Death in all it's Many Forms

Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Harry Potter. The mighty J. K. Rowling owns it all, and my unworthy pen is humbled by her magnificence.

Chapter 1: Death of a Despot

Over a valley many miles away from Hogwarts, a newly reborn Fawkes fought the storm. He was cold and thoroughly drenched, but his heart told him that one of the few people who had been unquestionably faithful to Dumbledore was near, and that person needed him. Dumbledore was dead, but the bond he had formed with the faithful bird was very much alive. He wouldn't stop serving Dumbledore while those who had been most loyal to him were alive and needed him. He searched the valley carefully - looking for the unknown friend who he felt was ill or injured. In his claws he tightly clutched a book.

ssss

It was the beginning of his last year at Hogwarts, and Harry was distracted - as he often was - plotting with Ron before class. "So who do you think the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is going to be?"

"I'm not sure," Ron muttered. "I'm just glad Defense Against the Dark Arts is being taken seriously by the Ministry again. I've heard we're getting someone top-notch this year."

"I heard she's another retired auror," Hermoine chipped in.

Ron rolled his eyes. "I doubt it. Aurors are too busy hunting down Death-eaters to have time to teach."

At that moment, a tall, thin woman swept past Harry, her long black cloak filling the aisle behind her. Her most striking feature - from the back anyway - was that her hair was long, and somehow bushy and curly at the same time. In fact, it was just like Hermoine's hair, except that Hermoine's hair didn't remind Harry of solid darkness. She gave the overall impression of a large black heron.

She stopped at the desk, shuffled a few papers, stacked a couple of books that were slightly out of order, and turned to the class. There was a collective gasp. For once, Slytherins and Gryffindors felt the same way about something - stunned. The craggy face, the sneer, the long tapered hands, the pale skin, even down to the black intimidating eyes – this was too much!

"Sweet Whomping Willow! She's Snape in a dress without the nose," Harry said much louder than he meant to. She straightened to a full six imperious feet. Harry felt his gut tighten, and half expected to hear the cold sharp tones of the former Professor Snape.

She walked slowly to Harry's desk, placed her hands on it, and leaned down to look Harry in the eye. "Ah, Mr. Potter – starting the year off right are we?" she said quietly. It would have been better if she had shouted like Snape, Harry decided. Her soft voice held vast menace. She sneered. It was Snape's sneer. Harry felt bile in the back of his throat, and swallowed hard. "50 points from Gryffindor for such amazing cheek, and detention, Mr. Potter, for a week." The Gryffindors groaned, and the Slytherins chortled. At least this part of the year was normal.

She walked back to her desk, and turned. She crossed her arms, leaned against her desk, and simply stared for a few uncomfortable moments, scanning the class with her dark eyes. When even the Slytherins were beginning to shuffle and clear their throats to make some sort of noise and break the tension, she began a slow stride across the room, wand in hand. "My name," she said clearly, "is Amelia Irmina Snape." She stopped and looked over the room. She smiled – a real smile this time, not a sneer. "Well, you handled that better than the Hufflepuffs anyway. One actually fainted this morning." Faint nervous laughter filled the room.

Professor Snape's face became serious again. "Now that we have that out of the way, there are going to be a few new rules. There will be no questions about my brother. No, I don't know why he did … what he did. No, I am not a dark witch. And most importantly, I will NOT favor one house above another." Here she stopped pacing and directed a very pointed glance toward the Slytherin side of the classroom. "It may interest you to know that I didn't attend Hogwarts, and the house rivalries here are ridiculous to me. I don't like sneaking and blind ambition,"

She heard muffled laughs from the Gryffindors, and she turned toward them. "I also do not like pubescent adventure-obsessed heroes who get people killed needlessly." Even though she didn't look at Harry, the comment struck home, and a mixture of anger and guilt filled him as the faces of Sirius Black, Dumbledore, and all the others that had died or been hurt while defending him flashed through his mind.

She faced the class and focused on Hermoine. Suddenly her wand was up. "Accio Granger's book." The book flew to her. She held the book up. "This…this is the problem. The Dark Lord lurks in the shadows, ready to kill you at any moment, and you can't even anticipate a simple spell that isn't even a curse." She looked intensely at Hermoine, and said, in that low, menacing voice. "Mrs. Granger. What if that had been an Unforgivable Curse from … He Who Must Not be Named? You would be writhing on the floor right now, or dead, or a slave of his." Hermoine shuddered. Slytherins scoffed at the Gryffindor's discomfort. She turned on them. "I suppose you would do better? You," she pointed randomly, "what are the 5 ways to anticipate an attack?" Silence. "You," she pointed at another. "Explain the conflict between the ways of Zarock and the philosophy of Darquinis. Hmmm … don't know quite as much as you thought, do you? Now then, turn to page 152, and read first chapter about how a wizard's body language betrays his intention to attack. I want a 10-page essay, paying special attention to the movement of the eyes during and before an attack. It's due next Monday." Groans sounded throughout the class. Snape glowered. "Don't take this so lightly. It could very well save your life."

It was a full 3 hours before Harry Potter stormed into the Gryffindor common room, visibly fuming. Ron had fallen asleep in a chair by the fire, and Hermoine was trying to coax a house-elf into taking some of her popcorn. Harry stopped and took in the homey comfort of the scene. He calmed himself and plopped down in a chair near Ron, waking him with a wet willy.

"Hey, sod off!" Ron didn't appreciate Harry's sense of humor. He grumbled a bit and rubbed his eyes. "Blasted house-elf snogging git."

"Hermoine, stop feeding that house-elf. She doesn't want popcorn," Harry said. Hermoine looked indignant.

"Of course she does. Well, I don't know that she wants popcorn specifically, but I'm sure she wants to be treated respectfully and cared for occasionally, don't you?" She turned back to where the house-elf had been, but the elf had taken the opportunity to disappear to a more normal room where odd students didn't try to force popcorn on her.

Ron laughed so much his face turned as red as his hair. Hermoine spluttered and flounced out of the room, curls bouncing. When Ron was able to quit laughing, he turned to Harry. "Well, mate, what did she do? Did you have to clean the floors like a muggle, or did she make you paint the dungeon? Or maybe," Ron laughed, "she just wanted some good Potter lovin', eh? Wouldn't that be great, Potter and Snape?" Now Harry didn't appreciate Ron's sense of humor.

"No, but she lectured me forever, and then she made me clean each of the student desks with a wire brush, and then her desk, and then the floors. She wouldn't let me use any magic. It took forever. I was supposed to do something important tonight. I was going to help Hermoine with training Crookshanks." Harry glared. "Now I'll have to study instead."

"Training that awful cat can wait. You need to study."

"Mmmm … I guess so. It just makes me mad. We just got rid of Snape, and now we have, well, another Snape. I was at least looking forward to having a Snape-free year. It's not as if we have very much to look forward to anymore."

Ron was concerned. He didn't like it when Harry brooded. "Hey, the twins sent me a package. There's probably all sorts of contraband in it. They just came up with something new – pumpkin pasties that make your head turn into a pumpkin. Do you want to go look?"

Harry just grumbled and stared at the fire.

Ron sighed. "C'mon mate. Don't do this to yourself. I know how bad things are, but we can't think about it all the time. It might be a long time until we can get rid of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It's not going to do anyone any good if you're a nervous wreck when the final battle comes."

Harry started and looked at Ron with a very odd look that made Ron nervous. "What makes you think there will be a last battle? What if this just drags on and on, and more and more people die, until the Ministry does something dumb like try to compromise with Voldemort, or legitimize him somehow? What if our grandkids are sitting here trying to figure out how to kill him? The Ministry didn't stop Umbridge from fouling everything up here. If someone like Umbridge could get in, anything could happen." Harry practically spat her name out.

"This isn't like you, Harry. Where are you getting this? There will be an end to this. There has to be. More and more Death-eaters are being caught every day, and there's a record number of new aurors. Everyone wants to be an auror now - well every graduating Gryffindor at least, and a lot of the braver Ravenclaws."

Harry was quiet for a few moments, and the only noise in the room was the popping sound of the fire, and the steady rain on the roof. "I don't know. I just get so tired sometimes. Too many good people have died, and still nothing really happens. People aren't fighting back; they're just hiding in their houses. He's winning, Ron."

Ron was stunned. "Didn't you hear what I just said about the aurors? Harry, don't talk that way." A sudden suspicion hit him. "When's the last time you slept, anyway? You look awful."

Harry ran his hands through his unruly hair and over his face. He noticed his hair was getting greasy. "I don't know. I just can't sleep after what happened. Every time I try, I just keep thinking that Death-eaters could be here, right now, hurting my friends, and then I have to get my cloak and walk the grounds." He leaned his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands.

"C'mon Harry," Ron said quietly. "You couldn't help anyone the way you are right now anyway. Even Dumbledore slept, I'm sure."

Harry muttered something unintelligible and wandered slowly toward the stairs. Ron sighed and stared at the fire. Harry was a good friend, but sometimes he was difficult, and he'd been an absolute pill lately.

Harry didn't like what he saw in the mirror while he was getting ready for bed. He was pale and his eyes were swollen and red. He hoped he could sleep tonight. All he could hope for was one night of decent sleep. One of the many things he hadn't told Ron lately was that the new potions master had made him a potion for Dreamless Sleep, and even that wasn't working.

"Well," he thought, "I'll try again, and if it doesn't work I'll walk the grounds again. At least that way I'll be some use."

Again, for at least the fifth night in a row, Harry had the same dream. He was glued to the wall, and Dumbledore sacrificed himself to save him. Over and over he was forced to relive the moment when he had watched Snape kill one of the few people who had truly loved him. He found himself somehow replacing Snape at the last minute and yelling the death curse. Harry awoke with a jolt, heart racing. He heard rain on the roof and the wind of a storm outside.

I might have well as killed him, Harry thought. He would still be alive if it weren't for me. Harry rolled over and buried his face in his pillow. He didn't want his roommate to hear him cry.

When he was finished, Harry stared at the ceiling. He felt empty. He had to do something. He sighed. There wasn't anything to do except what he did every night. He quietly snuck to his trunk and removed his invisibility cloak. He couldn't bring Dumbledore back, but he could at least help keep the students safe that Dumbledore had loved so much. It wasn't much, but it was something.

Ssss

Severus Snape woke and was relieved that his dream was just that – a dream. It settled into his sleep-clouded mind slowly that he wasn't in his chambers at Hogwarts. He was lying on a dirt floor in a rotting abandoned barn. He was cold, wet, and more miserable than he'd ever been in his life, which was saying a lot considering how miserable his life had been so far. It wasn't a dream, he realized. It was real. I killed him. This can't be real.

He felt numb. How many times would he have to see himself kill Dumbledore in his dreams, hear him pleading, watch him fall? Once again he went over the entire scene in his mind. Was there anything else he could have done? No. He saw Potter plastered to the wall. He saw Malfoy ready to ruin his own life. And then he heard Dumbledore's voice in his mind. Kill me Severus. The Death Eaters won't leave until I'm dead. Save my children.

He hadn't even known Dumbledore could communicate that way. And then that, "Please." How could he deny that? Potter. Potter isn't worth Albus, he thought bitterly. I should have let the little brat die.

He amused himself for a few moments with the thought of Potter dying instead of Dumbledore, but it really only made him feel worse. He rolled over and tried to get a little warmth from his very dirty cloak. Blast the Dark Lord, he thought. He had no place now. The aurors were hunting him, and the Death-eaters wouldn't take him in. The Death-eaters that were still free were becoming paranoid, and didn't want to risk having him in their houses while the aurors were chasing him. So much for honor among thieves, he thought.

A thick cough reminded him that he had to find better quarters tomorrow. He was too old for this. He had been feeling feverish, and this wasn't a time he could afford to get sick. He thought as he nodded off that it might have been better if he had been caught after the raid. At least if they had caught him, the aurors would have probably killed him. This was just prolonging the inevitable.

ssss

Harry saw another nightwalker, and followed, more out of boredom than suspicion. She wandered aimlessly around the castle, stopping for a moment to fuss at Peeves for spray painting some foul graffiti on a wall near the dungeon. She stopped outside what had been the former Snape's office and sighed. She lowered the hood of her cloak, and Harry recognized the face of Amelia Snape. He was very glad to be wearing the invisibility cloak right now. She leaned against the opposite wall and stared at the door. Harry heard her quietly mutter, "Oh Severus, what have you gotten yourself into this time?" She looked around her furtively, and bit her lip slightly as if she was thinking. She cast a spell Harry hadn't heard before. "Hmmm … locked, but no protective spells. I wonder why?" She cast a simple unlocking spell on the door and walked in warily.

"Lumos," she said quietly. Harry saw her walk directly toward a pile of papers on Snape's desk. "I wonder if I should? He's a Black Wizard, so I shouldn't care, but he is kin after all." She began to search through the papers. "Bah, it's only student papers. This rubbish won't tell me anything. Let's see." She began to scan the office carefully. "What would he do? He always liked to hide things, at least he did when he was little."

Amelia realized she didn't know her brother very well at all. If they hadn't been separated when she was eight, perhaps she could have stopped him from becoming a Death-eater. It wasn't fair that she had been adopted and he had been left to the mercy of the fates. She stopped looking, and her face made an odd tick. She wiped a couple of tears away. "Silly thing to get sentimental over," she growled. "That annoying prat never was worth much anyway."

Even in the oddly lit room, Harry could see that she was very sad. He actually felt a tinge of regret for spying on her in a private family time, but if there was a way to catch Snape, he had to know. "Who am I kidding?" she said, eyeing a particularly stern picture of Severus in dress robes. "I do care." She turned back to the job at hand. "They would have searched the room already." Harry wondered if she always talked to herself this much. "The aurors would have cast spells to detect magic concealment. He was a creature of habit, and he always liked to hide things. If I'm going to find him, the clues would be here."

Harry felt sad for her and angry at the same time. How could anyone want to help Severus Snape? He wanted to yell at her, to tell her not to throw her own life into the pit that was Severus Snape, but he didn't dare, so he just watched. She ran her hands over the desk and under it, looking for a hiding place. Nothing. She stopped, and her long fingers traced a meaningless pattern on the desk. Harry noticed that she had carefully manicured, long black fingernails, and a delicate onyx bracelet. She wasn't like Snape in every aspect then. She actually did have some class. She came across a picture with a plain brass frame. There was a simple photo of the castle inside, with owls flying around the parapets. As she looked the picture dissolved into one of her and Severus, much younger. They were in formal clothing, and both glared at the camera. She laughed. "That's how I remember you," she sighed. "Do I want to find him?" It was quiet, barely audible even in the silence of the castle. "What would I do with him if I did find him? I can't very well give my only kin over to the aurors, but … a Death-eater. Why did he have to be a Death-eater? I could forgive anything else."

As she was fingering the picture, it faded to white and she heard the unmistakable voice of Severus Snape. "Amelia, since you are hearing this recording, I assume that I am dead, and you are collecting my personal effects. There are things happening that may require my life very soon. My only instructions to you are this; if the Dark Lord comes to you because you are my kin, trust nothing he says. My greatest fear is that he might trick you as he did me. The only person you can trust is Albus Dumbledore. If the Dark Lord approaches you, go to Dumbledore immediately. Don't be afraid of betraying me; Albus knows everything, and still trusts me. I trust him explicitly. Be careful, Sister." The date on the picture was one day before Dumbledore had been killed.

Amelia gasped, partly because of what the picture had said, and partly because she had never heard Severus say half as much at one time in his entire life. He wasn't very social. It was also the closest thing to something nice she'd ever heard him say. The picture returned to the view of the castle, and she slid it into her pocket. It was at least something to remember him by. She had thrown out everything but his books in a fit of anger. The books had been given to the Hogwarts Library.

Harry just wanted out. It had been all he could do not to tear the picture apart the moment he heard Snape's ugly voice. Now his head reeled. He didn't want to think of Snape as human, with a sister that might love him. He wanted, no needed Snape to be a monster. Harry turned to leave just as Professor McGonagall stepped into the doorway in her animagus form. She rose into her human form and removed her wand. "Professor Snape," she said coolly, "surely you know that this area is off limits. Especially for you."

Amelia swirled and stopped when she saw McGonagall's wand raised and ready for action.

"Why especially for me, Headmistress? I am entitled to my brother's things as next of kin, after all. I assume the aurors would have removed anything dangerous." She wondered how much lying McGonagall would put up with.

McGonagall lowered her wand. "Understand this, Professor Snape - the ministry wanted you here, not the faculty. If you give me a reason to have you removed, I will – quickly."

Harry managed to get out before the two women left. He heard McGonagall lock the door and put some very nasty anti-intrusion spells on it.

ssss

The Order of the Phoenix's headquarters had moved to an old house owned by a muggle and rented to Professor McGonagall's muggle cousin He rented the place to her at an unbelievably high rent. It wasn't an ideal situation, but the owner didn't ask questions, and neither did her cousin. Voldemort hated muggles so much he was unlikely to think of a wizard using them in any way, much less working with them. The Order still met, but there wasn't a great deal to do at the moment. There were still a few uprisings of Death-eaters, but not enough to keep the Order busy. There was an uneasy expectancy among the magic world. The general consensus was that they were building up something even worse than the raid at Hogwarts. Many wizards suddenly remembered that they had family overseas that needed immediate visits. Even though there was no official curfew, very few people ventured out at night anymore.

It seemed to Harry that the Dark Lord might win without another shot fired, but if things continued on their current path, he might get an empty kingdom. Harry chuckled. He could just imagine the scene. A victorious Dark Lord stepped into Diagon Alley and proclaimed ownership, only to be embarrassed by the silence. For some reason this amused Harry so much he laughed out loud.

"What's so funny, Harry?" Ron asked. Harry realized he'd been laughing out loud, and blushed.

"Not much, I was just thinking how funny it would be if the Dark Lord wins after all, but all he gets if a bunch of empty real-estate because he scared everyone off. He'd have nothing but a nation full of dead bodies to rule over." He chuckled again, and then noticed the embarrassed silence. A couple of people cleared their throats, and Ron suddenly discovered that his fingernails needed cleaning. "Not cool, Harry," he muttered under his breath.

McGonagall cleared her throat. "If we could get back to business, we have to decide some sort of sentry schedule for the school. We should have surveillance every night if possible." Harry snorted. If only they knew. McGonagall was concerned. Harry had never been what she would call normal, but after Dumbledore's death he had become disturbingly odd. His hygiene was slipping, and he seemed to spend a great deal of time brooding. She would have to speak to Lupin about it later. Harry responded to Lupin fairly well.

After the meeting, Ron pulled Harry aside. "What's wrong with you, Harry?"

Harry was annoyed. "Nothing, Ron. I mean, I only saw people killed that I loved, and watched Snape kill Dumbledore. I can't sleep, and all I can think about is that the Dark Lord is going to come back for me, and this time Dumbledore isn't here." Harry didn't realize his voice was rising as he spoke. "That's what's wrong, Ron. Everything's so screwed up I don't know up from down. You, however, are completely normal, happy Ron, and I hate you for it!" He had screamed the last sentence. Ron's eyes were somber.

"That's not true, mate." He looked sadder than Harry had ever seen him. Harry opened his mouth to say more, but found large female hands on his shoulders. McGonagall brushed his dirty hair aside.

"Harry, we need to talk." Harry started to argue with her. "Now," she said. She turned to Ron. "Go home, Ronald. I've got him." To get some privacy, she walked Harry into the hippogriff's room and transfigured a couple pieces of broken molding into two folding chairs. Harry watched Buckbeak sleeping for a moment. It was so peaceful. He sat down heavily on one of the chairs and sighed. McGonagall sat next to him and waited a few moments, hoping he'd speak. Finally she said, "Harry, I know I'm no substitute for Albus, but I do want to help. Can you tell me what's hurting you? We're getting worried about you."

Harry opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it again. He looked confused. "There's so much … death in my head Professor. I don't know what to do with it."

McGonagall's blood ran cold. This was so far beyond anything she understood. She felt completely lost. She did the only thing she knew to do. She put a hand on Harry's shoulder, lifted his face, and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Harry," she said, "you're going to be alright. Your friends are going to take good care of you, but don't pull away from us, ok?"

Harry looked away and started crying silently, with his arms pulled tightly around him. "Professor, can I sleep in here tonight?" Harry asked.

"Here, Harry? Why? You have a safe dorm to sleep in." She was getting more and more worried by the minute. Harry had sounded like a child, not the 17-year-old he was. She made a mental note to get a psychologist from St. Mungo's to come for a visit, if she could find one brave enough to come to Hogwarts with all that was happening.

She forced herself to stroke his hair comfortingly, although she felt like wiping her hand on her dress after touching it. Merlin's beard, but he's getting to be as bad as Severus, she thought, and then quickly chased the thought from her mind with a sharp pain of guilt. No, she thought, There's nothing in him like Snape. He's a good boy, just a little off right now. But as she looked at him sitting there staring at his badly bitten fingernails, she was reminded a great deal of the time a very young Snape had sat in Dumbledore's office, trying to understand why his parents had died and he was alone. A family took in his sister, but they didn't want him, and he was truly an orphan. How old had Severus he been then? Ten? She couldn't quite remember, but it bothered her greatly. They had already lost one hurt child when Severus became a Death-eater. She wasn't going to allow Harry to be lost as well.

"I'll allow it tonight. I'm not sure it's safe, but if it will help you sleep, we'll try it. Who would you like to stay with you?"

Harry thought. He went over all of his closest friends in his mind. Hermoine annoyed him right now with her helpfulness, as did McGonagall. The two people he did want, Sirius and Dumbledore were dead. Actually, come to think of it, everyone annoyed him. He just wanted to crawl in a hole and hide. "Lupin, I guess. At least he'll leave me alone." He hoped McGonagall got the hint. She did, and reminded herself that Harry wasn't being himself right now. He needed patience.

"Very well. I'll talk to him and get some blankets from the other room." Harry curled up next to Buckbeak and laid his head on his rising and falling side. Buckbeak raised his head with a surprised look. He looked at Harry, then looked at McGonagall, and then back at Harry. He licked the top of Harry's head once and went back to sleep. McGonagall left the room to find Lupin. She felt deeply troubled.

Ssss

When Severus Snape woke this time, he knew where he was, and didn't care for it. How long had he been asleep? It looked like the sun was setting, but that couldn't be right. Or could it? He wasn't thinking straight, and his brain felt fuzzy somehow. He was chilled to the bone, and hot at the same time. He had been avoiding the use of magic in a muggle area. It would only draw attention from aurors. He felt a pain under his ribs, and his breath was wheezing badly.

Wonderful, he thought. I'm getting pneumonia. Is there anything else that can go wrong? He would have to chance some magic, or he wouldn't live much longer. He took out his wand and placed the tip above his left lung, where the pain was located. He hesitated. This might not be a bad way to die. A day or two of pain and illness was much better than torture by dementors. No, he thought. I owe it to Dumbledore to live. He wouldn't have wanted me to kill myself.

He cast a healing spell. Nothing happened. He cast it two more times – nothing. He looked at his wand in confusion, and then realized he was too sick to cast magic anymore. He felt a small panic, and then a sense of relief – no dementors for him, then. He slipped into unconsciousness.

ssss

The next day, Harry put on his cloak and slipped into the restricted section of the library. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he knew that he needed better than what he was being taught in classes. If the experience of the Death-eaters and Voldemort was combined, it amounted to hundreds of years of magical learning. He had a little over half a decade. It wasn't enough. He needed an edge. He needed something that He Who Must Not be Named wouldn't see coming. That Snape-in-the-Grass would have told his master every spell and counter spell the students would know. He looked over the books carefully. Many were far too specialized to be of any use. There was a book on Water Magic, for example, that was only useful if the wizard was actually underwater. Another one contained magics that only worked by harnessing the power of nearby volcanoes – hardly useful.

He avoided the books that obviously reeked of evil; he wasn't that desperate yet. He paused over one named In Defense of the Dark Arts. It felt evil and alluring at the same time. He started to move on, but stopped. This would be something that Voldemort wouldn't expect – Harry Potter using dark magic against him. He picked the book up and slid it in his pocket. Then he thought of Dumbledore, and almost put the book back.

No, he thought. Dumbledore is dead. I have to do what it takes to kill Voldemort. I'll only use it against Voldemort and his Death-eaters, and then I'll never use it again. It felt like a hollow excuse. He left the library feeling like he'd left an important part of himself behind in the restricted section.

Later that night he found the Room of Requirement and began studying. Many of the spells made him nauseous, and he couldn't bring himself to cast any of them – yet. When he returned to his room, Ron was studying potions. He gave Harry a sour look and went back to studying. Somewhere in the back of his brain Harry realized he should apologize for the way he'd been acting lately, but he decided to worry about it later. He tossed his bookbag in the corner and lay in his bunk. He waited for Ron to go to sleep, and then he hid the book in a box with a false bottom. He did actually manage to get some sleep that night - not dreamless - but sleep at least. It had done him some good to spend a night away from the school with Buckbeak.

ssss

Sometime in the early morning hours, Fawkes found the man he had been looking for. He swept into the barn, feeling satisfaction at the fear of the pair of resident owls, and landed on Severus Snape's chest. Snape groaned, but didn't wake up. Fawkes nipped him on the ear. He was becoming impatient. Snape's eyes opened and he tried to focus on what was so heavy on his chest. He saw two phoenixes. As his eyes focused, the two birds merged into one bird, and he grumbled, "Fawkes – off - can't breathe."

Fawkes stepped aside and Severus realized he was still having trouble breathing. He let out a weak couch, which turned bloody. He lapsed back into unconsciousness. Fawkes shook his feathers in annoyance. This one had always been tough to deal with. He thought of Dumbledore, and remembered seeing him with Snape in his office. Snape had just been a child, and Dumbledore was comforting him after his parents' death. He had looked so small then, holding one of Dumbledore's lemon candies and crying while Dumbledore fetched a handkerchief. Dumbledore had always thought that sweets were a great restorative. He remembered Dumbledore telling Snape that he wouldn't let him go to an orphanage, and the little Snape crying in his arms. He had fallen asleep in the Headmaster's arms, and Dumbledore had loved him as a son ever since, albeit a cranky son. It made Fawkes sad, and a single large tear fall on Severus.

Severus woke, his mind suddenly clear. He sat up and looked around him. His lungs didn't hurt, and he could breathe clearly again. His fever was even gone. He did, however, feel filthy. How long had he been here? Fawkes lifted a book and put it in his lap. He cocked his head and studied Severus. "Fawkes?" Snape said. "You healed me?" He was quiet for a moment. "At least someone knows I didn't betray Albus." Fawkes nuzzled his hand and flew out of the barn, as always making sure he made a dramatic exit.

Severus felt sadness as he left. Fawkes was the only tie he had left to Albus. He studied the book in his lap. It was faded and brown. He opened it and looked. It was Dumbledore's journal for the new school year. There wasn't much in it. There were a few technical notations about running the school, a couple names of first years the Headmaster had felt needed special attention, and some notes about the movements of Voldemort. There wasn't much of interest until the last page. He found a notation.

"The horcruxes might be negated with the proper potion. It will turn him not only into a mortal, but a muggle as well. He would then be unable to activate the Horcruxes, which could then be found at our leisure. I must speak to Severus about this. I know the ingredients of the potion, but not the specific measurements."

Severus remembered that Dumbledore had told him he needed to talk to him after curfew, but he had died first. Why had he gone after the horcruxes, then? Why hadn't he waited to try the potion? Then he read the ingredients; common nettles, hair of the sloth, skin of the basilisk, and spike off a horntail dragon. Dragon parts and basilisk parts were almost incompatible. It would take at least two months to bind these into a potion. Dumbledore must have felt that he didn't have that long to wait. Well, he thought, if Fawkes went to all the trouble to bring it to me, it must be worth using. Two months was a long time to brew a potion, but it was an even longer time to remain in hiding, and despite being healed by Fawkes, he still felt very weak and shaky. He had to find someone who would take him in for two months. Then, he could kill Voldemort.

ssss

The Ministry discussed shutting the school down until Voldemort was caught, but in the end they decided that the students were safer together at Hogwarts than they would be at home. After all, some of the most powerful wizards in the world were there to protect them, and several aurors had taken the task of school security on themselves. Hogwarts began to settle into a normal schedule again. Professor Snape had settled into her work.

The new potions master, Professor Dirnum was finding a place as well. From what Amelia had heard, though, Dirnum was a pale shadow of Severus Snape when it came to potions mastery. Even the students who had hated Snape felt that they were missing out on a lot of information they needed. Severus may have been unlikable, but he was a good teacher.

Amelia hoped he was alive, and then felt guilty for caring about him. Then she decided she would only believe that he was a Death-eater when she heard it from his own lips. He was her brother, and she would help him. She just wasn't sure how.

Her chance came that night. She was walking the halls that night when she heard voices. She used all of her prowess to sneak up on whoever was talking.

She peeked around the corner and saw Filch talking with a man in a hooded robe. She couldn't make anything out about the stranger except that he was medium height. The long robe covered everything else.

"I want some sort of assurance," Filch said.

The stranger chuckled. "We get so little assurance of anything in this life, Filch. Don't push me. Do you want the information or not?"

"How did a student come to know the whereabouts of Death-eaters anyway?" Filch asked.

"That would be my own business. Your business would be buying the information, or not. I do know other people who would be interested, and I can think of many ways you could make this useful to the Dark Lord. For instance, if you were to suddenly appear where a Death-eater was alone, you could kill him and take whatever he was working on. You could claim his kills as your own. There are many other uses for this map. Be creative."

"I don't trust people in masks, and what's to keep you from going to the Ministry with this? Why did you come to me instead?" Filch was clearly suspicious. Mrs. Norris sat at his feet, staring intensely at the stranger. She was growling slightly.

"I serve the Dark Lord, and aurors don't pay; they take what they want. I heard you were a man who liked … interesting collectibles. It took me years to put together, and there are 15 Death-eaters that are constantly tracked on this map. That should be more than enough to do whatever … creative things you wish to do. It is one of a kind, after all. It's worth the price."

"If you serve the Dark Lord, why are you doing this?" Filch asked. "It doesn't make sense."

"It's 15 Death-eaters I want to see dead. That has nothing to do with other loyalties. You're testing my patience, Filch."

"I'll buy it," Filch said grudgingly. "but I want to see it work first."

"Of course. Just look here." He opened the map. "There's no hiding spell involved, so make sure you keep it well hidden."

Filch looked happy. "Irving Irons is there. That's Skyler O'Malley. Look at that, old Terrance Orelian is right next door at Hogsmead. There's even that git Snape. This is perfect. I'll find good use for it." He dropped a large bag of coins into the student's hands. The student opened the bag, closed it again, and turned and left quickly. Amelia watched Filch stuff the map into his robes. Mrs. Norris was still distracted by the student.

Amelia stepped out into the corridor and cast "Petrificus Totalus" on Filch before he could react. He fell, immobilized, onto the floor. Mrs. Norris screeched and launched herself at Amelia, who barely cast the spell on her before the cat reached scratching range.

She retrieved the map from Filch. She paused. She didn't want to do this, but, "Obliviate." When she had erased the memories of both cat and man, she hurried back to her chambers in the Ravenclaw house. Her conscience nagged at her the whole way. I'm a decent person, she told herself. I had to do it.

She had hated to use the memory charm. Her adopted parents had raised her better than that. She had a feeling that she would have to do a lot worse if she really wanted to help Severus. She opened the map and looked for Severus. At first it was difficult to make him out from the other Death-eaters, but then she found his name. A muggle village? That doesn't make sense. Severus hates muggles. Fortunately, she had tomorrow free. There was nothing going on this Saturday except for Quiddich practice and club meetings. She put the map in her cloak so she wouldn't forget it and went to bed.

ssss

Harry wasn't feeling well. He had been trying to be alone for days now, but it seemed like every time he managed to shake one friend, another one would find him. Didn't they understand that people he loved tended to die, often? And besides, it took so much energy to talk to people lately. It was all he could do to make it through his classes with good grades. He was slated to meet McGonagall in her office tomorrow. He was dreading the meeting. She would want to know what was wrong with him, and he couldn't tell her what he didn't understand. He would have to make something up that she would believe. Perhaps then she could get some peace and quiet.

His thoughts were interrupted by Hermoine. "Harry look! He did it! He did it!" She was waving her hand in his face excitedly.

"What exactly did Ron do this time?" Harry asked wearily.

She held her hand out. Harry saw a ring, with a dubious looking diamond on it. "He asked me to marry him. I'm getting married, Harry!" She threw her arms around him, but then stood back and wrinkled here face. "Ugh, Harry, when's the last time you bathed? You smell like a drowned rat."

"Congratulations, Hermoine. I hope you two are very happy." His voice was flat, and his face held no emotion. Harry walked away.

Hermoine stood for a few moments until Harry's actions soaked in, and then burst into tears and ran to find Ron. She felt like she had just lost a friend. Just a few months ago, Harry would have been as excited as she was, but now he seemed like he was somewhere else entirely. She grieved a dying friendship. She didn't want to lose Harry, but he was becoming harder and harder to deal with.

Harry wandered back to his room, wondering why Hermoine's announcement made him feel so miserable. He didn't want Hermoine for himself, but he was jealous of her happiness. Why did everyone get a happy ending but him? It wasn't fair. He decided to distract himself by studying. He was writing an essay for potions when Ron burst into the room. "Don't you ever knock?" Harry asked irritably.

"Don't you ever think? Anyway, it's my room too," Ron snapped back. "We had a perfect night, Harry. Perfect. The only thing left was to show you the ring. She was so excited. You ruined it for her, Harry. What's wrong with you?" Harry saw Ron standing there with clenched fists. Harry stood.

"Apparently, I'm an arse. Apparently, I can't do anything right for you. So apparently, you need to sod off, Ron!" Ron raised his wand, but even caught unprepared, Harry was too fast for him. "Expelliarmus!" Ron's wand shot across the room, and Ron flew across the room as well. He hit the wall and slumped into a small pile on the floor. Harry couldn't move. He was shocked, and the moment seemed unreal. He had attacked Ron. He shook himself out of it and went to Ron. He had a broken arm and his head was bleeding where he had hit the wall. Harry made sure Ron was breathing ok and ran for help. He found McGonagall in the common room lecturing a scared first year about hexing a house-elf. "Hurry Headmistress," he said breathlessly, "Ron's hurt. In our room."

McGonagall ran to his room, and Harry followed feeling alternately guilty and worried. When they arrived, Ron was sitting up and leaning against the wall, holding his head with his good arm. "What happened here?" she asked.

Ron gave Harry a dark look and said, "We were practicing counter-curses for Defense Against the Dark Arts and Harry got carried away. Isn't that right, Harry?"

McGonagall looked at Harry. "Yeah, I went too far. I'm sorry, Ron. I really am." Ron didn't say anything. McGonagall helped him to his feet and told him to go to the hospital wing. She paused in the doorway, and turned to see Harry sitting on his bed with his head in his hands.

"Harry, it was an accident. Ron will get over it." Harry just looked at her. "Don't forget our appointment tomorrow. I expect you in my office on time."

ssss

In the morning, Amelia started for the muggle village. It was so small it didn't even have a name. Although she didn't feel as strongly about muggles as Severus, she didn't like them. It was with annoyance that she remembered she wasn't supposed to use magic in designated muggle areas. She had to take muggle transportation for the first time in her life, so it took much longer to travel the 50 miles than it would have with a broom or a spell. She was almost to the village when she pulled out her map, feeling relief that she was the only one in the taxi. After all, who knows how many people muggles would usually try to fit in one. She saw a barn with his name on it, and then his name disappeared off the map. Her stomach clenched. Is he dead? she wondered. Then she saw his name reappear, about a mile inside the forbidden forest that was outside Hogwarts. She was relieved. He had merely apparated. Well, this trip was a waste now. She'd have to turn around and go back. "Excuse me, um, I need to return now."

The cabby pulled over to the side of the road. "You came all the way out here to go all the way back?" he asked in disbelief.

She shrugged. "I made a mistake."

The cabby sighed. "Alright lady, it's your money." He put the cab in gear and turned around. He would be glad to get rid of this one. She reminded him of his creepy great-aunt Gladis. She dressed like people dressed a couple hundred years ago, and she had a way about her that was disturbing.

It was a long way back to the nearest place she could apparate from. As soon as she recognized the area, she told him to stop. "Stop here, lady? It's just fields for miles."

Amelia smiled. "Yes, thank you. Fields are fine. I'll stop here then." She paid him muggle money – she guessed it was the right amount - and walked away into the field. When he left and she was sure she was alone, she apparated to the gates of Hogwarts. She wasn't prepared for the forbidden forest. She might be naïve in some ways, but in the ways of protection she was not. She headed to her office to prepare.

Severus landed in a nettle bush of some kind. He cursed under his breath and tried to free himself quietly. Humans were no longer allowed here, and if he was caught, it meant his death. There weren't many humans who could best him in battle, but centaurs were another matter. One centaur never attacked someone without all the others in earshot coming to help, and they heard extraordinarily well. Humans only had magic. Centaurs had magic and hooves, not to mention the weight of a horse. There were other things in these woods, too. Some of the things that roamed here were much worse than centaurs.

Severus freed himself and began picking his way carefully toward the campus. His years as a spy had paid off. Very few people could sneak like Severus Snape. He had some near misses with Firenze, but wasn't seen. He made his way to the edge of the forest, dug out some leaves to hide under, camouflaged himself with branches, and settled in to wait for the night. The fact that he hadn't bathed in about a week now was actually a benefit. Animals tended to smell human chemicals like soap a mile away. It was like sitting in the forest with a bullhorn yelling, "Human here. Come get a free dinner!"

His stomach growled loudly. When did I eat last? he wondered. He wasn't sure, but it had been a long time. He turned his mind to the daunting task of sneaking into one of the most carefully guarded places he knew of. Infiltrating Hogwart's wouldn't be easy, but it was the only way he could think of to get to his potions ingredients. No, he corrected himself. Someone else's potion ingredients. He could only hope that whoever was the new potions master was meticulous enough that he could find the ingredients quickly.

Amelia quickly gathered powerful potions, a magic bow and arrows, and several odd weapons, one of which was decidedly illegal. She pulled out the map to check Severus' location. It was blank. The map changed to a grinning face and the words appeared on it. "Thought you'd cheat me Filch? The gold disappeared, and so does your map! Rot and die, wanker!" The map dissolved into ashes, which slipped through her hands. It must have been a copy. O well, she thought, I'll just have to do this the hard way. She hid her weapons and potions in her cloak and headed towards Hagrid's hut. That way if she was stopped she could say she had been going to visit Hadrid. If she wasn't stopped, she could continue on into the forest. She was just going to have to figure out a believable reason to visit Hagrid.

Severus saw her sneak into the woods. Amelia? he thought, Why would she be here? She should be in London with her family. He pulled himself carefully from his leaf-lair and moved toward where he had seen her enter the forbidden forest. He couldn't find her. Blast! he thought, How can she be so naïve and crafty at the same time? It was infuriating. He searched for her for a few moments, but couldn't find her. Finally, he noticed a single broken twig, and one human footprint.

He moved in the direction the print pointed, only to hear a quiet female voice directly behind him. "You're lucky I'm not an enemy. You'd be dead now." Although he was extremely annoyed with her, he couldn't help but admire her prowess. The only other person who could beat him in stealthiness, to his knowledge, was Hagrid.

He turned to face her. "What are you doing here, Amelia? This place is dangerous."

Amelia brushed some stray leaves off her cape. She sneered at him. "I'm not as green as you seem to think, Severus. I can take care of myself."

"Apparently."

"Why are you here? You should be as far away from Hogwarts as possible."

Severus was confused by her actions. Was his disgustingly good sister actually here to help him? He bit back a sarcastic reply, for once. He couldn't afford to antagonize the only possible ally he had.

"Amelia, I have to do something. I can't explain it, but I can tell you that it's incredibly important." He watched her face carefully. He saw no betrayal of emotion.

"We will have to talk about that later. I've heard so much about you. I want to hear the truth from you, though." She leaned closer to him. "I will tell you this, though. If you are really working for … him, I'll kill you myself."

He had to work hard not to chuckle. His little sister threatening to kill him was ludicrous at best. Or is it? he thought. It's been decades since I spent any real time with her, and she is a Snape after all. It's best to tread carefully with this one.

She was biting her lip, a gesture he remembered from childhood. "We need to get you a place to sleep and some food at least." She wrinkled her nose. "And a bath. What did you roll in?"

He sneered, "I haven't exactly had the luxurious accommodations you're accustomed to, Amelia." He was still jealous of her life.

"This isn't the time for family squabbles. Do you want my help or not?"

His eye twitched. He had been fiercely independent for most of his life. Asking for help was almost physically painful. "Come back tonight. I have a plan. I just need a place to stay for awhile."

"Hmmmph … I'd say you need a lot more than that." She said, and left silently.

He crawled back into his makeshift shelter, and grumbled to himself about the cruel fate that forced his annoying sister back into his life. He grudgingly admitted to himself that he was glad she was here. This wasn't the way he would have picked to be reacquainted, but it felt good to have her back in his life. He spent the long day thinking about schemes and potions that might be beneficial in his half-formed plan. By the time nightfall had arrived, he had a full-fledged scheme to kill the Dark Lord. It was risky, but everything was risky now.

Amelia came back that night with a plan of her own, albeit a much simpler one. She snuck into the forest and found Severus waiting for her. "I brought a disguise. You should be able to get into the girls' side of Ravenclaw house, and I'll set up my sitting room for you. We can decide where to go from there." She handed him a black cold-weather robe with a hood. It was fringed with soft gray wolf fur, and was decidedly feminine. Severus sighed. She had to be kidding. His eyes had already adjusted to the lack of light enough to see the amused look on her face. He put the robe on, making a mental note that she would pay for this when he had the upper hand someday.

"Here," she said. "Cross your arms across your chest like you're cold. No. Like this." She tucked his arms under his armpits. "Ok, now be still." She unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt.

He let his arms fall. "What are you doing?" He stepped back.

"Just trust me." She barely choked back a laugh. He looked ludicrous enough already. "Women have breasts Severus. You, however, do not. We have to fix that."

"Oh, I DON"T think so," he said decidedly.

"Massage your bruised ego later. We have to do what's necessary to get you somewhere safe. I don't want to do magic where the centaurs can sense it, and I figured you'd rather have fake breasts than real ones. I can either transfigure some onto your body, or you can cross your arms and take the disguise. Your choice."

He crossed his arms and thought about all the spells that were appropriate to use in this situation. There were so many good hexes he would just love to use right now. Amelia dropped two grapefruits into his shirt, arranged them to look like breasts, and closed the robe. She pulled the robe's hood up. "Close enough. Keep your arms crossed and your head down. You might just pass for a really gangly girl." They made their way to the Ravenclaw dormitory. They didn't attract much attention. It was bitter cold and everyone was bundled up tightly. She did notice that he had an odd gait she didn't remember. He seemed to shuffle for some reason.

"Diligence," she said and stepped inside the painting of Laro Lastoon, the first Librarian of Hogwarts. They made their way to her quarters without incident. Severus flopped on the couch, and pulled off the ridiculous outfit.

"I'll get you for this someday," he said.

She smiled. "Of course you will. Here. Make yourself at home." She called a house-elf, which stared at Severus. "Loni, you have to obey me. Tell no one I have a guest or that Severus is on campus. I forbid you to speak anything about him at all. Do you understand?"

Loni nodded, keeping fearful eyes on Severus. "Now, do whatever he asks you." She turned back to Severus. "I have some things to attend to. The bathroom is through there." She pointed. "There are clean clothes for you, and shaving things. Get some rest and we'll talk in the morning."

Severus was about to complain about her authoritarian tone, but decided he was too tired to fight right now. He was desperately hungry, but he had more important things to attend to at the moment. He waited until Amelia was gone, because he couldn't stand the idea of her pitying him. Is she the type to pity? he wondered. He knew so little about her.

When he was sure he was alone, he carefully took off his shoes and examined his feet. They were so badly frostbitten he had barely been able to walk to the dorm under his own power, and it took several castings of healing spells to fix the damaged tissue. He had trouble holding the wand in his numb fingers, but he managed his feet and then healed his hands, nose, and ears.

Amelia came back in just as he was finishing working on his ears. She was gracious enough to realize he needed to reclaim his dignity, and left without speaking to him. Several different needs fought for mastery in his body, but he decided he needed to be clean even more than he needed food or sleep right now. He might not be the cleanest person in the world, but even he had his limits.

He told the elf to bring him food, and then enjoyed the first good bath he'd had in a week. When he came out, he was in a new set of night-robes and black silk pajamas. He admired his sister's sense of aesthetics, at least. The clothes were much nicer than the Spartan taste he usually indulged in. He wondered where she had found them. The house-elf had left him a bowl of stew and an entire loaf of bread. Although he didn't eat very much generally, he ate everything the elf had left and could have eaten as much again.

Amelia had left him a black chenille throw, and a thick dark quilt, as well as a goose down pillow. As he bedded down on the couch, he felt the luxury of comfort after a week of sleeping in various cold, wet places like an animal. He mused on the irony. Not long ago, he would have thought sleeping on someone else's couch below his dignity both as a Snape and as a Slytherin. Now the simple state of being warm, fed, and dry at the same time felt like the epitome of luxury.

Amelia didn't sleep much that night. She lay in bed starring at the ceiling wondering what she was going to do with a rogue Death-eater.

Conflicting loyalties struggled within her. Her main feeling was guilt. She hadn't cared about him when she was in London, with her comfortable job teaching in a girl's school and a happy family to come home to at night. I've got to fix that, she thought. If I don't have to kill him for being a Death-eater, I'll never let him fall away from me again.

Severus slept for two days.

ssss

"You want me to do what?" Harry asked angrily.

McGonagall pinched the bridge of her nose. She felt a headache coming on. "It's not that bad, Harry. You've had some very bad things happen to you, and you need more help than we can give you. This is a reputable doctor. He's Lupin's cousin. As long as you don't give away secrets of the Order, there's no danger in you talking to a psychologist."

"A head-shrink?" He looked incredulous. "I'm not crazy."

McGonagall kept her thoughts on that issue to herself. "I'm not saying you're crazy, Harry. You just need help from someone with more experience in this area."

Harry stopped and looked her in the eye with a searching glance. "You're afraid of me." He looked hurt.

"No Harry, we're afraid for you. You're not well."

Harry looked at his lap for a moment, and picked at his fingernails. "Alright," he said hesitantly, "I'll do it." Lying was getting easier for him.

She dismissed him and penned a letter to the Order members. She called for an emergency meeting, and sent a copy to everyone except for Harry. Something had to be done before they lost him completely.

"I've called you here to discuss Harry."

Ron snorted. "I've had quite enough of Harry, lately."

Lupin spoke up. "I'm worried about him. He's been withdrawn and morbid lately. I tried to speak to him after the last meeting and he completely blew me off. That's not really like him."

"It bloody well is," Ron said. "I think that's just what he's like now. Do you know what he did to Hermoine?"

"Ron, don't," Hermoine said.

"Why? Why do you always protect him? I'm tired of the way he's been treating you lately. You shouldn't put up with it."

"Hermoine, what happened?" McGonagall asked.

"He's just been really weird lately, Headmistress." She turned to Ron. "I put up with it because I don't think that's really him. I think he'll be alright if we just stick by him."

McGonagall wasn't entirely surprised. Ron had asked her for room re-assignment earlier that day. "Will Harry still talk to anyone?" There was no answer. "This is bad. I'm concerned that if we don't do something soon, we may lose Harry entirely."

Ron looked frightened. "It's that bad? I thought he was just being a jerk."

"No Ron. Try to be patient with him. He really needs us right now."

"I will. Um, nevermind what I was talking to you about earlier, then. I'll stay roommates with him."

"That's good Ron. I'm proud of you."

Lupin spoke up, "I'll try to get something out of him. He probably just needs to get some things out of his system."

ssss

Amelia wasn't there when Severus awoke, but he found a note pinned to the quilt. "Don't leave until I return. I have some questions for you."

He laughed. "I'm sure you do." He wasn't in the habit of taking orders from anyone who didn't have the power to punish him, however, so he decided to try to get to the dungeon after curfew. If she returned by then, she could ask her questions. If she didn't return in time, she'd just have to wait until he got back.

As he searched the room, he discovered that he had underestimated his sister's craftiness. She had left him sleeping-robes, but no presentable clothes. He couldn't very well wander around in pajamas in a freezing castle, so he was forced to sit on the couch and wait for her in a progressively worsening mood. The fabrics in the sitting room were femine and mostly gauzy, unfit for transfiguring into clothes.

She returned shortly after curfew. She knew he'd be angry, and she wasn't disappointed in her expectations. She was met with a first class Snape glower that had wilted a number of first years. "Severus," she said in greeting. No humor right now, she thought. I think he's been pushed far enough.

She was right. "Amelia," he hissed, "we need to get a few things straight. I'm neither accustomed to being treated with disrespect, nor allowing myself to be pushed around. This," he held up the note, "is unacceptable."

She bit back a sharp reply. Here he was talking of disrespect, when two days ago he could have passed for dirty thestral food. Instead she said, "I'm sorry if I offended you Severus. The Snape family isn't exactly known for it's social skills." She watched to see if the hint sank in. He wasn't exactly known for social skills, either.

"I'll let it pass, this time. I need some clothes, though. I have things to do, and I can't very well run around like this."

She chuckled at that, picturing him having an all out magic fight in a nightrobe and slippers. "I have some for you, but it was imperative that you stay here until I could talk to you."

"I'm not a zoo animal, sister. I don't take well to being confined."

She looked sad. "You've changed so much, Severus. I'm not your enemy. Try to remember that."

"You're right. It's just been a rough week. Don't read too much into it. So let's get it over with. Ask your questions. I'll answer them, and you can hate me or not, whatever helps you sleep at night." He sneered at her.

She refused to allow him to bait her. "Severus, this isn't about how I feel about you. It's about whether I try to help you or kill you."

He reached for his wand, and found it missing. "Where is my wand?" he demanded angrily. It was an extremely aggressive act to take a wizard's wand.

"I'll give it back shortly." She was fingering her own wand. "Are you a Death-eater?" she asked bluntly.

He rolled up his sleeve, allowing the black mark on his arm to blare its presence, and sat back in the chair, glaring defiantly. "There. Anything else?" He would be blasted to bits before he'd beg for his life. Let her take it if she could. Even unarmed he had a chance.

He was surprised to see tears rolling down her cheeks. This wasn't what he expected. "Why the tears? Go. Call the aurors. That's what you're going to do now, isn't it?"

"Severus," she said quietly, "Why?"

He hated that question. Dumbledore had asked it. Most of the members of the Order had asked it. He had asked it of himself. He gave her the only answer he'd ever been able to find.

"The Dark Lord promised me things – power mostly. He talked about the pack mentality of the Death-eaters, like they were a second, predatory family to each other. I was young enough and lonely enough to believe him."

"Lonely," she said, "because you had no family."

"Well of course, you daft witch. What do you think I was doing while you were happy and safe in London? I was trying to survive with no parents and no friends but an old wizard and a mudblood."

He had meant to hurt her, but he felt bad when he saw how fully the shot had hit home. His pride prevented him from apologizing, however. He began to prepare himself mentally for an unarmed fight. If he launched himself for her preemptively, he might just take her by surprise, and be able to get her wand away from her.

She interrupted his thoughts. "I'm sorry, Severus. I wish I had been there for you. I want to help you now, but you have to turn away from He Who Must Not Be Named. I know you can't really want to be a Death-eater. Please, Severus. You have family now. You don't need him."

He was completely stunned. This was the second person in his life that was willing to take a chance on him although he was a Death-eater. She didn't even know the truth yet, and she was still willing to risk everything for him.

"I already have. I was Dumbledore's spy. Can you use Legimancy?" She nodded. "Ask me again and look. I won't occlude my mind as long as you stay on that topic." She cast the spell, and saw enough to convince her that he was telling the truth. He waited, ready to fight for his life if need be.

"I'll help you to kill him. What do you need?" she asked. He relaxed. He was relieved that he wasn't going to have to kill her.

ssss

Harry actually considered skipping Defense Against the Dark Arts the next day. He was learning a lot, but he didn't want to deal with Ron and Hermoine in the same class. It was the only class the three of them had together this semester. He couldn't risk the trouble it might get him into. He had much more attention from well-meaning friends than he wanted already.

He tried to act as if nothing was wrong as he sat at the table. Ron and Hermoine were surprisingly civil. Professor Snape came in, and the class grew quiet. Students grasped wands under their desks. She had a habit of randomly yelling hexes during her lectures. She had lectured them on body language and eye movements, as well as other ways to gauge a wizard's intentions.

She turned, and Harry saw her wand arm twitch and her eye move toward him. Harry jumped up, upsetting the table and sending books and papers everywhere. Her wand was coming up. "Expelliarmus!" he yelled. Her wand came out of her hand, and she staggered as if hit by an invisible fist. She stayed her ground however.

"Very good, Mr. Potter. You are the first student to properly anticipate my attack. Ten points for Griffindor. Now clean up the mess so we can continue."

Harry levitated things back into their proper places and sat down. Several Slytherin students looked at him with open admiration. He was surprised at himself. It wasn't in his nature to launch an unprovoked attack, much less against a teacher.

ssss

It wasn't difficult to sneak around Hogwarts for Severus. He knew hiding places and tunnels that very few people knew existed, and he knew them by heart. He could scurry along them like a rat, avoiding the aurors and faculty patrolling the school. He made his way to the dungeon in a tunnel so thin he had to flatten himself against the walls and breathe shallowly. He got to the secret entrance to the potions storeroom, and found that it still worked. He opened it slightly. It was dark inside, so he was alone.

"Lumos," he said quietly. The room lit up. He felt slightly queasy. There were cobwebs and paper piles, and his carefully arranged potions were in complete disarray. He could only wonder what the pig responsible for this was teaching his students. He had to fight the urge to clean the mess and get to the business of finding the ingredients he needed.

He had planned to do his sneaking well after curfew, but he still had to put on the ridiculous costume his sister had provided before he spoke to the Librarian's picture that guarded Ravenclaw. He couldn't have a gossipy picture telling the whole school that he was on campus. He'd never had much reason to bother with Ravenclaw house before, so he didn't know if there were any secret passages he could use. He would have to find out. He wouldn't enjoy dressing in drag every night.

He returned to Amelia's rooms without incident and found her there waiting for him.

"I got the things you asked for: silver cauldron and ladle, full set of measuring tools, and a scorch-proof floor covering." He chuckled. He hadn't asked for the floor covering. She was a little vain, then.

"Did you get everything you needed?" she asked.

"Not quite. There weren't any nettles. The man has basilisk's skin but no common nettles. Unbelievable. I'll have to go out and get them." With great misgivings he picked up the black and grey robe.

"You don't have to use that. I found another way into the dorm today." He dropped the robe on the couch. "The restricted section in the library has some amazing information". She grinned.

"That's good," he grumbled. "I was getting really tired of that robe."

She showed him the new way out. It was an underground tunnel that ran to Gryffindor House. There was a small hatchway, and Severus found himself inside what seemed to be a statue. He opened a small door and found that he had been inside the statue of Godric Gryffindor. If only he knew what he was helping to do tonight, Severus thought. I'll bet he's rolling over in his grave right now.

He made it inside the woods and collected the nettles quickly. He wanted to get out of the woods as soon as possible and begin brewing the potion. He was almost to the edge of the woods when a twig breaking made him pause. Someone was in here with him. He tried to throw the tracker off but whoever it was knew their business. Just when he thought he had lost him, he felt an extremely large hand close around his neck from the back and lift him off the ground. He gasped for air and reached for his wand, but another large hand closed over his wrist and snapped the bone effortlessly. He began to see lights in front of his eyes. He was thrown roughly to the ground, and he felt several punches land, breaking a couple of ribs and his nose as well. He tried to fight, but he was still blind from pain and only received a knee-breaking kick for his efforts.

"Great bloody traitor," growled a voice he recognized.

"Hagrid, fancy meeting you here." His sight cleared and he saw the half-giant looming over him pointing something at his head. Was that an umbrella?

Hagrid seemed to be struggling with himself. "Dubledore was a great man. The only reason I'm not killing you now is it would disappoint him. But," Hagrid dropped the umbrella, "That doesn't mean I have to return you as pretty as when I found you." The last thing Severus saw was a fist roughly the shape and size of a ham coming at his face at full speed.

Harry was patrolling the halls in his cloak again when he had to jump aside to avoid Hagrid stomping by him, carrying someone in his arms. Blood dripped on the floor as he passed. Harry decided to follow. Hagrid stopped outside McGonagall's office. "Quiddich," he said. The panel swung open and Hagrid stepped inside. Harry ducked in with him. Hagrid walked into her office and unceremoniously dumped the bundle onto her couch.

"Hagrid, who is that? Why did you bring him here instead of the hospital wing?" She moved to examine the stranger. He seemed familiar, but she wouldn't know him until Pomfrey had done a large amount of healing. "His face is a mess. What happened?"

"I didn't mean to kill him, Headmistess. I was just so mad. I've never done that before."

"It's ok, Hadgrid. There's still a pulse. You did this?" She was shocked. Hagrid had always been one of the most gentle men she'd ever known.

"I did. The traitor deserves worse, but I didn't want to disappoint Dumbledore."

McGonagall drew a deep breath and forced herself to hold her temper. Hagrid was flustered, which meant she might not get much out of him. "Hagrid, start from the beginning. Who is this?"

"Professor Snape."

"Amelia?" She had a hard time believing Hagrid would beat a woman.

"No, the other one."

She stared at the bleeding lump on her couch. She wanted to punch him too.

"Hagrid. I'm sorry about this, but I'm afraid you'll talk too much," she said. "Obliviate."

Hagrid stood, stunned and blinking. McGonagall lead him outside and sat him against the wall near her office. She returned and pulled out her wand.

"It would be so easy," she murmered. "No one would know anything." She shuddered and put her wand back in her cloak. "No. I'm not a murderer, and I want you to be well and conscious so the dementors can really give you what you deserve. They can do so much more damage than I can." She cast a binding spell on him. She threw some floo powder into the fire, clearly said, "Hospital Wing at Hogwarts." and stepped inside.

Harry had almost fainted when he realized he was in the same room as Severus Snape. This was his chance. He barely contained himself until the Headmistress left the room, and then took off his cloak. He went to look at the Death-eater. He cast a few healing spells on him - just enough to bring him back to consciousness. He had quite a few questions, and this time Snape was going to answer him.

The sight that met Snape's eyes when he awoke was bizarre to him. He was in a garish office with a deranged teenager staring at him. "Potter?" he asked. He wasn't sure. This didn't look like the Potter he had taught. He looked like a wild man, and his eyes reminded him of the eyes of Sirius Black after he had escaped Azkaban. His face was pale and his hair wasn't the messy hair he remembered. It was greasy and overgrown. He looked like he'd been in the woods for a week.

Harry cast a silencing charm on him. "I don't want to hear your voice," he hissed. "I want your memories. Legimens."

Suddenly Snape found his mind assaulted, and only years of Occlumancy practice against the Dark Lord helped him push Potter from his mind. Potter's strong, he thought. I don't know how much longer I can keep this up. Harry tried another time, and failed again, but it was harder for Snape to keep him out of his mind. He realized Potter was attacking him much more strongly than the Dark Lord ever had.

"Alright," Harry said. "We've got plenty of time. She forgot that Poppy is in London tonight with her cousin. Now, I'm going to try this again, and if you fight me, I'll use force. Legimens." Of course, Severus fought him. Harry gripped his wand tighter. "Crucio." The pain of the curse combined with the pain from the broken bones was too much, and when Harry released him from the curse, he couldn't fight anymore. He felt Harry reach into his mind and pull memories to the surface.

Harry watched Snape kill Dumbledore, but this time he heard the inaudible pleading Dumbledore had made to Snape. He broke the spell and fell back against McGonagall's desk. It hit him with a shock. "You're innocent," he said. "We were about to kill an innocent man."

Severus heard him and felt some relief. No one would doubt the Golden Boy, and he counted on his foolish Gryffindor sense of honor to free him.

Harry got up from the floor and looked Severus in the eye. Years of Dumbledore's training about forgiveness and McGonagall's many speeches about Gryffindor's responsibilities came back to him. "I saw what happened," he said. "I'll tell McGonagall when she gets back." He raised his wand to cast more healing spells, and then stopped. For six years, he had lived life according to the Gryffindor code of honor, and where had it gotten him? His friends were dead and his life was in extreme danger.

He looked at Snape, and saw that his eyes were glazed. "Can you hear me?" Snape nodded slightly. "Good. I know you're innocent, but you and I still have some things between us. You know more about my parents than you're admitting. The sorting hat almost put me into Slytherin. I think I'll indulge myself in their philosophy for awhile. I'll take what I want just because it suits me. Legimens."

Again he was back in Snape's mind, and he aimed for memories of his parents. He needed answers only Snape could give him. He saw a few scenes of James and Severus bickering and casting minor curses at each other, as well as a few in which Snape took on all of the Mauraders at once and got his arse handed to him.

ssss

And then Harry found part of what he'd been looking for. A very young Snape was sitting in the forest, crying as if he was about to burst. Harry saw his own mother sit next to him and put her arm around him. She couldn't have been more than ten at the time. "I'm so sorry Severus. What's going to happen to you now?"

He blew his nose loudly on his sleeve. Harry saw his mother grimace. "I don't know, Lilly. Dumbledore said I won't have to go to an orphanage." He sniffled. "I'm so alone," he wailed.

She sat with him until he calmed himself. "Your not alone, Severus. What about your friends?"

"What friends?" he snarled. "Have you ever seen me with any?"

She was quiet, and looked like she was thinking. "I'll be your friend, Severus. Then you won't be alone, right?"

He laughed. "That's rich. What about your precious Gryffindors? Do you really think they'd let you be friends with me?"

"It's not their business who I'm friends with. They don't need to know, anyway."

"Oh, I see. Pathetic Snape's only friend is a pity friend that won't even admit she knows him in public. Forget it, mudblood. I'd rather be alone."

Lily Evans stood up and brushed the leaves off her skirt. "Mudblood? Then be alone," she said, and walked out of the forest.

The memories faded. Snape was fighting him again, trying to Occlude his mind. He was still very weak though, and Harry was able to brush aside his mental defenses without much effort. Another memory surfaced.

Snape was older now, and Harry's mother was by the lake. Snape was running toward her. "Lilly, wait." I shouldn't have said that to you. You were just trying to help me. I'm sorry." Harry had never heard Snape apologize to anyone.

"Why did you say it?" She tuned to him, and Harry saw tears in her eyes. "I've tried for years to be your friend, you bloody ungrateful jerk!" She took a step towards Snape, fists balled up.

Snape backed up. "I was hanging upside down at the time, remember? I haven't called you that for years, have I?"

Lilly looked him over thoughtfully. "You're lying. I've seen you in worse situations and you didn't use language like that, at least not to me."

"I said it because you frighten me. There, I said it. Are you happy?"

She stopped and unclenched her fists. "What? That's the craziest thing I've ever heard."

"Go ahead Evans, make fun of me. Go on with you perfect friends and your perfect life."

"Why would you be afraid of me? I only want to like you, Severus. Why won't you let me?"

Severus looked down at his feet. "I care about you Lilly. People I care for tend to get killed, like my parents. I don't want that to happen to you." He looked back up. Lily looked horrified. "I don't need your pity!" he yelled, and ran away from her.

Harry heard a faint, "Severus, wait."

Harry saw Snape and Lilly talking by the lake again. It was winter this time, and both of them were well bundled up. "Lilly, I know you like Potter, but I'm telling you, he's no good."

"Why, Severus? Because you don't like him? He's my choice, and if you want to keep being my friend, you'll have to respect that."

Severus didn't get to reply. Harry saw him spin around into the angry face of James Potter.

"What are you doing trying to do? Turn her against me? Get away from my girlfriend, you greasy little bookwyrm!"

"Hey!" Lilly said, "I can make up my own mind about who my friends are, James. This is between me and him."

James scowled at Lilly. "Very well, be his friend. I don't care." He grinned. "It's not like he's competition or anything."

He began to walk away. Severus turned to Lilly. "Lilly, I…"

"Hey Severus," James yelled. Severus turned. James was across the clearing. "Crucio." Severus fell. Harry heard his father laugh. "Enjoy."

"Finite Incantatum," Lilly yelled. She knelt beside him. "Are you ok?"

He groaned and retched on himself. She said a spell and the mess disappeared. "I'm so sorry, Severus. He's never done that before. Talk to me. Are you ok?"

He sat up and laughed. "I'm fine. Now I can get his perfect arse kicked out of school, if anyone believes me. They'll believe you though Lilly. You can't protect him. He used an unforgivable curse."

Lilly looked panic stricken. She grabbed his shoulders. "Please, Severus. I love him so much. If you tell he'll go to Azkaban. I'd die." She was crying. "Promise me you won't tell."

"I promise Lilly. I shouldn't, but I do."

"Make me an unbreakable promise."

"You don't trust me?" He sounded hurt.

"This is too important, Severus. If our friendship means anything to you, please promise."

Severus made an unbreakable promise. He watched Lilly walk away, and he muttered to himself, "The things I do for love."

Snape's mind faded into another memory.

Harry saw the night Severus took the Dark Mark. Men in masks stood all around. Only Voldemort himself was unmasked. Snape made a vow and took the mark. Others did the same.

Blackness, and then another memory…

James Potter was walking down the street in Diagon Alley. Severus pulled him into an alley, placed a hand on his shoulder and hissed in his ear, "Enjoy last night, Potter?"

James looked up at him innocently. Harry saw that the book he was carrying was Quiddich Through the Ages. He looked Severus squarely in the eyes. "I don't know what you are talking about. I was at home all night."

Severus grabbed his arm and pulled his sleeve up. The Dark Mark was still raw and swollen, but it was unmistakable. "I know you were taking the vow last night. Masks don't hide your voice, you moron."

James pulled his sleeve down and looked around. "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you."

"I don't plan to. I don't care anything about you, but Lilly doesn't deserve a husband in Azkaban, especially with a baby coming. Does she know about this?"

"Of course not. Lilly's a good woman, and I'm going to keep her that way.

Snape fought Harry feebly, but Harry batted away his defenses like a hand brushing at a fly. Harry felt him weakening, but was too angry to stop his attack. He forced another memory to the surface.

Snape knocked on a door. James opened it. "What are you doing here?" he said in a whisper. "Lilly's here. I told you, no business around her."

"We have to talk."

"This had better be important. Lilly", James called into the house. "I need to go to the store for some fags. Do you need anything?"

"Some chocolate frogs," Harry heard from inside the house, "and some ice cream. I'm having cravings."

He stepped outside and grabbed Severus' arm. They apparated inside some woods. "I know what you're doing, James."

"What are you talking about?"

"I know you're planning to betray the Dark Lord and try to take over. Don't do this. He's too powerful. You can't win."

"I can and I will. Will you help me? I'm strong enough to do this. Lucius will help me. He's not very loyal to Voldemort, and I may not be as powerful as the Dark Lord on my own, but I'm sane, and that's so much more than he is. I've got most of the wizarding world fooled into thinking I'm their hero, even that old fool Dumbledore. I'll simply assume a mask, and live a double life." He put on the innocent face again for effect. "Could you suspect this face? C'mon, Severus, the three of us could kill him. Help me and you, me, and Lucius will rule England together."

"No I won't help you! I'm not suicidal, Potter. I won't tell him though."

"Why?"

Severus hesitated. "I don't want him hurting Lilly."

James eyed him suspiciously. "I'm glad you're ugly as sin, Snape. Otherwise I wouldn't trust you around my wife."

"If I wasn't ugly as sin, she wouldn't be your wife. She'd be mine. You don't deserve her, Potter."

"Perhaps not, but she's mine, isn't she?" He laughed and apparated away.

Harry broke the spell and dropped to the floor, head in his hands. Snape expected to hear some sort of childish outburst, but all he heard was a deep groan. Well, he thought. Serves him right. He couldn't wait until he was well enough to lay into Harry properly. He wasn't a teacher anymore, so he could blast him if he felt like it. However, with the silencing and binding spells he was forced to simply wait until someone returned for him.

After about five minutes Harry sat up and stared blankly at Snape. He pulled out his wand. This is it, Snape thought. He's finally snapped, and I'm going to die. He braced himself mentally. He would die with dignity, even if no one knew it but him.

Harry removed the silencing spell. "Tergeo," he said, and the blood was gone from Snape's face. He cast a skin healing spell several times on Snape's face and removed the silencing spell.

It took Severus a while to understand that he wasn't going to be killed. "Why are you doing this Potter?" Harry didn't answer. He moved the bone into place and cast a spell on Severus' nose. "Potter, answer me."

"You're not my teacher. I don't have to do what you tell me anymore. Where else are you injured?"

"All over, really. Hagrid did a fairly thorough job. You could start on the knee if you insist on healing me." He watched Potters face. "Why are you doing this?"

"I have my reasons." He began working on the knee, but it was obvious he hadn't practiced the bone healing spells very well, and it took him much longer than it should have to fix a fracture. When he was done, he looked exhausted and sat down. "I'll finish in a few minutes. Healing takes a lot out of a person."

"Yes, it usually does. If you practiced your spells more often instead of thinking so much about Quiddich, you might not be so tired right now."

"You can't help it, can you? I could kill you five times over right now and you still have to antagonize me."

Snape was silent. He was still angry, but he was also curious now. The boy's behavior was bizarre, to say the least. He had just witnessed the reversal of his entire idea of reality and had responded by healing the man who had brought him unwanted knowledge.

"Professor Snape." Harry's voice sounded odd, like he was about to cry.

Great, Snape thought, Here come the water-works. One of the things he hated about teaching was the responsibility to help the students emotionally. That was something Dumbledore and Hagrid were good at, not him. Bloody Griffindors, he thought. They're always so emotional.

"So now it's Professor, eh?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what, the Crutacious curse? Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

Harry cleared his throat. "That's not it, but why? You hate me. You could see me in Azkaban."

Snape weighed how much he wanted to reveal. "You saw how I felt about your mother?"

"Yes."

"Every time I see you, I see your father. I'd put your mother out of my mind. She just hurt too much to think about. It occurs to me that I don't want to put her son in Azkaban. There are other reasons, but I'd prefer to keep what thoughts you didn't rip out of me secret."

Harry felt a pain of guilt. "I hate what I saw there. My father was a monster. You were right to hate him. I hate him." Now he broke down and cried.

Great, Snape thought. McGonagall's going to show up here and find the Golden Child on the floor crying. She'll probably give it to me worse than Hagrid.

"I'm as bad as he is," Harry said. "I'm doing the same things."

Snape couldn't believe Potter was opening up to him. What was he supposed to do with him? What had he meant when he said, "I'm doing the same things."? Snape had a horrible suspicion. It was ridiculous, but what if Potter had taken the black mark like his father? The Dark Lord would probably make him one of the head Death-eaters. Having him as a trophy would be even better than killing him.

"Potter. Roll up your sleeves, please."

Harry looked confused, but did as he was told. "You didn't really think I'd take the dark mark, did you?"

"Then what did you mean, you're doing the same things your father did?"

Harry hesitated. Snape was the last person he wanted to talk to about his feelings, but he had to talk to him about what he had seen.

"No one understands me," he said.

Snape groaned. "Teenage angst? You can do better than that, Mr. Potter. Every teenager says that."

"I don't mean like that. They have something I don't. I can't explain it, but I know that Hermoine doesn't feel a black hole in her soul, and Ron doesn't go to bed with Voldemort on his mind every night." Snape flinched at the name.

"Why are you telling me this, Potter?" Snape asked. He suddenly realized that he was giving therapy to his enemy's son while bound to a couch and waiting for aurors. The unreality of the situation made him wonder for a second if he was still sleeping.

Harry ended the binding spell. "Aren't you afraid I'll try to get away?" Snape asked.

Harry snorted. "Not really. Try to sit up." Snape did, gasped, and fell back on the pillow holding his ribs.

"Nevermind," Snape said.

"I'll fix those in a minute. That wrist is looking pretty bad, too."

Snape realized that as much as he had hated Potter, he couldn't let Lily's son follow in James' footsteps. "Harry." Harry started. Snape had never called him by his first name before. "Have you talked to anyone about what you just told me, about the black hole and such?"

"No. They can't understand. You're like me though. I saw it. I thought you could understand."

"Because I have so much blackness in me? Hardly a compliment, Potter."

"It's what you said about people you care about dying. I said the same thing to a friend the other day, and I've been changing somehow."

"I see," Snape said. "The Potter I taught was a good little Gryffindor who would never take advantage of a fallen enemy. You seem to have taken on a few very dark Slytherin traits. Commendable."

"I hate what I'm turning into."

"Why? You would have made a decent Slytherin, Potter. A hidden dagger suits you much better than a shiny sword. I actually find myself liking you a bit, now that you've come down off your high horse."

"I wasn't on a high horse."

"Really? You could have fooled me."

"It's not my fault I thought my father was someone different than he actually was."

"No. I guess not." Severus hesitated. He hadn't opened up to anyone in his life but Dumbledore. He decided he wasn't ready yet, no matter how politic it might be for him to embrace a new alliance. A token would probably be enough to secure Harry's trust; he wasn't very bright in some ways. "Harry, I suggest we call a truce. We both want to avenge Albus' death, and I think we both understand what it means to be forced to live in darkness. I think we can help each other."

"Why? What's in it for you?"

"You're not the only one who isn't understood. Sometimes I feel like I'm going to hex McGonagall if she tells me to smile one more time."

Harry laughed, and held out his hand. "Truce, then?"

"Truce, but understand this, if you ever try anything like that on me again, I'll create new curses just for you." He reached out with his good hand and shook Harry's had firmly.

McGonagall picked that minute to emerge from the fire - without Poppy - to the unlikely sight of Potter and Snape shaking hands.

When Severus didn't return, Amelia began reading the Prophet daily to check for his arrest. Was he only using me? She wondered. Somehow, she felt like she'd lost something valuable. No one asked her about her brother, but the Headmistress still gave her dark looks in the hallway whenever their paths crossed.

Her classes were going well, even if she was having to make up for the lack of stability in teachers over the previous years. Potter and Granger were her top students. Potter seemed absolutely starved for information about the subject. She walked into class to see him at the back, alone. She began her lesson.

At the end of the class, she smiled at the nervous students. "You're all doing very well. Not a single curse has caught anyone off guard for several days. I honestly think a few of you might have a slim chance against a Death-eater. For tomorrow, read chapter twelve, and write an essay on the weaknesses of the dark arts and how to exploit the lack of cooperation often found among dark wizard's."

There was the usual shuffling of papers and discussion of Quiddich and club plans. She saw Potter slinking toward the door. Slinking? she thought. That's not right. Griffindors don't slink, they strut.

"Mr. Potter," she called. "Come to my office for a few minutes, please." He wouldn't meet her eyes and followed her silently. When they reached her office she sat down and waved him toward a chair. He almost sat down, but jumped up when the cushion grew teeth and tried to bite him. She laughed. "Constant vigilance, Mr. Potter," she said, doing her best Mad Eye Moody impression. He took another chair and scowled at her.

"Well, you're in a particularly sour mood today. That generally gets at least a chuckle out of most of my students, except for the Hufflepuffs. It makes them cry, but then Hufflepuffs seem to cry a lot, don't they Mr. Potter?" He avoided looking at her and seemed to be trying to hide in his hair, which was hanging unattractively around his face. Blast, she thought. That's my best material. If that doesn't make him laugh, I'm stuck. Student conferences always went better if she could loosen them up a bit first.

"What did you want, Professor?" It wasn't quite rude, but again she felt like something was off here. He had been surly at the beginning of the semester, but he had changed too much, even for a moody teenager.

"You're doing well in class, Potter." She looked to see if he would respond with any look of pride. He didn't. "I wonder if you're perhaps studying too much, though."

"I study enough to make top grades."

"Yes, obviously, but you seem unwell. I want you to go to see Poppy."

"I've been to see Poppy, three times this week already. All my teachers keep sending me to her. I wish people would just leave me alone.

Amelia was surprised. She balanced her duties as a teacher with the distaste she felt for this particular student. He was arrogant and moody and standoffish. Still, he reminded her of someone. She made a point not to get involved in her student's personal life, but this one too obviously needed help to pass the opportunity by. "Where is my class roster?" she mumbled, making sure she spoke just loudly enough for him to hear. "Ah here it is. Let's see." She studied Harry's face intently. "Turn your head, Mr. Potter. No, the other way. Hmmm." She made some marks on the roster. Harry saw her cross his name off the list for the last four weeks of the semester.

"What are you doing? I haven't done anything wrong! You can't do that."

Amelia faked a look of surprise. "Of course you haven't done anything wrong, Mr. Potter. This isn't a punishment; it's an inevitability." Harry was curious in spite of himself. "Since at the rate you're going you'll obviously be dead by then, I was just making the proper notations. I might forget later."

Harry leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Very funny. What are you trying to pull anyway?"

"Just trying to get your attention Mr. Potter. I don't know you very well, but you seem to be self-destructing for some reason. I won't push the issue, but if you need to talk, I'm willing to listen." She frowned. "Until then, I would suggest a haircut, at least. You're technically with school attire standards, but just barely." She smiled. "That's all Potter. Think about what I said and go get some lunch. You're too thin by far." Her smile faded as he left the room. That one would be lucky to avoid a long vacation at St. Mungo's.

ssss

A few days later, McGonagall stood near the broken fireplace and called the meeting to order. The Order of the Phoenix was looking a little thin, but everyone there was dedicated – especially Harry, who seemed to be doing better lately. His eyes were still dark and swollen, but he had cut his hair and seemed to have gained a bit of weight. He was still so broody though.

"I have an unusual request, but I need your trust today. Please hand me your wands, and move your chairs as far to the back of the room as possible. I can't explain. You'll understand in a few minutes."

The Order members looked at each other in confusion. Lupin suddenly pulled out his wand and yelled, "Finite Incantatum!" at her. She laughed. "I expected that. I'm not under any spell."

Lupin sheepishly passed her his wand, and the others followed suit. McGonagall swallowed nervously, and then called out, "Ok, you can come in now."

Everyone's interest was peaked as a tall, hooded figure stepped into the room. He stopped and lowered the hood. Hermoine screamed, "Snape!" Ron's jaw dropped, and Tonks jumped to attack him, unarmed.

McGonagall stepped between them and roared, "STOP!" She radiated power to those who followed her, and it was a credit to her leadership that Snape wasn't torn to shreds by the Order of the Phoenix. "Sit – down – now," she said slowly and calmly.

When they were seated, Snape looked them all over. He knew how dangerously close to dying he was at the moment, and he should be explaining himself, but instead he looked at them with the most arrogant, unapologetic sneer he could muster. He couldn't let them see the guilt he carried. Now more than ever he felt compelled to wear the mask he had learned to assume.

All eyes went to Harry, as though they expected him to attack Snape on the spot. He was simply cleaning his fingernails with a penknife, as if Snape wasn't even in the room. "Can I trust you with your wands now?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes," was muttered by everyone but Hermoine. She glared at Snape.

"You might want to keep mine a little longer, Headmistress."

Snape sighed. "Enough Gryffindor posturing, Miss Granger. We don't have time for it."

"You're not my teacher," she hissed. "Don't talk to me like you are."

He stopped and scrutinized her face, just enough to measure her anger. With a surprise, he realized that she might be serious. This is wrong, he thought. Gryffindors are supposed to act like Gryffindors. Had the war changed even that? Another of the constants in his universe was gone, and he felt a little sad. Things were changing too fast.

McGonagall stepped in. "So much has changed, and so much has been lost. We have to change too. Miss. Granger, you are actually mad enough to kill him right now, even if he were unarmed. If the world has come to the place where a Gryffindor would do such a thing, then it's time to take a good hard look at who we're becoming." Hermoine sniffled and lowered her head. McGonagall continued. "Dumbledore is dead, and more than ever, we have to band together to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I don't like it any more than you do, but if it means working with Snape, we'll do it."

"Thank you for that sterling introduction," Snape said. He sat a book on the table. "This is Dumbledore's diary. It has a potion for rendering the Dark Lord helpless. He could then be killed at our leisure."

Ron turned red and shouted, "he shouldn't have anything of Dumbledore's. He killed him!" Ron turned to plead with the other members. "Don't you remember? We can't work with him. He killed Dumbledore." He looked to McGonagall. "Why would you ask us to do this, Headmistress? He's probably lying now. It's probably some bloody useless mix that will distract us so we can be killed."

McGonagall spoke quietly. "Sit down Ron. There's more to the situation than you know. Severus I think you'd better explain myself."

He gave them the bare facts. When he realized that no one but Harry and McGonagall believed him, he turned to Harry. "You know the truth, Harry. Tell them."

They studied each other for a while, and then Harry said simply, "It's true, Dumbledore asked. I used Legimens on him and saw the whole thing."

"But why the unforgivable curse?" Hermoine asked. "You can't explain that away."

"I'm not attempting to explain anything away, Miss Granger. I'm simply giving you facts. It's not my fault if your over-emotional brain won't accept what you don't like. It is the least painful way to die that I know of." He was silent a bit. "I didn't want him to suffer."

"I simply don't buy it," Lupin said. "The kindly professor protecting his worst enemy's son at the cost of a life in Azkaban. You can do better than that, Snape."

Snape fingered the book. "I have proof. I asked Fawkes to come tonight." At the mention of his name, Fawkes pulled his head out from his feathers with a sleepy look. "You know how loyal he is to Dumbledore. Fawkes, did I or did I not betray Dumbledore?" Fawkes flew over to Snape and nuzzled his hand with his head and then flew back to his pile of old new newspapers and settled back in. "Well?" Snape dared Lupin to fight such ironclad evidence. Fawkes was beyond reproach.

No one said anything and Snape turned back to the book. "These are the potion ingredients. I was almost ready to make them, when I was ... detained." He glared at McGonagall because Hagrid wasn't there to receive a proper glare. I owe that mouse-brained mammoth when this is over, he thought, putting Hagrid on a very long mental checklist of people to whom he owed revenge.

"If you can get close enough to … him, you can just use the potion on him. Is that the plan? It seems too simple." Hermoine wasn't prepared to just let Snape take over like this.

"It isn't quite that simple. There are two problems with that plan. The first is that the potion will take two months to brew. The second problem is this. I won't be your spy anymore."

McGonagall was shocked. "Severus, you can't be serious. We need you. How else will we be able to get the potion on him?"

"I'm not quitting the Order, but I won't be your spy anymore. I don't owe you an explanation," he snarled. "I've done enough for you ungrateful people already."

"But again, Severus, how will we deliver the poison?" McGonagall sounded angry.

"The same way you would have attacked him if I hadn't been here. We don't have to go to him, he'll come to us, especially when it comes out that I've been a spy and I'm fighting for McGonagall against him." Snape checked their expressions. This was critical. If he was going to get back into the wizarding society, he had to get a pardon for using the unforgivable curse.

"But how can you return to society without being sent to Azkaban? You did use an unforgivable curse."

"There have been times when the ministry has granted pardons for unforgivable curse use. It's not entirely unforgiveable, apparently. I'm sure this would be one of them. Draco Malfoy recently received a full pardon from the ministry, despite his use of unforgivibles. I imagine that has more to do with the Malfoys' sizable bank account and influence within the ministry than anything else though."

"It's a risk." Harry said.

"Power requires risk, Mr. Potter."

"Yes," Harry said thoughtfully. "It does."

ssss

When Harry left the room of requirement that evening, he wished he had never found that horrid book about the Dark Arts. He had practiced some of the spells on small animals that the room of requirement furnished, and was appalled at the results. Even with Snape's revelation about Dumbledore's potion, he felt compelled to kill Voldemort himself.

This is about revenge, he thought, and studied harder. I can't risk them killing him first. I only have two months to learn all this before the potion is ready. I need to be the one who kills him.

He hated dark magic, though. It was soiled, and he could feel it tainting him. He crawled into bed, exhausted. He wanted to throw out the whole book, but he couldn't. He kept thinking about Dumbledore. He couldn't let his death go unavenged. He seemed to hear Snape's voice saying, "power requires risk."

Power requires too much, he thought. Ron's snoring told him he was asleep. Harry took the book out of its hiding place. He pointed his wand at it, and for a few minutes he debated destroying the book, but finally put the book away. He just couldn't do it.

Snape's trial was brief. The evidence Harry and Fawkes gave was overwhelming. Every judge took the time to express a negative opinion of Snape, but in the end, they had to acquit him.

"Well, Severus. These are you're new quarters. Enjoy." McGonagall enjoyed the irony, and the anger she felt boiling off of Snape.

"You've got to be kidding! I will not live here!"

"It's either that or room with Hagrid. What with all the aurors staying here, we only have one extra room in the entire school." She could barely keep from laughing out loud. She usually didn't lie, but she just couldn't resist baiting Severus occasionally. He was just too fun.

"But Gryffindor?" He was almost ready to plead, but not quite.

"Yes Gryffindor. Now, let's get you settled in."

He regretted that he couldn't scowl hard enough to properly show her how much he despised her. "I don't need help settling in."

"I insist," she said sweetly, before saying the password and stepping into the Gryffindor commonroom. She was loving this, and wouldn't miss a minute of it.

"Could this place be any more garish?" he asked, taking in the bright colors of the common room.

"We prefer to think of it as festive and cheery. I think you'll get used to it, at least until quarters in Slytherin open up."

Several students were in the common room and watched Snape head upstairs toward the rooms, with his one personal suitcase.

After they left, Ron was the first able to untangle his tongue. "No way. No freaking way! They can't do this to us. What is McGonagall thinking?"

"Apparently, she's thinking that Mr. Snape needs some cheering up." Hermoine laid emphasis on the Mr. She was still enjoying Snape's lack of position in the school.

Ron and Hermoine went back to holding hands. "So, where do you want to honeymoon? I was thinking Wales. There's a Griffin colony there, and I've always wanted to see what they're like close up. I bet they'd make a fascinating study."

Ron wrinkled his nose. "You can't study on our honeymoon. You do know what a honeymoon's for, right?"

Hermoine tossed her hair. "Of course I know what a honeymoon's for. How about Transylvania, then? That's romantic."

"Too romantic. All those blood-red hearts, and that cheesy 'I'd die for you' schtick."

"I can't believe it's only a year away," she said dreamily.

Harry came down the stairs and headed for the door.

"Hey mate," Ron said. "What's the hurry? Did you see the newest Gryffindor?"

"Yeah, he was unloading on us for staring, so I left. McGonagall has a weird sense of humor."

Hermoine patted the arm of a chair near her. "Come on, Harry. Sit down. We don't ever see you any more. How have you been?"

"I'm surprised you notice. Did you two stop snogging long enough to come up for air? I need to study." He stepped through the painting.

"Ron," Hermoine said, "he's getting to be too much."

"I know, but he needs us right now. We need to be patient with him."

"He doesn't need us. He just needs his books now. He studies too much."

Ron feigned shock. "Hermoine Granger, that's the cauldron calling the kettle black."

She cuddled up to Ron and cooed, "I don't study too much now that I've found something just as interesting, now do I?" and kissed him.

"Yes, well I notice you still manage to make top marks," Ron grumbled, and kissed her.

This was a night Harry had been dreading. The room of requirement now held small animals in cages waiting for him. He picked an ugly dog. "Avada Kedavra," he said half-heartedly. Nothing happened. He turned back to the book. "Avada Kedavra," he shouted loudly, but again, nothing happened.

He tried to picture the dog with Voldemort's face. He thought about his parents, and Sirius, and Cedric, and finally Dumbledore lying dead on the cold ground.

"I hate you Voldemort! Avada Kedavra." The dog dropped. Harry dropped his wand and sat down heavily on the floor. "What am I doing?" he asked himself. "Dumbledore wouldn't want this." He threw the book in front of him and yelled, "Incendio!" The book burst into blue flames and disappeared. He felt better, and he actually slept that night.

ssss

The potion had been brewing for almost a month, and it was going perfectly. The dragon and basilisk parts were mixing as well as could be expected. Snape checked it and then left for the next Order meeting.

Tonks was excited. "We finally know where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is going to be! We can catch him."

Snape was relieved. It might be over soon, then. "The potion is almost finished."

"I thought it was going to take two months to make?"

"Normally, yes. I found a catalyst, though. It should be ready very soon."

McGonagall opened a map of London, and pointed out a small muggle pub. "In five days, there will be a raid on a great deal of muggle London, and he plans on razing this historic pub first and then moving outward. If we can be there before him, we can use the potion on him."

"Are you sure about this?" Snape asked. "I don't want to waste this potion or risk tipping him off to our plans."

"As sure as we can be," Tonks said. "Of course, it would have been better if we'd had a spy on the inside, but that just can't be." She sighed dramatically.

Snape gave her a blank look. She was an infuriating woman. "I would suggest we get there in plenty of time to mingle with the other customers."

"How do we administer the potion?" McGonagall asked.

"We won't know until we get there, but most potions with basilisk ingredients are lethal to the touch. I think we should give the potion to Potter and let him throw it on the Dark Lord."

McGonagall was surprised. "Why Harry? I'd rather have an adult take the risk."

"As would I, Headmistress, but the prophecy suggests it must be Harry."

Harry spoke up. "Dumbledore seemed to think the prophecy might not be as important as we think it is. He was trying to tell me that, before he died."

"In which case, throwing the potion on him with your hands will kill him if the prophecy is accurate or not," Snape said.

McGonagall reluctantly agreed.

Five days later, the Order was ready. Harry sat near the door, with the potion in a glass, so that it would seem to be a drink. Tonks and McGonagall had taken polyjuice potion, and the Order members were scattered around the dark pub. They had even let Harry and Hermoine pick them out proper muggle clothes, although there had been a great amount of explaining necessary, and Severus had never understood the concept of tags.

When Voldemort arrived with the Death-eaters, he burst into the room and headed straight for the bar. He raised his wand and sent off a massive blast into the mirror behind the bar. Customers screamed and glass flew everywhere. He turned toward the frozen waitress near him. "Avada Ke…"

He didn't get to finish the sentence. Harry threw the potion on him and leapt away as a Death-eater tried to Crucio him, but missed. Voldemort simply stood there, dripping and angry. Everyone stopped. He wiped a bit of thick potion off of his face, and licked it scornfully. "What is this? Surely you didn't think you could stop me with a potion?" He lifted his wand.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Harry felt sick, and then he realized he was still alive. Voldemort had a surprised look on his face. He toppled over, and Harry saw Snape behind him, with his wand pointed directly at the spot Voldemort had been standing. No one moved, because no one could believe what had just happened. Snape stared at the dead body, and Harry stared at Snape. Finally, Harry spluttered, "No! This can't happen! What about the prophecy and the potion? It can't have been that simple."

Snape looked up at Harry. "I guess the prophecy was wrong, but the potion did render him mortal."

Harry was furious. "You can't do this to me. I lost my parents because of that stupid prophecy. This means they died for nothing!"

The Death-eaters were easing out the door, taking advantage of the interest in Voldemort's body.

Snape shrugged. "The potion only rendered him mortal. He still had to be killed."

"No," Harry screamed. "I went through too much for this! I was supposed to kill him! I lost my revenge. And you! I'm the good one! You're the bad guy here. You can't be the hero."

Snape just smirked at Harry, "Good, bad – I'm the guy with the wand." and walked out.

ssss

Just to be safe, Voldemort's body was decapitated. The arms and legs were cut off. The body was impaled with silver and wooden spikes, doused in water, and burned thoroughly. The ashes were then placed in a wooden box, which was overlaid with a thick silver coating. His remains are available for viewing in the Shady Rest Funeral home from 8am till 5pm.