With this chapter, Wind That Shakes The Seas and Stars ends. I'll begin the sixth-year story, A Song In Time of Revolution, in three or four days. I need the time to rest, because this story has exhausted me.
Thank you very, very much, everyone who has reviewed and read this massive thing to the end. Two more stories to go, one I think is brighter than this one and one that is considerably darker and the end of it all. I hope to see you there.Chapter One Hundred: At Peace
"But I'm not sure I want my hand back," Harry said, when he'd shown Vera Argutus's reflection of the Dark spells and what it meant. "I just know that now I have no excuse to avoid breaking the curses."
They were sitting in one of the Sanctuary's higher rooms, full of air and light. Harry could feel the throb of contained magic from the rooms next to them, and wondered tiredly for a moment what housed there. He leaned against the back of his chair, which was crushed velvet or some material even softer, and shut his eyes.
"Why don't you want it back?" Vera asked him.
Harry didn't open his eyes, but he nodded. This was the reason he had come to her about it. Draco or Snape wouldn't have asked the question in such a reasonable tone. Draco had never understood Harry's feelings about his lost hand at all, and Snape, on edge with people able to see his soul, would have snapped. And Harry understood both those reactions, so he couldn't even blame them.
"Because it would be a sign of admitting weakness," said Harry, "if I cared about that to the exclusion of anything else. I do know some people who would have stopped at nothing until they'd broken all of Bellatrix's curses and had their missing limbs back. I'm not one of them." He opened his eyes and watched Vera for a moment. She sat in a chair with its back to one of the windows, her hands clasped in her lap, her eyes intent on his face. It made her look surrounded by light, diminished by the light, as if Harry were speaking to the sun instead of her. He could handle that.
"And because I didn't want to devote time to it," Harry said, even more quietly. "It was unimportant, next to so many of the other things I was doing. How could I say that I cared more about my hand than about working for the rights of werewolves, or reconciling with Snape, or studying the Dark curses that Voldemort used?" He shook his head, feeling his hair scrape lightly against the chair. "I only have so much time. I used to try to extend that time by skipping meals and sleep. Draco and Snape objected to that. But with having to do that, I'm left with a limited amount of hours, and some of that goes to schoolwork and to things I must do, and the rest of that, as much as I can spare, to the things I want to do: building the political alliance against Voldemort, especially, and vates work. I was already faltering and dropping threads because I did not have enough hours to weave them all in. Researching my hand—that fell far, far to the bottom of the priority list. It would have benefited no one but myself."
"You could have asked someone else to research it for you," Vera observed quietly. She didn't accuse, she just made the statement, and Harry found himself relaxing. He'd become used to studying someone else's mood before he said something, especially in the last week with all the grief over the siege. There were things that someone could not bear to hear, and other things that could be said, but only at a later time. Vera seemed like a person to whom he could say almost anything. She was also a person he did not have to be strong for, and Harry appreciated that gift more than he could say.
"I suppose I also need to learn how to delegate," said Harry, winning a faint smile from her. "But, if I had, I still would have asked someone else to research the curses Voldemort used or my allies' pasts or proper greetings for magical species I haven't met yet, not my hand."
"And why not?"
Harry eyed her. "Same reason at the bottom of both weakness and not wanting to take time for it, I suppose," he said. "It's too personal."
Vera nodded. "Do you wish to research these curses over the summer, Harry? I should warn you that the Sanctuary does not have extensive libraries. We do have rooms where you can venture to observe the effects of magic like this, and see what it does."
Harry blinked. "You'd offer me a choice?"
"Of course I would," said Vera.
I should do this. Snape asked me to at least think about it. Draco would be thrilled if I did this. Harry looked at Argutus, draped like a shimmering curtain over his shoulders. "And Argutus gave me a gift with his reflections that I shouldn't neglect," he murmured aloud.
"You are talking about me, but in that language. I heard my name." Argutus poked him with his nose. "What did you say?"
Harry heard Vera make a soft noise—chuckle or sigh, he could not have said. He looked up at her, and she asked, "Is he wanting to know what you said? I know he can't understand English."
"Explain the situation to him. You might be surprised at his response."
Hesitantly, Harry focused on Argutus and let his words emerge in Parseltongue. "I don't know yet if I want my hand back, Argutus," he said. "But I do appreciate what you did for me, and I think it would be selfish to neglect that gift."
Argutus was quiet for a moment. Then his tail coiled up and wrapped gently around the side of Harry's head.
"It is your gift," Argutus said, turning to flicker his tongue along Harry's cheek again. "You should do what's necessary to you with it. I want you to want what you want."
Harry stared at him. He wasn't sure if he was more shocked by what Argutus had said or by hearing such sophisticated reasoning from an Omen snake.
"And what did he say?" prompted Vera.
"He said—" Harry began, and then saw Vera shake her head and realized he was still speaking Parseltongue. Sheepishly, he focused on her and repeated, "He said that the gift was mine to do what I want with. He wants me to want what I want."
Vera's face lit with a soft smile. "And so do I, Harry," she said. "And so do many of the people around you, I would think, though they may override it by making commitments to your safety first, or they may drape it in metaphors about your training that make it seem as if you have no free will. But your Malfoy and the Bitter One are, perhaps, overly close to you. Do not think about what they might want, Harry. Do not think about what politeness demands of you, or politics, for once in your life." There was an urgency in her voice he'd never heard before as she leaned forward and laid a hand on his knee. "Think about what you want, for once in your life. I will not push you. Argutus will not push you."
"That's why I came to talk to you about this in the first place," Harry whispered.
"Yes, exactly." She beamed at him. "Not to say that your Malfoy and the Bitter One would not displeased if you learned to want things just because you want them, but it is not their choice, Harry, it is yours."
Harry cocked his head. "And you don't think it's selfish?" he asked. Probing at this felt like testing a loose tooth with his tongue. It hurt, but he couldn't keep himself from picking at it.
Vera shook her head. "If you need someone to tell you it's not selfish, Harry, I will," she said. "It's not. Do you think what your Malfoy wants of you in the joining ritual is selfish, simply because it will take three years and binds you to taking no other partner during that time?"
"But I don't want any other partner, anyway," said Harry, bewildered. "And, well, that's Draco, and not—" He stopped.
"Yes." Harry stared down at his hand and the darkly-glowing stump. I had thought I was doing selfish things. I wounded Voldemort enough to give us this Voldemort-free summer, after all. I yelled back at Snape and Draco when they pressed me too hard. I had thought I knew what I wanted. Perhaps not completely, not yet.
Around him, chains seemed to be flying away, and the intense terror that had lurked within him since he had come to the Sanctuary began to thaw. He looked up at Vera. "You won't recommend that I get another hand?"
Vera shook her head.
"You won't recommend that I change in ways that I don't want to?"
Again she shook her head. "I will point out when I think that your stated reason for a decision is not the one your soul is showing me," she said. "That is why I am the one speaking with you, after all. I can see things you can't. But you have been aware of the basics of what I see for a long time now, Harry. And you are no longer a child, and you are certainly very far from selfish. You are allowed to make your own decisions, to want what you want, and if you do not want another hand and you do not want a surname, both of those are your choices. And so are dozens more."
Harry closed his eyes. The terror was even smaller now. "I—I'd like to walk for a while now, Vera," he said. "I need time to think."
"Good, Harry," Vera said, a smile lightening across her face.
"Good, what?" Harry gave her a confused glance.
"Thinking about it," said Vera, standing. "There was a time not so long ago when you would have thought about anything but that."
Harry nodded to her, confused and bewildered and free, and wandered out of the room in a half-daze. He paused outside the door to put Argutus down, though. He wanted to be completely alone.
Snape woke in an unfamiliar bed, his wand in his hand, his head already turning towards the threat. It had been a knock on the door, carefully placed on the one patch of clear wood not protected by Snape's wards. Snape supposed he should have known Seers would see that one patch, but he was still disappointed that this one hadn't hit another place first and burned his hand.
"Good morning, Snape," Joseph's voice called cheerfully from beyond the door. "I'm here to tell you that there is refreshment waiting for you in the same room we ate in yesterday, if you're hungry. Also, we've set up a potions lab for you in the room next to this one."
"I had already chosen my lab," Snape called back. He knew his voice was low and ugly, but he could not help it. He'd had a nightmare about Voldemort laughing as he taunted him, an imagination of what would have happened if the Dark Lord had discovered him during his days of spying. "I would have appreciated if you had left my supplies where I put them."
"Couldn't do that, I'm afraid," said Joseph, voice firmer now. "That's the roosting place of a flock of Diricawls. They need it. If you had bothered to read the plaque we'd placed on the wall, you would know that."
Snape grunted. The truth was, he'd seen the plaque, but not wanted to take the time to read it. He resented everything about the Sanctuary, and after making sure he would know the way from his room to Harry's room, Draco's room, and his lab, he'd gone to sleep.
"You can try to irritate us," said Joseph. "I know you're good at that. But the truth is, none of us irritate easily, though there are many who will leave you politely alone. I'm not going to do that."
Snape rose with a snap and a snarl. He strode across the room and jerked the door open. Joseph looked at him with one eyebrow raised. It did not please Snape at all that they were the same height and shared the same gestures. At least he'd been a bit taller than both Sirius Black and James Potter.
"I want you to leave me alone," he said. "I want you to stop trying to heal me. If you force me to change against my will, then I can only conclude that you practice Dark Arts. I came here to accompany my son, not to heal."
"So you've said." Joseph's expression was calm. "But the Sanctuary itself works on the souls of those who come here. It's rather like plunging into a pool; you're still going to get wet even if you only entered it so that your child wouldn't drown. If you do want to be left completely alone, then I will leave you completely alone. But the transition is not an easy one. The way the Sanctuary reaches out to you is generally through dreams in that case. They are memories of the past, seen from another angle. They will not let you hide."
Snape shook his head. "The comparison is not apt," he said, wondering why the man would not simply depart. "Or it is only in a way that you do not wish it to be. I could work charms to keep myself safe from the water. I will take Dreamless Sleep Potion to keep myself safe from the dreams."
Joseph sighed. "I suppose that might work, yes, since you're a Potions Master," he murmured.
"So disappointed?" Snape was delighted by the first crack he'd seen in the older man's façade since they arrived. "You wanted to drag me kicking and screaming into your smiling world? Did you think I would be so easy to work with?"
"Frankly, no," said Joseph. "My motivation is compassion. That is the one I told you about yesterday, that I knew you would not understand. I have seen souls marked by hatred as deep as yours is, and I know your past was not an easy one. I wish to heal you for the same reasons Vera wishes to heal Harry. But Harry's grand reasons for not healing so far have been lack of time and lack of understanding between what is a wound and what is wholeness. Yours have to do with a large amount of self-blame. You consider yourself implicated in the ruin of your soul."
Snape curled his lip. "How very, very clever of you to notice."
"Not so clever," said Joseph. "A Seer who hadn't observed any soul but her own yet could make that one out." His eyes locked on Snape's. "It has to do with why you do not think of yourself by your first name. It has to do with your mother. It has to do with the Mark you took and think, still, makes you a Death Eater in some way beyond the physical. It has to do with the hatreds that eat pieces of your life even now. One of them nearly destroyed your relationship with Harry." Snape flinched, despite his fury, at the reminder of what going cold had done. "And the other is eating you alive now, inside and out. Werewolf fear."
"None of this is your right to comment upon," Snape whispered tightly.
"I can See it," said Joseph. He was calm, and that infuriated Snape further. He could not think of the last time someone so close to him when he was in a mood like this had been calm. "If you truly do not want help in healing, then no, it's not my right to heal you. But I think I should tell you that I understand you. Just being a bastard does not drive me away, because I understand the reasons that you are a bastard. And I can see where these hatreds are leading you. You may yet lose Harry, if you act on your hatred of lycanthropy."
"You cannot predict the future!" Only when he finished it did Snape realize how close to a cry that had been.
"Character is destiny." Joseph studied him intently from beneath a lock of dark hair. "But we can change our own destiny if we change our own character. I truly believe that. And so that means that this is a chance for you, Severus Snape, to change it, if you don't want my help or the help of anyone else. But I will warn you: persisting in stubborn pride will lose you everything. Your life is tied closely to Harry's now. Anyone could See that, too. And he is changing, willingly changing, as a result of being in the Sanctuary and working with Vera."
"If you mean to say that he will change to someone who will not love me—"
Joseph shook his head. "I don't think that's possible. I do think it's possible that he will change into someone who cannot forgive you, if you act on that hatred gnawing out a place in your heart. You acknowledge your love for him, if only to yourself. Do you truly want your fear to triumph over that, and lose everything in a mistaken moment?"
"That will not happen," Snape said tightly.
"It already has." Joseph's voice was a near whisper now. "Granted, for a potion that Harry doesn't know about yet. But how does creating a poison for werewolves do anything but feed your fear and put a weapon into your hands? What will you do if that weapon proves irresistible?"
Snape did not bother with telling the man to get out. He simply raised his wand and spoke the Severing Curse.
Nothing happened. Joseph gave him an acutely disappointed look. "The Sanctuary prevents use of Dark Arts," he said quietly, and then turned around and left.
Snape shut the door and stood on the other side of it, eyes closed. He could control himself. He would control himself. So the air of this place was like acid, but if he had no Seer and it tried to reach out to him through dreams, he could resist it. Joseph had acknowledged as much.
He felt, as if it were a second heart in his chest, the presence of the werewolf poison in his trunk. He had not dared to leave it in his lab, just in case Harry wandered in and recognized the silvery potion for what it was.
You are already lying to him. What comes next?
He knew that, if Harry did change into someone who valued his own self-worth and his moral judgments again, then it was entirely possible he would not forgive Snape this. He understood Snape's fear, he had said as much. But then, he understood the werewolves' anger and frustration, and Snape had still heard him threaten to drain Loki's magic in a steady voice. Push far enough, and Harry would strike back. And the distance one could push might grow smaller as he became more and more his own person.
How much of his tolerance have I already eaten?
Snape had lived most of his life secure, if not exactly content, in the knowledge that he had made his own mistakes. Other people had their share of blame, but the largest was his own. There were exceptions, such as the prank when Black had tried to kill him, but they were few. His own were such large mistakes that he didn't have to try to repair them; he already knew they were irreparable. And that meant he didn't have to be nice, or love, or to live in the sharp and confusing world that Harry kept trying to deal with. He could stay still. There was no effort involved, only the sharp, bitter, broken glass of self-knowledge and self-satisfaction.
His love for Harry had not changed that. He had retreated from being cold, but he still didn't consider that he could let the coldness go. Why should he? He was unnecessarily bitter, and knew it. He was scarred, and knew it. He took great pleasure in existing, both bitter and scarred, long after his enemies had tried to kill and break him.
But what would happen if he did lose Harry's forgiveness because of one of his scars?
He knew the answer. It would not be worth it.
He felt the presence of the werewolf poison like a suppurating wound, now.
He did not acknowledge most of what Joseph said, Snape told himself. He did acknowledge the truth that Harry had come here seeking healing and was probably on the way to it.
And if he changed, then Snape could not remain as he was. He wondered, now, if it was only the long delays and setbacks Harry had suffered on the road to healing that had enabled him to remain as he was so for long.
That is a terrible thought.
Snape had never made a practice of hiding from his own observations, either, and those who tended to flinch at his tongue had only his scorn.
He was still not wiling to speak to Joseph. These wounds were his own. And destroying the werewolf poison would be a useless gesture. He knew how to make the potion, now. He could duplicate it easily, especially considering the ingredients he'd brought.
Not a coincidence that you brought those ingredients, is it?
But he would not take the Dreamless Sleep Potion. He would wait for the dreams. He would change, if at all, on his own and at his own pace.
Besides, he doubted that the dreams could truly change him. Why should they? He had been through horrors that would have throttled lesser minds, and they had all been real.
Draco stretched his hands luxuriously over his head. Now this was more like it. The Seers had given him a bed that rivaled his own at Malfoy Manor, and a room that had murals on the walls with white-blond wizards excelling in all sorts of battles and treaty negotiations. One even had a man Draco was sure was his ancestor becoming Minister of Magic.
He looked up. Nina was poking her head around the edge of his bedroom door, and she carried a tray with covered dishes that steamed. Draco felt his mouth water. "Come in," he said, "since you have food."
Nina laughed and carried the tray in, balancing it gently on the edge of his table. Draco eyed it approvingly. It was made of silver, and the first dish Nina held out towards him was lightly steamed vegetables, the only kind Draco would generally consent to eat. Raw carrots and the like made him sick. He took up his fork, sipped from the glass of orange juice that stood next to his plate, and finished a few dainty bites before he asked, "Do we have a daily schedule?"
Nina shook her head and sat down in a chair next to the bed. "No. That would be counterproductive. If nothing else, the day after a shattering revelation, such as tends to happen to our guests from time to time, is not the one to insist on a brisk run or swim." She smiled again, but Draco saw her eyes were serious, and braced himself. "Draco, if I can ask something—what's your father like?"
Draco blinked. She must see something of him in me, but I suppose, since he's not here and she can't read his soul, this is the next best thing. "Proud," he said. "Cold. Stern. He only loves my mother and me, and he gets vengeance on anyone who hurts us." He smiled as he remembered what his father had told him about getting vengeance on the Death Eater's family who had hurt his mother. "He's a proper heir of the Malfoy line, and he's always emphasized that for me. I managed to surprise him when I showed up early to confront him and gain his respect. He didn't intend to confirm me as his magical heir, but he did." Draco knew he was bragging, but Nina had said she was there to listen to him. Who else should he brag to?
"And your mother?" Nina asked.
Draco shrugged and ate another few bites before he answered. "Also proud. She would kill if anyone threatened me or Father, and she fights beside Father in battle—you wouldn't believe how graceful they are together. But she's more skeptical about pureblood ideas than Father. She was the one who insisted that I attend Hogwarts, and I think it's because she wanted me to meet Muggleborns face to face and then still see if I could kill them. But she stayed married to Father even though he was a Death Eater, so she can't resent them all that much. She was also the one who named me. My father wanted to name me after his father, I think. I know that she loves me. There have been times when I'm unsure about Father, but I always know with Mother." He paused, and then decided that this would be the safest place to say something he hadn't even felt comfortable telling Harry. "I think she was happy when the Dark Lord fell, to tell you the truth," he said in a low voice. "She knew he would probably return, but she had the peace and time to raise me. She didn't want me to grow up in the middle of a war."
"Why did you want to know?" Draco asked, as he spread butter on a piece of toast.
Nina scanned his face. Whatever she saw there must have reassured her, because she said, "I see echoes of them both in you, Draco. And I can see you that you admire your father and thought most of your life that you'd be just like him. But you're far more your mother's son."
Draco was in the middle of eating the toast, and nearly spat out a large bite. He did manage to swallow it, though, because it wouldn't have been dignified for a Malfoy to spit. "Excuse me," he said, when he could speak again. "That's a rather large assumption to make on a day's acquaintance."
Nina laughed. "Draco, I think you forgot the part where I can see your soul."
"I am a Malfoy," Draco insisted. "I am worthy of my family's heritage, or I wouldn't have been confirmed as the Malfoy magical heir."
"Why would you think that being your mother's son made you unworthy of your Malfoy heritage?" Nina drew her knees up and placed her cheek on one of them, staring at him.
"I just—she's a Black, that's all," Draco said, a little recovered now. "Of course, it's still an honorable name and line, if you discount the insanity, but I'm not Draco Black."
"Blood has very little to do with it," said Nina. "We see someone's character, Draco. As far as blood goes, you're half Malfoy and half Black. As far as character goes, it's almost all Black. I think your mother made as sure of that as she could. Your father sounds overwhelming, but I don't think he won their war."
The image of his parents warring over how to raise him was a new one on Draco. And yet, if he thought about it, he could see where Nina might take that impression. His mother had named him, his mother had insisted on sending him to Hogwarts when Lucius had wanted Durmstrang, and he had not begun training in the pureblood rituals until he was six, despite Lucius saying his father had started him on the path to being a proper Malfoy when he was much younger.
And there were other little things that—
"Sweet Merlin," Draco breathed. "My mother's more subtle than my father is."
Nina chuckled. "Considerably, I would think, from your description of her. And you do have the potential to follow her." She scrutinized Draco carefully. "Not exactly, of course, because your relationship with Harry is very different from the way Narcissa's with Lucius's sounds. But you do have the potential to be subtle and insistent and a great political success. It sounds like your father is feared."
Draco nodded fervently.
"But you could be adored."
Draco's mind flooded with images, only a few of which involved Harry. Many were of him charming Harry's political enemies at the Ministry, even the Minister himself, who had good reason to dislike Malfoys. Others involved him making haughty purebloods forget about Harry's halfblood status, as he hadn't managed to do at his own festival, a failure that still galled him. And he saw his mother's shining face in there, too, as Narcissa returned from yet another dance done to persuade some Dark families to become Harry's allies. He wondered, for the first time, why she had done that instead of his father, if his father really was the better politician.
The thought of being half Black, or mostly Black, suddenly didn't sound half bad.
Especially because I'm not insane.
He looked up at Nina. "I think I'd like to be adored." He ignored her laughter. "Can you help show me how?"
Nina inclined her head, eyes sparkling. "We can work on that."
Harry halted on a terrace and stared down into what looked like a jungle scene. It was all crawling green vines, crowded with blue flowers. Water fell with a thunderous crash from a cascade half-buried in the vines. Harry saw birds skimming through the drops, bright flashes of green and white and pink, calling in voices that might have sounded harsh but barely managed to pierce the waterfall.
He sat down and looked up at the sun, standing near noon.
He was completely alone, again. He had put the Many snake back in his room, and he had avoided other guests and Seers in his walk, though he had sometimes heard footsteps and voices to let him know they were there.
And, for the first time, being left alone with nothing to focus on but himself was not driving him mad.
Harry closed his eyes. The sun blazed on the back of his neck, comforting heat. He lifted his hand and the stump of his left wrist, and let them both rest there, feeling the difference between them, alive, crawling fingers that scratched an itch and flicked at the sweat sliding down his skin, and scarred, ended arm.
He let himself think of having a second hand.
Carefully, he stripped the idea of all the contexts that automatically came with it: what his allies would think, what Snape and Draco would think, how it would make him look to the public if he came back from this retreat with two hands—whether Aurora Whitestag and her supporters would commend snidely on him trying to heal instead of studying how to defeat Voldemort—and how long it might take to break Bellatrix's curses and how he couldn't afford the time.
He put them all away in an Occlumency pool and looked at the idea of getting a second hand on his own.
Do you want this?
You don't have to make any decision that you don't want. Fuck what Snape and Draco would say. Your choice, Harry.
He waited, sending the question out into the maze of himself, wanting to see what echo would come back.
And like a wind, the answer came.
Maybe. I don't know yet.
Harry could feel his smile widening. He opened his eyes and watched as a parrot hurtled, squawking, from one vine to another, drenching its tail in the water on the way.
And "maybe" is perfectly fine.
Tears stung his eyes for a moment. He leaned back on the terrace and folded his arms behind his head, staring up at the sun until afterimages danced in front of his eyes.
Wonder stirred in him, lifting its head and looking cautiously around, before it romped into him and became his major emotion.
I can make those choices. I really can. And if Snape and Draco really love me, they're not going to make bargains with me over it, and no one is going to push me, and whatever I decide is, finally, fine.
The birds took off a moment later because Harry was laughing, hurling the sound like a spear down into the vines and the water, to fall and be lost in the middle of cool green.