Bottle Fame and Brew Glory: The Unknown Power

That afternoon, Snape sought out Harry Potter. He found him, after an hour's search, in the fountain courtyard. "I need you to tell me something," he said without preamble as he sat down on the bench next to the startled boy.

"Hullo," said Harry. "I'm fine. Thank you for asking."

"I'm serious. I need you to tell me something. Back at headquarters, just before he removed the soul fragment, the Dark Lord possessed you. What was that like?"

"Unpleasant."

"When I want meaningless generalities, I'll go to Weasley. What was it like?"

"You are serious." Harry thought for a moment. "It was just like the first time…"

"The first time?"

"Yes. He possessed me two years ago, at the end of the fight in the Department of Mysteries. He was trying to protect himself. He knew Professor Dumbledore wouldn't kill him if it meant killing me, too. It was terrible. I actually knew I was dying, and I wanted to die – anything to stop the pain. No one can live long with that kind of pain."

"But you didn't die."

"No. I started thinking that at least I'd be with Sirius, and then I started thinking about Sirius and… he left me. He couldn't take it, and he left me."

"Couldn't take it…" Snape pondered this. "'But he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…' What does that mean? Does it mean he doesn't have it? Or that he doesn't understand it? Or that he doesn't recognize it? Or all three at once? Are you sure you were dying?"

"Yes. Certainly at the time I was sure. And a few weeks ago… at headquarters… I was sure then, too. If he hadn't left me, I'd have died." Harry watched Snape intensely. "This is important, isn't it?"

"Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives. It was happening then, wasn't it? When you were joined, only one of you could survive. If he was strong, you would die. When you became stronger, he was dying, and he had to break off the connection. When you thought about Sirius, would you categorize the feeling as love?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"Humor me. Remember, you're talking to the emotionally challenged. If you had to put the feeling into a category, would that category be love?"

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"Powerful love?"

"Powerful? Yeah. He certainly thought so. He got out fast enough."

Leaving Harry only slightly more enlightened than he'd been at the beginning of the conversation, Snape headed to the library. There he was met with an unexpected problem.

"Dictionary!" Madam Pince screamed at him. "What kind of foul, depraved, muggle request is that! What do you mean, dictionary! Students get all the vocabulary they need from their classes. They'd only use a dictionary to look up the bad words. Who ever heard of a dictionary in the Hogwarts library!"

Snape nonetheless found a dictionary. It was old and old-fashioned. It was convoluted and obscure. It was, nonetheless, informative. Under the entry for the phrase 'at the hand of,' it had more than one definition. One, of course, clearly said, 'by the action of.' Another, however, said 'by the instrumentality of.'

He is the instrument, Snape thought. Not the agent, but the instrument. It happens through him, but not because of him.

The spirit of rebellion was growing in Snape's heart.

xxxxxxxxxx

Wednesday, May 13, 1998

Wednesday morning, when the entire school gathered for breakfast, Dumbledore leaned forward in his chair and tapped a glass with his spoon. The clear note penetrated the Hall easily, for most of the students were still half asleep and more interested in eating than in talking. When all was still, the Headmaster rose to make his announcement.

"Boys and girls, members of the staff, it has come to my attention that today is a gloriously beautiful day. The sun is shining, the air is clear and warm, the lake water is clean and refreshing. It is no day to be surrounded by walls of stone. I am notifying everyone that classes have been suspended for the day. Today, Hogwarts has a holiday."

The house tables erupted in cheers and applause, while the staff exchanged puzzled glances. Snape wasn't the first to question Dumbledore – McGonagall had that honor – but he had started in their direction at once and was close enough to hear the answer.

"I can hardly allow classes to be held, Minerva, when a substantial portion of the teaching staff will be in London today. Better a general holiday. The children will be less likely to remark on who is here and who is not. Those who remain are sufficient for supervision."

The teachers going to London, as Snape soon found out, were McGonagall, Flitwick, Hagrid, Lupin, and 'Switch.' Snape, much to his irritation, was not among the invited. He fumed and fretted most of the morning until McGonagall returned at eleven. She was alone.

"I," she informed Snape in high dudgeon, "have been sent out of the room. I have been excluded from the council. Me."

"You got to see and hear more than I did. What happened down there?"

"Emmeline Vance has been made secret keeper for you-know-where."

"I thought he did that two years ago. That was the whole reason we staged that little execution scene."

"I knew about that – obviously, since she's been teaching here for nearly a year." McGonagall was calming down now that it was clear she for once knew more than Snape did. "Albus kept putting the ritual off, and then being caught on the tower took him by surprise. This time he wants to be sure he's covered all eventualities."

"Then it's going to be soon."

"And there's a chance Albus will be killed. That's why he's passing the baton to Emmeline. He's chosen the team that's going with him, too. Harry, of course, and then Alastor, Kingsley, Filius, Remus, and Charlie Weasley. Arthur was terribly upset that he wasn't picked, but Albus and Molly were able to smooth his ruffled feathers and soothe his hurt feelings. At least he gets to be one of the secondary group. Hagrid, too. I've been fobbed off with the excuse that I'll be needed to take care of Hogwarts if things go wrong. That's why I'm here now. No one not in the operation is being permitted any information." McGonagall's eyes narrowed. "You know what the plan is, don't you."

"You know I can't talk about that."

"Ye can't…! And what have I just been doing? If he'd meant for ye to know what was happening in London, he'd have taken ye along! It's only tit for tat, laddie. Spill."

Snape shook his head, and that was the last he heard of what had been discussed in London. At least for the time being.

On Tuesday the nineteenth, instructions were left at Cardiff with information on how to unlock the secret Bennett was carrying. From that moment, every drop point was watched twenty-four hours a day. Two days later, late in the afternoon, Nott left the response at Norwich, but the note was in Yaxley's handwriting. Snape tried to keep the smirk off his face when Dumbledore handed him the slip of parchment with five words on it: We are 'go' for launch.

Most of the entire Order of the Phoenix, except for Professor McGonagall, apparated to Birmingham at three-thirty the following morning. Dumbledore had allowed Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna to spend the night in his office, knowing how worried they all would be about the events of the next day. After the team from Hogwarts had departed for Birmingham, McGonagall and the students rushed to the hospital wing. They weren't disturbing anyone, for neither Pomfrey nor Snape was sleeping.

"What are they doing, Severus?" McGonagall demanded. "You can talk now. Everyone's going to know soon anyway. Albus has still refused to tell me anything."

"And Harry won't tell us." Ron added, clearly miffed at being left out.

"Harry doesn't know," said Snape. " At least not all the details. Only Dumbledore, Moody, and Lupin. Oh, and me, of course."

"Well," McGonagall said, "are you going to talk or am I going to have to beat it out of you?"

"I guess it can't hurt anything now." Snape glanced around at the eager faces. "If everything went according to plan, our friend from the Three Broomsticks – a supply and inventory supervisor, third level, no one important – went around to people in different departments telling them they would have to come in early today to help with a special shipment of… well, I think it's different things – potions ingredients, medical equipment, whatever he could think of. They've been told different times to come in, so a couple will arrive at four-thirty, a couple at four-forty-five, and so forth. As they arrive in ones and twos, they'll be immobilized and held by our people. What's inside headquarters right now is a skeleton crew."

"Won't someone notice that they're not showing up to work?" asked McGonagall.

"No, because normally they don't report until around eight. The Death Eaters on our side will come in at about seven and take our people in."

"There are Death Eaters on our side? More than one?"

"Yes, Mr. Weasley. They've been with us for some time."

"Who?"

"Yaxley, of course, and the fathers of Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott." Snape enjoyed the look of shock on all the faces staring at him. They were in for a bigger surprise. "Oh, and Lucius Malfoy, of course."

"Malfoy!" The chorus hit Snape like a tidal wave.

"Yes, Malfoy. Don't look at me like that Luna, I'm not crazy. Who do you think smuggled me your wand when we were prisoners?"

Hermione nodded. "Harry said he was the one who suggested you'd been Imperiused. He thought that was just luck. But it was really Malfoy trying to help you."

"Exactly, Miss Granger. And on two previous occasions – when we got the wand at the Tower, and when we destroyed the Horcruxes – there were Death Eaters in the group that attacked us who were trying very hard not to hurt anyone."

"That's why it was so easy."

"Partly."

"It's lucky none of our people hurt them. I don't think anyone on our side knew."

"They'll know this time. Our people will see exactly who's on their side. It's the Dark Lord who won't know."

They talked for a while longer, then McGonagall insisted that the students return to their dormitories for at least a little rest.

As they were leaving the hospital wing, Snape called after them, "Minerva, do you think Longbottom could stay here just a few minutes longer?"

"All right, Severus, but only a short while. The boy needs his rest." Neville turned and walked back toward Snape.

Snape said nothing until McGonagall was gone. Pomfrey had returned to her own room, and he and Neville were alone.

"How old are you, Longbottom?" Snape asked, though he knew the answer.

"Seventeen, sir. Almost eighteen."

"An adult. With the legal right to make your own decisions."

"Yes, sir."

"Mr. Longbottom, it has occurred to me that a terrible injustice is being committed here. More than anyone else, more even perhaps than Harry, this is your quarrel and your fight. Mr. Longbottom, I am about to disobey a direct order from Professor Dumbledore. Would you care to accompany me?"

"Would I, sir? Oh, yes, sir!"

"Do you have your wand?"

"Yes, sir!" Neville patted the pocket of his robe.

"Good. We must go quietly now. No need to disturb Professor McGonagall."

They hurried silently down the stairs and into the early summer dawn. The castle slept as they ran down the hill, but Snape steered Neville away from the gate. "We have to go out by the Shack."

They threaded their way through the tunnel, then Snape lowered the defenses on the Shack, and they apparated to Birmingham, about a half mile from headquarters. "At this point," said Snape, "you just follow me. If you spot any of our people, get down. We don't want them to see us until it's too late to stop us."

Neville just nodded.

The Order had placed spells around the neighborhood to keep muggles away from the operation, but Snape pierced the defenses so that he and Neville could slip through. They were able to get quite close, hiding behind a wall that enclosed the front area of a dingy home. From their shelter, Snape and Neville were able to see the Death Eaters that apparated in, and the ease with which they were stopped and taken prisoner. Few attempted to resist.

It was nearly a two-hour wait. Then, just before seven o'clock, the last of the Death Eaters apparated in: Malfoy, Rookwood, Avery, Nott, Yaxley, Crabbe, and Goyle.

"How many are inside?" Dumbledore asked.

"Maybe twenty, twenty-five," said Malfoy, "but quite a few of them are healers in the clinic and maintenance people. The number who might put up a fight is closer to a dozen, fifteen…"

"About the same as us, but we have the element of surprise. Where will we be going once we are inside?"

"There's a stairway on the right, going down. It leads to a corridor with waiting rooms and holding cells. At the far end is the interview chamber, and the Dark Lord's own rooms beyond."

"Who is the strongest we will be facing, after him, of course."

"Bella was there last evening. Greyback. The Carrows. There's always at least one operations squad, but no one else of Bella's power."

"It will not be easy, but I believe we can do it. We have one goal, and one goal only. That is to get to Voldemort. Nothing else that happens along the way is important. If we can destroy him, the battle is won."

Malfoy was Dumbledore's escort. Yaxley took Harry. Each of the chosen members of the Order went with a Death Eater. Blindfolds were placed over their eyes, and the escorts held their arms so they could touch nothing on the way in. Those remaining outside turned away, lest their gaze hinder the approach to the invisible building. Then, one by one, Malfoy first, they approached the place where nothing was and disappeared.

Snape made Neville cover his eyes as well. It wouldn't do to have Neville invoke the charm, though at their distance it was unlikely. When the last pair had vanished, Snape said, "Our turn now. We have to move fast. We start walking, and maybe they won't notice us at first. They're all looking in the direction of the building. You stay right behind me. When I say, 'Now,' pull your hood over your face and close your eyes. We have only one shot at this."

It worked like a charm. They strolled forward as if they were part of the operation, taking advantage of the fact that no one was paying attention. Then Hagrid called, "Hey! What are you doing here?"

The two broke into a run with only a dozen yards to go. Snape yelled, "Now!" and Neville threw up his hood. Spinning, Snape seized Neville in his arms and dove for the gate, the momentum carrying them through even though Snape could feel the pressure of the spell pushing on his brain. He and Neville were inside headquarters.

Snape and Neville were on their feet almost instantly, but there was no one else in the area in front of headquarters' entrance. Both drew their wands, and Snape carefully opened the door. No one was in the foyer or in the little office where the sign-in book was, but the sound of running footsteps echoed up from the stairway on their right. And from the stairs coming down from the second floor – more than one person.

Snape pushed Neville into the office, wanting to see before he was seen. "Shh," he breathed into Neville's ear as they crouched down. "Company."

The feet turned at the stairway, and Snape risked a peek. Alecto and Fenrir were rushing down the stairs. There was no other sound from above. "Come on," Snape told Neville. "They'll be hit from behind. We have to help."

He was almost at the top of the stairs when Neville screamed, "No!" Snape spun in time to cast a shield that deflected the red bolt of light, but was himself pushed backwards.

"Hello, puppy dog," cooed a sultry voice. Bella stood in the center of the foyer where the staircases came down. Amycus stood behind her, grinning. "You have no idea how pleased I am. I missed your little performance last month and thought I would never see my puppy again. And here you are, just for me." Snape, Neville behind him, was inching his way into the foyer where he would have more maneuvering room than in the short corridor by the office. Bella didn't seem to care. "And you've brought me a present from Hogwarts, how charming. You always were such a dear little thing."

The bolt of light came without warning. Neville rolled left as he'd been taught and came up with an Expelliarmus that Bella deflected easily. Snape dove right and aimed an Impedimenta at Amycus, whose shield charm was ready.

Whirling, Bella screamed, "Incarcerous!" at Snape, who found himself fending off writhing, snakelike ropes that attempted to bind him. Amycus chuckled and raised his arm, but whatever curse he'd planned never made it out of his wand, for Neville shot a stinging hex at his hand, and the wand dropped to the floor.

Bella rounded on Neville then, her face losing some of its smugness. "The little baby wants to play with the grown-ups," she sneered. "We'll show it just how unwise that is." A blasting curse erupted full-force from her wand and shattered the railing of the staircase next to Neville, who scurried away from the flying slivers of wood on hands and knees. Bella advanced on Neville, a cat playing with a mouse.

Finally subduing the last of the ropes, Snape attacked Bella with an Expelliarmus that sent her wand flying into the air, but Amycus had retrieved his own wand and cried "Crucio!" Snape crumpled to the floor, for though Amycus didn't have the power of the Dark Lord, the pain was disabling.

"Accio Wand!" Bella commanded, and advanced on Snape. "That was foolish, puppy dog. Now Mommy's angry," she said, and raised the wand to add the strength of her own curse to Amycus's. Snape, unable to respond, could only watch her.

Then, from the floor behind Bella, Neville shouted, "Locomotor Mortis!" and Bella fell forward, her knees locked together. Amycus immediately hit Neville with an Expelliarmus, and Neville's wand shot to the other side of the foyer as Amycus spun back on Snape with a renewed Cruciatus curse. While Snape was immobilized with the pain, Amycus flicked his wand to the side and released Bella.

Furious now, Bella turned on the boy. One wave of her wrist blasted his wand into slivers, leaving Neville disarmed. "You dare attack me with your child's spells, you filthy, shivering little blood traitor. I took care of your parents, and I can do the same for you. Crucio!" she shrieked, and Neville was flung onto his back, twisting and screaming in pain.

"Can't take it?" Bella mocked. "Poor little baby. Does it want to go home now? Has it decided playing with the big kids isn't fun anymore? It should have thought of that earlier." She increased the intensity of the curse, and Neville's screams rose in volume. Bella was smiling wickedly, and Amycus, amused by the scene was laughing.

With Amycus's distraction, the pain binding Snape began to recede. He was breathing hard, his heart pounding, but reaction was once again possible. Pointing his wand, he hit Amycus with a nonverbal Levicorpus, and shouted, "Expelliarmus!"

Amycus swung violently into the air, his wand skittering all the way across the foyer and down the entrance corridor. He began swearing and jerking his body around in mid air, but was unable to release himself or retrieve his wand. Bella left her sport with Neville to face Snape, who had struggled to his feet. Behind her, Neville lay on his side whimpering.

"So," Bella said, menace chilling her voice, "it's you and me now, isn't it? Now we get to see which of us is stronger."

But even as they circled each other, looking for an advantage, Snape knew which was stronger. His arms felt like lead weights and his body throbbed with pain. He fought dizziness, forcing himself to concentrate. His only hope was to drag this out as long as possible to keep Bella from aiding the Dark Lord in the chambers below, but this was ultimately a fight he was going to lose.

Bella attacked first, Snape being well aware that he was stronger at defense. She tried another binding spell, which he blocked with a Finite since the ropes reacted unpredictably to a Protego. Another pause, then with superb timing Bella unleashed in quick succession an Expelliarmus, a Petrificus Totalis, and a Cruciatus, the last of which Snape dove to avoid, his shields not coming fast enough.

Snape's "Sectumsempra!" as he rolled to his feet took Bella by surprise. Her shield was fast, but not fast enough to avoid a slash across her face. "You dare!" she screamed, and her rage powered a stream of blasting spells that Snape had to dodge to avoid since a Protego would have bounced them back onto the semiconscious Neville moaning on the other side of the foyer.

He wasn't fast enough for the last one, and the edge of it struck his left elbow, throwing Snape against the wall. He moved quickly then, half stumbling, half crawling out of the way as Bella's "Stupefy!" shot a bolt of red that crashed into the spot where Snape had just been and sprayed crimson sparks around the room.

As he dove for the floor once more, Snape twisted his body to aim a Tripping jinx that brought Bella down and gave him time to move out of her reach. Before she could rise, he shouted, "Petrificus Totalis!" but she tossed it away with a wicked smile.

"Slowing down, are we?" Bella taunted. "Just a little out of practice? A little out of your league?" She fired an Impedimenta just as Snape did the same, and the percussion of the colliding spells knocked them both off their feet.

Bella was faster getting up. Before she'd fully regained her balance, she hit Snape with a "Crucio!" that carried the full force of her rage. The pain slammed him in the ribs, sending waves of shock radiating through his body as his brain was surrounded by a sea of fire. Helpless now, he rolled and twisted in agony, the pain every bit as intense as any the Dark Lord had ever inflicted.

Then the pain eased, eased just enough so that he could hear Bella's voice. "The puppy dog has been a bad boy. He needs to be punished." Pain spiked again, then receded. "He needs a little more training because he hasn't learned all his lessons. The first lesson is 'Come to Mommy.' He's going to come to Mommy and kiss her feet."

Pain, fire that seemed to melt his bones, raged through Snape, then died down once more, for Bella wanted more than punishment, she wanted obedience. As Snape gasped and panted for breath, she continued to murmur, "Come to Mommy." The only other sounds in the room were the suspended Amycus's chuckling and Neville, still whimpering softly.

But Neville was doing more than whimpering. Fully awake now, and out of the range of Amycus's vision, he kept up the soft moaning as he slowly pushed himself to his knees. Taking advantage of Bella's total concentration on Snape, Neville steadied himself and reached into his robes. Juniper, ten inches, slightly flexible, mistletoe root heart – a potion maker's wand – Neville pointed it straight at Bella's back and shouted with every ounce of his strength, "Stupefy!"

Bella was lifted into the air and hurled face first against the opposite wall. Her wand clattered from her hand as she crumpled in a heap to the floor.

Neville stumbled over to Snape's side and knelt beside him. "Are you all right, sir?" he asked.

"Bind them," Snape gasped. "Quickly, bind them."

First straightening Bella's body a little, Neville cast body-bind curses on both her and Amycus, then for good measure bound them with ropes. He helped ease Amycus to the ground when Snape released the Death Eater with a Liberacorpus. Then he returned to Snape's side.

"Don't move," Neville ordered, and began the low healing chant Madame Pomfrey had taught him. After a couple of minutes, Snape was feeling better. Not well, but better.

"We have to go," he told Neville, interrupting the chanting. "They may still be fighting downstairs."

With Neville supporting him on the left, Snape made his way to the stairs. A sudden shimmering surrounded them, and Snape raised his wand in fear. "Occludo!" he shouted, not knowing if what he did was good or evil, and the shimmering stopped. At the staircase, with Neville's help, he managed to descend. In front of them, sprawled on the floor, was a body, its face covered in blood. It was Alecto. Snape knelt beside her.

"She's still alive, but I don't understand. It looks like she was running away and tried to apparate. But you can't apparate out of here. She knows that. Unless…" Snape rose. "She felt the spell to lower the defenses. The Dark Lord tried to lower the defenses to escape, and she wanted to take advantage of it. That's when she tried to leave. If she wasn't successful, it may mean he wasn't successful either. Hurry!"

They ran, as much as they were able, to the interview room, then stopped in shock. It was a battlefield, with bodies everywhere. Malfoy lay slumped against a side wall, and Charlie Weasley at the foot of the Dark Lord's chair. There were others, too. Avery and Goyle, Flitwick and Shacklebolt, and Death Eaters who'd fallen defending their lord. And others that Snape didn't stop to identify. He and Neville rushed to the far side of the room where light flashed through an open door.

There were several people inside the room, but Snape registered only three of them: Dumbledore, Harry and, rising in wrath in their midst, the powerful, menacing form of Voldemort.

Even as Snape rushed into the room, Voldemort raised his wand to the ceiling. A half dozen beams of light shattered against the shields he'd formed around him as he shrieked, "APERIO!"

"CLAUDO!" Snape shouted, all the remaining strength at his command going into the counter spell. The incipient shimmering ceased. "SAEPTUM!" They were sealed in the room.

"You dare!" Voldemort whirled to face Snape, his shields a rainbow of color as bolt after bolt was deflected. "I will squash you like a worm! Avada Kedavra!"

Snape was too slow, but Neville wasn't. He hit Snape below the knees with a flying tackle that brought them both below the beam of the killing curse. Green light struck the wall and showered them with plaster and bits of brick and mortar.

Whatever dynamic of battle had been in the room before, it now changed as Snape became Voldemort's principal target, for until Snape was incapacitated, the apparation barrier could be maintained. Snape dodged, ducked, and rolled, struggling to avoid the bolts as Moody, Lupin, and Yaxley continued to weaken Voldemort's shields.

Neville thrust his own wand forward, but managed only the first syllable, AV-, before Dumbledore seized his wand arm and clapped a hand over his mouth. "No Unforgivable curses, Neville!" Dumbledore ordered. "Remember the prophecy!"

"Prophecy!" Voldemort screamed, turning on Dumbledore now. "No prophecy binds me! You will see what it is to defy me, you and these pieces of filth, these traitors! You and this muggle-loving brat! You will lose! I am of the immortals! There is none of you who can kill me, for I shall rise again as I did before, more powerful than ever!"

"I think not," Dumbledore answered, his calm voice in contrast to Voldemort's. "We destroyed all six soul fragments, Tom. You have no Horcruxes. It is over. Death is a reality you will not be able to escape, even if you escape us today."

"Fool! What makes you think there were only six? I have made a hundred. Kill me now, and you release me to a new resurrection! Did you think I would let your puny efforts stop me?"

"Bluffing will get you nowhere, Tom. There were six, and they are gone. The seventh and last is inside you."

"Because you believed that other fool Slughorn?" Voldemort's laugh was evil incarnate. "If you kill me now, I become more powerful."

"He's lying!" cried Snape. "He showed me in the interview chamber when he was trying to decide how to take the soul fragment out of Harry. It was the only one left!"

"LIAR!" Voldemort's crimson gaze swung around and located Harry, and at once Snape knew the prophecy was coming true. Before he could speak, Voldemort hissed, "You would kill me? Then you will kill him as well!"

Suddenly, Voldemort vanished, and before they could stop it, a vapor, the barest trace of mist, was seeping into Harry's nostrils and mouth. Harry clutched his head and dropped to the floor.

"Go ahead, Dumbledore. Kill me now. Kill me and the Chosen One now." It was Voldemort's voice, speaking eerily through Harry's mouth. "Kill us both, or let us leave. But be quick with your decision. This mudblood's brat is weak and will not last long."

Shoving Moody and Lupin aside, Snape fell to his knees next to Harry and grabbed the boy's head, forcing eye contact. "What are you doing?" Moody yelled, but Dumbledore was there at Snape's back, restraining Moody and keeping the others away.

"No, Alastor," said Dumbledore. "Severus was right. He was fated to be here. It was not chance that brought him to Hogwarts the same year that Voldemort began his first rise to power. This is how it must be."

Gazing deeply into Harry's eyes, Snape was aware of an urgent need for haste. The boy couldn't last long, and it was still possible that Voldemort could abandon a dead body at the last moment and still survive to fight them. The mind that Snape probed, however, was not the mind he expected to see. Where before all had been open and exposed like a wide, grassy field, now Snape encountered doors. There weren't many doors, and all of them were open, but they were unmistakably doors. The thought flicked through Snape's mind, He's been working on his occlumency. And that's… a partition? Why is his mind partitioned?

Movement drew Snape's attention past the partition to one of the open doors and to the familiar image of Voldemort, Voldemort peering at him from behind the barrier that was not yet a barrier. I can't let him go free, Snape thought, not now, not in the middle of the prophecy… so he reached into Harry's mind and, without pausing to consider how improbably impossible the action was, closed the door, trapping Voldemort behind it.

Voldemort threw himself against the mental door in violent rage, and it was all Snape could do to keep it closed. Harry moaned and opened his eyes of his own accord. "Help me," he whispered.

I can't, Snape's mind replied. He's too strong. I'll hold him as long as I can, but you need to find thoughts, strong thoughts, loving thoughts. I'll hold him as long as I can…

I can't. It hurts too much. The thoughts aren't there…

Use mine. Look at me.

Harry looked, a conscious legilimency probe, and before Lily's green eyes all of Snape's barriers went down, giving Harry access to memories long concealed and nearly forgotten, small pieces and fragments gleaned over years of living and working in the same building… Hagrid dragging a Christmas tree up the snowy hill… Ron with his face scrunched up as he struggled with an assignment… Ginny smiling… Sirius's face through green flames saying, 'Damn it, Severus, he's Lily's son. I love him,'… Molly Weasley at the door of the Burrow… Hermione concentrating on a spell… Dumbledore rising from the table to say a few words…

Harry grew stronger, seeking out more and more memories, his mind flooding with affection and love. Then not from Snape, but from within Harry himself, a dam burst and Lily was there, radiant and powerful. Her love caressed them both, bound them, all of them, in bands that had come full circle.

Snape released the door he'd fought to keep closed, so that Voldemort could come forth and be bathed equally in the pure light that shone from Lily. She now held them all, the three who had been brought together and tied together by her presence and influence – the boy she had befriended, the son she had borne, and the man who had killed her.

Voldemort emerged, to be illumined by Lily's aura, but what was the cool crystal clarity of sunrise to Harry and Snape was searing fire to Voldemort. He writhed in the flames of her tenderness, unable to endure the touch, yet powerless to flee.

It was as if Harry had suddenly burst into flame. Spectral fire, flickering in tongues of blue and green, danced around his body. Harry cried out and clutched Snape's hands in spasms of pain. Then the room was quiet. Quiet, and suddenly clean again. Snape looked deeply into Harry's eyes and took a slow breath. It was over.

Releasing Harry to the care of the others, Snape crept over to one side of the room and rested against the wall. He was exhausted, but didn't grudge the fact that no one paid much heed to him. Harry needed help more. Neville came and sat beside him, and then Moody walked over.

"You got one more thing to do, boyo, and then you can rest. You got to open up this room."

Snape raised his wand and said, "Resero!" then let the arm fall limply to his side. Lupin stayed with Harry while Dumbledore and Moody went out into the interview chamber. A few minutes later, Dumbledore returned.

"Alastor has been outside. The Fidelius charm is broken and the building is open again. We have sent for a crew from St. Mungo's. Minerva and Poppy are coming, too. Do not move Harry. We must leave that to the healers." He knelt by Snape. "Are you all right, Severus?"

"Tired," Snape replied. "And I ache all over. But nothing serious. Neville?"

"I'm okay, sir."

The healers brought stretchers and began to move out the more seriously injured. Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Pomfrey went with Harry to the hospital, while Moody made sure that the healers knew which Death Eaters had been double agents and therefore needed no restraints. Yaxley apparated to St. Mungo's to help his colleagues, and Lupin accompanied Charlie.

Moody came back into the rear room. "Bet you'd like to know what happened," he grinned at Snape as he settled onto the floor.

"The idea had occurred to me."

"When we came crashing through that charm, all hell broke lose. Alarms ringing everywhere. We headed down here as fast as we could, but we had every Death Eater in the building on our tails. Lucky we kept so many of them out this morning, or we'd have been the losers today. What really helped, though, was nobody knew who was on whose side. At least they didn't. Old Voldy, he was kind of relying on Malfoy and the others to lead the charge, and they pretended at first they were helping him. That was a godsend because it kept them from using Killing curses. By the time they figured it out, Voldy was more concerned with getting out than with fighting. It's a good thing Bella never showed, though. She'd have given us a fight."

"Bella did show. She's upstairs, all tied up like a birthday present."

Moody whistled. "You got her then?"

"Not me. Neville." Snape reached out and patted Neville's shoulder. "He defeated Bellatrix Lestrange."

"I couldn't have done it," Neville sighed, "if I hadn't watched you before. The way you let them think you were beaten in order to surprise them later. I'd have stood up and defied her and gotten both of us killed."

"We'll make a Slytherin of you yet," said Snape.

Moody helped them both to their feet, and together they walked through the interview chamber where the medical team from St. Mungo's was finishing up.

"Are you telling me no one died?" Snape asked Moody, looking around at the disorder.

"We got several badly injured, but so far the only one gone is Voldemort. That plan of yours worked like a charm. You feel like apparating?"

Snape felt like apparating, and together they went to Hogsmeade and from there to Hogwarts. Hagrid, who'd been sent home along with the rest of the secondary team as soon the battle was over, lest he become too conspicuous on that Birmingham street, came lumbering across the grass as soon as he realized who they were and helped Snape and Neville climb the hill to the castle, plying them with questions all the way. It was a great relief to him to hear that Harry was safe, and that Flitwick, Lupin, and Charlie seemed to be all right as well.

Hagrid had the password to get into Dumbledore's office, so the little group went up there to sit comfortably and have a glass of mead. Moody went straight to the fireplace to make a floo connection and was able to report to the others that Shacklebolt's injuries were minor and that he'd already been released from the hospital.

Snape lay down on a sofa, his right arm across his forehead. Both arms felt like lead, but it was a normal kind of weariness, and at last he felt like they really would heal completely. It might even be that the absence, the permanent absence, of the Dark Lord had something to do with it.

The room was comfortably warm, and the murmur of voices soft and soothing. Snape didn't even feel it when Hagrid gently covered him with a light blanket. He was already asleep.

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Snape didn't stay at Hogwarts, despite Dumbledore's assurances that he was welcome to any rooms in the castle. Instead he went home to Lancashire, to wander the moors and take tea with Mrs. Hanson. He even practiced throwing darts until he got to the point where his father's old mates weren't embarrassed to have him play a game or two. More than anything, he wanted his life to be normal, and normal meant nothing that would force him to recall Voldemort or anything to do with him.

Normal wasn't immediately obtainable.

Administrative details took up considerable time. The headquarters buildings in both Croydon and Birmingham had to be closed down, files reviewed and turned over to the Ministry, supplies impounded and inventoried, the gutted and converted shell of the building in Birmingham returned to its former state. In the end both complexes were sold to perfectly respectable muggles, the proceeds from the sales going to aid the families of wizards who'd died in the 'Troubles.'

Next came the trials, and it was not a comfortable time for Snape, carrying as it did the weight of unpleasant memories from his own trial nearly seventeen years early. He spoke in defense of Malfoy and the others, for who understood better than he what transpires in the heart of one who changes sides and must join in a fight against friends and colleagues? There he got the first taste of the rest of his life when the prosecuting barrister asked, "Aren't you the one who was willing to throw Professor Dumbledore off the tower?" All he could say was, 'Yes,' without any details because it wasn't his trial, and it wasn't his past being examined. It left an unpleasant taste in his mouth.

Malfoy, Avery, Rookwood, Nott, and Crabbe were returned to Azkaban with their original sentences shortened. Goyle and Bennett were sent to Azkaban for only two years. Bella Lestrange had to face the remainder of her life sentence, as did Peter Pettigrew, who whimpered and sniveled and groveled during his whole trial. The chief prosecution witness in his case was Harry Potter himself.

Life now, after three months, finally approaching something resembling normal, Snape began a program of research that he concealed from everyone who asked how and what he was doing. He was checking jobs and careers. Specifically he was looking for things that didn't require a university education, that provided on-the-job training, and that offered an opportunity to use certain less than common skills and talents.

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Saturday, August 22, 1998

It was almost like old times. Snape and Dumbledore sat together in the Headmaster's office, just the two of them, and Snape had a goblet of mead.

It was the first time that either of them had the time to review what had happened in those final minutes in the room behind the interview chamber. At first Snape had refused to relive those moments, and Dumbledore had respected his feelings. The passage of several weeks time had begun to dull the memory, and the mead – Dumbledore's secret weapon – was dulling it even further.

"So all of it was true after all, even that part of it with which you had the most trouble dealing logically. Sibyll would be proud, if she knew."

"The major stumbling block to understanding it," Snape said, contemplating the way the surface of the mead reflected the light, "was the prophecy's total lack of a temporal or spatial reference. It didn't say when or where the two couldn't survive together. Which led us to think it meant any time and any place, when it really meant cohabiting the same space – though that could occur at any time."

"When did you arrive at this conclusion, Severus?"

"I asked Potter about his experience of being possessed by the Dark Lord when the soul fragment was removed, and he told me it had happened before. You might have passed that piece of information on, you know. It could have made things easier."

"Harry never fully described it to me. One of the things I have been pondering is why the prophecy never mentioned you." Dumbledore refilled Snape's glass, even thought it wasn't yet empty. "I shudder to think what might have happened had you not been there. Though looking back at the whole picture, I should have realized."

"What was the whole picture, if I may ask?"

"You have touched at many points, though time at Hogwarts was not one of them for you and Tom. Your mother did not start her first year until long after Tom had left, and the last time he was on the grounds was before your arrival. He did kill Hepzibah Smith in the year before you were born, however – while your mother was pregnant – and he returned from a ten year absence to begin his rise to power in the winter before you were sorted. That was one clue, albeit a small one. The fact that like him you were at the age of eleven already a powerful wizard was another. The physical resemblance was a third. And the muggle background. Looking back on it, I am sure you were meant to be the catalyst. You brought Tom and Harry together. You kept them connected while protecting both…"

"I never protected the Dark Lord!"

"No? Did you ever, at any time, tell me where he might be apprehended, even when the place was not protected by a Fidelius charm?"

Snape didn't answer, and Dumbledore changed the subject. There are some things even mead cannot evoke, and Dumbledore knew when not to insist.

"You are always welcome to stay here, you know. In either the Potions or the Dark Arts position. You would be excellent in both."

"Headmaster, I hate teaching. I didn't hate teaching because of the… because of Voldemort. I hated teaching because I'm not a teacher. Getting rid of Voldemort doesn't change that."

"I don't wish to be rude or cruel, Severus, but where else would you go? Hagrid did mention that the two of you had a chat. It seems that most of the options were ones you would not even consider. At least stay here until you have selected something."

"And have every new student point at me and spread gossip and rumors? Goldfish have more privacy. No, sir. The prison doors have opened, and I'm not staying behind bars any longer than I have to. Maybe I'll travel. Maybe not. But I can't stay here."

"What are you looking for?"

"Something I'm good at. Something that's useful. Something that helps people. I don't want money or fame. I just want to feel that my life has some purpose."

"I'd say your life has already served a great purpose."

"I was correcting mistakes."

"We shall miss you, Severus."

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Saturday, December 23, 2000

There was a double wedding at the Burrow two years later, at Christmas time – Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny. Snape didn't go to the wedding, but Russ did.

"Are you what they call a prodigal son?" Luna asked the moment she saw him.

"Good morning, Luna. It's wonderful to see you, too."

"How come you took a pill?"

"Yes, I think it's going to be a lovely day. It might rain in the evening, though."

"Be like that, then. Neville! Hermione! Look! It's Russ!"

If six young people can be said to constitute a swarm, then they swarmed all over Russ at that point, Harry, Ginny, and Ron joining the others. "I'm so glad you could come," Hermione said, and this time Ron didn't resent it because, after all, he was the one marrying her.

The ceremony and the wining and dining of the guests took all day, but in the evening before the brides and grooms set out on their respective honeymoons, a select group stayed to visit for a while, among them Dumbledore, Moody, McGonagall, Hagrid, and Lupin. Russ retired to one of the bedrooms and reemerged as Snape. Drinks passed all around.

"We're glad you could make it, Severus," Arthur said, relaxing into a comfortable chair. "We weren't sure you'd gotten any of our owls. What've you been doing with yourself? Nobody seems to have seen you for the longest time."

"Did you get a chance to travel?" Neville asked. "I've always wanted to see the world."

"I went to San Francisco for a couple of weeks to let everyone know how it all turned out," said Russ. "But most of the time I've been right here in Britain. I've been looking into healing work. My grandmother was a healer, you know."

They talked about their futures. Harry had been accepted into the auror training course and was in his third year.

"Should be a fairly easy job now, right?" Snape said, with just a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"You never know," Harry replied. "Voldemort started his plotting just about the time Grindelwald was falling. What new first year student just sorted last September might already be on his way to becoming the next Dark Lord?"

"You have me there," said Snape. "Neville, what have you been doing?"

"I've got a job in the apothecary department at St. Mungo's. It's pretty straightforward, and I'm getting a lot of practice, but I don't think I'll stay there. Maybe in a couple of years I'd like to try teaching."

"Teaching? Herbology? Professor Sprout might have something to say about that."

"Well, I was also thinking about teaching Potions. I mean, how hard can it be?" Neville fought to keep the sly grin off his face.

"I came all the way here to endure your impudence?" Snape was smiling a bit, too. "Which reminds me, I brought something for you. I wasn't sure, but since your mind is moving in that direction…" He reached into his robes and pulled out a book. It was his old Advanced Potions textbook with all the annotations. "I don't know if you…"

"Oh, yes, Professor!" Neville exclaimed, his eyes gleaming. "Thank you. It's great!"

Hermione was studying law, and already aiming years in the future at a judge's appointment. Ron was working in his father's department at the Ministry where having a muggle-born wife was a definite asset. Ginny was mostly concerned about getting Harry through his training, but was also looking into healing work.

"And what about you?" Snape asked Luna.

"Silly question. I'll inherit The Quibbler, so I'm in journalism. Somebody here has to tell the truth, right?"

Hogwarts was doing fine. Dumbledore did not renew his offer of employment since it was clear that Snape wouldn't accept. Hagrid and McGonagall were about the same as ever. Slughorn had agreed to stay on for a couple of years, so Neville's plans to move soon into his position looked to be right on track. Lupin was now the permanent Defense against the Dark Arts professor, and he and Tonks were expecting their first child, so he left early. Only Moody seemed less than content in what was proving to be a very boring retirement.

Snape stayed until about eight o'clock, and then he left, too.

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Two and a half years later, in May, they had a reunion at Hogwarts. Most of the principal actors in the drama of Lord Voldemort were there. Lucius Malfoy did not come to the reunion, but Draco did, and was welcomed by everyone, especially his former enemies.

Hagrid had especially warm greetings for Harry, who arrived with Ginny clinging rather tightly to her husband's arm and a coy expression on her face. "Ah!" cried Hagrid happily, reading the signs. "Are we going t' be visited by a blessed event soon?"

"I don't know about soon," Ginny smiled. "It seems like a long time to me."

"D' you know yet…?"

Harry grinned. "Not yet, but if it's a boy, he'll be James, and if it's a girl, she'll be Lily." He looked around curiously. "Hagrid, is he… is Professor Snape coming today?"

"I don' know, Harry. Professor Dumbledore says he's got no way of contacting him. I ain't seen nor spoken t' him in nearly two years. Got no idea where he is."

Harry nodded, and joined the others, all sharing reminiscences, Neville especially relishing the reliving of events. Neville did glance at Harry, who shook his head, and for a moment Neville was quiet.

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A few months later, Harry and Ginny were in London. They had first gone to Diagon Alley, but then Harry wanted to walk around London. He was trying to familiarize Ginny with the muggle world since he'd decided that he wanted his children to be part of both. They were looking in the window of a shop selling infant's clothing when they heard the crash around the corner. Like everyone around them, they ran toward the sound, but on turning the corner Harry caught Ginny and insisted she go back. She didn't have to see. Harry went forward as if drawn by a magnet.

A long truck had jumped the divider on the wide, heavily traveled street and crashed into two lanes of oncoming cars. One of the cars was crushed against a wall by the front of the truck. Two other cars had slammed into the truck's side, the driver of one, a woman, thrown partly out of the window of her vehicle, head, arm, and long red hair dangling in an odd, ungainly way. Other drivers and passersby were trying to help the passenger in her car and the people in the other car that had hit the truck. From a seemingly far distance, Harry could already hear the sound of the ambulance sirens.

The first ambulance arrived, and its crew began working. There was a quick check of the woman's vital signs and a paramedic shook his head. She was gone. "Jackson," said one of the others, "check that third car. Gaspari, you check the people in the second. I'll work with the passenger here. Anyone else coming?"

"Two more at least," Gaspari answered. "They're fighting the traffic."

Harry couldn't see much because of the crowd, but he caught a glimpse of the red-haired woman's passenger – a man with dark hair. Then the other ambulances arrived.

"Lacey, good to see you again. Gaspari 'll need help with that middle car. Looks like there's four people in it. Do you know if Brewer's here?"

"He's in the next one."

The paramedic working with the first car's passenger stood. "Brewer!" he called. "Over here a minute!"

Brewer came over, and Harry inched closer in the crowd – pushed, in fact, so that he could see. Brewer knelt and checked pulse and breathing. "How's the blood pressure?" he asked, raising first one eyelid and then the other.

"Pretty normal."

"Check it again. No, don't. We've got internal hemorrhaging. We've got to get him into surgery. Put him in our ambulance, we can get out faster." They put the dark-haired man on a gurney and into the ambulance. Harry grabbed the first paramedic.

"That ambulance, where's it going?" When the paramedic tried to turn away, Harry pleaded, "You don't understand, I know him!" The paramedic gave him the name of a hospital.

Returning to Ginny, Harry asked her to go home. "Something's happened, and I need to find out what, but I can't explain yet. I'll know more when I get home." Ginny nodded in understanding and left. Harry apparated to the hospital.

The ambulance crew was just leaving the emergency room. Harry waited until the one called Brewer went by, then spoke his name. The paramedic stopped.

"The man you just took in," said Harry, "is he going to be all right?"

Brewer lifted an eyebrow. "Are you a family member?"

"No, but… I'd really like to know."

Brewer looked at his colleagues, then at Harry. "They're taking him into surgery. He should be all right."

"What would have happened if you hadn't brought him here right away?"

"He'd probably have bled to death."

"I want to talk to you."

Brewer hesitated, then shrugged. "I'm off duty in a couple of hours. My car's in a parking garage two streets down. There's a coffee shop across the road. I'll meet you there at four."

Harry was there at quarter to four, and at four-ten the paramedic walked in. He saw Harry and came over to the table.

"You look different with short hair," was the only thing Harry could think of to say.

"When in Rome…" replied Brewer.

"And why Brewer?"

Snape smiled. "Come now, Harry. I brew potions. It's just a potion master's name. If it's any consolation to you, I'm still Russ. Russell Brewer."

"You read him, didn't you?"

"Naturally. You don't think I'd let another person die for want of a little legilimency, do you?"

"Do they know? I mean, do the others know?"

"The other paramedics? No. They just think I'm good at triage and on-the-spot emergency diagnosis. If I told them the truth, I'd be fired for being delusional and unsafe."

The two talked over old times, and Harry tried to convince Snape to see more of his old associates. "As long as nobody tries to interfere with my new life. I don't want to have to start over again," Snape replied.

"Deal," said Harry. "But you're coming when the baby's born. You can't shirk all your social obligations."

"Deal," said Snape, and the two shook hands and went, each to his own home and own life.

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Here ends the story.