The knock was mistaken for the wind. It was an easy enough mistake given the winter blizzard gusting outside the little Swiss chalet. It had been blowing for three days with a high pitched whistle, rattling windows and otherwise upsetting the quiet peace of the little mountain cabin. Severus’ ears perked up at the timid noise, his heart momentarily stopping. After a moment, he dismissed it as impossible. The chalet, for all intents and purposes, didn’t exist.
The second, louder knock was unmistakeable. Severus stood from his chair in front of the fire, letting his book drop to the seat behind him. His heart beat terror-induced adrenaline through his body. Impossible, his mind told him. The place was unplottable, a secret known only to himself and a man long dead. Dead men told no secrets.
The knocking told otherwise. The door handle rattled and Severus drew his wand, taking cover behind the wall that separated the cloak room from his sitting room. His mind was drawing up possible explanations and rejecting them just as quickly as improbable. Impossible.
The door opened. Severus’s stunning spell hit the body before two steps could be taken. The wind whipped through the small cloakroom, blowing a fine layer of snow over the floor. Severus stepped forward, dragging the body inside, and then struggled to shut the door against the storm.
He looked down at the heavily cloaked figure that lay face down on the stone floor. He tried to reason with his rising sense of panic that whoever lay there must necessarily be friendly. Dumbledore would not have carelessly left the coordinates of the chalet around for just anyone to find. As the secret keeper, he would have personally imparted the information. There were very few people that Dumbledore would trust enough to keep this secret.
Perhaps only one person.
Dread and foreboding swirled within him as he knelt beside the body, not daring to follow the path down which his line of reasoning was leading him. Dumbledore couldn’t possibly be so cruel. Not after all Severus had done to make amends. Not after the careful preparations that lead to Severus’ clean break. No loose ends. Nothing to keep him. Tabula rasa. For once, miraculously, everything had gone to plan.
This was not part of the plan.
Severus gritted his teeth and took a steeling breath. He took the figure by the shoulder and rolled the body over. At the sight of the pale face, those ridiculously outdated glasses and that blasted scar, Severus sat back onto his arse and put his head in his hands. There lay the very embodiment of all his regrets. Harry Bloody Potter, back to haunt his carefully constructed afterlife.
He cursed Albus Dumbledore from the bottom of his wretched heart.
“Damn,” he swore softly as his mind raced to decide what he would do next. Obliviation seemed like a good option, and Severus seriously contemplated it for a moment. It would be easy. A little fiddling and then he could send the boy away. But he couldn’t exactly cast the boy out in the middle of the blizzard, could he?
Severus took a deep breath. No. Killing Potter now would decidedly tarnish the bright and shiny new life he was fashioning for himself. He supposed he could revive the boy and then Disapparate straight away, leaving Potter dazed and confused.
That wouldn’t work either. The last thing he wanted Potter to think was that there was a mystery to be solved. Severus doubted he’d ever have peace again and that the end of the earth would not be far away enough to hide from the boy’s damnably persistent curiosity. There was nothing for it but to find out why the stupid boy was here, and then, when the weather cleared, modify his memory and send him to Azerbaijan. Deciding that was as good a plan as any, Severus raised himself to his feet, stood up tall and menacing, put on his most forbidding sneer and muttered “Enervate.”
He watched as the boy blinked up, hand going to right his glasses. Severus could see the exact moment those green eyes focussed on him. What little colour the winter had left on his cheeks drained away. His mouth dropped open. He pulled himself to a seated position and then scuttled quickly backward until his back hit the door. The boy stared at him a long moment, mouth opening and closing in stunned disbelief. Severus felt slightly taken aback to see those eyes begin to brim with tears that were quickly blinked away. “You’re dead,” the boy said at last.
“Then this must be hell,” Severus said irritably. He folded his arms across his chest, wand still tucked between his fingers. “What are you doing here?” he growled, feeling a familiar wave of fury wash through him at the audacity of this boy. At the boy’s endless tendency to be where he didn’t belong.
Potter’s lips pursed together. The boy still visibly struggled to come to terms with a new reality. “I can’t believe... I... I watched you die,” he stuttered. “I thought –“
“You saw what I wanted you to see. You thought what you were supposed to think!” Severus’ voice grew louder with every word. He tried to remind himself that it was hardly the boy’s fault that he’d been disabused of his assumptions. But Severus needed to direct his anger somewhere and the actual target was currently and permanently indisposed. “I would have thought you’d grown tired of chasing after mysteries, Potter. When will you learn to leave well enough alone?”
Severus watched the outrage rise in an angry flush across the boy’s cheeks. “I got a letter from-“
“Dumbledore,” Severus spit.
“His solicitor,” the boy clarified sullenly.
“You mean he didn’t send it himself?” Severus mocked. His once habitual sneer slid back into place effortlessly. He could feel the vein in his temple throbbing.
Potter narrowed his eyes coolly. “You might be surprised by what dead men are capable of, Professor,” he spat back with impudence.
Touché, Severus thought silently, but managed not to verbally concede the boy’s point. He could feel his erstwhile anger start to fade under a sudden wave of fatalistic apathy. He’d never win. What an idiot he’d been to have actually believed he’d gotten away with all this. How naïve to have believed that he’d finally been acquitted of his crimes; that he’d achieved atonement. He had flattered himself to think that all his debts were paid. That in his death, such as it was, he’d finally given all he could and that his fate might reward him with freedom at last. Ridiculous.
“Well, now you’ve seen me, Potter. Go on and alert the MLE, the Prophet, whatever remains of the Death Eaters,” he said. “Any one of them might do the job correctly this time.” Severus turned into the sitting room where he’d been sitting enjoying a cup of tea, which was now, unfortunately, cold. He decided it wasn’t worth the effort of the warming charm and summoned instead the bottle of whisky and a tumbler. He could feel the boy’s damnable presence in the doorway and sense those insolent eyes glaring at the back of his head. An irritation that he’d not felt for months crept its way in. It felt a little like coming home. Part of him wanted to weep at the loss of his well-earned reprieve. Another part of him steeled itself for the tedious conversation that was now, sadly, inevitable.
He could hear the boy start to follow him. “Take off your boots,” Severus growled, glaring at the fire that suddenly offered no warmth whatsoever. He could hear no further movement and hoped beyond hope that the boy had spontaneously combusted. He turned to see Potter looking around the sitting room, taking in the small dining area, the absurd bright orange and purple checked sofa with even brighter yellow cushions squatting before the large curtained windows through which the dim, desolate light of the stormy afternoon spilled through. Severus thought he could see the beginnings of a small, amused smile curl at the side of Potter’s mouth, but when the startling eyes turned to Severus, the smile faded.
The boy straightened. His expression hardened. “Dumbledore left this place to me in his will,” Potter said from the doorway. “On the condition that current residents always had free and unlimited access to it. Then the letter sort of hinted that the person might be you, if you had lived.” The boy shook his head and gave a maniacal sort of laugh. “And here you are. God, how stupid am I? I mean, there was a fire at the shack and we just assumed, what with the war and the chaos of… everything.” He deflated slowly, the anger melting away from his features. “You set the fire.”
It wasn’t a question and Severus didn’t bother answering. He turned back to sullenly contemplate the flames, wishing the boy away for all the good it would do him. Why would Albus do this to him? Severus had done everything the man had asked of him—if not without question, at least without hesitation. He’d nigh on destroyed himself for the old bastard and this was his repayment. An old, familiar lament began circling his head. Why me?
It was a question, the answer to which he didn’t like to contemplate.
He could hear the dull thud of the boy’s boots hitting the floor and the soft shuffle of socks sliding over the wooden floor of the chalet. “I’m not here to turn you over to anyone,” Potter said quietly.
“Why are you here?” Severus grinded out through clenched teeth.
“I had to know.”
“Well, now you know,” Severus muttered. The question was what would the boy do with the information? It was a question Severus couldn’t bring himself to ask just yet. His entire future hinged on the meddling little brat’s capacity for discretion. This sad knowledge did not inspire him to make plans.
He could hear the boy give a petulant snort before walking over to sink into the chair opposite him. Severus’ eyes focussed on the boy’s big toe, poking through a worn black sock. The toes curled under his gaze, the exposed one hiding itself under the other foot in shame. With all the riches at the boy’s disposal, he wondered why he would bother with holey socks. The question seemed quite beyond the more immediate subject and so Severus let it go and let his eyes travel upward over the too baggy jeans, the green knitted Weasley jumper with the letter H branded in yellow. It might have been the oversized clothes, but the boy appeared smaller than Severus’ remembered him, gaunter. His hair had always been hopeless, and the stocking cap he’d been wearing had done nothing to improve it. Those eyes, rendered colourless by the dim orange glow of the flickering fire, looked haunted from behind the ill-fitting round spectacles.
This was the saviour of the Wizarding world? It seemed no more likely now than it had eight years ago when Severus had first lain eyes on him. Only this time, the boy had earned the title.
When Potter began to fidget uncomfortably and averted his gaze, it occurred to Severus that he’d been staring. It had been over seven months since he’d had any meaningful contact with another human being, outside what was necessary for the acquisition of provisions to maintain his solitude. Severus had never been a social beast, and his tendency toward introversion had only been intensified by the long months spent with his thoughts and a well-stocked library for company.
Severus heaved a sigh and, without a thought, summoned a second glass to pour a measure of whisky for the boy, who probably needed it at least as much as he. He thrust it at him. With a faintly surprised look, Potter took the glass and stared into it as though it held the answers to all the obvious questions racing through the boy’s brain. Severus was keenly aware that if he had any chance of convincing the boy to keep his secret long enough to allow Severus to disappear, he had to make nice. Severus scowled at the thought. Making nice with anyone, let alone this particular boy, was a stretch for him. On second thought, perhaps he could get by with ‘not openly hostile’.
“Who knows you’re here?” he snapped, intent on assessing the extent of the damage already done.
Potter appeared to be insulted by the question. “No one,” he said defensively. He glared back at the fire. “I didn’t tell anyone about the letter. Everyone thinks I’m in Greece.”
An incredibly unlikely story, Severus thought. It went against everything he knew of the boy. Even Potter’s secret mission for Dumbledore was accompanied by the other two-thirds of the trio of terror. “And why would the celebrated saviour of the world be on holiday alone? You can’t expect me to believe Molly allowed that.”
“I don’t expect you to believe anything I say, Professor,” Potter said scathingly. He clenched his jaw a moment and then took a deep breath, shaking his head. “I just told everyone that I needed some time alone,” he said, clearly struggling to find calm.
“Your friends?” Severus insisted, certain that there must have been exceptions to everyone.
“No one,” the boy said firmly.
Severus exhaled a relieved breath, deciding against his better judgement to believe the boy. The consequences if the boy couldn’t be believed were too dire to contemplate. Severus stared into the fire, drinking deeply from his glass. At least the damage was limited, he thought. He would need to get his hands on that letter if Obliviation were to be effective. “I’d like to see Dumbledore’s letter,” he said, trying for a casual tone.
He could tell by the cautious look he received from the boy that he wasn’t fooling anyone. “I haven’t got it with me,” the boy said with an almost defiant tone. “It’s in my trunk at Hogwarts.” Severus met his eyes and tried to determine if the boy was lying. Potter’s gaze turned resolutely to the fire.
Severus pursed his lips. “You’re back at Hogwarts.” Severus supposed he shouldn’t be surprised by the information. The boy had missed his seventh year at school after all. He would have to finish if he had any hope in pursuing a career with the MLE.
The boy snorted and gave a bitter sort of smile that looked foreign on the face Severus knew so well.
“Have to get my NEWTS,” he said. “I still need to qualify.”
Severus sneered reflexively. “You expected special treatment-“
“Don’t,” Potter said sharply. “Don’t start with that. I didn’t mean it like that.” The boy rubbed a hand over his face, finger stroking over that dreadful scar as though by habit. Severus found he didn’t have the energy to pursue that familiar theme again. Arrogance. Celebrity. All hail the Chosen One. The whole act belonged to a different lifetime. A lifetime Severus had chosen to leave behind.
Potter took a long sip of the golden liquid in his glass. His face screwed up in disgust at the taste, but he followed it with another smaller drink. “How?” he croaked after a long moment. “I saw you, sir. I watched you...“ Potter trailed off, the rest of that sentence was caught between a clenched jaw.
Inevitable, he told himself again. He would have to explain. He supposed if he had any hope of getting the information that he so sorely hungered for over the last eight months, he would need to give a little.
He took a deep breath. “Immunity,” he said. “I was prepared for the more obvious ways in which the Dark Lord would kill me. Nagini was his favourite weapon.” He suppressed a shudder conjured at the memory of being trapped in the magical cage with the striking serpent. Despite all he’d done to prepare himself physically, nothing could have prepared him for that terror. “I’d begun inoculating myself virtually the moment I returned to service.” It was almost insulting to think that everyone readily believed he was so easily disposed of. He, a Slytherin, killed by a snake? Not bloody likely.
“You mean... you...”
“It would have been both ridiculously foolish and unforgivably irresponsible of me not to have taken certain measures to protect myself,” Severus said irritably. “Particularly when I’d not yet given you the last crucial piece of information. I am not a foolish man, Potter. ”
“No, sir,” Potter said quickly. “Only... the blood. I saw you...”
Severus’ patience snapped. “Is the fact that I’m sitting here now not proof that I was successful?” Truth be told, the blood had been the biggest worry. It was unfortunate that the blasted serpent chose to strike that particular spot. But he was prepared for that as well. Severus’ fingers went to scratch at the faint dots where the fangs had struck. “I had something to stop the blood. I’d just applied it when you appeared,” he said quietly.
He briefly relived that serendipitous moment. If he’d ever been thankful for the boy’s uncanny ability to be right at the heart of trouble, it was then. “When I saw you, I knew that I had to ensure you received Dumbledore’s message.” Despite his erstwhile preparations, the venom wasn’t entirely without effect. The pain had been intense - his stomach wrenching as the venom spread, his entire body going rigid with shock. It was all he could do to expel the memories. He’d expected to die then. To die staring into the eyes of the boy he’d spent so long protecting. The same eyes as the woman to whom he’d dedicated his adult life making amends.
His threshold for pain was high, and his attempt at inoculating himself against the venom of that particular strength had been successful enough to earn him some time. His survival was by no means certain, but he had been better equipped than most. “I lost consciousness for awhile, I think, but I came to sometime later and managed to get up. There’s a cave not far from the shack where I was able to hide until the damage done by the venom could be repaired. I set fire to the place when I left it.”
Coward, a voice echoed in his head. It sounded remarkably like Potter’s. He glanced away from the fire long enough to assess the boy’s reaction to the story thus far. Potter’s eyes met his. There was no accusation there that he could see. If he had to describe it at all, he might have called it amazement. Awe. Still, he felt compelled to make the boy understand. “I was very weak,” Severus said quietly, a little defensively for he had truly run away at the apex of the battle. He’d worked too hard to have this boy believe that he had fled out of cowardice. Some part of him chastised that instinct. What did it matter what Potter thought of him? “I was worse than useless by the time I got to the cave. And then I heard him announce your death.” He only barely got the words out over the sudden lump in his throat. He cleared it suddenly and looked away.
“I heard the beginnings of what I assumed to be the final battle. And then I felt him die,” his hand moved to his forearm. Relief had waged war with the debilitating grief and regret that he’d failed the boy. He’d failed Lily. Again. Alone in the cave, he’d wept like he’d not wept in years. Not since the first time he’d failed her. He took another cleansing breath to will away the remembered sorrow. “It took three days before I was fit to leave. I Apparated to my family home to gather a few last things. It was only then that I saw the news that you’d once more achieved the impossible.” He gave the boy a wry look.
Potter sat considering him for a moment before blinking as though coming out of a trance. He gave a small mirthless laugh. “I suppose that makes two of us.”
“Indeed,” Severus said, and then poured himself another glass. He sat in silent expectation of the missing part of the story. He was unprepared for what the boy said next.
“I didn’t help you,” Potter said. “I should have done something, but I left you to die.” He stared into his glass.
Severus waved dismissively at what was clearly misplaced guilt. “You had no way of knowing which side I was on.”
“It shouldn’t have mattered. The number of times you... I left you to die and when I saw... When I understood what I had done... Hadn’t done.” The boy’s jaw worked over the unsaid words.
Severus found himself shocked at the boy’s distress, and, if he was honest, secretly satisfied. There wasn’t anything the boy could have done under the circumstances, but it was gratifying to know he had regretted not trying. Gratifying, but utterly ridiculous. The boy had saved the Wizarding World. What did he care about a little collateral damage along the way? “You’re forgetting that I was attempting to fake my death, Potter,” Severus pointed out. “If you’d tried to help we might have both ended up dead. And where would we be now?”
Potter’s eyes narrowed in a moment of anger. He opened his mouth to express it, but abandoned his thought before it passed his lips. He shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now,” he said, as though trying to convince himself. He took a long draught from his glass and stared into the fire. Severus began to wonder just how long the boy had tortured himself over his presumed death. Something like guilt crept into his chest. He irritably squashed it. If the boy was stupid enough to regret every casualty of the war, there was nothing he could do about it.
“You shouldn’t burn all your bridges.”
Severus scowled at the boy. “What?”
“That was Dumbledore’s message to you. He wanted me to...” He gave an awkward half-smile that managed to look slightly apologetic. “To be your bridge.”
His bridge. Of all the stupid things the man had ever said, that had to top the list. To offer up Harry Bloody Potter as the one link to a life he’d been only too happy to bury was beyond ridiculous. The bridge to Potter was the one fucking bridge that needed to remain thoroughly incinerated.
Severus’ mouth hung open in mute disbelief that no words could possibly express.
Potter let out a small laugh. “I know. Right?” He shook his head.
Severus hid his speechlessness behind his glass. He swallowed what remained of the contents in one go.
“He was daft. But he cared about you,” he said. “About us.”
A bitterness that he’d long nursed crept up to choke him. “He cared about his cause. We were his willing and devoted pawns,” he said. He assumed the boy had seen his memories, had seen how carefully orchestrated the plot had been. Contingency plans notwithstanding, Severus’ own survival was a secondary concern to the late, great Albus Dumbledore. “He reared you for slaughter. He didn’t expect you’d come out the other side of all this. You did actually see my memories?” Severus was angry again and could feel his heart thrumming with it.
“I saw them,” Potter said quietly. His eyes focussed on something far beyond the moment. The wistful smile that curled onto the boy’s mouth was nearly infuriating. There was certainly nothing in the memories shared that would merit such a smile. A moment later the smile had vanished and the boy looked at him directly in the eye. “How much do you know about... my side of things?”
Woefully little, Severus answered silently. Dumbledore had been distinctly tight-lipped about the mission that Potter was on, and the Daily Prophet only concerned itself with the fact that the boy had won the battle, not minding so much about the how of things. After having been in the information gathering business for the better part of two decades, it was a difficult to be so abruptly cut off from the world and all its happenings. But dead men make pitiful spies, and Severus had been in a rather big hurry to get out of Britain before someone started making inquiries as to the distinct lack of body in the ruins of the shrieking shack.
“What were you doing for Dumbledore?” he asked pointedly, powering the words with just enough authority to communicate that after all this time, he had the bloody right to know. Potter nodded as though in agreement before asking a question of his own.
“Do you know what Horcruxes are?”
Severus, who disliked admitting his ignorance, particularly in magical subjects, merely lifted an eyebrow in response. He added a somewhat impatient look to try and urge the boy forward.
“That’s how Voldemort –“ Severus narrowed his eyes at the word, causing the boy to pause.
“Voldemort,” the boy continued more firmly, “survived the night he killed my parents. He’d created Horcruxes by splitting bits of his soul off and sort of storing them into various objects. ”
Severus had been ignorant of the actual magic, but he’d expected something like this. What little information he’d been exposed to pointed him to this possibility. “And that’s what you were destroying.”
Potter nodded. “Yeah. We got to all of them, but-“
“Nagini,” Severus whispered. The Dark Lord protected her once all other hope was lost.
“And me,” the boy added quietly. He raised his hand as though to touch his scar, but the hand aborted its mission and fell back to his knee. “That’s why I needed to die. That’s why it needed to be him. When he cursed me the first time, he accidentally attached a part of his soul to me. “
Severus nodded, recalling that Dumbledore had already hinted that this was the case. Knowing it, however, didn’t stop him from momentarily going cold at hearing it from the boy’s own mouth. He could only imagine what the boy must have gone through when that part of the memory was revealed. He vaguely recalled his own horror when Dumbledore hinted at this. Horror. Rage, really. Rage at a man he’d trusted for so many years to help him in his mission to keep the boy safe.
“I went back to the castle after I left you. I used Dumbledore’s pensieve. And then, well it was clear, wasn’t it? I knew what I had to do.”
Severus listened quietly as the boy launched himself into his tale. His stomach lurched at the mental image of the boy walking calmly and bravely to meet his doom. Gryffindor foolishness, some part of him scoffed. So bloody noble and self-sacrificing. Despite himself, however, he felt a begrudging sort of respect creep in as the boy went on. While Severus himself flirted with mortal peril more times than he cared to think about, he never intended to give his life to the cause. Indeed, he’d done everything he could to avoid doing so.
The scene was alive in his head. Potter, surrounded by Death Eaters and facing off, wandlessly, with the most evil monster Severus had ever had the displeasure to be associated with. It was easy for him to picture the killing curse striking the boy, the way the boy would collapse to the ground, green eyes glazed over and lifeless. He’d entertained that waking nightmare more times than he cared to think about.
Potter’s recounting was almost poetically simple. Severus’ imagination took the matter-of-fact tale and embellished it with an uncharacteristically empathic detail. When Potter came to the strange scene of the King’s Cross of the netherworld, Severus gaped in surprise. “So Dumbledore knew you’d be safe,” Severus said, unable to keep himself from interjecting as the boy described his conversation with the dead man. “He knew all along?” And he hadn’t bothered to tell him? Severus gritted his teeth against the onslaught of curses that waited on his tongue.
Potter shrugged. “He’d hoped, I suppose,” the boy said quietly. After a moment, he looked apologetic. “Would have been nice to know, eh?”
Severus’ head dropped to his hands and struggled to find calm. It certainly would have been “nice”.
“He said that I needed to believe I was going to die,” Potter said. “It wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice if I’d known.” His brow furrowed. “My...er, death,” he said, somewhat wryly, “was what protected everyone in the final battle. He couldn’t hurt them anymore. His spells wouldn’t work properly.”
Severus couldn’t help but think that although the boy had to believe he was doomed so that he could properly martyr himself, Severus was under no such constraints. Dumbledore knew what saving the boy’s life meant to him and he deliberately let him believe that he was setting the boy up to be killed. Severus put aside this renewed sense of injustice for the time being, concentrating instead on the hearing the rest of the boy’s tale. He would surely revisit it later that night, and the night after that, and again and again until he had a new hole in his stomach that he could add to the collection Dumbledore had given him over the years.
Potter plowed on with his story – relaying Narcissa’s complicity, Longbottom’s heroics. Severus was bowled over by how close they all came to absolute failure. Had Narcissa chosen to reveal Potter’s unlikely survival, had Potter not run into Longbottom to impart the necessity to slay Nagini – had Longbottom lived up to his history and failed miserably, none of what followed would have happened. Severus had to admit to feeling immeasurably pleased that the Dark Lord knew of Severus’ true loyalties at the end. That the bastard understood the extent to which Severus had deceived him. He had Potter to thank for that.
He stopped that train of thought before it could form words on his tongue. Potter had surely already been celebrated beyond merit, he would not add to the boy’s already considerable adolescent ego.
Potter’s story trailed off at the end of the Dark Lord. He slumped back into his chair and looked into his empty glass. Severus topped up his own and then set the bottle on the tea table between them. It wasn’t quite an invitation, but the boy took it as such, filling his own glass. At this rate they would both be pissed before the sun set. This, Severus thought, could only work in his favour.
“What of the Elder wand?” he asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“History,” Potter said, with a vague gesture of his hand.
Severus’ brow shot up in surprise. “You didn’t keep it?”
“No one should have that kind of power,” the boy said with a quiet fierceness. Severus got the impression he’d had this conversation before. Perhaps many times. The boy was right, of course, but the strength of character required to rescind such power was rare. Severus himself couldn’t be sure he’d have that sort of strength. He wasn’t sure he knew anyone with that sort of strength.
“You are a remarkable young man, Mr Potter,” he said softly. He saw his own surprise at having spoken the words out loud mirrored in Potter’s expression. Clearly, Severus had been alone far too long. He’d gone mad. A chuckle bubbled out from his throat at the boy’s embarrassed “Thanks”.
He suddenly felt remarkably lighter. It was as though, having heard the story, having finally filled in all the blanks, he could now be allowed to put paid to his former life. It was the closure he’d been searching for all these months since he’d gone into hiding. “A toast, Mr Potter,” he said, raising his glass, “to miraculous survivals.”
The boy gave a small but sincere grin, and Severus’ heart seized momentarily. Until that point, he’d not noticed the distinct lack of animation in the boy’s countenance. And now he thought about it, he could observe the lingering dark shadow about the boy. As though a light had been snuffed out. The youthful innocence, the dreaded Gryffindor optimism had been yet another casualty of the war.
Their glasses clinked together gently. After a reflective silence, Potter cleared his throat. “I suppose it must have been hard for you not knowing all that happened. I mean, after being at the centre of everything for years.”
Severus nodded, silently applauding the boy’s rare venture outside the bubble of his own world-view. “I knew the essentials: the Dark Lord was dead. And you were not.” Mission accomplished. “I didn’t care enough about the rest to risk being discovered.”
“Dumbledore had left instructions for his memories of you to be delivered to Shacklebolt after Voldemort’s death.” Severus shivered slightly with dread at the mention of the Dark Lord’s name. He squashed the sentiment. The boy had killed the beast. He was allowed to say his name. “The MLE interviewed Dumbledore’s portrait and I gave testimony as well. You were awarded an Order of Merlin, First Class for everything you did. Your name has been cleared. ” The boy eyed Severus for his reaction.
Severus didn’t give one right away. He wasn’t surprised to learn that Albus would have left evidence to clear him. That was only to be expected given what the man had forced him to do. And while the memories he’d imparted to Potter were for the purpose of re-gaining his trust so that he would do what he was expected to do, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Potter would give evidence to clear him, despite whatever residual dislike for him the boy might feel. He supposed he should be happy for having been awarded an Order of Merlin, at long last. He might have been pleased once.
“It’s easier to forgive the sins of a dead man,” he said darkly. He snorted. “I was always doomed to be appreciated only after my death.”
The sadness he saw in the boy’s face was puzzling. “It doesn’t have to be like that,” he said quietly. “You can come back.”
And he could. People would likely be upset to see him return after having exalted him to the exclusive status of War Hero, but they couldn’t take it back. What was done was done. Severus entertained a brief fantasy of the looks on their faces were he to show up at the Ministry and demand they hand over his award. But no. There was no satisfaction to be had there. That world was as done with him as he was with it. Let the bastards have Severus Snape and let them make him the symbol for whatever they wished.
“I have no wish to return,” Severus said tersely. There was nothing to return to. No family. Severus had killed the last man who could claim the dubious title of “Friend”. In the long months that Severus had spent at the chalet, he’d come to terms with the fact that the life of Severus Snape was a life driven by purpose, but bereft of anything else worth living for. While he could never truly make amends for his one great mistake, he’d spent half of his life trying to do just that. The boy had lived and that was more than he had dared to hope for.
“You can’t mean to stay here forever,” Potter said, clearly horrified by the thought.
Severus shook his head. “I’ve stayed here long enough to let everything settle and because the solitude suited me.” It was a period of convalescence for his tortured soul. The life of Severus Snape, he could leave behind. The soul, however, was his to keep. He’d managed to forge a tenuous peace with himself over the last half a year. The closure the evening’s discussions had offered him felt like the last step in that process. While he couldn’t say he had no regrets, he thought he might now be able to live with those he still had. “I’ve made no definite plans as yet, but I don’t expect to stay here much longer.”
“Because of me?” Potter asked, awkwardly. “I told you, sir. I won’t tell anyone you’re here.”
Severus frowned. “Not because of you,” he said, not quite truthfully. “But it’s time.”
“Oh.” After a moment, Potter smiled at him with all the cheekiness that he’d come to expect from the boy. Severus was momentarily stunned to be pleased to see it. “I suppose it’s good I came when I did, then, eh?”
Severus snorted. “Your timing is as impeccable as ever,” he conceded. And damn Albus Dumbledore for once more knowing exactly what he needed.
The two continued to speak into the evening about the aftermath – the reconstruction of Hogwarts, the Death Eater trials. The boy graciously helped to satisfy Severus’ curiosity about how things turned out after his precipitous departure. He was pleased that Draco and Narcissa managed to avoid any real punishment, and that Lucius was not likely to see the light of day any time soon. He was less happy to learn of the fates of some of his other Slytherins. He had to admit to feeling somewhat responsible for the path they took, although his mission precluded saving them. The lives of the few sacrificed for the sake of the masses.
When he once more found his glass to be empty, it occurred to him that he’d not eaten since lunch. He and the boy continued their discussions over a simple meal of bread and charcuterie and then coffee and brandy. They were both exhausted and not just a little pissed when Severus showed the boy to the spare room – Albus’ old room.
As he lay in his own bed going over the long conversation in this head, it occurred to him that while his vision of the boy saviour would forever be inextricably linked with his memory of the remarkable woman who brought him into the world, he had to concede that Harry Potter was an entity unto himself. His years of spying taught him that once a secret was known it was irreparably compromised, he found himself filled with a blind faith that Potter could be trusted with his.
And that was a revelation, indeed.