A Matter of Will

by Lady Memory

The war is over, and now Severus Snape has to face his worst enemy: himself.

Disclaimer: I obviously don't own any one of the recognizable characters in this story, even if I would like to.

Dear friends, I have finally written the last words of a story that began in 2007 and that is especially dear to my heart because it was my first attempt on Fanfiction. I hope you will enjoy.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to my wonderful previewers Tearsofphoenix and Duj, and to my fabulous beta Nagandsev for their kind revision, useful suggestions and infinite patience. All my sincere thanks to those reading and reviewing.

... ... ...

Chapter 25 – The Things That Really Matter

It's even later when somebody knocks at the door of the room in which Harry Potter sits in silence, apparently lost in contemplation of his desk.

Startled by the sound, the boy raises his head.

"Come in!" he answers while he wipes his eyes as if awakening from a dream. But his expression changes immediately into an alert look when the door opens and reveals who is standing under the doorframe.

"Hermione?" he asks hesitantly, and many different emotions are mixed in that question.

Though her cheeks are still wet with tears, Hermione Granger enters the room with a joyful smile. But along with her, comes a dark, tall, imposing man that Harry knows all too well, a man whose fresh, confident stance radiates a sort of indefinite power that disconcerts the boy.

"Professor Snape...," Harry greets uncertainly, rising from his chair. And suddenly, he understands.

"You can see again!" he exclaims while a deep emotion makes his voice waver.

The older man bows his head in acknowledgment.

"I hope you will forgive the late hour, Potter, but I wanted to thank you as soon as possible. I know that you supplied the main ingredient for my recovery and I can imagine…"

Here Snape seems to lose his voice for a moment, then he continues softly, "And I can imagine how much this must have cost to you."

Harry lowers his head. When he raises it again, there is a teardrop trickling down on his cheek.

"It wasn't so difficult, in the end," he says with a voice that he is trying bravely to steady. "As you can see, I've become a weeper lately."

"I have been denied the soothing comfort of tears for too much time to laugh at you," Snape replies gravely; then he turns to Hermione.

"Miss Granger, my debt to you is equally huge, and I hope to find a way to thank you appropriately. But now, as a special favour, would you please let me and Mr. Potter have a word alone?"

Hermione hesitates; then, understanding the reason of the request, she nods in assent and silently leaves.

The two men look at each other, Harry pale and lost in a sort of haziness, Snape immensely composed.

"Mr. Potter," Snape says quietly. "Only a few hours ago, you left me in a fury, yelling that you wanted to look me straight in the eyes. I think that that moment has arrived."

Harry stares at Snape, and then he turns to glance at his desk on which - as Snape suddenly realises - there is a picture of James and Lily Potter. The couple is smiling and waving their hands at the boy as if encouraging him; the scene has a heartbreakingly odd effect, as parents and son look almost same age.

It is Snape's turn to pale now while he contemplates his old schoolmates, and especially the young girl who seems to smile at him too.

"I wish that we could talk like friends again, Lily," he murmurs with a strangled voice. "Last time we spoke, you cut me out of your life and your friendship. And you were right. I was making a big mistake. But I didn't know that I was condemning you and your family when I reported the prophecy. My life has been miserable since that moment. I wish I could ask you for your forgiveness. But since you are no more here, I will address my plea to your son."

The boy stiffens in surprise at those incredible words.

"Potter… Harry. Please listen. I dedicated my life to redeem my faults and to pay my debt to your parents, but the balance is still imbalanced. You saved my life in the dungeons, and this was undeserved because I was supposed to save yours."

"And you did it, Professor," Harry replies softly. "Many times."

Shaking his head in denial, Snape raises his hand to stop the boy.

"Those times don't count. They were parts of my commitment. Elements of my penitence. And then, you didn't save only my life. Tonight you gave me back also my eyes, and my debt grew to enormous proportions: by restoring my sight, you saved my spirit… and for that there is no reward, no big enough compensation."

This time it is Harry who stops Snape; his voice altered by a strong emotion. "Then you should thank Hermione, Professor. She is the one who was ready to sacrifice herself."

"I will indeed, Potter. But you come first because my obligation to you is older, and because my wrong choices made you lose your family. You saved me, Potter, so now I return my life into your hands. I will bow to your words, whatever you decide."

Visibly shaken, Harry takes a deep breath.

"I have hated you, Professor, and you know it. We have detested each other for years, and I admit that there have been moments in which I would have liked to kill you. Professor Dumbledore's portrait explained everything to me when it was too late."

The boy now speaks with a sort of desperation. "I have been thinking a lot after that day when Hermione asked for my tears. It seemed to me that I was betraying my parents again by offering you a… a chance that they didn't have the time and the luck to be offered. By refusing my help, I thought that I was redressing an injustice. I thought that their death could be balanced by your blindness. I thought that I would finally feel at peace."

Snape has paled during this vehement speech and closes his eyes at the last words that sound like an accusation and a cruel reminder.

But Harry shakes his head and his voice gets softer. "I was wrong. I was totally wrong. There is neither joy nor pleasure in retaliation."

Now the boy is looking firmly at his old antagonist.

"Our discussion opened my eyes too, Professor. The words you said have lessened my pain and erased my anger. You have suffered enough."

The boy looks embarrassed but continues bravely. "I am glad I could help you."

His eyes turn to glance at the picture, and his features soften. "I'm sure that my mother would be as glad as me."

... ... ... ... ... ...

Hogwarts celebrates the hero, who has just come back from a descent into hell, with a joyful feast: a banquet, guests and a touching speech from the headmistress. The celebration is nothing too excessive, because the hero in question is longing for normality in his life.

And normality seems to finally enwrap all those involved in the dark story of suffering and redemption created by Voldemort's hexes.

Harry is going to complete his course, and then he will leave to join the Aurors. Obviously, Ron will go with him. Both plan to marry as soon as possible. Remus and Tonks have already inaugurated that new splendid path, but Hermione and Ron should follow next, at the end of school.

Ron was a bit shocked when he discovered who Hermione intended to have as a witness at their wedding, but Harry offered to counterbalance by being Ron's best man. So everybody is happy now.

To be honest, Severus Snape has tried several times to oppose being involved in such an event, but his resistance has disappeared after a talk with Minerva, who is also going to be Hermione's witness with him.

Now that he is well again and respected for the role he played in the wizarding war, Remus has finally found work in a training centre for problematic magical youths. Tonks keeps being an Auror and often teases Harry and Ron, threatening them with vivid descriptions of what is expected of them.

Severus Snape isn't teaching yet, though Minerva offered him the job immediately. For he has asked to delay his starting for a while, as he is busy with a very special secret project that he is conducting in collaboration with St. Mungo's. Minerva widened her eyes at that explanation, but she didn't object, happy to see him occupied again.

And soon the winter is gone, and spring is back again with the gaiety of its warm breezes and its blooming flowers.

... ... ... ... ... ...

On a sunny afternoon, two people arrive at Hogwarts: a young girl who beams with excitement and an old man whose bright features reflect her same joy, though with more composure, but whose eyes watch blankly the magnificent rooms they are crossing.

"Miss Ingham! Becky!" Minerva warmly welcomes the girl.

"Doctor Ingham." She then greets the old man with a cordial shaking of hands. "I'm so happy to meet you. Poppy… I mean, Madam Pomfrey told me so many delightful things about you."

Doctor Ingham replies a few words with a quiet tone in which it's possible to detect his emotion for being there.

So Minerva continues, "You'll be pleased to know that you are probably the first Muggle who ever came to Hogwarts." But she is abruptly interrupted.

"Becky!" Hermione has just arrived, and her voice rings with joy. Harry and Ron follow immediately after, so hugs and comments and news are exchanged in a merry confusion until Poppy also arrives, smiling broadly at the visitors. The two older women immediately engage in a friendly conversation with Doctor Ingham while the youngsters laugh and joke, happy to be alive and together.

"I know that you have applied to a course in St. Mungo's," Becky finally says to Hermione.

"Yes," the girl replies quietly. "I have developed a penchant for potions."

"Ah, come on, Hermione!" Harry exclaims. "Don't be so shy!"

"Yes!" Ron hurries to add, "It's to her merit that we have all been healed!"

"I know it!" Becky replies with admiration. "And the staff in St. Mungo's knows it as well. You have really impressed us, Hermione, and we can't wait to have you there."

"Oh! Well, then I'm honoured," Hermione whispers, a lovely rosy shade colouring her cheeks.

And at last, the question hanging in the air arises.

"So… how's Professor Snape now?" Becky asks with her best innocent smile.

"Oh, he is waiting for you and your grandfather," Minerva interjects. "To be honest, it's to him that we owe the pleasure of your arrival today. He moved heaven and earth to obtain Doctor Ingham an authorization. So, would you like to meet him now?"

Though evidently expecting that moment, the place has inexorably brought Becky back to school memories. So, she hesitates for a moment, then she nods bravely and immediately betrays her nervousness by asking, "Has he resumed teaching?"

Poppy smiles. "Not yet, dear, not yet."

The other youngsters understand and leave after a round of goodbyes. Smiling and talking quietly with Doctor Ingham, Minerva leads the man and the girl to the dungeons.

Becky gets more and more nervous with every step. Minerva keeps smiling reassuringly. And Doctor Ingham is too excited to notice his granddaughter's anxiety.

So, finally, they are in front of a door. Minerva knocks, and Snape is there, impressive in his dark robes, black eyes shining again with the same intensity they had in their school days.

Becky pales while Minerva exclaims happily, "Here we are, Severus, as you asked. I'm sure Doctor Ingham would like to know the reason of this special invitation, as I do."

Doctor Ingham starts to kindly protest at this, but Severus interrupts him.

"Good afternoon, Doctor Ingham. Glad to meet you again," he declares politely, shaking hands with the man.

"Miss Ingham," he nods towards the girl.

And finally, "Thank you, Minerva," he replies in a definitive tone, which lets the curious headmistress understand that her task is ended. The old witch frowns, but she can't oppose, so she leaves with a disappointed glance back.

"Good… good afternoon, Professor," Becky stammers, paralysed in awe and surprise, and her grandfather immediately joins her in greeting the wizard with great cordiality.

Snape listens with his characteristic grave expression, then he answers quietly, "I'm very grateful that you indulged my request, Doctor. Please rest assured that I had an important reason to invite you here."

"Personally, I'm happy to see that you are well again, Professor. I must confess that I was very pained when I met you in the hospital. I felt so useless!"

"You mustn't say that! Your words and your courage gave a new direction to my meditation. A new hope. Exactly as Miss Ingham's trick with the Dulcisomnium Draught."

His voice has a meaningful intonation, and Becky reddens.

"Are you still angry with me, Professor?"

"Not at all, Miss Ingham. Your ruse allowed me to see deeper into my heart. I have been a very difficult patient, haven't I? I'm sure you regretted your choice many times."

The old man reacts immediately. "Dear me, Professor! My granddaughter has been honoured. Honoured! We don't want to hear such nonsense. For my part, I am very glad to know that my words were helpful."

"They were indeed. So, now I would like to thank you both appropriately."

"Again, there's no need. Being here, it's a fantastic prize, an unbelievable experience. I only wish I could have my eyes back for a moment, so to see the place in which my granddaughter lived and studied for so many years…"

There is a long pause. "Well, let's be honest. I wish that I could see her again, and that I could see you too, Professor… but you saved my family, and that's something for which I will never have words enough to express my gratitude, and that largely compensates for the loss of my sight."

Severus crosses his arms. "You are wrong, doctor, if you will allow me. As you taught me, never lose hope. I have summoned you here to ask you if you would like to try a new potion I have personally prepared."

"A… a potion?… I don't understand…"

"A potion, I would like to add, that has been especially conceived for your eyes."

Doctor Ingham pales. "Don't play with an old man's deepest hope! I have been assured by my own knowledge, by my colleagues, and by your magical colleagues that there is no chance of restoring my sight again."

Severus nods. "That's true. I have personally researched your case, asked your and my colleagues, and examined documents that came from the most specialised centres."

"But then… then how do you…"

"You see, the potion that regenerated my eyes is an evil, dark concoction that compassion and love have transformed into a healing draught. So, I used its regenerating power to create something specific for you, slightly modifying its formula."

Doctor Ingham is speechless. Becky is agape.

In the sudden silence, Severus asks softly, "Would you like to try it?"

The old man sniffles while tears slowly begin to trickle, and he fumbles to extract a handkerchief from his pocket. Becky has paled. She turns to her grandfather, clasping his hand.

"You must try it, grandpa. Please! I trust Professor Snape."

"I will… I will, of course," Ingham stammers in emotion. "You must excuse me, professor, but the shock has been too great."

"I do understand, doctor. But I must also be honest and warn you that there is a possibility that my potion might not work. It has been created for a unique case, and as you can imagine, I couldn't test it on anybody else."

The old man raises his head with a new energy. "It doesn't matter. A failure won't change my life. But a success… My goodness, I can't even dream of such a chance!"

Tears begin to trickle again. With a slight nod, Severus mutely tells Becky to help her grandfather, and the girl makes him sit on a chair. Ingham is visibly agitated. His hands keep moving in unstoppable nervousness, touching the armrests of the chair and Becky's fingers, as if persuading himself that he is not dreaming.

With his calm pace, Severus reaches a small cauldron boiling in a corner of the room, and using a ladle, he drops a certain quantity of the hot liquid in a goblet. Doctor Ingham takes the potion he is offered with a reverent expression. He lets in a deep breath, then he drinks the disgusting mixture without interruption, thus offering the best evidence of his trust.

Becky and Severus look at him with equally hopeful faces. The man has a long shudder, and the goblet falls from his fingers. The horrid power of the potion makes him tremble forcefully, and Becky hurries to hug him while watching Snape interrogatively.

Finally, breathing in short, pained gasps, the man raises his head, pressing his fingers on his eyes.

"I… I don't believe…" He begins tremblingly, releasing the pressure on his eyelids with painful slowness. Then he lets out a harsh exclamation. "Becky! Becky! I see you!"

With a cry of joy, the girl hugs her grandfather while tears start to flow again. Severus crosses his arms and backs away a step, watching the scene with a quiet smile.

... ... ... ... ... ...

Evening. Doctor Ingham and Becky have been invited to have dinner in the castle. The old man is still upset by the different emotions experienced during that incredible day, so Minerva and Poppy - especially Poppy who always had a soft spot for the kind doctor - talk quietly with him and gradually help him to recover. Therefore, when the moment of saying goodbye arrives, the two visitors are themselves again, but with an immense happiness in their hearts.

At the last minute of that astonishing day, Becky overcomes her apprehension and goes looking for Snape. In his typical horror of the emotions that such departures seem to forcedly bring with them, the wizard has quietly retreated in one of the halls. The girl enters hesitantly, and he considers her with a frown that initially intimidates Becky. Then his lips curl in one of his rarest smiles.

"I'm glad to see that my lessons haven't been wasted."

"Thank you, Professor. Thank you for my grandfather," the girl replies, blushing in emotion.

He raises a hand. "No, Miss Ingham, I'm the one who should—"

But this time Becky is ready to stop him. "You don't need to say anything else, Professor. I'm happy and proud I could help you."

"Still, I wish I could do something to thank you," Severus replies gravely.

"Oh, but you can!" she exclaims, and a very peculiar spark lights her face. "Remember the evening in the hospital when I asked you that question? I felt so mean for laying you a snare! May I ask you again for… for your forgiveness?"

And before he can answer, Becky kisses him on his cheek. He stiffens; then, slowly, he relaxes and shakes his head with a disbelieving, amused frown.

Eyes twinkling in mischief, the girl smiles. "See? It wasn't so difficult."

... ... ... ... ... ...

The moment to leave has arrived for the two very special visitors Hogwarts has received today. Still engaged in an animated conversation, Poppy and Minerva lead Doctor Ingham and Becky to a particular point from where the girl and her grandfather will experience again the sickening sensation offered by Side-Along-Apparating.

Standing under the doorframe, with a pensive air and arms crossed, Severus is watching the departure of his guests while he savours the warm emotions that their visit brought to his heart. No more alone, his spirit sings. The happy people who are walking in the garden, and who keep turning continuously to wave their hands and smile at him as if they can't decide to leave, those people are his friends.

For the first time in his life, that word has a very special meaning, a new comforting power, and his eyes linger on Poppy, who is now talking serenely with Doctor Ingham. Suddenly, he remembers the many times in which he had felt the same warmth, the same affection wash over him in the days of his affliction, and the many times instead in which he had repaid such dedication by making her life a total hell… and yet, she never left his side.

And what about Minerva, who chats with Becky and laughs as if she were a teenager as well? Minerva, who fought against a whole system, who welcomed him back and did her best to protect him… Once more, he lowers his head in gratitude. Losing his sight opened a totally new world to him, offering him visions that he has never contemplated before.

And finally, his gaze rests on the joyful face of Becky Ingham, and his expression softens again, remembering what had happened on that amazing afternoon: how Doctor Ingham had opened his eyes, and for a long, incredibly poignant moment, it had seemed that neither he nor Becky would ever stop crying and thanking him. Yes, that supreme result was really worth all his efforts, all those months of painstakingly researching… but Severus knows very well that what he has offered is only a small, small reward, compared to what he has been given so freely.

With a soft brushing of robes, Hermione now comes to join Snape under the doorway, looking at him with her best friendly smile. The girl has been observing him for a while, and intrigued by the peaceful expression that now shapes his features, she hasn't been able to resist her curiosity.

"What are you thinking, Professor?" Hermione asks with the fresh familiarity she has developed with him; then, knowing how reserved he is about his feelings, she blushes and immediately apologises.

But for the very first time, Severus is happy about such a personal question, and he bows to the girl as if acknowledging her authority.

"You were right, Granger. It wasn't a matter of will. It was a matter of love."


... ... ... ... ... ...

Message from the author:

So, hi again to all those who have been so brave as to read this highly emotional story to its end.

Now that we are saying goodbye, I would especially like to thank all the people who have helped me during these years, a fantastic team of betas and previewers: Jynx67, Pennfana, Misundersnape, Duj, Lidiladilom, DementedLeaf, Tearsofphoenix, Angelicanight (now simply Angelicka), AmyLouise and Nagandsev.

Thank you very much: without your support, this story would have never been finished.

And thank you again to my intrepid readers. Without YOUR imagination, this story would be just a handful of letters scattered on a white screen instead of living in your minds and hearts (hopefully).

I hope you have enjoyed it. I never ask for reviews, but now that I have reached the end of this long journey, I would be happy to receive a goodbye from all of you. Please? You don't need to write a message. Just a Hi, or a Hello, or a Hola, or a Ciao, or whatever you think best, and your name.

Thanks in advance to those who answer, and a very special thanks to those who want to help me improve and who therefore also add a final comment. I promise to reply to everybody who leaves me a review.