I admit, my writing appears to have slowed down drastically. Apologies again. This is partly because it's not as easy to write not I've veered somewhat further off canon and partly because real like and work have been getting in the way. Many thanks again for all the reviews...once again this would probably been even slower if I hadn't have been prodded a few times and effectively guilt tripped (thanks 'Me'!). I'm glad you all liked the Severus interaction at the end and highly amused that Bathilda seems to have thrown so many people on a loop! Oh and if he seems a bit schizophrenic I would consider this fairly commonplace considering how many years he's had to keep his masks in place and how rarely they crack. I may have to look into getting Severus a cat...*coughs* Thanks again.
Giving Up should be updated next...I'm nearly finished on the next chapter.
Edit alert - I have tweaked this to clean up some of the clumsy sentences... 23/10/2014
Chapter 21: Sins of the Past
POTENTIAL TRIGGERS: REFERENCES TO DEATH EATER ACTIVITY - NOTHING IN DETAIL BUT TORTURE ETC ARE INCLUDED.
"I can't do it again, Minerva," the man in front of me whispers brokenly again before losing eye contact. "I honestly cannot go through it again."
For the first time in more years than I care to count, I am utterly speechless. I don't have a clue how to respond to the broken, crippled man in front of me. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to act. This isn't something I can fix; it isn't even something I should be seeing. Severus is going to be furious with himself for having lost control of him so completely and in front of me. Regardless of the trust that has gradually built up between us over the last few months, he may never forgive me to seeing him like this.
But I can't leave him. I can't walk away from him when he so obviously needs someone there for him irrespective of whether he actually recognises that fact yet. Looking down at my hand as it rests on his thin shoulder which is still shaking under it, I can't help but see an image of Severus as a student at Hogwarts himself. Bright and ambitious with a quick wit and a marvellous way with words that constantly rubbed his classmates up the wrong way, particularly Black and Potter. The child all too quickly co-opted by the elder Malfoy into a world darker than he could ever have imagined. All that potential so easily wasted, all that ambition thrown into a cause that has shattered him. No matter what he has done over the years, nobody deserves that.
"Severus…I…" I start hesitantly, unsure of my footing. "It…"
"Don't!" he snarls almost viciously taking me by surprise at the ferocity in his tone. "Don't make promises you cannot keep, Minerva."
He twists abruptly, knocking my hand sharply off his shoulder as he stares fixedly in the opposite direction, refusing to allow me to see his expression. But the glimpse that I caught of his face as he turned wasn't angry or even superior, there was no supercilious sneer. No, what I saw for just a fraction of a second has shaken me more than I thought to be possible. He looked haunted and openly afraid; there was none of the usual projected arrogance that the man seems to carry as effortlessly as his own skin, instead he looks like a terrified child.
"Severus…" I try again knowing that I am helplessly out of my depth. I am used to counselling homesick firsties, overwhelmed seventh years or 'heartbroken' teenagers; men who have seen more horror than I could even begin to imagine are not within my repertoire. This is beyond my experience and I simply don't even know where to begin.
"Do you have any idea what I have seen, Minerva?" he growls, still refusing to look at me, refusing to meet my eyes. "Do you have any idea what I have done?"
He stands abruptly and strides forcefully across the room, his back to me but his hands clenched tightly at his sides and I don't think I'm imagining the slight shake to them. No. I don't know what you've been through, Severus. Even my attempts at guessing would be woefully inaccurate, could never even begin to delve into the depths of the horror you have both seen and been a part of. The question is, do I want to? Is that something I want to find out? Is that something I can cope with?
"You should save your pity for someone who actually deserves it," he spits out in the same harsh tone as before, but I can't move. Even if I don't want to hear, I can't seem to make my feet move from the carpet. "I certainly do not deserve either your empathy or your pity.
"I have tortured children slowly whilst their parents are forced to watch them screaming in agony. I tortured them either for information that they are refusing to hand over or simply don't know or merely for the Dark Lord's entertainment. I have concocted potions that cause agony to such a degree that even the Cruciatus Curse feels like a mild tickle in comparison, never killing you, never giving you the sanctity of death. I have modified poisons that keep victims alive for years long after they would have willingly given up, forcing them to suffer daily torments whilst the only hope of death continually eludes them, suicide never an option, that freedom constantly denied them."
Finally he looks back up at me and the look in his eyes is frightening. It's haunted, lost, doomed. A man who knows he has no future. I don't know what he sees in my expression, whether he can read the horror and revulsion in my eyes or see how badly the horrendous images that are now running around my mind are affecting me. Part of me already knew this; you don't get marked with the Dark Mark for handing out kittens and rainbows of happiness, but more of me never wanted to look at a young man I have taught and truly see the horrors he has perpetuated. Never wanted to see the real darkness lying behind the colleague I have come to respect and trust.
I put a hand out to steady myself on the chair next to me. How many of those I loved have been taken by Death Eaters? How many of the children I taught and watched grow over the years have been subject to the torments that Severus describes so matter of factly? How many have died by Severus' own hand? And how many by the potions he freely admits having created and handed over to his 'Master' and 'Lord'? How much suffering has he caused? I close my eyes, but that doesn't help when the images in my mind are my own imagination.
"I have watched other Death Eaters rape and maim women, some of them little more than children, purely for their own entertainment but always in the name of the Dark Lord. I have watched wives defiled in front of their husbands, children violated in front of their parents. I have watched their pain, heard their cries of anguish and I have done nothing. I have reported this back to Albus and yet done nothing. I have more blood on my hands than you can even hope to comprehend. How could you? That isn't a world which would ever have tempted you slightly, it isn't a madness you could ever descend to. No matter what I do now, no matter how much I may try there is nothing I can do to wash away the sins of my past. I can never do enough to wipe that slate clean. If the Dark Lord returns I will be forced to go back to him. There is no doubt of that. Only Albus' word kept me out of Azkaban last time, without it I have nothing. I will have to go through it all over again, never being able to fight against it."
"Severus…" For the second time in this conversation I am utterly lost for words. What can I say? It is not within my power to absolve him for the sins of his past. It never was. What he's just admitted is horrifying to witness, and the candour and frankness with which he has admitted it is even more so. But saying nothing is potentially worse than at least acknowledging his words, trying to put some context into it somehow. "Severus, you were eighteen…barely more than a child yourself…"
"Yes, I was eighteen," he snaps furiously, dark eyes flashing with such forceful self-loathing that I have to stop myself taking a step backwards. "I was eighteen. So was James Potter. So was Lily. And what were they doing? They were fighting with all their resources to protect the world they lived in, the world they loved despite having a child to care for. Even Potter, that self-righteous, arrogant, egotistical ignoramus was doing something worthwhile."
He starts pacing across the room in clear and obvious agitation. This is the only time I have ever heard Severus speak of his time as a Death eater unless it was to formally report at Order meetings; he must be distressed beyond belief to be confiding this to me now.
"But that wasn't enough for me, was it? I wanted power, influence and authority. I wanted respect and the ability to ensure that nobody could ever harm me again. I wanted the ability to defend myself but more than that, the ability to hurt anyone who tried in ways unimaginable and immeasurable. I would be respected, feared, obeyed."
He stops; looking directly at me and when he speaks next his tone is no more than a whisper so I have to strain to catch what is being said.
"And I succeeded. Where so many others failed, I succeeded. I became one of the inner circle, one of the right hand lieutenants to the Dark Lord. I became one of the trusted, as far as the Dark Lord is able to trust. I was one of the select few. By the time I made that final mistake, it was far too late to turn back. Maybe it always had been. The Dark Lord is not forgiving of betrayal."
The sheer pain in his voice takes my breath away as I look at the man in front of me who has made such colossal errors with such far reaching implications to so many people.
"But you did turn back, Severus," I say gently, refusing to flinch away at the sheer self-loathing shining so clearly in those dark, hooded eyes or the self-hatred written all the way across his face. "You showed more bravery than any single one of us when you turned back and switched sides. You could have done so openly and effectively signed your immediate death warrant, but you didn't. You didn't take the easy way out. You gave us something we could never have gained otherwise. At significant risk to your own life you stayed in a cause you had abandoned and gave us the information we so desperately needed, information that gave us an edge we desperately needed. You stayed, despite the atrocities you wouldn't only have to witness but also be a part in. You stayed despite the obvious wariness of the side you had just joined. You earned every single grain of trust you gained with tooth, nail and claw."
I don't look away from the man as I speak, willing my words to strike home. I need him to see the truth in my eyes, the conviction in my voice. Despite my utter revulsion for the acts he has just described, my complete horror that anyone could commit such atrocities, I still trust the man. I respect him and he has to hear that.
I saw too many corpses of those killed and defiled in the last war and even afterwards. We rescued hostages, often from Severus' information. We rescued so many already driven completely insane by the torture and horror inflicted upon them, too lost in the darkness and chaos of their own minds to even comprehend the magnitude of what they have lost. I have friends and family either destroyed by the acts committed upon them by men like the one stood in front of me now. I have attempted to comfort those who were too afraid to speak, too violated to trust even their old Head of House. I know exactly what the Death Eaters are capable of, how much hurt and devastation they caused in the name of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I know this and I still trust Severus. I still respect him.
He has made so many mistakes. So many horrifically bad choices. But that was ten years ago and nothing he does now can ever change that. He is right; he can never atone for the choices he made. He made the active choice to ally himself to one of the greatest tyrannical and psychopathic maniacs of all time. He chose to be marked, to follow and become part of a wave of atrocities that can never truly be forgiven. No matter what excuses I try to think of, I have to admit that he made that choice freely and willingly. He wasn't pushed into it, he wasn't coerced or forced. He wanted power and he chose that route to get it. His past may be part of it, but that cannot excuse him.
But I can also see what that decision, that choice has done to him. I can see how much his actions haunt him even after a decade. I can't imagine what it must be like to live with that kind of guilt, the knowledge that this was brought upon by himself. And despite everything, he made that choice as a badly scarred teenager, hurt and afraid, lashing out at the world which had hurt him so badly. He made that appalling choice as an angry young man determined that no one would ever hurt him again, adamant that no one could ever have that kind of power over him again. He wanted to be invincible, invulnerable, untouchable. He needed to be bigger than his father, stronger than James Potter, smarter than Lily. But instead put himself completely in thrall to a master who ended up being worse than all three and completely crazy to boot.
"But I was too late," Severus snarls ferally, stalking forwards with such presence and hatred rolling off him that it takes all my willpower not to retreat in the face of it. The portraits in the room have started to shake forcing their disgruntled occupants out of their frames and I suddenly realise just how close Severus is to completely losing control and just how dangerous that could be. "I begged Albus. I practically crawled at his feet and I was still too late. He couldn't save her…them. She wouldn't have wanted to live without him. I was too late."
Suddenly as if from nowhere the power and rage seem to leave him is a sudden rush and he almost collapses against the wall he's standing by. The cold, forceful and unmistakably deadly persona from a second ago has disappeared and has been replaced by the lost teenager from what seems like eons ago. It's as if all the energy, rage and vigour has left him. He looks lost, helpless and completely alone. It almost reminds me of the night over a decade ago when he realised Black wouldn't get expelled for his apparent attempt on Severus' life; betrayed and deserted by a man he had trusted to protect him. But watching as he starts to tremble slightly, eyes closed and hands almost limp as he leans on the wall I realise that's not quite accurate. Suddenly I recall the last time I saw him like this.
From the depths of my mind I find and drag forth a memory nearly a decade and a half old, a memory I thought long lost to time. I remember a young Severus Snape sat in my Transfigurations class gazing listlessly down at him textbook, not even bothering to glance in my direction as I gave the class instructions. A young Severus Snape, quill held listlessly in his hand instead of taking notes, none of the usual vigour and need to outperform his rival but glancing periodically across the room at a young muggleborn witch. At Lily Evans. A young Severus Snape standing slowly at the end of a class I doubt he heard a word of, walking towards that desk, hands now clenched so tightly it must have been painful. A thin, pale, almost pitiful figure as he stood there, waiting to be noticed, waiting to be acknowledged by the Gryffindor muggleborn.
I remember standing, watching from my desk as the class filed out and thinking how strange this scene seemed. How odd that Mister Snape, usually so vocal in his hatred against both Gryffindors and muggles, was standing at that desk so meekly. He seemed almost subservient and there was no sign of Malfoy or any of the usual suspects around. I remember watching more closely, certain that this must be the start of some sort of elaborate prank, getting ready to intervene if required. If I hadn't been watching I probably wouldn't have noticed and I almost certainly wouldn't recall how Lily's bright emerald eyes simply passing over the scrawny Slytherin boy as if he didn't exist. For a fraction of a second it looked as though the youngster was ready to grab her, his posture screamed the need to do something, the need to act so I stepped forward slightly. But as if he wasn't there Lily stood up, still refusing to acknowledge his presence in any way, shape or form as she chatted to brightly to her friends. It was as if the Slytherin simply didn't exist.
And as I watched the boy suddenly seemed to sag against the table, much as Severus has against the wall, as if his own legs would no longer support his weight. A Gryffindor refusing to acknowledge a Slytherin student certainly wasn't all that unusual given the House rivalries, but the boy's reaction to the dismissal certainly was. He wasn't facing towards me so I couldn't see where his attention was, but I was certain that he watched her all the way out of the room. He stayed in that exact position long after the last student had left the room and I was approaching the point of asking him if he needed me to fetch someone for him just as he turned around. It's the look on his face when I could finally see it that I recognise. That's what I'm seeing now.
That young face so deathly pale, clenched in on himself with eyes so full of self-loathing and despair that I could barely keep eye contact. Eyes so filled with helpless hopelessness, arms wrapped so desperately hard around his thin figure so pitifully. The pain in his face was so blatantly obvious that it actually hurt to look at him, the loneliness so apparent and noticeable it near took my breath away. The sense that he had lost something precious and irreplaceable was transparent in the way his eyes never left the spot where Lily had just walked out of the classroom. And that whisper that I honestly thought I must have imagined; "Lily. I'm sorry." It was the look of utter desolation and that is what I am seeing now. And somehow I make the connection.
"Lily," I say softly, watching closely as his head jolts up and his eyes lock onto mine. Eyes filled with that exact same anguish over a decade later. "It was Lily. You were too late to save Lily. But to be so desperate to save her…" I follow my train of thought through logically despite it being a completely wild guess. "…you had to know. You had to have been the one who turned them over…"
I'd never have believed it if it weren't for the look on Severus' face. I'd been stabbing in the dark but the way what little colour was left in the man's face seems to drain out leaving him completely white and the look of utter shame and guilty says more than any words could have ever hoped to.
All of the anguish I felt that day ten years ago comes crashing back in an almost overwhelming wave that threatens to overpower me. That feeling that whilst the entire wizarding world was rejoicing in the downfall of a man who had tyrannised them for years, I had lost two people who were truly precious to me and couldn't share this with anyone. Everyone was celebrating, the festivities were ongoing and yet I couldn't join them without thinking of the two young lives sacrificed for them. I couldn't share the knowledge that I had forever lost something precious to me and that nothing could ever bring them back.
"You killed them…" I manage in barely a whisper. Somehow, despite everything else the man has admitted this afternoon, this strikes me harder than anything else. "You killed them…"
"The prophecy," Severus says wearily. "I heard the prophecy. I never thought…" He stops looking down at the floor for a long moment before brokenly whispering. "I begged Albus…"
The utter silence that follows Severus' announcement seems to grow and infiltrate every part of the room, it is as if neither of us even dare breathe. Finally his eyes come back up from the floor and I can see the emotions raging behind them. The guilt that he has lived with every day for the last ten years, the pain that can never leave him and I make the second connection. The important connection.
"The doe," I breathe out looking into those haunted eyes. "Oh, Severus…"
And suddenly I understand. I understand and it's heart-breaking.
The call of an incoming Ministry floo means that Severus doesn't get a chance to respond as I turn as Amelia steps back out of my floo.
"I have dealt with Quirinus and Bathilda is free now if you would like to visit," she says curtly, but freezes as she sees the expression on Severus' face, "If this is a good time of course."
"Certainly, Amelia," I respond. I don't think I want to hear Severus' reaction to my last comment. The man doesn't do pity. "We'll follow you through."