The Generosity of a Hero
Albus entered the Chamber prepared to cast an air-cleaning charm, but it proved unnecessary. He wondered how a great beast could have lain dead in this place for so long without rotting until he saw Harry standing by it, looking at the pristine corpse with an expression of dismay.
“H-how did I manage to kill this thing as a second year?”
How indeed. Albus’ breath caught at the size of the beast. It was at least ten metres long and as thick as his waist. Merlin. A snake that size could have swallowed Harry whole then, let alone as a thirteen year old child. Adding in its murderous gaze and lethal venom, not to mention the half-formed horcrux Tom that Ginevra’s folly had awakened, the fact that Harry had survived at all was a miracle.
Beside him, Severus uttered a strangled sound of shock. “It is… preserved?”
“There must be a charm on the place.” Harry shuddered and turned away. “It’s just like when I left here. Even the….” He gagged and covered his mouth, edging away from a dark pool glimmering near his feet.
“Severus,” Albus muttered to his protégé, “is it safe to remove that blood?”
“I will do it.”
Severus Vanished the still-wet pool of blood from the boy’s feet with a flick of his wand and a strange incantation Albus had never heard. Perhaps Severus had invented it.
A shiver crept down Albus’ spine. Thank Merlin none but a Parselmouth could enter the Chamber. Envenomed or no, that blood could have cost them the war—and Harry—had Tom ever discovered it.
Harry shuddered and walked away from the basilisk corpse, instead staring up at the statue of Slytherin, his expression torn.
“I wonder if he really looked like this.”
“Considering he carved and built this Chamber himself,” Severus snapped, “I would say it is most likely a fair approximation, idi—”
He choked off the insult, pressed his fist to his mouth, and bowed his head in remorse. “Albus….”
The man swayed with exhaustion, cold sweat gleaming on his forehead, and Albus understood. The man was past his limit and snapping at them out of sheer misery.
Albus conjured a bed for him, well away from the serpent. “Rest, Severus. Harry and I will deal with the basilisk.”
Severus groaned as Albus half-carried the younger man to the bed. “Bloody pity, it is,” he muttered.
Harry gave him a bemused look. “What, the snake? I didn’t actually want to kill it. I had no choice though. It wanted to kill me.”
Severus sat on the mattress, shaking all over, and wiped his brow. “Not that, Potter—the corpse.” His voice came out breathy with weariness. “Other than the venom, which cannot be used for anything but dark purposes, that corpse is a fortune’s worth of rare ingredients.”
Harry shrugged and turned back to the statue. “So just keep it then.”
Severus gasped and went rigid, all the colour draining from his complexion, not that he had much at the moment to speak of. “I c-cannot. You killed the beast. By all rights, it is yours.”
“What am I going to do with a dead basilisk? Merlin, just take it. I don’t want it.”
Severus reeled. “T-take it? But that is worth millions of galleons!”
“And I don’t need the money. If you can save people’s lives with it, take it and welcome. I really don’t want it.” Harry shuddered. “Selling dead animal parts for money—gods no. Just take it, sir. Really.”
Severus sank onto the pillows as if he could not support himself any longer, his face white and eyes round as galleons. “D-did he just… an entire…? Albus, am I going mad?”
Albus chuckled and patted Severus’ shoulder. “Strange how the light of truth reveals things we never expected, isn’t it?”
“Albus. Don’t torment me further. Please.”
Harry nodded. “I agree, sir. He’s been shocked enough for one day. Besides, it looks like we have a basilisk to harvest.”
Albus stared at the corpse and sighed. “Merlin, we really do need house elves to help with this. It will take us weeks.”
“Well, Dobby can’t apparate in here, but I reckon I could just bring him down on my broom. And maybe Winky might feel better if she had some real work. And some of the other elves might chip in. I can ask around in the kitchens and see who’s willing and who’s not.”
“The kitchens.” Severus sat and gave Harry a piercing look. “Is there any location within this castle you have not… familiarised yourself with?”
Harry gave him a wan smile, obviously having caught the implication of wrongdoing behind Severus’ words. “Probably not, sir.”
“Well, it works in our favour for now,” Albus said with a nod. “Harry, do go question the house elves. In the meantime, I will ask Severus what we need to harvest this and make a list for Dobby.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be back in a mo, then.” He hissed to his snake, and the beast slithered into his shirt, hiding under his clothing. “Right. Wish me luck.” With that, Harry turned on his heel and practically raced out of the Chamber, leaving Albus alone with Severus.
“My boy,” Albus said, eyes searching, “how are you doing?”
“How do you think? I am exhausted, injured, on the Dark Lord’s death list, and my entire system of beliefs has just been turned on its head. I need a pint of scotch and a full phial of Dreamless Sleep.”
“Come now, Severus. You know better than to combine alcohol and Dreamless Sleep. You might not wake up.”
Severus gave him a look full of grim understanding.
“Dear gods, Severus. Don’t tell me you would rather die than accept the truth? So you were wrong about him. That is no reason to give up.”
Severus glared. “I am not suicidal. I only—it is… difficult to come to terms with. And I am….” He dropped his head, cheeks tinting pink and hands shaking, and Albus understood. Shame had overwhelmed him.
The old man laid a hand on Severus’ shoulder, but pulled away at his wince. “Severus, Harry has been remarkably forgiving. I believe it is not too late to heal the damage you have done, if that is your wish.”
“I… l-leave me be, Albus. Please.”
Albus sighed and conjured a notepad and quill. “Very well. As long as you are not being cruel to the boy, I will not push you to reconcile. For the moment, however, I do need a list of supplies and any special considerations.”
Severus took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I cannot believe—is this real?”
“Yes, my boy. Harry is quite generous, though I imagine this is the first time you have experienced that generosity and kindness of spirit for yourself.”
“It… I cannot understand it. How could the son of such a terrible man be… be so different?”
Albus raised an eyebrow. “I can think of one other instance where a child grew beyond the traits of his father.” His eyes hardened. “Most of the time.”
Severus cringed, eyes shimmering with grief. “A-Albus, no. No, I am not….”
Albus stared, knowing his protégé would never understand how far he had fallen without the comparison to his own past.
Severus shrank in on himself and buried his head in his hands. “I… I see.”
Albus sighed and relented. “You are doing better since last night. For now, Severus, what do we need for the basilisk?”
Severus sat and examined the corpse, eyes dark with terrible grief. “L-leave the head. Cut a metre below the base of the skull, seal the head in a blood-bound impermeable barrier, and do not break it for any reason. The venom is extremely dangerous. I will need specialised equipment to collect and dispose of it, and I would prefer to do so myself after I have had some time to heal.”
Albus peered over the rim of his spectacles. “You are going to collect the venom? Which can only be used for dark purposes?”
Severus winced. “Several phials for antivenin.”
“There is no antivenin for basilisk venom, not that I am aware of. Other than phoenix tears, of course, and only fresh from a phoenix.”
“That is true, and also why basilisk venom is so lethal. Who other than you and Potter has a phoenix to come at their beck and call? And even Potter has only your familiar’s loyalty, not a phoenix of his own.” Severus lowered his head. “That is why I… I would like to try to develop a potion form of antivenin, if Fawkes will consent to work with me once he is matured enough.”
It was a reasonable answer, but Albus sensed Severus had not been entirely forthright. “Hmm. Is it only because the venom is available, or is there more to your sudden desire to cure basilisk poisoning?”
Severus shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. “I have heard hints that the Dark Lord plans to use basilisk venom against his victims in the future. As of yet, I do not know what he intends to do with it, but I fear for the safety of our students.” He lowered his head. “And yes, I do know it is ironic for me to suggest such a thing not twenty-four hours after being suspended for abusing said students.”
Albus simply looked at him. If Severus did have other plans for the venom, the man would reveal it under pressure.
“Albus, please.” Severus dropped his head and clenched his fists in the quilt beneath him. By the colour of his complexion and the tremor in his shoulders, Albus gathered he was holding back tears. “Do you truly believe me so far gone as to use such terrible venom against human beings? I realise I am in disgrace, but you… you said you believed in me. I… I had hoped that you meant it.” Severus looked up, expression contorted with bitter anguish and deep anger. “Or was that simply another manipulation to bend me to your will?”
Albus did not need Legilimency to see that such a betrayal would turn Severus against him forever.
He laid a hand on Severus’ wrist, one of the few forms of touch the man could bear, even with those he was close to. “My boy, if I did not believe in you, I would have simply terminated your contract. But I do believe in you, Severus. And since this morning, I have seen proof my faith in you is not without merit. I simply wanted to know what your plans were, as you are correct that the venom is quite lethal.”
Severus took a deep breath and, slowly, the pain and betrayal left his face. “I will not use any to harm people, nor will I allow it to be used for such a purpose. I swear it, Albus. I will dispose of what I do not need to develop antivenin as soon as I am able.”
Albus nodded and poised his quill over the paper. “Very well, Severus. I will take you at your word. What do we need to harvest the body then, as well as for your habitation here? And is the shed skin in the tunnel outside usable?”
Severus frowned. “There was a shed skin? I did not see it.”
“I suspect you were too distracted by your pain to notice. There are probably many hidden in the Chamber somewhere. Perhaps Harry could help us search.”
“Perhaps. Concerning the one we are sure of, however, as long as the scales have not turned brown, it should be usable. As for the rest of the snake, you will need at least ten large collection bins, heavy-duty and reinforced against corrosive substances, thick dragonhide gloves for all of us, a diamond carving knife—I have one in my personal lab….”
As Albus recorded Severus’ needs, he said a little prayer for his protégé. In spite of all he had done wrong, Albus did love the boy and wanted the best for him. If Severus could grow past this incident and let go of his hatred, he might have some hope for a proper life after the war ended. Else, Albus wasn’t positive he could keep the man from Azkaban.
He cast a glance at the basilisk corpse and a thread of hope curled around his heart, warm and glowing, relieving a burden of fear he had carried since Severus’ first brush with that awful prison. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one who would stand up for his wayward potions professor, when the time came.
With a secret smile, Albus returned his attention to his list.
Harry had been right about Winky. Having real work to do had indeed cheered the elf up. He made a note to give her more to do in the future. Along with her, Dobby and one of the braver elves, Tippy, had agreed to help, but the rest were hesitant to trust him.
“I know it’s scary,” Harry assured them, “but I promise it’s dead. And there’s nothing else down there.” He paused. “At least, nothing interested in us. At any rate, between Professor Dumbledore and myself, nothing will hurt you.”
The elves whimpered and backed away.
A tiny female house elf asked, “I-is the headmaster ordering us to helps?”
“No, no. Of course not. We both know you’re all pretty scared, so if you don’t want to help, you don’t have to. It really is safe though. Just a bit of a pain since you can’t just pop in and out like usual.”
She nodded. “I’s being helping you then.”
“Great!” Harry knelt down to her and offered his hand. “What’s your name?”
“Berry, Master Harry Potter sir.”
“Nice to meet you, Berry.” Harry shook her hand and motioned to the waiting elves. “Would you join my friends here? We might have enough now. I hope so anyway.” Just as he stood, his stomach let out a huge rumble. “Oh. Guess my appetite came back a bit.”
Berry frowned. “You is hungry, Master Harry?”
“Yeah. Haven’t had much in the past two days, honestly. But we don’t really have time to—”
The house elves let out a wail as one.
“No, no!” Tippy rushed about and brought him a turkey sandwich and crisps. “We is not letting you go hungry, Master Harry! You is needing to eat something.”
Harry grinned at her. “All right, all right. I can see I’m outnumbered. Thank you.”
Another mass wail—happy this time—met this statement. He chuckled and sat down to eat his sandwich. It was good—made just the way he liked it.
“How do you lot know how to make food to our preferences?” He motioned to his sandwich. “You even knew I don’t like onions. How do you do it?”
“Is a house elf skill,” said Berry with a shrug. “We is just knowing.”
“I’m a bit jealous. Sounds like a good skill to have.” He gave a dark laugh. “Sure would have helped me in Professor Snape’s potions class.”
On second thought, Snape would have likely assumed Harry was cheating if he had pulled off a perfect potion, despite the fact that Snape had kept him isolated since the beginning of term.
Well, maybe those days were over now. Harry certainly hoped so. Snape had been almost kind—well, for him—in the Chamber. And he had even offered to let Harry help. Maybe it would be okay between them from now on. The thought relieved a dark burden of grief he had carried for far too long.
Then the door to the kitchen opened, and Harry’s hopeful mood evaporated like his Patronus mist before a Dementor.
Three younger Hufflepuffs came in—third years, probably—chattering and laughing. They stopped dead at the sight of Harry.
“Go on,” Harry said with a hesitant smile. “There’s enough room for more.”
All the colour leached out of their faces.
“I-I’m not that hungry, really,” said a girl.
The lone boy laughed nervously and backed towards the door, leading both girls with him. “Yeah, it’s not that long to lunch. I r-reckon we’ll wait it out.”
The last girl just stared, eyes wide and body shaking.
“Well, um, bye!” The first girl grabbed the boy’s hand and dashed out of the kitchens, dragging the others in her wake.
Harry watched them flee the kitchen with a sinking heart. After being in the Chamber again so recently, he couldn’t have missed the implication of their sudden fear. It was like second year all over again. Someone had spread some awful rumour about him, and given what he had endured last night in the common room, he had a fair idea who.
“M-maybe I’m not that hungry after all.” He pushed his plate away, but at the worry in the house elves’ eyes, sighed and choked down the rest of his sandwich. He did need to eat, he supposed, even if his stomach felt like lead.
“I can’t eat anymore,” he said once he had finished his sandwich and some of his crisps. “T-thanks for lunch.” He held a hand out to Dobby. “Are you lot ready to go then?”
The elves nodded, their expressions sad, and Dobby popped Harry away to Myrtle’s loo. Myrtle appeared over the top of her stall and gave Harry a curious stare.
“They’re saying you killed someone, you know.”
Harry flinched and turned away. It was worse than he had expected then.
Dobby shrieked, “Great Master Harry Potter sir would never be killing someone! They are liars and sneaks and deserve to have their ears ironed!”
Harry rubbed his ears, half out of sympathy and half from the shrill tone of Dobby’s protests. “Dobby, no ear ironing. And please be quiet. I don’t want to draw attention to this place.”
Dobby’s ears drooped. “But they is lying about you, Master Harry Potter sir.”
“It’s nothing new.” Harry gave Myrtle a sad smile. “I suppose they’re saying I attacked a Death Eater or something then?”
Myrtle shook her head so hard, her pigtails smacked her in the face. “No. They’re saying you killed Professor Snape for revenge.”
Harry choked. “Pr-Professor Snape? That’s utterly mad! Have you seen the man duel? I doubt I could get anywhere near him in a real fight. Not to mention, he’s not dead!”
Myrtle huffed. “Well, I didn’t start the rumours, so there’s no need to get tetchy.”
Harry sighed. “Sorry, Myrtle. I… it’s just been a hard day. Listen, if anyone asks if you’ve seen me hanging about your loo, don’t say anything, please. I’d really appreciate it.”
Myrtle tittered and blushed. “Okay. You know, that offer to share with me is still good.”
Harry swallowed a surge of utter revulsion. “Um, t-thanks, Myrtle. I’ll keep that in mind. For now, I’ve really got to go.” Trying to pretend he wasn’t fleeing, he turned to the tap and hissed to the engraved snake. [For the love of all that is holy, open!]
Isuri hissed a laugh in his ear.
The tap turned into a door, and Harry led Dobby onto his broom. “Hold on tight, Dobby. The rest of you, please wait here a tick. I’ll be right back as soon as I let Dobby down.”
Trying to ignore the bleeding ache in his heart, Harry hugged Dobby to his chest and zoomed down the tunnel.
Severus had finished giving his list to Albus, but Potter hadn’t returned yet. He found himself hoping the boy had gotten some lunch and shook his head at his change of heart. Merlin, he felt as though he’d spent the past couple of days in the centre of a tornado. His mind simply couldn’t process the massive amount of change he had survived since coming to realise Harry Potter was indeed a human being.
A human being he was desperate to figure out.
For five and a quarter years, Severus had based his opinions of Potter on lies and prejudice. He had come to see the error of his ways, but that left him at a disadvantage. He had vowed to protect Potter years before, and if he didn’t know Potter, he couldn’t protect him.
Not that he hadn’t already broken his vows, but he wanted to make it right again.
And he wanted to know the boy. He wanted to understand what he had missed all these years. How could Harry be so forgiving when his father had been so cruel and his mother had never accepted Severus’ apologies? How could he have cared about Severus at all?
He wanted to understand. He wanted to know more about Harry Potter.
And that knowledge left Severus shaken to his core.
Merlin help him, he felt as though he had crawled into an alternate dimension somehow. The past two days, Potter—Potter!—had defended him and saved him at every turn. And even after everything Severus had put him through—to the point of nearly killing the boy—he had still given the man an entire basilisk as if it meant nothing.
Had he truly felt bad about killing it? A monster?
Wait. Hadn’t Severus called himself a monster in the past two days?
Maybe Potter saw the beauty in beasts.
Gods. Severus had no idea what to make of any of this. He just didn’t understand, but he wanted to. He needed to. He needed to find his footing in this strange new world, and that had to start with Potter.
But by Merlin, he was so bloody lost. How did he even begin?
“Severus, are you quite all right?” Albus, having sealed the basilisk’s head behind a barrier and a Nox shield spell to hide it from sight, sat at Severus’ side. “All this about Harry is rather a lot to take in, isn’t it?”
Severus gave a bitter snort. “Understatement, old man.”
“Hmm. I am glad you are at least considering it. I had begun to fear nothing would get through to you.”
Severus dropped his head into his hands. “I… why? Why did I hate him for so long?”
“I suppose because you have never moved on from the past.” Albus patted his hand. “Perhaps Harry can help you with that.”
“Albus, be serious. I have abused him for five and a half years. Why would he care to help me? And even if he does, how do I even begin to make up for the pain I have caused him?”
“Start by showing him basic respect and go from there. I believe he has earned the right to your trust, if you can give it.”
Severus took in a shaky breath. “I-I will try.”
“Very good. I—”
The Chamber door opened, and Potter soared into the room with the Christmas house elf on his broom.
“Here’s Dobby,” Potter said, head low, voice flat. “I’ve three more elves waiting.”
“Ah, excellent,” said Albus. “Here you are, Dobby. This is a list of supplies we need.”
The elf took the list and frowned at its contents. “Where can Dobby be finding these things?”
“I have most in my personal storage,” said Severus, “and what I do not have should be available in the school supply closet.”
Dobby nodded and tucked the list in one of his many pairs of trousers. “Dobby will be right back with the supplies then. Great Master Harry Potter sir, will you be taking me out again?”
Potter nodded and helped the elf onto his broom. “I’ll be back in a mo.” He sounded subdued and grief marked his features.
“Potter, wait.” Severus sat, unnerved and unsettled by the broken look in the boy’s eyes. “Have I said something? I… I did not intend to hurt you.” It was as much of an admission of guilt as Severus could bear.
Potter froze, his eyes going wide and his mouth falling open. “Y-you… you care?”
Severus snarled, hurt and afraid at his statement. “I-if you are going to be transporting house elves down the tunnel, it falls to us to ensure you will not drop them to their deaths!”
Potter closed his mouth and dropped his head. “R-right. Well, I’m fine.”
“I believe it is clear that you are not.”
The boy looked away. “I’ll manage. I always do.” He clutched Dobby against him and shot out of the room before Severus could say anything else.
Albus gave him a weary look and sighed. “Severus….”
But Severus was already beating himself up for his sharp tongue and reactive temper. “Don’t, Albus. Just… don’t.”
Gods, he had to do better. He had to stop snarling every time Potter came too close to the truth.
With a sigh, Severus swore to himself the next time they spoke, he would be kinder. Potter had proved in spades, he deserved far better than this.