It felt like Judgment Day had finally come. He remembered all about that for his father had sent him to Sunday school as a last resort to exorcise his mother’s sinful ways from young Severus. Failing to take those preachments to heart had made Tobias think that he was unpure in all senses. However, true corruption only came later with a mark and a promise of servitude - the very reasons why Severus Snape was standing here in front of the Wizengamot, the press, and all the lawful and righteous citizens of wizarding Britain who felt that his punishment was their justice. For Severus was sure that his punishment, a life sentence in prison, was inevitable. In the eyes of these people, he was an angel to the devil, and the everlasting fire was his due. He stood there clinging to the last remnants of his dignity and to the questionable sanity he would soon be robbed off by the dementors that once again guarded the walls of Azkaban.
He held his ground with his shoulders pulled back, his back straight, a posture so rigid that no storm could have made him waver. Only his head was bowed, a gesture, which an innocent bystander could have confused for repentance. Yet, everyone knew better, most of all Severus himself. He was waiting for Judgment, not for absolution of any kind. His life, utterly destroyed as it was, held more meaning in its fulfilled purpose than all the others’ in the room. Severus was at peace. For him, at last, all was said and done.
“All rise,” said the Head of the Wizengamot, which was followed by the screeching noise of dozens of chairs being pushed back as the audience got to their feet. “We declare you guilty of the following grievances: being a full member of the Death Eaters, bearing the Dark Mark, following the orders of He Who Must Not Be Named, wielding dark magic, torturing students in Hogwarts while holding the position of Headmaster, and killing former Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Thus, we sentence you to a lifetime spent in Azkaban - effective immediately!”
With his eyes still focused on the polished stone floor in front of him, Severus heard the hammer as it knocked once, and he thought of Albus, and how he once had saved him from the very same fate he was going to suffer now. He heard the hammer knock for the second time, and he thought about Lily Potter, neé Evans, his friend, his confidante, his greatest mistake. Then he heard the hammer for the third time…
“Wait!” Cried a voice loud and clear and Severus realized that the last bang had not come from the hammer, but from the large wooden entrance door through which a man unceremoniously barged in. For the first time during his trial, Severus raised his head to lay his eyes upon the intruder. He tried to place the man, for he seemed vaguely familiar, but the voice nor the appearance did anything other than ring some alarm bells suggesting this person somehow would bring change. However, whether it would be for better or for worst, Severus did not know.
“Mister Potter,” the Head of the Wizengamot addressed the intruder in a voice that dripped of irritation, indignation, and apprehension all at once. Severus flinched hearing the blasted name and cursed himself for going slightly breathless with hope. Then, with an effort that took the rest of his strength, he forced his eyes back down to the floor. He realized that no matter whether Potter came to add to his condemnation or to continue to be the noble Griffindor and try to save him would not make any difference. He would go to prison in any case, and Harry Potter or no, this strange apparition who stood with determination in front of his Judges, would not change his fate, as the Day had come.
“Mister Potter,” repeated the Head of the Wizengamot for the sake of silencing the audience which went from a respectful silence to an outraged buzz and excited whispering upon Potter’s arrival. “While we appreciate all that you have done for the wizarding world, I do not see any reason, why you should have any right to march into…”
“And that is the problem, isn’t it?” Interrupted Potter, not at all abashed by the chastising which he was receiving. “You do not see it. Well, speaking for myself, I do not see any appreciation whatsoever. Not for what I did, and certainly not for the man you are condemning right now.”
“Mister Potter…” tried another Judge impatiently, but Potter once again interrupted.
“I see the elite of our world sitting in front of and around me. I see Judges, Aurors, the press, members of noble families – people whom I and many others fought for. Yet, what I don’t see is the remnants of the war. I do not see wounds or scars, I don’t see grief and I don’t see mourning. I see people who were aware of the war but did not partake in it. Yet, these people, the elite of our world, are the fastest to demand justice.”
During Potters speech, the audience at first started to fidget, but soon, the room went into uproar upon hearing Potter’s words. Some demanded the intruder to be removed, some shouted in outrage, but there were those who listened as the weight of Potter’s judgment settled heavily on their conscience.
“You were nowhere to be seen, while my friends, my comrades, and I went into battle for our lives and yours,” Potter went on, with a sure voice that sliced through the noise in the room. “You were sitting in your homes, like it was not your task to protect yourselves, and you happily let yourselves be protected. Yet now, you feel that you have the right to take the task of judging upon yourselves.” He took a pause and looked around the room, eyes boring into each and every person. “You have no right - no right whatsoever - to judge this man.”
Potter then turned his back to the audience and stepped up directly to the Wizengamot. “This man, Severus Snape, had never been kind to me. He had not been my mentor, and certainly not my friend. Yet, he protected me from day one and he had been willing to sacrifice his life for me to live, because he believed that Dumbledore had been right to think that I was the one who had the power which could destroy Voldemort.”
“Mister Potter,” roared the Head of the Wizengamot with outrage. “You simply cannot say…”
“I can and I will!” Replied Potter fiercely. “I killed Voldemort with the help of Severus Snape and I could not have done it without him. He gave me protection when I was not ready, then he gave me the knowledge, the ultimate power that I needed for destroying the man whose name you still cannot bear to hear. Without him, I would be dead, the war would be over with us defeated, and this room would be empty, as there would be no more justice, only a dictatorship that would have known no rights, just one person’s – Voldemort’s.”
Without a conscious decision, Severus raised his eyes and his black orbs met with fierce green ones. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, for this Potter was not the noble Gryffindor he remembered, but a man, a veteran, whose ideals had been long lost in the bloodshed and horror of the war. Potter was angry, furious even, and he was not backing down.
“This man,” Potter went on in the silence of the suddenly hushed room, “had fooled the most powerful dark wizard in the century. He spied against him, supplied the light side with information while his life had been in constant risk. You ignored the testimony of Albus Dumbledore’s portray, claiming it was not reliable. The truth is that you do not want to acknowledge that a man so powerful as Dumbledore had made such a mistake that he caused his own demise, and that his last wish had been to go on his own terms. That his last wish had been that his death would not become meaningless. You all know this, yet you need a scapegoat. Now I want to call in those who actually fought in the war and could be accurate judges of one Severus Snape.”
To the horror of the Wizengamot, the entrance door banged open again and dozens of people marched in front of the room. Severus could not believe his eyes as he watched the surviving members of the Order and their families, former colleagues and students, and even people who he never remembered meeting lined up in front of the Judges.
“Now, I would like to ask: who stands here beside Severus Snape and demands his freedom?” Potter asked and all newcomers raised their hands. Then, slowly, one by one, hands appeared amongst the audience. At last, more than half of the Judges raised theirs, either because they were swayed by Potter’s impassioned speech, or they were cowed by the Savior and his followers.
Severus looked completely bemused at Potter as one seething Head of the Wizengamot dropped all charges against him and declared him free. The Day had come, the hammer banged three times, and he passed Judgment. His eyes locked with Potter’s again, and he watched as in slow motion, as the man walked up to him and held onto his arm, then whisked him away with the dizzying feel of apparition he haven’t felt in well over a year.
They arrived into the middle of a summer storm. In mere moments, they were both drenched to the skin, but Severus barely noticed as he was still mesmerized by the man in front of him. The year since he last seen Potter had certainly brought changes. Gone was the scrawny runt of an unruly boy he remembered from Hogwarts and in his stead stood a strong, self-confident young man. Potter was now half an inch taller than Severus himself and his figure had filled out nicely with muscles that spoke of strength and fitness. The bird's nest that once grew in uncontrollable abundance in the top of Potter’s head now fell wetly onto broad shoulders which were clad in a simple, traditional robe. Gone was, also, the boyishness from his face. At nineteen, Potter looked nearly as old as someone in his mid-twenties with his strong, angular jaw covered with days worth of dark stubble. To Severus’ shock, there were grey specks embedded amongst the black ones, and as he scrutinized Potter’s hair ever so carefully, he discovered more signs of early aging. He couldn’t help but think to himself how ironic it was that the spawn of his once school nemesis now looked older than the father himself when he died. Finally, Severus looked into the clear, achingly familiar green eyes that no longer were hidden behind those awful spectacles. Indeed, Potter had grown up and he completely missed it.
Potter, to his credit, patiently bore Severus’ appraisal. He didn’t seem overly concerned by the storm raging around them either, but he gently nudged his companion forward anyways. For the first time, Severus noticed that they were in a path which led towards a small cottage in a forest clearing. As they walked towards the porch, Potter finally broke the silence.
“We are just outside of Whitehaven in the north of England, close to the Scottish border and only a fifteen minutes walk away from the sea. This cottage has been warded by myself against all intrusions and is situated in a rather secluded patch of lend with the forest from one side, and with the sea from the other. Dumbledore left a considerable sum of money to the both of us; however, while you were held in Azkaban, the Ministry emptied your accounts and destroyed your property in Spinner’s End. All of your belongings from Hogwarts were transferred here, but for the others…” Here, Potter stopped, evidently uncomfortable with breaking these news to Severus. Then he cleared his throat and went on after opening the door for the older man. “I purchased it from the money Dumbledore left to me and opened an account to which I transferred the rest. I don’t need it and I definitely don’t want it – it is yours, the way Dumbledore would have wanted it.”
“Professor Dumbledore…” Inserted Severus, noticing for the first time how his voice had roughened with disuse during his imprisonment. While the tissues and nerves had been healed after Nagini’s attack, he had not had the chance to strengthen them, since just after his release from St Mungo’s, he had been immediately thrown into Azkaban.
Potter’s lips twitched in amusement at the interruption, but he went on without commenting on it. “You can, of course, sell it, if it is not to your liking. I didn’t wish to presume, but I tried to make it as simple, comfortable, and private as possible – the way I thought you would prefer it. There is a potion laboratory in the basement, but I only managed to get supplies for the most basic potion. I think we will both agree that it is for the best, anyways. You have a bedroom for yourself, of course, one guestroom, and here, you can see that this is the living room and through that door…”
“Why?” Severus asked simply, not caring in the least about the tour Potter was giving him. Why? This had been the question he wanted to ask since Potter had stormed into his trial, forever changing the course of fate – his fate.
“I…., “ Potter started slowly, fixating on a spot just above Severus’ right shoulder. With a nervous gesture, he attempted to push up the spectacles on his nose that no longer resided there. Then, upon realizing his mistake, he aborted the movement and instead he started to unbutton his robes. “I always hated them” said Potter, but seeing Severus’ confused frown, he hastened to explain. “The robes, I mean. Maybe I was raised as a muggle for too long, but I’ve always found them uncomfortable and restricting. I wear them when I must, but….” He cleared his throat again, interrupting his own babbling, then simply asked, “Tea?” then without waiting for a reply, he strode into the kitchen and started to see to their beverages. And Severus, left without choices, followed.
He sat down to an old-fashioned wooden table and surveyed the cottage that was apparently his. Surprisingly, Potter was unnervingly spot on concerning his likings in the matter of decoration and arrangement, as he immediately felt at home and could actually imagine his life in such a place. His life… his free life.
“They were not listening to me, not any of them,” started Potter, interrupting Severus’ musing. He looked at the younger man, watching his movements and gestures closely as he was talking while he opened some doors on the cupboard and took out two cups, sugar, and milk from it. The can was already whistling on the stove, which Potter silenced with a switch of his wand. “At first, I even had to convince the members of the Order that you were on our side. Naturally, as you played your part a tad too well as a spy. But afterwards, they were with me, all agreeing that there was no way you deserved to rot away in Azkaban. You deserved to be thanked and…. Well, the Ministry did not agree with us, as you surely have realized.”
Potter put the tea in front of Severus, and took his to the other end of the table. He sipped the still steaming beverage with a frown on his face as he stared into nothing for a few moments. Severus wanted to demand him to speed things up and he wanted to give the time and space the man apparently needed. He was still shell-shocked that he was here, with his name cleared, drinking tea with none other than Harry Potter. He wanted to sink back into their familiar hostility, while he wanted to… express the gratitude he felt towards the younger man. He wanted to say and ask a thousand things, but he was still wavering in some in-between place which felt and sounded real, but still was incomprehensible. As Potter shook himself out of his reverie, his attention was forced back to the conversation at hand.
“I tried, but I couldn’t persuade them. Kingsley is the Minister, temporarily, but as they yet to have a proper election, his hands are tied in many ways. He did his best to do right by you, but it was not enough. I was not happy with him at all as it took more than a year for him to convince the Wizengamot to give you a trial. He thought it would be enough but those bastards…”
By the time Potter reached this point, his tenor that had been gentle to this point, had risen and his eyes were wild with barely controlled fury. He shoved himself away from the table and he started to walk back and forth with quick, angry strides. Severus watched in amazement as the young man explained how things went further, all the while gesturing wildly in obvious distress. All for his, Severus’ sake.
“This was no fair trial, they didn’t even send a notice to Kingsley that it was today. No witnesses, no counsel, no nothing! It is a miracle that Kingsley found out about it and he immediately sent for me. We barely had the time to make the necessary calls, which was exactly what those bastards wanted! They knew that what they were doing was not right, they heard Dumbledore’s testimony after all. Yet…”
“They needed a scapegoat,” Severus finished instead of him, as Potter seemed to finally run out of steam. Potter came to a halt and turned back towards him.
“Why aren’t you angry?”
Severus frowned in concentration, then to buy some time, drank the last of his now tepid tea. He finally settled on an explanation that was the closest to the truth. “I did not expect anything else; after all, nobody could say that I was innocent on those charges. I did everything they could bring up against me and maybe even some more.”
“But you were with us,” Potter cried in outrage, defending Severus even against himself.
“Yes, I worked for the light and I did everything for one and only one purpose: I wanted to see the Dark Lord’s fall. But, Potter, you have to understand, that I never expected to survive this war, and for this, I never even considered how the Ministry would proceed with such a trial. Yet, when I was unceremoniously dumped into Azkaban, I felt none of the surprise you seem to have had. I felt no outrage, nor anger. I simply…”
“Felt nothing.” Potter finished for him and Severus decided not to argue with the statement, as it was far too accurate of a description of how dead he was inside by that time. Now, however, the war and Azkaban were far enough away for Severus to have some… stirring in the mid-area of his chest. The oh-so-icy coldness of the dementors could not reach him anymore. He started to feel again, and he felt… warm. Warm, protected, and grateful.
Without seemingly any sort of decision on his part, he felt his lips open and the words that left them shocked him at least as much as they shocked Potter. “I knew that you were not like your father, you were never a bully. And while your kind nature resembles that of your mother's, you are far more… forgiving. You have grown into a man – a man that they would be proud of…”
Potter looked at him with his mouth slightly agape, and he had to swallow for several times before he could respond. “And I think you are far more remarkable than you give yourself credit for. I could never repay you the years you took upon yourself as penitence. Nobody could… But I want you to have the chance, if not to replace them, but to create new, better ones. You deserve it.”
For the first time in many, many years, Severus felt the treacherous tears that flooded his vision. He fought them desperately for a moment or two, but with a blink, he lost the battle, and felt them pour onto his pale, shallow cheeks and down to his lips, where he could taste their bitter saltiness. With an irritated gesture, he wiped them away with the sleeves of the clean robes he had been given for his trial, and stood up. He locked eyes with the man, this man that gave him everything he thought he never wanted and more, and walked up to him.
Severus only intended to shake his hand in an innocent gesture of gratitude. Yet, his body had betrayed him once again, and as his and Potter’s personal space met, their magical auras crackled with an unknown, delicious energy. His right hand, seemingly in its own volition, wandered up to Potter’s rough, stubbly check, and caressed it, all the while gazing into those intent eyes of his. Seconds passed, only measured by their wildly beating hearts, and before either of them realized that they were leaning into each other, their lips were touching in a breathless butterfly kiss. They only connected in these two parts, a hand on a cheek, and a lip on a lip. Yet, their whole bodies felt aflame with passion, as they kissed and caressed.
The moment was broken by Severus, as he suddenly realized what he was doing. He only wanted to convey his gratitude, not to force himself onto Potter, who for sure had to be both shocked and pitying at his apparent craving for human contact. Yet, when he drew backwards, Potter held him back by waving his strong fingers into his hair and pulling him even closer. He pressed his lips against Severus’ more firmly, but without any demand, and he flicked his tongue against them, which nearly made Severus’ knees buckle. He gasped and responded in kind, drawing Potter impossibly closer by his sinfully soft hair as they succumbed to burning sensations neither had known before.
However, while their passion demanded more, both of them were too wary to act on it. Their kisses and caresses slowed to a soothing pace, until Potter, with a last gently nibble, separated from Severus to look into his eyes. Green gaze bore into a black one, and while neither of them knew what they were actually searching for, they seemed to find it. Potter guided Severus’ head onto his shoulder as he buried his in Severus’ neck. They stood there, willing their hearts to an even beat - and they beat in unison. The war was over, Judgment came and went, and they both survived. They had time.
“This is yours, Severus,” Potter finally whispered, and he pushed a long, angular box into Severus' hand. Surprised, Severus withdrew from their embrace and opened it, just to find a wand lying inside. A sharp gasp escaped his lips as he looked back into the gentle green eyes. “Someone from the Ministry had snapped yours. I went to Olivander’s and… well, you know the old men, he remembers every wand he ever made; therefore, he remembered yours. Strangely, he thought this time you needed something different. It is fourteen inches, ebony, and… well, he put the last feather in Fawkes had ever given to him. He said it should serve you well.”
Potter looked at Severus expectantly, waiting for him to try it. Severus just stared back at him, dumbfounded, as he couldn’t believe the lengths Potter went through for him and him alone. Finally, when Potter nodded towards the wand that still rested in the box and gave him an encouraging smile, Severus managed to shake his body back into obedience, and took the offered gift out. As he held it between his fingers, he realized that now he had all the chances and choices in the world, that he was truly, completely liberated. From now on, his future was unsullied by the past that were controlled by two masters and the sins he committed for them. He wanted his first spell to be something he would never forget, something that held a meaning, something, he could always cherish. Finally, he came to a decision, and he let the new wand guide his magic as it passed through him in a warm rush.
A familiar doe leapt forth from the tip of his wand, and with an unearthly grace, it darted through the room once, before it settled in front of them. Potter smiled in approval, and in a spontaneous gesture, he called forth his own patronus. The stag appraised its partner, then, in obvious delight, he grazed his snout against the doe’s neck. In a response, she moved closer to him, and nudged him affectionately with her own head. Potter smiled at Severus and he couldn’t help himself, he answered in kind. Their hands found each other, their fingers intertwined, as they watched the patroni until they dissolved, all the while listening to the storm outside as it finally quieted as well.