AN: This story is canonesque right up until JKR, got on my nerves. I have stuck close to the end of DH, with the obvious exception, and, while still blatantly stealing large chucks of the Epilogue, I have jettisoned most of it and messed with the ages of the kids. I have also completely reinvented the concept of the life debt and tossed in one or two other things as well.
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns everything, well, what she didn't sell to Warner Bros, anyway. I make no money.
After the final Battle:
The quiet moans and groans of the wounded and the grieving of the bereft had tormented Ronald Weasley until he felt compelled to do something. Harry had been victorious, but the cost had been devastating. He had joined Madam Pomfrey as she hustled swiftly throughout the Great Hall, working methodically alongside the school nurse to save those that they could. He watched intently as she cast spell after spell on adults and students, reversing jinxes and hexes with ease and working frantically to counter the darker curses that twisted and tormented the fallen. He stood by, ready with whatever potion she needed, until she had finally released him to take a break. He found himself staring down at the body of his brother Fred, laid out next to Tonks and Remus Lupin on the floor of the Great Hall. He was overwhelmed and distraught at all the death and destruction around him. His parents were sitting with their other living children in the corner and together they made an intense ball of grief that clawed at him. His hands were full of medications and potions but everyone seemed to be stable at the moment and he felt quite useless again. Looking from his brother to the other bodies, it suddenly hit him that someone was missing.
It was a relatively short time later that a rather smug Ronald Weasley came back into the Great Hall levitating Severus Snape carefully in front of him. He had used up every single potion and medication he had been carrying and the Professor's neck was neatly bandaged. Ronald had been very proud of himself; Snape had been but moments from death's door when Ron had arrived. However, his feeling of accomplishment was rather short-lived. Despite Harry's dramatic unveiling of Snape's loyalties during the battle, no one was happy to see the former Headmaster had survived after all. It was easier to give grudging respect to a bastard one knew was dead than have to deal with understandably complicated feelings about a murderer and tyrant who looked like he would have the bad grace to survive thanks to Ron's timely intervention. It was obvious from the faces staring at him with quiet condemnation that Ron's deed was not particularly well-received. Only Harry, Hermione, and Ginny had seen Ron's actions as heroic. Even Madam Pomfrey seemed a bit put out when he brought the professor over to her to finish his healing. Ron's earnest smile had died in the face of such subtle censure and, in his delicate emotional state, it didn't take much for pride to turn into resentment towards the injured man. Especially when he sought out the reassurance of his girl and she brushed him off to help tend to the git.
Harry had talked himself blue trying to get them all to understand that Snape had been a hero and had been Dumbledore's man all along, but those at the school had suffered under Snape's term as Headmaster for months on end and thought that the man had played his role a little too easily to have been working on the side of light so completely. Harry pled his case in vain.
When Severus Snape woke up in St Mungo's a month later, he was displeased. He had never intended to survive, so waking up was a source of great distress.
Worse, still, was the fact that he now, apparently, owed Ronald Weasley a life debt. Owing someone a life debt carried obligations; owing a life debt for a second time came with even more.
He had barely had time to digest that development when he was arrested and charged with murder, high crimes and misdemeanors.
Fifteen Years Later:
Prisoner 19-241 watched the Warden's eyes for signs of a lie. He had no concept of time, a common malady among the prisoners of Azkaban, and had been subjected to far crueler torments over the years than a false promise of release. He didn't honestly know if his time had been served or not, but the Warden didn't display any of the usual signs associated with deception.
"What? Have you nothing to say?" Warden Smythebotle asked with incredulity. He looked over at one of the guards. "I say, he does have all his gobstones still, doesn't he? You know he's politically connected. It won't look good if he drools in front of the press."
"He's in good order, sir. He's just a surly sort, that one. If you want, sir, we can take him outside and teach him a bit of respect." The guard's eyes narrowed at Prisoner 19-241. "Again."
"No, no, no," the Warden interjected. "Did you not hear what I just said? He's been released. You can't touch him now." The Warden shuffled papers around on his desk and picked up a large stamp and proceeded to bang it down on various important-looking documents and signing them.
Prisoner 19-241 turned his head and stared into the eyes of the guard who had taken such…pleasure in the prisoner's torment these last fifteen years. The guard paled and fingered his wand.
With a final flourish, the Warden dropped the quill to the desk and stood up.
"Alright, Blanchers, here's his paperwork. Take him down to the entrance and turn him over to the Aurors there. Keep him in the chains and don't remove his cuff, he's not completely free."
The prisoner's eyes seemed to fade out and the guard's eyes started to get a cruel gleam at the Warden's words.
"Fine then, all's in order, take him away. I have to say, based on his Vitae I have a suspicion this might not be the last I see of him," the Warden said with disdain.
The guard grabbed the prisoner's elbow and hauled him towards the door.
Harry Potter was up to his ears in Auror reports and stress when his workday was disturbed. He wasn't sure what had disturbed him more, the sound of the people standing in the doorway of his office, or the smell of the prisoner they held between them.
He stood up quickly when he saw who it was.
"Come in!" he said as he came out from behind his desk. "Please, have a seat."
Harry watched as the man took short, jerky steps toward the chair and looked down at the manacles on his feet. Obviously someone was having a lark at the prisoner's expense because the chain between the man's feet was ridiculously short. Harry's face clouded over in anger. He looked up at his men.
"Off. Get those off him now," he snapped. One of the Aurors rushed over and released the prison-issue manacles. His hand hovered over the wide, iron ring around the prisoner's wrist that kept his magic bound and the Auror gave his boss a questioning look.
"Leave that. He's to keep it on."
"You may leave us and have some tea sent in, if you would." The two Aurors left without further word and Harry closed his office door behind them.
He spun back toward the prisoner and, seeing the state he was in, pulled out his wand and hit him with a cleaning spell. He regretted it instantly when he saw the man's uncontrolled flinch.
"I'm sorry about that, sir. I shouldn't have done that. I don't know what I was thinking, beyond the fact that you were filthy. I do it to my kids all the time. They are always getting into messes and I don't even stop to think about it anymore." Harry fell silent when he realized how badly he was babbling.
Severus Snape recovered quickly from his momentary fear and sneered at Harry's words, but remained silent.
The room filled with awkward, tension-filled silence as the two men regarded each other.
The soft pop of the tea tray appearing on the desk broke the mood, and Harry looked at it gratefully.
"Would you like some tea, sir?"
The smell of the tea had set Snape's mouth watering, and he had a momentary struggle while he tried to keep his eyes from watering as well.
"Yes, Potter, I would like that very much," he said politely. His voice was rough and scratchy.
Harry wondered if it was from disuse, or if it was permanent damage from the wounds inflicted by Nagini.
He poured his old professor a cup of tea and then gestured to the tray.
"There's milk, sugar and lemon, if you'd like," he said unnecessarily.
Snape's eloquent look conveyed many thoughts at once, none of which spoke well for his opinion of Harry's intelligence in that moment.
Harry flushed and poured himself some tea and sat back in his chair. He studied Snape as he watched him make a graceful ritual out of preparing his cup.
He looked terrible. Fifteen years in Azkaban had taken a toll on the man. He was gaunt to the point of skeletal thinness as he sat there in his tattered striped robes. It looked like he had lost several teeth. Harry closed his eyes as he wondered if it had been from lack of nutrition or violence. Both, he suspected. His nose had obviously been broken again, but left unset, and it whistled as he breathed through it. His shaven skull showed scars and some bruises that were fairly fresh.
Harry was shocked by how old he looked. He was used to catching up with people. Given his Muggle upbringing, it had taken a while, but eventually the fact that wizarding folk aged slower had lost its novelty. He was accustomed to the phenomenon of seeming to be the same age, physically, as people twenty years older than he was. But with Snape, that wasn't the case. He looked desiccated and ancient. Harry felt a fresh wave of fury and impotent frustration wash over him again as it had, periodically, since he had lost his last appeal ten years ago. To Harry, the man was a hero. However, with the exception of his wife and Hermione, almost no one else agreed.
"I failed you again, sir," Harry said quietly.
Snape flicked an irritated look at him for interrupting his first cup of tea in fifteen years.
"Potter, it would be best if you refrained from calling me 'sir'. I am no longer your teacher. Besides, it might call your character into question if someone were to take notice."
Harry shook his head emphatically.
"They all know how I feel about this. I spent too much gold and ate up too many political favors trying to get you released. It is no secret that I still respect you and feel a great miscarriage of justice has been done. Unfortunately, sir, that is probably why I failed when I tried to get your community service reassigned. I did manage to get them to reduce it to two years. After that, you will be able to get a new wand and go wherever you like to start over."
Snape shuddered and set his teacup down.
Harry ran his hands through his hair, making it stand straight up.
"I tried to get them to assign you to the Department of Mysteries. I figured there you would be away from the public and be allowed to serve out your sentence without scrutiny."
"Where, Potter?" Snape asked again.
Harry dropped his head.
"Hogwarts," he answered.
Harry had expected shock and anger would have been the man's reaction. The quiet resignation and open sadness on the face of the once proud man hurt more than anything else about their encounter so far.
"Minerva?" Snape asked quietly.
Harry shook his head slowly.
"She passed away five years ago, a nasty case of Dragon Pox left her weak and a bad heart took her in her sleep while she was on holiday with her sister. Aurora Sinistra is Headmistress now. The school has…changed a bit, but you will find you have allies."
Snape stared at him in silence and his face changed from sad to desolate. He was quiet for a long time before he looked down at his hands in his lap and quietly asked: "Do you think I could have another cup of tea, Mr. Potter?"
Thirteen months later:
The horde of students came stomping back into the castle from Hogsmeade, depositing mud and slush and chocolate wrappers all over the flagstone floor behind them. The castle's caretaker stood in the shadows, furiously clutching the handle of his mop. His glittering black eyes watched them all troop past with a resentment that had burned out the lining of his stomach twice in the year he had been there. Ronald Weasley came in, riding a tide of jovial laughter as he finished telling a knot of adoring students a ridiculously improbable tale of his days as a keeper for the Wigtown Wanderers. He laughed at his own humor and clapped a fifth year on the back. The caretaker's eyes tracked the chocolate wrapper that flew out of the flying instructor's hand. He watched it flutter down and join the others and stared at it as if he could set it aflame with his anger. He was still staring at it when a small hand reached down and picked it up. He watched as a familiar first year boy scooped up a few more, almost getting his hand trod upon in the process. The petit boy with the telltale frizzy, ginger hair stared after his father with a look of embarrassment before he dropped the wrappers into the rubbish bin. He scooted around the crowd with his head down, obviously trying to avoid notice and almost tripped over the caretaker hiding in the shadows. When he looked up and saw him his eyes widened in fright and he stepped backwards quickly.
"So sorry, sir!" the urchin blurted out quietly, before he turned and fled.
The caretaker watched the boy run away and felt curiously ashamed of himself.
"Ronald!" hissed a voice in the doorway. Professor Granger-Weasley stood in the fading sunlight with her hands planted on her hips. The caretaker's chin tilted down into his scarf until his face was buried up to his nose and tugged on his cap until it nearly covered his eyes as he tried to surreptitiously hide even more than he already was. He watched through his long fringe of hair as Weasley waved the students off toward their rooms and, when they all had left the hallway, he walked back to the entrance to join his wife.
"I've asked you not to speak to me like that in front of the students, Mione," he snapped at her. The man hiding in the shadows raised his eyebrows in surprise. He had never heard the couple exchange a cross word before.
"And I am tired of asking you not to act like one of the students!" she snapped back. "I told you to make sure the students cleaned off their boots before entering the castle! Look at this mess they have made!" She stabbed a small finger at the floor.
"So what? It's a floor! Do you even hear yourself? You told me? Since when do I take orders from you? You might have got further if you had tried asking me. Ever hear the one about catching more things with honey instead of vinegar? Maybe if you weren't such a shrew, people might actually listen to you for once!"
"I'll be sure to remember that the next time I need flies," she hissed. She pointed at the floor again. "Is it just completely beyond your understanding that you might be creating more work for other people with your thoughtlessness?"
"It's just Snape," replied Ron. "Why should I spare him from the work he is supposed to do? He doesn't take over my classes does he? We all have our jobs here, Hermione. I think it's time you realized yours is just to teach potions, not run the school. No one appreciates your efforts, believe me. The students are always complaining to me about you, and I have to say that I agree with them. You really are turning into a bitch."
Hermione made a sound like an enraged mouse and stamped her foot on the floor. She whipped out her wand, and with a swirl and a swipe, she called up all of the mud and slush off the floor, and, with a quick flick, splattered it all over her husband's robes. The man hiding in the shadows smiled cruelly. Without another word she stomped up the stairs. The caretaker followed her with his eyes and spotted the head of one of the students just as it popped out of sight above her.
"Hey!" her husband shouted after her.
Instead of vanishing the mess, the furious man spelled it off and, with a flick of his wrist, slapped the mud and ice back down onto the floor. He walked over and kicked the rubbish bin onto the floor adding to the mess, before he too, stomped away up the stairs.
Snape pushed the bucket of hot soapy water out of the shadows. Bracing the mop handle against the Hufflepuff hourglass, he took up the broom and dustpan from his cart and began to clean up the mess. He glanced up the stairs that the angry couple had ascended with a bemused smirk on his face. His eyes glittered with merriment for a moment before becoming thoughtful as he contemplated this new insight into the woman's situation. Severus Snape didn't like it when Professor Hermione Granger-Weasley was unhappy.
All praise, love and thanks go to the astounding Hebe GB, for her unbelievable patience as a sounding board as well as cheerleading skills. (The things that woman can do with pom-poms.) Also to that beautiful, chittery-monkey Dressagegrrrl, for her amazing skill with a comma and the child-rearing tips. Both of you are my angels, and you both can make me snort hot tea out of my nose.
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