A/N: Half of a chapter early early early with my apologies again for how late the last chapter was. Enjoy!
Chapter 11: An Honorable Man
Harry sat cross-legged on one of the low stone walls in the castle courtyard, Herbology textbook open on his lap. Luna was perched beside him, working on her Charms homework and humming softly to herself. Harry didn't recognize the tune, but oddly enough, he found it relaxing instead of annoying. It was Friday afternoon—finally—and they were two of dozens of students taking advantage of the unexpected sunny day by sitting passing time in the courtyard as the last classes of the day wound down.
It had been a horrible week.
On Tuesday, when Harry had dinner with Severus, Severus had not given in to his pleas. He insisted that Harry would not be leaving the grounds of Hogwarts, not even to visit Hermione at St. Mungo's. Not by secure Floo connection, not by Portkey, not by broom or thestral or Apparation or Muggle jetpack. He could not go even if he were Polyjuiced or wearing a glamour or safely hidden under his invisibility cloak.
Harry had been angry. He had pointed out that he was eighteen years old and capable of making his own adult decisions.
Severus reminded him that he had agreed to these terms after the accident in Hogsmeade.
Harry pointed out that that was before Hermione ended up badly injured and in St. Mungo's.
In the end, after a shouting match and threats from both sides, Harry picked up his tea mug and threw it into the fireplace.
"Feel better now?" Severus asked.
Harry's hand was shaking. He clenched and unclenched his fist. It itched to pick something else up and hurl it.
Severus silently handed him his own mug.
The second mug joined the first, reduced to broken shards among the coals.
Harry's hand was still trembling.
Severus reached out and took hold of his wrist. He tugged it gently.
"Come," he said.
He led Harry over to the upright piano that stood against the wall in the alcove between kitchen and sitting room. The piano had been there as long as Harry had been coming to Severus' quarters, and he'd never paid it much attention. It seemed to him to be just another piece of furniture. He'd never seen Severus play it, or even notice it in any way. Not until now.
Severus sat on the bench and scooted over to make room for Harry beside him, on his right.
While Harry watched, speechless, Severus poised his hands over the keys, stretched them twice then lowered his fingers and began to play. He didn't take out any sheet music and didn't seem to falter in the least. He played as if he practiced daily, as if he knew this music like the inside of his soul.
Harry stared at Severus' hands as they moved over the keys. He smiled as the notes formed around him, coalescing into a familiar melody, calming him from the inside out.
"Let it be…" he mused as the Beatles perfect piano song filled the room.
Severus played on.
Harry watched his fingers dancing on the keys. The words and the melody seemed to enwrap him, blanketing him with a feeling akin to drinking a calming draught. His heartbeat slowed, his breathing deepened, the weight on his shoulders lightened. He sat quietly, listening, feeling, until Severus' fingers slowed then stopped, resting just above the ivory keys.
"Still want to throw something?" he asked.
"No," said Harry, eyes still on the keys.
"Would you like to try?" Severus' voice was low. He wasn't looking at Harry either.
"Yes. Yes, I would."
And right then and there, he'd had his first piano lesson.
He smiled now, listening to Luna's humming, and thought about those thirty minutes spent side by side with Severus, pecking out a soft melody. Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice…
"Do you play a musical instrument, Luna?" he asked, closing his Herbology book. He'd read the page in front of him at least five times already.
"Hmmm…" Luna smiled. She wrote a few more words on the parchment in front of her then closed it up inside her Charms textbook and looked up at him. "I play the oboe. That's the duck in Peter and the Wolf, you know." She smiled. "Are you thinking of learning to play, Harry? You can borrow my oboe if you'd like."
"Severus plays the piano," said Harry. It wasn't an answer, but Luna didn't seem to mind.
"Oh, of course he does," she answered. "He has perfect hands for the piano. Is he going to teach you?"
"His mum taught him," said Harry, again not answering her question. "They didn't have a piano at home so they went to a neighbor's house every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour to practice."
"That's nice," answered Luna. "I imagine Severus misses his mother."
"She cleaned the neighbor's house in return," said Harry, continuing the bizarre almost-conversation in kind.
"Is he good?" asked Luna. "Does his music make you want to dance?"
Harry shook his head.
"It's not that kind of music," he said.
And that was all. They each went back to their studies then, without another word.
The castle doors opened twenty minutes later and students leaving the final classes of the day began streaming out to the courtyard.
Harry looked up. Ron should be here any time, and he had promised to take a letter to Hermione. Harry had just finished it after lunch. Hermione had been in a magically-induced coma until yesterday morning. They had managed to move her to St. Mungo's on Sunday, and by Thursday, her broken bones and other injuries were largely healed. They were getting her up and out of bed on Saturday and if all went well, she'd be coming to Hogwarts on Sunday or Monday.
No more commuting to Hogwarts in the morning and back to London for the afternoons and weekends. It wasn't safe enough. Her parents insisted she return. Ron insisted. Severus insisted.
Harry swallowed the lump that kept reappearing in his throat. Two more days
He wanted Hermione safely behind Hogwarts gates.
Not that what he wanted made any difference. He hadn't been able to convince Severus to let him visit Hermione.
Nothing was happening fast enough. The Aurors still hadn't been able to find either Prudence Carson or Estelle Smith, though the stupefied owl had been traced back to an owl post office south of London. It was one of the rental owls, and on Saturday morning had indeed been tasked with delivering a letter to Hogwarts. The destination was recorded, but not the recipient, for the sender was charged based on the distance the owl had to fly and its expected total in-service time. The sender was anonymous; there was no reason to track who rented post owls and as wizarding Britain used a cash economy, there was no easy way to track sales transactions. The clerk on duty on Saturday cooperated with the Aurors, but even a study of his extracted memories in a Pensieve didn't yield additional clues. The shop had been busy on Saturday and no one fitting the description of either Prudence or Estelle could be identified in the shop that day.
However, sometimes, senders used an owl-hopping system. An owl would carry a letter to an owl post, where it would be transferred to another owl and forwarded to the final destination or to another intermediary hop. This system was most frequently used when the letter was traveling exceptionally long distances. There was no way of knowing if the letter had even originated from that owl post office.
A watch was put on all the public post owl offices within a standard day's flight of Hogwarts, though it seemed almost impossible to locate either Estelle or Prudence by their use of owls to send letters to Harry at Hogwarts.
Ron ran up to them a few minutes later.
"Mum's meeting me in the Three Broomsticks and we're Flooing from there," he said. Harry thought he looked a hundred percent better than he had on Saturday night when he got back from visiting Hermione that first time. He hadn't blamed Harry. He'd gone out of his way, in fact, to threaten whoever was doing this to his friends, and to reassure Harry that he didn't blame him. But the look on his face was the same one he'd had when they were imprisoned in Malfoy Manor, listening to Hermione's tortured screams shaking the very stones of the mansion.
It didn't matter that Ron didn't blame him, though, when Harry clearly blamed himself. He couldn't help it. It didn't matter that his brain knew he couldn't prevent it. His heart just kept telling him that he had to do something about it.
"Do you have the letter?"
"You put it inside your Herbology textbook, Harry," said Luna helpfully.
"Oh, right." Harry fished the letter out and handed it to Ron.
"You can read it if you want," he said quickly. "I didn't say the accident was my fault or apologize or tell her we can trade war stories about getting hit by cars. I just told her I can't wait until she's back at Hogwarts and that I'm thinking about her all the time."
Ron grinned and wiped the hair back out of his eyes. He was growing it out. He wanted a ponytail like Bill's, he said. Harry thought that he looked immensely older than he had a week ago, and it had nothing to do with his hair.
Ron pocketed the letter without reading it and hurried back inside to Floo to Hogsmeade.
"Hermione will help you," said Luna a few minutes later. It was another out of the blue statement and Harry swiveled his head over to stare at her.
"She'll need something to do with all her extra time now," said Luna. She smiled at Harry. "You three are a good team, you know."
Harry smiled back. "Maybe you can help too," he said.
"Oh, I'd love that," she answered. "I think I'd ask the Merpeople about the girl that drowned. I imagine they might know something."
And without another word, she hopped down off the ledge, gathered her things and took her leave.
Harry was fairly certain Hermione could get to the bottom of this case faster than the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. By Monday, they had had reassurances that she would recover fully, and by Wednesday her parents and Severus had decided that she would return to Hogwarts full-time as soon as she could leave St. Mungo's. On Thursday night, after the Aurors had gotten no further with Prudence and Estelle, and not a single piece of evidence had been turned up in the search for the automobile that had struck Hermione as she walked across the nearly empty car park near her parents' office, Harry had stared at the ceiling above his bed as he tried to fall asleep, fighting the traitorous thoughts that kept rising to the surface.
We could do as much as they're doing. Look what we did last year. Puzzling out the Deathly Hallows. Finding all the Horcruxes. Breaking into Gringotts. Getting back into Hogwarts. With Hermione and Ron, and maybe Ginny and Luna and Neville…
But Severus…Severus would kill him.
But the Aurors weren't getting anywhere. Harry understood they had to operate in a specific way. That their numbers were greatly reduced after the war. That there were still Death Eaters on the loose, and so many lives to rebuild now that Voldemort was gone for good.
Severus had made him promise.
But they'd gone after Hermione. They'd tried to kill her.
Who would be next? Ron? Ginny?
Harry turned over and bunched up his pillow.
He didn't especially like having his own room.
He'd spent six years sharing a dorm room with four other boys, then nearly a year sharing a tent with Ron and Hermione. And even though he'd had his own room at Shell Cottage this past summer, he'd had Severus right across the corridor, and the sound of the surf outside his window..
Here, in this room in the castle, he felt utterly alone. Sometimes he welcomed the feeling. Other times, like now, he hated it.
He wished, on nights like these, that he had someone to hold at night. He remembered the night after the Final Battle, when he and Ginny had fallen asleep together on the floor of the infirmary. He sighed as he mentally relived the summer days spent cuddled on the hammock together, or on the beach blanket, or on the sofa when the skies outside opened up in rain.
When he had first considered coming back to Hogwarts, it had been like a dream come true. A year to take his time, finish his education, get back into the routine of normal life while he decided what direction he'd go when he left Hogwarts. He'd seldom considered where he would have to compromise. What was his independence worth?
He turned over again. Tomorrow was Saturday. He fully expected another letter from Hazel and he really, really wished he could read it without Severus and two Aurors looking over his shoulder.
It is time for me to be more forthright with you. Over the past weeks, I have corresponded with you to show my great appreciation for all you have done for the Wizarding world. I have offered you a certain amount of guidance and advice based on my position in life and my experience with some of those that are now close to you and who influence you—for good or for ill—in your daily life and your future paths. You know, too, that I have exposure to certain…factions...and that I have tried to warn you of events that might cause you or those you love harm. I regret that my efforts have not yet been successful—indeed, that you were injured and that last week your Muggle-born friend was hurt so badly. I cannot promise that I will have prior notice every time, or ever again for that matter, so I feel that I must deliver this warning to you and do what I can to ensure that you are protected as much as is possible.
Harry, I was at Hogwarts myself long ago, when the Dark Lord was still revered by many and recruiting followers from all of the houses. You have certainly guessed that I am not signing my actual name to these letters. I knew a girl named Hilda once, and admired her greatly, and have borrowed her name for our correspondence. And while you certainly may be curious about my identity, I assure you that I have only your best interests at heart. You have put your life—your trust—into the hands of someone who is not worthy of that trust, and certainly not of your life.
Hear me out, Harry. I know that at this point you are ready to tear this letter into shreds. You have formed family with this man, this mentor. While I was fortunate enough to have grown up with a family who loved me unconditionally, I do understand loss, and death, and trials, and betrayal. I have lost more than one person that I loved deeply. And I cannot in good conscience stand by and let Severus Snape destroy another life.
We make choices in our lives, Harry. We must live with the consequences of our choices. Severus Snape chose to become a Death Eater. He chose to obey the Dark Lord's commands. There is not a Death Eater among the lot, living or dead, that did not torture, kill, plunder, rape. The Unforgiveables were their weapons of choice. How can one forgive torture? Murder? Rape? And if this man, this Death Eater, became a spy, and worked against the enemy from within the snake's nest, are his actions before or after automatically forgiven?
How is one life valued compared to another? Is your life, Harry Potter, more valuable than the life of a Muggle child?
I must believe that you avoid thinking of the acts of violence that Severus Snape committed while he was a Death Eater. It is the past, you say, and he has repented. He is honorable.
Would an honorable man kill a Muggle child, Harry?
Perhaps you should ask him. Perhaps you should ask him how it feels to kill a man. Or to murder a child.
Harry, these accidents, these atrocities that have happened—in Hogsmeade, in London with your Muggle friend—they are not about you. They are about Severus Snape. And someone will soon make a request of him.
If he is an honorable man, there is only one way he can respond.
Severus let the letter fall from his hands onto his desk. Reuben Peace, standing between Severus and his office door, watched the letter float down. He'd brought it in to Severus directly after reading it himself.
"You are certain he has not read this?" Severus' voice was hoarse, his face pale.
"No. And he's not happy about it. Daniels took the letter before he opened it. The envelope it came in was different than the others and only his first name was written on the front. He was suspicious and insisted on checking the letter before letting Harry read it." He stared at Severus intently. "Are you all right, Headmaster?"
Severus lifted his head and stared up at Peace.
"No. I am not all right," he said harshly. "I have to explain to my son why I am responsible for the death of a Muggle child twenty years ago."
Peace stared at Severus. Severus stared back.
"You don't have to give him the letter, Headmaster."
Severus glanced down again at the parchment on his desk, blinking as the words swam before him.
Would an honorable man kill a Muggle child, Harry?
He stood up slowly and picked up the letter.
"It is Harry's letter, Reuben. Send him to my quarters, please."
And without another word he turned and disappeared with the letter through the door that led up to his rooms.
Reuben Peace stared after him.
That, he thought to himself. That is an honorable man.