Cheating Fate

PG - Angst - SS, HP, AD - Complete

Summary: The aftermath of the final battle: Cheating Fate is possible, but it's not always a good idea. Written pre-HBP.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by JKR. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money has (or will) exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.

Author's Notes: Inspired by fyre's fic Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?. I wondered what might have happened had it ended differently (but fyre's fic is better, go read it!). This is posted with fyre's permission, which I am very grateful for.

Con-crit welcome. Thanks to Raven for looking this over for me.

The battle still sounded in the forest around the clearing, but here all was still. Severus, trembling with the after-effects of Crucio and stained with blood and sweat, forced his exhausted mind to comprehend the sight before him.

Voldemort was dead.

His knees sagged, and he nearly collapsed from relief. Voldemort was dead, gone, defeated, and Severus was free. He stared at what remained of the Dark Lord: one of the most powerful wizards of modern times had been reduced to a broken heap, lying on the stones like a useless rag-doll thrown away by a spoilt child. Finally, finally dead.

Which meant -

He burst into action, searching wildly through the remains of the building. He pushed hastily through the crumbled rubble, using the desperate shreds of his tired magic to push away ruined stone blocks. So much power had been unleashed here: raw, brutal power. If he'd known the boy was so strong he might have done less to provoke him. The noonday light was oddly bright, rather like the sun after a tempest even though it hadn't rained here in weeks.

There! Blood smudged on stone, sunlight flickering on grey robes. Severus dropped to his knees at Potter's side, not sparing time to gape at the boy's wounds like some foolish Hufflepuff but moving straight on to diagnosis. Working swiftly but calmly, he brought out his small collection of essential healing potions, dragged every last shred of magic to him, and began the task of saving the Brat-Who-Saved-Us-All. Severus was no Healer, but he could at least keep the boy from dying long enough for someone to find them.

Potter stirred weakly, trying to push away his hands. "Vol-demort?" he whispered brokenly.

"Is dead, Potter. Now hold still!"

The boy's eyes focussed on him blearily, squinting through the ruins of his glasses. One lens was covered in a spider web of cracks and the other was shattered; his face had been torn by the broken glass. Idiot boy, not bothering to put an unbreakable charm on his glasses. Potter was damn lucky not to have lost an eye. "Dead?" His voice wavered uncertainly.

"Dead, Potter," he snapped. "Just as you will be if you don't hold still."

But Potter squirmed more, making Severus bite back a curse. Couldn't the blasted boy obey an order even to save his own wretched skin? Potter's eyes were looking past Severus, one hand reaching out weakly to welcome someone who stood at Severus' shoulder. He turned sharply, wondering who could have gotten so close without him hearing, but there was no one there.

A gurgling cough had him spinning back around. "Dammit, Potter, I haven't kept you alive this long just to have you die now!"

He worked frantically, trying to pummel the boy's battered body back into some semblance of life while the boy resisted, mumbling almost incoherently. How could someone so skinny hold so much blood? "Sirius? Sirius!" There was a smile on Potter's face.

"Dammit, Potter, Black is dead too, now hold still!"

"Just want to go home," the boy muttered pathetically, eyes half-glazed. "Let me go home. Haven't I done everything they wanted? They don't need me anymore. Let me go home. Please?" But he finally stopped struggling.

"Once you're alive, you may go where you please," Severus snapped.

And finally the blood was stopped and the boy's body was beginning to heal, and the brat was going to survive long enough to see a Healer. He met the boy's eyes, not expecting to see gratitude or even coherency, and was surprised to see anguish bloom suddenly on the pale face.

"Why wouldn't you let me go home?" Potter whispered sadly, staring over Severus' shoulder.

Severus turned again, slowly this time, not wanting to know what he was going to see. Three people, James and Lily Potter and Sirius Black, stood there, their faces distraught. Black spared a glare for Severus, but the Potters only gave him sad looks. Spirits weren't uncommon on battlefields, but why...? And then the three faded away, and Severus turned back to Potter, who looked at him with such despair that Severus almost apologised, even though he never apologised and didn't know what he was almost apologising for.

Why wouldn't you let me go home?

Haven't I done everything they wanted?

They don't need me anymore.

They tried to praise him for keeping Potter alive, but he brushed them off and went to make his final report to Albus before the wizarding world launched itself into wild celebration. And after the battle was cleaned up and the injured catered to, the world rewarded its heroes. To Severus' disgust, he was one of them. To his surprise, he was cheered.

He sat in the crowd, clutching his medal with a scowl, and watched Potter accept his own awards, every accolade they could gratefully heap upon his thin shoulders. Potter grinned at the crowd, who cheered as he held up one of his medals triumphantly. Was Severus the only one who could see that the smile didn't reach his eyes?

Let me go home. Please?

There was a reception after the award ceremony, for heroes and "important" people. Unfortunately, Severus had been designated a hero. He faded into the shadows, watching the seething mass of wizardry with disdain. They laughed and talked and danced as if there hadn't been a war, as if the last of the dead hadn't been buried only the day before. As if St Mungos wasn't full of the half-dead, like Minerva, and insane, like Granger. As if now that Voldemort could no longer cast a shadow he wasn't worth remembering. Fools.

Potter and Albus stood nearby, surrounded by well-wishers. The boy spoke and laughed and played the role of hero, but there was an empty hollowness in his eyes, exhaustion in his stance, and his body language was cornered. How the Healers had been convinced to let him attend this farcical nonsense, Severus didn't know. The boy was a surprisingly good actor, and none of the morons fawning around their saviour noticed anything was wrong, but Albus would see it. Severus waited for the Headmaster to do something, say something, waited for him to rescue the boy. But Albus just smiled, offered Potter a sherbet lemon, and walked off to talk with other people.

Severus had never thought less of Albus than in that moment.

He swept out of his corner, a lean thundercloud slicing through rainbows, and strode to Potter's side. "Mr Potter!" he barked, in the same tone he would use on a student who had just blown up a cauldron. "Why aren't you resting?"

Potter looked pathetically glad to see him. "I-"

"Home! You've just defeated a Dark Lord and you require rest." He glared around at the well-wishers, some of whom hastily checked objections. He sneered at them. "I will escort you and make sure you don't get "lost"." An excellent excuse to escape these ridiculous festivities.

"Yes, Professor," Potter said with meek relief, following in his wake as he cleared a path to the door.

They Apparated as near as possible to Potter's high-security flat and Severus silently escorted him to his door then turned away without a word.

"Professor?" He paused mid-stride to glare back at the boy. "Thank you."

Severus stalked off with a disdainful set to his shoulders.

Laughter blossomed outwards from the group of teachers on the other side of the room, engulfing Severus in a cloying wave of sentimentality. He scowled at them and tried to ignore them with his usual ease of long-suffering practice. Albus insisted that all staff present in the castle should meet every day under informal circumstances, and Severus had never been able to convince him to give him an exemption. So every day of the school year he was subjected to ridiculous gossip and mindless prattle, as if he didn't get enough of that from the students. But Albus insisted, and what Albus wanted Albus got, for Severus owed him everything. It was Albus who had saved him from Azkaban and offered him a second chance and an opportunity to do what little he could to atone for his mistakes. And so, for Albus, Severus sat in the Staff Common Room, reading in an isolated corner and ignoring the jabbering teachers as best he could.

Since the War, though, it had been harder to ignore them. Their voices were louder, they laughed more, they cheered as they read the papers. There was a forced, desperate edge to their laughter that grated on his nerves, and an almost artificial cheer in their voices. It was genuine, yes, but there was an element of hysteria in it. There were no tears, no outbursts of grief or pain, even though few had come through the War without loss.

They represented the wizarding world in a microcosm: a riot of celebration, a frenzied, frantic festival. He despised them. They tried to forget, tried to ignore the War, and because they tried so hard they were succeeding. They were forgetting all the pain, all the anguish and fear and horror and sacrifice. It was as if it had been a story or a particularly realistic game, and now that it was over it didn't matter. He wanted to shout at them, to snarl at them for being idiots and fools. If they forgot, how could they defend themselves the next time? People had died for their freedom and now they were ignoring the price that had been paid, losing themselves in an orgy of jubilation. Fools, the lost of them.

The door opened, allowing Albus to enter, his eyes twinkling. Severus glanced down at his book to hide a burst of anger, because even Albus, who should know better, was falling into the way of forgetfulness. He lifted his eyes again as Albus began to speak, startled to see the Brat-Who-Saved-The-World had come in too.

"I believe you all know Harry Potter," Albus said by way of introduction. There were chuckles - anyone who didn't know Potter had to have been hiding at the bottom of a bog for the part seventeen years with his eyes closed and his fingers in his ears. "Mr Potter will be staying with us for a short while, to give him the opportunity to recuperate without being surrounded by his adoring fans. I ask that you inform no one he is here; I'm sure we all wish for him to be as well as possible."

Wondering idly whose idea it had been to bring Potter here (once he would have known it to be Albus, but now he wasn't so sure), Severus watched with disdain as the boy was surrounded by chattering teachers and turned back to his book, trying to tune them out.

Movement made him look up half a chapter later, to see that the teachers had returned to their seats and Potter, who could have had any seat in the room for the asking, was taking the other seat in Severus' lonely corner. He didn't look in Severus' direction but sat silently, shoulders hunched, and watched the bright celebration with half-closed eyes, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Potter," Severus began darkly with a scathing insult ready on his tongue, resenting the Brat-Who-Lived's assumption he would be welcome even as he wondered why anyone would choose to sit by him. But Potter turned to meet his eyes, and Severus was silenced.

The boy's eyes weren't dead, precisely. Severus didn't know how to describe them: not lost, not haunted, not lifeless... but almost. Potter swiftly covered it up, but Severus had seen enough. Enough to understand that before him sat a boy who shouldn't have survived. Severus didn't usually believe in fate or destiny, but he knew that Potter should have died on that battlefield. That was why his parents had come that day: to retrieve their son. The Boy-Who-Lived had been supposed to die, he wasn't supposed to live this long. What was left was a shade, a shadow, a soul stretched too thin.

Severus stood hurriedly, and left the room in a hasty swirl of robes, not realising until he reached the safety of his rooms that he had left his book behind. He couldn't find it in himself to care. He sat before the fire and stared into the flickering flames, feeling a hatefully familiar emotion: guilt. He'd never expected to feel it because of the son of James Potter, although in the last few years he had come to the reluctant realisation that Harry Potter wasn't his father. He was still an arrogant, foolhardy Gryffindor, of course, but one that Severus was capable of feeling guilt over.

Guilt, because it was Severus who had saved the boy's life, Severus who hadn't let him die and hadn't let him go. It was Severus' fault that Potter's eyes looked older than Albus, old and weary and ready to rest. Severus had a lot of guilt wound up within him; guilt for joining the Dark Lord, guilt over those he had killed, those he had hurt, those he hadn't saved, over the children who had died because he hadn't managed to teach them enough... He'd never felt guilty for saving a life before.

He didn't sleep well. In the morning he found his book sitting on his chair.

As the days moved on, Potter continued to sit with him - why? the others adored him, they would be glad to have him, why did he have to sit by Severus? - and it hurt. Guilt made him harsh. The boy was always silent and unobtrusive, instead it was Severus who spoke, goading and taunting and trying to drive him away. Every time he saw Potter he felt a new stab of guilt, knowing that though no one else - not even Albus - seemed to see it, Potter was walking dead, living past his time, empty. Few of Severus' other crimes had haunted him like this, appearing before him every day and reminding him over and over. Usually they only returned to him as memory and, for the sake of his sanity, he could force himself to almost forget them. But Potter just wouldn't leave.

Severus' temper was black and his colleagues avoided him assiduously, but Potter never seemed to mind. In fact, although he was unfailingly polite to the others, and laughed and smiled with them as a true hero ought to, it seemed to Severus that Potter considered him his only friend. Well, friend was too strong. Ally was a better word; a comrade-at-arms, united against a common foe: the rest of the world. It made sense: they, the boy who should not have lived and the spy who never wanted to be a hero, had both been caught deep in the War and were still grieving for those lost, for the fact that there had been a war, for the pain and the fear and the anger and the loss of innocence. Alone of those around them, they grieved.

The worst thing was that Potter never looked at him with blame. It made Severus harsher, because he knew the blame was his, just one more thing to add to the list of his failures. It was his fault.

Given that Albus appeared to have gone blind in all other matters, Severus was startled when the Headmaster took him to task for focussing his bad temper on Potter. "It is time you moved on from this hatred of James Potter," Albus said benignly. "It is unfair of you to continue your feud by hating Harry."

It actually took Severus a long moment to even remember what Albus was referring to. Hatred of James Potter? What? Oh, that. That wasn't why he was lashing out at Potter.

He mumbled something conciliatory and continued on his way. He wanted to laugh: Albus was finally failing, finally proving himself to be frail and human. But he couldn't laugh, because he needed Albus to be a supernatural force, because he needed Albus to be the omnipotent Headmaster who could solve every problem, because he needed Albus to fix this. He needed Albus to take his mistake and make it right and help the boy and take away the guilt and make everything be as it should be.

But he had no faith in Albus anymore.

The Daily Prophet sported yet another article about the oh-so-marvellous Brat-Who-Saved-Us-All. Severus skimmed the florid prose with scorn, then threw the paper into Potter's lap. Potter, who had been staring at the quartet of teachers gathered around the fireplace, jumped slightly and looked down at the paper.

"Still the celebrity, Potter," Severus bit out with a sneer. Potter grimaced down at the paper, but began to read it grimly.

Severus ignored him, glancing round the room as he picked up his cup of steaming tea. Filius' copy of the Prophet caught his eye and he frowned. The article came complete with a photo of Potter, and in Filius' paper the photo was that of a hero, smiling and waving at the reader. But Severus' copy - and he looked over to Potter to check he hadn't imagined it - was quite different. In his, the boy sat with his back to the reader, leaning wearily against the side of the photo. Severus stared at the photo, but was startled out of his reverie by Potter's derisive laugh.

"'Potter's stunning defeat of the Dark Lord and his outstanding bravery show him to be the epitome of Gryffindor'." Severus had thought only he could put that much sarcastic scorn into reading a quote. "Shows how much they know," the boy continued bitterly. "The houses don't mean anything." He looked up at Severus with tired eyes. "The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin."

Severus' jaw didn't drop; he didn't lose his grip on his cup. He just froze, glaring at Potter. But Potter wasn't even looking at him, he was staring in the direction of the teachers, his mind obviously far away. Something flickered in the distant green eyes, a twisted pain or rage. "I hate the houses," he said quietly, with a ferocious anger hissing under his words. "I hate Voldemort, and idiots who think I'm some kind of hero. I hate people who think the War is over just because we defeated Voldemort. I hate being the famous Boy-Who-Lived." He closed his eyes, slumped back in his chair. "I'm so tired of labels."

And then the boy fled out of the door with a swift flurry of robes, the teachers on the other side of the room not noticing him go.

Severus stared at the empty chair and tried not to think. Later, he asked Albus about the Slytherin thing.

"It's quite true," Albus assured him cheerfully. "He was worried that it meant he would turn out like Tom Riddle. But he chose Gryffindor, and, as I told him, it is our choices that show us who we truly are."

The casual, unintended, unthinking insult made Severus' vision blur a moment with sheer rage. He felt sick to his stomach and suddenly understood what Potter had been so angry about.

'He chose Gryffindor'. As if not being Slytherin was the one thing that had saved Potter from becoming a second Voldemort. As if Slytherins were all vile and evil, never mind that Severus had spent half his life working against Voldemort, never mind that Draco and Blaise had been important wizards in the Order, never mind that it was that filthy Pettigrew - a Gryffindor - who had brought Voldemort back.

Labels. People gave you a label and then thought they knew everything about you. And worse, that it was Albus who was saying it, Albus, who was supposed to be so wise, who was supposed to be above pettiness and idiocy, who was supposed to be Good personified, who should know better. Albus was the great, wise leader who everyone looked up to, and if he was holding onto labels and prejudices, what chance did anyone else have? Severus felt like his world was crumbling beneath him: Albus was fallible and foolish, and that spoilt, arrogant Gryffindor brat Potter - Potter! - was showing more sense than him.

Was this what they had fought for? Labels and prejudices and idiocies?

Severus hadn't been aware of it - he had enough to worry about without bothering himself over the Potter brat's movements - but Potter had asked that a memorial for his uncle, aunt, and cousin be put in the same wizard graveyard where many of the War's dead lay. Fudge had leapt at the opportunity to do something for the saviour of the wizarding world and sorted it all out. Severus wouldn't have cared - probably wouldn't even have known - but when Potter went to visit the memorial, Severus accompanied him in accordance with Albus' wishes. Irritated at the waste of a perfectly good afternoon, he let Potter lead the way through the graveyard, hovering behind him like a vengeful shadow.

Potter stopped at several graves first, Ron Weasley, Alastor Moody, others Severus recognised, all dead in the War. So much life had been lost, all because Tom Riddle had had a bad childhood. And then, hesitantly, as if he didn't really want to go near it, Potter unwillingly approached the Dursleys' memorial, a simple tombstone inscribed with three names and the accompanying dates. Potter was silent a long time, staring at the stone. Then he abruptly turned on his heel and walked away. Severus followed him resignedly. "I hated them," the boy said quietly, tiredly, "but they didn't deserve to be killed by Voldemort. They were just scared of things they didn't understand."

"Hated them?" Severus sneered. "Why, did they fail to fulfil your every wish?"

Potter stopped so suddenly Severus walked into him, turning and raising his hand, then pressing his palm against Severus' forehead.

He fell, as if into a Pensieve, and had a brief moment to wonder how? before memory overtook him and erased all questions.

insults. bullying (harry-hunting) and pain. loneliness (wanting to be friends, please). a cupboard (bedroom). hunger. hard work under hot sun. they hated him, why, why, what did he do? scoldings (but he tried, he tried so hard). hunger. pain. clothes too big for him. punishment for lying (but he was telling the truth). trying to be good, trying to make them love him. no presents, not even on christmas. chores and chores and chores (working so hard, trying to show them he was good, he was lovable, he wasn't bad). insults, scolding, punishments (but what did he do?). despair (freak, he was a freak, just a good-for-nothing freak). a bedroom, window barred, door locked. hunger. anger. where are the good memories? severus wondered frantically, trying to find his balance. good? a good day meant not getting hit, meant getting enough dinner, meant not getting yelled at for something he didn't do...

Potter pulled his hand back, sending Severus reeling back into the present. Potter turned away and stared over the graveyard while Severus' legs turned to jelly; he stumbled over to sit on a tombstone, his mind still trying to make sense of his immersion in Potter's memories.

That was Perfect Potter's perfect life? Those ghastly muggles were the only family he had ever known? Those were the people the wizarding world revered as the guardians of their saviour? He stared at Potter's back. Suddenly he realised just how much he'd taken away from Potter when he saved his life and prevented his parents from taking him with them.

"I've always wondered," Potter said abruptly, "whether Dumbledore knew what they were like. I always wondered if he knew what it meant to send me back there." He turned back to Severus and his eyes were too old. "I've never dared to ask."

And Severus, staring up at the boy from his seat on a tombstone, knew that he would never ask either.

He couldn't hate Potter anymore. He couldn't bring himself to hate a boy who had been a tool, much like himself, but innocent. Severus spent more time in the Staff Common Room because it was there that he could sit with Potter; it was a relief to be in the presence of someone who wasn't mad with celebration, who remembered that there had been a war. Severus' insults became an odd form of almost friendly communication.

The boy got no better - in Severus' opinion he was fading away, but no one else allowed themselves to see it. Helpless, Severus watched the boy's decline, not knowing what to do. Why did Albus not see? The boy barely smiled anymore, even when playing the role of conquering hero, and it was clear to Severus, if no one else, that he wished himself elsewhere and his heart was already with his parents in the next world. But Severus could also see that Potter wouldn't commit suicide, even if he should already be dead. Potter would fulfil the role he had been forced into, would play the hero and be brave for a world that was celebrating too hard in an attempt to forget. Severus raged at them silently for forcing a tired, homeless boy, barely eighteen, to live and to carry all their hopes.

Albus, full of self-congratulations, patted Severus on the back, delighted that he and Potter appeared to be friends. Severus hid a sneer and wondered when Albus had contracted the blindness of common human idiots. It was better to wonder that than to wonder if it was simply a lack of caring for a pair of tools who were no longer useful. Better to wonder that than to stare at Potter's lost eyes and wonder if Albus saw and just didn't care. He could no longer respect Albus when Potter's eyes, which should hold betrayal, held only resigned acceptance. He could no longer feel anything but anger on behalf of a boy - just a boy - who wasn't surprised to be used and discarded.

He needed to do something about it, to find some way to fix the mistake he had made, to do what Albus should do. But he wasn't Albus, he wasn't some great Light wizard who could fix such things. He was just a snarky, sarcastic Potions Master; he could make a potion to tame lycanthropy, but he couldn't fix a human heart. He didn't know how to even begin to do something about this mess, for none of his skills were in the realms of human interaction. He knew only one way he could make things right.

Severus unlocked the wards on his most secure storeroom and strode in, sparing no glances for the rare and expensive ingredients kept locked up almost as tightly as Azkaban. He wasn't here for them. A small section of shelving pivoted aside when he lifted the appropriate phial, and he touched long fingers to the wooden panel behind. Only he could open this, only he, provided he was living and uncoerced. Under any other circumstances the wards would destroy what was inside and a sizeable portion of the room outside. Perhaps it was a little drastic, but he hadn't survived all those years as a spy by being incautious.

The small cabinet held little. A few potion ingredients, the possession of which could get him killed. A few notes and recipes he wanted no one else to see, but not many because things that sensitive were seldom written down outside his head. Several illegal potions, and a few others that would be illegal if anyone had known he had invented them (Severus agreed that laws in general should be obeyed, but there were some in particular that he thought were ridiculous). He took out a small crystal bottle that held a liquid so clear it was barely visible and closed the cabinet.

He studied the bottle. No one knew he had developed this potion; as a rule, potions journals weren't too enthusiastic about new poisons. But it was an elegant potion, no matter what its purpose. There was no antidote, no potion that could cure it, no spell that could remove it. It was virtually undetectable beforehand unless you were specifically looking for it, and it was undetectable afterwards. It was metabolised very quickly, and what traces were left would actually be wiped out by use of any diagnostic spell in existence, so that the spell would find nothing. He had covered every method he could find, both magical and Muggle, of detecting potions and poisons and this one was undetectable and untraceable. The perfect assassination weapon.

It was something he would never have given to Voldemort, though the Dark Lord would have appreciated it. It was something he would never offer to Albus, because Albus had never wanted to know about the dark side of Severus' work. He told Severus what was required and Severus did it. Albus hadn't needed to know what his assignments had sometimes required. Like Potter, Severus was only a tool; what happened to him was of little importance so long as it didn't impact on his work (and Severus was so emotionally repressed he always made sure it didn't affect his work).

A flick of his wrist made the potion slosh harmlessly in its little phial and he watched the dancing liquid grimly. He wasn't Albus. But he was the only one who cared enough to help.

Decision made, Severus strode out of the room, his robes flapping dismally about his ankles.

Poor actors made bad spies, and Severus had been a good spy; there was no hint of anxiety in his face or manner as he placed the refilled cup in front of Potter with his customary grudgingness. Potter thanked him, his voice so quiet that had there been others in the common room they would have drowned him out. Ignoring the thanks, Severus sat peremptorily, sipping at his own drink and gracing Potter with his usual scowl.

Potter lifted the cup, sniffing it. Severus looked down at his own drink, watching Potter surreptitiously. He didn't fear detection for the potion was tasteless, odourless, undetectable -

And Potter lifted up those haunted green eyes to meet Severus' gelid gaze, and he felt an ice-cold shock run through him. Hard-earned control kept him from flinching, but... Potter knew. Potter knew what was in that cup. How, he had no idea, but it really didn't matter: next stop, Azkaban. He waited for the condemnation, the anger, the hatred.

Potter drained his cup.

He was never quite sure how he kept his mouth from dropping open. Potter met his eyes again, and there was trust there, and gratitude. And then, for the first time since the War began, Potter gave a real smile that reached from his lips to his eyes.

"Thank you, Professor."

The potion was quick once it acted, and painless. He'd made sure of that. The boy's eyes fluttered shut as the empty cup thumped onto the table and rolled from lifeless fingers, spilling a last few drops across the polished wood.

There were voices on the edge of hearing, familiar voices with a lilt of perfect happiness that made some small part of him want to weep. And then they were gone, and there was only Severus, staring at the soft smile on a dead boy's face.

Thank you, Professor. Thank you for killing me.

He let out a short, bitter laugh, but strangely he could find no guilt.

Thank you for setting me free.

There were enquiries, of course. The hero of the wizarding world couldn't just drop dead without causing a fuss. Severus sneered to himself; Still the celebrity, Potter. But maybe the boy really had hated the fame, maybe he would have thought all the fuss ridiculous. Maybe. The investigations came up empty-handed, of course; Severus' potion was everything he had made it to be and there were no traces of foul play. It seemed as though Potter's body had just never recovered from defeating Voldemort. Though he was questioned, no one suspected Severus - no one but Albus.

Albus cornered him in a corridor, his eyes burning with that righteous anger that had made Voldemort himself quail. Severus could have laughed: Albus hadn't cared about the boy when he lived, why should he concern himself now?

"You killed him." It was not an accusation, it was a statement of fact. "You were only pretending to befriend him."

He couldn't help but laugh at that, bitter amusement acrid on his tongue. "I was never his friend, Albus. We were simply the only two who understood each other. You are the one who thought we were friends."

Unappeased, Albus narrowed his eyes. "How could you-"

Severus matched hot fury with his own cold rage. "The only disservice I did that boy was saving his life. You were supposed to be his mentor, you were supposed to help him, but you chose not to look. He jumped through your hoops, he went along with your plans, he saved your world, and then when he needed you, you ignored him. I know he was just another tool, but he deserved something from you. You betrayed him and he expected it. You could have helped him, but you left it up to me, so I helped him the only way I knew how. He was supposed to die in that war, Albus, he wasn't supposed to live this long."

"And that's how you justify murder!"

"Listen to me, Albus," Severus hissed, bringing his face close to the Headmaster's. "I have done everything you ever asked of me. I have done things that will have me burn in Hell for eternity while you sit up in Paradise smiling down benignly. But this is one thing I refuse to be ashamed of. I made a mistake back on that battlefield: I saved Potter's life. And now I've given him back what I took from him."

He drew back, sneering at this man who presumed to judge him now after all he had done to Potter. He knew that Albus was his enemy now and try to send him to Azkaban or to some other horrible fate. Once upon a time that would have hurt, but it didn't matter anymore. Albus wasn't the man Severus had thought he was.

He scowled his most forbidding scowl and had the pleasure of seeing Albus flinch, before stalking away to the stairs. At the top of the stairs he turned back. Albus still stood there, staring at him. "And Albus, consider this my two weeks notice." He turned away again and smiled a small, tight, humourless smile. "You don't own me anymore."