Chapter Thirty One
If I do not participate in the sacrifice, it is as if I did not sacrifice at all. Confucius
The long room was filled with a soft yellow winter light. Snow fell gently outside and all sounds were muffled so that it seemed like a choir of angels would break forth in a requiem at any moment.
Madam Pomphrey hurried from bed to bed. She, like others of her kind, were busy and the hospital wing at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was no exception. She had been much busier only days before but now her sole charges were three men laying in the beds that occupied the wing.
There were visitors that were also present and many more that had come and gone through out the days and nights. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley as well as the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, watched the three people in silence. Madam Pomphrey went about her duties and tasks unmindful of them. They had been in the room with her patients so long that she ceased try and make conversation with them any longer.
Hermione watched the face of Harry Potter, then that of Remus Lupin and moved on to Severus Snape. They had not been conscious since the battle that had taken place several weeks previously. She had, herself, only recently been released from her own hospital bed.
Sitting next to her and holding her hand was Ron Weasley. His head was bent and he studied the floor, silent with grief. And on her lap, Crookshanks, her pug-nosed orange cat, sat contentedly swishing its tail.
The night of the battle, Dumbledore had made his way into the Riddle Mansion, along with Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt and many others, through the maze of hallways and stairs until they had come upon Seamus Finnegan, Luna Lovegood and Susan Bones fighting their way up the stairs to a third floor room. Dumbledore and the others had finally burst into the room defended by Ron Weasley and Minerva McGonagal. Bodies littered the floor and the narrow hallway.
Hermione had reached her limits when Remus Lupin dropped down at her feet at the same moment that Voldemort had keeled over. Dumbledore found her sobbing uncontrollably and holding Lupin in her arms with a hand pressed to Snape's chest.
The horrific figure of Voldemort was laying nearby. Dumbledore kneeled beside the dark wizard and studied him for a long time and then stood and nodded to McGonagal, who rounded up Hogwarts students and whisked them away. One-by-one, the unconscious, the injured and the dead were removed from the house and grounds.
Ministry wizards and Aurors swarmed into the house shortly after members of the Order had rescued their colleagues. They found an almost empty battleground, with the exception of some Death Eaters that were neatly imprisoned within the house and a dead Voldemort laying in a room that looked as if an explosion had gone off inside.
At Hogwarts, a throng of students were up out of bed and in the hallways watching as casualties were brought in and taken to the hospital wing; an overflow from the injured sent to St. Mungo's.
Dumbledore stood beside Hermione and Ron as they watched Harry carried in and placed in a bed beside Remus Lupin and Severus Snape. Neville had been found in the woods a short distance from the house holding Harry in his arms and weeping. The three had collapsed into unconsciousness the minute Snape had inhaled the contents of the vial.
Dumbledore was talking quietly to Hermione, trying to explain their condition. "It's the link they share, Miss Granger," Albus said, standing beside Snape's bed. "When they took the oath they became connected just as you are aware that there is a connection between you and Professor McGonagal. What happens to one, happens to them all."
"Will Harry live?" Hermione gasped. "Professor Snape took the poison when he possessed Voldemort! Does that mean they have all been poisoned? What about Remus?"
"It is obvious that they have survived," Dumbledore said, gesturing at the forms lying in the beds.. "Professor McGonagal told me that you gave Professor Snape the potion from the other vial seconds after Voldemort took the poison. It may be that it has saved their lives." He studied the faces of the three and patted her on the shoulder. "It will all sort itself out I suspect. It is time to allow Madam Pomphrey to attend to your wounds now."
Days later, Hermione sat frowning at the wall. It had not sorted itself out, she was thinking. She studied Harry's eyes as they moved beneath the lids. It appeared all three; Harry, Remus Lupin and Severus Snape, were dreaming.
"Hermione," Ron's head came up. "I hope Harry wakes up soon. I just saw Hagrid and he's keen to have Harry teach him parseltongue. I guess Nagini is a bit hard to handle." He attempted a smile and Albus looked over at him with sad, soft eyes. Professor McGonagal had given the enormous snake as a gift to their friend after she had transfigured it back to its' original form.
Hermione was not to be mollified. She was spending half of her time at Harry's bedside and half the time in the library. It had been in vain. She could not find a cure or even the ingredients of the potion that she had given Snape, not could Albus tell her where is originated and who made it.
She sat silently and Dumbledore stood and waited as Ron pressed his hands into her shoulders for comfort and then left with him. Hermione sat alone in the warm room and rocked gently back in forth in a rocking chair.
Outside in the hallway, several people gathered with the headmaster and Ron, including Neville Longbottom, Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Seamus Finnegan, Dean Thomas.
"What are we to do Professor? Ron asked. "Hermione won't leave their bedside. Even finding out that her parents weren't really killed wasn't enough to bring her out of this." Ron's shoulders slumped and Ginny put a protective arm around his back. "I care about Harry too, Professor. I just don't know what to do," he mumbled
"There is nothing that I can do and nothing that you can do now," Albus said, gently. "We must wait. We will give it a few more days."
"What then, Professor?" Ginny asked. Neville was holding her hand and biting his lip.
He told them.
"Miss Granger," Albus said, finally, stepping in to speak to Hermione as she sat reading aloud beside Harry's bed. He strolled to each bedside and laid his aged hand on each chest and watched the faces. He spoke quietly, "They cannot wake. They share the same dream and one of the dreamers controls the outcome of the dream."
"Professor Snape," Hermione stated, conclusively, surmising who the person was that was in control.
"Yes," Albus confirmed her guess. "He has decided that he does not want to live; perhaps, has nothing to live for." He sat in a chair beside her and she looked into the cool clear blue eyes that had always seemed so comforting before. He had no comfort to give her now. " Hermione, understand that because the dreamer shares his dream with the others; none can wake."
"But he was given the Elixir of Life. It's suppose to give the person immortality," she argued in frustration.
Dumbledore shook his head. "They are just potions. The Elixir of Life is a myth. We do not know who made this potion and what is in it. Do not place your trust in potions. It may very well give Professor Snape a very long life; but first, he must want that life."
"We've got to do something!" she exclaimed in anger.
He patted her arm and lifted the book she was reading from her hands and studied it for a moment. He handed it back and looked into her face. "There are two other people that share the dream with Severus. Trust your friends, Hermione. Trust Remus and trust Harry."
Hermione watched him leave the hospital wing and stared at the steady rise and fall of their chests as they breathed. She felt the tears run down her cheeks and didn't bother to brush them away.
Hermione didn't trust Dumbledore understanding of the three men that lay silently before her.
She had seen Remus Lupin in the films they had watched. She had seen love written all over his face for the woman that he was to lose soon after, the woman he had virtually abandoned. She also had seen his agony at being a werewolf and what it had cost him to not be available to his friends. He had lost them all in the end. His life had been a miserable existence and yet she felt in her heart that he was a very kind, gentle, loving man and Harry deserved to have him in his life. She wondered if he had the strength to continue on.
Then there was Harry. Wasn't she Harry's closet friend? she thought to herself. Hadn't she seen him suffer because of his life? Hermione studied every inch of his face and dropped her head momentarily. Her feelings were mixed and always had been about him. She knew that she loved Ron, but she had also loved Harry. Hermione recalled everything she knew about Harry's mother and felt a kinship with her. Lily had loved all of her friends, too. She had sacrificed herself for them.
Hermione glanced up, wondering if she would ever hear Harry speak again, knowing that she would do the same thing Lily had done if given the chance. She reached over and smooth his bed covers just to touch him, as if she could transmit her feelings by touch. "Please don't die Harry. It can be better now."
Above all else, there was Snape; the key to the state that each of the three were in and to Harry's survival. She looked over at him. Hermione dropped her book, stood and walked over to his side. She took his hand, pale with long slender fingers, stained by years of potion-making. She held it tenderly.
So you have to be the one who decides, she thought. She studied his face. This was a man of many mysteries, a man who carried great pain and yet had not allowed himself to be human and express it. He had been hard and unforgiving of everyone, including himself. But she had seen his willingness to sacrifice in the cave under the city. He had protected her. The man who had been so brutal and cruel and unfeeling as a teacher had shown his quality in that dark landscape. And then again, he had taken possession of Voldemort knowing in that instant that she had walked through the door that she had intended to do it.
Hermione had many reasons to turn away from him and guard her feelings about him. She could refuse to feel any compassion towards him, knowing that if he were aware of her, that he would revert to his old habits. At the moment, she studied his face and could not bring herself to hate him.
You must wake up! she thought as she stared at his closed eyes. Aloud, she said, "What good is it if you saved Harry's life, Professor, and then take him into the dark with you. Lily would be heartbroken!"
She leaned in and saw his lips move at the sound of Lily's name. "Yes, Professor, that's it. Think about her. You've done it all for Lily." Hermione grasped his hand tightly and waited; yet the eyelashes fluttered and did not open. "Do not fail her now."
Think, Hermione, think! she shouted at herself. You have to do something!
She held his hand and then laid her forehead on his chest, exhausted and disconsolate.
That evening Dumbledore stepped in to the candle-lit room. "We are moving them to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries tomorrow. They will be cared for by the best healers that we know."
She shook her head and frowned without answering.
"It must be done," Albus said. He patted her shoulder, "I'm sorry. It is best for them and for you. You have not eaten or slept for days. It will not do for you to become ill again. It's time to move on. Your friends, your other friends, are concerned about you." She stared at the three figures. He sat down beside her and waited. The sounds in the room seemed slightly muffled by a cloak of falling snow outside.
"Professor don't you think its time you told the story?" she asked quietly. She continued to watch the sleeping men. "Don't you think someone should know Lily's story? There are three people laying in these beds and you are asking me to let go of them, to stop fighting for them. I need to know why we should do that."
Dumbledore dropped his head and sighed deeply. Minutes went by and she wasn't sure that he was going to answer her; and then he began to speak.
"Lily Potter was a woman of light and love," he began, "wise beyond her years and doomed; a tragic figure of her time. And, I think she knew it. I think she lived her life like a bright burning flame." He settled back and Hermione saw his eyes drift to the window where white snow fell against a black background of night. "She loved her boys." His eyes drifted to Hermione as if to say, 'you know what I mean'.
And she did. Hermione had often thought of Ron and Harry as more like children that needed to be taken care of. She had never put words to those feelings, but there was a part of her that was maternal and she knew that Lily Potter had felt that way about Sirius, Remus and Peter. She nodded, reluctant to say anything and break his train of thought.
"They were a wounded lot, those boys," Dumbledore mumbled"Sirius was rejected by his pureblood family. The Blacks were notorious for their affiliations with other purebloods, for their advocacy of the pureblood way of life. I am afraid to say that included the use of dark magic and studying the dark arts." Albus shook his head. "James hated that and the two were inexorably drawn to one another. Lily also hated the politics of that kind of thinking, and the horrific outcome of it and of course, was drawn to protecting the mistreated. Very much like you are drawn to it, Miss Granger. I understand that you have an organization called Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare." His eyes sparkled with mild amusement.
Hermione blushed and scratched her nose absentmindedly. He had been the first to call it by its correct name.
"Then, there was Remus," Albus continued, his face growing grim once again. They both glanced at the still figure in the bed, sandwiched between Snape and Harry. "He has known torment and despair like only those of his kind can truly know. But he has also known comradeship, loyalty and love. Lily loved them all. She knew how to offer a special kind of compassion few will ever understand. It is a gift and it was her special gift."
"Does that mean she didn't love Harry's father?" Hermione asked.
Dumbledore frowned and shook his head. "No, no. Their relationship was very solid, very secure. James was the type of man who understood her feelings for his friends. The two of them formed a family of sorts that included many people, not just Sirius, Remus and Peter. There are people like that Miss Granger. And those that are lost, lonely and forlorn are drawn to that energy; are succored by it. No they loved each other and they loved their friends and in return they had many people who were willing to sacrifice and give their lives for them."
She nodded and once again bit her lip to stay silent.
He turned to the fire burning brightly at the end of the corridor and his eyes were softened by the remembrance. "Yes, they were very loving people. But Lily…. we were talking of Lily. She was haunted by the death of her parents. The night they died she met with a young man who was infatuated with her, who followed her and saw what was done. They made a bond, an oath that very night. It was Severus Snape. He had also made another oath that night; one that he could not break no matter how hard he wanted to deny its existence. A man forced that oath on him, a man who lusted after the very things that Severus had. Tom Riddle decided to make the boy his protégé and he marked him that very night and bound him to him."
"Voldemort?" Hermione asked. "What did Professor Snape have that Voldemort wanted?"
Dumbledore stared at the fire and answered, "Family, money…to be a pureblood. Severus was a bright boy, very skilled and already leaning to the dark side of magic. But, he made a mistake. I don't think Tom Riddle understood that Severus heart was already filled. Yes, he had a difficult childhood, hated his parents, struggled here at school; but he did not have a black heart. That night Lily saved him from falling into that black abyss. Riddle had marked him, but it was only skin deep. He could not change his heart; that belonged to Lily."
"Then what happened, Professor?" Hermione curled up in the chair and glanced periodically at the faces of each man laying in their respective beds, lit by a single candle flame. They remained sleeping and motionless.
"Lily became a crusader and was joined by a loyal companion," he answered. "Although I don't think she ever really knew the depths to which his loyalty ran."
"Severus Snape. You talking about Professor Snape," Hermione confirmed and Dumbledore nodded. " But Professor, she had to keep him a secret from the others. They hated one another; James Potter and Sirius Black hated Severus Snape."
Dumbledore glanced at her and nodded. "The films you saw spoke volumes. To Lily's credit, she accomplished a great deal in her quest, but she could not change the feelings these men had for one another and Severus felt no loyalty towards the others."
"What are you saying Professor?" Hermione sat up straight in her chair knowing that the key to what had gone on so many years ago was about to be revealed.
The older man remained silent staring at the fire. Hermione slowly moved her feet out of the chair and leaned forward to encourage him. "Lily and Severus planned to assassinate Voldemort. They were interrupted by Remus, Sirius and James Potter. They all learn about Lily's association with Severus. Then something happened, but what? Lily and James stayed together. She took him to St. Mungo's that night after Snape and he dueled and then he went home when he was discharged. They were together when they were murdered." She talked aloud even as she was thinking through the events of that time. She stopped and they stared at one another. Something pricked at her brain and then it dawned on her. "But Peter Pettigrew was not there the night that the other three burst in on Lily and Snape and Voldemort!"
Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes were glued to her face. She returned his look but was busy thinking.
"Peter was the secret keeper and he told Voldemort where the Potter's were," she said, rising to her feet. Dumbledore continued to look up at her. "Snape was a Death Eater. What aren't you saying, what do you know?!" She hissed leaning over her headmaster.
Dumbledore remained calm and folded his hands in his lap.
Hermione began to pace the short distance between the head of Harry's bed and the foot. She had the tips of her fingers in her teeth gnawing at a nail. "Anger…jealousy. Snape would have been furious that she left him and returned to her husband that night. James Potter and Severus Snape dueled and they meant to hurt each other. They were both taken to St. Mungo's. Percy's report stated that they used ancient magic, the spell damage was severe." She stopped and whirled in her steps and faced Dumbledore. "Snape told Voldemort where the Potter's lived! He wanted Voldemort to kill James! Peter Pettigrew didn't tell Voldemort he told Severus Snape!" She turned and stared at the figure of her Potion's professor lying in a bed one over from Harry's. Her mouth was hanging open. "Oh my …….." she gasped.
Dumbledore rose from his chair.
"The guilt he must have felt," she stammered. "He thought he'd get rid of his rival by telling his master where the Potter's lived. He never thought Voldemort would kill Lily…or could kill Lily. He had given her a blood potion that would protect her. But Professor, why didn't it work? How did Voldemort kill Lily Potter?"
Dumbledore moved silently to Snape's bedside. "You are wrong in saying that Riddle was his master. It was the only time that Severus had actually given Riddle accurate information. He spent a lifetime in defying and lying to the Dark Lord. He was very skilled at it. But that time it was purposeful, and yes, his guilt was overwhelming. So much so that we almost lost him to Voldemort that night. I was the one who went to St. Mungo's hospital and retrieved him. I was the one who nursed him back to health." Dumbledore patted the sleeping man tenderly. "Physical health that is. I could not heal his wounded heart."
Hermione watched Dumbledore, who at that moment looked back. She murmured, "He was going to go over to Voldemort's side." She waited and there was no response. "What did he do?" she guessed. This time she saw the acknowledgement in the eyes of the old man. "He did something didn't he, Professor?"
Dumbledore pulled the bedcovers up the man's chest and patted him gently. He stepped away and started towards the door.
"How could you trust him?" Hermione said quickly hoping to stop him. "How could you trust that he wouldn't change his loyalties?"
Dumbledore did not reply.
"We've got to do something Professor," Hermione murmured as she stood before him. "I can possess Professor Snape. I've already done it twice. You said it yourself, he's in a dream. Maybe I can call him back."
Dumbledore frowned and placed a hand on her shoulder. 'We've talked about this, Miss. Granger," he said gently. "You are aware now of the dangers of doing this thing. The threads of the person's soul that you possessed are now entwined with your own. You will forever have the senses of the snake that you possessed and there will be a link between you and Lucius Malfoy. Do you sincerely want to add Severus and Voldemort's to that? They cannot die Hermione. Harry and Remus and Severus are connected, just as you and Professor McGonagal are connected. This additional link caused by this old magic could cause you to go insane. It is a risk that, I think, is too high to take. Let us hope that they will come out of this on their own. We must give them time."
"You've known all of this, all this time," she said bitterly. "How could you have stood by and watched it all happen? How could you watch Professor Snape mistreat Harry? How could you not do something, anything….about all of this?"
Dumbledore nodded sagely and took her hand, "It must look like I have been negligent. But even I can not change the course of human events. Even the wisest witch or wizard cannot be accurate about the future. The prophecies that have been made sit on dusty shelves in the Department of Mysteries. Why do you think that is? Why are they not published in the Daily Prophet, disclosed to the world? Because they present a danger; a danger if they are taken too seriously. If we change something in the past or present we do not know what affect it will have. Just as the time-turner must be used judiciously so must our actions regarding prophecies. You stumbled on this old magic and you wish to employ it to do good. But take it from a very old man, it is not enough to just want to do good without considering all the repercussions."
She thought about what he was saying for a moment. It occurred to her that she and Harry had used a time turner to save Sirius . "You weren't opposed to using a time turner to save Sirius' and Buckbeak's life," Hermione said angrily. "You didn't object to it then. If we had used the time turner again, if …if… we could've saved Sirius! We could have stopped him from going to the Department of Mysteries! There are times when using this magic would have made a difference, a positive difference!"
"There are some things that must remain unchanged. We should not second-guess our decisions and actions and resort to using these things on an everyday basis," Dumbledore replied. "As much as we would want to make it better, we could find ourselves making it worse…and believe me Miss Granger there are those that have done so. Taking an action to save one life may mean losing a dozen others. There are those willing to take those risks because they do not fear the repercussions. I am not one of them. Allowing you to take possession of Severus would put you both at risk and I cannot foresee the effect it would have. You stumbled onto this old magic and we do not know what the repercussions will be to you or to Severus because of it. I can only encourage you to trust that this will work itself out."
"What are you saying?" she demanded. "That we do nothing?"
He turned once again and she stopped him with her hand on his arm, begging him, "Please tell me. What happened with Severus?" Something happened that made you decide not to take an action; something bad happened."
Dumbledore stopped and heaved a sigh and she could feel him tremble beneath her fingers.
And then, she knew. "Professor Snape used a time turner didn't he? He tried to go back and save Lily Potter, didn't he? Something went wrong. Will you tell me what happened? Professor?" She waited and he remained silent. "That's why you don't want me to use this old magic; why you hesitate."
He touched her hand gently and did not look her in the eyes. "We must be the vanguards, the ones who hold the line, who choose right instead of wrong no matter what the circumstances. We cannot let our personal feelings get in the way of protecting society. Voldemort knew about time turners, about possessing others, about many things and he did not hesitate to use them for his own convenience." He looked up into her eyes. "Should we do the same when we are faced with misfortune? Then what does that make us, Miss Granger? Yes, I did condone your use of the time turner to save Sirius. But alas in the end, he died anyway. He did not save his godson, nor himself. In the end, magic was not the answer." He nodded and pushed her hand away. "We are not wise enough to use this magic wisely. We will wait and see what happens."
She waited until Madam Pomphrey went to her supper and then she rose and walked to Snape's bedside once again.
"You must bring him back to us," she said, quietly, bending over him to whisper to his face, like two lovers talking. She held one hand pressed against her breast, and the other stroked his black hair away from his forehead. "Dumbledore says that it isn't wise to use it for our own purposes, but we both understand, don't we, Professor?" She closed her eyes and whispered, "You understand more than anyone that I have to try." She leaned over him and her own ghostly double fell into him as her solid physical body fell to the floor.
She found herself and them in a garden. Harry and Remus sat on a stone bench and watched Snape. They were very much like spectators, with no control or voice of their own. Hermione saw the despair in their eyes first; a look of sadness, grief and desperation. They did not speak when she approached and she understood that they were held captive by Snape's dream. She could not hear their thoughts; only the lonely, isolated mental ramblings of the man behind her.
Snape was sitting on another bench his back turned to them. He seemed to be contemplating the flower garden planted around them. The day, in his dream, was a Spring day; warm, and unlike the cold and wintry day she had escaped. His dream day was beautiful, with air that was full of the fragrance of the flowers. Hermione walked around the cobbled path until she stood in front of him. He did not move, nor did he return her gaze. She was surprised to discover the person of Severus Snape was a boy of about seventeen instead of the grown man.
"Professor," she began. He looked up when she spoke but there was no recognition in the dead, dark eyes partially hidden by black lanky hair. "Severus," she whispered. "What are you doing?"
His eyes turned and she followed the line of his vision. There was a path almost invisible and overgrown. Hermione saw the white towers of Hogwarts rising up in the distance. She turned back to him. "Who are you waiting for?" she asked and then, knew. "Severus, she isn't coming. Lily is gone, she's dead." His brow furrowed into a frown at her words and she rushed on. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"You're wrong, she is here."
Hermione was not surprised when she glanced over and saw the young woman approach them. She recognized her immediately from all of the pictures and from the films that she had seen. It truly was Lily Evans as a girl. Hermione noticed that as she approached Lupin and Harry were untethered from their stone bench and floated towards Snape's side.
The young girl that was Lily stepped into the circle of stone-paved walkway that was the center of the garden and walked directly up to Snape. He stared up at her, his face young and full of adoration. The young woman did not take notice of Hermione or of Harry and Remus. Hermione surmised that since it was Snape's dream and he was orchestrating it that Lily would be there in the way he wished. He had chosen a time in their lives when there was hope.
Hermione stepped between them and turned to speak to the girl that was now only an arm's length away. "Lily tell him it is just a dream and he must wake up now."
The green eyes turned to her and studied her for a moment but there was no sign of recognition or response. Lily still remained silent. Hermione turned back to Severus. "You must let her go. It's time to have a real life. Not this." Hermione gestured at the garden and at the silent woman. "This is your imagination, not reality. There is nothing that can come of this. She is not yours and never was."
The young Snape was weeping silently at the words that she spoke. "I can't! I can't. She is all that I have! She is all that I've ever had!"
Hermione felt her heart wrench as his words and she watched the young woman and knew that this vision, this dream was all that Snape had ever had to hang onto; the only important thing in his life. "Severus, that's not true. You have friends now." She waved to Harry who drifted into view, standing beside his mother. Together, at almost the same age, they could have been brother and sister. "He chose you to be his friend, to stand by him. He trusts you. Will you abandon him? You made a promise to his mother."
The young Snape looked up at Harry. His chest was heaving with silent sobbing.
"You've risked so much to save him. He still needs you. We all need you," Hermione crooned. "You have friends. You must come back to us." The figure of Lily began to fade. Snape moaned and reached for the smoky departing figure. Hermione caught his hand and held fast as she also turned to watch the young woman disappear from view.
Hermione turned to Snape who had changed into the older man and who was wrenching his hand from her grasp. She felt him pushing her out of his mind and her grasp on his dream suddenly grew thin like a thread stretched too far. He turned his dark, coal-black eyes to her and there was a sardonic smile curling on his lips. His thoughts were projected at her, I suppose if I don't come back you will just pester me until I do, he said to her and then she felt the cold, hard floor of the hospital wing and hands lifting her up.
Harry was sitting in a chair in the Gryffindor Common rooms. Hermione was sitting beside him and Ron across from him in one of the large puffy chairs near a roaring fire. Hermione watched them both for a moment and then continued working on her homework. Harry noticed that she would stare at him for minutes at a time and then shake her head as if trying to remember something she had forgotten. After the millionth time he finally said, "What?! What are you looking for?"
She shook her head. "It's nothing Harry. It just seems that there's something missing and I can't think of what it is."
"Missing about me?" he questioned.
She nodded. "It's not important."
Harry knew what it was. It was his scar. The moment he had awakened in the hospital wing, the scar began to fade, along with his memories of Snape's dream he had been caught in.
"Christmas is going to be a little strange this year," Ron said. He was also working on his homework. The subject had come up before and they had discussed it tentatively. They had all felt a sense of sadness and loss at the prospect of the holiday. Hermione had been relieved to find that the news of her parent's death had been a ruse cooked up by Voldemort and that her parents had arrived safely in France just after she had delivered her letter to Harry at the Dursleys. She did, however, make the choice she had talked about earlier and was now spending all of her time in the wizarding world.
They had settled on having Christmas at Aberforth's house at his invitation. Their friendship with each other had grown stronger and Ron made arrangements to join them at Dumbledore's for Christmas after spending some time with his own family. Miraculously, no other Weasley's had been killed in the battle that people were now calling the Battle at Riddle Hill.
"Remus said that he was bringing a friend," Harry said, and smiled. He and his new guardian had spent every free moment together over the weeks since Lupin had taken his old job as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher once again. The vision of his friend flashed through his mind and he smiled to himself. Years had fallen away from Remus when they awoke from their sleep. Even though he still had graying, sandy-brown hair; his inner peace and joy was reflected in bright sparkling eyes and occasional smiles.
Harry also thought about how Remus looked particularly pleased with himself whenever the issue of Lucius Malfoy came up. The ex-Death Eater was now incarcerated in a special prison, for non-humans and 'affected' humans; meaning werewolves.
"Do you suppose he has found a lady friend?" Ron asked about Lupin, drawing Harry's attention back to the conversation. Hermione shot one of her 'Oh, Ron' expressions at him. "WELL?" he grimaced at her.
Harry grinned at them and shrugged.
It was only a day away from the Christmas holiday and they were to turn in their work before they left. Harry was aware that Snape usually spent the holidays at Hogwarts along with Dumbledore and some of the other teachers. He had taken the special potion's class and attended it for several weeks. Snape was not acting any differently then he had the previous year and gave no indication that his attitude had changed at all.
"I'm done with it," Harry said and rolled his parchment up. It was a two foot section assigned by Snape and it was due. He knew that he had to turn it in that evening before bed in order to leave for holiday. He had purposefully waited to the last minute to finish it. It would be the first time that he would see his Potion's master alone. "I'm going down."
Hermione glanced up and nodded thoughtfully. She knew what he was planning to do. After all of the mental links they had shared, she had become sensitive to his thoughts, even though they stayed away from discussions about the battle and the aftermath.
Harry was interrupted by a house-elf spiriting a large crate into the Commons room.
"Special delivery to Harry Potter." The house elf was hidden behind it and only the long furry ears could be seen. The three of them stood and Harry tapped the boards of the crate with his wand. It fell away and revealed a very old and dusty Hogwarts trunk. A note was attached to the lid, next to the name plate that said Lillian Evans on it. Harry removed the paper and opened it.
"From your aunt?" Ron asked. They all knew that Harry's aunt had been injured in the battle at Little Hangleton. She had taken a direct strike from Voldemort with a killing curse. Albus Dumbledore was responsible for delivering her to St. Mungo's for a very short stay. The curse that Voldemort had misfired in her direction had left her in a strange condition. Harry thought about it as he struggled with the rusty lock. It made him smile once again. His aunt, a woman who so vigilantly detested the world of witches and wizards, found herself to be endowed with a brand-new fresh set of magical powers and a scar that matched his own. He shook his head as he thought about it.
"It's mum's trunk" he said. "Dumbledore told me that he had it and sent it to Aunt Petunia. That's where she found the potion." Harry touched the neatly arranged bits and pieces of things that remained in the trunk.
"Do you suppose he'll ever tell anybody everything that he knows?" Ron asked in exasperation as he bent over the trunk and studied its contents. "I mean he's full of surprises and mysteries."
Hermione glanced up and watched them silently, her eyes slightly unfocused, her mind turned inward. She didn't comment.
"I'm going down now," Harry said, leaving the trunk open at the fireside. "I need to turn this in before it gets too late." He held his potion's assignment in his hand. The other two shook their heads and he stepped through the opening and made his way through a quiet castle corridor towards the dungeons. Many of the students had already headed home for the holidays and there was an eerie quiet to the halls.
Harry thought about Snape as he made his way to his office. He had been attending his special Potion's class and there had been a cool but not unpleasant exchange between he and Snape. The man had not directed his usual unpleasant, sneering and contemptuous remarks at Harry when he made a mistake; nor had Snape ignored Hermione.
There were faint but unmistakable changes in the way the Professor was treating them. Harry hadn't trusted his own senses about it for a time. But the link they shared as members of the Order of the Phoenix had not paled in spite of the fact that the Order was being disbanded. At times, Harry could feel the Potion's masters emotions, much like it felt when one inadvertently walked through a Hogwarts ghost. It wasn't quite as unpleasant, but it had the ability to wake a person up. Even in those times, the sensations were not profoundly clear or readable.
Harry hesitated at the door and then tapped on it twice. A deep baritone voice answered. He opened the door and found Snape at his desk. The dark-haired man looked up and his hand stopped writing mid-sentence.
"Professor, I've brought my assignment and wanted to turn it in," Harry said, and stepped over to the desk. He laid the parchment on the stack of others sitting to be graded and then stepped back. Snape stared at him but did not comment. The dark eyes did not glare at him and Harry took courage. "I've also come to ask you…to invite you…" he stumbled over the words and stopped.
Snape reacted by sitting straighter and laying his quill on the table. "Yes, Mr. Potter?"
Harry felt his heart race for a moment and then he calmed himself and almost grinned. Snape's emotions were inexplicably clear. You're nervous, too! Harry thought. "Professor, I'd like to invite you to join us for Christmas holidays. We are all going to be at Aberforth's. I'd like to have you as my personal guest."
Snape froze in his chair and Harry watched and FELT the man as he absorbed the words. Harry knew that if he had not been feeling the man's emotions he would be, even at that moment, cringing. Instead, he was enjoying the man's discomfort.
"As you are aware Potter, I usually stay at Hogwarts for the holidays," Snape managed. He could also sense what Harry was feeling and felt the boy's amusement. Minutes went by. "I suppose that since we share our thoughts and feelings it does not make sense to pretend," he finally blurted out.
Harry grinned, "No, it doesn't make sense. So. I will see you there?"
Snape snapped a quick nod and returned to writing.
"Good." Harry turned to go. "I look forward to it." He said it and truly meant it. Snape's emotional ripples followed him out the door and he grinned as he took the dungeon steps two at a time. "You're stuck with me Snape. For a very long time."