A somber mood pervaded the Headmistress's office. Minerva had returned after dropping off Draco and Narcissa/Nancy at St. Mungo's, where the Lady Malfoy was being examined to see if a decade living as a Muggle had done any damage to her health; and Harry had come up to the Headmistress's office again and then... not been able to think of priorities. There was so much to do, so many things, that even Headmistress McGonagall didn't seem to know where to start, and certainly not Harry. Right now Minerva was repeatedly writing words on parchment and then erasing them with a handwave, and Harry had closed his eyes for clarity. Was there any next first thing that needed to happen...
There came a knock upon the great oaken door that had been Dumbledore's, and the Headmistress opened it with a word.
The man who entered the Headmistress's office appeared worn, he had discarded his wheelchair but still walked with a limp. He wore black robes that were simple, yet clean and unstained. Over his left shoulder was slung a knapsack, of sturdy gray leather set with silver filigree that held four green pearl-like stones. It looked like a thoroughly enchanted knapsack, one that could contain the contents of a Muggle house.
One look at him, and Harry knew.
Headmistress McGonagall sat frozen behind her new desk.
Severus Snape inclined his head to her.
"What is the meaning of this?" said the Headmistress, sounding... heart-sick, like she'd known, upon a glance, just like Harry had.
"I resign my position as the Potions Master of Hogwarts," the man said simply. "I will not stay to draw my last month's salary. If there are students who have been particularly harmed by me, you may use the money for their benefit."
He knows. The thought came to Harry, and he couldn't have said in words just what the Potions Master now knew; except that it was clear that Severus knew it.
"Severus..." Headmistress McGonagall began. Her voice sounded hollow. "Professor Severus Snape, you may not realize how difficult it is to find Potions Masters who can safely teach Muggleborns, or Professors sharp enough to keep Slytherin House in any semblance of order..."
Again the man inclined his head. "I think it need not be said to you, Headmistress, but I recommend in the strongest possible terms that the next Head of Slytherin be nothing like me."
"Severus, you only did as Albus told you to do! You could stay on and act differently!"
"Headmistress," Harry said. His own voice seemed also hollow, and Harry wondered at it, for he hadn't known Severus Snape that well. "If he wants to go, I think you should let him go."
Dumbledore was using him. Maybe not exactly the way Professor Quirrell thought, maybe it was prophecy rather than sabotaging Slytherin, but Dumbledore was still using him. There were things that could have been said long ago to Severus, to free him. It's clear why Dumbledore didn't risk that, but still, Severus wasn't being used kindly. Even his blindness and grief were being used, the way he didn't grasp the consequences of his actions as Potions Master...
"It is well to find you here, Mr. Potter," Severus said. "There is unfinished business between us."
Harry didn't know what to say, so he just nodded.
Severus seemed to be having some difficulty speaking, as he stood before the two of them with the grey knapsack on his shoulder. Finally he seemed to find the words he'd come to speak. "Your mother. Lily. She was -"
"I know," Harry said, through the thickness of his throat. "You don't have to say it."
"Lily was a fine upstanding witch, Mr. Potter. I would not have you think otherwise from any words I said to you."
"Severus?" said Minerva McGonagall, looking as shocked as if she'd been bitten by her own shoes.
The former Potions Master kept his eyes on Harry. "More than one bar lay between myself and Lily, most notably my ill-advised attempts to curry favor with the purebloods of my house. If I made it sound like one mistake upon a muddy field ended it all, if I pretended that she had no reason but shallowness not to love me, I hope your books have also told you why fools may say such things."
"They did," Harry said. He was looking at the fine gray knapsack on Severus Snape's left shoulder, unable to meet the Potions Master's eyes. "They did."
"However," the former Potions Master continued, "I'm afraid I have nothing more to say about your father than what I've already told you."
The former Potions Master seemed to have eyes only for Harry. "The Dark Mark upon my arm is not dead, nor is the prophecy fulfilled by that story you recounted before the crowd. How did you destroy all but a remnant of the Dark Lord?"
Harry hesitated. "I Obliviated most of his memories and... sealed him, I guess is how wizards say it. Even if the seal breaks, he won't come back as himself."
Severus frowned briefly and then shrugged. "I suppose that is acceptable."
"Professor Snape," Harry said, because this too was now his responsibility, "the Order of the Phoenix owes you for services rendered. I'm in an excellent position to repay it, both financially and magically. Just in case you want to start your next life in a position of wealth, or with better hair, or something."
"Strange words to say to such as me," the former Potions Master said in a soft drawl. "I went to the Dark Lord intending to sell him the prophecy in exchange for Lily's love becoming mine, by whatever darkness was required to achieve it. That is hardly something to be forgiven lightly. And then, in the years after when I was a Potions Master... that you experienced yourself. Do you think my service to the Order of the Phoenix has repaid all my sins?"
"People are always broken," Harry said, though the words stuck in his throat. "They always make mistakes. At least you tried to repay them."
"Perhaps," said the former Potions Master. "My final duty was to fail in guarding the Stone, to be struck down. This I have done, and I survived it, which I never expected to do." Severus was leaning against the door through which he'd entered, taking his weight off his left leg. "I would not have thought to ask for your forgiveness, but since you offer it so freely, I will accept with thanks. From this day on I wish to take less unkindly ways, and I think that is best done by starting over."
Tears glistened on Minerva McGonagall's nose and cheeks, when she spoke her voice was without hope. "Surely you could start over inside Hogwarts."
Severus shook his head. "Too many students would remember me as the evil Potions Master. No, Minerva. I will go someplace new, and take a new name, and find someone new to love."
"Severus Snape," Harry said, because it was his responsibility to say it, "has all your will been done?"
"Lily's killer is vanquished," the man said. "I am content."
The Headmistress lowered her head. "Be well, Severus," she whispered.
"I do have one last piece of advice," Harry said. "If you want it."
"What is it?" said Severus Snape.
"Ruminating about the past can contribute to depression. You have my blanket permisson to just never think about your past, ever. You shouldn't think that it's your responsibility to Lily to bear your guilt for her, or anything like that. Just keep your mind on your future and whatever new people you meet."
"I shall take your wisdom into consideration," Severus said neutrally.
"Also, try a different brand of hair shampoo."
A wry grin crossed Severus's face, and Harry thought it might have been, for the first time, that man's true smile. "Drop dead, Potter."
Minerva was sobbing.
Without saying anything else, the free man took a pinch of Floo powder, and cast it into the office's fireplace, and strode into the green flame whispering something that nobody caught; and that was the last that anyone ever heard of Severus Snape.
The last chapter will post on March 14th, 2015, at 9AM Pacific (4PM UTC).
Thank you all for reading.