by Lady Memory
(simply Memory in SH and TPP)
The war is over, and now Severus Snape has to face his worst enemy: himself.
Disclaimer: I don't own anyone of the characters in this story. The HP canon ones because they have obviously been invented by Mrs. Rowling (Oh! What a clever woman! Couldn't I borrow her brain for a day?). And the OC ones because they have already left me and decided to go living somewhere else. Good luck, little people!
Warning: I'm Italian, so my English may sound strange to native ears. My fantastic betas have done their best to give a sense to my wild writing. Infinite grateful thanks to Jynx67 for her patience and perseverance, and to Pennfana for her useful considerations.
Final warning: although this story is full of emotions, love has not been considered here in its classical, romantic meaning.
Now, if you want, go on at your risk and peril.Chapter 1 – Coming back
Pain… Intolerable pain… Thirst… Anguish…
Memories floating in a chaotic whirl.
Pain… Pain … Panic... Struggling to stay conscious…
Pain… Less pain… Trying to understand what is happening…
Memories coming slowly…
Huge walls. Massive stones. Scarce light. Torches smoking and burning with crackling sounds. Green mould. Musty smell… The Dungeons… Somewhere in the subterranean and most mysterious part of the Hogwarts Castle. Noises and shouts muffled by distance, clashes and thunders reverberating loudly in the deep…
The Dark Lord enters a passage, his red eyes glowing menacingly, his imposing figure walking regally towards the younger wizard waiting for him. As usual, Wormtail is following his Master closely, but this time he looks tired and extremely nervous. Nagini, the big serpent, is sinuously crawling after them, her ferocious head raised disdainfully far from the muddy ground.
"It seems they are resisting more forcefully than I had believed, Severus… Is this the force of desperation or have they found unexpected support somewhere?"
The Dark Lord's high-pitched voice has always sounded inhuman and cold, but this time, a different, more threatening note is coming through. His piercing eyes are intensely scrutinizing the thin, pale, exhausted man in front of him.
The younger wizard lowers his head in a bow, apparently to show his respect, though actually to hide his uneasiness. "Should I go back and see what's happening, my Lord? Perhaps another wand could be of help…"
"How gracious of you!" A dreadful pause. "But tell me, Severus, who are the ones you are wishing to help? The men and women that carry the same mark I burned on your arm, the symbol you swore to obey… or the dear, good, old friends you never truly abandoned?" The Dark Lord's voice is icy and Wormtail cringes in apprehension, his gaze flickering anxiously from his Master to the uncharacteristically tense Severus Snape, his worst fears growing stronger every minute.
Severus is clearly making an effort to control his anxiety. His words sound strangely uncertain, somewhat insincere. "My loyalties have always been yours, my Lord. I don't know in what I could have disappointed you…"
"You don't know, Severus? You really don't know?"
In another moment, Wormtail would greatly enjoy this verbal exchange. He knows perfectly well that when his Master begins to pose these frightfully ironical questions, calling his target repeatedly by name, is the signal of a rising anger that will soon be followed by a rewarding scene of suffering. And Wormtail loves to see people suffer. The more important, powerful or honoured they are, the more he is pleased to see them imploring and writhing at his Master's feet.
But today, Wormtail is too scared to appreciate the absolutely unexpected pleasure of seeing Severus Snape being cruelly teased, even if this is a pleasure he has always dreamed of witnessing. Today, all their lives are at risk, a terrible risk. He has always been afraid that this moment would come, and now it is coming, alarmingly rapid, even more frightening than death.
Is Severus Snape a traitor? Is he THE traitor, as Bellatrix Black has always declared? What is going to happen if the Dark Lord's party is defeated? And what kind of punishment would then be reserved for Wormtail, the man who has played a main role in the Dark Lord's rebirth?
Wormtail feels his throat tightening in panic. Nobody exactly know what the prophecy says… Has the Dark Lord been so foolish as to inconsiderately rely only upon exalted, hopeless dreams, sacrificing the lives of his followers in a vain quest for power?
Severus Snape can easily read all the doubts gathering and clashing in the eyes of the little man watching him in deep anxiety. It's so easy to detect those emotions! After all, he is a superb Occlumens and a skilled Legilimens, as Albus Dumbledore used to say. But this thought is scarcely a comfort, at the moment.
A bitter smile twists his lips when he raises his head again to face his Master.
He is alone. As always, he is alone.
Darkness… blessed darkness … Then oblivion.
Abruptly awaken. Is it night or day?
Finally he can move a hand.
Memories return in a sudden flow of images and sound.
The Dark Lord is staring at Snape, his face distorted by hate and suspicion, while Severus silently braces himself, gathering all his remaining strength. Nothing is going as he has planned in his highly organized mind. He breathes deeply. There must be a way!
For few, infinite seconds, time stops in a pocket-sized eternity, where everybody moves in a bizarre parody of the real world: the Dark Lord's hideous features hardening in rage, Wormtail backing slowly, eyes full of terror and sudden awareness, Nagini hissing menacingly behind its Master… Now everybody seems frozen in time.
Then, abruptly, life comes back, accelerating again.
Remus Lupin is suddenly at Severus' side, wand lifted, lips tightened in a determined expression. What the hell is he trying to do?! A red flash glows while Severus is still reaching for his wand. Lupin falls graciously on the ground, eyes blank, mouth open in a silent scream. The Dark Lord now smiles and his smile is of cruel pleasure.
"Another foolish attempt," he declares sarcastically. "So, has your turn finally come, Severus? You won't be afraid of me, I believe… After all, aren't you the one who killed the great Dumbledore?"
Severus hesitates under the gaze of those merciless, reptilian eyes. He doesn't know if he should at least make an attempt. Indecision. Fear. Impotence. Where is Potter? Where is the supposed saviour of the wizarding world hiding?
The Dark Lord laughs and the sound echoes loudly against the stones, while he seems to grow stronger, dreadful, overwhelming! Just a word and the younger wizard's body is aflame. Severus writhes on the ground, feeling his bones become liquid fire. Pain. Pain! Such an unbearable pain!
Darkness. Silence. In the unknown place where he is lying, Severus touches lightly his face, slowly, almost fearfully. His mind is confused.
"Am I still living? Am I in hell? Why can't I hear a sound? Where am I?"
Then he feels the bandages around his head and he knows. He is injured, but still alive. Should he be glad? Pain, terrible pain explodes in his brain when he tries to get up. His hands finally find the soft sheets under him.
"This is a bed! Is somebody taking care of me? …"
Back into darkness again. Now memories are much more coordinated, but emotions are difficult to hold back. He struggles against a devastating sensation of panic and tries to regain his self-control.
"My name is Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, former Death Eater, member of the Order of the Phoenix and spy for both sides. But I'm also a traitor and Dumbledore's murderer, and… Oh, how many labels, how many sufferings in a life that hasn't even reached its middle!
If the "good side" has won, will I be prosecuted for what I've done? Is there somebody left to testify on whose side I really was? Will somebody believe me, or are they just keeping me alive for the glory of my punishment?"
He sighs in despair. Again, memories begin to flow mercilessly in his mind…
Remus Lupin is on the ground next to Severus, his empty eyes looking vainly at the ceiling. His body is stiff, rigid as if it was made of stone. Even if Snape has never cared for him nor considered him a friend, even if they have always been opposites since the days of their youth, an anguished sensation of loss and fear enters his heart and mind violently.
"This is the final battle! Our only hopes rely upon Potter… and me!"
But the Dark Lord is still keeping Severus under his curse. And he is too powerful! How will a pathetic boy, who has never shown a particular talent except luck, be able to escape such a terrible threat? Severus twists in agony while his mind concentrate on the boy. The pain is so horrible that he can't even cry, his mouth gritted in spasms. All he can do is hope that the torture may end, even with his own death. He is too weak, worn-out and desperate…
"Albus was mad thinking that we could have a chance against this power! And I was even more foolish to believe him!"
Suddenly, the torture stops, and Severus hears his Master's mocking voice calling him. "Rise, Severus, my loyal follower. Rise and receive the prize you so truly deserve!"
Severus' pride helps him. He is NOT going to die crawling in the mud. He has just painfully risen to his feet when Potter enters, running in the passage, as always escorted by his ever-present sidekicks, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Oddly, but luckily, they have not been followed by those other two useless children, Neville Longbottom and that crazy Lovegood girl.
Hermione Granger looks at Severus with wide, anguished eyes, while the boys glare at him in anger and contempt. The Dark Lord immediately turns to them, raising his wand again. He is triumphant. Three children, just three children in front of the Master of all evils! This time, only luck will be there to help them… Luck and the quickly vanishing forces of Severus Snape, too exhausted even to speak.
"Welcome, my dear, dear friends! Come to join the party?" Voldemort exclaims as he bows ironically. "Ah, Harry, finally we meet again, and I hope you were expecting this moment as anxiously as I was. Because today is my day, and this time there won't be any chance for you! What an unlucky coincidence for the other young fellows here, to be associated with you!" A frightful pause, then a cunning, hideous smile. "But perhaps one of them is having second thoughts? I feel generous today, so I will kindly offer a last possibility to those willing to accept it…"
His eyes stare coldly at the small, silent group. The children are clinging together instinctively. They look so young and defenceless, just like those tiny little birds that get close to each other to comfort themselves. And as a result, they offer a perfect target.
The Dark Lord smiles meaningfully. "As I imagined…" he murmurs, grimly amused.
Everything happens quickly. His smile turned suddenly cruel, the Dark Lord rapidly lifts his wand and casts a forceful curse. The children are ready to react, but the spell is too strong, even if they are three against one. Only the addition of Severus' silent "Protego", even if he is still shaking in weariness, succeeds in managing an acceptable shield, thus deflecting the attack. However, Weasley must have somehow escaped the protection. He falls with a cry of pain, thrashing in spasms more and more faintly on the ground, until he lies motionless. The other two seem to freeze in horror.
"Ron!" The girl gives an agonizing cry, while Harry steps forward and pushes her behind him, protecting her with his body. With frightening slowness, the Dark Lord turns to stare at Severus, a sentence of death unmistakably written in his dreadful eyes, an enigmatic smile still curling his lips. Harry Potter, too, is looking at his former professor with hating, implacable eyes, and Snape, with a shiver, suddenly realizes that the boy still believes him to be an enemy. Evidently, Potter hasn't understood what happened. Clearly, he thinks that his friends and he haven't been strong enough to stop "two" joined hexes. Obviously. Weasley has been struck and Severus is there, wand raised, the Dark Lord's deceiving words of congratulations still echoing in the air. How could Potter trust him? Why should he?
Harry speaks through gritted teeth. The arrogant brat has more backbone than Severus would like to admit.
"You bastards! I'll do my best to kill you both in the most painful way! And you, Lord Voldemort, remember the prophecy and be afraid! I have already met you and survived four times!"
The Dark Lord shifts involuntarily, a wondering frown on his face, when unexpectedly Hermione Granger casts a spell. The rational one! Too afraid to face Voldemort by herself, she is at least trying to eliminate all the minor adversaries and leave the Dark Lord unprotected. And Severus, in this moment, is an easy target, too weak to react properly. Again he falls in the mud, feeling its slimy wetness reach his body through his damp clothes.
Voldemort has regained his composure and his cruel, inhuman smile. "It seems that your reward will be more than enjoyable, Severus. Even your former allies are willing to be of assistance. Perhaps you have been too efficient in your double task!"
Then he adds coldly, no longer amused. "I'm glad you reminded me of our previous meetings, Potter. Luck, simply luck has helped you to survive until now and only to lead you in front of me again. So, you'd like to kill me? You foolish little child! It will be a pleasure to finally see you begging for mercy. But rest assured, you won't die alone. I'm not going to separate you from these so very faithful friends of yours!" He gives a short laugh then he continues sarcastically. "You will forgive me if I keep for myself our dear Severus, since his punishment has to be long, long and painful. I think you won't mind, will you?"
A shot of light and Severus, who was painfully trying to rise and possibly speak, curls up in torment. He doesn't even try to stand up again. Potter is looking confused, enraged, but hesitant. He is gazing uncertainly at Snape, wand ready to strike, when Remus unexpectedly regains consciousness with a moan and stammers, "Harry, don't, Severus is a fr…"
The Dark Lord simply raises his hand.
This time, Snape hasn't the time or the strength to appropriately protect his old schoolmate, even if he tries to. The spell is ferocious, of course, so his wand skips away, far from his reach, while Remus writhes in convulsions until he becomes immobile. Luckily, he seems to be still breathing. Severus numbly thinks that the werewolf should thank him, if they survive.
"Remus!" The children gasp in shocked horror; Hermione almost in tears, Harry paling horribly. The Dark Lord's lips curl in contempt before the pathetic bunch of survivors.
"So, who's next, now?" he invites, dangerously calm, and Severus sees through his unfocused eyes that neither Potter nor the girl know what to do.
"Albus," he thinks bitterly, "how could you hope? HOW COULD YOU HOPE!?"
Then, without warning, he stretches himself with a moan and snatches Remus' wand from his contracted hands. It's not his own wand, so he knows that it won't work perfectly, but he must do what he must do. It's difficult, but not impossible. It's a matter of will.
He is waiting in agony to be blasted once more when, surprisingly, two amazing events happen almost simultaneously.
Hermione Granger, with a sudden decision, coldly points her wand at Nagini and kills the enormous animal with an astonishing "Avada Kedavra". Her spell is so powerful that everybody flinches as the deadly green light crosses the space between the girl and the beast. Then Hermione, shocked by the violence of such a malignant curse, slumps to her knees, trembling.
The Dark Lord gives a terrible scream and presses a hand to his chest, tightening his wand so forcefully that he nearly snaps it in two. Immediately after, with a speed impossible to match, a red flash of anger reaches the girl, knocking her down before anyone can even think to react.
"No!" Harry shouts in desperation while he casts a spell that is easily deflected by his furious enemy.
"Enough! I have toyed too much with you and your friends, Potter, sparing your miserable lives! Die, and may all my enemies die with you!" The Dark Lord's rage is terrible to see, almost unsustainable, and Harry, for a moment, steps back, lost in panic.
During this exchange, a trembling but determined Wormtail, eyes full of tears, has advanced slowly and undetected behind his Master. His cowardice is - incredibly - forcing him to ally with his former enemies! What is going on in his mind? Is he hoping for a more merciful sentence? Are his old feelings of friendship awakening or is this merely his conscience? Is he willing to pay the debt he feels towards the boy who once saved his life? Nobody will ever know but, when the Dark Lord, livid in anger, points his wand at Potter, Wormtail is ready to stop the mortal ray. Then, his wand explodes in the effort, and the little pathetic man opens his watery eyes one last time, incredulous before death, as if he couldn't believe what he had just done.
Voldemort looks more than frightening: all his evil powers are gathering in violent waves that make the air and earth pulsate forcefully around him. Every element of Nature seems to join him and submit to his command. His figure is dreadfully blazing and his spidery fingers emit rays of light while he regally moves his hand, lifting a radiant wand with intolerable slowness.
Suddenly, three different shots erupt in the darkness. The first one is the Dark Lord trying to strike Harry Potter. The second one is Harry, counteracting. And the third one is Severus, shielding Harry with the last of his power.
Now he is certain that he is awake, as he hears voices in the distance, muffled as if they were coming, for instance, from behind a door. He desperately tries to understand what those indistinct sounds are expressing, because he needs all the information he can collect... he has always been vigilant.
A door opens quietly and he waits motionless, not even breathing. Friend or enemy? Soon he will know.
The soft rustling sound of a person walking, a sweet, fragrant scent, then the soothing touch of warm, delicate fingers on his head and his hands. Could this possibly be a Mediwizard? He feels the placid power of a Diagnostic Spell washing over his body and relaxes for a moment. Then, the stranger silently exits the room and, before the door is closed, he hears the gentle voice of a girl declaring quietly, "Nothing has changed till now. He appears to be still unconscious."
A more mature tone answers, concerned, "I hope that he will recover soon—he has suffered so much! He deserves every moment of peace we can offer to him."
That voice! His heart seems to break into a thousand pieces! Poppy! Poppy Pomfrey! He IS safe! But this violent emotion is too much for his exhausted body and he finally falls mercifully into oblivion.