Rosemary and Pansies: Part One

No Bright Reversion

by Shamenka

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance: pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that's for thoughts..."

William Shakespeare - Hamlet

"Is there no bright reversion in the sky; For those that greatly think, or bravely die?"

Alexander Pope - Elegy to the memory of an Unfortunate Lady

Disclaimer: Not my property, I am not JKR or any assosciated companies and make no money from this fan fiction.

oOo

Despite the late hour, Harry couldn't sleep. Rest was beyond his grasp while Severus was out there, somewhere, in danger, in trouble. He knew it, the constant low level ache from his scar told him as much. The night seemed endless as he tossed and turned, he could not settle while Severus was out there, but his restlessness was beginning to disturb his dorm mates. With a heart-felt but silent sigh he got out of bed, dressed and went out for a walk. As he ventured out into the cold night he pulled his cloak tighter around himself, letting his instinct take him where it wanted him to go.

He looked everywhere, peering myopically into the darkness where his glasses had little effect on his poor eyesight. All he saw was a whisper of movement against the malevolent backdrop of the Forbidden Forest. Hurrying over he found Severus, collapsed on the forest floor. As he dropped to his knees beside the older man a far too familiar sweet smell filled his senses. Blood, and lots of it! But, he couldn't tell if it was background smell from the forest at night or from his beloved Severus.

"Severus, are you injured?" Asking him if he were hurt would be pointless, of course he was hurt, he'd been to Voldemort's court after all, he always came back hurt; just generally not bleeding.

"I don't... don't know... 'rry." Severus' voice was barely above a whisper as he replied. He spoke what sounded like Harry's name in an almost breathless whisper.

They were closer to Hagrid's cottage than they were the castle, and Hagrid's cottage was connected to Dumbledore's office by a short two way floo connection. Making his decision, Harry stroked Severus' bruised face and ran for the half giant's door, screaming for help as he ran.

Hagrid had no trouble carrying Severus back to his cottage, once there they could clean up the unconscious professor and assess his injuries, as he gently put the dark haired man down on his bed he checked once more for broken bones. To his delight he found none this time, just as he had found no trace of fractures when he'd first seen Severus in response to Harry's frantic pleas for help. He started to strip and wash away the muck and blood Severus was covered in and let go a deeply held sigh when they discovered no physical breaks in the other man's so pale skin. He twitched even as they touched him as gently as they could. Even when they didn't touch him he still twitched.

"Crucio... has to have been the Crucio. Poor sod, every bleedin' time he gets sent out there, every bleedin' time Voldemort does this. Only, tonight seems much worse. Anyway's at least we know that all that blood we smelled came from some critter's dinner, not Severus." Hagrid tried to smile, tried to look reassuringly at the troubled face of Severus Snape's strongest ally. Stronger even than Albus Dumbledore himself, the boy, the young man that loved him.

It had come as quite a surprise the day, shortly after Christmas, when Harry had shared his biggest secret with Hagrid; that he was in love with Severus Snape. He had then confessed that Snape was in love with him, but that until the day he graduated from Hogwarts nothing more than words would pass between them. Harry had confessed all to Hagrid simply because he felt that neither Ron nor Hermione would understand why he was drawn to the sarcastic, greasy, sneaky, brave, witty, clever, sexy Potions Master. And it was as simple as that; Hagrid became their secret keeper.

"Look, 'Arry, let Severus rest up a while where he is. It's not midnight yet, so give him an hour of warmth and comfort. You know what I mean?" Hagrid inclined his head towards his bed and it's frail looking occupant. "He needs to feel someone lovin' him. Not that I mean you should... you know? Just hold him an' be there...like..." Hagrid shrugged; it was an action that reminded most people who witnessed it of shifting tectonic plates, just through the sheer bulk of the man.

"Ok, get us up about midnight, Sev needs to get to his own bed sometime tonight." Harry grinned broadly at his giant friend and climbed in beside the man that would finally become his lover in every way possible in three short months. Three more months of holding themselves in check, of only allowing themselves an occasional kiss, furtive touches and glances. But their talks - Harry could listen to Severus read a Muggle telephone directory and it would be silken sexual whispers.

He could, and often did, listen to Severus talk for hours. He'd given Severus several books just to have the delight of listening to him read aloud. He'd even invented the perfect excuse to be able to just sit and listen to Severus' voice making love to him while all the time having a whole room full of chaperones. Their last class on a Friday was potions, Harry had talked Severus into reading the books to the class after the school work was finished and everything put away. Oddly enough, just about everyone in their seventh year potions class stayed to listen to Severus while he read. Harry suspected he had a few rivals for his love's attention, judging from the sighs and whispers he could catch hints at in the otherwise quiet potions classroom, filled only with his love's voice.

At least everyone that took Muggle Studies had improved their over all markings since the readings had started.

Content with his lot, now that he knew that Severus would survive, Harry put his ear to Severus' chest and listened to the other man's heart beating and allowed that rhythm of life to soothe him into a light sleep. The next thing he was aware of was Hagrid shaking them both awake telling them it was shortly after midnight.

Severus woke up startled and disorientated, not that that confused state remained for long. Once he realised he was with Harry, in Hagrid's cottage he knew he was safe, he relaxed again and allowed a grimace to show at the shear bulk of pain that still coursed through his body and mind.

"How many?" Harry asked, quietly, watching his face like a hawk.

Severus wanted nothing else but to be able to look into those old before their time eyes and lie to his lover-to-be, but his desire to love Harry wouldn't let him lie to him either.

"Five... I think it was five times, I pretty much don't fully remember after the third one." Severus felt the prickle of tears in his eyes at the distress his words so obviously gave Harry. "I'm tough, I can take it!" He tried to be reassuring to his beloved, he smiled at him and contented himself with trying to imagine Harry's face when he asked him to marry him. Three short months and they could be together for always. If Harry said yes to him. He grinned again, exhausted, but dwelling on his favourite topic, his young love.

"Why are you smiling?" Harry poked Severus in the ribs, very gently, with the pad of one finger.

"I'll tell you when you graduate." Severus almost always answered that type of question with the same stock answer.

"Another one of those thoughts then?" They both laughed at the wanton quality Harry got into his voice.

"Aren't they always?" Severus leaned over and kissed Harry. He broke the kiss quickly, painfully aware that they were snuggled up in Hagrid's bed, keeping the poor fellow out of it. "Come on then, get your ageing and aching boyfriend back to the castle, hmm?" He attempted to stand up and almost made it. Luckily for him Hagrid was standing by and caught him before he could fall.

"'Ere, let me help ya!" Hagrid easily held the Potion Master in his arms, making Severus blush to the roots of his hair. "If I takes you to the castle doors, can you two manage yerselve's there after? Less I'm bumblin' aroun' the castle tryin' ta be quiet the less you're likely ta get caught. 'Course, ye jus' might want ta be caught by the Headmaster, you two sneakin' inta school together an' all!" Hagrid grinned at the guilty smiles he got from his much adored young lovers. He enjoyed being their secret keeper, knowing someone other than the Headmaster could trust him with such secrets as their very happiness. "Come on then, you was visitin' me an' we heard Professor Snape call for help an' you stayed with me to make sure he was ok, 'cos, ifin' he wasn't I couldn't very well leave him unattended and movin' him might've made things worse, ok?"

"Ok!" Harry nodded his understanding, Hagrid was great at making up excuses for them both to be with him, he almost never repeated himself either. Not for the first time did Harry wish Hagrid could find someone to love, he was a hopeless romantic and their greatest friend.

"Right, let's jus' wrap up Severus a bit warmer an' we'll be off!" Hagrid nodded at Severus' bloodied and muddied cloak and together they wrapped the still exhausted and suffering man up in it.

"I hope you both realise that this is possibly the single most undignified way to return to Hogwarts that I can think of?" Severus tried his best to glare at them both, but as always, they won out and just grinned back at him. "Let's get going if we're going!"

In the castle, in Gryffindor tower no less, Sirius Black was looking for his godson. He'd tried the seventh year boys room, no Harry, he'd even risked a peek into the seventh year girls dorm, still no Harry. He hadn't seen the lad for several months due to his working abroad on Dumbledore's business, now that he was finally back, not just in the UK but there at Hogwarts for the foreseeable future, even if it was as Snuffles, he couldn't find the kid to tell him the good news himself. Sirius resigned himself to a fruitless search and headed out of the Gryffindor tower, he would be staying in one of the guest rooms that night and transferring over to Hagrid's as a new guard dog first thing in the morning.

He let his feet drag as he headed down the Gryffindor tower to cross over the main entry to go up to his guest room. Before he got down to the hall level he heard whispered voices. Harry's for one, and Hagrid's and even Snape's. He pulled himself further into the shadow in case there were others with that small group that shouldn't see him as himself. He was too eager to see Harry as himself to even want to change back into being Snuffles.

He watched as Snape and Harry entered the castle and bid Hagrid a good night, they were assuring the giant that they could take things from there. Snape held onto the door as if it were his best friend, and Sirius thought that it just might well be, Snape being a greasy, friendless bastard and all, it was Harry's next words that caught and held his attention.

"And thanks again for the use of your bed..." He was shushed at by Snape, who blushed bright red, and by Hagrid from outside the door. But Sirius thought the giant was no doubt blushing too. Then he wondered why they would need Hagrid's bed? And Hagrid would allow them to have sex in his cottage? Hagrid let that greasy, slimy bastard even look at his pure Harry, let alone touch him?

His suspicions were confirmed when Harry turned to face Snape once more.

"Do you want any help getting to your rooms?" He heard the fright in Harry's voice, it was so obvious that Snape was harming Harry, forcing the young lad into a relationship he neither wanted nor could cope with. "And don't even try lying to me!" He didn't hear the genuine concern, he merely heard the conflict he imagined should be there, the hatred he himself always bore towards the Slytherin Head of House.

"I'd never dream of lying to you of all people, Mister Potter!" Severus wasn't aware of their audience, nor was Harry. Their audience didn't hear the irony in Severus' voice, he was too busy casting the players below him with his own imagined stage directions. "I'd better go wash this sticky mess off, however, it's damned uncomfortable. Then go report to Albus, things are looking up, Harry, going to finally go our way!" Severus grinned and pulled the blood encrusted robes away from himself. He'd informed his rescuers, during their walk over to the castle, that he had no idea what unfortunate beast it was that he had fallen in, only that it stank. Which they agreed with.

"Damned right you're gonna' wash, you stink!" Harry smiled at his love, holding his nose and pantomiming a reaction to a dreadful smell. "Damn it, you've even made me all sticky and smelly too!" This time he smiled and touched a hand to Severus' bruised face, eyes filled with love. All of which Sirius didn't see.

All Sirius could come up with as an interpretation of the conversation going on down below was that Snape had fucked his godson, in Hagrid's bed no less, and hadn't even the common courtesy to do a basic clean up spell!

He heard their footsteps heading off, down to Snape's dungeon, the snake was drawing his poor innocent lamb in to his dark and dank lair. Sirius followed, in his animagus form, ready to spring to Harry's defence if need be, ready to do whatever was needed to save his sweet lad from that monster's clutches.

Sirius gave them a few minutes lead and followed as quietly as he could, but the echoes of his quarries footsteps on the stone floor made it impossible to hear what they whispered about.

"No arguments Severus, I'm spending the night, you need someone to look after you!" Harry laughed softly at his beloved's look of shocked outrage.

"You were right on one point, no arguments. You are not staying, you are going back to your own bed. You are going to your dorm because I wont risk your reputation this close to graduation. I'll take something for the pain, and if you'd spare your Weasely wonder sweater I'll have something for the dreams too." Severus gave his young love the brightest, the smuttiest smirk it had ever been Harry's honour to receive.

"Ok, deal!" Harry removed his robe as they entered Severus' classroom. Sirius froze at the prospect of his godson having to service Snape's deviant sexual needs yet again that night. He was confused when the door opened moments later and a furtive Harry crept out and headed for the Gryffindor tower and the safety of his own bed.

With Harry safely out of the way Sirius padded forward to do something, he wasn't sure what, but knew he had to act while the coast was clear. He pushed the potions classroom door open and stepped cautiously in, making no noise. Before him, down amongst the potion bottles that lined the cold room's walls, was Severus Snape, in his view he could add child molester and still be giving an accurate description. Snape was choosing a potion for some reason, there was little doubt in his mind that it would be to poison Harry, to control him, to degrade and abuse him. Before Snape even turned around Sirius acted, he had to do something to finally stop this monster before him. Some curse that would warn him off.

A vague memory of hearing about a hex battle between Snape and Minerva McGonagall, of all people, gave him an idea. He'd let someone else's curse do the work for him. Whatever the last curse the slimy, greasy bastard had been hit with. He hoped it was a painful one, like one of Minerva's Transfiguration hexes. Grinning broadly at his own wonderful idea he carefully transformed himself once more and raised his nice new wand level with Snape's back.

"Iteration Incantare!" A quick change back and he was off back to his room, safe in his own knowledge that he had saved Harry's life and soul. And he swiftly left the room before Snape could possibly see that it was him that had struck him.

Snape's scream of abject pain and torment surprised him, it shocked him, it froze the marrow in his bones. Whatever curse Snape had last gone under it must have been a doozy, he was still screaming. All around him echoes of doors opening and slamming carried down to him from the Slytherin tower above his head. Sirius wasn't too sure what he had done, only that it had to be done; those stinking, slimy bastard Slytherin snakes had to discover that not one of them was safe from the retribution of righteousness, from the sword arm for Godric Gryffindor himself! He scurried a little fast as he moved through the corridors to the room he had been assigned for that evening.

Once safe within his own room, he changed back once more and slept the sleep of the just.

Up above the chaos down in Slytherin's dungeons, a full tower away, a weary Harry Potter finally reached the portrait of the fat lady and smiled at her, only she didn't smile back. That worried Harry, he worried that he had offended her in some way.

"Erm, is everything ok?" even after all these years he still felt slightly odd asking questions and expecting sentient answers from portraits.

"Oh, Harry, it's you!" The Fat Lady was obviously in a state of distress as she looked beyond the edges of her portrait to the world beyond that all the portraits shared. "There's an awful commotion down in Slytherin dungeons, don't you know? Seems someone's sneaked in and attacked Professor Snape. All the portraits are talking about it. Very bad business don't you know?" She turned back to see Harry's body disappearing around the nearest bend in the corridor. "Well, some people!" she turned back to the gossip amongst the portraits.

For his efforts, Harry was hurrying to the hospital wing, if someone had attacked Severus he'd surely be taken there. By the time he arrived there was a large crowd of panic-stricken Slytherins all milling around, their eyes looked frightened, and it took a lot to frighten a Slytherin. The door to the hospital wing was being guarded by Professor Lupin, some of the other teachers were milling around with the pupils, trying to offer comfort to children that knew that the teachers did in truth utterly despise them.

Before Harry could even try and form a plan to get him into the hospital wing a large hand fell onto his shoulder and squeezed gently. Harry looked up into the worried face of Hagrid.

"I was called in by Dumbledore, he said..." Hagrid sniffed and cleared his throat and tried again. "Albus said things didn't look good for Severus, he wants me to look for intruders, but I told him I'd only just brought Severus up to the castle doors and no one was around. Come on, you've got more right ta be in there than them that's in there pokin' and pryin' at Severus like like he was a piece o' meat." Hagrid moved his hand to sit between Harry's shoulder blades and pushed the young man before him, straight towards Lupin.

"Hagrid? What's Harry doing here?" Lupin didn't move from his post directly before the doors to Poppy's domain.

"I was called in by Albus, an' Harry has every right to be in there, 'specially if Severus is as bad off as Albus said." Hagrid met Lupin's eyes but didn't make any attempt to clarify his statement, he had to surmise that his eyes spoke clearly enough for him, he saw understanding dawning in Lupin's eyes.

"In you both go!" Lupin stepped aside and indicated that they could both go in. He looked into Harry's face and saw everything there in microcosm, the hope, the fear and especially the love. "I'm sorry, Harry, but I don't think things are looking too good right now for Severus. Someone put him under Crucio and just walked away, leaving it on him."

"Six" Harry whispered at his friend.

"Six what?" Lupin thought he knew the answer and prayed with all his might that he was wrong.

"That would be the sixth time he's been under the Crucio tonight!" Hagrid supplied and saw that little ray of hope flicker and die in the young professor's face. "Come on, Harry, Severus needs us." Hagrid pushed the door open and guided his young companion in.

The sight that met them was horrific. Severus lay on a hospital bed, twitching and turning, every inch of him afflicted with horrendous spasms, his face a rictus of absolute agony. Around the bed stood Albus and Poppy, their faces showing quite clearly their distress at their friend's condition and Minerva and even Cornelius Fudge were there too, they looked more worried that someone got into Hogwarts rather than worried about Severus' condition. Harry couldn't stay silent a second longer.

"Severus!" His voice broke the inactivity around Severus' bed as they all turned to see who had screeched in such agony. Harry ran to Severus' side and reached for Severus' hand. "Who was it, who did it Severus? I didn't see anyone, did you?" He stroked Severus twitching cheeks and peppered light kisses all over his love's face. Severus' empty eyes gazed hollowly at the ceiling, unresponsive.

"Harry, what's the meaning of this?" Albus tried to pull the young man away from Severus' bedside.

"Leave me alone!" Harry shrugged him off the Headmaster's hands and refused point blank to either explain himself or move. "Damn you all, this was the sixth time tonight he's been put under Crucio, and all you can do is stand there, watching him. Not even trying to offer help or comfort. Oh, it's okay for you to offer to sacrifice Severus' life every damn time you need information, but to treat him with a second's comfort and care?" Harry climbed up onto Severus' bed and pulled his love into the protective shelter of his arms. "Severus, love, wake up, please, I need you so much..." He kissed Severus' face.

As soon as his lips touched Severus' face this time the older man twitched towards him, slightly, eyes barely focusing at all.

"Voldemort, Pettigrew, they did it all, Pettigrew was... Malfoy's place." The impact of those memories on his soul all but shattered Severus' mind, just as the reaction to them shattered Harry's heart.

"Oh sweet mercy. Voldemort's been here? And if Pettigrew lives..." Fudge looked at Albus for the older wizards reaction and almost lost himself in the pain he found there.

"I don't think either of them have been here, this is sadly an internal affair. But from the severity of Severus' condition you can take that as a death bed statement, you have to take it as verbatim... the absolute truth." Albus' hand trembled as he reached out to his beloved children, his dear Severus and his beloved Harry. He hadn't known there was any special feelings between these two, and now that he did, it was too late to protect them.

"Is there nothing you can do to help Severus? Nothing at all?" Harry looked at every pair of eyes surrounding the bed. All during his life at Hogwarts he had had a constant reminder of the dire effects of too long under the Crucio curse; the memory of Neville's parents came crushing in on him, not that such horror ever left him alone, unless he was in Severus' arms. Despite the knowledge in his head, his heart pleaded with the fates for some small scrap of hope for his Severus. Just this once that they could be kind to him.

"Nothing that won't destroy him." Fudge looked as if his world was tilting out of orbit; so long had he denied Voldemort's resurrection, so long he had denigrated Severus Snape as nothing more than Albus Dumbledore's pet Death Eater. Despite his bureaucratic nature he was still a wizard, still a human being, still in love with his own wife; he fully recognised the pain young Harry Potter was going through watching his lover dying like this. "There's a new spell that's been developed over the last couple of years, it's still highly experimental, it resets the body's systems, we think it works by wiping out even molecular memory of the curse; but, whether it does or doesn't, all that Severus Snape was, or is, or ever could have been will be lost. He'll be a total amnesiac, and little different from any regular squib or Muggle."

"Do it! Do whatever you can do! Save him... please?" Harry let his tears fall free as he begged for Severus' life, he knew full well that all that lay ahead of his love as it was would be a future in the high security psychiatric wing at St. Mungo's, or if he were very lucky a painful and terrifying death.

"Afore ye' do, let me speak ta' Severus for a mo' so's I c'n ask 'im somethin'!" Hagrid rounded the bed to push in between Poppy and the edge of the bed; he fished around under his shirt for a moment and knelt down, like a supplicant before an alter, face to face with Severus. "Severus? It's me, 'Agrid, I got your secrets with me, feel 'em?" Hagrid removed a chain from around his neck and immediately folded the almost comatose man's hand around it.

Everyone saw the single tear than trailed down Severus' cheek, everyone witnessing this had to admit that Severus knew exactly what he was holding.

"Shall I ask 'im for you? So's you'll know, in here?" Hagrid touched Severus' chest, right over his heart. "So he'll know just how much you love 'im?" Severus managed a small nod, his body and his mind were slowly parting company, he knew full well that he would soon be little more than a vegetable trapped inside his own skin, if he were lucky. If he were unlucky, he'd be a raving madman, just like young Longbottom's parents. Neither of which could ever tell Harry how much he truly loved him, desired him, wanted to hold him, protect him, keep him safe. Now he never would.

Another and another and another tear followed the first, one for every lost morning that he wouldn't wake up beside his Harry, for every night Harry would go to sleep without him by his side.

"Harry, the last secret Severus asked me to keep for you both was this..." Hagrid gently removed the chain from Severus' hand and held it out to the young man, everyone there could clearly see the two plain gold rings that nestled together on that chain. "On your graduation day, before anything else happened, he was going to ask you if you would do him the great honour of marrying him. Harry, would you have said yes?" Hagrid looked at Harry as the young man's life totally collapsed around him, inelegant, real tears flowed freely, Harry had to make loud unmanly sniffing noises before he could reply calmly, but reply he did!

"It would be my greatest honour to marry you, Severus, I love you, and I waited for you, was willing to wait till graduation like you wanted. I wish I could have made you realise that to me you were well worth waiting a life time for." Harry took the chain that held what would have been their wedding rings and slipped it on over his head. "I'll find whoever did this to you and I swear I'll see them rot in Azkaban for this. I swear it, Severus, I swear it!" Harry held the man who would have been his husband and wept, sheltered by one strong arm from Hagrid he gave him a last kiss good-bye.

"Harry, give Minister Fudge a chance to do that spell, while Severus still has time." Albus touched Harry's shoulder as softly as he could, his own voice cracking with barely contained pain for his beloved children. To have finally found love and belonging only to lose it again... he couldn't even begin to fathom that degree of agony, and now he had to try his best to relieve it. "Hagrid, go get Remus in here, tell him everything, I think Harry's going to need Remus and Sirius..." Albus listened to himself speak and looked into Hagrid's eyes. "You don't think...?"

"I'll get Remus." Hagrid got off his knees and crossed to the door, he opened it enough to let only Remus Lupin in and closed it again. He swiftly informed the distressed professor of all that had happened and was about to happen. Even before he finished speaking the werewolf was across by the bedside holding Harry, offering him what comfort he could.

"I promise you, Sev, I'll look after him like he was my own son." He backed Harry away from the bed, never taking the young man out of Severus' line of sight. "Good luck, my friend."

Cornelius Fudge didn't get many opportunities to practise his deeper levels of magic, he knew the words, the paths, the feeling of this spell however, this was not the first time he had been called upon to perform it. And sadly, he knew it would no doubt not be the last time either.

"Novodamus!" He called out the spell activator to the universe and held Severus Snape's soul to his body as his life and experience was switched off, he held his heart and soul together as life found a way to reassert its will. He held his own peace as he watched the tortured man relax into welcome oblivion, to awaken later as a blank slate.

"What happens now?" Albus vowed to himself that he would never underestimate Fudge again, he might be a stubborn old mule of a man, but he was still a caring wizard under all that filibuster. "If he remains here he'll be even more vulnerable than he was tonight. If he remains anywhere in the wizarding world he will be a target!" He drew the staggering minister away from the bed to let Harry back to say his final farewells, to let Remus and Hagrid join him.

"He'll wake up in thirty-six hours, he'll have no memory of who he is, where he is, what he is. His body will show all the signs of massive trauma, but he will be alive and safe. I will see to it personally that he gets as safe a new life as we can manage." Fudge watched the tearful farewells going on before him and felt his own eyes sting. If he ever had to say farewell to his own wife like that... "Get whoever did this and get them to me before Harry does something that Severus would wish he didn't do! But to save anyone from linking a new amnesiac with Severus, we are going to have to give everyone the three ring circus they're looking for." Fudge crossed back to Harry and lightly touched the young man's back. "Harry, I'm so truly sorry to intrude, but I am going to have to ask you to do one last thing to help us save Severus' future life. I'm going to ask Minerva here to transfigure a spare mattress into a simulacra of Severus, we are going to have to bury him, make it common knowledge that he died in this attack. We... I need you to grieve for his death. Do you understand?"

Harry looked up at the Minister, took in what the man was saying and nodded. What had made his Severus worthy of being loved was gone, his Severus was effectively dead, only the body had yet to figure that out, not that it would now. Thanks to the Minister his Severus' body and soul would go on to live a new life, blank to everything he had ever been, ever known, more or less dead to the wizarding world.

"I'll do it, it will be my honour to grieve freely for Severus. My Severus is gone anyway, might as well be thought of as dead. Whatever keeps him safest. If my grief keeps him safe then I'll grieve, I'll mourn, it's all I've got left anyway. At least I'll have someplace to go to - to talk to his memory." He tried to smile, tried very hard to be the brave warrior of light he had spent the last six, almost seven years being, and he failed. It was fortunate that Remus was right beside him to catch him as he collapsed.

While Harry was unconscious, having fainted, the Minister had taken Severus' equally as unconscious body through the temporary connection to the floo system to his own home and had returned empty handed. During his short absence Minerva had indeed transfigured an unused mattress into a complete simulacra of Severus Snape's body. Every bruise, every line of pain just as she had witnessed it that night. By the time she was finished it was the single best transfiguration she had ever done, and it broke her heart to look upon it. For all her apparent hostility towards Severus Snape, she had never wanted to witness his death, let alone have to safe guard his future by recreating his broken and battered corpse.

Then a hateful, hurtful fact dawned on her.

She hadn't even managed to say good-bye.

When Harry awoke shortly thereafter he looked at the inert form that was supposed to be his love's corpse; and it was just that. Perfect in every detail, his Severus lay there dead. This time everyone left him to cry.

"I suppose I'd better go break the news, I think all of Slytherin House are outside the door anyway." Albus turned slowly away from the heartbreak at Severus' bedside and looked reluctantly at the door between him and the next onslaught of hurt and heartache. "What happens now, Cornelius? About Voldemort and Pettigrew?"

"You and I witnessed Severus' deathbed statements, both of them. I will act accordingly on both. I'll meet you back here in an hour or two, with the press and a brass band if need be. I have a raid to go organise and a press release to write up. I have a new life to create and an old one to close down. As Severus' betrothed Harry will get all the property I can't realise to fund Severus' new life. If there was no estate to inherit people would get very suspicious and start prying into things that don't concern them. Actually, I think you'd better give me till post breakfast." He tried to find a smile, it was a weary effort but well meant and received with every good intention he had intended.

"I don't think anyone here will be dashing off to write owls home about a murder in the school. Not until breakfast time anyway. I'll see you then, hopefully with the murderer in custody." Albus looked determined, as if he knew he could walk out the door and go point out the murderer himself.

"You have some idea of who it was, don't you, old friend?" Fudge sighed, a sound that seemed to echo from the bottom of his soul. "And I'm not going to like it, am I?"

"Let us just say that I have my suspicions and if they are correct... then... This is yet one more act of crass stupidity rather than premeditated murder." The Headmaster took a deep calming breath as he reach for the door, only to stop with his hand an inch from the handle as Fudge replied to his statement.

"So, you think Sirius Black, who isn't here - officially - did this then? Damn that man! I shall enjoy seeing him back in his cell in Azkaban." He looked back at the scene playing out behind him, recognised the shear weight of raw pain being shown and sniffed up, wiping his eyes somewhat suspiciously at the image. "And I shall give him a memory mirror so he can see the results of his actions. Played out in full sound and colour for ever!" Without looking back at Albus he headed back to the fireplace and the tasks ahead of him. "Till later, Albus, good luck." He spoke softly so as to not disturb the grieving young man anymore than he had to.

"Till then." Albus replied equally as softly. Turning back to the door he slowly pulled it open and saw the sea of distressed children crowding the hallway, hope and prayers missing from every eye. It grieved him even more to realise that every Slytherin expected the fates to play them false at every throw of the dice, and he couldn't save them from that hurt this time either.

"Children, I am sorry to have to tell you that Professor Snape died a little over five minutes ago from the injuries he suffered during the performance of his duties, and later from an attack against his person occurring in this very school. I would ask that you give his fiancé time to come to terms with his immeasurable loss, and return to your dorm." As he watched the shocked and stunned Slytherin children hold back their tears as they exited the hospital wing corridor he held up two hands holding back three of the seventh years. "Mister Malfoy, would you and Messrs Crabbe and Goyle please take up posts either end of this corridor and at this door. Let no one in that doesn't have permission from me enter this room, the password will be... bona fide." It seemed right to guard Severus' simulacra, and Harry's very real grief, in good faith.

"Yes sir, who was.. is... Professor Snape's fiancé? I didn't know he was even seeing anyone... is it a teacher?" Goyle blurted out his nosy questions, just as he always did, without a seconds thought.

"Shut up Goyle, right now it's none of our damned business. We're here for Professor Snape, not for anyone else!" Malfoy schooled all emotion but anger from his face as he pushed the bulky boy away, towards the lesser used entry to the hospital wing before he turned to face the Headmaster. "Bona Fide, but of course, Headmaster." The look he gave the Headmaster spoke volumes, he now knew why Potter had been allowed in, and why he had been excluded. But if this was the last act of respect he could give the man he had called Uncle all of his life, then he would give that due like a true Slytherin, quietly, without tears, without letting anything slip that might embarrass his mother's dearest friend, or his greatest ally.

Albus walked away knowing his biggest security leaks were currently tied up being noble and doing their duty... in good faith. He also felt a wave of pain that the entire House of Slytherin had such little trust in him that they would not share their grief with him. They were directionless, they had no protector. Severus had been the only member of staff to have been in Slytherin, he was their life line, their inspiration, possibly even their god in the really bad times. Now they had no one, and they were all painfully aware of that fact. They had no one they could trust that was in a position of power, no one to lean on or hide behind. No one to save them

As he walked through the corridor Albus thought hard about their immediate future; they had to find out who had effectively killed Severus, and deal with possibly losing two members from the Order of the Phoenix. Maybe even three if they could find no one capable of brewing Remus' potion every month. Whoever had done this had robbed so many of their futures, and the damaged seemed to ripple ever outwards. He could not shake the notion, no matter how hard he tried, that Sirius was somehow involved, yet, all he had to go on was that the attack was against Severus Snape. That it had devastated Harry was entirely coincidental. He stopped his frustrated walking before Sirius' bedroom door. If he was innocent, Harry was going to need his support. If he was guilty, then they all needed to know as soon as possible. Yet, before Harry could need someone as anti Severus as Sirius undoubtedly was, he needed a friend who wouldn't judge him too harshly. Harry needed Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger; if they would listen to him. Leaving the sleeping dog to lie, he smiled bitterly at his own analogy, he turned back towards the Gryffindor tower.

Albus startled the Fat Lady by suddenly murmuring the password, she had been looking off into the hidden world of the portraits.

"Headmaster! This is an honour. Please, do tell me, is everything all right in Slytherin? The portraits in Slytherin tower have all gone silent, it's not really like them. And the children, they're all so still and silent too - from what we can see through the background world in there." She turned care filled eyes to the Headmaster and shuddered at the pain etched into his face. "Oh, dear Merlin's ghost, it's bad isn't it? Really bad?"

"I'm afraid so my dear lady. The worst possible thing you could imagine. Someone broke into Professor Snape's classroom and attacked him. He..." even though he knew it was a lie it was hard to say, it was a lie that had been made a truth and it hurt every bit as badly as if it were the plain truth. "He's dead." He said it bluntly, quickly, hoping speed would make it easier to say. It didn't. "About ten minutes ago, Professor Snape died from his injuries, the attack couldn't have been more than ten minutes before that, if even that long." Albus didn't even know why he was telling a portrait all this, she would tell the rest of them, and before he could stand up and say good morning, the whole school would know what had happened. But he could at least try and minimise the damage done. "Please don't mention this to even your fellow portraits, we're still trying to find out if anyone was around to see what happened. I will be relying on your utmost discretion and assistance in this matter. I would ask that you do not let any child out of the common room until ten minutes before breakfast; just tell them there was a security breach last night and it's for their own safety." He saw the fire of importance ignite in her face and knew he had her on his side, even if only till the morning.

"Oh, ask that Sirius Black what he was doing snooping around the dorms... including the girls dorm I hasten to add! One of the girls dorm portraits saw him peeking in her door, gazing at the girls as they slept. Luckily they didn't awaken. I bet he has to have seen something, snooping around like that and only about half an hour ago too, he might have snooped into other business too!" She hated Black, ever since he had slashed her during Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts, but for once her suspicions might be well founded.

"I shall certainly have words with him later, but I have to have other words with Mr Weasely and Miss Granger, Harry needs them." He left it at that, but the Fat Lady had been watching human behaviour for centuries and knew more than most living beings credited her with.

"He ran from here when I told him about the attack. He must have liked Professor Snape very much to be that concerned. One might go so far as to say, perhaps he even loved him! Whether he loved him as a man, or simply as a friend and teacher, is not for me to say, but love is as love does... Makes puppets for the heart out of all of us. Enter, Headmaster, gather the poor lad's friends and I'll keep the rest tucked up till breakfast time, don't you worry." She swung open and granted Albus silent access to the Gryffindor tower.

"Thank you, dear lady." He whispered to her in passing.

Albus silently climbed the steps to the seventh year dorm and entered equally as silently. He created a bubble of silence and darkness around Ron's bed as he sat down on the very edge, within that bubble he created light and gently woke the sleeping young man.

"Mr. Weasley, I must ask you to remain silent for a few moments while I summon our second party to this discussion." Albus muttered a few words in Latin that Ron recognised, vaguely, as some form of advanced summoning charm. A moment later a silent and stealthy Hermione Granger climbed out of the darkened silence to sit with them.

"Headmaster?" They both asked at once. Also as one they both peered into the darkness to see if Harry's bed had been slept in yet. They turned back to see their Headmaster looking nowhere but at his own tightly clasped hands, and as he looked at them he either didn't notice that they trembled or what he had to say was so bad he couldn't stop them from trembling.

"What I am about to say does involve Mr Potter. Alas, tonight has been possibly the worst night in his entire life. I don't know if you were aware that Harry had developed a deeply loving relationship with someone at this school. They were engaged to be wed this very night. About fifteen minutes ago to be exact, right before Harry's would-be lover died. With Harry by his side, as is fitting for those who love with all their hearts. Harry is going to need friends, friends who will not argue his heart's choice in whom to love. He will need friends who will be strong enough to get him through all the horror that lies ahead of him, of all of us in fact. You see, Harry and Professor Snape were very much in love, not that Severus let anything inappropriate occur. He was waiting till Harry graduated before... but that's not the main issue here... Severus died tonight, right after he made sure he cleared Sirius Black's name! He was in such agony and he thought of helping Harry and Sirius; he'd come back with important information only to be brutally murdered by someone in this school. Harry needs you, he really needs you! Can you put your hatred for my poor, dear Severus aside to comfort Harry?" Albus looked up into two stunned faces, one of whom was shedding tears, the other looked beyond anything but horror at that moment.

"Someone killed Professor Snape? Why?" Hermione let her tears fall, she had always respected their Potions teacher, she might not have liked his teaching method, but she knew she had learned a great deal from him; and could have learned a great deal more in the future.

"Oh... shit!" Ron finally managed. "Was Harry hurt in the attack too?" Ron didn't know if he was hoping for a yes or a no to that question. He knew Harry would blame himself if he had escaped the attack scot free, he knew that surviving anyway would be hurting his friend almost as much as losing Snape. "Who did it? How was Professor Snape killed?" He lost his personal feeling towards the Potions teacher in the practical task of gathering information. "Who is with Harry now?" He hoped to any deity listening that they hadn't left him alone with Snape's dead body.

"Why? We don't know. Who? Again we don't know. How? Crucio, a very intense form of the Crucio. He'd been out gathering information on Voldemort's plans, and had suffered the Crucio five times already this night. Five times! That man's strength always left me spell bound. Whoever attacked him seems to have triggered the same degree of pain in a single application as was released by the five earlier impositions. And Harry was not there when the attack happened, Severus was alone and according to what Poppy told me when she called me, he was struck in the back!" Albus' hand shook faster than ever as he tried to remain calm for these two extraordinary young people. "He didn't even have the chance to defend himself!"

"Where's Harry now?" Ron asked, his glance flickered between their distraught Headmaster and Hermione, she wasn't far behind him in anger and horror, if he were being honest, he was as angry as either of them. Only a coward struck from behind like that! A coward and a traitor! Traitor? An idea started to form in his mind. "Is Scab... what I mean is, is Pettigrew inside Hogwarts, do you think?"

"No, he's at Malfoy's Estate along with Voldemort. That was the information Severus brought us tonight. He declared Pettigrew alive before Minister Fudge... right before he died! His death bed statement cleared Sirius Black, Minister Fudge has no reason not to accept a deathbed statement. I suppose I should wake Sirius too, and tell him about all that's been happening. And ask him why he was snooping around a girls dormitory in the middle of the night!" Albus didn't fully realise that he was rambling, that he was heading into shock, that he was showing every sign of a man mourning the sudden death of a young man he regarded as his own son.

In their bright, silent bubble Ron and Hermione let the Headmaster cry with them. The whole school population, especially Harry, would need this man to be their rock; but first he needed them to be his foundation.

Albus couldn't give vent to the full depth of his feelings, he had not the time nor the luxury of that comfort, but those two young adults gave him time and strength to carry on. They let him let off a little emotional steam and to gather himself for the battles that still lay ahead of them before the Minister would return post breakfast to face the rest of that days horrors.

"Thank you." He said the words softly, sharing their strength and resolve with them.

"You're most welcome, Headmaster." Hermione smiled, a little shakily, but she found a comforting smile somewhere in her heart and gifted it to him. Albus loved her for her caring heart.

Ron reached for his wand and transfigured is own night clothes into day-wear, he did the same for Hermione and summonsed her wand for her too. He was so focused on what he could do to help that his magic simply flowed; he finally knew and used it as the instinct it should be. It was the only tool he currently had to hand to help Harry, and avenge Professor Snape. He transfigured two of his blankets into warm robes for himself and Hermione too.

"You are a thoughtful boy, Ron, and when this is all over I shall make sure I write and tell your parents of all you did to help Harry and Severus' memory." A new well of tears threatened the Headmaster as he watched the young wizard before him perform his practical tasks.

Ron slipped his shoes on as Hermione transformed his slippers for her own shoes. Together they took the Headmasters hands and headed silently out of the tower and back to the medical wing, ready to help Harry in any way they possibly could.

Draco watched the three figures approach, he shushed Vincent as he grumbled about interfering Gryfindors, he looked at Granger and Weasley and didn't begrudge Potter the support and friendship he saw there. He smiled, a tight, pain filled weary effort as the Headmaster muttered the pass word to him.

"Of course, sir." He pushed the door open to let the Headmaster enter first, he followed, side by side with Potter's friends. Hermione neatly flanked by the two boys.

The moment he caught sight of Severus' dead body something changed in him, and what had been so frighteningly like his worst nightmare, something he hoped to awaken from, became hard reality. He couldn't say if it froze over or fired like the flames of hell, but whatever it was it grieved for the loss he witnessed before him. Absently he watched Ron Weasley cross over to Harry Potter's side and just stand there, a hand gently resting on is friend's shoulder, not needing to say a word.

Hermione's response was just a few seconds behind Ron's, her heart broke anew at the sight of Professor Snape's battered corps. She too put a hand to Harry's shoulders and let him know through touch that he was not alone, that he would never be alone through his heartbreak. She tilted her head to one side, as if she had heard something, Draco couldn't for the life of him think what that could be? He hadn't heard anything unusual.

Harry rose and turned, just as Hermione and Ron let go of his shoulders, it seemed, to Draco anyway, that they all heard the same thing, whatever that sound was.

It wasn't until the first pair of arms reached for him that he realised that the noise they were responding to was the sound of his own crying. It was something he had not done for ten years or more, Malfoys don't cry, had been his fathers doctrine. But his Head of House, a family friend, his almost godfather, if the Malfoys did things that way, was before him, dead, murdered, gone, Severus Snape had left him, had left Harry Potter, had left them with no one to turn to.

"Draco?" Harry's tear thickened voice whispered to him.

"Huh!" was all that he managed.

"I need you and Ron, and Hermione to find out who did this. The Slytherin portraits had to know what was going on, one of them had to have seen something. And as much as I trust Ron and Hermione's abilities to discover the truth, you could help them and do it a damn sight faster. Will you help us? As a last favour to Severus? Help us find his murderer?"

"Whatever help I can give, I will give freely." Draco made his agreement a soul binding promise, he understood Harry's pain and loss, it was exactly like his, only deeper. "Severus was like my godfather, he was my agreed guardian if ever I should have had need of one, had been since I was a minute old..." Draco couldn't go on, the tears fell again, a large slice of his entire life had just been torn away. "How do I tell my mum? She's... was his cousin... how... how do I tell her someone murdered him? And that it was probably my own father? He'd have had a hand in it anyway, the coward."

None of his fellow pupils had an answer for him, and none of them doubted that that task would inevitably be left to him, the victim being a Slytherin, the recipient of the news also being a Slytherin. Somehow is just seemed inevitable that Albus Dumbledore wouldn't break a sweat for Severus' sake. And as he watched those ideas forming in all four pairs of eyes, Albus felt like crying all the harder. Not one of them thought he'd feel as much for a Slytherin as he would for a Gryffindor, not one of them realised he'd loved Severus as if the younger wizard was his own son!

"You don't tell her anything you don't want to. Severus' death will be announced by me, any and all letters to family members will be written and sent by me. Your mother has lost a cousin this night, but I have lost the one person that was closest to being like my own son. Go talk to the portraits, gather your information and ideas and let us know... Whoever did this has no honour, no scruples... no sanctuary within these walls!" Albus' eyes held not even the glimmer of a twinkle, just slow burning rage at his favourite child's fate.

"You think... HE did it?" Remus was oblique enough in his reference he felt confident that Harry would take it to mean Voldemort.

Albus knew what he meant, he just nodded his head, slowly, sadly, resigned to the horrors he could see ahead of them.

"Let's get the bastard that did this! Let's go find him, now, and have the fucker in Azkaban before breakfast gets cold!" Ron squeezed Draco's forearm in a supportive gesture, the blond Slytherin's pain was finding echoes in his own life. His Uncle Brian held the same position for him, and his brothers and sister, if he ever lost him like this.. He could well imagine that pain, all too readily.

Draco pulled himself together, he looked as if he had been crying, but he looked as if he was in control of himself once more. He was the senior prefect from Slytherin House, and until someone took over as Head of House, he was the one who would have to deal with the pain and sorrow of his house mates, He had to be able to offer them the truth, vengeance, the knowledge that the culprit was dealt with.

"You need to know the pass word to this level, Bona Fide." He looked at Ron and Hermione as he spoke. "You won't get back in without it." He took a deep, steadying breath before speaking again. "Shall we get on with this?"

"Damn straight we will!" Ron hugged Harry after he turned away from Draco slightly. "You leave everything to us, we'll see the git punished for doing this..." Ron waved a hand towards Severus Snape's body and felt his own eyes filing at the sight of the cuts and bruises the flesh bore. Cold, dead blood slowly seeped out of the deeper wounds, wounds where the poor man's nails had torn at his own flesh in an attempt to do something... Let the agony out? End his existence to stop that same agony? "I hope nobody thinks this soft; but I really want my mum just now!"

"Me too!" Draco added, with a slight touch of gallows humour. "I want your mum here too, gods alone know I'd never want my mum at a time like this! She'd crumble."

"We all want that comfort, but that won't get things done, and Severus Snape's death avenged!" Hermione was all too aware that Harry was on the brink of fresh tears, he didn't have a mother to offer him comfort, he didn't have his would-have-been husband to turn to. And if her suspicions were correct, he wouldn't even have his godfather to turn to; not if her suspicions were well founded.

Remus broke their group up, by simply cuddling Harry close to his chest, wrapping his arms around him and whispering softly to the still shell shocked young man.

"I promised Severus I would look after you like you were my own son, guess that makes me a dad rather than a mum, but will I do?"

"Oh, Remus..." And Harry was felled by yet another wave of despair and pain.

Turning back towards the door the trio of investigators silently left the pain and sorrow in that room for the harsh truths and realities that lay before them.

Albus watched, soul weary, silent tears cascading down his own face as Harry's heart seemed to break yet again. Everytime they thought there could be no more tears, no more despair it started afresh. Minerva was at his side, her hand holding his as if they were each other's lifeline, and Hagrid was sitting on the edge of the bed with Severus' body on it, stroking the hair away from his face, washing the blood and sweat Minerva had transfigured. The slump in the half-giant's shoulders told of his own deep sorrow. The poor man was a romantic at heart, and the romance in keeping such a passionate, yet chaste, love a secret would have filled him with joy. And now all that remained of that great romance was a distraught young man and yet another soul Hagrid had watched go through his school years, leave, return and die fighting for the side of right. For this love affair there could be no happy ending.

"'E were little mor'n a lad, really. Just 'ad 'ad a hard fight all 'is days."

Albus and Minerva moved to comfort Hagrid in his own heartbreak.

Down in the dungeons the portraits were gathered in a large, normally empty, landscape of the Yorkshire Moors, there was plenty room for everyone to stand and listen to Draco's sobbed words. Not a portrait spoke, they just stood there, stunned into silence. Even the portrait of Salazar Slytherin himself seemed to be having difficulty believing what he was being told, despite the corroboration supplied by several hospital wing portraits that had come along to verify the children's tail of woe.

Slowly, Salazar gathered his colleagues around him and they began to at first whisper and moan in their sorrow. Then they began to wave arms about in agitation and their voices grew louder, yet still indistinct. Finally, Salazar himself crossed back to the foreground and looked at the children investigating such an atrocity. One Slytherin to two Gryffindors, about right in his opinion of their worth!

"My poor Severus, he was the best Slytherin for such a long time. Despite what Gryffindor wrote about in his blasted fairy-tales of our lives and times, I prize honour above all. Personal honour, honour to the House, honour to the truth and even honour to the law. My dear Severus has been slain, by an attack from behind, and the only thing we saw all evening that wasn't Severus or his dear Mister Potter, was a big black dog. It slunk in behind Severus and Potter, waited by Severus' door and hid to watch young Mister Potter leave. Poor lad was so happy, so too was Severus, anyway, Mister Potter left, the dog slunk into Severus' classroom and as his scream started the dog almost skipped happily away, tail waging and head held high. Does this help your investigation any?"

"Oh Gods!" Ron paled as he listened to the nights events as witnessed by the Slytherin portraits. If they were to be believed, and he felt that they were being entirely truthful, Sirius Black had finally killed Severus Snape; and was entirely happy about it! "It was Sirius. He was in his animagus form, a big black dog, and he came down here and killed Severus Snape..."

"And he skipped away! You can't forget that sick little fact! He was so God damned pleased to have killed him, attacked him from the back of the classroom..." Draco's sorrow was mutating into pure anger. Not that either of his companions blamed him for it, they were just as livid as he was!

"Do we challenge him, or go tell the Headmaster?" Hermione looked from one boy to the other and waited for the majority decision.

"If we tell Dumbledore it might be like the Shrieking Shack all over again!" Ron snapped at them both, Hermione looked saddened but as if she too believed what he was saying.

"What's with the Shrieking Shack then? What happened that Dumbledore didn't put right?" Draco was confused, the Gryffindor pair obviously knew something about Sirius Black and Dumbledore that he didn't. And since he thought he had known almost all there was to be known in Hogwarts he rather suspected that whatever it was, was almost ancient history from his dad's time at school.

"When they were fifteen, Sirius Black tricked Severus Snape into going into the Shrieking Shack when he, Black, knew full well it was occupied by a truly wild werewolf. That was way back in their school days before the wolfsbane potion was developed and all..." Ron saw realisation dawning in Draco's eyes.

"And he let Black off for that? No punishment, no expulsion... Damn, but if it had been the other way around the werewolf wouldn't be allowed in Hogwarts Hallowed Halls, but if it were, then the punishments would involve Aurors, Azkaban and even death for the poor beast! I take it the beast didn't have a say in this?"

Ron shook his head, confirming Draco's suspicions.

"Well then, we need witnesses to Sirius Black's interrogation." Draco approached the portrait of Salazar Slytherin and bowed slightly as a mark of respect. "Sir, could you possibly have a couple of portraits meet us in Black's quarters, say yourself and maybe Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff? Since neither of them head one of the houses involved they would surely be as impartial as anyone could wish for?"

Salazar Slytherin looked upon the lad, a worthy member of his house right enough. Who would doubt the ladies, and if he told them just what had happened and what was going on, then they would surely be willing to vouchsafe the truth of the matter to the current, lamentably Gryffindorish, Headmaster.

"Give me but one moment, and I shall go ask the dear ladies." With that Salazar vanished out of the landscape and went who knew where.

"That was a stroke of pure, bloody genius, Draco! Totally impartial witnesses, the other two bloody founders, wicked!" Ron grinned at him, a smile full of open admiration and devilment. "If they won't believe a bloody founder then who will they damn well believe?"

They all shared a conspiratorial grin and waited patiently for word of the other two founders. Word arrived in the shape of portraits of the founders in question. Both ladies were outraged at what the Gryffindors were apparently getting away with in the name of grace and favour. They agreed to be impartial witnesses for their discussion with the cur in question. Hermione did wonder just how impartial they were at their description of Sirius Black, but let that slide, they needed these ladies too much to risk upsetting them by calling their impartiality into question.

On their way to the Gryffindor guest quarters they planned out their best strategies, giving themselves several options as to how they were going to do things. They would not come straight out and ask, unless they had to, they would give guilt a chance first. Not guilt over Severus Snape's death, but guilt over Harry's heartbreak. Not one of them thought Sirius Black would ever feel guilty over any of his actions towards Severus Snape, not for Snape's sake anyway, and most certainly not for his death.

Sirius Black awoke from a pleasant dream of himself and Harry happy and laughing and ruling the roost in Hogwarts, to face three grief stricken children and a very garbled message.

"Slow down, get a hold of yourselves. I can't do anything if I can't understand what you're saying! And I can't understand what you are doing running around with that piece of snivelling Slytherin scum!" Sirius pointed at the tear streaked Draco with utter disdain for the boy's obvious distress.

It rather sealed his guilt in Ron and Hermione's eyes, and in those of their silent witnesses.

"He's just had the most frightful thing happen. Someone murdered his godfather. You know, like if someone murdered you, how would you expect Harry to react?" Hermione was on the offensive, and the most offensive thing she could conceive of was sitting in bed glaring a distraught boy and making disparaging remarks.

"Well, one less Death Eater, one less Slytherin. I still don't see why you're here, or why you're with him anyway?"

Even Ron couldn't sanction those sentiments, not in the face of such naked grief.

"Draco, for that is his name, kindly use it rather than 'him' if you would be so kind, has lost his dearest friend and relative tonight, and if that doesn't move you... then how about knowing that Harry's fiancé was murdered tonight!" Hermione's voice could cut glass, it was so reminiscent of Severus Snape that Draco started crying again.

Ron reached out and took the crying boy in his arms.

"Harry's in just as bad a state, he's in the hospital wing with Albus and Remus and the others. Draco very kindly offered to come with us to fetch you. Not that you seem to care who lives and who dies. Poor Harry, poor Draco, at least they can be together in their grief, comfort each other. How could someone do that!?" Hermione let a slight tremble enter her voice as she spoke.

"Evil, that's how they did it. Anyone who could do that has to be evil! To sneak in and murder someone like that! Evil!" Ron added the last 'evil' for good measure and handed Draco Sirius Black's handkerchief from his bedside table.

"Thank you, Ron, I don't know how Harry's coping! I couldn't stay in there and look at what that evil bastard did to him!" Draco began to tremble, as if he were about to either throw up or pass out.

"Who did what, to whom, and how does it link a bloody Malfoy and my Harry?" Sirius was confused, sleep weary and getting angrier by the second.

Imperceptibly, Ron nodded to Draco to go on. Draco acknowledged him with a look and dramatically sat on the edge of Black's bed and blew his nose hard into the other man's handkerchief.

"Harry was engaged, you know, going to be married, as soon as graduation was over he was going to marry the man who was my godfather! My godfather hadn't done anything more than kiss his Harry, Harry never got to do anything more intimate than that and now never will. Someone killed him, Mister Black, someone did such evil things to him and now me and Harry - we've got no one! My godfather was going to take me in just as soon as we graduated this year! He was going to do that so I didn't have to join Voldemort and my father and those evil, fuck-witted mammal friends of his! Where do we go now? Harry and me? Who's going to love him? Who's going to help me escape? Why did they do it, Mister Black? Why? What kind of an animal does that to another human being? Does all that and walks away?" As soon as Draco stopped speaking Ron started.

"Does all that, hurts all those people and just trots off... waging their tail behind them!" Ron glared at the older man and made a show of leaning his back against the one door out of there, idly fidgeting with his wand as he did so.

Sirius was slowly putting the pieces together, he had fucked up. No matter which way he looked at it, he had fucked up and there would be no way he could laugh his way out of this one. He hadn't meant anyone to die! He hadn't meant to hurt Harry! Snape was hurting Harry! He'd seen it... no, if he were ever to be honest, he had only really heard them and he had no idea of any of the circumstances surrounding their words. He'd simply reacted and tried to defend his Harry.

"You don't have to worry anymore, Severus Snape made a deathbed statement before Minister Fudge no less... you're cleared. He made sure he cleared your name; gave them important information right before he died." Hermione twisted the knife, brutally, but didn't care, Sirius Black hadn't shown any regard for Severus Snape either.

Sirius just looked at her, horror so very evident on his face, unable to formulate his feelings into words. Draco decided to put his own spin on those feelings... just to help him out.

"We know..." he enjoyed the abject fear that crossed the older man's face. "We know you simply hate being indebted to a Slytherin, so I suppose you'll think it lucky that someone did that to him... killed him like any cowardly bastard Death Eater would!"

Sirius looked at the raw pain and rage in the young Slytherin's eyes, and knew he would see the exact same thing looking into Harry's eyes.

Without conscious thought Sirius reached for his wand and before he could touch a finger to it Ron's voice called out clearly and precisely the petrificus totalis charm.

"My Ladies and Lord, are you satisfied by what you witnessed in this chamber?" Draco wiped the few remaining tears from his eyes as he addressed the three figures crammed into a frame a shade too small for them. Sirius could only move his eyes a little, but that was enough to allow him to recognise three of the four founders.

"In deed we are Master Malfoy, Master Weasley, Mistress Granger; and we shall greet you by the Headmasters side and vouchsafe your testimony to him." Rowena Ravenclaw bowed her head, slightly, to each of the youngsters as a mark of respect for their tackling such a difficult task, and succeeding in it.

"Mobilus Corpus!" Hermione's imperious voice would brook no failure in her charm, and none was forthcoming.

And so, Sirius Black was in the custody of three teenagers and on his way to face his Harry and Albus with no defence. It was exactly like the shrieking Shack all over again... and once more Severus Snape was totally right! He'd pleaded stupidity as his excuse and Snape... Severus had claimed that stupidity was never an excuse for criminal acts, merely means to avoid understanding personal guilt!

Sirius Black wasn't a stupid boy any more.

Unable to move at all, he simply had to just let the tears fall as they would. Tears for Harry, tears for himself and even tears for Severus and young Malfoy. He just couldn't seem to make life as a man work! Everything he touched, he destroyed! And that included his beloved Harry. Harry and Severus Snape were to be married, they were in love, Severus wasn't allowing his Harry to tarnish his reputation, he was making them wait until the were both free to love each other. A Slytherin, a slimy, sneaky, evil incarnate Slytherin and he had more morals than he himself did. And he was supposed to be a Gryffindor! He'd been told all his life how Gryffindors were naturally superior to Slytherin scum, how could he have been so wrong? If he couldn't trust the men and women around him, and he most certainly couldn't trust himself ever again.

He wasn't cut out for the life of a man, never had been, never would be!

Somewhere between his room and the hospital wing things began to switch off, neural pathways moved or closed down. He stopped thinking, he could only react on instinct.

Once they had arrived at the hospital wing Albus relieved the youngsters of their burden and the three of them joined Harry in his vigil. Ron and Hermione flanked Draco and Harry, as if protecting them.

"I keep hoping I'm having a nightmare, that I'll wake up!" Draco whispered to Harry, and the others.

"Me too, but when I suddenly open my eyes, Severus is still there, still gone and we are still here, left behind!" Harry let the quiet tears just slip down his cheeks, as did his companions. Behind them... they just left the chaos to its own devices.

Cornelius Fudge had been sent for at once. After the founders portraits told all that they knew, and once the man was released from his binding charm, only to crash to the floor as a comatose dog. Scan after scan showed nothing more than dog thoughts, no trace of humanity remained in the beast. They all debated whether they should put the dog down for the hideous crime the man had committed. And it kept coming back to the one thing... the man was gone, and no one knew how to retrieve him, even if they wanted to!

It was finally decided to leave him in that form until such time as he was scanned and showed a human mind in control. Then he would face what he had done. Until then, he was left under the charge of Hogwarts, to remain there for the lifespan of either a dog, or a wizard; whichever he prooved to have.

Hours past, the sun rose, the raid went ahead and freedom was won for the Wizarding World, at a price Harry and Draco didn't want to pay. And, as promised, the three ring circus of media and pageantry muddied the trail between a dead hero and an alive amnesiac.

A day later and Severus Snape was laid to rest in a nationally broadcast service carried by the WWN.

It was his life that freed them, or so Minister Fudge said. It was his blood and sweat and tears that were the building blocks of Voldemort's doom! It was his heart and love for his beloved Harry Potter, and his need to protect his godson, Draco Malfoy, that let him fight time after time towards the very goal he had blessed them with! He told them of the man they should recognise as a hero and give thanks for.

The eulogy was beautiful, it captured Severus Snape in his strengths and loves. It was the man Hagrid knew, the child Albus knew, the lover Harry knew, the protector Draco knew: a person Hermione and Ron wished they had truly known.

Albus told of the struggles Severus Snape fought daily, to balance his real being with that which he had to play to win what little snippets of information he could for them. He told of a life under the burden of hatred and misunderstanding, a burden he could never have lifted while Voldemort had still been alive. A burden he had never lived to see lifted.

Minerva told of a young boy she had met, so long ago, a young boy with the heart of a Gryffindor, the cunning of a true Slytherin, the intelligence of a Ravenclaw and the dogged determination of a Hufflepuff. A young boy that couldn't fit in anywhere, but didn't let that pain and resentment keep him forever from the path of right. That even if the Darkest Wizard had come from Slytherin, then everyone should also remember that the Wizard who single handedly brought him down was also from Slytherin and as blessed in the Light as any of them could ever hope to be!

Hagrid told them of a young boy he watched grow into a fine man and the most intelligent person he knew. He told of a loving heart that trusted him with his greatest joy, his happiness. He could tell them no more, his grief robbed him of words.

Remus told of a man that over came his inner fears, to face them, and to reach out and help them all beyond those frightening nightmare fears any one of them may hold within themselves. He told of a man that could put the past behind him, where it firmly belonged, and forgive those that had tormented him in youth. He told them that that was more than he could do himself, to forgive the unforgivable. He could only wish to have even a portion of Severus' strength, for he was the strongest man he had ever met.

Around them voices agreed, it was more than most men, or women, could do. It took strength, courage, iron control of the will to forgive that much!

Draco told them of the man who saved him. The man who protected him from the horrors his father had planned for all of them. A man who could be kind and gentle, and harsh and stern. He told them of a man who was a real man, in flesh and blood and bone, not an ogre cast in granite or marble or bronze!

Harry told of a man of honour that loved him enough to be strong enough for both of them. A man he loved enough to wait for. He told of a man who loved enough to fight to always come back to him. A man with enough inner justice to save someone who had hated him, and to save him with his last breath.

Poppy told of the man she had had to heal and mend so many time. Of the bravery of a man who knew every time he went out for them, that that might well be his last! She spoke of a man with the determination to overcome all that those evil men he spied on could throw at him. A man that was always so grateful to awaken to just one more day, and to know she was there with him. She wept and could say no more.

What more needed to be said?

As the casket was lowed into the ground a man woke up in a strange place, surrounded by strange things and people he didn't know. Everything was a blank to him.

And like a child, he cried for someone to save him, to tell him what he needed to know!

"Hush, Mister Snape, or can I call you Severus, that's such an unusual name. Don't panic, you have had a terrible accident, you are in hospital, we're here to help you get better. Don't worry, you'll get all the help you'll need." The voice soothed him, it was young and male... not old and female.

But he couldn't figure out why it should needs be old and female? He only knew that it should!