Summary: Snape returned from Voldemort not really a changed man, but with new self-knowledge. He knows it is his fate to live with it; he has lived with terrible truths before. But there is one last thing he needs Harriet to understand. . .

The twenty-fourth of February had dawned with dark reluctance and menacing wind. Cold and biting, it chopped at the water, snapped the rigging on the Durmstrang ship where it lay moored out on the dark water, and ripped at Severus' robes as if wanting to scour him from the outside in.

He watched one of the Scrying Screens that flickered over the lake. There was one for each of the champions, but if the other three screens had shown their champions being eaten by the Giant Squid, Severus hadn't noticed. He watched Harriet card through the darkness, her arm around Weasley's chest, her glasses frosting as the water grew brighter and the surface closer.

Dumbledore had not asked Severus that morning if he was sure he ought to go. He had merely lent his arm, and because the headmaster was both an excellent actor and more intelligent than any of the people he had to fool, had made it appear that Severus was the one propping him up.

Bleachers for the Second Task loomed on the bleak lakeshore; iron clouds scudded the frosted hillside behind them. When Harriet and Weasley sloshed out of the lake into the arms of an irate Madam Pomfrey, they were shivering so hard Severus could see it from where he sat. Pomfrey bundled them into blankets and forced steaming beakers of Pepper Up on them. Severus was aware of cheering and whistling, and other creatures, which may have been three champions and their charges, emerging from the deep; he continued taking stock of Harriet, who sat steaming next to Weasley, her hair dripping on her blanket. Severus didn't need an eavesdropping charm to see that Weasley had picked up on Harriet's mood.

It was likely that Weasley didn't know what had happened to Granger. He'd been placed in an Enchanted Sleep early that morning, according to Dumbledore. . . but now he was looking around, and it was clearly dawning on him that Granger was nowhere to be seen.

Minerva had noticed him noticing, for she stood from her seat in the bleachers in the lowest tier, for she had come in late, having taken Harriet from St. Mungo's early that morning. Now she made her way across the shore to where Weasley was speaking rapidly to Harriet, who'd dropped her forehead in her hand and was staring at the rocks beneath her feet.

The clapping and cheering as the scores were cast into the air set an odd counterpoint to Harriet's defeated slump and Weasley's pale face beneath his water-logged hair.

The other champions were clapping at each other's scores, but they kept shooting looks Harriet's way. They seemed nervous around her, like sheep sensing a wolf in the undergrowth.

They didn't even know about the Dark Lord, yet.

Minerva was placing a hand on Weasley's shoulder and giving, probably, an injunction to come along with her. He didn't look reassured - wise boy, Severus thought, too tired for scorn.

He watched Harriet rise, too, drawing her blanket around her like a cloak. Minerva, calling to mind a shepherd escorting two favorite lambs, ushered them away, across the frostbitten grass toward Hogwarts.

Dumbledore had arrived in the stands while Severus had been watching the children go.

"How have you been faring, my boy?" he asked, scanning Severus with a concerned eye.

"I've survived."

Dumbledore dropped a hand on his shoulder, a brief warmth that Severus did not want to feel grateful for. Had he been stronger, he would have resented it. But he was tired and weak.

Dumbledore sat down next to him and prattled about the champions' feats in the water as the stands emptied. Of course he knew Severus wasn't listening. When the last of the spectators had trickled out of earshot, Severus interrupted:

"I need to talk to Harriet."

Dumbledore was silent a moment. "Severus . . . she has been through a great deal-"

"This cannot be put off."

He'd decided, in the long hours of the night, when he had not slept and Harriet had sat in silent vigil as Granger did not wake. He'd decided what he must do.

Another moment filled with wind and far-off chatter, the folding hush of the lake in eternal movement. Then Dumbledore sighed.

"Name the place, and I will tell her."

Severus already had one in mind. "What did you do with . . . Dobby?"

Harriet thought she should probably bake Professor McGonagall a cake, or do something else nice. Maybe she could ask Dobb. . .

No. She couldn't.

Professor McGonagall took Ron off somewhere while Harriet went to have a bath and change. At least, Harriet supposed she must have done these things, because somehow she got out of her swimming gear and into regular clothes and wandered down to the Entrance Hall.

She stared at the doors to the Great Hall, wondering if she should go inside, or if she should try to think of where Professor McGonagall and Ron would be. . .

Someone touched her shoulder. She looked around, then up, because the person was taller than she was; she was about on eye-level with their collar.

"Hi, Asteria," she said.

"H-hi." Asteria's expression flickered. "Are you all right?" she asked in a sudden burst like a pheasant erupting from a bush.

Harriet considered a couple of replies, finally deciding on a shrug. Asteria bit her lip, her gaze searching.

"Professor Snape asked to see you," she said timidly. "He said he'd be in the Confessor's Garden - it's in the North Wing, just past the turn for the Owlery, do you know it?"

Harriet blinked as something rushed through her chest, a sensation or an emotion. But it was a sensation she didn't know how to describe, an emotion she had no name to give. She hadn't known what to feel when she'd seen him sitting in the stands at the Second Task, just as she hadn't known what to feel last night when he'd said Hermione would be all right. . .

"Yeah," she said. "Thanks," she added.

Asteria nodded, uncertain, and stood there as Harriet headed off for the North Wing.

An ancient door, which might've been commissioned in William the Conqueror's day, gave onto the garden. A surprising amount of greenery hung over the walls and crept across the snow scattered earth.

Snape was sitting on a bench in the midst of all that green stuff. All in black, he looked like someone had taken a pair of scissors and snipped a hole in the courtyard. His sallow face was drawn, and even sitting down he was leaning on a cane.

He looked up at the crunch of Harriet's shoe on the snowy ground. Most of his face showed no reaction, but something, maybe in the bones around his eyes, flickered like the wind on the water.

Harriet had scolded him last night. There was no other word for it. He'd gone off to face a man who'd sworn to kill him, and she'd scolded him.

And she'd do it again if a Time Turner shot her back fourteen hours. She couldn't see how Voldemort had let him live. If she hadn't sat next to him all of yesterday, she'd have thought he was a Polyjuiced Impostor.

"Congratulations on your performance in the Second Task," Snape said.

If he hadn't said it in a flat, emotionless voice, she'd have had a heart attack right there. Maybe he had been Polyjuiced since she'd left the hospital.

"Thanks," she said, eying him. "'I'm working on the Harriet-Slytherin Friendship Club,'" she said: the code phrase she had bullied him into accepting. Through notes delivered via . . . via Dobby.

Snape almost looked like his old self for a second. The way his mouth twisted, she might've been asking him to take Neville out to lunch. "'That name gets worse each time you say it.' Now please think of another code phrase before I ever have to hear that one again."

"Sure," Harriet said, and they lapsed into silence until she remembered why she was there. "Asteria said you wanted something."

". . . yes."

A sort of serrated tiredness draped over him. He gestured with the hand gripping the cane. Harriet looked in the direction he'd indicated, and saw. . .

Her throat filled with something, maybe bitterness or grief or guilt crushing her from the windpipe out.

Set near the wall was a little tombstone. All that was carved into it was a single name: DOBBY

It got bigger the longer she stared, until it filled her vision. Her feet had carried her over to it. Then she was suddenly cold, because her legs had folded and dropped her to the ground.

"The Headmaster thought you would want to compose the epitaph," Snape said, as if he'd never heard anything so brainless.

Did she want to? What could she say that would ever . . .

"I'm the reason he's dead."

She hadn't said it before, even though the knowledge had sat inside her like a curse planted in her heart, eating at her as she'd watched over Hermione and Snape in that dark, too-quiet hospital room.

"You're the reason he was free," said Snape, which was so unexpected that she looked up. Snape was staring at Dobby's tombstone, though he seemed to be looking at something a lot farther away. "Because of you, he was a free elf - he lived free, and he died free, in service to someone he loved. This is war. The orders you give can have terrible repercussions. Sometimes your soldiers will die. If we can't learn to live with that. . . then something much worse will happen. That is guaranteed."

His voice was flat, glassy. His gaze was far away, ridged like moonlight rising behind a mountain peak. Harriet's eyes felt damp at the corners. She had no idea whether she felt comforted or punched in the gut.

"How did he die?" She did not want to know, which was why she had to ask.

Snape blinked once, twice; she could imagine his body casting a spell to summon him back to himself. When he looked at Dobby's grave, it was as if he was really seeing it this time.

"Crouch killed him," he said. "The Killing Curse."

Harriet scrubbed angrily at the wet corners of her eye.

"There was no point, was there?" she asked. "He died for - nothing."

"Did he?"

"It didn't make any difference. I asked him to - I was going to c-call him." She swallowed. She wasn't going to be craven, weeping over Dobby's grave before she'd confessed all of this. "In the graveyard. I did call him. I - if Moody hadn't killed him, I'd have dragged him into a meeting of Voldemort - "

Snape flinched.

" - and those, those - like he couldn't be killed - after I said I didn't want him to risk himself." She wanted to spit; her mouth tasted foul.

"This is the lesson no one wanted you to learn," said Snape. "We fear death, for ourselves, for those we love, and yet when it is the real outcome, we think there must have been some mistake. We look back and can't believe . . ."

Harriet thought that later she would probably marvel at this conversation, the realest exchange she'd ever had with Snape that was being offered freely.

"Anyone would be better giving you this speech than I," he said, now not so much flat as hollow. "All I can tell you is that if that elf were still alive, he'd do exactly what he did, even a hundred times more."

Harriet stared fixedly at Dobby's tombstone, at the letters of his name carved into it, willing herself not to do something mortifying like break down in a storm of weeping. Snape stayed silent. The only noise was the icy wind shifting the leaves that overhung the walls.

"In that case," she said, holding her voice steady, "it - this thing - should say he was a free elf.'"

"I'll tell the Headmaster," said Snape.

Harriet nodded. She placed her hand on Dobby's tombstone, feeling the cold, rough rock, and thought, I didn't deserve you.

"There is something I have resolved to tell you," Snape said, and for some reason she felt that this was how he might have said, 'I am going to see the Dark Lord,' if he hadn't walked out without telling her.

She looked up, her skin prickling. In his eyes was a burning darkness, like a flame inverted.

"If the Headmaster, or your godfather or Lupin knew I was going to tell you - as much of it as they know, at any rate - they'd seal me up in a coffin and drop me in the lake. But we've all been lying to you, in that way we adults lie to children."

The children label stung, but more than that, she was afraid . . . and fascinated. She felt like she was hovering out of reach of a Hungarian Horntail, her eye trained on the golden egg far, far below. Anything that could make Snape look that way . . .

It would be smarter to say she didn't want to hear any more and to put as much of the castle between them as fast as she could . . . But Snape volunteering information - volunteering something, whatever it could be, that had been kept from her . . .

A whisper of caution flitted through her, a reminder of thinking the same thing in his Pensieve memory . . . But Snape was talking, and the time for running had past, surely . . .

"Have you never wondered why the Dark Lord singled you out?"

Harriet blinked. She blinked some more. Snape was watching her with a peculiar expression - scornful, or sardonic . . . but not, somehow, directed at her.

"I . . ." She tried to get her brain working. "I asked Professor Dumbledore after the whole thing with the Philosopher's Stone, but he said he'd tell me when I was older."

Snape did not ask her if she was ready to hear it. She'd been ready three years ago, but Snape didn't ask. He went on, almost merciless.

"There was a prophecy - made by your Divinations professor, the risible Sybil Trelawney." (Harriet didn't know what 'risible' meant, but the flicker of his lip into the familiar sneer was as good as a dictionary.) "She foretold - let's see - 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies, the Dark Lord will mark her as his equal, but she will have power the Dark Lord knows not. And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.'"

That sardonic bite in his voice had carved into his face, and the black look in his eye burned darker than ever. "I have the memory, if you want to see the real thing," he said. "Of course, mine is incomplete."

"W . . what?" she said, not understanding.

"I heard the prophecy when Trelawney gave it - but only half. I was eavesdropping. The Dark Lord had heard there was a teaching position open at Hogwarts and had sent me to finagle my way into it. When I saw Dumbledore strolling through Hogsmeade, I tailed him to the Hog's Head, where he was meeting Trelawney. She went into a kind of babbling trance and started proclaiming about the Dark Lord - naturally I listened to what so dearly pertained to my master. Only I didn't hear the whole thing, because the barman found me and tossed me out."

It was like when she'd moved toward Dobby's headstone until it had filled her vision, only she wasn't moving now. It was like her legs had melded to the frozen earth, but Snape was all she could see - Snape, the planes of his face biting sharp, his voice crushing -

"But I went to the Dark Lord and told him what I'd heard. I didn't hear the 'marking her as his equal' segment, which as it turned out was key. He thought it would be easy - kill the whole family. He went to Godric's Hollow that night, on Hallowe'en, killed your father at the front door, and then proceeded upstairs and told your mother to step aside. And when she wouldn't - she begged him not to, but you hear that when the Dementors get near you - he killed her and turned his wand on you. You know this part. Because she refused to give you up, she saved your life. But for her, you'd be as dead as either of your parents - because of what I told him."

Harriet was not breathing. She realized this only when she saw that Snape was breathing as if he'd run a hundred yard dash.

"Do you understand what I'm telling you?" he said, without mercy or pity.

Not Harriet, please not Harriet. . .

Stand aside, you silly girl. . .

Just hold on a little bit longer, Harriet. Your father's coming, he wants to see you. . .

She was . . . she felt . . .

The garden rose around her. She'd stood up.

Snape -

The ground jarred beneath her feet. She was walking away.

Her knees and hands were cold.

There were imprints in the snow where she'd knelt. Severus couldn't seem to stop staring at them.

He was shaking. He wanted to stop, or to tell himself he was just cold. But his heart was thundering, and he hadn't felt like this, like he'd been electrocuted, when he'd walked into Malfoy Manor.

"I hate you." He'd been prepared for her to say that - to scream at him - to hit him with a curse. "I wish you'd died instead of them."

Simply walking out. . .

Was it more final? Or had he not been prepared after all?

He rested his forehead against his fist that gripped the cane, and closed his eyes.

"It's done," he whispered. "It had to be done."

The Dark Lord's face had resembled the skull on Severus' arm as he'd stood over the Pensieve. "Come, Severus. I wish to show you what your loyalty wrought on that fateful night. . ." And as Severus had watched the Potters' front door shatter, as he'd seen James Potter rush into the hall and fall dead at Severus' own ghostly feet, as he'd looked on Lily's last moments as she begged for the life of her child, as the baby - Harriet - had cried, he'd known what he must do if he survived. It would be, and it had been, cruel. But she could not go on not knowing, could not go on feeling that he. . .

And once she knew, she would no longer believe that he. . .

"It had to be done. . ."

He sat on the freezing bench and wished to turn to ice, to stone.

The hospital room was dark and quiet. Outside in the corridor, voices murmured and shoe soles whispered. The light of Hermione's monitoring spell flickered on the lens of Harriet's glasses.

She closed her eyes.

One of the Healers had a Bristol accent. She'd walked up and down the hall thirteen times that Harriet had counted. One of the medication carts had a gimpy wheel that clacked as it rolled idly along.

The fifth time the medication cart rattled past, Harriet climbed onto Hermione's bed and curled up next to her. Hermione was warm and still. The spell light shimmered against Harriet's eyelids.

The Bristol Healer went by eight more times. The medication cart went clackety-clack three times more.

Something fluttered against her hand.

She opened her eyes. Hermione had turned her head, her curls brushing Harriet's cheek. The monitoring spell sped up, dancing like a lightning storm, reflecting on her open eyes.

"H. . . arry?" she whispered.

Harriet gripped her hand, hard.

"Welcome back," she said, and felt Hermione's fingers close around her own.

End: Goblet of Fire

I'm going to split the fic off at this point. Please see my Tumblr post (I'm under the same name, laventadorn) for more notes about this, if you're curious. Otherwise, keep an eye out, if you'd like, for the continuation of the series :)

To everyone who has made it this far with me: you probably can't know how much your words, encouragement, enthusiasm and kindness have meant to me along the way, but take the length of this fic as a start. Thank you endlessly and forever ︎