Ok ok, so this isn't the last chapter. Once I started wrapping things up I found there were a few more scenes that were needed, and by the time I was done I was at 18 pages and STILL hadn't gotten the final scenes written. I don't think I want it to end either!
As always, thank you to Nita for your boundless energy in getting my work back so quickly.
Chapter Warning: Swearing.
To Err is Human
Albus Dumbledore stepped down from the cool, grey hearth of Snape Manor. He glanced down at his robes and smoothed his hand over a red, sticky patch, the result of an over-excited Ernie Russer refusing to put down his jam roll before hugging the ancient wizard about the knees. He smiled in recollection of the little man's jubilation as he ran his weathered hand across the deep chestnut hued cloth, glad that the dark colour would hide the mess.
He looked up to see the top half of his potions Professor calling from the kitchen door, and with a nod, he crossed the living room and entered the warm, bright kitchen, enjoying the scents of the early afternoon tea Della had prepared an hour before. He found himself wishing his train hadn't been delayed, as the half-warmed mince pie he'd consumed on the ride had been less than adequate.
"Ridiculous endeavor," Snape tutted as he glanced out the large window that gave view of the meadow. He shifted a little to the left as Dumbledore came up alongside, adjusting his spectacles as he took in the scene before him.
There was Harry, Ernie's broom hovering not quite a foot above the grass, a terrified looking Della straddling the parched wood. Harry's hand was on Della's shoulder, while the little elf's hands were clasped in a death grip around the broom handle, her eyes wide as saucers as Harry again tried to explain the fundamentals of flying. Della's nut brown head shook furiously, ears slapping against her head as Harry lifted the broom higher, waist level to him, but likely a dizzying height to the frightened creature. Harry ran a few steps as a Father might run alongside the bicycle of his child, face determined, a half worried half excited smile lighting his features as he came to a stop, lifting his hands away from the broom, allowing the house elf to glide through the air. A few seconds passed, the broom wobbling precariously, and for a moment Severus thought it would falter, spilling Della onto the grass for what would likely be the fiftieth time that day, but the broom sped on, Della's eyes almost at their capacity for size as she turned in a gentle half circle and headed back towards Harry. She slowed, coming to a stop before the stunned Della stood, pulling her leg over the broom and dropping it into the grass. Severus and Dumbledore stood transfixed as Harry's whoop reached their ears, his hands in the air in celebration, and Della rushed towards him, her hands also raised, leaping into the air in excitement, ears flapping to and fro, sharp teeth gleaming in the sun as her little master fell to his knees and embraced her.
"Well done," Snape whispered, his own smile barely registering before he bristled in realization. He smoothed his already impeccable robes, not daring to catch Dumbledore's look of delight. "It's about time," he said crisply. "He's had that poor creature in tears half the morning."
The headmaster's wizened face beamed as Severus followed him back to the living room and motioned to the armchair: however, before settling into the plush furniture, he pulled a single piece of paper from his robes and handed it to Snape.
Severus took the document, his face tightening as he read the information, eyes scanning the dozen or so rows of potion ingredients, and the single word 'NEG' in black print next to each one. At the bottom, a single red 'POS' stood out.
"This is why I needed to see you." Albus explained. "It seems that remnants of a potion were found in Craig's blood."
"Datura stramonium," Snape said, nodding. "A common enough plant in this area, but I've never heard of it being used in a potion. The idiot likely used it due to its hallucinogenic properties and poisoned himself. Unfortunately it didn't kill him before he..." The words were left in the air as he handed the results back to the Headmaster.
"The toxin produces a complete inability to tell fantasy from reality," Albus said softly.
"I am aware," Snape replied coolly, squaring his shoulders. There was little doubt where the Headmaster was leading the conversation.
"Violent behaviour," Dumbledore continued.
"As well as severe mydriasis and photophobia," the Professor snapped. "Amnesia, hypothermia, none of which Craig Russer suffered from when he was captured," His eyes darkened as he continued. "Is this his latest defense, his latest attempt at prevarication? Slowing the court's proceedings down even further? Is Harry to have no justice, Albus? Is he never to see that man pay for..."
"It seems you are the one who requires justice, Severus," Albus countered.
"You're damn right," Severus spat the words as if they were poison. He closed his eyes and let out a heavy breath. It took more than a few moments to regain his composure as the images of a bruised and bleeding Harry flashed though his mind. "If they are that worried about the Datura, they should administer Physostigmine," he said finally, swallowing the bitterness that crept up his throat.
"They already have, to no affect," Albus replied, his voice taking on the rare tone of solemnity. "They asked me to come to you, Severus. St. Mungo's has reached the end of what magic can tell them. They are no closer to finding out what was done to the boy. If you are so focused on revenge..." Albus paused, rising from the chair to address the potions master face to face. "...then perhaps you should think of Ernie. I daresay he would breathe a little easier knowing his brother was not completely filled with hatred for him."
Snape's face remained impassive as the two wizards stood toe to toe.
"I daresay it would be difficult," Dumbledore continued, his voice falling back to its usual gentle tone. "To show compassion and kindness towards someone who had treated you so abominably. To consider the feelings of one whose behaviour has been so cruel. To forgive."
At that moment the kitchen door swung open, and Harry appeared. His eyes shone, cheeks glowing with colour, hair windblown, face erupting in a smile as he noticed the two men before him.
"I wonder," Albus said quietly as Snape turned his gaze to the boy. "How on earth Harry managed it."
Slowly, Severus turned back towards the Headmaster, obsidian eyes locking with Azure blue as the magnitude of his words hit him like a landslide. He turned back towards Harry, and in that moment the world seemed to slow, the edges of his vision ebbing into darkness until he saw only Harry, only his child, a child who loved him despite his previous cruelty, despite his harsh words and repeated emotional attacks. The very blood in his veins felt sluggish as time stood still, and Snape recalled his venomous words, each one spoken with the single-minded task of bringing embarrassment and pain to the boy in front of him.
Harry loved him.
He shook his head as if shaking off the memory, time sweeping back on course. He managed a small smile at Harry before uttering two words to the Headmaster.
"You," Severus ground out; angry eyes pinned on his colleague. "Kitchen." He motioned to Harry, whose smile faded the sharp edge to the man's voice. "And you," Severus said carefully, withdrawing any remnant of malice from his tone before he spoke. "Anywhere but the kitchen, please, Harry." He felt the tense muscles in his shoulders ease as Harry nodded, his small smile letting the Professor know that he understood the anger wasn't directed at him. He watched as Harry headed into the foyer and up to his room before leading the Headmaster back into the kitchen.
The box he was carrying wasn't heavy. It was a little larger than a shoe box, black, its lid attached with a pair of dull silver hinges. He'd almost forgotten when he'd hidden it, and it was so well disguised as a box of cauldron stirrers that he'd passed it by twice in his storeroom before finally pulling it down from the top shelf. He set it down on the kitchen table and glared at it.
Opening the dusty lid, Severus narrowed his eyes at the contents. There was little in the way of tangible items, but the dangerous knowledge hidden within was almost impossible to fathom. He reached inside, slender fingers brushing against the soft leather of ancient volumes, their covers marred from use, some with pages almost turned to dust in their antiquity. He didn't need to read the titles; he knew these books by feel, their unique blemishes unmistakable to his touch. He had devoured them when he became a Deatheater, pawing over each page until they were as familiar to him as household words. He pulled a thin book from the bottom of the pile and stared at it. It had no title or elegant bindings and its cover was a thick paper smudged with ink from a careless quill. A pair of initials was handwritten in the bottom left corner.
"Olian Kedavra," Severus murmured. "You are undoubtedly familiar with his…contributions." He glanced at the Headmaster before opening the book. "There are few who were aware of Kedavra's affinity for potion making," he started, brow furrowed in concentration as he grasped the delicate pages between his fingertips. "While he was sought after for his aptitude in spells, he also devised several devastating potions. It was his theory that great wizards would rely on both spells and potions in order to inflict suffering: however, as time went on, it became generally accepted to chose one or the other. Eventually Kedavra abandoned potions entirely and focused strictly on the creation of incantations due to the fact that most of his elixirs were less enhanced versions of his curses." Snape turned another page before offering the book to the Headmaster. "Except this one."
"Imperceptus Demens," Dumbledore said quietly, reading the jagged handwriting.
"Unperceived insanity," Snape replied. "There was no spell created to equal it. It was never used, its preparation and elements never published. Kedavra kept a personal ledger in which he wrote a handful of his unreleased potions. He made three copies, one of which you hold in your hand. The other is in the possession of an apothecary in Japan, and the other…" he paused as Dumbledore closed the book and looked up at him. "...was in a vault at the Ministry of Magic."
"Cornelius," Albus stated softly as he handed the book back.
"If this potion was given to Craig, it would explain the symptoms you mentioned," Severus continued. "There is no counter to its effects," he added, anticipating the Headmaster's question. "There's no telling when the draught was given, and regardless, it's been far too long for any attempt to be made to reverse it. I can likely determine if in fact it was the Imperceptus Demens if given a sample of Craig's blood, but there would be little I could do for him now." he paused. "Even if I wanted to."
Dumbledore's face flashed with disbelief.
"You would still allow him to suffer, Severus? You would make no attempt to help him, knowing he was acting under the influence of a mind altering potion?"
"Did you not read the description?" Severus replied, eyes flashing with rage. "The elixir works gradually. Its effects take time to appear, and when they do they are fleeting. The object was to slowly debilitate the victim mentally with scattered attacks of delirium culminating in complete psychosis after months, not days. Even if Craig was under its influence, he would have had periods of lucidity, and in those hours when his mind was clear, he would have seen Harry's state and requested assistance, but he did not! He chose silence! Even if he were completely unaware of what he had done, the man had ample opportunity to help Harry and he refused! He beat a twelve year old boy to the point of near death. Potion or not, there is no excuse, Albus, no excuse!"
"Alcohol," Dumbledore said, rising from his chair.
"Alc…what are you talking about?" Snape replied, brow skewing in confusion.
"In the description it states that alcohol accelerates the elixir's performance," the Headmaster said slowly. "To the point where any moments of clarity are shortened considerably, perhaps even forgone completely. You told me Harry said Craig was..."
"Drunk," Severus whispered. His breath left him as he fell into his chair, his fury battling with the sudden realization that Craig may very well be innocent, or at least not as guilty as first believed. The very idea of it repulsed him, his hatred of the man far too imprinted on his psyche to even think of forgiveness. He looked up at the Headmaster, jaw clenched, and he rose, eyes dark as thunder.
"You will allow me to borrow this, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, holding up the small journal. "St. Mungo's will be able to determine if the other ingredients are present in Craig's blood."
"I'm going with you," Severus replied, his tone leaving no room for argument. "I want to see this behaviour for myself."
"Severus," Dumbledore started, sensing the anger within the young man before him. Severus was a man for whom control and composure were second nature, and yet it was dangerously close to the surface now, easily able to spill out when in the presence of the man who had so savagely beaten Harry. "I will notify you when..."
"I must see him, Albus.!" Severus snapped, snatching the book from the man's hand and slamming it down on the table. "I..." He locked eyes with the Headmaster, and for the briefest of moments he felt a familiar brush against his subconscious before the cooling sensation of calm swept through him. "I need to see him, Albus," he said softly, feeling the gentle presence of the man leave his mind.
"And what of Harry?" Albus inquired, picking up the book and slipping it into his robes. "The day has all but gone, Severus. I doubt we would return before morning. I thought you might have something special planned for tomorrow."
"Ernie will stay with Harry," Snape replied, turning on his heel and heading toward the foyer. "I'll provide him with a vial of Dreamless Sleep. The boy will be fine." He pushed open the door to the foyer and paused. "And Albus, if you ever do that to me again without my express permission, it is you who will need St. Mungos." He continued into the foyer without turning around, robe a dark sail at his back as the door slammed behind him.
"I don't doubt it, my boy," Albus chuckled as he slowly followed. "I don't doubt it."
"Oh," Harry said shakily, his bottom lip slipping between his teeth. His heart was already thudding rapidly against his ribcage, evidence of the panic that was threatening to overtake him at hearing Snape's explanation. His left hand twitched, balling into a fist unconsciously, and he forced himself to relax the hand, but his fingers trembled so badly that he crushed them back into a fist, slipping it behind his back to avoid detection. He swallowed, trying to force the hysteria back into the dark, desperately trying to look casual as the three wizards stood staring at him.
Snape seemed to study him for a moment, and Harry stiffened, squaring his shoulders in defiance of the emotion as he pushed the rising frenzy of panic down as deeply as he could. He wouldn't act so stupid about all of this, he wouldn't! It was only one night, and the Professor had brought Ernie with him and…and...
Harry drew in a mouthful of air, the air feeling thick and cloying as he breathed. The last time Snape had left him…
Severus surveyed the boy in front of him. The weak front Harry had put up was steadily fading as the child's distress grew, and as hard as he could tell Harry was trying, his attempt to present a calm facade was failing. He reached out and gently took the boy's chin, releasing the worried lip with his thumb.
"If you prefer, I could contact the Weasleys. I'm sure they would be pleased to have you for the night," Severus offered, feeling the subtle tremble against his fingers. "It would be no trouble, Harry," he finished, knowing that the boy would chose the course of action that provided the least trouble for his elders, regardless of his own personal feelings, and he silently cursed the Dursleys yet again for instilling such a lack of self worth in their nephew.
"No," Harry replied, forcing as much courage into his words as he could, despite the churning apprehension that had risen in his stomach. "No, I…I want to stay here, Sir. I mean, I'd like to stay here, if that's alright." He shifted nervously as the Professor's hand released his chin, his eyes falling to the row of black buttons that crept up the Professor's dark shirt. It was hard to meet Snape's eyes in general, but even more so when emotion was eating at him. The man could always see it in his eyes; see the fear, the pain, the hopelessness. He took a deep breath, cringing at the way it shuddered as he inhaled, and he almost felt the Professor's eyes narrow at the sound. Automatically, he lowered his head, dragging his gaze to the floor, allowing the old habit to comfort him as he stared at the carpet. It was odd how such a tiny action could calm him. Eye contact had been an offense punishable by a whipping at the hands of his uncle, and after years of having the rule beaten into him, it felt so….just….wrong to look someone in the eye, as if it were a sign of complete disrespect instead of the direct opposite. Even now he still felt a tiny, sharp needle of fear whenever he met Snape's eyes, the memories of a hard slap for such impertinence still buried deep within him.
Severus studied Harry's face intently, the child's forced mask of confidence wavering as their eyes met, and for a moment he could see the wealth of anxiety within him before his jade eyes fell to the floor in resignation. Snape exhaled, disappointed, for as much as they cared for each other, and as much as he knew Harry believed that he was loved, the boy was still so haunted by his family's abuse to the point where even looking someone in the eyes for too long caused a painful emotional reaction. Slowly, he took Harry's hands, gently tugging the boy towards him, glad to feel the slender shoulders relax a little as Harry stepped into his arms.
"I will of course provide you with Dreamless Sleep tonight, and Ernie will be of…some entertainment, I'm sure." He ignored the indignant snort from behind him. "Della will no doubt fawn over you and bake you something ridiculously sweet. There is nothing to worry about," he said reassuringly as he felt the slender arms slip around his waist. "If I thought there was even the smallest danger I..."
"I know, Sir," came Harry's muffled reply. He pulled away from the Professor slightly and looked up at him. "And…and you'll be back tomorrow?"
"Yes, mid morning. I have several potions in the laboratory that I must tend to by that time, so you can be assured of our return fairly early."
Harry's stomach twisted. Potions. That's what was bringing the Professor home tomorrow. Vials and cauldrons and his laboratory. He swallowed roughly and stepped back from the embrace. Severus caught the change instantly.
"Harry?" He almost winced at the tone of Snape's voice, the same gentle, anxious tone he used when he knew something was really wrong. Mentally kicking himself for letting his guard down, Harry plastered a smile on his face and looked up at his Professor. It wasn't Snape's fault he didn't know what tomorrow was. The man had potions to brew, of course. His work was much more important than…than…
"Yeah. I…have a safe trip, Sir," Harry said quickly, seeing the look of concern that had clouded the Professor's features. "I'll be fine with Ernie. We'll have a great time." He forced a smile at the tiny wizard as he took a few steps backward towards the stairs. "Goodbye, Headmaster," he continued, the back of his shoes hitting the bottom stair with a gentle thud. He blinked a few times, desperately willing the tears not to show themselves. "Ernie, I'm going to get my broom, ok? I think I'll go flying for a little bit before dinner, maybe take Della up or just fly around for a while and..." He fell silent, realizing the words were tumbling out of him far too quickly. Honestly, why didn't he just hang a sign around his neck that said 'emotional basket case'?
"Right," Ernie replied, throwing a look of concern at Severus. The three wizards watched as Harry turned and almost fled up the stairs, only breaking the silence at the sound of Harry's door shutting behind him.
Severus sighed. Harry was obviously distraught at the idea of him leaving, and he internally berated himself for his decision. Was it not only a few weeks ago that Harry lay alone in the manor, wounded and terrified? Was it not Severus' decision to leave him vulnerable that allowed such abuse to occur?
"Severus?" Ernie's small voice brought him from his thoughts. "I'll go up to him. You ..." he swallowed his own emotion. "You need to see Craig. You need to find out if he…" his words faded and he rubbed at his eye with the back of his hand. "I'll go up to him," he repeated. He turned and started up the stairwell as Dumbledore and Snape headed into the living room.
Ernie halted his climb and turned towards the doorway. There Severus stood, silent seconds passing between them as the two friends simply stared at each other. No words were needed, and Ernie gave a small nod before Snape turned and let the door close behind him.
Snape cast a quick tempus, exhaling an angry blast of air through his nose at the time.
"Something wrong, Severus?"
"I would be more comfortable with a less antique method of travel," Snape replied. "Not to mention the journey is entirely too slow for my liking. How you've managed this trip multiple times in the last days is beyond me."
"Unlike you, my dear boy, I am quite capable of sitting quietly for prolonged periods without vexation," Dumbledore said cheerily, a hint of what Snape could only describe as a smirk gathering at the old man's lips. "There was talk several years ago of having an apparition point in Middlesbrough for use to the general public, but nothing came of it."
Severus made a resentful noise in the back of his throat and turned toward the window, the countryside barely visible as it scattered past, handfuls of shadow forming the outlines of trees clamoring in the amassing storm.
"Oh dear," The Headmaster proclaimed as a flash of lightening slipped through the sky, lighting the train car for an instant. "I do hope it doesn't rain. It never does one good to have it rain on their birthday. It's quite depressing, wouldn't you say?"
"And to whose birthday would you be referring?" Severus asked, allowing himself to be drawn into the Headmaster's small talk. "Or have I the pleasure of wishing you many happy returns? What is this for you, Albus, one hundred and fifty, sixty perhaps?"
"Dear me, no," Albus chuckled. "I shall remind you in a few weeks to celebrate my birthday, Severus, and I'll have you know that I am still a sprightly one hundred and twelve. Not quite ready to be put out to pasture yet. I was referring to Mr. Potter."
Severus' blood ran cold, as if he were sharing the train car with a dementor rather than the aged wizard before him. He slowly turned his head from the window, his obsidian eyes narrowing as he set his incredulous look upon the Headmaster.
"Potter," Albus confirmed, his brow slowly raising as he took in the potion master's slightly terrified look. "Are you telling me, Severus, that you were not aware that today is the thirtieth of July?"
Severus closed his eyes slowly, his features tightening as he pulled the pieces of Harry's earlier behaviour together. He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. No wonder Harry had been so upset at the idea of being left tonight. The boy had absolutely no ego, so announcing the event to his Professor would have been inconceivable, even if he hadn't lacked the courage to do so. Honestly, the child could be half dead and still not ask for help, and the hair on the back of Severus' neck bristled as he remembered Harry had spend most of his life in just that state.
"I daresay Harry will understand," Albus said comfortingly. "With all that has happened recently with..."
"He shouldn't have to understand," Severus barked. "All that boy has done for the last twelve years is try to understand, understand why his family treated him abominably, understand why he was left alone in the first place, and right at this moment, he's probably sitting in his room still alone trying to understand why someone who is supposed to love him has left him on the eve of the first birthday he has likely spent not lying bloody and broken in a damned cupboard! For Merlin's sake, Albus, all he knows is that I have to be home tomorrow in order to deal with my bloody potions!"
By the time he was finished his tirade he was shaking, either from rage at himself for his idiocy, or concern over Harry's current state, he couldn't tell. Albus sat opposite him with that damned tranquil look on his face and had the audacity to smile. Severus shot him a filthy look, which seemed to only intensify the Headmaster's look of amusement. If he dared laugh…
"Severus," Albus said affectionately, reaching forward and placing his palm on Snape's trembling hands. "My dear boy, I assure you that Harry will celebrate his birthday tomorrow, with you, and with as much happiness as if you had both planned it together. He is very forgiving."
"Too forgiving," Severus murmured.
"Perhaps, but I believe we can salvage this situation," Albus continued. "There is still some time before we reach London. I'm sure we can come up with a plan before we reach St. Mungos."
Severus allowed himself to relax slightly as the Headmaster began laying out his ideas for Harry's birthday, the tightly wound serpent of guilt slowly uncoiling itself from the pit of his stomach. How could he have been so blind as to forget something so important, and what must Harry be thinking? He let out a heavy breath, nodding in agreement as Albus suggested a particularly good idea, and as the raindrops began to slap against the window of the train, Severus hoped that Harry's capacity for forgiveness would extend one more day.
"Here we are," Dumbledore said quietly as they reached a nursing station. He nodded at a young nurse who smiled and nodded in return before heading into a nearby office. She emerged moments later with a gentleman, his white coat indicating he was a healer. His thinning, silver hair was cropped short, and deep lines of age creased his features.
"Minister Dumbledore!" The man exclaimed, a playful glint in his eyes as he smiled broadly.
"Anders," the Headmaster chuckled. "May I introduce my colleague, Professor Severus Snape."
"Professor Snape," the man said seriously, shaking Severus' outstretched hand. "I'm so glad you were able to come. I take it Albus has filled you in on the situation?"
"I take it you have something important to tell me?" Anders continued, shifting his eyes back to Dumbledore. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here so late."
"To find you burning the midnight oil as well, my friend," Albus replied. "You are correct, Severus has some information that may prove enlightening."
"I have a list," Severus said stiffly, nodding at Dumbledore, who withdrew the journal from his robes. Albus turned to the appropriate page and handed the book to the healer. "Have Mr. Russer's blood checked for those ingredients immediately," he finished.
"I can have the results within ten minutes," Anders replied, scanning the page with interest. "Imperceptus Demens? I've never heard of this before."
"There are few that have," Severus murmured. He watched as Anders called over the nurse and handed her the book, relaying instructions to have Craig's blood tested. She nodded and walked quickly down the hall.
"You may wait in my office if you like," Anders suggested, motioning to the room behind him.
"With your permission, Professor Snape would like to observe Mr. Russer," said the Headmaster. "Being familiar with the elixir in question, I think it would help him to see the behaviour for himself." Anders nodded.
"Of course, Albus. I see no problem with that. You know where his room is," he replied, nodding towards the large window at the end of the hall.
"And how is he faring since my last visit?" Dumbledore asked, and Severus sneered at the hopefulness in his colleague's voice. The elderly healer's face reflected a sudden sadness as he sighed.
"Worse, Albus. Much worse. Professor Snape, if it is this elixir of yours, what exactly is the prescribed treatment?"
"Nothing," Severus said coldly. "There is no treatment you could provide that would make any difference to his mental state. His mind will become more and more detached and confused until there is nothing left of reality. In time his brain will lose the ability to provide function to the rest of his body. Then he will die." Anders' face fell in disappointment.
"And how long will this take, do you think? Your best guess?" He asked.
"Not soon enough," Severus growled before turning and stalking down the hall, leaving the healer lost for words at his response.
Severus stopped at the window, his eyes falling to a huddled figure in the corner of the room, which was empty save for a basic cot. Craig's head was in his hands as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. His hair was unkempt, jutting up at odd angles. He was thinner than the last time Snape had seen him, the white hospital gown hanging from his angular frame, and in the silence Severus could hear the man's quiet murmurs, the same words repeated over and over in a desperately hollow tone.
"Not quite what you expected is it?"
Severus ignored the question as the Headmaster came up beside him.
"It is all he says," Albus continued. "Occasionally he speaks Harry's name."
"I sincerely doubt the man has any conscience in him," Severus said coldly. "Consuming that potion eliminated any entitlement he has to remorse."
"You assume he took it willingly," Albus countered. "You refuse to consider the idea that it was given to him without his knowledge? Mr. Russer's own demons led him down this path, but I have no doubt that Cornelius held his hand along the way." Dumbledore paused a moment, thoughtful eyes drifting to the wizard beside him. "While I have little desire to see Craig deemed blameless, I find myself unable to feel the same aggravation towards him as I once did. In a way, he is much like you, Severus."
Snape shot him an incredulous look, nostrils flared in anger as the Headmaster held up a placating hand.
"Before you reply, I ask you to recall the choices you made as a young man and where they led you," Albus said gently.
"Do not give sanction to that monster's actions." Snape spat. "I find it unfathomable that you of all people would forgive such a..."
"I do not forgive it, Severus," Dumbledore replied, his voice taking on a terseness rarely heard in his usually jovial brogue. He allowed his authority to hang in the silence for a moment before continuing. "I merely have an intimate understanding of what happens to an angry young man when he is offered the power to remedy his situation." He placed a hand on Snape's shoulder, eyes softening. "As do you."
Severus angrily shrugged off the Headmaster and turned back to the sparse, white room that housed Craig. How he hated it when Albus offered proof of point when he was so damned angry. His own weaknesses had led him down the road of darkness. Craig diverted towards a scheming Minister, and Severus had walked straight into the arms of the Dark Lord. How many innocents had he watched beaten, slaughtered? How many Mothers, Fathers, how many families had he destroyed at Voldemort's direction? He dipped his head a little, half in thought, half in admission of Dumbledore's argument. As Della had once told him, darkness is darkness, and Craig had descended into the same shadows Severus once had. They had both walked their miles shrouded in the same hate, the same anger. Severus let out a heavy breath, and over in the corner, the hunched figure finally noticed them.
"Harry?" Craig tilted his head and stared at Severus inquisitively, as a dog might observe a new toy in the hand of its master. He repeated the name, his voice a little more animated this time, eyes wide, hands twitching in enthusiasm, a little splutter of half laughter crossing his lips as he rose to his feet. "Harry?"
Severus regarded the young man with confusion as Craig crept across the room as if he were trying to avoid notice, making his way to the thick glass separating him from the two wizards. By the time he reached his destination, a look of worry had replaced his previous excited demeanor.
"How did you get here?" Craig asked in a loud whisper, his eyes darting around the room before looking back at Severus. "How did you get away! I'm so sorry, kid," he continued, pressing his palm against the glass. "I tried to get you outta there, I swear I did. You believe me, right? I look after my friends, remember? I'd never leave you with that monster if I had a choice!"
Severus grew uneasy as Craig surveyed him, the partition slick with sweat from the man's palm, his fingers sliding across the glass in front of Severus' face. "Oh, God," Craig groaned. "What did he do? Harry, those bruises! How could Severus do that to you?" The young man's voice grew louder and more agitation by the second as he stood mere inches from the Professor's face, eyes wide, mouth agape in horror, eyes welling with tears.
"Anders was correct," Albus said quietly. "Much worse."
Severus' brow knitted, a rare feeling of uneasiness growing as Craig's bent fingers scrabbled against the glass in a desperate attempt to touch him. It was moments later, however, when the extent of the young man's mental state was shown.
"You!" Craig snarled, his eyes lancing the Headmaster with a wild stare. "You little bastard!" With lightening speed, Craig threw his body up against the thick glass in front of Dumbledore. He slammed his fists into the barrier, mouth twisted in hatred, spittle dappling the glass as he glared ravenously at the wizard in front of him. "Fuck!….I'll kill you, you filthy little fuck!" he screamed, hammering his fists repeatedly against the glass. "You're gonna fucking die, you hear me? I'm gonna rip your fucking head off! C'mere!" Craig took a few steps back and threw himself against the glass, his head making contact with the surface, blood instantly forming at the site, a thin trail of crimson quickly trailing down his face. "Fuuuck!" Craig screamed again as he hurtled himself towards Dumbledore, another resounding crack echoing off the walls, blood spattering again, and Severus instinctively took a step back. Albus however, remained where he was, still as stone, eyes locked with Craig's rabid orbs as the man screeched at him.
"Harry," Craig said suddenly, his voice a more level tone now as he brought his bloody face closer. "Harry, come on, it's ok. I was just kidding, alright? I just need you to come with me for a bit, just for a little while, ok?" Craig's hands pressed against the glass, a slippery squeak under his palms, blood smearing, spreading like red watercolour over a clear canvas.
"Kid!" Craig whispered harshly. "Come on, just come with me. It'll be fine. I just need you to..." He blinked rapidly, eyes narrowing. "Just come on, Harry! Don't be stupid, ok? Just come talk to him!" He slammed his palms with a loud, wet slap, and Severus' eyes traced the frame of the large window as it shook. "Just fucking come with me!" Craig ordered menacingly.
"Harry! God dammit!"
Snape's eyes traced the circumference of the window as it shook violently with each attack, half expecting it to give way under the weight of the young man's crazed onslaught.
"Harry!" Craig screamed. "You fucking…come with me! Come with me!" Palms fell into fists and he pounded against the window, aiming for Dumbledore, the wizard's face still the picture of calm. "Don't you fucking do this, Harry! I swear to God I'll rip you to fucking pieces! Don't you fu –" His rant was cut short when the door opened and four male nurses quickly entered the room.
Craig's head snapped around, his face lighting up as they approached.
"Cornelius! Look! Look who I brought!" He reached out to one of the nurses, then turned back to glance at Dumbledore again. "See? See who it is? Look!" He said excitedly, hand trembling as he pointed at the Headmaster. "It's Harry!" He exclaimed, panting with exertion. He looked back at the nurse expectantly. "I brought him, just like you said." Craig paused as the nurses took hold of his arms. "You're going to make me a wizard now, right? He asked. "I brought Harry. You're going to make me…..Cornelius, you're going to make me a wizard, right? What…what are you doing?" He asked as the nurses pinned his arms behind his back. He struggled vainly against their hold. "No!" He screeched as they began walking him towards the door. "No, you said you would! You…what are you doing?" He lifted his head towards one of the men. "Severus, I'm sorry! You believe me, don't you? I didn't mean to hurt him, Severus, I didn't want to, I…Severus? You'll tell Harry I'm sorry, right? Tell him I didn't mean it? I'm going to be a wizard, Severus, I'm going to….where are you taking me?" Craig head whipped around wildly, eyes darting to each of the strong nurses who held tightly against his increasing struggles. "No! No, I'm going to be a wizard! I'm sorry, kid, I'm really sorry. You fucking let me go! Let me go! You fucking…get off me! Fuck! You…ugh…no!"
The desperate screams continued until the nurses had dragged Craig from the room. The two wizards stood in the ensuing silence, and it was quite some time before Severus dared to break it.
"Albus…" He started, voice barely a whisper. He cleared his throat before speaking again, his words stronger now having composed himself.
"We should go," he announced, his voice devoid of the harshness of his now dissipated anger.
"I think you have the right idea, my boy," the old man replied as he placed a hand on Snape's shoulder. "I believe there is some paperwork I need to sign, and of course we have a few guests to collect, don't we? Tell me, my boy, who would you prefer to call on first?"
Severus rolled his eyes and gave a customary snort as he walked back out into the hall. There was a change in him, a lightness, a contentment he would have thought impossible after this particular outing. He had arrived with such venom in him, a steadfast determination to see Craig suffer for what he had done, and now he felt…empty, but not in a hollow sense, but as if every trace of resentment and obsession had been obliterated from his thoughts.
Perhaps, he thought as the two wizards made their way to the apparition point, perhaps this is what it felt like to forgive.
Harry slowly pulled open the front door, the warm breeze of the July night wafting over his shoulders, the scent of clover sweet in the night air. Closing the door with a soft click, he made his way down the stairs, the bright moonlight illuminating his form as he walked out onto the grass, the blades cool under his feet. He stood, bathed in the silver wash of moon, listening to the crashing of waves against the distant rocks. It really was quite peaceful, the tranquility lost to him until now, but it wasn't until now, he thought, that he had peace of mind to really enjoy it.
He'd waited until Ernie was asleep before he snuck out. It had only taken fifteen minutes before the gentle snores mixed with random giggles began emanating from behind the guest room door.
He closed his eyes against the stab of pain in his heart. It was too much to expect, really, that Snape would know. After all, it wasn't like he was Harry's Father or anything, and up until the start of summer Snape hadn't cared a stuff about him. It was silly to expect the man would know about something as insignificant as this.
But it still hurt.
Sighing, Harry sat down in the grass and stared out over the meadow, the symphony of gently rustling leaves calming him somewhat. He leaned back on his hands, running his fingers through the grass, slipping as one hand raked across bare earth. He looked back to see one hand in a patch of dirt, and he pulled it to him, brushing the soil from his palm. He turned over, pulling his knees up under him, and leaned over the little plot of bare land. With his index finger, he slowly scraped a picture of a cake in the dirt, the cool, dry soil collecting under his nail as he scored thirteen thin candles at the top. He regarded the crude drawing for a moment, his mind taking him back to that night in the lighthouse where he'd etched the same pretend cake in the dust. Heart aching, he slowly leaned down and blew at the candles, scattering the soil into nothingness.
"Harry birthday, Harry." he whispered, ignoring the tears that gathered on his lower lids. He blinked them away, exhaling a shaky breath as he slipped back to a sitting position. He sat cross-legged, staring up at the night sky, starting his thirteenth year in the same fashion as the dozen before. Empty, disappointed, and as the moon slunk behind a passing cloud, in darkness.
I want to thank you all for your lovely reviews for the last chapter. After so long it warms my heart to know that people have still stuck with my little story.
Coming up - in the last chapter, honestly!- Severus returns to the island with a very important gift, but will Harry accept it?