Author's Notes: Many thanks to my betas, Ria and Big Momma. This is the revised version. There will be following chapters, for I have been blessed with a plot bunny! This series is dedicated to the new members of my family, all born within three days of each other - My two new nephews, Oliver and Jamie, and my niece, Rebecca. I hope that one day they'll read this *Smiles*.
In the Beginning
Harry grinned across the table at Ron as he started an animated monologue about a prank Fred and George had played on their older brother Percy. He had heard it before on the train but it was still funny. Hermione was trying to look cross. Harry could see the telltale signs that she was trying not to smile.
He smiled himself. This was where he was meant to be – and he would be staying here for another whole year.
Ron stopped talking as a large snowy owl dropped lightly onto the table between himself and Harry. It was Hedwig. She walked lopsidedly towards Harry, her right leg burdened with a letter. Harry glanced up at Ron, before quickly untying the note from Hedwig's leg and feeding her some scraps of chicken.
The letter was on a thick sheaf of parchment bearing the Hogwarts crest. His eyes travelled quickly over the cursive script once, before he read it aloud to Ron and Hermione.
I am sorry to drag you from the feast and your friends, but there is a matter of importance that I wish to see you about. Please come to my office as soon as you are finished. The password is 'sugar quill'.
Professor Albus Dumbledore"
Harry looked back up at his friends and shrugged. He turned his head to the side and saw that Professor Dumbledore was still sitting at his place at the high table. Of course, he wouldn't be able to leave until he had given the start of term notices … but he had said to go as soon as Harry was finished.
"Well, I suppose I'll see you in the common room," he smiled reassuringly to his friends, before standing and slipping out of the Hall into the main school corridors.
Harry walked the familiar twists and turns of the labyrinth-like school until he came to the crouched stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's office.
"Sugar quill," he said. Harry hoped there was no one watching him. It would look rather stupid to anyone who didn't know that this was a password.
The gargoyle shifted to one side, revealing the large stone archway behind. Harry walked through into the familiar hall. Looking around him, he saw that nothing had changed. It was the same bare room it had always been, but for the revolving spiral staircase that led up to Dumbledore's main office. He walked forwards and stepped onto the first step, holding onto the banister as he revolved.
Harry stepped off the staircase again as he reached the top and stood on the landing, looking uncertainly at the large oak door before him. Professor Dumbledore had still been in the Great Hall when he had left, and yet had instructed Harry to go straight to his office. He took another step forwards and lifted the brass knocker. As he released it, a loud boom echoed throughout the small space and almost made Harry jump.
The door swung open of its own accord. Frowning, Harry stepped through the doorway and into the office. Portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters and mistresses looked down at him gravely from the walls. Harry glanced around the room, wondering who had opened the door. There was only one other occupant – Fawkes the phoenix, who was asleep on his gold perch by the door. Harry walked over to the chair in front of the huge desk and sat down, intending to wait for the headmaster.
Something on the desk, however, caught his eye. A large, stone basin filled with a strange silvery white mist. Harry had seen it before, of course. It was Professor Dumbledore's penseive. He had accidentally fallen into it last year and had seen some of the trials that had taken place after Voldemort's downfall.
Harry leaned over the desk, gazing into the strange, swirling strands of thought. Dumbledore had not been angry with him then – maybe he would not be if he just took a little peek. Just a short glimpse. Perhaps it would show him why Dumbledore had wanted to see him in the first place.
Harry took out his wand, as he had done last year, and poked it into the strange mist, making it swirl even faster. He bent forward over the basin as the thoughts became transparent and glassy, and put his face as close to the basin as he could. He was looking down into the trial room again. This was an early one, Harry could tell, as there were many people in attendance and they were all silent and apparently grave.
Harry's view was from high up and it was difficult to see the people in detail. He wanted to know if there were people he recognised there, such as Dumbledore or Mad-Eye Moody. There was only one way to see the images as clearly as he wanted.
Harry sighed and pushed his face forward, past the glassy surface. He felt himself falling and unconsciously closed his eyes. He felt a sort of internal thud, as though he had landed but felt no physical pain. Harry opened his eyes. He was sitting on the top bench of a large dungeon-like chamber. Most of the benches were filled and there was an eerie silence in the room. Harry looked around at the people closest to him. Mad-Eye Moody sat to his right. To his left sat Mr. Crouch in a raised seat. In front of him sat Professors McGonagall, Sprout and Flitwick. Harry frowned – he had not seen any of the Professors at the previous trials he had watched.
Footsteps echoed through the silence and people shifted restlessly as a small, non-descript door near one of the room's corners opened. Three figures stepped into the arena-like floor space – a man in shoddy black robes with dark hair and sallow skin, flanked by two Dementors. The Dementors led him to the familiar, strangely horrifying chair with gold chains, bewitched to hold captive anyone who sat in it. The gold chains wove their way up the man's arms and he raised his head slowly to look up at Mr. Crouch. Harry gasped involuntarily.
It was Professor Snape.
Merlin! he looks awful, was Harry's first thought. The man's face was drawn and bloodless, with heavy dark circles under his eyes. His lank hair contrasted drastically to his too-pale skin, and his usually glittering black eyes seemed haunted. Harry had never considered how it must be for a man who had done so many terrible things, who already felt sorry for them, to be surrounded by Dementors. He shivered involuntarily.
"Severus Snape, you have been called before this council under suspicion of being a Death Eater, for charges of severe harm to Muggles and the illegal use of the unforgivable curses. Do you understand the charges?" Barty Crouch's voice rang out in the large chamber but every eye in the room was focused on Snape.
"Yes," Even his voice sounded dead.
"Do you have someone to vouch for you?"
"Yes. Albus Dumbledore."
Hushed mumbles and mutterings filled the room as Professor Dumbledore rose from his seat at the front of the courtroom and walked towards Snape's chair. Harry had not even noticed Dumbledore had been sitting there.
"Waste of time, if you ask me," growled Mad-Eye from beside him. "A Death Eater if ever I saw one – had it in him since he was a boy."
Professor McGonagall turned in her seat, looking pale, her thin mouth drawn into an angry line. "Well, Alastor, no one has asked you, so I am sure we would all appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself."
She turned back around as Mr Crouch called for silence. "Professor Dumbledore. Please present your case for the defendant."
Dumbledore looked grave but nodded, laying a reassuring hand on Snape's shoulder. Snape flinched away from the touch and closed his eyes. "You have before you sir, a full account written by myself and a confirmation written by Minerva McGonagall of Severus' dealings with Voldemort." People around the room gasped, as though terrified the name would invoke the man. "And of his aid to our side during the last year or so," Dumbledore continued. "For those of you who do not have this report, let me briefly outline its contents.
"Severus Snape was, indeed, a Death Eater. He has the mark burned into his left forearm, which is the reason he was taken into custody in the first place – we all know this. For the past year however, Severus has been relaying information to myself on Voldemort's plans and whereabouts, at great risk to himself. He has saved the lives of many people Voldemort sentenced to death by giving them the 'Draft of the Living Death', instead of the aconite potion and port-keyed their 'corpses' to my office at Hogwarts. Enclosed in the file are a list of names and references to people who will verify this. Furthermore, since he has been taken into custody, Severus has supplied the ministry with a list of Death Eaters and their whereabouts – I believe most of them have since been apprehended."
"Yes, yes, very good Dumbledore," said Mr Crouch, his eyes scanning a large roll of parchment in his lap. "The fact still remains that this man was a Death Eater, and committed crimes in Voldemort's name."
Harry watched a look of restrained anger pass over Dumbledore's features. "So, indeed, was Lucius Malfoy but that did not stop you re-admitting him into the wizarding world." The words were spoken in a quiet, dangerous voice and Harry noted a slight shuffling half way down the benches on the right wall. He looked at the people there and saw the white-blonde hair of a young Lucius Malfoy, who was staring very hard at the opposite wall.
"If I may speak, Dumbledore? Mr Crouch?" Snape's deadened voice spoke into the soft murmurs.
Dumbledore nodded his ascent, and Crouch said "You may speak."
Snape stared unseeingly at the wall as he spoke. "I was a Death Eater, for reasons that I would rather not go into. There is something, however, you must understand about this position. As a Death Eater I saw things that you cannot even imagine, Mr Crouch. I watched my friends – people I trusted – commit rape, torture and murder on the innocent. Those memories haunt me, and will continue to haunt me every day of my life. They are a torture far worse than anything the Dementors can come up with. I do not deserve to be released ..."
"Severus!" Dumbledore interrupted, giving Snape a disappointed look.
"Let me finish, Albus. I do not deserve to be released from Azkaban but I can serve no penance there either. Rotting in Azkaban, I am no use to anybody. Allow me back into the world, and I may yet make amends for my actions."
The room had once again fallen silent. Dumbledore nodded once to Crouch, then sat back down in his place. Crouch sighed heavily and rose from his seat. "As with all Death Eater cases, your appeal verdict will be decided by a jury selected from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The verdict will be delivered at midday on Thursday. Until that time you will be returned to Azkaban."
Crouch nodded to the two Dementors. They released Snape from the chair, taking him back through the door.
The scene shifted completely. Harry was no longer in the courtroom but in a long corridor. He could hear wailing and screaming all around him, as though it were coming from the walls. Then he realised what it was. The walls were made up of rows and rows of bars, with occasional perpendicular stone walls between. Each stone wall was guarded with two Dementors. Harry shivered, for there was only one place he could be – Azkaban.
Soft footsteps could just be heard above the bone-chilling wails. Harry looked behind him to see Dumbledore walking towards him, lead by another Dementor. He pushed himself against one set of bars to avoid touching the Dementor as it walked past, before following the pair to a cell near the end of the corridor. The Dementor unlocked the barred door and stepped back to allow Dumbledore through. Harry followed quickly behind him, not wanting to miss whatever would be said.
"We tried, Severus. Now all we can do is wait for the verdict."
Snape sat on a straw-filled mattress with dirty grey covers. He had removed his robes, and sat now in a dirty off-white shirt and black trousers, his head in his hands.
"I know, Albus. Thank you for your help but I think we know what the outcome will be."
"Severus, you are a good friend of mine – one of my trusted. For that reason I will not allow you to wallow in self-pity. I will not allow you to waste away in this hell hole when there are better purposes to your life. You said it yourself, Severus – rotting here you are no use to anybody but in the world you may serve your penance."
"It is a hopeless case, Albus…"
"Now that I will not hear! They let Lucius Malfoy out, they will certainly release you."
Snape raised his head slowly and looked Dumbledore in the eye. His lips twitched in something that may, on closer inspection, have been a smile. "I will never be able to thank you enough for what you have done for me, Albus."
"Nonsense, dear boy. I am sure I will think of something suitably torturous for you to do for me!"
Harry smirked, wondering if teaching Potions to a school of unruly, resentful students counted as 'torturous' or not.
The scene began to shift again, and Harry found himself sitting back in the courtroom. There was little difference, except that Snape was already in the chair – though not tied down – and Dumbledore now sat beside him.
"Severus Snape. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has discussed your case and deliberated. They have given me your verdict." Crouch opened an envelope, which Harry could see had 'The Severus Snape Case' written on it. He took out a sheaf of parchment and began to read. "To the charge of being a Death Eater, you have been found guilty. However, the jury is convinced of your repentance – there will be no charge for this crime. To the charge of severe harm to Muggles and Muggle-borns," there was a pause, and the air was thick with silence. "you have been found guilty." Harry heard Dumbledore sigh heavily, and Snape's head hung in heavy acceptnace. "However, in consideration of your later actions to protect said groups, you will receive only a fine of 100 galleons and no sentence." Snape raised his head again. The look of damnation was replaced with one of mild hope. "To the charge of improper use of the unforgivable curses you have been found not guilty."
Harry looked down at Snape. He had his eyes closed and a look of extreme relief on his face. There were many indignant cries from the people sitting in the arena – although Harry noticed that Mr Malfoy, who was still sitting on the right hand side, didn't look surprised at all. If anything, his lips had curled into a small smile.
"Severus Snape, the fined money will be taken from your vault at Gringotts. If there are not sufficient funds there, a repossession of goods will be taken from your house. Do you understand?"
Snape nodded, seemingly incapable of speech.
"I hereby release Severus Snape from the custody of the Ministry of Magic. He is free to go."
Dumbledore was beaming next to him. The professors in front of him had begun to make a hasty beeline to the bottom of the tiered seats, where Snape was walking towards them. Only Lucius Malfoy remained totally still and silent. Harry frowned at him, before he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Harry spun around and met a pair of dancing blue eyes, belonging to one Albus Dumbledore.
"Time to leave, Harry."