Author's Note: Thanks for the R&R!
Warning: Mature content. Reader discretion is advised.
Chapter 1 — No Change
Severus Snape had never considered himself a religious man. He'd heard the whispers behind the veil in the Department of Mysteries on more than one occasion, but the general lack of shrieking lead him to believe that would not be anywhere near his afterlife.
His father had prided himself on being a "good god-fearing man," which meant lectures of sin and hellfire on Sunday mornings and staggering around in a drunken stupor the rest of the week. No, privately Severus Snape suspected a fresh new level of hell would greet him at his final destination: lanced into the crushing core of earth with bolts of blood and fire, specially reserved for Death Eaters and people that mix wormwood essence with bicorn horn before first neutralizing the base.
What he had not expected was the dreamlike stasis he had fallen into the moment he closed his eyes in the shrieking shack. He did not even feel the blood pouring from his numerous wounds that he knew would be fatal. Nagini had been given the order to kill, and the Dark Lord did not suffer incompetence.
It was in this place he made peace with leaving the world of the living behind and embraced the inevitable descent into nothingness. But nothingness did not come… just an awareness of thought that seemed to stretch for hours into days into weeks or beyond; he could not tell.
He thought about his life and love. He told himself stories. He thought about Albus and his twinkling eyes and lemony sweets. He thought about her: his beautiful Lily, to whom he had devoted a lifetime to love above all else, and her son whom he had sheltered in her wake.
He made peace with the fact he would never know for certain the ultimate fate of the Dark Lord and the mortal world he had left behind.
After agonizing over every decision he had ever made until even his considerable voices of self doubt were silenced, he thought about his work. He would miss the familiar scents and quietness of an empty classroom. He would miss the feeling of potions residue building up on his hands like ink from a newspaper: a lingering testament to his hard day's work.
He remembered with amusement his one last potion that was probably still at this moment simmering in a forgotten cauldron on a forgotten burner in his forgotten quarters. He even thought about Quidditch.
Eventually he grew wary of the oppressively inescapable awareness and concluded, of the afterlife, "Well this is boring as hell."
The silent slumberer next to him was not what one would call traditionally handsome, but after seeing Snape's memories in the pensieve Harry had begun to see him in an entirely new light.
"He was in love with my mother," Harry began to explain to an enraptured Ron and Hermione on the cold quiet night in the shadow of the last day of battle. They were all singed and bandaged: now veterans of a brutal war. As soon as Harry heard that, by some miracle, Snape was still alive they had all arrived at St. Mungo's just in time to see his lifeless body being floated through the hallways.
As soon as the healers declared him stable, even if they didn't know what was wrong with him, Harry inserted himself into the bedside chair meant for family and had refused to be moved.
Ron and Hermione, who had pulled chairs into the private room for a conference, looked at each other in confusion. Harry sat and stared off into the distance. "Okaaay…" Ron hedged disbelievingly, but Hermione quickly shushed him.
"The memories he gave me; he knew my mother." Had he not been so worried about Snape, Harry would have perhaps continued his explanation. "But the important thing is he didn't kill Dumbledore. Well, he did, but Dumbledore made him do it."
"What?" came Hermione's breathless reply. "Harry you're not making any sense."
"Dumbledore was dying," Harry finally managed, realizing that he might be the only thing standing between Snape and Azkaban. "He had Snape kill him to secure his position with the Dark Lord," and as a reverent afterthought, "So Malfoy would not have to do it."
"I don't get it. Why was Dumbledore dying? I mean, I know he was ancient and all, but…" Ron looked pained with the effort of thinking, but Hermione was, as always, one step ahead of him.
"The ring! The horcrux he destroyed! It must have cursed him," Hermione exclaimed to Harry's nods of assent.
"Please you have to tell someone." Harry looked as his friends desperately. "Not about my mum, but about Dumbledore. They need to know Snape is innocent."
"We can tell Professor McGonagall. She'll make sure the right people are informed." Hermione was already standing ready to leave.
"And do me a favor. Don't mention the memories?"
"Of course," she said softly as the pair left the room.
Harry still reeled at what he had seen in those memories: what he had seen and what he had felt.
He had watched Dumbledore's recollections as an impartial observer. He still thought his own thoughts and felt his own feelings while watching the events unfold around him.
Snape's memories, however, were laced with emotion that only seemed to build as one scene swirled into the next. Harry felt the pain of a lifetime of loneliness and unrequited love: truly felt the part of Snape that had once burned like flaming tendrils lashing in the wind fade into quiet embers and die along with her.
He recognized his own awed devotion to Dumbledore was now accompanied by the feelings of a grateful and devout friendship that had brought back a tiny fiery flicker in Snape's otherwise despondent heart: like a freezing man clinging to the last bit of warmth from his dying fire. He then suffered the same heart wrenching agony Snape felt when he agreed to carry out the odious task that hovered over him like a storm cloud from that moment onwards: he had to kill the only person who still cared about him. Even secondhand, he was crushed to a standstill by these emotions. He could not imagine how Snape could have survived with his mind intact for all these years.
Now he has nothing. The thought made Harry shiver. He may have lost his parents, but ever since Hogwarts he would always be blessed with friendship. The Weasleys had practically taken him in as their own son. Sure he had been miserable before, but he had never known any different. This happy thought chased his fitful mind down into an uneasy slumber.
Ron and Hermione returned the next morning looking cheerful and exhilarated. "It's like New Year's out there!" Hermione said after prodding Harry awake. Of course people would be celebrating the downfall of the Dark Lord (again.) But St. Mungo's was still quiet and sedate. She had brought him tea and a bit of breakfast, and Harry suddenly realized he was famished.
"Thanks," he said before tucking in.
"What do the healers say?" Hermione asked while carefully contemplating Snape's quiet form.
"No change. They countered Nagini's venom and replaced the blood lost. They've run loads of tests, but they really aren't sure what has him like… this." Harry waved his hand vaguely in the air.
The curly haired witch got that "thinking" look on her face, but she said nothing. He was saved from having to continue when the door to Snape's room opened to a familiar white-blonde figure.
Ron bristled in his chair, clearly resisting the urge to whip out his wand.
"Come to get your wand again?" Harry tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. For all of his posing, in the end Harry knew Malfoy had saved his life—all of their lives. But the debt was repaid in kind, and now their bitter childhood rivalry could properly mature into an childish adulthood rivalry.
"No, actually I came to see Professor Snape."
"—You… oh, right."
"But now that you mention it. I don't think—"
"Just take it," Harry said with finality, whipping out Malfoy's wand and holding it out to him, handle first, in rigid withdrawal. Ollivander had said the wand had changed its allegiance, and Harry was beginning to feel quite comfortable with it. He was not, however, a thief.
Malfoy hesitated, looking first down at the wand, then back up at Harry. He reached out his hand as if reaching towards the rear of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. His delicate fingers curled around the handle, and Harry dropped his hold on it. Instead of pulling back, Malfoy's face fell. "I don't think this is mine anymore," he said somberly, and passed the wand back to Harry. They just stared at each other a moment before they put the matter to close with a slight nod of their heads.
What are you all even doing here?" Malfoy looked genuinely confused.
"I could ask you the same thing," Harry said.
"He was my teacher."
"He was mine too."
"You didn't even like him!"
"I didn't like you either!"
"He doesn't really have any family?" Malfoy hazarded.
"Oh." Harry nodded his head. "He doesn't really have anyone." The room grew silent, as four appraising faces looked with pity at the motionless man.
"So really, how is he?" Malfoy asked.
"We should be getting an update any minute actually. They ran more tests this morning."
"You do know he killed Dumbledore, right?" Malfoy spoke like he might be explaining something to a very small child or exceptionally dim troll.
"Technically assisted suicide, and yeah I was there," Harry said, but Malfoy's request for clarification was cut short as a man in green robes entered the room holding a clipboard.
"And how is our patient feeling today?" he asked cheerfully. Healer Andrell's habit of asking his comatose patients questions might have worried Harry had he not seen him save half a dozen lives in the last day alone. Every time he ventured out to visit the loo or find a drink of water the man was covered in blood, working furiously on war casualties as they began to filter in.
His three companions had not witnessed such events, so as it was they exchanged uncomfortable glances.
"No change," Harry said.
"Very well then. Let's have a look." Andrell waved a diagnostic wand in Snape's general direction. Harry visibly relaxed, as the wand did not make sounds or change color. Harry had learnt to associate that with a "bad thing."
"It's as I suspected." Andrell paused to write something on his clipboard before looking up and announcing, "No change," before checking the heavy bandages around Snape's neck. "I'll have someone come to change these. If you wouldn't mind—" He gestured at the door.
"Is that it?" Malfoy blustered indignantly. "No change? There's not a potion or something you can give him to… wake him up or something?"
"He will wake when his body is ready, and it is ill advisable to do so prematurely," the healer explained. "And you are? We only allow family to see patients, and close friends," he added with a look at Harry.
Harry had not felt it prudent to mention his hate-hate relationship with the former potions master.
"He's a family friend," Harry explained quickly. "Healer Andrell this is Draco Malfoy." The two nodded at each other as Harry chocked over Malfoy's first name.
"Charmed I'm sure. Well, Mr. Malfoy as you may be aware your friend has sustained a significant trauma, and his body is healing. I assure you he is receiving all of the potions he should, but what he needs most is time. I have no reason to believe he will not awaken by himself within a few days, a week at most." A nurse walked in, and the healer gently herded them out the door.
When he let them in a few minutes later Draco's face paled at the amount of blood soaked into the bandages the nurse was discreetly discarding.
"Now are there any other concerns I may address?" he asked as more people appeared at the door: Kingsley Shacklebolt, flanked by two stern looking men that were wearing the same cut of black robe with an insignia Harry did not recognize in the upper left corner.
Hermione gasped at their appearance, and Andrell grew agitated. "I really must insist no more visitors!" Draco stood immediately upon their entering, and Ron straightened up, sensing the growing tension in the room.
"We're here on business," Shacklebolt said.
"With whom, might I ask?" Andrell asked.
"Well as you can see Professor Snape is a bit under the weather at the moment. Perhaps you should conduct your business another day." The healer nodded as he spoke, as if agreeing with himself wholeheartedly.
"I'm afraid it can't wait. Professor Snape is wanted—" but where he was wanted Harry did not find out, as yet another guest entered the room in a swirl of robes.
"Shacklebolt! Just wait a moment!" Professor McGonagall exclaimed.
Andrell threw his hands in the air. "No one listen to me I'm just the doctor!"
"Mr. Potter I've tried to explain. Perhaps you can help?" she appealed to him. Harry was beginning to grow nervous. Why did everyone seem so angry?
"I know what you said, Minerva, but his guilt or innocence must be decided in court once we have all of the information."
"No! You don't understand!" Hermione shouted as she too stood up.
"He is quite ill," Healer Andrell reasserted himself.
"We have medical facilities of our own," one of the men with Shacklebolt said.
"I really must insist he cannot be moved." The healer sounded more and more desperate as he realized he was losing control of the situation. Harry glanced at Ron who shrugged his shoulders. Malfoy looked paler than usual.
"I'm sorry, Healer, but we have the warrant here. I must bring Professor Snape to Azkaban to await his hearing."
The words hit Harry like an anvil to the head. He jumped from his chair, imposing himself between the bed and the three men at the entrance, and pulling out his wand in one fluid motion. "Over my dead body!" he shouted angrily.
All movement and breathing in the room immediately ceased as everyone looked at Harry with wide eyes, and most with fear. Malfoy looked relieved. "Too many people..." Andrell repeated and threw his hands up in a gesture of defeat.
Shacklebolt took an involuntary step backwards. "Harry the Law clearly states—"
"There is no law without a government to back it up. And they all got themselves killed by being blithering idiots if you'll recall. Who even has the authority to—"
"Fudge has returned in the interim."
"Oh good, Commandant Blithering Idiot!"
"Just wait a minute Harry. I understand—"
"No, you don't understand!" Harry did not lower his wand.
"ALL OF YOU QUIET!" Hermione bellowed suddenly in her best stop-a-Grawp-in-full-cry voice, and it was so. "Right, now the Law also states that the healer has ultimate say in transport and release of his patients, so until Andrell says so, Professor Snape is not going anywhere. Post a guard at the door if you have to." Hermione paused briefly to curtail Harry's protest with a pointed look. "And maybe, given the information we have, you should go back and ask Fudge if he is really, really… really sure this is what he wants to do."
The two guards looked at Shacklebolt, who was focused intently on the business end of Harry's wand. "I'd say… that we may very well do that," the man finally conceded.
Andrell let out deep breath from the dark corner of the room he had secluded himself to.
Shacklebolt and the guards left, backing out of the room uneasily then turning to walk down the hall without a word. Harry was relieved when neither of the guards were assigned to stay at Snape's door.
Professor McGonagall looked, as always, possibly constipated when she spoke. "I'm sorry Potter. With everything that's happened, the Ministry is trying to exude some semblance of order." Harry snorted. "I'll leave you all now, but do call on me if I can be of further assistance," she said with an uneasy glance at her former colleague.
"Perhaps we should all let Professor Snape rest," Malfoy hesitated, glancing at a clearly still agitated Harry.
"I'm not going anywhere," Harry stated firmly.
"Harry has suggested, and I agree, that the patient would benefit from having someone here should he wake up, to… explain everything that has happened and assure him—"
"He's wasn't nursed back to health just to face a dementor's kiss," Malfoy stated his grim realization. "I understand. I can stay."
Harry began shaking his head, but Hermione cut off his next words. "Harry you've been here nearly thirty-six hours. At least go home and freshen up." She did have a point. He'd actually died for a bit in these clothes.
"Alright. But I'll be back later. Please look after him," he said to Malfoy, and received the boy's silent ascent.
After Nagini's attack, Snape is caught in an inescapable awareness that seems to stretch on forever. Harry watches over his outwardly comatose form in St. Mungos, dispatching Ron and Hermione to reveal the truth of how and why Dumbledore died to Professor McGonagall to keep Snape out of Azkaban. Harry reflects on how deeply watching Snape's memories affected him as opposed to watching Dumbledore's memories as an impartial observer, and how very alone Snape is now with the loss of his only friend.
Ron and Hermione arrive with breakfast the next morning but their visit is punctuated by the unexpected arrival of Draco Malfoy. Harry quickly realizes that, despite their vitriolic history, the trio will have to work with Malfoy in order to figure out what is wrong with Snape. Harry offers Malfoy's wand back to him, but he rejects it, sensing, as did Mr. Ollivander, that it answers to a new owner. This in part eases tensions among the quartet as Healer Andrell, who was assigned to Snape's case, arrives for a checkup only to unsurprisingly announce, "no change," was noted in the patient.
Shortly thereafter, three Aurors, including Kingsley Shackelbolt, arrive to bring Snape to Azkaban now that his condition is "stable." Andrell asserts that he is "still quite ill" and Harry says in no uncertain terms that the Aurors would take Snape to Azkaban over his dead body. Hermione deescalates the situation by reminding the Aurors that Snape is under control of his healer, and will not be going anywhere until deemed fit.
Harry explains to Malfoy how they thought it would be best if someone Snape knew sat with him in case he woke up, and Malfoy agrees to take the next watch.