Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters, etc, are the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. I make no money by this story. Chapter titles are Bible quotes. Original story is mine and can be read, in its original format, via my user page.
Author's Note: Although this story is a re-working, it's been entirely re-written to fit a post-HBP universe.
In the Beginning
Harry grinned across the table at Ron as he started an animated monologue about a prank Fred and George had played on their older brother Percy. He had heard it before, more than once, but it was still funny. Hermione was trying to look cross, but the telltale creases at the corners of her mouth betrayed the smile that was threatening to escape.
The grin subsided to a small, regretful smile. Harry took a moment to look around the Weasleys' large dining table, custom made to fit nine people with space for guests. The scratches in the varnish, the scorch marks and worn-smooth corners telling years' worth of tales about each and every Weasley, honorary or genuine, that had ever sat about it. Harry could see a faded blue spot next to Mr. Weasley's elbow where he and Ron had been pretending to do their Christmas Charms homework. In fact they had been playing Exploding Snap behind their textbooks, and a particularly vivacious win had made Ron jump and spill the bottle of ink beside him. He was a part of this family's history – a part of this family. But this may be the last time he sat at their table.
Ron stopped talking as a large snowy owl dropped lightly onto the table between himself and Harry. Hermione watched as Hedwig landed gracefully on the table and sidled towards her master. "Everything OK, Harry?"
Harry nodded, smiling briefly. He was grateful to see that Hedwig's leg was burdened with a small scroll. He glanced up at Ron, before quickly untying the note and feeding her some scraps of chicken from the remains of his dinner.
The letter was on a thick sheaf of parchment bearing the Hogwarts crest. His eyes traveled quickly over the cursive script once, before he read it aloud to the curious Weasleys.
I am aware of your plans to visit your aunt and uncle, as Albus requested, and that you will probably spend the remainder of the year away from Hogwarts. We will all miss you but, of course, understand the necessity of your actions. I would, however, like to request an audience with you before you begin your journey. Perhaps you could come to the school before term begins. I will be here preparing, whenever is convenient.
Professor Minerva McGonagall
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry"
"I suppose that's it, then?" Mrs Weasley said, after a long pause. "You really aren't going back to school."
"No, we're not," Ron replied.
Mrs Weasley stared long and hard at the table mapping the saga of her large family. "You know I always wanted you all to have a good education."
"Molly," Mr. Weasley tried to interrupt with an heir of futility.
"Fred and George didn't finish their NEWTs, but they were prepared – they knew where they were going. I understand, Harry dear," she said, smiling benevolently at the boy who had become her seventh son. "I know what you need to do. But Ronald … you're a prefect!" she finished, unable to otherwise express herself.
"Mum, I know you want the best for me, but I need to act for the greater good. Harry needs me. Right?" Ron looked to Harry for confirmation.
"All the help I can get."
"I'll be fine, Mum."
"But you can help from Hogwarts, Ron—"
"That's enough, Molly," Mr. Weasley said more firmly. "Ron must decide his own fate." He stood and walked to his youngest son, laying a hand on his shoulder. "We'll be here when you come home, or if you need us. Know that. And that you have our love."
Harry stroked Hedwig's warm, smooth feathers, and looked away as father and son embraced.
Harry walked the familiar twists and turns of the labyrinth-like school. The stone halls and granite floors had seemed to glitter when he first stepped across the threshold, a wide-eyed first year. Now the corridors were empty and dust hung in the late summer air. His footsteps seemed too loud, stabbing at the comfortable silence that had settled into Hogwarts' every nook and cranny.
Eventually he came to the crouched stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's office.
No. Professor McGonagall's office.
"Tartan," he said, feeling awkward. He missed the predictable sugary passwords. The Scottish theme didn't seem to suit nearly so well.
The gargoyle shifted to one side, revealing the large stone archway behind. Harry walked through into the familiar hall. Looking around him, he saw that nothing had changed. It was the same bare room it had always been, but for the revolving spiral staircase that led up to Dumbledore's main office. He walked forwards onto the first step, holding onto the banister as it took him slowly up to the main office.
Harry stepped off the staircase again as he reached the top and stood on the landing, looking uncertainly at the large oak door before him. The silence around him hung thick in the air, unbroken by murmurs, whispers or voices of any kind. He took another step forwards and lifted the brass knocker. As he released it, a loud boom echoed throughout the small space and almost made Harry jump.
The door swung open of its own accord. Frowning, Harry stepped through the doorway and into the office. Portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters and mistresses snored softly, their snorts and sleep-addled mutterings relieving the quiet that made him uncomfortable. Harry glanced around the room, wondering who had opened the door. His gaze fell instinctively on the painting that hung directly opposite him, at the head of the room. Dumbledore slept quietly, without the twitches or drooping mouth of some of his colleagues. His half-moon glasses had slipped from one ear and drooped across his face. The deeply lined, parchment pale face looked peaceful, as it had back in Harry's first year.
Harry walked over to the chair in front of the huge desk and sat down, purposely turned away from that familiar face. He leant on the desk, steepling his fingers before his eyes, and watched the doors.
Something on the desk, however, caught his eye. It was bare but for a large, stone basin filled with a strange silvery white mist. Harry had seen it before, of course. It was Professor Dumbledore's penseive.
He did not mean to, but something compelled Harry to lean over the desk, gaze into the strange, swirling strands of thought. The gossamer threads whirled, the occasional face or image floating to the surface, just to be swept away again. He thought he saw … but then it was gone. Harry drew his wand and poked the surface, stilling the flashing images. The surface became glassy, reflecting the streaming sunlight into Harry's eyes. Dumbledore shone through the light, and Harry lowered his face into the penseive.
The air rushed past Harry as he tumbled head over heels through a torch-lit chamber, yet somehow landed neatly on his feet. It was the old trial room where, two years ago, he had waited with a lead stomach for Cornelius Fudge's verdict on his continuing education at Hogwarts. Now the chamber was filled with people, solemn and silent. Some he recognized: Mad-Eye Moody sat to his right, and to his left sat Mr. Crouch in a raised seat. In front of him sat Professors McGonagall, Sprout and Flitwick. Harry frowned – he had seen penseive memories of the post-war trials before, but had never noticed his professors attending them.
Footsteps echoed through the silence and people shifted restlessly as a small black door opened on the opposite side of the chamber. Three figures stepped into the arena-like floor space. A man in shoddy black robes with dark hair and sallow skin flanked by two Dementors, their scaly grey hands hooked about his elbows. The Dementors led him to the familiar, strangely horrifying chair with gold chains, bewitched to hold captive anyone who sat in it. The gold chains wove their way up the man's arms and he raised his head slowly to look up at Mr. Crouch. Harry's throat constricted and he swallowed down the bile that quickly rose at the sight of Professor Snape's face.
The hatred making Harry's head thrum was alleviated very slightly by the fact Snape looked awful. The man's face was drawn and bloodless, with heavy dark circles under his eyes. His lank hair contrasted drastically to his too-pale skin, and his usually glittering black eyes were strangely dull. Harry could for the first time see what it did to a man who had committed true crimes to be surrounded by Dementors, and it gave him a thrill of black satisfaction.
"Severus Snape, you have been called before this council under suspicion of being a Death Eater, for charges of severe harm to Muggles and the illegal use of the unforgivable curses. Do you understand the charges?" Barty Crouch's voice rang out in the large chamber but every eye in the room was focused on Snape.
"Yes." His voice sounded dead. It matched his corpse-like appearance.
"I understand you have someone to vouch for you?"
"Yes," he croaked feebly. Harry smirked as the greasy head was lowered, the curtain of hair too stringy to hide Snape's grimace as he swallowed. "Dumbledore. Albus Dumbledore."
Hushed mumbles and mutterings filled the room as Professor Dumbledore – young, smiling, alive—rose from his seat at the front of the courtroom and walked towards Snape's chair.
"Waste of time, if you ask me," growled Mad-Eye from beside him. "A Death Eater if ever I saw one – had it in him since he was a boy."
Professor McGonagall turned in her seat, looking pale, her thin mouth drawn into an angry line. "No one has asked you, Alastor, and to be frank I'm sure we would all appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself." Mad-Eye only growled into his hip flask, glaring at Professor McGonagall.
Mr Crouch called, unnecessarily, for silence. "Professor Dumbledore. Please present your case for the defendant."
Dumbledore looked grave but nodded, laying a reassuring hand on Snape's shoulder that made Harry shudder. Snape flinched away from the touch and closed his eyes, as though sharing Harry's sentiments. "You have before you sir, a full account written by myself and a confirmation written by Minerva McGonagall, of Severus' dealings with Lord Voldemort." People around the room gasped, as though terrified the name would invoke the man. "And of his aid to our side during the last year or so," Dumbledore continued. "For those of you who do not have this report, let me briefly outline its contents.
"Severus Snape was, indeed, a Death Eater. The evidence is branded plain enough on his left arm. For the past year however, Severus has been relaying information to myself on Voldemort's plans and whereabouts, at great personal risk to himself. He has saved lives, where it has been possible, both directly and indirectly. Furthermore, since he has been taken into custody, Severus has supplied the ministry with a list of Death Eaters and their whereabouts – I believe most of them have since been apprehended."
"Yes, yes, very good Dumbledore," said Mr Crouch, his eyes scanning a large roll of parchment in his lap. "The fact still remains that this man was a Death Eater, and committed crimes in Voldemort's name."
Harry watched a look of restrained anger pass over Dumbledore's features, and it made his heart ache, to watch the headmaster so fiercely defend his killer. "So, indeed, was Lucius Malfoy but that did not stop you re-admitting him into the wizarding world." The words were spoken in a quiet, dangerous voice and Harry noted a slight shuffling half way down the benches on the right wall. He looked at the people there and saw the white-blonde hair of a young Lucius Malfoy, who was staring very hard at the opposite wall.
"If I may speak, Albus? Mr Crouch?" Snape's deadened voice spoke into the soft murmurs.
Dumbledore nodded his ascent, and Crouch said, "You may speak."
Snape stared unseeingly at the wall as he spoke. "I was a Death Eater. My reasons are inexcusable and, I suspect, irrelevant to this court. There is something, however, you must understand about my position. As a Death Eater I saw things that you – none of you—can even imagine. I watched my friends – people I trusted – commit rape, torture, murder the innocent." Harry's hands gripped the bench until the knuckles turned white. "Those memories haunt me, and will continue to haunt me every day of my life. They are a torture far worse than anything the Dementors can come up with. I do not deserve to be released..."
"Then stay there! Stay there and rot!" Harry shouted. No one turned scandalized eyes on him. Snape only hung his head, silent and passive. Dumbledore frowned sympathetically, like a grandfather nursing a favourite child through chicken pox.
"I do not deserve to be released from Azkaban," Snape continued softly, "but I can serve no penance there either. I am no use to anybody. Allow me back into the world, and I may yet make amends for my actions."
Dumbledore nodded once to Crouch, then sat back down in his place. Crouch sighed heavily and rose from his seat. "As with all Death Eater cases, your appeal verdict will be decided by a jury selected from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The verdict will be delivered at midday on Thursday. Until that time you will be returned to Azkaban."
Crouch nodded to the two Dementors. They released Snape from the chair, taking him back through the small black door.
The scene shifted completely. Harry was no longer in the courtroom but in a long corridor of stone walls and iron bars. He could hear wailing and screaming all around him, as though it were coming from the walls. He quickly realised where he was. Harry shivered, knowing he must be in Azkaban.
Soft footsteps could just be heard above the bone-chilling wails. Harry looked behind him to see Dumbledore walking towards him, lead by another Dementor. He pushed himself against the bars behind him to avoid touching the flowing black shroud as it walked past, before following the pair to a cell near the end of the corridor. The Dementor unlocked the barred door and stepped back to allow Dumbledore through. Harry followed quickly behind him, not wanting to miss whatever would be said.
"We tried, Severus. Now all we can do is wait for the verdict."
Snape sat on a straw-filled mattress with dirty grey and moth-eaten blankets. He had removed his robes, and sat now in a mud- and blood-stained shirt and black trousers, his greasy head cradled in his hands.
"I know, Albus. Thank you for your help but I think we know what the outcome will be."
"Severus, you are a good friend of mine – one of my trusted. I will not allow you to wallow in self-pity, to waste away in this hellhole when there are better purposes to your life. You said it yourself: rotting here you are no use to anybody. But in the world you may serve your penance."
"It's a hopeless case, Albus…"
"Now that I will not hear! They let Lucius Malfoy out. If it's a matter of guilty or innocent they will certainly release you."
Snape raised his head slowly and looked Dumbledore in the eye. His lips twitched in something that may, on closer inspection, have been a smile. Harry's stomach twisted along with Snape's lips. "I will never be able to thank you enough for what you have done for me, Albus."
"Some thanks," Harry snorted to himself.
"Nonsense, dear boy. I am sure I will think of something suitably torturous for you to do for me."
"Harry?" A hand slid onto his shoulder. He turned slowly, guiltily.
Professor McGonagall's mouth was tight, but her voice was more worried than angry. "You have pre-empted me, Harry."
"You wanted me to see this?"
"No, not exactly," she admitted. The slimy walls around them faded away to a white swirling mist, teeming with ghostly shapes and faces. "These must be the events that were forefront in Albus' mind, before he…" she swallowed. "They keep appearing. I don't know how to stop them until the penseive becomes more accustomed to me." The tall lady looked around at the mist fondly, as it grew darker and began to take form.
It took them, slowly, like a lifting fog, out into Hogwarts' grounds. They stood by Hagrid's hut. The day was bright and warm, the trees and grass around them a lush green.
"This is what I wanted you to see."
Professor Dumbledore walked towards them from the lake. He lifted his face to the sun and smiled as its rays warmed his pale, slightly freckled skin. "A beautiful day, isn't it?"
"Albus, don't be so trivial." Snape walked behind him. He seemed anxious to catch up, to walk beside Dumbledore, although the old man walked at a leisurely pace. "What, in the name of Beelzebub's bollocks, is the meaning of this?"
He waved a strip of golden ribbon at the headmaster, who ignored it but frowned. "Tsk, Severus. The children."
"The children are all busy conspiring to blow up the school, their fragile ears will not be sullied by my uncensored wrath."
Dumbledore just chuckled.
"This is no laughing matter. You won't avoid me, Albus."
The old man sighed. "Very well." He stopped and turned, resigned. "What is it?"
"What the hell is the meaning of this message? 'The vow has no loophole, stop, be prepared for the worst, stop, try to save dragon, full stop.'"
"I think it speaks for itself," Dumbledore said softly.
"Without consultation? You think you can just order me into something like this like – like I'm just to fetch some potion ingredients? A negligent flick of the wand, it'll all be sorted. It doesn't work that way, Albus."
"Dear boy," the head master said urgently. "I understand you're upset, but kindly lower-"
"You ask too much, sir!" Snape said loudly. Harry thought he saw a large shadow slip further behind Hagrid's hut. "I won't do it! You can't ask me to!"
"Severus, please." Dumbledore brushed his healthy hand against the other man's pale cheek, smiled softly. "I am dead. It's already happened. You know that, better than anyone. Please, Severus. You must be strong."
Snape shook his head. Harry was not close enough to hear, but he saw the words shape his thin lips. "I can't … I can't do it."
"But you will." Dumbledore breathed in deeply, glancing at the place where Hagrid's great shadow had fallen, staining the grass grey. "Let us return to the castle. We will talk further there."
"Whose memory was this?" Harry asked as he watched the two tall men walk side by side across the grass. "Snape's? Did he give it to you? Because you can change your memories, and Snape's memories and stuff are really controlled-"
"It was already in the penseive. I suspected Severus' interference, somehow, but Hagrid's memory confirmed it. You saw the shadow, I suppose?"
Harry nodded, swallowing his impotent anger. "He told me about this. He heard them arguing, but he only heard part of it. He didn't know the rest."
"It was there – indistinct, but enough to make me sure this is a true memory, whoever left it."
Professor McGonagall gripped Harry's shoulders once again, lifting him cleanly into the dim light of the office. Harry sat heavily, palms pressed to his eyes.
"I thought you should know," she said softly. "It might not change much, but … I feel it will be important."