AN: My it's been a while. This is a two part story, and the second part will be posted sometime later this week. If there's a delay, it will be posted on my profile page. Now, some people (like myself) appreciate warnings, so I will say that there is a character death, but it is NOT Snape or Harry. And it will have a positive ending. Hope you like it!
Disquiet in the Face of Victory
He could hear the bangs of the giants attacking the castle, and they vibrated in his mind. He thought he could hear the loud breathing of a giant outside their door, but that couldn't be because he and Snape were holed up in the dungeons, hidden in an old flat behind three sets of doors. On a lumpy cot, with rubbish blankets that didn't keep him warm and wouldn't protect him from the giant outside the door. Ron and Hermione were in the room next to him, and fear seized his heart as he realised that he couldn't check on them, that the giant would tear him apart as soon as he tried to leave the room. And Snape was still sleeping on the cot next to him, normally within reach but Harry couldn't reach the cot; his arm wouldn't move. It lay uselessly on the bed and Harry pleaded in his mind for his arm to move, for his mouth to say anything, just to wake Snape up and feel some measure of safety against the giant that was now knocking down the door…
"Hhhhhheeeuh!" Harry exhaled, his body jerking violently awake out of the nightmare. His heart was racing, and the blue orb nightlights floating around the room did nothing to calm him. The images of the dream were still extremely vivid in his mind; the giant breathing heavily in his search for them, the very same giant who had never made it past the first of the three doors. Harry knew the dreams were his mind's way of dealing with the terror he'd experienced in the two-day take over of Hogwarts, but he really wished there was another way as he'd woken up every night since feeling terrified.
At least tonight he hadn't dreamed of the damn snake.
Harry gave his pillow a quick check with his hand, and scrunching his face up at the cold sweat, flipped it over. He flopped back down onto the bed, hoping he could get back to sleep without jumping back into the nightmare. When he was a boy, he used to force himself to take up the nightmare again, and change it to something good before he'd fallen back asleep. But the problem now was that the entire two-day hostility had been an absolute horror. He couldn't steer his dream to a happier route, because there hadn't been one. He, Ron, Hermione, Snape, and two other order members had hidden in the lower dungeons, in an abandoned professor's flat that hadn't been used in a good fifty years. After a solid forty-two hour fight and standoff, it was agreed that some would stand guard whilst others slept, and that's when it had happened.
The lower dungeons had been flooded, and though the classrooms and dorms mostly had anti-impervious spells on them (they were, after all, dungeons under and near a giant lake), the students in the hallways had not been that fortunate.
Harry wiped at the tears forming in his eyes, thinking of Dean and Seamus, and how no one had known they had been down there looking for Harry. Of the countless others that had thought below ground was the safest place to hide.
Fuck. Harry sat up again, rubbing his tired eyes. There was no way he was getting back to sleep now, not if he continued to remember what had happened. An image of Snape popped up in his mind; of Nagini slithering into their hiding room, of Snape writhing, of blood.
Pushing the covers angrily back, Harry jumped out of bed and turned on the radio. At least the music would give him something to think about.
The halls of Hogwarts had a certain taste to them. Depending on where he was walking, Harry could taste the chalky dust particles in the air of the upper towers, which were still swirling invisibly about from the battered roofs and walls. The main entrance and grand stairs had more of an antique taste to it, from the smashed and torn apart portraits and frames. Up on the seventh floor, near the Room of Requirement, there was a distinctly ashy taste from where a fire had barrelled through the halls, burning tapestries, rugs, sconces, and anything, or anyone, else in sight.
When he passed to the stairs to the dungeons, Harry imagined he could taste the essence of Newgate gaol at its busiest point, before the Great Fire of London. The stones were damp, mouldy, and the flagstone, smoothed from centuries of Hogwarts students, was slimy from the muck of the Black Lake. Sconces sputtered and fought to stay lit, and the portraits had all been abandoned. Tapestries hung heavily and dank, and the doors were damp and soft to Harry's touch.
The oppressive dark and dampness of the lower dungeons had a bitter taste, and Harry imagined his classmates caught behind the twisted corridors and locked doors, like Newgate, scrambling to find freedom. When the siege of Hogwarts had reached it's fiercest, and the students had retreated to the heart of the castle for safety, no one had imagined that Voldemort would focus on the Black Lake. Within minutes a massive volume of water had surged through the underground chambers and completely flooded the lower dungeons.
Harry threw a lumos spell down one spiral staircase, down to where he knew Snape's classroom had been. The light was swallowed by the dark, wet air, and Harry strongly exhaled. The house elves had cleared the water, and searched for survivors. Beyond that, Harry knew that no one would touch the lower dungeons until the rest of the castle had been healed.
He still walked by the silent staircases on his way to the Great Hall, feeling like he was a child again and needed to pass the darkened hall to the loo in the dead of the night, steeling himself to not look at the kitchen door. It was an ordinary kitchen during the day, ordinary like the Slytherin dormitories were, down under the lake where they housed beds and couches and solace to generations of Slytherins, and yet there was an uneasy feeling in the distance between them. Harry felt the pinpricks on his skin as he looked down, feeling much like there was a malevolent sense to the air, something around that did not have his wellbeing in mind.
A flash of movement caught in the furthest corner of his eye and Harry's gaze snapped toward it, searching through the darkness to see what had made the movement. He waited a full two minutes, but not even any of the Hogwarts ghosts made itself known. Just as Harry turned to leave, the movement happened again and Harry's mouth dropped open in silent horror as he saw a pasty white head emerging out of the blackness, with stringy dirty hair and malevolent eyes.
"What are you staring at, boy?" Argus Filch demanded, spittle on his lips as he tucked something into his robe pockets.
"Nothing," Harry said, regaining his wit as he realised who it was. "I didn't know anyone had gone down there. I thought it was warded."
Filch sneered at him.
"I am the caretaker of this school," Filch proclaimed. "I will go wherever I want."
"Right, sir," Harry blandly replied. Filch was still Filch, regardless of the war, and Harry felt it was a waste of time to argue with the man
He shook the thoughts of ghosts and hidden chambers out of his mind and headed to the Great Hall. Meals were served at the regular times, and a healthy amount of people had stayed on at Hogwarts to make sure the school would be fully functional for the new school year. With so many wounded, with the losses, it seemed important for nearly everyone that they had a goal to focus on. And so, it was determined that Hogwarts would be ready for September.
Harry entered through one of the side doors, preferring to not draw as much attention to himself as he could. The Great Hall tasted of sunshine - it had for the past three weeks since Filius Flitwick had been healed enough to fix the stained glass windows in the hall. Together with McGonagall, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Flitwick had spent three hours working with them to charm the ceiling again. Headmaster Snape, dressed in his regular severe black and most of his bandage wrappings concealed by his voluminous robes, had watched them intently.
"Morning, Harry," Hermione quietly greeted, as he slipped into his seat near the front of the room. The house tables had been placed back to their original positions, for the most part, but the scorch marks and gouges in the tables hadn't been repaired. No one sat by house, however, preferring to eat in the small groups of survivors that they were.
She passed him a cup of coffee, liberally adding milk to take off the bitterness, and poured the same for Ron. Ron had nodded his hello, but his focus was on the next table over, half way down the room, where his sister was angrily stabbing at her rashers of bacon with a fork.
"Still no improvement with her arm?" Harry asked, selecting the plainest scone he could from the basket the house elves had provided.
"No," Ron finally answered. "The new season doesn't start until October, of course. But there's training over the summer, and if she can't…"
He trailed off, watching Ginny again. Ginny's right arm was resting motionlessly on the table, though Ginny was glaring at it and most likely muttering curses and dark threats at it. No one had seen her cursed, and Madame Pomfrey hadn't been able to successfully fix her arm either.
"We're going to the library later today," Hermione added, now watching Ginny as well.
Harry couldn't fault that, and as much as he wanted to hug Ginny, fix her arm, make it so she could stay on a broomstick again, he knew he couldn't. He may have been the defeater of Voldemort, but he knew he couldn't reverse curses.
That was the one lesson that Harry felt he'd probably learned best out of his entire time in the wizarding community. Magic doesn't fix everything.
"Hermione," Harry asked, carefully spreading jam on his scone. "Speaking of the library. Is it possible for someone to feel dark magic?"
"I'm not sure," she answered. "Magic is made up of elements from the earth, and humans are receptive to changes in the air, to the water, the temperature, to things like that. If someone were attuned to the pressure in the air, and studies have been done that spells passing through the air change…"
Ginny's outburst silenced the room and heads swivelled to see her seated at the table, her shirt covered in orange juice and the goblet she'd been trying to hold with her hand dented.
Hermione flinched, as if to move, but Ron grasped her forearm gently and prevented it.
"Leave her," he strongly suggested. "She'll only accept help from Neville. And Harry, that feeling of gooseflesh, at night? The pinpricks on the back of your neck? Mum's always said that was dark magic."
"Why Neville?" Hermione asked, ignoring Ron's unscientific answer.
"Because it was Neville last year," Ron cryptically explained. "Did you find a leftover curse somewhere, Harry?"
"I don't think it's a curse," Harry said, taking a large bite of scone. As he chewed, he glanced to the front of the room and watched Snape methodically slice whatever he was having for breakfast. Though still the headmaster, Snape was not sitting at the middle of the staff table, but was instead in the corner, where he'd normally sat as a professor. He'd been given a wide berth by his colleagues, and didn't seem to be too annoyed about eating his meal in silence. Or perhaps it was just what he was accustomed to.
"Whenever I walk by any of the stairs to the lower dungeons, I can feel something there. Something in the darkness."
He kept his eyes on his plate, spearing a slice of pear and popping it into his mouth with a bit of bacon.
"A lot of people died there, Harry," Hermione softly said. "It could just be ghosts."
"I'm not sure," Harry said, not wanting to get into details at the breakfast table. "When we went to Nearly Headless Nick's death day party it didn't feel the same. I'll just…I'll talk to McGonagall later."
"And Headmaster Snape," Hermione agreed. "They used to be his dungeons, he probably knows them better than even Peeves."
"Or Filch," Ron grinned. He was glancing toward Ginny again, where Neville had chosen the seat next to her and had spelled her arm to respond to his as if it were on puppet strings. She was smiling at the weird gestures he was making them do, and she looked like she'd momentarily forgotten that her Quidditch dreams were all but crushed.
"And while you're at it," Ron added, snatching another roll from the basket. "See if it's the Giant Squid making that unholy stench down there. No one's seen it yet."
"Ugh," Harry said, his face slightly scrunched up as he imagined the gross smelly leftovers of a giant squid in the narrow dungeon passageways.
"It's likely still in the Black Lake, Harry," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at Ron as she cut her breakfast sausage. "Don't listen to him."
Harry gave a small smile and nodded at the pile of books next to Hermione's elbow.
"Did you get a portkey yet?"
"Yes," she answered, giving a nervous glance to the books. They were all on memory charms, memory curses, and the reversal of the same charms. There were a few articles stacked on top, and Harry swore that one had a photo of a grinning Lockhart.
"Doesn't leave until late tonight. It's the earliest Kingsley could get," Ron added.
"There are very heavy restrictions right now on who can leave the country," Hermione quietly said. "Until…"
A loud double clock gong sound echoed over the Great Hall and out the windows of the room, a noise that used to be the ten-minute warning before the first class of the day. All heads in the room paused slightly, as if taking in the noise, and regular activities of eating and talking resumed. All except for the head table, where Snape folded up the papers he was reading and slipped them under his arm as he gingerly, but purposefully, walked out of the hall.
"Until the last rogue Death Eaters are caught," Harry finished, watching Snape leave.
The Headmaster's office was quicker to reach than McGonagall's was, but Harry found his passaged blocked by a battle-worn gargoyle. It was grumpy and untalkative, much like the owner of the office, but after glaring at Harry for a full minute, finally informed him that Snape was busy with the Ministry and could not accept any visitors. Harry, listening to the language as well as the message, noted the use of could not instead of would not.
He thanked the gargoyle, making sure to be nothing but polite, and promised to return later.
Today's tasks for rebuilding were the fourth floor classrooms and towers, though Harry was in no hurry to join the crew. Though most of the people who'd stayed behind to fix Hogwarts knew Harry, or at least were acquainted in passing with him, there was still the expectation that he'd be able to fix things faster or better than others, because he had been the one to defeat Voldemort. He had had the strength to do that, and it seemed, he would carry the assumption that it made him stronger than everyone else.
In the end, Harry hadn't even used magic to do it. He'd never explained exactly how Voldemort had died, begging off exhaustion from the battle, and finally claiming that it had all happened too fast for him to remember. But there had been a dead body, and eventually, it was decided that as long as he was dead, they didn't quite care how.
And the only other person who could have accounted for the exact events was not currently talking.
As Harry walked the long hall by the transfiguration classes, he hoped that Snape would continue to keep quiet, once the Aurors decided that they needed to know.
Professor McGonagall's door was open, and he knocked three times before stepping in. Sunshine poured through the windows, the chesterfield against the wall looked as if it had been freshly cleaned, and the bookcases had all been dusted. Music was playing on the old gramophone in the corner, cheery dance music from the beginning of the century, and McGonagall herself was sitting at her desk with a cup of tea and a very long and elegant quill.
"Mr Potter, taking a break this morning?" she greeted, waiving him in toward a seat.
"Somewhat," Harry answered, carefully sitting down. His back still twinged now and again, from god knew what, and he didn't feel like spending the rest of the day in pain from one false move. "I wanted to speak to you about the lower dungeons."
She paused in her writing, putting the quill down and steeping her fingers together. She'd always been a matronly figure to Harry, as he imagined a grandmother of his might have been, and he was pleased to see the soft look on her face. McGonagall was a strict taskmaster, no doubt, but she still cared.
"That was not your fault," she began.
"I know," Harry interrupted, wiping his hands on his jeans. The taste of mouldy damp stone was in his mouth again, as if he were walking by the dungeon stairs at the moment.
"None of us knew he would do that. There was too much chaos going on to know. But I feel, every time I walk by there, I feel something."
"You feel what?" she asked, her eyes narrowed as she studied Harry. His face flushed slightly, and he knew he should have taken the time to shave earlier.
"I feel that there's something left down there. It's not spent magic, and I don't think it's a hex or ghosts either."
"Well, it must be something," she reasonably said. "This may all be magic, but even magic must follow some conventional rules."
"Some," Harry said, with a self-deprecating twist of his lips. He tapped his forehead where the scar was, the same bold scar that he'd had for as long as he could remember.
"Touché," she conceded, reaching for her tea. "Perhaps we should speak to Severus."
"I tried," Harry glumly said. "His gargoyle said he was busy with the Ministry."
"Of course," McGonagall nodded. "The paperwork for the battle, and its losses, has taken up much of his free time this month."
Harry, struck by daunting task of filling out Accidental Death forms for the far too many students that had died, blurted out his next thought randomly.
"I should see if he needs help."
Before McGonagall could say anything, Harry looked up at her and blinked owlishly, as he wasn't entirely certain where his concern had come from.
McGonagall's next comment wasn't regarding his statement though, but rather the final events of the battle.
"I don't believe I have ever thanked you for saving his life," she said, her strong eyes piercing right through him.
Harry felt himself instantly grow red, and he looked down at his shoes.
"You know I couldn't…not," Harry muttered.
"I know," McGonagall said, relaxing back into her chair. "And heavens knows what found the two of you in that room. But you were there, and you saved him. We are all grateful, Harry. Even Severus."
Harry looked up and grinned, honestly grinned, for the first time in days.
"Don't tell him that. He hates when a Potter saves his life."
She smiled back, the smile she had in fifth year and was watching Peeves rain down mischief on Umbridge, while trying to appear disapproving.
"Out, Mr Potter. Make yourself useful somewhere in this castle today." She waved at the office door, and Harry jumped out of the visitor's chair to leave. He paused at the door, as one last thought occurred to him.
"Do you know why Snape always sits alone at lunch, Professor?"
Distracted, she looked up with a blank expression while searching for the answer.
"I don't think he expects anything else."
"Oh," Harry said. He certainly knew what that was like, and could still – after all these years at Hogwarts – remember being at primary and learning to never hope that someone would sit with him at lunch.
"Severus is not a very public man, Harry," McGonagall continued, before Harry could ask anything else. "I used to visit for tea, once a week, and talk in private."
"Oh," Harry repeated. "But not any more?"
McGonagall had returned to her paperwork, and didn't see the disappointed look on Harry's face.
"Not since he became Headmaster."
Harry had taken to walking the grounds before he met Ron and Hermione for lunch. It gave him time to think, and time to note the changes happening to the castle, though while he'd first looked forward to the walk, when he reached the charred steps of Hagrid's hut Harry wanted nothing more than to return to the castle.
He saw Filch skulking about with a broom three separate times, attacking the endless piles of rubble that were all over the grounds. Harry nearly ran into four students by the greenhouses, cleaning up the shattered glass, and seemed to spot a ghost every time he changed direction. Unlike the ghosts of the four Houses though, the ones Harry saw were dressed in the familiar Hogwarts school robes, and watched him with blank expressions until he had to turn away.
On his return inside, Harry climbed the back stairs behind the clock tower near where the hospital wing was and caught a glimpse of Headmaster Snape.
Snape had been keeping to himself, after his release from the hospital wing. The neutrality they'd reached during the two-day siege in the dungeons seemed still to exist, as he hadn't sought Harry out nor made any mention of Harry's visits to him in the hospital wing. Then again, Harry had been careful to go at midnight, when the Headmaster had been sleeping, and he hoped that Snape just hadn't known.
"Good morning," Harry said, walking up to where Snape was. He'd gone to the top of the clock tower, and was watching the mechanisms click and twirl.
Snape didn't turn to look at Harry, didn't move at all except to pull the sleeves of his robes tighter around himself, as if he were cold, or wanted protection. His fingers were white, and the nails looked to have been bitten down enough to cause bleeding. Snape's cheeks were just as hollow as they'd been in the height of the war, even though Harry knew Madame Pomfrey had plied him with a steady stream of nutrient potions.
None of her potions had been able to instantly repair Snape's voice box, where Nagini had struck him several times.
After a minute of silence, Snape pulled a small muggle spiral notebook out of his pocket, and scribbled something down with a small pencil.
The heavy thunk of the minute hand echoed through the hallway as it fell to thirty, and Harry withstood Snape's scrutiny as he was studied.
"I've had worse," Harry finally answered. Snape evidently didn't deem that as requiring a response, as he merely turned his head in acknowledgement and walked away. Harry expected the great storming stride of the man who exuded power and mystery, but instead remained silent as he watched Snape limp slowly off. Both legs were sore, Harry could tell, and Snape's posture wasn't as straight as it normally was, his back hunched slightly in a way that would provide a bit of relief as the man walked.
A flash of a memory assaulted Harry's mind, of a small bedroom, a man on a cot, jerking limbs as he tried to roll into the foetal position as a giant snake struck.
Shaking his head, Harry rubbed his arms to get rid of the chill that had snuck up on him. He'd killed Nagini as soon as he could, and Snape had gestured to Madame Pomfrey the attack had lasted less than ten seconds. But Harry couldn't get the image out of his mind, or forget the feeling of running through the halls, with a limp Snape in his arms and bleeding through to his robes.
A Hogwarts open house was planned for that evening, where parents and students could come and walk the halls of their beloved school, mostly restored to its pre-war glory. The lower dungeons were corded off, and parts of the south tower were closed, still in crumbled ruins as a remembrance of what had taken place. Snape secretly approved of the decision to leave the tower raw and unfixed, as he felt himself that no matter how victorious they were, new scars had been added.
The heroes of the evening were to sit at the head table, and though Snape had scowled and furiously scribbled out his arguments, he had not managed to get out of the event. Both Minerva McGonagall and Arthur Weasley had insisted on his presence.
Snape stood in front of the mirror in his private flat, buttoning up the cravat of his suit to ensure his scars were covered. They were littered across his body, Nagini having attacked as if she were a hornet caught in his robes. But he knew his neck would be were most people would look, where he'd suffered the most blood loss, and where the damage had been its worst.
Snape paused, tilting his head slightly and taking a deep breath. He imagined he could still smell the murky and heavy scent of the Black Lake, clinging to the rough stones of the bathroom walls. The headmaster's flat wasn't anywhere near the flooding, but the stones were the same and Snape had lived so long in the dungeons that the attack had felt rather personal. Shaking his head, Snape scowled at his reflection, and left the washroom. He remembered to take a notebook, small enough to fit in his pocket, and a Muggle pencil. He had very little expectations of speaking with anyone at the dinner, but he had always ensured to be prepared for any possibility.
The Great Hall was only half full when Snape arrived, his dark robes casting a shadow across the head table as he slipped to the far end of the raised platform and took a seat in front of the House Pillars, which showed equal points for all houses. The nameplate in front of him was filled out with a tap of his wand, and Snape sat with his hands on the table as he stared at the visitors.
He knew he was forbidding, imposing in his dark robes, and certainly not friendly-looking. He wasn't expecting so many looks of distrust, but managed to keep his expression bland. A quick glance at his watch showed that dinner would begin in less than a quarter of an hour. He could wait that long.
Harry entered the Great Hall hesitantly, wearing a plain pair of robes that were black and lined with a very small amount of maroon. They weren't far off from the Hogwarts school robes, which was the effect he wanted. He didn't feel like some grand hero, and certainly wasn't going to dress like one. Ron and Hermione had dressed along similar lines, and they split off to chat with some of their old Gryffindor classmates. Harry kept his gaze moving around the room, never lingering long enough on anyone for them to think he wanted to talk.
Spotting Snape on the dais, sitting primly in his chair and studying the people in the hall as if someone were going to attack, Harry felt a small tug of something. It wasn't sympathy, not quite. Snape was certainly acerbic enough to drive away all but the most stubborn. But he had certainly done just as much, if not more, than Harry had in the war, and Harry felt it wasn't fair that Snape was sitting alone, off to the side of the gathering.
Flashing a warm smile to people as he moved through the crowd, and neglecting to stop for anyone, Harry stepped up onto the platform and made his way over to the chair beside Snape.
"'ello, sir," Harry quietly said, looking out over the crowd. Ron and Hermione had noticed his move, along with quite a few other curious attendees.
-What do you want, Potter?-
Snape's response came a moment later, in the neat but tiny writing Harry knew from his Potions book.
"Right now?" Harry asked, turning to look at Snape. He purposefully did not look at Snape's neck. "I think I'd kill for a tea and my couch."
An eyebrow rose in consideration at that, and the notebook was snatched back for his next comment.
-If I couldn't escape this, neither shall the Boy Who Lived.-
"Hah," Harry answered, relaxing slightly. "Well, we're here, but I didn't promise how long I'd stay, and if I know you at all, you didn't either."
Before Harry could say anything further, Kingsley Shacklebolt strode to the front of the room and cast a sonorous on his voice, preparing for a speech. Harry slipped out of the chair, feeling that he should go and stand with his two friends. The Golden Trio, as they were. Squeezing Snape's shoulder as he stood, Harry wished the man a good evening.
Harry cast surreptitious glances all evening toward Snape's table, and noticed that the man was never approached by anyone. True, he didn't have a voice any longer, but he had his notebook out, sitting next to the placard announcing him as Headmaster S. Snape. He sat with his hands clasped on the table, his eyes roaming over the hall at the multitude of people talking, laughing, socialising.
"What planet are you on?"
"Shite!" Harry sputtered, nearly spilling his drink. Anticipating such a reaction, Ron reached out to steady Harry's arm.
"Obviously not any one close to Earth," Ron joked.
"Not really," Harry sheepishly admitted. "I've a question."
"Shoot," Ron said, emptying his drink in one gulp.
"Disabilities aren't handled that well in the wizarding world, are they?"
Ron looked thoughtful, and his eyes roamed over toward where Snape was sitting.
"Well, we don't really see many. Magic fixes a lot," Ron answered.
"But not everything. Mad Eye Moody was missing his leg," Harry pointed out.
"I think he was missing much more than that," Ron muttered. A house elf wandered by with a tray, and Ron snagged another drink.
"Ah, well you're probably right there," Harry smirked.
"People won't know what to do with him," Ron bluntly said, raising his drink in Snape's direction. "In our world most things are easy to heal, werewolves being the exception. So if he can't be healed, well, what's wrong with him that he can't be?"
"That's a bit barbaric, isn't it?" Harry said, watching Snape slowly fold his notebook closed, slipping it and the pencil into one of his pockets. He took his placard and carefully folded it, also taking it with him.
"That's the wizarding world," Ron answered, also watching.
With one last searching glance, Snape's eyes roamed over the room, and he then eased out of the hall to the attention of almost no one.
"Does he know you visited him every night in the hospital wing?" Ron asked, eyeing Harry critically.
"No," Harry shortly answered. "There's no point in telling him."
"Harry!" Hermione announced, stepping up to he and Ron before Ron could say anything else. The excitement of seeing her parents again after so long had finally won out over her nervousness, and her eyes were sparkling.
"All ready, Hermione?" Harry asked.
"I hope so. Professor Flitwick is letting me take several of the books on memory charms with me, and we've practised what to do if –"
"We're ready," Ron interrupted, shaking his head good-naturedly.
"Will you be all right here in the castle?" Hermione asked, concern flitting across her face as she ignored Ron completely. "We'll be gone a fortnight, at the very least…"
"Hermione, have you seen the castle?" Harry asked, his tone teasing. "There's still lots to do, I'll be fine."
"I meant at night," she sternly responded.
"Oh!" Ron said, digging through his pocket for something. He handed off his drink to Hermione and checked further in his robes. "Here it is."
He handed off what looked to be a small billfold to Harry, and smiled proudly.
"Eh, thanks, Ron. What is it?"
"It's a new Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes product," Ron explained. "You can write a letter, stick it in there, and it'll appear in the matching one."
"Which you have?" Harry asked, at the same time that Hermione asked "Over such a long distance?"
"Yeah," Ron said, still happy. "I gave them the idea, 'cause I thought it would have been handy to have last year when we were camping and separated. No owls, no Floo traces, nothing."
"That's brilliant," Harry said, inspecting the inside of the billfold.
"And with the time difference, we'll likely be awake in the middle of your night. Just…if you might want to send a letter," Ron continued, this time looking like he was fighting a cough.
"Thanks," Harry said, saving Ron from having to explain any further. "Don't forget to write too; I've heard Australia has lots of spiders."
Ron looked a little pale at that, but rallied quickly.
"Yeah, but none like Aragog," he answered, giving Harry a nod. He then turned to Hermione, who was glaring silently at Harry for revealing the information. "There aren't any like Aragog, right?"
"Harry," Hermione huffed, and stalked off toward the food without another word.
Snape had settled back into the couch, his hot tea resting on the table next to him. The book he was reading, The Poacher's Apprentice, sat on his lap with the cover and front pages curled upward. He'd read it often enough that the book would never again rest flat on any surface, and though Snape could likely fix the edges with magic, he preferred not to.
It was quiet in the headmaster's end of the castle, peace had returned there, regardless of the party continuing below. Snape glanced at the notebook he'd thrown to the table earlier, this evening's three sentences the only thing marking it's crisp pages.
A rather heavy knock sounded on his door, and startled Snape out of his thoughts. His focus broke from the notebook, and he stared at his front door as if it were foreign. Two knocks sounded again, and Snape rose unsteadily off the couch. He was wearing his comfortable house clothes, slippers and worn trousers, with a jumper. He wasn't quite in the mood to see anyone, but couldn't yell at them to go away.
Snape threw the door open, his brows furrowed in confusion as he took in his visitor.
Snape's mouth worked over the word, somehow conveying the question without making a sound.
"Guilty as charged," The man who lived said, holding tightly to a tray with biscuits, two mugs, and a very old teapot covered in a stone blue tea cosy. "I nicked it from the elves, wish to share?"
Snape's mouth opened and shut, a natural reaction stemmed only by his second's later recollection that he couldn't speak.
Instead, he held up his hand and waited for the notebook to come from his side table. Once it did, he quickly scribbled his reply and held it up.
-I have just made my own-
Snape pulled his sleeves down over his hands, slightly uncomfortable for a student to see him at this level of relaxed dress.
"Oh, I, sorry. I should have realised you'd make your own after leaving the party," Potter replied, and Snape couldn't fathom why he looked so disappointed.
"Ron and Hermione are leaving in an hour, so maybe I'll see if they want a tea to go," Potter continued, sounding as if he was trying to pick himself up.
Snape shook his head and turned over the page in his notebook.
-If you are in need of a chore, I require unicorn blood from my personal stores.-
An interesting expression took over Potter's face, a look of both disdain and also determination. The personal stores cupboard was down near the kitchens, close to the north staircase to the lower dungeons. It was not a far walk, but Snape suspected the location itself and its proximity to the dungeons was the problem.
"All right," Potter said, putting the tea tray down on one of the side tables in the front entryway of the room. When Dumbledore had been headmaster, these tables had been filled with astronomy machines and scopes, but as Snape's office, they were empty save for a fruit bowl in the middle. "Could you send that to my room, please?"
And before Snape could protest, Potter was silently out the door.
Harry walked down the darkened hall, the few sconces lighting as he passed, but not giving nearly enough light to fill in the shadowy crevices of the walls and floor. Here the smell of the dank dungeons was stronger, and Harry kept from swallowing so he wouldn't taste the murky waters of the Black Lake on his tongue. Snape's potion storeroom was warded, but as Snape hadn't told Harry the password, Harry was certain it was one he could bypass.
"This room belongs to the Half Blood Prince," Harry muttered, putting his hand over the door handle. He heard the audible click of the lock, and turned it slowly with a grimace. The knob was damp, from the moisture in the air.
The bottom of the door had been wetted and slightly warped by the flooding, and creaked open not without protest, with a hard pull. Harry half expected to see Snape inside the storeroom, looking for veritaserum or something else to poison Harry with.
"Lumos," Harry cast, his eyes glancing in the bottom of the room and following the ladder up, where he saw nothing but potion ingredients, little scraps of instructional parchment, and a pair of piercing brown eyes. He heard something shift and nearly dropped his wand, gasping as he tried to stumble out of the room. At the top of the ladder was a thin boy, dressed in a Hogwarts school uniform, and glaring at him with a cragged and accusatory expression. A wrinkled grey hand reached out, and Harry's breath hitched in fear as the boy noiselessly descended the ladder, not floating like a ghost, but climbing and twisting like a monkey would.
"Acc-accio unicorn blood!" Harry called, flicking his wand at the cupboard. The boy's eyes narrowed, and his mouth opened, but no sound emerged as the dusty jar Harry had summoned burst through his ashen robes. Harry snatched the jar out of the air, and his last fleeting glance as he tore out of the lower hallway was of the boy, angry faced and pointing toward the dungeons.
Harry scratched the back of his head in frustration as he sat heavily on his bed. McGonagall had been nice enough to move them all to a guest suite, and Ron and Hermione had taken the larger room, but Harry didn't like the silence of his own. Hogwarts shouldn't be silent. Hogwarts should be warm and comfortable and filled with the sounds of Ron talking in his sleep, or Dean snoring, or the little clank of the room's heater as it burned off the chill of the tower. The guest room he was in though, only had one small window in the corner of the room, overlooking the small, dark prefect's courtyard.
At least he was safe in the room. Snape's office had been empty when Harry had returned with the unicorn blood, so he'd left it on the desk and returned down to the guest suite. Ron and Hermione had just finished packing and with their excitement, Harry couldn't bring himself to scare them with ghost stories. Especially not ghost stories of Hogwarts, where ghosts were rather expected.
Slipping under the blanket, Harry opened the bedroom door with magic. He'd never had trouble sleeping alone at the Dursleys, but Harry suspected that it was because the Dursleys were so damn Muggle that nothing creepy or supernatural could touch them. He rolled on his side and faced the door, where the light from Ron and Hermione's room was just able to reach. They'd left on the portkey twenty minutes earlier, but Harry had left the sconces on in their bedroom, hoping to fool himself into thinking that they were still there so that he could sleep.
Even though it was mid June, the bed was freezing cold. It was lumpy and thin, a contradiction that Harry knew didn't make sense, but that he could feel with his body and knew it had to be true. The blanket was stretched thin, folded over his feet so nothing could grab at him, but the shivers across his body made him wonder if there wasn't something there anyway.
Harry had no idea what time it was when he next woke up. His door was still open, but the suite was completely silent and there wasn't a sound to be heard from his window either. He'd woken up with a start, instantly getting the feeling that someone was watching him. There was no one in the room though, and much like the room he and Snape had been in during the final battle, there were strong wards to protect him. That, however, hadn't stopped Nagini from finding her way in.
Harry's eyes glanced about the room, expecting to see the bloody snake coiled up in the shadowy corner, waiting to attack. His fingers slowly clutched the bedcovers, remembering how silent the dungeons had been just before Nagini's attack, as silent as his bedroom was now. Not even a ticking clock to break the dark. Remembering as a child how he'd taken a silly sort of comfort in pulling the blankets up over his head, as if the monsters couldn't get him if he was fully covered.
As he was an adult though, and a fully trained wizard, Harry snatched his wand before pulling the covers up over his chin and then forehead with one smooth motion. The blanket rippled, and Harry looked down to see two piercing hazel eyes staring back at him. The smooth flat head, lopsided nostrils, and opening mouth flashed before Harry seconds before he jumped out of bed – fast enough that he wasn't sure he hadn't apparated. His wand pointed at the bed, hand skittish as he stared at the covers and realised they'd fallen flat, that there was nothing under them.
Which was logical, as he'd killed Nagini himself and remembered it quite clearly, but it didn't explain why he'd seen her ghost under his blankets.
Sufficiently disturbed, and certainly not going back to bed, Harry dressed himself in yesterday's clothes and decided to visit the one place at Hogwarts he'd feel safe and have company no matter the time of night: the Hogwarts kitchens.
Harry turned off Ron and Hermione's lights and draped his invisibility cloak over his shoulders as he left the suite. When he was much younger he'd had very little fear about walking through the castle at night, indeed, house point loss was his most pressing concern. Now Harry walked soundlessly down the main staircase, his eyes darting left and right to check the shadows of the hallway as he passed. The safety of Hogwarts had been compromised – violated – with the destructiveness of the final battle.
All though, Harry reflected, as he reached for the peach in the painting, Hogwarts for him had probably lost its invulnerability the night Dumbledore had died, or when Barty Crouch Jr had infiltrated the staff, or even as far back as when a small boy had had to kill a giant basilisk.
The lights in the kitchen were fairly low, but Harry felt a small measure better upon seeing one or two house elves busying themselves around the giant oven at the far left end of the room. He faltered slightly upon noticing that the staff table, furthest from the kitchen door, was occupied.
"Headmaster," Harry quietly said, making his way to the front of the room. They'd both seen each other, and Harry felt that it would be a grave insult to sit at a table far away.
- Still traipsing through the corridors past curfew – Snape's note read, as the small little notebook was passed across the table. Harry had transfigured a chair out of a footrest that was near Snape, and placed it opposite the man.
He opened his mouth to protest, but then just shrugged.
"Still can't sleep."
Snape gave him an assessing look, his fingers holding onto a thick and healthily buttered piece of rye bread. The bread was dark and aromatic, with little green seeds popping out of the crust and inner loaf. The main chunk of it was still in a plastic bag, which Harry found very odd to see at Hogwarts, with a logo for some bakery called Barbakan. He hadn't realised he was staring until a plate, which Snape must have silently summoned, landed heavily on the table next to him.
"Thanks," Harry muttered. Snape cut a ragged slice, and handed it over. In the brighter lighting of the kitchen, Harry could see that Snape's wounds were slowly healing, but that the man looked like he hadn't slept since the battle.
Watching his own hands methodically butter his slice, Harry spoke lowly, but not too quiet that Snape couldn't hear him.
"I want to tell you I'm sorry," Harry started, only to flinch when Snape's hand pounded once against the table. The notebook was yanked back, and Snape was scribbling something, but Harry interrupted first.
"No! I need to tell you this," he insisted, forcing himself to keep eye contact with Snape. "I need to tell you that I'm sorry. I didn't know she'd gotten into the room, and I should have looked out for you. Like you've always done for me."
Snape now had an uncomfortable grimace on his face, and he resumed writing, albeit at a much less frenzied pace.
- Neither of us expected that an animal could bypass the wards -
Harry read fast, and shook his head.
"But I did know! I should have told you. Both Peter Pettigrew and Sirius were able to come onto Hogwarts grounds, without anyone knowing, as animals. I knew that they could, and we knew that he'd use Nagini, for something. I should have…" Harry huffed, slumping further into his seat.
- You should learn to only take responsibility for what you are directly responsible for – Snape replied, his writing neat despite the late hour and subject of conversation. –You killed her, and ensured I was seen to. We are even. -
"We aren't," Harry quietly said, breaking off a bit of bread to eat. After tasting it, he could now tell that in addition to pumpkin seeds, there were also some small bits of dried apple in the rye bread. "But I can live with that. Is it…have they said when you'll get your voice back?"
Snape looked like he didn't want to answer the question, but began writing any way. Harry suspected he wouldn't be so open to sharing, had they been sitting anywhere else at a normal time of day.
- When it heals, – came the simple answer. – In the meantime, I have sufficient work to keep my mind off the injuries. -
"Oh, yeah. With the Ministry and such. And I bet it's a pain having to find places for all the new ghosts here."
Snape drew his eyebrows in slowly at that statement. – There are only five new ghosts.-
"What?" Harry asked, bread still in his mouth. "But…no, I've seen many more than that. And Nagini, I saw her ton…"
Harry trailed off, feeling distinctly uncomfortable at the look Snape was giving him.
- Only five new ghosts have been identified, and come to speak with me – Snape wrote again, his hand a little heavier than before. – Who have you seen?-
"People that died in the battle," Harry blankly responded. He had a hollow feeling inside, as the safe warmth he'd felt earlier upon entering the room was starting to slip from his grasp. "Students that were – the ones that drowned when he flooded the dungeons."
Snape was writing this all down, and Harry could see the next question coming his way.
"Six have already found me," Harry answered, "but none of them could tell me who they were."
- Couldn't, or wouldn't? – was the next direct question.
"Couldn't. They opened their mouths as if to speak, but nothing came out," he wasn't happy about having to relay the creepy things he kept seeing about the castle, and the bread, which had been delicious mere moments earlier, no longer held any of his interest.
-You saw Nagini this evening as well? -
"Yeah," Harry said, swallowing thickly and now feeling his thirst. "I heard a noise in my room, and figured I'd be silly and hide under the covers, like a little kid. And there she was, staring at me with those eyes. Under the covers, like how she got you."
Snape suddenly stood up and for a second Harry thought he'd said too much and given Snape a bad flashback. Instead, the headmaster bagged the last of his bread and beckoned for Harry to follow. Out of the kitchens they walked, fast enough that Harry couldn't linger in any one spot, and sense the tastes of the castle on his tongue.
They'd made it to the third floor before Harry realised they were going toward the Headmaster's offices, and likely Snape's own flat as well.
Snape led them up the small steps to the desk area of the office, and then around to a small half staircase that was behind one of the bookshelves where the Sorting Hat was snoring. Harry had never noticed these stairs before, though he wasn't certain if it was his lack of observation, or a spell that had kept them hidden.
Behind the door they led to was a circular room the size of the main headmaster's office, and it was filled with Snape's personal effects. A large comfortable couch sat in the middle of the room, draped with various blankets and piles of papers on one end. Behind the couch, against the back wall was a curtained four-poster bed and some bedside cabinets. Tucked into the corner of the room was a small wardrobe, which Harry was willing to bet galleons had a space-enhancing spell on it. On the other wall of the room was a small kitchenette – not enough to cook a full meal, but enough for a snack and hot drinks. And directly opposite Harry was a third circular wall full of windows that overlooked the pitch-dark grounds of Hogwarts.
Snape offered him a drink, and gestured to the couch.
- There is something not right within the castle,- Snape said preparing his own glass of what looked to be chocolate milk.
"Do you feel the magic in the dungeons too?" Harry asked. "How do you know?"
- I am the headmaster," Snape replied, getting his irritated tone across despite the medium.
"Fine," Harry said, turning to look away. "You're the headmaster and you know everything that happens in the castle."
-Don't get smart, - Snape wrote, nearly giving Harry a paper cut on the cheek as he tossed the note at him. –I do not know what the cause is, just that something is off.-
Harry read the second note, and, slightly chastised, just nodded.
"Why haven't we gone down, to see what's happening?"
Snape sighed in irritation and pursed his lips. He pointed to his throat, and then held out his scarred hands, before writing another note.
-Because I am tired, Potter. -
Somewhat taken back by Snape's lack of interest in pursing a dark magic within the castle – something he would have taken off at a year before – Harry took a good look at Snape. Even in just the candlelight of the room, the lines on Snape's face were clear and harsh. The scars on his throat looked angry, and the two puncture marks on his forehead, normally hidden by his hair, were still slightly indented. He didn't look like he'd gained any weight in the month since the battle, and his skin was slightly paler than usual.
He then realised why the lower dungeons hadn't been worked on yet, and why they were warded. Snape simply didn't have the energy, or will power, to face anything else. The battle was over, he'd nearly died, and he was done fighting curses and dark magic. Something may have been in the dungeons, but Snape had warded them shut until he had the focus to deal with them.
Harry also remembered what McGonagall had said earlier, about no longer taking tea with Snape after the man had become headmaster. He wondered if anyone had bothered to spend time with Snape in the past year, and felt a painful pinch of sadness at the idea of Snape facing the worst year he'd ever had at Hogwarts, completely alone.
"Are you all right, sir?" Harry quietly asked, trying to make sure nothing like pity showed on his face. Despite his carefulness, Snape still scowled at him.
-That is none of your concern.-
Snape's answer was shoved at him, and Harry immediately picked up on the fact that Snape hadn't actually answered the question. He decided to drop the subject though, not wanting to start a row at three in the morning, but vowed to himself to visit more often.
"You know, when I learned about his parents, I wondered if Merope Gaunt had ever known that she'd given birth to such a monster," Harry suddenly said, repositioning himself on Snape's chesterfield and picking up his glass of juice.
Snape recovered quickly from the random change of conversation topic, and began writing his answer.
- Had he been born fifty years earlier, she likely would have solved our problems before any one of us had been conceived of. -
"How so? You don't mean she would have killed him herself?" Harry said, his eyebrows furrowing in slight disbelief.
-Absolutely. – Snape wrote, the book flashed up at Harry like a study flashcard. It was snatched back, and Harry watched with fascination as Snape not only wrote out his next thoughts, but also summoned a small volume from his well-stocked bookcases.
- Infanticide in the nineteenth century was rampant. Many single mothers with illegitimate children either sent them to workhouses, or murdered them. – Snape wrote, sliding the notebook over to Harry. His fingers quickly picked up the book that had floated over, and he flipped through it.
"Are you serious?" Harry answered, surprised and more than a little queasy at the thought. "Mothers killed their own babies?"
- Toddlers, - Snape corrected. – Many were toddlers. With the social stigma of being a promiscuous woman, the poverty and lack of funds to feed a child? Many opted to kill their own, rather than have to raise them. Of course, many were hanged for it. -
He passed the thin book over, and Harry saw a newspaper clipping that had been photographed and placed in the book, detailing an arrest of a twenty-one year old girl whose child had been found dead.
- Merope Gaunt was shamed, was she not? Poor; her family was in Azkaban, her marriage in tatters? The only positive circumstance to the Dark Lord was that he had been born legitimately. - Snape finished, draining his own glass of chocolate milk. He said back in his chair and blinked a few times, his eyes heavy with fatigue.
"Maybe so, but she didn't want him," Harry slowly said, closing the book. "He would always remind her of the senior Tom Riddle. Maybe you're right. If she didn't have the orphanage to take him to, she maybe would have killed him."
- Instead, that happy honour went to you, - Snape wrote, standing up and putting his books and glass away. Harry felt like he was imposing, but kept his glass in his hand and made himself look up.
"Thanks for…" Harry started, nodding at his glass and not sure quite what to say. "Thanks. And we'll figure out what's down there. Maybe not tomorrow, but, I'll help."
Snape looked at him strangely for a moment, before leading Harry to the outer door of his office. He pressed a piece of notepaper into Harry's hand and gave a polite nod good night. Feeling calmer than he had earlier, Harry read the paper as he rode the spiral staircase down.
-Of course you will.-
Tonight's dinner was a fancier event than the night previously, as it was being used as a fundraiser to replace classroom furniture and school items, along with building up the fund to help unfortunate students purchase school supplies. As the loss of the battle was still very fresh, there was hope that the fund would be boosted heavily this evening, as it didn't seem like anyone who would be attending didn't know someone who had been injured or killed in the war.
Tonight he'd be without Ron and Hermione for distraction though, and Harry didn't want to imagine what sort of target he'd be standing by himself. The press had been fairly decent at not hounding him for interviews and exclusive details, but Harry knew that if he were sitting alone in the Great Hall, someone would find a reason to sit with him and pester him.
Sighing to himself, Harry picked up his black outer robe to drape over his shoulders. It was only a few minutes to walk from his suite to the Great Hall, but Harry left early enough to detour through some of the empty upper floor hallways and burn off some of the jitters he had. He'd only managed the few hours of sleep that had occurred before the nightmare the night before, and his hands tended to tremble when he was overtired.
As he started down the back staircase, behind the hospital wing, Harry paused to check the letter billfold that was in his robe pocket. He'd received a note an hour earlier, letting him know that the Grangers were safe, and that Ron and Hermione were planning how best to return the memories. Harry had written a happy and enthusiastic reply, but hadn't yet received another. He'd shoved the billfold in his pocket at the last minute, figuring if a reply came it would give him something to read at dinner, and make him appear busy.
As expected, sounds of voices and footsteps and greetings echoed down the hall as Harry moved closer to the grand staircase. Neville and Ginny, staying in another guest suite together, were up ahead, and Harry gave them a small wave. He was in no rush to get to the end of the hall, knowing that as soon as he was visible, he'd be dragged into conversation with anyone and everyone.
Harry paused for a second, tilting his head as he listened. He could hear footsteps, equally as slow as his own, coming from behind him. There was a slight shuffle to them, as if the person was limping, and Harry waited in the shadows for a moment to see who it was. A figure in black rounded the corner shortly after, and Harry instantly recognised Snape. He didn't think he would ever forget the man, not after what they'd gone through.
"Good evening," Harry said, pushing himself forward as Snape approached. He received a slight nod in response, and nothing further.
"I think Professor McGonagall said we only had to stay for two hours," Harry quietly said, half joking, as they stepped into the open. Before anyone had noticed them, Snape held up his wrist to show Harry his watch, and the timer set for two hours on it.
"Good," Harry said, with a small smile. "It won't just be me that leaves."
Snape stood at the top of the stairs in his imposing robes, the collar done up as high as it would go to hide as many scars as it could. The people entering the castle below were a mixture of students, parents, and citizens of the wizarding world, most dressed in their fanciest robes. While last night's dinner had been a welcome back re-opening of the school, tonight was definitely a high class fundraising event.
Harry, watching carefully, noted the people that hadn't come. He saw the empty spot next to Romilda Vane, and the way Dennis Creevey glanced about the room as if expecting to see his brother. He saw Draco Malfoy arrive, stepping in with as little fanfare as Harry could imagine, his robes sombre black as if he were in mourning. It took Harry a moment to remember that Pansy had been one of the first killed in the stand off.
He felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to follow Snape's pointing finger. On the lower landing of the stairs, to the side of the entrance to the hall, were Harry's friends and Professor McGonagall. They were smiling at him, and Harry figured he was to go over and start his evening with pleasantries.
"You have to come too," Harry grumbled, waving at a few of his classmates as he headed toward McGonagall, Neville, and Ginny. He could hear Snape following him, but missed the scowl Snape had set on his face.
"Professor," Harry said, giving her a warm smile. She placed her hand out and squeezed his shoulder, giving him a more motherly look than he was used to.
"Harry, it's good to see you all dressed up," McGonagall said.
"We clean up rather well, don't we," Neville quietly, but proudly, said. He was in brand new dress robes that accentuated the muscle he'd picked up somewhere over the past year. Ginny's robes were also new, and the folds in the dress she wore mostly hid the brace she had put around her injured arm.
She rolled her eyes at Neville and turned to greet Snape.
"You're looking well, sir."
Snape gave her a small nod of acknowledgement, but didn't take out his notepad so he could say anything.
"I'm sure if my colleague could speak, he would join me in thanking you for all your help with rebuilding the castle," McGonagall said, glancing at each face in the group and somehow not noticing the glare Snape was levelling her way. That, or she was ignoring it completely.
"You've all done a great service to the school," she then continued, and Harry knew she wasn't just talking about the rebuilding anymore. Embarrassed, Harry scratched the back of his neck, where he'd had a sudden itch.
"This is our home, Professor. Of course we'd stay to help," Ginny said, glancing between McGonagall and the people entering the Great Hall.
"To be honest, I couldn't imagine not being here," Neville admitted.
Harry scratched his neck again, looking around to see if there was an insect flying about causing the itching. Or perhaps a bored ghost. Snape gave him a curious look, but it wasn't friendly curious, it was more of a 'what have you done' look, and Harry would have bet galleons that if Snape could have spoken, his tone would have been quite cutting.
"I suppose we should be getting in," McGonagall finally said, taking a tissue from her pocket and dabbing it over her cheeks. Harry noticed for the first time that she wore make up, and wondered how he'd never seen it before.
"I wonder what the elves are serving," Neville pondered, his arm easily slipping around Ginny's shoulders as they turned for the door.
"What was that?" McGonagall asked, turning back to look at Harry. Harry hadn't said anything, but he then heard the whisper, the quiet whisper flowing over his shoulder as if it were a dance of music drifting over the radio waves. By the time his brain had processed it, Professor McGonagall had already crumpled down to the floor.
"No!" Harry blurted, dropping to his knees and just barely failing to catch her. Her eyes were open, and the twitch of her lips slid off her face as death settled in. Harry had barely landed when there was a crushing weight beside him, heavy breathing in his ear as Snape's panicked fingers touched McGonagall's face, her lips, and finally over her heart.
Tears formed in Harry's eyes as he watched Snape's desperate moves. He was vaguely aware of his friends watching, and shouting at other people to get back, to give them space. But he didn't say anything, he merely grasped the still warm hand of Professor McGonagall, her fingers unclenching around the wad of tissue she'd held there.
"No," Harry hissed, shaking his head. A swoosh of black cloth whipped against his face, stinging him out of his shell shock, and Harry watched as Snape stormed off in the direction of where the whispered curse had come from. At least, Harry thought it had come from that direction, and he sprang to his feet as determined as Snape to find who had done this.
His robes flapped behind him as he ran, sprinting down into the darkness and trying to push the still image of Professor McGonagall out of his mind.
Snape had rounded the corners, running through Hogwarts as if it were the final task's maze in the Tri-wizard tournament and fighting through the limp that Harry knew plagued him. Harry was close behind him, imagining up ahead that he could see the flapping robes of the killer disappearing into the darkened and rubble filled halls.
He only stopped, the darkness invading his senses, when he heard Snape's pained grunt. The hallway had run out; its walls filled with empty portraits and charred rug. There was no sign of anyone else, no evil looking wizard in black, and no crazed witch with her hair cackling around her as if electrified.
"What…no! He has to be here somewhere!" Harry growled, spinning around and casting the strongest lumos he could. It only gave them more shadows to be wary of, and finally the light fell on Snape. Snape, who was knelt on the floor, his wrist bloodied from where he'd punched the rough stone wall.
Harry felt a part of himself crumble inside, watching Snape's hair sway as he shook his head and violently clenched his fingers.
"Nnnn," came another pained growl, and Harry winced at the raw sound coming out of Snape's throat. Before he could react, Snape reared back and punched the wall as hard as he could, seeming not to hear the crunch of the bones in his hands.
"Oi, hey!" Harry stammered, ignoring all his senses of survival and leaning down to pull Snape back from the wall. The man struggled, as Harry thought he would, but Harry kept a tight grasp. He had one arm hooked under Snape's, and one over the other shoulder, his hands clasped in the middle of Snape's chest.
"We'll need to help each other for this," Harry said, ignoring the blood on his hands as Snape tried to free himself. "And you can't help me crucio anyone with a mangled hand."
Snape stopped struggling, and at the barest hint of relaxation from Harry, shrugged his shoulders to throw Harry off. Harry stood quickly, gripping his wand and searching again through the shadows against the walls. In the far distance, they could hear the echoes of chatter as more and more people found out what had happened. Some of the voices were getting closer though, and Harry thought he could pick out the voice of someone from the Daily Prophet.
"We should go," Harry said, refusing to let himself break down. Not while he was in the open castle. He'd had enough practise during the last several years to know that he could hold himself together until he had time and privacy for himself.
"We need to talk to Neville and Ginny. See if anyone saw anything, see if…if there was any trace of magic on Professor…"
Snape's wand snapped up, aimed between Harry's eyes. Snape's lips were pursed as he shook his head in warning, as if he were holding back an explosion. The voices were getting closer, and Harry kept still as he watched the vein pulsing in Snape's neck. Seeming to make a decision, Snape roughly grabbed Harry's collar and disapparated.
Snape's pained growl echoed through the tunnel of apparition, and Harry grasped the uninjured part of Snape's arm to ensure he wasn't splinched.
They landed in a room that was far too bright; far too normal. An angry slash of Snape's wand shuttered all the curtains, wrenching them violently closed as the man fell to the floor with an anguished grunt. Harry didn't know if it was one born out of grief or pain, for Snape had fallen to his injured wrist and the stone floors, though covered by a rug, were not forgiving.
Within seconds an acrid smell filled the room as Snape heaved and sicked up, seeming not to care about any of his possessions that were in the way. This, somehow, spurned Harry into movement and he banished the vomit as fast as he could. A bucket was summoned from somewhere, and Harry swiped Snape's hair out of the way as he continued to be sick. It was a disgusting sight, and Harry was fascinated at how human Snape was, here on the floor with a bloodied and broken hand, tears from his eyes streaking down his cheeks as a speck of snot hung from his nose and spittle flecked out on every pained breath.
He should have been repulsed, should have turned away and left Snape to survive, as he knew the man would. Instead, Harry wrapped his arm around the far too thin chest of Snape, catching him as a sob wracked his body and Snape nearly sank to the not so clean floor.
"Enough?" Harry asked, kneeling on the floor and supporting Snape close to his side.
Snape had no response to give, slumping his head forward and looking as if he didn't care if he brained himself on the flagstone.
Harry stood slowly, dragging Snape up with him and thanking the Hogwarts ghosts that Snape's quarters were all in one room. He barely noticed the knickknacks on the bedside cabinet, merely focused on getting Snape to the bed without causing any more bodily harm. The hand was healed, well enough, with a strong episkey charm. Harry said nothing about the tears that continued as he removed Snape's boots, pulled the man's socks off, and tossed them to the floor. Whatever had been on the floor, in the hallway where they'd chased the shadow of a killer, had stuck to Snape's boots and trousers and the taste was burning in Harry's mouth.
"Go away," Harry demanded of the taste, under his breath as he fought with Snape to remove the man's outer jacket. There was blood and vomit on the collar and sleeves, though underneath was clean enough to stay. That was a far as he progressed though, before the man curled up into a foetal position on the bed, and threatened with a gesture to curse Harry if he went any further.
"Just, let me clean your face, and your hair," Harry asked, glancing around to see if he could spot the washroom.
Snape snatched an old potion journal from his bedside cabinet and wrote on it with a nearly dried out quill that was acting as a page marker.
-I don't give a shit about my hair- he wrote, the quill nearly ripping the paper of the journal.
"I'm sure you don't," Harry said, walking toward the set of spiral stairs over by the kitchenette. They went up, to the office loft above, but also downward and Harry hoped that the bottom floor was Snape's washroom. "But if you fall asleep smelling and tasting that, you'll wake up and do it all again."
Below Snape's all in one room was indeed the washroom, and Harry transfigured the water glass on the counter into a bowl and filled it with water, bringing a washcloth with him.
Taking advantage of Snape's silence, Harry quickly wiped the grime and streaks from Snape's face. He wasn't hexed, but Snape had bared his teeth in warning when Harry lingered too long around his mouth.
-Minerva is gone, Potter,- Snape finally wrote, just as Harry had banished the bowl to the bathroom. -Can't you get that through your thick head?-
Harry bristled, but he noticed that Snape wasn't actually looking at him. And when Snape wanted to insult him, he definitely watched for Harry's reaction.
"I saw it too, didn't I?" Harry growled, sitting on the bed. He nudged Snape's feet back as he sat, and held his face in his hands. "Whatever your wards held back, I think it's gotten out."
Snape was silent, and after a moment Harry lifted his head and looked over. Snape had a blank expression on his face, and for once, it wasn't a forced one. It wasn't the look he gave when he was trying to hide his feelings with occlumency. Snape looked like he genuinely didn't care that Harry might have insinuated that his wards hadn't been cast well enough.
As if moving by automation, Snape's arm snaked out and snatched a small phial on the bedside cabinet.
-I am the headmaster. Not the hero.- Snape wrote, popping the cork and drinking the entire phial.
Harry snatched it out of his hand and saw it was Dreamless Sleep, noting that Snape had taken enough to sleep for a solid twelve hours.
"You're both, you stupid git," Harry finally said, standing up. Snape had pulled the blankets up around his shoulders in a defensive pose. Harry cast a light monitoring charm on the man, so he'd be alerted when Snape woke, but Harry planned to return to the chambers shortly. There was no way he'd spend the night in his own silent guest suite. Not now.
With heavier limbs than normal, Harry stepped away from the bed and out of the private chambers, walking behind the bookcase and down the small steps to the main office area. During Snape's tenure, it was a much quieter room than it ever had been under Dumbledore, and Harry found the silence slightly unnerving. He looked around the room, at the portraits that were either empty or filled with sleeping past headmasters. The main portrait behind the desk was empty, but Harry recognised the background of it. It was still Dumbledore's portrait, and he was confused until he remembered that McGonagall had never officially been a headmaster of Hogwarts.
Harry dropped to his knees on the floor of the office, not noticing the pain that hit him as he connected with the stone floor. No matter what he wanted to think, McGonagall was gone. Stolen, in what should have finally been a time of peace. Tears streaked freely down Harry's cheeks as he silently cried, his eyes screwed shut to block out the evening light from the window.
Minutes passed, though Harry was in no hurry to leave the office. If he left the office he needed to face other people, and face reality. But he couldn't stay holed up in Snape's office forever, and a strong thunk from the desk in front of him snapped Harry out of the daze he was in.
A book had been tipped over, though Harry didn't know how, by the small ghostly boy he'd seen in the potions store cupboard. The boy was sitting on the desk, his eyes staring right at Harry and his robes hanging off him, as if they were sopping wet. Again, the boy couldn't speak, but his presence held Harry frozen in place. Though his spectacles were dirty from his tears and fingerprints, Harry easily read the boy's lips when the ghost tried to speak.