This was one of my favorite chapters to write. I hope you enjoy it.
Quidditch was more exhilarating than Leopold had thought imaginable. The players whizzed about on brooms so quickly Leopold thought he might injure his neck trying to follow them. He cheered his heart out for Gryffindor, even though they were playing Slytherin. And he very much enjoyed the company of his seatmate, Clara, who had insisted they come watch the game together. He had come only for her.
While Leopold was hardly isolated, he was not exactly popular, and found it difficult to relate to other students. He found he just wasn't that interested in things that were important to them—house points, grades, things of that ilk. He had lost far too many important things and people in his life to care about these small considerations.
Not everything was beneath his notice, however. One day in mid-October, Clara came up to him and shyly held out a small box. "My brother owled me some chocolate frogs—would you like one?"
Leopold was not someone who cared for sweets and he had never even heard of chocolate frogs, but he nodded his head. Clara smiled and handed him a box. "Do you trade the cards?" she asked, taking a seat next to him and opening hers.
Leopold had no idea what she was talking about but nodded anyway. He yelped when the little chocolate creature almost bounded out of the box and into his goblet of pumpkin juice, but he grabbed it just in time and stuffed it in his mouth. Clara laughed, munching on her own frog. "Who did you get?" she asked him, gesturing at the box. Leopold looked inside and saw a small card with the picture of a red-headed wizard grinning ear-to-ear as if appearing on a card was his crowning achievement. He read the name on the bottom out loud.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley."
"Oh, I don't have that one!" Clara said excitedly, taking the card from him. "Wow, he looks proud doesn't he? I got Snape again, sorry, I'm sure you've got loads of him." She handed him the card from her own box.
Leopold looked down at the card and suppressed a surprised gasp. His hair was a mass of long black curtains around his face, his skin was more yellow than pale, and he wore menacing black robes, but he was unmistakably the same Severus Snape that Leopold had grown up with. The Snape in the card was scowling worse than Leopold had ever seen him, and at Leopold's look of awe, Snape huffed and stormed out of the frame.
"He does that with everybody, don't take it personally," Clara said absently. "And don't worry, he's not gone for good, he comes back when he thinks no one is looking."
Leopold barely heard her as he flipped the card over and read the myriad of accomplishments attributed to Severus Snape. He'd had no idea that this man was one of the greatest heroes of the Second Wizarding War. Why hadn't Mr. Snape said anything? He should be living the privileged life that came with such heroism, shouldn't he? What on Earth was he doing in an orphanage caring for the children of war criminals?
Leopold flipped the card over again. Snape had returned, but as soon as he spotted that he was being watched, he fled the card again. Leopold wondered what he was running away from, both on the card and in real life. No one would voluntarily come to the orphanage, unless they were running from something.
He wondered if Miss Granger would know anything about it.
"Severus?" Hermione whispered one night.
"Hmm?" he replied sleepily.
"I am now," he said, sounding more irritable than he felt. "What is it?"
"I'm sorry, it's not important. Go back to sleep."
"I'm up now and you wouldn't be asking me anything that wasn't important." He shifted around until he was lying on his side with his head propped up on his elbow, looking at Hermione intently. "Ask me."
She sighed. "I wanted to ask you about… her."
Severus knew she'd seen those memories and knew exactly who she was talking about. "What would you like to know?" he asked softly.
"Do you still love her?"
Merlin if that woman didn't go for the bloody jugular sometimes.
"I understand if you do," she continued quickly. "And I wouldn't expect you to stop and I will never ask you to stop, but you said that you care about me and want a relationship with me and I guess I'm wondering what exactly that entails with you." Will I always be second to a ghost?
It had been nearly a month since her birthday. Why was she bringing this up now? He had half a mind to say that to her. It was also out of character for her—she never seemed the slightest bit insecure or jealous of his past, and she wasn't an emotional person, particularly for a Gryffindor. To bother him in the middle of the night with this was just odd. But it was late and he was tired and if he wanted to make this work (and get some sleep), he supposed he owed her an answer.
"You've seen my Patronus," he said.
"Months ago, when I first stayed here and read to them."
He nodded, his voice thick. Even after all these years since her death, even after the end of the war, even after his months with Hermione, it was still difficult to talk about her. "Lily was an important part of my life for a long time. No, that's an understatement. She was my reason for living and fighting for more years than I care to think."
Hermione nodded at this, not meeting his eyes. "What is she to you now?"
Severus sighed. Even if he could speak about this easily, it was difficult to find words to explain it. He gave Hermione a kiss on the forehead and fumbled for words. "It would be a lie to say that I have stopped or ever will stop loving her in any way—she will always have a place in my heart, just as I know Weasley will always have a place in yours. But like all things, this too can evolve, and let us just say that I find that I have other, more important reasons for living now."
She gave him a smile. "For them," she said softly. "They're so lucky to have you."
"For them, yes, but there are other things as well." He knew he was conveying much more than he meant to, but the sentiment was true, so he did not correct it. "That night when I… when I almost died, and I gave Potter those memories, I truly thought it was the end. I thought, or rather, I knew, that it was my last chance to do anything. I could easily have just given Potter the memory in which Dumbledore said Potter would have to sacrifice himself. That would have accomplished my mission and probably would have been enough to get Potter to do it.
"But instead, I guess… I sought exoneration, or reconciliation, if you will. I couldn't reconcile with Lily directly, so I had to do the next best thing and show the relevant bits of our history to her son. When it was over, all I could think of in those last few seconds was, 'I've now done everything I can to make it up to you. I hope it's enough.' I was able to let my guilt go, or most of it anyway. And I was able to apologise—lay it all out there and hope that it would be enough."
"You succeeded at that. Harry was really touched," Hermione said, linking her hand in his. "Really touched. As far as he was concerned, you were completely absolved."
"So I noticed. His bloody hero worship is both misplaced and taxing."
"Let him. He appreciates you and forgives you and wants you to be happy."
"So he keeps saying, but I still have trouble believing it sometimes."
"Severus… it is alright to let your guard down with him. I know after all this time it's probably impossible, but if you were to take him up on his offer of friendship, I think you would find that he is truly a friend worth having."
Severus thought about how Potter had tipped him off about Hermione's birthday, gave him the information he needed to make it special for her, and had even spent the evening at Grimmauld Place so that they could leave. He thought about how Potter had attempted conversation with him every bloody time he came over. Potter gave him his own house, mostly for the children but also for him. He thought about the things Potter had said about his own father.
Friends with Potter. It was an idea that wasn't quite as abhorrent as it might have been, now that he really thought about it.
"For being honest with me. I love that you're honest with me."
"I always will be."
"Potter," Severus said a week later.
"Severus." Potter was reading the Quidditch page in the Evening Prophet and stuffing chips in his face. He was always eating these days. "Sympathy pregnancy," he'd called it.
"Come with me."
"Where?" Potter looked suspicious.
Snape rolled his eyes. "To the feet of the Dark Lord, Potter," he said sarcastically. "Where do you think? We have some business to attend to with one of my graduates. I will not ask you twice." He spoke as if they were back in Potter's second year and he was ordering him into the dungeon for detention. He had really meant that he would not beg Potter to come with him, but Potter evidently interpreted it as a command and followed him uneasily.
"What sort of business?" Potter asked warily as they stepped into the cold, foggy streets of London.
"Unpleasant business." Severus gave him a strong do-not-ask-me-more glare, and Potter complied. As if hearing Potter's unasked question, Severus whispered, "I assure you it is nothing illegal or dangerous. You needn't worry about making Ginevra a widow tonight." Potter visibly relaxed at this. "I am not Albus Dumbledore and so do not believe in gambling with the lives of others if I can help it."
"That's what you think Dumbledore did?" Potter asked, probably without thinking. There was no trace of defensiveness or accusation as there might have been years earlier. It was merely a question.
"Don't you? You were the biggest pawn of all."
Potter shrugged. "I had some deep moments of doubt during that last year, but I always trusted him. I still believe he did the right thing, even if I did emerge a bit worse for the wear. But then again, who doesn't after something like that?"
They walked in silence for awhile before Potter began speaking. "Severus?"
"Did you feel like he did the same thing to you?"
"You've seen my memories. He manipulated me, betrayed my trust, used me, and did it all by using the grief and pain I felt as both carrot and stick to get me to do the most unthinkable and reprehensible actions. To say I felt like a pawn would be a gross understatement."
Severus didn't know why he felt compelled to answer Potter, or give him an honest response, but he supposed it was Hermione's influence. One of these days that witch would be the death of him.
"I'm really sorry he did that to you, Severus." Potter really did seem sorry. "He asked so much of you, and he used your most painful experiences to make it happen, especially after how he treated you as a student. Or, rather, how he let my father treat you as a student."
"You needn't pour on the Gryffindor sentimentality, Potter, and this evening might be just a touch more tolerable if you did not."
"Sorry, Severus, Gryffindor runs in my family. There's nothing for it." Next thing Severus knew, Potter's hand was on his shoulder, clapping him on the back as if they were school chums.
"What the bloody hell are you doing, Potter?"
"I, er, nothing," Potter said, hastily withdrawing his hand. After walking in silence, and without further touching, Potter spoke again. "Why me?"
"Because I do not wish to go alone and I do not wish Hermione to see this. It is enough that I regret bringing her to the brothel that night. And," he said grimly, "it is my understanding that you have some experience in this area."
Harry knew better than most just how many regrets Severus Snape had in his life, but to hear it vocalised like that, and about his friend no less, was jarring. Snape had willingly invited him somewhere. Snape was talking to him—confiding in him, almost. Harry had half a mind to check him for spells or poisons or impersonation but knew that the only person who could get into Grimmauld Place without Severus Snape's permission was Severus Snape himself. He was being… not quite friendly, but not himself. Harry wondered if Hermione had something to do with this.
Harry understood that Severus guarded his charges as much as any parent, and his graduates were the ones he felt the most protective of. Probably compensating for the fact that they were no longer physically in his care and that he felt personally responsible for any failures or wrong turns they took in their lives.
Harry snorted internally. And Hermione says I have no intuition about others.
They did not Apparate to their destination but merely walked the streets of London. It was late but there were people all about, and since both had grown up with at least one foot in the Muggle world, they blended in expertly. Harry had seen flashes of Snape's parents in the pensieve and heard about them in Snape's memories and the information Hermione had dug up back in their sixth year. Harry wondered if anything had changed since then; Snape had seemed to want nothing to do with his parents (why else would he effectively renounce his surname in his beloved textbook?) but Harry knew better than anyone that time and conflict could revise even the most strongly-held opinions about others.
Becoming a father himself had made him more acutely aware of the import of a strong parent-child relationship, and he often wondered about those in his life who were not close with their parents. Hermione and her parents, before she Obliviated them, had become more and more distant as the gulf between the Muggle and Wizarding worlds widened. It was part of the reason she had not worked harder to reverse the memory charm; there was not much of a relationship left to bring back. Harry had suspected for some time that it was not as impossible to reverse the charm as she had led him to believe.
He wondered if Snape's parents were still alive. Was his relationship with them improved?
"Severus," Harry said. "Has Hermione talked to you at all about her parents?"
Snape did not physically react but Harry still felt an aura of tension. "Not beyond what she told me in my office that first day you came to the orphanage. Why?"
"Well… she has said that she can't reverse the memory charm on them, and you're an experienced Occlumens and Legillimens, and I was wondering if you agreed."
Snape considered the question for a moment before responding. "It would really depend on the type of charm used and how it was used. Did she paper over existing memories or eliminate them completely? Did she do it with their blessing or against their will? Did she leave a trigger that would undo the charm, or do the memories have to be retrieved manually? Things of that nature. A variety of factors must be considered. Given what I do know, it does sound like it would be rather difficult to do."
"But not impossible?"
"Few things are impossible when magic is involved." Snape looked at Harry. "Does she wish to bring them back? She has not mentioned anything to me."
Harry shook his head. "She says that she tried and that it was impossible and that she would rather they live in peace in Sydney than force them through the trauma, but I'm not sure I believe that. I know Hermione; she did not do this lightly, and I don't think she could have lived with herself if she did not leave a 'back door' if you will for her to reverse what she had done. Her intention was for it to be temporary but for it to be permanent in the event of her…well, in the event of her being unable to undo it."
"You believe it could be undone?"
Harry nodded. "I wouldn't begin to guess how, Auror training is limited to casting memory charms but not reversing them—a serious oversight in the program if you ask me, since Dark Wizards often Obliviate their victims. But I believe that it is possible and that she's avoiding it."
"Should I be talking to you about this?" Snape looked a bit worried.
"Better me than her," Harry said. "I mean, if she brings it up you should try to draw her out as much as possible, since she never does talk about them, but I would avoid bringing it up with her. They had a very uneasy relationship, especially toward the end. I would imagine most Muggle-borns go through it—they feel as if they have to choose between worlds, and the family feels left behind. You remember my Aunt Petunia—she resented my mother every day of her life, and still does to a certain extent. I think Hermione's parents never understood her, though they were proud of her, and there was very little Hermione could really share with them, particularly since she was my friend and therefore always getting into trouble with me."
"So their relationship was… strained?"
"I guess you could say that." Harry seized his Gryffindor courage and asked the question he wanted to. But he had to do it like a Slytherin. Subtle. "You sound like perhaps you know where she's coming from."
Snape gave him a scowl but did not put much power behind it. "You've seen my memories; even you could probably draw an accurate conclusion."
"Are you still in touch with them?"
"Rather impossible. My parents died before I left Hogwarts." He spoke tersely but his tone of voice made it very clear that the subject was not to be broached.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Harry said honestly.
"But you were so young."
"Older than you were when you lost yours, Potter. Do you wish to coddle me for it?"
"You know I don't and even if I did, you wouldn't."
"Then rest assured that I do not need anyone's pity."
Harry suspected that this wasn't entirely true but wasn't going to push the matter further. He decided to turn the subject from the Snapes. "Well, I'm glad to hear that if Hermione ever does want to turn her parents back, she'll have you to help her."
Snape rounded on Harry, startling him. "What makes you say that, Potter? Aren't you afraid that she's more vulnerable now, that there's an ex-Death Eater murderer who has such personal knowledge? Will you warn her that you divulged this? Haven't you been just itching to tell me that I ought to leave her alone?"
"For the last time, no!" Harry practically shouted. "No. I trust you. I know I didn't always, but nobody did and frankly that seemed to be the plan, that nobody know your true motives because you would have been worthless as a double agent otherwise. But even if I didn't trust you, I would still say nothing on the subject. Hermione has the most flawless judgment of anyone I know, as she has proven time and time again, and if she believes that you're someone worth knowing and trusting, that's enough for me. And even I couldn't trust Hermione so implicitly, you were my mother's best and most loyal friend, and even if she failed to realise that in her lifetime, I will not. I think we can both agree that her judgment was beyond reproach."
Harry was panting. He hadn't meant to give such an impassioned speech but, well, he couldn't help himself sometimes. He'd had to make a fair few in his lifetime.
"Lily ended our relationship once she realised who I truly was. You are correct in that her judgment was beyond reproach."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I know you didn't share every memory of your time with her, Severus, and that you probably didn't include all the key ones. I refuse to believe that my mother cut you off completely after that night, and I suspect that if I could find someone who would have known, they would confirm it. More likely that was the night you realised she would never love you back the way you wanted her to."
"Tread lightly, Potter. I may have moved on in my life but do not stand here and talk about what you do not understand."
Harry considered the situation. He knew that Snape was defensive and edgy, but not even he would be so insecure as to fear the condemnation of Harry for anything, let alone about a relationship that Harry had openly blessed from day one. The attack was so out of the blue it reminded Harry of their time at Hogwarts, and when Snape would find even the most tenuous of links between himself and his father, sometimes bringing him up out of thin air. Hermione had once pointed out that it happened most frequently during what would have been Snape's most stressful moments: Sirius on the loose, his Dark Mark growing darker, Umbridge and Voldemort and Dumbledore all making outrageous demands on his person. It was all enough to drive even the most balanced person to the end of their rope.
More likely, Snape had opened up to Harry more than he had wanted to, or was at least outside of his comfort zone, and this was a defence mechanism to keep the distance he needed. If only Hermione could hear me now, Harry thought. One of the benefits of being married to Ginny was that she understood human emotions but was not herself emotional, and so Harry had learned a great deal.
Well, if distance was what Snape wanted, distance was what Snape was going to get.
"You said we had some unpleasant business to attend to?" Harry asked airily, signaling that the subject was closed.
"Yes, we do. We'll need to Apparate." Snape grudgingly held out his arm.
"If we needed to Apparate to our destination why have we been wandering around Muggle London for the past half hour?"
Snape did not answer until after they had Apparated into a nondescript alley. "I don't know."
"Here." Severus produced a flask from his pocket and thrust it at Potter. "Drink this before we go further."
"What is it?"
"A potion with which I believe you are quite familiar."
Potter sniffed it. "Polyjuice. I take it we're going somewhere I won't want to be recognised?" Snape nodded. "Do I need to add the hairs?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Surely you have taken that concoction enough times in your life to be able to tell?"
"Well forgive me for not being able to see through an opaque metal flask, Severus. Is it or isn't it ready?"
"Of course it's ready, drink it now before I leave you behind."
"I'm here as a favour to you," he heard Potter mutter before he gulp down the potion. His skin began to bubble like wax and soon there stood a thin blonde man in Harry Potter's place. Potter cast a nonverbal spell on the side of a building and a shimmering mirror appeared among the bricks. "Malfoy?" he exclaimed. "You turned me into Draco Malfoy?"
"His face is more welcome in this corner of the world than yours," Severus said in a flat voice.
"Do I want to know how you happened to have Draco Malfoy's hair on hand?"
"I was a spy," was all Severus was willing to confess.
Severus led Potter out of the alley and through a winding street. It was a Muggle part of North London that was frequented by down and out wizards, wizards who would not take kindly to seeing the Boy Who Lived. Severus tried to come here during the day whenever possible in order to forestall what he knew was going to happen, but today he had not been able to get away. He usually tried to do this solo, but felt that it was no longer wise. He was not alone in this anymore. He had to remember that.
After walking briskly for a few minutes Severus began to walk more slowly, trying to find the person he was looking for. He wasn't always in the same place, but was always in the same general area. Some nights it was easier to spot him than others.
"Oi, Sev'rus!" Severus and Potter turned quickly, wands brandished within a second, before lowering them. They recognised the face. It was as dirty as it had ever been.
"Mundungus," Severus said. "Do you know where he is?"
Mundungus Fletcher nodded and pointed to the right. "Passed out righ' in the middle of the road, din't 'e? Ravin' 'bout summat or other."
"I figured as much. I'll take it from here. Thank you."
Mundungus eyed Potter, as if he could tell it was really him, but said nothing.
Severus led Potter toward the street that Mundungus had indicated. His pace quickening, he went to what otherwise looked like a pile of old rags in the middle of the street. He bent down and revealed to Potter that it was a very drugged-out teenage boy passed out in the street.
Severus nodded. "Xavier Yaxley. Sixteen years old. Lasted only a year and a half at Hogwarts before bullies pushed him out. Life on the outside has been…difficult for him." Severus calmly removed a phial of green potion from his pocket, lifted the boy's head, and poured it down his throat. He lay Xavier back down and waited for him to wake up. The boy stirred and opened his eyes, looking disorientated, and then began to twitch madly as if he was having a fit. When his eyes fell on Severus, they relaxed.
"Mr. Snape," he rasped.
"What are you on tonight, Xavier?" Severus asked calmly.
"Bought some pills off a girl in Camden, said they'd help me sleep…"
"I know when you're lying to me, Xavier," Severus said, his voice turning stern. "That potion is not enough to fully bring you out of this, you know it's only good for a few minutes of lucidity to diagnose the problem. Tell me what you're on."
Yaxley dug his hand into his pocket clumsily and retrieved some small purple pills. He placed them in Severus's hands and passed out again.
"What happened?" Potter asked.
"This is just a mini sober-up potion. It suspends all symptoms and effects of a drug for two minutes so that the person can tell a Healer what he took, and allow the Healer to plan a cure accordingly. Unfortunately for Mr. Yaxley here, he ingested a Muggle substance, which St. Mungo's is not equipped for, and they would likely not treat him even if they could. I sadly know this from experience."
"So what do we do? Bring him back to Grimmauld Place and get him the right potion?"
Severus shook his head. "No, he needs Muggle medicine. We need to get him to a Muggle hospital. I need you to carry him whilst I cast a few healing charms as we walk. It's only going to be enough to keep him alive until we arrive; I cannot heal him completely."
Potter bent down and took in the boy. Xavier's arms revealed dark track marks on his veins. The crook of his right elbow was nothing more than a festering wound. For sixteen he was painfully small and weak; he likely wasn't eating much, if at all, instead spending any money he came across on drugs. Severus knew of many of the drugs the boy had taken in his life—heroin and cocaine and LSD and methamphetamine. Severus recognised the small purple pills as an especially strong amphetamine.
He eyed Potter for signs of judgment, but there were none. Even in Draco Malfoy's face, Harry Potter's well-known concern for the welfare of others, even strangers, shone through. He remembered what Hermione had told him of her suspicions about Potter's drug use after the war. Perhaps that had something to do with it. It had been a factor in Severus's decision to bring him tonight.
Potter's eyes never left the boy's face. The look on concern on his own face was one that he might wear if this were his own son passed out on a dirty Muggle street. So much like his mother…
"This poor boy," Potter whispered. He stroked the boy's hair away from his sweat-covered forehead, and then, with a look to Severus, lifted the boy up into his arms. When he was ready to walk, he gave Severus a nod.
"How did you know he would be here?"
"Mr. Yaxley unfortunately seems to follow a pattern. He does well for a few weeks but then has a major relapse and requires aid. For some reason it seems to happen every seventy-five days."
"It's not some sort of curse, is it?" Potter asked. "That would explain the pattern." No doubt he had seen some of the more creative, self-destructive curses during his tenure as an Auror. It probably wasn't out of the realm of possibility, but it would also likely be beyond Severus's ability to cure.
"I cannot say," Severus said grimly. "Follow me."
Severus didn't want to risk Apparition with Xavier in such a vulnerable state, so he and Potter silently trudged toward the nearest Muggle hospital. Fortunately, it was not far, and a few minutes and a Confundus charm later, any questions regarding who the boy was or how he got there vanished and Muggle doctors were all over him, bringing him out of his stupor and administering intravenous medication.
"What do we do now?" Potter asked as he watched it all from the window.
"We leave. He is getting the help that he requires. We are done here."
Potter raised Draco's pale eyebrows at him in surprise. "You're not going to wait until he wakes up?"
Severus shook his head. "There is no point. I am not next of kin or his legal guardian here or in the Magical world so I have no legal right to any information or even to be in there. He does not live with me. I cannot stop him from going out again tomorrow and pumping more of that filth into his body."
Potter looked horrified. "But he…you can't just leave. He's just a boy!"
"Potter, would that I could rescue each and every one of them, but as you know, I am stretched a bit thin. I have precious little influence over others, which is a right shame because if I did they would not live like this and the Dark Lord would have had far fewer followers. All I can do is rescue him tonight, make a difference for him tonight, and get him help tonight. I hope that tomorrow he will make the right choices, but I cannot help what he will do tomorrow. I have fourteen underaged wizards in my house who need my time and attention more, who are literally helpless without me. I have fifteen graduates who are out in the world by themselves, and I only know the whereabouts of nine of them. All I can do is hope that the skills I taught them are enough, even though I am reminded each and every day that I did not do enough."
"Is that really all you can do?
"Yes, Potter, it is," Severus spat through clenched teeth. Did he honestly believe that he would willingly do nothing if he could do anything more?
Potter was silent and looked contemplative. No doubt he was wondering how he could save the boy (damn him and his saviour complex) but finally nodded with resignation. "Alright, Severus, if you say so."
They Apparated back to Grimmauld Place and Potter's polyjuiced complexion was just wearing off.
"You kept your head together, Potter, that was good. Many would have been horrified at the sight of a sixteen year old who is as addicted to narcotics as Mr. Yaxley. Most would have judged him harshly."
Potter nodded. "You were right, Severus, it wasn't pleasant. But… he's only a boy, one who's been dealt a terrible hand in life. I'm glad Hermione didn't see that. As you said, I have a bit of…exposure to this area. And, well, thank you for trusting me to come with you. I know you don't trust your graduates to just anyone."
"You're welcome… Harry."
Severus crawled into bed that night slowly, trying not to wake Hermione, who was sleeping peacefully on her side. He spooned up behind her and nuzzled her neck. Even though she pulled her hair back when she went to sleep, he could still smell the scent of orange blossoms wafting off of her hair.
He thought of the Xavier Yaxley and how years of abuse and neglect had left him the broken person he was; a boy dead before he'd even had a chance to live. Severus knew how perilously close he himself had been to that fate, and how ironic it was that it had been the Dark Arts that had saved him from that fate.
Not wanting to take a single thing in his life for granted, he squeezed Hermione tight and kissed her temple.
"You're back," she murmured sleepily.
"How was it?"
"You should get back to sleep."
"Yes. And I had to endure Harry Potter's scorn."
"For not bringing him back with me."
"Hermione, please. If I could have done anything, don't you think I would have? Do you trust me so little?"
"I didn't mean…"
"My hands are tied in so many ways," he whispered.
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me how your hands are tied."
He shook his head and sighed. "It's late."
He sighed again. "Very well…"
"It was awful, Hermione, this little boy… he's only sixteen… and he's just been completely wasted away by the drugs," Harry said to his friend the next day. They were up in the attic, where they could be assured of privacy from both the children and adults. It was a Saturday so there were no lessons; Harry had come only to report on what had happened last night.
Hermione sighed. "He won't hear of bringing any of them here. Says he can't."
"I just… I can't understand it, Hermione. He's so dedicated to these kids, and he's so protective of the graduates, but when it comes down to it he will only go so far. He will help them a little but not enough to make a real difference. I know he feels responsible for it, but wouldn't that mean he'd want to do more for them? You know him better than I do, what do you think is going on."
"I… I don't entirely understand it either, Harry. I think that this has been very hard for him. I think he's poured everything he could into this—his time, his money, his energy, and it all has gone pear-shaped. I think what keeps him going is his hope that he can prevent the ones still here from going that route. And if you do think about it, there's only so much he can do for them. They're not legally his, they're out of school, they're technically wards of the Ministry, and the Ministry is doing nothing for them. He's got no resources and no support… I really do believe he's doing all that he can."
"But why not bring them here? We both know there's enough room. Hell, even he knows there's enough room. With some 'foolish wand waving' he could easily add another story to this house or increase the size of the rooms."
"He doesn't have custody of them, Harry. He brought the others here because he was named legal guardian. He has no right to bring the others here."
"Let's get him the right, then!"
Hermione shook her head. "When the minors are over age twelve, he needs their consent, too, and he says they won't give it. And even if he did, it would be very difficult to get the Ministry to grant it."
Harry ran his hands through his messy black hair. "Well, can't we just bring them here anyway? It's not like the Ministry cares about their whereabouts—what difference does it make if they're here or anywhere else?"
"Because if the Ministry does find out, it could be considered kidnapping at worst, or, more likely, they could use it as a pretext to terminate his guardianship and return them back to the orphanage and Miss Glastonbury. It's a remote chance but he says he isn't willing to take the risk. He's already got guardianship of fifteen, and technically he's not allowed to do so for more than five at any one time. Kingsley worked that out as a favour to him but went to great lengths to say that this was the most he could do without drawing attention from the wrong corners of the Ministry."
Harry threw up his arms in frustration. "Well there has to be something we can do! Hermione, last night I held a dying sixteen year old in my arms. The amount of pills he had ingested was unimaginable. A fully-grown man could not have tolerated that much. I could never have tolerated that much at my worst point. I overheard the doctors talking—he had taken much more than just the pills he told Severus about. And the boy is sixteen! What future does he have between passing out in the street and ending up in hospital and probably being arrested by both Muggle and Wizard authorities? Can you imagine what might happen if he tried using magic while in that state? If he had been able to use his wand while drugged out and in the presence of Muggle doctors and completely inebriated?"
Hermione nodded. "It's a tricky situation, isn't it?"
Harry paced back and forth. "This bloody Ministry," he said through clenched teeth. "It isn't enough that they are responsible for just as many war crimes as the Death Eaters, they have to keep punishing their offspring and preventing someone like Severus from giving them proper help. And you know what, I doubt these problems are just limited to them. How many people lost their homes, their livelihood, their wands, their magic in the war? How many families were torn apart by the Ministry? Sure, they all blame it on Voldemort taking it over, but there are so many still working there who had a hand in it."
"It upsets me every day, Harry, and it's one reason why I walked out." She sighed "To think I once had such grand plans for changing the Wizarding World through the Ministry. When I look back at my life I sometimes shudder at how naïve I was."
"You weren't naïve, you had conviction," Harry said, half-teasing. That had always been her euphemism of choice. "But I know what you mean—I think we both thought we could change the world from the ground up."
"So much for youthful idealism," Hermione said. "Huh, I'm starting to sound more and more like Severus every day."
"I hope not, that would mean you've stopped caring, too."
"Harry Potter," Hermione said, standing up with blazing eyes. "Do not stand here and accuse him of not caring. He has not stopped caring, never has and never will. If he had stopped caring he would have walked out of that orphanage a long time ago. He would not have had himself declared legal guardian to fifteen children. He would not have accepted your offer of the house or the help of the students he probably liked least of all. He would not spend so many evenings out seeing them and then getting only a couple hours of sleep at a time so he can help the ones here deal with their night terrors."
"Alright, alright, I'm sorry, that was uncalled for." Harry ran his hand through his hair, making it even messier than it was before. "You're right, he didn't have to do this."
"He didn't," Hermione said. "But I think he thought he did. I just…I don't think you realise just how damaged his is by the war, too. Leopold Clairemont owled me the other day. He was eating his first chocolate frog and you know what card he got? Severus. He had no idea this man was a hero, and he asked me to confirm it. He also asked me what Severus was hiding from, since no hero would have stepped into that dungeon to care for them. This from an eleven year old boy!"
"I thought you said it wasn't out of obligation, that he did care, that he even admitted that he cared."
"He did, but I know him so much better now, Harry. He's running from the Wizarding World. I think he fears its judgment and condemnation. That's why he fell into obscurity as soon as he awoke from that coma. That's why he took a job that literally no one else would. That's why he's the only person who would go within ten feet of these children without trying to harm them—he needs them as much as they need him. He needs to feel like he's doing something good with his life, something pure. I think when he sees his graduates it's a slap in the face to him that he failed, and it makes him want to save the ones in this house even more. And I think it wears him down and makes him believe that there's truly nothing he can do, because the more he tries to help them, the less things seem to change. Whether he spends every night visiting them or none, their fate remains largely unchanged. Would you have much hope after that? "
The friends looked at one another, feeling as defeated as they suspected Severus did.
Finally Harry spoke. "Hermione you mentioned that the graduates were all wards of the Ministry, correct?"
Hermione nodded. "They're all still underage, so yes, though a few are near the age of majority."
"I know we gave up changing the Ministry from within, but are we the Golden Trio or not? We still have a great deal of influence with Kingsley, we should bring this to his attention."
"He already knows and has done nothing about it."
"But maybe if we paint it as a larger problem with the Wizarding World, as something that could be done for both the graduates, the children currently here who are most likely headed down that road, and as well as other war orphans or people whose lives were destroyed by the war, maybe he'll listen then. We just have to come up with the right strategy."
"I wouldn't get your hopes up, Harry," Hermione said gently. "Yes, it's more likely to work if we lend our names to it, but do you honestly trust the Ministry to do something decent? Even if they agree, do you really believe that they will give it anything more than a half-arsed attempt? I honestly don't trust them to do it. And then we're left with our credibility damaged and unwanted publicity on these kids, because I do not trust it not to get out."
Harry sighed. "Well maybe we get the Ministry to sponsor it, but they let us run it as an extension of what we do here."
"How do you mean?"
"A foundation, Hermione," Harry said. "I'm talking about you and I establishing a foundation that goes beyond what we do here. This is only the beginning. We can help the graduates, we can help the children here, we can help of-age wizards who are fighting addiction or joblessness or whatever else as a result of the war."
"You're talking about, what, a real social services program?"
"Exactly, something that goes beyond what we do here and makes a difference. We'd need Ministry backing, but we'd run it, because I frankly don't trust them to do it right or to do it at all. I think we can do it. We just need to hash out the details."
"Harry this is going to require more than just a few details—this is a monstrous undertaking, I can't even think of where to begin."
"We'll come up with something," Harry said. "We always do."
I wanted to show the conversation between Severus and Hermione about why he can't just pick up the older girls (and boys) from the outside and bring them to Grimmauld Place, but it just worked better to show Hermione imparting the information to Harry afterward. I hope that answered a few questions on that end. It is by no means the end of the matter.
I don't know why, but the idea of Severus being on the Chocolate Frog Cards (and not being happy about it) really tickled me.
Chapter title is French for "as a friend" and a homophone for "enemy" and is taken from a late-run X-Files episode in which Scully and the Smoking Man go on a road trip, which I realize sounds like a piece of terrible fanfic but was actually a decent episode.
Coming Up: Harry brings his idea to Severus, Severus confronts Hermione about her past, and the search for a Healer continues.