At first I planned not to post this one since, in my mind, it was superseded by Reflections in the Silver Mist and Elementary, My Dear Potter. It does, however, have its moments, and an ending that is not typical of me.
Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Chapter 1
They were making no headway in the entrance hall. The defenders were shooting from doorways, behind pillars, shielded by the sweep of the great marble staircase, and the attackers were unprotected on the wide, open floor. Snape dodged spells and tripped over bodies, trying to find a way upstairs. A way to locate Potter.
Someone grabbed his arm and he spun, wand at the ready, to find himself facing Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy's mouth was moving, but in the din of battle Snape couldn't hear what he had to say. Malfoy leaned closer, his mouth next to Snape's ear. "He wants you!" Malfoy cried. "He wants you now. Go, please. He's in the Shrieking Shack."
Snape shook his head and tried to break away, pretending he hadn't understood, but Malfoy wouldn't let him go. "Severus, for God's sake, he's asking for you! Go to him! Go now!"
It was over. This bid to accomplish his task was over. Snape followed Malfoy out of the castle and began threading his way through the dead, the wounded, the still-arriving reinforcements that crowded on the lawn. He looked up at the castle and saw that part of one wall had been blasted away entirely, the effect, probably, of the Dark Lord's rage.
The snake, Snape thought as he hurried down the hill, leaving Malfoy behind. If that was his anger at the destruction of the fifth Horcrux, then only the snake remains. I can't kill the snake. I have to give Potter his instructions, and I can't do that if he destroys me for killing the snake. Please let me have another chance to talk to Potter. Please…
Snape made his way through the deserted streets of Hogsmeade. The Shack was oddly quiet, an island of calm after the storm of battle. Its enchantments had been removed, allowing Snape to walk to the door, lift the latch, and enter. The Dark Lord was in the room on the ground floor, the one where Snape and James Potter had managed to escape the werewolf Lupin.
"Severus," the Dark Lord said as Snape entered. "Has Hogwarts fallen?"
"No, Lord," Snape said, bowing. "When you summoned me, we had taken the doors and were inside. The entrance hall will soon be in our hands, and we'll be able to isolate pockets of them and defeat them piecemeal. I greatly desire to give you this victory, my Lord, if you will permit me to return to the battle."
"I think not, Severus. It is something else we need you for now."
Snape was shutting down, locking and sealing the doors of his mind. I can't let him see how much I need to go back, to find Potter. I can't let him suspect.
"Lord…" Snape paused, not wanting his desire to be too strong, too suspicious. "I can still help in this battle. I am a good fighter. I wish to see your will accomplished in this, my Lord. Their resistance is crumbling…"
"…and it is doing so without your help. Skilled wizard though you are, Severus," and something in the cold, high voice turned Snape's veins to ice, "I do not think you will make much difference now. We are almost there… almost." The Dark Lord was not, Snape realized, talking about the battle. He noticed the snake, wrapped in a protective bubble, like a cage. He was slowly filling with a deep, nameless dread.
Potter. I have to tell Potter. It's the only thing left that matters. "Let me find the boy," Snape tried to keep his voice low and calm, not to let the Dark Lord hear his fear. "Let me bring you Potter. I know I can find him, my Lord. Please."
The Dark Lord rose from the table where he had been sitting. He was fingering a wand. Dumbledore's wand. Pieces began to click into place in Snape's head. The Dark Lord's voice was gentle. Gentle and dangerous. "I have a problem, Severus."
"My Lord?" Snape said. He looked at the wand and thought of Dumbledore, eyes closed, telling a story that Snape had to believe because Harry had to believe, eyes closed to conceal the part that Harry couldn't know.
"Why doesn't it work for me, Severus?"
Snape's face was a blank, his mind closed tightly now to block the anger that sprang up inside him. "My Lord," he said, "I do not understand. You… have performed extraordinary things with that wand." The anger was building. Anger against Dumbledore. You knew. You knew it would come to this, this last step needed to give him the confidence to use the wand against Potter. You knew. All that talk about sparing an old man pain and humiliation – an act to trick me into doing your will. Another pig led to slaughter.
"No, I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand… no. I feel no difference between this wand and the one I procured from Ollivander all those years ago." The Dark Lord paused. "No difference."
There was nothing to say. Dumbledore had fooled him, and now Dumbledore would reap the penalty of his lies, because the crucial, vital task had not been accomplished. Snape knew that he was about to die, and Potter had not been told. Hatred flared against Dumbledore, and Snape felt a certain satisfaction that the old fake had failed. And yet…
The reality of the Dark Lord was inescapable. He was altogether evil. He had twisted and blighted Snape's life, destroyed everything that gave it meaning, brought cruelty and death, and turned Snape's friends into enemies. He had killed Lily, and now he would kill Lily's son – and suddenly Snape had a glimmer, an inkling, of why Dumbledore's eyes had been closed, and he knew that in a choice between the Dark Lord succeeding and Dumbledore succeeding, he would follow Dumbledore, because there are worse things than being led like a pig… no, like a lamb… to slaughter.
He had a task. "My Lord… I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter. He might be killed accidentally by one other than yourself…"
The Dark Lord spoke of his wand, dragging out the moment, toying with Snape who saw where this was leading and could think of no way out. He couldn't even try to kill the Dark Lord, for the soul fragments in the snake and in Potter would anchor him, keep him alive. He could only wait and watch his own death approach. And still he tried, "My Lord… let me go to the boy…"
"The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine."
"It cannot be any other way. Take out your wand, Severus."
Snape hesitated, then obeyed. "I don't understand, Lord," he said, holding the wand loosely, pointed down at the floor.
"I must defeat you, not execute you. You will use your wand against me, and I will defeat you. Then I will be the master of the Elder Wand."
The last, desperate chance opened up before Snape with only seconds to plot his actions. He couldn't kill the Dark Lord, not while the Horcruxes anchored him to life, but if he did it right, he might be able to kill Nagini. After that, he would die, his last hope being that the Dark Lord would, in his fatal pride, kill Potter. Only in his own death did Potter have the power to defeat the Dark Lord, and thus fulfill the prophecy.
"Defend yourself!" the Dark Lord cried, aiming his wand at Snape's heart. "Avada…"
Snape dove to the Dark Lord's left and rolled as the green killing spell smashed into the wood behind him. His movement forced the Dark Lord to turn.
"Excellent," the Dark Lord said. "Only in true battle can there be true defeat. Even in this you serve me well. I do regret that I will lose you. Avada Kedavra!"
Snape again dodged the spell to the Dark Lord's left, but a little backwards so that he was not where the Dark Lord expected him to be as, from his prone position on the floor, he pointed his wand, not at his master, but at the snake in its bubble that hovered just behind him. The Dark Lord didn't seem to realize the true target. One clean shot, that's all. One…
He didn't get it. The Dark Lord's "Relashio!" released a stream of sparks that seared into Snape's flesh and sent his wand skittering across the floor. Snape cried out in pain and clutched his burned arm. He lay still on the floor waiting for the death that had to come, knowing that he had failed utterly.
The Dark Lord paused, gazing down at his defeated lieutenant. "And yet," he said, as if continuing an uninterrupted conversation, "Dumbledore did not kill Grindelwald. No, it would seem that defeat is required, not death. You fought me honestly, trying to defend yourself. I have defeated you. The Elder Wand is now mine, and I am its master. Come, Nagini. We go now to destroy the Potter boy. You, Severus, may tend your wounds and then follow us."
The Dark Lord swept from the room, taking the great snake with him. Snape remained on the floor of the shack, his heart pounding and his breath coming in short, quick gasps. That he might still be alive at this moment was the last thing he had expected.
After a moment, Snape staggered to his feet, still breathing heavily. A reprieve. He had a reprieve, but he had no idea how long it would last. The problem of reaching Potter with Dumbledore's message was now more urgent than ever. If what the Dark Lord said was true, and he controlled the Elder Wand, then he would surely kill Potter when they met, and someone had to kill Nagini, and only then kill the Dark Lord…
How do you pass on a message when the receiver doesn't trust the messenger? I know Potter was somewhere in the corridor when Minerva attacked me. I know he believes his worst suspicions proven true. How can I give Potter this message in a way that he will believe, and still be myself in a position to strike at Nagini or the Dark Lord without the Dark Lord suspecting what I'm going to do? I don't think there's been one time in all the years he's known me when Potter would ever have believed something I told him.
But that wasn't true. There had been the one time, the time when Potter had followed blindly and trustingly, in complete faith that he was being guided to his destiny, guided to Gryffindor's sword. The idea formed quickly. Picking up his wand from the floor, Snape thought of Lily and conjured the doe patronus.
But he'll recognize my voice. Once he knows the message is from me, he'll reject it.
Snape was becoming frightened. He had very little time before the Dark Lord started wondering where he was, and he couldn't send a patronus from a place where people were watching. In that respect he was lucky the Dark Lord had summoned him to this quiet spot. But how to get the message across in a way that would make Potter believe it.
The patronus stayed with him, gentle and calm, and Snape thought that hearing his own voice from such a delicate creature would seem incongruous. Lily's voice would be so much more suitable. He thought of Lily, thought of her saying, 'Listen to me,' and 'It is important,' and then placed the tip of his wand against his temple to draw the memory out.
I haven't got a clue if this will work, but a patronus isn't a pensieve, so it should be able to take a partial memory. Carefully, he offered the silver strand of memory to the doe, and she accepted it, then said in Lily's voice, "Listen to me. It is important."
Taking a deep breath, Snape called up other images, fragments of his memories of Dumbledore with the information about Nagini, and that Harry had to die to destroy Voldemort. These he placed in the patronus as well. He couldn't give it too much – patronuses carried only short messages – but he was content. Lily asked Harry to listen, then Dumbledore gave him instructions.
With a whispered prayer that this would work, Snape sent his patronus off to find Potter, then went himself to rejoin the legions of the Dark Lord.
It was, Snape reckoned, about an hour before dawn. He made his way through the deserted lanes of Hogsmeade to the gates of Hogwarts. Just as he crossed onto the school's grounds, he heard the voice of the Dark Lord, and jumped in shock and fear, for it seemed the voice spoke right at his ear, as if the Dark Lord stood beside him. Snape turned quickly around, seeking his master, but there was no one there. Then he realized the voice was magically amplified and came from in front of the castle.
"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me."
Snape rushed for the hill, but the forces of the Dark Lord were already withdrawing from the castle, and the path down the hill was crowded with Death Eaters, with giants, and with spiders. Dementors cast their chill over the host, and suddenly the Dark Lord was in their midst.
"Severus, you have come in good time. I have a task for you." The Dark Lord gestured toward his army. "My captains come with me into the Forbidden Forest to await the arrival of Harry Potter. Someone must abide here to position my troops for the onslaught against the castle should Potter fail to come. Here I leave the bulk of my Death Eaters, and the dark creatures that serve me. You are to keep them in order and poised for the assault. We should not be much over an hour."
So, Snape was not to know if Potter had received and heeded his message until it was too late. If Potter fought the Dark Lord and won, then it would be all to do over again in a few years' time with no Dumbledore to lead and encourage them. It was a future Snape didn't want to contemplate. On the other hand, if the Dark Lord killed Potter, then there was still hope. Snape could try to position himself where he could strike at the snake. It would mean his own life, but Snape no longer cared. With Potter and Nagini gone, the Dark Lord could be killed.
It was over an hour, nearly two, when movement was noticeable in the Forbidden Forest. The Dark Lord returned, and prominent in the procession was Hagrid, clearly a captive. And in his arms, Hagrid carried the dead body of Harry Potter.
Snape felt his heart lighten. There was still hope.
The procession stopped there at the foot of the hill where the Dark Lord's armies were massed, Hagrid with his sorrowful burden foremost among them. There were tears streaming down Hagrid's face, and at any other time Snape would have felt sorrow for Hagrid's sorrow, except that what was happening now was too important to permit feeling. Did he get my message and understand it, or was he simply defeated by the Elder Wand?
The Dark Lord stepped forward to stand a pace ahead of Hagrid, Nagini draped around his shoulders like a stole. His voice once more amplified by magic, he spoke to the defenders of the castle.
"Harry Potter is dead. He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body…"
It didn't work. Either the patronus couldn't carry a memory message, or Potter didn't get it, or Potter didn't understand it. It doesn't matter. Potter still died before the Dark Lord. It's just that I have to assume no one else knows about the snake. I have to kill the snake. The instant my wand strikes at Nagini, every Death Eater around me will blast me to ribbons. If I do it now, he'll leave. I have to wait until we're closer to the others. Maybe someone will strike at him.
"Come," said the Dark Lord, and he and his entourage moved up the hill.
Snape turned to a rank-and-file Death Eater who'd been helping him keep order. "I need to be where I can receive the Dark Lord's instructions. If reinforcements are required, I'll signal you from the hill. I doubt that will necessary, however. The Dark Lord seems to have everything under control."
Keeping to the rear and to the right, Snape followed the others up the hill. Most of them, he was sure, didn't even know he was there.
Out of the castle the ragtag group of defenders edged their way onto the steps and the grass. From their midst came McGonagall's heart-rending scream, and the swelling "No! No!" of all the others. Snape eased his way forward, keeping to the outside rim of the circle of Death Eaters. With Nagini around the Dark Lord's neck, it was tricky. He had one shot. He had to kill the snake with the one shot, but not accidentally strike the Dark Lord. There was no clear shot. Snape waited.
Movement, a scuffle, the crack of a spell, and Neville Longbottom lay on the grass before the Dark Lord. Snape watched as the boy was hauled to his feet, wrapped in a body bind, and the Sorting Hat set flaming on his head. He himself kept his attention on the Dark Lord. This was not the time to be distracted by feelings…
Then his attention was shattered by a howl and a roar of "Hagger!" as the giant Grawp plowed up the hill, and the giants below responded with a charge. Mere confrontation morphed into battle as centaur arrows challenged the giants' rush, and in the wave of confusion that swept the top of the hill, Neville Longbottom suddenly strode forward, a warrior armed with Gryffindor's sword, and sliced off Nagini's head.
There was no time to register relief, for at almost the same instant, before Snape even fully realized the magnitude of what had happened, Hagrid began to yell, "Harry! Where's Harry?" The body had disappeared.
Panic seized the mob of wizards, defenders and attackers alike, as they were trampled by giants, pierced by centaur arrows, and dive-bombed by thestrals. The crowd had grown immensely, but why or from what direction Snape couldn't tell. Together with the rest, he found himself washed by the tide of wizards into the entrance hall, and he fought to keep his eyes on the Dark Lord. But a panic had seized Snape, too, for suddenly, unexpectedly, he could no longer be sure that Harry Potter was dead.
It was the crux of everything. Nagini was dead, but if Harry Potter was still alive, the Dark Lord could not be killed. The one who killed the Dark Lord released him to return at his leisure. If Harry Potter was not dead, and the Dark Lord died with his Horcrux intact, then everything, everything was in vain.
Snape's entire life now focused on this one thing – to be sure of the death of Harry Potter, and then to kill the Dark Lord. Nothing else was important; nothing else mattered. Strung taut with fear and frustration, Snape battled the tide into the Great Hall where a hundred small battles were being subsumed into two gigantic ones. On one side the Dark Lord battled with McGonagall, Shacklebolt, and Slughorn. On the other Bella dueled with Molly Weasley. Neither battle concerned Snape in the least. He struggled through the shifting mass of wizards to find if Harry Potter lived or not.
The answer came with crashing finality. Molly vanquished Bella. The Dark Lord swept his opponents away and turned on the victorious but now vulnerable Mrs. Weasley. In the midst of everything, a well-known voice screamed, "Protego!" and together with the shimmering shield spell Harry Potter appeared in the center of the Hall, his invisibility cloak collapsing into liquid folds at his feet. The Dark Lord was surrounded and trapped.
No! Snape's brain screamed, though his mouth was silent. You can't kill the Dark Lord! Don't release him to bring this plague on us a third time! He stepped forward, his as yet unused wand slipping from his sleeve into his hand, and he raised both to strike Potter down.
The attention of almost everyone in the Hall was focused on Potter and the Dark Lord in the center of a crowd of hundreds. Almost everyone. From off to Snape's left, a bolt of streaked black and gold shot across the intervening space, slammed into his unprotected chest and side, and hurled Snape into the edge of a side table. He crumpled into blackness and lay still on the stone floor…
Hands. Hands dragged Snape back up into the light… light that was blurred, hazy. Hands slapped his face, tugged at his hair, at his clothes… Hands wrenched his arms behind his back and lashed his wrists as pain lanced up his right side. Hands jostled and shoved and punched, hands clawed at his face, and Snape ducked his head down in an effort to shield his eyes. Around him there was a pandemonium of angry voices.
"…scum into the entrance hall…"
"Bring all the Death Eaters…"
"…tried to kill Harry! I saw…"
"That's the one murdered Dumbledore!"
Suddenly the crowd snapped into focus, Snape at its center. Cries of "Murderer!" and "Dumbledore!" swelled around him, and the press of people swayed back and forth, turning into a mob that spilled into the entrance hall, carrying Snape with it in a tidal wave of fury, howling "Murderer! Murderer! Dumbledore! Vengeance for Dumbledore!" and finally a pulsing chant of "Hang him! Hang him! Hang him!"
A table appeared at the foot of the marble staircase, and Snape was hoisted onto it, other wizards clambering up beside him to hold him upright so the crowd could watch. A silver rope dangled by Snape's left ear, its lower end twisting snakelike into a noose. Around him a sea of faces, hate-filled and unrecognizable, kept up the chant of "Hang him! Hang him! Hang him!"
Hands gripped the hair at the nape of Snape's neck and yanked his head back while other hands pulled the noose over his head and tightened the buckle behind his left ear. Snape closed his eyes, praying only that it would be swift…
Then, with the suddenness of summer lightning, the mood changed from hatred to panic. Screams from the back were overwhelmed by the crash of splintering wood and a deafening roar of "Hagger! Come! HAGGER!"
Wizards fell over each to escape from Grawp. Those not fast enough were flung through the air as the giant cleared a path for his brother. Hagrid came pounding into the entrance hall from outside, thundering his wrath.
"Let him go! Let him go! Ye harm a hair on his head 'n I'll break ye like twigs!"
Some of the braver, angrier wizards turned and shot spells at Grawp and Hagrid, but the two could not be stopped. Grawp was next to the table in three steps, tore the rope in his huge hands, and grabbed Snape around the waist in one enormous arm.
The mob swayed again, fear changing to fury at the loss of its prey, and Grawp, stung with spells from all sides, followed Hagrid's lead, carrying Snape to the little room next to the staircase, the room where the first year's waited for the Sorting. There he laid Snape on the floor and went to throw wizards from the room and block the door.
Hagrid knelt next to Snape, cutting through the ropes that bound his arms and taking the noose from around his neck. "Y're safe for the moment, lad. Grawpy 'n me'll hold the door. Ain't nobody can touch you as long as we're there. Tempers'll cool in a bit and then we'll sort this out. You just lie still." He rose and joined Grawp at the door.
Shaking like a leaf, Snape pushed himself up and crawled on hands and knees to the far corner of the room, where he huddled trembling, his arms wrapped around his head. The Dark Lord must be dead, of that he was certain because of the actions of the mob, but what else had transpired, and for how long the Dark Lord would remain dead were mysteries. Snape was exhausted, exhausted and terrified, and as he listened to the spells that struck the walls and stung the two brothers who held the mob at bay, Snape began to whimper…
After just a quarter of an hour, the noise from outside began to subside. Over and above the rumble of the crowd, a voice was raised in speech, a young voice, a familiar voice – Potter's voice.
"…are a people of laws and justice. Those laws and that justice are for the protection of everyone, or else we're no better than the enemy we just destroyed. I'm just as angry as you are. I want vengeance for Professor Dumbledore, too. But he wouldn't want the vengeance of a lynch mob, and we can't want that either. Snape can't escape us now. As soon as the Ministry is back in our hands, there'll be a trial, and then we'll have justice. Go now. Tend to your wounded. Bury your dead. It's over. We're free again, and we have the time to do this right."
There was silence, and then there was cheering, and after that the murmur of voices and the sound of people moving away to attend to their business. A pause, and then Grawp and Hagrid stepped aside, and Harry Potter walked into the room.
Potter walked across the small space and looked down at Snape, who sat hunched in the corner, his face pressed into the angle of the walls. "You're safe for the moment. They're willing to wait for the right kind of justice."
Snape neither moved nor spoke. There was a narrow table on one side of the room, and Potter perched on it, his feet dangling just above the floor, his hands gripping the table's edge on either side. "I should have let them kill you," he said coldly, "but Professor Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted it that way."
The door opened, and Ron Weasley entered the room, Longbottom and Granger behind him. Potter nodded toward Snape. "Get him on his feet," he said.
Weasley and Longbottom seized Snape's arms and pulled him up, Snape gasping at the sudden pain that shot through his right side. He doubled over slightly, then gritted his teeth and straightened his back.
"Harry," said Hagrid gently. "He's hurt. He needs to see a healer."
"So do a lot of other people," Potter answered. "He can wait his turn."
Snape spoke softly. "It's not over, you know. He's coming back."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you," Potter replied. He, too, sounded tired. "You'd like to have your master back, but it isn't going to happen. This time he's gone for good."
Snape shook his head. "He had ways of avoiding death…"
"You mean the Horcruxes? We got all of them. When Voldemort died, there was nothing to hold him here. He's gone." Potter smiled. "So you can say goodbye to that dream. Your master's dead. Your power's gone."
"There was one you didn't know about."
Potter laughed then, triumph in his eyes. "You think we stumble in the dark, Death Eater, but there are powers watching over our cause that you couldn't possibly imagine. I've been guided and protected every step of the way. You think Voldemort's coming back because I was a Horcrux, too. But Voldemort himself destroyed that soul fragment when he killed me."
The others looked at Potter, startled. "Killed you?" Weasley and Granger said together.
"Yeah," Potter told them. "I went to Voldemort like he told me to, and I let him kill me to destroy the soul fragment. I thought he really was going to kill me, and he did, but I was able to come back after the fragment was gone because it was his soul he killed, not mine."
"Why didn't you tell us you were going to do a harebrained thing like that!" Weasley shouted.
"I didn't know about it until just this morning. I got a message. I think it was from my mom. I know it was from Professor Dumbledore, too."
"What kind of message?" Granger asked.
"A patronus. I've seen it before, and now I'm sure it was my mom's. It spoke with her voice, and then it spoke with Professor Dumbledore's voice, and it told me what to do. So you see, Snape, even the dead… Hey!"
Snape had slumped suddenly against the wall and was now sinking to the floor. He clutched his injured side as pain again stabbed through him, but the rest of his body was letting go, releasing the tension and leaving him weak and shaking. He curled into the corner and stifled a sob.
Potter rose from his seat on the table and motioned to his friends. "Come on," he said. "Let's get out of here. This whole thing disgusts me. We'll leave the Death Eater to mourn his dead master."
At the door, Potter turned to speak again. "This isn't over. You and I are going to talk, and you're going to pay for what you did. But right now I'll be nice. I'll leave you to Hagrid. For some reason he still seems to think there's an atom of good left in you. Why, I don't know, though I'm sure he'll figure out the truth pretty quickly. Meanwhile, you'd better practice your story for the trial. You're going to need a good one."
After Potter and his friends left, Hagrid came to sit by Snape. "Let me get that jacket and shirt off, lad, and look at yer side." There was a massive bruise and a swelling caused by hematoma. As Hagrid probed delicately, Snape drew in his breath sharply – a mistake that made it hurt even more.
"Ya broke a few ribs," Hagrid pronounced. "Ya musta hit something real hard."
"Table," Snape gasped.
"That'd do it," said Hagrid. "Ya gonna tell me what happened, or are ya gonna let them steamroll ya into the ground?"
Snape looked around at the sparsely furnished room. There was only the table on which Potter had sat and a few chairs. "I'm tired, Hagrid," was all he said.
"Ain't no fit place here to lie down," said Hagrid. He sat next to Snape and propped his own back against the wall. "I ain't no feather bed, but I'm a good bit softer 'n stone. You lean back against me, and we'll see if we can find a way to keep them ribs from hurting too much."
Snape did as he was told, settling himself into the crook of Hagrid's left arm and leaning back against the half-giant's coat. It was a good deal softer than stone. Snape sighed resignedly. "What will they do with me Hagrid? Am I going to die?"
"That might depend on you, They scared ya, didn't they?"
"I don't think I've ever been so certain I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it."
"Did ya ever think t' tell him that?"
Snape stiffened, and his expression grew hard. "I have no intention," he said coldly, "of letting that… person gloat over my weaknesses."
"It ain't no weakness t' be human, lad. Has Harry ever got the chance t' think you was human?"
"I certainly hope not!" Snape exclaimed, first sitting up and then cringing at the renewed pain it cost him. "And he never will if I can help it."
"I suppose," said Hagrid, "as that means y're going to die. Pig headed I call it, but if y're set on it…"
"I am not going to grovel to that little toad!"
Hagrid sighed. "It's a winning way ya have about ya. I'm surprised ya don't win Mr. Popularity every year. Must be nice being so loved and loving." When Snape didn't respond, Hagrid continued. "Are ya gonna tell him what ya been doing for Professor Dumbledore?"
"I don't know. I have warning bells in my brain."
"Now that's gotta be uncomfortable. What're they warning ya about?"
"Were you in the Great Hall, Hagrid? When it happened, I mean."
"Nah. Me 'n Grawp was outside trying t' control the giants 'n the centaurs. And the thestrals. Spiders, too. Didn't get inside 'til Grawp heard the chanting. That's when we figured you was in trouble. Why?"
"Something… just before I got slammed into that table. Something I saw." Snape pondered the problem for a moment, then said, "Molly Weasley killed Bella Lestrange."
"Well good for Molly!" Hagrid beamed. "I always figured she had it in her. Why's that making bells ring?"
"Hagrid, I need to find out if Rabastan and Rodolphus were here. I need to know if they were killed or captured."
"Because I don't know where they are. I don't recall seeing or hearing about them for the longest time, and I didn't see them with the Dark Lord. If they weren't here… I don't think I can tell anyone what I was doing for Dumbledore. If he doesn't know already, Rodolphus is going to learn that Molly killed Bella, and then he won't rest until he takes his revenge. He and Rabastan will go after the Weasleys."
"And y're planning to keep yer Death Eater credentials so ya can stop 'em? But how, if I may be so bold, are ya going t' stop 'em if y're locked up in Azkaban or dead? Ya know what I think? I think ya got so used t' this undercover spy business that ya ain't got the faintest idea how t' live like a normal person. That's the thought that scares ya."
Snape settled more deeply into the comfortable warmth of Hagrid's coat. For the moment he was safe, and the exhaustion was taking over. "Hagrid," he murmured drowsily, "I don't think there was ever a time in my life when I knew how to live like a normal person."
It was two o'clock in the afternoon before Snape woke, parched with thirst and ravenously hungry. In all that time, Hagrid had not moved.
"What time is it?" Snape asked, and then immediately added, "Is there anything to drink?"
"I'll check," said Hagrid, and went to the door. He returned a few minutes later looking perturbed. "When's the last time ya had somewhat t' eat or drink?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," said Snape. "Maybe thirty-six hours."
"That ain't good," said Hagrid, and went out again while Grawp stood guard at the door. When Hagrid came back the second time, he was angry.
"They say you got to wait your turn," he grumbled. "It's been hours and hours, with a hundred house-elves and a passel of healers here from St. Mungo's and they still ain't got t' your turn yet." Hagrid looked as if he might personally raid the Hogwarts kitchens.
About five minutes later, Potter came into the room with Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall. None of them looked pleased. Snape assumed this had something to do with the request for food.
"If you are well enough to eat," said McGonagall crisply, "you are well enough to answer questions." She sat in one of the chairs, Shacklebolt beside her, while Potter once again sat on the edge of the table.
"He needs a healer t' take care of some broken ribs," said Hagrid, moving closer to Snape.
"Mr. Snape," replied McGonagall, "is capable of speaking for himself. "You may wait outside in the entrance hall, Hagrid."
"Begging your pardon, Professor, but Prof… eh, Mr.… eh, Severus here, he's got broken ribs, and been bleeding under the skin, and may have internal injuries, and if he ain't going t' get a healer in here right away, like he should have got this morning, I think I'd better stay. I at least got some experience taking care of creatures."
McGonagall whispered to Shacklebolt, and after some apparent disagreement she said, "Very well, Hagrid, you may stay. Mr. Snape, if it is not too much trouble for you to stand."
Hagrid helped Snape get to his feet, an action that was clearly painful, then stood by him just in case Snape needed more support. Snape waited in silence, volunteering nothing.
"Mr. Snape," Shacklebolt began, "I must first advise you that we have not yet reached a decision as to what we are to do with the captured followers of the man who called himself Lord Voldemort. I'm certain you can appreciate that the Ministry of Magic is in some disorder, and until things return to normal there, we aren't in a position to place any of you into the Ministry's custody. Do you understand?"
"Are you asking if I understand the words, the situation, or the implications for my future?" Snape didn't try to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "If the first, I assure you that there are a few multi-syllabic words that I am familiar with…"
McGonagall snapped, "Severus!" at the same time as Shacklebolt's cautionary, "Mr. Snape, I would advise…" while Potter slid off the table to confront Snape face to face.
"You'd better weigh your words carefully, Snape," Potter said. "Your welfare depends on us."
They were of almost identical height and build, Snape just a touch thinner, and they took the measure of each other eye to eye. Snape was closed tightly down, though that was hard to maintain while looking into Lily's eyes.
"My welfare." Snape drew the words out slowly, insultingly. "Odd how I can't recall one single authority figure, school or Ministry, even in evidence, much less trying to restrain a lynch mob. Further, I have been denied medical attention, food, and even water. If you stopped caring for my welfare, things might actually improve."
"You are," said Shacklebolt, "a rather special case. First, you have been revealed to have been a double agent, pretending to work for Albus Dumbledore when you were in reality still loyal to Lord Voldemort. Second, you stand accused of the assassination in cold blood of Albus Dumbledore, something I doubt anyone will ever forgive you for. Third, you enforced the regime of Lord Voldemort in Hogwarts, and are personally responsible for inflicting harm, both physical and emotional, on a large number of students, whose parents also will not lightly forgive you."
"There is more," said McGonagall. "If you examine his wand, you will find that he participated in the torture and murder of Rufus Scrimgeour, and that he killed Alastor Moody."
Shacklebolt and Potter were both taken aback and unable to speak for a moment. Only Hagrid seemed to take this information calmly.
Potter turned back to Snape. "I say we tell everyone we have no grounds to hold him and we're releasing him at five o'clock. Then at the appointed hour we toss him out the door, sit back, and watch the show. That would solve all our problems."
"Harry," said Shacklebolt sternly, "remember your own words. It's our job to see that justice is done."
"Oh, that would be justice," Potter replied. He returned to his perch on the table.
"Harry," Hagrid ventured, "ya got t' see there's more here than he can…"
"Shut up!" Snape spat at him, and Hagrid was quiet.
Shacklebolt looked from Harry to Hagrid to McGonagall. "This is most odd," he said at last. "A man teeters on the very brink of destruction and silences the only person kind enough to speak up on his behalf." He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "Severus Snape, did you kill Albus Dumbledore?"
"Tell him why, lad!" Hagrid pleaded.
"Did you kill Alastor Moody?"
"Did you participate in the torture and murder of Rufus Scrimgeour?"
"Yes. I also was a witness at the murder of Charity Burbage."
"Lad, ya can't do this without telling them why!"
"By all means, listen to Hagrid," said Shacklebolt. "Or maybe I should ask the question. Why?"
"I was obeying orders."
Twin expressions of disgust exploded from McGonagall and Potter. Shacklebolt looked grim. "Why is that always their excuse? They're never responsible for their actions. They're always obeying the orders of their boss."
"No!" Hagrid interjected. "You just get him to tell you whose orders he was obeying. Just do that!"
"Hagrid! Keep out of this! It's none of your business!"
Hagrid wheeled on Snape, towering over him like a mountain. "None o' my business! None o' my business! Listen, ya skinny little runt! I been taking care o' yer scrawny carcass for nigh on twenty-six year, and if you ain't the blame-all cussedest, stubbornest, pig-headedest little runt puppy…"
"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Potter. "What do mean you've been taking care of him…"
Hagrid faced Potter with an apologetic smile, "Oh come now, Harry. Ya can't stand there and say ya honestly thought ya was the first."
Shacklebolt stood, and from his own impressive height looked up at Hagrid. "Rubeus Hagrid," he said, "do you know whose orders Severus Snape was following when he killed Albus Dumbledore and Alastor Moody, and when he assisted in the deaths of Charity Burbage and Rufus Scrimgeour?"
"Sure I do," cried Hagrid. "He were obeying the orders of Professor Dumbledore hisself. Except for Moody. I don't know exactly what happened with Moody. But Professor Snape could tell ya that if ya asked."
Behind Hagrid, Snape leaned against the wall and let himself slip to the greater ease of the floor. Once there, he cradled his head in his hands.
"Is this true?" McGonagall demanded. "Why did ye no' say anything?"
"If you recall," Snape sighed from the floor, "I did ask you to let me explain."
"Och, aye. And I wouldna listen."
"Why," asked Shacklebolt, "would Professor Dumbledore want you to kill him?"
"I know," said Potter, and they all looked at him in surprise. "It was so he would become the master of the Elder Wand." He turned to Snape. "It was his hand, wasn't it. He said it was nothing, but I could tell…"
Snape stared blankly at Potter, and so the boy continued. "I could feel him… Voldemort… Sometimes I knew what he was doing. I knew he sent Malfoy to find you, so I went into the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack. I saw your duel. I saw him defeat you. That was when I knew I'd win because I knew Draco'd disarmed Professor Dumbledore before you got there."
Still Snape said nothing. Potter swallowed nervously. "Sir," he said, "do you know who sent me the patronus… the one that told me what to do to beat him?"
"Yes," Snape said simply. He did not elaborate.
After a moment, Potter said, "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"It would not be wise."
"You're hardly in a position to decide what's…"
"For goodness sake, Potter! Sometimes I think you haven't got the brains God gave a sheep!"
Hagrid's fist came crashing down on the table, sending splinters flying. "I swear I'm gonna truss ya up 'n throw ya t;' the wolves m'self! Why do I keep building bridges 'n you keep knockin' 'em down? Speak civil t' the boy!"
Potter contemplated the image of a furious Hagrid, then glanced down at Snape leaning wearily against the wall. "That's all right, Hagrid," he said quietly. "It's all he's got left. I guess I should expect him to use it."
Squatting on his heels in front of the seated Snape, Potter studied his face. "Look at you. No wand, locked in a little room like a dog in a kennel, tired, hungry, thirsty, hardly able to move – did you know your face was all scratched up? No master, no position, no future. Only one person in the whole world ready to lift a finger for you… But you have to show us you're not beaten, so you use the only weapon you have – that tongue of yours. Why? Because I reminded you that I have all the power, and you had to show me that I'm not your master yet. I admit you've got guts. So tell me, why am I so stupid?"
Snape's eyes narrowed, but there was no point in arguing the issue. "It isn't over yet," he said. "It's far from over."
"He's not your only enemy. Especially not now. You've still got a lot to do."
Snape looked past Potter's shoulder at Shacklebolt and McGonagall, but both seemed quite prepared to let Potter take the lead. "How many Death Eaters have you rounded up?" Snape asked.
"I haven't counted. A lot. There was a little army down the hill, and I think most of them got away. Should I worry about them?"
"No. They were just rank and file. They'll be thankful just to go home and hide. I was thinking more of the upper levels."
"Bella Lestrange is dead. We're holding Thicknesse and Malfoy separately. Then there's the Carrows, Greyback, Macnair, Yaxley, Dolohov, Rookwood…"
"Crabbe and Goyle?"
"Crabbe's dead. Goyle's with Draco."
"With Draco?" Snape's confusion lasted only a few seconds. "No, I mean their fathers."
Potter knitted his brows. "No, we don't have them."
"What about Avery?" Snape continued. "Or Nott? Jugson? Rowle? Selwynn? Travers?" As Potter shook his head, Snape tried to take a deep breath, failed, and then said, "And what about Aloysius Mulciber and Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange?"
Potter stood and crossed the room, pacing now. "You think they're all dangerous?" he asked.
"Not all of them. You don't have to worry about Jugson and Nott. Crabbe and Goyle are like their sons, they'll follow Malfoy's lead if you can get Malfoy to them. The dangerous ones are Mulciber and the Lestranges, who could gather the remnants of those who escaped and strike back."
"Why would they do that?"
"Molly Weasley killed Bella Lestrange. You don't know Rodolphus. He's not going to rest until he avenges his wife's death. The whole Weasley family's in danger as long as Rodolphus is free. If he's got Rabastan, Mulciber, and the others with him, that's a formidable team."
"And you're offering to go back into the fire to find them and stop them. You must love punishment. Or is this a ploy to get us to let you go, and then you run?"
Snape shrugged. "Suit yourself. It happens that I have my own grudge against the Lestranges and Mulciber. It also happens that my Death Eater credentials are still good. To all appearances, I was fighting for the Dark Lord to the end. I was nearly killed by a lynch mob, and I'm a prisoner. If you don't want to use me, that's your decision. I'm just telling you what's there."
"Let me think about it," said Potter.
"Now," Hagrid insisted, "what about a healer?"
"I'll get one of the people from St. Mungo's," said Shacklebolt.
"No," Snape said. "Better Madam Pomfrey."
"She already knows. She's been patching me up for years."
On the other side of the room, Potter raised his hands to the ceiling in mock frustration. "Is there anyone at Hogwarts besides me who didn't know?"
Hagrid laid a hand on Potter's shoulder. "Ya knew, Harry. Ya knew when ya saw the mark on his arm and heard Professor Dumbledore send him back to You Know Who. Ya just didn't want t' believe it."
"I'll go get Madam Pomfrey," Potter said, and left the room.
"I'll get some food in here," said McGonagall, and went to deal with house-elves.
Madame Pomfrey arrived a few minutes later with a bone-mending potion. Potter took a little longer, but was there before the ribs had finished knitting. "Now," said Pomfrey, "about the hematoma and the bruising…"
"I think you should leave it alone," Snape told her.
"Are we having another of those 'I'm-all-right, I-can-take-the-pain' conversations, because if we are…" Pomfrey looked positively threatening.
"No! No," Snape assured her. "I don't want the pain. You can have the pain and welcome. It's just that it might help keep me alive if there was some residual evidence of mistreatment at your hands. I could say, 'See, they hated me so much they wouldn't treat my wounds.'"
"He has a point," said Shacklebolt. "What were you thinking of?" he asked Snape.
"Make sure everything's all right internally and reduce some of the swelling. Leave the bruise. It's pretty impressive. Also leave the abrasions from the rope around my wrists, and the – you said my face was scratched?"
Madam Pomfrey fished in her ample pocket for a small mirror. Snape glanced at it. He had long scratches on his forehead and left cheek. "That should help," he said.
Opening a jar of salve, Madam Pomfrey instructed Snape to unbutton his shirt, at which point everyone agreed that the bruise was very impressive indeed.
"What in the world caused that?" Shacklebolt asked.
"I don't know," said Snape. "I saw black and gold, and then I was slammed against a table, and then I was out like a light."
Hagrid laughed. "It weren't no wizard slapped ya, lad. Ya got knocked out by a house-elf. Y're lucky y're alive."
"I guess so," said Snape, surveying his bruise with renewed respect.
McGonagall reentered the room. "Since we have you," she said, as sweetly as if she had not, an hour earlier, been planning to have Snape executed, "would you mind telling me the password for the Headmaster's office?"
"It's Dumbledore," Snape told her.
"It can't be," said McGonagall. "I actually thought of that. It didn't work."
"It could be his way o' trying to help you," Hagrid said to Snape.
"What do you mean? How would locking the door help me?"
"Well, if no one else can unlock the door, then they'd have t' bring you there t' do it, and he could see ya was all right."
"Who would see he was all right, Hagrid?" McGonagall asked.
"Why, Professor Dumbledore, of course."
"What!" chorused four voices.
"Well, he's been that worried ever since Professor Snape walked out o' the office and didn't come back. There's no pictures in this room to let him see what's happening, but I'll wager he knows about the rope party this morning…"
"Do you mean to tell me," cried an irate McGonagall, whirling on Snape, "that Albus's portrait's been talking to you when it would never talk to me?"
"Well actually, I didn't mean to tell you anything," said Snape. "It's Hagrid who's been doing all the telling. You mean he never talked to you at all? No wonder… I mean, I was pretty disappointed when you wouldn't even listen to my explanations, but then when you tried so hard to kill me…"
"Wha-!" exclaimed Hagrid, but Shacklebolt and Pomfrey both shushed him. This time it was Potter who seemed unsurprised by the turn of events.
"Kill you! I never did!" McGonagall insisted.
"Oh no? Tell that to the suit of armor I had to use as a shield so as not to injure Potter over there. It had twenty knives buried that deep in the metal…"
"He's right, Professor McGonagall," said Potter. "You did try to kill him." He looked over at Snape. "How did you know I was there? And did you know you threw that suit of armor right at me?"
"Oh, sorry about that. That's what you get for wearing an Invisibility Cloak. And I knew for two unimpeachable reasons. The first is that I felt Alecto Carrow – it was Alecto, wasn't it? – send for the Dark Lord. She'd never have done that unless she'd seen you in the castle. Second, there's nothing that could force Minerva McGonagall to descend to the level of homicide except maternal instinct. You, woman, were protecting someone." Snape shook his finger at her in admonition.
"At least ye got away, laddie. And I'd be grateful if ye taught me that flying trick."
"Flying? I can't fly. Oh! you mean… That was an Accio spell. Luckily I was seen when I went out that fifth floor window…"
"You jumped out a fifth floor window!" Hagrid screamed. "That's a hundred 'n fifty foot…"
"Well so would you if you were being hunted by crazed old ladies with an arsenal of knives in their spell books…"
"Who are ye calling an old lady, laddie? That's one ye'll pay for!"
Harry Potter plopped himself down cross-legged on the floor and began to laugh uncontrollably. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he gasped, "How come I never heard you talk like this before?"
"Like what, child?" snapped McGonagall, clearly offended.
"Like people!" Potter crowed, and began laughing again.
"Potter," Snape intoned in his best you-are-all-dunderheads voice, "look around you. What do you not see?"
"I don't know, sir. What don't I see?"
"Students, Potter. You do not see students. Teachers never talk around students the way they talk when students are not present. Now control yourself or we shall be forced to notice that you are not yet a stone's throw away from being a student yourself."
Potter subsided with ill-concealed amusement. Snape turned back to McGonagall. "I am not about to struggle up eight long flights of stairs after a fast that is now approaching forty hours. What happened to the food that you supposedly went for?"
"Oh, that," said McGonagall, and she clapped her hands and cried, "Food, please!"
A house-elf materialized with a tray of sandwiches and butterbeer, a house-elf that was vaguely familiar to Snape. Snape, it appeared, was well-known to the house-elf, who took one look at him and slammed the tray to the floor, causing sandwiches to jump onto the flagstones and butterbeer to slosh from its pitcher.
"Kreacher!" Potter cried. "You will be polite to this wizard."
Kreacher bowed. "If master wishes," he said, "but this is no nice wizard. This wizard tried to kill Harry Potter. There, in the Great Hall, this wizard raised his wand to kill Harry Potter while Harry Potter spoke with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But Kreacher was faster. Kreacher blasted him before he could strike."
"Tried to kill me," said Potter slowly. All levity was now gone from his face and his manner. "Why would you try to kill me then, when all was won?"
"It wasn't won," Snape replied, facing him. "Dumbledore told me you had to die before the Dark Lord could be killed, and there you were not dead. I couldn't let him survive your attack to return again more powerful than before."
"But I'd already died. Died and been allowed to come back. I explained that."
"I didn't know," said Snape. "I was unconscious for that part."
"You were ready," Potter persisted, "to kill me – kill me! – because of the gaps in your understanding?"
The two were squaring off again. Snape had become cold. "Wasn't that exactly the same reason why you were ready to kill me?" he said.
Hagrid stepped between them. "We ain't discussing it here. You two lads are going upstairs and we'll discuss it where Professor Dumbledore can hear and see."
"I'm going to eat something first," said Snape, turning his back on Potter and reaching for the pitcher of butterbeer and a cup that had fallen off the tray onto the floor. Desperately thirsty, he poured and drank one cup, then another, and then he took the two sandwiches that had managed to stay on the tray when Kreacher dropped it, the pitcher and the cup, and sat next to the table in the chair that McGonagall had used.
Shacklebolt took both McGonagall and Potter by the arm and steered them out the door, Pomfrey following and Kreacher strutting behind. Snape and Hagrid were alone in the room again. Neither spoke as Snape ate his meal with deliberate slowness. The sandwiches were delicious, and it was only as he chewed and swallowed that Snape realized how hungry he'd been.
"Ready?" Hagrid asked when he'd finished.
"As I'll ever be," Snape replied.
Hagrid went to fetch the other three, and as they came into the room, Potter held out a small bundle whose fabric shimmered in the light. "It's best if you put this on," he said.
"I hate that thing," said Snape.
"You hate an Invisibility Cloak? Why?"
"It's a long story." Snape picked up the cloak between his thumb and forefinger and lifted it so that its iridescent folds cascaded to the floor. Then, with a sigh, he swung it around his shoulders. They were right. It wouldn't do to be seen walking through the corridors of Hogwarts – not if he was going to try to find the Lestranges.
The group made its way up to the seventh floor in a little procession, McGonagall leading, Snape in the middle, Potter and Hagrid on either side, and Shacklebolt to the rear. It kept anyone from accidentally bumping into Snape, and it also kept Snape from escaping. No one was near the corridor that went to the gargoyle staircase.
In front of the others now, Snape stepped forward and removed the Invisibility Cloak. Before he could say anything, the staircase began to open for them.
"It looks as if you're still headmaster," said McGonagall primly, and the party mounted the stairs and ascended to the oaken door that swung open to admit them.
"Severus!" cried portrait Dumbledore, beaming with delight. "It is immensely satisfying to see that you are alive and apparently well. I must say that you gave us a bit of a scare." Further along the wall, Phineas Nigellus was doing some kind of victory dance. The other portraits were a bit more sedate, but all seemed pleased.
McGonagall stepped forward. "Headmaster," she began, but Dumbledore held up a hand to stop her.
"I am Albus," he said, "or Professor Dumbledore. The Headmaster is standing behind you."
Potter strode to the front. "Aren't you pleased to see me, too, Professor? Didn't I give you a bit of a scare?"
"Well yes, of course, Harry," the portrait assured him, "but I have a faint recollection that you and I have already spoken. Something about a railway station, was it not? And we have been watching you all day, so we knew you were fine. The last time we saw Severus, on the other hand, he was standing on a table with a rope around his neck. I am sure you can understand why we might have been concerned for his welfare."
As Potter thought about this, Dumbledore looked over at Snape. "You are amused, Severus?"
Startled, Snape shook his head. "No, sir," he replied. "It's just that I never…"
"Realized that Harry is just as jealous of you as you are of him. Oh yes. He has never understood why I trust you so. It is natural in the youthful to forget that the world existed before they were born, and Harry never has focused on the fact that I have known you, taught you, and worked with you for nearly twenty-seven years now, and that I might have a tiny glimmer more insight into your character than he does."
"Unlike some people." Snape glared at McGonagall, who wouldn't look him in the eye.
"Why would Professor Snape be jealous of me?" Potter asked.
"Why, you supplanted him. You do not honestly think that you were the first student in whose education I took a personal interest?"
"That's what I told him, Professor," cried Hagrid. "That's just what I said. There's two lads here, not just one."
"No," Potter said. "No, I was the one mentioned in the prophecy. It was because Voldemort tried to kill me and failed. That didn't happen to him."
Portrait Dumbledore frowned slightly. "Lord Voldemort…" he began, then looked over at Snape. "I hope I caused you no discomfort, Severus."
Snape glanced at his left arm. "No, sir. People have been saying his name all afternoon, and I haven't felt a thing."
"That is excellent news! Now, Harry… Lord Voldemort returned nearly ten years before you were born, and nine before there was a prophecy. Just the year before Severus started school, in fact. I knew from rather early on that Severus might have an important role to play, for he was a most disturbingly unusual child. In some ways very like Tom Riddle had been, in some ways very like you turned out to be, and in some ways uniquely himself. Just as there are things about you that are reminiscent of Tom."
"That was because of the soul fragment," Potter said glumly.
"Yes, but it fit a pattern. Harry, Severus has been helping you more than you know. It was he who figured out how to get Gryffindor's sword to…"
"Professor," Snape interjected quickly, "you promised."
"Be at ease, Severus. Harry, if you ask your friends how they came up with the idea of trying to steal Gryffindor's sword, they will tell you it came from Luna Lovegood, who claimed to be in communication with me via a chocolate frog card. That was Severus's idea, for he realized that the cards were also portraits. He made certain they were not severely punished for the act, and it gave us the chance to hide the real sword and put a duplicate in a place where Voldemort would think it secure. I thought it was a brilliant plan, and it worked quite well."
"That reminds me," said Potter. "Professor, will you tell me who else has been helping me?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The sword, sir. Someone else showed me how to retrieve the sword, and the same person delivered your instructions on what I was to do to get rid of the soul fragment that made me a Horcrux. Someone with a patronus in the form of a doe. It spoke with a female voice."
"Indeed," said Dumbledore, glancing over at Snape. "I find that very interesting."
Shacklebolt spoke up. "I only knew them for a short time before they died, but weren't James and Lily Potter's patronuses a stag and a doe?" He turned to Potter. "I think you've seen mine – it's a lynx."
"Mine is a cat," said McGonagall. "Obviously."
"Mine's a fox," Snape said quickly. "I don't think I've ever sent it to either of you, but Lupin would have seen it. He could tell you."
There was silence then. Ominous silence. It was McGonagall who told him. "Severus, Remus Lupin is dead. He died yesterday. Tonks died with him."
Snape could feel the blood draining from his face, and he groped his way to a nearby chair and sat heavily down. "Who else?" he asked after a moment.
They told him. They told him of Fred Weasley and Colin Creevy, and of all the others whose bodies had lain in the Great Hall. They gave him a few moments to take it all in while Harry turned back to Dumbledore.
"Then it was my mother. How could she be helping me? I thought only the living could conjure a patronus."
Dumbledore sighed. "I shall tell you the truth, Harry. I do not know how a doe patronus might come to you speaking with your mother's voice. If I find out, I shall tell you."
"There is another, more urgent matter," Shacklebolt said, reminding them of the seriousness of their conference. "Professor Snape believes that the Weasley family is in grave danger from Rodolphus Lestrange and other Death Eaters who were not in the battle here. He's certain that the Lestranges will try to avenge the death of Bellatrix."
"Ah!" exclaimed Dumbledore. "So that is why you approached the gargoyle staircase wearing the Invisibility Cloak. So, my spy, the frying pan was not hot enough for you. You are determined to climb back into the fire. You see, Harry, you are not the only one here with a complex about saving people."
Potter looked across the room at Snape, and there was speculation in his eyes.
It didn't take them long to work out a plan because there was little to work out, not having very much information to go on. Snape would be placed with the other captured Death Eaters, and in a day or two the lot of them would go to the Ministry of Magic. It was clear that Shacklebolt himself was in line to be the next Minister, and Gawain Robards was back in his position as head of the Auror Division. Both Dumbledore and Snape agreed that it was safe to bring Robards into the secret since both of them trusted him to be reasonable, fair, and professional.
After formal processing at the Ministry, the Death Eaters would be shipped to Azkaban, at which time a select few could be allowed to escape, Snape among them. The details could not be worked out until Shacklebolt had a chance to discuss the matter with Robards. They did all agree, however, that something would have to happen quickly as the Lestranges probably had plans under way. Meanwhile, the Weasleys had already been warned, and were taking precautions, aided by the Aurors.
"I should feel more comfortable if you had some way to keep in contact with us," said portrait Dumbledore. "Unfortunately, you could not take the picture with you. If it were discovered before you were firmly accepted by the Lestranges, it could jeopardize your mission."
"Not to mention my life," said Snape wryly, but he went to the desk and took out the little portrait of Dumbledore that he'd used to communicate before his appointment by the Board of Governors. He handed it to Shacklebolt. "We need to arrange some way for you to get this to me."
"I have an idea, Severus," said Dumbledore. "Do you remember the very first drop point you used, when you decided once for all to help us back in 1980? The one at Speaker's Corner where you left the information that saved Remus's life?"
"Of course." Snape turned to Shacklebolt. "You could leave it there. When I feel it's safe, I'll pick it up. You'll know when it's gone that it's nearly time to move." Snape drew a quick diagram on a scrap of parchment showing where the drop point was.
Then it was time to firm up the cover story. Hagrid did most of the honors, seizing Snape by the arms several times and squeezing his fingers into the flesh, then ripping the collar of Snape's jacket and shirt, and the seam of sleeve and shoulder, and even had Snape lie down so Hagrid could grip his ankles to make it look as if Snape had been dragged across the floor. While they waited for the bruises to form, Hagrid used a knife to make slashes in the left side of the jacket, telling Snape to hold his arm up as if defending his face as he sliced the sleeve, drawing blood twice, blood that he made sure stained the fabric of the jacket.
"Do you always have to do things… like this… when you go under cover?" Potter asked, fascinated by the detail of the preparations.
"Sometimes it is much worse," said Dumbledore from the wall. "When we knew Voldemort was coming back in your fourth year, Severus even had me cast Cruciatus curses on him so he could prepare for his reception, knowing that Voldemort would probably consider him a traitor and punish him. It pained me to do it. Not as much as it pained Severus, of course. Quite a horrendous experience for both of us."
"I never thought about that," said Potter. "Sirius always believed…"
"I know what Sirius Black believed," Snape growled. "He made it very clear."
"I need to ask you some things." Potter was watching as Hagrid removed Snape's jacket and shirt to check the progress of the bruising. Round purple patches were already beginning to appear on the pale skin.
"Because you could get killed, and then I'd never get the answers."
When Snape didn't reply, Potter continued. "When you told Sirius you thought I was going to the Department of Mysteries, did you goad him into going, too?"
"Goad him! I told him not to go, that he would be playing right into the Dark Lord's hands. Nothing could have stopped Sirius once he knew you were in danger."
"What exactly did you say to him?"
"As I recall, my last words were 'good luck,' and he said 'thank you.'"
"Why did you kill Alastor Moody?"
"He asked me to. For friendship's sake. It was preferable to the alternative."
"Time to go now lad," said Hagrid, replacing Snape's shirt and jacket. Using the Invisibility Cloak, they returned to the small room from which they'd started. One by one they shook Snape's hand, then Hagrid bound his wrists again and led him to the door.
Potter stepped forward. "Good luck," he said.
"Thank you," Snape replied, then he and Hagrid were gone.