by The Velvet Ghost
Chapter Five - Renewal
Harry could think of nothing in this moment. His brain, when he needed it most, had deserted him and left him to struggle on alone. He thought he could probably buckle under the weight of everything he had seen. All he could feel was the cold concrete under his palms, the steady beat of his heart, and the hand gripping gently at his shoulder.
Lifting his eyes silently from the pensieve, he saw a boy sitting opposite him, cross-legged and white in the face. At first, he thought this was a stranger, before the boy brushed a lock of jet-black hair off his face and Harry met the unmistakable gaze of Draco Malfoy. It was a very shocked, drained Draco Malfoy, who looked just how Harry felt.
"You dyed your hair," said Harry, unable to think of anything else.
"Thanks for noticing," mumbled Draco.
They lapsed into silence. Harry drew his knees to his chest, holding them there carefully, wondering how long it would be before somebody spoke and tried to persuade him. As the moments passed, he became uncomfortably aware that three pairs of eyes were watching him, waiting for him to speak, to make a decision that he didn't really want to make. Snape was right - it had gone too far. This was too much pressure.
After years of knowing it without accepting it, Harry finally realised that every life in the wizarding world rested on his shoulders. Snape had said he could walk away, but could he? What were the other options?
He had never really understood why the Sorting Hat placed him in Gryffindor, and had never gotten to grips with Dumbledore's message of how his choices made him who he was. Was this what it meant? He had chosen to be brave once. It made him a Gryffindor. Harry's parents were Gryffindors, and they'd made the bravest decision of all - to die for a child.
It was time, after seven years, to make that choice for Gryffindor.
Slowly, he turned to look up into Snape's eyes, those empty black tunnels that had hated him for so long now. They were still hollow, and still black, but there was something more there - was it need? Would Harry ever understand Snape enough to know what it was?
"I..." he said, and faltered away. He didn't know what to say, or even what he wanted to say. At last, the words came. "I don't know if I can handle all this..."
"Even after sixteen years of knowing it, neither do I," said Snape quietly.
Harry shifted, and turned to kneel at the older wizard's feet, looking up at him. "Look... Snape... I don't know if I have a choice - "
"You do," said Snape. "You might not realise it..." Slowly, he lowered himself to sit on the concrete floor in front of Harry. "But you do have some degree of choice. As far as the first prophecy was concerned, which I did hear... I'm not sure if Albus ever told you - "
"He did," said Harry quietly. "And I hate you for it."
Snape turned his eyes away for a moment, taking the blow with outstanding grace. "Either way, Potter. As far as the first prophecy was concerned, I doubt you have a choice. The second prophecy is little more than an extension of the first... if you wish to destroy the Dark Lord - "
"Don't call him that!" bristled Draco angrily.
Harry saw Snape's face contort. He seemed to simmer for a moment, like a potion just about to boil, before he snapped. Something deep inside the Snape resolve broke.
"Voldemort!" he roared, and the cry rushed to each stony corner, echoing back at him over and over again, haunting and miserable and mocking. "Voldemort! Shall we be more personal? Tom Riddle, Potter, if you want to destroy Tom Riddle, then Draco will have to stop bothering me about Voldemort or I shall drain every drop of vampiric blood from his body and sell it to the nearest apothecary."
Draco's face worked, and he hissed, "I'm one-eighth vampire. One-eighth."
"Severus," said Remus quietly from behind Harry, as Snape opened his mouth to tear into Draco once more.
Snape seemed quelled. He turned away, his anger retreating back inside its emotional bottle, and he looked fixedly into Harry's eyes. "If you want to destroy Voldemort, Potter, you will have to work with Draco. He has done nothing wrong, legally, and if the Ministry wish to charge him with being a Death Eater, he has agreed with me that he will sell them as much information on Voldemort as he knows."
Draco gave the tiniest of nods.
Snape continued, looking calm once more. "However, the prophecy gives no mention of me. You have a choice as to whether you want my assistance."
"What a choice," said Harry quietly, and pressed his chin to one knee. He thought for a moment. "Why would I not want your help? Dumbledore said you can help me... and I think I need as much help as I need, really."
"Then you believe it all?" said Snape. He watched Harry closely, as the younger wizard thought, running over everything he had just seen. It was believable - it explained everything, perfectly, and no explanation could fit so well than the real one. The only reason he would not believe it was because of Snape.
As something occurred to Harry, he looked up into Snape's eyes, and said, quite out of the blue, "I'm so much better than you."
Snape looked momentarily surprised. Before he could speak, Harry continued.
"You always hated me," said Harry. "And to be fair, I always hated you. I think you're pathetic, but now I know you've got a reason to be pathetic, I'm going to forgive you. I'm going to stop hating you. That makes me better than you because not only did you never forgive my father, but you actually carried on hating him, but through me."
After this revelation, nobody said anything for a moment or two. Snape was wearing a twisted expression, that suggested he knew arguing would only prove Harry's point more. His face slackened, reluctantly.
"But," said Harry firmly. "I'm not going to forgive you if you keep on at me with the 'Potter' stuff. And you need me. Don't you forget that. If I want, I could tell the Ministry who it was that killed Albus Dumbledore, then that would be the end of you. Right?"
Snape said nothing. Harry held the gaze of those black eyes.
"And yes... I believe it all. The only reason I believe it is because of Dumbledore, and everything he's done to protect me. If he trusted you, then I'll trust you as well. I owe him that."
Remus put a hand on Harry's arm. Harry turned to look at him, and Remus gave him a kind, reassuring expression. "You've made the right decision... things might be hard, but Severus and I are here for you. Both of you," he added, looking over at Draco. "I think that there are apologies due."
Draco's face tightened in anger. "What! How dare you - "
"In all directions," said Remus, calmly. "Harry, Draco... shake hands, please. Whatever we have to do is going to be a lot easier if we've forgiven all our past problems."
Harry couldn't fault that logic. He looked into Draco's pale eyes, seeing there the same reluctance he felt himself. Only the thought of Albus Dumbledore's sacrifice could make Harry forgive quite so much. He crawled over to Draco, offering a hand. The pale boy's shoulders hunched.
"I want to know what I'm agreeing to," he said.
"Co-operation," said Snape. "Shake Potter's hand, or I shall make you."
Draco took Harry's hand, uncomfortably. Harry gripped his fingers. They shook, met eyes, and Draco mumbled. "Sorry."
"Sorry," agreed Harry.
"Good," said Remus, quietly. "Now... there's something we need to do, Harry. Come here... Draco, you'll have a part in this. Do you have your wand with you?"
Draco drew it out of his sleeve. "Yes, why?"
"We have a Vow to replenish," said Remus. He reached out for Harry's hand. Their fingers linked together, and Harry turned to face Remus, settling himself. "There's not just me, Harry..." said Lupin with a smile.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. Snape was watching them, an unsure expression on his face, and Harry didn't really blame the older wizard for being wary about Unbreakable Vows. For a moment, jet black met emerald green and they stared at each other, as if for the first time.
"Come on," muttered Harry. He held out a hand to Snape. "You can't back out now. Not after all that."
Snape's lip quirked in a humourless, weak smile. "Mm, I suppose not." He crawled across the floor, grasped Harry's hand and moved to one side, so that Draco could worm in between them.
"Okay, so what do I do? Just hold the wand?"
Snape and Lupin drew their hands together, so that all three wizard's hands met in the centre, linked over and under each other in a ball of fist and finger. Snape glanced at Draco. "Place the tip of your wand on our hands, and stay still."
Draco leant over, and prodded Snape in the back of the palm. "There."
Snape bit his tongue. No doubt Draco would be rebuked at the first possible opportunity. Harry glanced from Remus to Snape, waiting for something to happen. Remus was apparently waiting as well. After a moment, he turned to look at Snape, one eyebrow raised, "Well?"
"Well what?" snapped Snape. Seeing the look on Remus's face, he said, "I am not starting. There is no possible way that I will be the anchor of yet another Vow."
"Yes, there is, Severus. Say it."
Snape's face worked. "Lupin, if you - "
Remus's eyes flashed, warningly, and he said, "Severus, Harry has just been asked to believe you are innocent, with only a bottle of memories as proof. If I were you, I'd leap at the chance to give him some better, more reliable evidence."
For a moment, they glowered into each other's eyes, before Snape was forced to admit defeat.
His grip tightened quite painfully on Harry's hand. "Very well," he snapped. He shifted, and looked into Harry's eyes darkly. "Potter, I repeat my Vow to do everything in my power to protect you from all harm, as long as I am able to. I also repeat my Vow to renounce Lord Voldemort... completely and utterly."
Draco jumped, giving a noise of surprise as three white-hot wires of flames burst suddenly into sight around the locked fists, binding them more tightly. Harry felt the fire licking gently at his palm, almost like a faithful pet.
"Harry," said Remus kindly, looking a lot happier than Snape had. "I repeat my Vow to keep you safe from harm, as long as I'm able to."
Another three ropes of flames flared into sight around their entwined fists, burning brightly in the darkness of the basement, and Harry looked into the two pairs of eyes before him. Remus gave him an encouraging smile. As Harry faced Snape, he remembered the despair he had seen so recently in the other wizard's face, or how Albus Dumbledore had rubbed tears off his face in his darkest hour. Snape knew what he was thinking. He looked away for a moment, uncomfortably, and Harry gripped his hand.
"Nice to know you're human," he said, as the fiery serpents burnt slowly away, their amber glow fading as the flames seemed to sink into their hands.
"Hmm," said Snape, with a glance into Harry's eyes. "For you, perhaps."
With a last flicker of orange and gold, the flames died away. Harry felt warmth surge through his veins, as if his blood had been heated suddenly by a ray of sunlight. Their hands gradually untangled, and Draco sat back on the stone floor, pocketing his wand.
"Are we done in this basement?" he said irritably. "I'm hungry and I have a headache."
Lupin put a hand on his shoulder. "I'll take Draco up to the hotel room and find him something to eat, Severus."
"I can - " Snape began, but Lupin cut across him gently.
Harry understood, and judging by the expression on Snape's face, so did he. Lupin and Draco walked away across the basement, and as the clunk of the elevator lifted them out of sight, Harry looked up into Snape's face. The older wizard gave him a serious, quiet expression.
"We have dark times ahead of us," he said. As if tasting a foreign food, he added, "Harry."
Harry shrugged. "Things can only get better... it's not like defeating Voldemort would be a dance through the daisies." He hesitated. "What do I have to call you now? You're not my professor anymore."
"Snape will do."
Snape's eyes flashed. "Did nobody ever warn you about pushing your luck?"
"Not really," said Harry. He brought his knees casually to his chest, resting his chin on them, and peered at Snape, studying his face. "I'm sorry I called you a coward. I think it's... brave, what you've done. For Dumbledore, I mean... and for me."
"Hmm." Snape reached up, burying a hand into his new short hair. "Appreciation from a Potter. A rare occurrence. If you expect some kind of emotional confession that I have always admired you, I'm afraid to disappoint you."
Harry smiled. "It's alright. I don't need one."
Snape's liquid black eyes looked up at him, one eyebrow raised. "What?"
"I don't need one," said Harry. He stood up. "I already got you to say that you need me. I think that's enough for one day. Come on, I'm hungry as well... does this protection of me extend to buying food?"
As Snape stood wearily, picked up the pensieve and brushed down his clothes, he sighed. "I suppose so. If you really are truly and utterly starving."
They walked in silence towards the lift doors, picking their way through the rubble of boxes and laundry bags. The doors slid open. Gladly, Harry walked into the welcoming light, watching as Severus came to stand by his side and pressed the button for the upper floors.
As they rose out of the basement, Harry could imagine a cloud somewhere far away. Sirius kicked off his boots, refilled Albus Dumbledore's sherry glass and asked if he was up for another game of cards.
"What are you smirking at?" said Snape, looking sideways at Harry, a frown on his face.
Harry grinned. "Nothing."
For those of you who were expecting a novel-length piece, my apologies, but Crimson Emeralds is going to remain as a 'mini-story' for at least a little while. The chances are that I'll itch to write some more, and it will evolve into another novel-length piece, but until then, this is it. For now, this story was simply me giving one of the possible explanations for what Severus did at the end of HBP, and why Dumbledore trusted him quite so much.
I'd like to thank Snidgey, who beta-read the first three chapters of this, and I'd like to congratulate myself on only 2,943 mistakes in the two chapters that I beta-read. I'm getting better at this! Thanks also go to JK Rowling, for posing such a delicious challenge with the end of HBP; to Kate, for keeping my creative energy flowing; to Debra Awty, who I will miss immensely; and finally to Whit,for her constant and never-ceasing enthusiasm for pretty much everything.
As always, e-mails and reviews are entirely welcome. I read every single review, and reply to every e-mail, no matter how short or long,so don't be afraid to get in touch.