Chapter 24: Unspoken Words
Known World's Snape
Mind and hands. They were what Snape could trust, what would get the job done. The moment Harry Potter returned to his body, Snape's mind and hands told him that something was wrong.
The other Harry—his Harry—had gone still, and he and Dumbledore waited for Harry Potter to return. Waiting for any sign of life. After several minutes, Snape ran though the spells he could use to call Harry Snape's soul back.
But as Snape leaned over to administer the spells, Harry took a huge breath, his back arching off the infirmary bed. His body came back to life in a hurry. Color flooded his skin, and he didn't stop gasping. But as much as he tossed and turned, he did not wake up.
Snape told himself that the boy had just crossed over from another world, that there were bound to be difficulties as his body re-adjusted to its new occupant. But that was the small kernel of his hopeful self, telling him that it was all going to be all right. A lifetime of disasters had taught him to listen to his experience instead. His experience told him that the boy was in danger.
Both he and Dumbledore cast a series of detection spells. Snape diagnosed the problem first: "Cursed."
"Can you counter it?" Dumbledore asked. "The way it eludes discovery…it's diabolical. The work of a dark wizard."
"Yes." Snape felt his jaw set as he recognized the familiar signature of the curse. "It is my work."
Dumbledore's gaze pierced him. "Explain yourself."
"It is the memory curse of which the other Harry spoke. The one that cursed his mother. Developed by my counterpart."
The lace. The curse-eater he'd given Harry, made from his own power. Harry had promised to stop if he felt the lace lose energy, if it tried to pull the curse into him. He'd extracted no such promise from this Harry—from Potter. Damn the boy. But the boy was already damned by his own actions.
"Not your work, then," Dumbledore said. "But you are uniquely qualified to stop its progress."
Snape prayed that he could. He may not have created the curse himself, but he created something that allowed it to move into Potter. If he didn't stop it, he could count the damage as by his own hand.
The curse burrowed into Potter's mind. Counter-curses failed. Legilimency failed.
He moved his wand at the correct angles, he poured the correct amounts of potion down the boy's throat. He relied on how fluidly his mind and hands worked together.
But they weren't working fluidly now. He knew the right movements, but the magic wasn't right. It was weak, barely having an effect. Then, in a sudden fit, a burst of uncontrollable magic would come forth. He was like a First Year all over again.
And like an unpromising First Year, he had the Headmaster frowning over his shoulder. Snape stood, gesturing for Dumbledore to take his place by Harry's bed. "You had best try yourself."
Dumbledore leaned over Harry, the lines in his face deepening. The boy sweated profusely, the sheets in twisted cords around him. Dumbledore shook his head. "Severus, you must do this."
"Because of the curse's origins, you are his best hope. Your expertise, your power and skill—"
"Power and skill I no longer possess. I relinquished it to the other Harry. He must have-" But he couldn't admit that his curse absorber caused this. "My magic has not been the same. Your power is necessary."
Dumbledore had that look in his eyes. The one that made Snape want to tear his hair out. The one that said, "I believe in you."
Snape tried again, casting several spells before he was able to slow the curse's progress. He knew it would not last long. It crept through the boy's mind, snaring his memories—
"Memories," said Snape. He could pull the memories from the boy and try to save them one by one. He turned to Dumbledore.
Dumbledore brought the Pensieve without being asked.
Snape drew out the gossamer memories. The strands swam fitfully, like esoteric aquatic creatures. And why not? They were bits of life. Bits of this boy's short life.
A dozen strands swirled in the Pensieve when Harry woke up. A hand clamped onto Snape's wrist, its heat digging into his skin.
Harry's eyes were glazed. "Don't take them."
"It's necessary," said Snape. He tried to push him back, but the boy held on. He wasn't certain Harry understood him.
Harry's gaze moved restlessly, finally settling on Snape. Snape wasn't sure what he saw in those eyes: trust, or merely a feverish daze. But the boy nodded and let go, slipping back into unconsciousness.
One of the memories died. The silvery gleam of its slender body darkened to charcoal grey. It curled, shriveling, a wisp of ash and smoke burning his nose. The remains of the memory floated on the surface of the Pensieve like a dried husk.
His own fault. His thoughts were jumbled, and his fingers were numb. Snape gripped his wand more tightly and worked harder to isolate the curse, to quarantine the uninfected memories.
He should be better than this. Stronger. He'd spent his life removing the weaker pieces of himself, whittling away in hopes of finding a stronger core. But all he'd managed was to make matters worse. Perhaps the best he could hope for was to carve away until nothing remained.
He harvested the memories until grey slivers filled the Pensieve. Color rose-vibrant life struggling to survive. Snape did not look too closely at the images that flashed within them. If he allowed himself to be drawn in, he would fall into the Pensieve and become infected himself, lost in the tainted memories.
He tried blocking the curse, then filtering it out, then dragging it from the Pensieve while leaving the memories intact. But all of it only limited the curse's progress. He gathered the infected memories and held them temporarily in place with a barrier spell. The Pensieve sloshed fitfully while he stared at the sleeping boy.
He had two choices: he could let the curse retain its hold on the memories. Limit the curse's power, but allow it to fester beneath the surface. Harry would keep his old memories, but would find it difficult, if not impossible, to form new ones. Forever suffering the effects of the curse, like the Lily of that other world.
Or Snape could snuff out the curse, and the memories they were attached to. Harry would be able to form new memories. But the memories that the curse had already infected would be gone. Especially recent memories.
Wipe out Harry's past, or wipe out his future.
Snape caught a glimpse of something in one of the infected memories. Red hair, and a throaty laugh. The smell of lilacs…
He was halfway immersed in the Pensieve before he realized what was happening. He jerked himself out, the memories splashing back. He recast the barrier spells around the memories and turned away, wiping his mouth with his hand.
Dumbledore had quietly waited. "You've found a solution?"
Mind and hands. His fingers laced with Lily's, racing across the Hogwarts grounds. His mind capturing each ray of light across her face. Simple memories of his childhood. But they were the reason he was here, why both Dumbledore and this boy trusted that he would do the right thing. What would have changed for him if his memories of her had been destroyed?
"Yes," Snape answered Dumbledore. "I've found a way to stop the curse." He explained what he would do. Dumbledore protested, prodded him for other options. But in the end, he clasped the sleeping Harry's shoulder, and nodded. Because ultimately, there was no choice. Not for Snape, and not for Harry. With an oncoming war, the past was a luxury they would both have to sacrifice.
His hand trawled through the clusters of grey and blooms of color. He compressed the infected strands between his fingers until the curse drained away, siphoned off by his steady chant. The warm strands grew cold and lifeless.
When he finished, he stared at the ruin he'd made of Harry's memories. Not all of his memories, of course. But he would have gaps. Pieces missing.
Snape imagined what it would be like to do this to himself—to pour out all of his past and crush each moment like an insect until all his misdeeds were forgotten. But his actions lay clear in his mind. Including this one.
He returned the crushed memories to Harry one by one, attempting to rebuild what he had destroyed. There was nothing else he could do.
Ruined. The potion was ruined. Snape sniffed at the congealed mess and banished it before the stench pervaded his quarters. He had learned to compensate for his loss of power, but the rhythm of his magic had changed. He was out of step every time he cast a spell.
He tugged at his sleeve, adjusting the cuff. Nothing was visible through the fabric, but he knew what lay beneath the surface: the Dark Mark, its outline becoming clearer as the Dark Lord's power rose. He could not afford to be unsure of his magic. If only he could manage to brew this potion. Just this one potion.
As he started another attempt, there was a knock on the door. It was a week before classes started and Dumbledore had left for the day. Only one other living person inhabited the castle.
Snape liked to think that he had a Slytherin sort of bravery. He did not relish dangerous situations, but he knew how to handle one. He could face those who meant him harm and survive by his wits.
But he did not want to answer that knock. He allowed himself a moment, his hands pressed into the table. Then he straightened and strode toward the door.
The door creaked open before he reached it. Potter stood on the threshold, his eyes wide. "All I did was touch it. It opened on its own," he said.
Because it was set to admit Harry. Harry, who bounded into his work room like he'd discovered Aladdin's treasures. "Problem with the wards," said Snape.
Harry hovered on the threshold. He shoved his hands in his pockets and studied the lumps they formed against his robes. "I thought no one was here."
"And that ameliorates your intrusion?"
Do you not know that word, Snape wanted to ask, or do you simply not remember learning it? Of course, the boy wouldn't know. Snape focused on his new attempt at the potion, now a shade of aquamarine. Restituomens. When Harry had shown him his notes for the potion, he had told Snape that it was tricky. Snape had not realized just how difficult it would be. Ever since Harry Potter's return, Snape had stayed bent over his cauldron, trying to recreate it.
"The curse is eliminated," Dumbledore had said to him a few days ago, in the Headmaster's office. "The potion may aid in Harry's recovery, but what he needs is Legilimency. Help in sorting through his memories during the healing process. You can work with him. Patch together what is undamaged."
Snape said nothing and stared out the window onto the Hogwarts grounds. The back of his legs ached from standing, but his fingers itched to work over the potion again. Temperature, he thought. Temperature is the key. I must keep the brew at an even temperature.
"You're avoiding him," Dumbledore said.
"The Restituomens potion requires my full attention. You are just as capable of mind magic as myself, if not more so."
"I think Harry would be more comfortable with you," Dumbledore had said.
Snape thought about Harry's feverish gaze. "I am not comfortable with him."
In the end, Dumbledore stopped prodding him and had conceded defeat. The headmaster helped the boy weave together the gaps in his memory, and Snape had been left alone.
Until now. Snape looked up from the lapping ripples of aquamarine. The boy was still there. "What do you want, Potter?"
The look on the Harry's face made him wish he had not used that name. He did not know exactly why the name Potter felt more comfortable now. Old habits.
"I've been reading through some of the notes he-my other self-left," Harry said. He pulled out a wrinkled note and read, "'I left some of your things at his place.'"
Of course. The other Harry, with his hopefulness and good intentions—not to mention his deviousness—was determined to make them collide. The thought of that Harry, fervently hoping from wherever he was, made Snape leave his potion and study the boy more closely. Perhaps his Harry was right. Perhaps there was hope.
But as Harry Potter stood there and the silence stretched, he didn't feel hope. Merely futility in the face of all that had gone before. Getting them in the same room was unlikely to solve anything. May as well give him what he came for and be done with it.
He flicked his wand at the box that held Harry's things, stored on a shelf in the corner. The box floated toward them, steadily at first, then losing momentum. When it was a few feet from Harry, it shot forward, crashing into the table.
Snape cursed and kneeled down to gather the items. Summoning charms had not given him any trouble before. He never knew when his magic would fall out of step.
Harry joined him, and they picked through old shirts and textbooks, until Harry came upon his photo album. The album was well-worn, one corner slightly upturned. Harry opened it, touching the edges of each photograph.
"S'funny," he said. "Most of these were taken before I was born. I tried to pretend I could remember them. But I can't." He frowned. "I've got images like that inside my head now. Of her. Of you. But that's all. They don't feel like real memories. They're just…photographs."
This was the last thing Snape wanted to talk about. But Harry was here, now. He was talking. Snape did not want to push this chance away.
But he did not know how to begin. He hadn't realized how much he'd depended on the other Harry's enthusiasm. He'd depended on Lily's, as well, before he'd ruined things.
He recalled something he'd read in one of his books, Spells of the Mind. "Memories are like a wand with no owner," he quoted. He thought of his own magic. "Fickle. Unreliable."
Harry rubbed at his palm. "Likely to give you a shock." He shook his head. "I don't know what I'm saying. I had this feeling that I needed to talk to you." He rapped on his head. "It's all jumbled up in here."
Snape could offer no comfort. He did better with subterfuge. Pretending to connect with someone was far easier. Similar goals, similar fears, similar hatreds—these were the things that brought his enemies close. But now, he was at a loss.
"There are potions that may help. I've given the information to the Headmaster, but you may wish to learn how to brew them yourself."
"Haven't made much progress with potions. At least, I don't think so. I remember studying." Harry's face clouded. "I remember failing."
"Perhaps the other Harry's notes will be of some use to you." His gaze moved back to the potion, which had turned a shimmering copper. He was near the point where the last brew had gone sour.
Just breathe, Lily would have said to him in Potions class, years ago. Before that, too, had gone sour. He had never found a way to ease things between them. Sometimes, he thought he'd succeeded. Someone's potion would explode in class, and she 'd turn to him, her smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. And he would think that, somehow, he'd done it. He'd done something, and she had forgiven him.
But he hadn't done anything. The grand gestures he'd planned had stayed in his head. And Lily's smile faded as she remembered. She would turn away, back to the circle of people she could trust.
The copper turned bronze as the potion neared its boiling point. He threw ash on the fire, and the temperature dropped. He wondered if he would be able to brew this at all. Who was he to be offering Harry instruction on memory potions? Perhaps he should try to master his own skills again before attempting to instruct others.
Harry rummaged in the box. "He stayed with you? The other Harry?"
Snape disliked the feelings that rose in him. "No. We worked on brewing techniques. He preferred having a few personal items at hand."
"Look," said Harry. He took a breath. "Look, could you be honest with me? Just for now?"
Snape immediately thought of three believable ways he could support the lie he'd already established. But the plea in Harry's gaze made him reconsider. "He stayed with me. Over the summer. He insisted."
"Me, too. I mean, my Snape made certain I stayed with him. With them." His face colored. "Not…my Snape, I guess. But I think of him that way. As family."
My Snape. His Harry. And this Harry—the boy from his world, the son of the woman he loved—he was the Other Harry. He had no doubt that, in Harry's mind, he was The Other Snape. They may as well still be separated by a million worlds.
Harry gripped the album. "Dumbledore said that a lot of the memories might still disappear. He said I should be prepared." Harry stopped, and his brow furrowed. "I'm not the same as I was last spring. Something's changed. Am I going to lose that?"
Snape could see the change. Harry's gaze was had a certain sadness to it, but it was also calmer. His frantic energy had been replaced with something more focused. He thought of the infected strands in the Pensieve, dying like the last embers in a fire. Was that all he and Harry were—strands floating on the surface? Destroy that, and what was left? "It's uncertain. Your mind is healing itself. Sealing off the damaged memories. Forming a scar over them."
Harry rubbed his forehead with a wry smile. "Brilliant. Another scar."
There are techniques that can ameliorate…that can mend the damage." Snape glanced at the potion. If only he could brew it perfectly. He wanted to rely on his potion-making skills. He understood his potions. They could be difficult, but once he understood them, he controlled them. He could take venoms and creatures and plants and force them to his will, to be something of purpose. Except this one.
He forced his attention back to Harry. "If we used Legilimency—"
"Dumbledore tried that. He called it linking the strong with the weak. Pairing what I feel with the memory it belongs to." Harry shook his head. "But they just don't connect."
Snape had worked with Dumbledore himself to ensure his Legilimency and Occlumency were still strong. "There are some nuances I can show you. A way of slipping beneath the surface of thoughts."
"I think I've done that." Harry's face brightened. "Yeah, you said I spent too much time bobbing on the surface. Like a duck. When we practiced, you said…" Then he stopped. "Oh. That wasn't you."
Harry's smile faded, in precisely the manner that Lily's used to.
Snape made another attempt, before the warmth disappeared from Harry's face. "Once I'm inside your thoughts, I can—"
"No, that's…" Harry held a hand up to his temple, as if he could physically block Snape from entering his mind. "Thank you, Professor, but I don't think it will help." He took a few steps back. "These images I have of you, these feelings, they just…"
They just don't connect.
Snape looked at the boy, gloom settling over him. He knew what would happen. Months of fading smiles, years of strained conversations.
He'd been better off when Potter was nothing but an irritating duty. No what-ifs. No wishes that he could be something other than who he was. He turned back to the potion and built the fire again. "I'm sure the Headmaster will do what is best."
Harry poked at the things in his crate. "I've read things wrong." He found a mangled toy soldier in the bottom of a shoebox and rolled it between his fingers. "Same with Uncle Vernon. I left one of these on his night stand once. A gift." He shook his head. "Stupid. It was back in my cupboard the next morning."
"Nothing. Forget it." Harry winced. "I keep talking as though I'm back in that other world. Everything is so familiar." He glanced at Snape and looked away. "Then…"
"Reality sets in."
"Yeah. Reality." Harry stared hard at Snape. "Maybe I need some time."
Time. Yes. Time made things bearable between Lily and himself. Years put more distance between them. There were moments when he could even convince himself that they had never meant anything to each other.
The surface of the potion shimmered. He would need to readjust the temperature again soon.
Unless he didn't. Unless he gave up on this foolhardy enterprise, and admitted that there were some things that were beyond his abilities.
Harry's mind was already healing. The fragments of memory from last summer would fade. Harry's friends might talk, but the social world of students moved quickly. This summer interlude would be forgotten. Disapparated.
He turned the thought over, his breath quickening. He could slice away the past. It would be as if the summer never happened. Go on with their lives as they had before. They would both be better off.
"Would it be so terrible," Snape asked, his voice barely above a whisper, "if you forgot?"
Harry's eyes flashed. "How can you even ask? You don't know—"
"You asked for honesty. I expect the same. There's no part of you—none at all—that wants to forget?"
Harry clenched his fists. "Knowing my mum—it's what I've always wanted. To see her, to have her see me." He paused. "But…"
There it was: a small flash of doubt in Harry's face. Snape felt a frisson of anticipation.
"But she was never really mine. My mum is here. Was here." Harry rubbed the bent album corner. "It never felt real before. That she died. Before, I wanted to fight for her. Right the wrong. Now, I don't feel like fighting. I just don't want her to be dead."
How many times had Snape had that same thought? That he would see her wand light up again, or watch her make a flower bloom.
But these were childish dreams. Her wand would never cast another spell. People did not come back because he wished them to. Wands went dark. This was the way of things. "These thoughts will fade," he said.
"When the memories fade, yeah." Harry shook his head. "I shouldn't feel this way."
Harry stopped talking, his gaze drifting. More memories going black. The cauldron bubbled. The temperature had reached the boiling point.
Let it. Let it boil away. The summer was best forgotten. Harry admitted as much himself. Reality had set in, and what they thought they wanted turned out to be a dream.
These memories would tear them down with a thousand cuts. Unless he cut both Harry and himself with one surgical strike. He would lock away his own memories, and treat Harry as he had before. There were rumblings of a Tri-Wizard Tournament—soon that would be all anyone talked about, and it would be as if this failed experiment had never happened.
Harry was still drifting. "Harry," Snape said, reaching out to brush his sleeve. Then he remembered himself, and pulled back. "Potter." He rapped sharply on the table.
Harry shook his head, as if coming out of a daydream. "I was…what was I saying?"
Time to get things back on track. "What was I saying, Sir," Snape corrected. He busied himself with ingredients, although he had every intention of discarding the potion. "You were just leaving."
"Right. Sir. Right." Harry looked down at the box. "But…we were talking about the summer. About my mum."
Snape didn't allow himself to waver. "Perhaps your fans enjoy hanging on to your every word. But I assure you, I do not. I've been more than tolerant of your intrusion and your monopoly of my time. I suggest you leave before my patience comes to an end."
Old habits. Harry stiffened, his shoulders tightening into familiar lines. He piled his possessions back into the box. "I came down here to talk, Professor. I thought…" He shook his head. "You know what? Never mind. It doesn't matter."
He moved to the door, his things teetering precariously as he turned the handle. Then he stopped.
Snape closed his eyes for a moment. Just leave. Just leave me be.
"He left another note," Harry said. Setting the box down, he pulled some papers from his pocket. He stared at them, then strode forward and shoved them across the table. "Better do it now. Might not remember there was another Harry if I wait too long."
It was a photograph and a note. The photograph was one Snape knew well by now: An infant Harry, and Lily brewing a potion, murmuring something indecipherable.
The note read:
Photographs mean a lot to me. I'll wager they mean a lot to you, too. But if you can—would you give this one to Professor Snape? I feel like he needs it.
I understand if you can't. But I thought I'd ask.
Snape studied the picture. He still couldn't make out what Lily said. Most likely, he would never know. Some things were lost forever.
But now, his gaze was drawn to the young Harry. The child gazed up at the photographer—James Potter, most likely. Lily had claimed that he had overcome his cruelty and arrogance, but Snape did not consider him capable of it.
For the first time, he wondered if he was wrong. Because when Snape had Harry in his life, something had changed. He had felt Harry's fierce belief like a physical presence. It pushed him, made him want to be something else. Something more. Something like what Lily had seen in James Potter.
Perhaps keeping Harry's memories of another Lily did nothing for the one that died in this world. But the Lily of this world had always kept Severus holding onto hope. Hope that one day, she could have looked at him, and her smile wouldn't have faded away.
Harry trudged to the door and shoved it open.
"Wait," said Snape.
What could he say? He thought of the words he could spin, ploys that had been successful in drawing other Death Eaters close, lulling them into trust. Some of them might work on the boy.
Harry looked at him, halfway out the door, and Snape knew he couldn't say those words. Against all instincts, he tried to think of what his Harry would do.
Snape opened his mouth. "Knock, knock."
He decided, in that moment, that he was ill-equipped to act like a fourteen-year-old Gryffindor.
Harry gripped the door handle reflexively. "Did you…that wasn't a…"
Snape stood frozen.
Harry's gaze shifted uncertainly. "Who's there?" he asked.
A spark lit up Harry's eyes. The memories were not entirely gone. The corner of his mouth turned up. "I've heard that one."
"I have it on good authority that it's popular."
"I never saw you as the type to laugh at yourself."
"Not me," said Harry.
Snape sniffed, straightening his posture. "Excellent instincts."
Harry stepped closer. There was still wariness in his eyes. Snape didn't know if he would ever get past that. The other Snape—the Snape of that other world—was able to. But he was not that person, no matter how many similarities they might have.
"Your potion," Harry said.
The potion had boiled over, foam seeping over the lip of the cauldron and onto the table. Snape sighed and vanished the sludge.
Harry touched the table where the foam had been. "What was it?"
"But my mum's not here. Who…" Harry's face clouded. "Oh. Will I need it every month? Will I be like her?"
"No, I destroyed the curse." He paused, then met Harry's gaze. "I had to destroy the curse."
Snape was reminded of the feverish eyes he had seen in the infirmary. But there was something clearer in them, now.
"I know," Harry said.
"I thought the potion would help you. But you will heal on your own. Which is just as well, as I am unable to brew it."
"He had trouble, too. My—the other Snape. But he always managed, in the end."
"I am not him." He paused, realizing how absurd that must sound. "Not in the way you might wish."
"Me, neither. I mean, I'm not that Harry. They treated me like a son, but…I wasn't their Harry. I'm just—what was it you said?" He laughed, quietly. "Just a wand with no owner."
"Ollivander has said that wands choose their owners. And that their choices can be surprising."
"I remember something like that." Harry closed his eyes, concentrating. "Yeah. I hope he's right." He opened his eyes. "What do we do now?"
Snape wondered what his counterpart would have said and done. He had no idea. It didn't matter. He could not be that person. But he could, perhaps, be someone other than the person he had been. He looked at Harry, and he believed that they were more than strands in a Pensieve. More than the sum of their parts.
"We'll try brewing it again," Snape said, "if you would assist."
"I'm rubbish at potions. You know that."
"So am I, these days. But I am willing to try."
Harry drew himself up. "Yeah. We'll work it out."
Snape still had the photo. But it was not his to hold onto. "Keep it. Look at it, and the other photographs. It will help revive your memory."
"I don't really remember this. Or any of the others. I was too young."
"Then tell me what you do remember. We'll bring back what we can."
Harry picked up the picture to examine it in the light. Snape grasped the other corner of the photo, and they held it together, close to touching, but not. Perhaps this was all he could hope for.
Snape's thoughts stilled when Harry closed the gap, nudging Snape in his side.
"Look," Harry said, indicating the photograph.
Snape realized that, at this angle, he could make out the words spoken silently by Lily as she stirred her potion. Her eyes didn't seem as sad as he had thought. Snape shifted so Harry could lean closer, and they both whispered the words along with Lily.
"I remember," she said.