Title: Clearest Blue
Author: PD Boggart
Disclaimer: Not mine
Archive: Just tell me
Spoilers: Probably all, definitely HBP
Summary: After Voldemort's demise, Harry has a painful talk with an incarcerated Death Eater.
Edit: Fixed Legilimency. Tweaked the Shakespeare thing too, it's a stretch all around, but unfortunately I wanted the allusion, and needed Harry to have some knowledge of it. At least this way Harry's not a bookish genius who can understand Shakespeare in his younger years. ("I tried" was often a euphemism in my English class for, "No, I didn't do my homework." :wink:)
The chair was cold, the table was cold, even his hands were rapidly losing warmth. The former two could easily be attributed to the seasonal chill December always brought. The latter seemed to be a combination of the nip in the air, and the fact Harry was gripping his chair hard enough to stop the flow of blood to his fingers.
He had not wanted to come here, but it wasn't in his nature to hide from things, least of all when it concerned the truth.
Half anxious, half seething, he had glanced up at the frosty, morning sky, more gray than blue. A few protesters, braving the cold, parted for Harry, and he walked into the Ministry building. The foyer had been as still as a tomb. Harry coughed absently in the quiet, and looked for a bell.
"No need," a harried looking witch said, stepping in from an adjacent room and taking up a quill. "Now what business are you here on, Mr. Potter?"
It had always bothered him that his scar readily identified him. Now it bothered him more that wizards and witches didn't even need to see the telltale mark. Far stranger was that he seemed to be an honorary official now, getting places he would never have been allowed before. Perhaps the Ministry thought it was somehow returning him a favor.
So without appointment, or any prior warning, he was going to see an infamous death eater.
"A visit for Prisoner 2398."
The witch regarded him for a moment before scribbling something down, "Ordinarily that would require certain clearance...But I'm sure that since you're--" she cut herself off. "You'll just have to pass a short Polyjuice exam." She shot a thin, relay message down the hall from her wand, and waved him off.
After ascertaining that he was indeed Harry Potter, a Magic Security Auror let him into a small room, much like that of a Muggle visitation center, complete with a glass separator. In total, only three other people occupied the room: a guard, and a couple exchanging worried looks. Harry took the seat farthest away from them and waited.
And here he was, gripping his seat as the door opened and a flash of black hair, grey robes, and sallow skin emerged, hands magically bound in front of him. The former Hogwarts professor looked mildly surprised to see his least favorite of pupils.
He sat slowly, and a magical channel opened.
"Mr. Potter," he said simply.
The acknowledgment past, Harry found he did not know what to say or ask, at least not in the form of words.
"Why?" he finally managed to get out.
Snape raised an infuriating eyebrow at him. " 'Why' what, Mr. Potter? I'm afraid I no longer have the ability to...how did you put it?" Snape paused, eyes upturned thoughtfully. If he had had fully mobility of his hands, Harry was sure one of his long, pale fingers would have been resting on his lips. "Ah yes, 'read your mind.' "
Harry glared at him through the glass, hating him, and wishing the truth rested with anyone else.
But it didn't.
"I'm pretty sure you can guess."
Snape leaned forward in his chair menacingly, "And waste both our time?"
Harry smirked ever so slightly, "I thought I'd be doing you a favor, seeing as you have so much of it these days."
Something flashed behind Snape's dark eyes, "Yes, Potter. I have all the time in the world to kill, but I prefer not to do so with you."
Harry clenched his teeth. Prison had dulled neither Snape's mind, nor his tongue.
"Then tell me so I can get out of here."
For the first time that Harry could remember, Snape sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. The older wizard suddenly looked tired. Inwardly Harry frowned, thinking this too uncharacteristic of the older man. He was also worried Snape might refuse.
"The Order is still withholding information from you?"
"In part, mostly they don't have it."
Snape sighed again with a look that said he was debating between giving Harry what he wanted to get rid of him, or refusing, and thus annoying the younger man.
This time it was Harry who leaned forward, angry, his forehead almost touching the glass, "I can wait here all day, or I can keep coming back until you tell me."
The threat worked.
"Very well. Where would you like me to start?" Snape asked, eyes closed, bound hands still pinching the soft skin between his eyes as though he had a headache.
"Why did you kill him?"
Snape didn't move immediately, but when he did put down his hands to look at Harry, it was with a thoughtful expression, "Have you ever been asked to do something you would rather not?"
Harry laughed derisively, "Are you saying he asked you to kill him?"
"That's what I told Albus when he asked me."
Silence settled in for a spell before Harry broke it again.
"Really. Why did you kill him?"
His question garnered him a long-suffering look from Snape.
"I told you."
"And you expect me to believe that?"
"No. But it is the truth."
Anger and frustration with Snape ebbed inside Harry. "If you're telling the truth, I could get you out," Harry jeered. Cruelly, he wished for a hopeful reaction in the other man, just so he could crush it.
In fact, Harry had to stop in his thoughts; his vengefulness shook him. To his simultaneous disappointment and relief, Snape snorted at the notion, "You stake too much on your celebrity reputation, Potter."
"Fine." He abandoned the subject, sorry he had brought it up in the first place if it stirred such dark urges, "I have another question."
Snape made a noncommittal noise.
"Tell me why he trusted you."
"That is not a question, Potter."
"I don't care," Harry replied firmly, ignoring Snape's annoyance.
"It was something solely between Albus and me."
"I've heard that excuse too many times. Tell me."
Snape narrowed his eyes, clearly prepared for the subject, but not this subtopic. "Why does it matter?"
Harry, losing his patience, slammed his hands down on the table. He glared down at the still seated Snape. "Because I was supposed to trust you too! Because that's all he ever told me to do -- repeatedly! And then you--you--"
"--And then I murdered Albus. Potter, why don't you say his name?"
"Don't change the subject!"
"But I should think it is a rather important one," Snape intoned dryly, not meeting Harry's gaze, preferring to stare at his bound hands. "You never had a problem with the Dark Lord's name, yet you've developed an aversion for using the old Headmaster's? The irony..."
It hurt a bloody lot to be reminded of his mentor, that's why. Harry seethed. Far be it from him ever saying as much to Snape. His throat constricted.
Just as he was about to press that painful thought aside, and move forward in his quest for information, Harry balked, realizing that Snape was studying him. The long haired man didn't look like he would give the subject up so quickly.
"You didn't want him to be wrong."
"Because if he was never wrong, you could follow him without question."
Snape's accusing words stung.
"That's not true."
"Is it? If it came down to it, would your loyalty to Albus or your penchant for doing things your way and breaking rules win out?"
Harry opened his mouth to protest, thought better of it, and didn't say anything. He already knew the answer; he had faced the dilemma before. Thoughts of the fateful trip with Dumbledore to retrieve the false Horcrux came to his mind unbidden.
"You're still avoiding my question."
Snape smirked. "Yes, I am. But if it matters so very much to you, I am willing to address it now that it does not pose a threat to me. Still, you will have to ask me the right question first."
Taken aback, Harry looked mystified, "You sound like him."
"If I sound like Albus, it is unintentional."
Harry sat back, green eyes dark with thought, fidgeting with his hair. It was rather hard to keep his mind focused when it was too boggled with the notion that his old professor, in magical bonds, convicted for war crimes and murder, was acting like a slightly hostile Dumbledore. It meant -- regardless of the enmity between them -- that Snape was trying to teach Harry something. Unfortunately, this only served to agitate the young man, who didn't want to be taught anything from a traitor.
Harry balled his fists as it sank in that Dumbledore's murderer was emulating him, "I don't need your mind games."
He stood up and moved away from the table, the channel automatically severing. However, at the door that would lead him back through the hall, he paused, looking back to send one last glare, expecting to see the other man gloating. Snape, however, was still sitting in front of the glass, eyes closed, looking older than his years, exhausted. Harry knew the feeling. And he wondered...
Making up his mind quickly, Harry marched back across the room, and took his seat again. A question that had been worming its way through his mind for half a year begged to be asked to the one person least likely to spare his feelings if the answer was not pleasant.
"Is my soul divided?"
Snape's eyes snapped open.
"He told me that Voldemort split his soul by murdering people."
Harry's next question was asked hesitantly, "Is there any distinction between murdering and killing?"
"I doubt it," Snape replied evenly, no emotion evident in his voice.
He had not anticipated that. He expected mocking, like he had received from other Death Eaters he had spoken with, but Snape was merely factual. "You aren't like the others," Harry blurted out, immediately wishing he hadn't.
Snape didn't respond immediately, and for a moment Harry thought he might not have heard him.
"I suppose not."
Harry regarded him suspiciously, "Why?"
"That depends on who you are talking about, I suppose."
"The Death Eaters."
"Ah..." Snape paused, "I did not like killing."
It took a moment for Harry to process that.
"That sounds like a lie."
"A splintered soul is most unpleasant. It isn't something I'd wish on anyone else," Snape said, ignoring Harry, his black eyes staring vacantly at the far wall, still talking in an eerily clinical voice.
"I don't have any reason to believe that, or that you were really on the Order's side."
"There was the final battle," Snape pointed out.
The events that had played out half a year ago still lay fresh in Harry's mind: a killing curse poised on the tip of the dark wizard's tongue, Harry trying to find his dropped wand, a disarming curse, and then one to paralyze in rapid succession from behind -- stunning Voldemort long enough for Harry to retrieve his own wand. To Harry's surprise it wasn't Ron or Hermione behind the Dark Lord, but Snape. It still hadn't convinced the boy of Snape's loyalties, not if he had used lethal force on Dumbledore, but merely inhibited Voldemort.
"So you changed sides at the last minute because the upper hand was shifting."
Snape smiled grimly, "Your disbelief is either a testament that you stubbornly cling to your own perceptions, or that I played my role too well."
"No one's that good."
"I had to be for one of the sides to so implicitly believe me," he said quietly. Not waiting for a response to this, he continued, "I assume you believe me in part, Potter, otherwise you would not be here."
Harry stared at his hands, "Yes." If he was really honest with himself, he didn't want Dumbledore to have been wrong about Snape. He didn't want his mentor's memory tainted by this. Perhaps that's why it was so hard to say his name...
There was really only one way, at this point, to know where Snape's allegiance lay. Harry took up his wand, and tentatively began to probe the other man's mind with Legilimency. He was still not adept at it, nor was he at Occlumency, but past events had forced him to become at least passably skilled in the arcane arts. He was surprised, then, that he had such easy access to Snape's mind, until he realized Snape wasn't resisting him. Within, he saw no trace of lying or deceit in Snape's words. Harry replayed the memory of Snape and Dumbledore walking along the edge of the forest, talking about death. The boy almost felt betrayed when he heard Dumbledore weighing the good and the ill effects his death would bring. In vain he hoped for smoky haze to tell him it was a tampered memory, but none came. Then he tried to probe further, into his first question, only to feel Snape pushing him out.
"Not yet, Potter," he said almost gently.
A paradigm shift had occurred, Harry realized, as his normal vision returned to him. As tempting as it was to erase the memory, hold on to the anger he felt toward Snape, and just leave, he couldn't. The truth had always been of utmost importance to Harry, and that was not about to change.
It was also at that moment that Harry saw, for the first time, how much Snape resembled Dumbledore the night of the Tri Wizard Tournament. Weary, but controlling what he had in his grasp. And his eyes -- they held the same hint of knowledge, of a sea beyond, contained within the mind, full of long forgotten secrets, and the years and years of life lived to acquire them.
Suddenly, Harry found he couldn't hold on to his hatred any longer. Inexplicably he let it go, and felt a weight lift from his soul. With a start, he realized that here the last of his childhood hatreds had died. Voldemort was long gone, Draco was too feeble without his father, and Snape was not Snape. This was not the man who had hovered over him in Potions class making snide comments. This was a man who was every bit as devoted to Dumbledore as Harry had been, if not more.
He couldn't bear to look into the deep, dark eyes that looked strangely blue, and instead rested his head in his hands.
"Tell me, Mr. Potter, have you ever read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?"
Harry blinked, "I tried once -- a long time ago."
A dreamy look flitted through the old professor's eyes.
Harry's brow creased as his mention of the play, "You're not really the Brutus type."
"There are certain...similarities," Snape ventured with a pause, "but there is another in the play with whom I compare myself. Act V, Scene III, I believe. Go read it and come back with the right question." Then he stood, and walked through the other door, leaving Harry with only a faint buzzing in his ears.
While the acknowledgment was the same as the day before, the malice was all but absent. Harry would never be capable of thinking of the man fondly, but their interactions had surpassed simple bickering and hate, proceededing into the complicated.
"Or should I say Pindarus?"
"Your detective skills are second to none, Potter," Snape said with lazy sarcasm, and a wry smile. "However, I am afraid the allusion would be lost on all but a few."
Harry shrugged, "I read through the whole play last night; it's depressing."
"By definition, most tragedies are."
Harry resisted the urge to snort, shot him an annoyed look, and continued on, "I can relate too, you know. I've felt like those men in the conspiracy."
Snape looked confused.
"That night," Harry pressed on, "he made me force him to drink a weird liquid. It had to be done. It was horrible. It weakened him, and I'm pretty sure it was poisonous. If I hadn't, he might have been able to stop everything that night."
"I doubt it, Potter. And I know what you are trying to do, stop."
Harry felt like he was a student all over again.
"The choice was mine, made long before that night, and I alone am responsible for granting Albus his terrible wish."
"What do you mean by 'long before?' "
Snape looked as though he were weighing his words, "Too put it colloquially, 'for the sake of the children.' I took Draco's place as a murderer."
Old resentment flared up in Harry, "He never would have been able to!"
Snape pursed his lips, "Perhaps not, but as a result he would have been punished, twisted far darker than his father had ever managed." He sighed, "But Albus was also concerned that his protection over you at your house was waning. He was sure he could be more useful, in that respect, from beyond the grave." Snape shook his head, as though to communicate he didn't believe what he was recounting. "I think, had Draco not acted as soon as he did, Albus would have explained it to you."
"He should have from the start," Harry muttered bitterly.
"A point on which we might agree, had you more control over your mind at that time, Mr. Potter."
"Call me Harry," he replied, ignoring the stinging that Snape's observation brought. "You keep giving me the impression that I'm eleven when you use my surname."
"Perhaps I want to."
"Because intimidating me from behind an impenetrable glass wall will really make a difference," Harry remarked dryly.
"It is, admittedly, a last resort."
Harry groaned, trying to think tactically, because the memories attached to his surname and Snape were really beginning to grate on his nerves. "I'll use his name if you do," he offered.
Snape considered this for a moment before making a small noise of annoyance. Nonetheless, he tried Harry's name out on his tongue as though it were a foreign word.
"Have you come up with the question?" Snape asked, keen to change topics.
Hesitating, Harry admitted it hadn't been as easy to come up with that as it had to find the literary reference.
"There is an obvious question that precedes yours. Start with what you know."
Harry, with some effort, dragged his mind back through his school days, remembering what he knew of Snape, and what Dumbledore had told him. "The prophecy," he said.
"Closer," Snape said. "Go farther back, and it will all unravel."
Harry thought again.
"Why did you leave Voldemort? No, you've already said--"
Snape stopped him, "One of the problems with Potions students is that they overlook the most obvious things, like starting out with a clean cauldron, or uncontaminated tools."
Harry started, "So why did you leave him?"
"How much did Albus reveal to you about his nature?"
"Other than that he was vindictive, greedy, and evil?"
"He mentioned that the Dark Lord was not one to have friends, did he not?"
"Yes," Harry said slowly, "but how does that--"
"You have the other clue, my book, more specifically the name in it."
Harry groaned in frustration, "You couldn't just tell me?"
Snape grinned, "When have I ever made things easy for you, Potter?" He received a look that forced him to correct himself, "Harry. I am wasting our time productively."
Harry snorted, "Okay, you called yourself the Half-Blood Prince. So?"
"Haven't you heard the term 'double entendre?' "
"Er--" Harry thought about this carefully, finally beginning to connect the puzzle pieces. "You--You wanted to become his successor." The fact that anyone would want to made the young man shiver.
Snape moved his greasy hair out of his eyes. "Yes," he said softly.
"But Voldemort didn't have friends, he considered the Death Eaters expendable," Harry said in a rush, "and he took such elaborate steps to assure he would stay alive -- he wanted to be immortal -- he certainly wouldn't care about, or need a successor."
Snape nodded, "Precisely."
"But there's more to it than that, isn't there?" Harry pushed.
Coal black eyes flickered up to face green. "Yes. I—-" Snape stalled, but Harry watched expectantly. "I looked up to him," he hesitated again before continuing. "I never liked my father, and I knew the Dark Lord hadn't loved his either. I thought he would understand, that he might even accept me as a son."
Closing his eyes in shame, the sallow-skinned prisoner continued, "Imagine my disappointment when I brought him critical news, and he dismissed me as no more important than his lowliest of servants. And then he acted on it, deciding to kill you and your parents. I was horrified, both with what I had made possible, and because the man I idolized was only gilt. I felt used and--" Snape stopped to searched for the word.
He shook his head, "There isn't a word strong enough to describe it. Mortified is closer."
"Oh...then you went to him? Er, I mean, to Dumbledore?"
"Correct. I felt a fool when I finally did find the acceptance I wanted in Albus. He understood." Snape paused to think, "There where other reasons: the death of your parents, the fact that I wanted to hurt the Dark Lord as much as he had hurt me, but I think it was mostly that Albus knew I would do anything for him in return for what he gave me."
Stunned, Harry could only watch as Snape described a life that might have been his own. How many times had he wished for parents, or a family like Ron's?
They sat in silence for some time, the killers of two icons, two men who, for those so diametrically different, were remarkably alike.
"I am not justifying what I did," Snape said suddenly, startling Harry. "Albus never justified it either; he put me to work to atone for what I had done. I was happy to do so. There was literally nothing I wouldn't have done for Albus. I would have indentured myself to him."
"Even kill him?" Harry asked sadly.
"Yes," Snape replied, voice thick with regret.
"Like you killed as a Death Eater for Voldemort?"
"Yes," Snape closed his eyes again.
"You sacrificed so much..."
"Everything I had," Snape murmured.
Another long silence passed between them.
"I could try to get you out." He didn't expect Snape to jump at the offer, but still felt it needed to be made -- in earnest this time.
"To what purpose, Harry? The Ministry trusted Dumbledore once, and look what I did. I am a murderer."
"I killed Voldemort," Harry pointed out, "and I'm not in a cell."
"That was an act of war for the side that won."
"Technically yours was too."
Snape smiled bitterly, "The differences are irreconcilable. You killed a man who attacked you first. I kill a man because he asked me."
"Why is one justified, and not the other?" Harry asked, pain creeping into his voice. He thought he might be accused of asking a stupid question, and clarified, "I took a life by force, but the life you took was laid down willingly. It--It almost seems backwards."
"They don't change the action!"
"They do according to our laws."
Harry gritted his teeth, "They're flawed."
As he seemed to do often, and wisely, Snape did not respond right away, "Men are fallible, and thus by design, so too are their laws."
"So I should just ignore them," Harry replied flatly.
Snape laughed -- with actual mirth, "At this point I'm not sure if the Ministry would care, or know what to do if you did."
Harry smiled at the thought of an utterly dismayed Scrimgeour.
"They'd probably lock me up in here with you."
"Probably," Snape agreed. "Do spare me that horror," he added, deadpanning perfectly.
Harry couldn't help laughing, "I'll try."
Snape's lips twitched into a half smirk.
Turning serious, Harry asked something very difficult, "Are you worried about the protesters calling for your execution?"
He received a simply shrug in response, "Another reason, perhaps, that my place is here. They might decide to take the law into their own hands."
"But you're not free."
Harry wondered at this. He could not process the thought, not fully -- to be caged and never ride a broomstick, climbing through the sky, his hair whipping, and his nose stinging from the bite of the wind. But no, he supposed Snape was referring to Voldemort, free from his service. Harry empathized; he too was free from ever worrying about Tom Riddle attacking him again.
"One more question before I leave you alone..."
Waiting, Snape made no response.
"Why did you hate me as a student?"
Snape's expression was unreadable, "A degree of it was for show. Another part of it is inexplicable if you've never experienced the same. Imagine though, that I had the ill idea to procreate, and my spawn acted alarmingly like myself. Wouldn't it dredge up old hatreds in you?"
Harry grinned, "Maybe if I still hated you."
Snape looked surprised, "When, pray tell, did this happen?"
Harry laughed at the shock, "Sometime during the course of these visits."
"I see," Snape replied evenly. "I will have to remedy that."
Harry snorted, "Sure. So what was the rest?"
The older man sighed, "You might guess—no, I'm not going to make you," he added quickly, and a bit annoyed, after seeing Harry's alarmed expression. "You reminded me of my greatest failing and deepest disappointment."
"Oh...Do you still hate me?" Harry asked warily.
"No," the response was weary, belabored with past guilt. "And in retrospect, I suppose I should have focused on what I gained."
Feeling just as tired after the day's revelations, Harry nodded, and got up to leave.
"Wait a moment, Harry."
Startled, the young man paused.
"I--thank you," Snape strained for the words, uncertain, weighing whether he should say them or not, no doubt. "It--I hadn't told anyone since Dumbledore--it's...relieving."
Harry smiled, "Anytime, sir. Thank you for tolerating me."
Snape rolled his eyes, "If you're going to force me to call you Harry, you might as well return the favor."
Mischief glinted in the boy's eyes, "Okay. Anytime, Harry."
"I prefer 'sir' to 'git.' "
The younger man just chuckled, "Until next time, er...Severus."
That night Harry dreamed in the hazy world of visions.
He dreamed of a soft voice whispering the Great Bard's words over and over: "So I am free; yet would not so have been," and of brilliant sky-blue within dark eyes. They both smiled sadly.
And somewhere, a white bumblebee did too.