Phoenix Tears, Chapter Twenty-Five : The Daily Prophet
DISCLAIMER : The characters and many of the situations described in this story are the property of the incomparable J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this story, which exists as a work of tribute.
As always, I want to thank my incredibly betas, who have stuck by me through thick and thin: LAxo and WriterMerrin, this story would be the poorer without your assistance. I also want to thank my readers, particularly those who have taken the time to review: your encouragement has been a joy and a delight; you have made posting this story as pleasurable as writing it!
And now, the final chapter . . .
Severus was well aware that Poppy and Granger were collaborating on some elaborate plan to keep him housebound for the foreseeable future. Yet since he didn't have any desire to actually leave his house, he didn't bother to protest. Though he wouldn't admit it, spending time with Granger and his other friends was the only thing he wanted to do.
They had, it seemed, also kept his survival quiet—or at least his location, as there had been no visit from Rita Skeeter, no crowds of avenging parents throwing bricks through his windows, no Aurors to whip him off to Azkaban.
He caught Granger crying only once, when she thought he was asleep. He'd opened his eyes to see her sitting there, bent over The Daily Prophet, tears rolling silently down her face. These were not the violent sobs of the morning after the battle, but gentle tears that poured unchecked and unforced; she had the paper open to the list of the dead.
Severus felt awkward watching her and had lowered his eyelids at once, observing her through the narrowest possible slits and under the cover of his hair. He wanted to comfort her, but couldn't think of anything but the most maudlin of phrases. Instead, he kept his mouth shut.
The rest of the time, Granger alternated between an exhausted, grim silence, and a brittle, too cheerful optimism, marked by frantic activity—lists, tidying, complicated plans for the future. He liked it best when she talked to him about what she was up to—a fairly rare occurrence—or when she slept, and her head fell back against the wing of his battered old armchair, her book or notes forgotten on her lap. In those instances, he could watch her without interruption, storing away memories of her proximity for the all-too-soon moment when she'd stop nursing him back to health and go on with her own life.
At other times, she brought a steady stream of visitors through the house, carefully chosen from among the few people he actually liked, and masterfully spaced to tire him out, keep him in conversation, let him rest and otherwise dissuade him from attempting to leave the couch. Poppy and Granger were frequent nursemaids, and Hooch seemed to have been assigned the task of minding him whenever everyone else was busy.
On the second day, Granger arrived with Jocelyn in tow. The young girl had her arm in a sling, but otherwise looked remarkably well. She'd grown several inches over the last year, he noticed with a start, and someone had provided her with a set of Muggle clothing.
"Professor Snape!" she exclaimed on seeing him, with evident delight.
"What happened to your arm?" he asked in response.
"Oh, a stray hex during the battle. Madam Pomfrey says it will be fine in a few days." She spoke flippantly, but in a manner that underscored a certain nervousness; she sounded every bit the thirteen-year-old that she was.
His eyebrows shot together with surprise, and the realisation of the danger she'd been exposed to flooded him with belated anxiety.
"Please explain what you were doing participating in a battle, Miss Malfoy. I was under the impression that I sent you to Bulgaria!"
"Don't call me that!"
"Legally, it's your name." Draco, Lucius and Narcissa, he'd heard from Granger, were under house arrest. He wondered how their association with Jocelyn was affecting them, and how it was affecting her. Not for the first time, he regretted having linked them together.
"Not for long," replied Jocelyn defiantly, crossing her arms. "Professor McGonagall says that a simple paternity test will be enough to undo their claim on me. She says that you can brew the potion as soon as you're better."
"And so I will." Severus remembered his promise to Lucius on the very same issue. There's no way they're related, he reassured himself. He'd made up the story himself; Lucius' suspicions that the story were true were nothing but the fruits of the Malfoy desire for more children. "But you're avoiding my question about the battle."
Jocelyn huffed out a breath before answering. "Well," she began, sounding a little defensive, "when we got the message from Dumbledore's Army that the fight was about to begin, everyone who wanted to participate came back. I don't think anyone stayed behind, actually."
"Sit!" ordered Severus, pointing at the stool beside his couch. "You'd better start from the beginning." His fury at Vector and Krum (and also, tangentially at Lucius) was building steadily, but he did his best to keep it tightly controlled—he had little desire to take his anger out on Jocelyn.
Jocelyn sat obediently. Granger wandered off into the kitchen, no doubt to make something for lunch, but she left the door ajar and clearly intended to listen in on the entire conversation.
"Well, like you said, the Portkey took me to Ledeno ezero, and Professors Krum and Sedenova were really nice."
"Even though I was only there for the last month, I went to school with the other students. Professor Krum taught Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Charms, Professor Sedenova taught Arithmancy, Astronomy and History of Magic. We also learnt potions from a boy called Mr Zelenogorski. He wasn't really old enough to be a teacher, but he was really good at potions. Apparently he learned from his great-grandfather."
"Hmm." Severus knew precisely who the boy's great-grandfather must have been. "You still haven't explained about the battle."
Jocelyn looked at him with a very serious expression on her face.
"We were all Mudbloods, Professor. We had to run away; most of the others had left their families behind. It meant that everyone took Defence classes very seriously. Often we practiced twice a day. And when the time came, we all wanted to participate."
So Vector and Krum trained up a Muggle-born army.
"Did you have any idea of the danger you put yourself in?"
"Of course we did!" she retorted. "Some of us died. But Professor Sedenova said that as the persecuted, we had a right to fight if we wanted to. It wasn't just students, you know; there were parents and other refugees as well."
Severus intended to have serious words with Sedenova-Vector when he next saw her.
"So you thought yourself capable of fighting a battle after a month of training?"
"Actually, Professor," she replied with a bright smile, "Draco has been training me for battle pretty much since the start of the year."
Severus blinked at her. He was going to have words with Draco, too.
After Jocelyn left, it was just him and Granger. He knew this was the time she and Poppy had scheduled for him as "quiet rest" time, because she lowered herself into the armchair and buried herself in a book. Though he tried to keep his attention on his own journal, he found himself positioning it so that he could keep an eye on her at the same time. He couldn't help but notice that she kept checking the time on her watch. Was she planning to rush off?
"What is it, Granger?" he said after fifteen minutes or so. "Please tell me you're not planning a surprise party."
"No!" she replied, the corners of her mouth twitching upwards at the idea. "I certainly am not. But I do have an appointment at five p.m. and I don't want to be late."
Severus scowled to cover the pang of regret that she was leaving again so soon.
Thus, at five to five, she disappeared, to return only moments later with yet another visitor. This, too, was someone he desperately wanted to see, but he was also nervous. Severus found himself swallowing hard in an ineffectual attempt to wet the back of his throat.
His guest stared at him, one hand pressed to her chest and a rather anguished look in her eyes.
"Severus," she gasped at last.
"Minerva," he replied stiffly. "You will forgive me, I hope, for not rising to greet you. I find myself a trifle indisposed."
"Severus," she said again. Moving jerkily, she stepped towards him, and dropped to her knees beside the couch. She took his hand in both of hers and pulled it towards her chest. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. A lone tear dropped from the corner of one eye. "My poor, poor boy, I am so sorry. I was . . . awful. Truly awful."
"Don't be sorry." Severus felt tears prickling at the back of his own eyes. "Quite honestly, your behaviour helped. After all, Minerva, arguing with you is one of the true pleasures in my life."
Minerva looked up at him, her eyes wet with tears, and gasped. The sound was so close to a small meow, that he blinked at her in surprise. In that very second, she transformed, leaping up lightly onto the couch in her feline form. She meowed again—much more effectively this time—and then set herself to kneading his stomach.
"Blasted cat," stated Severus gruffly. With one hand, he reached out and ran his hand down her back. Unerringly, his long fingers found the particular spot behind her ear that she really liked. Within moments, she was curled up, purring, on his lap.
Only then, did Severus remember Granger was present.
"Don't mind me," she said awkwardly, when he glared at her. "I'm just going to make a cup of tea."
Several hours later, Poppy and Hooch turned up bearing a basket of food courtesy of the Hogwarts house-elves. All of them—Severus, Poppy, Hooch, Minerva and Granger, sat around the living room and ate their fill. Deep in his chest, Severus felt a fragile joy. Surrounded by his best friends, and Granger, and still alive while Voldemort was dead; he couldn't entirely comprehend his good fortune.
"Now, Severus," said Minerva in an ominously businesslike voice, having finally laid her plate down on the floor and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. "I hope you don't find me presumptuous, but it really would be quite useful for me to know whether you intend to return as headmaster next year."
Severus almost choked on his mouthful of treacle tart. He forced himself to swallow and take a deep breath before he answered her.
"I'd rather be bitten by the poisonous, serpentine familiar of a crazed megalomaniac and left for dead in the abandoned abode of a miscreant werewolf," he said coldly.
"Hmm," replied Minerva. "That already happened once and you seem perfectly fine to me; was that a yes or a no?"
"That Minerva, was a resounding no. If there remains any possibility that I might still have a claim to the position, let me make myself clear: I resign."
"Very well, Severus. I am sorry to accept your resignation. You acquitted yourself well under trying circumstances and if you ever find yourself in need of a referral, please don't hesitate to ask. I do hope, however, that I can prevail upon you to return to teach at Hogwarts. I find myself in need of both a Potions professor, and a Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. I consider you supremely qualified for both positions and I would be happy to let you take your pick."
Severus' blank face gave no indication of the turmoil that raged within. Teach? At Hogwarts? From the moment he promised to murder Albus, he hadn't dared to consider the possibility that his life might return one day to such a plane of normality.
But that was exactly it: the thought of Albus was like a bucket of cold water on a small smouldering flame of hope.
"Don't be ridiculous, Minerva, even assuming that my role in the war becomes widely known, no parent in their right mind would willingly send their students to study under the man who killed Albus Dumbledore!"
"You're the one being ridiculous, Severus," retorted Hooch. "I left a wizard brain damaged after a bludger to the head in a league game in 1973. They have no trouble with me teaching their children Quidditch!"
Minerva quelled the response that rose to Severus' lips with a single raised palm.
"Enough," she said sternly. "The choice of staff is the responsibility of the headmistress or headmaster of the time, and I have offered you the job. Please let me know within the week which of the two positions you would like to take—I will need as much time as possible to fill the other spot." She sighed heavily. "Particularly since I'm going to have to find a new Transfiguration professor as well as someone to teach Muggle Studies."
With a wave of her wand, Minerva sent the dirty plates and cups soaring back into the picnic basket they'd arrived in.
"Actually, Severus," she added as if struck by a sudden idea, "a possibility you may want to consider is to teach the upper year levels of both subjects; we could find someone younger and less experienced to teach the lower years."
"Absolutely not!" Severus exclaimed at the very thought. "To the uninitiated, the lower years of Potions may seem boring or repetitive, but the possibilities for error are legion! It is particularly important that children are taught the correct methods from the very beginning!"
Minerva gave him the smug smile of a cat who'd got the cream.
"Very good, Severus," she noted slyly, "I'll put you down for Potions, shall I?"
"I haven't agreed to anything yet!"
"No, dear, not yet," she agreed, still smirking.
He scowled at her. He wanted to teach. He wanted to go back to Hogwarts. He wanted to walk the halls without wondering where the Carrows were and what they were up to. He wanted to stand in front of a class full of cauldrons and to stalk up behind students who were planning mischief and scare them. He wanted to shepherd Slytherin house without having to feign loyalty to a crazed lunatic who held the minds and politics of his students' parents hostage. Hogwarts was his home and he wanted to go back.
But he didn't dare believe it would be truly possible.
"You'll have to come back at least once, though," commented Poppy calmly. When he glared at her, too, she elaborated. "The Death Eaters broke through the Founders' Charms, and we're going to have renew them."
"I didn't know they could be renewed," remarked Granger, wide-eyed at the possibility.
"Well, it's no simple matter, Hermione," replied Minerva. "You need four strong witches or wizards, one from each house, and if the four are not firm friends, the wards wont hold."
Severus watched Granger look from Minerva to himself. He could literally see her brain ticking over. She turned then towards Hooch.
"Hufflepuff," confirmed the older woman.
"Ravenclaw?" inquired Granger, turning to Poppy.
Severus tried not to dwell on it, but Minerva's words, "firm friends," seemed stuck in an endless loop through his brain.
Granger disappeared to an unspecified rendezvous not long after dinner, though the others remained and played poker for several hours. Thus when Granger reappeared, bright and early the next morning, Severus wasn't at all prepared.
"Snape! Wake up, this is important!"
Severus squinted up at her, narrowing his eyes against the light she'd just turned on.
"Unless you're bearing a double espresso," he growled, "I don't want to talk to you."
"Luckily for you, I am."
He sat up a little straighter and took the proffered beverage eagerly.
"You brought me espresso in a paper cup?"
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Snape. I also brought you the paper."
She held it out to him with such barely suppressed excitement that Severus felt a shiver of panic deep in his gut. With mounting trepidation, he drained the espresso—he had an awful feeling he was going to need it. Banishing the cup, he took the paper, and unfurled it.
EXCLUSIVE! screamed the headline, SEVERUS SNAPE: SPY
In only slightly smaller type, the line below read:
Then, in ever decreasing font sizes:
Rita Reports on the true tale of Severus Snape, p.3
Harry Potter's route to victory, by Rita Skeeter, p.5
Severus felt dizzy. Only after a long moment did he dare raise his eyes to Granger's hovering, expectant face.
"Are you responsible for this?" he asked. She grinned back.
"Absolutely not," she lied. "Next you'll be suggesting that I held Rita Skeeter captive for months at a time and only let her out on the condition that she write stories to my specifications."
Severus felt sure that he was missing the key to that particular conversational gambit.
"Indeed," he replied.
"Listen, I'll be back in a few hours—with guests. Until then, enjoy the paper!"
With a last grin, she disappeared. Severus stared back down at the paper in his hand, overwhelmed. Hermione Granger—perennial overachiever—had just done her level best to restore his reputation; he almost couldn't bear to read it.
Rita's article was the same kind of unadulterated tripe she normally wrote—though the bare facts held true. Much of the material she'd rehashed from her book, although this time his childhood was presented as terrible and unfortunate, with him as the embattled victim, not the delinquent waiting to happen. He grimaced as he read her saccharine-sweet depiction of his enduring, undying love for Lily Potter née Evans. She'd more than overdone the section on his bravery in "realising the error of his ways," blathered on about his "repentance" and overemphasised the day-to-day danger of his position as a spy. He itched to attack the article with a red pen, though, to be honest, he'd have to mark all but the prepositions as hyperbole.
It was the interviews that actually threw him for a loop. Somehow Rita—or more accurately, he concluded, Granger—had corralled an extraordinary list of Order members, students and other professors into talking about him. There was even a letter from Dumbledore himself, delivered—so they claimed—by Fawkes, after Voldemort had fallen.
Potter—Harry-goddamn-Potter—had called him "the bravest man I have ever known." Kingsley had "refused to confirm" yet "hinted heavily" at an Order of Merlin, First Class. And Granger, she was quoted as saying, "No matter how hard the choice is, Severus Snape always does the right thing."
Severus read the interviews through several times. He felt like the blood in his veins hummed with an excitable energy; never before had he felt so right. He couldn't help but think of parents at breakfast tables around wizarding England, of commuters on their way to the Ministry, of his colleagues at Hogwarts—all reading about Severus Snape, hero.
He could teach at Hogwarts, he realised. Indeed, with this extraordinarily public accounting of events, he might finally be free of the suspicions and ill-will that had dogged his step his entire life. The possibilities were almost terrifying.
In this unexpectedly optimistic frame of mind, he turned to page five, curious to read the "official" version of Potter's year on the run. If Rita hadn't started with a blow-by-blow description of the final showdown with Lord Voldemort, Severus' good mood might have lasted a little longer. As it was, all hope dissolved rapidly, and by the point of Potter's now-legendary Expelliarmus, Severus had reached a towering rage.
And he hadn't calmed down even the slightest, when Hermione Granger Apparated back into his living room, with one hand holding Ronald Weasley and the other, Harry Potter.
"You complete and utter idiot," he snarled at Potter, gesturing with The Daily Prophet to emphasise his invective, and twisting his legs all the way off the couch so that he could lean forwards.
"Oops," said Weasley. "I told you he might not like it."
Granger's face fell.
"Do you have any idea what you have done?" he demanded, still talking directly to Potter.
"I—I did it for you," responded Potter defensively. "Hermione said that we had to make sure that—"
"I'm not talking about the article on me, you dunderhead, I'm talking about this!"
Twisting the paper around, Severus pointed directly at the offending paragraph. Granger stepped forwards and took the paper from his hand. The two boys leant over her shoulder, confusion writ large upon their faces. All three looked apprehensive.
"I suppose you think Expelliarmus was a sign of weakness—"
"Harry James Potter," spat Severus, "you have always been slow on the uptake, but this display of blatant stupidity throws every previous attempt into the pale." Pushing up from the couch, Severus got to his feet for the first time in several days. He swayed a little, but if felt good to be upright. It felt wonderful to loom.
"Do you really mean to tell me that you have no idea what might be wrong with that scene?" he persisted, stepping forward towards the boy. Potter's glasses, he noted with irritation, were crooked.
"Um, no," replied Potter, with an attempt at confidence.
Granger was reading and re-reading the paragraph, clearly desperate to solve the puzzle he had posed.
"What imbecile," he asked, ready to make his point, "declares his mastery of an unbeatable wand to the assembled hordes of a crowded room?"
Potter blanched and his eyes widened in shock.
"What cretin," shouted Severus, leaning into Potter's face for emphasis, "makes it known that a simple disarming spell is sufficient to master the wand?"
Granger and Weasley had stepped up behind Potter like bodyguards, each one with a hand on his bicep. Panic edged all three of their young faces.
"What complete and utter nincompoop publishes the story in a national newspaper, and goes on to say that—AND I QUOTE!!—'The wand has been returned to its proper resting place'?"
"Oh, shit," whispered Harry; his expression of comprehension was indistinguishable from terror.
"You do realise, don't you, that every wannabe Dark Lord in the world will dog your steps? That every minor thug will attempt an ambush? That Dumbledore's grave will be the target of the wizarding world's most dangerous criminal minds?"
Severus paused for breath and stepped back a pace.
"Your life might turn out to be short, Potter," he sneered, "but at least it won't be boring."
"S—sir?" stuttered Potter. "What should I do?"
The unexpected question took the wind from Severus' sails. He felt suddenly exhausted, and turned back towards the couch with none of his usual snap-and-billow. Being careful not to collapse entirely, he sunk back onto the cushions.
"Sit," he ordered finally.
Potter still looked frozen with shock, but Granger pushed him towards an armchair. Weasley and Granger squeezed into the other. The sight of them pressed together prodded at the dying fires of Severus' rage.
"The first thing to do," he said, reflecting on how odd it was to have Potter listen to him for once, "is to collect the wand and place it somewhere safe. We also have to work out how to keep you safe, Potter. It may require help from the Aurors; you may have to reconstitute the Order of the Phoenix."
As Severus finished speaking, there was a loud bang. Instincts sharpened by years of war meant that all four of them instantly drew their wands. A blink of an eye later, they found themselves pointing at Fawkes, who sailed calmly across the room.
The scene was surreal: the enormous red and gold bird looked completely out of place in the dirty, book-lined living room of Spinner's End. He glowed so brightly that Severus had to squint.
Albus! he thought automatically, and then cursed himself for his weakness.
Fawkes' huge wingspan was awkward in the small room, and he banked slightly as he dived low over Severus' lap. At the base of the curve, he let something fall, and then swung back up and around, to land on the cheap antenna that sat atop the old TV. There, Fawkes made himself comfortable, clucking twice and then setting to the task of grooming his chest feathers.
Where on earth has he been? wondered Severus.
Only then did he look down at the thin strip of wood Fawkes had dropped in his lap: the bird had delivered the Elder Wand.
A / N : Mwahahahah! It's the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers! But I couldn't help myself: "trilogy" has such a nice ring to it, don't you think?? *grins* It will, I'm afraid, be a little while before I have time to write and to post the next installment, but it is growing inside my head. :) "Phoenix Tears" has come to an end, but keep an eye out for "Phoenix XXX, (or, Hermione Granger and the Elder Wand)." [At the current moment, "Phoenix Reprise" is the running favourite as title, but I'm open to suggestions if you have one.] If you sign this story up for alerts, or me for author alerts, you'll be sure to get an email when the next story starts.
Thanks again to everyone for reading (and even more so for reviewing!!); don't forget to vote in the SS/HG awards (you have until dec 5th!); and don't forget about me or about this story, for I will be back!