Actions

Work Header

In The Forest Of Dean

Chapter Text

Warning:

This chapter contains: mentions of past childhood abuse

-x-x-

 

 

July 21, 1998

Tuesday, Spinner’s End, 5:16 pm

 

“Severus.” Granger’s voice was low, her tone almost hesitant as Snape continued to root around in the far corner.

“What?” Snape asked, fighting back the urge to sneeze as dust clouded the air around him. 

He hadn’t been up here since he was a small child, and he could hardly seem to remember where anything was. He had blocked those memories out ages ago, buried them deep under thick layers of occlumency the second he learned how to use that mind magic, and now after two decades of keeping them locked up, he found it was harder to pull the memories forward.

“There is a letter here addressed to you.” Granger’s voice was quiet still, and he heard the girl shift ever so slightly. 

Snape sighed, fighting back his annoyance. They had a bunch of brewing to do and now was not the time to get distracted. They had only come up here because they needed more supplies. Diagon Alley was fresh out of cauldrons, vials, stirring rods, mashers, and just about anything else that one would need to complete a brew. They were currently using all his supplies, all Granger’s supplies, and everything they had managed to uncover in Grimmauld Place the past weekend. But they still needed more – because they both refused to use their good equipment for the experimental brew when there were still people on the verge of dying depending on their potions.

Thus, if they were going to work on the modified dreamless sleeping draught and test out a few new ideas, they needed to find some spare cauldrons and equipment. Otherwise, their plans would be put on hold for the foreseeable future. Which was the only reason why he had come up in this attic, because he knew he had some old salvageable cauldrons buried around here somewhere from the experiments he’d conducted during his youth. He had intended to search on his own, but after being up here for ten minutes, Granger had climbed the ladder to see what was taking him so long and then proceeded to help him look when it became apparent that he had no idea where the cauldrons were.

He had been positive that they were over by the window, but they weren’t, and thinking about it now, he was starting to wonder if his father or mother might have pitched them. After all, he hadn’t seen them since he was sixteen. He’d had no use for them when he had a fully functional potions lab at the school. Now, looking at the small, empty, and extremely dusty cabinet that he had just opened, he was starting to think that there was a decent chance they were gone.

“And?” Snape asked dryly, not really listening to her as he closed the cabinet doors and pushed aside another box to look along the wall. “There is a ton of useless old crap here, Hermione. I’ve not been up here in over two decades – there are undoubtedly several of my old things lying around, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t snoop. We’re looking for cauldrons. They should be obvious to find, and they’re certainly not going to be inside an envelope. That’s probably just one of the many letters written home from Hogwarts or a list of required school supplies – all of which I plan to burn the second I have a moment of free time, and you are out of my house.”

“Yes, but–”

“Granger,” Snape sighed in annoyance, reverting back to using her surname as he tended to do when his patience was wearing thin. He scowled at the contents of the second small cabinet he opened. It was filled with old books, vinyls, and other useless trinkets. “Adventure time down memory lane in my attic can wait – in fact, for you, it can wait indefinitely because it is none of your business. It’s bad enough that you and Potter and Nasir come and go as you please. I don’t need you rooting through my past any more than you already have and reading through the amusing letters that document my school life. And more than that – I have no interest in it, the past is dead as far as I am concerned, and I’m going to burn all this shit and this entire fucking house to the ground the second potion demands slow down. Or have you forgotten that the only reason why I’ve left this place standing is because of the wards, because the location is hidden, and because we can’t afford to waste time trying to find and set up another location? Focus on your task – they should be up here somewhere.”

“Severus, I really–”

“Granger, I swear to Merlin, if you don’t vanish that stupid piece of paper right now, I’m going to ban you from this house,” Snape hissed as he slammed the cabinet shut. “I don’t give a shit if Nasir gets mad – I’m going to toss you out on your ass in three seconds. That man takes too many liberties with my soul as it is, and you are incapable of not being nosey!”

He heard her sigh, the tight exhale coming out strained before her feet started to clunk across the old wooden boards of the attic, and he turned to face her in annoyance. Her expression was tight. Her jaw clenched as she closed the distance between them and came to stand just before the small little window less than two feet away.

This,” Granger said, her voice tight as she held up an old envelope with his name scrawled across the front. “Is not a letter from Hogwarts – it’s a letter from your mother.”

Snape felt his body tense and his chest constrict as she then held up the yellowed and folded pieces of paper that were in her other hand as her eyes pinched. She looked angry and annoyed, and yet – sad. Then before he could even open his mouth to lash out at her about her having no respect for his privacy, she cut him off as if she’d been able to read his mind.

“And before you even start with me – no, I didn’t read it. I only took it out of the envelope because I knew if I didn’t – you would just vanish it like the stubborn ass that you are,” Granger said, her voice carrying an edge of challenge as if she dared him to say otherwise. She knew him too well now, he hated that, and she knew that he knew that she was right. Her face softened, and she shook her head. “Hogwarts doesn’t send letters in envelopes like this, Severus – and this one had never been opened. This is a letter to you, and it’s personal – I could tell from the second I touched it because it had some sort of weak charm on it. Your name didn’t appear on the front until my fingers touched the paper. This was charmed so that only someone with magic could read it, but it doesn’t seem to have been coded to you specifically.”

She took a breath, her eyes trailing over his tense and unmoving frame before they softened.

“Look, I know we have a lot to do – I know you have your issues with your family, but I think you should read this. I can’t explain why, but there is something – warm, about it.” She held the letter out to him, but he didn’t move and instead just stared at it. She let out another silent sigh, and he watched as the girl reached forward, took his hand, and made him take the letter.

“Read it,” Granger said firmly, squeezing his hand once before she let go. “I’m going to go recheck our arithmancy calculations. We can still start our trials tomorrow without those cauldrons – we’ll just use the half-melted ones from Neville for now. Besides, I need to message Nasir about some stuff, so just take a minute and read it. We have time.”

Then, she turned and left him there, making her way soundlessly toward the ladder and climbing down with ease until he was alone in the dimly lit attic. He could feel her through the wards, shifting her way across the narrow hallway down the staircase back to the kitchen, where she presumably got to work.

Yet Snape stood there motionless; his eyes fixed on the time-worn letter that was clutched in his right hand. He couldn’t seem to breathe. He couldn’t seem to think. Never once in his entire life had his mother ever written him a letter. Never once had that woman ever written him anything, and a part of him wanted to believe it wasn’t true. A part of him wanted to believe that this was a joke, that Granger had been wrong, and she had simply misread the name.

But he knew that wasn’t true.

Granger knew his mother’s name now, and even though a huge piece of him wanted to deny it, he knew that this letter was hers. He could feel it. That warmth that Granger had described was her magic – it was the charm that she used to use when he was a small boy to leave him things secretly so that his father wouldn’t be able to find them. She would charm them to become visible only when he touched them, and he would find them by following the warmth that he could sense in the air. 

It was a game they’d played when he was only four or five. It hadn’t lasted long – and she’d only ever left him small things like used books, a tiny chocolate bar, or a new trinket she had managed to find while at work. But for a short time, for just over a year, it had been their little secret. It was the only thing from his childhood that made him believe that his mother might have loved him, and it had been theirs.

Only theirs.

The only thing that had brought joy to his childhood.

His eyes traced over the paper as he slowly moved, unfolding the letter to look at the slightly tilted scrawl that covered the pages. It was unmistakably her handwriting, except perhaps a bit messier than what he remembered. The warmth was faint now, only barely noticeable – which made sense. His mother had been dead for twenty-two years, and it was astounding that the charm was still present at all. 

He felt his heart start to clench as he shifted toward the small window, holding the folded pages up before him so he could read them. A part of him wanted to burn them where he stood. A part of him wanted to burn the whole bloody house down right now – potions or not, Granger or not – he wanted to destroy the entire thing because feeling that tiny tingle of warmth and reading the date on the top of the letter ignited a burning rage in his heart that he’d spent the last two decades suppressing.

After everything.

After all of it.

She had left him a letter? 

As if a letter was going to do anything. As if a fucking letter was going to fix anything or give him any sort of closure.

“I should burn this right now on principle alone.” Snape’s voice was hollow as his eyes stared unfocused at the scrawled words before him. 

He was unwilling to read it on pride alone. He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to know. He resented everything about that woman and had long ago locked those memories away and killed the part of him that felt anything other than hatred towards his family. There was nothing that woman could say to him now that would ever make what happened okay, and truth be told, there was a better chance of the letter blaming him for everything that happened than it being an apology.

But even if it was an apology – it wasn’t welcomed.

He glared at it, feeling his left hand tighten at his side so painfully he could no longer feel his fingers. He didn’t know how long he stared at it while remaining unmoving and without reading it. It felt like ages. It felt like forever. And then, despite the shaking rage that was coursing through his body and trembling through his limbs, he shifted, bringing the page up closer so his eyes could make out the shaky words that covered the worn pages.

 

Severus,

I have no way of knowing if you will ever find this letter, if you will ever read it, or if you will simply just dispose of it without even opening it. If you do burn it, which is what I suspect that you would do if you ever did find this – I wouldn’t blame you. 

You owe me nothing. I don’t deserve your time, and you always were an incredibly loyal boy who stood firmly on your principles. I know that you let me go a long time ago, and I know that you do not forgive those who have wronged you. I’m proud of you for that, but I also know that I had absolutely nothing to do with making you that way – aside from acting as the example of what not to become, I’m afraid that I gave you very little guidance as a child and I was not a good role model.

In fact, I was no role model at all. I was instead quite possibly the worst influence on your life aside from your father – though arguably, in a lot of ways, I would say that I was worse.

I always did find it somewhat fascinating how you could look so much like us and yet be nothing like us at all. The world is a strange place, is what I have come to realize over the years and yet despite everything that has happened – despite this being my final day where I am filled with nothing but regret, agony, and disgust that runs so deep it makes me feel physically ill – you are, and will always remain, the one thing in my life that I do not regret.

You were, are, and will always be – the only good thing that ever happened to me, and it is with great pain and shame that I sit here knowing that I am probably one of your biggest regrets in life. That I am the worst thing to have happened to you. That I have disappointed you to no end and that I have failed you so fundamentally, I fear that the damage has been cut so deep into your soul that you might never recover.

I hope I’m wrong.

I want you to know that this isn’t your fault. None of it was. You never did anything wrong. Children do not get to choose their parents, and you, while being unwillingly born into this broken home, took it in stride and gave your everything to try and help me when I did not deserve it. I do not know how well your memory is or how far back you can recall, but even from a young age, you always gave more than you should have. You always bore more than any child should be asked to bear, and you were always there for me. You always tried. The first time you asked me to leave with you – you were only five, do you remember that?

I do.

In fact, I think about it often. It was after your father broke my nose and blackened my eye. We were sitting in the garden trying to get the tomato plants to grow, and you asked if we could run away. You asked if I would leave with you. I remember smiling and laughing at your adorable expression and telling you ‘no’. I remember telling you that your father didn’t mean it, that it was an accident, and that sometimes parents fight. 

It was a lie, and even then, at only five years old, I knew you understood it was wrong. I knew that you knew I was lying, but you chose to humour me. You chose to smile and say ‘okay’ because you trusted me, because I was your mother.

Even if I was a deplorable one – you still loved me unconditionally, and you still gave me your trust. I didn’t deserve it, and I broke that trust over and over again.

Yet you stayed.

And you asked me time and time again to leave with you.

But I didn’t.

And to this day, I still can’t even explain why.

You would think that seeing the man you love hurt your child would awaken something within a mother. That it would call forth some undying love, some inner strength, or resolve that could allow them to step up and do what’s right – to do what they know is right. Maybe there is something wrong with me. Or perhaps I was selfish. Perhaps I thought things would change and kept holding onto the hope that it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I didn’t love you as much as I thought I did, or maybe… maybe I was just that pathetic as a person that I could do nothing. Maybe it was the shame of it all that kept me frozen in fear and unable to act, but regardless, no matter how bad it got, I could never seem to make myself do what I knew I needed to. 

What you knew I needed to do, and I couldn’t leave.

Even when you grew older, and you began to realize that you could distract his attention and bring it on yourself – I still couldn’t do anything. Even when you would step in at only eight years old – just to spare me – I still couldn’t do anything. Looking back on it now, it positively sickens me, and it makes me wonder how disturbed and broken a woman must be to allow their husband to beat their child. Or was I allowing it because, for once, it wasn’t me, and if he beat you, then I might be spared for one night? I don’t know. That question plagues me, and yet it is somehow only a tiny bone in the massive closet of skeletons that I will carry to my grave.

And yet somehow through all the horrors, you remained my boy. You remained my wonderful, kind, and caring boy. You never complained. You never cried in front of your father, you never let him know just how bad it hurt, you never left – and you never abandoned me. Even though I had abandoned you. You took the time to write to me while at school. You worried about me. You helped me tend to my injuries, and you always came back home from the Evanses – even though I know they invited you to stay with them during the summer and the holidays – but you didn’t, because you didn’t want to leave me alone with him. You would beg me to go with you. You would beg me to leave, and you even once, after your third year, packed all our belongings and tried to drag me from the house.

You never gave up on me.

Until finally, one day, you stopped asking. And it was at that moment that I knew I had broken you because something in you had changed. It was during your fourth year at Hogwarts – you became colder. Distant. Closed. You rarely spoke, you never reacted, and you no longer asked me to leave, yet you still took my beatings for me any time you could. 

There was something dark in your gaze that summer. At one point, I thought you might retaliate, but you didn’t – you still never raised your fists in return, and you still never complained. You still hadn’t entirely given up on me even if you had resigned yourself to stop asking me to leave him.

Until after your fifth year.

Until that one night in June before you returned for your sixth year, because after that night – you gave up. After that night, everything changed. You had shut down. You shut me out. I don’t know what happened to you at school that year, but when you came home you had closed yourself off from the world and retreated into a darkness that I’d never seen before – and then, you stopped talking altogether.

And it was in that moment that I knew you’d finally given up on me. You’d finally had enough, and you were finally done. You no longer saw me as a victim that needed to be saved, and instead, you saw me as part of the problem. You saw me as a source of your pain – and frankly, you were right.

I’ll never forget that day. It is so ingrained into my mind that even now, I can replay the entire scene before my eyes and still see every little detail. You’d come home later than you should have. To this day, I still have no idea where you used to go, but it was dark by the time you had gotten home, and your father was already drunk and dragging me down the hall. So naturally, you picked a fight with him to get him away from me.

And after a year of you no longer asking – you asked me one final time – you asked me to leave with you. I can still hear the words, and I can still picture the look on your face as you stood at the top of the stairs, hand outstretched, asking me to come. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t – and your face hardened like stone as he laughed at you.

He hit you. Harder, I think, than he had ever hit you before. I can still hear the sound of your jaw cracking as he broke it. I can still see the blood that trickled down your face as he split your lip and brow before blackening your eye. I can still hear the unbearable sound of you being thrown down the stairs before he followed after you and unleashed his full rage.

I failed you, Severus.

I failed you in the most fundamental way. I failed you as a witch. I failed you as a fellow human being, and I failed you as a mother. I watched silently while he broke nearly every rib in your body and then put his cigarette out on your chest. And I did nothing, except watch as a piece of you died that night. And your eyes darkened with a hatred so violent, so profoundly deep, and so sinister it scared me – I’d never seen anything like it before. But you weren’t looking at your father, Severus…

You were looking at me.

And it was in that moment that I realized, as your hand twitched at your side and you forced yourself not to draw your wand on him as you hauled your yourself from the ground and brushed the ashes from your shirt – that you were going to kill him.

That you would do it without hesitation and without an ounce of regret – and it was my fault. I led you to that. I led you to feel that rage, that hatred, and that anger so deeply it made you capable of killing. I left my own son, my own flesh and blood, alone to face the horrors of that man for sixteen years while I did nothing.

I abandoned you.

No child should be capable of murder, but yet there you were at only sixteen – barely restraining yourself from doing it right then and there. If not for the trace, if not for the warning that Dumbledore had given you, how close you were already to being expelled from Hogwarts, and the fact that you had nowhere else to go – I think you would have done it that night. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that you were capable of it, too – only a person familiar with dark and dangerous magic could have had that look in their eyes.

The look of knowing that the person before you is going to die by your hand – the look of a man who would kill and will kill. And I knew it then deep in my soul that we were dead to you. That I was dead to you – and you were going to kill him the second you turned seventeen and could safely use your magic at home. I knew that was the only thing preventing you from doing it that very second, and I knew when I watched you turn and leave that night that I wouldn’t see you again until your birthday.

I knew that you wouldn’t come back after that – and you didn’t.

And so that will forever be my last memory of you. I will never see your face again.

I still have no idea where you went or where you stayed. I know as a child you would spend time at the Evanses’, and they largely took you in as one of their own, but I also know you stopped talking about Lily sometime during your fifth year. So, I know you didn’t go there. Before you met her, I know you used to lie awake in terror when our screaming got too loud and that sometimes you would sneak out to the park through your bedroom window and sleep there. I know you stayed there several nights, even in the rain and even once in the winter. The sad thing was, I never worried about you being alone in the park at night because the truth was – you were safer sleeping there than sleeping in your own bed.

So perhaps that’s where you went that night. I hope it wasn’t. I hope you found somewhere safe to stay for the rest of that summer. I used to lay awake worrying about you. I used to lay awake wondering where you had gone and if you were safe. It killed me as a mother not knowing where you were, but the worst part is, I don’t even deserve to feel that way because it is my fault.

I have no right to agonize over your childhood because I allowed it. I had no right to wonder about where you went or who you were with for those last two months before Hogwarts because I drove you to leave.

I put you in that position. I failed to provide you a safe home.

You’ll never forgive me, nor should you because this is my doing, and I am solely responsible for everything that you went through. I allowed this to happen. I allowed that man to hurt you, and I allowed you to watch him hurt me. I did that, Severus.

No one else.

Not you.

Not your father.

Me.

And I’ll never be able to apologize. There is nothing that I can ever say to make this right, and there is no way you would ever accept my remorse or apology, even if I ever did manage to find the words to capture my thoughts. I’ve spent the last seventeen years of my life under that man’s control. I allowed him to break me as a person. I allowed him to beat me, control me, and terrorize me, but I don’t even regret that because that was my choice. What I do regret was that I allowed him to break you – my child. I allowed him to fill your soul with anguish and hate that no child should ever know. I let him take your happiness. Your innocence. Your potential – and I let him crush and squeeze it from your body.

I watched him drain the life from you.

And I did nothing.

Yet, I cannot go back and fix this. And even if I could, Severus, I am ashamed to say that I would probably fail yet again. I’m not a strong person. I never have been. I’m not, nor was I ever, a good mother. I got pregnant with you before we were married at 17, just after graduating Hogwarts, after only knowing your father for a few months and I was terrified. He said that he’d take care of me – he was older and had a job, and he seemed so sincere. He didn’t know that I was a witch back then, and while I know you’ll never believe this now – your father was a good man.

But after only a year with you in our life and after revealing what I really was, everything fell apart, and I crumbled with it. These aren’t excuses. I’m not asking you to forgive me, and I’m not even asking you to understand – these are just all the words that I never said to you, pouring desperately from my pen in the final moments of my life.

I’m not asking you for anything now – but I do want you to know that I love you. I loved you. I’ve never stopped loving you, and at one point in time, your father loved you too. He cried when he held you for the first time, and it was the happiest he’d ever been.

But that doesn’t change what I allowed to happen. I abandoned you. I let horrible things happen to you, I failed you, and I’ve left you alone in this world as a damaged and broken person to fend for yourself. But I will not allow my son to become a murderer and to carry the burden of my mistakes for me any longer.

I know it probably sounds odd to you... that I have a line, or that a line even exists for me after everything that has happened and everything that I have allowed to happen to you. I can’t explain it, and maybe you’ll never even know because chances are when you inherit this house, you will burn it to the ground and never see this letter at all. I can’t imagine you ever staying in this horrible place, and even if you did – it’s possible that still, you’ll never find this because I know you’ve blocked out the past. I know you’ve buried it all down deep, and so maybe you no longer remember the game we used to play and never find this note.

But if you do ever find this.

If by chance, you stumble upon this letter, I want you to know that I am sorry. 

I know my words hold no value after everything, and they long ago lost their meaning, but it is the truth – I am sorry. You deserved a better life. You were a good boy, a smart boy, and at one time when you were small – you were a happy child. I’m going to hold out hope that someday in the future, you can find that happiness again. That without me and without your father lurking in the background as nothing but pain and sorrow, you can start over and create a life of your own, free of the past and free of the horrors that haunted your childhood – but that you do it without the weight, the darkness, and the pain that comes from taking a life.

Because you’re a good person, Severus, you always were. And one day, you will be a good man. You are not, nor have you ever been, anything like your father or I. It was never in your nature to be violent – it was a reaction to the environment in which you were raised, but it is not who you are. It never has been. The tarnish on your soul is my doing, it belongs to me, and it is time that I take responsibility for it and set you free.

The truth is, Severus, I cannot leave your father. Even after all these years and even though the man I married died ages ago, I still cannot leave him. Perhaps that makes me deplorable as a human being. Perhaps that makes me pathetic as a witch... and I know, without question, that it makes me a reprehensible abomination as a mother.

I accept that.

But after nearly two decades of doing nothing, after letting you carry the burden for so long and allowing it to warp and damage you as a person, after watching my son turn from a happy, peaceful, kind-hearted, and brilliantly smart child to a cold, closed, resentful, and angry young man – I cannot allow it to continue.

And I can, at least, do this.

Merlin, give me the strength to finally do what needs to be done and let me finally free you from this hell. Let me, finally, take the burden from your shoulders and carry it for you, my son. I know it fixes nothing. I know it changes nothing. I know this.

But I will do it regardless.

I feel like a part of me always knew this was how it would end, one way or another. Looking back now, a small part of me wants to laugh at my own ignorance and naivety – at how stupid and utterly useless I have been, while a much larger part of me is crying in agony over what my life has become and what I have done to you. I feel like deep down, since the first time your father hit me, I always knew this would be the end – I’d just been trying to ignore it. Trying to look the other way. Your father won’t let me go, and I won’t leave him – but the violence continues to escalate, and so it was only a matter of time.

Even now, at this moment... my left hand and arm are broken, so I am writing this with my right, and that is why it looks so terrible. And yet, I still have no courage to do anything about it. I still have no strength to take any action. I cannot make myself heal my arm because the truth is, I deserve it to be broken, and I’m not sure I even remember the spell to fix it.

Even if I had wanted to mend it, I’m not sure that I could anymore.

In a strange way, that is how I know that this is what I have to do as I sit here at the table thinking of your face that night – thinking of how strong you became despite me. Perhaps even in spite of me. 

I was your mother, and I was supposed to protect you – I promised I would, and I didn’t. And I know if I do not do this now and you come home over the holidays – I won’t be able to stop you. I’m not even sure if I would try to stop you, but I cannot live with myself knowing that I drove you to that point. I cannot live with the regret of knowing what has happened by your hand because of my neglect.

I cannot allow this to happen. I cannot allow you to do what has always needed to be done on my behalf. So this will be the final and last words that I write because when your father comes home... I will end this. 

It’s for the better.

You’ve lived your life alone without me thus far, without my help and without any of the things you should have had. You’re a survivor. You will survive this too and be better for it – better without me here. Better without your father. You always were smart, Severus, so I’m sure if you find this letter, you will figure out how I did it. And even if you never do see this letter, I’m sure that you will be suspicious. Either way – at least we will be gone from your life. At least I will die knowing that you are alive, free from this hell, and free from the weight that you would have carried if I’d done nothing and allowed you to turn seventeen while your father still lived, and you inevitably took his life.

If there is an afterlife, your father and I will both surely go to the worst part of it to rot and burn for our sins for all time, but I pray to Merlin and to any other deity out there that I never see your face again. That you find peace. That you find happiness. That when the time comes, and you meet your end, you find yourself on the side for those that lived good lives and for those that made good choices – to the side of the after where you belong. Somewhere you can be free, somewhere you can be alive, somewhere you can be at peace.

Because you deserve it.

You deserved so much more than I was ever able to give you. You deserved to be happy. You deserved a childhood without fear. You deserved to be loved and cared for, and while I love you, loved you, and will always love you – I know it means nothing. It was never enough, and I was never deserving of the unconditional love that you gave me as a child, nor the care you showed me as a young man.

Be well, Severus.

Don’t let my mistakes and the deplorable transgressions of your father keep you from finding a life of your own. You are more than your blood. You always have been. You are you – and you are free to become your own person outside of me and the horrors of your childhood. You are, and will always be, the only good thing to have come from me. You are the best parts of me, my biggest failure, and yet simultaneously – my greatest accomplishment. I was always proud to call you my son, but I was always ashamed that I was your mother – because you deserved so much more.

With love,

Eileen Prince

 

Snape stared at the letter, his hand shaking softly in the faint light of the attic as the skies began to grow dark. It was as if someone had turned off his brain and removed his ability to think or function. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. His body just stood there motionless as the words on the page circled around in his head on an endless loop. 

He understood each word individually. He knew what they all meant, and as he read the sentences, his brain comprehended each phrase – but he seemed incapable of accepting them, processing them, or doing anything with them aside from staring at them with a cold, hollow empty as something began to stab painfully into his heart.

He hated Tobias Snape.

He hated Eileen Prince.

He’d come to terms with their role in his life over a decade ago, and he had pushed past it. He had, indeed, been intending to kill his father on his seventeenth birthday the second the trace was removed from his body, and he’d known exactly how he was going to do it. He’d already planned it – he’d had it all prepared. He was going to poison the man’s liquor and watch him scream in agony as his liver failed and his heart gave out. There would be no evidence. There would be no suspicion. No autopsy, whether magical or muggle, would have ever found a trace of what he had done. 

It would have worked. He never would have gotten caught – no matter how watchful Dumbledore had been over him at the time. There would have been no way to prove it, and at seventeen, without the trace, he would have been able to brew the potion he required outside of school without getting caught.

No one was going to know.

To this day, no one had ever known of his plan.

Except – as it would seem, his mother – who had known the night he left home in 1976 and never returned. He’d spent the first term of his sixth year at Hogwarts stealing and gathering all the potion ingredients he required from that fool, Slughorn, and the greenhouses. He’d been stockpiling it all and preparing to bring it home over the Christmas break before his seventeenth birthday. He was even debating trying out a few of his new spells on the old man when suddenly, midway through November, he was called to his Head of House’s office and informed that his mother and father had both passed away.

Apparently, Tobias had died from alcohol poisoning – which at the time, he had not found suspicious. But his mother had allegedly died from a heart attack – which he had always found a bit unlikely. He’d always assumed that his father had just finally accidentally killed her during one of his regular beatings and then drunk himself to death. That suspicion had been all but confirmed when he’d gone to verify the bodies and finalize their burial – his mother’s arm had been broken. There was bruising along her neck and face, and her body was so thin and frail it was frankly beyond him that she’d managed to live as long as she had.

It was, he decided as he looked at her, possible that she’d died from a heart attack. That, or Tobias had strangled her again until she passed out and she’d died while unconscious.

Either way, he’d never pushed for a magical autopsy. He’d never even considered it, because at the time, he hadn’t cared. Slughorn had been prepared with a box of tissues in his office when he had revealed the news, and the daft idiot had been rather gobsmacked when Snape had simply stared blankly at him and nodded, standing from his chair and saying that he would take a day of bereavement leave to go and deal with it tomorrow.

And that was exactly what he did.

He went to the muggle morgue with McGonagall because he wasn’t allowed to apparate or go alone, and Slughorn was unable to sub his classes.

He signed several papers.

He met with the lawyers, he inherited the house, and then he returned to Hogwarts before dinner the next day as if nothing had changed. His professors had been alerted of the news, and he could see them all dancing around the issue, trying to ensure that he was alright while they offered to cut him slack. Their awkward attempts at sympathy had not only been unwelcome, but they’d also been absurd and laughable given that his professors had never given a shit about him up until that point. It seemed ridiculous that they should care now simply because his parents had died. 

If any of them had ever bothered or attempted to get to know him, they would have known that he didn’t care. They would know that he’d cut his emotional ties to his parents years ago and that he literally felt nothing as he’d looked at their dead bodies. Truth be told – the only thing he had felt was disappointment. Disappointment that he’d wasted his time collecting ingredients he no longer needed and disappointment that he couldn’t kill the bastard himself.

He knew that his outward lack of emotion and reaction made them all uncomfortable. He knew that they didn’t know what to do with him, and he knew, as he’d sat in Dumbledore’s office refusing to speak while Slughorn and McGonagall stood behind him looking concerned, that they were all worried. And that had made him outwardly laugh. 

He could still see the scene in his head as if it was yesterday. McGonagall had suggested to him that he take a week off to process it while Slughorn nodded and agreed, and Snape chuckled darkly – stopping both of them mid-sentence as he stood from his chair, straightened his robes, and then turned to give the Headmaster a dead empty stare.

May I go now, sir? Or is there anything else you wish to say to make yourselves feel better about this? Because I have two essays I was hoping to start tonight,’ he’d said rather dryly, his voice hollow as his eyes flicked over Slughorn, McGonagall, and Dumbledore in turn.

Both Slughorn and McGonagall had seemed taken aback by his words, but Dumbledore had simply remained silent and stared at him. His infuriating and twinkling blue eyes glinted in the firelight.

Severus,’ McGonagall had said, her voice almost strained. ‘Given the conditions of your parents’ bodies upon their deaths – I think it might be good for you to take a week off. Perhaps you could go speak to Madam Pomfrey? She is a certified grief counsellor, and she has experience dealing with… domestic issues. It – It might be… helpful for you to get some counselling given the circumstances.’

Snape knew that the woman meant well.

He knew that she didn’t know about it – it wasn’t like the professors ever completed home visits. Slughorn was too daft to ever notice or pick anything up, but Pomfrey wasn’t. The first time she’d treated his injuries after a brawl with James Potter, the first thing she commented on was the evidence of past injuries from his childhood. At the time, he’d been too insecure and nervous to deal with it. He’d only been eleven years old, and that woman was the first person to ever show a hint of concern for his well-being. So, naturally, it had terrified him. He’d closed down and pushed her away. He’d lied and said he was fine – said he had no idea what she was hinting at because he was terrified his mother would find out, then his father would find out, and it would only make things worse.

Pomfrey, being the dedicated healer that she was, had alerted Slughorn about her concerns and documented them in her files. Slughorn had come to him to ‘talk about it,’ and the whole experience had been excruciating, unbearable, and it was obvious to Snape even at that young age that his Head of House was just as uncomfortable with talking to him about it as he was. 

So, Snape lied and had assured the man it was fine. He’d told the man that his mother just happened to be poor at healing spells and that they didn’t have much money, so they had to heal his injuries ‘the muggle way’. And Slughorn, who knew nothing about muggle healing methods, had simply accepted the answer and never brought it up again. It had been far better for Slughorn to know that he was poor than for the man to realize that his father beat him on a regular basis.

After that, Snape took exceptional care to avoid going to see Pomfrey at any cost.

He had always suspected that Dumbledore was made aware of it, but the man never commented on it or did anything. So Pomfrey was, and remained for the entire rest of his school career, the only person to ever identify the past evidence of injuries lingering throughout his body for what they truly were – signs of consistent, brutal, and relentless physical abuse.

Yet on that day, at that moment – even though logically he knew that McGonagall had not known the situation of his home life – her words were like a knife in an old injury being twisted under his skin. Like a blade thrust right into the deepest, darkest, and angriest part of himself. The part that hated everything. The part that resented his parents, resented his homelife, resented the school, and hated all the assholes who taught there. The part that loathed that fucking piece of shit Dumbledore who had known and done nothing, and who had shown him the year prior that he didn’t give a fuck about Snape or his well-being when he let the Marauders off with a warning and measly detention after Sirius had blatantly tried to kill him.

And just like that, he felt the cold, angry hatred spread through his body like a wave at the audacity of her words. At the utterly disgusting and pathetic behaviour of his professors for the last twenty-four hours as they pretended to care.

They’d spent years punishing him for things that were not his fault, for pranks that Potter and Black had pinned on him. Then, after ignoring all the torment he’d gone through, all the bullying, the teasing, and the utter torture he’d endured at the hands of the other students while at school – they’d berated him when he’d finally decided to stick up for himself and to do something about it. He’d been slammed with detentions and blasted with point losses while the Marauders were lauded as fucking heroes half the time. He’d been labelled as a goddamn villain before he’d even had the chance to stand on his own two feet or define who he was going to become simply because of his school house, because he came from nothing, and because the most popular students in the school didn’t like him.

So, as he’d looked at the woman before him that day, he felt something snap. It was dark and insidious, and it had filled his heart like heavy freezing water as his eyes narrowed into slits.

Given the condition of their bodies,’ Snape repeated, his words dark and laced with condescension.

He saw McGonagall straighten; the woman’s jaw flexed as she clenched it. Then, surprising even himself – he laughed. The small dark chuckle seeped from his lips like poison, and he’d smiled. Fully smiled, for the first time in years, before shaking his head and looking at them all once more. Then, his face had twisted into a sneer as he glanced back at McGonagall once more.

‘It’s been sixteen years, professor,’ Snape had practically hissed, looking at her in disgust. ‘Sixteen years – why the fuck would I want to talk about it now? They’re dead, and they’re better off for it. The only thing I have to say is that it’s a shame they didn’t die sooner.’

Silence had rung throughout the Headmaster’s office for a painful beat as he glared at them. His cold, dead eyes traced over each one of them one final time before he forced his face back into an impassive and blank look. He could still remember roughly shoving the chair he’d been sitting in back under the desk, the noise of it scraping on the floor making the professors around him cringe with discomfort before he casually stuffed his hands into his pockets and then turned to look at the Headmaster once more.

I have homework to do,’ he’d said dryly, turning towards the door and not stopping to look and see if they were watching him as he moved. 

It hadn’t been the first time that he’d ever cursed in front of his professors, but it was the only time none of them said anything about it as he pushed his way out of the office and made his way back to his dormitory.

Now, standing in the attic of his childhood home holding the suicide note and confessional that his mother had left for him using a game that they’d played together when he was a small child – he felt totally lost. He felt entirely confused. Nothing in this letter excused what had happened. Nothing in this letter made anything from his childhood okay, and he sure as fuck did not forgive his mother.

As a young boy, he’d been far too forgiving. He’d loved her unconditionally because he didn’t know any better. She was all that he had, and he wasn’t strong enough to live in this household without her – without believing that she loved him in return. Or that she was there for him and was doing her best. Until he’d met Lily and met the Evans family, he hadn’t known that what happened in his home wasn’t normal. He’d always suspected it. Deep down, at even as young as five years old, he had always known that what was happening was wrong on some level – but he’d had nothing else to compare it to.

It wasn’t until he got older, until he’d grown and learned and saw Lily with her parents, that he’d fully realized just how screwed up his family truly was. How violent and angry his father was. How unforgivable his actions had been. How deplorable his mother was – how much she had utterly failed him as his caretaker. She’d stood by and watched as her drunken piece of shit husband had used her son as an ashtray and a human punching bag.

At one point or another throughout his life, he had broken every single bone in his body at least once – and the majority of those breaks had happened between the ages of four and sixteen, and they’d been at the hands of his father.

His mother had chosen to stay with that monster even though she’d watched him break her son’s arm, even though she’d watched him throw her child down the stairs – across the floor, onto the ground, locked him out of the house or screamed at him relentlessly. And eventually, slowly, finally – over the years, Snape had come to realize that she was as much to blame as his father.

Was she a victim too? 

Yes, of course she was. He was old enough to understand that now.

Tobias Snape had a hold on her like no other, and she had suffered just as badly, if not worse than he did. But she had had a duty to him as his mother, as his guardian, as a fucking adult to take care of him and protect him, and she’d failed him absolutely in every sense of the word.

She was the number one reason why he didn’t trust anyone, why he never let anyone in, why he’d kept everyone at arm’s length and pushed them away when they got too close, and why he struggled to believe that anyone would ever care for him. His father, on the other hand, was the reason why he was so cold and distant. Why he was closed down nearly all of the time and why he buried his emotions into neat little boxes that he avoided at all costs. That man was the reason why he didn’t feel like a normal person. He was the reason why Snape never drank or smoked. Sure, Snape had dabbled with potions, and he’d experimented to try and demand more from his body, which he knew was his own form of substance abuse, but he never touched liquor or drugs, and he refused to ever touch it because of what he had suffered and endured at the hands of a drunk.

Literally, the only useful thing he had ever learned from his parents was how to survive – how to get the shit beaten out of you and not cry. All said and done, he gave them credit for his extremely high pain tolerance, his ability to mask his emotions, his ability to lie, his resilience to emotional pain, and his capacity for self-sufficiency.

It had made him into a hell of a spy.

But even he knew that wasn’t a good thing.

The two of them – the monstrous disaster which was Eileen and Tobias’ marriage and their total incompetence and inability to function as human beings – had entirely shaped his life. It had impacted every single facet of who he became and the choices that he’d made. 

They weren’t responsible for what he’d done – he knew that was on him, and he accepted full responsibility for his own actions and shortcomings. But what they did to him had factored into everything. They had very nearly destroyed him as a person. Had he not been born a magical child, he suspected he would have died at the hands of his father before he reached ten years of age.

And this fucking letter – changed everything and nothing!

And now, twenty-two years later, he was standing in the attic of his wretched childhood home realizing that his mother – his broken, useless, and utterly rubbish mother who he’d given up on and loathed with a burning hate fire hotter than hell – had killed his father and killed herself to save him. 

To save him from himself and to keep him from becoming a murderer.

He didn’t know what to do with that information.

He didn’t know how to process it.

Her parting words and her final wish for him to find happiness and her hope that he would make the right choices never came to fruition. She may have spared him from taking the life of his own father, but he’d killed dozens of other people over the years. He’d made deplorable life choices that had nearly ended his life, and now he was left as a ruined, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, and hateful man.

He couldn’t even remember a time when he was happy. 

He was fairly certain that he’d never actually ever been genuinely happy in his life, and the few instances when he was, smug would be a more appropriate term to describe it. And the idea of that woman – his mother – wishing him happiness and hoping he could move on with his life without her made him furious beyond belief because it was such a fucking cop out and such a shit way for her to try and remove herself from his life and deny any long-term responsibility or accountability for her actions.

She couldn’t have done it sooner? 

His mind spun with a flurry of anger and emotion.

She couldn’t have just killed Tobias and then stuck around? 

No – apparently, she had to go kill herself, too. Seriously?! She couldn’t have done anything else? Nothing? Not a thing when I was a child? Not a single fucking thing when I had actually needed her help? It had to get that far for her to finally do something about it? 

After all that time?

He let out an audible groan of frustration as anguish ached in his heart.

By the time she had written this letter, by the time she had decided to actually do something to help him – he hadn’t needed her help anymore. He hadn’t needed her to save him. The damage was already done by that point. It was etched into his soul and carved into his heart. 

His body and mind had been so deeply scarred that he was already drowning under the weight. The piece of him that she was trying to save had died years ago – she’d just never noticed it because she wasn’t paying attention, and he’d become impossibly good at hiding it. But her son, Severus Snape – the good little boy who had been happy, giving, loving, and kind – had died right alongside his mother at the hands of his father when he was not even eleven years old.

And yet, oddly, there was a deep pain radiating through his chest at the sentiment that she had, in her own twisted way, still cared for him. Cared for him enough that something about that night, whether it had been the look in his eyes or not, he really couldn’t say, had shaken her so deeply she’d finally gathered the courage to do something. And she’d done it for him – or at least she claimed that it was for him.

He could see his arm starting to shake before his eyes as a whirlwind of emotions stormed through his body.

What the hell was he supposed to do with this?

Why would she even bother writing it and leaving it for him?

What the fuck had been the intent? Had she simply been trying to clear her conscience so she could die feeling better about herself? Or was this letter just the broken ramblings of a shattered mind that had been beaten against a wall one too many times? Maybe it was a way of her expressing her guilt and trying to get it off her chest before she poisoned her husband – or maybe she did genuinely want him to find it, and she did genuinely want him to be free and happy.

He didn’t know.

And he would never know, because she was fucking dead.

He couldn’t breathe. His body was still healing, it was barely strong enough to handle a full day of brewing, and now he was up here dealing with this – and he didn’t have the strength to do it. Not to mention that he couldn’t even deal with it alone because he knew that Granger was in his kitchen monitoring his vitals, and they had started to skyrocket with his stress as his neck and left shoulder tensed in pain.

What did it mean?

Why the hell would she write it?

He could feel his heart starting to race, and every muscle in his body tensed.

What did she want him to do with it?

What the fuck did this stupid letter mean?

It felt like his sanity was slipping through his fingers as his entire body started to shake.

What the fuck am I supposed to do with this, Eileen?!?!?”

The words came out like a snarled growl, and before he even realized what he was doing, he’d punched his hand through the glass of the attic window. 

His heart beat erratically in his chest, his body shook so violently he couldn’t feel his legs, his lungs burned, and it felt like his magic was exploding in his chest. He heard something breaking beside him as his vision blurred with rage, and before he knew it, he was kneeling on the dusty attic floor holding the bloodied letter, panting hard. He could see broken pieces of glass and wood scattered around him. Exhaustion flooded his body as his blood pressure started to plummet. His vision speckled with black, there was red covering his arm, and as his gaze fell back to the floor, he could see it pooling by his knees across the floorboards.

He saw movement from the corner of his eyes, yet he couldn’t even make his mind focus on it as he felt someone take hold of his slashed and battered arm. He sat there numb, staring blankly at the shattered window as he felt shards of glass being picked from his fingers, his palm, his wrist, and his forearm. He knew who it was. He knew she was there, but he couldn’t look at her. He felt each piece tugging from his skin as she worked in silence, each movement careful, light-handed, and cautious.

There was a stinging sensation as the cuts were cleaned, a small billow of green smoke, and then he felt her fingers grazing over his skin as she checked to make sure everything was healed. The fabric of his white shirt tugged, and his eyes finally, and rather begrudgingly, shifted to look at the mis-matched hands that were currently rolling his sleeve back into place. He watched as the ripped fabric sewed itself back together, and she refastened the buttons at the cuff for him. Then, with a flick of her finger, the blood vanished, and his gaze shifted up to the small bottle that was held out before him.

Blood replenisher.

The real reason why she was here.

His body was still so damaged that it struggled to replace his own blood, and as a result, any blood loss he suffered was extremely hard on him. She was here to make sure that he didn’t pass out. She was here to make sure that he took blood replenisher in time so that he didn’t cause any additional damage. She, Nasir, Potter, and Shacklebolt – the four of them. Perpetually watching him, lingering in his home, monitoring his vitals, and making sure he was fine.

Always.

But with her, it was different. With her, it was personal. They’d never spoken of it outwardly, and they probably never would, but he knew that Granger had all but taken a personal vow to keep him alive and safe, because she felt personally accountable for him. She felt responsible for ensuring that he was okay until he decided that he wanted to live or die. So, she would be there for him in any way that he needed because she felt like she owed it to him.

Strange as it might seem to some, he understood it. By all logical accounts, he was the one with the life debt. He was the one who owed her everything and owed her his life in return for what she had done for him in the Shrieking Shack – not to mention everything she did afterwards. But yet, in a twisted way, she was the one who owed him, because she’d done it without his consent. She’d saved him despite his blatant request to die. She’d ignored his plea, ignored his wishes, and she had forced him to live. 

So the debt had reversed, and she would always feel responsible for his life until her debt to him had been paid.

Just as he had, begrudgingly, been there for Potter all those years to pay off his debt to Lily and James. So, just as he had kept Potter alive and safe, she would do the same for him until he released her from her guilt and told her that he was happy to be here. Happy to be living, glad to be alive – until he thanked her for saving him or until he set her free by asking her to kill him.

But until that day came, she would linger in his life on the sidelines. She wouldn’t allow him to take his own life or do anything too stupid, because she felt like his death – if he desired it – should be her responsibility and that she should carry the weight of it. Some would call it extreme, maybe it was, but he understood it. In a weird way, he respected her for it, and that was why he allowed her to do it, why he sat there unmoving as she had healed his arm and re-buttoned his sleeve. 

He didn’t like it.

He hated being touched. He hated having people in his life in any form of the meaning – but he would tolerate it because it is what he would have done in her shoes, and it is what he had done for the last twenty years. Although, in her case, she was probably less resentful about it than he had been with Potter.

In her case, it was a choice, and he knew that she didn’t begrudge him for it. She didn’t resent him or regret her decision to save him. He knew this clear as day even without her ever saying anything, because hatred and resentment weren’t in Granger’s nature. It wasn’t in her blood to be angry or cruel or cold. He knew, because her magic pulsed through his veins, and it was as warm as pure light. 

Even after everything that she had been through, she was still fundamentally a good and caring person. She would never hurt anyone unless her hand had been forced. Unless she saw no other option. Even despite the weight that she carried, the horrors she had seen, and the pain she had suffered. Even though it was lonely. Even though it hurt. Even though most people would never understand her, and she was left blunted and broken – she continuously fought to be more than the damaged pieces that made up her whole because she refused to be defined by them.

And that was where they were fundamentally different. 

He stilled, his hand slowly moving to grab the vial from her fingers as his numb mind continued to spin.

She was still kind, whereas he had become cruel. The both of them had been shaped by the experiences of their life, and they had both gone through hell – but he had come out through a much different exit, jaded and warped with bitterness. His mother was wrong. It wasn’t in him to be kind. Maybe it had been – a lifetime ago – but it wasn’t anymore. 

He had long ago learned to distinguish the difference between ‘he himself’ and ‘the things’ that had happened to him. His childhood did not define him, nor were his parents responsible for what he had become, but he had become it nonetheless, and his childhood had unquestionably been a contributing factor.

He may understand Granger now. Hell, loathe as he was to admit it, he even felt like he understood Potter now, and Nasir, although difficult to figure out at times, was even becoming more transparent, too. 

But that didn’t change the past. That didn’t undo the damage that he had caused, and it didn’t change the fact that he was still an incredibly difficult person now. He wasn’t suddenly happy or friendly or kind simply because he was alive and the war was over. He had still been a horrible professor. He had tormented her and her peers. The animosity might have been set aside because they had bigger things to deal with, and they all recognized that finding a way to work together was the only way to succeed, but it didn’t change anything.

Just like this letter. 

The past couldn’t be undone by a few simple words. It wasn’t an explanation. It didn’t give him any sense of peace or freedom. It wasn’t closure – and it wasn’t okay, it didn’t make anything okay, and it just left him feeling utterly gutted and confused. 

This letter didn’t mean anything.

And yet, even as he thought those words, he could feel his heart aching in pain at the sentiment of her words.

He forced himself to swallow the blood replenisher, knowing that if he didn’t, she would just pour it down his throat. He could feel the warmth of it tracing throughout his body as his blood pressure began to stabilize, and his vision became less blurred. After a moment, he held out the empty vial in the space between them, and he watched as she took it, sliding the glass container into one of her endless pockets. She watched him for another silent moment, but he didn’t look at her, then slowly, she got to her feet.

“I’ll fix the window later, don’t waste your energy on it. You’re still healing,” she said quietly. He nodded, the motion reflexive as his dark gaze bore a hole into the ground by his knees. “Shacklebolt is going to be popping by here with Nasir in less than an hour. They’re having issues with the wards at Hogwarts, and they wanted your input, and Harry is bringing by some Jobberknoll feathers for tomorrow. I can tell them that you’re sleeping if you’d like to avoid them tonight. We can manage without you, and they won’t ask any questions.”

A small scoff left his lips as he exhaled. His eyes shifted to the letter on the floor. Granger had taken it from his hand and removed his blood from the papers, leaving them on the ground by his side after she cleaned up his mess. She waited another moment to see if he would say anything, then turned to head back down the ladder, completely unphased by his lack of response. He watched from the edge of his vision as she shifted away, and then despite himself and for reasons he would later question and never fully understand – he called for her.

“Hermione,” he said slowly, and he saw her frame stop. 

She turned back to face him once more, waiting for him to speak. He swallowed, then picked up the letter, his eyes tracing over the familiar handwriting and scanning over the words that he had no idea how to process. Then his voice dropped to a low whisper as he held the pages out before him. 

“You’re supposedly the most brilliant witch of your age,” Snape said slowly. “So tell me, what does one do with a letter from the dead?”

Silence echoed around him for a long moment until he heard her shift, her feet scuffing on the worn floorboards as she made her way back to him.

“That depends,” she said quietly, her voice calm and low.

“On what?” Snape asked, his stiff neck turning so he could finally meet her gaze. 

She was crouched on her heels three feet away. She always gave him space unless his health depended on it, and that was something that he appreciated. She stared at him. He wasn’t occluding, so he knew that she could see everything behind his gaze.

For such a massive portion of his life, he’d managed on his own. He’d managed without help, and he’d always been fine making decisions. Yet as this war had come to a close, he’d started to slip. He’d slowly enlisted Nasir’s aid, and he’d slowly let Narcissa in. Despite his best efforts, he had become more and more desperate for help and guidance as he struggled to breathe and now, at this moment, holding his dead mother’s confessional in his hands, he felt entirely incapable.

For the first time in his life, he just wanted someone to tell him what to do because this was too much.

This hurt too much.

His body ached.

His soul was broken.

He didn’t have anything left to give, and he simply could not rationalize or handle this information on his own. His eyes trailed over her small form, looking for something – anything – while his insides screamed at him to shut up and lock it all down. How far had he fallen to be asking Granger for her opinion? How desperate had he become? How weak? How pathetic? And sadder than that – who the fuck else was he going to ask at this point?

Nasir?

Arthur?

Phineas?

Narcissa?

Fucking, Potter?

He felt physically sick at the idea of it as he looked at her. Her eyes remained fixed on his face, but they were no longer blank and closed off. She’d dropped her mask, and he could see her brow creasing as she studied him – truly looking at him, and then a quiet sigh left her body before she spoke once more.

“On whether or not you want to give them a voice,” she said quietly, as she held his gaze without falter. “And whether or not you want to listen. The dead are dead, Severus. What they say now cannot change anything. All it can do is change how you see the world and how you choose to understand it, but even that is in your control. They have no control over you. They hold no power over you. Their words have no value unless you deem it so. What you do with it – is entirely up to you.”

He stared at her silently, watching as she shifted to stand once more. 

“But personally,” she said slowly, eyeing him carefully as if she was debating her next words. “I think you should ignore the words from the dead unless they bring you peace – unless they bring you closure, joy, or happiness. The dead are separated from us for a reason, Severus, and they are meant to stay that way.”

He watched her for another silent moment, neither of them moving until finally, he exhaled deeply and hauled himself up from the floor. He had to bite back a groan of pain in the process as his body screamed at him in protest. Clutching the letter tightly in his hand, he stepped toward her, pausing briefly to glance back at the broken attic window – the same window that he and his mother used to sit beneath when he was a very small child, and she would show him magic. That was, at least, until things got worse with his father, and she stopped using magic altogether.

He still had no idea what he thought. He still had no idea how he felt. This letter brought him only confusion – not understanding or joy. Not closure or relief. It was hollow more than anything. Empty and unsure. He didn’t know if this letter mattered or if he even wanted to keep it, but he knew himself better than anyone else in the world, and he knew that he didn’t trust himself with it. So, without pausing to think on it and without giving himself a moment to second guess it, he turned back to Granger and met her even stare.

“May I ask something of you?” he said quietly.

“Of course.” She nodded, still unmoving and waiting for him.

“Hold onto this for me.” He stuffed the letter into her hands much like what she had done to him earlier, and then he met her gaze once more. “You can read it if you like – I honestly don’t fucking care. You’ve seen enough of my memories and this house that I’m sure you’ve already pieced it together and figured out what my childhood was like. But if I keep this, I will surely burn it, and I’m not sure if I want to. I’m not sure what I want to do – but I don’t trust myself to keep it long enough to figure that out. So, store it somewhere safe, alright?”

“I will.” Granger nodded, taking the letter and carefully folding it up.

He shifted past her without speaking another word. He didn’t stop when he reached the ladder, and he bit back a groan as he stepped onto it and began moving down the rungs at a slow and even pace before he paused and glanced up to her.

“And don’t tell Potter,” Snape said flatly, his eyes narrowing a fraction. “Keep it to yourself.”

To his surprise, her lip twitched, a small half-smile forming across her face as her eyes creased in amusement.

“Obviously,” she said as if it was indeed the most obvious thing in the world. She slipped the letter into her pocket. “That goes without saying. Anything that you tell me stays strictly between us, unless it is something related to our work or is a blatant safety concern.”

“Good.” He nodded, resuming his descent down the ladder as he muttered under his breath. “The last thing I need is sympathy from Harry ‘the boy who lived and died and lived again’ Potter. Fucking Merlin, his soul-piercing stare is bad enough as it is. I can barely stand it – I don’t need him glancing at me with pity.”

He heard Granger snort as she climbed onto the ladder above him and began her descent. Apparently, she’d heard him.

“You know that Harry can’t actually see into your soul, right?” Granger said as she stepped off the ladder to stand beside him. Flicking her hand, she cast a wordless spell, and the ladder began to fold up into the ceiling once more. Then she turned and raised a brow at him. “He can’t read minds either. He’s just become much more in tune with people’s emotions, so he tends to know what people are thinking without actually knowing what they are thinking. However, you are a natural occlumens and an incredibly reserved man – so he doesn’t pick up on anything extra from you. Though really, why you think Harry would be interested in reading your thoughts or would want to be anywhere near your mind is beyond me. You know we have better things to do than spy on you, right? And we hardly want to hear a bitter-running commentary of all the things we do that you find annoying.”

She smirked at him, her eyes crinkling at the corners once more as his eyes narrowed at her in annoyance. She’d become a bit cheeky since she no longer feared him, and he flexed his newly healed hand at his side in irritation as her warm magic fluttered through his veins. Then he rolled his eyes at her and let out a sigh to hide the small scoffing laugh that he nearly let slip.

“Whatever, Granger,” he sneered, but it was half-hearted at best. His lips twitched into a small smile the second he had turned away from her and began moving towards the stairwell as he spoke. “It doesn’t change the fact that your boyfriend is creepy as fuck. It was bad enough when he just had the arrogant hero complex and incessant need to save the world – now he’s almost as unnerving as Nasir, and that’s saying something.”

He heard her laugh as she followed along behind him, the unease of finding the letter lessening slightly as he made his way back down the stairs and into his kitchen.

 

-x-x-

 

July 30, 1998

Thursday, Spinner’s End, 3:35 pm

 

“Severus, you have a visitor,” Granger said as she stepped in through the door with Potter.

Snape let out a low sigh, his shoulders slumping forward as he gripped the kitchen counter tightly and fought not to scream at the pair of them as he closed his eyes tight. 

How the bloody fuck was this his life?

It was like he could not escape them – and if it wasn’t them, it was Nasir and Shacklebolt. Honestly, at times, he couldn’t decide what was worse. At least Potter was silent when in the room with him, which, thankfully, was incredibly rare, and they were never alone. He had left with Granger twenty minutes ago when she was summoned by Shacklebolt – Merlin knows why – and they had rushed out of his house in a flurry. 

Usually, they worked at Grimmauld Place because there was more room, and it gave him the freedom to leave and escape them whenever he wanted, which was what he preferred. But Nasir was brewing eight batches of an extremely volatile potion that required nothing else be brewed at the same time, or it would risk contamination even with wards. So, they came here to start the latest experimental batch of modified dreamless sleeping draught, planning to move the operation back to Grimmauld the following weekend once Nasir’s potions were completed.

He wasn’t exactly happy about having them in his house, but then again, he was never happy, and they needed to keep working. Granger and Potter weren’t the only ones who needed this potion to help them deal with their war trauma. His own nightmares had been getting worse, and there was only so much more dreamless sleeping draught he could take. He and a lot of others would benefit greatly if they could get this right, so he hadn’t been willing to stop their progress simply because he disliked them being in his home, especially when he didn’t like his home to start with. It was just a place with a bed, and the second he got the chance, he was going to leave it, move as far away from Cokeworth as he could, and never return. 

But that didn’t stop the agitated words that poured from his lips.

“As if you two being here, using my things, and making yourselves at home isn’t bloody bad enough,” he growled, forcing his eyes open as he let out a loud and agitated sigh. “I swear to Merlin, if it wasn’t for Nasir having permanent wards permissions here, I would toss you both out and lock the door. This isn’t a gathering place for you and your friends to get together and visit. We have work to do! There are tentacles to mash! And we still have hundreds of afterfeathers to cut off for our trial batches! Or have you forgotten that we are trying to design a brand-new fucking potion in the middle of a bloody shitstorm? Whose brilliant idea was it to bring over a visitor?!”

“It was mine.”

The quiet but strong voice rang out behind him, and Snape instantly stiffened from head to toe. His eyes went wide. His knuckles went white. Before he could stop himself, his body moved, awkwardly spinning around to face the woman behind him, and he felt his mouth go dry.

“Narcissa?” His voice was raspy like it always was now, but the quietness of it made it sound weak and broken. 

She was staring at him, her pale blue eyes locked to his face as she stood there in clean, pressed robes in the doorframe of his kitchen as Potter and Granger lingered behind her down the hall. His heart was beating much too quickly. His palms were getting sweaty. His brow furrowed in confusion as he looked at the woman. 

“Why are you here?”

The words came out before he could even think as Potter hung up Narcissa’s jacket, and Granger shuffled to open his front door once more.

“Why am I here?” Narcissa whispered. 

Her eyes were burning, her back was ramrod straight, and she appeared both devastated and angry as she looked at him and her eyes creased in pain. 

“Why am I here?!” she repeated, and he saw her perfect poise begin to crack. 

It was just like the last time she was here. She was breaking at the seams, falling apart before his very eyes as her body began to shake and then she outright exploded.

“Because I asked Hermione to bring me here, that’s why!” she said sharply as she began to close the distance toward him. “Because I wanted to talk to you! Because I wanted to see you, Severus! You – you stupid, stupid man!”

She had reached him a second before her last words ended, and she smacked him hard on the arm in the most un-pureblood manner he’d ever seen to punctuate her words. And then, her barely controlled face split, tears poured from her eyes, and before he could even react – she hugged him. 

Narcissa all but threw her arms around him, and he heard a broken sob leave her throat as her face pressed into his chest. He glanced up to the door down the hall in time to see Potter stepping outside and Granger following along behind him. She glanced back at him, taking in the look of panic that was surely on his face before giving him a stern look. 

He didn’t need to be a legilimens to understand the raised brow and jerk of her head toward the witch who was currently clutching him so tightly around the middle he couldn’t breathe. It was the most unmistakable ‘what the fuck are you looking at me for, hold her’ message he had ever seen. 

He tried to breathe but couldn’t as his arms started to shake. He made the right one move, shifting it awkwardly to pat the back of the witch currently crying on his chest. He heard the door shut. He knew the duo was lingering outside and that they probably weren’t going to leave because Narcissa was still on probation. But evidently, they had gotten Shacklebolt to agree to let her leave the safe house for the first time outside of testifying at the Ministry. 

“Narcissa,” Snape said slowly, his voice even more awkward and strained than before.

He didn’t know what to do. He was so massively uncomfortable with physical contact and dealing with emotions. He could feel his tremble getting even worse, but he never got the chance to decide what to say, because the crying witch pulled away, her fingers fisting his dress shirt as she glared up at him through bleary eyes in anger. 

“Don’t you dare ‘Narcissa’ me!” she whispered hoarsely, and her vibrant blue eyes filled with tears one more. “Don’t you dare try to downplay this or make up lies as to what happened! What the bloody hell were you thinking, Severus?! Doing this alone?! All by yourself?! You could have told me! I could have helped you! You almost died! I was worried about you! I thought that – I thought that–”

Her fingers knotted deeper into the white fabric as her voice cut out and her glamours fell away. He could see the stress lines around her eyes, and the dark rings that sat beneath them. A long, thin, silver scar ran down her temple. He could see everything across her features as she took a step closer. Her eyes were tracing his face, and they dropped to his lips before circling back to his gaze. She shifted again, moving closer and closer – too close. He could feel his panic rising, the shake radiating through his frame getting impossibly worse as his heart thudded in his ears until his body went absolutely rigid with fear. 

Then she stopped.

He stared at her, unmoving, and she stared at him. She was but a mere inch from his face. Her hand twitched against his white shirt, knotting in the fabric tightly once more before she let go. Then, she let out a quiet breath. Sadness filled her eyes, unshed tears making them shine as she slowly took a step back.

“Narcissa, I–” his voice cut out, breaking on the two simple words. 

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what she wanted. Well, he thought he knew what she wanted – but that only left him lost for words. It was completely out of his comfort zone. In fact, he was so far out of his comfort zone right now that he might as well be attempting to tap dance or singing a muggle Broadway song for the whole world to hear. His borrowed heart continued to race dangerously fast, the fear inching down his spine as warmth fluttered in his veins. He couldn’t handle this, and he wondered if she would just leave in irritation. 

But she didn’t 

Instead, she shook her head and looked up at him sadly. 

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, and his brow furrowed in further confusion. “I – I know that being close to people makes you uncomfortable.”

She hesitated, her eyes searching his face as if looking for something before she moved again. Slowly this time. So slowly, it was almost unbearable. He watched her reach for him, the fingers of her right hand curling into the fabric of his white dress shirt again before she inched forward, stepping closer once more. Then, carefully, and oh so slowly, she dropped her head against his chest and closed her eyes. 

He swallowed hard as he fought to control his breathing and dropped his gaze to stare down at the blonde head resting against his chest.

He wasn’t sure what to do.

He didn’t know how to do this – whatever the fuck this was – but he also wasn’t an idiot, and the logical part of his brain knew what she was looking for even if every other part of him rejected it as an impossibility that was beyond the realm of reality. He swallowed again as her left arm slowly circled his thin body, and her hand against his chest cautiously knotted deeper into the fabric of his shirt.

Her touch was so gentle. So warm and light, it was almost delicate. It was nothing like the desperate and aggressive way she had grabbed him moments ago, and despite himself, he felt his tense shoulders drop. 

Then something strange happened. His body moved as if disconnected from the panic in his mind. His left arm slowly wrapped around her small frame as his right came up to land gently on her head.

He felt her shiver, and he tensed even harder, wondering if he had just screwed something up – but she didn’t pull away. She stayed there.

“Is this okay?” she whispered after a long beat of silence had passed.

The warmth of her body was seeping into his own, and as the rigid fear slowly started to dissipate from his frame, he felt the dull tremble return. He knew she could feel it – the shake of his fear. There was no way to hide it, and it made him feel so pathetically weak.

Out of everything he had done in his miserable, wretched life – this was what he was most afraid of, and he hated that she knew it. He hated that she could feel his terror. Yet he couldn’t seem to let go or step away because his body had completely disconnected from his mind. So he closed his eyes, desperately hoping that the shake in his bones wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt. That maybe, even if she could feel it, it could be passed off as exhaustion instead of nervous anxiety. That maybe she didn’t know that this was the closest he had been to another human without the infliction of pain in ages.

He let out a ragged breath, willing his rampant heart to slow.

“Yes,” he whispered, his voice hoarse and rough as his body moved involuntarily again, and he carefully dropped his chin to rest it on the top of her head. “It’s fine.”

And it was, even though he was terrified. Even though he had no idea what he was doing. Even though he had no idea where this was going. Even though a thousand doubts filled his mind and his body continued to shake with fear. Even though every instinct he had told him to abandon ship, shove her away, and run – when she squeezed him softly, gently, he squeezed back in return. And somehow, at that moment, just for a second, it felt like the weight of the world was no longer resting on his shoulders.

 

-x-x-

 

August 7, 1998

Friday, Grimmauld Place, 11:45 am, 

 

“There has got to be a better way to categorize these books,” Potter muttered as he browsed the shelves just one row away from Snape. “This is archaic.”

“It’s possible the Black family had a catalogue system somewhere within the wards that only they had access to,” Nasir replied as he gathered a large stack of books from his desk. “I can help you look for it this weekend.”

“Alright.” Potter nodded, and Snape continued to ignore the exchange as he searched the shelf he was standing before. “That would make this a lot easier – thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Are you going to the school now?” Granger asked, getting up from her seat to stretch. She had been hunched over for the last two hours, and this was the first he had seen her move all morning since she sat down.

“Shacklebolt will be there at noon, but I told Bill I would stop by Shell Cottage to discuss the beach.”

“You’re going to fix the sand, aren’t you?” Granger replied, and he could hear the change in her tone. It always got like that whenever the topic of her fiendfyre damage came up.

“Yes,” Nasir replied, nodding as he leaned the stack of books against his chest. “You’re welcome to come and help if you like. I’ll show you how to create a rune barrier.”

“I’ll go.” Granger nodded. “I would like to fix it.”

“I’ll go, too,” Potter said, turning to look over his shoulder at them and Snape nearly rolled his eyes. Even after death, he was so stereotypical Potter.

“But if you’re popping by Shell Cottage now, though, I have some stuff for Fleur you can take,” Granger said as she followed Nasir toward the door.

He could hear them talking as they left the room together. Granger was already asking questions about how rune barriers worked, and Nasir was calmly answering them just like he always did. Snape would never understand how that man was so patient with her when he had a piece of his soul inside him, but he supposed it was just another one of life’s great mysteries. Though, admittedly, her questions and responses were much better formed now than they had been in the past. She no longer just regurgitated textbooks – a trait that many of her past professors had applauded and mistaken for actual intelligence.

It wasn’t.

Being a know-it-all who could recite mountains of data with no real understanding of what that data was or how you could use it was not brilliant. Yes, being able to memorize data and recall it quickly was an incredible gift. It was a valuable and rare skill. It was impressive in its own right. It was handy, especially in the case of an emergency, and it did make her ‘knowledgeable’, but it had not made her ‘brilliant’.

Brilliance was something entirely different. Brilliance was the ability to discern through incredible amounts of data and use it. It was the ability to observe the world around you, take in things most people missed, examine a problem from a thousand different angles and think it through on your own. It was the ability to take what you knew and twist it, squeeze it, morph it into something new and unique. It was inventive. It was logic and understanding. It was original – it was true critical thinking at its finest, and it was a skill that Granger had not started to demonstrate until her later years at school.

She had always been a good student, but, in Snape’s opinion, she had not truly become brilliant until part way through the war.

Now, listening to the questions she asked as her voice faded away down the stairs, Snape was forced to admit that she truly was brilliant. Still incredibly annoying – but brilliant nonetheless. She was finally using her brain and thinking. She was finally asking the right questions and critically analyzing everything. She wasn’t just asking ‘how’; she was asking ‘why’ and more important than that – she was asking ‘what if’.

He let out an annoyed sigh as he grabbed a book off the shelf and brought it back to his desk. He didn’t feel like crawling through it right now, and he doubted it contained what they needed anyway, so he turned back to return to his search, only to freeze mid-step.

His eyes latched to Potter, who was standing in the middle of the room, staring at him. Then, to his utter dismay and horror – he realized that they were alone. Alone for the first time since he had woken up. Alone in the house that he hated. Alone without Granger or Nasir to act as a buffer. 

Completely alone.

His entire body went stiff, and his eyes darted to the door. He couldn’t hear Granger. He couldn’t hear Nasir. He stared at the open space for a moment longer, silently wishing for their return before his gaze reluctantly shifted back to Potter’s motionless frame. His eyes were piercing, staring at him as if he could read him like a book. It paired unnervingly well with his carefully impassive face – the blank look of controlled indifference which Potter constantly wore in his presence, and it made discomfort slide down Snape’s spine. Silence rang out awkwardly between them, neither of them moving as the uncomfortable quiet grew so thick that Snape was beginning to wonder if time had simply ceased to exist. 

Then, making it worse, Potter spoke.

“Hermione said that you’re brewing on your own at Spinner’s End now,” Potter said, his tone light and open – as if he were talking to a friendly acquaintance about the weather.

“Yes,” Snape said slowly, his brow pinching with discomfort and annoyance despite his best efforts to keep his expression blank. 

He had gotten much better at tolerating Granger over the last two months. He didn’t scowl at her nearly as often, and their yelling had reduced quite significantly. He’d even managed to have a strangely nice conversation with Arthur and the Weasley girl the other day when they dropped off ingredients, but Potter – well, Potter was likely the one exception he would never be able to fully address. He didn’t know how they could ever be on good terms or become acquaintances, let alone friends.

And it wasn’t about Lily.

Hell, he wasn’t even sure if it was still about James or Sirius or any of the shit from his childhood. He just could not for the life of him like the boy before him. It was like it was coded into his blood even if Granger’s magic seemed to try to pull him toward the boy – his own blood rejected it. It was an awkward feeling and a constant battle inside his chest any time the boy was in the same room. He hated the push and pull inside his own body, but there was little he could do about it aside from hoping that one day it might balance out a little more.

“I thought it more useful than sitting around like a Horklump whilst waiting to die,” Snape said dully, expecting to put Potter on edge or make him feel just as awkward as he did. But to his surprise, Potter smiled, his carefully impassive face falling away, amusement shining in his eyes before he cheekily retorted.

“Funny you mention that. The resemblance is uncanny,” Potter said, and his grin only widened as Snape’s eyes creased in irritation.

Apparently, this was amusing also, because Potter chuckled. It was light and short – almost like an exhale more than anything. Then his eyes dropped to the floor, and he shifted. He moved across the wooden boards, stopping less than four feet away, and anxiety curled in Snape’s chest as Potter looked up once more and met his gaze.

There was an odd look in his eyes, one that Snape could not place and one that made him feel even more uncomfortable. He wanted Granger to come back. He wanted Nasir to come upstairs because he had forgotten something. Or better yet, if he was picking and choosing, he wanted to get the fuck out of here and go home. But to leave, he had to walk past Potter, and he got the distinct impression that that was not going to happen.

Worse, he got the distinct impression that Potter had decided that this was happening – it was time for them to talk.

Snape eyed him cautiously, taking in his taller, broader stature and briefly thinking about just how much the boy had changed in the last year. Just how much he had changed since their fight in the hallway at Hogwarts. He had seen Granger’s memories. He knew that this version of Potter was nothing like the version he had thought the boy to be. If it came down to it and they drew wands – Snape would lose, but that wasn’t the only difference. Potter was more controlled now. He was older. Everything about how he carried himself was different, right down to the way that he blinked and breathed. It was all slower. All controlled. Watchful. Cautious. Observant. Snape hated everything about it because it forced him to admit that the boy was no longer an idiot. Nor was he a boy, though that was still how he referred to him in his mind.

His hair was still a mess. He still looked more like a bizarre concoction of his godfather and Alastor Moody than anything else – wrapped in a blanket of Nasir-like silence and Granger-like intellect. He was caring like Arthur. Motivated like Shacklebolt, and just like Granger, he was the fucking embodiment of everything that Snape wasn’t and looking at him still hurt.

“I’m glad you’re doing better,” Potter said slowly, his voice dropping a fraction lower. “But–”

Potter took a step forward as his eyes creased in amusement once more.

“And I mean this in the nicest and most respectful way possible,” he continued. “I still don’t really like you. You were a complete and utter dick throughout pretty much the entirety of my life.”

Snape snorted, the comment catching him off guard, and his eyes narrowed in amusement. This was definitely not what he had been expecting.

“The feeling is mutual, Potter,” Snape said quietly as he watched the boy’s face and tried to figure out where this was going.

“Good.” Potter grinned.

The amusement in his eyes shone for a moment longer before something more serious took over, and Snape’s pulse quickened with nerves. 

“That said,” Potter said slowly, and he fixed Snape with an even stare. “I am capable of recognizing what you did for us – and I understand that without you, not only would I have been completely fucked, but we would have lost this war. So, for that, I’m sorry for being an ass to you throughout the years. And – you have my respect.”

Snape’s body stiffened, and he felt his chest constrict.

“I’m not going to try and be your friend, Snape,” Potter continued, his eyes alight with a mix of conflicting feelings that he was letting Snape see. He had completely dropped whatever means of control he usually used to keep them at bay, and Snape could feel his discomfort growing quicker by the second as fear flooded his veins. 

He didn’t want to do this. 

He didn’t want to hear what was coming next.

He didn’t want to answer questions.

He didn’t want to speak to this boy.

He didn’t want to be here.

“I’m not going to ask you about my dad or my mum,” Potter said quietly, and all the air in Snape’s lungs seized. “Or anything else from the past. I know that you don’t want to talk about it, and to be honest, I – I don’t want to know. Seeing what you showed to me, it–”

Potter hesitated, and for a moment, Snape thought about saying something snide. Perhaps calling him out on realizing that his father was indeed a gigantic jackass. He could so easily tear the boy down and berate him, tell him how much of an absolute idiot he had been in the past for blindly defending his father without knowing a thing about the man. But he saw a flicker of regret and pain in the boy’s eyes and something about the expression on his face made Snape still, and it stopped the current of rude and cutting remarks from leaking from his lips. Instead, his mouth remained tightly clenched, and his body didn’t move as the boy finally continued.

“It’s raised some questions,” Potter said slowly, his voice impossibly low. His eyes were tracing over Snape’s face as if they were looking for something, but he continued without hesitating. “It’s made me wonder about some things, and I’m honestly not even sure what to think about it anymore. I’m not sure that I want to think about it anymore. People are complicated, and if there is one thing that I’ve learned this past year, it’s that life is complex and messy, and sometimes things don’t make any sense. But sometimes, they don’t need to. Things just happen or come into existence with no real reason or defined purpose. We aren’t always in control, and sometimes we make bad decisions based on the information that we had at the time. Sometimes, things just are, even if we don’t understand them. I mean–”

He laughed, almost bitterly, a pinched expression of pain and disbelief on his face as he pushed the longer hair on his head back from his face.

“For fuck’s sake, Snape, I died – not almost died. I actually died, and yet I didn’t. I came back – Nasir pulled me back. But while waiting in the In Between, I had a full-on conversation with my godfather who is alive and well and waiting to pass on. I learned things about this world and what comes after that people aren’t supposed to know, and before that happened – I had a conversation with the portrait of the dead man that I have been blindly following for seven years after watching your memories, only to find out that he kept more secrets from me than nearly everyone else, and he’d been raising me as a sacrificial pig this whole time. And yet, somehow, he’s still not even a bad guy because everything that he did, he did with good intentions. Everything that he did, he did to try and stop this war – he did a terrible job at it. He used and abused people and sacrificed those he thought were necessary to reach his goals, but there was never any mal-intent behind his actions.” Potter’s face twisted into one of question. “How does one reconcile all that? How do I process it knowing what I know now about you, Dumbledore, Alastor, Narcissa, my parents, Shacklebolt, this war, and everyone in it? What am I supposed to do with it after everything that’s happened and everything that I’ve done?

“My point is,” Potter said slowly, his bright green eyes trailing over Snape’s face once more. “After everything that’s happened, I’m not interested in the past anymore. You shared enough of yours with me for me to understand you, or at least as much as a third party can. I’m not going to try and claim that I understand what you went through or how you might have felt, but I know that Hermione has shown you enough of what happened to us for you to understand what we’ve been through as well. All I want to do now, more than anything, is just focus on the future. And I really don’t want to expend the energy to continue actively hating you when the truth is – that I don’t.”

Potter paused again and looked at Snape almost curiously as if he himself could not fully believe the words leaving his mouth.

“I just don’t,” he repeated softly, his head shaking as he spoke. “Not really. I don’t particularly like you, as I said, but – I don’t hate you. And honestly, Snape, I’m having a hard time making myself fully dislike you anymore, even though you’re still a giant ass and downright unbearable at times. I don’t want to be haunted by the past, and I don’t want to carry this mindless bitter resentment and bad blood between us because the truth is – I’ve already let it go.”

Potter slowly reached forward and extended his hand between them. The silver scars from his black lightning traced across his fingers and up under the sleeve of his shirt, along with countless other knicks and marks that littered across his skin. Snape’s eyes traced up the limb, meeting Potter’s entirely open and honest expression, and his heart faltered. There was genuine respect in Potter’s eyes, and it made something in Snape’s gut twist.

“I just want to coexist,” Potter said quietly, his eyes searching Snape’s face as if looking for something once more. “Without the animosity – in some tolerable and hopefully peaceful way. I’m not asking you to be my friend. I’m not asking you for anything at all, because I don’t want anything from you. I’m just hoping that we can agree to be in the same room together without blowing up, hexing each other, or constantly throwing snide remarks and glares while we try to ignore the massive awkward elephant in the room. I don’t want you thinking that I pity you, because I don’t, and I don’t want you worrying that I think you’re obsessed with my dead mother – because I know you’re not. I just want to be acquaintances – just two people treating each other with human decency. This is the only thing that I will ever ask of you, Snape. If you accept it – I’d like to start fresh, without the burden of a decade-old conflict and the lingering hatred that I honestly just don’t hold toward you anymore.”

Snape’s eyes dropped down to the open hand again before darting back to Potter’s gaze. A myriad of emotions were rushing through his mind – hate, anger, annoyance, respect, surprise. He’d not wanted to be alone with Potter because he’d been afraid that the boy was going to bombard him with questions about his past. That he was going to ask him about Lily, or berate him, mock him, and look at him with pity after seeing glimpses of his childhood. He hadn’t been able to stomach the idea of facing the elephant in the room because forcing himself to live each day was bad enough. He’d genuinely been dreading ever being left alone with the boy. He’d genuinely been dreading this moment, and he had certainly not expected this.

He’d not expected maturity, acceptance, or respect. It was so uncharacteristically Potter. So uncharacteristically James – his jackass father surely would have been a complete and utter ass about this, and there was no fucking way Snape would trust the man’s peace offer because that dick had been a conniving little shit. And it was certainly nothing like his mother, either because – Snape’s thoughts froze, and he realized what he was about to say.

It was nothing like Lily either.

He, Harry Potter, was nothing like Lily either.

He was nothing like his parents.

He was nothing like his godfather.

The only thing about the boy that connected him to these people from Snape’s past was his blood and appearance. Yes, there were similarities, and yes, he might share some of their personality traits, but he had grown into his own complete person.

He felt his chest constrict tighter as the realization dawned on him like a wave of frigid water being poured over his head. He looked at the man before him as he struggled to breathe and fought to keep his exterior composed. Potter – Harry – young Potter, was offering him acceptance and forgiveness. The very thing that neither of his parents had ever fully shown him.

With James, it was to be expected. The boy was an idiot, a simpleton, and a bloody arrogant ass who enjoyed bullying kids who he thought were lesser. Their relationship would have been that of a classic bully and traditional loser even if they were both muggle and Lily was never in the picture. They were just too different, and they were born to be at odds with each other. 

But with Lily... His heart clenched once more, and he realized that he wasn’t breathing at all as the thought circled his head.

She never forgave you either – she never even considered it an option.

She had never let it go.

Had he deserved her rage? Yes, absolutely, without question. He knew this, hence the reason why he had dedicated his life to trying to right that wrong and correct all the other mistakes that he’d made. But she had never forgiven him. She’d never given him a second chance. She’d never even given him the opportunity to explain himself or to show that he was truly sorry – because he had been.

He was fifteen when he called her a mudblood out of rage and embarrassment. Fifteen. He was a fucking idiot boy at the time who was emotionally stunted. He had no excuse for his behaviour, he knew that, but she’d given him no room to grow or change. She’d simply cut him off and cut him out after years of friendship. She’d not once after that moment even looked at him or allowed him to repent or make amends. He’d contemplated leaving his friends at the time – he’d been willing to give it all up and ignore the temptation for power for her to show her that he was sorry, but she’d refused to even acknowledge he was alive after that incident.

And had he deserved that? Yes, because he’d been an idiot who had brought it upon himself. She wasn’t responsible for his actions; he was. She wasn’t obligated to forgive him or extend him any sympathies. Forgiveness is a choice, and it is up to the individual to grant it. He understood that now.

He’d never deserved her.

He’d never deserved a second chance.

He’d never expected one.

But he had, in a lot of ways, deep, deep down, been hoping for her forgiveness. Not her acceptance. Not her friendship. Not her washing the slate clean and saying that it was okay – because it hadn’t been and would never be – just her forgiveness. Her forgiveness toward a stupid lost boy who had made a terrible mistake. A stupid, stupid, fucking mistake that had haunted him for the rest of his life and led him down a road of regret, misery, and death.

It was and had always been, the only thing that he’d wanted all this time. He wasn’t obsessed with Lily. He wasn’t still in love with her. He was obsessed with his pain and his regret. He was consumed by his remorse because there was nothing he could do to address it. He couldn’t take any of his horrible mistakes back, and he could not force her to forgive him – because forgiveness was hers to give and hers alone to grant but he’d lost his chance to even try again then night she died. And her death was his fault. He’d come to peace with that fact years ago, and he’d accepted it when he’d been dying on the floor of that disgusting shack, even if it meant the hole in his heart and soul would forever be there.

And yet here was Potter.

Stupid fucking Potter.

Standing there calmly, his hand outstretched like the physical representation of the lifeline and forgiveness that he had been desperately seeking for the last twenty-two years of his life – offering it to him freely, without question, without additional explanation, and without demand. After everything that he had done to the boy and said to the boy. After years of torment, shit behaviour, petty attacks, and underhanded methods of undermining the memory of his father and his own failures – there he stood. Offering the one thing Snape had been certain he was going to die without.

Forgiveness.

Open, honest, forgiveness and a chance to be free of his remorse.

Snape swallowed hard. What Potter had surely meant as a simple gesture of just trying to make some sort of amends so that they could coexist without killing each other was so much more than that. It was so much bigger than Potter realized. So much deeper than the boy could possibly understand as his hand remained unmoving before him. 

His mind couldn’t process this. He’d not been prepared for this. He felt like he was drowning in a sea of raging emotions – anger and regret spinning around him as a violent storm raged above, the deep, black water threatening to swallow him whole once and for all – only for Potter’s hand to outstretch like a life ring.

His face had faltered partway through Potter’s words. He knew it, and yet he hadn’t been able to stop it from happening. He couldn’t seem to do anything about it, so he just stood there pretending like he didn’t know. He ignored the panic racing through his head, desperately trying not to think about what in Merlin’s name might be flashing through his eyes right now as he stared at the scarred hand before him.

Damaged.

The word circled painfully in his head as he stared at it.

Like his own. Like Granger’s, like Nasir’s, like Weasley’s – like all of them.

The same.

He was drowning. He had been for years, and it felt like time stood still as his body slowly made the decision for him, acting on instinct – desperate for air as the pain in his heart stabbed like a knife. He couldn’t articulate the feeling that washed through his body as he slowly shifted, extending his pale hand out toward Potter’s. His long, thin fingers curling around the boy’s hand as he took what Potter was offering and felt the warm squeeze that accompanied the exchange as Potter shook his hand – and Snape shook his.

His eyes shifted back up to Harry’s gaze once more, to the green eyes that had haunted him for years, and the boy genuinely smiled. It was small, sad, and understanding. Perhaps he did know what this represented. Perhaps Snape looked broken. For all he knew, he’d lost all his composure and was entirely exposed. 

He didn’t know.

He would never know.

But something in his chest was breaking.

And then the words came out – unbidden, hoarse, and laced with more emotion than Snape would ever be able to categorize.

“I’m sorry,” Snape said, his voice cracking on the two simple words. 

He could hear the shake of it in the air around them as his hand started to tremble. He struggled to breathe as he felt Potter’s hand grip his more tightly, and he had to force himself to swallow.

“For everything.” The whisper came out broken, and Snape wasn’t even sure how he was able to form the words when there was no air in his lungs. “For all of it – if I could take it all back, I would. I–”

His voice cut out, the sound cutting off as his throat closed up, and his entire body seemed to want to fold in on itself as panic and pain fluttered through his limbs. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. His heart felt like it was cracking in his chest, and a tiny voice was screaming in the back of his mind to bail and get out before the boy before him laughed, and this moment became yet another on the long list of horrifying and mortifying experiences from his life.

But Potter, to his credit, simply squeezed his shaking hand harder as an odd expression shifted across his face.

“I know,” Potter said quietly, his eyes never leaving Snape’s gaze. “I forgive you.”

His words collided with Snape like a bludger, and the tiny last remains of air in his body came out like a wheeze as Potter carefully let go of his hand and slowly stepped away.

“I’m going to go help Hermione with that stuff for Fleur,” Potter said quietly, taking another step back toward the door.

Everything about the boy was calm and peaceful – entirely void of any animosity or lingering feelings of the past – just as Potter had said. He wasn’t leaving because he felt awkward. He wasn’t leaving because he was uncomfortable or could no longer bear to be around Snape any longer. He was leaving because he seemed to know it was what Snape needed, and it was all Snape could do to nod as he watched the boy move toward the door and let himself out of the room.

He didn’t dare open his mouth until the door was closed, and he pretended that he didn’t feel the silencing charm that Potter cast on the room as the door clicked shut. He pretended that he didn’t hear the sound of Potter saying to an obviously approaching Granger, ‘Let’s go make lunch, I think we all need a break,’ before the charm took hold. He pretended that the door before him wasn’t becoming blurry – it wasn’t.

It wasn’t.

He tried to pretend like it didn’t feel like his soul had just been simultaneously broken and stitched back together as he dropped to his knees in the center of the room, and for the first time in what must have been years – he cried, and completely fell apart.

Later, he would blame it on lack of sleep. He would blame it on his exhausted and war-torn body. He would blame it on the fact that his emotions were running high, that he was stressed, tired, and weary from being around so many people he disliked all the time. He would try to convince himself that he’d simply been run down and weakened in his post-bite state. He’d blame Granger for so blatantly accepting him, helping him, and looking at him as a whole person who deserved a spot in this world despite the fact that he was broken and damaged beyond repair.

He’d blame Nasir for healing him, helping him, and talking to him without ever showing an ounce of judgement any time they spoke. He’d blame Arthur for being so fucking nice all the time and for always dropping off interesting books he thought might be useful. He’d blame Miss Weasley for talking to him like a human being, the twins for asking him to review their inventions, Bill, Molly, Fleur, and Ava for sending him food.

Later, he would blame Narcissa for feeding him. Tolerating his most unbearable personality traits and forcing him to be a better human and grow as a person. For putting herself on the line for the war trials in his stead so he didn’t have to be seen in the public eye and could properly recover in peace – because he knew she’d revealed his resistance to veritaserum on purpose. He knew she’d done it to spare him.

He would blame this moment of emotional vulnerability on anything excuse he could come up with.

But deep down, he knew it was so much more than that.

It was because, for the first time in over two decades, he finally felt like he was free of the soul-crushing weight of the guilt that riddled his body – that his mistakes had been forgiven. That he, Severus Snape, the traitor turned spy who had done unquestionably terrible things in his life and who had been a despicable person at times, had finally been accepted for who he was, inclusive of his mistakes, instead of being judged and ridiculed.

And although the guilt would always be with him, his past would never change, his mistakes would never be ‘okay’ and he would live with it forever and he would never forget the horrifying things that he had done or the seriousness of his poorly choiced actions – it was no longer in control of him. 

Like the letter from his mother. Like how Granger ignored the effect that her dark magic use had on her body. Like how Potter decided to let the past die. It would no longer eat away at his soul or leave him destitute, desperate, and wracked with self-loathing despair.

For the first time in what felt like his entire life – he wasn’t alone.

He belonged somewhere.

And he was, finally, per the wishes of his deceased mother, truly free to start over.