"They want you to do what?" Minerva grabbed the parchment with the Ministry seal right out of Severus' hands and began to scan it. Nearly a week had passed since Ron and Bill's visit. Term started in ten weeks and she and Severus were now meeting twice a week to iron out the details of a new year at a boarding school for hundreds of magical students.
"A deposition?" She raised worried eyes and met Severus.' "I understand why this is needed, Severus. But so soon?"
"They've given me nearly two months already," said Severus. "It is not an unreasonable request, and certainly not unexpected. Especially considering what they are up against."
"What? Rebuilding an entire government when nearly half of its former officials are now imprisoned in Azkaban? Trying to locate the Muggleborn witches and wizards that fled the country and assure them it is safe to return? Determining how to compensate the hundreds that were imprisoned for the impossible act of stealing magic from legitimate magical beings? Arranging for trauma counseling for all of Hogwarts' professors and students?
"I think they are most concerned now with sorting out the accused," said Severus dryly. "And they believe that I may be of help." He indicated the parchment in Minerva's hand. "Thus, the summons."
"You will need to distract Harry—perhaps send him to the Burrow for the day," suggested Minerva as she helped herself to tea, adding a touch of milk and frowning as she stirred it in.
"I am not sure that is possible," said Severus. "We have already discussed his reluctance both to leave me and to foray out into the wizarding world. I have agreed to leave him be until July."
"He cannot go with you," said Minerva in a voice that brokered no argument. "Harry has made only a half dozen appearances since the final battle—each and every one of them at the funeral of a loved one. More than a month has passed since the Creevey boy's funeral and he's gone from Hogwarts to this cottage in that time. I know he reads The Prophet, Severus, but does he have any idea what it will be like out there? The number of people who have him to personally thank for their lives and liberty?
"We cannot hide here forever, Minerva. His failure to appear in public will make the aura of mystery around him even greater. He must face this sometime, but he truly doesn't know what it is he will face." He sighed as he sat down on his usual place in the center of the sofa. "I will have to tell him about this, Minerva, and I very much doubt he will let me go to the Ministry without him. As much as he wants to avoid that place, he will not trust them with me."
"I'm not sure even I trust them with you," said Minerva quietly. "I think it prudent that I accompany you as well. I don't want anyone to get any hare-brained ideas and elevate you to some ridiculous Ministry post when Hogwarts has such need of you."
"I will be fine. This is a deposition, not a trial."
"Speaking of trials, have you heard anything yet of Draco Malfoy?"
Severus' mouth tightened into a line. "He is at the manor with his mother. Both are being used as collateral, so to speak, against Lucius. He will be permanently interred without trial if they leave the country or break the terms of their provisional freedom." He shook his head. "The greatest challenge Draco faces is the charge from Katie Bell's family. I cannot fault them for wanting recompense. The emotional turmoil and the financial expense of having her in St. Mungo's for all those months has nearly broken the family and she has never quite come back to how she was before the cursing.
"Severus, did Draco Malfoy take the Dark Mark?" Minerva had taken her habitual seat across from Severus and was eying a second Ministry letter sitting on the table between them.
"He did," answered Severus with a sigh. "Interestingly, and quite surprisingly, however, the Ministry has decreed that the presence of the Dark Mark alone is not grounds for trial or interment. They are, however, working diligently to find evidence of specific crimes attributed to those who carried the brand."
"Carriedit?" asked Minerva.
In answer to her question, Severus loosened the buttons on the cuff of his shirt sleeve on his left arm and slowly rolled it back, exposing his forearm. He slowly rotated his arm, showing the area from wrist to elbow where for so many years he had carried Voldemort's mark.
Minerva leaned in then stared up at Severus.
"It's barely visible, Severus! Did you do something?"
He laughed. "Me? Hardly. Harry did something. This happened the last time—when the Dark Lord disappeared for all those years after trying to kill Harry. But always then it was a shadow just barely visible. Now…it is already nearly gone, and will soon be so permanently I expect. The magic that bound it is gone and cannot retain even a tenuous hold on the mark."
Minerva reached out a thin hand and ran her fingers slowly over the skin of his arm. "What a gift, Severus. A chance for the young ones to start over."
"And some of the older ones as well," added Severus, "though many will not have the chance. Their crimes are documented and they will be tried. Those who survived in any case."
"There have been suicides in Azkaban, I understand," said Minerva. Severus did not comment and she nodded to the second letter resting on the table.
"A summons for Harry as well?" she ventured.
"Not exactly," said Severus. He looked out of the room toward the hallway and the bottom of the stairs.
"He's still in bed?" asked Minerva, checking the clock on the wall which currently read eight thirty.
Severus nodded. "He's often up by now but sometimes sleeps past nine." He glanced at the letter that had captured Minerva's attention. "The Ministry is requesting a series of memories from Harry, to be viewed by the Wizengamut, documented in narrative format for archival purposes then returned to him. They will store with the documentation the memory of one of the panel reviewing the actual memory." Try as he did to keep his voice neutral, as if simply relating to Minerva that he hoped it wouldn't rain that day, there was a certain tightness, apprehension, in his voice that Minerva did not miss.
"I do not think the request itself is unusual," she replied carefully. "But the devil is in the details, Severus. Have they listed the specific memories they would like to view and record?"
Now he didn't bother to maintain his neutral tone. "Not exactly," he said, grimacing. "Although they have alluded to 'pivotal events leading up to and including the Battle of Hogwarts.'"
Minerva reached across the table again, grasping his hand. "You have been fully exonerated, Severus. Do you suspect they are looking for anything besides records for the official archives?"
"I think they are a curious bunch of old coots and biddies who are looking for more titillation than The Prophet can give them. I think there were enough eyewitnesses to Voldemort's demise that a memory from Harry is just icing on the proverbial cake. I think…"
"Severus—" interrupted Minerva with a smile. "Severus, Harry has not seen this letter yet?"
Severus shook his head. "it came this morning with my own." He tapped it with a formal-looking white quill that had been resting atop an inkwell. "It is at times like this, Minerva, that I most wish Albus were here. He'd have this sorted out quickly. His mind was so sharp, so calculating…"
"Which is something about the man that you most certainly did not appreciate while he was alive," said Minerva with an indulgent smile. "And while I am decidedly not Albus Dumbledore, I do suggest you discuss the matter with Harry and make a counter-offer of sorts. Ask for a specific list of memories they would like to examine. Or offer a list of your own making of memories he is willing to share. You must appear to be willing to cooperate, and turn the situation to your own advantage."
"Has anyone ever told you that you are a brilliant strategist, Minerva?" Severus said with a grateful smile.
"I'm more accustomed to hearing phrases such as 'blasted feline' and 'meddling old cat.'"
"Your reputation precedes you."
"I realize that. Now let's get through some of this paperwork so you have the afternoon free to spend with Harry. I expect this will not sit well with the boy."
Severus could only nod his agreement.
"I don't think you should go. You can send them an owl—tell them you're having a bad day."
Severus turned to face Harry, who was standing in the doorway of his bedroom. It was just past eight in the morning on Thursday but Harry was wide awake and already dressed in formal trousers and one of Severus' dark blue dress shirts.
"I appreciate your concern," said Severus. He took a deep breath and released it slowly, counting backwards from ten to keep himself from snapping at Harry. Three days since the Ministry owls had come, three days since he'd first sat down with Harry to discuss the impending visit to the Ministry. Three days of increasingly desperate reasons that Severus should not—could not—show up for his scheduled deposition. Three nights of fitful sleep—for both of them. Thank Merlin Harry's own appointment was two weeks away still.
"Harry, I am leaving in less than an hour for the Ministry. You do not have to accompany me—indeed, you know I would prefer that you remain here. Your friends have said they would come stay with you if you do not wish to be alone."
Harry stared at Severus. "It's not about being alone and you know it."
"Then I suggest you finish getting dressed, get your robes on and meet me downstairs in fifteen minutes."
Harry didn't move. Severus sat down on the bed, bent to pull on his socks. When he looked up, Harry was still there in the doorway, distressed but obviously attempting to compose himself.
Severus stood. "12 minutes."
Harry turned on his heel and disappeared down the hall.
"I will remind you now that I do not want you in the room with me while I am being interviewed," said Severus softly as he and Harry stepped out of the floo into the vestibule of the Ministry of Magic.
"Interviewed. Right." Harry's voice was skeptical.
They both stared out at the people crowding the Ministry atrium.
For the moment, no one was paying them the least bit of attention. They had arrived at fifteen minutes 'til nine in the morning, at precisely the same time that an entire shift of Ministry employees was making its way through the atrium toward the elevators. Severus directed Harry toward the small kiosk at the end of the cavernous room where visitors checked in to receive their badges. The kiosk was obviously a temporary arrangement, hastily set up after the Voldemort fell and the Ministry was retaken. Harry hadn't given much thought to what had gone on at the Ministry after Voldemort died. He had a general sense that things had been chaotic, that there had been fighting here as well, and the 'work in progress' state of the atrium seemed to confirm that. The most notable difference from the last time he had been here—in early September when he, Ron and Hermione had infiltrated the building using Polyjuice Potion—was the absence of the "Magic is Might" monument that had replaced the Statue of Magical Brethren.
Their anonymity, however, did not last long. They were recognized before they made it to the kiosk.
In the past, when he was recognized in Diagon Alley or the Leaky Cauldron or even in Hogsmeade, people would whisper and point, nod to him, and an occasional witch or wizard would greet him by name and shake his hand. His fame in those days was as the Boy Who Lived, the only person in history to have survived the killing curse and in doing so, dispatch the Dark Lord for thirteen years.
To say that his fame had grown since then was an understatement indeed.
Now he was the Boy Who Lived Twice, or the Boy Who Lived Again, the Chosen One, the Savior of the Wizarding World. The seventeen-year-old wizard who, with a simple Expelliarmus after nearly a year of finding and destroying horcruxes,sent Lord Voldemort permanently to his grave.
Perhaps it had not been the best idea in the world to arrive at the Ministry of Magic at this time of the morning, when hundreds of Ministry employees were arriving to work.
Or on a day when depositions and arraignments were scheduled from a variety of individuals—noted and notorious—including the former High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge herself.
Severus' decision to not notify the Ministry that Harry would be accompanying him today suddenly seemed like a terrible oversight.
Nearly every individual hurrying across or waiting in the Ministry atrium that day felt indebted in some way to Harry Potter for what he had done for each of them personally, as well as for the magical world as a whole.
The Aurors positioned around the atrium recognized the potential threat as whispers, then calls, then shouts of "He's here!" and "It's Harry Potter!" rose throughout the vast chamber. As Harry tried to move in front of Severus at the same time that Severus tried to position Harry between himself and the kiosk, four of the red-robed Aurors managed to reach them.
Severus could see Harry's panic.
He was in near panic mode himself. He'd expected that he and Harry would draw attention, but the sheer number of individuals present, the surge of people moving toward them and the sudden appearance of the Aurors was much more than he had expected. With his focus on Harry and his unaccustomed physical weakness he felt decidedly threatened. He had drawn his wand reflexively, as had Harry, but did not even think of using it as the Aurors turned their backs to them, facing the crowd. Severus managed to grab hold of Harry's elbow and pulled him against him as the Aurors pressed back against the crowd, shouting orders.
But all hell broke loose a minute later when a shout of "Grab her!" rose up from near the elevator banks. Shouts, screams, spells firing over heads as the guards who had been transporting Dolores Umbridge to her arraignment tore through the hall in her pursuit.
Severus heard one of the Aurors protecting them from the throng exclaim. "It's Umbridge!"
Harry heard too. He attempted to jerk away but Severus wrapped a second arm around him and pressed back against the kiosk.
Unfortunately, the fray seemed to be headed toward them. The kiosk was at the far end of the atrium, the end closest to the elevators, and the crowds were heavy but not as dense past it.
A spell, an obvious scuffle, a shout, clearly heard above the other noise. "She's got a wand!"
Another shout. "Where's Potter?"
The Potter in question was currently struggling in Severus' arms, trying to free himself.
The Aurors surrounding them pressed them back further as a maniacal scream rent the air followed by a high-pitched "Alohomora."
Then another scream, this one starting loud and dwindling, the end of the dying scream covered by the uproar of the crowd which changed course and turned nearly en masse away from their press toward Harry and Severus and toward the source of the scream.
"That was her. That was Umbridge! I remember that scream—from the Forbidden Forest, when the centaurs carried her off!" Harry strained to see around the Aurors and Severus pulled him back again.
"Let the Aurors take care of it, Harry. Don't call any more attention to yourself."
Reinforcements had clearly arrived and after a frantic five minutes or so, one of the Aurors guarding them turned around.
"They're clearing the atrium," she said, addressing Severus. "Looks like our escapee has taken care of herself."
"That was Umbridge, wasn't it? What happened?" Harry asked anxiously.
The Auror glanced over her shoulder. Harry could see a throng of red robes now near the elevator on the far left. Other Ministry officials had appeared as well and were directing people to the remaining elevators, the emergency staircases and out of the atrium through the floos. Harry thought he saw Kingsley Shacklebolt by the elevators talking with the Aurors.
"Fell down the elevator shaft," said the Auror, turning back to face Harry and Severus. "Minister himself is over there now. We'll wait until the crowd clears before taking you up, Headmaster."
"Why was she here today?" asked Severus sharply. "I was told she was in prison."
"You didn't tell me she was in pris…." Harry cut himself off as he saw Severus' 'we'll talk about this later' look.
"She was being brought in for her arraignment today," answered the Auror. "There are arraignments and depositions scheduled all week. We've had high profile cases stacked back to back."
"And how did she end up on the bottom of an elevator shaft?" Severus asked, acting like he was the Auror in charge instead of the very capable-looking woman facing them.
The Auror cracked a smile. "Inopportune timing on her Alohomora spell. She forced open the elevator doors before the elevator arrived and…." She shrugged, leaving them to fill in the blank.
Severus glanced at Harry. The boy didn't look distraught over the death. Perhaps that was a good sign, considering how much he had suffered at her hands. He did look uncomfortable, however, and vaguely ill, as if the unexpected crowds and the unwelcome attention had left him with an upset stomach.
"Mr. Potter could use some tea and frankly, so could I," he said, turning back to the Auror. "I have a deposition scheduled in fifteen minutes."
"Severus. Harry." The Auror stepped back as the Minister of Magic approached, tailed by two additional Aurors.
"Kingsley!" greeted Harry at the same time that Severus reached out his hand.
Kingsley shook Severus' hand then clasped Harry around the shoulders.
"No one alerted us that you'd be accompanying Severus today, Harry. We would have taken precautions—slipped you in through one of the private entrances."
Severus shook his head. "I would have preferred that he stay at the cottage. He insisted on coming. I believe he feels I'm not yet recovered enough for an inquisition."
"Inquisition?" Kingsley raised an eyebrow.
"His words. I've explained depositions but he remains…distrustful."
"You don't have to talk about me like I'm not here," put in Harry.
"Please, feel free to jump in at any time," quipped Severus.
"What happened to Umbridge?" asked Harry. "How did she escape? Is she really dead?"
Kingsley looked grave. "She's dead. They've just retrieved her body, in fact. She escaped while she was being transported to her arraignment. The commotion in the atrium provided a distraction and she grabbed a bystander's wand. We have been a bit concerned about her mental state lately, and something like this should have been anticipated and prevented."
"I hated her," said Harry. "I'm glad she's dead." He had a sudden memory of Mad Eye Moody's magical eye mounted on her office door. Rest in Peace, Mad Eye.
Severus' hand, which had been resting on Harry's shoulder, tightened. He exchanged a quick look with Kingsley.
"I realize the time is short but that bit of tea would be welcome," Severus said.
"Of course. The depositions are being held on the level below mine. Why don't we stop by my office for a cuppa and Harry can stay with me during your appointment?"
"Right. Appointment," grumbled Harry, now eying even Kingsley suspiciously.
"Harry, I realize you have no reason to trust the Ministry in general, but could you at least trust me personally? Severus is performing an invaluable service and he will be treated with all respect due him."
Harry nodded as they were escorted by the Auror guard toward the elevator farthest from the scene of the tragic end of Dolores Umbridge. "But he's not well yet, not entirely," he informed Kingsley as the elevator doors opened and they stepped inside.
"None of us are, Harry. None of us are," answered Kingsley as the doors closed.
Kingsley's office was surprisingly modest. It was roomy and had a nice seating area where all three sat down for a cup of tea while the three Aurors who had accompanied them waited in the hallway. But the office seemed to have older furnishings and looked as if it had been put together rather hastily.
"This was an administrative office," Kingsley informed them as they sat drinking their tea. "The office used by Thicknesse is unusable." He glanced meaningfully at Severus. "It's quite tainted by Dark Magic, actually. We've had specialists in but frankly, they're needed more urgently elsewhere so I lowered it on the priority list and moved in here."
Severus finished his tea rather quickly, bypassed the biscuits entirely and stood.
"I'd best get this over with. I expect it will take some time, Harry. Please be patient and wait here for me. Kingsley, perhaps you can find something to keep Harry busy?"
Harry stilled as Severus walked toward the door, staring after him until the door closed behind him. He put his cup down on the table, the half-eaten biscuit on the saucer forgotten.
"Severus explained depositions to you, Harry," stated Kingsley. "You understand the process is to collect testimony of a witness, don't you?"
Harry looked over at the Minister then down at his half-empty mug. "Yes. I understand that. But he doesn't need…he doesn't need to…to…remember all of it. It told you already—he isn't completely well yet."
"But you understand, don't you, that Severus Snape's testimony is perhaps the most valuable of all? He witnessed many of the crimes our prisoners committed. He can provide eye-witness testimony, even corroborate some of the evidence given by cooperating Death Eaters."
Harry pushed his saucer away, frustrated. "But Kingsley," he said, voice low and tense. "He committed crimes too. He had to."
Kingsley reached across the table and placed a hand on Harry's wrist. "Harry, Severus is not on trial. He's been granted immunity from prosecution—you know that. The only stipulation is that he cooperate at the deposition. Isn't it best just to get this over with?"
Harry let out a sound that was half snort, half resigned sigh.
"That's what he said." Harry looked across at Kingsley. "He's been busy taking care of me." He smiled at Kingsley. "Well, he thinks he has, anyway. And getting ready for next term. He's has plenty to think about, to keep his mind busy. I'm not ready…" He stopped, took a deep breath. "I don't think he's ready—not yet—to deal with those memories, with what he had to do." He looked up at Kingsley again. "He didn't have a choice."
"Harry, you forget I was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. I know what Albus asked Severus to do. I know some of what his other master made him do too. I listened to Severus' reports at more meetings than I care to remember, Harry." Kingsley leaned back in his chair and studied the young man sitting before him. "I imagine you've seen and done some things, too, that you'll need to deal with, as you say. Harry, we have some very good mind healers here at the Ministry…."
Harry frowned. "Mind healers?"
"In the Muggle world they're called psychologists. Sometimes just therapists. They help people deal with trauma, work through grief."
Harry clenched his hands into tight fists.
"Harry. Listen to me. I am not suggesting this for my own ends, or for any purpose that benefits the Ministry of Magic. We already have a team of professionals working with the Hogwarts staff and a separate team, one which specializes in the needs of children and teenagers, will be working with Madam Pomfrey beginning in September when classes start. I am not signaling you out—just offering a jump start, so to speak."
Harry understood, at some level, what Kingsley was offering. His mind registered that these healers would be at Hogwarts in the fall, and if that was so, that Severus as Headmaster must know about it and must have given his approval. Was he planning on telling him?
"I think I'll wait," he said to Kingsley, forcing a smile. "I'll talk to Severus first."
Kingsley wiped a large hand over the top of his head. "The Board of Governors is requiring that all returning Hogwarts faculty speak to the counselors on a regular basis. The events of the past year were so traumatic…."
"The past year?" interrupted Harry, scoffing. "I'd say we had a bit or more of trauma every year." He stood and walked over to the lone window in the room and stood looking out over London. Odd that, since the building was totally underground. He turned to face the Minister. "Sorry—that was rude. That's all water under the bridge anyway, isn't it? The important thing is that Voldemort's gone and the Ministry is putting things back together." He smiled. "Listen, I'll be fine. I've got loads of free time this summer, and nothing better to do than lie on the beach and collect seashells. Take care of stuff here. You don't need to be worrying about me or about Hogwarts. We're young. We'll recover. It will all be fine."
Kingsley stood and went over to his desk on the other side of the room. The desk was an old wooden monster, with drawers and cubbyholes and a space for an old-fashioned inkwell, just like those the wizarding world still used. He rooted around the parchment stacked haphazardly on the desk and finally pulled out a single piece of parchment and dropped it on the desk in front of Harry.
"The names of the students who won't be coming back to Hogwarts," he said. "More than twenty of them dead. Another eight so traumatized they're still in St. Mungo's." He looked on as Harry paled then glanced up at Kingsley.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because not a single one of those children still hospitalized saw anything worse than you did, Harry."
Harry glanced back down at the paper, his stomach churning.
"Did Severus ask you to talk with me?" he said at last.
Kingsley shook his head. "No, Harry. I didn't know you were coming today, remember? But I asked him a few days ago if I could come speak with you, just as I am speaking personally with quite a few of your classmates. Severus just asked that I wait until after the deposition. He wanted you both to get over that hurdle first."
"I'm not quite over it actually," said Harry, glancing at the door.
"I realize that, Harry. I brought this up to you only when I saw your concern for Severus, your worry that he should not have to remember these…atrocities…yet. It struck me that he, as a Hogwarts employee, will be getting professional help and I wanted to make the offer to you as well. You could see the same healer—we have several that work with adults and children."
"I'm not a child."
Harry stared at Kingsley, arms folded defensively in front of him, chin slightly raised.
No, thought Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt, looking at the young man who reminded him much more of Severus Snape lately than of James Potter, you're not a child any longer, Harry Potter.
"Will you be requiring the students to talk to these…mind healers?" asked Harry, toying with the list in his hands.
"No. Only their parents or guardians can set that requirement. We will simply make the best trauma counselors available for those who choose to see them. Though there will be occasional large group sessions which all students will be required to attend."
"Can't we just put this all behind us and get on with life?" Harry asked. He sounded resigned.
"That's our intent, Harry. It will just take some time." He stood then and beckoned to Harry.
"Severus tells me you are still considering entering the Auror's Corps. Come. Let's visit the training rooms. The recruits are dueling today."
Severus was not back until nearly one o'clock in the afternoon.
Fortunately, Harry had spent a content two hours in the training rooms watching the Auror recruits duel. Kingsley stayed with him, watching the duels and commenting on them, making the recruits nervous and on edge. At noon they returned to Kingsley's office where Harry refused lunch and proceeded to pace for nearly an hour until the office door opened and Severus stepped inside, escorted by two Aurors.
He was pale and drawn. He sank gratefully into a chair Kingsley pulled out for him.
Harry moved quickly over to him. "Let's go home, Severus. You need to lie down."
Severus raised his hand. "In a moment Harry. You are right—I am in need of a good lie down. How did you spend your morning?"
Harry sat down next to him and poured him a cup of tea from the service that had appeared on the table. He looked at Severus, still obviously worried. "Kingsley took me down to watch the Auror recruits duel."
Severus frowned and glanced over at Kingsley.
"I stayed with him, Severus. And no, I did not allow him to participate in the dueling."
"And he told me about the mind healers—at Hogwarts," said Harry, wishing to get that tidbit out on the table when both Severus and Kingsley were still in the room.
"Did he now?" said Severus. "I was planning to tell you about that after we got through today."
"You're seeing someone?" asked Harry. "He said the staff was required to. He thinks I should see someone too."
Kingsley had no doubt now where Harry's loyalties were.
"I'm not seeing anyone yet," answered Severus. "I am scheduled to meet with a healer at Hogwarts next month."
"Well, do you think I need to see someone?"
Severus stared at Harry a long moment. "I don't know, Harry. I thought you should get back into the business of being a teenager this summer, spend time with your friends, relax. I didn't plan on asking you to make a decision about counseling until the end of summer."
"But you're going to do it—right?"
"Yes. I am required to." Harry did not miss his slight frown as he said it.
"Would you do it if they weren't making you?"
"Harry, perhaps we should continue this conversation at home. Minister, thank you for spending time with Harry this morning."
He stood up slowly and Harry was up and at his side immediately. Kingsley watched them go without comment but inside he wondered how much reach Albus Dumbledore had from beyond the grave. The relationship between Severus Snape and Harry Potter was very much like something only Dumbledore could have dreamed up and orchestrated.
Harry settled Severus on the sofa and brought him a glass of water. Severus was lying back with this eyes closed by the time Harry returned from the kitchen, but he opened his eyes and reached for the glass when he heard Harry enter. Harry sat on the opposite end of the couch and pulled his legs up, assuming the position he so often took when he was upset or contemplative.
Severus had closed his eyes after drinking the water and Harry sat there on the sofa and stared at him, stared at the pale face, the prominent nose he had ridiculed when he was younger, the tightly knit eyebrows, the dark hair drawn back with a band at the nape of his neck.
"Do you want to sleep?" he asked after a bit of time had passed. Severus' eyes were closed, but he was obviously not sleeping.
"They asked me about Charity Burbage," said Severus, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling
"Professor Burbage?" asked Harry, off-balance at the sudden topic. "Didn't she teach Muggle Studies?"
"Yes, she does. She did. She was captured and brought to…Voldemort…last summer."
Harry stared at Severus even as the other man closed his eyes and pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead.
"Did he…? Did he kill her?" asked Harry quietly.
Severus nodded, eyes still closed. "He had her suspended over the banquet table. He killed her in front of all of the Death Eaters—fed her to Nagini."
Harry paled, blanched. Watched Severus' face contort.
"You were there?" he asked, compelled by some inner force to ask even though he did not really want to know.
Severus nodded without a verbal response.
"That must have been awful," said Harry very quietly, eyes still glued to Severus' broken face. "Were you friends?"
Severus shook his head. "We were colleagues. Not friends."
This was just the type of thing, thought Harry, that one should keep inside. Not share. Pack up into a little compartment, nail the lid shut, store in the back of a mental closet. Charity Burbage had been dead for a year. So had Mad Eye Moody. So had Albus Dumbledore.
"She saw me there, just before he killed her."
Shit. He didn't want to hear this. But he stared at Severus, transfixed.
"She called out to me. By name. She said 'Severus…please….please.' As she was trapped there, suspended, spinning in the air…."
Harry had no words. Tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes, tears for the helpless Muggle Studies Professor, tears for Severus. He wasn't sure who he would have chosen to be if given the choice—Charity Burbage, condemned to death, or Severus Snape, condemned to watch her die.
Or himself. Sitting here on the couch with the one he now called father, watching his beloved face as tears streamed from his eyes, rolled down his cheeks.
"She was crying," Severus said through his own tears. "And I did nothing."
And because you did nothing you lived another day, thought Harry. Because you did nothing you were Headmaster of Hogwarts last year, and you did everything in your power to take care of my friends. To get things ready for me.
"She would forgive you," said Harry at last, in a voice hardly more than a whisper. "If she knew why you couldn't help her."
Severus opened his eyes and looked at his son, so wise for his years. Saw that Harry was crying too.
"But I have not yet forgiven myself," said Severus.
Harry remembered Cedric. And Sirius. And he thought he understood.