What You Don't Know
by Cayce Morris
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble.
It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
Harry Potter stood without moving in the great white room, thinking that in spite of the peculiar things he'd seen there, it still reminded him of King's Cross station on an extremely clean, quiet day. The hideous child-thing still lay under a seat, nearly hidden from view. It had quieted some, but still thumped softly now and then. Harry found it didn't frighten him quite so much as it had at first.
He was ready to go back, ready to face whatever was to come.
He watched the bright mist descending, obscuring the figure of Albus Dumbledore as it did. Then the fading figure seemed to have second thoughts. "Oh, Harry," said the increasingly ghost-like form in a distinctly non-ghostly voice, "there is one more thing."
"What's that?" Harry asked, peering into the mist, trying not to lose sight of his former headmaster, fearing that it might, in fact probably would, be the last time he would ever see the man.
"Just this." The figure paused and kept fading in and out of the mist, making Harry worry that he might disappear completely before he was finished speaking. "You have paid a great price for your participation in this conflict, and others have as well. You must know that I'm aware of that. We are all aware of that."
"I know, sir." Harry sighed. He was very tired, but resting at the moment wasn't remotely possible. "There isn't anything for it now."
"But there may yet be, my dear boy. There may just be. I am trying to arrange … things, you know, so as to make it up to you, and to others, at least in some small way, for what you have sacrificed. To settle up my accounts, so to speak, with those who have given the most."
"You've arranged … er, what kinds of things?"
"Yes. Well. I can't go into too much detail right now, and of course I'm never entirely sure how these sorts of things will work out, as you well know, but I have every reason to hope for the best."
"The … I'm sorry, sir, the best in what?"
"Just trust me, Harry, if you still can. And do remember, will you, as you go back and face your future, to be aware of the sacrifices others have made? There is one other, especially, who has lost nearly everything for our cause. We owe him a great deal, but I'm afraid his sacrifices are not widely appreciated."
"Snape." Harry said the name in a whisper.
"Severus, indeed. I'm so glad you understand. And as I said, I am trying very hard to settle my accounts, to fix what I've left in disarray, but I will need your help in finishing the job, if you are willing to give it."
"I … of course, sir. What do you need me to do?" I haven't even finished what you expect me to do with Voldemort. How am I supposed to see beyond that? But he knew this was not the question to ask of Dumbledore, not now.
"It is tremendously important, Harry, that you demonstrate your gratitude for the sacrifices of others. Make them know that they are appreciated, because you realize, my boy, it will be you who gets most of the attention for everything that has happened. And beyond that, if you would try to help them, the others who have lost so much … try to determine what each one needs, what will help each person the most, and then, if you are able, give it to them. It's quite simple, really. Do you think you can remember to do those things?"
"All right, sir. I will." Harry said the words, though he was not entirely sure what he was agreeing to do. Be grateful for the sacrifices of others? Give people what they need? Um, sure. "I'll remember."
Dumbledore seemed pleased. "Excellent, excellent. You've no idea how helpful it will be, if you can do those things. It will help me make things right, for you and for … others, as much as I can. And I might even … " he cackled softly, "be able to induce them to help you as well." He laughed again, more crazily. "Though I suppose," and he laughed quite madly at this point, "if the two of you straighten these things out for me I will be in debt to both of you yet again, and this time with no further way to repay you … ho, ho."
Harry wondered if the man had finally slipped a widget, but he said nothing. Finally Dumbledore stopped laughing and gave one little hiccup. Then he said, "Thank you for humoring an old man. I'll let you be on your way." He turned away, then looked back over his shoulder. "Good luck, Harry."
The mist grew thicker, and somehow also brighter, as Dumbledore walked away. As Harry looked around him, the white room itself seemed to be receding in all directions, its walls fading away into a great formless light that surrounded him. He closed his eyes, and could feel himself slipping out of that lovely, warm light back into darkness, back into the sharp-edged pocket of pain and fear that defined, for the moment, the entire compass of his real life.
X X X X X
The snake bit, and the Dark Lord left abruptly.
The snake's bite had hurt; that did not surprise Severus. Sharp teeth in one's flesh generally did. The thudding fall to the shack's filthy wooden floor had carried its own unpleasant repercussions, literally. He had heard more than felt the thump of his knees hitting first, and then a louder but dull—as if cushioned by the tender grey matter inside—crack as the right side of his skull hit, with his shoulder crunching down close behind and a final undignified flop as he rolled to his back in a stable, not to say comfortable, position.
The boy and girl appeared, and sat with him for a moment, and heard his last gasping words, just before the creeping paralysis tightened its net and became complete. They caught his memories. The boy looked into his eyes, and for a brief moment Severus saw again the love of his life. But she was gone, and then they were gone, and he stayed where he had fallen. He closed his eyes, and found he could not reopen them.
Severus Snape lay still and alone.
During the first hour or two, he knew that he was going to die. The poison carried by the snake's bite would surely finish him off quickly, for if the Dark Lord had wanted him to die slowly, he would have stayed around to enjoy the spectacle. If, on the other hand, Voldemort had simply wanted him out of commission for a while, then perhaps … but that was ridiculous. That was not how Tom Riddle worked. If you were useful to him, he kept you close at hand; if you were in his way, he destroyed you, utterly and mercilessly. Snape expected to die. The best he hoped for was to avoid an excess of pain on the way out.
Time passed, however, and he did not die. He was in considerable discomfort, lying there on the grotty floor with his legs twisted under him and a throbbing head, but it seemed meager pain indeed considering what the Dark Lord might have inflicted.
Severus lay there in complete confusion for the third and fourth hours after falling. He could feel against his chin, where it pressed against the floor, the warm dampness of his own blood that had pooled there after dripping from his neck. It had seemed like quite a lot of blood at the time. After four hours, however, his sensitive nose told him that the scent from it was more that of a dried crust than a still-damp puddle, so he assumed there had not been so much as he'd thought. He began to wonder if perhaps he was not to perish this day after all, and if possibly he might even regain the power of movement eventually.
Another few hours went by—it was becoming understandably more difficult for him to judge their passage—and still he lived, and ached, and could not move. He felt no closer to death than he had been, but neither did he feel closer to getting up and moving on. It began to grow dark outside, which he could see even through his closed eyelids, and he began to wonder what the bloody fuck was going on. He had been prepared to die. He had been prepared to live, if it was required of him, and to get on with trying to keep the blasted Potter boy alive, to do what he could to protect the damned castle where he was now loathed and feared more than ever, to do all the things he had sworn years ago to Albus that he would do. But this, this useless, motionless, defenseless state, he could not cope with. And so he moved past his initial terror and on into a bizarre and unexpected realm of what was, for him, even worse.
It was boredom: abject, near-unto-death boredom. He had never been so tediously, unrelentingly mired in ennui.
Severus Snape did not do boredom well. His mind was not suited to it, and had frequently managed to get him into trouble when it was not productively occupied. He needed continuous brain fodder: books to read, spells to master, potions to optimize, students to terrorize, anything that could soak up some of the endless fire-hose blast of mental energy that filled his head. With no outside stimulation, he was lost. So he lay there, still aching, and now increasingly miserable as his thoughts pinged around the space inside his throbbing head, looking for something to light on, finding nothing, and pinging away again.
It was around hour twenty—though he had by then given up trying to gauge how much time had passed—that he began to wonder if the Dark Lord had actually intended this to be the agony in which he would die. Awful though it was, this idea gave him something to think about, and so he ruminated almost gratefully on it for an hour or so, after which he began to slowly transition back to terror at the horrifying prospect of dying—eventually—from boredom.
X X X X X
Around hour twenty-five, Severus slipped free of both boredom and terror, and slept, and began to dream. At first he thought he might have simply died and moved on to some new and even more surreal place; then he considered the possibility that what was happening might be real. Calling it a dream, however, seemed the simplest way to explain it. He didn't care what it was, really; it gave him something to think about.
Albus came to him in the dream, Albus, who had been dead for a year by Severus' own hand. The old man spoke to him, sounding quite alive, and with, of course, another unpleasant assignment. "I must ask one more thing of you, Severus, my friend," Albus had said, looking infuriatingly comfortable with his somehow-not-yet-quite-dead state, far more comfortable than Severus was feeling at that moment. "I need for you to return to Hogwarts, do a little more teaching. There is unfinished business there, some accounts that only you can settle for me now, I'm afraid. But don't worry, I'm sure you'll enjoy it." His eyes twinkled in that maddening way they had, always making a joke out of the most aggravating things.
Severus tried to refuse him. What did it matter what Albus wanted him to do, anyway, when it was certain that one way or another, he was going to die right here in this miserable shack?
"But Severus," the former Headmaster had said in surprise, "your death isn't certain at all. Not at all, no, no. You can choose. Didn't you know? Oh, dear, did I neglect to mention that? So sorry, I hope you'll forgive me, I've been forgetful of late."
"What do you mean, I can choose?" Severus found that in this peculiar dream, he could speak, though he still lay unmoving on the hard wooden floor of the shack.
"Why, just that, of course. You can die, right here, and go away, or choose to live and return to the world. It's quite simple, really."
"But how, exactly?"
"Well, it's magic, of course. Old stuff, very old. Some spells I can … ah, let us say, help you with, from this side of things. If you see what I mean."
Severus wondered if Albus realized he was being even more maddeningly obscure than usual. "Are you telling me that I'm actually dead, and you can bring me back to life?"
"Send you back is more like it, I think, as I won't be coming with you. But yes, it's something I can do for you, if you so choose."
Severus considered this, and then he remembered. "What about Potter, your sacrificial lamb?" he asked, his voice refreshed with anger. "Does he have a choice, or are you going to send him to the slaughter as planned?"
"Why, yes, as a matter of fact, he does have a choice."
"You will allow him to live?"
"I already have," Albus said, nodding. "I need him to help settle my accounts as well."
The boy did not die, then, Severus thought in wonder, but he said, "Bloody hell, Albus. Haven't you done enough to him? Why don't you just send him back and leave him alone?"
Albus seemed mildly hurt by that. "Why, Severus, my boy, I'm trying to fix things. For him, and for you … you two, who have sacrificed so much. Surely you can't fault me for wanting to make it up to you, if I can."
And as Albus must have known he would, Severus finally agreed. He agreed to come back, to return to the living, to teach yet another year's worth of untalented young witches and wizards, and to settle Albus' accounts for him, whatever the bloody hell they were; Albus was rather vague on that point, promising only that Severus would know what he needed to know, when the time was right. And somehow, Severus knew, it was going to involve Harry bloody Potter, the Boy Who Was Going To Live Yet Again.
It occurred to Severus only after Dumbledore had faded out of the dream, leaving him still paralyzed and in pain on the floor of the shack, that he had accepted this final assignment far too quickly. What if he didn't want to do Albus' bidding anymore? What if he despised teaching? What if he wanted something more from his life? What if, just possibly, he would have preferred to die, to rest, to find some peace at last?
Perhaps, he told himself, he was simply too spineless to deserve anything more, if he couldn't even stand up to the old man now, when he was dead, for Merlin's sake. Perhaps he was destined, doomed even, always to act out the part Albus had written for him, and occasionally to pass along stage directions to Potter. Their little drama had certainly taken some startling twists, here at what was supposed to have been the finale. With a wave of Albus' hand, the final act had been rewritten. The play, evidently, was required to go on.
Severus lay where he was, wallowing motionlessly in pain and fury. Damn you, Albus. And Potter, the bloody little sod. Why couldn't you just leave him out of it?
X X X X X
Severus had been lying still as death, in a twisted mass of hurt, for well over a day when he heard the door of the Shrieking Shack open. His brain had lapsed into a sort of intellectual fever state, and he did not immediately associate the sound of the door with anything at all. What small part of him was still lucid rather imagined the sound to be an hallucination.
After the door sounds came footsteps, drawing quickly nearer to him. He did not yet register their meaning.
The footsteps stopped, very close. A thought thrust itself determinedly through the fog in his mind: Someone is here. This seemed at first like a very bad thing. Dumbledore, when he'd come to Severus in the dream, hadn't made any sound of footsteps. Who else could it be, now, but the Dark Lord after all, come to finish him off?
"Oh, Snape." The voice was not Voldemort's sickly croon. "I'm so sorry." There were more footsteps, and then a soft thump on the floor and a stirring of air next to Severus. Hands were touching him gently, turning him, probing. He felt pressure on his neck, which hurt quite a lot; then he could sense something warm, very close to his face. "Professor, my God … are you … in there?" The voice, with an accompanying puff of warm breath, came from near his left cheek. There was a pinch above his left eyelid, and his eye was opened. He looked out on the world through the opened eye, and his fevered, pinging brain recognized that Harry Potter was looking down on him.
"Can you hear me, sir? It's Harry. I've come to take you home." Potter put his hands on either side of Severus' face and opened an eyelid with each thumb while cradling the head carefully with his fingers. Severus could see, through the haze of his own considerable confusion, an uneasy mix of emotions on the boy's face.
"Bloody hell, I thought you were a goner. I'm so sorry, I couldn't get back before now. I'd have sent someone for you sooner if I'd had any idea … " Potter let the eyes close, and Severus felt his head lowered gently back to the floor.
He felt the hands on him moving, sliding gently down his body, running quickly over his left side, which jutted slightly above the rest of his body in his awkward position. The hands went to his knees and began more serious repositioning, lifting the knees to reach the booted feet cramped beneath them and slowly—excruciatingly, for Severus—unfolding his legs. When that was completed, Severus felt Harry take him by the left shoulder and hipbone and lower him to a flat, supine position.
"There you go. That's a bit better, anyway." Harry took up Severus' head in his hands again and very gently shifted it to lie better aligned with his body. "I don't know if you can hear me, sir, but if you can, don't worry. I know you must be uncomfortable. Er, at the least. I'll get you back to the hospital wing as fast as I can."
Severus felt his stomach clench—with muscles over which he had no command at all—at this thought. Surely Hogwarts was the last place he'd be wanted now. Once they got him in the hospital wing it would be a short trip to Azkaban for sure. But he could not speak, could not protest, could not tell Potter to just bloody leave him to his fate here, which though it had been sending him round the bend with boredom was surely better than imprisonment in that miserable, soul-stealing place. All he could do was fret and twist up inside, and he did so, desperately.
Potter, impossibly, seemed to sense it. He stilled for a moment, putting a hand gently on Severus' arm, a reassuring touch. "Professor," the boy said quietly. "If you can hear me, really, you don't need to worry, do you understand? I've explained things. To Professor McGonagall. She knows what happened. We'll make sure that the Ministry, and everybody, understands … the things you did. It will be okay."
He patted Severus' arm and kept speaking, comforting words but with just a little edge of anger, of grim determination in spite of something not quite defined, behind them. "I wouldn't take you back there if I thought it wouldn't be safe for you. I promise." He laughed. "Yeah, I know that probably reassures you a lot. Harry Potter has promised." He patted the arm again, a bit awkwardly this time. "But I mean it, sir. Everything is under control." He gave the arm one tiny squeeze, and Severus wondered if the boy had lost his mind under the stress of battle, but then he continued, "I'm going to get you out of here now. It might be a rough ride, so just, er, hang on, if you would."
Severus heard Potter shift position, and felt a shimmer of magic ripple over him like warm water. Cloth rustled, and he felt a soft, heavy warmth drop over him; it was Potter's cloak, he surmised. Severus hadn't been wearing one himself, and he suddenly realized that he was cold, as well as aching and throbbing. He felt the boy reach underneath his shoulders and lift him up to a sitting position—as easily as if he weighed no more than a child—and wrap an arm around his back. His head lolled helplessly over Potter's arm. "There now, that's no good," Potter said softly, and Severus felt his head lifted gently and leaned against the boy's chest so that all of his upper body was tucked in close. Potter next slipped an arm under his knees and gathered Severus up, then lifted him bodily and stood, wobbling just for an instant under the magically lightened load. Severus panicked as he was raised into the air, then realized there was nothing he could do, so he abandoned himself to the embrace of the wiry arms around him. He felt as though his limbs were hollow reeds, strung-together joints of a marionette whose strings had been cut, and they flopped limply, aching from their long immobility.
Severus had assumed Potter would cast a spell to levitate him so he could be floated, more or less at arm's length from the boy, back to the castle. He had not expected to be held like this, protectively in Potter's arms, and under his cloak, and with his head snug against Potter's chest. He could hear the boy's heart beating madly as he began the long walk back to Hogwarts.
X X X X X
It took nearly an hour for Potter to get them out of the mouldering shack, through the woods and down the path, and back into the castle. It was indeed a bumpy ride, but Severus didn't care. Potter kept up a murmured commentary on their progress, "Stairs, here, Professor … ooh, sorry for that bounce. And back onto the path … there we are, should be smooth going for a bit now. We're getting there, sir." When the boy wasn't speaking, Severus listened to his heart beating and felt his chest rise and fall with heavy breathing, and he felt soothed.
At last they were in the castle, and a few more minutes took them through the corridors and up and down several staircases, until finally they reached the hospital wing. Everything became a blur then; Severus could feel himself being taken out of Potter's arms, and many hands were on him as he was moved here and there, prodded and turned and rearranged, and eventually settled in a bed. He heard Potter's voice occasionally and knew the boy had not left him. Pomfrey and McGonagall's voices were also in the mix, though he found he was too tired to pay attention to everything they were saying. No one seemed to be calling for Dementors, at least.
Finally the room quieted. "All we can do now is wait, Mister Potter," he heard Pomfrey say. "This should help him sleep … " and Severus smelt a pungent herbal mixture, which was apparently being held under his nose. Valerian, passionflower, skullcap … a reasonable mix, he decided, though he would have preferred direct ingestion of something stronger: belladonna, perhaps. "The only treatment is supportive therapy," Pomfrey continued. "His body has to fight off the poison by itself, I'm afraid, and it's going to take some time. He's a strong man, though. If anyone can pull through this, it's Severus." He wished he could laugh in her face at that.
"You should get some rest yourself, Harry," Pomfrey said in a gentler tone. "You look as though you need it. Have you slept at all since … ?"
"No. I'm all right, though." The boy sounded suddenly exhausted, and Severus wondered how long it had been since … whatever it was, exactly, that had transpired at the castle. The Dark Lord had been vanquished, apparently, or surely they wouldn't be free to coddle him like this.
"You are not. Go on with you, get something to eat and then off to bed. I'll keep my eye on Severus; you've done all you can."
"I will, okay. I just want to sit with him for a minute, may I? You can go, I won't stay long."
"Hmm. Very well. See that you don't fall asleep in that chair." Severus heard her shoes tapping off to the door, and then she was gone.
He could feel Potter's presence just beside him. He also felt the herbal sedative mixture working its simple magic on him, making him drowsy. He was giving in to the drowsiness with enormous relief when the boy spoke softly once more.
"There's some things I wanted to be sure that you know, Professor." There was a long pause, as if he was choosing his words carefully. "First, that I'm … grateful to you. For sharing your memories, and for everything you've done. I understand now, or at least, I think I do." A shorter pause. "And also, I'm sorry. For all of it."
Potter went silent again, and Severus thought he heard a sigh. The boy's next words were very soft. "I know you may still hate me when you're, um, better. But I'm going to try to make things up to you. I promise." He laughed, but it was a sad, rueful sound. "I know, promises from Harry Potter. Like a hole in your head, right?" Severus felt his arm being squeezed gently, and the fingertips lingered, as if reluctant to let him go. "But I will, Professor. I will."
He was drifting off again when he heard Potter's voice, a few beats later, from across the room. "You get better now, do you hear me? Don't get any ideas about dying or anything. I mean it." There was the sound of a door opening. "And I meant everything else I said, too." There was a pause. "I'll see you soon, Professor." Severus heard the sound of a door closing, and then soft footsteps, moving away.