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Third Time's a Charm

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When he came to, Minerva was slapping his face. "Severus!" she said. "Severus, is this Blood-Replenishing Potion?"

He grunted. He couldn't see a thing.

"I found this vial in your pocket, you insufferable man," she said loudly, as if she needed to shout for him to hear her. Maybe she did. "I hope it's not poison!" Then she muttered, "Although that might serve you right." Something was pressed to his lips, but he couldn't muster a reaction.

Then he heard an incantation that was low and musical. It was familiar to him, and it soothed him.

"I'm giving you another vial of this potion, Severus!"

He closed his lips tight; he refused to help her save him. Dying was his only blessing in this life, and she wasn't going to take it from him.

But he was still too weak to fight her. She dug her fingers into his cheeks to force his mouth open and poured another potion down his throat. He heard the musical sounds again.

"Hey," he whispered. He recognized the incantation. It was his own Healing Charm, the one he invented to counter Sectumsempra.

"Severus, how many times is it safe to use that charm? I've used it four times, and it looks like one more might get it. Is that safe?"

"How," he whispered. He'd never told anyone that charm.

"I've used just about every potion in your pockets, but there's one left. I think it's just a general healing potion. It's probably not as good as the others you had, but it can't do any harm." She dug her fingers into his cheeks again to force open his mouth, but he kept his jaw clenched tight.

Damn it, even the fact that he could do that much showed that she'd already won. He gave up and let her force-feed him another potion.

She began the incantation again. She sang it in perfect pitch, with the perfect magical intent. He fumbled his fingers over his own neck, and felt scar tissue and blood, but no open wounds.

"How," he croaked quietly, barely above a whisper, "did you learn that?"

"You showed me, remember?"

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did. When you showed me the time when Potter cursed Mr. Malfoy."

He looked at her blankly.

"When you healed Mr. Malfoy in the bathroom? You showed me in the Pensieve."

"But," he grunted, "that spell takes intent."

"Yes, Severus, you showed me in the Pensieve."

He'd let it rest if she wasn't being so insufferably vague. "But you can't just copy the motions and the words. You have to feel it correctly."

"Yes, you showed me in the Pensieve," she repeated. She frowned at him, like he might have lost some brain function.

"Wait," he finally said. "Can a Pensieve do that?"

"Yes, of course!" she said. Then, "...You didn't know?"

"No, I didn't know." He'd tried to sound irritable and scornful, but even to his ears, it just sounded tired. "How did you know?"

"That's how Dumbledore tried to teach me Occlumency, but even with all that, I couldn't--" She stopped abruptly. "Wait," she said. "How did you teach Occlumency to Potter?"

He groaned. "This answers so many of my questions."

"Well, I still have a few more."

But at that moment, the Dark Lord's voice rang out as if he were inside the Shrieking Shack with them; as if he were inside their own heads.

"HARRY POTTER IS DEAD," it said. Something clenched in Severus's chest and his ears started ringing so that the next few things the Dark Lord said were blocked out. "WE BRING YOU HIS BODY AS PROOF THAT YOUR HERO IS GONE."

Minerva looked stricken, but he had tears running down his face--down into his ears, as he was still flat on his back. Thankfully, she didn't comment on it, but helped prop him up a bit and conjured a handkerchief to dab his face. He couldn't stop crying. He hoped it was because he was weak from nearly dying, but he wasn't sure of it.

"I have to go now," she said. "I'll come back for you later, if...if I can." If she lived.

And then he was alone in the room he was supposed to die in. The boy he'd lived to protect was dead; everyone he'd ever cared about--if even briefly--if even for a moment--was caught up in either side of the battle that would now be fought.

And he was alive, but could barely move. He tried to shift over, as he wasn't exactly comfortable sitting in a pool of his own congealing blood, but only managed to fall on his side. Luckily, Minerva seemed to have transfigured a pillow for him, and his head landed on it.

He waited.

Occasionally, he could hear distant shouts. It was getting lighter inside the room; dawn would soon break if it hadn't already.

And suddenly, he felt the strangest sensation in his arm: he felt nothing. In one moment, he realized that his arm had been burning the moment before--indeed that his arm had been burning for years before. The pain had become nothing more than background noise.

But now--nothing. The Mark was gone. The Dark Lord was dead. Harry Potter's death had been successful. Severus started crying again.

He didn't know how long he'd been alone when he heard someone coming into the shack. He tried to wipe his tears away--tried to grab his wand--anything--but he couldn't get his arms to work right. He couldn't even roll over to face the door.

"Good god!" It was Pomona.

"I told you it was bad." That was Minerva. "Help me get him--"

"--Let's clean some of this up first, or we'll slip. Merlin, Minerva, he looks terrible."

"He's still awake," he croaked.

"Severus, you stubborn bastard," Pomona said. "I'd scold you for never telling us anything and not asking for our help, but we haven't got time for it now."

She cast several Cleaning Charms in his general direction, and the floor was suddenly much more comfortable than it had been. He groaned in relief.

"Can we use magic to move him?" she asked.

"I think it's best if we don't. Those wounds in his neck are delicate."

"Move him where?" he asked, with his face still mainly buried in the pillow.

Minerva said, "To the castle, you disagreeable man."

He finally did manage to move an arm. He tried to grab hold of one of the women, but they must not have been standing close enough. His arm swung through the empty air and fell behind him. "No," he said.

Pomona said, "Oh, but we didn't tell you--you must not know! Harry killed You-Know-Who! It's over--it's safe!"

Severus's heart skipped a few beats. He wasn't sure he'd heard that right.

Minerva snorted. "I think he's probably more worried about his reception."

"Harry told everyone about how Dumbledore asked you to kill him, Severus." Pomona didn't seem to notice what this did to his heart--it stopped momentarily, then slammed against his chest. She continued, "He said that you've been working against You-Know-Who--"

"Severus!" Minerva said in some alarm. "Are you all right?"

He couldn't answer, and he realized it was because his throat was busy making a horrible keening noise. Someone touched his shoulder gently. "Can I get you something?" Minerva asked.

He tried to shake his head, but wasn't sure he did. "Harry," he rasped. "He's not--" But he couldn't even say it.

Minerva's voice was thick when she said, "No, Severus, Harry's alive."

***

Minerva and Pomona managed to take him up to the castle on a stretcher. Blessedly, no one seemed to notice another body being taken to the hospital wing. When he was deposited gently on a bed, Poppy was quick with a sleeping potion.

It was afternoon when voices woke him.

"--believe he survived it," someone said.

"A lot of that going around these days," someone else replied.

"Severus," Minerva said. "Are you awake?" She shook his shoulder.

He grunted. "No," he said.

"Severus, the castle still recognizes you as headmaster, and there are things that need doing."

He wrinkled his face and opened his eyes. He moved his arm experimentally, finding that it worked. Relieved, he rubbed his brow. "How do you know I'm still headmaster?"

"Your portrait," Filius said. "It hasn't appeared yet."

He groaned. "I resign."

"Resignation accepted," Pomona said. "Next on the agenda, we need an interim headmaster until the Board of Governors can reconvene. I nominate Severus Snape."

"Seconded," Filius said.

"Third," Horace said.

"Motion passed," Minerva said. Severus groaned again, and she ignored it. "Next up, the castle is not in danger of collapsing, but the wards have been badly compromised. And we will most likely be playing host to several strays over the next few days."

"Strays, Minerva?" Pomona said.

Minerva frowned at her. "Former students, we'll say."

"Better."

"Wait," Severus said. He could barely hear their conversation over the sound of his own thoughts. They could choose anyone--why would they pick him as headmaster? Why were they even tolerating his presence? Could they remember nothing of the last year? Trying to consolidate these questions as best he could, he asked, "Why?"

"Well," Pomona said, "I imagine they're unwilling to leave just yet."

"No--why do you want me headmaster?" It wasn't the most articulate thing he'd ever said, but it conveyed the point. He looked at Filius, because he couldn't look at Pomona or Minerva, but he wasn't such a coward that he had to look at Horace.

Filius shrugged. "It makes sense," he said. "We could, of course, choose in a more formal way." He looked around at his colleagues and said, "One, two, three--Not it."

"Not it," Minerva and Pomona chorused, just as Horace said, "Oh, ho, ho, not it."

There was a pause, and Severus said, "Not it."

"Too late," Minerva said cheerfully--and a little sadistically, if Severus wasn't mistaken.

Fine. That was just fine. Then they got what they got; he was going to do this his way. And the quicker they got shit done, the quicker this "meeting" would be over and Severus could go back to sleep.

"So, castle security, then," Minerva prompted.

"Is anyone standing guard at the main gates?" Severus asked.

"Hagrid."

He grunted. That was actually not a terrible thing. "Are all the ...former students going to sleep here tonight?"

"Some of them, I imagine."

"Ask them and get a count. Pomona, you take care of that. If people aren't staying, they need to be gone by..."

"Ten o'clock ought to be reasonable--"

"Yes, ten o'clock. After they leave, ward the boundaries against any visitors until dawn. Are there aurors present?"

"Yes, several."

"Work out a patrol schedule for the night with them. Did any Death Eaters escape?"

"A fair few, but they were all seen fleeing the grounds."

"Are the anti-Apparition wards still in place?"

"No."

"Fuck," Severus said. Horace gasped, but he'd voted for Severus to be headmaster, so he'd have to get used to the language. "How many people are required to reset them?"

The Heads looked at each other. Minerva said, "The four of us can do a rudimentary one tonight, but a more permanent solution would take..."

"Six or seven?" Pomona guessed.

"Eight, I think--if we want to do it properly," Filius said.

"Make it your priority to set up a temporary one now, before you do anything else. Filius, work out the details for how to set up a permanent ward and keep us posted."

They nodded, and Minerva spoke. "Next on the agenda--it may be too early to think about this, but what shall we do about O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams this year?"

They were silent. "Cancel them," Filius finally said.

"We can't test at Hogwarts, in any case," Horace said.

"Do you think any students could even manage their exams?" Severus asked.

They looked at each other uncomfortably. Filius finally spoke. "I admit that I largely forwent my usual curriculum in favor of Healing and Protection Charms."

"Oh, thank Merlin it wasn't just me," Pomona said. "I don't think I taught a single plant that wasn't used for the same thing."

Minerva nodded. "Unless my students did independent study, they won't be able to pass any transfiguration tests. Horace?"

"I...admit that a few of the potions I taught this year were non-standard."

There was another silence, longer this time.

"We can give students the option to take their tests and advance a year," Severus said. "Otherwise..." he sighed. "Let's just make next year a do-over for everyone." And to his infinite shame, he started fucking crying again.

Minerva patted his shoulder awkwardly; Filius and Horace looked away. Pomona conjured a handkerchief and handed it over. "It's reasonable," she said. "We'll just have a large class of first-years next year."

Severus swallowed hard and forced himself to speak in a level voice, even if he couldn't quite get his eyes to stop leaking. He said, "I don't intend to act as headmaster for any longer than I have to. Please accept my permanent resignation by the end of the month."

"Give it two months," Pomona said. Minerva shot her a look that Severus couldn't interpret. "Until the end of June," Pomona clarified, and nodded at Minerva.

***

Later in the evening, Harry Potter made an appearance, as Severus suspected he would. He looked scruffy and underfed.

"Snape," he said.

"Potter." Severus hoped against hope that the conversation would end there.

For his part, Potter looked extremely uncomfortable. "Look, I just want to say thank you, and sorry."

Severus snorted. "Neither apology nor gratitude is appropriate. We both had our parts to play. We played them."

Potter looked at him for a long while. "So, that's it?" he said.

"I certainly hope so," Severus said.

Potter looked like he'd been struck; he turned and walked out the doors of the hospital wing, and Severus barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief before the boy stormed right back in the doors.

"No," he said fiercely. "You're not taking this from me. Thank you for protecting me. I'm sorry for being a dick about it. Maybe it was just your part to play, but you played it well. And for me, it wasn't a part I played, it was my fucking life and it means something to me that you fought for it." He huffed for a few moments, as if waiting for Severus to respond.

So he did. "If that's all, Potter?"

The boy crumpled. "Fuck you, Snape," he said, managing to sound sad as he did so. Then he left.

Severus was left wondering if Potter knew how to use the Pensieve as Minerva did--if Potter had not only viewed his memories, but known his intent, as well.

That was an unnerving thought. He'd been dying when he surrendered the memories; he hadn't been overly scrupulous in their selection. Besides, he never considered that the boy might learn of his intentions toward his mother.

***

He left the hospital wing early the next morning, and was surprised to find Pomona walking down the corridor towards him. "Severus! There you are. I thought you might like to tour the grounds."

He grunted. He'd been nearly dead not twenty-four hours before. He supposed that didn't count for anything, not when he was up and walking today. "I can think of nothing I'd enjoy more," he said in a tone that meant the opposite.

Pomona couldn't be provoked, though, and she grabbed his arm and tucked it under hers. It was awkward as she was quite a bit shorter than him, but he found that he didn't mind. They had to sidestep much rubble and disquieting stains in the corridor.

"How many people died?" he asked.

Pomona shrugged. "I find that the numbers don't matter. If only one person died, and you loved that person, then you don't care how many people were saved. If that person lived, you don't care if a hundred others died."

Severus thought about that. "Did Draco Malfoy live?"

She nodded. "Yes. Actually, most of Slytherin House--the current students, anyway--came out quite well. They seemed to have fought with their heads. The exception is Vincent Crabbe."

"Ah," he said. It wasn't entirely unexpected, and Crabbe had never been one of his favorites. He thought he might understand what she was talking about--one dead versus one hundred dead. He was glad that Draco had lived. He hadn't seen the boy yet, but that didn't surprise Severus--the boy had been extremely subdued the last year, and was probably still processing Severus's betrayal. Although Severus didn't know which betrayal Draco would feel most keenly.

But there were other students at Hogwarts. "Which Houses were hardest hit?" he asked.

She looked at him. "I think you know the answer to that, Severus."

She looked away and kept walking.

Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, of course.

They walked in silence until they reached the main doors. When they stepped through and looked outside, Severus stopped in his tracks.

The castle grounds were burnt and cratered. "Shit," he said.

"We have a lot of work to do," she agreed. "Maybe we don't need to walk the grounds, but I want you to see my greenhouses." She led the way.

The greenhouses were destroyed. The plants were burnt and trampled, and liberally sprinkled with broken glass. The pungent smell of burnt herbs permeated the place.

"I know this seems like a low priority, Severus, but the hospital wing used up a year's supply of Burn Salve and Blood Replenishers and Pain Draughts just last night. I'm sure brewing more wouldn't be a problem, but getting the necessary ingredients will be. If Hogwarts is to reopen in September, we must restore the greenhouses quickly."

He sighed. He was already worn out from the walk. "I suppose you can't do it on your own."

"Not when I'm needed elsewhere in the castle and grounds. You saw the damage. But I have a solution."

"What is it?" he said, not remotely curious. He wished there was somewhere to sit down.

She sensed his thoughts and conjured a bench for the both of them. "You be in charge of restoring the greenhouses."

He tried to snort, but it sounded like a sigh. "Pomona...I, too, am needed elsewhere."

"You're weak, and you know it. I saw that room where you almost died--I don't care that you're able to stand up today, you're not going to recover from that quickly. Those who are able should restore the castle and grounds. You take care of the greenhouses."

He would be offended, but he knew what the greenhouses meant to her. It was a high compliment that she even suggested it. "Do you really trust me with your greenhouses?" he asked.

She smiled. "I know you hate to be reminded, but I remember you as a student, Severus Snape. Yes, I trust you."

He frowned. "You remember so long ago--don't you remember the last year? I murdered Albus Dumbledore. I condoned the torture of students. I was a Death Eater and a traitor."

Pomona patted his arm and smiled sadly. "I don't know if I can explain this to you, because you and I think so differently. But I'll try: I knew you for years, Severus, and I liked you and trusted you. And then it seemed like I'd been wrong about you all along... And this past year--it's like I've been fighting against myself--forcing myself not to trust you. And now, it turns out that I was right about you all along, and suddenly everything you did makes sense."

He pulled his arm away from her so he could wipe the stray tears that had escaped. His jaw hurt from holding in all the rest. "You are so very Hufflepuff, it's almost a little embarrassing," he said.

She laughed. "If the shoe fits..." she said. "Speaking of House stereotypes, by the way, Minerva is still upset with you."

"I honestly don't think there's ever been a time when Minerva was not a little upset with me."

She laughed again. "That's probably true, but I just want you to know that she'll come around. She's still hurt that you didn't tell her anything--I think she's taking it as a personal betrayal."

He had nothing to say to that, so they sat in silence for a while longer, looking at the ruins. He remembered something from yesterday.

"Wait," he said. "This greenhouse restoring business--is this a ploy, cooked up by you and Minerva to keep me busy?"

"Why Severus, you've found us out," she said.

The problem with Hufflepuffs was that their teasing and their earnestness all came out in the same tone--perhaps because they both came from the same place. It was quite unfamiliar to Severus.

She led him back to his quarters, where he slept most of the day.

***

In the evening, he was surprised by a knock on his door, which turned out to be Draco. The boy's face was unreadable. Severus blinked, and Draco asked, "May I come in, sir?"

Severus wordlessly gestured him in and closed the door.

"I don't know if I should curse you or thank you," Draco said. "But Mother and I are leaving the castle, and I thought I should be the one to tell you."

Severus was careful to keep his own expression neutral. "Going back to the Manor, then?"

"Yes--there is much work to be done there."

"How is Lucius?"

Draco's expression flickered for a moment before it dropped back to blank emptiness. "Father will spend some time in Azkaban. His trial date is set for a few weeks from now. But Mother and I will not stand trial." He frowned. "That's largely due to Harry Potter's sworn statements."

Severus nodded and studied Draco. He had failed this boy in every way imaginable, but to apologize was to admit it. Besides, Draco had survived it. "I wish you and your Mother the best of luck, then," he said, and meant it.

They shook hands and Draco said, "Thank you, sir."