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The Kindness of Strangers

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Severus was sick, tired and bewildered. Mostly bewildered.

Poppy had -- reluctantly -- let him out of the infirmary three days after the end of the Battle of Hogwarts. The infirmary was over-run with others hurt worse than he was, and he was glad to have reason to give up the bed he she had put him in. Due to his own reasonable paranoia, he knew to never trust Voldemort, he had a bezoar and blood replenishing potions on him to help him survive the attack by Nagini. 

As he left Hogwarts' grounds, he had immediately been taken into custody by a silent group of Aurors. No one would talk to him and nothing was explained as he was whisked away to a cell in the basement of the Ministry. 

At least it hadn't been Azkaban. 

That had been a month ago, more or less. He had spent the first ten or so days catching up on the sleep Poppy had ordered him to take once he got home. He may have lost a day -- maybe two -- in his count while he was sleeping. Without daylight, he reasoned the dimming of the light in the hall, and the reduced guard patrol, as nighttime. He had counted twenty-nine days so far. 

He hadn't been abused while in custody, but neither had he been treated with anything resembling kindness. Dreary meals, a hard bed, and a not-quite-warm-enough blanket had been the sum of his incarceration. And boredom. At first, being left alone had allowed him to sleep. Now, with his strength returning, days of nothing were starting to grate. 

Until a man -- definitely not an Auror -- appeared at the door of his cell. Of average height, first glance made Severus think of a Golden Retriever. Wavy, dark blond hair, beige robes and an open, happy look on his face. 

"Professor Snape, my name is Egbert Goldfield Braithwaite and I am your solicitor," he announced from the hall. He looked at the Auror that had escorted him and pointedly said, "I wish to meet with my client. Alone."

Severus looked up, confused. "I didn't..."

"Tush, my boy," Braithwaite frowned. "Do not say anything until we have had a chance to chat."

"But..." Severus settled into silence at the glare sent his way. 

"Let me in and then leave us," Braithwaite directed the Auror.

"I'm not supposed to..." the Auror protested.

"I am here with permission from both the Minister for Magic and the Head Auror," Braithwaite said patiently. "Do not make me go back to them, Auror Crowley, and report that I was unable to meet with my client."

"No wands," the Auror said. 

"You took my wand before I entered this area," Braithwaite pointed out patiently. "And the cell has a magic suppression ward. Even with a wand, I could barely cast a Lumos."

Crowley frowned but cast the spell to allow Braithwaite into the cell. 

"Now go away," Braithwaite ordered dismissively.

As Crowley left, Braithwaite looked around the stark cell. "Suspected as much," he said. He took a cautious breath. "At least the sanitation spells are working."

"The weekly Scourgify is especially bracing," Severus found himself offering. "I'd offer you a seat, but... well, you're welcome to perch on the bed with me."

Braithwaite sniffed. "I'll get that looked into, also."

"You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Severus replied mildly.

"Ah! Sorry. As I said, my name is Egbert Goldfield Braithwaite, and I'm here as your solicitor," he reached out a hand to Severus.

Severus automatically shook the hand. "Severus Snape." A pause. "I most likely cannot afford you."

Braithwaite held up a hand. "That's already been taken care of," he dismissed the concern. "You have one or more people who are... benefactors who have paid my retainer."

Severus frowned. Who would... "Potter or Malfoy?" he growled.

Braithwaite shrugged. "It was arranged through Gringotts and I have not been informed of any specific names involved."

Either Potter or Malfoy would have done that. They had enough intelligence -- or intelligent friends -- to come up with an arrangement like this.

"And what are your instructions?" Severus asked.

"To see you free of the Ministry, and of anyone else who might want to... limit your options," Braithwaite replied.

"What will I owe my mysterious benefactor?" Severus demanded.

"Nothing," Braithwaite replied promptly. "I have been instructed to tell you that you will owe no one anything, once you are a free man."

"And if I am not freed?" Severus had reason to be wary.

"Oh, I'm to keep fighting until you are," Braithwaite replied. "I have been promised that I will be given the means to keep fighting for a long time, if needed."

Severus sat back and considered. Involving the Goblins in whatever mad scheme someone had come up with was actually a brilliant move. His benefactor had somehow convinced the Goblins of his innocence and they were willing to get involved in Wizarding politics. 

"What am I charged with?" Severus thought to ask. 

Braithwaite sighed. "No one has told you anything?" 

"You're the first person to actually talk to me since I've been incarcerated here," Severus said. "Guards do their duty, but no one has explained anything."

"You've been charged with the death of Albus Dumbledore," Braithwaite said baldly.

Severus snorted. "I assumed as much," he admitted. "The unfortunate truth is that I did cast the Killing Curse on the Headmaster."

"That may be," Braithwaite replied. "But I understand there were mitigating events that your accusers may or may not have been aware of. Either way, you are entitled to your day in a real court, not the court of public opinion."

"Neither will ever see me as an innocent," Severus said.

"I suspect no one will believe you are a total innocent in this war, but the only real charge is tied to the death of Albus Dumbledore," Breaithwaite said. "The goal is to get you out of here and allow you to go on with your life."

"How long do you think this will take?" Severus asked. 

"That, I cannot tell, to be honest," Braithwaite shrugged. "I'm going to guess it will take several weeks, at the very least."

Severus snorted again. "I suspect you're being an optimist," he said. "I was thinking in terms of years."

"I do know that your benefactors are working toward a speedy trial," Braithwaite replied. "I have been instructed to be ready to go to trial as soon as next week."

"Interesting," Severus commented. "What do I need to do?"

"I need to you take some time tonight to think about your involvement in Dumbledore's death," Breaithwaite outlined. "Who else knew anything and who might we call on as witnesses. Even to small parts of a larger event. Once we've gone over the main story, then I'll decide what to do next."

"It will be a long story," Severus felt obligated to warn him.

"I'll be prepared for that," Braithwaite said cheerfully. "In the meantime, can I get you anything?"

"Something to read would be welcome," Severus admitted.

"That I can do!" Braithwaite smiled. He reached into the pocket of his robes and rummaged about. "I suspected that you could use a few things." 

He drew out something long... a scarf? Severus was perplexed for a moment. Braithwaite kept drawing whatever it was out of his pocket. It was mostly red and black, with splotches of white. It wasn't, quite, ugly. Although it was better than most of Dumbledore's robes. At least nothing moved.

Extensible pockets. Severus was surprised the guards let Braithwaite in -- there could be anything in those pockets.

"It doesn't look like much, but it's warm," Braithwaite said, handing Severus a bundle. "Definitely warmer than what you have."

When Severus shook it out, it was a large blanket that would certainly be warmer than the thin blanket he was currently using. It was soft and smelled fresh.

"And... okay, there it is," Braithwaite pulled out more fabric. "A jumper and a nightshirt," he said, handing the clothing over to Severus. "I can bring clean clothing tomorrow."

He reached into another pocket. "Not sure what type of thing you like to read, but I thought a Potions magazine would be too obvious." He handed Severus a book. "The Chronicles on Narnia. Again, I can bring something else tomorrow."

Severus looked down at a book that contained all the Narnia stories. His mother had a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but he had never read any of the other stories.

"This will be fine," Severus said softly.

"And, last but not least," Braithwaite pulled a paper sack out, "I don't know if you're much for sweets, but I have some chocolate. It's always good for you."

Severus nodded. "Some chocolate will be welcome," he replied, taking the sack. "Thank you."

Braithwaite clapped his hands together. "Anything else you'd like me to bring?"

Severus shrugged. "This is fine," he replied. "If I think of anything, I'll let you know tomorrow."

"That works!" Braithwaite nodded. He stepped to the door of the cell and called out. "Auror Crowley! I'm ready to leave now."

Crowley came back and looked into the cell. "You can't leave anything..."

"You'll find I can," Braithwaite replied firmly. "And I'll be bringing more tomorrow, if you're on duty then. You're more than welcome to check with your supervisor on what I can and cannot do."

"Fine," Crowley sighed. He let Braithwaite into the corridor and locked the door behind him.

"See you tomorrow!" Braithwaite waved.

Severus nodded.

Interestingly, dinner was a hearty beef stew with a fresh roll and an apple tart for afters. The tea was unsweetened but hot, and appreciated. Better than the food Severus had seen to date.

A clean nightshirt was more than welcome and the blanket was warm.

Comfortable and warm, Severus fell asleep feeling a thread of hope that he thought had disappeared.