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A Strong Heart

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The first thing Severus Snape knew was numbness. He couldn’t feel his limbs, his body, even his own head. Could he possibly be in some sort of strange limbo or afterlife- perhaps as a floating, unseeing, unfeeling entity of sorts? His thoughts were surprisingly succinct considering what he had been through, and were he probably was. Ah, but then, he must have a head, considering his mind still seemed intact.

With this new awareness came the growing feeling of intense pressure. It pushed into his skull, out of his ears, behind his eyes, into the very depths of his mind, and all coherent thought was immediately replaced with the knowledge of this strange, pressing ache. A dull ringing that had made itself known only moments before, began to morph into unintelligible sounds that seemed to surround him and add to the mounting pressure. His head felt like it was being squished into a space far too small to contain it. Snape wanted to move, to see, or at least find a way to return to the blissful numbness he had experienced shortly before.

An itch made itself known. It wasn’t on his head, but it was certainly on him. It felt far away but also within reach. Severus Snape’s hand twitched, and with it, the pressure morphed horribly into pain and the obscure sounds became anxious voices. He felt a soothing wash of magic cover him like a soft blanket, and something warm and inexplicably reassuring covered his hand.

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He awoke several hours, perhaps even days later. He could feel his eyes moving against their lids, aware of a light on the other side, and his dry lips parted to let out a stuttering breath. Snape’s eyes gradually opened and immediately focused on something that was hairy, and very much alive. He could have looked to see that he was lying in a bed by a large window that was letting in streams of clear moonlight, and that his neck and upper torso were enveloped in thick white bandages, but his eyes were glued to the hairy thing that was intruding into his personal space. The thing, he realized, was a lot bigger than he originally perceived, and seemed to be subtly moving, up and down, in a steady, slow rhythm. With each small movement, a bit of hair would tickle Snape’s wrist and irritate him further. He was irritated because the hairy thing looked very much like a head, and that head looked horribly familiar. Like a pig raised for slaughter, Harry Potter had to die for the Dark Lord’s end to be realized. Snape knew that he himself had died. He had felt the life leave him, feel his heart slow to a stop, and his lips pass their final breath.

But, wasn’t he breathing right now? No, what mattered was the fate of the boy, whose head was now resting by Snape’s arm. He must have succeeded in vanquishing the Dark Lord, sacrificing himself after living only eighteen years, much of this time with such a terrible burden on his shoulders. Or else, he had died in the effort. Snape could more than understand the living hell it was to have the Dark Lord hovering over your every move, knowing your life was always in jeopardy, that your secrets could be revealed in a moment of weakness. Snape had chosen that life, the boy had not, yet they both had paid the ultimate price.

The realization that he may be stuck in the afterlife with the last person he would ever want to be stuck with came to him, and he almost choked at the thought. Except that Snape did begin choke, his breath catching, his throat muscles working to no avail. The boy at his side almost immediately woke, stumbling out of his seat in his haste, “Poppy!”

Here he was, choking and the boy was shouting gibberish and leaving him! The brat would be the cause of his death, even in the afterlife. Before Potter could get more than a few feet from the bed, he was brushed aside by Madam Pompfrey, who immediately waved her wand to relax Snape’s throat muscles. “It’s about time for your next medicine anyways Severus, so glad to see you’re back with us,” she said, pouring a potion down his throat and gently massaging the muscles there. “Harry, could you fetch Minerva for me?”

The boy left without a word, and Snape wondered what the hell was going on. “Severus,” Poppy’s voice interrupted his confusion, “I’m sure you must have many questions, most of which I’ll let Minerva and Mr. Potter detail, however I must explain your condition as soon as you feel ready.” Snape’s heart was thumping hard and true in his chest, air leaving and entering his lungs, and he knew, by some miracle, that he must still be alive.

He attempted to relax into the bed a bit more, and nodded stiffly at Poppy to continue.

“As you know, your neck was attacked by that horrible creature, and, as I’m sure you have guessed, the powerful venom the snake released poisoned your blood and assaulted your vitals. You lost a lot of blood Severus, and any that was left in your body was destroying you from the inside. If the house elf had brought you five minutes later, you might not have made it.” As she spoke, Poppy checked the intravenous drip that was feeding into his arm. “The blood was already clotting at your throat, but I was able to take a sample of the snake’s venom from your blood and apply it to the anti-venom formula you made for my stores all those years ago. You have a strong heart Severus. Only one in a million could have made it.” She gently patted his shoulder and gave him a warm look before continuing, “With the use of a magically assisted breathing charm and many vials of blood-replenishing potion, I knew I was able to keep you alive for a short while longer, but it was only with Mr. Potter’s help that you’re here today.”

Before she could finish, Potter returned with Minerva just behind him. “Ah, Minerva. Severus, we’ll just be a moment, and then we’ll finish up here.”

Snape felt dizzy. He was alive? And the boy...

But...but, the Dark Lord! How-

“Severus,” Minerva and the rest had returned, “you must know that Voldemort is dead, and all of his horcruxes, destroyed.” Thank Merlin the woman had the sense to fill him in properly, but all the same...

“You must also know that, for the time being, your existence is being kept private by a select few. Harry has made his belief in your innocence clear, and we are inclined to share this belief, however we can’t make this known to the public without substantial evidence. Harry has agreed to share your memories with Minister Shacklebolt, on the condition that he may only do so with your full approval.” Snape’s eyes snapped to the boy, but he was looking at the floor, his arms wrapped around himself. Snape knew he had shared his memories of everything Potter could possibly need to know, but he hadn’t been able to control the emotions coursing through him during his dying moments- how many of his memories had Potter seen?

“We would all like you to take your time in making this decision Severus, and we will support whatever you decide, the minister included.” Behind Minerva, Potter was laying himself down on a cot. Poppy blocked his view for a moment, but when she bustled away, Snape could see that Potter had been connected to an IV, which was now feeding blood into the drip that led to Snape’s arm. He looked at the boy’s face, startled to see those green eyes staring directly back into his. After a dizzying moment, Snape closed his eyes, feeling an overwhelming swell of thoughts and emotions coursing through him. He was suddenly exhausted, and within moments, Severus Snape was fast asleep, glowing green pools the last image in his mind.

Chapter Text

“Harry, dear, you must rest. What good are you to the wizarding world if you’re collapsing from exhaustion?” The creak of a mattress, “there’s a good lad. Now are you still feeling up for today’s blood transfusion?”

When Severus managed to open his eyes, Poppy had vanished, but the boy was lying in his cot once again. Potter looked as though the war had aged him fifteen years, his eyelids were dark from exhaustion and his face looked drawn and tense despite being at rest.

“Potter,” Snape attempted to get the boy’s attention but his voice sounded like creaking branches in the wind. He tried once more, and he saw those green eyes open in response.

“P-professor! I-

“How?” Snape’s voice croaked.

Potter’s eyebrows were drawn together, a strange, pained look on his face that Severus didn’t quite understand. He took a long moment before he began to speak.

“After you...died, Voldemort gave an ultimatum, giving me an hour to turn myself in to him, or else he would kill everyone. I knew I had to see your memories, that somehow, they would help respond to the crucial questions that I needed answered. I watched your memories, and I knew I had no choice but to go to Voldemort. I was going to go die, but I needed something done before I left. I called Kreacher, I told him where your body was and I gave him your memories. I told him to bring you to Madam Pomfrey, to tell her that you were innocent, and give the memories as proof to professor McGonagall.” Potter took a deep breath before continuing, “I wanted to make sure someone knew before I died. I couldn’t just leave your body there...I,” he swallowed, and the pained look on his face intensified. “It wasn’t much, but at least you could then be remembered for the hero you are.” He trained his eyes on Snape.

“The Dark Lord-?”

Harry looked back to the ceiling, “I let him kill me in the forest. I don’t quite understand what happened when I died. I spoke to Dumbledore in my mind. I could see the part of Voldemort that he himself had destroyed. Dumbledore made it clear that I could choose to pass on, or I could go back, and finish Voldemort once and for all. I bluffed death, and witnessed Voldemort’s extreme vulnerability after having so many of his Horcruxes destroyed. Neville killed the snake with Gryffindor’s sword. I duelled Voldemort, knowing he was now mortal. I realized that the elder wand, though it was in Voldemort’s possession, was loyal to me.” Snape stared at the boy, and was startled to see him crack a grin. He looked back at Snape, “Who would’ve thought that the spell you taught me in my second year would be Voldemort’s downfall? His own killing curse rebounded onto himself.”

Snape let all this information seep in. Against all odds, he and the boy had managed to survive. And, in a twist of fate, Potter had saved his life.

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Snape learned something very disturbing. The snake’s venom was still in his system, and without Potter’s regular blood transfusions, the poison would saturate too much of Snape’s blood and shutdown his vitals. After the war, Britain’s wizarding population was in dire need of medical care, and the demand on mediwizards was too great for the system to handle. Considering his unique situation, and the fact that his existence was being kept secret, he had to rely on Madam Pompfrey for his care. Despite her proficiency with ailing students, Snape would eventually require a specialist if there was any hope of him recovering.

What was even more disturbing, however, was that Potter had not left his side since the end of the war more than four weeks ago. Minerva had told him, with a certain glint in her eye that could easily have outdone Dumbledore himself, that Potter felt it his responsibility to help Snape to the absolute best of his abilities. Snape knew this would not bode well for either of them.

He had asked Minerva about who had perished in the war, worried that perhaps all of Potters friends had died, causing the now emotionally deluded boy to latch onto Snape with the remains of his sanity. He knew this was a stretch, but alas, Minerva had said that all of Potter’s close friends were alive and well, with a few tragic exceptions. Granger and Weasley made regular visits to the castle to check on their friend, but all things considered, Potter was doing quite well, even more so now that Snape had woken.

Currently, the boy was helping Hagrid rebuild his hut, leaving Snape to ponder about Potter’s intentions. It seemed that he felt obligated to help Snape, maybe to earn his forgiveness - perhaps Potter felt guilty for so fervently believing Snape to be a traitor to Dumbledore. He didn’t really know what to think. He was still very weak, and his whole body ached.

 Snape found himself to be quite forgetful, his mind going in tangents. Perhaps the upside to this was that he had to be more honest with himself, though Snape was loathe to admit it. He could no longer validate being outwardly malicious to Potter now that he didn’t have a cover to maintain.

A few years before Potter began his schooling at Hogwarts, Snape thought about him. He had been working for Dumbledore because of Lily, but now her young boy would have to factor into his actions. Snape was no fool, and like Dumbledore, he was certain the prophecy would come to fruition. He was well aware that he would have to resume his Death Eater activity and stay close to the Dark Lord, and he had been terrified by this prospect. Snape realized now that much of his treatment and biases towards Potter had been a defence mechanism for himself. He was not a positive person, and he let his first negative thoughts about the boy cultivate in his mind. By the time Potter entered Hogwarts for the first time, Snape had convinced himself that the boy was James Potter reincarnated, there to make his life even more of a living hell than it already was. 

His dark mark tingled that year, for the first time in ten years. Before he realized Quirrell’s deception, he believed the Dark Lord’s resurrection to be much nearer than he had previously thought, and he grew more fearsome. The boy’s survival was the only chance at defeating the Dark Lord, therefore he must distance himself from Potter, to convince those loyal to the dark side of his intentions. He did this the only way he knew how- being outwardly cruel to make the boy believe, without a single doubt, that Snape was truly evil. The boy’s hatred of him made it easy for him to dislike the boy in return. Despite his colleagues reminding him of Potter’s decentness and Dumbledore insisting he be kinder to the boy, Snape felt he deserved one thing in his life to be easy. And It was very easy indeed, to be cruel to a boy who so greatly resembled a man he so terribly despised.

No, Snape did not blame Potter for believing him to be a traitor. He had encouraged those beliefs, and they had played an integral role in destroying the Dark Lord. But, now that both their roles in the war were over, he felt lost. He no longer needed to convince himself that Potter was the boy his vindictive mind had so earnestly created. And, in what he thought were his dying moments, he had seen Potter’s eyes. Lying within those green pools that were so similar to Lily’s, he was overcome with empathy and understanding, and he had felt his heart soar before he lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

The following day, Potter practically burst into Snape’s rooms, and Madam Pomfrey, who had been giving Snape his daily dose of anti-venom, shrieked and spilled half the serum on Snape’s bandages.

“Mr. Potter!” shouted Pomfrey.

“I’m sorry Poppy, I’m just so excited, I was able to find him- Augustus Pye!”

Forgetting her anger, Poppy clapped her hands and said, “oh, well that’s just wonderful news! And I’m assuming, by the look on your face, that he’s agreed-”

“-Yes! He said he’d be delighted to help me and he’ll be here tomorrow after breakfast!” As he spoke, he sat down on his cot and inserted the IV himself.

“No, not yet Harry, I’ve just been summoned to the student’s ward, and we need to do something about Severus’ bandages.” She uncorked another vile of the potion, gave half to Snape, and continued, “no cleaning charm will get this mess out, besides, he’s due for a change. I’ll let you handle this, shall I?” Before the boy could answer, she had already closed the door behind her.

Potter scratched the back of his head, “I’m sorry professor, it looks like she’s left you with no choice. I’ll have to do your bandages this time.”

“So be it,” replied Snape.

Harry looked momentarily shocked by Snape’s quick acquiescence, his hand pausing its motion in his mess of hair, but then he hurried over to the cupboard and got a fresh set of bindings.

“Madam Pomfrey showed me how to do this already, so you’re in...relatively good hands.” He poured a small amount of clear liquid in a dish and let the bandages soak in them. “I’m just letting them absorb some of this serum that allows the blood to clot on contact-”  

“-I know Potter,” Snape practically growled.

“Right. Er-,” Potter paused and looked momentarily at a loss for what to do. He took a deep breath, then carried the dish over to Snape’s bedside table. “Can you sit up on your own yet Professor?”

“I believe I am able to.” Snape didn’t actually know this, but he hated appearing so weak and helpless. With more effort than he would ever admit, he sat up and leaned forward so Potter could properly wrap the bandages around him.

“I’m going to take the dirty bandages off by hand, alright? I’ve magicked the fresh ones to apply themselves directly where the last one’s were.”

Poppy usually did both by magic, but Potter probably felt more confident that he wouldn’t unintentionally harm Snape this way. Snape closed his eyes as he felt shaking fingers begin to loosen the bandage covering his neck. Potter took his time, surprising Snape in his care. He could feel Potter’s breath by his ear, could almost hear the concentration the boy exuded while he made sure not to hurt Snape. By the time Harry began on the second binding covering Snape’s upper torso, he felt strangely relaxed and light, as though his body weighed nothing. The boy’s ministrations were much gentler than Poppy’s, and much more soothing. As though answering his thoughts, the boy said, “We’re running short, but I’ve added a bit of Murtlap Essence to the new bandages.”

Snape was almost disappointed when Potter finished. Though it was partially the drowsiness induced by the anti-venom he had consumed, and the soothing properties of Murtlap Essence, he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so at peace.

He didn’t open his eyes until he heard the creak of the cot next to him and Potter’s yawn interrupt what he was about to say. He looked over to see Potter settling on his side, the IV already attached to his arm. Potter began again, “Augustus Pye was one of Arthur Weasley’s healers after he was attacked by Nagini. Unfortunately, his trainer was killed during the war, and Augustus has been very busy, but he’s agreed to help me. I haven’t told him who he’s healing, but Minerva told me she’ll deal with that tomorrow morning.” The boy gave a content smile and yawned again. “I think I might fall asleep here Professor, I hope you don’t’ mind too much.”

He watched the boy, his breath growing slow and steady in a matter of minutes. No, Snape thought, he didn’t mind. Not too much anyway, he grinned to himself.

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It was decided that they would disguise Snape for Augustus Pye’s visit. Minerva transfigured his face so that his hair became temporarily brown, a scar marred his cheek, and she added a small moustache and goatee, not unlike Karkaroff’s. Pompfrey charmed his medical records so that his name appeared as Ambrosius Ashdown to an unwary eye.

Pye seemed fairly adept. He was particularly intrigued by the intravenous drip (“such an ingenious muggle contraption!), which irked Snape, but he also came prepared. Potter had apparently told him that Arthur and Snape were attacked by the same snake, however it had been imbued with powerful dark magic while attacking the latter (for obvious reasons, they could not tell Pye that the snake had been a horcrux for the Dark Lord). Pye provided them with the same antidote used on Arthur that, if they were lucky, would eventually rid all traces of the poison from Snape’s bloodstream. Then came the difficult part:

“Mr. Ashdown, do you have any knowledge of this dark magic the snake possessed at the time of your attack? I’m afraid you won’t be able to recover properly unless we can identify it and use the appropriate counter-magic.” Pye regarded Snape for an answer.  

Snape coughed and looked at Minerva, who looked at Poppy, who looked at Potter. The boy stared Pye directly in the eye and said, “it was a horcrux.”

Pye gaped at Potter, and then gave a terrible wobble. Minerva transfigured a chair behind him just in time, and Poppy rushed forward to make sure he was okay. Snape didn’t know whether the situation was morbidly hilarious, or downright mad. The boy had backbone, of that he was certain.

Potter continued, “I’m very sorry for the bluntness Mr. Pye, but Ambrosius means a great deal to me, to all of us, and I think it best you know the entirety of what’s afflicting him.”

Yes, thought Snape. The situation was mad. Utterly and completely mad.

After several long moments and many deep breaths, Pye finally spoke, “Yes... no sense beating around the broomstick...,” he pressed his fingers into his eyes, removed them, and blinked, as though the whole thing had been a silly dream. He looked at Potter “I’m afraid I know very little about...about that kind of terrible magic Mr. Potter. I understand what it entails, but for a living creature to be a carrier...”

“The snake is dead. The horcrux is destroyed, as well as its creator,” said Potter.

“Ah, well, I suppose that does make things a bit less complicated....” A look of horrible apprehension dawned on Pye’s face, “you mean to tell me- that was....that was you know who’s Snake that....oh dear.” Pye sagged down further in the chair

Potter spoke again, “Yes, it was Voldemort’s snake that attempted to kill Ambrosius, but you musn’t be afraid Mr. Pye. Voldemort is dead. I saw him die. He’s no longer any threat to you.”

Pye looked up at him. “You’ve been so brave Mr. Potter, I can’t see any reason in failing to show a fraction of your bravery myself.” He swallowed audibly, but stood up and faced the group. “As I said, I know very little about that kind of dark magic, I’ve only heard whispers and rumours. Considering everything now connected to Mr. Ashdown’s bite is either dead or destroyed, I strongly feel that we can treat this like a case of level five dark magic.”

“Ah yes,” cut in Poppy, “similar to the hazard rating we give to magical creatures, injuries or illnesses that were inflicted with dark magic fall under a certain rank. Depending on what level of mediwizard you are, you’re trained to know how to deal with most levels of dark magic.”

Pye continued, “Considering Mr. Weasley’s case was similar and resulted in success, the best way to approach this is by deciphering any differences between the effects Mr. Weasley and Mr. Ashdown experienced from the attack.

Potter answered this time. “Both Arthur and Ambrosius began to receive treatment about one hour after the attack.  Arthur needed to take blood-replenishing potions every hour for about five days following the attack, the same for Ambrosius. Unlike Arthur, Ambrosius must undergo daily blood transfusions, because for some reason, the poison becomes too concentrated in his bloodstream without it.  Blood-replenishers only duplicate the cells already in your body right? I suppose that’s why he needs the fresh stuff.” Potter paused briefly before continuing, “I guess he’s also needed to wear the medicated bandages for a longer period of time, because the wounds aren’t healing nearly as fast.”

Pye thought about this for a moment before replying, “What we need then, is a more concentrated dose of this special anti-venom. The problem is, this is the most concentrated and powerful poison antidote I know of.”

Potter suddenly hit his palm to his forehead, “I’ve been so stupid! What about a bezoar?” What a surprise, thought Snape, the boy could retain information.

“I’m afraid that is already a key ingredient in this antidote, Mr. Potter.” The boy looked completely crestfallen.

“No,” continued Pye, “unless any of you have any ideas, I’ll have to research this matter. Continue everything you’ve been doing so far, but replace the standard anti-venom with the special formula I’ve brought- there should be enough to last you about a week, and I’ll get back to you by owl as fast as I can. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the new formula will be enough.”

Chapter Text

The next couple of days were extraordinarily dull. The boy had been debating taking a break from his duties at Hogwarts to visit his friends, but he seemed reluctant to leave. Poppy had finally convinced him to do so, informing him that she had enough of his blood stored to last four more days before he would need to return.

Before Potter left, he bought Snape a few of the newest potions-related texts from Hogsmead to keep him occupied. Granted, Snape spent most of his time sleeping, but Poppy was hoping he would have more energy now that he was taking the proper anti-venom. The truth of the matter was that, contrary to his former existence, the boy actually helped him feel calm. Potter was a constant, reassuring presence in the room, and Snape actually felt it difficult to rest without him there. It had been nearly two days since Pye’s visit, he didn’t feel like he had any more energy or strength yet, and he felt irritated and surprisingly lonesome.

His hands clenched around the latest issue of the Daily Prophet and the paper gave a satisfying crinkle. Despite the Dark Lord’s defeat, the Prophet held the position that the war was not yet over. The Ministry had been left with the insurmountable task of rehabilitating Britain’s wizarding population along with covering up all that the war had caused in the muggle world. As if that weren’t enough, random Ministry workers were disappearing, and despite the Ministry’s position of no-crime tolerance, no one had any idea as to why these disappearances were taking place. The Ministry was encouraging everyone to return to their normal lives to help rebuild the broken system, and the Prophet was filled with angry editorials that rebuked “such nonsense.” Wizarding families were still frightened by the ever-present threat of Death Eaters on the run and the Auror Department was overrun with complaints and calls on Death Eater sightings.

Snape sighed, tossing the paper aside, and thought about his future. Prior to and during the war, he lived day-by-day. There could only be so much planning and strategy where the Dark Lord had been involved. His sole purpose had been to make sure the only person he loved had not died in vain. In his darkest moments, this meaning he gave to his life had allowed him to persevere.

But what purpose did he have now? What was left for him in a world that admonished his very existence?

 By the third day, Snape felt awful. He had come to terms long ago that he would most likely die in his efforts against the Dark Lord. He would finally be at peace, and perhaps he would be able to see Lily once more...

But he felt more lost now than he ever had before. He had no home to return to, no future prospects...he felt like his time on this planet played out as it was meant to, and that was that.

He hated that he was now wallowing in self-pity, that he needed someone to help him with even the smallest, most basic tasks. Even if he grew healthier over time, what could he possibly do? What was the point of living, if you had nothing to live for?

He closed his eyes, suddenly overcome with a powerful wave of pain and exhaustion.

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Snape was freezing. He could see nothing but ice above him, and his body was quickly losing its ability to move. He looked below him and saw something glinting just beyond his reach. He knew he had to get to it, that it was his only hope. He swam downwards, reaching with all of his might. The sword of Gryffindor gleamed right before his eyes but his body was now so cold he couldn’t grasp the handle of the blade. Try as he might, his stiff fingers refused to do what he asked of them.

He had run out of air many moments before, and could already feel the dizzying sensation that precluded the fall into oblivion. He looked upwards and saw nothing but darkness. In only seconds, he would lose consciousness and that would be it. In one last desperate attempt, he reached for the sword with unseeing eyes, and an incredible heat met his hand. He grabbed at the warmth, holding to it with every fibre of his being, and felt himself floating miraculously upward. He breached the surface of the ice, burning sword in hand, as he took deep painful breaths of life-sustaining oxygen.

Snape awoke, gasping from air, shaking all over, holding tightly to a warm hand. He looked up desperately, to see who had saved him from his watery grave, and saw frightened green eyes looking back. Snape coughed, blood splattering his blankets, and felt Potters arms wrap around his body and lift him so he was sitting up. He sensed, more than heard, someone else in the room, and felt the burn of magic relax his throat muscles. He couldn’t stop shaking, nor could he let go of the boy who held him tightly in return. They stayed like that for what could have been hours, until even the smallest tremors left Snape’s body. He felt the hand in his tighten its grasp as the boy slowly set him back down into the soft bed, and lent back enough so he could look directly into Snape’s eyes.  “I’m going to find Fawkes. I’m going to make you better.”

Chapter Text

When he woke up once more, it was to the same sight. Green orbs filled his vision, and Snape relaxed. A warm voice he now only heard in his dreams had him opening his eyes again: “Severus.” He tried to answer to her, to his beautiful Lily, but his mind could not seem for form any words.

He gradually focused on the bespectacled boy whose face seemed so close to his. Those lips moved again, “Professor?”

Snape opened his parched mouth, “Harry,” was all that came out.

The boys head dropped to Snape’s chest, his hands clenching around the bed sheets. Without thinking, Snape placed one of his larger hands over the boy’s clamped fist, the other moving to cradle the boys head to his chest.  

Snape looked down at the mess of black hair, spotting flecks of gold and brown strewn randomly throughout; how his pale hand, which contrasted so greatly against Potter’s hair, had now sunk into the soft tresses. Snape looked towards his other hand, at how white the knuckles stood out against his already pale skin. He felt the warmth of Potter’s hand beneath his, saw how soft and young his skin looked compared to Snape’s. He closed his eyes until he felt Potter relax, until his quaking had finally subsided. The boy, whose voice was muffled by Snape’s blankets, spoke, “We thought you were gone. I thought I....we were going to lose you again.”

Snape suddenly and horribly came to the realization that he was not dreaming. His hand slid from the boy’s head and dropped heavily to his side, “What day is it?” He was surprised how clear his voice sounded, how it didn’t cause him any pain to speak.

Potter sat up and looked at him with tired, red eyes, “you’ve been out for nearly five days. Your body just began rejecting everything we tried, for no apparent reason, Pye was completely baffled. It was as though you didn’t want to fight for your life anymore, you’re body just gave up.” Potter looked away, wiping his face before continuing, “by the third day in, you were ice cold. Poppy said your body stopped fighting the poison, and it was causing your blood to slow and thicken. She said...you would be lucky if you had more than a day left, that you probably wouldn’t wake.”

The boy stared at his hands, “I had been gone, and I meant to stay at the Weasley’s, not knowing that they were staying at Shell Cottage for a few days. I decided to visit my Godson instead, and since I had told Poppy that I would be at the Weasley’s in case of an emergency, she wasn’t able to contact me through floo. I didn’t know until I got her owl and I came here immediately.”

The boy studied Snape’s face for a moment, “I don’t know if you remember, but I stayed here that night. I dreamt about Dumbledore. He spoke only in riddles, sometimes in entirely different tongues. But when I woke up, I suddenly realized that if I could find Fawkes, maybe his tears would be able to cure you.

Though it should have been impossible, you woke up only seconds after I did. You were so cold....you looked like you were on the verge of death. I told you that I was leaving to find Fawkes, and I did. He found me, really.” Potter gave a small smile and looked over to the window.

Snape blinked, and noticed that a small, somewhat paler phoenix than he remembered was perched on the windowsill, seemingly intrigued by the events Potter was relaying. Snape watched the boy get up to stroke the creature’s feathers, and thought about his dream. It had certainly been a dream, but the sensations he had experienced were real, Snape had no doubt about that. The feeling of being suffocated by a freezing, unyielding darkness must have been his body dying from the snake’s venom. But why had the sword of Gryffindor appeared for him? It had pulled him to safety, yes, but it had also burned him. He looked down at his hands and closed his eyes. The heat that had felt so unbearable in his dream was the reason he woke from his state of unconsciousness. He concentrated, remembering that feeling. He had tried to grasp the sword but his body resisted, too weak, too cold. No, the sword had come to him, had rescued him. The heat in his hands had not been painful, yet it had been overwhelming and undeniably present. He had woken holding the boy’s hands in his...

Snape spoke, “why go through all the effort? Why not let me die in peace?”

Clearly that had been the wrong thing to say. Potter took two strides to the bed and he leaned down until he was eye-to-eye with Snape. “You know damn well why,” he practically growled.

Snape held his glare, lending his own back to the boy, “didn’t you ever think that maybe I wanted to die? I have nothing left to live for. My purpose in life has been accomplished. I no longer need to suffer this miserable excuse of a life.”

Potter stood up to his full height, staring fiercely at Snape, “You are one of the bravest men I will ever know. But I pity you if you truly believe what you say.”

The boy strode to the end of the bed and looked back. “The Snape I saw in those memories, the real Snape, would have wanted his life back. He would have given anything to make that possible. You’ve survived through situations where others would have died more times than you can count on your fingers! Your life was not a mistake. You’ve had a miserable time of it caused by the choices you made. But you also made choices where stronger men would have failed to. You chose to make amends for your actions, to do the unimaginable to help end the nightmare! I would never have been able to defeat Voldemort if it hadn’t been for you! You saved my life more than I can count! You asked for nothing in return, and you gave your life to fight for what you believed in, for what was right.” Potter folded his arms over his chest, as though that settled things.  

Snape turned away from that green, penetrating gaze that had grown all too familiar, “I’m tired Potter. I’ve done what I set out to do and I can’t do anymore. Your sentimentalities can’t change that.”

The boy ran his hands through his hair in a frustrated manner, “You can’t mean that! You’re lying to yourself, making excuses to be unhappy, and you know it. You’ve suffered enough, Snape, don’t make things more difficult for yourself.”

Snape voice was very quiet, “are you so arrogant, Potter, to believe that what you saw, what I showed you, gave you such a deep insight into my life that you now know me as though we were bosom friends?”

Potter answered immediately, “No Snape. I understand why you think me presumptuous, but you showed me things that only you knew. You revealed what makes you vulnerable, passionate, and hopeful. I saw what you feared most, saw how you had it in you to deeply care for another, and the lengths you would go to in order to protect them. You showed me the darkest moments of your life, and some of the most joyful. I can’t help but to see the good in you, now that I know the truth behind your actions. I used to believe that some people could never change. But I’ve grown to realize that nearly everyone has the capability to be good, as long as they are able to love.”

Snape exhaled loudly, as though suppressing a snort, “You sound like that crazy fool. Where did love get him, Potter? Dead parents, sister murdered, a brother who despised him. Those who wear their hearts on their sleeve suffer the most, and they are fools for it.”

Potter raised his voice, “Yes, Dumbledore believed in the power of love, but it was my mother, Lily, who inspired in me how to see the good in people, like what she saw in you!”

Snape’s voice was deadly when he spoke: “Out.”

“What?”

“Out! GET OUT, NOW!”

A gust of wandless magic hit the boy so hard that it carried him across the room. He heard Potter’s head smack loudly against the door before it burst open and the wind carried him out. The door slammed shut, and Snape didn’t even care if the boy was conscious on the other side. A sad ethereal note filled the air, and he looked over to see Fawkes taking off into the evening sky.

Chapter Text

Professor Snape,

I’m sorry.

I was so overwhelmed and glad that you were healthy again, I lost sight of what you needed. Instead I argued with you. I acted as though I knew what was best for you and used your own memories against you.

So we’re clear, I truly did mean everything I said. I just wish it had come out differently and at a better time.

You’re still a mystery to me, Snape, and I don’t profess to deeply know you after having seen your memories. But when I reflect on my years of observing you and the way your colleagues interacted with you, it’s apparent that you shelter yourself from truths that have a great emotional bearing. Being a spy, this kept you safe. But don’t you feel like, now that Voldemort is dead, you can stop hiding? I know these things take time; that you’re not going to simply blossom overnight into a compassionate, sentimental wizard. But at the same time, I don’t understand why you wish yourself a death you don’t deserve. The reason I argued with you is because I couldn’t understand your low sense of self-worth, and I believe that these ideas are simply a protective barrier that you no longer know how to remove. You are exceptionally clever, and I think that you are quite aware of this. But it was wrong of me to throw my mother’s ideas in your face like that, and to overwhelm you so shortly after your recovery.

After Kreacher rescued you from the shack, and I found out you were still alive, I can’t describe to you the emotions I felt. I wanted nothing more than to see you, to tell you everything...but at the same moment, I was terrified of seeing you for the first time, and what it would be like. I know you’re a private person, that sharing those memories with me was incredibly personal, and that you believed yourself to be dying when you gave them to me.

Regardless of the outcome, I’m honoured that you shared a part of yourself with me. I want you to know how much your memories mean to me. I wish I could describe to you in words how grateful and humble I feel.

 That night in the shack was surreal. I don’t know why I came to you, I didn’t even think about it before I was rushing to your side. You were still a greasy git in my mind, but in that moment, our history didn’t matter. It was like a force came over me and drew me to you. There was something larger at play that night. Despite our past, and what I thought you were, I was shocked and inexplicably saddened to have you die in my arms like that. It felt all wrong; it felt like a horrible dream. When I watched your memories, it was like I already knew that something indefinable was taking place, it was like I wasn’t shocked or surprised when the truth revealed itself, but at the same time I was overwhelmed and it felt like a figurative train had hit me.

Before, I blamed you for so many things that were, in my mind, unforgiveable. You told Voldemort about the prophecy. You caused my parents death, and I blamed you for Sirius’ death. You killed Dumbledore. You made Hogwarts into a school for the dark arts. I thought you to be a coward.

You had to live your life with all this and so, so much more on your shoulders. You knew you were innocent, or had made amends, but nearly everyone around you believed the opposite, with one exception: Dumbledore. I can’t even remember how many times I suspected you of something and went to Dumbledore about it. I always left infuriated that he seemed to trust you so unconditionally despite such obvious proof that you were evil. He seemed to care about you as though you were his own son. He would always make excuses for you, and I thought him blind for it. I thought it would get him killed, and I was proven right, though I didn’t want to be.

Knowing the truth, but thinking you dead, was unbearable. Not only did I forgive you, but I finally understood your actions. You did things I would never be able to, and I would always just spit in your face for it. It’s no wonder you thought me to be like my father.

When I knew you survived, and when you woke, I was practically bursting with things I wanted to say every time I was around you, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you. I wanted you to have the choice of whether to listen to me or not. I didn’t give you that choice after Fawkes healed you, which is why I’ve decided to write this letter. You can choose not to continue, you might already have thrown this letter in the fire and I don’t blame you, but if you’re willing to give me a chance, there are more things I need to share with you and that you deserve to know. You shared with me your most important memories, and I was able to understand you so much more because of them. Perhaps you can understand me a little better if I do the same.

To be quite honest, I have no idea where to begin. I guess I’ll write as it comes to mind...

Snape looked up from the boy’s letter and stared intently at the fire now cracking merrily in its hearth, inviting him to throw the thick roll of parchment into its blazing depths. He was just as furious with himself as he was with Potter. The boy hadn’t lost an ounce of that audacity he so regularly displayed to his superiors. At the same time, almost everything Potter had said to him after he had been cured was spot on. Snape despised admitting that the boy was right, but he found that he no longer had the capability to hide from such important truths. Maybe he could lie to others, but it was too difficult to continue to lie to himself. He was so sick of the deceit that had become such an overbearing part of his life; he certainly didn’t need to continue this toxic behaviour now that the worst was over.

Snape looked down at the messy scribe on the parchment that had changed so little in the last seven years even though its owner had grown so much. If Potter could admit his mistakes and take responsibility for them, Snape would be tremendously petty if he could not do the same. And, since he was being honest with himself, he was curious. Everything he knew about Potter was tarnished with the image of James; it was only when he believed himself to be dying that he saw past this illusion. He had seen the true face of Harry Potter staring down at him, empathy written over his features, and he had finally seen those eyes he had missed so terribly.

During those days in Poppy’s care, Snape had seen Potter in a new light- probably in the light that his colleagues had gushed about in the staff room. He had grown to rather like Potter, though the boy was quite annoying and stubborn, not to mention he seemed to feel it his duty to take on far too much with too little time or knowledge working against him. Yet, the boy’s strong will was also the reason Snape was alive. And, although he found it strange, Potter had very much given him the impression that he had grown to care about Snape, and he had certainly shown great kindness to him.

These feelings about this “new” Potter conflicted astoundingly with his old ones. Despite sharing so much of himself with the boy, he still hated that Potter had seen that particular memory in his fifth year. And how could he forgive Potter for using his old potions text, taking credit for his brilliant corrections in potions class, and using that horrible spell on Draco despite not knowing what it did.

Severus sighed to himself, and placed his hands over his face. He heard Albus’ voice in his mind: “Give the boy a chance, Severus.”

Well, he had spent that last two decades of his life listening to the old fruitcake, why stop now? Snape sat down in his favourite armchair, intent on reading what the boy had to say.

Chapter Text

I need you to know that I’m not like my father. I might resemble him, and I might have a knack for quidditch, but he’s not someone I would ever want to emulate. He may have grown up, why else would mum have married him... but he was a bully during his years at Hogwarts. He went out of his way to be one simply to make himself look bigger. I grew up in a house with a cousin who treated me much like my father treated you. I still remember the first wizard my age I ever met- it was Draco Malfoy. He reminded me so much of my cousin (though about 150 pounds lighter), I wondered if perhaps I was the strange one.

When I saw your memory during our Occlumency lesson nearly three years ago, I was horrified. Everyone always told me how wonderful my dad was, but all I saw was a monster. I saw someone who resembled my cousin or Malfoy, more than he resembled me, someone who I had constantly defended without even knowing who I was defending. Of all the people in that memory, I was shocked to realize that I could relate to you the most. I still thought you petty for taking out your hatred of my father on me but I never told anyone of what I saw, nor could I ever think of my father in the same way again.

There was another father figure in my life, Sirius, who was probably just as bad as my father when it came to being cruel to you, maybe he was even worse. I don’t want to tarnish his memory, but when I reflect on my time with him, it seemed like he never grew up after Hogwarts. I remember how uncomfortable it was when you two were in a room together at Grimmauld Place. I tried to validate his behaviour, telling myself that he had been in Azkaban for twelve years, that the world still thought him guilty of a crime he was innocent of, that he had had a troubled upbringing. I realize now that he enjoyed the drama, he liked having a target for his frustrations, and he never gave himself the opportunity to grow.

He was a man of many faults, but he taught me valuable lessons and loved me unconditionally. He told me that if you want to see someone’s true colours, you should watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. He told me that was what made me such a good person. I didn’t think about too much about this at the time, but when I look back to how horribly he treated Kreacher, it seems kind of ironic. And, as Ron, Hermione and I found out, even old vindictive house elves can be kind and loving as long as you treat them the same in return.

I went to Sirius in my fifth year after Arthur Weasley was attacked by Nagini. I don’t know if Dumbledore ever told you, or if you figured this out during our Occlumency lessons, but I dreamt that I was the snake. I remember, after speaking with Dumbledore, feeling a spike of rage and hatred towards him that came out of nowhere. I know now that it was the connection between Voldemort and myself - that being one of his horcruxes did effect me in such a way. But at the time, I was so terrified that I was becoming evil. Sirius told me that we all have light and dark in us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.

I can’t speak for the dead, but I’m sorry for how they treated you. I’m sorry that I defended them unconditionally, without knowing the truth.

Remus was perhaps the only one who saw things most clearly in their group. He was the first person I met who told me so many things about my parents that I had never heard before. He spoke to me about my mother, how she managed to see the beauty in everything. Everyone told me how much I resembled James and how I had my mother’s eyes, but he was the first one to tell me that he saw both of them inside me .

After Sirius died, I think I needed someone or something to latch on to, a confidant of sorts, and as you know, during my last year at Hogwarts I used your old potions text. I was terribly fascinated with the Half Blood Prince, and I grew quite attached to him. Of course, Hermione hated that book right away. It reminded her of Riddle’s diary (and it was more talented than her at potions). I believed it just to be an old harmless potions text, owned by someone particularly intriguing. I would spend my evenings carefully reading the pages. Sometimes Ron would even call me out for reading it when my dorm mates were trying to sleep, but I would just look at it under the covers by wandlight.

That whole year was strange. I became obsessed with spying on Malfoy. I was sure he had become a death eater and was behind all the attacks. When Ron was poisoned by one of Malfoy’s attempts and he nearly died, I was even more devoted to catching Malfoy. I followed him to a bathroom one day, and he tried to use an unforgiveable curse on me when I caught him by surprise. Without even thinking, I shot the first offensive spell at him that came to mind to protect myself. When I saw what I had done, I was completely horrified. I never wanted to hurt Malfoy so severely. I was ashamed with myself for being so careless and I still feel that way. I had been following the Prince’s potions instructions because I believed it to be my only chance at becoming an Auror, but an Auror would never have used an experimental or unknown curse on a fellow wizard. I am so thankful that you were watching Malfoy as well that year. He would have died if it weren’t for you, and I would have been a murderer.

Malfoy had every right to despise me after that incident, but he ended up doing something that may very well have saved my life. During our hunt for Voldemort’s horcruxes, snatchers caught Ron Hermione and I. Hermione, the brilliant witch that she is, used a stinging jinx on my face the moment she knew we were cornered. Despite the disfigurement, the snatchers could still see the scar on my forehead and brought us right to Malfoy Manor. Draco was asked to identify me, to make absolutely sure it was me before calling Voldemort. I remember seeing the recognition in his eyes; he had to have known it was me, especially considering I was brought in with Ron and Hermione. But he lied right to his parents face; he said that he couldn’t be sure of who I was. Because of this, the death eaters hesitated in calling Voldemort, and placed Ron and I in the basement cell while Bellatrix interrogated Hermione. Another person showed his humanity that night: Peter Pettigrew. He showed us a moment of mercy that aided our escape, but cost him his life.

I won’t relay the whole complicated series of events that transpired, but we were able to escape, along with the other prisoners that were being kept at the manor. I don’t know why Malfoy covered for me. I know he was scared, but I would have thought him eager to hand me over to Voldemort. I suppose, at that point, he wanted to end the nightmare just as much as I did, and I was the one hope at doing so.  

The past year has been filled with strange experiences. The war showed the true colours of those suffering it. Desperation had many unable to control their actions, but I saw acts of bravery everywhere I turned, much of them selfless.

But you, Snape, you were one of the bravest, and the only man who knew of the truth behind your actions was dead.

I’ve always cared about what you thought of me, even when I believed I despised you. At first it was because, well, I just couldn’t understand why you were so malicious, why you were allowed to be so malicious. I also hated that you could only see my father when you looked at me, and I would often find myself trying to act like him in our classes together just to goad you further.

 In my first year, I was convinced that you were up to something. I remember believing that you had jinxed my broom during my first quidditch match, and that you decided to referee the next because you hadn’t finished me off in the first match. I also began sneaking into the castle during the night that year. The first night I left Gryffindor tower, I ran into you confronting Quirrel. As I was already suspicious, I believed you to be threatening Quirrel into aiding you with your treacherous activities. I tried to put as much space between us that night, and I found myself in a room that contained the Mirror of Erised. That was the first time I saw my parents in ten years.

 I returned to the mirror nearly every night, just so I could see myself with them, imagining that they were still alive. Dumbledore was the one who found me. He told me that the mirror was being taken to a new home...

 I still think it’s sort of funny, really, that I went after you when I thought you were trying to steal the stone. Three first years up against the staff’s best defences? I must have been hit over the head by a bludger too many times. After the stone was destroyed, and Dumbledore told me that all along you had been trying to protect me, I was gobsmacked. Dumbledore said you did it because my dad saved your life once, and you wanted to even the score. I obviously had a different opinion of you after my first year, but then of course, that awful flying-car-whomping-willow incident occurred, and I knew things hadn’t changed between us. I certainly wasn’t proud of what Ron and I did that day, in fact, I had been downright disgusted with myself after I realized the repercussions of our actions, especially on Ron’s family.

 Over the next few years, I think I developed this childish need to prove myself to you. I wanted to show you that I was capable, maybe then you would treat me differently. I remember the day of the duelling club as if it were yesterday. That disarming spell you showed us quickly became my favourite spell, and like I told you, it was the spell that led to Voldemort’s death.

I won’t ever forget the look on your face when I spoke Parseltongue without knowing it- I knew there was something seriously wrong when even you looked shocked. That year was definitely one of the worst at Hogwarts. With everyone believing me to be Slytherin’s heir, I started to believe it myself, though I didn’t want it to be true of course. I never told anyone this, but the sorting hat actually tried to put me in Slytherin. I had to argue my way out of being placed there, and the hat reluctantly put me in Gryffindor instead. I’m not sure if the sorting hat wanted me in Slytherin at that time because of the part of Voldemort that rested in me, or if it would say the same thing now that Voldemort and his horcruxes are destroyed. I guess you can be thankful you weren’t my head of house for six years.

In my third year, I thought you had it out for Lupin. I suppose, in sense, I was right, just not the way I thought. I always wondered what reasons you had for coming after us that night in the Shrieking Shack, especially without telling Dumbledore. I’m sorry I jinxed you that night as well. Sirius had been pleading his innocence when you came in, and I needed to hear him out. Despite this, as soon as you came to, your first instinct was to shield Ron, Hermione and I from Lupin who had transformed into a werewolf.

And you were right about me that year. I had been sneaking out of the castle to Hogsmead, despite the threat of Sirius on the loose. Remus set me straight after several of these escapades. He told me that my parents hadn’t died simply to have me venture secretly out into harm’s way. I was so upset about being the odd one out once again, I completely disregarded my moral grounding, and sought to satisfy my childish needs. But after Remus spoke with me, I was disgusted with myself, once again, for being so senseless. 

My fourth year at Hogwarts was a blur of panic. It was the year I truly began to have dreams of Voldemort, except that they weren’t dreams at all, they were actually happening. Sometimes I would even dream that I was Voldemort. On top of this new development, I was essentially forced into the Triwizard Tournament. What I remember most from that year is witnessing Cedric’s death and Voldemort’s resurrection. If my wand and Voldemort’s hadn’t been connected, I wouldn’t have survived that night. I never told anyone this except Dumbledore, but the connection between our wands caused images of the people Voldemort had murdered to appear. I saw my parents again that awful night, and they helped to protect me as I escaped with Cedric’s body.

As you know, that was the same night that Barty Crouch Jr. was revealed to be masquerading as Mad-eye Moody. I still remember when he trapped me in his office, and I looked behind him into the Foe Glass. I saw your face looking back at me, along with Minerva’s and Dumbledore’s, before the three of you burst into the room and rescued me.

There were small clues like that, scattered throughout my years at Hogwarts, clues that showed your true nature and where your loyalties lied. Yet, just like how you could only see my father when you looked at me, I could only see someone suspicious and hateful when I looked at you.

I think we could both agree that the next year was a strange one. Like it wasn’t enough, Dumbledore forced you to deal with me outside of school at the Order’s headquarters, as well as at our Occlumency lessons. I think you elicit too many emotions in me, for me to learn Occlumency from you. That year in particular, I was filled with so much rage all the time. I know now why that was, but having Umbridge around and O.W.L.S on the horizon didn’t help either.  

It’s funny; my years at Hogwarts hold my fondest and most precious memories even though the threat of Voldemort constantly hung over my shoulders. I fought Voldemort or his Death Eaters at the end of every school year except my third, but I still feel like Hogwarts is my home, it’s where I felt safest and where I can be my happiest. Despite having had a rough time of it, I’m so thankful for my years there. Even though some lessons took quite a few mishaps to sink in, they helped shape me into the person I am today. And even though it was both heart-breaking and wonderful at the same time, I got to see my parents. In the mirror of Erised, once in the graveyard, in your memories, and most importantly, when I called them using the Resurrection Stone four months ago. They may have left this Earth, but they still helped me through my time at Hogwarts and my battle with Voldemort.

But now, you deserve to hear some things.

I’m so sorry, Snape. I’m sorry for the countless worries I’ve added to your already difficult life. I’m sorry for the blame I’ve set on your shoulders. I’m sorry for intruding into such personal matters, and for calling you a coward. I’m sorry I never had any faith in you until it was too late.

The truth, Snape, is that after I learnt the truth about you, but thought you dead, I was devastated. It felt like the war hadn’t been won. You deserved to live and to be recognized by those closest to you.

When you were given a second chance at life, I wanted you to know how I felt, but I wasn’t brave enough to tell you. I’ve grown to care about you a great deal. It’s actually a little bit scary (Snape couldn’t read the next few words as they had been unceremoniously scribbled over)

I hope we can move past the barriers that set us apart in the past. I hope you can forgive me, and that you can forgive yourself as well. I hope you can realize how much life is worth living now that you can actually do just that. And, I hope you know that I will always be here for you, just like you always were for me.

Thank you,

Harry

P.S. If you would like to contact me, I’ll be at the Order’s headquarters, as I’m doing some work with the Ministry. Now that Kingsley is Minister, many drastic changes must be made and I’d like to help the Auror department with all the disappearances if I can. Oh, and I’ve kept my promise regarding your memories. I want you to take your time in making your decision, but the sooner you decide what’s best for you, the sooner we can make that happen. Augustus Pye also wants to meet with me to discuss your health, so I’ll send any important information along to Poppy.

Chapter Text

Severus couldn’t sleep.

He liked to think it was because he had spent an inordinate amount of time sleeping during the last few months, but he knew this was not the case. Simply put, he could not stop thinking about Harry Potter.  He would sit down to read his favourite potion’s theory text, and Potter’s name would pop up all over the pages. He would try to relax and re-focus his mind into making a complex potion, but that damned boy would enter his mind and he would turn around to see a smouldering mess of what had been a promising batch of Wolfsbane. He tried to sleep at night, even taking excessive amounts of sleep-inducing potions, but his thoughts of Potter were immune even to the strongest of these sleep-aids.

He was beginning to suspect that Potter had placed a jinx on his letter- that the reader would not be able to take so much as a piss without thinking of the damned thing.

After less than two days of this torture, Severus had had enough. He sat down to write back to Potter:

Potter,

I received your letter.

Snape stared at the parchment for approximately twenty-three minutes before he realized that he had absolutely no idea what to write. How could he put his thoughts and feelings into writing? Not only that, but he was still terribly confused about said thoughts and feelings.

Snape groaned and massaged his temples. He missed the damned boy. He missed him!

Well, he had felt restless and lonely when the boy had left for the Weasley’s, perhaps he just needed a little dose of Potter to get some rest.

What the bloody hell-

-yes, there was no denying it now! He was going mad! Why else would he be seeing things? Why else would he keep suffering from these delusions? Maybe the Snake’s venom had damaged his brain, maybe all those strong potions had finally caught up with him, maybe the boy really HAD jinxed the letter, maybe-

Snape rested his forehead on his desk.

-maybe going 42 hours without sleep was the most reasonable answer.  

Severus stood up, went to his room and collapsed onto his bed. With or without Potter, he was going to get some rest.

---------------------------

 

“Severus! SEVERUS!”

The panicked voice of Minerva woke him from his troubled sleep. In a very un-Snape-like manner, he stumbled out of bed and hurried into his living quarters, spotting her anxious face in the fire. He knelt down in front of her, and she began, without preamble, “It’s Harry. There was an attack.  He’s just been admitted to St. Mungo’s.”

Snape summoned his cloak and boots, “Where is he?”

“Spell Damage. Yaxley and Rowle cornered him Severus, it doesn’t look good, but don’t you even think about leaving your quarters!  I decided to inform you against my better judgement, but I can assure you that-”

Severus was out the door before Minerva could finish. He heard her shouting his name from down the dungeon hall, but Snape knew there was no time to lose.

He ran across the entrance hall, piles of rubble moving out of his path carried by wandless magic. The moment Snape reached the gates, he apparated to the visitor’s entrance of St. Mungo’s, bursting through the barrier without even waiting for an entry. He ran across the reception area to the elevators, oblivious to the stares and shouts that followed him there. He jabbed at the button, pushing faceless people out of the way so he could board the elevator alone. When it stopped at the next floor, he cursed loudly, and used his magic to slam the doors shut and boost the car directly to the fourth floor.

Snape dashed through the hallway. He could hear racing footsteps behind him, or maybe it was the pounding of his own heart. Just ahead, he could see light pouring out from an opened doorway, saw mediwizards and aurors darting in and out of the room that he knew must contain Potter-

WHAM!

A spell hit his back and he lurched into the wall. Before he could even register what hit him, Snape began to run again, as fast as he could to the light at the end of the hallway. He could see in, and through the mass of wizards, a horrifying sight met his eyes. He could see the white face of Harry Potter, blank, lifeless eyes staring into the void.

 Severus’ heart plummeted and he fell to his knees. Two more stunning spells hit his back, but he felt no pain. He could hear voices yelling, and a woman shouting louder than the rest. His vision swam, and then he knew nothing but darkness.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Severus gripped Harry’s hand tightly in his own. He let his forehead down to touch the warmth where their hands connected, to reassure himself that the pulse he felt was real.

He stayed like that for many moments, his thumb gently stroking.  He could feel a scar that traveled across the back of Harry’s hand, interrupting the landscape of smooth skin. Snape opened his eyes, his fingers now trailing the scar. Surely, it could not be....he looked down and saw his suspicion confirmed. Marred into the boy’s soft skin, were the words: “I must not tell lies.” Snape stared at the words, his mind racing.

Umbridge.

That depraved, loathsome woman!

He would destroy her.

He would obliterate her.

 He would KILL her.

 A deep fury welled up inside him. So fearsome was his rage that he began to shake. He could feel his face burning, his throat muscles tightening, and something hidden deep within him stirred.  Tears he hadn’t realized he’d been holding escaped down his cheeks. Shaking fingers touched the wetness on his face, unable to recognize the sensation.  

He looked at Harry, his hand unconsciously reaching to the boy’s forehead, where he brushed aside dark hair to reveal the fabled scar, now hardly visible against the pale skin upon which it rested. Snape traced the scar lightly with his fingertips, wishing it away, wishing it all away.

His boiling anger quickly overtook the calm he usually felt in Harry’s presence. He pressed his lips together, rising up so suddenly that his chair fell over, thumping heavily onto the floor.

Snape strode towards the door, his hand reaching for the handle when he heard a voice:

“Wait.” 

--

24 Hours Earlier

--

“What on Earth were you thinking!? What could you have possibly accomplished by coming here!? Do you know how many patients and mediwizards we’ve had to obliviate!?”

Snape felt as though he was recovering from a bad hangover, his eyes closed and his fingers massaging his temples, “I was trying to help him. I was trying to save him.”

Minerva towered over his bed, her shadow blocking much of the light pouring in from the small window, “I would never have expected this kind of irrational behaviour from you, Severus. It’s as though you leave all reasonable thought behind when it comes to Harry!”

Snape gave her a petulant look and snapped, “I’ve had to save that boy’s arse for seven years, so forgive me for making one error.”

Minerva glowered back, “Save me from your melodramatic excuses Severus Snape! We had an agreement! You promised me, you promised Harry-

“-Enough!” Snape sulked lower into the bed.

Minerva paused, lowering her voice when she continued, “Why is it that every time I even mention the boy’s name, you act like a petulant child? I know you’ve had it out for him ever since his first day at Hogwarts, but I expected better from you after all that’s happened these last few months. You’re above this kind of behaviour, Severus.”

Snape tried to think of a retort, something, anything he could say to make her think differently. But it was true. When it came to Harry, he couldn’t think straight.  And besides, he had scolded the boy so often for his acts of idiotic heroism, but hadn’t Snape done just that? Albus had always trusted him, above anyone else, to help him with his most difficult tasks. When Albus had been on the brink of death after foolishly placing Marvolo Gaunt’s ring on his hand, he had depended on Snape to save him. Perhaps he was so used to saving Albus and looking out for Harry, that he couldn’t help but to run after the boy when he thought Harry’s life was in danger.

He looked up at Minerva, “When can I see him?”

Minerva’s lips thinned to a line, and her eyes narrowed, “What did you just say?”

“I’m asking you when I can visit Potter. You told me that he was able to recover from the worst of Yaxley’s curse, and he’s now spending much more time awake. So, when can I see him?”

Minerva let out a breath, and much to Snape’s surprise, she sat down at the end of his cot. Placing her hand gently over his blanketed leg, she spoke, “You really do care about him, don’t you Severus?”

Snape didn’t meet her eyes, “I’ve spent too long in this recovering state in these exceedingly uncomfortable beds, I need to stretch my legs and see if I can even walk. Besides, Potter apparently spent a great deal of time visiting me while I was under Poppy’s care, I would be doing him an injustice if I didn’t show the same level of courtesy.”

Minerva replied softly, “It wasn’t courtesy that brought Harry to your bedside every day, Severus.”

Snape said nothing.

Minerva sighed and stood up, “Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley are currently visiting him, but they’ve been here all day and are sure to leave soon. Stretch your legs, and see if you can walk. This is a private ward and you are free to walk around without worrying about being spotted by anyone unauthorized to be here. Potter is two doors down at number 417, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you when you’re ready.”

She walked towards the door, and was about to close it behind her when she poked her head back into the room, “Take it from someone who has also been hit by multiple stunning spells- I’m considerably older and in poorer shape than you, and I did just fine. I’m sure you will as well.”

Snape stared at the closed door for several moments, then got out of bed. He wobbled a bit as he stood up, his head pounding and his back aching. He stretched, cracking his back in the process, and saw that he was still fully robed in his regular attire.  Snape took a walk around his room; even though he felt awful, he knew he had to see Potter as soon as possible for his own peace of mind.

He walked out into the narrow hallway, closing his door behind him, and nearly bumped into someone dressed hideously in maroon and orange. Ah well, the orange was actually hair, but all the same...

Ronald Weasley looked completely horrified when he realized who he had nearly walked into, but he quickly masked his features into a quiet ambivalence. Miss Granger was much more poised, and she smiled warmly at Snape, “Good evening Professor, I’m glad to see you recovered well.”

Severus merely nodded, at a loss for words.

Hermione continued, “Harry looked a bit peaky, so the nurse gave him a sleeping potion about an hour ago. He’s been sleeping for a while now, but I’m sure you could pop in and see him for yourself without waking him.”  

She began to walk away, yanking Weasley behind her, who seemed in a dazed stupor. He stumbled after her, whispering urgently in her ear, “Did you see who that was, Hermione!?”

“Shush Ron!” she whispered back, “And of course I did.”

As soon as the pair left the private ward, Snape headed over to room 417 and slowly opened the door.

Severus’ eyes fell immediately to the form on the bed. The image of Harry, his glassy eyes seemingly devoid of life, came to him, and Snape felt his heart race as he approached the cot. He released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when he saw the boy’s face, his eyes closed in sleep, although he was still very pale. Suddenly dizzy, Snape moved a chair to the base of the cot and collapsed into it. Slouched in the chair, his eyes closed and his hand against his forehead, Snape pondered.

Only once before, had he ever felt so full of panic, so full of agony, at the thought of someone he knew, someone he cared for...dead. Nearly two decades had passed since her death, but the anguish he felt was present, and very real.

He could hardly remember how he actually came to be at St. Mungo’s. All Snape could recall was this deep feeling of dread and anguish, and a distinct ringing in his ears as all other noises were blotted out. Apparently, it had taken three stunning spells to take him down.

Without truly realizing it, he had grown to care about the boy much more than he ever thought he could. And, just as Harry was always compelled to play the hero, Snape felt just as strongly about protecting Harry. If Severus had failed to save the lives of the only two people he so deeply cared for, the only two people he had ever-

-A loud knock sounded on the door before it was opened, and Snape stood up in shock, forgetting where he was. 

The proud figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt entered the room, and Snape stood paralyzed at the foot of Harry’s bed. The Minister for Magic extended his hand toward Severus, his deep voice speaking, “Minerva told me you’d be here, Severus. I’m so glad to finally see you now that the war has ended.”

Severus took Shacklebolt’s hand, his own voice taking a few moments to kick in, “Likewise, Minister.”

Kingsley glanced around the room before transfiguring the two available chairs into larger, more comfortable one’s, and floating them over to the window to face each other, “Why don’t we take a seat. There are some very important matters we must discuss now that we have a chance to speak.”

As they did, a small table, some biscuits, and a steaming pot of tea appeared beside the armchairs. Kingsley spoke again, “I’m sure you’ve been pestered about this many times already, but in light of recent events,” Kingsley nodded his head at Harry, “I’m afraid I need to ask you to make your decision as soon as possible. I can offer you my opinion on the matter if you so wish.”

Snape, his hands shaking slightly, poured himself a cup of much-needed caffeine, nodding at the Minister to continue.

“The way I see it, Severus, you have two options. The first is that you allow the Wizengamot to view your memories, as evidence of your loyalty to our side. As much influence as I may have over the Wizengamot, it is very likely that traditional rulings will apply, and the wizarding public will know details of the hearing and the final verdict. It is also likely that the verdict will be in your favour, as I believe Harry is speaking the truth about you. Both you and Harry would be present at all stages of the enquiry, along with any other witnesses willing to speak on your behalf. The problem with this option, Severus, is that you will have little anonymity during the process, and will be exposed to the press and the general public. What worries Minerva and myself, is that there are still a number of Death Eaters on the run, and we can be certain that you will be a target of their animosity when they hear of your deception. The Ministry cannot guarantee your safety, and although we have teams of Aurors searching for runaways, it is very possible that you could be attacked, just as we’ve seen with Harry and several others.  This choice would allow you to integrate back into Britain’s wizarding society, but I believe it would not permit you the freedom you seek. Staying here, you would be the source of much controversy and the target of anyone seeking revenge for the dark side. Harry told me that you were integral to Voldemort’s downfall, that the war would most likely have been lost without you. If this knowledge was made known to the press, you can imagine the consequences.”

Kingsley leaned back in his chair, allowing Severus a moment.

Snape spoke, his voice quiet, “And what is my other option, Kingsley?” He looked up at the Minister, his eyes filled with doubt.

Kingsley sighed, “You leave, Severus. I would see to it that you be officially declared dead, and you would leave Britain forever, to make a new life for yourself.”

Snape swallowed thickly, placing his tea down on the table as his hands were shaking uncontrollably. “I would be free?”

Kingsley nodded, “You would be free.”

Chapter Text

Severus heard a knock on his door, and Minerva entered his room without waiting for a response. A single candle was flickering by the open window where Snape sat, his eyes staring into space. She flicked her wand, filling the room with warm light and transfigured a chair beside her colleague.

Severus spoke, his voice hoarse, “What do you think I should do, Minerva?”

She pursed her lips and began, “You deserve a new life, Severus, one unsullied by your past and those who may wish you harm. If there is any hope of you recovering from the war, it is far away from here. Living this life, you will be constantly reminded of your many sufferings.” She paused before continuing, “We both know you have no desire for the fame or attention that will be brought to you if your memories are revealed. You have no strong ties here, nothing to keep you here.  Both your safety and privacy would be compromised. It’s difficult for me to see any reason why you would wish to stay.” She looked at him closely, but he would not meet her eyes.

“There is another reason why I’m here, Severus,” she placed her hand on his knee, “Harry hasn’t woken.”

----------------------------

 

 Severus was furious.

If only he had been able to see Harry directly after the attack. Anyone with the least bit of sense or foresight would have known that two Death Eaters would not have risked exposure for anything less than murder, especially when the saviour of the wizarding world was involved!

Yaxley’s curse, which had paralyzed Harry, was thought to have been warded off by the mediwizards. Harry had also shown signs of being hit multiple times with the Cruciatus Curse while he was paralyzed. He had been treated accordingly, yet it was now revealed that the ambush had been premeditated to a much greater extent.

Augustus Pye’s body had been found when a team of Aurors raided an abandoned building that was thought to house several fugitive Death Eaters. The Aurors concluded that Pye had either witnessed or heard something that had jeopardized the whereabouts of said Death Eaters, and he had been murdered accordingly.  

Not a single Auror working on the case had any knowledge of Pye’s association with Potter, until five hours ago, when a sobbing Mrs. Pye came forward with a note she had just found, left by her deceased husband:

 

My Dearest Abigail,

Only you could be the one to find this, and you must not share this with anyone outside of the Auror Department when you do.

I’m afraid I’ve done something terrible.

I was apprehended by two masked Death Eaters when I left work three days ago. They told me they would kill you and our darling little girl if I didn’t do exactly as I was told.

Somehow, they discovered that I was helping a one, Mr. Harry Potter, and they wanted to use me to get to him. I’m sorry to say that I did as they told, because I just couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to the two most important people in my life.

First, as you probably now realize, I had to tell you that I was taking a small business trip out of town for a few days, so that my absence wouldn’t attract suspicion. They told me not to worry about work, but it only made me worry further- could the Ministry still be corrupt?

Under their orders, I wrote a letter to Mr. Potter, asking to meet him to follow up on the health of his friend, whom I’ve been caring for in secret. I was asked to tell Mr. Potter to meet me in an industrial district in London so as not to attract too much attention, but I suspect these terrible Death Eaters will ambush him there.  I think they plan to murder him.

I’m not sure where I am, but they’ve kept me here with no food and little water since they captured me. It sounds like I’m still in London, but the traffic is distant and it smells of ash and coal. There is another man in the room with me, and I recognize him from the Ministry. He was asleep when they first locked me in this room, but he hasn’t woken since. He was also very quiet at first, but after a few hours, he began to speak in his sleep. Now he screams and thrashes around, and he’s been scratching his face until it’s bloody, as though he’s in terrible pain. I’m afraid to tell you the horrible details, but it looks like he’s been cursed by one of my kidnappers, and it may be my fate as well.

By the time you find this note, I may already be dead. They may keep me alive a little longer-perhaps they’ll even take me to the ambush they’re planning, and I can warn Mr. Potter somehow. But this might be my last chance of contacting you. I am sending this letter now, in the hopes that you may find it before it is too late.

I love you, my beautiful, wonderful wife, and I love our daughter just as dearly. I hope she can forgive me for not being there for her, and I hope you can as well, my love.

-Augustus

 


Severus had accosted Kingsley after he had read the note, demanding he be informed of any and all details pertaining to Harry’s case.

“Severus,” the Minister’s deep voice boomed, “I have already told you why I cannot share the details of this investigation! You have already defied me by reading this confidential letter! The Wizarding World believes you to be dead! How could I possibly include you in this investigation, without raising suspicion? Only a handful of the most trusted witches and wizards know of your existence, and even that is a huge risk! Do you not appreciate the delicacy of this situation?

Severus replied, his voice steady, “With all due respect, Minister, I spent the better half of my life spying on those Death Eaters. I know more about them than even your finest Aurors. I’ve dealt personally with each person in this case, and quite frankly, it is very much my business!”

Kingsley took a deep breath, and peered at Severus, his brow creasing, “You are keeping something from me, Severus. Don’t even try to deny it. I can’t be sure what that is, but until I know, I’m afraid you can’t have my full trust.”

Severus glared at the Minister, weighing his odds. What would be the price of his honesty? But then, would his honesty be the key to saving Harry?

His throat bobbed, and he began to speak, “Let me view the case files. Let me examine the clues, by myself, and see if I can make any worthwhile conclusions. You don’t need to inform the head of the Auror department about my involvement if I do a separate investigation. And if I’m correct, let someone else take the credit. I just want to save the boy, Kingsley.” His voice faltered, “He may not have much time, and it will destroy me if I can’t do anything about it.”

He could hear the blood pounding in his ears as he waited for the Minister’s reply, waiting minutes, hours, days....

Kingsley spoke, “So be it.”

Chapter Text

Severus gripped Harry’s hand tightly in his own. He let his forehead down to touch the warmth where their hands connected, to reassure himself that the pulse he felt was real.

He stayed like that for many moments, his thumb gently stroking.  He could feel a scar that traveled across the back of Harry’s hand, interrupting the landscape of smooth skin. Severus opened his eyes, his fingers now tracing the scar. Surely, it could not be....he looked down and saw his suspicion confirmed. Cut into the boy’s soft skin were the words: “I must not tell lies.” Severus stared at the words, his mind racing.

Umbridge.

That depraved, loathsome woman!

He would destroy her.

He would obliterate her.

 He would KILL her.

 A deep fury welled up inside him. So fearsome was his rage that he began to shake. He could feel his face burning, his throat muscles tightening, and something hidden deep within him stirred.  Tears he hadn’t realized he’d been holding escaped down his cheeks. Shaking fingers touched the wetness on his face, unable to recognize the sensation. 

He looked at Harry, his hand unconsciously reaching to the boy’s forehead, where he brushed aside dark hair to reveal the fabled scar, now hardly visible against the pale skin upon which it rested. Severus tailed the scar lightly with his fingertips, wishing it away, wishing it all away.

His boiling anger quickly overtook the calm he usually felt in Harry’s presence. He pressed his lips together, rising up so suddenly that his chair fell over, thumping heavily onto the floor.

Severus strode towards the door, his hand reaching for the handle when he heard a voice:

“Wait.” 

It couldn’t be....

He turned around to look at Harry, walking slowly back toward his bed. Unless those stunning spells had rattled his mind, he was positive it was Harry’s voice he heard. And sure enough...

“Don’t leave!”

It was Harry all right, but his eyes were closed, eyeballs moving around underneath his eyelids.

Severus knelt by the bed, placing his hand over one of Harry’s, which twitched in response, “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Before he could even begin to figure out what was going on, the head mediwizard bustled through the door, followed closely by Ronald and Hermione.

Severus didn’t move from his spot, but he immediately took his hand off of Harry’s, hiding it in his robe.

The mediwizard was the first to address him, “We heard a loud noise, is everything all right?”

He replied quickly, “I was startled because I heard a voice in the room, but that voice actually belonged to Potter. He seems to be talking in his sleep.”

It was Weasley who responded, “That actually happened a lot while we were dorm mates, though it was usually when he was having a nightmare or dreaming about Voldemort...” his face paled considerably and he looked quickly at Hermione.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake Ronald, Voldemort’s dead!” She gave him a reprimanding glare that even Severus admired.

The mediwizard spoke up, “I’m afraid it’s not simply a dream. According to my reading, the dark magic we detected is building in strength and I would bet my career that it’s causing Mr. Potter to have hallucinations of sorts.” He busied himself, examining Harry’s records, while Ron peered over his shoulder.

Hermione looked at Harry, her brow furrowed, “If only I could get a peak at those case files,” she murmured.

Severus cleared his throat, walking slowly towards the girl. He stopped behind her, whispering, “Miss Granger, might I have a word with you in private?”

She looked startled, but nodded and quietly followed him out the door into the hallway. He took the copy of Pye’s letter out of his breast pocket and gave it to Hermione to read. Her eyes widened as she read, and he saw her read it over twice for good measure. She looked up at Severus, her hands shaking slightly, “It sounds like Harry might be suffering from the same curse as this unidentified Ministry worker Pye mentions.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Severus replied.

“Professor...” Hermione looked at him questioningly, “You don’t have any other evidence pertaining to Harry’s case do you?”

He gave her a small grin, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

 

----------------------------

 

Severus pondered as he watched Hermione. Her brow had been furrowed in concentration for the last three hours as she made note of anything telling in Harry’s case file, and she had hardly blinked during the last fifteen minutes he had been observing her.

They were sitting in the dreary kitchen at Grimmauld place, which had since been reclaimed by the Order of the Phoenix. Severus had asked Hermione to examine everything Kingsley had given him regarding the investigation of Harry’s attack, and make note of any details she found suspicious or important. They would then share their findings and go from there. In the meantime, he was going through the alarmingly large collection of dark magic texts in the Black family library to see if anything looked similar to Yaxley’s curse.

Yet a nagging sensation had overcome Severus during the last fifteen minutes, a feeling he soon identified to be guilt. He cleared his throat, hoping to receive the girl’s attention. She was so engrossed in her reading, she didn’t even blink at the noise.

He sighed, and cleared his throat once more, “Miss Granger?”

She finished scribbling a note and looked up at him, “Yes, Professor?”

“I...” he hesitated, “I must thank you for being willing to work with me on this investigation. I know I haven’t been very pleasant to you or....well, you must think it unusual...” he felt his mouth go dry.

She put down her quill and gave him a small smile. “Professor, I can hardly bear grudges from school after the events of this past year. So many things have changed, my perspective included. Besides, I would have gone mad waiting for the Aurors to figure everything out, none of whom have even met Harry. I should be thanking you, for trusting me.”

Severus bowed his head, feeling ashamed, “Even so...”

“I don’t mean to sound overly familiar, Professor, but Harry told me that you’re different now. He said that the man we remember from potions class was nothing more than a facade. Ron still finds it hard to believe, but I can see what Harry’s talking about. He does have a tendency to ignore anything negative about the people he ardently admires, but I think you deserve the faith he has in you.”   

Snape swallowed thickly, “Admires?”

Hermione nodded, “Well, I remember trying to persuade him that Sirius saw him more as James than himself. From what I can gather, Harry and his father weren’t remotely similar in personality with the exception of the trouble they were always able to get into.” She smiled fondly and continued, “I mean, Sirius used to encourage Harry to be devious. He was also quite hypocritical considering he regularly acted against his so-called ‘beliefs;’ the way he treated Kreacher.” She shook her head and frowned, “Harry would have none of it. He would get so angry with me.”

Severus interrupted, “I can assure you that he understands your position now; even if he couldn’t see it then.”

Hermione’s eyebrows rose to an alarming place on her forehead, “He never talks about Sirius to Ron and me, though I thought it was because he missed him so much.”

She peered at her old potions professor for several moments then shrugged, “It was the same with Dumbledore. When all those stories came out about his dark past, Harry refused to believe it. Even though it got him into trouble sometimes, the level of loyalty he has for those he cares for makes him who he is. And after all that we’ve been through, I think he truly understands that people can change dramatically from who they once were given the circumstances.”

“As long as they have the ability to love,” Snape murmured to himself.  

“Pardon me, Professor?”

“What?” Snape hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud, “Oh, I was just saying that Grodric Gryffindor would be proud.”

Hermione giggled, “Harry would pay ten Galleons to hear you say that without sarcasm.” As soon as the words left her lips, her eyes widened and her face became redder by several shades, “I’m sorry, Professor, that was going too far.”

Severus thought quite the opposite, and couldn’t help but to give a small chuckle, “Not at all, you speak the truth.”

Hermione beamed, her face still red, “I guess I spent so long cooped up in a tent with Ron and Harry, I’ve forgotten what intelligent conversation felt like.”

Severus snorted, grinning, “I can’t even begin to imagine.”

“Believe me, you DON’T want to,” she wiped a tear from her eye and sighed, “They’re intelligent, just selectively so.” That brought about another fit of giggles from her. “Oh, I’m sorry, Professor, it’s just been a while since I’ve laughed like that.” She looked down at the files in front of her.

Severus wanted to ask her what else Harry had said about him, but instead enquired: “How far are you?”

“Well, I’ve gone over everything three times, so I’m nearly finished,” a yawn interrupted what she was about to say, “What about you?”

Severus, impressed by her efficient nature, took a moment to reply, “I know of several potions that can have similar effects as the curse, but the Black’s collection of potions texts is terribly lacking. I’ll have to examine my own anthology to find anything worth noting.   As for actual dark spells, the closest I’ve found is “Nox Noctis Formidonis,” which causes the victim to experience a vivid or realistic night terror. The problem is, there’s a fairly complicated set of wand movements which must be repeated, or else the victim will wake before the curse is completed. The castor must maintain a close distance to the victim for the entire duration of the curse lest the spell be broken. After waking, the victim will experience hallucinations of his nightmare, but these appear to weaken over time. No other spell I’ve viewed so far is remotely similar, so perhaps I’m correct in suspecting Yaxley to have created the curse himself.”

“Maybe,” Hermione replied, “He certainly seems cunning enough to do something like that, but I still think we’re missing something, one important detail.”

At that moment, the door opened, but no one entered the room.

Severus immediately whipped out his wand, but Hermione was getting up from her seat and then kneeling on the ground, “McGonagall told me you’d be arriving here today, Kreacher, it’s lovely to see you.”

Severus stood, walking around the table to see a peculiar sight. The girl was attempting to hug the elf, who in return, was looking simultaneously delighted and disgusted by the gesture, his arms twitching at his sides. When she let go, he mumbled something, then bowed to her, before looking up at Severus. The elf brushed past Hermione, dressed now in traditional Hogwarts House-Elf attire. He looked up at Severus with huge, bloodshot eyes, then bowed once more, “Kreacher is glad to see that Mr. Snape is alive and well. Kreacher wonders were Master Harry is? Kreacher has not seen Master for nearly fourteen days.”

Severus glanced at Hermione, who looked back at him with sad eyes.

Chapter Text

The smell of beef stew traveled through the kitchen, waking Severus from his stupor as his stomach growled. He'd been sitting in this damned room for seven bloody hours, and hardly anything had come of it! He looked down at the neat summary Hermione had written; it was a timeline of every important detail they knew or could estimate surrounding Harry's attack, meant to illustrate the unfolding of events and highlight any discrepancies:

September 26 th :

-Pye is kidnapped by Death Eaters Yaxley and Rowle, as identified by Auror witness and confirmed by H. Potter after the attack

-H. Potter receives letter from Pye wishing they meet in three days time to discuss health of their "mutual friend," (which is S. Snape in disguise as Ambrosius Ashdown)

-Unidentified ministry worker (UMW) being held with Pye appears to be sleeping

-Several hours later, UMW begins to speak in his sleep- we can then assume that he has been cursed for approximately 24 hours

September 29 th :

-UMW is now violent in his sleep, inflicting great self-harm and screaming in pain

-Pye sends message to his wife, hoping she will find it before he or H. Potter are killed. But why did he wait to send it until now? What was holding him back? And how did he send it without a wand?

-Yaxley and Rowle ambush H. Potter and use dark Paralyzing curse: "Adficio Totalis" and multiple Cruciatus Curses

-Aurors begin apparating on the scene after tip-off by anonymous caller, causing Yaxley and Rowle to flee, and Yaxley sends one last curse at H. Potter. Who is the anonymous caller, and how did they know?

-The first Auror on scene was the only one able to identify the attackers as Yaxley and Rowle

-H. Potter is taken to St. Mungo's spell damage emergency ward, and treated specifically for Adficio Totalis and the Cruiciatus Curse

-Pye's body is found in an abandoned building in London's industrial district, only a few blocks from the crime scene. No other body is found- What happened to the UMW?

September 30 th :

-H. Potter appears to be recovering predictably, but is given sleeping potion when he fails to get proper rest

-sleeping potion effects wear off after six hours, yet H. Potter remains asleep past this time. Notions of a stronger sedative or dark potion being slipped into his system have been disproved by the head mediwizard and head Auror on Harry's case

-Auror paperwork reveals that Auror witness saw Potter being hit with one last curse that was previously assumed to be the Cruciatus curse, and was therefore overlooked

-twelve hours have passed since took sleeping potion yet he remains asleep

-Mrs. Pye comes forward with letter from her husband

-Up until this point, the investigation into Pye's murder was completely separate from the investigation on H. Potter's attack. It was not known that Pye had any connection to H. Potter's attack until it was revealed in his final letter. As made clear in said letter, he kept his association with H. Potter private- but then how DID Yaxley and Rowle find out?

October 1 st :

-Thirteen hours in, H. Potter is tested for potential causes of persistent sleep, and traces of a dark magic are found on his person- traces that had not been detected during his recovery from the attack

-S. Snape hears H. Potter speak in his sleep- another connection between the two investigations has potentially been revealed- could H. Potter and UMW be inflicted with the same dark spell?

-Dark magic afflicting H. Potter is revealed to be building in strength, further heightening the likelihood of this mysterious curse being the culprit.

Severus pressed his fingers into his eyelids, wishing for another clue, wishing for anything so they could pursue another lead. If Harry was truly cursed in the same manner as the unidentified Ministry worker, they had to locate Yaxley as quickly as possible. And what if the sordid man had no counter-curse? What then?

The girl interrupted his musings, "Professor? There is one thing you've written down that I can't figure out."

He squinted at her, "And what would that be?"

She got up from where she had been sitting and placed a piece of parchment in front of him, pointing to a single world scribbled in the bottom left-hand corner, "do you remember what you wrote here'?"

Severus tried to decipher his scrawl, turning the page on a slant so it matched the angle of his writing. It could have been a bit of extra ink on the quill that he had simply scribbled off into the corner of the parchment, yet it looked too peculiar, as though he had been particularly angry when writing it...

"Umbridge," the name left his mouth.

"As in Dolores Umbridge, that awful cow of a woman?"

Before Severus could answer, a popping noise sounded by the fireplace, and he unceremoniously shoved the girl behind the china cabinet to block her from view.

Kingsley's face appeared among the flames, and he looked distinctly worse for wear.

Severus felt his muscles tense in anticipation, "What news do you bring, Minister?"

Kingsley's expression was slightly contorted when he replied, "We found Yaxley, Severus."

"But that's excellent news! We can bring him in for questioning immediately. I have a fresh store of highly potent Veritaserum that we can use - " Severus stopped when he saw the Minister shaking his head.

Kingsley's deep voice echoed through the kitchen, "Yaxley's dead."

Chapter Text

Kingsley's deep voice echoed through the kitchen, "Yaxley's dead."

Severus' mind went blank, and the next few seconds seemed to stretch indefinitely into the future. Something clicked in his mind, and suddenly there was too much information coming in at once, and his ears began to ring. There must be a mistake...

Kingsley continued, "That's not all, Severus. He was in bad shape when we found him: several broken bones, a black eye, missing fingernails and a lot of blood. As you can assume, we have not recovered his wand, and therefore we have no trace of the magic he's used in the last few days. If we can even find it, most likely it will be too late to recover that information." Kingsley shook his head again, and his face contorted further, "And it gets worse, Severus. There was another body with him, no wand as well, which means no identification. He could be one of the many reported missing wizard's, but his face is beyond recognition. It looks like self-mutilation, as though he scraped his own face off."

Severus collapsed onto a stool, feeling extremely light-headed. His voice was hoarse, "Was it the...does it look like...?" He looked up at the Minister's grim face in the fire.

"It does. Considering the condition of the man's body, it appears as though he was also a victim of this mysterious curse, though it looks far more advanced than anything we could have predicted. As for Yaxley, the wounds on his body were inflicted by another, and NOT by magic, though his life was ultimately ended using the killing curse which is how we were able to locate him. It looks like he's been kept critically injured for well over a week, and none of his wounds were treated magically."

Severus growled, "None of this makes any sort of sense! If Yaxley's been kept immobile with no wand, then who have we been following! Rowle is nothing more than a thug; he could have easily been capable of inflicting those wounds on Yaxley, but he could no more plan this than I could be Minister for Magic! Who's running this game!"

Kingsley looked as unsettled as Severus felt, "The unidentified victim appears to have been a pawn, nothing more than a subject to experiment on. I believe the only thing that kept Yaxley alive for this long was his DNA. We have no explicit proof, but there's every indication that his identity has been stolen."

"But why steal the identity of a Death Eater on the run? It's ludicrous!"

"There is one reason I can think of, but it means the situation has become exponentially more serious." Kingsley's face tensed considerably before he continued, "It could be an inside job."

Severus' hands tensed, "But how? I thought security measures were at their peak now that you've taken control?"

"I'm referring prior to my occupation, Severus. When Voldemort took over the Ministry, no one could be trusted. Wand registration was overruled, and anyone new to the Ministry could perform any number of dark curses without repercussion. This could be applied to almost any Death Eater who joined the Ministry during that period." His voice grew lower, almost conspiratorially, as he continued, "What I'm about to tell you next, only a small number of wizards know, and it has been essential to catching many high-profile suspects on the run. It is highly classified information, Severus, and you must treat it as such."

Severus nodded quickly, and leaned in closer to the fire, feeling the heat radiate against his skin.

"Anyone who passes through or works in the Ministry must have their wand tested for illegal activity and positive identification, with the exception of highly dangerous wizards who are immediately taken to trial. This, of course, is widely known and accepted. What they don't know, however, is that any wand that passes through that system will become permanently traced. If any participant of that system performs illegal magic without permission, that person will immediately be tracked by the Auror Department. Once you are in the system, you will never leave it. This includes all wizards who have passed through or worked in the Ministry in the last 96 years, up until Voldemort took control and banished the system without understanding its true power. We still maintain those records today."

Severus took a moment to think before replying, "And I take it that means anyone who had knowledge or suspected the truth behind the system would not be able to perform illegal magic without being traced? Unless -"

"– Unless they took on the identity or wand of someone who was not in the system," Kingsley finished his train of thought.

"And Yaxley?" Severus asked.

"Yaxley was never in the system before Voldemort's reign. He managed to circumvent a sentence to Azkaban after the first wizarding war due to his connections. Two years ago, Mr. Potter cursed him in the Astronomy tower as he attempted to flee after Dumbledore's death. When Yaxley was found, immobilized in that tower, he was arrested and sent immediately to Azkaban without trial, under the order of Cornelius Fudge. Rowle, on the other hand, was too young to have actively participated in the first wizarding war. According to our records, he was registered in the system after suspected illegal activity several years ago, and has been under surveillance ever since."

Severus' head reeled with this influx of new information. "Which explains Rowle's use of physical force instead of magical. But that must also means that whoever is behind these acts, MUST be aware or suspect they're being traced. What prevents them from spreading this information?"

"Much like the spell Voldemort cast on the use of his name, a taboo spell was placed on the system during its inception. Anyone who discussed it without high-level clearance would be subject to an inquiry and most likely sentenced with Obliviation."

Severus thought of Hermione, hiding just out of sight of Kingsley's view, and felt queasy. "Do you have a list of names of witches and wizards who had legal access to this knowledge?"

"Yes. It consists of every Minister for Magic since its inception in 1900, along with the Head Aurors and Senior Undersecretaries of the time."

Severus heard a small gasp from where Hermione was hiding, and cleared his throat to hide the noise.

Kingsley continued, "There are also about nine names on there who have a seemingly random position within the Ministry, but were cleared by the Minister's themselves- this includes your name, as of one hour ago when I knew I must speak to you about it."

Severus stood up. "I need that list, immediately."

Kingsley was quick to reply, "I've already sent you a high-security copy. It should be there within minutes. Now, unless you have anything you wish to tell me, Severus, I have pressing matters that need tending to."

Severus thought again of Hermione, but quickly pushed it from his mind as he was so trained to do, "That is all, Minister."

He watched Kingsley's head disappear from the flames before he spoke to Hermione, "He's gone. You may come out now Miss. Granger."

But Hermione was striding into the Kitchen, ripping open a letter and unfolding it on the table. She gasped, "It's blank!" She looked up at him anxiously, but he was already snatching the letter from her grasp.

"It's likely that Kingsley has made it so that only I can see the list." And sure enough, words began to appear on the parchment. He quickly scanned through it, searching for a name, and there it was. Written in Fudge's wiry scrawl, was the title:

1994, Dolores Umbridge- Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge

Chapter Text

Severus was in his dungeons, brewing potions to calm his panic and restlessness. He felt utterly exhausted and on edge; his right eyelid had begun to twitch incessantly hours earlier, and his notorious steady-handedness (that was so often associated with his callous demeanour by students) was nowhere to be seen.

A manhunt was underway, and Dolores Umbridge was the target. Severus had, with the aid of Miss Granger, concluded that the person responsible for Harry's attack and subsequent mysterious illness was not, in fact, infamous Death Eater on the run, Yaxley. Through a series of highly calculated events, Umbridge had managed to steal the Death Eater's identity for the sole purpose of killing Harry Potter once and for all. Random post-war disappearances of ministry workers were, in all likelihood, the doing of Umbridge, who used the victims as subjects on which to test a terrible curse of her own making.

As much as Severus wanted to hunt down the woman himself (and flay her to within an inch of her life), his long lost sense of reason finally made its long-awaited appearance, and he shut himself in his dungeons while Kingsley dispatched a search team.

Ronald and Hermione were at St. Mungo's, watching over their ailing friend. Before Severus had left Grimmauld Place, Hermione had urged him to join them, but he insisted it was best that only Harry's closest friends remain at his side. Despite his recent amicability with the girl, he couldn't help but feel like he was an intruder. And even more than that, he didn't know if he could tolerate seeing Harry in such a state. At least with his potions, he could grasp the illusion of doing something important.

Yet as the seconds turned to minutes and the minutes turned to hours, Severus felt the quiet coldness of the dungeons settle into his bones, and he could no longer calm the wild racing of his heart. He reached for his last vial of powdered unicorn horn, aiming to put a quarter ounce in his calming drought, but before he even reached the shelf, the vial exploded. Sharp bits of glass ricocheted off of every surface, breaking more jars and beakers he had stored so carefully on his shelves. Shocked, Severus felt his body freeze, and he failed to conjure a protective barrier around himself before slivers of glass attacked his face and hands, while miscellaneous powders and ingredients rained into the potions he had been working on for the last twelve hours.

As the pain began to register in his body, Severus had enough lucidity to glance over to the cabinet that held unstable ingredients, but saw to his horror, that the contego charm he had placed on it seemed to have vanished.

He snatched his wand from his cloak, but it was already too late. The vials inside the cabinet shattered, exposing the unstable ingredients within to the powders that filled the air. This time, Severus did manage to cast a protective barrier, but he aimed it for the cabinet, hoping to contain the mayhem. A split second later, a tremendous explosion roared behind the barrier, and shattered any remaining glass within in the room.

Severus' hearing wavered in and out, but adrenaline was coursing through his veins and he summoned the strength to vanish the debacle he had caused, before slumping against a wall, drained.

Only once before had he lost control of his magic. And now that Severus had so much control over his thoughts from mastering Occlumency, this sort of thing was unprecedented. It was his damned emotions! They were now in a state of constant flux, and he had allowed them to make even his magic unstable! The inability to control emotions was the very thing that had caused Harry to fail at Occlumency, but Severus was a master! He had always been able to allow himself the illusion of control and stability, but even that was failing him.

Severus looked at his hands, where shards of glass stuck out from odd angles and blood dripped down his wrists into his cloak, and he knew his face must look even worse. He gritted his teeth, and waved his wand over his left hand, feeling sharp spikes of pain as each little bit of glass was pulled from his skin and vanished as it reached the tip of his wand. He did the same for his right hand, then his face. He felt a sliver that had gone through his lower lip and into his gums slowly being pried out as he tasted warm blood and relished the pain, as though it was some sort of crude punishment for his idiotic display. With each lpiece of glass that burned like fire as it was dislodged from his skin, he thought of how imbecilic he had been these last few months, and how he had allowed his emotions to overrun his sense of reason.

He pushed against the wall, slowly rising to his feet despite the protest his body felt, and left his dungeons. He passed a wheezing, muttering Filch, who took no notice of Snape's dishevelled state as he ambled quickly by. Snape caught the words "I'll catch you Peeves, mark my words, and when I do..." He didn't have the heart to tell the old codger that it was he who had caused the ruckus instead of the infamous Hogwarts poltergeist.

Severus took a shortcut through the portrait of Wilhelmina the Weeping Widow to the ground floor, then marched up the steps of the since re-structured marble staircase towards the hospital wing. He poked his head into the ward, seeing many of the beds still occupied by those who had nowhere else to go. Unable to spot Poppy in her usual routine, Severus rapped his sore knuckles on her office door, letting himself in after waiting several moments. He was disappointed to see that her office was dark inside; it was highly unusual for her to be anywhere but the hospital wing during a time of need. The torches flickered to life as he went to her cabinet of emergency stores to see if there was anything left of his last batch of Essence of Dittany. Seeing there was more than enough in store, he rubbed a few drops into his hands, then over his face, feeling the wound in his lip sizzle slightly before closing up. He left her office, peering once more into the infirmary for a sign of Poppy to no avail.

Severus felt oddly put out, and he found himself moving towards a familiar destination but not sure as to why. He reached the gargoyle in the third floor corridor, which leapt aside without question as though it had been waiting for him. He took the moving staircase and entered the Headmaster's office, which was filled with the sounds of the sleeping portraits. He made his way over to his desk and saw that he had been halfway through filling out request forms the last he was here. He closed his eyes and remembered Alecto Carrow rushing into his office, shrieking that Harry Potter was sighted in Hogsmead and would likely find his way to the castle if he wasn't captured. Severus could feel his heart leap, just as it had that terrible evening; thankful that the boy was alive but concerned by his precarious course of action. Severus had ordered that Potter be brought to him if found and all students should be summoned to the Great Hall immediately after class, dismissing Alecto hurriedly in order to consult with Dumbledore's portrait.

"It is time, Severus. You already know what must be done."

The same voice interrupted his musing: "I must say, my boy, you look distinctly worse for wear."

Severus, his eyes still closed, answered, "You were never good at feigning sleep, Headmaster. You really must put in more effort next time."

He heard a small chuckle and the chink of china. Severus opened his eyes, looking at Dumbledore in his portrait, who was fishing a lemon drop out of a small dish.

Severus slumped into the chair behind his desk, facing away from the other man. "I had an...accident earlier in my potions lab."

"Mmm, I was referring to your complexion Severus, you look as though you've not slept a decent night in months."

Severus grunted in response.

"But an accident, you say? That is very unlike you, Severus."

He grunted again.

"I suppose it has been quite a stressful time."

Severus fiddled with his quill between his fingers, "I'm getting older. My reflexes aren't what they used to be, and my mind is beginning to succumb to the inevitable decay."

Dumbledore responded dryly, "I was unaware that thirty-nine was the new seventy."

Severus wanted to scream at the other man, but he knew he was just delaying the inevitable. He knew why he was really here.

As though reading his mind, Dumbledore spoke again, "Harry isn't doing well, Severus."

But even that made his mind surge with rage at the other man, the man who raised Harry like a pig for slaughter, the man who left him, Severus, to face certain death, who left him and the boy such seemingly impossible tasks that no human should ever have to-

"Don't think me a fool, Severus!"

Several portraits that apparently had been sleeping all this time woke with a start, one of whom spilt a generous portion of brandy on himself that he had been cradling precariously in the crook of his arm.

Severus glared at Dumbledore, "Even in death you manage to taunt me, headmaster," he spat out the last word.

Many minutes passed; Phineas Black sighed dramatically and walked out of his portrait to his other haunt at Grimmauld Place, evidently tired with the display before him.

Severus finally looked back at Dumbledore, only to see the bastard resting with his eyes closed! He began to splutter indignantly when the old wizard spoke again, quietly this time, "I had hoped, given your circumstances, that you had attained some level of peace with yourself, but I see my faith was misguided. You are every bit the fool you once were."

Severus seethed, "Peace? PEACE! You think the life I now lead can give me peace? That by surviving the war, I somehow managed to attain inner nirvana? Peace, Dumbledore, would have been blessedly given if only that awful creature had finished her job properly. The end of the war should have seen the end of my existence as well."

"And where would that leave Harry?"

"What does it matter! He vanquished the Dark Lord, he did everything you asked of him and more! What can I possibly do to better his existence?"

Dumbledore closed his eyes again, "He needs you, Severus."

"What bollocks are you prattling on about now! I've bent over backwards to ensure that boy's safety at your request for a good part of my life- are you telling me it's STILL not enough? That I need to coddle him for the next decade as well!"

"You forget, Severus, that many of the things you did to protect him were not of my asking. You needn't have watched over him playing Quidditch of all things, a sport you so detest, but you even went as far as to referee a match to ensure his well-being! And, if I remember correctly, and given the excellent quality of my memory, I doubt I am mistaken, it was you who suggested he be sent back to London during his second year when the attacks began! Only a year later, you offered to watch Harry during his attempts to sneak to Hogsmead. You spent many nights lurking the corridors, and much of your spare time during Hogsmead visits hoping to catch him before he could put himself in danger. And why did you really chase after him and his friends that night in the Shrieking Shack without even alerting me? Was it truly driven by your sense of revenge for your childhood bullies? Or was it simply because you refused to hesitate in ensuring his safety? Not to mention after the poor boy witnessed Voldemort's resurrection and returned with Cedric's body, it was YOU who alerted me to the fact that he was missing from the scene before I realized Moody's apparent deception. I could go on, Severus."

The rage that had been coiling tightly in Severus' gut suddenly dissolved. He tried to speak, finding it difficult, "I can't, Albus. I can't go through this again. I'm not...not strong enough."

Dumbledore responded immediately, his voice soft "You don't have to, my child. It appears a dire situation, but Harry has the ability to recover. You must believe that he will need you in order to do so."

"I do not understand what you're asking of me; how can I cure this awful curse from his body?"

"You cannot cure him of this curse, Severus, but you can heal him and help to bring him peace." The old wizard stood from his armchair and began pacing the length of his portrait, "Everard is waiting at the Ministry for news concerning Umbridge, and Dilys is in her portrait at St. Mungo's doing the same for Harry. Either will return immediately upon hearing any updates."

"And you've spoken with Kingsley?" asked Snape.

"Many times, naturally," was the response.

On cue, Severus heard heavy panting as Everard hobbled into his frame and leaned heavily on the frame, fanning himself with his burgundy hat. He glanced at Severus, and nodded approvingly, "Good, you're here," he huffed before turning to Dumbledore, "An Auror squad brought the woman in a quarter of an hour ago. The Minister told me to tell young Severus here that he may join him for the interrogation that will happen shortly in room 901 in the Department of Mysteries." Everard turned to Severus, now mopping his sweating face with the same hat, "The Minister created new floo connections several months ago into each the departments- this office has access to them and Shacklebolt has advised you to use it." He collapsed into his chair, "Merlin's beard I'm getting too fat for this."

Severus strode immediately into the fireplace across from the desk, grabbing a handful of the green powder. He looked back to Dumbledore's portrait, who nodded slowly at him, and spoke, "Your heart is stronger than you might believe, Severus. Good Luck."

Severus nodded back, before green flames were enveloping him and he was shouting "Department of Mysteries, Ministry of Magic, London!"

Chapter Text

Severus' cloaked form whipped from the green fire, sending a spray of ash down the black marbled hallway. He saw a man dressed in Auror robes standing sentry outside a door, and pushed past without speaking a word. He took in the space with one swift, assessing glance as the only other man in the room looked up from where he was bent over the table, his hands splayed on either side of various lengths of parchment. The minister nodded solemnly at Severus then inclined his head over to the viewing glass before returning to his assessment.

Severus walked slowly towards the enchanted glass, the rage he felt now a coiling mass in his stomach once more. He looked into the other room, which was dark except for a single source of light that was streaming through a small enchanted window, high on the opposite wall. His eyes followed the light down into a stone pit where a small form was sitting chained to a chair.

His eyes took in the frayed, filthy material of her suit, how the obnoxious nauseating pink it had once been was now a dull brown. Her greying hair was matted with blood near her face, which was currently in shadow.

"Has Veritaserum been administered?" Snape asked, unable to utter her name.

"A moment before you arrived, Yes," Kingsley's deep voice replied.

A knock sounded on the door, before the sentry poked his head into the room saying, "The questioning is ready to begin, Minister."

"Thank you Waterbury. Severus, you will remain in this room until I indicate otherwise." Kingsley strode towards the door and Severus had half a mind to object, but he knew that Kingsley had gone to great lengths for him already.

He watched the other man through the glass, as he walked slowly down the steps and sat himself at a small desk on a platform several meters from the woman. Kingsley pointed his wand at Umbridge, "Enervate."Severus looked up at the old fashioned speaker on the wall that magically magnified Kingsley's voice into the adjoining room.

Her lolling head rose, and Severus felt his gut twist when he saw the malice on her face. She spoke first, cutting through Kingsley's next question, "I thought it would be a cold day in hell before someone like you was elected Minister."

Kingsley brushed aside her slight, "You are Dolores Umbridge, are you not?"

She grinned, "Yes."

"Have you assumed the identity of the now deceased Death Eater Yaxley during the last month?"

Her grin widened, "Yes."

"Why?"

"For many reasons."

"Enlighten me."

She settled back into the chair, as though making herself comfortable, "My wand is being tracked by the Ministry, and Yaxley revealed to me many months ago that his was not. I took his wand to perform untraceable illegal magic. I assumed his identity, while he was left incapacitated, in case I was spotted during my... 'outings.'" Her smirk was impossibly wide and her eyes were now slits, "Your ministry allows the employment of alleged witches and wizards who are muggle born. As I no longer have the power within the Ministry to remove such individuals, I took a more, shall I say, practical approach of eliminating them. But ultimately, my goal is to kill Harry Potter."

Severus had already concluded that murder had been her goal, but to hear her say it so casually made his blood boil.

Kingsley's voice sounded again through the old speaker, "How many witches and wizards have you killed?"

"I haven't killed any witches or wizards."

Kingsley took a moment before replying, "You are grievously mistaken. You have murdered true witches and wizards under the deluded belief that they have no magical powers due to their muggle heritage, or that they have somehow stolen-"

"-Hem-hem."

Severus grimaced, but Kingsley appeared unaffected.

Umbridge clarified, "These undesirables have no right to live in our society! They-"

"SILENCE." Kingsley's voice echoed through the room and Severus had to grit his teeth against the high pitched ringing that sounded briefly through the speaker.

When the Minister continued, he still appeared calm and collected, while the woman looked to be in disbelief. "I will not allow you to speak of my colleagues in that way. You WILL refer to them, from now on, as people. How many people have you murdered, woman?"

"I can't say I've kept count, but I would estimate in the low forties, though many of them I killed indirectly."

"Does this estimate include the people you murdered while still working at the Ministry?"

"Yes."

"How many people have you murdered after the war, during your time in hiding?"

"Not as many as I would have liked. Perhaps five, potentially six."

"Does this included Augustus Pye and Death Eater Yaxley?"

"Yes, though it's really a shame I had to kill Yaxley, we got along well for a time."

"Why did you kill him?"

"I had reason to believe that he no longer shared my interest for killing, and preferred to run like a coward. I had to keep him alive while I assumed his identity, but he had served his purpose and was acting more as a hindrance than anything else. Besides, I had other means of fulfilling my task."

"Why did you kill Augustus Pye?"

"I needed him to get to Harry Potter. After I was sure I could get to him, I disposed of Pye so I could concentrate on the task at hand."

"What has been your method of killing?"

"The Killing Curse as well as a rather ingenious curse of my own making."

Kingsley made a note on the parchment in front of him, "Describe this curse and how you developed it."

The malicious grin returned to her face once again, "Once Pius Thicknesse became minister, he not only gave me permission, but encouraged me to practice this curse I had been in the process of creating, on those who were being...uncooperative. At first, the purpose of the curse was to weaken the minds of such individuals while causing them considerable pain. Yet after witnessing the substantial effect the dementors had on our captives, I was inspired to create a stronger, more unique curse. The mind can only take so much, and a rather surprising but not unwanted side effect of the curse was death. I took this opportunity to evolve the curse into something more deadly, and I had nearly perfected the curse when the Ministry was overthrown and you lot took over." She spat on the floor, but Kingsley took no notice, merely examining the parchment in front of him and filling in another note

"I will fill in a blank here and say that you were behind several of the disappearances of Ministry workers these last few months and you have used them as subjects for your curse?"

"Yes."

"Describe the effects the curse has on its victims."

Umbridge began to laugh, her eyes blazing and her smile, unhinged, "That's the brilliance of my creation! The effects are unique on each subject, but each outcome is as deadly as the last!"

Kingsley looked slightly to the side, raising his hand and using his index finger to call someone forward. Auror Waterbury jogged down the steps to the Minister's side, leaning down so Kingsley could whisper something in his ear. The auror nodded and ran back up the steps and out of the room. A moment later, the door to the viewing room opened and Waterbury poked his head in once again, "The Minister is ready for you."

Severus gave a curt nod and swallowed, feeling his throat constrict. The tension in his body was paramount and he could feel a mass of energy coiling around inside of him. Waterbury held the door open for him and he entered the cavernous hall, walking slowly down the steps, his eyes never leaving his target, the woman he would destroy.

When he reached Kingsley's level, the woman's eyes finally snapped to his and she gave an incredulous bark of laughter, "SNAPE? You're trying to scare me with Snape? Bringing in a death eater, a known murderer to try and wisen me up, eh? The Ministry must be desperate." Her cackling echoed off the stone walls and bore into Severus' skull. He flicked his wand and the look of glee on her face quickly dissolved into one of horror and she tried to use her hands to reach her mouth, only to be reminded of the chains and cuffs that bound her to the chair.

"Might you hold your tongue, woman? He relished the look on her face before flicking his wand again and releasing the Langlock curse he had momentarily inflicted on her. "Just a little taste of a spell of my own invention, I might add." She gave him a look of utmost disdain and he matched it with an even more loathsome glare of his own.

Severus stood next to the Minister, his hands clasped in front of him, wand at the ready. Kingsley spoke again, "Please finish answering the last question."

Umbridge kept her eyes trained on Severus as she answered, some of the former malicious glee sparking in her eyes, "Much like the effect a dementor has on an individual, this curse inflicts psychological warfare on the victim and they become trapped in their own mind, living through a seemingly endless hell of their own creation. Every fear, hate, worry and terrible memory they have, magnifies and infests their psyche. The curse can easily be administered at any time, but only takes effect once the victim falls asleep, only to never wake up. Each subject would begin to show signs of the curse through vocalizations, followed by physical movements often paired with screaming. This never stopped, no matter how shredded their vocal chords or how bruised and battered their body was."

She licked her lips and couldn't seem to stop a smirk from forming on her face. "Eventually, anywhere between twenty to forty hours after falling asleep, the curse would begin to manifest physically, even further. Some would enter cardiac arrest, others would scratch the skin off of their bodies, and some would even smash their heads against the floor for hours and break their skulls. Oh yes, It was quite interesting to see the many ways in which the body would try to destroy itself.

Yet, while some would last longer than others, the end result was clear and my goal was ultimately accomplished." Her face took on an ever greater deranged quality, "You see, the Imperious curse can give you complete control of the victim, and even though you might have them kill themselves, they only experience a complete and wonderful release from any sense of responsibility or worry over their actions. This hardly seems to qualify as an Unforgiveable Curse in any sense of the word."

She made a tutting noise and continued, "The Cruciatus Curse is a favourite of mine, but it comes with one flaw: it requires a great deal of energy from the castor. To render someone insane from this form of physical torture is very possible, but in my experience, it took far too much of my time and energy to accomplish this. And lastly, there is the Killing Curse. It is extremely practical; aim, shoot, and your task is complete. But again, the death is instant, where is the fun in that? No, no, no, this would not do, I thought to myself many months ago. Why not create a fourth Unforgiveable Curse, then? One that could be feared above all the rest."

Severus had balled his fists, and he was fairly certain that he was quivering with the sheer level of rage he felt toward the woman. Kingsley's voice seemed distant when he spoke next, "And this is the curse you have used on Harry Potter?"

At the sound of that name, Severus sucked in a sharp breath and his vision swam ever so slightly.

The woman looked triumphantly ecstatic as she answered with a simple, "Yes."

Kingsley sighed, gathering the parchment in front of him and standing up, turning to Severus, "You have five minutes with her once I leave the room. When I return, she must be in a similar state as when I left. Are we clear, Severus?"

"Yes, Minister."

Severus watched the man walk slowly up the stone steps and close the door. He tucked his wand into his cloak, walked down the rest of the steps and stood directly in front of the woman, fixing her with his most deathly, penetrating gaze, "What is the counter-curse?"

Her triumphant expression had not faltered once since she had last spoken, "I'm afraid you must be more specific. The counter-curse to what?"

A loud smack echoed across the hall, and Severus' hand recoiled from where he had back-handed Umbridge, a large red mark staining her cheek.

"How dare you lay your hands on me, you traitor!" She screamed at him

He leaned in close, "Believe me, if I had my way, I would bestow upon you a death so agonizing, it would put your curse to shame. Now tell me, what is the counter-curse!"

Her fury from a moment earlier was now a thin veil, and her earlier expression returned in full force, "There is none."

This time, the rage propelled his back-hand to such an extent, the sheer force of it toppled the chair over, woman and all, and her head smacked loudly against the stone. She screamed as he bent down and grabbed her by her hair, "WHAT IS THE COUNTER-CURSE!"

The force of the slap had left a large gash on the inside of her cheek, and she spat blood into his face.

Severus' body was thrumming with energy as he bodily yanked her back into a sitting position, feeling clumps of hair separate from her skull, as he did so. "There is only one curse in existence that has no counter, and that is the killing curse, you fool."

Umbridge began to laugh in earnest, "I am not the fool here, Snape. There is no counter for this curse, and I'm sure you've found that there is no cure. Nothing can wake the victim once they are asleep, you're too late!"

Severus snarled at her, but inside, he felt his heart plummet. She had to be speaking the truth. It was hopeless. After all the boy had been through, after all that he had survived, Harry Potter would be killed by this woman? Severus could not accept that. The laws of magic were absolute, and the Killing Curse was the only exception. There had to be another way...

He heard the door open and he stared numbly at the wall, breathing heavily as Kingsley came down the steps. He felt a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off and headed for the door.

Umbridge yelled at him as he trudged up the steps, "You're too late, Snape! You and the rest of the world can do nothing more but to stand by, helpless, as the boy who lived dies a slow and exceedingly painful death."

He closed the door heavily behind him.

Chapter Text

Severus thought briefly about going back to Hogwarts, as he strode towards the fireplace, but then he remembered what Dumbledore had already said to him: "You cannot cure him of this curse, Severus, but you can heal him and help to bring him peace. You must believe that he will need you in order to do so."

He stopped walking abruptly, his thoughts racing. Severus had been stuck on the notion of a counter-curse, but what if that had been the wrong approach? He himself had seen that the Laws of Magic could adapt – wasn't Harry a perfect example? He had twice survived the Killing Curse. And besides, even if he was to find a counter-curse, would it be in time to save Harry?

No, he would discuss this with the person who could offer him the best possible insights. He stood in front of the fireplace and cast several complicated transfiguration charms on himself. He had discussed his options of concealment when going out into the wizarding public with Kingsley, back when Harry had first been administered to St. Mungo's. They had concluded it would be best to resume the identity of Ambrosius Ashdown for the time being, should the need arise.

Severus glanced down at his black button-down cloak and changed the shade to a deep reddish-purple before heading towards the lifts. He found it odd when no one joined him in the lift all the way up to the Atrium, but when he reached the ground floor, he saw that it was half past ten at night, and the majority of workers had gone home for the day. Once out of the Ministry, he apparated to the visitor's entrance at St. Mungo's, this time following protocol before walking through the glass and into the reception area. As casually as he could, he walked over to the lifts, narrowly avoiding a man who seemed to have lost control of his limbs and was flailing and dancing about the area while his wife talked calmly to the welcome witch. When he arrived at the fourth floor, Severus' heart had begun to hammer in his chest.

The last time he had seen Harry, the boy had barely shown any signs of being cursed- but what state would he be in now? He entered the private ward and saw two figures sitting in chairs outside of Harry's door. He approached them; Hermione was leaning against Weasley's shoulder, the latter of whom had his head against the back wall, his mouth open and snoring slightly.

Severus shifted on his feet awkwardly before tapping the girl lightly on the shoulder. She woke with a slight jolt, while Weasley remained asleep, and looked up at him, confusion in her eyes, "I'm sorry, can I help you with something?"

He remembered how he must look, and waved his wand in front of himself, "Finite Incantatem."

Hermione's eyes widened, "Professor! I thought you looked familiar!" She nudged Weasley in the chest and he woke with a loud snore, staring around at her blearily and wiping his mouth sheepishly on the back of his hand. The fondness in his eyes was immediately replaced with horror when he saw who was standing in front of them, "Bloody hell!"

Severus turned back to Hermione, disregarding Weasley's dismay, "I don't know if Minister Shacklebolt was able to inform you yet- Umbridge has been apprehended and he's in the process of interrogating her as we speak. I was just at the Ministry myself... I was able to question her briefly."

Hermione stood up, her hand reaching out to rest on his arm, "Something's not right, is it?" Severus hadn't realized it until she had reached out to steady him, but he was swaying slightly and his stomach was churning. He wiped a shaking hand over his clammy forehead and could feel bile rising in his throat.

Hermione guided him into her previously occupied chair next to Ron, who immediately got up and stood behind her, out of the way. He rested is head in his hands, elbows digging into his knees as he attempted to breathe deeply despite his shaking. He saw the pair glance uncomfortably at each other. Severus supposed that seeing their usually cool and collected professor fall to pieces like this was unsettling to say the least. "It's just as we suspected, Miss Granger."

Weasley interjected, "Wait, 'we'? What's he talking about 'Mione?"

She huffed impatiently, "I'll tell you later, Ron, it isn't important now." She sat down next to Severus, surprising him, and placed a hand on his back, "So if she has made this awful curse, that must also mean she had to create a counter-curse, right?"

Severus shook his head stiffly, his panic rising, "Our only hope of curing Harry was before he fell asleep, before we even knew that he was cursed." The hand on his back tensed slightly before Hermione spoke again, "Okay. Okay, then. Well, I'm going to assume she was on Veritaserum, so that's that then." He could hear a quiver in her voice before a sob escaped her. Weasley was at her side immediately, holding her hand tightly in his own as she cried into his jacket.

He looked at Severus determinately, "That can't be it then? Bugger a counter-curse that old hag created, we'll do something even better!"

Hermione sobbed, "Magic doesn't work like that Ron. This is...this is unprecedented. What else can we possibly do! Have you seen Harry? It's all we can do just to keep him on the bed!"

"Well...what does the curse DO then? I mean, other than the obvious. I'm sure the cow must have told you, right?" He fixed Severus with a glare, as though it were his fault his girlfriend was crying.

Severus sighed and tried to collect himself, "It sounds like she's been developing it for over a year now, using 'undesirables' as test subjects. Apparently, the curse only begins to take effect once the victim has fallen asleep, upon which they will descend into a state of mental turmoil. Their mind will trap them in a hell entirely of their own creation, made up of all the terrible memories, fears and thoughts they've had. Their minds can only handle so much, and after a time..." he didn't want to continue, at least for the sake of Hermione, who had started to sob even harder.

"That awful, MISERABLE excuse for a human being! How can she live with herself? My god, it sounds like she's made a fourth Unforgiveable, how horrific!"

Severus nodded his head slightly, "That was exactly her goal. Other than to...well..."

Hermione sniffed, "Other than to kill Harry. You know, this isn't the first time she's tried. Back in the summer before our fifth year, she sent two Dementors after Harry and his cousin!"

Severus remembered that incident vividly, but he had no idea Umbridge was responsible. His lips tightened and he balled his hands into white-knuckled fists, hot anger growing in his belly once again.

It seemed Hermione was feeling the same. She stood up abruptly, almost knocking Weasley over in his surprise, "She wasn't successful then, and she sure as HELL won't be successful now!" She stormed off towards Harry's door, swung it violently open and glared at them, "Well, are you or aren't you coming in!"

Weasley glanced briefly at Severus before following his girlfriend, muttering under his breath, "They're mental, women are."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that, Ronald!" She shouted back at him, while Severus followed cautiously behind.

He had meant to keep his eyes down when entered the room, but he couldn't help but to look over at Harry's bed, where his body was twitching and thrashing sporadically, though it appeared as though invisible restraints were holding his limbs down.

Hermione stood in front of them- pointing at Harry, "Are we going to let this happen! Are we going to sit here and watch Harry die? Look at him! I refuse to let this continue!"

Ron interjected, "But Hermione, we can't"-

"-SHUT YOUR MOUTH RONALD WEASLEY. If three teenagers can find and destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes, we sure as hell can stop Harry from dying of a curse made by that..that," words seem to fail her for a moment as she seemed to swell with fury.

Weasley supplied her, "Bitch?"

"Yes, thank you Ron. That BITCH of a woman!"

Severus slowly walked past her to stand next to where the boy lay.

Harry's throat muscles were bobbing, and small sounds of pain came from him every few moments. He could only twist his head so much, and it had been facing away from Severus, but a particularly large tremor had Severus looking at tear stained cheeks and streaming eyes, clenched shut in pain. His skin looked pale and clammy, but he was sweating profusely, and his teeth were chattering intermittently. The veins in Harry's arms were bulging as they fought against the restraints, and his hands were balled into fists so tight, he was drawing blood from his palms. Severus felt Harry's pulse at his wrist, which was hammering as though the boy had run a marathon.

He turned back towards Hermione, "He's very deep into the curse. There's not much time before his body will give up fighting his mind."

Hermione's red eyes connected to his own, something sparking, "but you can," she whispered.

She rushed up to him, grabbing his hands in her own and completely taking him by surprise. He began to stutter a question, but she was speaking over him, "Professor, you can."

"I can what?"

Her determined eyes never left his, "you can go into his mind. Dumbledore said that you were one of the most successful Occlumens and Legilimens of our time, and I have every reason to believe him. If we can't reach him externally, why not try to reach him in his mind?

"Miss Granger, it's not that simple..."

She squeezed his hands, "But you'll try, wont you? You must!"

He looked sideways at Harry's quivering form, answering softly, "Yes. I'll do anything."

Hermione gave his hands one last squeeze and leant him a watery smile. "Ron, you stand guard outside the door in case the mediwizard comes by, which I'm sure he will. He might not want us trying something that could potentially harm his patient but I know Harry would want us to try anything for him, even if it's not perfect. And Professor, would you agree to me staying in the room, just in case...?"

"That would be wise."

Weasley spoke up, "And what am I supposed to say if and when the mediwizard shows up, hmm?"

"Ohh, I don't know, something stupid! Like I need some time alone to say goodbye to Harry. I'm sure that'll do the trick, at least for a while."

Weasley nodded and went back into the hall, shutting the door behind him.

Hermione was already setting up two chairs around Harry's bed, one at the foot, for her, the other right by Harry's side, for Severus.

He sat down, "It's easier to make a connection through eye contact, but not necessary. I will need a moment to collect myself before I attempt to breach his mind." He closed his eyes, concentrating on his breathing and attempting to calm himself.

"You can pretend as though I'm not here, Professor. I won't say a word or make a sound unless something appears to be very wrong. But I do want to say...thank you."

Severus merely nodded, then focused the entirety of his mind on Harry. After feeling all of his awareness trickle away from himself to focus instead on the boy, he cast the spell in his mind, 'Legilimens.'

Chapter Text

The moment he breached Harry's mind with his own, Severus was hit with the sense of jumping into a pool of ice water, rather than the cool mist he usually felt. He opened his eyes and his stomach lurched. He was in Godric's Hollow, looking at the smouldering wreckage that had once belonged to the Potter's. A chill ran through him, just as it had that same night now so many years ago. He recognized this exact scene: it was only moments after Voldemort fled, and he knew what he would find inside, yet again.

The memory before him flickered, and he took that moment to muster up the courage to enter what was left of the house before it disappeared. But when he walked through the front entry-way, the scene before him changed. He was looking into a house that was almost impeccably neat, an ugly floral wallpaper adorning the walls. A loud thud sounded close by and he walked past a set of stairs towards the noise. He heard it again, and it was coming from the cupboard under the stairs. This couldn't be where...where Harry had lived all those years, had it?

He stooped down and opened the tiny door. Despite the light in the hallway, the space inside the cupboard was pitch black. He tried finding a light, but to no avail. He waved his hand into the darkness before him, and it felt cold. He gritted his teeth and hobbled into the cramped space, but suddenly there was no ground beneath his feet and he hurdled forward, landing in what appeared to be a forest clearing at night. Yet that wasn't all...something bright white was gleaming on the forest floor. It was a unicorn, and it was dead.

Something was slithering out of the darkness towards him, and without thinking, he backed up into a giant tree, nearly tripping on its roots. A black cloaked figure was crawling towards the unicorn, before stopping at its side and lowering its head to the wound in the unicorn's side. Severus tried to look away, but the sight before him was too horrific, too grotesque...and then a blood curdling scream rippled through the air. The hooded figure looked up, directly at Severus, pearlescent blood dripping off of its chin. It started to move towards him, and suddenly there were more. Cloaked figures were coming in from every direction, completely surrounding him. He stepped back further into the tree, only to find that it had disappeared and a lake had appeared in its place. Feet submerged in the water, he saw his breath condense in the air in front of him. A creaking-cracking noise echoed through the clearing as the water began to freeze over at an alarming rate. Dementors.

He closed his eyes, willing himself to remember that this was not real. It was difficult to believe as he felt despair wash over himself, and the cold seemed to penetrate into his very soul.

Severus mustered up all of his energy, all of his focus into one thing: expecto patronum, expecto patronum, EXPECTO PATRONUM-

A bright light appeared behind his eyelids, but when he opened his eyes, he saw a stag, not a doe. The creature was charging towards the dementors, and one by one, they dissolved into the darkness of the sky.

The stag looked over at him, but then started to canter off into the forest.

"Wait!" Severus stumbled out of the water and began to run after the patronus. He weaved through the tree's, trying to keep up with the light shining ahead. The trees grew thinner and their numbers lessened as he continued to run...

He reached the edge of the forest, out of breath, and he bent over, coughing and wheezing for air. He could no longer see the stag, no matter which direction he looked. Instead he felt his eyes drawn to some sort of stone monument that was jutting out from the smooth landscape in front of him.

He approached it, slowly, his instincts giving him conflicting feelings, but as he drew closer he could hear heavy breathing and the unmistakable bubbling noise that could only come from a cauldron full of a thick brew. He edged his way around the stone and his heart lurched: Harry.

He surged forward, the name on his lips, but the boy, and he was much younger in this memory, had no awareness of Severus' presence. Instead, he continued to struggle against the gravestone to which he was bound. A short distance away, a faceless body lay dead on the ground, but what was even more disturbing was the dark outline of a man, tall and skeletally thin, rising slowly from inside the cauldron.

Severus staggered backwards watching the terrible scene unfold before him. He stood, helpless, as the newly risen Voldemort tortured Harry right before him.

What felt like hours had passed and Severus could take no more. He would rather face the dementors in the forest than to have to watch this...

When had he fallen to his knees? He tried to stand up and found he couldn't move. He shouted into the night sky, willing himself to move, wishing the scene before him would just stop, wishing...

The damp grass under his knees was suddenly hard and cold, and the sounds of the tortured boy's screams left the air. He looked up.

Instead of the headstone, an archway stood in its place. It looked positively ancient, but that wasn't all. A thin veil hung between the crumbling stone columns, and it was fluttering gently, as though somebody had just passed through it.

Despite the serenity of the scene before him, the adrenaline in Severus' body was coursing through his veins and he knew whatever was beyond this veil, he didn't want to know. He wanted to get as far away from that place as he could, crawling backwards, his limbs not working properly. A stone beneath his hands gave way and he heard a splash as it hit a body of water a few seconds later.

Severus finally stood up, chastising his shaking knees and turned around. Where on earth was he? A strange, green glow was the only light he could see, coming from somewhere in the distance. He edged closer to the water, glancing into its black depths. Another stone, small this time, tumbled into the water, but Severus noticed something very strange when the stone hit its surface: the black water gave only the fleeting impression of ripples, before it was stilled, much too quickly to be natural. And not only that, but Severus thought he saw something in the water that should certainly not have been there...

He crouched down, eyeing the water closer. It couldn't have been...

He felt for a stone next to him and tossed it into the water. Only a second later, after the ripples had stilled, something pale floated upwards towards the surface: it was a human body. And not just any body...it was Dumbledore's.

Severus gave a startled shout and fell backwards once again. The horror he felt, only moments earlier, was about to be tested, for Dumbledore's body began to rise out of the black water, along with tens, if not hundreds of other bodies, slowly ascending from the murky depths.

He raced to his feet, refusing to look at any of the other bodies, not wanting to see another familiar face...

He ran, back toward the ancient archway, hoping against hope that the creatures weren't following him, even though he knew they would. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw that he was quickly being overtaken, and were it not enough, he had already reached his destination. He held onto one of the columns, seeing that he was now completely surrounded. The creatures pressed in, all fighting to get to him first, but it was Dumbledore's that reached him before the others. And instead of pulling him back towards the dead waters, the creature gave him a tremendous shove.

For a horrible moment, that seemed to stretch on in slow-motion, Severus fell backwards, just as the rest of the creatures had reached the archway and were each attempting to grab a part of him. He was falling through the veil, and soon it would be over...

Except that it wasn't. Severus had landed softly on the ground, and he was looking up into the night sky once again. He flared his nostrils as the acrid smell of something burning filled his senses. He dashed to his feet, looking this way and that for the creatures that had been there only a moment before...but he was no longer standing by an archway. No, he was looking at the cindered remains of what had been a doorway, beyond which lay a yard and a cobblestoned street.

He slowly turned around, and flinched when he saw a body laying on the ground, a body he also recognized. James Potter lay dead before him, his eyes open and lifeless. Thump.

Severus gave a start, and looked towards the staircase. He knew he had to press on, he knew he had to try...

He walked slowly up the stairs, reaching the top and looking to the left. A horrible sense of déjà vu overtook him as he tread down the narrow hallway to an opened doorway at the end. Thump.

He swallowed heavily, and could feel the sting of tears that had already marked a pathway down his face as he rounded the corner.

There she was, again. His beautiful Lily...dead. A sob escaped him, and he almost fell to his knees just as he had that same night, but something was off. He looked around the room, seeing the crib, but no crying infant within. His heart lurched again. Thump.

And yet...that sound had come from close by.

He took a few more steps into the room and looked around, a strong gust of October wind coming through the crater in the wall, hitting him in the face until he looked away. And there, behind the crib, curled up against the wall...

"Harry."

And it was his Harry. The Harry he knew, the one he had grown to cherish so deeply.

Severus dropped to his knees in front of him, gently placing his hand on Harry's shoulder. The boy's eyes were clenched shut, and his hands were fisted tightly in his hair as though ready to rip it out. Severus said the boy's name again, shaking his shoulder slightly. Harry only curled up into himself even tighter.

Severus had no idea what to do, so instead, he began to speak, "It's me, Harry, it's Severus. You're...you've become trapped here and I've come to take you home, to take you somewhere safe. I need you to open your eyes, Harry. Look at me. I'm here for you, and I won't leave without you." He squeezed the boy's shoulder and then placed his hands over Harry's, waiting.

Slowly, the boy opened his eyes ever so slightly, squinting at the man in front of him, his hands loosening their grip in his hair. Severus held Harry's face, stroking his cheeks with this thumbs, "Look at me, I'm here for you."

Harry did, his green eyes searching Severus' face in anguish. Severus took one of Harry's hands and placed it directly over his heart. "Feel my heart beat. I'm what's real, Harry. What's around us, are all just memories."

The boy opened his mouth and said, so softly that he could barely be heard, "Severus."

He nodded, and he couldn't help but to smile slightly, "Yes. Yes, it's me."

"...you came."

"Yes, and I'm here to save you, Harry," Severus could hear his voice wavering, but he pressed on, "Can you feel my heart beating?"

Harry nodded, his eyes still searching Severus' face.

" Focus on my eyes, the feeling of my heartbeat and your breathing; can you do that for me?"

The boy swallowed and nodded again. Severus held his hand over Harry's and waited for his breathing to slow and even out.

"When you're ready, I need you to stand up. We're going to leave this place, together."

He tightened his grip on Harry's hand and helped him up after the boy nodded again. Harry swayed for a moment, but Severus steadied him. He swallowed thickly; this would be the most difficult part, "Harry, we need to walk out of this house, but it means that you will have to see..."

Harry looked at him, his eyes more focused and resolute, "I trust you."

Severus felt his pulse quicken when he heard those words...words he should not deserve coming from Harry. Yet it was clearer now than it had ever been before: he wanted to earn those words and truly believe them for himself; He wanted Harry to know that, without a doubt, Severus would always be there for him.

He closed his eyes. A mass of feelings were crowding his mind, but one stood out from the rest: strength.

Without even casting the spell in his mind, he saw a familiar bright light growing behind his eyelids. He opened his eyes and saw his silver doe standing serenely in front of them, and he knew everything would be all right.

Severus held Harry's hand in his own, following his doe slowly from the room. The light emanating off of his patronus seemed to blur everything around them into indistinguishable shapes, and lit a warm path for them to follow. Severus didn't even notice when they walked down the set of stairs before he realized they were standing in front of the doorway.

He squeezed Harry's hand, and together they walked through the doorway into the warm light that awaited them.