Back at Privet Drive
It was a warm summer evening; a light breeze was ruffling the leaves in the trees; children were shouting and laughing while playing in the sprinklers. All in all it was a perfectly normal day in a perfectly normal neighborhood; normal, that is, except for an almost 16 year old wizard named Harry Potter. It happened to be Harry's first day of summer holidays from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The young wizard was standing at the stove cooking dinner for his family when his aunt walked into the room.
"Hurry up and finish, your cousin deserves a good dinner. My poor Duddykins, having to eat all that horrible school food."
"Yes, Aunt Petunia."
"When you've finished, serve our dinner in the dining room; you eat in the kitchen from now on. When we've eaten someone will call you to clean up; mind you, don't leave a single crumb on my counters. Afterwards, get yourself upstairs; neither your uncle nor I want to hear a peep from you until breakfast. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, Aunt Petunia," Harry answered in an almost lazy drawl.
With a last 'humph' Petunia stalked out of the room. Harry served the kidney pie he had prepared, and then ate his share at the kitchen table, knowing he was only allowed a full serving due to the threats some of the Order members made to his relatives earlier in the day.
"Boy, get in here!" Vernon bellowed after a while.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon."
"Clean this up." Dudley kicked him as he was clearing the table. Harry mumbled under his breath, causing Dudley to whine, "Daddy, he's doing it again."
"Boy, there'll be none of that funny business in this house, or you'll be locked in your room all summer!" With his face turning red, Vernon waddled to the living room, and Harry heard him mumble, "Freaks threaten me in public, how dare they."
Harry cleaned up the dishes and wiped down the countertops. Wandering upstairs to his room, he tried his hardest to think of nothing at all. It was better than remembering what had happened during the school year.
Several days went by in this manner; Harry's usual workload was reduced to preparing breakfast and the occasional dinner, along with some gardening. Although the verbal abuse didn't stop, it did lessen; now he only heard 'freak' about twice a day instead of all day long. Dudley still pushed him around whenever he saw him, but the 'Harry Hunting' had stopped. All in all it could have been much worse. The chores he really didn't mind − he enjoyed cooking, and at least the lawn work got him out in the fresh air. It was the only time he did not sit in his room and brood about things he could not forget.
One of these things was the conversation he had with Professor Dumbledore before leaving school, about Sirius and the prophecy.
…He will have Power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…
Harry had been trying since that day to sort out his thoughts and feelings about the prophecy, his anger at Dumbledore, and Sirius' death. His latest attempt involved a Muggle notebook his cousin Dudley had thrown out and a pen. Harry hoped that by writing out the jumble in his head he would come to some resolution for it.
He contemplated the blank wall for a moment, then started writing.
I'm still pissed at Dumbledore, he should have told me about the prophecy a long time ago. He says that he's told me everything now, but I find it hard to believe. If he kept that from me, I wonder what else he could be hiding. I almost believe his reasons − that he didn't want to burden me − but he still could be keeping things from me for the same reasons. I'm just so frustrated; it's my life, I'm the one who has to kill Voldemort, I need to know as much about him as I can if I am to be prepared. I know I'm young, but I'm not a child, I haven't been one for a long time. And speaking of the prophecy, Sweet Merlin I have to kill someone. The very thought of it makes me ill, I understand that he is evil personified, but to take a life? And how, how am I supposed to do it, what is this power that he doesn't know about? Love? Doesn't seem likely to me. I think that the Headmaster doesn't know either and is trying to give me some hope. Not reassuring. I think that love got him out of my head when Voldemort possessed me, but how does one wield love, what spell do you use? I mean, he sucks the joy out of me, but he's not a dementor so no Patronus, and that's the only spell I know using emotion. If I'm destined to kill the bastard, then why doesn't Dumbledore teach me how? And Sirius, oh Sirius, I'm so sorry, it's all my fault, I should have kept up with the Occlumency lessons, I should have trusted Snape, I knew that Order members had ways to reach each other. You were the only family I had left and I let you down, and it led to your death. I know there is no forgiveness for what I have done and failed to do, but I beg it from you anyway. My heart feels empty, it's like a big black hole has opened in it and is sucking all the joy from my life. Well, it is no less than what I deserve. I swear by whichever deity that is listening that I will avenge you.
Harry set the pen aside and sat brooding in the silence.
A month later Harry had his resolution; now he needed to steel his nerve and act on that resolution. He was glad for once that he was at the Dursleys'; they would never dream of stopping him. Now all he had left to do was write a few final letters and then move forward with his final plans.
The Weasley family was just sitting down to dinner when Hedwig flew though the open kitchen window, dropping a letter on the plate of a startled Ron Weasley.
"Well go on then, Ron," said George.
"Tell us what Harry has to say," finished Fred.
Ron cleared his throat and started to read; after a second his eyes widened and he tried to speak, but nothing came out. His sister Ginny took the letter from his limp fingers and started reading out loud.
To the Weasley family,
I want to make sure I told you all how much you've meant to me over the past 5 years. Bill and Charlie have shown me that having older brothers could be fun. Fred and George, I know without a doubt that your joke shop will be the toast of Diagon Alley. You were both always there when I needed help or a good laugh. Ginny, you've helped me see that my life isn't the only one that was controlled by Voldemort; I'm glad your encounter with him only lasted a short while. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, you've shown me what parents can and should be, you welcomed me into your home and made me feel like part of your family; I can never express how much that has meant to me. Ron, you're my best mate and have mostly seen past the boy who lived to see Harry − you can't know how much I've needed that. Once again, I want to thank you all for the love and friendship you've offered to a boy you hardly knew.
By the time Ginny finished the letter, Molly was sobbing, Arthur was tearing up, the twins were gape-mouthed and Ron had his head on the table.
"Arthur, Floo-call Albus, make him check on the poor boy right now," Molly said between sobs.
Remus Lupin was lounging on the couch in the sitting room of No. 12 Grimmauld Place, reading a good novel, enjoying the relative peace, and recovering from the full moon with a snifter of really good brandy when Hedwig delivered his missive.
"Thanks, girl, I'm glad to hear from Harry," he said while stroking the owl and unrolling the parchment from her leg. Hedwig gently nipped his finger in farewell, hooted, and left just as quickly as she arrived. Remus opened the letter, leaning back to enjoy what Harry had to say. Less than a minute later he was lurching up and spitting out a mouthful of perfectly good brandy as he read,
You are my last remaining link to my parents, and I want to thank you for sharing your memories of them with me. I also want to thank you again for helping me third year with the Patronus Charm. I have never so proud as I was when I saved Sirius from all those dementors; it was one of the few times in my life that I did the right thing and helped someone instead of hurting them. Hurting them, like I did last month. I know that I have no right to ask it of you, but I beg your forgiveness for being the cause of Sirius' death. Please know that I mourn him with all my heart, and wish that I could bring him back. I'm sorry I'm the reason you lost yet another friend to the evil that is Voldemort. Please know that you have always given me happiness and I am glad to have known you.
As soon as he read the last word, the werewolf was on his knees in front of the fireplace, yelling, "Headmaster's office, Hogwarts."
Hermione Granger lay face down on her bed, with her nose in a thick book, adding the finishing touches to her Arithmancy essay, when Hedwig flew through her open bedroom window. The snowy owl circled lazily once and landed on the open book.
"Hello, Hedwig, what's Harry doing?" After untying the scroll from the bird, Hermione rolled over to read the letter. Hedwig headed out the window for her last stop.
Are you finished with your homework yet? Just kidding. So much is happening to me right now, and I wish I had your advice. Hell, just being able to talk to you about this mess would be brilliant. Talking to you always helps me sort my thoughts; I won't even mention all the things I learn talking to you. Anyway, just need to tell you I've always appreciated your advice, even if it didn't seem like it at the time. You're the smartest witch I know, no doubt you'd come up with a dozen alternative plans for me. But I'm on my own so I guess I'll have to go with my strength. Reckless bravery. I hope you get the chance to lecture me on it later. If not, never forget: wands don't belong anywhere near a troll nostril, and you are the best friend I've ever had.
"Oh, Harry, please don't do anything stupid," whispered the young woman on the bed. She was afraid that by the time she could contact the Weasleys or Headmaster Dumbledore, it would be too late to help Harry.
The Potions master of Hogwarts sat at his desk in his study, wrestling with lesson plans for the next year's group of dunderheads to ignore and/or fail, when he heard a noise. Looking around, he noticed a snowy owl flying in from the living room. "Well, I do believe you are Potter's owl, are you not?" he inquired. The owl in question landed lightly on the open lesson plans and politely held out her leg. Once the scroll was removed by precise hands, Hedwig flew out the way she came in and headed up to the owlery.
Severus Snape sat back in his chair, removed his wand from his shirt sleeve and proceeded to cast every spell-revealing charm he knew. When it was clear that the scroll was just parchment and ink, he picked it up and tapped it lightly on his desk while he thought. Why in the bloody hell would Potter of all people be sending me a letter? he thought. What in Merlin's name is he up to this time? Ah well, only one way to find out. And he gently unrolled the parchment, still not convinced that this wasn't some kind of prank.
I hope you'll read this and not burn it as soon as you realize who it's from. Maybe your suspicious nature will be enough to entice you to read on. Despite your suspicions, this is not a prank or a dare. I have an apology to offer and information I feel you need to know. Have I got your attention yet? Good. First, I am sorry for looking in your Pensieve; it was inexcusable. There is no acceptable reason for what I did; I was angry and it was there. Like I said, inexcusable; I ask your forgiveness anyway. Second, I don't know how much it means coming from me, but I am sorry that my father and Sirius were so horrible to you. What they did was wrong; I hope my father changed as he got older. Sadly, I don't think Sirius ever did. Between you and me there seems to be an endless list of apologies we owe each other. While I don't ever expect to hear one from you, I feel compelled to give my own. I'm sorry I blamed you for Sirius' death. I'm sorry I didn't try harder in Occlumency. I'm sorry I didn't trust you to inform the Order that day in Umbridge's office. I'm sorry that said lack of trust led to my rash actions and ultimately Sirius dying. For what it's worth, I have learned that lesson at least. Given what I've seen in my visions of Voldemort I no longer doubt you. I want you to know you have my respect, my admiration, and my trust. What visions am I talking about, you ask? I don't know if you are aware but they have not stopped; moreover, I can now tell the difference between what is planted and those that are real. I've been sending accounts of the visions to Dumbledore all summer. I think he's using them to test your loyalty; he keeps asking for details on what you say and do in Voldemort's presence. I know Dumbledore has another spy among the Death Eaters but I haven't been able to discover who it is. I know that Dumbledore has never told me the full truth, and I was unsure if you were aware of this information. Do with it what you will. I wish you the best.
Severus read the letter once more, set it down on the desk, stood, walked over to the bookshelf opposite his desk, poured a healthy three fingers of scotch, sat back down and read the letter a third time while sipping the expensive liquor. Well, the Potter brat just got interesting, he mused. Why is he giving me this information? The apologies I can see, he is such a Gryffindor that once he perceives that he has misbehaved he will always apologize, but the second spy and Albus doubting me? What does he expect for that information? Very intriguing. He will bear more careful watching and a little digging when term starts. Severus Snape did not believe in information freely given; he always expected to have to pay for it. The question was, could he afford it?
The Potions master settled back down to the lesson plans and brooding when, for the second time in an hour, an annoyance in the form of that blasted phoenix interrupted him. After an angry glower failed to make the stupid bird leave he took a note from its beak. "I have no desire to put up with Albus right now, so remove yourself from my presence; I will deal with this missive at my leisure," he grumbled. Fawkes trilled out a sharp note. "Bugger it, I will read it now, you despotic bird."
Would you be so kind as to come to see me before dinner? I have several items to discuss with you. It should not take long.
When a look at the clock on his desk showed there was only an hour till dinner, Severus stood up and grabbed his robes, slipping them on and doing up the many small buttons. He scowled at the phoenix. "Tell the meddling old coot that I'm on my way up." Once the bird left, the Potions master took the Potter boy's letter, set it on the floor and burned it, carefully disposing of the ashes.
Severus walked out of his study, though the parlor, and out his door. After double checking that his wards were secure, he stalked with his normal ground-eating stride towards the headmaster's office. A nod to the Bloody Baron, a casual curse with his wand that sent Peeves screaming to the other side of the castle, and ten minutes time saw him there. Spitting out the asinine password of the day − 'Sugar Quills', − he made his way into the over-decorated, recently trashed office of the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
"Ah, Severus, thank you for coming," said Albus. "Tea?"
"If you can refrain from lacing it with calming draught, then yes." Severus sat in the least offensive chair: a wing-backed arm chair across from the headmaster's desk. After receiving his tea and sniffing it to assure himself it was only tea, he drawled, "What is it that you wished to see me about, Headmaster?"
"There is a possibility that Voldemort may try to kidnap Harry Potter on his birthday. I was wondering if you had heard anything on this matter," Albus said from behind his desk where he was sipping his tea.
"Albus, if I had information regarding the kidnapping of your Golden Boy, you would be the first person I informed. No matter how much I personally dislike the brat, I am cognizant of the fact that he is vital to this war. How strong of a possibility are we talking about?" Severus was sincerely worried, not that he would ever admit such a thing. It was almost enough to make him wish there had been a calming draught in the tea. Almost.
"I'm sure my informant told me what they heard; I am unsure, however, of the accuracy of what they heard. I was hoping to verify it with you. I was also told by the same source that Lucius Malfoy escaped from Azkaban two weeks ago, but the Ministry will not confirm that. Have you any information?" The headmaster seemed worried that his spy was not aware of these developments.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Albus, I have told you everything I heard at the last meeting. I have not seen Lucius, nor has the Dark Lord mentioned him."
Unable to contain his restlessness any longer, Severus stood to prowl around the office. "Is my inability to substantiate these rumors the reason behind your recent misgivings in regards to my true allegiance?"
The stilted formal words pained the Headmaster; Severus only took refuge behind them when upset. Albus rushed to reassure him, "My dear boy, I have never doubted you. My concern is that you do not seem to have Voldemort's ear anymore; I am afraid that he suspects you. I believe the time is coming for you to remain here when he calls."
"Albus, I think I would be aware if he suspected me. All the raids that I have informed you of have taken place. There is no reason to believe he suspects my true loyalties. May I inquire as to who this informant is?" The Potions master was still pacing restlessly around the office. Let's see if the old coot will tell me about Potter's visions or the identity of the other spy. I questioned the accuracy of Potter's statement, but not now. No matter that Albus claims not to doubt me, I can see the doubt in his eyes, and if I'm to be truthful, I've seen it for months now. Why am I surprised; no one ever trusts the spy. I have never lied to him. The only one I lie to is the Dark Lord and those lies are at the coot's behest.
"I'm sorry, Severus, but my informant wishes to remain anonymous at this time, although I do wish I could tell you. One of my greatest fears is that your position will be compromised soon. I worry about you, my boy."
Severus snorted at this. "I'm a grown man, Albus, fully capable of taking care of myself. Do not worry yourself on my account; worry about your Golden Boy. When is the brat's birthday?"
"Young Harry will turn 16 on the 31st of this month. Only two days from now, and I fear that we will have to retrieve him early this year."
Severus hissed suddenly as liquid fire went through him. He grabbed his left forearm and hastily said, "We will have to continue this conversation at a later time. I am being summoned. Perhaps I will have more detailed information regarding Potter for you later this evening." With that, he turned on his heels and strode out the door, robes billowing behind him.
A softly spoken 'Take care, my dear boy' followed him out.