Time, Harry thought, was like walking backward away from something — say, from a kiss. First there’d be the kiss; then the stepping back, and the eyes filling up his vision, then the eyes framed in the face as he’d step further away; the face then would be part of a body, then the body would be framed in a doorway, and then, the doorway would be too framed in the trees beside it.
The path would grow longer and the door smaller, the trees filling up his sight and the door would be lost — then the path would be lost in the woods too and the woods would be lost in the hills.
And somewhere in the centre, there would still be the kiss.
This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.
The voice spoke directly in Harry’s head. Harry couldn’t care less.
Another voice added something else, and he had the impression that he knew that voice well, and then Ron’s face was in front of him and was blocking the face he really wanted to see. “Get lost, Ron!” he screamed. “Go, go!”
“Harry…” Hermione started.
“Leave! Both of you,” he croaked. “I want to be alone.”
It was only when the Shack’s door closed behind him, that he pushed at the chest of the lifeless body before him with all his might. The sobs he had been holding back all evening bursted out desperately, drowning his lungs in a grief he never thought possible. “No, no…” he repeated again and again, the useless tears running down his face and chin. He passed his hand through Snape’s bloodied hair, looking at his pale face. “No…” He was unable to speak, unable to breath, but he kept pushing at Snape’s chest, begging to sense a heartbeat, praying to hear a breath. Nothing happened.
Harry wanted to lie down, to hug him and tell him that he was sorry. He didn’t know what for. He didn’t know anything. The loneliness sucked him up and choked him. He couldn’t leave him here. Snape wouldn’t have left him. But this wasn’t true, because Snape had betrayed him, and killed Dumbledore, and worshiped Voldemort until the end. He would turn Harry to Voldemort. He would be proud of having done so. “Stop it!” he cried out, gasping with every word. “Stop it, I’m sorry, stop, stop…”
He cried like his heart had been shredded to pieces. “You promised!” he yelled, and before he knew it, there were hands touching him from behind, and Hermione’s voice saying something, and he flinched away as he closed his eyes and tried to will the image of a dead Severus Snape away. “You promised! You promised!” he kept crying.
No one answered.
If someone asked him, Harry wouldn’t have been able to recall how he found himself at the Great Hall, nor how he managed to get himself out of the Shrieking Shack and stop his tongue from spilling everything out to his friends right there and then. He stared at the bodies of Remus and Tonks with apathy, and he watched as Molly Weasley held her dead son in her arms. All these deaths had happened because of him, and there was nothing he could do to change it.
A numbness at the back of his mind denied it all; like a tiny voice, it seemed, that was trying to convince him that none of this was real. He almost expected the corpses to start breathing again; to see all of them standing and clapping and announcing that everything was just a sick joke. Everyone was unnaturally silent. The dead lay in a row and the living didn’t dare to grieve them. Grieving would mean acceptance. Remus was dead. Tonks was dead. Fred was dead too.
And Severus… Severus…
Harry ran to the marble staircase, wishing to escape everything, hoping to never have to stop running unless he’d gotten so far that none of this would hold any importance to him anymore. The corridors were empty but the torches were lit; not a single ghost was in sight as Harry stopped before the Gargoyle guarding the Headmaster’s office.
“Dumbledore!” said Harry in despair, but he didn’t have the strength to feel thankful when the stone shifted and revealed the familiar staircase. The walls of the office were empty; everything seemed to have remained untouched from the battle that had half the castle collapse. The Pensieve was were it had always been; not a single trace of dust was covering it. Harry leaned over it and poured inside the memories Severus had given him.
He had to know, whatever Severus thought he should leave behind for Harry to see. No matter what it was, it was Severus’s, and much to Harry’s self hatred, that still meant something.
The memories swirled, and Harry dived.
He found himself in a green park; a young red-haired girl was sitting on the grass, her back resting against a tall tree as she was reading a book. Behind another tree, a dark haired boy with saggy clothes and pale skin was watching her. The boy stepped on a twig and the girl jumped up at the sound.
The boy squared his shoulders, and after a moment of hesitation he revealed himself. “I’m sorry – I – I saw you were here and wanted to say hi.”
“You’re the boy from yesterday. You were watching me and Tuney and now you’re doing it again.”
“No, no,” said the boy, slightly panicked. “I was only watching you.”
The girl’s eyebrows rose before she burst to laughter. “You’re weird. What do you want?”
She smiled. “And you’re a Snape. Mummy says I shouldn’t be talking to boys she doesn’t know.”
“I’m Severus,” the boy said simply.
“I told her what you said about me. That I’m a witch. She laughed.”
“But… but you are.”
Lily shrugged her shoulders before sitting back down. Snape followed, sitting cross-legged across her. Lily gave him the book she was holding. “You know the story of the Princess and the frog? She kisses the frog and it becomes a prince.”
“Really?” Snape opened the book curiously. “That means the prince was an Animagus. It’s a very difficult thing to achieve; it requires powerful magic. I’m sure you could manage it, though. Your magic seems strong.”
Lily laughed loudly; Snape blushed and lowered his eyes.
The scene dissolved and reformed; Snape seemed slightly older in this memory; Lily was sitting on a bed dressed in pink sheets, braiding Snape’s hair with deep concentration.
“There,” she said proudly.
Snape looked at the mirror with abandonment. “I look like a girl.”
“You look like a proper gentleman, I think.”
Snape didn’t seem to like it, but the struggle was visible on his face to not disappoint her. “My dad says long hair is for girls.”
“He’s wrong. Your hair looks amazing. Don’t cut it, ever.”
“Wizards have long hair, sometimes. My mum says so.”
“Do you know many wizards?”
“No, not really. We used to, I mean – my mom had friends. But my dad… you know. It’s been a long time since we had people over.”
“How’s he doing with the new job?”
Snape glanced at the window, then made a face. “They fired him. Again.”
“I’m so sorry, Sev.” Then, with a smile on her face, “Tell me about Hogwarts Express again.”
Snape’s face lit up immediately, as he started narrating all the magical details.
The memory changed, and now they were in a snowy garden; Petunia, Lily and Snape were having a snowball fight. Lily and Petunia giggled; Petunia hit Snape with a snowball, but Snape responded with a rock that hit her shoulder.
Lily screamed as she ran by Petunia’s side, who cried louder than necessary.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Sev?” Lily shouted.
“I didn’t –”
“Didn’t what? Why would you do that – for Christ’s sake!”
Lily and Petunia went inside, closing the door without looking back. Snape stayed there, watching.
The scene changed again. Snape was watching Lily and Petunia arguing at King’s Cross; “Freak!” Petunia shrieked at Lily — and then they were off to their way to Hogwarts, squeezed in a tiny compartment, in which Snape met Harry’s dad and Sirius for the first time.
“If you’d rather be brawny than brainy—”
“Where’re you hoping to go, seeing as you’re neither?” interrupted Sirius.
James laughed; Lily sat up, looking at both James and Sirius with despise.
“Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.”
James tried to trip Snape as he passed; Sirius tried to leave a shoe mark on his robe.
“See ya, Snivellus!” a voice called, before Lily slammed the compartment door close. They found an empty compartment, and sat there.
“Cross your fingers for Slytherin,” Snape said as soon as they closed the door.
“Why? What’s Slytherin?”
“It’s the best Hogwarts house. You’re a – muggle born, so the Hat might want to put you elsewhere. You never know though. Just cross your fingers for the best one.”
“Okay.” Lily smiled and raised her hand to show her crossed fingers.
Snape smiled too; in the next memory though, Lily was sorted into Gryffindor, and then everything dissolved once more.
This time Snape was older; a few years seemed to have passed since the last memory. Snape was in the Slytherin Common Room, his wand pointed at two other boys who had their wands out as well.
“You have no respect for Slytherin, Snape.”
“Is she worth the disgrace you bring to your house?” the second boy added. “Is she at least any good?”
“Sect…” Snape’s voice trailed off before he could finish the curse, as though he had changed his mind. His expression seemed insecure, hesitating. He was about to cast something else when one of the boys turned to the other and laughed.
“I told you. He’s trying to come up with his own spells. Who do you think you are, Snape? Are you Merlin himself? Can you make us some spells here, please?”
“Is that how you’re keeping the mudblood around, under your spells?”
“Lily’s — just a friend — from back home. I’m only being kind to her because I’ve known her all my life. We’re not together,” said Snape.
“True,” the other boy argued. “Not even a mudblood would be interested in your face, Snape.”
Trying to avoid their disarming spells, he back sided to the door, and as soon as he was out of the Common Room, he ran upstairs. Harry followed him to the yard; there, he saw his dad, standing up and passing a hand through his hair as he noticed that Snape was there too. Snape hadn’t noticed him yet.
Please don’t, thought Harry.
Please, just ignore him.
“Snape,” James called. Snape didn’t turn around until James’ hand was on his shoulder. Snape jerked away as though he’d been electrified.
His hand was close to his pocket, ready to grab his wand. “What do you want?”
“Just wanted to thank you.” He passed his hand though his hair again, this time making a face to himself, as though annoyed that his hair wouldn’t stay down.
“Thank me,” Snape repeated.
“Yeah. Lily told me how you think I fancy her. Funny how she never noticed before. Thanks to you, now she does.”
The mean smile on his dad’s face made Harry think for a moment that their features were nothing alike.
Then Snape and Lily were alone in an empty classroom, and Lily was rolling up Snape’s sleeve. His arm was covered by red cuts.
“You have to stop this, people will notice.”
“They won’t, I know how to hide them.”
“You’re hurting yourself, Sev. There is no excuse for that.”
“I’m not hurting myself. I’m just trying to perfect my spell.”
“You mean your curse,” Lily corrected.
“Sectumsebra –” Snape looked around cautiously, “Sectumsebra could be extremely useful as a defensive spell too. At the moment it can merely cause scratches, but if I perfect it – they won’t look down on me again, no one would dare.”
“You use it on yourself when you’re upset. I know you. I know what you’re doing.”
“So, what? Who cares if I have a few scars anyway? It’s not a big deal.”
“I care. I thought you knew that.”
“Oh, I know that,” Snape spat. “It really felt like it last night when you were holding hands with Potter.”
“That has nothing to do with—”
“Perhaps I should test my spell on him, then, no? I could just slash his throat next time he tries to attack me, what do you think, Lily?” His voice was drenched in poison, and Lily looked disgusted.
“And perhaps you should cover these scars with the Dark Mark, then. It’d suit you great,” she spat.
Harry knew the next memory too well; he watched as Snape was bullied by his dad and Sirius — undressed and humiliated in front of their classmates. The word mudblood that spurted out of Snape’s mouth, along with his shame and self-hatred, had Harry grit his teeth. He knew what that meant. He knew it had already happened, and couldn’t be changed; he knew Snape’s fate after that very day and he didn’t think there’d be anything good for him to see from now on.
Then, Snape and Lily were outside the Gryffindor Common Room. Snape apologised, again and again, but it was futile.
“I can’t pretend anymore. You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine,” Lily said.
The memory changed again, and they were back in Spinner’s End.
Harry recognised Tobias, pulling on a woman’s hair violently as the woman screamed.
“I said no fucking gibberish around the house, for fuck’s sake, do you get it now or do you want me to fucking repeat it until I get sick of you and your fucking stupidity?”
He shoved her away and she steadied herself against the wall. Her lips were torn; her hand trembled as she brought it up to clean the blood. Snape was watching from the other side of the room; not a single emotion could be seen on his face. He seemed calm, as though he was observing an empty room. He couldn’t be older than seventeen. Harry wondered if after his fight with Lily he had no excuse left to leave his home on summers; he wondered if he was forced to watch incidents like this often.
“You’re driving her crazy,” Snape said lowly. “Let her use her magic or she’ll snap.”
“Magic. Magic! Can you make cash, honey?” Tobias grabbed his wife’s chin, but she refused to look up. “Can you, Severus? Why use magic if you can’t fucking take a quid and make it a hundred? Huh? Fucking charlatans…”
Tobias left her room and Snape approached his mother. “You won’t leave him.” It wasn’t a question.
She shook her head.
“Then you’ve chosen your fate,” Snape said, and his voice was dipped in disgust.
The scene dissolved. Snape was walking in Diagon Alley, when Harry’s parents appeared walking in the opposite direction. Lily’s belly was swollen. Snape didn’t stop walking, but held James’ gaze until they walked past each other. Only when they couldn’t see him anymore he stopped, about to turn his head and take another look. He didn’t.
The street disappeared; “Sectumsebra,” Snape said lowly. They were in Spinner’s End’s living room. A deep cut appeared on Tobias’s arm, then another on his chest. Tobias stepped back in terror, hands on his wounds. “Leave,” said Snape. “Never come back. Or I’ll kill you. Sectumsebra,” he cast again, another slash ripping open Tobias’ thigh.
The memories that came next were familiar to Harry; Snape begging Dumbledore to save Lily’s life; Snape crying in despair at the realisation that Lily was dead because of him. Then there were memories of Snape protecting Harry, first from Quirell, then by pushing Karkaroff for information, from year to year, always there, always protecting him…
Dumbledore was sitting on the headmaster’s chair and Snape was pacing before him.
"He will be asking questions, Dumbledore. Questions I do not wish to answer. What have I ever done that gave you the impression that I enjoy the company of children?"
"This little cooperation of yours could turn out for the best. Do try and see him for who he really is. You might be surprised."
Snape exhaled hard before he nodded. "I'm not doing this for you, Dumbledore."
“Thank Merlin you’re not, my boy.”
The scene dissolved and re-formed around him fast.
Dumbledore and Snape were walking toward the lake; the sun was so bright Harry could feel the warmth hit his face.
“He’s arrogant, insufferable, weak –”
“What about his strengths?”
The dark line between Snape’s brows deepened. “He doesn’t have any strengths. I want him out of my house as soon as possible. If we postponed this tutoring for the Autumn –”
“Impossible, Severus. Be patient.”
Snape sighed and the next moment he was watching himself trying to drag Snape up the stairs to his bedroom.
“I’m taking you back to your room, can you walk?
“I’m not crippled.”
“Be cooperative now.”
Snape fell on top of him on the bed, and Harry pushed him off him.
“Suffocating,” Snape complained, tugging at his collar.
“Should I owl Dumbledore?”
Then Harry was leaning forward to fix the pillows; Snape pulled Harry’s head lower, and they kissed. There were details missing from the memory, and Harry assumed the drunkenness had erased them away – the kiss, however, was intact.
The next memory dragged him back to Dumbledore’s office once again.
“Don’t you get it, Severus? He's young. Confused. Intrigued, perhaps."
Snape seemed ready to explode. "I hate to break it to you, Headmaster, but Harry Potter isn't the first teenager to break through to this world nor the first one to be intrigued or confused. I fail to see how these undeniably shattering virtues of his have to be my concern.”
"They have not,” Dumbledore agreed. “And this is why it is time for you to distance yourself from Harry now. It would be preferable if you kept your interactions outside class to the minimum, for the time being. As you can barely stand the boy, I can imagine you'll agree.”
Snape looked at Dumbledore with determination. “And what if I don't?”
The room changed; Snape was in his Hogwarts chambers, staring at the dancing flames of the hearth as a sound of knuckles against wood could be distantly heard.
“Snape!” a voice called, and Harry realised it was his own. “I know you’re in there, stop pretending!”
Snape’s lips whitened as he clenched his jaw; he squeezed at the glass, but didn’t move.
Then Snape stood abruptly, hurried to the door — and did nothing. His fingers hovered over the doorknob, motionless. At the sound of steps fading away, Snape released a long breath of relief and closed his eyes.
The scene changed…
Harry was covering himself with the duvet in Snape’s chambers. Turning on his side, he looked at Snape, who appeared to be sleeping.
“I may be insomniac, but I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?”
Harry watched himself shut his eyes close, quickly falling asleep. In the cold darkness of the room, Snape’s own eyes emitted a strange light as they opened. He hadn’t been asleep at all.
“That’s because you’re a moron,” he whispered smiling — but Harry was already asleep.
Another change; now they were sitting on Snape’s couch, and Harry was talking. A few months had passed since the last memory.
“I was actually thinking… that this can’t be replaced.”
“This. I don’t care to date someone. This is enough.”
But Snape looked away in panic and the memory shifted again…
“I don’t think I can keep it a secret for much longer,” Harry was saying this time. “It’s suffocating me. When I’m out there I feel like I can’t even breathe sometimes.”
Snape observed him, and now Harry saw something he hadn’t noticed before: Snape smiling to himself as he was listening.
“You’re here now.”
Then it was twilight, and Snape was strolling along with Dumbledore toward the lake.
“Is Harry still persuading you to open your chambers for him at nights?”
“He’s not persuading me,” Snape retorted. “What are you doing with him all these evenings you spend together in your office?”
“I was about to ask you just the same, Severus.”
“You trust him… You do not trust me.”
“And yet he trusts you,” Dumbledore said. “Do not think I underestimate what you have done so far, Severus. To risk your life on a daily basis by lying to Voldemort, giving him information that has to seem valuable and yet be untrue… this is a task I could entrust only you with.”
“Yet you cannot entrust me with what you share with him.”
“Has he tried to approach you in an inappropriate way again?” Dumbledore asked.
“He wants to.”
“Do you want to?”
In the darkness of the night, Severus eyes glistened in disbelief. “No,” he said, in an offended tone.
“He’s almost seventeen now. Isn’t that tempting, to you? That his wishes will soon be permissible?”
The silence that followed made Harry hold his breath. “His wishes will never be permissible,” Snape said dismissively.
The memory changed, t hen Dumbledore was talking again, his voice grave.
“…Should anything happen to me, you need to be the on to tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsed building. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry, and it is that which gives him the power of speech with snakes, and a connection with Lord Voldemort’s mind that he has never understood. And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die.”
“So the boy…the boy must die?” asked Snape quite calmly.
“And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential.”
"I thought… all these years… that we were protecting him for her. For Lily."
“We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength,” said Dumbledore, his eyes still tight shut. “Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth. Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort.”
"You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?...” Harry had never seen such terror in Snape’s eyes before. “You have used me… I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to keep him safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter…”
“But this is touching, Severus. Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” Snape spat. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She jumped on the desk and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched it carefully, and when he turned to Snape there were tears on his eyes.
“After all this time?”
Then the memory changed again, and Hogwarts’ lake took its place.
Harry saw himself wrestling with Snape in the water, trying to get free of his grip. Then they kissed; hastily, angrily — passionately.
The moment dissolved to mists and formed into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. There were members of the Order sitting around, and there was an argument going on; Snape was leaning over the table, looking down at Remus who was standing up too.
“What can you do to protect Harry that none of us can?”
“Questioning Dumbledore –”
“Why can’t he stay here? This is a safe house for God’s sake and you –”
“Questioning Dumbledore will lead you nowhere,” Snape said silkily. “The decision has been made. There is a safe house specifically constructed for this. I will be visiting.”
“Oh good. Then I should just shut my mouth and let you abuse him in private as well.”
Mrs. Weasley stood up too. “I think this is enough. Remus,” she pointed her eyes at the chair and Remus sat down.
Snape didn’t seem willing to follow. “Perhaps you should beat some common sense into your jealousy, Lupin. Only a madman would trust the boy with a wolf.”
Remus’ frustrated expression turned to blank at once. Harry could almost feel how much that comment hurt.
“Severus, enough.” Mrs. Weasley said. Moody tapped his wand against the table impatiently. Severus at last dropped to his chair.
“I am not here to be questioned. If you don’t approve of Dumbledore's decisions then by all means, walk out Molly. And you too,” he glared at Remus.
“Severus is right,” Moody said, and Remus looked at him in surprise. “He couldn’t care less for Harry’s softness. That will make him a good mentor. All of you are dangerously attached to him. Severus isn’t. It can work.”
“What softness? Is caring a shame now?” Remus asked. “Should I pretend I’m not worried? Quite literally, Harry is all I have.”
“Then you should’ve taken better care of your dog,” spat Snape. Before Harry knew it, all of them had jumped off their chairs at once; Remus was pointing his wand at Snape, who was pointing at him his own. The rest of them aimed at the duo to block any possible curses.
“Get out, Severus,” Remus said dangerously. “You don’t deserve to be in this house.”
“And you think you do?” Snape retorted silkily, but he lowered his wand and left.
The scene dissolved again. Severus was in Regulus’ old room, and someone was climbing up the stairs. The room had been transformed to what seemed to be a small potions lab. Harry recognised the ingredients for Polyjuice laying on the counter as Snape worked. Remus came in leaned against the wall, observing Snape silently.
“I shouldn’t have disputed you in front of the Order. I’m sorry.”
“Perhaps you missed the hint, Lupin, but the reason I’m not still downstairs is because I wanted privacy.”
Remus snorted. “If you’re going to lock Harry up in a safe house only you can enter I need to know that at least you’re going to be nice to him. It isn’t your loyalty I don’t trust. It’s your temper.”
“He’s not a child. He’ll manage.”
“I don’t think he’s a child.”
“No. You think he’s his father.”
Remus smiled. “You think that too,” he said. Snape didn’t answer. “You used to despise him gravely,” Remus continued. “What changed?”
Snape remained silent, filling a line of bottles with something dense.
“Harry is –”
“Harry is not what you think he is,” Snape interrupted.
“Severus… look. Whatever animosity you may have had toward James, you don’t have to drag Harry into it. That’s all I’m trying to say. And I’d like to visit. Let’s say, once a week. Dumbledore might allow it if you guide me through a Portkey, I won’t know where the Safe House is, I have no desire to know. I only want to be there for him. I am the closest relative he has.”
“He doesn’t have anyone else. Please. He needs someone whom he can trust.”
“And why should he trust you, I wonder? Your company bears the weight of very ambiguous actions, after all, Lupin. You almost killed me…” Snape ignored Lupin’s attempt to interrupt him, “You almost killed me because your gang thought it’d be fun. What was it exactly? Ah. A joke.”
“You’re trying to isolate him. Like you tried to isolate Lily.”
At that, Snape stopped. He placed the cauldron on the counter, wiping his hands and turning to stare at Lupin. “I beg your pardon?”
“Haven’t you learned yet Severus that you can’t keep the people you care for to yourself? Haven’t you learned that you can’t control everything?”
Snape stared hard at him, lips pressed together tightly, and the scene changed again.
It was most likely the last day of the school year, for the students were all outside, dragging their trunks to the carriages. Dumbledore was leaning close to Snape, who didn’t seem to enjoy himself at all.
“All these children – unique, in so many ways – every year they’re getting brighter, I think.”
“You think,” Snape agreed.
“Harry is skeptical about the safe house.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“His magic is getting stronger.”
“Yes, I’ve been watching his magic,” Snape said lowly. “It’s different now. I’ve been… observing it for a while.”
“My child,” Dumbledore said in surprise, a hint of amusement in his voice, “I’d swear I’ve heard you say these exact words before. Last time you were observing someone’s magic… it was before you arrived to Hogwarts as a student, yes?”
At Snape’s shocked look, Dumbledore shook a hand dismissively. “Doesn’t matter, it was a long time ago…”
The yard swirled and Harry was back in the Headmaster’s office. Snape was kneeling before Dumbledore, examining his darkened hand.
“I warned you. Why… why put it on while you knew it carried a curse? Did I not warn you?”
“You told me to wait… I… waited too long…”
“Why even want to put it on?”
The ring lay cracked on the wooden surface of the desk; Snape was casting spells furiously.
“The curse is extraordinary strong; I have trapped it in one hand for the time being –”
“You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?”
Snape shook his head. “I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.”
“I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.”
“If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!” said Snape furiously. “If you had waited for me to examine the curse first, break it before you put it on… Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?”
“Something like that… I was delirious, no doubt… Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward. I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.” Dumbledore straightened himself in his chair.
“The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed anymore,” Snape said. “This is merely punishment for Lucius’s recent failures. Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price. He was given a whole school year and failed miserably. By the start of the new term the Dark Lord won’t be so patient.”
“In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have,” he added. “Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?”
There was a short pause. “That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan.”
“Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?”
“He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes.”
“And if it does fall into his grasp, I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?”
“Good. Now then. You must promise me that you will not break your cover by seeing Harry again after I’m gone, until, of course, it’s necessary.”
Snape’s discomfort was obvious. “Are you intending to let him kill you?”
“Certainly not. You must kill me.”
There was a short pause in which Harry expected Snape to burst into laughter; the familiar one he’d reserve for moments he absolutely despised but could not avoid by any costs. “Would you like me to do it now? Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?”
“Oh, not quite yet,” said Dumbledore casually. “I believe I want to see a last opening feast first.”
“If you don’t mind dying, why not let Draco do it?”
“That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” Dumbledore explained. “I would not have it ripped apart on my account.”
“And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?”
The room changed again, and now Snape was marching on a long white corridor while a short nurse followed him with quick steps. She opened a door for him and Harry managed to follow inside just before the nurse locked it behind them. Harry recognised the place immediately; it hadn’t been long since he’d visited st.Mungos with Mr. Weasley.
At the corner of the small room, there was a single bed with white covers and blue pillows; on the bed was sitting a woman, who didn’t seem to notice that Snape was there. Snape dragged a chair close and sat by her. Harry didn’t think he’d seen his face this sad before.
“Hey,” he said softly. “Mum?”
The woman seemed to awake from deep sleep at his words, although her eyes were open all along. She turned her head to him slowly, as though noticing him for the first time since he came in. “Severus?”
Snape smiled, and it was the saddest smile Harry had ever seen. The woman’s hair was as white as everything else in the room; Snape pushed her wild fringe aside and tucked it behind her ear before bending forward to kiss her forehead. “How are you?”
The minutes passed and no answer came. The silence didn’t seem to surprise Snape, nor annoy him. He looked at her with a patience he had never demonstrated in class. “How are you?” he repeated at last, and this time his mother smiled.
“I’m good,” she said in a loud voice that suggested a very strange sudden positivity. She nodded to herself at the words.
“Albus sends his regards. He expected me to visit you some time ago, but I’ve been… busy.”
“I expected you to visit some time ago,” she said calmly.
Snape’s stare was fixed at the wall. “It’s safer here. You surely know… you get the newspapers, do you not? You see,” said Snape, “the darkness is spreading. He’s getting stronger, day by day, he has an army now, bigger than before – you wouldn’t imagine – bigger than ever.”
“He’s getting stronger,” she repeated dully. “He doesn’t like your magic, Sev. I’ve told you that.”
At that Snape laughed loudly, a burst of laughter so sudden and deep that made Harry jump back. “Never mind.”
“It’s your fault, Sev. You’re making him fear you. All he wanted was some peace and you attacked him like a vicious monster.”
“I’m sorry,” Snape said. His voice came out deep and gravelly. The woman looked at him nervously, as though she didn’t know whether she should believe him or not. “Things have changed,” he added, looking at his own spread fingers. “Do you recall, how you’d always call me exceptionally foolish? All my life, I tried to prove you wrong… But you’re right.”
She looked affronted, but Harry couldn’t tell why. At the dim light coming from the tiny window above them, Harry could see the similarities on their faces clearly.
“He asks of things I cannot do. He wants me to be in charge if Draco fails him. Draco’s a child.” Snape clutched at the fabric of his cloak as though it’d provide him the greatest safety in the world. “And Dumbledore is simply sitting there, enjoying the suspense.”
Harry wondered wether there was a ritual here; was Snape seeing his mum often? Did he share everything with her because he knew that no one would believe her even if she spilled his secrets? What did Tobias do to her, to make her lose her mind like this? Why had Snape told Harry his mum was dead?
“And then, there’s Harry.”
At the mention of his name, Harry stepped closer. He stood in anticipation, noticing how Snape was frowning intensely.
“Is it selfish… is it selfish of me, that I don’t want him to hate me? For the rest of them, I hardly care, but…” It was evident from the tone of his voice that he was talking more to himself than to his mother. “Snapes aren’t capable of feeling love, you used to say.”
At that she nodded confidently; it was obviously the only thing that had gotten her attention.
“Would you mind if I was gay?” The question was blurted out unexpectedly.
“Snapes hate women anyway, Sev. All of them.”
The scenery changed.
“…spying on me, and now you expect me to accept be interrogated as well!”
“It was a simple question, Severus…”
“Well you know the answer very well.”
It was midnight. Snape was standing in front of the fire hearth in Spinner’s End, his fingers clutching around a handful of floo powder.
“You were going to Harry. Why?” asked Dumbledore.
“And here I thought you’d never lurk about in my own house. Why?” retorted Snape. “It is my duty to look after him. You made it my duty. You told me to visit him daily.”
“Not nightly, however.”
“When you took me back…” Snape looked at him hatefully, “I thought I’d have a chance to forgive myself. I only ended up blaming myself more.”
“You were young. There is no need to blame anyone.”
“No. There isn’t. And I’ll do the job. I’ll obey. But don’t tell me how often to visit him, and don’t ask me if I care about him, because clearly, I don’t have the privilege to!”
Through Snape’s fingers, the floo powder slipped and piled on the carpet.
“Harry’s fate is not on you, Severus. Neither was Lily’s.”
With his back turned, Snape shook his head. Grabbing another handful of powder, he threw it into the hearth. “If you need me, you know where to find me,” Snape said, and stepped into the flames.
In the next scene, it was morning; Harry saw himself sleeping on his back, his limps entangled with the sheets in the most impossible way. Snape was trying to disentangle himself from Harry without waking him up. After failing to do so, he dropped his head back on the pillow and rubbed his eyes. The sleeping Harry was lying on top of Snape’s arm too, Harry noticed. Snape’s fingers twitched repeatedly, most likely in an attempt to not go numb. Harry couldn’t help but smile sadly at what he was seeing.
Snape rolled on his side, his face inches from Harry’s.
“Potter. Wake up.” He pushed gently at Harry’s shoulder. “Potter.”
His other hand came up and pushed Harry’s fringe away to reveal his face. Snape’s fingers followed the red mark the pillow had left on Harry’s cheek and reached his lips. He brushed them slightly for a second, and then he took his hand away.
Snape was now kneeling before Dumbledore, kissing his hand as tears ran down his face.
“There must be a way… please! If anyone can do something it’s you… you could save him…there must be a way! Please!”
Snape was a mess; he sobbed and whimpered in despair.
“I know it’s sad, Severus… But there is no other way. Voldemort can’t be killed as long as Harry lives.”
“SAVE HIM! I know you can! Save him… save… please…You never cared… You never hesitated risking other people’s lives so you could reach your goals. The boy’s safety didn’t – never - concerned you… You only wanted him to live for as long as you needed him to…”
“Do you really believe that, Severus? You believe that if there was a way for him to live I wouldn’t have chosen it? You don’t see all the things I do for Harry daily?”
“Please,” Snape begged. “Better – it’s better to kill me – we can tell — Voldemort — to kill me instead of him – I’ll take his place – this is my fault, I should pay… not him, I should pay for this! Kill me… Kill me…”
Dumbledore opened a cabinet and shoved a Calming Draught into Snape’s hands. “Don’t let him die… don’t… he can’t… not again, please… I can’t do this… it’s not fair…please…”
“It is the only way. Calm down, please. You’ll understand when you do. I know how much you loved Lily, but –”
“You don’t get to talk about Lily, you killed her too… Everyone I have — ever loved — this has nothing… to do with Lily… Thought… it did… not about her…”
“Calm down, Severus.”
“I’ll lose him… I can’t… I love him more than my own life… please…”
Harry was pulled into mists again. They were back at Grimmauld’s Place, and Remus was sitting across Snape at the kitchen table. Remus was clutching his head in his hands, his elbows on the table. Outside the window, the moon was almost full.
“Drink it all,” Snape said, emptying his own goblet.
Remus laughed bitterly. “You’re drinking wine in front of me while I have to drink this.”
Snape took another sip quietly. Remus gulped the wolfsbane and shrugged.
“Damn my fate, Severus,” Remus muttered.
“Damn fate,” Snape agreed quickly. His cheeks were flushed; it was obvious that he’d been drinking for some time. “And damn Potters and their blasted curiosity to dig into things,” Snape pressed, but it was obvious that Remus was in so much pain he could barely hear him, “dig into secrets, dig into lives.”
The moonlight was now in the middle of the sky, and Remus squeezed his eyes shut. “Leave Harry out of it,” he mumbled.
“Damn Harry Potter for growing up,” Snape insisted, his voice louder. “And damn him for ever being a child,” he added.
Remus grunted, his forehead now touching the table. Despite his pain, he chuckled. “You’re obsessed, Severus.”
Snape chuckled too. He raised his glass, and the scene dissolved…
Snape was alone back in the Safe House, and none of Harry’s belongings were there. The mattress was pulled slightly aside, and Snape was sitting on it, reading a torn piece of Harry’s letter to Hermione. It only carried a few words.
It scares me how little I know about him. Most of the times I get the impression I don’t know him at all. But then again he kisses back. Even for a second.
Snape tucked the paper inside his robes…
Harry blinked and he was back to the Headmaster’s office. Dumbledore’s portrait was talking to Snape.
“Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of need and valour— and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry’s mind and see you acting for him— ”
Pulling aside the portrait, Snape revealed the Gryffindor sword. “And you still aren’t going to tell me why it’s so important to give Potter the sword?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Dumbledore. “He will know what to do with it. And be careful, Severus…”
“Don’t worry, Dumbledore. I have a plan...”
Snape was hiding behind a tree in a dark forest, a huge scarf tightly wrapped around his neck. His cloak waved in the cold wind. Harry was there too, barely visible in sight. Snape watched as Harry undressed and jumped into the lake. The doe bounced on the snow and returned to Snape, rubbing her forehead on his thigh.
Snape seemed to be murmuring something, as though he was counting. The wind blew his hair and he closed his eyes against it as he pulled a Deluminator out of his pocket. He clicked it, but no light came out. Instead, there was a loud cracking sound and then Ron popped out of nowhere, looking around in confusion. He couldn’t see Snape, but the doe ran to the lake and Ron followed it.
Snape remained behind the tree, watching.
The moment sank into darkness, and Harry was back in the Headmaster’s office.
“Is it done?”
Snape’s travelling cloak was covered in snow. “Yes. The boy has the sword. Now leave,” He turned to the other portraits, “all of you.”
“Why?” Dumbledore asked.
“I think I saw… something. I have to check something.”
The portraits emptied — all but Dumbledore’s. Snape locked the door, and took out his wand. He looked at it curiously, and then cast the spell.
From the tip of Snape’s wand, burst the silver doe. Snape paced around it, observing it with wide eyes. On the top of her head, two barely visible horns had sprung up.
“Severus? What is it?”
Snape kneeled down, petting the deer’s head, his fingers slipping through it.
“I slept with the boy,” Snape said abruptly. “The night before I took your life.”
“I am aware,” said Dumbledore quietly.
Snape blinked, and a tear fell down his face; his fingers clutched at the deer’s substance, and the animal bumped its head on his chest lovingly.
“I love him,” Snape continued, as if only now realising how much he meant it. “I love him.”
Harry rose out of the Pensieve, and seconds later he was kneeling on the carpeted floor, on the same spot the deer was standing only a moment ago. He almost expected Snape to pull him up and kiss him.