The Trial of Henri Blanc
"YOU ARE SEVERUS SNAPE!"
Alastor Moody wiped his mouth with the back of his arm and clumped over to the prisoner. He lowered his voice to a hiss. "I nearly put you in Azkaban the last time, Snape. This time I'm going to accomplish it. No matter what you claim."
The prisoner shook his head and refused to look at Moody.
Harry Potter leaned against the far wall and watched. The man was chained to the interrogation chair, though he didn't fight the bonds. Grey hair, cut short like a Muggle's, contrasted strangely with his dark eyes. His tailored shirt – once crisp – hung limp, wrinkled and untucked.
But Harry knew him. The thin lips that still held the memory of an eternal sneer. The arch of the hawk-beaked nose. The thin, stooped shoulders weren’t so curved anymore. He’d put on a bit of extra weight. He spoke with a pronounced French accent, but with a voice and cadence that Harry remembered from his childhood.
His hands, though – they were most familiar. Long-fingered hands, knuckles perpetually white from gripping desks, tables, cauldrons.
Gripping a wand that flashed green light.
Yet the answer that he gave them when questioned never changed.
"I am Henri Blanc."
Harry followed Hermione into the flat and looked up to see her regarding him thoughtfully. Irritated, he ran his hand through his hair and frowned.
"Is Ron here?"
"No, he's not at home. Just me, I'm afraid."
"Fine." He flung himself on the couch, narrowly missing some books and what looked suspiciously like a pile of Ron's smalls.
She looked exasperated. "When you're ready to be civil, I'll have tea ready in the kitchen." She left the room.
Hermione could be an entirely annoying bitch at times, he reflected, before a wave of familiar guilt overwhelmed him.
A couple of minutes later, feeling somewhat sheepish, Harry followed her into the cheery kitchen. "Sorry."
Hermione ignored his apology and poured him a cup of tea. "Sit down and tell me what this is about."
Harry sat down. "You know we found Snape."
She nodded. "I saw the special edition of the Prophet."
He pushed his cup of tea to the side. "It's back. All the hate, all the anger. I sat in on his interrogation and all I wanted to do was to curse him." He sighed. "So I left and came here."
"Do you think he's telling the truth?"
"As far as I could tell, yes. Hopcap's a damned good Legilimens and he couldn't find anything. Snape is an Occlumens, but Hopcap couldn't find any evidence of it – said that Snape never put up a barrier and didn't even seem to know the basics about how to do it if he wanted to. No memories of Hogwarts, or Voldemort, or even about bloody potions."
"And no evidence of a Dark Mark, since those disappeared with Voldemort's death," Hermione mused.
"Which leaves us trying to identify him magically. He's got a different wand, and it tested negative for Dark magic. He's got a fucking French accent, for god's sake. And though he speaks English, Hopcap says all of his thoughts were in French, all of his memories, too. I can't understand it. His wand is different, his demeanour is different, his name is different – even his magic feels different – but he's Snape, I swear it."
Hermione took a sip of tea and sat back, frowning. "I believe you. But I have a question. With all of those differences – not simply changes of name or nationality, but of identity, memories, magic – does Severus Snape even exist? And if he doesn't, can we prosecute Henri Blanc for Severus Snape's crimes?"
"The Wizengamot isn't a place to debate philosophy, it's a place to administer justice." Harry stood and began to pace around the small kitchen.
"That's debatable," Hermione murmured into her teacup. She took a sip and put it down. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think that you're very well-prepared for this situation."
"Don't you think I know that!" he snapped. He immediately slumped into a chair and put his head in his hands. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"
"Stop it, Harry. It's me." She sat down and took his hand. "It's just that sometimes I think – well, I think you haven't put things behind you."
He looked up. "What are you talking about?"
"You don't have to save the world anymore. We're safe. You can live your own life now."
Harry would've given anything to have her optimism. "What makes you think I'm not? Besides," he shook his head, "I don't think things are quite as safe as you think."
She just looked at him. He sighed.
"There's such a thing as evil, Hermione. I'm sorry, but it's not something I can forget. I've killed people for it."
Hermione leaned forward and put her hand on his arm. "I know. I know. But you need to forgive yourself for it."
He pulled his arm away, uncomfortable with her concern. "That's not the issue here. Someone has to do it. That someone is – was – me. It's just something that makes me different. I hate it, but there's not much either of us can do about it."
"Professor Dumbledore never should have asked all of that from you."
"Then who else should he have asked?"
"You were only eleven."
"Age isn't an excuse. I had something nobody else had. It gave us a chance. I can't blame anyone for asking me to take that chance."
"I think you do, though."
Harry shrugged again, irritated. A loud voice startled them.
"Stop making eyes at my wife, Potter."
Harry turned as Ron pushed past and swept Hermione out of her chair, kissing her enthusiastically. "We got him!" He spun her around, his red Auror robes flaring around them. "It was a fluke that anyone even found him! Trust Percy to research some report on clock-making in the most godforsaken corner of France and stumble across the most notorious Death Eater still at large." He put her down and picked up her teacup, finishing it in a gulp. He made a face. "Damn. You never put enough milk in it, you know."
Hermione was already taking another cup from the cupboard. "That would be because I happen to like it like that. Drink your own for once."
"More fun to drink yours," he said and winked at Harry. He spun a chair around and sat on it backwards. "I hear they made you the Wizengamot's investigator."
They both looked at Hermione.
"What would you say if I took on Blanc's defence?"
Harry froze. Ron cried out, "Gringotts asked you?"
Hermione nodded. "And I accepted."
Ron cursed. "Well, this is a right bastard of a situation. I'm in charge of gathering evidence, and now the two of you are on opposite sides of the bench. Bloody Ministry."
Harry rubbed a hand over his face and slumped further in his chair. "What a conflict of interest. Damn. I'll withdraw," he offered.
"You can't, Harry," Ron protested. "You're the best."
"So is Hermione."
They all looked at each other.
"I'd say that we've got a problem." Hermione's voice was quiet.
Harry agreed. Hermione, as Blanc's defence. He knew he'd have to be careful.
Very careful, if he wanted to destroy Severus Snape.
Harry waited patiently as the Auror guarding Blanc closed and warded the door to Blanc's cell. The holding cells at the Ministry were reasonably comfortable – they were clean and he'd have a chair here, at least. At Azkaban, the smell was enough to make a person nauseous and there was no furniture for prisoners, much less investigators.
When she left, Harry sat. He held his wand in his lap.
Snape lay on the small cot and stared at the ceiling. He shook his head. "I am not this Snape. My name is Henri Blanc."
Harry ignored him. "Do you remember who I am?"
He sat up and faced Harry, their knees nearly touching in the cramped space. Snape voluntarily met Harry's eyes for the first time. There was challenge in his gaze, but the depth of the despair that lurked there as well startled Harry. "I have no memory of you."
"So you're saying that you don't know who I am."
Snape frowned. "I did not say that. I said that I have no memory of you. But of course I know who you are. Very few would not."
"I have good reason to hate you. I plan to do all that I can to put you into Azkaban, where you belong. And I'll make sure that you stay there for the rest of your life."
Snape looked down and shook his head.
"Well? Don't you have anything to say?" Harry's anger flared.
He looked up, his face twisted. "What am I to say to that? A man I do not know tells me that he hates me. He tells me that he will put me in a prison from which I will never escape. This man has destroyed a Dark wizard and has the love of the wizarding world, and thus has enough political power to make his promises reality. I am a condemned man. You are my judge. So you tell me what I should say!"
Snape's mind was an open book.
He'd hoped to make him angry and take him by surprise, and it seemed that he had succeeded. Incoherent memories greeted him: the chains of the interrogation chair biting into flesh; the smell of the sea; a flash of milk-white thigh caressed by a familiar hand – the last stayed him for a moment as he felt a frisson of lust. But whether it was his or Snape's, he couldn't tell.
Harry resolutely left the memory and ignored the fragments of others equally as seductive. He delved further.
His efforts were of no use. He found nothing of Severus Snape within Blanc's memories.
Harry released Snape's mind and lowered his wand. Grey and beaded with sweat, Snape sat with eyes lowered. He was breathing as if he'd run a great distance. He put a hand to his mouth and Harry saw him swallow once, twice. He lowered his hand. After a few moments, he looked up, his gaze steady.
"Did you find what you sought?"
"The woman. Who is she?"
He seemed to struggle with his emotions. "My wife."
"I'll want to speak with her." Harry took a small ball from his pocket. "This is the real reason that I'm here. This is a See-All. It records your actions. Sounds, magic, your environment - whatever you say, whatever actions you take, the magic that surrounds you, what the temperature of the air is or what food that you eat - this sphere will record it all."
He touched it with his wand and it lit from within, a gentle golden light. "I've just oriented it to you. It will accompany you everywhere. You will not be able to hide from it, nor will you be able to damage or manipulate it in any way." He released it and the globe floated over to hang next to Snape's left ear.
Harry stood. "Your counsel has petitioned for your release prior to hearing. The Ministry of Magic has agreed to the petition on the condition that you are bound to the See-All for the duration of the period." He waited for Snape to respond, but he continued to stare at the floor. Harry wrestled with his desire to taunt him, to make him react. He took at deep breath.
"Your counsel will be allowed to temporarily pause the recording so that you can speak with her in confidence about your case, but it will immediately activate again when your conferences are finished. You will not be allowed access to your wand or to use a substitute wand for the duration of the period. You cannot leave England."
He motioned to the door, where the Auror waited once again. "If you would follow Auror Pindlebelt, she will escort you."
Snape stared at the floor for a moment more and then rose to his feet. He paused and looked at Harry.
"You cannot speak with her."
Harry frowned. "Actually, I'll have to speak with your counsel from time to time. I'll need to disclose any evidence that the Ministry compiles during our investigation so that she can prepare your defence."
He shook his head. "My wife. You cannot speak with her. She died eleven years ago." He looked at Harry for another moment, then turned to the Auror and followed her into the corridor. The See-All followed, floating silently beside his ear.
As their footsteps faded down the hall, Harry frowned and looked around the small cell. Nothing remained that could give him any insight into the man who had occupied it.
His faith remained unshaken: this was Snape. Harry knew it viscerally, like he had known Voldemort, or Dumbledore. The lack of memories made little difference. But he was uneasy, too. The man's grief over his wife's death appeared to be real.
Yet, eleven years before, Harry had been in his fifth year at Hogwarts, and Snape had been his professor. Harry didn’t know for sure if Snape had been married then, but he'd never seen a woman near Snape, nor did he remember any rumours of a wife. If anything, the rumours had been more viciously inclined to say that Snape was probably still a virgin, given his looks and personality.
Determined to give the problem some more thought, Harry left the cell, not bothering to shut the door.
My Very Dear Boy,
You have faced so many trials in your young life, it seems cruel that you should face so many more to come.
Harry, I have watched you since you were a child. Rarely have I seen such a potential for love and compassion held by one so young. Cherish that part of yourself. You will have many decisions to make in the upcoming months - heed that part of you and follow your heart with each one.
Do not be tempted to treat your enemies as they will undoubtedly treat you and those you love. Meet their cruelty with compassion. I tell you this not only because it may yet save them, but because I believe it will prove to be your own salvation.
Each time a person kills, a part of them dies as well. Many lives will be in your hands; do not take them lightly. They shall defeat you if you do.
Though I have asked many things of you over the years, I feel that I must ask yet one other. Show Severus mercy. He is worthy of your respect. He, too, has faced many trials and will face many more to come. He is dear to me, Harry – please keep him safe. No matter what you may see him do or hear him say, no matter the rumours or accusations that cloud his name, his heart holds love. I leave his life and safety in your hands.
I am sorry to leave you as so many others have left you before. But, Harry, we have never really left you. Each of us lives yet, within you, bound to you by love. We will always be there for you, each time you look into your heart.
Your faithful servant,
Soft from countless readings, the parchment nestled in Harry's hands like a warm clasp. Memories crowded his mind.
Bellatrix Lestrange's face, mad with fear and hatred as he cast Imperio on her and turned her on her husband, then forced her to take her own life.
The hollow thud of Fenrir Greyback's dead body as it hit the ground.
Lucius Malfoy's scream, silenced by Gryffindor's sword.
Peter Pettigrew's wide eyes, staring even in death.
They had each taken something from him. Sirius. Remus. Ginny. His parents.
Just as Snape had taken Dumbledore.
Harry dropped the letter to the table. "You were wrong, Professor. Some things can't be forgiven." He drew his wand and aimed. "Incendio!"
He Banished the ashes to the trash.
white skin, soft, warm, shivering under long fingers, the impact of each deep-seated thrust echoed in the quiver of a generous breast, nipple hard and pointed against the palm of his hand, beneath his fingers…
Harry woke with a start, panting and achingly hard. Closing his mind to the memories and concentrating on the physical moment, he tossed off with a few twists of the wrist. He wiped his hand on the sheets and rolled over, burying his head in his pillow.
He'd expected nightmares. He'd never thought he'd have erotic dreams instead. Almost worse, but at least his body was relaxed if his mind wasn't. He focused on the lure of post-orgasm lassitude, his body heavy and relaxed.
As he drifted back to sleep, a startling thought snapped him awake.
Those weren't his hands.
The memory was Snape's.
Harry rarely could find his desktop under piles of folders and reports. Now he'd cleared it of everything but one torn and overflowing file.
"I hate this paper." Harry dropped the morning edition of the Daily Prophet with a disgusted look. "'Did Ministry Arrest the Wrong Man?' No, we bloody well did not!"
Ron glanced at it. "Ignore it. Let's go over the list of things that Tompkins and Paddifoot found at the bastard's house."
"Where is it?"
"Some backwater place in the mountains, near the Swiss border. The timeline checks out – his neighbours said that he's been there for the past nine years. He must have gone over to France immediately after the Last Battle." Ron shook his head. "We still haven't figured out how, though."
"A little Polyjuice, an assumed name," Harry said absently, looking over the list of evidence taken from Blanc's home. "Not that hard. He might have even gone as a Muggle."
"Probably did. We didn't find his wand anywhere."
"A Pensieve. Fancy. Gold, set with emeralds. Sounds a bit rich for Snape's tastes."
Ron snorted. "He rivals you in the money department, mate. Hasn't done badly for himself at all. Works for Gringotts, something to do with top-secret meetings. We're still trying to get the details, but trying to get information out of a goblin is like trying to pull teeth from a Horntail."
Harry smiled. "I don't envy you your job." He tapped his fingers on the desk. "I wonder what he'd need a Pensieve for? D'you think it's something to do with why he doesn't have any memories of his past?"
"Dunno. It was empty and we didn't find any memory vials in the house. It's your job to figure out if that means anything." He grinned. "Mine is to find the evidence and catch the bad guy – you're the one who has to make it make sense and put him in Azkaban."
Azkaban was too good for Snape. Besides, if he lost the case, Snape would go free. He wasn't about to let that happen.
Harry kept his face neutral. Ron was too quick by half sometimes.
"Everything okay, Harry?"
"Sure," he said, looking at Ron with what he hoped was a mildly quizzical expression. "Why d'you ask?"
"It's Snape." Ron glanced around and shut the office door, casting a quick Silencing Charm. "I know how you feel about him."
"And, I know you. When we've caught other Death Eaters in the past, you're all business. Except for a few of the big ones that we've missed, that someone else has got to first. Then you're quiet. You've been really quiet today."
"We haven't missed Snape."
"No. We haven't." Ron leaned forward. "We won't, either."
Harry frowned. "What are you saying?" Shit. If Ron suspected…
"I think we've got a leak," Ron said in a low voice. "Something happened to Malfoy and the Lestranges after we found out about them. I don't want the same to happen to Snape. I've got some of my best people keeping an eye on him. But I'd feel better if I had you watching, too."
Harry felt his face bloom red.
Ron grinned and hit him in the arm. "You don’t need to be embarrassed, you git. You might not be an Auror, but you're still the best man to have around in a fight. So stop blushing, you idiot." Still chuckling, he lifted the Silencing Charm and opened the door. "What d'you plan to do next?"
Harry turned away so Ron couldn't see him trembling. "I'm interrogating Snape in a bit and then I'm off to interview some village official where he lives. I'll take a look at his house, then, too."
He nodded. "Busy day."
Harry poked his head into Moody's office on the way to the interrogation room. "You wanted to talk to me?"
Moody looked up and grunted. "What do you think of Snape's reaction to being arrested?"
Harry entered the office, closed the door and leaned against the wall. "He doesn't act like an innocent man would act. He hasn't protested in more than a token way, he's never demanded that he be released. Gringotts hired his counsel, not him. But he doesn't act like Snape, either. No ranting, no sneering, no anger. He's just – passive. I got a spark or two from him, but they weren't Snape sparks."
"Snape sparks? More like Snape fireworks." Moody snorted. "And passive? Resigned to his fate, more like." He looked shrewdly at Harry. "You're good, but Snape's better. He fooled Dumbledore for years."
"He fooled Dumbledore because Dumbledore wanted to be fooled. He wanted to believe that Snape was reformed, so he simply – believed that he was. Snape doesn't have that advantage this time."
Moody grinned and handed him a report. "That's the spirit! I'll keep supervising the Aurors watching the See-All. I've got a team tracking the financial trail as well. If you focus on the physical evidence and the interrogations, we'll find what we need." Moody's magic eye swivelled to look over at his desk. "Speaking of which, the Gringotts office in Morteau hasn't got back to us yet about his vault. The last I heard, they said it would be another couple of days." He snorted. "You can't tell me that they don't have that information at their fingertips."
"Probably waiting to see what happens," Harry replied absently, looking at the report and thinking about all of the surveillance measures around Snape that he'd have to circumvent. "It might reassure them that we've released him."
"Or make them even more cagey," Moody replied.
Harry shook off his reverie and grinned. "Always looking on the bright side of things."
"Hmph." Moody's eye swivelled back to Harry. "Heard that Granger is acting as the defence counsel."
Moody's voice had changed. Harry laid down the paper, his instincts on the alert. "Yes, she is," he said.
Moody's look was shrewd. "Causing problems?"
Yes, Moody was definitely after something. Harry shook his head and casually sat down on the corner of Moody's desk. "Neither of us is happy with it, but for the duration, we're not socializing at all, and we'll have all of our case meetings here at the Ministry so that nobody can accuse either of us of not doing our jobs." He gave an exaggerated sigh. "Bloody annoying, frankly. I don't know what I'm going to do every Sunday night, now. I guess I'll have to start going to the pub instead."
Moody snorted. "Can't fool me. Is it going to affect your job?"
Harry frowned. "Of course not."
"So it's Snape that's throwing you off your stride," Moody prodded.
"What makes you think that I'm off my stride?" He stood warily.
"You know that we use monitoring spells in the cells. Yesterday you Legilimized the prisoner. Not only poor judgement, it's absolutely against procedural rules." Moody rarely got angry, but he obviously was now. "You should be written up, reprimanded at the very least, though you would rightly be suspended or fired if you were treated the same way that the other investigators are treated."
"I don't get special treatment," Harry snapped.
"Of course you do. You've used your influence to overhaul the entire trial process. Now I know that most of the ideas are Granger's, but they've been good ones, so I've kept quiet about it. But if that's the world you want, then you'd better damn well live by its rules, too."
"What are you getting at?" If Moody suspected him, he was already doomed. This could all be a trap. Harry fought not to draw his wand and to act as naturally as possible.
"I hunt Dark wizards, Potter. You're in a position of power in this world, but you weren't elected to it. You're actively using that position to change the world into your vision of what it should be. Yesterday, I watched you throw those rules out the window in favour of your own personal agenda. You tell me how many steps there are between that and becoming a Dark wizard."
Harry clenched his fists. "Have you ever seen me use Dark magic? Do you think that I would?"
"It's not all about the magic that you practice - if you use Light magic in a Dark way, you've made it Dark."
"I'm not –"
"After Dumbledore was murdered, you ran things. You acted on your own, or you told Order members what you needed to have done. You kept things secret and only shared information on a need-to-know basis." He put up a hand to silence Harry's protest. "It was necessary at the time, I agree. But those times are gone."
He couldn't believe it. "You honestly think I'm going Dark."
Moody shook his head. "Not yet. I've watched you since then. I've been impressed by what I've seen. But I wasn't impressed yesterday. You've decided the legal system's boundaries over the past nine years, and you've played by the rules that you set. Now you've got to decide whether you'll still play by those rules when it gets personal."
"Are you going to have me taken off of the case?" Harry shook with rage.
"In a heartbeat, if you fuck up again."
"Fine!" Harry threw open the door and stalked out of the office.
Damn. This changed things. Moody would follow through on his threat, no doubt. And he couldn't afford for him to do that. Not until after he'd finished Snape.
Harry took a deep breath. He'd just have to think of some way to put Moody off, that's all.
Hermione had insisted that the 'interview' be conducted in an office instead of the interrogation room. Harry wrinkled his nose as he paused in the doorway.
Like all Ministry of Magic offices, the one assigned to them for the interrogation was tiny and overflowing with stacks of parchments, tall enough to nearly hide the filing shelves that ran up every wall. A dead plant haphazardly balanced on a small bookcase bowed in the middle by piles of thick books, and a wizarding photo of someone's mother or great aunt snored vigorously. The table would have accommodated six people in a pinch if it had not been used for additional storage.
Hermione and Snape had already arrived. Hermione must have cleared space on the cramped table by Miniaturizing several piles of parchments and moving them to one end, where the tiny piles teetered in defiance of gravity. A mismatched Ministry tea set was set up on a table with various books shoved under the legs to bring it to some semblance of level. Hermione and Snape already had cups of tea, so Harry waved his wand to pour for himself and joined them.
Snape was once again dressed simply, though the clothing was obviously expensive. He was less passive, looking up and meeting Harry's eyes when he walked into the room and studying him as Harry sat at the table. He had an air of calm control much different from the high-strung anger of Harry's memory. The See-All hovered by his ear.
Harry looked at Hermione and nodded. "Counsel. I have a number of questions for Snape…"
"Monsieur Blanc," Hermione quietly corrected.
"…to learn more about his background," Harry finished. "It is in your client's best interest to answer my questions completely and without deception. You, of course, have the right to counsel him not to answer questions that might incriminate him further."
"Mr Potter, I think that before we begin this interview, we need to establish several facts relevant to the situation." Hermione pointed to a Quick-Quotes Quill poised over a parchment. "We will be recording this session and any future sessions, if needed." The quill danced across the parchment. "The quill is standard Ministry issue approved for all record-keeping purposes; I'm sure that you'll find the level of accuracy and security sufficient as a result. I would like to invite you to test it to ensure that no modifications have been made to the recording spell."
"Thank you, counsel, that won't be necessary." Harry sat back. "All interrogations are monitored…"
"This isn't an interrogation, it's an interview. And I doubt the Ministry monitored yesterday's illegal interrogation." Hermione's voice was cold. "I understand from my client that you used Legilimency on him in defiance of Ministry protocol and without informing him of his right of refusal under such circumstances."
"I was concerned about the prisoner's – Monsieur Blanc's –" he corrected sarcastically at Hermione's glare, "health. His lethargy and apparent despondency led me to believe that he may be thinking of – hurting himself. A suicide attempt would have slowed proceedings dramatically. The Ministry is interested in resolving Mr Snape's case as expediently as possible for the good of the wizarding population."
"In that case, you should have summoned a Healer to examine Monsieur Blanc."
"In my opinion, there wasn't time." He wasn't about to let her get the upper hand. Her glare showed that she knew he was lying.
But she dropped the subject. "I am interested in resolving Monsieur Blanc's case as expediently as possible so that he can return to his home and resume his life. Returning to my earlier statement regarding the facts that need to be established," Hermione pushed a parchment across the table, "here is a list of the conditions that must be met in order ensure Monsieur Blanc's cooperation. The conditions are few, but non-negotiable. Would you like to read them into the record, or shall I?"
Harry picked up the parchment and scanned it. "'The client is to be known and addressed as Monsieur Henri Blanc unless irrefutable evidence is provided of an alternate identity. Monsieur Blanc is cooperating with the Ministry of Magic voluntarily. Monsieur Blanc has the right to refuse to answer any question or questions without bias of incrimination being attached to his reason for refusal. Monsieur Blanc has the right to veto any line of questioning not relevant to the case at hand. Monsieur Blanc has the right to refuse to submit to any intrusive interrogation or interview techniques, including but not limited to Legilimency, Veritaserum, Truth Charms or Verity Wards.'"
He met her eyes and nodded in an exaggeratedly polite manner. "Very comprehensive and correct, counsel."
"My client is prepared to cooperate fully, Mr Potter." Her composure didn't falter, and Harry was startled to feel some apprehension. For the first time that he could remember, Hermione's intellect and competency were being used against him, not in his support.
His resolve firmed. He'd just have to be better than her.
Harry looked at Snape. "Tell me about your background."
"I am a purveyor of wines, fine spirits, and artisan foods." Without his customary sneer, Snape's voice was pitched a bit deeper than it had been in the past, and the accent gave it a musical quality that Harry had never heard. Surprising, how Snape was almost attractive when he was clean and calm.
He was also adept at avoiding questions. Harry pushed harder. "Your family? Your schooling? Where you've lived? I need a bit more background than a simple statement of your business pursuits."
"I was born in Besancon; my father was a vintner, my mother a chef. I attended Beauxbatons and left with a proficiency in Charms that I used in aid of my father's business. I left for Paris when I was twenty and worked for the Procurement Division of Gringotts –"
"Gringotts' officers entertain many influential clients. The Procurement Division supplies those meetings with food, drink, entertainment – whatever their clients' needs may be."
So that's why Gringotts was stalling. Harry leaned forward and waved his hand in an encouraging way. "And?"
Snape's eyes narrowed, and for a moment Harry was staring at the mocking Potions master. He blinked and the impression disappeared, leaving Blanc's unnervingly calm face.
"Upon my father's death, I returned to Besancon. I arranged a manager for the vineyard and moved to Morteau-sur-les-Doubs. There, I established my business. I have remained there since."
"Ma mère…" he paused. "My mother died while I was in my third year at Beauxbatons. My father did not remarry."
"Brothers? Sisters? Other relatives?"
Snape shrugged elegantly. "I was an only child. My parents had me late in life and were the only survivors of their families."
"You faced Voldemort; my parents faced Grindelwald." There was no way that Harry could interpret Snape's look as anything other than a direct challenge.
Harry went on the offensive. "Your wife? Children?"
He hid it well, but Harry saw despair touch his face a moment before the calm mask replaced it. "I met Alisonne in Paris. We married when I was twenty-five. We had no children."
"How long were you married?"
"How did she die?"
"She…she was struck by an automobile. It did not stop, and no one saw her lying there. By the time someone noticed the wreckage of her bicycle and found her, it was too late."
"Bicycle? Why didn't she simply Apparate?"
Snape met his eyes defiantly. "She was not a witch. She had no magic."
"A Muggle, then." Harry leaned forward and held his eyes. "And were you ashamed of that? Ashamed that she wasn't magical?"
"I see no relevance in that question," Hermione interrupted. "How Monsieur Blanc feels about his wife is immaterial."
"I was not." Snape straightened in his chair and held his head high. "And my counsel is correct. I did not need to answer that question. However, I chose to do so."
"Ah, so you wouldn't look like you were uncooperative. I understand," Harry mocked.
He frowned and crinkled his nose as if Harry smelled bad. "No, Monsieur Potter. Because I loved my wife and would do her memory no disservice through either silence or lies."
Harry's eyebrows shot up, and he felt a reluctant respect. He inclined his head. "My mistake. I apologize."
Snape looked disconcerted and distinctly uncomfortable. He relaxed, though his vigilance remained untouched. "What other questions do you have of me?"
For the rest of the hour, Harry conducted the interview strictly by Ministry regulations.
Harry had given his plan quite a bit of thought. It should work.
He rubbed his sweaty palms on his robe one last time. Not enough. Cursing himself for his weakness, he used a quick Drying Charm that seemed to do the trick.
He knocked at the Minister of Magic's door and stuck his head in.
"Harry! Come in!" Kingsley Shacklebolt stood, ignoring the pile of paperwork his assistant tried to push towards him. He crossed the room and shook Harry's hand.
Thank the gods he'd dried it first or Shacklebolt would have known something was wrong.
"Sit down, Harry, sit down," the Minister said. "Sounds like there's a complication in the Blanc case. Counsel Granger seems to think that Blanc isn't Snape."
"Hermione's wrong." Shacklebolt raised his eyebrows and Harry gave him a wry smile. "Sorry, sir, I shouldn't have put it so bluntly. But I'm convinced that this man is Snape."
"She doesn't dispute that he may have once been Snape. Her argument is that he no longer is, and therefore shouldn't be tried for Snape's crimes."
"I think that's his strategy." Harry leaned forward. "Somehow he's managed to substitute a set of memories for his own. I don't think it's permanent, but," he leaned back and ran a hand through his hair, "I'm not sure how he's doing it."
"You're not having much luck in proving he's Snape, though, are you?"
"Not yet," Harry admitted.
"Moody says he's got the best team working the case – he seems to have a lot of faith in Weasley."
"Ron's the best," Harry said. He emphasised Ron's name just the slightest bit.
"I hear a qualifier in your voice," Kingsley said. "Are you concerned about something?"
He'd taken the bait. Good. "Well," Harry paused and then plunged in. "Ron is concerned that we have a leak, and that someone will come after Snape like they did for Malfoy and the Lestranges."
Kingsley frowned. "I'd asked Alastor about that after Pettigrew went missing. He said he'd take care of it."
"But – damn."
"Well, what if it's Moody himself?" Harry asked. "I know the two of you have known each other for years," he added quickly, "but well…you didn't see him at Snape's initial interrogation," he mumbled.
"Hopcap said something similar," Kingsley said. He leaned back in his chair, his face twisted with concern. "He thought it seemed personal."
Harry nodded. "The thing that really concerns me is that Moody was responsible for security of the people who disappeared…"
"…And he's responsible for Blanc's as well," Kingsley finished. "What do you think?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "It's really hard for me to believe that he's lost it like that. In fact, I wouldn't have let myself believe it, except – well, he accused me of being Dark."
Kingsley's eyes widened. "You must be joking!"
"I didn't know quite what to think." Harry rubbed his scar.
"I can imagine." Kingsley stood and walked over to his window. He stared out.
Harry remained silent. He'd planted the seeds, now to watch the result.
Kingsley sighed. "I'm extremely reluctant to believe that Alastor is behind those disappearances. But I want this case heard. I want Snape in Azkaban." He looked at Harry. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Counsel Potter."
Hearing the dismissal in the Minister's voice, Harry nodded and quietly left the room.
He wasn't surprised to get an owl two hours later assigning him the responsibility of overseeing Blanc's security.
Harry took a scrying basin home that evening.
After he poured himself a drink, he sat at his couch, the scrying basin on the coffee table in front of him. It had already been attuned to Snape's See-All. He waved his wand over the still surface. Images captured by the See-All wavered and sharpened.
He sat back to watch.
Hermione sat at a table, sorting through papers in a room that Harry didn't recognize, though it looked like a guestroom at the Leaky Cauldron. Snape sat across from her. The See-All distorted perspective, making Hermione seem small, while Snape filled almost the whole of Harry's sight.
"I don't think the change in security indicates any danger to you," she said. "I'm sure that it was just an extra precaution."
"A precaution that places Monsieur Potter in charge of my safety."
"Harry takes his responsibilities very seriously, I assure you. You'll be quite safe. But it's time for us to plan your defence." She straightened the papers and summoned a quill. "I'll pause the See-All now so that you can speak candidly."
Snape shook his head. "Leave it go. I am not afraid, I have nothing to hide. My life is open to the Ministry, if it will convince them that I am not the man whom they accuse me of being."
That was unexpected. Intrigued, Harry leaned forward.
Hermione looked at Snape with wide eyes. "Monsieur, if you speak now, the Ministry will have all of the details of your defence. You will be allowing them to find evidence to refute your testimony."
"I understand." Snape stood up and walked to the window. He pulled cigarettes from a shirt pocket and looked at Hermione. "Is this permissible?"
Hermione waved her hand. "Of course. It's your room."
Snape lit the cigarette with a word – Harry was impressed by this display of wandless magic – put it to his mouth and inhaled. Harry noticed that he didn't hold it between two fingers. Instead, he held it between his thumb and forefinger; his fingers touched his lips when he inhaled.
He looked out the window. Smoke trickled from his mouth.
Harry knew that view. He had watched from a similar window at the Leaky Cauldron, feeling trapped and confined. The sense of familiarity was disconcerting.
Harry watched the cigarette meet lips, glow, fade. "Monsieur Potter is a passionate man, is he not?" Smoke wisped from Snape's mouth as he spoke.
"Monsieur Blanc," Hermione said hesitantly, "what does Harry have to do with this case?"
"He wants me imprisoned." Snape inhaled again and blew out the smoke in a stream. "I am assured of your skills –" He shook his head. "No, I mean that I am – confident – of your skills." His hand dropped to his side, the cigarette smoke eddying in the back draft of his movement. "Yet though I believe that you will do your best upon my behalf, and that your intelligence is formidable, you cannot prevail against Monsieur Potter." He leaned his head against the glass. "My fate lies in his hands, not within yours. Not even within the English Ministry's."
Harry held his breath. What would Hermione do? The last thing he needed was for her to become suspicious.
Hermione was obviously struggling to choose her words. "I feel that you've placed me in a position of either agreeing with you or of defending Mr Potter. All I can tell you is that your trial will be fair. Harry would never use his position to influence the Wizengamot."
Snape raised his hand to his mouth and drew on his cigarette again. He was silent until he had finished it, dropped it to the floor, ground it out. He turned to Hermione.
"I wonder how well you know your friend, madame."
She frowned. "I've known Harry since we were eleven."
He looked at her with the intensity that Harry remembered, but with none of the hostility. "And you do not find him ruthless?"
Harry couldn't remember the last time that he had seen Hermione speechless.
The Apparition point at Morteau-sur-les-Doubs was undoubtedly the bleakest spot on the entire planet. Harry Apparated into rain; all of the heat was sucked from his body. He cast an Impervius Charm and wrapped his robe more closely around himself, then started down the hill.
Morteau-sur-les-Doubs was a small village, colourful shop fronts graced with the names of the proprietors, many with no indication of the goods carried within, others that merely displayed a board hanging over the door. Bicycles leaned against buildings, though Harry couldn't see how anyone could ride one over the rough cobbles. The town hall held the place of honour at the end of the street, and anchored the narrow pavement meandering down from the small church nestled just above the village.
When Harry reached the town hall, he tried the door. It was locked. He looked down the street, then glanced up as he heard his name.
A very fat man dressed in a brown suit and shoes ridiculously unsuited to the weather trotted down the street from the church. As he reached Harry, he wiped his flushed face. Sweat beaded again as he puffed.
"Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Vous appelez-vous Monsieur Potter?"
Harry had carefully rehearsed his request. "Oui, Cela vous ennuie-t-il que je jette un sortilège de traduction?
"Mais bien sûr que non, je vous en prie." The man gestured widely, a happy smile on his face.
Harry cast the translation charm. "Thank you, monsieur…?"
"Gastonne. Pierre Gastonne. It is a very great honour to meet you, monsieur!" Gastonne captured Harry's hand in both of his and pumped it. "I understand that you have questions of me and of Monsieur Blanc."
"Yes." Harry looked around to see curious faces at several windows. "But perhaps we might talk in private?"
"But of course!" Still smiling, Gastonne pulled a ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. He opened it and gestured for Harry to precede him inside. "Please, come in, come in!"
Entering after Harry, Gastonne bustled about, lighting candles and escorting Harry across a small atrium and through an ornate door. "Please, sit down. May I offer you a coffee? A glass of wine? An aperitif?"
"Coffee, please." Harry forced himself to curb his impatience as Gastonne set a small pot of water on a one-ring burner, measured coffee into it, and set a little pot on top before turning on the burner. He looked over at Harry and smiled.
"I hope that you don't mind that I don't simply conjure a cup for you, Monsieur Potter, but coffee…he's a drink not to be hurried. The wine of hot beverages." The little pot hissed and bubbled like a cauldron.
"Do you know Monsieur Blanc well?"
Gastonne didn't answer as he poured the contents of the pot into a small cup. "Sugar? Cream? No? May you enjoy it." He handed the cup to Harry, his face suddenly devoid of any expression other than an official courtesy. He busied himself making another cup of coffee. As it began to hiss in turn, he turned and faced Harry.
Harry was surprised by an unexpectedly shrewd expression as the man's eyes flickered over him. Then the lines of Gastonne's face relaxed and flattened back into bland geniality so quickly that Harry could almost believe that he had imagined it.
Gastonne shrugged. "Does any of us know another well?" He turned back to the coffee, pouring himself a cup before turning off the burner. He crossed to the desk, taking his seat behind the vast expanse of mahogany.
"Some may know more than they think," Harry said. He put his untouched coffee on the desk. "Monsieur Gastonne, if I am wrong, and Monsieur Blanc is not a war criminal, he will be a free man. But if I'm correct, and he is a war criminal, then no one in your village is safe while he is free."
"We, too, have lived with war." Gastonne's geniality slipped, and pain showed briefly on his face. "Though I was but a child, I remember well the fear and the uncertainty of life as both Hitler and Grindelwald marched across Europe and France fell. My papa fought both and managed to save maman and me.
"However, after the war, the lines on his face framed more sorrow than joy. D'accord, I have never asked him what he did when he fought. I only watched what he did when he rebuilt his life." He sipped his coffee and watched Harry politely, but obviously on guard.
Harry shook his head. "I'm sure that your father did only what he had to in order to protect his family and survive. Under Voldemort, many did the same. Those actions are not what I am talking about. Severus Snape betrayed Albus Dumbledore and fought at Voldemort's side. He killed innocents, both wizards and Muggles. Your father fought honourably. Snape didn't."
Gastonne positioned his empty cup precisely on his desk and pondered. "I cannot believe that Henri Blanc is this Snape. One cannot change one's innate nature. Henri Blanc is an honourable man."
"Then he can come to no harm if you speak of him with me."
Gastonne looked at him and spoke softly. "They say you are an honourable man, monsieur. They say you defeated an evil wizard. They say that you have changed the laws to offer fairness to even the most criminal. They say you are the greatest wizard alive." Gastonne stared at the coffee cup. "I find myself in a quandary. I will be frank with you." He looked up. "Henri Blanc is a particular friend of mine. I have nothing but love and respect for him, as do many in this village. I believe that I know him as well as one man may know another."
"Albus Dumbledore believed the same of Snape." Harry sat back in his chair and ran his hand through his hair. "Monsieur Gastonne, I cannot force you to speak. If you prefer not to, I will go elsewhere for my information. But then, if Monsieur Blanc is innocent, he will not have the benefit of your testimony and may be wrongfully convicted as a result."
Gastonne sat back in his chair and seemed to appraise Harry's honesty. "You are truly adept in your arguments, monsieur. I foresee a great career in politics for you."
Harry snorted and shook his head. "I have no interest in politics, monsieur."
"Yet politics are interested in you." Gastonne seemed to come to a decision, and took a cigarette case from his pocket. He opened the case and offered a cigarette to Harry. When Harry shook his head, Gastonne took one, reached across the desk for a lighter, lit it and blew out a small cloud of smoke. He began speaking without preamble.
"Nine years ago, our village was destitute. We have no slopes, so the skiers go elsewhere. We have no history, so no tourists are interested. We have no saints, so no pilgrims come. Our magic is weak, so we have no strategic value to the French Ministry of Magic, nor scholars to send to Beauxbatons. All we have is pigs, a few cows and a clockmaker.
"Then Henri Blanc arrived. You can imagine our curiosity about a stranger in our village. There was much interest, and many speculated as to his reason for coming here. At first, no one saw him – he never left his home. Rumours flew that he was a rich foreigner, a drug lord, a terrorist establishing a false identity." Gastonne shook his head. "Alas, it is the same everywhere – people make up that which they do not know and present it as fact. By the time that Blanc finally ventured into the village, he was regarded with a mixture of speculation and fear.
"Yet, he remained quiet. When he did not present a threatening front, the villagers expressed their curiosity and slowly, facts came out. He was a widower, mourning his dead wife. He had no children. He had taken a leave from his position with Gringotts, where he had accumulated great wealth. He maintained his family's vineyard, though he did not live there.
"Gradually, he began to spend more time in the village. He drank coffee in the café. He sat at the back of the church each Sunday. He contributed to the villagers' drive for funds to expand our modest library. Soon he began to ask questions. 'This sausage, I've never tasted its like. Why isn't it available elsewhere?' 'This cheese, it retains its creaminess when it is chilled. Is it because of the cows, or is it a family charm?' 'I have seen many rich wizards who would covet timepieces made with such skill.'"
Gastonne puffed his cigarette. "He appears at Jean Paul DeGaulle's pig shed to watch him tend his pigs. He watches them be butchered. He questions the curing process. Eventually, he says, 'Jean Paul, how much sausage could you spare me if I could sell it for you outside the village?' And Jean Paul, thinking that he was being ridiculed, replied, 'As much as you could ever need.' A week later, Blanc presented Jean Paul with more francs than any of us had ever seen, and took away all his sausages.
"He did the same with the families who made cheese, and the clockmaker. The village began to prosper. He began again his job with Gringotts, and many important goblins come to the village to meet with him. Now, many years later, he is trusted by all as a sharp but fair businessman, a generous patron and a good friend. He does not suffer fools; he does not take a mistress. He smiles only occasionally and laughs never. He has sponsored several young people to schools, including Beauxbatons."
Gastonne crushed the butt of the cigarette into an ashtray. He looked at Harry with clear eyes.
"Henri Blanc is one of us. That is why I believe that you are making a mistake."
Harry looked into the man's face. Even without Legilimency, he could see that Gastonne told the truth. He stood up.
"Thank you for your time, Monsieur Gastonne."
Gastonne stood as well. "You do not think you are wrong."
Harry looked at him steadily. "I know I am not."
"We have a saying here, 'the maxims of men disclose their hearts.'" Gastonne's hand fluttered. "Henri lives by the maxims of loyalty. He is strict and yet fair. He is generous and takes an interest in our young people and our future. He lives simply, but insists on quality. These are not the maxims of a killer."
"Perhaps they are the maxims of a man paying off his guilt." Harry tilted his head. "Again, thank you for your time.Au revoir."
Harry felt Gastonne's gaze follow him out the door.
Snape's house was deceptively small, built of rough caramel-coloured stone and roofed with slate, surrounded by gardens filled with fruit trees and fragrant herbs. The rain had cleared. Weak sunlight trickled through the windows.
The Aurors had already thoroughly searched it. Harry wandered through, wondering why he'd thought he'd find any answers here.
Snape liked quality, he noted contemptuously, though his possessions were few and simple in comparison with the excesses that Harry had witnessed entering other Death Eater homes. It must have seemed like child's play, fooling these gullible villagers after the years of razor's edge deception practiced on Albus Dumbledore.
The bedroom was large; windows half-covered with ivy threw patterns across the white counterpane of the bed. Harry lifted a pillow to his nose and smelled it. Expensive scent and cigarette smoke still clung to it, much different than the sour-pungent scent that he associated with Snape.
He tossed the pillow on the bed and made his way to the loo.
Luxury beckoned. A bathtub with Muggle Jacuzzi jets and wizard fixtures graced the far wall and the shower stall appeared to be lined with the same marble that tiled the floor. The wall behind the bathtub rose in tiers of stone and frosted glass blocks. Golden fixtures gleamed in the light.
He opened the potions cabinet. Mainly lotions and remedies for common illnesses, he noted.
Small, identical bottles filled an entire shelf. Harry picked one up. His heart sped up as he recognized the cramped, precise lettering on the label.
The last time he'd seen that handwriting was in the margins of a sixth year Potions book.
"'Henri Blanc – Neuralgia Potion,'" Harry read. "'One dose each night for one week. After a week, discontinue one night. If needed, resume treatment for an additional week.'" Disappointed, he moved as if to put it back on the shelf and stopped. There were so many of them. Did Snape suffer from headaches so badly?
He slipped the bottle into his pocket. It never hurt to have things analyzed.
He wandered through the house until he reached the study. Bookshelves filled to overflowing lined the walls, the books' bindings worn from much handling. French doors led to a garden. A large, obviously expensive carpet covered the floor.
A massive mahogany desk dominated the room. Harry was surprised to see a sleek computer monitor sitting on it – Snape had obviously adopted some Muggle habits. Amidst neat piles of folders and correspondence, a gleam caught Harry’s eye.
A brass dish with a heavy base sat on the desk. Its contents glowed golden in the dim room.
Harry stared at them for a long moment. Then with a snarl, he snatched the heavy dish up and hurled it against the wall.
Sherbets flew everywhere.
Harry stood, breathing hard, fists clenched. He glared at the dish, lying surrounded by bits of stone that had chipped off the wall where it had struck. Crunching sherbets beneath his feet, he stalked over to it and pulled out his wand. He’d reduce it to slag. Snape had no right, no right to any association with Dumbledore –
He paused. The base of the dish was split open to reveal a hollow interior. He thought he could see something inside.
Cautiously, Harry examined it for any magical signatures, but none seemed to exist. Reassured that it wasn’t cursed, he knelt and teased out a tight roll of paper. Handling the roll carefully – the paper was old and brittle – he unrolled it and held it flat.
He looked into his own eyes.
The Harry in the photograph glared at him for a moment, face lined with grief and fury, and then turned away. Behind him, a white tomb gleamed brightly.
He put the first piece of paper aside and looked at the second. Dumbledore’s smiling face peered out at him and seemed to recognize him; he beamed widely and waved. Harry’s eyes burned as he traced the headmaster’s face with his fingertip. He swallowed back grief as fresh as it had been the day Dumbledore had died and continued.
The last scrap proved to be the Daily Prophet article about Dumbledore's murder and the funeral.
Harry sat back, the papers curling into loose rolls as he dropped them.
Why would Snape have wanted to keep these articles? Why would he run the risk? True, he probably hadn’t expected anyone would ever find him, and he had hidden them well in case someone did. But if it was for the purpose of gloating, surely his own memory would be enough for that.
Unless, of course, he’d lost his memories.
Harry picked up the scraps and stood. He’d just have to ask, wouldn’t he? He'd schedule another interrogation for the morning.
The next morning, Harry again arrived after Snape and Hermione. Nothing had changed in the little office, other than the addition of several used teacups to the pile by the tea service. Harry sat across from them, waving away the tea that Hermione offered.
"So, Blanc," Harry leaned forward, "d'you want to tell me why you have an article about Albus Dumbledore's funeral hidden in your candy dish?"
Snape frowned. "My candy dish?"
"Little dish, sits on your desk, full of lemon sherbets."
"That dish was a gift."
Snape shook his head. "I don’t remember. It's such a little thing. My wife, possibly."
"You don't have to say anything more, monsieur," Hermione interjected.
"Strange coincidence, though, don't you think?" Harry sat back.
"For you, perhaps. I don't understand." He sounded impatient.
Hermione looked between Harry and Snape and then sighed as both men looked at her expectantly. "Severus Snape not only murdered Albus Dumbledore; he knew him," she explained quietly. "As a friend. Professor Dumbledore loved lemon sherbets, and always had a dish of them on his desk."
Snape's eyebrows rose. "Truly," he murmured. "An amazing coincidence." He shrugged. "But I have no explanation. It is as it is."
"You do realise how that will appear to the Wizengamot, don't you?"
"Don't answer that!" Hermione whirled on Harry. "That question is entirely inappropriate!"
Snape ignored her. "I imagine that anything that you present to the Court will be given great weight, Monsieur Potter."
"Are you suggesting that I would try to influence the proceedings, Snape?"
"Oh. I'm sorry. 'Monsieur Blanc'."
"I would suggest that regardless of your intent, your beliefs are adopted by others." Snape sat back in his chair. "I'm curious as to why my security arrangements have been changed. Would you know anything about that, monsieur?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "No more than I know what causes those headaches you take a potion for, monsieur."
He looked down his nose at Harry. "I suffer greatly from neuralgia."
"I'm sure you do. So tell me," Harry smiled, "what does one get when one mixes asphodel with an infusion of wormwood?"
"Draught of Living Death," Snape answered. "Beauxbatons has an excellent Potions curriculum."
"So I've been told."
"Is there any point to this questioning?" Hermione asked.
"It seems not," Harry replied. He stood. "You're free to go, Monsieur Blanc."
Snape inclined his head and stood. Hermione gathered up her papers.
"Are you going back to your rooms, monsieur?" Harry asked.
Snape looked at him sharply. "I had thought to find a restaurant."
"May I accompany you?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Hermione protested. "Unless I come along as well."
Snape continued to study Harry. "Thank you, counsel, but your presence will not be necessary. I'm sure Monsieur Potter would act with propriety."
"Of course," Harry said. "Besides, the See-All will be with us the entire time."
Snape's lip quirked. "Then I welcome your company."
"Right. Hang on."
Harry grabbed Snape's arm and Disapparated.
They arrived in Harry's kitchen, the See-All snapping into the air by Snape's ear with a loud crack.
Snape yanked his arm away from Harry. "This is not a restaurant."
"You're right." Harry turned and began to hunt through his cupboards. "It looks like I've got soup or curry. Which would you prefer?"
"Neither." Snape's face was flushed and angry. "I would like to have a civilised lunch at a restaurant. I demand that you take me back to the Ministry immediately!"
"Sorry." Harry took a packet of curry from the cupboard and emptied into a saucepan. "Oh, and just in case you're waiting for Hermione to pop in – she won't. I played a bit with the See-All's magic. She thinks we're sitting in a Muggle restaurant right now."
Harry ignored him. "You, know, Snape, you're different. Normally you'd be screaming at me right about now, until spit flew out of your mouth." He aimed a Warming Charm at the saucepan and turned to the cupboard again to take down plates. "You were really pretty disgusting."
Snape edged towards the door. "You insist that I am this Snape. I tell you, you are mistaken. I would find the situation ludicrous if I did not know you were serious."
"Of course I'm serious," Harry snapped, spinning and grabbing Blanc by the collar. He pulled him close. "You told the prophecy to Voldemort and my parents were killed for it, you drove Sirius to his death, you killed Dumbledore in front of me – he was begging but it didn't matter to you. If Dementors still existed, I'd gladly watch as they Kissed you."
Snape paled. "No, not ludicrous at all," he murmured. "I see my death in your eyes." He shook his head, his eyes not leaving Harry's. "My past doesn't matter, nor does my innocence. When once you saw me, my life was no longer mine, was it?"
"You belong to me." Harry whispered, his mouth nearly touching Snape's.
Snape seemed to shiver.
For a moment, Harry didn't recognise himself. Much taller than he really was, a glow of power obscuring his features, he towered over Snape. In Snape's mind, he was leaning forward, closer, his mouth covering Snape's, stretched wide, empty and hungry…
"Fuck!" He shoved Snape, who tripped over a chair and fell to the floor. Harry stood over him. "You sick bastard! I wouldn't have sex with you if you were the last person on the planet!"
Snape sneered and wiped his arm across his lips. "Do you think I want you? You make my skin crawl! You want my soul. You didn't simply destroy the Dementors during the war. It is as if you took them into yourself!"
"That's a lie!"
The saucepan of curry exploded.
"C'est vrai," Snape whispered. "You became that which you destroyed."
"I'm not a fucking Dementor!" Harry's foot lashed out, catching Snape under the chin and sending him tumbling backwards. He stood over Snape's crumpled form, his wand in his hand, a whisper away from casting the Killing Curse.
Blood poured from Snape's nose, and he looked stunned. Slowly, he lifted his hand to his face. His eyes lifted and met Harry's again. "Finish it, then."
Harry curled his lip. "Not yet." He knelt and lifted his wand. "Legilimens!" Ruthlessly, he pushed Snape's pain and thoughts aside. "Is this what you want?"
He invaded, forcing Snape to see what he wanted him to see.
He straddled Snape's thighs, rejoicing in the pain and fear that he saw in the man's face. "Divestio," he murmured, and Snape was naked, his body pasty white and scarred, his cock lying quiescent across his thigh. Harry leaned forward and drew his fingernails down Snape's body, leaving parallel trails of red, pinpointed with wellings of blood. Fingers encountered rough pubic hair; he paused. Watching his face, he slowly lifted the flaccid cock and snorted. "Pathetic," he murmured, and dropped it.
He inched his way up Snape's body. Sitting up, he unzipped his trousers and pulled out his own cock, languidly fisting it to full hardness. Holding Snape's eyes with his own, he reached out and drew his fingers through the blood trailing down his cheek before he insinuated them into his mouth. "You're mine," he whispered, and moved forward until he straddled his face. "Mine." He played with Snape's slack mouth, dipping his fingers into the blood and swirling them across his tongue, painting his teeth, rouging his lips until he used bloody fingers to force Snape's mouth open and thrust his cock in…
Harry suddenly found himself sprawled on the floor, Snape looming over him. "How dare you!" Snape snarled, his face twisted with anger and fear. "You salopard!"
Snape looked glorious, familiar and hated and bloody and – right. "Yes," Harry whispered. He smiled.
Brilliant. He'd forgotten how alive he'd felt when in a battle. Power sang through him.
Snape's eyes widened. "You're truly mad." Then his face hardened and he straightened. "I promise you I won't go easily."
Harry wanted to freeze the moment and hold it eternal. The others had raged, pleaded, begged, but none of them had stood up to him. None of them had faced him, wandless, defiant against the odds.
Snape existed. The last battle was to hand.
But the timing wasn't right. Soon, but not yet.
"Obliviate," Harry murmured.
Snape's face went slack. He looked confused.
"Attacking a Ministry employee," Harry said, pushing himself up into a reclining position. "Azkaban for sure."
Snape shook his head. "But I don't remember –"
Harry climbed to his feet. "Are you saying you experienced a blackout?" he asked. "That you attacked me in a moment of madness?"
He shook his head again. "No, I – I hate violence. I would never attack someone. I don't understand –" He looked up, resigned. "But I suppose that makes no difference."
"No. It doesn't." He watched as Snape gingerly touched his nose again and then said, "What will you give me to keep quiet?"
"You're mine," Harry said. "Don't think I'm going to let you get away."
Snape looked sick. Harry smiled; he could feel the burn of anticipation even as part of him was horrified at his actions. But the thrill at being proved right overcame his queasiness. Let the bastard think about it, wonder when he'd be called to task. Break that damnable calm superiority.
Make him Snape again.
He healed Snape's nose and Vanished the blood before taking him back to the Ministry.
Harry shut and warded the door to his office.
Snape's defiant face. He could now admit that a part of him had begun to doubt whether Blanc was Snape.
Those doubts no longer existed. Anticipation curled around his stomach, a snake of excitement and…desire.
He adjusted himself.
Snape's mouth, slack and blood-smeared. Snape's eyes, flashing hot with anger.
He shivered. Slipping into his chair, he rubbed his rising erection.
Snape's gold Pensieve glowed with age and elegance at the corner of his desk. Impulsively, Harry placed his wand to his head, lifted the memory free and placed it within. He leaned over the Pensieve and was sucked in.
He was confused for a moment by the double images in front of him, but immediately adjusted as he separated the fantasy from the memory.
Snape stared up at him wide-eyed, his mouth open, blood smeared across his face. He watched his fantasy-self inch up Snape's body while his memory-self stared down at Snape, slowly relaxing closer.
Harry unzipped his trousers, breathing a sigh of relief as he spat into his palm, took himself in hand and watched. Groaning, he began to set a rough, fast pace.
Black eyes. Wet, soft mouth. Yet underneath the civilised exterior lurked the fierce passion he remembered. Snape. His Snape.
Panting, Harry burned as his fantasy-self took his fingers from Snape's mouth and directed his prick toward bloody lips. He wanked faster.
Snape erupted upward, destroying the fantasy and twisting Harry off him and onto the floor. A brief moment leaning over Harry, the unyielding pride as he straightened.
Harry exploded, his hips jerking helplessly as he looked deep into defiant eyes. Hand slick with come, he milked himself dry, lost in the growl of Snape's deep voice as he dared Harry to kill him.
He fell out of the memory and found himself panting and awkwardly sprawled in his chair, the smell of spunk and sweat heavy in the air. He let his head fall backwards and stared up at the ceiling.
Oh dear gods. He'd just wanked to a memory of Snape. Worse, he'd wanked to the memory of raping Snape's mind.
What was happening to him?
His wards flashed yellow and he heard pounding. Hastily trying to tuck himself away and rearrange his clothes, Harry looked for his wand in a panic and spotted it, half-buried under loose parchments. Cursing, he grabbed it and plunged it into the Pensieve, capturing the memory and pulling it out. He had just managed to replace it when the wards flashed red and the door burst open, followed by Ron with a grim look on his face and wand drawn.
"You okay...?" Ron's voice trailed away. He made a face and quickly shut the door. "Damn, Harry, couldn't you wait until you got home?"
Too close. He could feel his face blazing bright as Ron's hair and gestured helplessly. Ron relaxed and grinned. Glimpsing his hand, covered with semen, he cursed and cast a quick Cleaning Charm.
"I warded my door," he replied weakly. Much too close.
"Sorry, mate. But I'd never expected you to have it off in your office. I just heard some moaning and thought I'd better investigate."
"Well, you've investigated," Harry muttered. "Now bugger off."
Ron laughed and perched on the edge of the desk, waving his wand to dissipate the smell of sex. He shook his head. "Not letting you off that easy. I've got something to report to you, haven't I?"
"Get on with it." Harry realised his trouser fly was still open and hastily zipped himself up, sparking renewed laughter from Ron.
"Right, right," he chuckled as Harry glared. "I'm getting to it." He sobered. "It's about Blanc."
"You mean Snape." Harry nodded to a chair and sat. Ron sat, too, leaning forward with his elbows propped on his knees.
"I mean Blanc. We've finally heard from Gringotts," Ron said. "They verified everything that he said. He works for them, and they gave him the Pensieve because they ask him to be a third party witness for them during meetings. He extracts the memories and gives them back to the goblins for their records. I got the impression," he lowered his voice, "that they also take any memories from him that could compromise the bank."
Harry frowned. "You showed them a photo?"
"They couldn't identify his photo. According to them, 'all wizards look alike'. They made it very plain that they weren't bound to tell us anything about their employees, since they're not bound by our laws. They said they only cooperated because Blanc is such a valued employee." He looked doubtful. "Everyone else we've contacted has either only known Blanc since he moved to Morteau-sur-les-Doubs, or they haven't seen him since he was young, and say that the photo could be of him." He hesitated. "I think you've got to face it. What if he really isn't Snape?"
"He's Snape," Harry replied automatically. "There's no question about that. It's just figuring out how he's both Snape and Blanc. What about the potion?"
"A variation of Dreamless Sleep. The Ministry's Brewers Division people say they can't see how it could be used to suppress memories; if anything, it looks like it might enhance them. They figure it's a continental recipe. Doltman thought it was probably just substandard brewing."
"Doltman is a bigoted arse. He would have been a Death Eater if he had any sort of backbone."
"Yeah, well, he's the best in the Division, at least according to him." Ron snorted. "Arsehole. They said the cigarettes are clean, too. Snape never used to smoke," he observed.
"Everybody smokes in France. If he didn't, he'd stand out." He bit his lip in thought. Doltman was an idiot. Just to be safe, he'd ask Luna if she would perform an independent analysis of the potion as a favour to him.
Ron raised an eyebrow. "If you say so. But everyone we interviewed says that Blanc has smoked like a chimney all his life."
"What about the money trail?"
"Rich. Filthy. Income from the Gringotts job, from the vineyards and from his business marketing local products, plus a healthy inheritance from his parents. He's got business connections with goblins, wizards and Muggles. Parkinson's gone through everything, but couldn't find a Knut that she couldn't account for."
"If Pansy can't find anything, there's nothing to find." All of the leads seemed to deteriorate into dead ends. Not surprising. Snape would be careful not to leave any avenues open to question.
"Nothing else, really. The Aurors found some elementary potions texts, mainly for normal household brewing. We checked Snape's background. The house at Spinner's End was destroyed after the war. Headmistress McGonagall had a few of Snape's papers and books, but we didn't find anything there, either." Ron cleared his throat and Harry looked up.
"Look, it's none of my business, but, well – you've been really quiet lately. Hermione says she's concerned about you, too. She says you're obsessed with Blanc, and that she's…" he paused, clearly uncomfortable.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Well, she thinks you're…she's having problems getting Blanc's case taken seriously." Ron shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"She thinks I'm influencing people?" The last thing he needed was Hermione getting the case assigned to someone else.
"No, at least not deliberately." Ron leaned forward. "It's just that, well – I agree with her that you're obsessed about this case. And we're not the only people who've noticed. People look to you, mate, even though I know you don't like it. She thinks that they've all decided already that Blanc is guilty and a trial is just a formality."
"He is guilty."
"But you've got to prove it in court, not in the hallways of the Ministry. She's worried that the Wizengamot hearing will just be a formality and that Blanc's headed for Azkaban, regardless."
"She's convinced Blanc's innocent, isn't she?" Damn. All he needed was for Hermione to take up Blanc as a cause in addition to defending him.
"Yeah, I think she is." Ron slumped back in his chair.
"No money trail, different magic, different nationality, his past checks out, he has no memory of being Snape…the only damned thing we've got is an old Prophet article." Harry shook his head. "He's guilty as sin, and we can't prove it." He stood, prompting Ron to stand up, too. "You'll just have to go out there and find something, won't you?"
"We've looked everywhere. I don't think there's anything to find."
"Just look again, would you? I'm going to talk to McGonagall. I know you've already talked to her, but maybe she's remembered something since then."
Ron shrugged. "It's worth a try. I'll get my team to brainstorm some new ideas."
Harry nodded and watched as Ron left the office.
No, there wasn't enough to convict Blanc of being Snape. He'd suspected that would happen all along – Snape was canny. He'd covered his trail well.
Maybe McGonagall would know something. If not, well, it didn't matter anyway. He'd planned all along to be the one who paid Snape back for what he'd done. He wasn't going to escape.
He sat and began to jot down questions he could ask the Headmistress.
Before he left work, he fire-called Luna and gave her the potion. If there was anything wrong with it, she'd dig it up.
The trip to Hogwarts had been a waste of time. McGonagall hadn't known a thing.
Harry left the castle and paused, looking down the rugged hillside. Hagrid's hut was gone, but other than that, the school grounds looked the same as they had when he'd been a student. Dumbledore's tomb shone white as a beacon; ten years of weather hadn't diminished its clean brilliance.
It beckoned to him.
He picked his way down the slope until he stood at its side. The stone was pristine; no moss clung to its smooth surfaces, no dirt marred its base. He pressed a hand to it and snatched it away – cold, so cold it was hot, but smooth and inviting, too. He tentatively ran a finger along the marble surface. It felt like his fingertip froze instantly, yet his sense of touch seemed magnified. As he placed his hand on the stone once again, it was as if, as he caressed the stone, the stone caressed him back.
He imagined that he heard the faint music of phoenix song. Harry traced Dumbledore's name, the characters flowing smooth as water beneath his touch.
The stone moved.
Harry leapt back, tripped, and landed on his bum. A dark opening appeared at the base of the tomb, hidden from view of the school. Harry drew his wand, crawled forward, and nearly gagged at the stench of death that poured out. From what he could see, though, it looked like the opening led to a large room.
Cautious, Harry lit his wand to peer through the opening. The Lumos was swallowed by the darkness, as if the stench of dead air had substance, though he thought he could see a faint light deep inside. He glanced around the familiar lawn surrounding Dumbledore’s last resting place, grit his teeth, pulled his robe over his nose, took a deep breath and held it, and then slid through the opening.
It snapped shut behind him.
His heart pounded. He pressed his hands against the stone and tried an Unlocking Spell, but it wouldn't move. After a few minutes of futile effort, he leaned against the stone and considered his options.
There only seemed to be one.
Nowhere to go but forward. He made his way slowly across the empty space, headed towards the light, which had grown to a warm, almost cheery glow. The smell seemed to have disappeared, so he lowered his robe. Even his Lumos worked a bit better now.
His footsteps made no sound.
As he drew closer, the light grew brighter. He could see a figure lying on the ground. A body.
The hairs on his neck stood up. Though he couldn't see the face, he knew, with absolute certainty, that the body was not Dumbledore's.
He crept closer.
The light illuminated without blinding, and seemed to emanate from a broad plinth rising from the ground. Atop it lay another figure, peaceful, full beard draped white as truth over folded arms. Harry's eyes filled with tears.
Dumbledore looked as if he were asleep.
He bit his lip and looked down. The other body lay nearly at his feet, its flesh long gone, the tatters of what once must have been a rich cloak stretched over clean, bleached bones, their position an echo of Dumbledore's peaceful repose. He put his wand in his pocket and knelt.
The empty sockets of the skull stared beyond his shoulder as he leaned over it. No clue to its identity but for wisps of age-bleached hair. The clothing, too, gave no information. It wasn't until he looked at the skeletal hands, delicate finger bones curled tenderly around a slip of wood, that he realized.
A wand. A wand that he had seen hundreds of times through his school years, many times aimed directly at him.
The pointed jawbone that had once carried a proud, sharp chin remained closed.
"Oh, gods, Malfoy." Harry swallowed. "How the hell did you get here? How did you die?" He looked around, hoping to find the answers.
Several objects lay just beyond Draco's body. Leaving his side, Harry crawled over to investigate.
The first thing he saw was a wand. He picked it up.
It was very cold, roughly carved and nicked from decades of use. Snape's. He'd know it anywhere. He could feel the Darkness in it, the weight of the curses it had cast. The handle of it was smooth under his fingers; it should feel greasy, he thought, but it didn't.
He examined the other objects. Two strange wands. A leather pouch that, when opened, held papers and Muggle currency. He put them aside and picked up a small, carved wooden box that proved to hold several Gringotts keys. A book, pages blank but so full of magic he knew it held something of importance. He put it into a pocket in his robe. He caught his breath at the final objects.
Trembling, he picked up the nearest one. "Antoine Girard" it read. "Martine Petit" was the next.
The third made his blood run cold. "'Antoine Girard – Neuralgia Potion,'" Harry read. "'One dose each night for one week…'"
Snape's headache potion. Here. In Dumbledore's tomb.
Harry slumped uncaring against the glowing plinth. He stared at his hands, one holding Snape's wand, the other, Snape's potion.
He held all the pieces now. He just knew it. Why Snape was Blanc.
And a treasure trove – Snape's wand. Evidence that Snape had killed Dumbledore, other than his own eyewitness testimony.
He stuffed the bottle into his pocket and pulled out his wand. "Prior Incantato!"
Snape's wand emitted a ghostly wisp: a Hover Charm, surrounding a still body. Harry watched as Draco was gently laid on the ground before the spell ended.
He cast another Prior Incantato. And another. And another.
The spells were both violent and mundane. A Lumos interspersed with a Blasting Curse. A Warming Charm followed by a Finger Removing Jinx.
And, finally, an Avada Kedavra.
Harry swallowed hard as Dumbledore materialized before him.
Even as a shade, his eyes twinkled. "Hello, Harry."
"Professor," Harry choked.
Dumbledore's shade drifted gently towards him and glanced down. "The poor boy," he murmured, bending low over Draco. "I had hoped that he would survive and fulfil his potential, but I fear he was doomed from birth."
"Sir," Harry said, his voice thick with tears. "Snape –"
"I see you have Severus' wand," Dumbledore replied, "but he isn't here. Does he still live?"
Harry nodded. His head seemed to buzz, and suddenly, he could barely keep his eyes open. He shook his head.
Dumbledore beamed. "I sincerely hope he has found peace at last. Severus has had a difficult life, but unlike Draco, he survived long enough to regret his choices and make amends. A brave man," he added, "and one who, if he can ever forgive himself, will do good in the world, I think."
Harry fought the strange lassitude. "No! Sir, he – he killed you! Murdered you! On the tower!"
The shade shook his head. "I'm sorry you had to see that. I had hoped it wouldn't come to that. But I was weak and the odds were too great. He did what he thought he had to do."
A horrible thought crossed Harry's mind. "If I hadn't made you drink that potion –"
"Then yes, events may have been different. But you shouldn't dwell on the past, my boy. You have a life. Live it, in happiness."
The shade began to fade. "Sir, please! Sir!"
"Give Severus my blessings."
But me. What about me? "Sir…please…" Forgive me.
But Dumbledore only smiled as Harry's eyes closed.
Harry woke to find himself lying next to the white tomb, under a sky filled with familiar stars. The massive bulk of Hogwarts loomed between him and the rising new moon, like a giant black dog watching over him as he slept.
Snape's wand was still in his hand, and the book and the potion bottle proved to be in his pockets. Harry stood and looked around.
Silence surrounded him.
He touched the tomb, but the stone felt dead and rough beneath his fingers.
Heart heavy, he began walking towards Hogwarts' gates.
He sat in the darkness of his flat, alternately studying Snape's wand and staring at the book.
He'd tried every spell he knew, both Light and Dark, to reveal the book's secrets. Its pages stayed stubbornly blank. His mind wandered as he looked at the wand yet again.
It couldn't have been long between the time Snape killed Dumbledore to the time he took Draco to the tomb and left his wand behind. There hadn't been many spells contained between the two events, though it looked as if Snape had been fighting during some of it. Harry frowned at the thought of the Finger Removing Jinx – it was the kind of curse that one used during torture.
Who had Snape been torturing?
He stood and stretched. After lighting some candles, he went into the kitchen and poured himself a drink. He wandered back into the sitting room and sat.
Frustrated, he stared at the book. Picking up Snape's wand, he gave in to a sudden impulse born of half-forgotten memories.
"Reveal your secrets," he murmured and tapped the wand on the book's cover.
An instant later, he felt like an idiot. He tossed Snape's wand on the table and took a drink. The whisky burned his throat. He set the glass on the table, took up the book, and opened it.
Words stared out at him from the page.
"Well, fuck me!" He blinked and then began to skim familiar, crabbed handwriting.
Snape's book, obviously. It seemed to be about life after the war. He summoned a lamp, lit it, and began to read.
Three hours later, his glass was empty and he'd finished the book.
Harry rubbed his tired eyes, his resolve set.
He understood. Everything. One more thing to confirm, then Snape was his.
It was time.
The next evening, Harry waited.
He played with the packet of cigarettes on the table while he drank. He was pleasantly surprised to find he enjoyed Snape's wine.
Shards of glass were all that was left of Snape's neuralgia potion bottles; they gleamed in the light of the sputtering candle.
Muffled footfalls in the hallway drew closer to the door and stopped. The door opened and Snape walked in, his arms full of shopping. He stiffened when he saw Harry sitting in the dark, a drink in his hand. He slowly crossed to the table and placed his bags on it, and then sat down and poured himself a drink. He left it sitting in front of him, untouched, and stared at the shards of the bottles for a few moments.
When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "So, you wait in the dark, drinking my alcohol. Have you decided my sentence? Are you here to kill me?"
"Maybe." Harry watched Snape for any signs of defensive magic, but the man seemed contemptuous instead.
"If you think that I will die because you destroyed my medicine…"
"You don't need it anymore."
Snape's eyes narrowed. "You are a Healer now, in addition to being a judge."
"You aren't sick. The headaches will go away once you stop drinking that swill. And I'm getting rid of that." The See-All exploded into shards of glass. Snape ducked, but the shards dissolved into smoky wisps, leaving behind the stench of brimstone.
"What are you doing?"
Harry ignored the question. "Stupefy!"
The force of the spell hurled Snape against the opposite wall, where he fell crumpled amongst the splintered remains of the chair. Harry walked over, knelt by his side, and activated the Portkey he'd made of the pack of cigarettes.
As much as he hated Grimmauld Place, it seemed the safest. Harry knew it would be stupid to kill Snape there, but it was the best place to talk to him. He'd keyed the outside wards to his magical signature – he could leave the house, but Snape would be held tight if he tried to cross them.
Harry sat on the floor of the sitting room and studied Snape as he lay unconscious. The years had been kind: while the ill-natured scowl lines were still apparent, they had softened to merely stern. His nose seemed more patrician than hawk-like. Relaxed lips were fuller and sun-brushed warmth replaced the unhealthy sallow colour of his skin.
He cast a Tempus Charm. If Snape had been taking his potion as directed, it should be wearing off soon. Luna had been clear – even taken regularly, a dose was only effective for thirty-six hours at the outside.
She'd confirmed his other suspicions, too. He could hardly wait to gloat.
A soft breath signalled Snape's returning senses. Harry's excitement flared, a vague, almost sexual anticipation thrilling through his body. He gathered himself, crouching.
Snape opened his eyes and froze as he noticed Harry. With all the wariness of a prey animal, he slowly sat upright. His eyes darted around the room and came back to Harry. His face paled, but his voice remained steady.
"The killing field, mais non?"
Harry shrugged. "I want to talk to you first."
Snape looked around. "You have left me unbound. Is your pride so strong you think I will not escape? That you will defeat me?"
Harry nodded. "Actually, yes. I imagine you have a hell of a headache right now."
Startled, Snape nodded.
"It will go away soon." Harry gestured. "Go ahead. Sit. We might as well be comfortable."
Snape stood and, watching Harry the entire time, crossed to a dusty wingback chair and sat. He winced and put a hand to his head.
Harry leaned forward. "Not much longer, I think."
"It seems to me," Snape said, white lines around his mouth betraying his pain, "that you are not much different from your Lord Voldemort. He, too, was a murderer who enjoyed others' pain."
"You're right. Voldemort and I had things in common." He pulled his chair closer. "What do you remember about him?"
"He was…" Snape's voice trailed away and he looked up, his eyes full of confusion. "What…?"
"You're remembering," Harry whispered. "The potion has nearly worn off."
"You're…mad." He gasped and grabbed his head in both hands. "What is happening?" He shook, obviously in great pain. "What's happening?" he repeated.
Suddenly, he doubled over and vomited.
Harry Banished the vomit and waited. Snape gasped – deep, pain-wracked breaths. "What have you done to me?" he whispered.
"You've done it to yourself," Harry replied. "With luck, the transition is quick."
"I've only ever done this…." Again, Snape paused, confused. "Once?"
"A long time ago, I imagine." Harry watched intently. "Nine years, maybe?"
He moaned and buried his face in his hands. "Alisonne…"
Harry felt a twinge of pity, which he quickly suppressed. "She's dead. She's been dead a long time."
"So have you, actually," Harry said. "I imagine you must have died soon after she did – your grief seems pretty fresh. You were murdered, you know. A man named Lucius Malfoy had you killed."
Snape looked up again. "You're mad!" he repeated desperately.
Harry shook his head. "I'm afraid not. You see, Malfoy needed a new life. So he took yours. Before you died, he stole all your memories, your hopes and dreams. He put them in a little bottle and kept it safe. And there you sat, on a shelf, next to a life he stole for his son and one he stole for his wife. The three of you, murdered so you could be reborn as his family." He shook his head. "Malfoy was a bastard. He deserved his death."
"Which you gave to him," Snape said.
Snape shook his head but looked less certain, hugging himself and shaking hard. "This can't be true. You must be lying."
"Tell me what Malfoy looked like."
"He was always an arrogant…No, no, no," Snape moaned. "I've never heard his name before."
"Snape, let go," Harry commanded quietly. "It's over."
Snape rocked back and forth, cheeks wet with tears. "Alisonne…"
"Belonged to someone else. For God's sake, man, let Blanc die, would you?"
Snape took two deep, shuddering breaths and stilled. He turned towards Harry.
"Potter," he spat.
Snape. Harry nearly whooped with joy. He stood and began to pace.
"You bastard! You had everyone fooled! But not me!"
Snape watched him, scowling, tears drying on his face.
Harry whirled and kept pacing, too excited to contain himself. "Luna told me that the Greek Anemone stamens were used to stabilize Pensieve solutions. She said you'd basically turned your head into a Pensieve." He pulled a chair closer to Snape and sat. "Brilliant, you know. How much did Malfoy pay you to come up with the potion?"
Snape abruptly stood. "I'd rather deal with Aurors. Take me to the Ministry. Now."
Harry gestured, and Snape was suddenly seated again. "Sit. I've still got questions."
"I imagine that you must have remained Blanc for quite a while once you escaped England." Harry ignored Snape's struggle to stand. "His wand adapted to your magic, your magic adapted to his, you learned how to be French. Gastonne said that you were nearly a hermit for several months before you started coming to the village."
Snape stopped struggling and glared. "Potter! It's done. You've won. I'm your prisoner, and I suspect soon I'll be another one of your victims. Just do whatever you're going to do. I have no interest in talking to you."
Harry sat and shook his head. "Not until I get my questions answered. I was in Blanc's head and there were things that didn't make sense. His memories of his wife's death seemed too fresh, for one thing. Like eleven years hadn't passed."
"Why should I answer them?"
Harry looked at him shrewdly. "What can it hurt?"
"I imagine that going to my grave knowing that I'd left you frustrated and with unanswered questions might hold a certain satisfaction," Snape said. He sounded more weary than vindictive.
Perhaps he could trick him into telling him more. "I found Draco."
Snape's face lost all colour and seemed to age twenty years. He buried his face in his hands.
Harry cautiously leaned forward. "How long –?"
Snape lowered his hands, his face barren. He didn't meet Harry's eyes. "About a month after."
"Who killed him?"
"Bellatrix." Snape sat back in his chair, still looking away.
"How did he get into Dumbledore's tomb?"
"I placed him there, of course." Bitterness flashed across Snape's face. "These are idiotic questions, Potter."
"About a month after." Harry sat back in his chair. "I was still at the Dursleys', then," he mused. "Malfoy was dead by my birthday. Ginny was still alive."
"Yes, of course, the important fact in all of this is that Draco died before Weasley did, and that you had another birthday."
"How did you get Blanc's identity from Malfoy, anyway?"
Snape shifted uncomfortably on the chair. "Narcissa gave the memory vials to me as payment for Draco's life debt, since he died before he could repay me and she refused to fulfil the debt on his behalf. Now release me."
"Why should I?"
"I need to use the loo," Snape snapped. "Unless you'd like to kill me where I sit, in which case, involuntary muscle relaxation will most likely alleviate my problem."
"Oh, that's just disgusting! Fine, take your piss." He released Snape and followed him to the first floor loo.
Snape slammed the door in his face.
"I'm just outside. And Snape!" Harry shouted through the closed door, "you can't get out the window, I've got it warded!"
No reply, not even the splash of urine into the toilet. Unless Snape had cast a wandless Silencing Charm, the bathroom seemed eerily quiet.
Harry pounded on the door. "Snape, get out here now!"
"Fuck this," Harry muttered to himself and then shouted, "I'm coming in!"
He blasted the door off its hinges.
Snape lay on the floor, his face barely visible inside a Bubble-Head Charm filled with water. He wasn't breathing.
Cursing, Harry cast the counter-charm to disburse the bubble and knelt by Snape's side. "Ennervate! Ennervate!"
Snape convulsed, water welling from his mouth. Harry turned him over and thumped him on the back. He began to cough and wheeze.
"C'mon!" Harry thumped him again. Snape waved an arm for him to stop and slowly rose to his knees.
"You're an idiot," he gasped. "It could have been over. Why the hell did you revive me?"
"Because you were drowning," Harry snapped. "What else was I supposed to do?"
"What else –" Snape snorted. "What else were you supposed to do? Potter, you brought me here to kill me!"
Harry stared at him. Then, his face flaming, he leapt to his feet and fled.
He couldn't kill him.
Harry sat in the kitchen, listening to Snape systematically try the wards.
He couldn't understand it.
He slumped in a chair, his wand lying on the table in front of him.
Dumbledore may have forgiven Snape, but he hadn't. Snape needed to pay for what he'd done. Yet he'd saved his life.
And now he couldn't kill him.
Eventually, Snape entered the kitchen. He examined Harry, then picked up a battered kettle and filled it with water. He waved his hand and the kettle began to steam. "There should be a teapot in the cupboard," he said.
"You're using wandless magic," Harry said.
"I forced myself to learn it after…." He leaned on the counter and Harry could see him shiver. "Get the teapot and some cups, would you?"
Harry silently took the items from the cupboard and set them on the table. After a moment, Snape opened another cupboard and took out a battered tin of loose tea.
They remained silent, sitting across the table from one another, as the tea brewed. Snape poured, and they sipped.
"I didn't want to use my wand after that night." Snape stared at the steam rising from his cup. "I learned wandless magic so I could use it as little as possible."
Harry nodded. "The Bubble-Head Charm is designed to be used wandless, anyway," he said. "In case of an emergency."
"You should have left me dead," Snape said bitterly. He put his cup down and pushed it aside.
"Don't you think I know that?" Harry took a sip of tea and muttered into the cup, "I couldn't, could I? I don't understand myself, but it just seemed wrong. Severus Snape. Drowning. In a Bubble-Head Charm." He set his cup down and snickered. He clapped a hand over his mouth to stop, but it was too late. He began laughing uncontrollably.
Snape watched. With a sigh, he picked up his teacup and sipped, waiting for Harry's hysterics to subside.
Eventually, Harry stopped, his face wet with tears. He picked up his cup.
"My tea's cold."
Snape cast a Warming Charm on the cup and Harry took a sip. "Thanks."
"This has to be the worst-planned murder I've ever seen," Snape muttered.
"It isn't murder. It's justice."
"Justice." Snape narrowed his eyes. "What do you know of justice? When have you ever experienced justice to learn how it works?"
"It's not something you have to learn." Harry met Snape's eyes. "It's something you know in your heart."
Snape shook his head. "You're confusing justice with revenge."
The difference was clear to Harry. "Revenge is when you're avenging a wrong done to you. Justice is when you're avenging a wrong done to someone else. Killing you would be just, since you killed Dumbledore."
"Albus is dead. I doubt he cares whether he's avenged or not. So by your own definition, you want revenge, Potter. Don't lie to yourself any longer."
"As if you know about justice," Harry said. "You're a murderer."
"So are you."
"It was war."
"Is this war? Who else have you killed in the name of your so-called 'justice'? Was it war then?"
"The war has never stopped," Harry said.
"It has for the rest of the world!"
Snape sat back. He looked exhausted. "Yes, Potter, the war has even stopped for me. It's in the past. I've got a life now, one that I like very much."
"You don't deserve it."
"Many don't deserve what they get," Snape said. "I'm not going to punish myself for doing the same."
"How can you live with it?" Harry asked, desperate.
"I," Snape hesitated. "Blanc has never killed." He stilled.
Snape was slow to answer. "Blanc has never killed. Do you know what it's like, being a man who has never killed someone? Who is never expected to kill someone?" He looked awed, almost as if a secret had been revealed to him.
Harry felt as if he'd been hit in the stomach.
Snape looked at him, his face more open that Harry had ever seen it, though he couldn't read his expression. Snape continued to talk, almost as if to himself. "Draco never killed anyone. I hated him for it. I hadn't realised…" His voice faded
"Don't give me that. Malfoy tried to kill. He just failed. Ron would have died because one of Malfoy's stupid plans if I hadn't given him a bezoar."
His voice almost conversational, Snape replied, "And who taught you about bezoars? Who, from the day you set foot in class, taught you what you needed to know to survive? Albus made you think like a weapon – I made you think about surviving past being used."
"You made me hate. You made me kill. If you hadn't told Voldemort the prophecy –"
He shook his head and seemed to focus on Harry again. "They would have still died. They had a choice. We didn't. We had to survive to complete our missions."
"You make it sound like they wanted to die."
Snape stood up and went to the tap to fill the kettle. "No one wants to die. But they accepted death as a consequence of their choices. We couldn't. If you don't think that makes a difference, then you're more a fool than Albus."
Damn Snape's calm. What was going on? Harry lashed out. "The only foolish thing Dumbledore ever did was to trust you."
Snape's voice didn't change. "Just as he trusted you. An idiotic old man, pinning his hopes on a killer and a child he wished to make a killer."
Harry sprung up and hexed Snape, knocking him down. Water splashed from the kettle as it rolled across the floor.
"You bastard! I never wanted to kill! You, Moody, Voldemort – you were the ones who made me do it."
"You could have said no," Snape choked.
"Fuck you!" Harry kicked at Snape and a second later found himself on his back, Snape pinning him to the ground and holding his wand close to his face. He smelled of sweat and stale fear. His grip was strong.
"I'm not letting you kill me, Potter."
Harry glared at Snape. "Kill me then. Escape again. It doesn't matter. We know who you are."
Snape jerked back. "I'm never going to kill again!" he snapped, then paused. He studied Harry and seemed to come to a decision. He stood and tossed Harry's wand back to him. "That's your job. Living as Blanc has taught me that. Not Albus. Not my mother or father. Blanc. I will never have another death on my soul. Are you ready to be able to claim the same?"
Harry aimed the wand at Snape again and slowly stood. "I told you. You and the others. You made me."
"Following orders," Snape said. "You were a pawn. As was I. We're not so different."
"He trusted you."
"Of course he did. He needed someone who would do his dirty work."
"He didn't trust you at the end, you know." Harry tried to rub it in. "He took me with him to recover the Horcrux, not you."
"Only because he needed me to stay at the castle to guard the students. I went with him to help with Gaunt's ring."
"And let him get cursed!" Harry remembered how weak Dumbledore was after he'd been injured. "That's probably when he stopped trusting you. You let him down, left him with a curse that was eating him alive."
Snape shook his head. "Dumbledore told me where you were going. I had the antidote in my robes the whole time."
"But why? Between the poison and the Horcrux curse –"
"– He wouldn't have died. The Horcrux curse disabled him, but it wasn't killing him. He didn't want to die, but someone had to. You, or me, or Draco. He left the decision up to me. So I killed him."
Snape's words stung. Harry was furious that he was acting so calmly. He should be ranting. Raving. Acting like Snape, so that he could hate him enough to kill him. "You murdered him."
But Dumbledore's shade had said – Harry hit Snape as hard as he could.
"He forgave you, you bastard!" he howled as he knelt over the fallen man and grabbed Snape's robe by the neck, pulling his bloody face close. "He forgave you! You left your bloody wand in the tomb and I saw it! He fucking forgave you!"
Snape went still.
"You knew. You knew he forgave you! That's why you left Draco's body there, and the memory vials and your wand. You did a Prior Incantato, too! You talked to himph–"
"Shut up," Snape said, and kissed him again. "It's going to be all right," he whispered against Harry's lips.
Harry found himself on his back with Snape's mouth hot and wet over his. He struggled, but only succeeded in allowing Snape better leverage. Pinned, he realised he was thrusting up into Snape's heat as well as he could, moans pouring from his throat. Snape's hard length pressed back, bruising his thigh, exciting him further –
He was snogging Snape.
Snape. The traitor. The murderer.
Just like him.
He stopped struggling and plundered Snape's mouth like he wanted to plunder his life – take his money, his freedom, his newly innocent soul but most of all the forgiveness that Snape got and Harry had never found, he'd never found any of it and it was all beyond his grasp so he took Snape's mouth and body as his due.
Gathering his power around him, he Apparated them to his old bedroom.
They materialized on the bed, Harry on top. Snape immediately tangled his legs with Harry's, and tried to flip him, but this time Harry was prepared. He bit Snape's bottom lip and when he gasped, he used the distraction to thrust his thigh between Snape's legs and press against his hard cock.
Snape groaned. Harry bit his throat, his neck, his collarbones, tearing the expensive linen shirt to bite the crease between his arm and his body. He thrust his hips hard enough to bruise.
Snape growled and pushed back, tearing at Harry's robes, pushing them off his shoulders and entangling them around his arms.
Panicking, Harry thrashed, but found he couldn't move. "Let me go!"
Snape knelt next to him on the bed. He wiped a hand across his mouth, panting. He shook his head. "This has got to end. You'll stay there until I release you."
"What are you going to do, you bastard!?"
"Nothing that will hurt you." Snape ran his hand down Harry's bare chest.
"No, I suppose rape doesn't fall within your definition of 'hurt', does it?" Harry asked, increasingly alarmed.
Snape shook his head. "This isn't rape. It's…" he sighed, "…Just look at it as a release."
"A release?" Harry's voice cracked. He let his head fall back. "Fuck," he whispered.
Snape frowned. "Not that kind of release, you idiot. I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to – to help you."
Harry gave up. He didn't care. Let Snape have his revenge. He had everything else already. A normal life. Absolution. Everything Harry wanted, but couldn't have because everyone who could have given them to him was gone.
Snape gently removed Harry's clothing and then took off his own. He eased himself down to lie next to Harry. "How many people do you think know you?" He ghosted his fingers over Harry's face, brushing his jaw. Harry broke out in goose flesh.
"What does that have…aungh," he moaned as Snape's hand trailed lightly across his collarbone. His cock, which had softened, began to fill.
"We're unique, you and I," Snape continued. He lowered his lips to the hollow of Harry's throat. "Always separate. Always alone."
"You, maybe." Harry arched his neck to give Snape better access. "I've got friends. Ron. Hermione…oh, gods, yes," as Snape softly bit his chin.
"Do they do this?" Snape kissed Harry, a press of lips against lips, a retreat. "Or this?" He took Harry's upper lip in his teeth and pulled back, released it and dove down to press his lips to Harry's once again.
"No," Harry moaned, but in protest or answer, he wasn't sure. He gasped as Snape took his earlobe in his teeth and nipped.
"No," Snape agreed, nuzzling the ear. "They don't. And why not?" He traced his tongue along the delicate pathways.
Harry closed his eyes to better feel the hot warmth. His cock ached but for the moment, he felt no need for further stimulation there. "Why?"
"Because they don't really know us." Snape kissed him again, dipping his tongue into Harry's mouth. "Because, deep down, they fear us."
Harry sobbed. No. Too much.
"Blanc has taught me so much," Snape whispered. "About life. Simple, ordinary life. And love. I never knew love. But he did. Let me teach you." He kissed Harry again, and Harry opened for him. Their tongues entangled, teased, retreated, soothed.
"I want that," he whispered against Harry's lips. "But I won't ever have it. Not unless I'm Blanc and even then, it's his, not mine. I want that for me."
"I – too," Harry gasped.
Later, when he climaxed, he felt as if his soul poured out as Snape rocked gently within him. Snape pulled him close, pressed in, and came with a sigh. "Harry…"
They lay together, entangled. Snape's cock felt warm and secure inside him.
"What is this?" Harry wondered.
"It's called mercy," Snape whispered.
They lay entwined, in silence. Snape seemed withdrawn. Harry felt as if he were adrift.
"What's it like?"
"Forgiveness. What's it like? Is it freedom?"
Snape shifted, but didn't let go of Harry. "There's no answer to that."
"He forgave you, and you moved on."
"You did nothing for which you needed his forgiveness, Potter. That's why he never gave it to you. You should have moved on years ago."
"But I poisoned him."
"On his orders. He knew I had the antidote."
"Why do I feel like this, then?"
"Guilty," Harry whispered. "Nothing I can do will make it go away."
Silent, Snape lay next to him. Finally he spoke. "I only took the potion at the beginning."
Harry looked up sharply. "What? What does that have to do with anything?"
Snape ignored him. "Blanc. His memories. I – it's so easy to be him. But something wasn't right, either. So I stopped taking the potion, and I remembered."
Harry leaned up on an elbow. "Why didn't you start taking it again?"
"Being in Blanc's world, knowing what life could be like – I wanted that for myself. But the guilt was overwhelming."
"So what did you do?"
"I got over it."
"What? D'you have a magic cure or something?"
Snape shook his head. "There is no magic cure. You feel guilty. You learn to deal with it."
"The guilt is yours, you decide. I won't be your jury." Abruptly, Snape pushed Harry away. He got out of the bed and gathered his clothing. Arms full, he paused in the doorway. "If you ever decide to forgive yourself, you know where to find me." Harry watched as Snape disappeared from the room.
He didn't see him again before he left. He set the last remaining potion bottle on the bedside table, a note with Luna's address propped against its side. He lowered all of the wards.
He wondered if he'd ever see Snape again.
He brought the paper to Snape in person, and realised immediately that Blanc was the man who answered the door. Harry looked away; he'd hoped Snape would decide not to take the potion he'd left for him. He handed the paper to him without a word.
Blanc read the headline in silence and then looked up. "Is this true?"
Harry looked at the Prophet. 'Harry Potter Frames Innocent Man!' the headline screamed. 'Investigation Opened into Potter's Post-War Record!'
"Yes," he said and met Blanc's eyes. "You'll need to wait for official confirmation, but you're free to go, Monsieur Blanc."
"You knew this man to be dead?"
He nodded again. "Yeah."
Blanc spat at him and slammed the door.
Absently wiping the spittle from his face, Harry stood with a bowed head. Then, jaw set, he Apparated to the Ministry.
He struggled with the decision, but in the end, he gave Snape's wand to Ron. He wanted to snatch it back.
Conversely, he felt nothing but deep relief when he gave Ron his signed confession detailing Snape's death so many years before, as well as the deaths of Lucius Malfoy and the other Death Eaters. He didn't say anything about where Draco's body could be found; he reckoned he was better where he was, with Dumbledore, than he would be mouldering in a family tomb somewhere.
He told them to expect Blanc to press charges against him.
Expecting to go to Azkaban, Harry was astonished and disgusted that the Ministry decided instead to simply strip him of his job and require him to spend some time at St Mungo's. He ignored the Healers, bought a motorcycle, and started riding.
He figured there were a lot of roads in the world. Surely one of them would lead him where he needed to go.
The wet cobblestones looked the same. Treacherous, slippery with rain, Harry navigated them slowly, the big bike easing up the street.
Ten years since he'd last seen it, and Morteau-sur-les-Doubs was just as ugly as ever. The village dropped behind him as he reached the end of the cobblestones and hit muddy pavement again. Not much farther.
He left the bike leaning at a precarious angle at the top of the steep driveway and made his way through the mud to the front door of the cottage.
Snape's face looked relaxed and unguarded when he answered the door. "Oui?"
Harry unbuckled the straps of his helmet and pulled it off. His hair tumbled down his shoulders; reflexively, he smoothed it back from his face as the rain changed the grey streaks to sodden iron.
Snape stiffened. "Potter."
Harry took a deep breath. "Please, Monsieur Blanc, allow me to introduce myself." He held out a hand. "My name is Antoine Girard."
Snape studied his face, but made no move to take his hand. After a few moments, Harry sighed and dropped it. "I'm here because…well, to apologize. What I did to you – everything that I did to you," he clarified, hoping Snape would understand, "was wrong."
The black eyes betrayed nothing. "You never went back."
"You never pressed charges," Harry countered.
Snape's face didn't change; he didn't bother to answer the implied question.
Harry tried to keep it light. "There wasn't much to go back to. The food at St Mungo's was awful." Snape glared, and Harry sighed and relented. "Ron was too confused and angry, Hermione too judgemental." He shrugged but kept his eyes trained on Snape's face.
"And now you come to me."
"Have you forgiven yourself?"
Harry looked away.
The door slammed shut in his face.
He stood there for a long while, allowing the rain to soak him thoroughly before finally deciding that the door wasn't going to open again. He was surprised at the amount of hope he'd carried within himself – he'd expected no less, so the burn in his nose and throat and chest took him unaware.
Strange, how a part of him felt like the child who had stood in the rain in a different field, looking down at a smouldering pile of ash still sparking green, wondering what happened next.
He trudged through the mud back to the bike. It had fallen to its side and lay stretched on the ground like an animal, dead at the side of the road. He could magic it up; he did it all the time, the bike was too heavy to right in any other manner without help.
He stared at the machine. He felt no magic within him.
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder and pulled him around.
Snape hadn't bothered with a coat and his fine shirt clung to his body, soaked in the short walk up from the house. Without a word, he pulled Harry into his arms.
Harry clutched at him, desperate.
Snape eventually pulled back and, taking Harry's hand, led him back to the house. He opened the door but put a hand to Harry's chest.
"You're forgiven." He dropped his hand and walked through the door.
Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd cried, but he doubted the rain on his glasses entirely accounted for his blurred vision.
He followed Snape into the house.