapons easily discarded, by one sole objective – the end of Voldemort? Wouldn't that make him just as bad as Voldemort? And then wouldn't Voldemort have won just the same?
'Now we understand each other – shall we return to the reason I'm giving up my day?'
Harry remembered then. He was going to be an Auror. He was going to save people, not have to watch them die. He didn't care what Snape thought – every life was worth saving if you could.
But first he would have to endure another two years of Snape.
'I've discussed it with Dumbledore this morning, and he agrees that to wait for your final results would be fruitless. He is certain the examiners will be only too happy to give the celebrated Harry Potter another chance. Let's hope you're able to focus your mind this time.'
'Let's hope no one keeps feeding me lies this time.' He hadn't meant for it to sound so bitter. But he was glad he had said it. He was relieved. Snape had a sour look. Harry willed him to say something, to express his hate again so that he could hate him back, but Snape's lips stayed frustratingly pressed together in their hard, downturned line.
'That was not without good reason,' he said at last. 'As you discovered. I'm sure Dumbledore has explained it all to you. Or do you need it spelling out again?'
'You mean Voldemort's big plan? But he got me anyway, didn't he?' He stared at Snape's indifference, disbelieving it, furious at it for changing only at the mention of Voldemort's name. 'He tortured me, did you know? He tortured me for the Prophecy.'
Something darted across Snape's face, and Harry wondered if he had finally made an impression. But it was gone in an instant, and a curious closed expression took its place. 'What do you know about that?'
'What – the Prophecy? Dumbledore told me.' He realised then he shouldn't have mentioned it – maybe Snape wasn't supposed to know.
Snape's eyes were boring into him. 'So. That was what he wanted all along. To take it from you.'
Harry felt an odd sensation as Snape stared. It was as though Snape wasn't really looking at him, or wasn't aware that he was. For a second he could see Snape's emotions, right there on the surface. It wasn't just anger. He could swear there was a touch of fear there too, or something similar, something that carried a suggestion of pain. Harry wanted to draw his gaze away, but found he couldn't.
Then Snape seemed to come back to himself. 'Dumbledore should not have told you.'
'Why not? It's about me.'
He thought Snape might start getting angry again, but instead he stayed silent, though his entire body was taut. Harry hoped he hadn't told Snape too much. He decided it would be safer not to say anything else.
To his surprise, Snape changed the subject for him. 'You will make sure you read everything that you should have read over this past year. And then you will report to me for a few days of practice.' He relaxed back into contempt. 'You can manage reading, can you, Potter?'
Harry glared as Snape turned to a pile of parchments on his desk. He felt he was about to dismiss him. But Harry hadn't finished with him yet. 'You know what I think? I think you were glad I did it, you were glad Voldemort got me. Because then you could prove yourself to Dumbledore. Get his trust. You should be thanking me.'
Snape's voice was a whisper. 'Thank you?' It would have been impossible for his stare to hold any more loathing. 'How very like your father.'
Harry shot out of his chair. 'DON'T you mention him again! You don't have the right!' His hands formed tight fists.
'How dare you raise your voice to me. Who do you think you are?'
'I'm the son of the man whose soul you have!'
They glared at each other for a long time. Harry shook with anger.
When Snape finally spoke it was in a quiet, threatening voice. His face was a horrible sallow colour. 'Apologise. Or get out.'
'Why should I apologise for something that's true?'
'Then get out of my office.'
Harry slammed the door behind him.
He punched the corridor wall opposite and leaned back to let the cool dungeon air calm him.
But as his heart slowed and his head cleared, the heavy realisation crept through: he had just thrown away all chance he had to be an Auror.
Did he really want to be in Snape's class next year anyway? He could not bear the thought of being in such proximity to the man day after day, listening to his insults and having to remind himself that it was not his father who hated him.
But then his father would not have wanted him to run away. What was a stupid class compared to his dad's bravery? That day at Godric's Hollow had to have been far worse than anyone had imagined. He had thought James had paid the ultimate price for protecting his family. Now Harry did not know what the ultimate price was any more. He took in a deep lungful of damp air. He should go back into Snape's office. He should demand Snape give him the opportunity to prove himself.
He should. But every cell in his body revolted against the idea.
He heard a click, and then as if it had read his thoughts the door flew open with a whoosh that made the torches around him flicker. Snape was standing in the doorway, appearing calmer. He observed him coolly, with a quiver of disdain. 'Have you decided that your future is worth taking seriously?'
Harry swallowed his pride and nodded.
'I don't think I heard you correctly.'
'Yes,' he said a little louder. 'Sir.'
'Better.' Snape stood away from the door. The pleasure he took in his contempt for Harry was tangible; it was like a repulsive force that had to be fought against just in order to walk past him and back into the room. When he heard the snap of the door closing behind him, Harry felt numb with the effort.
'You are to report back here at the beginning of the fifth week of summer. I think we will stick to the subject of Potions, don't you, Potter?' Snape gave him an ugly, forbidding look. 'Any questions?'
Harry thought. 'How – how am I going to get back to the Castle?'
'Perhaps Lupin will volunteer. Who knows? That's no concern of mine. Just make sure you're here.' He picked up a large parchment from his desk and handed it across. It was littered with names, titles and long lists of page numbers, all in Snape's cramped scrawl. Harry's heart sank as he saw the amount of reading he expected him to do in the next few weeks. He was sure some of the books he hadn't even heard of before.
He looked on coldly while Harry took it in. 'Anything else?'
The crisp parchment crackled as Harry rolled it shut. The pressure of the tight cylinder teased and tickled his palms, and the silliest thought popped into his head – didn't this mean he was in fact now doing remedial Potions after all? The world had gone mad. Remedial Potions for real? It was surreal, comical, like the ultimate irony to end the year. Like this was the punchline the whole year had been leading up to. With Snape at his side watching and waiting, it suddenly felt like one of the funniest things ever. But Snape's impatience was showing, and as Harry tried to focus on serious things instead, like whether there was anything else he needed to know before he left, his gaze wandered. It landed on the little cabinet on the wall where Voldemort's Portkey had been – where next to it he had seen what had appeared to be a bottled memory. The cabinet looked locked. He wondered if it was still there.
'Why do you keep a memory in there?'
Snape's tone was threatening. 'I thought we were sticking to Potions.'
'But you only took them out when you were teaching me Occlumency, didn't you? Why lock that one up?'
'Potter, I suggest—'
'I mean, I saw one—' He stopped himself, but it was too late, and he knew his guilt was showing.
'What did you see?' Snape said softly.
Harry stumbled over his words as he searched for something with which he might salvage the situation. Snape would almost certainly refuse to let him into his class next year if he found out he had gone into one of his memories in the Pensieve.
'Tell me what it was you saw.'
'I was just going to say…' He avoided Snape's gaze. 'I remember seeing you taking out your memories and putting them back. For Occlumency lessons.' His heart was racing in the silence that followed. Snape could surely hear it.
'You make a poor liar.'
'I'm not –' He turned from Snape's scrutinising eyes and felt himself redden. He couldn't do it. But it was only Snape – people lied to him all the time. So why couldn't he? It wasn't fair.
But Snape was never going to let it go. 'What did you see?'
'I didn't mean to. I just wanted – to – to know where he was.'
Snape turned paler than usual. 'You didn't touch that memory?'
'No.' He shook his head at the cabinet. 'Not that one.'
'What do you mean?'
He drew in a breath. There would be no going back after this. All he could do was tell the truth, and if Snape threw him out of his office again, that would be his decision. 'When you left me in here alone one day during Occlumency, I went into the Pensieve.'
Harry watched him in silence. At first Snape gave no indication that he had understood. But then Harry noticed his jaw twitch, and the spots of colour that had appeared on his face were deepening into red blotches.
'So.' His teeth were clenched so tightly the word came out as a hiss. 'Perhaps you would like to see that one too?'
Harry didn't know what to say. 'I –'
But Snape was already by the wall and unlocking the cabinet, first with his wand and then with the same key Harry had seen Ron fish out of the drawer in the dead of night what felt like months ago. 'Of course you do,' Snape was saying. 'After all, this will certainly help you to see where your dear father is.'
A horrible dread descended over Harry. It was as if it was suddenly obvious that this memory that Snape had hidden behind so many locks was the crux of everything that had happened this year – and perhaps beyond. He just didn't know how, didn't know if it held the answers – or a terrible glimpse that could never be taken back. Snape was bringing it out, placing it on the desk. Now he was fetching the Pensieve, using his wand to spool the memory out of the bottle and set it down into the bowl.
Harry watched, unable to move, as the silvery mass settled into the Pensieve.
'Well?' Snape demanded. 'Aren't you eager to see? Isn't this what you've wanted?'
Harry said nothing, and Snape stepped closer so that his fury was unmistakable. 'Isn't it what you want?' He was almost whispering now. 'Don't try to lie to me again.' Harry stayed silent; there was nothing he could say. 'Go ahead then. You remember how to do it?' Snape was daring him, but Harry was afraid to enter it on his own.
'I have no intention of going in there, Potter.' He shook his head slowly, as though Harry was simply too stupid to understand. 'No, Dumbledore was wrong about this – you will benefit more from it, I'm certain.'
Harry tried to comprehend this amid the tumult of emotions. 'I can't do it alone,' he heard himself quietly say.
Snape curled a quivering lip, and his face drained a little of its angry colour. 'Then I suppose I shall just have to destroy it.' He made as if to draw it back out of the Pensieve.
Snape put back his wand. 'I knew it,' he said, with an audible sneer. 'I knew it's what you wanted.' He seized Harry's wrist. 'But still you won't admit it.' His eyes blazed, and Harry's hand started to go numb as Snape tightened his grip. 'But you will. You will.'