Author's note: This starts off rather dark, but it is a light story and will have a non-sickening happy ending. It's mostly done, and updates will come every two or three days as I slough through the editing. I am trying to keep it as accurate to 1998 as technology is concerned, but please forgive a few errors now and again. And now we start the story of how Snape and Potter reclaimed their lives after the war.
The Fifth Act Chapter 1 - Burning Letters.
May 5th, 1998
When the War Ended. It was the perfect name for the book, and he had been awake for the last thirty-six hours trying to complete it. Step by step, hourly accounts of what happened directly after You Know Who had finally been defeated, with hours of interviews that he'd picked through to get all perspectives. He supposed he should have felt the same anguish and grief of the families he'd interviewed, but artistic license and the desire to publish the bloody book before anyone else could do something similar had kept him unemotional. If only he could find Harry Bloody Potter and finish the last part. But no one, except seemingly the Weasleys, knew where the man was, and they refused to tell. He briefly considered getting the Minister to order Potter out, for the good of the community, but had nixed that idea. The after effects would not have been pretty.
He glared at the table where the latest edition of The Evening Prophet was resting, the only thing visible was the large "WHERE IS SEVERUS SNAPE?" headline. One Ronald Weasley and one Hermione Granger had confirmed that they'd seen the bat like man die in some run down old hovel called the Shrieking Shack, but no body had been found. Vampire rumours immediately sprang up, sordid tales twisted with lies regarding the man's past. It seemed that no one had really known him well in his younger days, but many were eager to drag his name through the mud. A perk of being a Death Eater, he supposed, with a twisted smile. But it didn't matter now, as it seemed he just had to wait for Potter to appear by himself. His owls requesting interviews had gone unanswered, which meant that either Potter was ignoring the requests, or not accepting mail. He'd sent two letters, experimentally of course, to Severus Snape as well, and had received the same lack of response.
The clock chimed for 1 am, and he reached for his dicto-quill with an evil gleam in his eyes. Perhaps Potter had disappeared, but suppose he did not do it alone? The only question was; what on earth could Potter and Snape be doing for three days in solitary?
At 1 am, on the outskirts of a tiny town in northern Wales, Harry Potter sat in an old leather chair by the fire of a small bedroom. The cottage was an old stone cut building that had existed for at least two hundred years, but the records had gone a bit skewed after that. There was a dresser close to him, potion bottles lined up in some sort of order, and a dosage chart partially filled out beside the bottles. A forgotten mug of tea that had long gone cold was on a small side table next to Harry's chair, and there was a stack of papers haphazardly arranged in his lap, fallen out of order when Harry had drifted off to sleep. He looked uneasy in his sleep, mouth furrowed in a frown, arms drawn protectively around himself, bangs falling over his eyes to provide some sort of shelter. He shivered, the fire not quite keeping him warm enough in the midnight air.
Somewhere outside an owl hooted, and Harry shifted in his chair, dropping the parchment to the floor. His eyes slitted open briefly, before he pulled a knitted blanket over himself and slipped back off to sleep. He was completely oblivious to the dark eyes that were open for the first time in three days, studying him intensely from the bed not two feet away.
August 5th, 1997
It was four am, but Harry couldn't sleep. He kept fingering the letter and torn picture he'd found in Sirius' room. There was something strange about how the letter and picture had been treated, and the room as well. It seemed like whomever had ransacked the house had been looking for those two items. But why leave half the items? The baby version of himself shrieked silently in glee in the picture. His dad was there, but, who was taking the picture? His mother? No, his mother was missing from the picture. Whoever had taken the letter and half of picture had carefully torn the photo to not destroy the image of his mum. Someone else loved his mother enough to come back for the picture and the letter…someone who had access to Grimmauld place. Only the order members still had access, which narrowed down the list considerably. Lupin may have come back for it, but Harry reasoned that he wouldn't have destroyed Sirius' room. The only one callous enough to do that while looking for a photo of Lily would be Snape. The jinx at the front door was set to deter Snape, but all he had to do was say the word kill and the jinx would be undone.
Harry went back to his bag and dug through the sack that Hermione had packed. Sure enough, in the bag of books Hermione had thought necessary to bring, Harry found the Half Blood Prince's potions book. He'd gone back to retrieve it before Dumbledore's funeral, begrudgingly admitting that despite the owner, the book would be useful. He flipped through absently, wondering if he'd find any mention of his mother. He didn't find any, but noted that the writing style, in particular some letters, seemed to mimic the style of Lily's. Could Snape have been trying to imitate her writing?
At five am Harry decided that he had no other explanation for the search of the house. He pulled out a piece of parchment, flipped through the book to a certain recipe, and began to write.
Spinner's End was in disarray, but Snape couldn't bring himself to care that much. He'd banished the alcohol from the house, because he was at the point of the game that required his upmost diligence. He cursed Albus for the four thousandth time. How does one ask someone to kill their mentor and only friend? His musings were interrupted by a soft tapping at the window. It was dusk, the sun burning low in the sky, and a tiny black owl was outside the door. General post; he recognized the owl's tag from London. Feeling slightly wary, he retrieved the envelope and stared at the name on it. Professor S. Snape, Potions Master. Usually he only received potion requests when letters were titled that way. Testing the letter, he found the magic not dark at all, but instead rather powerful and very familiar.
What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?
Where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?
What's the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?
I have questions regarding the family and history of the asphodel. I await your reply.
Snape stared at it. Maybe he would need to rethink his no-alcohol policy. After reading the letter twice, and studying the curves of the writing, he could not deny the author. He'd read many essays and lines from Potter in the six years he'd taught him, and he would never forget the unfair demands he'd made on him their first class. Indeed, he'd placed the memory in a pensieve long ago and was able to re-play the scene like a Muggle movie. As for the family of the asphodel, he shuddered at that demand. Potter had only seen his memory after the O.W.L. exams, but perhaps he'd put that together with the destruction of Grimmauld place and figured out that Snape had cared for Lily Potter. Asphodel, of the lily family. The boy had actually learned something.
He put the letter down on his desk and reached for the jar of ink, his lips curled in distaste at the signature. Though he knew that Potter couldn't sign his own name, using Prince was just downright mocking. Summoning a dark cold bottle from the fridge, he twisted open the cap and inhaled the sweet lingering scent of vanilla before taking a sip and beginning to write.
Asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite.
Didn't your mother ever teach you that it's rude to not address your elders with respect?
Professor S. Snape.
The letter was burning with sarcasm, and Harry was beyond angry. He was seething, and part of the anger was directed at himself for being baited. The word for word answer had been supplied, and there was no question that Snape knew whom he was corresponding with. Harry took a few calming breaths and sat down to write again, determined to get some concrete answers even if it killed him.
My mother would have taught me that respect needs to be earned. A slight conundrum has come upon my household. How does one effectively kill a calochortus Albus? I need a quick and merciless method.
It was well past midnight, and Snape had read the letter over thirteen times during the day. It was harsh, cut straight to the point, and Snape admired Potter's nerve. Perhaps over the summer the boy had matured a little. And of course, he'd demand to know about Albus. Three months dead and still overlording Snape's life. And he still demanded, through that infernal portrait in the headmaster's office, that Snape not only protect the students and Potter from the side lines, but that he tell the brat that he needed to die. Just how on earth did the old man expect that conversation to go?
"Evening Harry. Yes, I called you Harry. It's important. Congratulations on your dim-witted mind carrying you through survival up until now, the Wizarding world is impressed. But now you need to die by his hands, and it'll finally be over. Run along now."
Snape had said it aloud, and some how that made the ridiculousness of the situation worse. He glanced at his small sideboard, and cursed the no-alcohol rule. Looking around he took note of what little personal possessions he had, in his lonely and dark living room. He'd taken over the headmaster assigned quarters, but they still felt cold, like his dungeons.
"Sod it." It felt good to say, and he did not have any portraits in his flat to over hear him.
"Sod it! And you can sod off too, Dumbledore, you insufferable know it all!" The fire roared as Snape threw the letter in and he felt better, warmer. Actually, he contemplated, cutting off Albus wasn't a bad idea. Dumbledore was stuck in a portrait, and was limited in his amount of scheming. He had no idea that Potter was corresponding with him, and Snape could think of a million reasons not to share that tidbit of information. But for now, he had a letter to write, to the only other man who had been as badly manipulated and controlled in this war as he had. Perhaps he had someone else to share the burden now, as loathe as he wanted to conceed to Potter's acquaintance.
Prince (though from your behaviour, you are ill befitting of one),
If you are looking for a quick and merciless method, I am more than willing to demonstrate. It would bring me an amount of joy that no normal Euphoria Elixir could replicate.
Harry stared at the paper in bewilderment. It was a long sheet of parchment, but there was nothing else written. No signature, nothing. Almost as if Snape had dropped off mid sentence, but if he had, the letter would not have been sent off. He tapped the paper with his wand, feeling magic within it. He dug through his bag for Hermione's revealer, but found nothing when he rubbed it across the parchment. But he was sure there was more there, something hidden. He tried pointing at the paper with his wand, growling in a dark voice for it to reveal its secrets. To his chagrin, much like when Snape had done the same to his Maurader's map, the parchment started insulting him. On the right track at least, Harry scowled. What on earth could Snape have used as a password?
It took him four and a half days to work it out, after rereading the Half Blood Prince's potion book and noting that peppermint had been hastily scribbled beside the published recipe of the Elixir of Euphoria. He tapped his wand in desperation and said peppermint, ink starting to snake out across the page as Harry began cursing Snape with his very soul. The rest of the letter appeared, and Harry felt a low pain in his stomach, and the sudden urge to vomit.
You were there, Potter. Did he suffer? Was he in pain? Did I draw it out?
Did he beg for my mercy? or did he ask for it?
How long has he been in control of your life?
The words were almost carved into the paper, and Harry felt the anger radiating off them. Mercy, Harry could barely remember mercy. He hadn't thought much that night, but remembered afterwards how strange it was that Dumbledore's only words were "Severus, please." It was a pleading tone, not a begging one. It was a request to do something, not prevent it. It sounded almost as if Dumbledore had asked…
Harry ran to the bathroom and threw up. He didn't sleep for two days.
Found a way to rid the plant. Useful for a potion now, if I understand the properties correctly.
He unrolled the rest of the scroll and tapped his wand thoughtfully on the parchment. On the fourth try the text appeared.
Almost as long as he controlled yours. Is his portrait in the office now? Tell him that the next time I see him, the state of his office after Sirius died will seem like tasteful decorating in comparison.
Snape set the letter alight with a candle and went to dinner. The great hall was quieter than normal, and there was a distinct feeling of depression throughout it. When he returned back upstairs, he'd had a lot of time to think about bloody Potter and the insignificant details of this major plan that Albus had carelessly let him know about. Potter had sounded resigned in his letter, as if he knew that he was merely an entity set to fulfill a role, and nothing more. Snape had known that Harry wouldn't return to school, and he had an idea, from watching the Dark Lord gloat all those years, as to what Potter might need to do. How Albus expected a group of seventeen year olds to complete said task, however, was beyond him.
He entered his office, set up silencing charms, and turned to face the portrait of Dumbledore. Fury burned in his eyes, and Dumbledore looked on with mild shock. Snape spoke through clenched teeth.
"What have you done?"
"Severus? What are you talking about?"
"Two weeks ago Potter, Weasley, and Granger were nearly caught at the Ministry, only escaping after being attacked by Umbridge. What exactly were they doing there?"
Snape was leaning calmly against the desk, but his arms were crossed tight and his face was blank, the only fury showing in his eyes. Dumbledore should have been taken aback.
"I'm not sure my boy. I'm limited to the portraits here." He shrugged his shoulders slightly, as if Harry almost getting caught was not a big worry.
"This is related to your little plan, isn't it? The one you refuse to tell me about?" Snape's voice had not changed, it was still very cold and very low. Dumbledore sat forward and narrowed his own eyes over his glasses.
"It is still wise, given your position, not to endanger you further with those details. If Voldemort were to break your shields..."
"He will not." Snape hissed. "I do not understand how you can blindly expect Potter to follow along with your foolish ideas when even he knows that they may get him killed. Would it not be more sensible to have others help with these tasks, so Potter actually lives to kill the Dark Lord?"
Dumbledore looked wary, though condescending at the same time, as if Snape were a child he needed to speak to.
"I don't expect you to understand, Severus. Harry understands what needs to be done right now; he will not let himself fail."
Dumbledore sounded very sure of himself, as if he had just fixed the world with a lemon sherbert. Snape growled a little, waving his wand and canceling the silencing charms. He stalked away to his personal library, leaving Dumbledore to wonder what had ended the conversation so fast.
Harry unrolled the parchment to find it completely blank. He took a chance and tapped the parchment, using the password from the last time. Nothing. Cursing in annoyance, he pulled the potion book out again to look for any sort of clues, looking to see if there was an invisibility potion that was marked. Nothing. With a growl, he flipped the book over and stared at the inner cover.
Poking the paper with his wand, he ground out in annoyance. "This belongs to the Half Blood Prince." A sentence appeared, and Harry let out his breath. "The great big prat."
Message delivered, on my own terms. Horcruxes?
The ink was nearly carved into the parchment. Harry summoned his own fresh piece and wrote one word back, charming it heavily with another password. Yes.
Snape made sure to read the newspaper every day, looking for news of Potter. He purposefully did not write very often, as it would be too easy for someone to track the man. The boy. No, Potter was no longer a boy. He'd gotten a bit more information from Dumbledore, and snarled when the old fool had accused him of caring for Potter's welfare. Potter's message hadn't exactly been delivered, instead Snape had spent almost a whole hour seething to Dumbledore about how foolish it was to entrust an obviously essential secret mission to three seventeen year olds and expect their blind compliance with the task. He didn't go into detail, as he was not supposed to know about it. Dumbledore, as per usual, had completely missed the point, driving Snape from his office in anger. His parting words had caused Snape to smash four windows before calling a house elf.
"He'll be fine, Severus, Harry's been a survivor all his life, just like you have been."
And so, when Snape had finished securing the box together, tying it to the grey owl he had borrowed from Hogsmeade general post, he assured himself that this was not a care package for Potter. It was merely a box of supplies to ensure that the little morons could finish their little game for the war. He was sending it because of his promise to Lily's memory. He was definitely not sending it because he felt sorry for the man, or felt sympathy that his only real value seemed to be as a weapon. And he was definitely not sending it because he cared about his welfare.
Harry found the owl and the unmarked box hidden away from the edge of the campsite. He opened the box, surprised to find a basic first aid kit, some books on wizard traveling, a well-worn volume on occlumency, and a very detailed map of England. Under the study material was a wrapped basket of food, still warm under a heating charm. Harry smiled, and it didn't fade when he read the note that fell out of the occlumency book. "To aide in the sheer dumb luck that surrounds your survival."
Snape woke at 5 am, preferring to have the mornings to himself before anyone else was conscious. It was the only part of the day that he owned anymore. Christmas in the castle was nearly empty, as most families had opted to take their children home. That was fine by him, as Christmas had never been happy in his house and Snape was all too happy to forget the whole day. He briefly remembered how Dumbledore had mentioned Harry having his first Christmas ever at Hogwarts, just as he had done when he was eleven. For all his hatred towards the boy, it seemed that Potter had had a similar childhood to his own.
Snape was startled momentarily out of his thoughts by the brilliant stag patronus that had entered his bedroom, and then panic set in. He knew exactly whom that patronus belonged to, and the panic did not recede as the message was spoken.
"You threw a jar of cockroaches at my head. Bitten by snake." The voice was a hoarse whisper, and the stag dropped the pinecone that was in its mouth. Snape jumped into action, grabbing his personal potions bag and some basic medical supplies before picking up the pinecone. He briefly congratulated Potter on remembering to provide a security statement. The stag nodded once, and Snape felt the tug of the portkey.
He arrived outside a tent in a cold field, finding Potter slouched in a chair by the door. Potter jumped a little upon seeing Snape, and then with an unfamiliar wand quickly silenced the area that they were in, so no sound reached inside the tent. The wand remained pointed at Snape, who thought for a moment and then spoke.
"You stunned me in the Shrieking Shack."
Harry nodded, and then held out his arm. Snape drew in his breath at the sight. Potter was very very pale, and the wounds, though wrapped, were still bleeding. He kneeled down beside the chair and began his observation, turning Harry's arm over.
A nod. Potter was watching him with intense green eyes, and said nothing when Snape handed him a vial. Harry uncorked it, and immediately swallowed, trying his best not to grimace.
"That could have been poison." Snape was slightly taken back by Potter's trust. He received another stare, and then a slight grunt.
"Could have. But it wasn't." There was bitter amusement in Potter's voice, as if he wouldn't mind being poisoned. Snape wondered, not for the first time, if Dumbledore knew his golden boy's breaking point.
Snape continued tending to the bite, ordering Harry to take a blood replenishing potion from the bag. After it was wrapped, he fished another bottle out of his robe pocket, identical to the first one that Harry had drank.
"It's antidote, for that blasted snake. You must always have it with you. And this, the blood replenishing potion. You can shrink them both without damage."
Snape stood up, assessing Potter's condition. Colour was slowly returning to his face, though he looked as undernourished as he had in his first year. Lines crowded his eyes, and he looked much older than seventeen. But he was alive.
Two simple words that Snape wasn't expecting. He narrowed his eyes.
"There's no need for thanks." Snape packed up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. Time to leave before his absence was noted. Potter rose, steadier on his feet than when Snape had first seen him.
"No?" He said, with a bitter laugh. "I think you've done more to keep me alive than Dumbledore has."
Potter offered his hand, and Snape unexplicably shook it, before disapparating back to Hogwarts, deep in thought and craving a cold root beer to still his nerves.
January 9th, 1998
At the morning breakfast table there was the same sickening silence as usual, as the students tried to be as unnoticeable from the Carrow siblings as possible. All except for the Slytherins, whom Snape was steadfastly ignoring. A ruffled brown owl appeared at the head table with the morning mail, and Snape snatched the letter and small plain parcel before anyone could see the writing on it. He opened it, and noted that there was only a few words. "Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act." A quote from somewhere, written in Harry's tidy hand. He pondered the meaning while sipping his tea, bearing his teeth in a scowl when one of the Carrows had the nerve to ask what the letter was about. The package was placed in his pocket until he could open it in private.
Later that evening, Snape retired to his quarters and sat in his bath, candles floating about the room, a cold bottle on the edge of the tub next to him. On the counter was the parcel, opened and the items catalogued. A letter, a tape, and some ridiculous thing called a recorder. The letter had unnerved him more than the recorder had, and he was glad to have opened it in the bathroom. Sometimes that was the only private place in Hogwarts, it seemed. Not even the ghosts dared enter there.
He finished the root beer and closed his eyes. Potter had sent him a birthday gift. It didn't say that anywhere in the letter, but he'd be a fool not to know that Potter had meant it as such. Explanations of how to get to the Chamber of Secrets, and a recording of Potter speaking parseltongue, just so Snape could get the priceless basilisk ingredients he needed for his post cruciatus potion. It was an extremely thoughtful and personal gift, and it made Snape rather uncomfortable. It spoke of forgiveness.
"You can't forgive me, Potter. Not for this."
It was reassurance spoken only to himself, and he idly transfigured the bottle into a green coloured potion vial, yet another for his collection. Snape then rose out of the bath and gathered the items, locking them securely away in his bedroom. It was only eleven thirty, but he crawled into bed anyway, knowing that he wouldn't get any sleep tonight no matter what time he had retired. Instead, he laid back in bed and looked out on the cold, starless sky, wondering where Harry was camping. This would be Harry's last January 9th, and probably his too. He'd been there for Harry's last Christmas. Snape rolled over and shut his eyes, refusing to flinch at the feelings of guilt that crashed over him for the first time in years.
Gratitude is an appropriate sentiment to extend to you.
There was no name, no signature, and no greeting. But the message was understood all the same, and Harry folded the parchment away, to hide in his bag. It had been worth the almost month long wait to hear that. He allowed a small smile on his face for the first time in many days.
It was four am and a tiny scops owl was beating against Snape's window, tempting fate and the business end of Snape's wand. Instead of hexing it however, Snape snatched the flittering bird from the window and struggled in a fading sleepy haze to remove the parchment.
There's more to this, isn't there? Something you're not allowed to tell me yet?
Snape stared at the letter and shook his head, glad he had had nothing to drink the night before. He walked out to the study to search for a quill, keeping the annoying owl in his bedroom. Looking up behind the desk, he saw that Dumbledore was sleeping peacefully in his portrait. A string of curse words was released under his breath as he sat down and stared at the letter. How had Potter figured it out? He'd given nothing away, not even when he'd gone to heal the snake bite. He quickly searched through his memories, but came up blank. They'd only seen each other the one time since last ..since the tower. But then again, Potter had been manipulated and lead on by Dumbledore before. He specifically remembered Potter's fifth year, when Dumbledore had foolishly ignored the boy, sending him spiraling into a depression that had cost the life of Sirius Black. He smirked for a moment, remember the destruction Potter had wrought to the Headmaster's office, something he had secretly admired.
Sighing, Snape summoned his favourite black cloak, fingering one of the many buttons along the front. He chose one very near the top at the neck, and quickly severed it. Writing a quick note, Snape sealed the envelope well and sent the bird back out into the early morning, watching it skitter through the air like a demented ferret. Four thirty am. He'd lie back in bed, but he knew it was futile to try sleep anymore.
Three bloody days it had taken Harry to open the security charms on the envelope Snape had sent, and he had been more than a little frustrated. All he got for his troubles was a short note, and a little round black button. The button appeared to be finished in a fine silk, and it had a very small S imprinted on it, in a different shade of black. Harry suddenly recognized it. He read the note carefully, putting the button in the same safe pocket as the two potion vials.
You need to find me when the final curtain is about to close. The fourth act has been badly written as well.
A bad feeling sunk to the bottom of Harry's stomach, one that he could not alleviate in the slightest by a mug of hot tea. Exactly what else had Dumbledore planned for him? If the fourth act was badly written, as Snape said, perhaps it was something Harry didn't want warning about. Harry had the sinking feeling, however, that Snape had been burdened with this end knowledge for a while. Harry sunk into an uneasy rest, contemplating again just how short his life would probably be.
May 2nd, 1998
"I regret it," said Voldemort coldly.
Harry felt the blood pounding through his ears, and as he scrambled to silently get into the room, he felt his heart slow almost to a dead stop.