Warning: MAJOR TRAGEDY; I don't want to say more, but proceed with caution. Also, SPOILERS FOR HALF-BLOOD PRINCE!
Disclaimer: I own nothing, save the clothes on my back as I write this. All characters and concepts belong to JK Rowling. And a bit of it to someone else as well; I'll cover that at the end.


by Rex Luscus

"Harry James Potter, you are hereby awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for bravery and skill demonstrated in your defeat of the Dark wizard Voldemort, and in your continuing efforts to promote peace and understanding between Wizard and Muggle society. May your name be passed down through the ages, for ever and ever."

Harry lifted his head to the sound of applause and looked into the stern, leonine visage of Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic, who currently wore one of his rare and slightly terrifying smiles. He neither needed nor wanted this man's approval, but he forced himself to smile weakly back. This ceremony wasn't for him, anyway. It was for them--the traumatized, still-grieving masses muddling their way through the confusion and shock left in Voldemort's wake. That was why he had returned to England, after all. It was five years now since Voldemort had fallen; he'd spent enough time tending to his grief for his own losses during the war, and now it was time to help the rest of the world tend to theirs. It was his responsibility…it was what Dumbledore would have wanted him to do.

And now he intended to take the first step.

"Sir, um--" Harry cleared his throat, and the applause that had broken out died down abruptly. Apparently, speaking at this point in the ceremony was a faux pas. Blushing a bit, he continued: "I believe the awarding of this honor entitles me to invoke the Right of Indulgence."

Scrimgeour, his fierceness wilting slightly for a moment, looked nervously from side to side and coughed. "Yes, that's right, my boy. Today you're entitled to make one request of the Ministry of Magic, as long as it is reasonably within Magical law, of course; tradition dictates that we must grant it to you. While not--er--frequently invoked…" he peered meaningfully at Harry, "the Indulgence is generally used for a social good of some kind...to establish a foundation for underprivileged children or a scholarship, typically..."

"Yes, I know," said Harry. "I'm afraid mine won't be quite along those lines, though." He drew in a breath. "My request is that you reopen the case and grant a new trial for Severus Snape."

If it had been quiet before, the silence was deafening now. Not even a nervous cough or a shoe-scuff echoed in the large hall. Scrimgeour peered down at him with something close to fear. Then he leaned forward and hissed, "My dear boy...are you quite mad?"

"No. It is my right, sir. I'm not asking you to go against the law; I'm just asking for a chance to bring new evidence to light. And a seven-hundred-year-old tradition dictates that you've got to do what I ask."

Scrimgeour straightened himself, smoothing the front of his robes haughtily. "Very well…if that is your request. It seems odd, though...when you could be asking for aid to be given to starving children and instead you want mercy for our world's most notorious murderer?"

"I should think," Harry said slowly and with some venom, "that if the Ministy had within its power the means to help starving children, it wouldn't need me to ask them to do it."

Scrimgeour glowered at him.

Eventually, after a long silence during which Harry could feel the confusion and betrayal coming off the audience at him in waves, the Minister said: "Your request will be honored." He shook his head. "Your generosity and capacity for mercy must indeed be vast, if they can be extended to such a creature as...Snape." He said the name as though he were trying to rid his mouth of a foul taste.

"I like to think it's what Professor Dumbledore would have wanted, sir," said Harry, bowing his head to the Minister and turning to go. "He always gave Snape the benefit of the doubt." As he left the hall, he looked to neither side, unable to face the expressions of shock and horror he knew his friends and admirers would be wearing.

Severus Snape placed the Albus Dumbledore Famous Wizards trading card on the tiny wash basin next to his cot and sat back. It was a photo from many years ago, ten or fifteen at least, so it wasn't going to have much in the way of useful input on his current situation. Moreover, Chocolate Frogs trading cards were rather shallow as enchanted images went, barely able to hold a thought long enough to keep up their end of the conversation. But after five years in prison, Snape was tired of having the same conversation with himself over and over again, and even a faint echo of another person would be a better interlocutor than nobody at all.

"Azkaban, eh? Dear oh dear...I worked so hard to keep you out of there the first time. And what happened this time, if I might be so bold?"

Snape glared at him. "I'll tell you what happened--I killed you."

Picture-Albus shook his head, clucking sadly. "Oh my...I really thought you had changed, Severus. I really did."

Snape didn't think it would be worth explaining to this rather mass-market enchantment that he'd killed the old man to protect his cover, to clear his--and Harry's--way to Voldemort and the remaining Horcruxes that were ensuring Voldemort's immortality, and that his position in Voldemort's inner circle had helped win the war. But he did anyway.

"Is that so?...Well now, I wonder. I don't want you to get into specifics, but was it really necessary to…well, to murder me?"

"It was the only choice available to me in that moment, sir." Snape said it just as he'd said it to Potter and the rest of those worthless Order stooges five years ago, when the war had ended and suddenly he was at their mercy. And he believed it. Albus had agreed with him--there was simply no way of locating the remaining Horcruxes without an agent on the inside, and not just on the inside but at the Dark Lord's very right hand. Nobody but himself was in that position, and protecting it had rendered any other concerns insignificant. The people whose deaths he'd caused, directly or indirectly, to keep himself in Voldemort's confidence--Dumbledore, Emmeline Vance, Nymphadora Tonks, Arthur Weasley--they had all given their lives in the service of the Light as soldiers on the front line. They had done their duty and so had he.

And yet…they were dead and he was alive. Granted, this was a half-life at best, but he knew himself well enough to know that he would take even this current parody of a life over death; even during the war, not a thing in the world could have made him choose death instead, not even if it could have brought down Voldemort right then and there. He had become very adept at sacrificing others for the cause, but he simply didn't have it in him to sacrifice himself.

And so what if he didn't? Unlike some others involved in the fight, his role had not been expendable. Everyone loved to wring their hands over spectacles of heroic sacrifice, but what thanks ever went to the people who had to stay alive, who didn't get to lay down their burdens in the oblivion of death? There was nothing cowardly about wanting to avoid death, not when there was still work to be done.

And at the end of it all, for his troubles he got Azkaban. The world was truly run by Gryffindors.

Picture-Albus continued to gaze up at him serenely. "I'm quite sure you had the situation under control, Severus…but I do wonder…was there truly no other way? After all, I do seem to recall that it was Harry who was ultimately supposed to be responsible for Voldemort's downfall, not you. You'll forgive me if I say that you do have a tendency to overestimate your own importance at times…"

"He was a child, Albus!" Snape snarled, momentarily forgetting the futility of yelling at a photograph. "No matter what you may have thought, no child has the will or the ability to kill. He couldn't kill me, let alone Voldemort. What was I supposed to do? Just wait for him to go and...what were you always on about?...destroy the Dark Lord with love? I couldn't allow for any chance of failure, don't you understand?"

Picture-Albus fixed him with a shrewd look so quintessentially Dumbledorean, so familiar to him after all the time he had spent in the man's service, that his stomach lurched with a grief he hadn't felt in years. "And was your own soul so worthless to you, Severus, that you thought it wise to throw it away, all in the name of a long-dead woman whose legacy you have scarcely honored?"

Snape started. This was a far better enchantment than he'd given it credit for. He might have to write to the makers of Chocolate Frogs just out of professional curiosity.

"Leave her out of it," he muttered sharply at the photo. "She wasn't the only thing driving me, you know." He paused. "As for doing what had to be done to defeat Voldemort…I estimated my soul at around that price, yes."

"And so it should come as no surprise that you find yourself where you are."

"What would you have suggested?" he shouted. "Yes--I killed. But who has the right to worry about the state of their soul when larger things are at stake?"

"All I am saying, Severus, is that you have always treated your soul as a thing without worth, so you should not be surprised when others treat it the same way. What was Voldemort but the embodiment of man's disregard for man, and man's disregard for himself? You did half of Voldemort's work for him without even knowing it."

Snape's teeth ground. "That's not true…I fought him…!"

"And I say that a victory founded on such a fight as yours is no victory at all."

Even the long-denied pleasure of conversation was not worth this. Professional curiosity aside, there was only so much Snape was willing to take from a photograph. He took the card from the wash basin and silenced it inside his robe.

"Yoo-hoo! Snape, you old bastard!" The guard struck his heavy iron bludgeon several times against the bars on the cell door's tiny window. "You've a visitor! You could try fresh'ning up a bit for 'is sake!"

There was no reply from inside. The guard fitted a considerable number of keys into a considerable number of locks and then disabled an equally considerable number of wards with a frayed and grubby wand, and at last the door swung slowly open. "'E'll be no danger to you. This 'ere's the most 'eavily warded cell in the whole place. 'E can barely move 'cept to eat or piss, what with all the immob'lising charms they've got on 'im. An' I'll be 'ere, should 'e try to make any trouble."

"I'm sure I'll be fine. Thank you." Harry shivered a little, disturbed by the man's cheerful acceptance of this horrible place. The Dementors may have been gone, but a sense of hopelessness remained, a sense of the sad, silent end of things, of life winding down to a halt in the dark. One didn't need a Dementor to be driven mad; simply not seeing another person for years on end could do it just as well. Harry stepped inside the cell and felt the heavy door grind shut behind him.

It was a low, cramped room that smelled of mold and damp stone. Two small windows near the ceiling lit only the front half of the cell, leaving the far wall in shadow, which was taken up by a low cot of sorts. To its left was a small wash basin. In the center of the cot, a figure in what looked like a shabby bathrobe and slippers sat straight and still, one bony knee crossed primly over the other, making no move or sound. Harry approached.

Up close, he could see Snape's face in the half-light, old, cadaverous and expressionless. His eyes were two bright points glittering from the depths of black sockets, and they stayed fixed on a spot behind Harry as he approached.

"I suppose they've told you why I'm here, then," Harry said, stopping a few feet away.

Though a bit rough with disuse, the voice, unlike the prematurely-aged face, was exactly the same cold, menacing drawl that had insulted him all those years ago in first-year Potions. "Seems they didn't bother."

Harry sighed. "I'm here, Snape, because I think it's time you went back in front of the Wizengamot." Figuring that an invitation wasn't forthcoming, Harry sat down on the cot at a safe distance from his old teacher. He could feel the corona of magic around Snape's body crackling faintly--it was, judging by Snape's rigid posture, a spell that held him like a straightjacket. An extra precaution for Harry's benefit, no doubt--Azkaban's administrators were probably nervous about allowing the Boy Who Lived to be locked in with their most notorious inmate.

Snape didn't look at him, but he shifted a little with apparent discomfort. Harry went on. "I think it's time they heard the whole story about your role in the war. Lupin and the others convinced me the first time around to disavow any association with you…you remember, I'm sure. They didn't want to risk the charge that we might have condoned your…crimes. But as much as I wanted--still want--to see you suffer for what you did, I know that we'll never heal the wounds left by the war if the peace is built on lies. The world needs to hear why you did what you did."

"And what," said Snape icily, continuing to stare straight ahead, "do you think is to be gained by doing this?"

"Well..." Harry shrugged vaguely in frustration, "I don't know, really. There's a good chance your sentence might be commuted, for one. You might serve the rest under house arrest, perhaps. Whatever it is, it'd be a trade up from this."

"I think you're forgetting something, Potter. I'm responsible for the murder of the greatest wizard of our age. I took part in countless other Death Eater atrocities before the war was out. What makes you think a few 'extenuating circumstances' are going to erase those facts?"

"They can't erase them, no. But I think...I don't think Dumbledore would want you to die in this place without the truth ever being known."

The still figure came suddenly to life as Snape turned quickly to face Harry, his arms still awkwardly plastered to his body by the spell. His eyes were narrowed and his pale lips curled above his teeth, which shone in the gloom like pebbles at the bottom of a pond. "Ah, so that's what this is about...you've decided to be Dumbledore, have you? Decided that now the great wizard's gone, you'll step up to take his place and begin spreading your generosity around, just as he used to do? Paternal understanding and forgiveness for all? What gives you the right, Potter, to forgive anybody for anything?"

Harry had gotten to his feet as soon as Snape's attack had begun. "I am not trying to be Dumbledore, I'm trying to honor his memory--to follow in his footsteps! I'm trying to keep his name and spirit alive!" He shook his head, angry that he had let Snape get to him so quickly, as though none of the intervening years had passed. "I certainly wouldn't expect you to understand any of that, but you might try and use your imagination on behalf of those of us who actually loved him."

"Foolish child…I've known Dumbledore since before you were born, and you think you understand my feelings toward him? What makes you think I didn't love him?"

Harry laughed a short, ugly laugh. "You bloody killed him! I know how the Killing Curse works--you can't cast it unless you mean it, unless you hate someone enough to want them dead!"

"True," said Snape a little more calmly, rising to his feet and looking Harry in the eye. "Perhaps when you are older, you will understand how it is possible to both love and hate someone at the same time. But perhaps not--love seems such a simple matter to you, doesn't it?"

"You're the last person who ought to be telling me about love," said Harry through clenched teeth.

Snape turned away and sat back down without retorting. Harry sighed. "So…will you at least consider it? I can't very well drag you in front of the Wizengamot without your consent, as much as I'd like to."

"If it will get rid of you, I will…consider it."

Harry shrugged helplessly, suddenly desperate to be somewhere else. He should have known this would be how Snape would react; after all, the very worst thing one could do to Snape was to offer him help."I'll be back in a few weeks, then. And Snape--" he fixed the man with a pointed look-- "I want to be clear about something. This isn't for you. This isn't because I've suddenly started feeling sorry for you or some such rubbish. This is to set the record straight, so the rest of us can recover and move on. I frankly don't care whether you want it or not."

"And you're doing such an excellent job of talking me into it," Snape muttered. "Now get out before I call the guard."

Harry turned to leave without another word. Then he heard Snape's voice behind him, hesitant. "Potter..." He stopped and looked back. "There...er...there is one thing you could do for me, if you are feeling charitable."

Harry waited, listening.

"You could send me a photograph."

Harry's brow crinkled. "Of who?"

Snape stared at him like a man about to step off a bridge. "Your mother."

He had ultimately--and very humiliatingly--had to swear up and down to his virtuous intentions and answer a myriad of other questions about his plans for the picture before Potter acceded to his request, and a few days later, the picture arrived. He set it on the wash basin where Albus had been, propped up by the tap, next to his toothbrush. He was afraid it might also feature the superfluous and undesired presence of James Potter, but it did not--it seemed to be a school portrait. Lily Evans was sixteen or seventeen years old, wearing her Hogwarts robes and Gryffindor tie, smiling the wide, open smile of a child that can have no inkling of the horrors that lie just ahead.

Snape gazed at her sorrowfully. "You'll be dead in a few years, you know."

The small Lily in the picture folded her arms. "You always say the most awful things, Severus."

"I would be more sensitive, but why bother being kind to a photograph?"

"How so very like you...the only time you're ever kind to anybody is when you want something from them."

Snape looked away. "I did love you, you know. It wasn't just some infatuation, no matter what you may have thought. My life ended the day you died, and there's been no one since."

"Love me, did you? You had a funny way of showing it. As for not having anyone else, I hope you don't blame me for that. I'm sure you made your own choices."

"Choices? I've never had a choice to make in my entire life. Everything I've done, I've done...under duress. When have I ever been free to simply choose what I want?"

"People always have choices, Severus."

Anger surged through him at the ridiculously Gryffindor platitude. "And what should I have done?" he shouted. "Sacrifice my own life to slightly prolong the life of a dying old man? Remove the only member of the Order who had a chance of getting within striking distance of Voldemort? Put my faith in Harry bloody Potter and Dumbledore's brilliant plan to destroy the Dark Lord with love?"

Picture-Lily looked out at him, uncomprehending, but otherwise untroubled. "You never did have much of a grasp on love. You always spoke like it was about owning things. Don't think you'd know real love if it punched you in the nose."

Of course--anyone who loved her could never have said the things he had said to her. "Mudblood," he'd called her, hiding behind his recently-embraced Death Eater rhetoric, when she'd had the nerve to "rescue" him from James Potter. It was the unthinking reflex of the wounded--he'd heard the affection in her harsh words to Potter and felt the contempt in her kindness to him. Nothing could have been more humiliating than to be used as a prop in their courtship, which they'd had the audacity to conduct right in front of him. Of course he'd lashed out. Why couldn't Gryffindors ever understand that love had nothing to do with being "nice"?

"I hated you, too…later on," he said softly, letting the name 'Potter' go unsaid. "Or I thought I did, until you were dead and it was my fault. Everything I did after that…it was all for you." He laughed bitterly, thinking of Albus. "I even threw my soul away. Is that love enough for you?"

"I never asked for anyone to throw their soul away for me. I just wanted you to be happy and not hate everyone so much."

"Maybe if you'd loved me back…"

"I barely knew you! We had a class together; you studied across from me in the library; you snuck looks at me in the Great Hall when you thought your Slytherin friends weren't looking; that's it. Love is something that happens between people, not some kind of silent pain you feel in the dark. You may think you loved a girl named Lily, but whoever she was, she wasn't me."

"How can you say that?" he shrieked. "I betrayed Voldemort for you! I became a spy and risked my life and my sanity! I did unspeakable things for which I will never forgive myself, all to destroy the man who took you away from me before I had the chance to tell you I was sorry!"

"I rather think it was hatred that drove you, not love, Severus. Hating people was always what you seemed to live for."

She did have a point. Hatred was what got him out of bed in the morning--hatred for Voldemort on the good days and Dumbledore on the bad, hatred for Sirius Black and all things Potter, hatred for Lucius Malfoy and his cadre of bully friends, hatred for the whole race of sanctimonious, self-congratulating Gryffindors that had plagued his life since the beginning. His love for Lily Evans was a rather pitifully small light in a land otherwise darkened by spite, envy, and hatred for his fellow man. And, he realized, he held onto it only because it was the only light to be had there, however small. It was the only proof he had that he wasn't completely depraved.

He needed to believe he loved her. He needed to believe all the years of fighting and scrambling to bring about the death of one man had happened for a reason. But she was right--the Lily he loved was about as substantial as the tiny image in the photograph. She had never been the living, flesh and blood creature to him that she was to Potter. His Lily was just an idea, a wish, a hope that someday he might not be alone.

"I hope you don't blame me for what happened to your soul, by the way. What did you do, murder someone? Professor Dumbledore used to say that casting the Killing Curse damaged the soul…"

He sighed. "Yes, I killed someone. And no, I don't blame you. For what it's worth, I think my soul was a lost cause anyway."

"Maybe if you didn't believe that, you wouldn't be where you are now."

When had enchanted photographs gotten this cheeky? Between this one and the Chocolate Frogs card, Snape was beginning to suspect there was some new technology out there.

He reached over and tipped the photo forward so that it lay face-down on the basin, and tried to go to sleep.

It was three weeks later, and Harry Potter was talking at him again.

"--really, this has gone on long enough. I've looked into it, and it turns out I can drag you in front of the Wizengamot without your consent. Your choice whether it'll be the hard way or the easy way."

"I could tell the court you're a liar."

"Do you think I'd actually let you speak? You are out of your mind. No, no…between Lupin, McGonagall and myself, the facts about what you did during the war will all be exposed to the light of day."

"I presume Lupin and McGonagall will be testifying of their own free will?"

"That's right--I've brought them both around to my point of view. You're the only one who's holding out."

"Yes. How delightfully like old times it is."

"Shut up. Now what's it going to be, then…the hard way or the easy way?"

Snape sighed. "Potter. I am not even slightly interested in healing the collective wounds of the wizarding world--or those of any other world, for that matter. I simply wish to be left in peace."

"I should think you'd consider it worth a try if you've got a chance of getting out of here during your lifetime."

"And why do you assume that I want out?" Fury kindled again in Snape's eyes. "My god, boy, I know I will never have forgiveness for the things I've done. So surely you can leave me with one thing, surely you can let me have punishment!"

A strange light seemed to go on in Potter's eyes at these words. "Oh, I've no problem letting you have punishment, Snape." He smiled strangely. "And…I'll just bet being given a second chance at life would be a far worse punishment than anything they could ever do to you in here." He turned to head for the door. "I'll be putting things in motion. Expect my owl within a week."

Snape thought he had reached the limits of his capacity for hatred years ago. He now discovered he'd been quite wrong.

Lucius Malfoy occupied the place of honor this time. Two years ago, Snape would have been able to speak to him in person--if the guard left a gate open, he could shout all the way to Malfoy's cell near by. Then one day he'd shouted and got no response. The guard later told him that Malfoy had chewed his wrists open.

Stuck-up bastard probably didn't want to go on living once this filthy place had touched his flawless, moneyed flesh. For Snape it was easier. He was used to living in damp, dark holes, and he had no illusions about the sacredness of his person. It was the boredom he couldn't stand.

Now Malfoy glared defiantly out at him, dressed in prison standard-issue and gripped on either side by cheerless-looking Aurors. It was a photo from his trial as clipped from the Prophet, taken five years ago.

"Why do you look so surprised?" he said gamely to the Malfoy in the picture. "This is your second go-around at Azkaban, isn't it?"

"Well, I see your traitorous double-dealing didn't keep you out either. Which of us should be laughing?"

"So you were onto me. I knew I should have killed you…"

"Don't kid yourself--everyone was 'onto you', Severus. Voldemort tolerated you leaking information because he knew what he got in return was worth more. Besides, he knew which way the scales tipped with you."

"Seems he knew wrong, then. It was me who told Potter where the last Horcruxes were, you know. Me who got Potter close to the Dark Lord."

"What a hero!" Malfoy laughed, momentarily freeing himself from the Aurors, who promptly seized him again and gave him a good shake. "Don't bother pretending--you saw how the war was going and decided to be on the winning side, that's all. What a clever ruse, to switch sides at the last moment and claim you were in with them all along!"

"You really are stupid if you think that's how it was."

"I don't think anything--your actions spoke for themselves. Make no mistake, Severus--you were a very good Death Eater."

Snape felt a chill in his gut at these words. "Because that's what Dumbledore required of me," he said hollowly.

"Funny how that's what Voldemort required of you, too! So easy to wash your hands of something by appealing to your 'hidden purpose.' Well, let me tell you something, Severus--there are no hidden purposes. We are what we pretend to be, and you certainly played your part to the hilt! Are those people you killed any less dead because you had a hidden purpose?"

"I'll have you know you'll be dead yourself in three years, you insufferable enchantment."

"Resorting to name-calling now, are we? Oooh, and I'll bet it's you who does me in. Let me guess--you feel guilty about all those Order members you killed and decide to spill a bit more blood on the other side to call it even. Am I close?"

Malfoy joined Lily and Albus in Snape's robe. A very good Death Eater indeed.

But it was quite true.

For the first time since Potter had appeared in his cell, he allowed himself to imagine what would happen if Potter got his way. He imagined himself stepping outside the gates of Azkaban. Which way would he walk now--left, right, straight ahead? Did it matter? Was there any point in taking a single step in any direction? His love for Lily Evans was a mirage. His various hatreds were so much smoke, the sad props of an even sadder life. His one consolation was that he had once offered some assistance in defeating a certain Dark wizard. But perhaps that assistance had been unnecessary. Perhaps in the balance of good and bad resulting from each action, this one had tended rather toward the bad. Perhaps he had been a very good Death Eater after all. In his service to Voldemort that had become betrayal, which had been substance and which had been accident? Of the many Severus Snapes, which one was real, and which one ought to be prosecuted for his crimes? If there was to be no forgiveness, what did one have left to wait for, sitting here in the dark?

Dusk was falling outside his tiny windows. He could feel them gathering now, just beyond the edge of his vision, settling in for their long, quiet vigil. Dumbledore. Lily and James. Malfoy. Sirius Black. Emmeline, Nymphadora, Arthur. Cedric, Shacklebolt, Moody, Karkaroff, Pettigrew. The restless dead. Normally their silence was accusing. Now, it was just patient. They were confident in their victory. They were waiting for him.

For the first time in a very, very long while, he was afraid.

A week later, a new set of black dress robes arrived by owl, along with a pair of new, polished shoes. A week after that came a letter:


The Wizengamot has set a date for a new trial. Two excellent lawyers have reviewed your case and they both think that my testimony has a good chance of getting you a reduced sentence. They also say there's no danger of the Order being implicated in your crimes, so Lupin and McGonagall will have no objections to taking the stand.

Again, let me say that I am not doing any of this out of any feelings of compassion toward you. You've had a hand in destroying everything I've ever loved, and if there is a life after death, I hope with all my heart that you will suffer in it. No, I'm doing this because it's right, and because unless we start facing the whole truth about what happened, we're in danger of repeating the same mistakes that let Voldemort rise to power in the first place. I'll not stand by and see the same thing happen again, not just to satisfy my own desire for revenge. But as usual, I'm sure you're quite incapable of understanding that.

A pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow. You won't be required to speak; it will just be a review of the new evidence to determine its admissibility. I'll be with the MLE officers that will be collecting you tomorrow and escorting you to the Ministry. Try to look presentable if you can.

H. Potter

Snape crumpled the letter in his fist. So tomorrow, Harry Potter would be standing in his defense, explaining to the court and the rest of the wizarding world what had really happened, why all of his crimes had been, in a certain respect, justified, because of the ultimate good that had resulted. How he deserved the indulgence of the law because he had been acting against Evil and not for it. And then following that, there would be no forgiveness for his evil deeds--how could there be?--but simply...leniency, a free pass, time off for good behavior. Was that it, eh? Was that what Potter thought was going to happen tomorrow?

Harry stood outside the heavy door with the tiny barred window and straightened his tie. He hoped Snape would be a bit more agreeable today than he'd been at their last meeting; he was in no mood to deal with the man's abrasive personality, which had evidently survived a war and five years of solitary confinement quite well. And he prayed that despite Snape's objections to his personal motivations in this, Snape would at least have the good sense to keep quiet once they were in front of the court.

"Been at 'is basin all morning, 'e 'as," said the guard, working his way slowly through the numerous locks. "Cleanin' 'imself up…even 'ad me give 'im a shave. Big day for 'im...not everyday you get yerself a new trial."

The door opened, and Harry saw at once that Snape had taken his advice to make himself presentable. His hair was neat and his face clean-shaven. The new dress robes swung free and loose around his body, the belt having been removed for another purpose. His expression under other circumstances might have seemed contemplative.

Harry stared at the body for a long moment. He felt neither sadness nor triumph; he could feel nothing at all. He went over to the wash basin and picked up the face-down photograph of his mother, and left without a word.



1. The premise of this story, as you may have noticed, borrows rather freely from the novel Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. I am quite aware of this and intend no disrespect; rather, I intend it as homage. There are some deliberate echoes of the book in the language of this story; for instance, Malfoy's "we are what we pretend to be" is almost a direct quote. If you haven't read Mother Night, you should; it's much better than this story.

2. I don't believe in warning for character death, especially in a story with a limited enough cast that it would be obvious who was going to die by the end. So I'm sorry if that sucker-punched anyone, but that's the way I feel.

3. I took liberties with enchanted photographs, obviously. I don't think one has ever spoken in the books. But if paintings can have conversations, why not photos? If you like, though, you can imagine that Snape was supplying both sides of those conversations. Years in solitary confinement can do that to a man, I suspect.

4. I am extremely grateful to Ellie for beta-reading, and to the many HP fanfic writers far more talented than myself whose work has inspired me since I first got into this fandom in July.