Chapter 33: Life at Hogwarts, three months later

Looking out at the grounds, Harry couldn't help but think back to all the happy, carefree times he had spent there with his friends, studying and talking. Hogwarts was really the most beautiful place he had ever been to in his life.

Harry knew that he couldn't stand to see it destroyed. Hogwarts had been such a big part of the youth of generations and generations of British wizarding people. If Hogwarts fell, all happiness and all hope would fall with it, especially now that half of the wizarding population had moved there because of the security of the castle. It had been almost three months since Voldemort and his followers had destroyed the Ministry headquarters and attacked St. Mungo's hospital. After those events, one deatheater attack had followed another, so that nobody who did not openly support the Dark forces felt safe anymore – that is, the people did not feel safe anymore anywhere other than at Hogwarts, which the headmaster and the teachers had opened as a sanctuary for all in fear of the Dark Lord, an offer they were gratefully taken up on by hundreds of people who had come to the former school – for in these days of all-out war, Hogwarts staff and students had more things to do than to uphold their standard classes and routines.

That was the other reason why it would be disastrous if Hogwarts fell. The castle was the only really safe place in the country. Without it, the people would have no place to hide from Voldemort. They would be defenceless. They would be at his mercy. And it was likely that several hundreds of them would be killed in the Hogwarts attack alone, if the Dark Lord really did decide to attack the castle directly.

Harry sighed quietly.

When he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder, he was so surprised that he spun around and had his wand pointed at the face of his "attacker" before he even realized who it was.

The person standing behind him was Hermione. He hadn't even notice her walk up to him.

Harry quickly withdrew his wand and muttered a quiet "sorry", but Hermione didn't seem startled or disturbed by his reflex. Instead, she smiled down at him sadly. As Harry turned back around, she stood next to him and imitated his position. Now they both stood there looking out at the grounds.

"It's so beautiful," whispered Hermione after a minute.

"That's what I was thinking."

Hermione smiled. "I know."

So she did. Harry was glad to have Hermione with him at that moment. She had remained his closest friend through all those years, and she was the person who knew him best.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Hermione asked.

Harry smiled. Of course Hermione knew that there was something big on his mind, something important. He also realized that it would do him some good to talk about it. And if he couldn't talk about this to Hermione, then who could he confide in?

Harry took a deep breath.

"I'm scared, Hermione", he finally admitted, still looking out of the window.

She didn't say anything, which Harry took as an invitation to continue.

"I'm scared of my fight with Voldemort. I don't want to feel any curse of his blasted medal ever again in my life – it hurts worse than a Cruciatus, I can stand that. . . God, Hermione, just thinking about what he might do to me makes me want to run away or to hide behind somebody who can protect me from all evil. You know, I never show it, I. . . I laugh it all away. . . I act like I'm not scared of dying at all, but . . . but I really am. I don't want to die, Hermione. I'm enjoying my life in spite of everything that's wrong with it – and I don't want my life to end. I know there's a chance I'll win, I found that out at the Ministry. But there's also a chance I'll lose - a big chance. But I can't lose, Hermione. I absolutely must not lose. There's so much depending on it . . ."

Harry paused for a moment and took a few deep breaths. Hermione still didn't interrupt him, but gave him all the time he needed to say what he wanted to say. He was grateful for that. There really wasn't anything she could have said to make the situation look better. The situation could not be changed that easily. But Hermione's mere presence and her willingness to just listen was very comforting to Harry.

"You know, Mione, what I'm most afraid of . . . what really terrifies me is the thought of what will happen after Voldemort wins. I mean, imagine if he attacked the castle and I duelled with him and lost . . . and with all the people here . . . he'd kill Dumbledore first because he's the most dangerous . . . then he'd kill you because you're a Muggleborn and my friend on top of that . . . he'd kill Snape because he supported me, that makes him a traitor to Voldemort. . . he'd kill Minerva and Remus and Sirius and Fred and George and Neville and Ginny and . . . he'd kill all of the former Order of the Phoenix . . . damn it, Hermione, if Voldemort won, he'd . . . he'd kill everybody who doesn't support him . . . Hogwarts would become his Dark Fortress or something, and the people would have two options: join him or be killed by him."

Harry clenched his hands to fists. He was shaking all over now, and he still refused to look at Hermione. Thankfully, she didn't interrupt him.

"You know, Hermione, when I received my Hogwarts letter and came to this wonderful school and entered the wizarding world, it was a dream come true for me. I know there are many things wrong with the wizarding world, especially with its government – I've experienced them first-hand . . . but when I see the whole package, I can't help but love it. In spite of everything it did to me, I just love it. And the thought . . . that this world might be completely changed, completely destroyed by that maniac and his followers . . . just terrifies me, Mione. And knowing that according to that stupid prophecy, the only person who can prevent that from happening is me . . ."

Harry stopped talking there, and Hermione laid her arm around his shoulder as he took some deep breaths in order to calm himself down.

"I'd love to tell you that your fears were totally unreasonable, but they're not, Harry", she finally said. "It is a terrible situation and it is unimaginable what will happen if we lose this war. The only comforting thing I can tell you is that I know you're as well prepared for the upcoming battle as you can possibly be – why, you haven't done much but study and practice for months on end. So if we really lose, it will be because he is simply unstoppable by now, not because of any lack of effort on our part."

Harry nodded tiredly. He knew that they were prepared. The question was, was it enough? Or was there something important, another piece of information, a spell, a curse, that would make the difference between winning and losing the final duel, that Harry would find if he just tried harder, studied longer, spent a little less time sleeping or eating . . .

"Oh come on, Harry, you know I'm right", Hermione said. "You're doing everything you can, that's obvious to everybody but yourself, it seems. Finally stop questioning yourself."

Harry nodded, wondering how she had known his exact thoughts once again. Was she a mind-reader after all?

"And you know what?" Hermione interrupted his thoughts, sounding even a tad cheerful.

"What?" Harry asked.

"If there is a God out there, Harry . . . that horror scenario you just painted will never come true."

With that and a final squeeze of his shoulder, Hermione left Harry alone again.

"I sure hope you're right, Hermione", Harry whispered long after she had gone. "I sure hope you're right."

The weakest point of Hogwarts castle was its main entrance door, the one connecting the grounds with the Entrance Hall. The wards on the large wooden door were lowered to allow faster entry and exit, which was important because it was through this door that large numbers of wizards and witches from all over the country came every day seeking refuge from Voldemort and his large circle of supporters.

When a charm informed him that there was another person standing outside wanting to be let in, the man in charge of permitting entry sighed. It was the seventeenth person that day and accommodation was getting scarce.

"Please state your name and your business", he said.

But there was no answer. That was new.

"Please state your name and your business", the man repeated, louder. But the person outside the door should have heard him clearly the first time. There was a charm on the door that worked similar to a sonorus charm.

Then the door started shaking.

"What the…" The man spun around and stared at the guards who were there in case of an emergency. They looked as nervous as he felt.

A moment later, a huge hole was blast into the big wooden door, easily large enough to allow several people to enter through it at once. Behind the hole, there was a man wearing a large black cloak, the head mostly hidden by its hood. What would otherwise have been visible of his face was covered by a white mask. That was the typical dress of a Deatheater.

The guards of the Entrance Hall were comparatively many, and there were even a few aurors amongst them, but they were not prepared for an attack. They were not prepared for much.

Five in a row were stunned before any others reacted. Taking out those he knew to be aurors first, the attacker didn't have a hard time dodging the curses that followed. They were a lot slower and weaker. He let some be deflected by his shield. In the end, all guards were unconscious, and he wasn't even injured.

He smirked. "This is ridiculously easy." The attacker wondered what his partner was doing.

The other man was rather successful, too. Having taken another entrance, he encountered a lot fewer security measures. The entrance of the secret passageway was only guarded by two aurors, who were taken completely by surprise when it suddenly opened. Bewildered and afraid, they stared into the dark tunnel, but there was no attacker in sight.

"Is anybody there?" A stupid question.

The auror fell, hit by a stunning spell. His partner followed a moment later.

The attacker smirked at his triumph, then took his invisibility cloak off and looked down at the two men with disgust.

"I find it amazing that such a simple device as this cloak renders the Ministry's top people completely helpless", he hissed at them. Then he turned away from them and walked down the corridor with long steps, the black Deatheater's cloak billowing behind him. As he walked, he shrunk the Invisibility Cloak and stuffed it in his pocked. He wanted to be as mobile as possible for the mission that followed. He was, after all, trying to get to the Headmaster's office, and there was a great many capable people he might encounter on the way.

The first people he met on his way were a group of teenage girls of about fourteen or fifteen years of age. They screamed and ran. He smirked. They were so easy to scare. The next person he saw walked alone, straight up to the masked man. It was an adult man he didn't know – he figured that it must be one of the many refugees that had come to Hogwarts for security from the Dark Lord.

When the man realized what he was seeing, he stopped dead in his tracks and gasped, taking a few careful steps back.

"De… deatheater…" he whispered.

The other man smirked. Apparently, that was another one who was about to run in fear although he hadn't done anything yet.

Shakily, the man pointed his wand at the Deatheater.

"Don't… don't come any nearer, I'm warning you…"

The Deatheater laughed. "Foolish mudblood. Do you honestly believe that you can shoot anything at me that will even pass through my shield?"

Taking a few more steps back, the man seemed to consider this. What would happen if he attacked that person? He was outmatched. He would be disarmed immediately. No. He would be killed immediately. There was no saving himself. But perhaps… perhaps there was something he could do.

With sudden determination, he pointed his wand at his own throat and, before the Deatheater could react, cast a charm with as much power as he could muster. A Sonorus charm which allowed his voice to be heard in a large part of the whole castle.

"THERE IS A DEATHEATER ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE SOUTH WING! ALARM! THERE IS A DEATHEATER ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF…"

"STUPEFY!"

The man lay, but not before he had successfully called the alarm.

Walking past him, the Deatheater glanced down at him with something akin to respect.

"Well, you certainly made things interesting."

He could already hear the footsteps of running people, as well as some panicked screaming. Most of them, he was sure, were running as far away from him as they could. But some would surely come for him to take care of him, nobly risking their own lives, or maybe they were even so arrogant as to think that they could easily take down a Deatheater with a group.

And indeed, the first two people who came sprinting down the corridor towards him were two of the most stereotypical Gryffindors he had ever known. But they were two of the most powerful ones, as well. Sirius Black and Minerva McGonagall started their attack together with so much speed and power that the masked man had serious trouble dodging one while blocking the other curse. Luckily, his shield still held.

"Stupefy", he yelled, pointing his wand at Black. But Black was too fast for him, dodging the spell and countering immediately with another one. They duelled back and forth for a while, until eventually the Deatheater, tiring fast in his fierce battle against two skilled opponents, jumped out of the way of McGonagall's "Expelliamus", only to position himself perfectly in front of a full body bind coming from Sirius Black's wand, that hit him square in the chest.

The Deatheater fell and landed on the floor on his back. He lay unmoving.

"I hope that hurt", muttered Black, who was in some pain himself from a nasty curse that had hit him in the arm and from a bruise that was forming where he had hit his head against the wall while dodging a spell his opponent had sent his way. He had to admit that that masked bastard was a good dueller.

McGonagall meanwhile tipped her wand against her throat and then against the wall, all the while muttering some obscure curse.

"What are you doing?" asked Sirius. His question was answered when she spoke and her voice seemed to come out of the walls around him. He was suddenly sure she could now be heard in all parts of the castle. An interesting system.

"DO NOT PANIC. THE CASTLE IS UNDER ATTACK. DEATHEATERS HAVE PENETRATED THE SECURITY WARDS. ASSEMBLE IN AND AROUND THE GREAT HALL IMMEDIATELY. I REPEAT, ASSEMBLE IN AND AROUND THE GREAT HALL IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT PANIC. EVERYTHING IS BEING DONE TO ENSURE YOUR SAFETY."

"Well done", congratulated Sirius. "The only problem is that the Deatheaters will know where everybody is going, too."

"Yes, that is a shame", replied Minerva. "But this was the best way to handle the situation. It is certainly better than to have Deatheaters roam the castle freely and… harm people left and right without anybody being the wiser. And the Great Hall has better security than any other part of the castle. If the people are not safe there, I do not know where they might be."

During their conversation, they never took their wands off of the Deatheater on the floor, in case he might suddenly shake the curse off and stand up. It was rare, but known to have happened.

"How do you think they got in?" mumbled Sirius.

"I've been wondering that myself", said Minerva. "And with all the security wards that are in place right now, I can only think of one explanation."

Sirius nodded. "Yes. There must be a mole among us. And it must be a very trusted person, to have got information about the wards."

Walking slowly, they reached the Deatheater on the floor, their wands still trained on the masked man. Sirius bent down to take the mask off of him.

"Let me see your face, you cowardly bastard."

When he tore it off ruggedly, he gasped, staring into a very familiar face.

"SNAPE?"

He could not believe his eyes. Severus Snape had joined the Deatheaters in an attack on the castle. He had been convinced that Snape was on their side, especially after his time in Azkaban. Harry had rescued the man and they had been practically best friends from that day on, living together and training together for the upcoming battle.

So it had been an act all along. Snape had never supported them. He had never been friends with Harry. He had used Harry. He had betrayed Harry. Snape had given all the information to the Dark Lord. Snape was the mole. Snape must be the mole. Of course. That was the only way the attack could have worked.

Sirius' expression turned from one of surprise to one of fury and deep hatred.

"YOU TRAITOR!"

Because of the body bind, Severus Snape could not move out of the way, say a word or react in any way as Sirius Black's fist swung through the air and collided painfully with his face.

##################################################

The other man did not lose his Deatheater's mask until later.

Running down the corridors of Hogwarts, he sent stunning spells left and right, hitting most wizards and witches before they had the chance to react. His speed, it seemed, was his greatest weapon. The few people who did dare to shoot a curse his way missed because their target was moving so fast. The two or three stunning spells that did hit some part of his body were easily deflected by the shield charm he had cast upon himself. Only once did a curse penetrate his shield: it was a nasty, painful curse that bordered on the Dark Arts. Furious, he disarmed the caster, a Ministry official, before sending a stunner at the man that sent him flying ten feet through the air before crashing into an armour. Served him right.

As the Deatheater healed himself with a skilful movement of his wand, running on, he heard the loud and clear voice of Minerva McGonagall, warning of a Deatheater attack and ordering people into the Great Hall. This is perfect, he thought. If he got there fast enough, he might be able to enter before they could strengthen the wards…

And he did enter. It was close, however. There were ten or twenty aurors guarding the entrance to the Great Hall. The Deatheater cast an invisibility spell on himself and stood in a corner where masses of panicking people who were now rushing into the Great Hall were unlikely to bump into him. From there, he froze the aurors, one by one, just as they were beginning to activate the strongest security enchantments that had been cast on the room – enchantments which had to be activated in case of emergency because they could only be kept up for a limited amount of time.

The Deatheater was severely tempted to laugh at those fools, and in the midst of the chaos, he did not even think anybody would notice. The aurors were standing in the same positions as when he had arrived, unmovingly – and the Hogwarts inhabitants were in such a hurry to find a place in the great hall (which they knew did not have room for all of them) that most of them did not look at the aurors long enough to notice the state they were in. The few who did notice did not act.

The only thing left for the Deatheater to do was to calmly walk into the Great Hall amidst the panicking people. Once in, he continued, as before, to shoot stunning spells and disarming spells left and right. Few people dared to cast anything back at the still invisible man out of fear that they might miss him and hit each other, and indeed, those who did try to fight back only decreased their own number.

Things looked quite poorly for the people of Hogwarts until – after an eternity, it seemed –, Albus Dumbledore entered the scene. With a quick wand movement, the headmaster of Hogwarts cast a Finite Incantatum spell which affected all of the Great Hall: suddenly, grey hair, skin problems and other little imperfections which people had hidden magically became visible (something many would later laugh or curse about), and visible, too, became the attacking Deatheater.

A wide circle was cleared around Dumbledore and the Deatheater immediately. The people of Hogwarts stood still, tense, and watched in awe what was for most of them the most spectacular wizards' duel they had ever witnessed.

Albus Dumbledore's first interest was to protect the people, which he did by casting a strong, large shielding charm just at the rim of the circle which had been cleared for him and his enemy. That, however, gave him a large disadvantage, for the Deatheater attacked him with a fast series of all kinds of spells and curses, which were difficult for Dumbledore to avoid or deflect while he was busy constructing such a strong shield.

Things changed, however, once the headmaster was fully able to enter into the fight. Albus Dumbledore was an expert dueller – in fact, one of the very best the wizarding world had ever seen. He was surprised that his opponent held his ground as long as he did – he had expected he would overpower the man rather easily, but Voldemort's men, he concluded, were not to be underestimated. But still, the fight did not last long. The Deatheater shot mostly harmless curses – with much power behind them, yes, but still mostly harmless curses which posed little threat to Dumbledore. Likewise, the stunning spells and disarming spells which Dumbledore shot at the Deatheater were not affective at all. Finally, the headmaster decided he had no choice but to use a more serious range of curses in order to take out his enemy – these were not his favourite spells, but the opponent was a Deatheater and they were surrounded by a mass of innocent people. The sooner this duel ended, the better.

When Dumbledore started shooting harmful spells and curses, the Deatheater became visibly uncomfortable, becoming more and more defensive, and still failing, for some reason, to send harmful curses of his own back at Dumbledore. But few people realized his duelling style was very atypical for a follower of the Dark Lord.

Finally, when Dumbledore had surrounded his enemy by a ring of fire that kept closing in on him, the man dropped his wand and yelled: "I surrender!"

Dumbledore knew that voice, but in the heat of the moment he did not realize whose it was before he had disarmed the man, had disposed of the fire ring with a flick of his wand, and approached his enemy, his wand pointed steadily at the man's chest.

Then the Deatheater dropped his hood and pulled down his mask.

What followed were surprised gasps and relieved talking when the people finally realized that this wasn't a Deatheater, but Harry Potter. Harry Potter, their hero, their saviour, the man they relied on to rid them of the Dark Lord and his followers. Potter must have been testing them or playing a game of some sorts. Many people were immediately outraged that he had scared them so much and that he had carelessly caused a dangerous situation – somebody could have been hurt in the panic.

Albus next to him sighed in relief. "You almost got me there, Harry", he said, smiling, just loud enough for most of the people to hear.

The people laughed. They found it amusing.

Harry was furious.

"Are you all out of your minds?" he screamed.

There was silence immediately.

"You think this is funny?"

Nobody said a word.

"You think this was a nice little joke of mine, don't you?"

Silence.

"You seem awfully glad I'm not a Deatheater. Well, I'll tell you what – I might have been!"

Now they looked ashamed.

"I didn't do anything a Deatheater couldn't have done. I didn't even use any wandless magic! I just walked up and started shooting easy curses, and you were completely helpless."

Harry looked at Albus.

"Take a guess how many people I stunned or disarmed before you arrived here and occupied my attention."

Albus sighed. "It must have been quite a number, judging from your reaction."

"Sixty-three, Albus, sixty-three people! And I'm one person! And I shot the curses one by one, I only had a pretty weak shield on myself, and nobody managed to stop me! I don't find that funny at all! Imagine I had been a Deatheater, and all my stunning spells had been killing curses. Sixty-three people would have died because nobody in this damned castle seems to be taking the situation seriously! Well, yes, there is a lot of security here, but you can't rely on that! You can't rely on the wards and the aurors. The wards will fall eventually, and the aurors can't be everywhere at the same time. You'll have to be able to defend yourselves to a certain degree!"

Now most people looked shocked and terrified. Harry sighed. The outcome of this test had been pathetic, but at least Harry had got his message across.

More quietly, he added: "Please make sure you're better prepared than this when Voldemort really attacks. I would like to minimize the number of casualties."

And under the stares of everybody in the Great Hall, he said a short "See you later" to Albus and walked away. Harry had work of his own to do.

Back in the Chamber of Secrets, one of very few places in Hogwarts where Harry could still enjoy a little solitude, he poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice and, feeling that being angry at the people in Hogwarts was a waste of his precious time and energy, he picked up Godric Gryffindor's diary. Hello again, my friend, Harry wrote. About every other day now, he would pick up his quill and address Godric Gryffindor, or his memory rather, in the ancient wizard's diary. They would discuss, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours, Harry's training, the safety measures that Dumbledore and his crew had applied to the castle, and the doings of Voldemort. Harry had a feeling that Gryffindor would prove a to be a valuable ally in the end.

Hello, young Harry, Godric replied. How are you proceeding with your training?

Harry hesitated, a little embarrassed. Not as quickly as I had hoped, he finally wrote.

Have you been distracted?

Voldemort's people do not rest, Harry answered. We keep getting note of new attacks. There were four yesterday and three this morning. And he does not limit them to Britain anymore. We went to Hamburg this morning, northern Germany, from where a woman from an old pureblood family had called for help. Apparently her husband had been asked to join forces with Voldemort and refused. Harry shuddered, remembering. They killed the father of the family and the eldest son before she could call for help. We got there just in time to save the woman and her two other children. It was a terrible sight.

Harry didn't exactly know why, but it always calmed him to write to Godric Gryffindor about slaughters, for lack of a more fitting term, committed by the deatheaters. Godric was not a real person, but the memory of a powerful warrior, so Harry could tell him things that he would never tell Hermione or any of the other Order members that were not part of the rescue group because he knew it would frighten and discourage them. The people not involved in counteracting deatheater raids were told the statistics, which was bad enough. The bloody details Harry and the aurors kept to themselves.

Godric answered: You should not always go to fight against those deatheaters, it costs too much of your energy.

We must go, Harry wrote, surprised at that suggestion. If we don't help those people, they will die in much larger numbers. Not helping is not an option.

I do not mean the group, Harry. I mean yourself. Let the aurors do the job alone, they are trained for it.

Harry sighed. Albus had already suggested the same thing, but it didn't feel right to him to let others fight off deatheaters while he stayed behind when he knew that he was a better dueller and that their chances at success were far greater when he fought alongside the aurors.

Before he could argue thus with Godric Gryffindor, another line of writing appeared in the book.

How will you kill Voldemort?

Harry was startled. We have already discussed that. I haven't got any new ideas, he wrote.

Tell me how.

Sometimes, Harry thought, having a conversation with Godric Gryffindor reminded him a lot of the many conversations he'd had with Dumbledore. Both older men would speak in riddles a lot and only let Harry get little bits and pieces of information at a time, letting him arrive at the conclusion they wanted him to see at a time of their choice.

Annoyed at what Harry thought was an unnecessarily slow progress of the conversation, he decided that if he wanted any help from Gryffindor at all, he would, as so often, have to play along with the game.

I will beat him with what you call the power of my emotions.

Exactly, wrote Godric. What are your emotions right now?

Harry thought he knew where this was going. Frustration, he wrote, remembering the way the people in Hogwarts had been completely defenceless in the face of his and Snape's little fake attack.

Fear. They would have died if that had been reality. So many of them would have died.

Anger. Whenever he saw a deatheater, he had to fight the urge to hurt that person more than was necessary. And he was also angry at the many people living, seemingly, so much too carelessly in the castle. Why didn't they acknowledge the danger they were in? He was working so hard to save them. Why didn't they try harder to save themselves?

Anger at whom?, wrote Godric Gryffindor, whereupon Harry recounted their little experiment of the afternoon and its outcome.

Only at them? They are the victims, young Harry. They are going through a very hard time. If they do not try hard enough to develop skills to defend themselves, it is because they are so tired, they have gone through so much already, that they cannot fight anymore. They have to rest.

Harry sighed. He was beginning to feel a little ashamed of the way he had affronted the people in the Great Hall. He could understand how a man after, for example, having lost his wife to the deatheaters, could not help his mourning and would want to help his children cope with the loss rather than training some self-defence curse. If these people failed to become good fighters, it was not because they were lazy. It was because they simply lacked the energy.

I think you are right, wrote Harry. I should not be angry at them.

Indeed you should not, the old wizard answered. I have the impression that you are a very angry man, Harry. Is there anybody else you are angry at?

The more Harry thought about that, the more people entered his mind, and as he began to list them in the book, he began to realize how much anger he had held bottled up inside of him for such a long time. Aside from Voldemort and his deatheaters, the list he wrote to Gryffindor included several news reporters who, at different times in his life, had told lies about him, then Cornelius Fudge of course, and even the Dursleys were mentioned. Harry wrote about a particularly nasty human guard in Azkaban, about a woman who, after Harry had failed to save her young daughter from a deatheater's fatal curse, had punched him in the face and hysterically accused him of working for the enemy. Then he mentioned Sirius Black.

He is the biggest traitor of all of them, Harry wrote. I wish I didn't have to see him every day, but he is helping to teach the people to fight and to secure the castle, and we need all the help we can get.

You are very angry at your godfather, are you not?

He is not my godfather, Harry replied. I hate him.

Do you?

Yes.

And you are angry at him?

Yes.

Harry was growing exasperated. Why did he have to answer the same questions over and over again?

And you are angry at Voldemort as well?

Yes. What did that man want? He had already written that.

No, I do not think you are. Anger is not the same as hatred, Harry. I believe that you hate Voldemort. But would you call it anger what you feel?

Thinking about it, Harry found that he agreed with Gryffindor. You are right, he wrote. I'm not really angry at Voldemort. I cannot be, because –

Harry paused, collecting his thoughts, searching his emotions. Because I do not understand him in the least.

No, that wasn't it exactly, Harry thought. He tried again. I think you can only be angry at somebody if you expect something good of that person and that expectation is not fulfilled, he wrote. Or rather, if what that person does is worse than you expect, worse than what you think you've got a right to expect of that person.

Bravo, Harry, wrote Gryffindor. I agree with you.

So I am not angry at Voldemort because I never expected anything but the very worst deeds imaginable from him.

Yes indeed, wrote Gryffindor. And if you expect something of a person that is in any way, shape or form good – would you say you hate that person?

Harry smiled. Conversation between himself and Godric Gryffindor, equal though he sometimes felt when writing with that man, tended to end up in student-teacher situations.

I see. I believe I do not hate Sirius Black, after all.

I believe you do not, either. I believe you rather care about him a lot.

Out of respect for this old, wise, famous sorcerer, Harry tried hard not to allow his outrage to be visible in his writing. I absolutely do not care about Sirius Black, he wrote, so fast that his handwriting looked rather messy. Not at all.

When we cease caring about somebody, Harry, we cease to feel anger towards that person, too. Think about it.

But Harry didn't want to. He had spent too much thought on Sirius Black as it was, he was not going to add to that. That man had lost the privilege of Harry's concern.

I believe that there is one other person you are angry at, Harry, that you have not yet mentioned.

Harry was beginning to get a little angry at Gryffindor, when he thought about it, but he refused to write that down. How dare that man make him feel so… childish? So what if he had a little anger problem? Harry thought he had every right to be angry. He hadn't had an easy or a pleasant life, people kept treating him badly, to that day even, impossible things were expected of him and if Voldemort was not taken care of, it would be his fault, his responsibility. Everything, it seemed, was always his responsibility. Who would not get angry sometimes, in his situation?

You work very hard, Gryffindor wrote. Too hard, in fact. You know it, yet you do not change it. When you fail to save somebody, no matter how impossible it was to save that person, you think about it a lot more than you should. You try to please everybody, to help everybody, so much that you end up with no time at all to spend for yourself, your own recreation, your pleasure. You, whose emotional balance is a decisive requirement for the destruction of the dark forces, are probably one of the unhappiest, one of the most discontented people in the castle.

Tell me, Harry. Are you not, in a way, even angry at yourself?

That evening, after an extensive and extremely annoying treatment by Madame Pomfrey, Severus was finally allowed to leave the infirmary. The bruise around his eye was no longer there, his broken jaw had been mended and the seven teeth that Black had hit out of his mouth in his thoughtless attack against the defenceless man had been regrown, the process of which had taken the longest and been the most painful one of all of them. Much to the annoyance of the Potions Master, the newly grown teeth were so ridiculously white that he felt uncomfortable opening his mouth. He had opened a fierce argument over the issue, but the medi-witch had remained stubborn. "What do you mean, they're too white? Severus, if you think that I'll give you a bad quality treatment because of your… your outdated idea of upholding a reputation, then you're… well, you're out of your mind! I have sworn an oath that I will aid all of my patients to the best of my ability, and that is exactly what I will do!"

Severus had left the infirmary shortly after that. He would have to develop a potion to fix this problem, or maybe even use an illusion charm. Anything was better that to put up with an angry Madame Pomfrey, he had made that experience more than once.

Not feeling like dealing with any more prying people who would stare at him, ask about his well-being or want to talk to him about the fake attack, his excellent duelling skills and possibly even his strange looking teeth, he decided to go outside and sit by the lake, where one could still enjoy the warm summer nights, sit by oneself and think. Aside from Harry's and his Chamber of Secrets, there was absolutely no place in the castle where he felt comfortable anymore. With more and more people pouring in seeking refuge every day, the Hogwarts had become terribly overcrowded and was now among the most uncomfortable living places imaginable for decent people who required at least a little privacy. And there was always noise. How he hated that noise.

As he sat at the lake, leaning against the trunk of an old oak, enjoying his solitude and pondering life, Severus suddenly noticed a person coming his way from the direction of the castle. Casting a spell on his eyes that provided him with a binocular view for a few seconds, he recognized the figure as one of the last persons he wished to see at the moment. It was Sirius Black, the man responsible for his lengthy stay in the hospital and for the pitiable condition of his teeth.

Severus had mixed feelings about the man. He was still far from forgiving him for what he had done to Harry, who had become his best friend in the world next to Albus Dumbledore – not that he would ever voice that feeling. And that friendship and the loyalty he felt towards Harry would probably make him hold that grudge against Black for the rest of his life.

And yet he couldn't help but admire the way Black was acting. In spite of the constant accusations he received from the public and the contempt that he had to face all the time, he didn't become bitter or spiteful or drown in self pity. No, Sirius Black was working as hard as anybody to ensure the safety and comfort of the people at Hogwarts, work with Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix against the regular attacks of the Deatheaters, calm and comfort the people at Hogwarts, teach lessons in Defence against the Dark Arts to anybody who was interested. Severus was sure that Black, that Gryffindor, was just doing that to ease his own feeling of guilt, yet it was also slowly improving his reputation at Hogwarts, as some people came to think of him as a victim of Cornelius Fudge's cunning scheming, rather than a traitor who acted just of his own malice. He wasn't sure what Harry's current feelings for his godfather were. He seemed a far cry from forgiving him, too, but Severus was beginning to think that Harry also respected him for the effort he put into making the situation good at Hogwarts.

Slowly, almost shyly, Black approached the tree under which he was sitting, not meeting his eyes until he stood very near the tree.

"Do you mind if I join you here?"

"Go ahead", said Severus. Black sat down in the grass just opposite of him, so that they were facing each other.

Sirius sighed. "Snape, I've come to apologize. I should not have hit you like that when you couldn't defend yourself. I'm sorry for… for the pain and the discomfort I caused you."

Snape snorted. "Oh yes, some discomfort it was. Do you have any idea how long I had to spend in Madame Pomfrey's little torture chamber? It ruined my whole afternoon and it was very unpleasant indeed. And let me tell you that you even caused some permanent damage."

Sirius was shocked. "Really? What?"

"My teeth…"

"Oh, Merlin! Don't tell me she couldn't grow them back or something! It can't be that hard! They can even regrow bones, what's so bad about teeth?"

Severus smirked at Sirius' discomfort. "I have got all my teeth back, Black, or I wouldn't be able to speak as well as I do now. But I'm afraid they will never be restored to the way they were before."

"God… believe me or not, Snape, but I am truly sorry about that. I thought you… well, you know what I thought. I should have trusted you – I mean, Albus does, and Harry certainly does. That should be reason enough for me, too. I should never have judged you without letting you speak first."

And that last sentence brought all of Snape's anger up that he had been feeling, with varying intensity, ever since he had heard the story of how this man was responsible for the misery of Potter, his friend.

"Yes, you judged way too quickly. And not for the first time, either."

Sirius sighed sadly. Pulling up his knees, he rested his arms on them and his forehead on his arms. When he finally spoke, his voice was somewhat muffled so that Severus had to listen harder to understand him.

"You will never forgive me for that, will you?"

Snape dryly answered, "I don't think that I will, no."

"And Harry?"

"I don't know what Potter is thinking or will be thinking in the future…"

"If anybody knows, it's you, Snape. I don't think there is anybody who he's closer to right now, or anybody he spends more time with. You're pretty much his best friend, aren't you? Now that he's training so much and preparing for the big fight and hardly ever leaves the Chamber of Secrets anymore, you're the person he talks to the most, aren't you?"

Snape remained silent.

Sirius drew a deep breath, then said quietly: "Thank you for that, Snape. Thank you for being there for Harry right now. He needs you, and you must be a great friend to him to get him to trust you that much."

Feeling a little flustered, Snape answered: "Well, it's not like it's one-sided. Potter is as much of a friend to me as I am trying to be to him. In fact, I am quite certain that I would be far from the person I am now if it hadn't been for Potter, and I'm not only saying that because he freed me from the influence of those dreadful Dementors. He is… he is loyal… I can confide in him and he in me… and he is the most entertaining person to be around when he's in a good mood… which he isn't all that much anymore, but still."

Sirius smiled slightly. "You know, I could have had that. I could be Harry's best friend right now. But I'm not, because I blew it. It's my own fault."

Severus didn't answer. What could he say to that? It was true.

"And you can't imagine how it… how it kills me. . ."

Sirius started to sound choked up. Merlin, please don't start crying now, thought Severus.

"It kills me to know what pain I've put him through."

"I know", said Severus. "That's obvious to everybody."

Sirius looked at him questioningly.

"Well, just look at the way to act up at the castle. You must be the. . . why, exactly the fourth most dedicated worker there, right after Albus, Harry and, of course, Hermione, who has always taken on more than she could manage. You help anybody with any problem they might have, you organize the accommodations of the newcomers, you give classes to prepare the people for the upcoming fights, and when there's a Deatheater attack, you're the first person to put your own life on the line because you might be able to save an innocent."

"Well, er. . . thank you, I try. But I don't see what that's got to do with Harry."

"Really? It looks to me – and to many people I've spoken to, as a matter of fact – as though you're trying to make up for your past mistakes."

"That I. . . what?" Sirius spluttered. "That's. . . how stupid is that? I don't expect to. . . to make up what I did to Harry by helping other people now! I know I can't make that up so easily!"

Severus raised an eyebrow. "So easily?"

Sirius sighed. "You're right. . . you're right. I know I can't make that up at all. Ever."

"Well, I'm glad you understand that."

Sirius nodded. "That has nothing to do with the way I act these days. I just. . . I consider it as my duty to do as much as I can to help in this blasted war, in any way I can, and in any way it's necessary."

Severus smiled.

It's funny how he smiles so much lately, thought Sirius. He never used to.

"I think that's an admirable attitude, Black", admitted Severus. "And a rare one in this world full of self-centred bigots who rely on their chosen hero to. . . why, to sacrifice himself if necessary, while they don't bother to contribute to the effort at all."

Sirius was surprised how much the Potions Master apparently despised the many people at Hogwarts who tried to live their lives as happily as possible under the circumstances. It was probably because they seemed to care so little and because Harry was going to put his own life in danger for them. Snape must really care about Harry, he decided.

"You know, when I see how Potter treats those people up at the castle. . . he's so bloody nice to them, sometimes I think he doesn't even mind having to fight for them", said Severus. "You realize it's only for other people that he fights. Not for himself. He could have the greatest life, live in luxury now, if he had joined Voldemort – but he didn't because those people would be harmed. Or he could have fled. I daresay that Potter has enough magical stamina to build himself a hideout that even the Dark Lord would not find or could not enter. But he chose not to. He chose to stay here and put his life on the line for those people."

"Those people?", Sirius countered. "It's not strangers he's fighting for, Snape. It's his friends. Those people include Albus, Hermione, Minerva, Neville, all the Weasleys. . . and you, Snape, though you might not like that fact."

Severus grunted. "Indeed not. I loathe owing life debts. And if he fails. . . if he fails, may God have mercy on all of us."

For a minute, they both looked out at the lake. The calmness of the water and the beauty of the stars reflected on the surface were a painful contrast to the turmoil going on in their minds. If Voldemort won, surely, all beauty would soon be gone from their world forever.

"You know, Snape", said Sirius, "I'm sure that if anybody can defeat the Dark Lord, it's Harry, and I haven't even seen the latest developments."

"I am glad you have so much faith in him", answered Severus. "What we have been working on is less defensive and offensive spells so much as it's. . . emotions, kind of. Getting a grip on his mind. Legilimency tactics. He is quite skilled at that."

"And you think that will be important?"

"We know it will, after what happened at the Ministry. And yes, I am very confident in Potter's abilities as well. But the chances will never be great. The Dark Lord has proven to be unpredictable in every way, and by all means, he is anything but stupid and will not be tricked into letting Potter invade his mind again very easily." Suddenly, Severus' expression turned stern. "You will not tell anybody about our strategy, I hope?"

Sirius was stunned and offended. "W. . . WHAT? Of course not, I'm not crazy! Do you think I'm a traitor or something?"

But before Severus could answer, Sirius started to laugh loudly, almost insanely. "Of course!" he gasped between fits of laughter. "Of course you think I'm a traitor! I've proven…" As Sirius laughed, tears started to run down his cheeks. "I've already proven to be a traitor, haven't I? What else could you possibly think of me?"

Severus just watched Sirius Black in silence as the laughter died down but the tears didn't. Soon the former auror was resting his head in his hands and trying desperately to stifle his sobs. Even though Snape had disliked this man ever since they had been in school together, and even though he knew that he deserved all the guilt he was feeling, Snape couldn't help feeling sorry for Black. Potter's influence has made me soft, he thought, a little annoyed with his own emotions. Black wiped his face with his hands and looked at the ground, embarrassed.

"If it helps, Black", said Snape, "I know for a fact that Potter does not entirely hate you."

Sirius looked up. "He doesn't?"

"No, though why ever not I will never understand. You would certainly deserve it."

"What did he say about me?" asked Sirius. "How exactly does he… feel?" Snape snorted. "What Potter tells me in confidence, Black, will stay between him and me. I have told you how much I value his friendship and I am not about to throw it away. What he wants you to know, he will let you know, I am sure."

"I hope so," Sirius responded. "He certainly didn't say anything to indicate he was about to forgive me when we last talked, but that was a long time ago. I'm hoping that maybe he has begun to change his mind."

"When was the last time you talked to him?" Snape asked.

"The day after the trial and the fall of the ministry headquarters, when I had just found out the truth. . . when I went to apologize to him", Sirius said and sighed, remembering what was clearly one of the most painful episodes of his life.

Walking down the empty corridor in silence, Sirius felt his dread growing steadily the nearer they came to the hospital wing. He was going to talk to Harry. He was going to apologize to Harry for not having believed him, for having wrongfully imprisoned him. In Azkaban. It would be the hardest thing he had ever done, he knew, to look into the eyes of his godson after all he had done to him. And what could he say? What could he possibly say to Harry now? No words on earth could even begin to phrase a suitable apology for his ultimate betrayal.

Dumbledore, walking next to him, had not said a word more than necessary. The usual gentleness and the playful spark had left Dumbledore's eyes, which were cold and unfriendly. Sirius didn't blame him.

When they reached the entrance to the hospital wing, the headmaster addressed Sirius. "I hope you understand that the conversation you are about to have will be held completely under Harry's conditions."

Sirius nodded. "Yes… of course", he whispered. He was getting so nervous he was shaking.

"Do not touch Harry. If he tells you not to come any nearer, you don't. If he tells you to stop talking, you don't say another word. And if he tells you to leave, you get out of there immediately and without question. Do you understand?"

"Yes… Professor Dumbledore."

Dumbledore nodded. Without another word, let alone an encouraging gesture such as a smile, he turned around and left, leaving Sirius alone in front of the large door that was the entrance to the hospital wing. Sirius swallowed, took a deep breath and entered.

Harry was in a bed at the far left of the room. The head piece was propped up so that Harry was almost in a sitting position and Madam Pomfrey was with him, holding a potion in her hand.

"… weak as your body still is as we speak, I honestly cannot understand why you are in such a hurry to leave this hospital. Even if I release you tomorrow – against my better judgement, I might add – I will still need to check on you the day after to see if you… oh."

She had just noticed Sirius Black standing in the open door and watching the scene nervously. Harry looked back at him with a stony expression.

"Right", said Madame Pomfrey. "I will leave you alone, then. If you wish to contact me, Mr Potter, you know how to." That said she left the room.

Sirius slowly walked over to where Harry was. He had thought about what he was going to say over and over in his head, but now that he was face to face with his Godson, it was a hundred times harder. Just looking at Harry, he felt like breaking down crying, and he hadn't even said a word yet.

Sirius took a deep breath and quietly began talking.

"I would like to thank you for… for agreeing to talk to me, Harry… or rather for listening to what I want to say to you."

"So we're back on a first-name basis, are we?" Harry's cold and emotionless expression did not change as he answered. "The last time we exchanged words you called me Potter, and not in the friendliest tone."

Not knowing how to respond to that comment, Sirius chose to ignore it and say what he had come to say instead before he lost his nerve completely.

"I have come to apologize."

Sirius sat down on the bed next to Harry's only a few meters from where Harry was. Their eyes were now on the same level. Harry just looked at him, so Sirius decided to continue talking.

"I am very. . . very sorry. . ."

Sirius paused, trying in vain to swallow the lump in his throat and feeling his eyes prickling with tears already.

". . . for being the reason why you spent. . . years. . . in Azkaban. Of course I don't understand what you went through because of your. . . special sensitivity to Dementors, but if it was even half as bad as. . . as my own experience. . . then it was worse than I can put into words."

Sirius couldn't help a sob escaping his lips and a few tears running down his face.

"I betrayed you, Harry… and I betrayed your parents, whom I told I would take care of you. And I would… I would…"

Sirius' voice faltered. He looked at the ground, balled his hands to fists and pursed his lips in an effort not to cry, but failed and succumbed to tears and violent sobs that shook his whole upper body. Harry said nothing and just watched him. The expression on his face was as stony as when Sirius had first entered the hospital wing.

When Sirius finally regained most of his composure, he looked Harry straight into the eyes.

"I will not beg for your forgiveness tonight because I know… that what I did to you is beyond forgiving. But please… believe me when I tell you that I would… give my life to make it undone."

There were a few moments of silence before Harry spoke. "I would like to know what you were thinking."

"What I was…"

"I would like to know how you could believe it possible that I murdered my best friend and his parents, who have been like family to me since I was twelve." Harry had not wanted to let his Godfather know how much he had hurt him, but he couldn't help himself as the anger he had held bottled up for so long sought an outlet. His voice became louder and higher as he spoke. "I want to know how you, who at the time knew me as well as anybody, could accept that I had turned traitor with zero proof! Why you believed Fudge, Fudge of all people, over me!"

Sirius was fighting his tears again. "I'm so sorry, Harry… I just. . . didn't see why he would lie to me. I was sure he was on our side. Fudge was… he was important to me at that time. He had given me a job at the ministry when I—"

"He made you his puppet", Harry interjected.

"I know. I know he did. But he made me feel… important. He made me feel good about myself."

"And I didn't?"

"Of course you did, Harry. I just thought… I thought he was my friend. And I didn't see a reason why he… would hurt me like that. Why he would make those terrible accusations against you unless… unless they were true."

"I just can't believe you could think me a murderer after all we had been through together", Harry whispered. "Do you realize how much I trusted you? You knew everything about me, Sirius – what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I was wishing for… we were spending so much time together it was like you were my father…"

Sirius hid his face with his hands and his body shook all over. "I'm… I'm so sorry, Harry. So very sorry…"

When Sirius finally managed to stop crying, he looked at Harry. Harry's eyes were dry and his gaze cold and impassive. "Well, I believe we have both said what there is to be said, haven't we?"

Sirius nodded slowly, trying to hide the endless sadness he was feeling at the sound of finality in Harry's voice. "Will I… talk to you again?"

Harry blinked and his eyes hardened until he almost looked angry. "I think it likely that we will have to work together in the future to take care of Voldemort and the havoc he wreaks. But you will without a doubt understand that I have no desire whatsoever to establish any kind of relationship with you."

Sirius stood. "I understand. Thank you for hearing me out, Harry."

Harry nodded. As Sirius turned to leave, he felt his face begin to crumble again, but held back his tears until he was back in the hallway, away from the man he had betrayed. Swiftly making his way down the many stairs of Hogwarts to the main entrance, he let the tears flow down his face freely, not caring about the stares of the people he met along the way.

What had he expected? He had said it himself: what he had done to Harry was beyond forgiving. So why had it hurt him so much when Harry had said that he wanted nothing to do with him anymore? Why had he hoped, secretly, that just perhaps Harry might forgive him after all?

Because of the coldness, the lack of emotion in his eyes during their conversation, Sirius would never have dreamed that at that very moment, Harry, lying in his hospital bed, was shedding tears as well.

####################################################################

Teaching is a cool job, thought Ronny Longbottom as he entered the little apartment that had been assigned to him and his family. Even though his father Neville, one of the top aurors stationed at the castle, was among the most respected people presently residing in Hogwarts City, they had only been assigned a very small place to live because there was just no space to keep all the people that were coming in from all over Europe. Ronny didn't care. He was willing to do all he could to make life at Hogwarts as pleasant as possible. He was willing to contribute all he could to the war effort.

For several weeks now, he, Leon and Martin had been teaching some young kids, eight to ten years old, how to react in case of a deatheater attack. That was not what the children were told they were doing, of course. For them, it was a game to learn where in the castle the best hiding places were, how to shoot colors out of their wands to attract attention, where the secret passages were that would get them out of the castle in case of an attack. And for Ronny and his friends, it was fun too, seeing the success of their teaching and also the fun these children, most of whom had already lost family members to the war, could still have. What Ronny also found amazing was the respect he got. The kids did what he told them to without question. Few ever disobeyed. They respected him without being given a reason other than the fact that he was older than they were. They accepted the authority of their teachers without question. Ronny found it weird, personally, but he felt comfortable in his new role.

The little apartment was empty, as it usually was in those days. His parents were working somewhere, as always, his father, as a top auror, taking on the most dangerous jobs. Ronny wondered where his dad might be, whether he was fighting, whether he was looking at the corpse of a dead victim at the moment. He lived in constant fear that something would happen to his father. Sometimes he had nightmares of somebody coming to him to say that his father had died in a deatheater attack. Of course he would never tell his parents that, just like he would never tell them about the nightmares that haunted him about the kidnapping. They had got enough problems on their minds already.

Ronny sat down at his desk and opened the first-year spell book that was lying in the middle of it. He had for a while been thinking about teaching the kids Wingardium Leviosa – the levitation spell. Most people had trouble learning it in first year, and the children he and his friends taught were even younger than that, but they had been making such rapid progress that he thought some of them would actually master the spell after training for a bit. And it could come in very handy, he knew. If part of the castle collapsed, and something fell on top of somebody or blocked one of the emergency exits… then he remembered that Hermione Granger had once told him that she had, in her first year, knocked out a mountain troll using a levitation spell. He smiled. You just use trolls when you come, Voldemort, he thought as a private little joke. Bring as many trolls as you wish. My class will take care of them.

There was a knock at the door and Ronny went to open it, coming to stand face to face with Sirius Black, the former head of the ministry's auror division, now the most despised person among the people fighting Voldemort.

"Good afternoon, Mr Longbottom", said the man and the sadness on his face told Ronny that there were bad news.

"What is it?" he demanded, immediately thinking of his father.

"I have come to tell you that your father is in the hospital wing."

"What happened?" Ronny gasped as he pushed his way past Black and out the door and proceeded to go to the hospital wing with fast steps.

"A deatheater's spell", said Black, trying to catch up with the boy, who took up more and more speed. "Do not worry, Mr Longbottom. The injury is neither very serious, nor is it permanent. Nothing Madam Pomfrey will not be able to heal, given time. Professor Snape is working on the potion as we speak."

The fact that his father was in the hospital wing and that a potion not in store had to be prepared to heal whatever he had was enough to make Ronny worry, no matter what Black said to try and console him. He did not diminish his speed until he was standing in the hospital wing, where he recognized the bed his father occupied immediately by the group of people standing around it, the mediwitch and his mother among them. A few moments later, he was standing next to his mother and looking down at his father who, with pain clearly written all over his face, tried to smile at him.

"Hello, son."

Ronny looked from his face to his legs, which were unclothed. There were bloody slashes all over both his legs as though somebody had deliberately cut into them with a knife. After a few seconds of looking at the wounds, Ronny realized with horror that new slashes kept appearing every few seconds as he looked on, accompanied by winces and hisses of pain of his father. He could not help the tears shooting into his eyes as he looked back at the sweaty face of the auror.

"Dad… oh Merlin, dad…"

"Shh… it's okay, son. You should… see the other guy."

Ginny, who was holding on to her husband's hand, started sobbing quietly, and Neville smiled at her before looking back at his son.

"Professor… Snape is working on a potion that will… make all of this go away immediately. He and I have been special… special friends ever since my school days." Ginny shook her head in amazement and Neville chuckled a little. "So he will try partic…" He winced and shivered all over his body as a exceptionally large slash appeared on his right thigh. "Particularly hard to make that potion… well and fast. That man is a true master in his field."

Ronny wiped away his tears, embarrassed. If his father could bear all that pain and still make jokes, then he, Ronny, should at least be able to keep some composure watching it. When he finally felt in control of his feelings, Ronny looked up and looked around. The hospital wing looked as it always did after the aurors had returned from the scene of a Deatheater attack: all the beds were occupied with aurors and other victims of the Deatheaters' cruelties. Most of the injuries looked dangerous as well as terribly painful – one was better off, Ronny thought, not looking at them too closely. And there were very few aurors who escaped these Deatheater fights will less than severe injuries – especially this time, it seemed there was not a man in the room who was not wounded in some way or another. Well, except one…

"Look at you, Black!" a man suddenly spat, glaring at Sirius Black with pure hatred in his eyes. Ronny knew the speaker in passing, it was an auror called Watson.

Black looked back at Watson emotionlessly.

"Isn't it funny, Black, that you are once again the only man in the party unharmed?" said Watson. "You know, whenever you return from a fight, you usually look like you haven't fought at all! Curious, huh?"

Sirius said nothing, but looked down.

"And then", said Watson, "you dare to show your face in the hospital wing and feign pity for the injured, pretend to care, pretend to want to help…"

"Shut your trap, Watson!" snapped Neville Longbottom. "You would not… think that… if you had seen Sirius take down five… five people at once today…" Ginny laid a hand on Neville's arm. "Shht," she said, "don't talk, you must rest…"

"Oh, are you blind, Longbottom?" yelled Watson. "Hasn't that man shown his true colours plainly enough? He's just trying to suck up to you all! He wants to get back in his comfortable position, wants to be the boss again! He thinks that if he acts like he's all remorse, they'll let him go unpunished for his crimes… and sometimes I think they really might!"

Neville opened his mouth to protest, but instead he moaned in pain as another big slash appeared on his left leg. Sirius looked up at Watson.

"If you have something to say to me, Watson, say it to my face, but let Neville Longbottom out of it. The man needs to rest."

As a reply, Watson looked at Sirius with hatred and spat him in the face. Wiping his face, Sirius turned and left the hospital wing wordlessly.

For a few minutes, Ronny sat at his father's side and pondered the situation of Sirius Black, a man he had once looked up to. It was true, the man had made many mistakes, and very grave mistakes, that many would say were unforgivable. But like his father, Ronny believed that the effort the man was showing was honest effort, and the remorse true remorse. Could he be forgiven? Should he be forgiven? And who was to decide that… a court? Would there be a trial for Sirius Black after the threat of the Dark Lord had been turned away? Ronny wasn't sure what he himself felt towards the man…

At some point, Severus Snape entered with the potion for his father, and Ronny was very relieved to see that indeed, the slashes in his legs started to disappear immediately, and so did the pain. "Thank you, Professor Snape," said Neville Longbottom, truly grateful.

Snape nodded. "You are welcome, Mr. Longbottom. And beware of that curse in the future. If it had hit you at another part of your body, it might have left some permanent damage before the potion was ready."

As Snape said these few words, Neville began to smile, and his smile grew wider and wider, and then he laughed outright. Snape frowned. "And what would be so funny about that?" he demanded to know.

Neville sobered. "Nothing is funny, Professor. I just… I just want to compliment you on your new look, it is quite marvellous. I believe I have never seen a man with teeth quite so… well, so shiny and white."

Snape was horrified. He would have to do something about those teeth really, really fast.

Neville laughed. "You know, you should really consider partaking in the Most-Charming-Smile competition of Witch Weekly magazine! You might – hey, Snape! You might even beat Gilderoy Lockhart!"

But Snape had escaped the last part of that sentence by striding out of the hospital wing as fast as his dignity allowed.