A tout le monde (To all the world!)
A tout mes amis (To all my friends)
Je vous aime (I love you)
Je dois partir (I must leave)
These are the last words
I'll ever speak
And they'll set me free
Out of the ashes, the phoenix rises…
I always thought I was ready to die. Thought I wanted it – yearned for this moment to come. And so I don't defend myself when the Dark Lord attacks. I don't fight off Nagini when Lord Voldemort orders the snake to kill me. The time for my retribution has finally come and I plan on accepting it. After nearly two decades I will finally pay the price for the mistakes I made that faithful night during which Lily was killed.
Nagini throws her repulsive body at me again and her fangs penetrate the skin of my arm. Deadly poison courses through my veins. The Dark Lord didn't need to order the attack in order to finish me off. The blood that pours from my slashed throat alone will kill me. But I know why he did it; for his enjoyment. He feeds off my pain.
But this is right. This is the way it is supposed to end. I have completed my task. I did everything within my power to keep Lily's son alive and now it is up to Harry himself to deal with the Dark Lord.
Nagini seems to lose interest in me and slithers back to her master. I can't stop myself from sighing in relief. This is it then… the moment of my death. It will only be a few minutes before I will finally know peace.
I am ready to die and wait for the world to fade around me, but then the door opens and Harry and his friends appear in the Shack. Shock courses through me. Shock at finding them here and shock because they will witness the end of me. I never wanted anyone to know.
Harry's suddenly kneeling next to me and throws his wand onto the floor in order to check on me. Foolish boy – he still hasn't learned to always keep it close. Fingers radiating warmth suddenly press against the gash against my throat and the way he is looking at me reminds me of Lily so much that it takes away most of the pain I am in. The tears that now escape my eyes are real – they are made up from true regret and I want him to know the truth – I want him to know everything he can about the Dark Lord. Maybe he will find a way to defeat Voldemort.
"Take them… please…" I beg him. I lift my arm, unable to do anything more than that, and stare at him imploringly. The expression in his eyes is hard to read, but I believe I read disgust in them.
I feel relieved when he catches my tears in a flask. I pour my memories into those tears, wishing I could separate the ones I want him to see from the ones which I want to take with me in death, but I am running out of time. "Take them to the pensieve…"
Although he will probably look at me in loathing I want to see his eyes again. "Look at me…" I want to see her eyes the moment I die. He does look at me now, but I can tell he's nervous – poor boy. "You have your mother's eyes," I tell him, and comfort myself with the knowledge that Harry is willing to give me this – a last, precious moment in death.
A shudder racks my body and I know this is it – death has come for me – finally. But just when my lungs prepare to release my last breath, something happens; a swirling, silver mist appears above me and it descends onto me, wrapping me in its energy, and to my horror, I draw in breath again – that should have never happened!
A doe forms in the mist and lowers her head toward me. My heart misses a beat at seeing her eyes – they are Lily's. No, my love, what are you doing? You can't intervene like this… You are dead because of me… You can't… This must be a vision then – maybe intended to make dying easier on me? But all it does is cause me to grow agitated. "No, don't…" But the doe rests her head on my shoulder and watches me with those impossible eyes, and then, the fact that I am still alive fully registers with me. This can't be!
"Harry, quickly! We need to get him to the hospital wing!"
A voice, well-known to me, pulls me from my thoughts and I find Hermione taking charge. She pulls Harry, who looks stupefied, to his feet and gets out her wand. "Mobilicorpus," she says. My focus shifts back to the doe, which remains close, looking at me with such trust that it causes me to shed more tears. No, Lily, I beg of you, let me go.
But my plea goes unheard and the doe remains in place, keeping me alive by magically counteracting death by her mere presence. I wish I could touch her, but my body feels heavy and I doubt I can move any limbs. All I am capable of is hovering in the air and staring at her.
"We will get you into safety, professor," Hermione says, keeping me suspended and maneuvering me carefully out of the shack. "We will take you to Madam Pomfrey and she will look after you."
Foolish children – they should leave me behind. In the end, the doe will vanish and I will die anyway. Why can't they see that this is wrong?
"Sir, Hermione is right. Madam Pomfrey will heal you and then, we will talk."
No, Harry, we won't. Horror strikes me again, realizing I begged Harry to take my tears so he would share my memories in the pensieve. He can't know the truth— can't know how I betrayed his mother – even though I suspect he already knows. I don't want him to see what happened back then – or even worse, I don't ever want to face him once he knows my part in that tragedy! But at the moment I can't do much to prevent it from happening. I could swear the doe is smiling at me. Lily, why did you do this? Why couldn't you let me die?
"Madam Pomfrey! Professor McGonagall!"
Ron's voice cuts through the corridor leading to the hospital wing and brings me back to reality. Staff and students stare at me in hatred, and I accept it, knowing I deserve nothing less.
Minerva runs toward us and I can't help but notice that she is without her pointy hat. I wonder what made her lose it, as she is extremely fond of it.
"Professor, we found Snape," says Harry.
It is the first time that Minerva doesn't correct him, telling him to call me professor Snape. I reckon that shows how much Minerva abhors the sight of me. I can't blame her. The doe pushes her nose against my chest, as if to correct my thoughts, but she's wrong. Why does she remain? Why is she allowing them to see her?
"He's badly injured," explains Harry, but he doesn't stop walking. They keep moving me closer to the hospital wing. I do wonder how Madam Pomfrey will react to my unexpected appearance. Poppy is one of the few people who suspect I might have acted as a double agent. As I often returned from the Dark Lord's call wearing bruises and more serious injuries she healed me on more than one occasion. Most of those times, Albus had hovered close, eager to see me healed and sometimes he had been too impatient to wait for my report; so Poppy had still been present when I had given Albus the information he had craved. Albus seemed to trust her, as he was comfortable with her overhearing conversations that should have been private.
"Mister Potter, what happened?"
I can tell the doe's presence mystifies Minerva by listening to the tiny trembling in her voice; she isn't mystified often. It's a comforting idea that she is Acting Headmistress now. Hogwarts deserves someone like her.
"First Voldemort attacked him and then his snake."
I shudder at the mention of Nagini. I might be Slytherin, but that doesn't mean I particularly like snakes.
"And the patronus?" she questions.
"I have no idea where it comes from… It's not mine, nor Hermione's or Ron's."
Minerva seems hesitant for one moment, but then says, "Your mother's patronus was a doe."
Harry looks startled at that and I don't blame him. I wish I could offer him an explanation, but I am at a loss too. I don't know why Lily decided to interfere or how she is even capable of doing so.
"Severus!" Madam Pomfrey calls out my name and immediately points at the bed closest to her. "Put him there, my dears, and be careful!"
Her acceptance of my presence in the hospital wing is something I had hoped for, but not expected. Madam Pomfrey joins us and I groan in pain the moment my abused body makes contact with the mattress. The doe changes position and comes to stand next to me. She rests her head on the pillow close to my head and keeps staring at me.
"I reckon the patronus is keeping him alive," Minerva says, and although I can tell she's fighting to sound composed, her voice still trembles ever so slightly.
Madam Pomfrey doesn't bother with the buttons of my robes; her magic rips them apart, revealing my chest and throat to her. I feel embarrassed, realizing they are still watching me, Harry and the rest. In the past, it was only Albus and Madam Pomfrey who bore witness to any injuries the Dark Lord had inflicted upon my body.
'Severus, my dear, this does look rather serious." Turning to Minerva she adds, "You're right. He would have died, hadn't it been for the patronus."
"I never heard of a patronus being able to do something like that," says Harry, "No one cast a spell to call it. How can a patronus keep him alive?"
"I don't know, my dear," Madam Pomfrey says. "But we have more important things to worry about." She dispatches an assistant to fetch the potions she needs and sets to work on closing my slashed throat.
I don't have any say in this, it seems. Madam Pomfrey is determined to save me, and the rest watches on, careful not to get in the way. The potions arrive and she forces the liquids down my throat, which is excruciatingly painful. I seem incapable of swallowing and feel like I am about to suffocate the moment the potions run down my throat.
"I am sorry, my dear," says Madam Pomfrey softly. "But you know this is the only way to counteract such poison."
Of course I do, but I lack the strength to assure her. She lowers me back against the pillows and returns to attending to the rest of my wounds. Looking about the room, I realize with dread that Harry has left. I know exactly where he's heading – Albus' rooms. He is going to use the pensieve and then he will know what I did. He will know my shame.
I must have lost consciousness after all, for when I wake again, I am covered in foul-reeking salve and bandages. Madam Pomfrey did a thorough job. Searching the room I am in, I find I am alone – the doe has finally left. She shouldn't have saved me – how could she make such a grave mistake?
The door suddenly opens, and acting on reflex, I want to point at it with my wand. But I am not wearing my familiar robes and need a moment to locate my wand. It is on the nightstand next to me – how odd that they allow me to have it close. I try to lift my hand, but can't move it. It feels heavy; it is the poison, rendering me helpless. My body needs time to rid itself of it, and it can only do that with the help of potions and Poppy's healing hands.
I shift my attention from my hand to the door. Harry's standing there and he is giving me the oddest look ever. For one moment, I am under the impression that he cried, since his eyes are red and still glister with moisture. A fist closes around my heart- he must have watched my memories. He knows what I did. He knows my crime.
Harry doesn't speak. He merely nods and then closes the door behind him, leaving me in panic. What is he about to do? That boy attracts trouble wherever he goes! I must keep an eye on him— must intervene if necessary to keep him safe! I want to leave the bed and hurry after him, but can't. My body refuses to obey. I am helpless – truly unable to intervene for the first time in years. In my panic, I call out to the person closest to me.
Minerva appears seconds after Potter left. Her grim expression warns me that something is wrong – terribly wrong – and I need to know what it is. "Tell… me." My voice lacks its normal vigor and I hate how weak I sound.
Minerva comes to a halt next to the bed and looks at me in a way that causes me to shiver. "Tell me…" This time, I am plainly begging for information.
"Harry allowed me to access your memories, Severus."
Her words shock me; it is the last thing I expected her to say. So she also knows how I betrayed Lily. She knows I am to blame for her death…. For so many deaths!.
"Harry has left for the Forbidden Forest. I tried to stop him, but he made it clear that he has to do this on his own."
"No! You… should have… stopped him!" Harry is about to face Voldemort and there is nothing I can do to help.
"I couldn't, Severus. Harry's destiny awaits. I can't stop him from playing his part in this war."
If only I could move! If only I had my strength back! I would find a way to keep Lily's son alive! "Minerva…" I try to push the covers out of the way, but the pain that rips through my hands and arms stuns me.
"It's Nagini's venom," says Minerva, explaining something I already know. "Poppy says the potions will eventually deal with it, but it will take time. Severus, there is nothing you can do to help Harry, but I have faith in him. He will pull though."
Waves of pain continue to pulse through my arms, and I would fight that agony if I believed I stood a chance fighting the Dark Lord. But in this weakened state, he would use me against Harry and I would make matters worse.
"Severus." Minerva takes another step towards me and then lowers her hand onto my shoulder, touching me, offering me comfort when I deserve none. "Albus always said to trust you. I am ashamed to admit that I doubted him, doubted you."
I want to shake my head and dismiss her apology, since it isn't necessary, but the pain still echoing through my arms stops me from moving about. "Not your fault," I manage, though merely speaking those words drains me.
"You were a double agent all those years. I understand – now - why Albus trusted you so completely. I had no idea."
"It was meant… to be… that way… Had you… trusted me… the Dark Lord… would have… grown suspicious." I won't be able to stay awake much longer. The powerful potions and my own exhaustion make it hard for me to stay alert. My body requires rest in order to heal.
"Still, I should have put my trust in Albus!"
Minerva seems much too emotional and I worry about that. I need her calm and in control, for this war hasn't ended yet. I need to snap her out of it and can't allow her to dwell on the past. "Hogwarts… situation? Are we… under… attack?" Why did my strength have to leave me? I am useless like this!
"Not yet," Minerva says, and I am relieved to see that she straightens her back. The expression in her eyes grows more lucid too. "But the Death Eaters are coming and I am organizing defenses as well as I can, but Severus, I am not Albus. I am not you."
"Thankfully… you are not me!" I don't want anyone to be like me! "You can do this… Any… casualties?" I pray not.
"Some wounded students, but nothing serious yet."
"The Dark Lord will come… And his minions… You must… prepare for that." If only I could help! I hate being confined to a hospital bed.
"Severus," Minerva's tone alerts me and when she gently squeezes my shoulder, I definitely grow worried. "You fought alone all these years. You risked your life countless times. You did what many of us would have refused to do for fear of our lives. Let us fight this battle. You did much more than we could have hoped for. This is no longer just your fight, Severus, it is ours now."
I understand what she is trying to say, but she is wrong – so terribly wrong. "I am no hero… Minerva… I only tried to… atone… I…" But she is looking at me again in *that* way and I grow quiet. I won't be able to convince her.
"It probably feels like that to you, my friend."
Friend. Hearing her call me that makes me avert my eyes for fear of crying. I can't shed any tears – not now – not here – not like this.
"You made your sacrifices, now it's our turn to fight. I will keep you informed, Severus, but you need to rest now. Go to sleep."
"Minerva," I have one more question that I need answered before she leaves. "Did Harry… allow anyone else… to see…" I lack the strength to end my question. I feel so damn weak.
"Hermione and Ron. He felt we had to know the truth and I concur, Severus. The truth needs to be out there."
It is worse than I feared then. I could have lived with Harry knowing the truth, but now that the rest knows as well...
My sleep isn't restful. I continue to fight the Dark Lord in my dreams and Nagini attacks time and time again. It exhausts me further, and in the end, I force myself to wake up. The first thing I notice is the unearthly quiet that lies over Hogwarts. Something is terribly wrong. I doubt the board of governors still think of me as Headmaster, but the connection Albus warned me about remains for some odd reason. The magic that resides in these walls still calls to me, and at my request, the bricks change position, forming a window through which I can see what's happening outside – and seeing Harry confront Voldemort shocks me to the core.
Harry and the Dark Lord are locked in battle and a sudden explosion rocks Hogwarts and then Hogwarts itself trembles in agony. The backlash hits me, as I was foolish enough to access the connection in order to attain information, and I scream out in pain, losing consciousness once more.
Madam Pomfrey's outcry startles me and I stare at her in shock as I recall the scene I witnessed earlier. "Harry, is he..?" I am afraid to finish that question for I might not like the answer.
"He's fine. Don't worry about him, my dear. I reckon he will visit shortly."
"He is… alive?" I can't believe what I am hearing. How can Harry have survived that duel? Albus was certain the boy had to die in order for the Dark Lord to be defeated.
"He's alive," Madam Pomfrey repeats. "Looking rumpled, perhaps, but that's nothing a bath and a good night's sleep can't cure. That can't be said of you though!"
He's alive. Harry survived. That's the only thing that matters. I did it; somehow I managed to give Harry what he needed in order to defeat the Dark Lord. "Thank you… thank you," I whisper to whatever power that ensured the boy's survival.
"Severus, dear, you should sleep. Maybe I can fix you a potion that will help you –" But she grows quiet upon seeing me glare at her. "It's the nightmares, isn't it, my dear? I know a potion that will fix that too."
Slowly, and enduring the pain it causes, I turn my head away from her ever so slightly. I don't want the nightmares to end. I will bear the punishment because I deserve to be tormented like that. Only death would have released me and death is the one thing I have been denied – thanks to Lily's interference.
"We won, Severus! Harry won!"
Minerva's back and strides towards me. "Yes, we suffered casualties," she says, her voice growing remorseful, "But Voldemort's gone. Harry did it, Severus!"
"I know that." She gives me an odd look, and had I been in better shape, I might have explained. "Hogwarts has ways of communicating with the…" And then it strikes me - I am still Headmaster. I assumed my flight would have deprived me of that position, and rightly so, but apparently, Hogwarts decided differently.
"With its Headmaster?" Minerva adds and offers me a weak smile. "Albus hinted at something like that once – the connection."
I manage a weak nod. "You must look after the students… the wounded." She is the right person for that job. She reaches out easily and the students trust her. She should be Headmistress here.
"I am in the middle of doing that. Luckily the rest of the staff is helping, even Horace is out there. Hagrid is the most help though."
That's good to know. I always liked Hagrid, even though I was never able to show it. "You will do… well."
Minerva is about to add more, but then the door opens again and Harry appears. Ron and Hermione emerge from behind him but remain near the doorway, while Harry makes his way over to my bed. I feel awkward and lost for words. The relief I feel at seeing him alive and well is beyond words. Harry remains quiet though and continues to study me. I feel uneasy beneath that stare and realize he wants me to speak first. "Albus would have been proud of you." It is the only comfort I can offer.
"I know that. I talked to him when I was dead. He told me I had to go back. Apparently my work here isn't done yet."
I blink in shock. So Harry did die and Albus is still meddling in the boy's affairs? Why am I not surprised?
"I am happy that you are still alive," I offer when Harry remains quiet. I never thought I would find myself in this situation one day and so I never prepared for it. I have no idea what to say or how to act.
Harry draws in a deep breath and then collapses onto the chair closest to the bed. I instantly grow alarmed, but when he looks at me, and even grins at me, I realize he's merely tired and not wounded as I had feared.
"And I, professor, am happy that you are also still alive."
Tears sting my eyes at hearing those words, but I fight them back. "I never expected to live."
Harry nods. "We will discuss that later."
The look he gives me tells me he realized I went to my death willingly. But he can't possibly have expected me to fight for my survival!
"Voldemort's gone – finally!"
I am glad to hear it. Ensuring Harry's survival and the Dark Lord's downfall had been my goal all these years and I am happy we succeeded. Suddenly Madam Pomfrey rushes over to Harry. I expect her to start coddling him, but instead she points at me.
"Harry, my dear. Would you help me? Severus here refuses to drink the potions that will help him heal and sleep."
Now that is what I call dirty tactics and I would never stoop that low had I been in her shoes. I cast her an angry glare, but the damage has been done. Harry pushes himself to his feet, covers the distance between us, and cocks his head at me.
"Is that true, sir?"
I am surprised that he still calls me that. I had assumed he would have lost any respect he might have had for me, which wasn't much in the first place, considering the way I treated him in the past. "They are not necessary." But I can tell I already lost the fight. Harry won't take no for an answer.
"You will take them, professor. Do I make myself clear?"
It is almost like I hear Lily talking. She would be firm with me whenever she thought I was neglecting my needs. "We will see," I say in the end, unwilling to be defeated in front of so many. But Harry knows he has won – I can tell by the smug expression on his face.
"As I said, we will talk later." Harry says and raises his arm. His hand descends onto mine and he curls his fingers gently around it. The touch completely surprises me and I can't help but wonder why he did that. "In the meantime, I want you to rest. I will be back shortly, but there are some things I need to take care of first."
Not trusting my voice to sound steady, I settle for a weak nod. Harry squeezes my fingers again and then leaves the room. I feel stunned in many ways, but that touch stunned me the most.
"These are your potions, Severus," Madam Pomfrey says, returning to my bedside. "And you will drink them. All of them. Do I make myself clear?"
I swallow the vile-tasting potions and recognize my own hand in them. She must have gotten them from my private stock. She looks much too pleased for my personal taste when she collects the empty vials and wanders back to her station. I expected Ron, Hermione, and Minerva to have left with Harry, but to my surprise, I find them still close. Ron and Hermione still stand near the doorway and the looks they are giving me are most odd.
"Thank you, professor," Hermione says at last. "For everything you did. We never knew about it."
I don't know how to react to that and settle for another nod. That seems to please her and she pulls Ron along, finally deserting the room. Minerva however remains, and she eventually sits down on the side of the bed. I have the uncanny feeling that more is to come. Maybe – hopefully- the potion will quickly unfold its effects so I don't have to go through another conversation.
"The Ministry has been in touch with me. When they heard you were still alive and within Hogwarts walls, they wanted to arrest you. I stopped them. I told them what the pensieve had shown me, and although I reckon they will want to question you, they agreed not to prosecute. You are safe. I reckon that must have weighed heavily on your mind."
I give her a tired look. "I would have accepted whatever sentence they-"
"You would have gone to Azkaban without a fight; much like you chose not to fight Voldemort?" Minerva says, cutting me short.
Minerva knows then. "What did you expect me to do?"
"Severus, I am still trying to fully grasp what happened here during the last few years. You're not the person I thought you were and Albus' manipulations run much deeper than I thought. And we have the future to think of."
The future? I never thought I would have one. I don't care to think about it right now. My eyes start to close, my breathing deepens, and a deep sense of peace descends onto me. The potions are unfolding their effects at long last. The last thing I notice is Minerva brushing some hair away from my face, and then, sleep claims me at last.
I open my eyes and try to blink the remnants of sleep from them. I slept deeply and free of nightmares. I don't know for how long I slept, but knowing the strength of the potion Madam Pomfrey gave me, I reckon I must have slept for at least twenty hours.
"You are awake."
Hearing Harry's voice so unexpectedly, unsettles me. It takes most of my energy to turn my head toward him. He is occupying the chair next to my bed and appears to be in better shape than the last time we met. He looks rested. "Harry." Actually saying his name, instead of using the distancing mister Potter, sounds odd, even to my own ears. Harry moistens his lips and a shy expression appears in his eyes.
"You never called me that before."
Of course I didn't. Lying down like this makes me feel vulnerable and I attempt to elbow myself into a more upright position. I am still weak though and find it hard to move at all. Suddenly Harry's on his feet and helping me to acquire a sitting position. Then he pulls away again, as if burned, and I sigh, realizing the worst is still to come.
"Are you comfortable?" Harry asks after a moment's thought.
I wonder if that is what he intended to say in the first place. "Comfortable enough." My voice cracks, revealing how weak I still am.
"Let me get you something to drink."
I watch Harry fill up a cup of tea. He hands it to me, and I try my hardest to lift my arm, but I can still barely move it. It's the arm Nagini buried her fangs in. Harry appears confused for a moment, but then catches on and carefully places the rim at my lips so I can drink. The tea must have been on the nightstand for some time, as it has cooled down and soothes my aching throat. Must be Madam Pomfrey's concoction as I don't recognize it as a brew of mine. Harry helps me get comfortable again and then remains standing next to the bed.
"I watched your memories, as instructed."
Ah, we are going to talk about that then. "I wanted you to know. You needed all the help you could get if you were to defeat the Dark Lord."
"Voldemort's gone," Harry says in an icy tone, which however warms again when he continues, "And I don't want to discuss him. I am here for different reasons."
His words confuse me and I frown. "What reasons?"
"I watched your memories again this morning and I have some questions."
"Go on…" I still don't know what this about.
"You tried your best to keep me safe all this time and you never… No one ever told me and…"
At first, I think it's confusion on Harry's part, but then I realize it's anger that is making it hard for him to talk. That doesn't surprise me. Harry being angry with me makes perfect sense. "Everything was my fault to begin with," I admit, having admitted the truth to myself a long time ago. "Due to my actions, your parents were murdered."
"No, that's not what I want to talk about!"
I blink at seeing the rising anger on Harry's face. "What do you want to discuss then?"
"I want to know…"
"What?" I do hope the boy will start to make sense soon.
"Why didn't you tell me you cared? Because I know you do. I remember your anger at realizing Dumbledore setting me up. You said he had raised me like a pig for slaughter."
Lies won't get me anywhere, I know that and maybe the time has come to let go of my secrets – all of them. "Of course I care. You are Lily's son. I loved her… How could I not care for you then?"
Harry needs a moment to take that in. "Then why did you belittle me all those years? You bullied me!"
I sigh; truly wishing I had died, for I never wanted to have this conversation in the first place. "Had the Dark Lord realized I cared he would have stopped trusting me. I had to distance myself from you. It was hard though. Each time you looked at me… I…" I had thought of Lily and had offered her a silent apology for mistreating her son.
"Why do you still call Voldemort that? He's dead, you know."
"I couldn't let anything slip in the past. He was always watching. Always probing my mind. It became second nature to call him that, I reckon. Being a spy means walking a very tight rope, Harry." He blinks at being called that again. Maybe I should stop doing so.
"What made you do it? Why hand me those memories?"
The boy doesn't ask easy questions. "I wanted you to know about Albus' manipulation and you needed to know that you would die if you ever faced the Dark… Voldemort. I couldn't let you go into battle without knowing you would die."
"Why the other memories then?"
"I didn't have the time to sort them out. I was dying as you might remember." Harry's expression changes abruptly and I can't explain why. "Maybe I should have been more careful, but-"
"No, that's not what I meant," Harry says, quickly stopping me from elaborating. "I want to know… You loved my mother, didn't you?"
"I still do." I admit, shakily. "I even offered to be their secret keeper. With Albus' help, I might have succeeded in keeping them hidden from the Dark Lord. I had already learned to deceive him at that point, but your father refused. He didn't trust me and rightly so, but—"
"Wormtail betrayed them! Had they accepted your offer, they might have lived."
"Might have, Harry. We don't know what would have happened had they accepted my offer. And I don't blame your father. James had every reason to distrust me." Harry closes his eyes and I can tell he's fighting to stay in control of his emotions. He never expected any of this. "What else do you want to know?" I had better do this now while I still have the courage to tell him.
"Hagrid took me to Petunia that night, but in your memories, I saw you enter the house. You were holding my mother and you… cried." Harry swallows nervously and seems hesitant to make eye contact. "I was in the cradle next to you."
I had expected something different, but this I can do for him. "I took you that night. I knew that the Death Eaters had remained close – those most loyal to the Dark Lord. I believed they would try to avenge their leader's death. So I took you and tried to calm you down. It was hard to leave Lily behind, but you needed my attention and so I took you to Albus. He in turn made sure Hagrid delivered you to your aunt."
"So it was you who…" Harry frowned. "You see, ever since I was little I have had this reoccurring dream in which my parents die. I understood why I was having that nightmare, but what I didn't understand was this sudden presence I remembered. Arms closing around me and holding me. That was you, wasn't it?"
"Maybe you're remembering Albus holding you. Or Hagrid."
"No, it was you."
I grow uncomfortable under the look Harry's giving me. I remain silent, giving him a chance to sort out his thoughts.
"I never told anyone, but the first time I saw you, during the sorting, I looked at you and my scar started to hurt. Normally, my scar acting up would worry me, but you were looking at me, and for some reason I felt like I knew you and could trust you, but that changed after you…"
"Started to pester you. That was why I did it. Bully you…" This conversation exhausts me and I would like more tea, but can't reach it myself. I could use my magic to make it so, but my wand is out of reach as well. Harry must have seen me look at the teapot though, because he reaches for it and fills up another cup.
"Madam Pomfrey said you should drink as much as you could," Harry remarks in an absentmindedly way. He offers me the cup and I gulp down the content, as I am thirsty in so many ways. "You can have more," Harry says in an attempt to slow me down.
It works and I drink the next cup of tea more slowly. He then eases me back against the pillows and even tucks the blanket around me. The tea helps and I feel up to asking, "Anything else you want to know?"
"Many things…" Harry runs a hand through his hair and looks at me for a long time. "You're not leaving, are you?"
He surprises me again. "I am confined to bed," I remind him.
"That's not what I meant. When you died you didn't defend yourself. We found your wand tucked away between the folds of your robes and you didn't have any potions on you and yet you knew about Nagini. You knew how volatile Voldemort was and you went in there – to your death – without thinking of any defenses?"
I never realized he cared about me, but it takes someone who cares to realize what I have done. "Why should I have put up a fight? I knew I was going to die and I accepted my fate. My life ended the moment Lily died because I delivered the first part of that prophecy to the Dark… to Voldemort. Had it not been for Albus pointing out that you needed protection I would have killed myself back then. Oh, he knew how to manipulate me into staying alive… Pointing out you have her eyes."
"I remember him saying that. If you ever loved her you would protect me!"
"Albus never played fair, but I deserved it."
Hearing Harry say my name in that manner sends violent shivers down my spine and alarms me. I force myself to meet his gaze; I fail to read the emotions in his eyes and I don't want to violate his mind. I did that in the past and so I wait for what is to come.
"Yes, you delivered part of the prophecy to Voldemort, and no, you shouldn't have done that, but you didn't kill my parents."
I stare at Harry in shock. "You are wrong."
"No, I am not. It's like Dumbledore said, they put their faith in the wrong person. It was Wormtail who betrayed them and it was Voldemort who killed them, and you… You have been punishing yourself for as long as I have been alive. Don't you think it is time to stop doing that?"
"You're mad!" I shout at him and want him gone right now. "You don't know what you're talking about!"
"What's happening in here?" Minerva, who was talking to Madam Pomfrey in the corridor, moves into the room, followed suit by the healer. "Harry, I told you that you could talk to the professor for five minutes and without upsetting him! For long have you been in here?"
"Don't be angry with the boy," I come to Harry's defense, who continues to look at me with those damn eyes.
"No, she's right. You are still recovering and I was out of line."
Minerva looks smug all of a sudden and I wonder why. Narrowing my eyes at her, I try to find out just what pleases her that much.
"I think we can offer young Potter five more minutes of Severus' time," she remarks. Madam Pomfrey seems about to protest, but Minerva leads her out of the room, leaving me alone with the boy again.
"You didn't kill them," Harry repeats, looking me straight in the eye. "And sir, I think you should stop punishing yourself for something someone else did."
I shake my head at him and just want him out. "You're mistaken."
"You need time." Harry whispers. "Like I did. I came to terms with it and you must do the same."
"And why should I do that?" As far as I am concerned I have no reason to continue living. Harry's safe and Voldemort dead. I outlived my purpose. I should have died – that would have made everything so much easier. I wouldn't have been forced into this conversation for example.
"Because I need you!"
Harry screams the words at me, which makes me flinch. "You don't need me," I point out to him. "You have your friends. You have Minerva, the Weasleys -"
"Yes, I do, but I need *you* too - maybe even the most."
I briefly close my eyes and pray for strength and patience. "Why do you think that?"
"You knew my parents. You loved… love my mother. You took me from that cradle and made sure I was safe. You have been watching over me my whole life and you never told me! Don't you understand? You… You are not what I thought you are. You care! I need you, don't you understand?"
His anger has gone and a pleading tone appears in his voice instead. "I can't pretend I understand, Harry, but I do owe you and so I will stay close." For if I am not mistaken, that is what he wants to hear. "I will continue to watch over you. I won't leave."
"You had better stick to that!"
It isn't exactly a threat, I realize that. The amount of despair that I see in his eyes tells me that more important needs than just anger motivate him. "I will stay close," I repeat as Harry seems to need to hear it again. "I will stay here, at Hogwarts."
"Of course you will!" Minerva says, once more entering the room. "Headmaster, I do have matters which you need to attend to!"
Bless her for saving me and curse her for reminding me of the position I still hold. Harry has the audacity to chuckle at hearing that.
"I forgot! You *still are* our Headmaster. You can't possibly leave."
I did leave the last time, but I choose not to remind them of that as Minerva calling me a coward still echoes in my ears. I had a reason for fleeing though. I couldn't possibly have hurt Minerva. She is a good friend and I care about her.
"I will be back later," Harry announces, seemingly relieved and cheerful.
I watch him leave and then look toward Minerva. She settles herself comfortably in the chair, rests her elbows on the armrests, staples her fingers in front of her face, ever watching me.
"I believe I figured that one out, Severus."
Her cryptic remark tells me nothing, and although I am growing tired again – doubtlessly there was some sort of sleeping potion in that tea – I force myself to face her. "What did you figure out?"
"Why you fled Hogwarts. You couldn't do it, could you? You couldn't hurt me."
Damn that woman! I avert my gaze and wonder how to stop her from continuing. I won't get anywhere by ignoring her though.
"I listened to part of your conversation with Harry. You do care, Severus. You always did. You consider me a friend; a good friend who you were unwilling to cause pain. Severus, I know the extent of your powers. You could have easily killed me when Harry and I confronted you."
I force myself to meet her gaze once more. Why must she look smug? "I wasn't thinking."
"Oh no, you were doing just that! You always plan ahead, don't you? Like Albus, you kept every possibly outcome in mind. You knew that I would stop at nothing after learning you had killed Albus. I would have taken you down, just to avenge his death and you didn't want to risk such a confrontation."
Part of what she says is true. There is no denying that. "Had I stayed I would have been forced to kill you. The Dark Lord wouldn't have settled for anything less. Retreat was the only sensible option."
"Pray tell me," Minerva says as he gets up from the chair and moves her face in front of mine, fixing me with her penetrating gaze. "How did Voldemort react upon hearing that Hogwarts was lost to him? That you had run?"
I swallow hard; unwilling to reveal that information, for it had cost me dearly.
"Did he curse you?"
"You don't need to know that." I need her to leave. She is pulling down one mask after another and I am not prepared for her to see the real me.
"He did, didn't he?"
I refrain from speaking, but as she is still right in front of me I can't avert my gaze. The memories of that particular encounter with the Dark Lord involuntarily cause me to tremble. Yes, being punished had been exceptionally painful, but I had saved Minerva's life.
"And it happened before, didn't it? Poppy just confided in me. She told me you frequently had to visit the hospital wing carrying injuries Poppy found most disturbing, but as Albus always accompanied you, she reckoned there was a valid reason for your condition. Those injuries occurred whenever Albus requested certain information? Am I right about that too?"
Her voice seems to entrance me and I find myself answering her questions truthfully. "The Dark Lord and the other Death Eaters didn't like me asking certain questions, but I always appeared to have excellent reasons for doing so. They never suspected I had a hidden agenda. And the Dark Lord, he never needed a reason to…"
Her hand settles on my arm, but her fingers stay clear of any injuries. The touch brings me out of the trance-like state I was in and I blink, feeling thoroughly confused. "I paid that price willingly and without hesitation for it assured we remained one step ahead of the Dark Lord. Harry had to be safe. Nothing else mattered."
"I misjudged you so badly." Minerva squeezes my arm and then returns to her chair. "I talked to Poppy about your condition and she assures me that you can move back to your quarters shortly. As long as you continue to obey her instructions regarding potions and regular checks you don't need to stay here."
I am grateful she is changing our topic. The fact that she knows so much about me, unnerves me. "As I told you before, I have no desire to remain Headmaster."
"You don't have a choice, Severus."
"I can resign."
It is a battle of will, and weakened as I am, it's one which I know I will lose. "We will discuss that later."
"As you wish, Headmaster. I will prepare your rooms for your return. And if I may suggest, move back tomorrow morning. Harry has already offered his help in moving you there, as you are still too weak to walk without support."
I could apparate, but doing so would weaken me further. I don't seem to have a choice and nod curtly.
When I wake up again, it's morning already. Damn Poppy for dosing me with potions which she poured into the tea without telling me. The sun is already up and warm beams of light move over the covers of my bed. I manage to move my hand toward it and watch the sunlight slide across my fingers. How odd. I should be dead, but I am not.
Slowly, as I am still fighting off the effects of that sleeping draught, I move my head into the direction the voice came from. "Hagrid?" I am surprised the half-Giant fits into the room. His warm smile and unguarded expression take me aback. I recall how angry he became upon hearing I had killed Albus and I wonder how much he knows about what truly aspired. Knowing Potter though, I wouldn't be surprised to learn he told Hagrid everything.
"I'm 'ere ter take yer ter yer room."
I should have known they would ask Hagrid to help.
"If yer comfortable wit' that," Hagrid adds belatedly, realizing I might not like being carried about like a child.
Although I do mind, I nod. "I am fine with that." I want to leave the hospital wing, where I am taking up a bed Madam Pomfrey probably needs. Hagrid's smile broadens at hearing it. The big oaf is so easily to please. "Thank you, Hagrid."
Hagrid looks up in surprise. "But I didn' do anythin' yet!"
I manage a weak smile. "Thank you for being there for Harry when I could not." Over the years I often envied Hagrid for having Harry's complete trust, but I was happy he had someone he could turn to at all time. "I am grateful that Harry could always count on you. You are a true friend." Hagrid grows flustered, something I have never seen before. "I am serious, Hagrid."
"Yer had to preten'. I was free ter act." Hagrid offers eventually, showing an insight I wasn't sure he was capable of.
"We're here to help you move back to your rooms."
Harry's voice coming from much too close to my bed, startles me momentarily. I had been under the assumption that Hagrid and I were the only people in the room. I would not have confided in Hagrid had I known the boy was close. "Professor McGonagall said you would visit." Harry moves closer and I am surprised to see the moist expression in his eyes. He looks like he either cried, or is on the verge of crying. "Is something amiss?"
"No, sir, everything is fine, at last."
Harry wipes at his eyes and then smiles at me. I can tell it's a genuine smile – something changed just now.
"I'll be careful," Hagrid promises as he moves his large arms between me and the bed. "Tell me if I'm hurtin' yeh."
But he's amazingly gentle and careful when he picks me up from the bed and carries me toward the doorway. Although a part of me detests being this weak and having to be carried about, I also know I have no choice. The venom will continue to weaken me for some time. I raise an arm, notice the pain has lessened, and touch the bandages that covers my throat. Voldemort cut deeply and this injury will also take time to heal.
I have no choice but to rest my head against Hagrid's chest, and I close my eyes upon hearing students' voices. I have no desire to see the hatred in their eyes. I must think of a way to convince Minerva to let me resign as Headmaster.
"It won' take long," Hagrid whispers, apparently thinking I closed my eyes due to exhaustion. "On'y a few minutes."
Harry calls out the password and we descend into Albus' former rooms. Although I feel comfortable here, I know that I don't belong here.
"See, we made it!" Hagrid exclaims happily.
I open my eyes again, realizing he intends to take me to the bed. "The chair," I tell him. I don't want to lie down yet. I need to feel in control of the situation, even though I know I am not. Hagrid thankfully listens to me and carries me over to a chair standing next to the fireplace, which has been lit. I settle down and force my eyes to open completely. The first thing I see Albus, awake and alert, watching me from his painting. "Surprised to see me?"
"In a way, yes, but not really," Albus replies in an amused voice.
"Professor, are you comfortable?" Harry pulls a chair closer to mine and sits down as well.
I am a bit chilly, but no one needs to know.
"Why don't you fetch Severus that quilt, Harry? He looks like he feels a tad cold."
At Albus' suggestion, Harry jumps to his feet, retrieves the quilt, and covers me with it. Hagrid remains standing in the center of the room, suddenly uncertain of what he is supposed to do. I wonder if he has ever been in here before. "Albus, you and I need to talk." But not right now— not with the two of them present. "You have a lot of explaining to do- later."
"We shall talk, Severus," Albus says reassuringly.
I rest my head back against the comfort of the chair and wonder about the absurd situation I find myself in – I am still Headmaster, Harry gives me concerned looks, and Hagrid tries several candies Albus always kept about.
"Yeh don' have any animals in here?" Hagrid asks, looking about hopefully.
"Fawkes used to live here," I whisper and my gaze moves to the place the phoenix occupied when Albus was still alive.
"I hear' 'bout that one. Never saw a phoenix meself. Pity," Hagrid remarks in a sad voice. "Musta been remarkable ter see him rise from the ashes."
"It was, Hagrid." Harry nods. "The first time I met Fawkes he exploded! I thought I had done something wrong and when Dumbledore explained what kind of creature he was, I was so relieved to see him rise from the ashes."
Fawkes is the only living phoenix I know of. I never encountered others like him and it pains me that he left Hogwarts. But I don't blame him. Fawkes was here only because of Albus.
"Severus, you always got along splendidly with Fawkes, as I remember," Albus says, looking on from within the painting. "But then again, you always got along well with animals."
I bite my tongue, knowing, just knowing he is referring to the doe patronus that saved my life and I wonder how much he really knows. Probably everything I don't.
"Yeh do? That's nice ter hear… I like peop'e who like animals!" Hagrid says cheerfully.
Why doesn't that surprise me? I am about to ask Hagrid and Harry to give me some time alone when a loud scream disrupts the peaceful quiet the room bathed in. Looking up, I am surprised to see Fawkes diving into the room. The phoenix circles the study twice, looks at Albus' painting as if deciding where to land, and then flies toward me. I hold my breath, wondering about the phoenix' antics, when it suddenly lands, grabbing the back of my chair and settling down next to my head. Immediately, it starts to sort out some rumbled feathers. It looks completely at home and I have to twist my neck in order to look at it. I ignore the pain that moves through my throat when stretching the healing skin. "What are you doing here?" I hadn't wanted to voice the question, but it slips out none the less.
"Why are you surprised, Severus?"
"His alliance was to you, personally, not because of the position you held as Headmaster."
Albus considers this for a moment and then, in a voice, full with emotion, says, "You were loyal to me to the end, Severus. Don't you think Fawkes appreciates that? He thinks you worthy of the same loyalty he showed me."
I close my eyes and pray for it to stop. They have to stop talking about me like that! I am not a hero, even though they seem to think so. Tears escape my eyes, even though I am keeping them tightly closed. I never wanted to cry; most certainly not in front of anyone. Fawkes makes an odd cooing sound, which causes me to open my eyes and look at him. I am stunned to see tears in his eyes as well. He must miss Albus too. Gathering my strength, I raise my arm, and let his tears slide onto my index finger, trying to comfort him in turn. But I forgot about the healing quality his tears posses. I grit my teeth and hope he doesn't think I am taking advantage of him.
"Severus, just why do you think he shed those tears?" comes Albus' voice from the painting once more. He actually sounds exasperated; like he is about to lose his patience with me. "Unfortunately even his tears can't help you completely, as your injures are grave indeed, but he wants to help."
I do feel stronger once the burning sensation fades. Fawkes playfully pulls at a strand of my hair, and unfolds his wings, returning to the spot he occupied in the past, where he continues to care for his feathers.
"Amazin' creature! But a litt'e bit too tame."
Hagrid's remark makes me laugh – it bubbles up from somewhere deep inside me. It has been years since I laughed— really laughed, and Harry throws me a worried look. "I am fine," I assure him. "Maybe we should get Hagrid a dragon of his own after all."
"No," says Albus promptly.
"Yeah!" Hagrid says at the same time.
I chuckle again, and this time, Harry, Hagrid, and Albus join in. It feels good to laugh again after so long.
"Any ot'er animals 'bout?"
Hagrid seems hopeful; now that Fakes appeared, he is expecting other entities to join us as well. I hate to disappoint him though. "I don't think so…" But I fail to finish my sentence as silver swirls form in the space above me. The doe appears, jumps to the floor, and looks at me. I swallow hard, unable to look away, but afraid of what her eyes might reveal at the same time.
"What's that?" Hagrid frowns.
"A patronus," Harry explains and smiles at him. "My mother's patronus was a doe. Much like professor Snape's."
But I didn't call it and neither did Harry. The boy doesn't seem to realize it at first, but when he suddenly looks at me with interest, I know he figured it out.
"Did you call it, sir?"
"No, I didn't." It is most unnerving that the doe can manifest in that way.
"Lily," Albus' whisper is barely audible, but when Harry's eyes widen, I realize he caught on.
"What did you say?" Harry looks at the painting.
"Lily's patronus became Severus' patronus, but Severus didn't call her. So only your mother could have made it appear, but that doesn't make any sense either, since Lily is, regrettably, dead." I had hoped Albus would have offered some explanation for her appearance, but he seems equally at loss. "Love is the most wondrous thing, don't you agree, Severus?"
Albus' words pain me deeply. A hurt which I kept buried for years claws its way back to the surface, but I try to stop it from rising. "I love her still, yes." But that doesn't explain her presence here. I watch Harry, as he leaves his chair and kneels next to the doe, studying her. Hagrid remains quiet, probably realizing this is a special moment for the boy. She pushes her nose against his face and Harry chuckles, like he can feel it and it tickles.
Suddenly she moves away from Harry, looks at me once more, and then starts running, disappearing because she eventually moves past the walls. Why is all this happening to me?
"Professor." Harry gets to his feet, walks over to me, and remains standing in front of me.
"What is it?" Do I want to hear what he has to say? Do I?
"That wasn't just a patronus, was it? I sensed my mother."
"I honestly don't know, Harry. I never called her, never reached out to her. She appears at will." I can't help but wonder though if Harry reached the right conclusion. Looking at Albus, I find he – most conveniently – left his painting, doubtlessly avoiding giving me any real answers.
"My mother wants you to live. That's the only possible explanation."
I am not sure if Harry is right, but even though Fawkes supplied me with some healing, I still feel tired and much too confused, to even consider that possibility.
After resting for most of the day, in blissful silence and solitude, a knock on the door disturbs the peaceful setting. Fawkes, who was also sleeping, wakes up and screeches.
"Severus? I thought you might like some company for dinner."
Minerva. I draw in a deep, steadying breath and call out, "Enter then." The door opens and Minerva steps inside. She's not alone though; she brought Harry, Hermione, Ron, and even Neville along. Upon seeing their curious expressions, I lose all hope of a quiet evening.
"I hope we're not intruding?" Harry enquires and I wonder if I gave away some of my emotions.
"You are welcome," I say eventually. "Please, sit." I point at the large table in the corner. Albus and I spent many evenings there, plotting and exchanging information. While they sit down, I push myself to my feet and make it over to them, even though I need to support myself by placing a hand against the wall. I am eternally grateful to Fawkes that he gifted me with his tears. But, I am also confused, considering the fact I am not a Gryffindor. His tears shouldn't have provided me with healing. I sit down and appreciate the fact that no one hurries over to help me. I do want to do things on my own again.
At a swirl of Minerva's wand, dinner appears. I am not hungry. I can't even remember the last time I craved food and merely stare at the set table.
"Severus, you need to eat. It will aid your recovery."
Minerva is right, and I do feel confident that I can keep the food down, but I am simply not interested in eating. The food holds no appeal whatsoever.
"Try some of the pumpkin soup, professor, it is delicious," Hermione chips in.
I wonder why Neville is here. Why did Minerva decide to bring him along?
"Severus, miss Granger is talking to you."
Minerva places her hand on mine and the touch jolts me back to the conversation we are having.
"Pumpkin soup, remember?"
Minerva looks worried when I don't reply at once. I nod and she puts the soup in front of me, but I don't pick up the spoon knowing my hands tremble and I don't want anyone to see that.
"You will be pleased to hear that mister Longbottom rose to the occasion when Nagini attacked," Minerva remarks.
Nagini… Minerva does know how to force me to pay attention. I manage to fight down the shivers that shake me at hearing the snake's name mentioned. I still have a hard time locking her from my mind whenever I sleep. It's only due to the fact that I mastered Occlumency a long time ago, that I am able to do so at all. Otherwise she would haunt my every step.
"I used Godric's sword to kill her. I chopped her head off. I thought that you should know how she died, professor Snape."
Neville killed her in the real world, yes, but what about my dreams? "You did well, then," I force myself to speak, not wanting to worry them more than they already do. "It was a dreadful creature." And this time, the shivers do rise along my spine, causing me to shake violently. It is good to know though that she is dead – the monster.
"You still haven't eaten anything, sir."
Harry's remark makes me seek out his eyes, and I am once more reminded of the way Lily would look at me. She adopted a certain expression to make me comply whenever she thought I was neglecting myself. "I will eat later." I will, just because Lily would have liked me to.
"Uh, excuse me?"
Now what? Looking about, I wonder where the voice came from. But it is just us in here, and as far as I know, Fawkes hasn't shown any talent of being able to speak yet.
"Up here, young Severus."
Now, who would be daring enough to call me that?
"It's the sorting hat!" Ron exclaims and gets to his feet. "Should I fetch it?"
"The sorting hat?" Minerva nods. "Yes, mister Weasley, fetch it if you will. I wonder what it has to say. It doesn't usually speak except when it is sorting the students."
My frustration must have clearly shown on my face, because the next moment, Harry's hand settles onto mine and he pats it – only for a second and he removes his hand at once when I glare at him. Ron places the sorting hat in the center of the table and then sits down again; excitement shining from his eyes.
"Excuse me, young Severus, but Fawkes pointed out to me that I should talk to you."
"Fawkes?" What does the phoenix have to do with this? The moment I speak his name, Fawkes leaves his spot and grips the back of my chair with his claws, settling down and intently watching the sorting hat.
"Yes, Headmaster, Fawkes. You see, I might have made a mistake."
I raise an eyebrow. One moment it calls me young Severus and then it promotes me to Headmaster? I always thought the sorting hat was a bit odd. "What kind of mistake?" I question it.
"You see, when I sorted you into your house I might have been distracted."
Minerva shoots me a surprised look and I carefully shrug my shoulders. "I have no idea what it is talking about."
"Maybe I have…" Harry says cryptically without offering more of an explanation. "Tell us," he orders the sorting hat.
"When professor McGonagall put me on your head in order for me to sort you into your house I was distracted - not because of something you did, young Severus, but because of something else. A slithering voice appeared in my mind. Somewhere, someone was speaking Parseltongue and it might have distract me to such an amount that I sorted you into Slytherin, which wasn't supposed to be your house."
I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and try to control my emotions. I can't continue to act in such an emotional way. "What are you saying?"
"You should have been in Gryffindor, just as you had requested when I was put on, but the voice… that slithering voice… I thought you belonged in Slytherin, which isn't true. If that voice hadn't appeared I would have done my job properly. You belonged in Gryffindor all along."
At hearing those words, I open my eyes, and glare at the sorting hat. I want to scream at it – what happened to my intention to act more rationally? The absurdity of the situation renders me speechless.
"If the sorting hat had sorted you into Gryffindor, then-"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence, Minerva." My voice must have carried a fair warning for she grows quiet. Had the hat sorted me into Gryffindor, things might have ended up differently. Lily and I would have been in the same house. James, Remus, Sirius, and I would have all been in Gryffindor. Maybe they would have picked on someone else and not me.
"It explains why Fawkes' tears helped you heal," Hermione offers. "If you are a Gryffindor at heart."
I shake my head and can't contain the mad laughter that rises from deep within my soul. Gryffindor? Severus Snape, a Gryffindor?
"Severus?" Minerva leans in closer, her expression growing increasingly worried. "Severus?"
I stop laughing, and more tears, which have been trying to surface for so long, escape. "Being sorted into Gryffindor could have changed everything!"
Harry moves his chair closer to mine and I regret upsetting him. "I am not sure I can take more revelations," I confess and shake my head at him. "You should have let me die, you know. That would have been kinder." I realize I said the wrong thing the moment Harry pushes back the chair, gets to his feet, and glares down at me. "I am sorry," I whisper and decide I did enough damage. Using the Headmaster's privilege to disapparate whenever and wherever he wants, I leave. I want to put as much distance between us as possible. But I forgot about my weakened state and don't get that far. Of all possible places where I could have ended up, I end up at the Shrieking Shack. My blood still clings to the floor and window. I collapse against the wall, slide down to the floor, and stare at the spot where Nagini pounded on me. Harry had been outside and he must have heard what was happening. I am grateful he didn't have to witness the attack as well. I don't want those memories to haunt him.
You always had a touch for the dramatic, Severus.
I flinch at hearing her voice. Swirls of liquid silver tell me she is about to appear and I try to calm down, but to no avail. The doe appears right in front of me, thankfully blocking my view of the bloodied window. "Why didn't you let me die? Why keep me alive?"
For Harry's sake of course. You did a marvelous job keeping him safe. I saw no reason to deprive him of your company just yet, Sev.
I don't know how much of this is just my imagination playing tricks on me, but I don't care. "You should have let me die. I don't belong in his world – not anymore! I have nothing more to give!"
You couldn't be more wrong, Severus! The doe lies down and rests her head on my thigh, looking up – trustingly.
"How can you say that? How can you look at me like that? With such trust in your eyes when all I did was let you down."
Severus, we had no choice. The things that were destined to happen, happened. We didn't have any say in them.
"But I betrayed you! I am the reason you and James were killed!"
It breaks my heart hearing her say that, for it brings back memories – happy memories. She would always say that when I made her laugh or had comforted her in whatever way. "Don't call me that, please!"
Sev, you didn't kill me. You didn't kill James either. Voldemort did! You didn't even betray us! All you did was deliver part of the prophecy to Voldemort. You had no idea he would think it meant Harry. You should forgive yourself for something you are not to blame for.
I remember what she was like when she became angry. She was small for her age as a child, but she would start stamping her right foot whenever she was about to lecture me. That memory makes me smile in spite of everything. "You're not real though. You're dead; just a figment of my imagination, enhanced by the fact that I am still suffering from Nagini's venom."
Minerva and Harry suddenly storm into the shack. I don't expect them to see the doe, which is probably merely induced by my raving state. I still see her though, as she gets to her feet and pushes her nose against my cheek.
Take care of Harry, will you? He needs someone like you in his life.
"Mum?" Harry's face betrays every emotion he is going through as he looks at the doe.
Harry, listen to Severus, will you? And if necessary, kick his ass like I did.
Would I imagine something like that? It is true; Lily didn't mind kicking my ass when she thought it necessary.
"I will, mum." Harry's all smiles now, and that smile remains, even though the doe's form grows transparent and eventually fades completely.
"Severus, we need to get you back to your rooms. I am sure Poppy wants to check on you."
Minerva is trying to help me to my feet, but apparating cost me most of my strength. Suddenly, Harry's supporting me as well, curling an arm around me and supporting me the best way he can. We won't make it back to my study in this way though. "We need Hagrid," I admit grudgingly.
"I will fetch him!" Hermione offers as she enters the shack. "I will fetch him… It won't take long!"
I gasp softly; it is the first time Harry calls me that and I am not sure I like it.
"You tried to run away."
Ah yes, I had promised him to stay close, hadn't I? "Does this count? I didn't get far, did I?" I opt for sarcasm, hoping it will work. For one frightening moment, Harry remains quiet.
"I guess you're right. You didn't, but don't ever make me come back here again."
Harry shivers against me when his gaze fastens on the blood-covered window. "I am sorry; I overreacted."
"Yes, you did," Minerva interjects, "but understandably so."
I am grateful I have her support.
"But should you ever run away again…" Harry starts, causing me to stop breathing, "Then I shall kick your ass, just like mum said I should."
And then it suddenly hits me; he heard her voice too. But if he did then it really happened. Lily was really here and she saved my life. That realization is too much and to my eternal shame, I faint.
I wake up long enough to realize Hagrid is taking me back to my rooms. This time, I don't stop him when he lowers me onto the bed. I feel cold – terribly cold, and when Madam Pomfrey appears, urging me to swallow the potions she wants to administer, I obey. I drink it all. Hagrid finally lowers me back against the pillows and I blindly reach for the covers. I shouldn't have bothered though as someone is already tucking me in – me, Severus Snape, being tucked in! Lily would love it.
Lily… I know why she was here; not merely to remind me that I still have a part to play in Harry's life, but also to remind me to let go. But can I? Ever? Let go of my love for her? I will continue to watch over Harry, I promised her that and in doing so, my life has gained purpose once more. Albus once said that parenting didn't stop at a certain age. We had been discussing our students and their families back then. And now I realize what it really entails. I won't stop watching over Harry when he turns eighteen, or twenty-one, or whatever age. I will watch over him until the day I die…
"As you can see, most of the damage done during the attack has been repaired. The Great Hall is in perfect shape once more."
"Bricks and mortar, glass and window frames, those can be fixed." But we can't bring back the dead. Voldemort's short rise to power demanded a terrible toll.
"We need to concentrate on the living," Minerva is quick to remind me. "And the living wonder when you will finally join them in the Great Hall. The students need to see you, Severus, as does your staff."
I am not sure I can face them yet. The last time I stood in the Great Hall, I turned to flee, Minerva calling me a coward when I ran.
"They know the truth. Everyone does, especially since it's been in the Daily Prophet."
Ah yes, she had to remind me of that. The paper ran a cover story, digging out the most embarrassing pictures of me they could possibly find. "Knowing and believing are two different things entirely."
"You can't hide in here forever," Albus points out to me, knowing he's safe from my wrath inside his painting. "And that's exactly what you are doing."
I can't deny it. Ever since I moved back in, three weeks ago, I hardly ventured outside. "I am still recovering." And that's also true. It took me two weeks to shake off the effect of Nagini's poison, and in the meantime, I have become used to running Hogwarts from here. I can't think of a single reason why I should leave these rooms.
"You agreed to visit Hagrid tonight, didn't you? Harry has been asking you to do so for days."
"Yes, Albus, to that, I agreed." But only because Harry didn't give up asking me. His attempts to make me comply bordered on bullying me.
"You should take Fawkes along. He has been growing restless."
Albus is right; Fawkes doesn't like being cooped up, but then again, I am not stopping him from leaving these rooms. "Any sightings of Death Eaters? Or other undesirable elements?"
"Not at the moment." Minerva smiles. "You make a good Headmaster, Severus."
"I always knew he would," Albus comments. "But try telling him that!"
The way they team up against me is decidedly unfair, but it would be rude to remove Albus' painting from these rooms. My gaze comes to rest on the pensieve which still holds my memories. I can't explain why I haven't removed them yet. I should though— I really should.
"Headmaster, will you join us in the Great Hall for dinner tonight?"
Minerva doesn't give up, does she? Her expression tells me that she will continue to pester me until I accept.
"You will have to face them one day. Better get it over with!" Albus calls out before chuckling at me.
"Easy for you to say." The students had loved Albus Dumbledore. They had hung on to every word he said. I doubt they will treat me that way. The last time I addressed students and staff I practically threatened to kill them if they withheld any information regarding Harry Potter. I can't believe they will accept my presence after what happened in the past. "Not tonight," I decide. It is too soon.
Minerva sighs – very audibly I might add – and Albus shakes his head. I don't care though. Tonight, I will visit Hagrid as promised, and while doing so, I will do my best to avoid students *and* staff members.
"Fawkes seems happy that he's being able to spread his wings again." Harry points at the phoenix who keeps rising higher.
"He is not made to live inside a study." It's still beyond me why Fawkes chooses to stay with me. The setting sun projects hundreds of different shades of red and gold onto the clouds and I actually feel glad that I decided to accompany Harry on this visit. It's good to be out in the open again and to inhale fresh air.
Upon approaching Hagrid's hut, I realize the half giant isn't alone. I halt in my tracks and try to hone in on the voices.
"It's only Ron, Hermione, and Neville," says Harry, apparently eager to assure me.
I hadn't counted on the company, but reckon I will manage. Moving forward again, Fawkes changes direction and flies toward me. I have the feeling he will stay close.
"Hagrid, it's us!" Harry calls out when he knocks on the door.
"Ah, righ' on time yer are!" Hagrid opens the door and smiles. "Jus' brew meself a nice cup of tea! Harry, Headmaster, please come 'side!"
I do wish he would stop calling me that, but so far I have been unsuccessful. Fang is rather enthusiastic when greeting me and I find it hard to remain on my feet. Although I regained most of my strength, I am not fully healed yet.
"Fang, bad dog, stop doin' that!"
Thankfully Hagrid is quick to restrain the massive hound so I am spared having to ask for assistance.
"Professor, we saved you a seat and the tea is still hot!" Hermione seems pleased to see me.
I sit down and accept the hot tea. During this last week, I tried to return to my old ways- acting in the aloof and clipped manner I used to, but it is not working – not working at all. I no longer feel comfortable acting like that. I curl my fingers around the tea cup and enjoy the way it warms my cold hands. They always feel cold these days, ever since Nagini bit me. Suddenly a hand comes to rest on my arm and I look up in alarm, realizing I was lost in thought. I have no idea what they are discussing and look at Harry, as it's his hand resting on my arm. "I didn't quite catch that."
"Hagrid just told us he discovered a unicorn in the forbidden forest. Would you like to see it?"
"You are not to venture into the forbidden forest, Potter. It's dangerous." The need to look out for him, to keep him safe at all cost, causes old, engraved behavior to reappear. Harry gives me an odd look, but then smiles.
"I reckon we can fight off anyone who dares threaten us, don't you think? After all, we defeated Voldemort."
He's giving me a reality check and I am sorry to say I need it. "I saw an unicorn once, but back then, its throat was being ripped open and blood ran down its body." The conversation dies and I feel their eyes upon me.
"I saw a dead unicorn too," Harry remarks calmly. "So maybe it would be best if we watched an alive one this time?"
Harry doesn't think I saw, but I am not blind; the look he exchanged with Hermione spoke of shock.
"Let's get ter our feet then!" Hagrid announces cheerfully. "It's a full moon tonigh', so we'll have a perfect view."
I follow them out of the hut and look at the skies above us. Hagrid is right – there is a full moon out tonight. "Lupin would be running wild tonight – had he lived."
"Professor, are you all right?" Hermione's gaze darkens as she looks at me with concern.
I have been experiencing these dark moods for two weeks now, but so far I have been successful in hiding them. Now I am slipping. "Nothing to worry about," I announce, sounding as calm as I can manage.
"Fang, stay wit' the Headmaster, will yer?"
Looking at Hagrid, the concern is obvious. Out of all of us, he is the least used to hiding his feelings. "I will be fine." At that moment, Fawkes decides to join us and sweeps softly across our heads.
As we set off into the forbidden forest, I wonder if I should stop this. The last time Harry went there he happened upon Voldemort. But, looking at him now, I see no traces of apprehension on his face. I am grateful he feels in control, because I don't.
"Look, 'here he is… Ain't he breat'takin'? I neva saw one so big." Hagrid points at the unicorn which enters the clearing. "He ain't been here for lon'. I didn' notice him until a few days 'go!"
I envy Hagrid for his ability to enthuse over something as I seem to have lost it.
"It's amazing," Hermione whispers, careful not to scare the unicorn away.
"Terribly fierce an' proud creatures they are," Hagrid continues. "They symbolize purity and grace," he adds in his best teaching voice. "It's rumored only a virgin can catc' them. They're awfully picky about who they allow to touch them. So far I have nevar met one who let me pet him."
Maybe Hagrid will make a good teacher after all, as long as he doesn't present his favorite wild creatures to the students. Fawkes settles in one of the branches above my head and watches the unicorn with interest. I must admit, Hagrid's idea to visit the unicorn was a good one for I feel at peace watching it. I shudder at the memory of watching the Dark Lord slashing one's throat – like he slashed mine. Growing uneasy once more, I wish Hagrid would take us back, but the children are enjoying the experience and it would be unfair to deny them this merely because I can't deal with certain memories.
"It's moving, Hagrid! It's coming this way! Should we move?" Neville doesn't move yet, waiting for Hagrid to tell him what to do.
"Stand yer ground, boy. Yer can be sure he knows we're here, watchin' him. If he's headin' this way, he's doin' so fer a reason!"
Thoroughly mesmerized, I can't take my eyes off of the unicorn as it keeps heading our way. Hagrid is correct; the unicorn is perfectly aware of us being here and it's his choice to approach us.
"Hold yer breat' and don't make any quick movements!" Hagrid's eyes glitter at seeing the unicorn move toward us. "Wot a magnificent animal!"
The unicorn comes to a halt only a few feet away from us. I don't know why, but I incline my head toward him to show him my respect. His presence has a soothing effect on me and I am grateful for the momentarily reprise from the gloomy thoughts that seem to inhabit my mind these days.
"They seldom approach anyone." Hagrid's whispering right now. "Normally they shun contac'."
The unicorn starts moving again and seems to single me out. I stand my ground, although my first reaction is to move back in order to give him space. But then again, it's his choice to seek me out. The unicorn halts in front of me and I find he's taller than I thought. I have to crane my neck in order to look him in the eyes. The skin on my throat is still rather tender and reminds me of Voldemort cutting through my veins, letting the blood flow freely. I try to block the memory from my mind, but lately, I have been experiencing trouble doing so.
"Professor, he seems to like you," Neville says in an awed tone.
"Apparently. I always thought unicorns had better taste." The unicorn stamps loudly onto the forest ground and presses his nose against my chest. "Pushy fellow, aren't you?"
"I have nevar seen anythin' like this 'fore!" Hagrid says ardently.
Why must it be me? Why couldn't he have been interested in Harry? Or Hermione? Why me?
"I reckon he'll let yer pat him," Hagrid continues with a hint of over excitement in his voice.
"Why don't you go harass Hagrid instead? I am sure he would welcome it," I suggest to the unicorn, who continues to stare me in the eye. I grow aware of the fact that my companions are holding their breath and that the four of them are staring at me.
"Go 'head, try pattin' him," Hagrid whispers, nodding frantically.
Maybe an attempt to *pet* him, as Hagrid phrases it, will convince the unicorn to single out someone else instead. So I raise my arm and rest the palm of my hand against his neck. The unicorn remains motionless, but the staring match continues.
"That's amazin', Headmaster, it really is!"
I wish Hagrid would get a grip on his emotions. "Tell me, how do I get rid of him?"
"Get rid of a unicorn? Yer must be jokin'!"
Hagrid quickly dismisses my question, much to my annoyance. To my surprise, I find that I am actually enjoying stroking the warm skin beneath my fingertips. The unicorn suddenly pushes his head against my shoulder and in doing scraps along the tender scar on my throat. I step back, eye him suspiciously, but nothing else happens. Suddenly, he moves away, turns around, and breaks out into a run, moving out of sight eventually. A stinging sensation makes me reach for my throat, and I check on the scar, hoping the cut didn't accidently open.
Hagrid seems lost for words and I wonder why. The moment I touch my throat though, I understand. The skin is smooth once more. All traces of the wound, or the scar, have vanished.
"He mus' have really liked yer in order to do that. It's said they possess healin' powers, but yer probably already knew that." Hagrid smiles and nods repeatedly.
"Most… odd," I manage eventually, still trying to work out what exactly happened moments ago.
"Maybe it's best we went back," Harry says while walking up to me.
"You're probably right. It would be advisable to leave this forest before we happen upon another creature behaving oddly." I can't seem to focus though – the words coming from my mouth are meaningless, as I am still trying to understand what happened and foremost *why* it happened.
My rooms are – thankfully – empty when I enter. Fawkes quickly settles down and Albus seems asleep, though I am fairly certain he's merely pretending. But at the moment, I don't mind. I sit down on the chair closest to the fire and savor the warmth.
Hogwarts seems at peace. The students are asleep and staff members are keeping to themselves. I do care about Minerva and I feel flattered that she cares about me, but she can be rather pushy when she doesn't get what she wants.
The sorting hat is still on the table and my gaze settles on it. Gryffindor… Severus Snape… I still find it hard to accept that the hat would have put me in Gryffindor and not Slytherin had there been no interference. And who had interfered with the sorting to begin with?
I should get some sleep, but before I can even attempt doing so, I need to clear my mind and drink another sleeping potion. Maybe then I will be able to sleep for a few hours – that is if the nightmares leave me alone.
"No!" Feeling petrified, I try to lock out the sight of Nagini burying her fangs in my arm. I wake up covered in cold sweat and my heart's racing like mad. I quickly check my mental shields, which are nearly non-existent since the attack. Maybe that's the reason the nightmares intensify – because my shields are so frail.
"Severus? It was just a dream. Just a nightmare."
I am actually grateful to hear Albus' voice as it reminds me that I am not alone. "I hope I didn't wake anyone." Hopefully I didn't project my nightmare onto students or staff members. Normally I wouldn't worry about it, but now that my shields are no longer effective, I can't be sure I can keep them contained. The door opens, but I barely register the movement, which, a part of me realizes, isn't good. I should be alert; there could be an enemy close.
No enemy, just Minerva in a quickly donned morning robe. "Nothing. Nothing to concern you with."
"I beg to differ!" She resolutely makes her way over to me and eyes me critically. "You had a nightmare."
"So what if I did?" I place my feet upon the floor and shiver as a chill travels up my legs. I didn't use to feel cold all the time. "Everyone has the occasional nightmare." To my astonishment, she actually sits down next to me.
"I know what it was about. I kept my mind open, since you have been struggling with nightmares these last few weeks."
I am careful not to look at her, as I don't want her to see the shock on my face. She had kept her mind open? Why would she do that? "As I said, it is nothing to worry about."
"Severus, you are no longer a double agent. The war is over. You can allow yourself to trust people. You can confide in me. I am a good listener, if only you would give me a chance."
There was a reason why I couldn't attack her that day when she challenged me. How could I possibly hurt her? "You are a good friend. Though that doesn't mean much as I don't have that many friends to begin with."
"Rubbish!" she states firmly. "And you won't chase me away by saying that."
"What do you want me to say, Minerva?" I rest my back against the cold wall behind the bed. Cold- always cold.
"I want you to confide in me, Severus, I have known you since you entered Hogwarts as a young boy. I put that sorting hat on your head."
"The sorting hat…" I can't help sounding bitter. "Much good it did me!"
"You have every right to be angry. You have been lied to, manipulated, and deceived for years. I can only hope you will give our friendship a sporting chance."
I close my eyes and care not if she sees my despair. I am too tired to hide it. "I should be dead, Minerva. Everyone else is. Lily, James, Remus, Albus, Tonks, Madeye… The list is too long; why should I be the one to survive?"
"Because someone wants you to live," Albus comments from inside the painting. "Have you forgotten about Lily?"
"Never!" I hiss at him. "How could I ever forget her? I caused her death!"
"This won't be easy, Minerva. Severus here is determined to feel guilty."
I glare at Albus, but he maintains eye contact, not awarding me any victory over him. "I am guilty, Albus, and you know it."
Minerva sighs deeply and shakes her head at me. "Albus is right. You need to let go of this guilt or it will devour you."
"How can I? How can I when they're all dead?"
"Harry survived. He survived because of you," Albus is quick to point out.
"Not because of me! He saved himself!"
"I believe we need to fetch Harry, Minerva. Severus really needs that kick in the ass."
I stare at his painting in disbelief and point a finger at him. I can't believe Albus actually said that! "Don't you dare wake him and burden him with my problems!"
"You care so much about the ones close to you. You love Harry. You care deeply about Minerva and I understand that you're still upset with me for scheming. You care about anyone else except yourself."
Albus is probably right, but I have no intention of voicing that.
"I made mistakes too," Albus says in a voice filled with sorrow. "I should never have asked you to spy on Voldemort. I pushed you over the edge, and throughout the years, you slipped deeper and deeper into that dark abyss."
"What are you talking about?" Albus has lost me. I have no idea what he's trying to tell me.
"We will discuss this another time. For now, I think you should rest."
"And scream Minerva awake again because I can't fortify my shields properly?" I don't want to be a burden - I used to be able to take care of myself.
"I have a proposition for you," Minerva starts, "I will watch over your dreams tonight. I will stop any nightmares from forming."
It is a tempting offer, I must admit. "Only for tonight though. I will work on my shields tomorrow." She nods at once, and for some reason I feel like she set me up.
"Lie down, Severus, and clear your mind to the best of your ability. And then, allow yourself to fall asleep. And don't worry, I will stay close tonight."
"Only tonight though!" She needs her sleep as much as I need mine. I lie down, cover myself with blankets, and wish I would finally feel warm again the way I used to.
"Close your eyes, Severus, relax. Empty your mind and trust me to look after you tonight."
She is using that particular voice again; it caused me to fall into a trance in the past, and I allow her to soothe me back into sleep again.
"We need to do something about this, Albus. He can't continue like that."
That's Minerva's voice, but I am sleepy and can't put up a fight for much longer.
"He needs time, Minerva. He needs time."
When I wake up the next morning, I am alone. Minerva has left, and Albus remains uncanny quiet. I can't shake the feeling that he's scheming again, and that this time, his scheming revolves about me and not Harry. I feel more rested than I did in weeks. Maybe it was the unicorn's touch, maybe Minerva's assurance to watch over me, or maybe both things combined. Usually breakfast awaits me, prepared by house elves, but this morning, the table remains empty. Cocking my head, I eye Albus' painting closely. "What are you doing?"
"Me? Nothing, I just woke up and what a splendid day it is! Just look at that sun! It's a day one should spend outside! Pity I can't – not anymore."
I know what he's doing and am determined not to fall for it. "You made me curse you! It was your decision, never mine." I had never wanted to kill Albus to begin with.
"Severus, you know my time was limited. The curse would have destroyed me at any rate."
My eyes narrow suspiciously. "Even after all this time I find it hard to believe that you didn't know about that curse." I always suspected him to have put on the ring on purpose.
"Does it matter if I did? We cannot go back and change what happened! Don't give me that look, Severus! You are not using the time-turner!"
Like Albus would let me! It has crossed my mind though to go back in time. Looking at the still empty table, I wonder why the house-elves aren't at work.
"If you are hungry, I suggest you join the students and your staff in the Great Hall. Breakfast is being served as we speak."
Albus is scheming; I knew it.
"Severus, they need to see you! You must sense it too. You're Headmaster. Their need reaches you like it reached me."
It was my biggest surprise, finding out about the connection between Hogwarts and its Headmaster. Albus is right; I sense the students' needs, and yes, they want me to join them, as does my staff. MY staff… Albus did set me up. "I can't postpone this much longer," I admit. Hogwarts is alive and its magic calls to me.
"Brave man! Brave man…" Albus murmurs, and several other paintings rouse from their silence as well, joining in with, "Hear, hear!"
Brave man – how ridiculous! Stupid is more like it.
"Severus, it is good to see you out here!"
I had to run into Horace of course. "Looks like most of the damage has been repaired." I want to steer our conversation away from anything personal. I do my best to keep my head held high and to ignore any eyes stinging my back. The students are watching me closely, but so far I haven't found the courage to meet their eyes.
"Minerva has done a jolly good job, don't you think?" Horace says, sounding mighty pleased. "And the students have helped too. Neville in particular. My, has that boy shown courage and strength!"
"Yes, he has." I will be eternally grateful that he killed Nagini. I fall into step with Horace as he heads for the Great Hall. In a way I am relieved that I have company. Entering the hall on my own would have been worse. I change my mind the moment we turn to enter the hall. Most of the students which remained after the battle, are already seated at their tables and most of the staff is also already present. I haven't set foot in here since fleeing Hogwarts that day. A look at the window tells me that it has been repaired; I smashed it during my escape.
The students, who are talking amongst themselves, grow quiet the moment I appear in the doorway. My first impulse is to turn about and flee once more, but that will only complicate matters. Even though I dislike being Headmaster, I can't change it. For the moment, I am stuck with that position. Minerva looks at me and a smile forms on her face. She raises her arms in greeting and beckons me closer.
I try my hardest to lock out the memories of her calling me a coward when I take that first step into the Hall. Horace is no longer next to me, and remains standing near the doorway, forcing me to make my way to the staff's table on my own after all. Carefully placing one foot in front of the other, I keep my gaze fixed on Minerva. Her inviting smile reassures me that at least one person wants me here. My footfalls echo through the hall and I wish they would start talking again. This silence is equally painful as Minerva calling me a coward.
Suddenly someone starts applauding and quickly more students join in. One by one, the students get to their feet, turn toward me and continue applauding me. What has gotten into them? The Great Hall's ceiling changes from midnight blue to golden and even the glass-stained windows seem to grow brighter. I am halfway down the corridor when Fawkes appears out of nowhere. He settles down on the back of the Headmaster's chair and eyes me as well. All the while, the absurd applauding continues, and Harry, who sits up front, smiles at me – obviously happy that I finally made my appearance. I head for my chair, but don't feel as confident as I may look. To me, this chair still belongs to Albus, not me.
"Headmaster, it is good to finally have you here with us. As you can tell, you're most welcome!"
The moment Minerva starts speaking, the applauding stops. Hopefully they don't expect me to say something. I am not sure I can manage as my emotions are getting the better of me. I never expected a welcome like this. I draw in a deep breath, hoping it will calm me down, and turn around to finally face my students. The hatred, which I expected to see in their eyes, isn't there. Instead most of them are smiling. Some actually look proud and a number seem to be struggling with their emotions, on the brink of shedding tears.
Fawkes screeches his pleasure and taps its beak against the solid wood of the chair, almost as if urging me to sit down, which is a good idea as I do feel a bit weak in the knees. Gripping the arm rests, I sit down with as much dignity as I can muster. Thankfully the students follow my example, start talking and eating again.
"We are glad you decided to join us," Minerva says. A quick look at the other professors tells me she is right. Filius Flitwick nods repeatedly at me, Pomona Sprout and Sybille Trelawny seem equally relieved to finally see me take my place. And Madam Pomfrey, Poppy, shifts restlessly on her chair, throwing me smiles as well. I had thought my entrance would cause a stir, maybe even an uproar, but everyone seems happy I am here. I only wish Charity Burbage could have been here as well. Being forced to watch her die, killed off by Nagini, was a terrible sight and I still blame myself for being unable to help her. Her pleas will haunt me till the day I die.
"Try to eat, will you?"
Minerva means well, but the memory of Nagini devouring Charity causes me to grow nauseous. "Later," I tell her. "I promise," I add, seeing she is about to object. She inclines her head toward me and I feel grateful that she grows quiet. From the corner of my eye, I watch Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville eat their breakfast. The fact that Lily's son finally defeated Voldemort made it all worthwhile.
Harry's call reaches me just when I am about to retreat from the Hall. I halt and wait for him to catch up with me. "Yes, Potter?" I smile at him though, wanting him to realize that all is well between us.
Harry nods and continues to grin. "Everyone's happy you finally showed up, Headmaster."
I still need to get used to being called that, as I never wanted that post in the first place. "Is there anything you want to ask me, mister Potter?" I say, adopting the mocking tone of old, which causes Harry to grin broader.
"Hagrid and I want to search for the unicorn tonight and we wondered if you want to come along. After all, it seemed to favor you. With you there, he might show himself again."
Ah, yes, the unicorn. Pushy fellow, but he did heal my throat. The ache which normally burns my skin is gone. "Maybe… We will see." A part of me wants to find out why that unicorn healed me. Another part says I had better not question my luck.
"We would really like for you to come. I also want to ask Hermione, Ron and Neville to join us, if you don't mind."
"I don't." Why should I?
"Headmaster, a word with you, please?"
Horace's appearance causes Harry to return to the Hall. I turn and look at Horace Slughorn. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if you would give me a hand later today. Neville Longbottom really messed up the last time he attended Potions and it would be good to have a second teacher around in case things go wrong again."
Horace never was a good liar. It's a ploy to make sure I don't return to my rooms to brood and spend more time with staff and students instead. "Perhaps," I tell him, giving him the same answer I gave him Harry. "We'll see."
"Jolly good! I will be seeing you in the dungeon then!" Whistling happily, Horace toddles off.
They're not very subtle, are they?
That evening, I feel rather content upon returning to my rooms. I decided to help out Slughorn after all, and although it was evident that Neville wasn't as clumsy as Horace made him out to be, I enjoyed keeping an eye on him. Today has been a good day - so far. But Harry still expects me to join him in his quest for the unicorn. The magic that lives inside Hogwarts' walls tells me that the young man's waiting for me upstairs. Harry could come down and get me, but I reckon he wants me to join him out of my own accord.
I look about these rooms, which once belonged to Albus, and I didn't think it possible, but I really feel at home here. Partly due to the fact that I spent a large amount of time here when Albus was still alive, and knowing he is still present, even though merely inside his painting, does comfort me.
"Get going! You're keeping them waiting."
"I was about to leave, Albus!"
"I know that. Now stop wasting time."
My heart feels lighter when ascending to the corridor and I am actually looking forward to spending another evening in the open.
This time, we spend more time sitting in Hagrid's hut, enjoying a hot cup of tea, which, for the moment, chases away the chilly numbness in my hands. Fang, that drooling monster of a hound, rested his head on my feet and seems blissfully lost in sleep. I envy him for his undisturbed rest.
"Hagrid, do you think we will see the unicorn again?" Hermione asks in an excited tone.
"Considerin' our Headmaster is accompanyin' us, I think we have a fair chance of spottin' him!" Hagrid rubs his hands gleefully. "I must say, Headmaster, that unicorn must really like yer to remove that scar."
It is most odd to be without discomfort, that is true. My throat felt tender ever since having it slashed. "Probably just a coincidence." I still can't think of a reason why it healed my throat.
"Maybe he thought you deserved it?" An uncertain expression appears on Neville's face. "Considering the things you have been through, sir?"
I consider his words, but I don't agree with him. I deserve all the pain I suffered in the past, but I am careful not to voice that. I doubt they understand and agree. "Perhaps." I ignore the concerned look Harry gives me; he probably guessed what I was thinking.
"Shall we look for him then?" Hermione suggests eagerly. "Maybe he will allow us to pat him this time around."
"I wouldn' coun' on it," Hagrid says in a tone that makes it clear he hates disappointing her. "As I said, they're 'wfully picky."
Now that Hagrid's stirring, Fang wakes up, and gets to his feet. I gather my robes around me and follow them outside, keeping my wand close, just in case.
I wouldn't mind not encountering the unicorn tonight. The night is beautiful in itself. For so many years I was forced to hide my true self and now I am finally allowed to just be me. I almost forgot what that feels like. Reaching the pond, I sit down on one of the rocks and watch Hagrid and the youngsters move about. Hagrid is eager to show them all kind of odd creatures lurking in the dark and they seem to enjoy themselves. Harry waves at me, gesturing for me to join them, but I am content to merely sit by myself.
The pond's dark water reflects the silver beams of the moon and casts my reflection back at me. It has been years since I really looked at myself. Always hiding, always plotting, always trying to outwit the Dark Lord. I reckon I never got the chance to find about the real me.
I hold my breath at seeing a shape appear behind me. It's white, almost silver due to the moonlight, and at first I think the doe has returned. But it's not her; it's the unicorn. He's back and staring at my reflection. It might be best to remain where I am and to move as little as possible, as I don't want to startle him or cause him to roar and strike at me.
His heavy head comes to rest on my shoulder and his warm breath travels through the fabric of my robes. "Hermione would love to pat you… And Hagrid, you would do him a great favor by seeking him out instead of me." The unicorn rubs his head against my shoulder, almost as if telling me he doesn't concur. "Why me though?" He doesn't answer, of course, but remains in place and keeps looking at my reflection in the water. I wonder what he sees. Does he see the same person I do?
"Oh my, look at that!"
Hagrid finally realized that the unicorn has returned and is quick to point that out to the rest.
"Do you see what you did?" I chide the creature. "Now they are staring at me." But the unicorn remains unfazed. At the same time, he keeps breathing onto my arm – onto the mark the Dark Lord left which still mars my skin after all that time. Maybe not as clearly as in the past, but even faded, I know it is still there. Suddenly, the unicorn raises his head, steps away from me, and moves away from the pond. I feel strangely bereaved of his presence once he is gone.
The four of them walk up to me. Hagrid's a tad envious; I can tell because of the look of longing he sends after the unicorn. Hermione's all smiles, which surprises me, considering she didn't get close to the unicorn. No one speaks; as if afraid to break the enchantment that seems to cling to the site. I draw in a deep breath and relish feeling at peace. If only the sensation would last!
The unease returns the moment I enter my rooms and I am at a loss to why that it is. I feel safe here; hearing Albus hum softly from the painting has a calming effect on me, but I remain restless.
"You do realize what's happening, Severus?"
I walk over to Albus' painting. "No, I don't, but I am sure you will enlighten me."
"It's rather obvious, don't you agree? You're not used to feeling safe. You don't know how to enjoy the peace and quiet. You lived on the edge for so long that you have no idea how to adjust to more peaceful times."
I hate admitting it, but he's probably right. I do not know how to relax; how to sit back and enjoy the silence. In the past, I always had to be on the alert. A minor mistake cost me dearly at times.
"What are you going to do about that, Severus? Though I must admit that befriending a unicorn is a great first step."
How does Albus know about that blasted unicorn? I cock my head and try to read his expression, but the fact that he is merely alive inside the painting and no longer in real life makes that impossible. "The creature sought me out. I had nothing to do with it."
"He felt drawn to you."
"Why would he?" I frown, as Albus' words make little sense.
"For an intelligent and cunning man you can be rather blind, I am afraid."
I am about to pressure Albus into revealing more, when there's a knock on the door. I expected myself to grow irritated at yet another intrusion, but to my surprise I welcome the distraction. "Enter," I call out, but before the door actually opens Hogwarts itself whispers the name of my visitor into my mind. Minerva. I still need to get used to this extraordinary connection.
"Severus! I thought you might like some company during the evening." Hovering in the air behind her is a tray with food and drinks. "Am I right to assume you didn't have dinner yet? We missed you in the Great Hall."
"I was distracted. I went into the Forbidden Forest with Harry and his friends, and Hagrid, of course," I add, at seeing her frown. "I can assure you that no one was in danger tonight."
"Our Severus here acquired himself a new guardian," Albus hints in a rather smug way.
"You do realize, I can turn your painting around so you will be staring at the wall instead?" I threaten him.
"You wouldn't do that to me, my dear Severus. After all, I am dead! Pity me instead!"
I draw in a deep breath and wonder if Albus will ever stop reminding me that I killed him. "You demanded I kill you, remember?" Minerva coughs softly in order to gain my attention and I give her an apologetic look. "I am sorry, but Albus loves reminding me of that particular moment."
"I would have failed," Minerva says, sounding melancholy. "I wouldn't have been able to carry out his request."
"It wasn't easy on me either," I sneer at her.
"I didn't mean it like that, Severus. It took courage and loyalty to do as Albus requested."
Her remark stuns me, as I hadn't expected it. "Albus was going to die within the year at any rate after putting on that damn ring. I wouldn't have complied otherwise."
"You would have, Severus. You knew how much depended on you killing me."
"Don't count on it." I feel chilly again and tremors travel up my spine. I head for the fireplace, sit down in front of it, and soak up as much heat as I can. Discussing my part in Albus' death disturbs me.
"Have some tea, Severus. It might help."
Minerva seats herself next to me and offers me a cup of the hot brew. I accept, mostly because I don't want to start another row. Once my fingers close around the cup, I am glad I accepted for it does help me warm up.
"Now tell me, did you have dinner yet?"
Resigning myself to her presence and oddly mothering way, I nod. "I had some soup earlier."
"That's hardly enough to sustain you."
The tray floats toward me and settles on my lap. "Not now, Minerva."
"When then, Severus?"
As I reckon she won't leave until I ate something, I force down some potato slices and a bit of the meat on the plate. Then I move the tray away from me and continue staring into the fireplace.
"I will let it go, this time, but next time I expect you to eat a full meal, Severus."
"You don't need to mother me, Minerva! I can take care of myself."
"Can you, Severus?"
"What do you want?" I glare at her, knowing she doesn't deserve my wrath, but she is at the receiving end nonetheless, simply because she's close.
"I want you to start talking, Severus. You can't keep your feelings locked away forever. You have been doing so for nearly two decades. Don't you think it's time you offered your emotions a way out? Don't you think you deserve some peace of mind as well? I can't begin to think of the horrors you must have seen during these last eighteen years."
I know she means well, but talking about it will only worsen these gloomy feelings; I am sure of that. "Don't worry about me, Minerva. I will survive. I always do, don't I? Even when I am determined to die." I hadn't intended to let that slip and regret addressing Minerva in the first place.
"Don't you think you paid that price in full, Severus? Voldemort slit your throat open. Nagini pounded on you, bit you, and spat her venom into your veins."
Did she have to phrase it like that? Her words bring everything back; everything I tried to lock out for these past few weeks. "Stop it!" But it's only whispering I am capable of - nothing more.
"Severus, I am your friend."
Minerva places her hand onto my arm and gently squeezes. I feel too emotional to address her and continue to stare at the flames instead.
I shake my head. "You don't need to burden yourself in that way."
"Severus, you couldn't attack me because you cared. You didn't strike at me that evening because you didn't want to hurt me. Voldemort tortured you because of that 'failure'. Why won't you allow me to show you that I care for you in turn? You're allowed to look after me, make sure I am safe, but I can't do the same for you?"
The shivers racking my body grow worse and because her hand still rests on my arm, she feels it too. I feel embarrassed, ashamed even that she sees me in this state. "Don't push it!" I warn her, because the truth is that I am afraid my memories will get the better of me and I don't know if I will be able to lock the horrors away again. I can't talk about those memories, can't let them roam free!
Minerva remains quiet, but she does take to stroking my arm through the fabric of my sleeve. That touch nearly undoes me. "Stop doing that…"
"It needs to be done, Severus. You must trust someone. You must allow someone to help you carry that burden. I know you will never confide in Harry; he's much too young to truly understand what happened during all those years, but you might try trusting me. I am stronger than I look. I can take everything you throw at me."
"I know you're strong, Minerva. I merely do not want to trouble you with my past."
"You won't trouble me, Severus. You would be trusting me instead and I would consider that an honor."
She continues to stroke my arm, and it's the gesture, not so much as the words, that makes me give in. "There's not much to tell, Minerva."
"What haunts you the most, Severus?"
She knows she has won, but doesn't move away – she maintains the physical contact, maybe even realizing it is the very reason I gave in. "The most? Finding Lily dead."
"Even after all those years!" Albus whispers from inside the painting.
"I can deal with the physical pain the Dark Lord dealt me, but I will never forget finding Lily dead that night. I will never forget. I can't."
"Severus, don't you think Lily has forgiven you for what happened back then? She wouldn't have saved your life if she still blamed you for her death."
I shake my head. "I caused two deaths that night. I am also the reason James Potter died." I disliked him with a vengeance, but it was never my intention to get him killed. I can tell Minerva's studying me because I feel her gaze upon me. I sigh, raise my head, and force myself to look at her.
"She told you to let go, didn't she? Severus, you have to let go. Not of your love for her, you should keep her in your heart, but you need to get go of your guilt. You didn't betray her. You tried to save them instead. No, listen to me!"
I want to protest, but her tone leaves no room for argument and so I remain quiet.
"Severus, you need to accept that Lily forgave you for whatever crime you think yourself guilty of. Why do you think she was able to do that? Because she knows you're not to blame! You didn't kill Lily. You didn't kill James and you spent half your life looking after their son."
I swallow hard and start to shake my head. She's wrong! So very wrong!
"She's right, you know."
My head jerks back at hearing Harry's voice unexpectedly. "I never meant for you to hear that," I whisper, feeling distraught that Harry had to listen to that. How much did he hear? How long has he been standing there without me noticing him?
"I am glad I did!" Harry moves closer and continues to eye me closely. I don't like the look on his face though. "Professor McGonagall is right. You didn't kill my parents. You saved my life instead." Harry frowns and moistens his lips. "Severus Snape, you are not to blame for what happened back then. You didn't kill my mother. You loved her. She isn't here to tell you this, so I will do it instead. You do need to let go. Stop feeling so damn guilty! You're not to blame. Do you understand?" Harry's voice grows louder as he continues to speak. "You didn't kill my parents. You didn't kill my mother. You didn't kill Lily."
Lily, you can be proud of your son! He doesn't give up easily! I avert my gaze and return to staring into the fire again. If only I could believe it; Harry telling me that I carry no guilt, makes no difference. Lily telling me I am not to blame makes no difference. In my heart I know I am guilty.
"Look at me," Harry demands, as he lowers himself onto the floor and sits down, cross-legged.
Now that he's that close, it is hard for me *not* to look at him. Harry manages a smile and nods.
"My mother's patronus became yours. That should have told you that she didn't blame you even back then. She saved your life, didn't she? You kept me safe all those years, didn't you?"
He waits for me to nod, and hesitantly I do so. I still don't agree though.
"I remember Hermione setting fire to your robes because she thought you were making my broom act crazy. Imagine my surprise when Quirrell told me you had been muttering counter spells!"
I remain quiet, as I do recall that day. I had been worried I had been careless. I knew Quirrell was a problem, but I hadn't thought he would try to kill Harry. Harry makes himself more comfortable by resting his back against the wall. It looks like he's planning on staying then.
"Do you care for some tea, Harry?" Minerva asks in a cheerful voice.
"I'd love some!"
Looks like they are both determined to keep me company then, and being honest with myself, I must admit I am glad they are here. I used to do well being on my own, but these days, I crave company instead.
"You don't need to stay," I tell Minerva, though in secret, I hope she will. Last night, my sleep remained undisturbed and I know Minerva's presence helped. I tried strengthening my shields today, but found them badly punctured and it will take much longer than a day to bring them up to their former strength.
"I think I will stay a little longer," Minerva says, nursing a cup of freshly made tea. "But I don't mind you getting some sleep, Severus."
"Thank you." I genuinely appreciate her offer. Not bothering to remove my robes, I head for bed, lie down, and roll myself into the blankets. My eyes close and I am asleep within seconds.
During the night, nightmares sneak up on me several times, but Minerva's soothing presence stops them from actually manifesting. Even in my sleep, I am aware of what she's doing and I feel deeply indebted to her. I must work on getting my shields back to normal strength though.
When I wake up the next morning, I am alone again. It's very thoughtful of Minerva to give me some privacy after spending most of the night guarding my sleep. She must have seen several memories, several nightmarish images haunting my mind during the night. I am not hungry and feel rather uncomfortable having slept in my robes last night. Maybe a bath is in order then and a new set of robes. I head for the bathroom, remove my clothes, and turn on the taps. After making sure the water is hot enough, I slide into it and relax. I close my eyes and enjoy the comfortable warmth that surrounds me. The fact that I am actually able to do so surprises me. Memories regarding the conversation I had with Harry earlier return to me and the fact that he made such an effort to convince me that I should stop feeling guilty makes me wonder. How can he be so absolutely sure that I am not to blame?
The soothing warmth of the steamy water makes me close my eyes and I doze for a few minutes. A comfortable lazy feeling seeps into my bones and I am actually smiling when I open my eyes again. I reach for a towel, rise from the water, and dry my skin. I do my best *not* to look at the mark on my arm. When I became a Death Eater I thought it would make me stronger. After being bullied for years, I thought I would finally be able to tell them off. But instead, the Dark Lord tried to claim my soul. Hadn't it been for Voldemort targeting Lily, I might have supported him all the way. Instead, I turned traitor.
I remember the way it hurt whenever the Dark Lord summoned me to his side. I can't recall the number of times I wished I never became a Death Eater. I should have stayed clear of Voldemort in the first place. Involuntarily I look at my arm and prepare for the ugly memories to manifest more solidly, when I realize… I blink; no, it's not possible! I run my fingers across surprisingly smooth skin, encountering no mark! No mark! It's gone! How can that be?
Drawing in a series of deep breaths I force myself to grow calm again and examine this situation logically. The mark can't have disappeared, but examining the skin more closely tells me that it has vanished after all. It is gone – completely. And then it hits me… The unicorn… When he rested his head on my shoulder, his breath traveled down my arm. I need to sit down for this is too much to take in. The unicorn already healed my throat – why would he now also restore my arm? Why?
I decide against having breakfast, mostly because I can't sit there quietly, eating, when my mind is in such turmoil. I know I should act – should get my emotions under control, but I can't seem to manage even that. I feel completely adrift. In the end I join Horace in the dungeons, assisting him during class, simply because I feel at home there and teaching distracts me.
I watch the students prepare their potions accordingly to Horace's instructions. Neville's potion looks perfectly fine and there is no reason for me to keep an eye on him. Someone else's keeping an eye on me though and I am not surprised to find Harry studying me closely.
"Are you fine?"
Harry whispers the question, but I still hear it, and nod. "Merely distracted." No need to worry him.
"We're heading into the Forbidden Forest again tonight. Are you joining us?" Harry seems to notice my hesitance and quickly adds, "Maybe a dangerous creature will turn up and then we need you to defend us."
He doesn't play fair, does he? I am sure Harry is perfectly able to defend himself, and so are Hagrid and Harry's friends. Harry merely added that part in order to bait me. It vexes me that I would rather join them than lecture Harry on luring me into accompanying them in that way. The only thing that's keeping me back from accepting the invitation is the fact that the unicorn might seek me out again. I dread to think of any future plans the damn creature might have for me.
I *did* notice Harry's tendency to call me by my name lately. In the past, he always called me 'sir' or 'professor' but these days he's more at ease calling me Severus instead. It's still odd to hear him call me that though. "I will be there." Why did I say that? I hadn't planned on agreeing! Harry however just grins and nods, obviously looking forward to roaming free in the Forbidden Forest once more.
But before I can head for Hagrid's hut I need to dine in the Great Hall amongst staff and students. Minerva repeatedly requested my presence and after helping me sleep through the night, I should do something for her in turn. Still, making my way toward the head table causes me to feel nervous. Actually sitting down in Albus' former chair still feels wrong. I would prefer to see him take his rightful place again in this Hall. But I must be realistic and accept the fact that Albus is dead. Only a fragment of his mind lives in the painting – magically conserved. It reminds me that we're all mortal. Even though wizards and witches usually enjoy longer lifetimes than Muggles it doesn't mean we're immortal. In the end, we must die.
"You shouldn't harbor such dark thoughts, my friend."
I had forgotten about Minerva. Seated to my right, she eyes me critically. "Not to worry. Merely reflecting that we're all equal in one way – we must die. All of us." Even Voldemort had lost the battle for immortality.
"Most of us live on in the hearts of the ones who loved them in life, and Severus, you will never be forgotten."
Her words cause me to smile saddened. "I deserve to be forgotten— my name laid to rest in a book that never should be opened again." Minerva shakes her head at me, clearly disagreeing. A melancholy mood takes me and I observe the students, who are chatting cheerfully. They're enjoying each other's company and it's good to see them rebound somewhat from the nightmare they went through recently. Even my staff members smile these days, though the ones, who died battling the Dark Lord will never be forgotten. Hogwarts will always remember them – cherish their sacrifice. Even if I had died, I wouldn't have expected to see my name among the others.
"I will wait for you in your rooms when you return from visiting the forest. I don't think you should be alone tonight. You are in an odd mood."
It is the same mood I have been in for weeks and it does seem to grow worse. It would be sensible to accept Minerva's offer and so I nod, knowing I can't do this on my own – not again.
Headmaster… Intruders… Danger…
I instantly grow alert; it's Hogwarts itself that is reaching out to me. Where? What can you tell me?
At the edge of the forest, Headmaster. They try to breach the wards. They want to enter the forest.
Not giving it a second thought, I disapparate, allowing the magic that is Hogwarts to take me to the intruders. The last thing I hear is Minerva, calling out my name in shock.
I find myself at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. I checked these wards only a few days ago, and back then the spells were in place and working. They still are, but I can tell that someone tried to breach them. Something tried to puncture the barrier so they could enter. Softly, I chant spells which will hopefully tell me more about the enemy. It is odd, but it's the first time I have felt alive for weeks. Maybe I have so grown used to fighting that I don't know how to live my life without battling evil.
Death Eaters and some evil I can't identify, I share my thoughts with the magic that swirls all around me. It's rooted in the earth – alive in the sky and always present inside Hogwarts' walls. They tried to remove the wards. But what do they want? The Dark Lord is gone; their leader has been destroyed. Why come back to where it all ended? Revenge – this must be about revenge. They want to make Harry pay for what he did. I must be careful – so terribly careful, for if they find a way into Hogwarts, Harry won't be safe anymore. I get started on fortifying the wards. I seal them with my personal signature, which has become so much more powerful after I fully accepted my position at Hogwarts. Stay alert though and alert me the moment you sense them approach again.
Always, Headmaster. I am always alert.
Now that I made certain that no evil entered Hogwarts, I allow myself to relax slightly. I walk into the Forbidden Forest, reaching out with the tendrils of my mind to make sure everything and everyone is at peace, and while doing so, I encounter the unicorn's mind. He seems to have noticed me searching the forest, but doesn't allow my search to distract him.
All is well, Headmaster.
At the moment! And it's my task to make sure it remains that way. Harry won't like it, but I can't let them roam the Forbidden Forest while knowing Death Eaters are trying to sneak into Hogwarts. I don't look forward to telling them that their little evening trips have been cancelled.
Minerva, Harry, and Neville crowd me the moment I return to the Great Hall. Most of the students left, but I reckon these three were waiting for me.
"You disapparated all of a sudden. Is something amiss?" Minerva seems to realize that there must be a problem for me to vanish like that.
"Nothing to concern you with, but," And I turn to Harry, *not* looking forward to having to tell him, "you can't go into the Forbidden Forest for the time being."
"Why?" Harry frowns and I notice him exchanging worried looks with Minerva.
"Because Death Eaters tried to breach the protective wards which I placed around Hogwarts. I felt them trying to enter the forest." I count on Harry being sensible enough to listen to my warning, for if he doesn't, he will force my hand. "Stay inside these walls for now, Harry." I want him to promise me that he will do so, but I am not sure he will comply.
"I understand," Harry says, much to my relief. "I'll tell Hagrid that we won't be visiting the forest anymore." He must have seen the relief on my face as he offers me a smile. "I know you have our best interest at heart, professor. I am not so foolish as to seek out danger these days."
I could have sworn he wasn't finished yet, but he grows silent nonetheless. "What are you not saying, Potter?" I need to know, or else it will drive me mad. Harry moistens his lips, briefly averts his gaze, but then seeks out my eyes again.
"You will come after me in order to save me and I don't want you to expose yourself to such danger – not again. You nearly died once! I don't want you going through something like that ever again."
His reply causes my throat to choke up with emotion. "It is the least I could do in order to make up for past mistakes-"
"No, you're wrong! I want you to take care of yourself. I want you to live!"
Minerva and Neville turn away and head for the corridor, giving us some privacy, which I definitely need if I want to carry on this conversation. "We have been through this before, Potter!"
"My name's Harry! You always do that – distance yourself – when you face a difficult situation."
"But you won't let me get away with it," I realize stunned.
"You're damn right about that! I told you before – I need you alive. You're the closest thing I have to a relative!"
Hearing that causes my emotions to roar again. "Harry, I am not—"
"But you are!" He glares at me, daring me to challenge him again. "Severus Snape, don't you dare run away again."
I actually can't hold his gaze and look at the floor instead. "You must understand. I never thought our situation would change like that. I never thought you would…"
"Care? Damn it, professor, you need to accept that things *have* changed!"
Maybe I do, but it takes time, and I don't think I am ready yet for that.
"Are you sure you didn't misunderstand? He invited us as well?"
I listen to Ron, while the four of them make their way down to my office. I am surprised to hear they wouldn't expect me to invite them to tea. It's the least I can do in order to make up for our ruined trip. Instead of heading into the Forbidden Forest, they're heading for my office. I am not sure Neville has ever been here before, but I know Ron and Hermione have as they used the pensieve to see my memories.
"Stop it, Ron, I am sure!"
Harry's firm response causes me to smile. "Albus, I hope you're ready for company."
"I have been looking forward to it the whole evening, Severus."
"Remember though not to mention the threat to them." I discussed my findings with Albus earlier and the former Headmaster agreed that the attempt to enter is reason enough to worry about our safety. The thing that vexes me is that I can't identify the unknown source of evil that lingers near the edge of the forest. I easily identified the Death Eaters' presence, but their companions' identity remains a mystery to me. I will find out though – I must know what threatens Hogwarts.
The door opens and Harry is the first to enter. I already set the table with tea, sweets, scones and muffins, hoping the sight of the food reassures them that they are welcome here.
"Professor?" Harry smiles awkwardly and shuffles his feet.
"Come closer, I've got tea and some treats for you." I gesture for them to join me at the table and start pouring tea into the cups.
Harry is the first to join me and Hermione follows suit. Ron and Neville still seem uncertain if they are welcome and I point them to their chairs. "Sit down, will you? We don't want the tea to cool down, do we?" My words appear to assure them and they take their seats, carefully studying the office. Ron has been here once, Hermione too, but this might be Neville's first visit here. Godric's sword rests close to the pensieve and a loving expression appears on his face when setting eyes on it. "It's a pity you can't head into the forest tonight," I start. "And I regret forbidding you to go there, but we should be careful."
"What did you sense out there?" Harry cocks his head inquisitively. "You weren't very specific about it earlier."
It wouldn't be fair to keep them in the dark after everything they have been through. They have earned my respect and I will treat them as equals. "Death Eaters, but they don't worry me that much; I am sure I can take care of them, but there is something else out there as well." Harry's expression glazes over and I need to reassure him, quickly at that. "No, Voldemort is gone, Harry. It wasn't him. The magic smelled different. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say, the presence is demonic."
"We never covered any demons in our Defenses against the Dark Arts classes," Neville remarks. "We never got around to that."
"Don't trouble yourself with that. I fortified the wards and I will know the instant someone tries breaching them." I cast a quick look at Albus, wondering why he hasn't gotten involved yet. Albus however merely shrugs, probably thinking I am doing a good job at reassuring them "Eat," I tell them, eager to distract them. "The house elves outdid themselves – I seldom enjoyed such delicious scones."
While Hermione and Neville busy themselves adding clotted cream and jam to their scones, I notice Harry's gaze shifting to the painting behind me.
"Hello, Harry," Albus says in a cheerful voice. "It's been a while since we talked, I am afraid."
Ron drops the scone onto his plate and Neville blinks in surprise. Hermione smiles happily and nods at the former Headmaster. Had they forgotten about the magical paintings in here?
"Professor Dumbledore!" Harry gets to his feet, walks over to the painting, and gives Albus a look full of longing. "It's good to have you back with us. Even though…" Then his voice falters.
"Harry, it's good to see you too, and you, Hermione, Ron. Neville. I am so proud of you!" Neville blushes, Hermione's smile broadens and Neville almost looks embarrassed for being praised. "I am so sorry for putting you through my death, Harry," Albus resumes, still speaking loud enough for all present to hear, although his words are mostly aimed at Harry. "Don't be angry with Severus here for cursing me. He merely acted upon my orders, but you already know that, don't you? You saw it in Severus' memories. And I must admit, that was a stroke of genius, Severus, sharing the information Harry needed in that particular way."
It's typically something Albus would say and I have grown used to hearing him say things like that, but Harry, Harry's a different matter altogether.
"You orchestrated your death!" Harry exclaims angrily. "You made professor Snape kill you and you let me believe, you let *us* believe that he murdered you!"
"I did kill Albus," I point out to Harry, but I grow silent upon seen the younger man's frustrated glare, which, gratefully, isn't aimed at me for once.
"Because he told you to!" Harry hisses and his anger takes me aback. "He made you kill him!"
"It was the only way," Albus says in a soothing voice. "I couldn't allow Draco to kill me. It would have ruined the boy's soul."
"Harry," I say, rising from my chair. I come to a halt behind Harry and place my hands on his shoulders. I wish he would look at me instead of glaring at Albus. "Albus paid a terrible price. Remember that, he is dead."
"Thanks for reminding me of that, Severus." Albus raises an eyebrow and snorts indignantly.
"I am sorry," Harry mutters suddenly as his anger seems to evaporate. "I am sorry you're dead, but…"
"But what, Harry? You can speak your mind. I won't be angry with you and neither will Severus."
"Your actions made Voldemort attack professor Snape."
Harry's words cause me to blink as I hadn't expected them. I always assumed that Albus' death had shaken Harry more than my near brush with death.
"Yes, Harry?" Albus however, smiles and nods encouragingly.
"After using the pensieve and realizing what happened back then…" Harry bites onto his lower lip, apparently unsure of how to proceed. "I realized…"
"What, Harry?" Albus' smile deepens further.
"For some reason," Harry stops speaking once more as if afraid he's overstepping certain boundaries.
"Speak freely, boy."
"I realized I care about professor Snape. I felt his despair when my mother died and he fought so hard to keep me safe all these years. I mean no disrespect, sir, so did you, but…"
"It's different with Severus." Albus nods. "Don't worry, my boy. I do understand. You have no idea how grateful I am that Severus survived. I had foreseen his death, but had hoped, against all odds, that he would be spared. The truth is that he needs you as much as you need him."
Harry suddenly turns around and I adjust my hold on his shoulders. He raises his head, peeks at me, and offers me a weak smile.
"Is professor Dumbledore right? Do you need me?" he asks in a soft voice.
The words, the tone of his voice, and the expression in his eyes cause mine to water. I push back those tears though, as Ron, Hermione, and Neville are also still present. "Of course he is right."
Harry surprises me when he throws himself at me and folds his arms around me, pressing tight and holding on urgently. I can't do anything less and complete the embrace, holding him in turn. I forget about my other guests and merely hold Harry, rubbing his back soothingly for what seems an eternity. When Harry finally moves away, slightly and still maintaining his hold on me, I find his face wet with tears. "Why cry?"
"Because I realized something important."
I cock my head questioningly. "And what might that be?"
"I *do* care about you. I never thought I did. Not after the way you sneered at me all those years down in the dungeon, but since learning the truth and knowing why you did it… You made me hate you for a reason! You made us," And he nods toward his friends, "hate you because you couldn't…"
"I couldn't allow you close. I had to distance myself." But I had already told him that.
"You were willing to pay that price. To be hated just to make sure I was safe."
"Of course, I will do anything to keep you safe." I made that promise a long time ago. Lily, I will always keep your son safe. I would die for him. I would have died for you had it stopped the Dark Lord from murdering you and your family. But my death hadn't been demanded, not that night. Harry suddenly grabs my hand and tightens his fingers around the limb. I wonder what has gotten into him. I allow Harry to guide me back to the table, where we sit down. As Harry's still holding onto my hand, I can't move about. I don't feel comfortable pulling away from him though – not while he's that emotional.
"Professor, please excuse us… Harry, we…" Hermione gives me an awkward look, but I understand what she's trying to say.
"I don't mind you retiring to the dormitories. I will stay with Harry." I must admit I feel more at ease after they three of them have left. Albus remains quiet, but he keeps watching us from inside his painting. Harry hasn't said anything yet, but his grip on my hand remains and I must say it's surprisingly tight. "Harry? I am not going anywhere." At that, Harry relaxes his hold, but he doesn't let go yet. It's an improvement though. Harry remains quiet and the fact that he isn't talking worries me. "Harry? What's wrong?"
"I just realized…" Harry's expression darkens and his grip tightens again.
"You're safe. I am here and we're fine." I reassure him, but so far I am unable to reach him.
"You could have died!"
"There was always that possibility," I admit, draw in a deep breath and wish Albus would get involved again, but he merely looks on. "But I didn't." I don't understand though why that particular thought upsets Harry that much – why now?
"I…" Harry finally makes eye contact. "Can I stay? I don't want to head for my room. I need to know you're around."
"You can stay if that's what you want. The sofa over there is extremely comfortable. I fall asleep there all the time. You're free to use it." Harry nods, his expression grows clear once more, and I allow myself to relax. If he needs to be close to me in order to feel better, who am I to deny him that?
"Thanks. Thanks for understanding. For being there for me."
Something in his eyes – something in that expression, causes me to grow emotional again. I don't know what happened just now, but our relationship changed– it tightened. Harry admitted something to himself – though I don't know what that was – and he seems much more at peace with himself. "You're always welcome here, Harry, as long as I shall live."
"Don't die on me! Do you hear me? Don't die on me! I need you."
I probably shouldn't have added that last bit. Surprising myself, I pull him into my arms and hold him until he settles down again. "It's fine. We're fine." Harry nods against my shoulder and then relaxes against me, seemingly enjoying the embrace. I continue holding him until his breathing slows down and deepens, which tells me he fell asleep on me.
I lift him in my arms and carry him over to the bed. I tuck him in and stand back, leaning against the doorway. I don't mind getting stuck with the sofa, for it *is* comfortable.
"That boy finally stopped deluding himself. I should have known Harry would be the one to figure it out," Albus says smugly.
I turn my head toward the painting and frown. "Figure what out?"
"I am not telling you. I have the feeling that either you will find out yourself shortly or that Harry will tell you."
"I do hate it when you speak in riddles, Albus."
"Ah, come on, Headmaster! Allow this dead wizard a little bit of fun!"
I growl at him since it is his fault I ended up as Headmaster in the first place and now he's keeping secrets again. Nothing good can come out of that!
I wake mainly because I feel watched. I had been asleep until a moment ago, comfortably and without nightmares, but the sensation of being studied, makes me open my eyes. I am surprised to find Harry sitting at the foot end of the sofa I am asleep on. I had carried him to bed, hadn't I? So what's he doing out here? I push the blanket away from me and elbow myself into a sitting position, resting my back against the arm rest. "Why aren't you in bed?" I ask at last. "That would be more comfortable, you know."
Harry blinks and then shakes his head. "I woke up and wondered where I was. I am not used to sleeping here, so I felt out of place."
"You can head for the dormitory any time you want. You don't need to spend the night here," I point out to him.
"No, I want to be here! I just felt disoriented."
And so he sought me out instead? Harry looks like he wants to ask me something but seemingly lacks the courage to do so. "What do you want to know?" I shift the blanket in such a way that it also covers Harry's legs. He grabs hold if, inches closer, and pulls the fabric up to his chest.
"Do you have any family left?" he blurs out eventually. "I don't mean to pry, but…"
His question surprises me at first, but I reckon it makes sense. "No, I don't. My parents died years ago and I don't have any siblings, or cousins, aunts, uncles for that matter." I see no reason to lie to him.
"So you're alone too?"
Harry's question stuns me – I should have expected it though. "Yes, not having a family made it easier. I didn't have to worry about any family members being targeted."
"But you worry about me, don't you?"
I *do* wonder what this is about. "Of course I do. You're Lily's son."
"And you loved my mother. You love her still."
I nod slowly. "She will always be a part of me." Harry's frown deepens and he nibbles on his bottom lip. If only he would confide in me!
"I have been thinking…"
I raise an eyebrow. Do I really want to know what Harry came up with?
"You don't have any family left, and neither do I. Maybe we could form a family of our own?"
I hold my breath in shock. What the hell is going on here?
"I am not asking you to adopt me or anything like that, but I need a family – at least one person I can rely on."
I force myself to let go of the breath I have been holding. "Harry, I don't think that is a good idea."
"Because," Is he really going to make me say it? "your parents would have been alive if it hadn't been for me delivering that message to Voldemort." I wish I could change the past, but I can't.
"That's in the past," Harry says in an firm voice. "I am talking about the present – about the future! I already think of you as family. I wish you had been my uncle instead of uncle Vernon. He hates me."
"He doesn't hate you. Your situation merely overwhelmed him." I know it's a lie though –Vernon does hate the boy.
"I was wondering if you," Harry grows shy. "Would you mind..?"
I wait, allowing him time to explain.
"I don't feel comfortable calling you professor all the time or sir. Severus takes getting used to, and as Sirius is dead I don't have a godfather anymore. Maybe you would be interested in, you know, I would like you to take that place."
The boy isn't making any sense, I am afraid, and I reckon I should just go along with it for now and then discuss the matter properly after we both got some rest and slept. We can discuss this over breakfast – or lunch. That will give Harry time to think everything through and realize he made a mistake. Godfather? Me? James Potter might come back from the grave to haunt me! I am not interested in that!
"It would mean a lot to me, sir."
I can't ignore the fact that Harry cringes at calling me that.
"Do you want that job? Being my godfather?"
How can I possibly deny him when he looks at me with Lily's eyes? The truth is that I care about him in turn and I would love to accept, but I'm not sure I should. But how do I explain myself to him in a way that doesn't hurt his feeling? "I would love to –"
"Yes!" Harry exclaims, extremely pleased.
Damn him for cutting me short! How do I explain to him that I had wanted to say that I would love to look after him, but that I am not worthy of succeeding Sirius in that way? Now that Harry cut me off, thinking I accept, I can't take it back! How did I get into this mess? And Albus, stop grinning at me from your painting! This is not the way the conversation was supposed to go!
"That's great!" Harry excitedly moves about on the sofa. "I can't wait to tell Hermione and Ron!"
I doubt they will share Harry's enthusiasm though. Why did Harry have to cut me off?
Maybe you said what he wanted to hear and he didn't want to hear anything else? Albus' lips are moving, but he doesn't speak the words aloud. I manage to figure out the message though.
"Thank you! Thank you so very much!"
Harry's enthusiasm is still growing and I can't help but wonder how others will react to hearing this news. Will Minerva concur? And what about Hermione? Ron? Neville? Looking at Harry's smiling face, I realize I will find out – shortly, I am afraid. He won't be able to keep this to himself for long!
Harry's whistling happily when we make our way into the Great Hall for breakfast. Casting a non-verbal spell, I scan the perimeters in order to make sure that all is well within Hogwarts' walls. I still sense an unknown presence close to the grounds though. The Death Eaters and their mysterious companions haven't left yet.
"Hermione! Ron!" Harry takes off and runs over to his friends. Excitedly, he starts talking and I catch the words 'godfather' and 'he accepted' in there. Ron looks stunned, but Hermione cheers Harry on and hugs him. Now that Harry told them I can forget about talking sense into him. It will only be a short time for the whole of Hogwarts finds out!
"You look preoccupied," Minerva says as I sit down next to her. I reach for the tea, sip from it, and put down the cup again. "I messed up last night…" She arches an eyebrow, but refrains from commenting. "For some elusive reason Harry asked me to step in for Sirius, acting as his Godfather."
"Severus, don't tell me that you denied the boy!"
"I wanted to! I started explaining that I would love to keep an eye on him and that's when he cut me short. He didn't give me a chance to add that I don't believe I'm a good substitute for Sirius. Now he's telling everyone he's my godson." To my surprise, Minerva seems rather relieved – happy actually.
"Good, you startled me for a moment. Severus, Harry needs someone to fill the void his parents and Sirius left and I am pleased he asked you to take that place."
I want to object, but she cuts me off by glaring at me. "Severus, you'll make a good Godfather. Give yourself some credit."
Panic nearly causes me to flee the Great Hall, but I force myself to stay, as I don't want to startle the students. "It's madness, Minerva. I am not fit to be Harry's Godfather, let alone act as a… parent"
Minerva keeps her eyes on me. "I expected something like this to happen. You risked your life for him. Harry knows you loved his mother. What did Albus say? Did you already ask him?"
"I don't need to. I know Albus' mind; he thinks I should do this." For Lily… Always for her.
"You will do a great job, I am certain of it."
If only I felt the same way!
At nightfall I walk the grounds again. I check if all defenses are in place and the wards still intact. Lost in thought, I look at that part of the forest in front of me, which isn't part of Hogwarts any more. I sense evil moving through it – Death Eaters, and yes, something demonic. Vampires? Is that it? Did vampires join the Death Eaters? But why? I can understand the Death Eaters trying to extract revenge, but how do the vampires fit in?
"You look worried."
I startle at hearing Harry's voice so unexpectedly. He's standing next to me, but I didn't even notice him walking up to me! "What are you doing here? It's dangerous out here! Didn't I tell you to stay away from the Forbidden Forest?" Oh, I know he's perfectly capable of defending himself, but I still wish he wouldn't put himself in harm's way.
"I saw you enter the Forbidden Forest earlier and I grew worried. It's dangerous out here, sir."
"Don't give me that!" But I hadn't realized he had been watching me in the first place, which really worries me. I need to start paying attention to what's happening!
"What is out there? I saw the look on your face just now. You're worried."
I draw in a deep breath and consider my next move; Harry and I went through too much pain for me to cut him out now. He deserves the truth – and my trust. "Death Eaters. They're close, but they're not alone. Demons, probably vampires, have joined them and they're trying to get past Hogwarts' defenses."
Harry's face comes alive with anger. "I thought they had run after Voldemort's death!"
I shake my head. "Some remain loyal to him – even in death. Their minds are twisted. You can't reason with them – they only want to inflict pain."
"But why the vampires then, sir?"
Although it feels familiar hearing Harry address me like that, it also feels wrong. "You can call me Severus, Harry." After all, I stopped calling him 'mister Potter' too. Those things belong to the past.
"I am working on it," Harry admits. "It takes time…"
"I am done here. We shall head back home. I still have to find us a new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher."
"You won't be teaching us then? We rather hoped you'd return!"
The boy does sound rather disappointed. "I don't believe I am the right person to be teaching you such things."
"And why is that, sir… Severus?"
Aye, being addressed that way does feel odd, but I don't mind. As far as I am concerned I should feel flattered that he's willing to call me that.
"If it hadn't been for you, Voldemort might have succeeded in killing me and enslaving the remaining wizards and witches. He could have turned them into Death Eaters, and the ones, unwilling to join, he would have killed. Professor McGonagall would never have supported Voldemort. You might have saved her life too!"
I am sure Harry's reasoning is flawed, one way or the other, but I don't know what to tell him.
"I do believe you're the right person to teach us. Don't you think Lupin would want that?"
"You don't fight fair," I say eventually.
"Neither does the dark side. And we need to be prepared in case someone like Voldemort ever rises to power again."
Harry is right, I suppose. "I will teach that class until the end of the year. After that, we will see what happens." Harry however knows he has won and gives me the smuggest look ever.
It feels comfortable, comfortable and right to have my rooms occupied by friends. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville and even Luna are talking quietly among themselves, enjoy a cup of tea and a selection of sweets. Hagrid is trying to make friends with Fawkes, but the phoenix merely eyes him wearily in turn; apparently displeased because the half-giant is trying to make him play fetch. Minerva has settled in a corner and is quietly talking to Albus' painting. Even Poppy turned up and is devouring a scone with extra clotted cream and a mountain of strawberry jam. It feels like family surrounding me, and although I still need to get used to that feeling, it's very welcome.
"Severus," Minerva says as she heads my way. "I wanted to ask you if-"
Suddenly the world around me comes to a standstill as Hogwarts itself reaches out to me. Headmaster! Danger, they punctured the defenses and are moving closer to the castle! I need to act – need to act now, and am about to seek out the enemy when Minerva suddenly rests her hand on my arm. Unable to stop the spell, I pull her along with me.
"Severus?" Minerva looks positively startled, apparating next to me in the Great Hall – the very source of Hogwarts' magic. "Why did you…?"
"Intruders. The Death Eaters found a way inside." I cock my head and listen to what Hogwarts is telling me. "And two vampires managed to get inside too. Minerva, I need you to look after Harry and the rest." I hadn't planned on taking her with me, but when she touched me, the spell brought her along. "Promise me that you will watch over Harry!"
How did…? Suddenly Harry runs toward me, closely followed by Hermione. Neville and Ron appear a moment later and hover close to the main entrance. "Minerva!"
"I can take care of myself, thank you!" Harry says firmly.
He doesn't sound angry, not exactly, more like worried. Shocked, I realize he worries about *me*, because I am putting myself in danger again. I try to shake off that feeling, but each time I look him in the eyes, the sensation returns. I had better let him tag along; that way I can keep an eye on him.
The Gryffindor dormitory, Headmaster, the vampires are after the children!
I rush forward, and am about to let Hogwarts' magic take me there, when Harry grabs my arm. This time, I am taking Harry along with me, instead of Minerva. Damn them for interfering!
Children are sobbing and youngsters run about in fright. I appear amidst of chaos and quickly determine the source. One female vampire reaches for a small girl, pulls the child towards her, and tries to bite her. Her fangs glitter in the candle light and I raise my wand, whispering incantations that should take care of the threat. She stares at me in shock, flings the girl away from her, and tries to flee. My magic however catches up with her and she falls apart in a million pieces, destroying her in body and soul. One down, three to go.
Turning about, I catch Harry raising his wand as well. He faces a Death Eater, one I saw amongst Voldemort's supporters, but whom I never knew personally. I raise my wand again, recognizing the spell Harry's using and add my own might to it. The Death Eater looks at us in horror, but then the magic devours him, utterly tearing him apart.
Headmaster! The head of Gryffindor dealt with the other vampire, but one more Death Eater remains and he is on the run!
He is mine! Moving quickly, too quickly for Harry to make his move, I disapparate and let Hogwarts guide me toward the enemy, who is running into the Forbidden Forest. I need to be quick! I need to…
The impact of the spell hits me unexpectedly. Somehow the Death Eater managed to attack me and I try to fight him off, but he caught me unaware and he's strong – stronger than I thought possible! I fall onto my knees, realizing he's putting the Cruciatus curse on me, and I try to think of a way – desperately – to fight him off. I fail – as there's no defense against that spell and pain slices through me, causing me to thrash violently on the ground. The Death Eater, his face hidden deeply within the black safety of his hood, steps into the moonlight, rendering me helpless, causing me pain which almost equals the agony I went through when Nagini pounced on me.
Suddenly, something slams into the Death Eater and causes him to lose focus. The spell's broken, but it did considerable damage as I am unable to move yet. I need a moment to shake off the pain!
I can't help it; in spite of the pain still throbbing in my bones, I chuckle.
I hadn't thought Minerva capable of being so ruthless, but she casts the spell resolutely, aiming it at the remaining Death Eater, who instantly falls to the ground – lifeless now.
"Are you hurt?"
Harry is the first to reach me, and his arms close around me, steadying me and offering me support, which I badly need if I don't want to end up face first on the earth. "I'm fine…" I'm not – yet – but I will be. I raise my head with much effort and realize the unicorn joined us as well. He's standing behind Harry and gives me a look which I can only label as satisfied. He must have attacked the Death Eater then.
"Severus, are they any more of them?"
"No." I manage to shake my head and look at Minerva, trying to reassure her. "You took out the last one." Minerva nods and her expression turns worried. "I'm fine," I tell her, realizing why she's giving me that look. "I just need a moment to catch my breath." The unicorn approaches and pushes his head – rather demandingly – against my shoulder, almost knocking Harry out of the way. Harry however takes it in stride and chuckles.
"Looks like he wants to help," Harry whispers. "Maybe we can…"
I can guess at their plans for me, but I am too exhausted to protest and so I allow Harry to help me mount the unicorn. I slump forward, grab a handful of mane, and try to gather my strength. It's to no avail though – the curse drained me. Thankfully, it did no lasting damage and I will recover.
It's quiet – and although I never cared much for silence, this quiet feels comforting. I open my eyes and find myself back in my rooms, safely tucked into my bed. I extend my mind, reach out to the wards that were punctured and find them restored. Hogwarts itself must have repaired the damage.
"You scared me… Finding you in that state."
I should have known Harry would be close. I turn my head and look at him. He pulls up a chair close to my bed and watches me closely. I shift on the bed and am relieved to find that most of the pain is gone. I still feel tired, but overall, I'm fine. "I didn't have a choice. I had to take care of the threat." Is he angry with me for acting like that? Why's he glaring at me? I am Headmaster after all and responsible for everyone's safety.
"You could have been injured, or killed."
Parts of earlier conversations which I had with him come back and I realize what this is really about. "I am still alive, Harry – no harm done, well, no real harm." I manage a smile, and at that, Harry's glare softens and becomes merely a worried expression. "It won't be the last time we will face an attack. We must always be prepared to fight evil."
"I know you're right, but don't run off on your own again, will you? I can defend myself. I want to be at your side when you…"
"I am sorry," I offer sincerely. "I am still getting used to have you to back me up. I always fought my battles alone in the past." And it's not just Harry who has my back – it's Minerva, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Hagrid as well. I would do well to remember that I am part of something bigger now. "Can you forgive me?" At that, Harry exchanges his chair for the side of the bed and nods. "I promise I won't leave you behind – ever again. We're in this together." At first, I thought only Harry needed to hear that, but now that I said the words, I realize I needed to hear them too. "After all, I have a godson to look after now – to care for."
Harry leaning in closer and wrapping me up in an embrace stuns me, though I probably should have expected a reaction like that. The fact that he reaches out to me so easily, and that I almost greedily accept the embrace, tells me all I need to know. We both want this – we both need it. We're family now…