It was pointed out to me that it seemed unlikely that Snape would not hear anyone sneaking up on him. However, the greenhouse is enchanted to let in no noise; otherwise the basilisk would be rather badly harmed every morning when Hargid's roosters started crowing. On the other hand, noise can get out, which is how the kids keep sneaking up on him, and besides, Ron and Hermione have experience sneaking around.^.^
It was Dumbledore that visited the next day, coming down near midday. He brought with him a rather large rat that Mrs. Norris had been having rather too much fun torturing to death. The headmaster figured the snake could use the pick-me-up of the treat after last night, though the news he brought with him would likely do more than the small bite a rat was to the large snake.
"Good day, my lad." His voice was carefully cheerful, "Severus informed me of last night's events…..I am truly sorry that they reacted that way." He patted the reptile's spike crowned head and banished the muzzle.
Harry merely gave an odd sound in response, opening his mouth a ways so the headmaster could toss the rodent into his waiting maw. There was no way he'd be able to take something as small as a rat from the man without the chance of hurting him and Dumbledore knew it. With a sad smile he did as silently bid, frowning as Harry swallowed it with none of his usual enthusiasm over food.
The old man sighed and settled on his bench with another pat to the reptile's head.
"I'm sure everything will work out in the end. But I do have some news that will cheer you up considerably," his voice brightened with unfeigned good humor and Harry tilted his head to him.
"Your godfather has been cleared of his charges. Enough people saw Pettigrew at the final battle, and working for Voldemort no less, that had to believe that Sirius was framed. So now there is a manhunt out for Pettigrew and Sirius is free to live as he likes." Harry couldn't see the beaming smile on the old man's face but he could hear it in his words and he gave a delighted hiss that was nearly a croon. The old man chuckled at the sound and patted the spiked head yet again.
"I'm glad the news lifted your spirits my boy." There was real delight in his tone, overlaying exhaustion, "Though it does give me yet another reason to work ever harder to return you to human form, as alas I cannot even tell him you are safe as you are." His voice fell, soft and sad and determined.
Harry rumbled and shook his head slightly. Dumbledore was already working too hard on the problem and no amount of false cheer could hide the scent of fatigue from the serpent's tongue. Another pat to the head told the basilisk that his silent objections were going to be ignored yet again. He was proven correct as the Headmaster picked up his story telling from the last time he'd been down and Harry settled in to listen. It was all he could do.
An hour later Dumbledore gave a momentary pause in his storytelling, noting the progress of the other two thirds of the Gryffindor Golden trio as they hesitantly approached the greenhouse. They were talking, and looked as though they'd been arguing with each other the entire way down. As one they saw him and both paused, clearly surprised to see the Headmaster locked in with the unmuzzled basilisk.
"It would seem that you have some visitors." His voice was neutral and he gently shifted Harry away so that he could get up and let the children in.
"Come in Miss Granger, Mister Weasley. I hope you both are doing well." Tone jovial now, and only harry could hear the falseness of it.
They entered at his welcome, Ron a few steps behind Hermione, arms crossed and looking sullen and nervous. Hermione though, merely looked sheepish, though there was a thread of desperate hope in her brown eyes.
Harry for his part pulled back as they came into his sanctuary, keeping well behind Dumbledore. The Headmaster glanced back to him and his voice took on a reassuring note.
"Everything is fine my boy." His twinkling gaze returned to the human children, "I heard some interesting things about you two last night…That you perhaps snuck down after hours to spy on someone?" Neutral again, neither approving nor disapproving.
"We…..we only did it 'cause Snape was actin' so bloody weird! He's gone completely loony!" Ron's outburst and curse was met by Hermione's elbow to the boys gut.
"Professor…what we did was wrong, and…after some thinking I realize that what said last night was wrong as well. I…" She looked down, voice trembling, "I started thinking about everything that's happened. About what Professor Snape said as well…the….the pieces all fit together."
"Hermione!" Ron's protest fell on deaf ears. The Gryffindor girl moved around Dumbledore and approached the basilisk.
"I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…" Tears started to fall and she hung her head, unable to move closer.
Ron sighed, "Everyone's gone bonkers."
Harry just whined as Hermoine addressed him directly, pulling back for a moment before gathering his own nerves and shifting forward to carefully nudge his nose into her hands. Ron gulped at the movement and took a step back from the reptile. Hermione was almost expecting the motion and reached down. Her hands were shaking and her breath hitched but she still took the snake's scarred head into her arms.
"I'm so sorry…I wish I'd seen it sooner…" she was sobbing now, and Dumbledore gave her a gentle, tired smile and patted her on the back.
"There there, he didn't want you to know yet. Being his friend I'm sure you both know his mind and heart and the reason that he did not want to tell you." Hermione nodded to his words, tuning to look up at him.
"He…he wouldn't want to take the chance that we'd reject him." Her voice broke again and she clung to the Headmaster with renewed tears, as she had very nearly done exactly what Harry had feared she'd do.
Harry gave another deep whine. He could hear her sobbing and the pain in her voice and taste her tears and desperately wanted to comfort her. The body of a basilisk however, is not made to give comfort to a human and he had to settle for mere contact. He leaned his nose carefully against her leg, body shaking from emotions that he had no real way to express, though the pained whine rising from his throat came close.
Hermione jumped as the snake touched her, but the fear lasted only a moment before Gryffindor courage asserted itself. Moving slowly, for she knew no blind thing would appreciate quick movements, she wrapped shaking arms around the serpents head and hugged him.
Behind them Ron was watching with a bewildered look on his face. He was more than a little frusturated by all this talk of the man eating dark creature being his best mate, but Dumbledore believed it was Harry…He sighed.
"Professor…is it true?" His voice held the faintest tremor and the clear hope that the headmaster would deny the claim. The old man dashed his think hopes with a sad, gentle smile.
"Yes Ronald. Asmodues is indeed our dear friend Harry Potter…and he needs his friends now more than ever." The boy stared at him and then looked back at the snake shivering under Hermione's hug. Slowly, as if he expected the reptile to attack at any second he walked over to join her. Dumbledore had said it, and Ron had yet to know the old man to be wrong.
"Harry?" The Gryffindor's voice shivered as he asked. In response the basilisk gave a sound like a sigh and the briefest of nods.
Ron broke at the confirmation that the tortured creature was indeed his best mate. He hugged the reptile along with Hermione, tears filling his own eyes.
"I'm sorry Harry." The boy's voice cracked and talking became impossible as both fifth years broke down and cried over the state that their friend was in, and what he had gone through.
Harry gave a deep whine and shifted into a loose coil around his friends. He leaned into them, careful with his strength and the spikes adorning his body. They knew and they still accepted him, and that was more than he could have possibly hoped for.
Albus stood back from the tearfilled and highly emotional reunion with that sad smile still adorning his features. The old Headmaster waited until they had both cried themselves out and gently ushered them from the greenhouse. Staying with the basilisk in their distraught state for too long would only have an adverse effect upon Harry's rather delicate mental state. Not a one of the trio argued with him.
Later that day, going on into evening, Snape found the time to visit the greenhouse. It was just the beginning of dinner up at the castle so the chances of some errant student coming down to spy on him was rather low.
Harry reared his head as the door opened and the muzzle wrapped around his nose. His tongue flickered rapidly towards the human heat signature and the surge of adrenaline eased at Snape's scent.
"Evening Mister Potter." His voice was tight and he held himself with a frigid rigidity. Yet the basilisk relaxed further and hissed a greeting despite the tone. The action had the Potions Master quirking a dark brow even as he took his normal seat on the bench.
"I have come to inform you that I will not be sharing any more…stories, with you. I would prefer to keep what little is left of my dignity intact." Harry just sighed. That explained his demeanor and the snake couldn't blame him for the choice. It hurt that he wouldn't be hearing anything more about his mother or even Snape's own past, but he honestly hadn't expected the story telling to last long anyway.
"Don't sigh like that boy. You have more pride than to mope over the lack of some old man's memories." Sharp and bitter and Harry snorted and shook his head. He had very little in the way of pride now as most of it had been beaten and starved out of him. Snape gave the reptile a look and sighed, easing up a fraction.
"Very well…I suppose I can continue." There was still a note of pain in his voice, as the memories he had been sharing had taken an unpleasant turn as of late. He decision was rewarded with the snake child relaxing and voicing a soft hiss that could have been nothing but a 'thank you'. It brought a smirk that was very nearly a smile to the Potions Master's face. He patted the spiked head and his amusement grew as he reptile even further relaxed under the attention.
"Now what to tell you…I do not wish to elaborate on how your mother despised me after the…incident." The basilisk shuddered and shook his head, not particularly wanting to hear that anguish in Snape's voice again. His head was patted again for his agreement as the man gathered his thoughts.
"Perhapse the time I caught a particularly horrid cold. During the summer months wizarding medicines were…unattainable in my home. I had to make do with common muggle cures, none effective in the least." The serpent at his side huffed in agreement.
"Well, your mother, despite my father's attempts to run her off, came to me in secret. The silly girl even went so far as to climb through my window to bring me cough syrup. My mother smuggled me a proper potion later but I did tell Lily that it was her that led to my quick recovery. We were…" he paused, thinking, "twelve at the time I believe."
Harry gave a soft, amused hiss. Snape failed to suppress his own smile, the expression coming far too easily as he was slowly using it more.
"It was rather amusing. We could be happy with so little back then." He continued his stories from when he and Lily had been young. Harry of course listened with his usual rapt attention, relaxing further as all of the tension that he'd felt at Snape's entrance left him completely.
An hour later the till then quiet serpent grew agitated, the reason for which became shortly apparent. It was a feeding day and Hagrid came down at his appointed time with yet another already dead pig. The half giant gave the now silent and glowering Snape a mildly confused glance, but asked no questions about the man's continued presence.
"Evenin' Professor Snape. Didn't know ye'd be down 'ere. Jus' came in ta feed Azzy."
"Obviously." Hagrid ignored the biting tone and removed the snake's muzzle, dropping the pig in front of his nose.
"We should prob'ly leave 'im be so 'e can eat." The tone said the man didn't expect Snape to listen. He wasn't disappointed.
"I very much doubt the serpent will mistake me for something to eat when there is food right in front of him." Still sarcastic and biting. Hagrid shrugged.
"Suit yerself. I'll make sure ye get left alone. Dumbledore tol' me 'bout all the students sneakin' about an' I'll make sure t' keep 'em from interuptin' yer work."
"See that you do." The man sneered as the half giant shook his head and left.
Harry for his part was completely ignoring them both in favor of finding the pigs head and beginning the long process of swallowing it down. Snape watched him with morbid fascination as the serpent engulfed the large pig. It slid down that long throat and the Potions Master suppressed a shudder at knowing exactly what those jaws could to if that was a human in them.
The basilisk didn't notice the human's discomfort, and just settled his head right back next to Snape once his food was gone, perfectly content to let the man continue his story telling. Severus managed, barely, not to start as the reptile joined him again and after a moment picked back up.
"During the winter of our fourth year Lily and I departed for the holiday season…it was odd that I should be called home. Each year before I been left at Hogwarts. It was not be a joyous Yule…My father had died." He shifted, staring off into the darkness beyond the greenhouse.
"I don't know Lily found out before the obituary ran in the local periodical but he morning of the funeral I stepped out and there she was. Dressed all in black and waiting for me she looked more saddened than either my mother or I did. She took my hand when I met her by the gate and told me everything would be alright. I told her she didn't have to come just to try to comfort us, but she did anyway." He sighed, black eyes closing a moment, "Your mother always cared for others before herself."
The reptile at his side made a soft sound and nudges head ever so slightly against him. It was depressing that the professor couldn't think of any happy memories, but Harry would take what he could get. Snape gave a sad smile, though the expression didn't show in his words.
"I hated my father. He was a muggle and though me a monster for what I was. He treated mother cruelly, and yet, Lily knew that I worked so hard at school to gain his favor. Having lost that she knew I needed the comfort of a friend." He glanced at the snake at his side, "I worked hard to repay her for that kindness, even after she…came to hate me." He paused and Harry tasted tears for a momet before the man coughed and suppressed the reaction.
"In fact, not even a year after leaving Hogwarts I heard in a roundabout way that the newer Wolfsbane potions were no longer potent, and given Lily's friendship to Lupin I knew his days of living 'normally' were numbered…but though the thought of that self-serving wolf being put into a cage…" Harry hissed softly and Snape rephrased, "I knew it would sadden Lily to think of him in any kind of pain. So I researched, and modified the potion once again, making it more potent, better…so that Lily would never have to face loosing yet another friend."
Harry gave a startled hiss at that tidbit of knowledge, having no idea that Snape had been the one to perfect Wolfsbane enough to give werewolves a normal life. The reaction actually got a laugh out of the dour man.
"It is something I do not care to spread around. I believe that if the world found out about it I would go lock myself away in a cave somewhere…You knowing, oddly, does not leave me ill at ease." The snake snorted and shook his head, silently agreeing that he wouldn't say anything to anyone….even if they did get him human again. Snape patted his head and harry could hear the continued smile in his voice.
"Well, since you bear my secrets so very well I will admit aloud something I'm sure by this point you already know. I loved her. I loved Lily Evans with all my heart and soul, from the first moment I first saw that scarlet head of hair of hers. And…" the amusement in his tone faded away and he sighed, "and I love her still. I will love her until the day I die and will adore her even when I am in Hell and she in Heaven." Glances down at the snake, "And don't you try to contradict me, for all I've attempted redemption in helping you I know I am going to burn in the end."
Harry just hissed and shook his head, poking him with the tip of his nose. It got him an eye roll and a careful shove away.
"You are a bleeding heart, boy. Though it was one of your mother's best qualities, in you, it is near foolish." There was a sneer in his voice and Harry could feel him pulling away again. He hissed softly and nudged him.
"Do you intend to do that whenever I attempt to be myself?" His voice was biting. The snake gave a derisive snort, what Snape called 'himself' was a mask and they both knew it. It got his head shoved away and Snape stood, tense again.
"Do you know how long it has taken me to shake off the reputation I had as a student? To become a man that is respected by his peers and feared by his pupils? The events of my life, both the good and the bad, have shaped me, turned me into this. And if that vile creature I had to 'serve' for so long had not murdered my one source of comfort in this world, perhaps…perhaps, Miser Potter," Harry's name was mocking as it dropped from the man's lips, "I would be less bitter. Perhaps I would be a better man. But as it stands that thing that I so foolishly swore loyalty too, to whom Dumbledore had me groveling to, murdered the only shard of goodness that was left in my blackened soul!" He snarled the last few sentences in a volume just short of screaming and Harry suppressed a whine as he pulled back from him. The man didn't notice, and continued his rant.
"I will never reclaim it…Were it not for my loyalty to her, above all others, or that damnable oath I made to the old man I would have ended my life the moment I heard she was gone!" Now Harry voiced that whine, thin and pained and the basilisk came hesitantly forward and curled around him, carefully putting his head in the man's hands.
Snape froze as the larger serpent coiled about him, expecting some form of attack, one that would be rightly deserved in his mind. He relaxed as nothing came of it, and slowly came to realization that this was meant to be something of a 'hug'. Hands that he did not realize were shaking came up to cradle the snake's head.
"I…still think about it. About just ending it. No one would miss me, nor remember me favorably…no one would care about the suffering I'd endured or the sacrifices I've made…" His voice shook and Harry tasted tears, "No one would cry for me, just as no one cried for my father…the only one who would have is long gone."
Harry hissed softly, leaning into Snape with care for his size. He was shivering again, anxious and desperately wishing he could speak, if just to tell the human he had somehow come to care for that someone at least would mourn him.
Severus felt the serpent's shivering and knew that there were few things that would cause the snake to act like that, fear, pain…..or sadness.
"You cannot mean to tell me that you would mourn my passing, boy." The tiniest thread of hope in his voice and Harry nodded in his hands. Snape shook his head, but was none the less somehow relieved, somehow comforted, by that knowledge.
"Again you prove to be your mother's son." He gently released the serpents head and dried his face, as if there had not been tears there a moment before, "Don't worry, I've no intention of ending my existence by my own hands. I'd have done it back then, if I'd truly wanted to." He patted the snake's head and settled back onto the bench.
"I've a promise to keep. I cannot die just yet." Harry relaxed, head tilted, but he had no way of asking about what promise Snape was talking about…and he doubted the man would tell him anyway. He shifted back to put his head on the bench again, relaxing as the man seemed to be in a better mood for his near breakdown.
"Now…to leave melancholy behind, would you prefer to hear more cheerful memories about your mother?" Harry gave an immediate nod that didn't surprise Snape in the slightest.
"Then, perhaps this will pique your interest. When we were thirteen your mother and I went to Hogsmead for the day, it was out first outing to the village. While the others muddled about Lily seemed intent on trying her hand at making pies in the Hogshead Inn, saying that she could do better than the proprietor. It was ludicrous of course, but she didn't listen to word anyone said." He chuckled, "We spent the entire trip baking, ended up white as ghosts and covered head to toe in flour. Somehow we managed to have fun…a word you know I rarely use." Harry snorted in agreement, mildly shocked that Snape would admit that anything was fun at all.
"We were both reprimanded for returning in such a state and I was the subject of baking related pranks and jokes for months, but it was worth it to see her so happy."
He paused and then snorted, "Shortly after that she rescued a squirrel that had somehow managed to get up into Gryffindor tower. She told me , the other girls thought it was a rat. They had chased the helpless thing out until Filche's cat saw it, and had she not scooped it up at the last moment, it would have been its meal. In the chaos, the rodent's leg had broken. She asked for assistance from the nurse, and after wrapping its leg and building a nest for it out of old boxes and cotton, she nursed the thing back to health. She got detention once for brining the box to class, to show me, but she was happy as long as it wasn't going to be taken away and killed." Harry snorted in dry amusement, after the stories Snape had been telling him none of this surprised him at all.
Yet another story came, and another, until nearly one in the morning and the Potions Master finally noticed what time it was. He stood, putting his emotionless mask back in place as he prepared to leave.
"I must say, these visits, for all the emotion they conjure up, have been…enjoyable." He sounded as if he wished to say more but didn't, merely patted the snake on the head one last time.
"Rest well, boy. Tomorrow I will no doubt be swamped with work but if I've any time I will stop by." The serpent gave a soft rumble in response, bumped head into his hand and pulled back with a hiss that sounded like a 'good night' slithering into the corner he usually slept in even as Snape left the greenhouse.
Severus gave the battered serpent one last, long look and then turned to leave. For the first time in years he dared feel hope about anything, but that boy deserved to get some form of life back, even if Snape would be loath to see James face on him.