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Chapter 17: Peace Through Understanding
"How is Harry?" asked Dumbledore as he entered Snape's quarters through the Floo.
Severus looked up at the Headmaster, his mouth tightening. "He's asleep for now. What have you found out?"
The Headmaster seated himself on the sofa and stroked his beard. "The curse was indeed set by Voldemort, or rather his essence, using Ginny Weasley as his mouthpiece. I found both her signature upon the mirror and overshadowing it, Tom's. She would not have been able to cast a spell of such magnitude without his help, he gave her his spiritual power and that enabled her to set the curse upon the mirror."
A silent quiver passed through the Potions Master as he thought of the innocent young girl being violated by that evil sorcerer. "You need to speak with her parents, Albus. She ought to see a Mind Healer, such a thing leaves scars upon your spirit, invisible ones, but they should be addressed. Nothing which that bastard has touched comes away unscathed."
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, I shall do so. You are correct, Severus."
"Have you thought about why he might have set the curse upon the mirror? Was it a trap he set for Harry or just a mere malicious whim?"
"Oh no, I believe it was deliberate. Ginny released the basilisk from the Chamber on Tom's urgings, but he wished perhaps to make certain that his "great enemy", Harry, was destroyed for good. You see, Tom would have known that unless Harry met the basilisk's gaze directly or was bitten by it, he might survive the attack and live to thwart him. So he used the mirror, knowing the fascination it held for Harry."
"How would he know that?"
"Through Ginny, of course. Her brother Ron must have mentioned it sometime, Harry had shown him the mirror last year, over the Christmas holiday. Tom would have thought it the perfect vehicle for his second curse."
Severus scowled. "Once again Weasley flaps his big mouth and reveals things he shouldn't. Someone really needs to tell the boy to learn how to keep his mouth shut, he babbles far too much about everything to everyone."
"Severus, he's only a boy . . ."
"Yes, and one who needs to be taught when to speak and when to hold his tongue!" snapped the other. "He is partially to blame for the mess I'm in now with Harry. Had he not opened his fat mouth, informing Harry that I was once a Death Eater, Harry would not have been compelled to seek out my background." Severus shook his head in disgust.
"Severus, I'm sure he meant well, he was worried about Harry . . ."
"Albus, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Look at what he has done, putting Harry's life in danger by speaking of things best left alone. How was it that you didn't destroy the mirror after the Stone was regained?"
"I did not think it too important to destroy such an old magical object, so I removed it from the Room of Requirement and put it into the Room of Lost Things. Who would have thought Harry would discover it again?"
"Riddle did. Perhaps it called to him or something. The curse was designed with him in mind, after all."
"Yes, and it was lucky you found him when you did."
"It was not luck that brought me there, but a Monitoring Charm. After last time, I was taking no chances with him. Trouble seems to follow him like a black shadow. As you can see."
"I have destroyed what remained of the mirror," Dumbledore told him. "Though you shattered the curse, I too am taking no chances."
"That is good. Might I suggest you examine some of the older magical artifacts stored here, make certain none of them have been tampered with?"
"An excellent idea. I shall do that, it will keep me occupied for the rest of the break. Is he well? Were there any side effects of the curse?"
"Not that I can determine. He should be fine after some rest."
Dumbledore seemed relieved to hear that, and after a few more minutes discussing Severus' brewing results, the Headmaster took his leave.
Snape decided to go to bed, after eating a brief supper, he was tired after the events of the day.
Harry woke feeling refreshed and warm, cozy warm, all the way down to his toes. He couldn't recall ever feeling so snug, except that time in the Wise One's cave, pillowed atop the great serpent. He peered at the small clock upon the nightstand, it was just eight o'clock, rather early. He thought about turning over and going back to sleep, but nature called, so he reluctantly left his warm nest and headed into the small bathroom. As a Head of House, Snape's quarters featured a private bath, along with a sitting room and bedroom, plus a small room where Snape stored potions and spellbooks, a combination of library and stillroom. And now Harry's room as well, with its charmed window that revealed the outdoors and the weather currently occurring.
When Harry glanced at it, he saw that it was a sunny morning, and the lake was still covered with frost. Severus said all the dorms had these false views, because otherwise students in his House might get stircrazy and feel as though they were imprisoned in the dungeons below the lake. Harry was grateful for them, he had spent too long locked away in a small cupboard to ever be truly comfortable without seeing glimpses of sky and sun.
After attending to his immediate needs, Harry returned to his room, deciding to go back to sleep, when Hedwig swooped in and delivered a letter to him. Harry eagerly tore it open, the return address was from Hermione.
He quickly unfolded the paper, it was written upon a pale blue stationary with a ballpoint, not a quill. Harry smiled, guessing that Hermione had probably wanted to reply to him as quickly as possible, and ballpoints enabled one to write very quickly, not having to worry about inkblots and worn down nubs or drying ink.
I was quite happy to receive your letter, it's the first one I've gotten this holiday, since Ron never remembers to write me back. But I have to say, I never expected what was in it. So, you're a Parselmouth. I've read about them, of course, and thought it would be fascinating to be able to talk to snakes, think about all the things one could learn, like how they live and what they think about humans, and oh, how I wish I could speak to some kind of animal! Are snakes smart? I mean, I know the Wise One is, but she's something like a goddess, sort of, and can't really be compared to an ordinary snake. When you speak, does your voice sound different? Do you have to think about how to say something, like I do when I try and speak French to someone, or does it just flow from you? I would love to hear you say something in Parseltongue. Can you write it?
Sorry, I'm rambling. But I think your ability is so neat, you shouldn't be ashamed of it. Just because You-Know-Who had it doesn't mean it's evil. It's something to be proud of.
I wish I could meet both your Wise One and the basilisk, Icefyre. They sound very powerful and awe-inspiring. I would have never guessed Salazar Slytherin had a basilisk for a familiar. That's simply amazing! And you made him a friend and he killed Voldemort! I read about that in the papers, and Ginny's rescue too! Poor kid! She must have been scared half to death. Do you think I could talk with the serpents when I come back? I have dozens of questions I'd like to ask.
Here Harry paused and chuckled, he could just imagine the tons of questions the inquisitive witch had. She would probably keep the Wise One and Icefyre busy answering them for the whole day. Then he moved on to read what she had suggested about Snape and his dilemma about forgiving the wizard for what he had done.
About Professor Snape . . . I have always thought he seemed rather gloomy and sad, haunted almost, as if he had something tragic in his past that he never could forget. I know, you must think I'm out of my head or something, but I really did feel that. Despite his temper and sarcasm, I've always thought he had suffered something awful, because people just aren't so bitter by nature, something has to happen to them to make them that way.
Guess I was right. I never figured he had actually become a Death Eater, but it does make sense now that you've told me. From what you said, I think you really need to talk to him, hear his side of the story. It's not fair to judge until you've heard both sides. I would think that he regrets what happened that night, he may have been forced into bringing such a message, and without knowing just who the prophecy referred to, figured it was nothing but a silly hoax.
I know how hard it must be for you to accept that, and just want you to remember that despite his past, he did come back to the Light and he did save your life three times. That's not the act of an evil man. I think it's a good thing for him to be your guardian, you both need someone, and like you said, he can protect you best. Plus, your relatives were awful nasty prigs and cruel.
I think you ought to give him a second chance, and hear him out. If he truly regrets what he's done, and it sounds as if he does, then you ought to forgive him. He has changed for the better. He seems to care for you very much, even to the point of risking his own life.
If it'll make it any easier, I have an uncle who was once the disgrace of our family. My mum's brother, Jack, was a wild thing when he was a young man, he did all sorts of bad things—drank, stole, even did drugs. It got so bad that nobody in the family wanted anything to do with him. Finally, he ended up in jail for three years. When he came out, he decided to make a go of turning his life around. He got a job, rented a flat, and tried to reconnect with the family again. It was hard at first, but gradually, my mum and her sister and parents came to accept that he had changed and was trying to become a better person. They eventually forgave him and now he comes to our house on holidays and is my favorite relative. I never knew him when he was drinking or anything like that, and Mum only recently told me why he never touches alcohol and the other stuff, she said the rest wasn't fit for a kid's ears. Mum says that the Uncle Jack I know is the real Jack, the other one was a stranger, someone even he didn't want to know. She said sometimes people make bad decisions and keep making them because they can't see any other way out, they're stuck in a rut and can't seem to get free, until they see something besides the darkness within them. She said sometimes it takes a real shock to get them to see what they've become. But once they do, then they can start finding themselves again.
That's what Uncle Jack did and I'm guessing that's what Professor Snape did too.
The Wise One was right when she said that hating someone only makes you miserable. Don't hurt yourself anymore, Harry. Forgive him. He's spent half his life paying for a terrible mistake. Why make him pay any more? Nothing can change the past, but maybe together you can change the future.
That's all I can say. Hope it helped.
PS: Can you ask Professor Snape why you have to stir the cauldron seven and a half times when you're brewing a Deflating Draft? Isn't that agitating the solution too much? It doesn't tell you in our book.
The last line made him smile. Trust Hermione to still be studying her textbooks over break! Some things never changed.
He mulled over what his friend had said about forgiveness and concluded that she was smarter than most people gave her credit for. She knew that Snape had given him the one thing he had never had and always wanted—a family and a place to call home. It would be a cruel twist of fate if he lost that because he was too stubborn to forgive his guardian. He was almost positive that even if he didn't forgive Snape, the Potions Master would still allow him to stay, but he didn't want to be uncomfortable and awkward, like he'd been at the Dursleys. He wanted to have a normal home.
He decided to do as everyone suggested and hear Snape's side of the story before making a decision.
Then he tucked the letter away and fell back to sleep.
He woke up some two hours later to Snape shaking his shoulder and asking if he was feeling all right and did he want breakfast?
Harry was ravenous and after they had eaten breakfast, delivered to Snape's quarters by a house elf, he looked at his guardian and said, "Sir, if you'd like to talk to me about . . .the prophecy and all, I'm ready to listen."
Severus looked faintly surprised, he had thought he would be the one to initiate this discussion. He nodded and said, "Might I suggest we have this conversation in the sitting room?"
Harry followed his guardian to the comfortable sitting room and curled up with his feet tucked under him on one side of the sofa. Severus sat on the other side, looking both somewhat relieved and somewhat uneasy.
Harry folded his hands in his lap and waited.
Severus was silent for several moments, gathering his thoughts. At last he began.
"You already know that I did not have the best childhood. My father detested my magic and the fact that I chose it over sports that a normal boy of his should have chosen. He took that disappointment and aggression out on me whenever he could, and if I weren't available, my mother was. Like you, I wished I could remain at school indefinitely, and never more so than after the end of fifth year.
"Albus told you of the cruel joke your father and his friends played upon me, did he not?"
"Yes, sir. He said that they . . .err . . .hexed you two on one and hung you upside down and threatened to . . .strip you." Harry blushed. "That's just wrong. It sounds like something my cousin Dudley would do. Once he shoved my head in the toilet at school."
Severus grimaced. "They did more than threaten, Harry. Like your cousin, they did not know the meaning of enough. Your mother, who was my friend, tried to defend me to them, she nearly hexed Black and Pettigrew, but somehow that just made things worse. Not only was I a wimp, but I was now seen as hiding behind a girl's robes. I had been humiliated before by the Marauders, but never like that. In my wretched humiliation I did an unforgivable thing, I told Lily I didn't need any damn Mudblood defending me. My temper has always been unpredictable and that day it flared up and I spoke words that never should have passed my lips.
"I regretted that the moment I said it. But when I went to apologize to her later, she would have none of me. She told me if I was going to go to hell in a handbasket, I could do it without her. She accused me of becoming a dark wizard, just like many of my House."
"But you weren't, right?"
"No, not then. After Lily broke away with me, however, I allowed myself to listen to the propaganda spouted by many of the Voldemort supporters. I was miserable and over the summer, my mother passed away. I was without friends and family. I was alone and they knew I was desperate to belong somewhere. They offered me their protection if I would join them. At first I refused. Until the incident with the werewolf. After I was almost killed, I knew I couldn't afford to be so vulnerable ever again.
"I did not particularly care for many of them, they were crude, most were stupid, and they also enjoyed bullying those weaker than they. But some, like Lucius Malfoy, were also clever and wielded a lot of influence in the wizarding world. People respected him, and they were also afraid of him. He gave me his protection and in return I attended the meetings he hosted.
"You must understand, I was a bitter and angry young man, with no one to confide in and no one to trust. I felt that I was worthless, and so being with the Death Eaters, even though I hated many of the things they did, was the best I could do. At least with them I was no longer a target for harassment. That was why I stayed. And once I began learning the dark magic . . . the dark spells are like a drug, you learn some, and the power fills you, gets into the dark spaces of your soul, and before you know it, it seduces you, leaves you craving more and more.
"That was how it was for me in the first few months. The dark magic also made me cold, it inhibits your feelings of compassion, of sympathy, you become detatched, unable to feel any good emotions. It encourages all the negative emotions—rage, intolerance, fear, hate. In a way it's addictive, like the worst Muggle drug."
Harry's eyes went wide. "But then . . .how did you get free from it?"
"It was very difficult. But I had one advantage that others did not. I refused to use the Unforgivables. And in doing so I saved my soul from perdition. The use of an Unforgivable Curse, like the Killing Curse used upon your parents, or the Cruciatus Curse, used on many wizards and witches who were targeted by Voldemort, leaves a black stain upon your aura and your spirit. I shied away from them, and used other dark magic. Also, the Dark One used my talents as a potion maker to make several kinds of potions for him, some were used for interrogation, others to enhance his magic, or to heal rapidly.
"He was evil, but also fiendishly clever. He knew best how to manipulate me, who was starved for affection and recognition. He played me like a lute, and I responded to that praise by doing whatever he wished. I was a pathetic fool. He needed a spy in the camp of the enemy, and chose me. He sent me to Hogsmeade to learn what I could of their plans. That was where I overheard the prophecy."
Severus paused for several minutes, getting up and getting a drink of water. Harry waited patiently for his return. While he waited, he thought about what Snape had told him. In a way, he felt they were kindred spirits, for he too had known endless persecution at the hands of Dudley and his gang, and had a rotten home life. He too had known despair and depression and felt unworthy and unloved for much of his life. At Hogwarts he had made his first real friends, though he now had his doubts about Ron. Ron had a blind prejudice against Slytherins and anything associated with them, and Snape in particular. Harry didn't know how he could get past that, or even if that were possible. Ron would never understand, the way Harry did instinctively, that terrible feeling of loneliness and desperation that had driven the young Severus into the clutches of darkness. Ron had never known what it was to be an outcast, and how it could destroy your sense of self. But Harry knew. Harry had never belonged anywhere until Hogwarts. If someone had asked him to join a gang, though that sort of thing was not really done in Surrey, Harry thought he might have been tempted to join it, if only to escape Dudley's fists. There had been many times after one of Dudley's beatings that he had wished to give his cousin a taste of his own medicine.
It made him even angrier to think that his own father had been a bully like Dudley, and had tormented students and thought it amusing. Harry supposed it might have seemed that way to everyone save Snape. He could recall everyone laughing when Dudley tripped and shoved him, making him spill his lunch tray or books, calling him Peewee Potter, Clumsy Arse, and Freaky Harry, among other things. It was always funny to those who weren't on the receiving end. Harry wondered what had caused his bullying father to change. Perhaps his mother had insisted upon it? Then he shrugged. It hardly mattered now. What was done, was done.
Severus returned after a few moments and continued his story.
"I remember that night well. It was, to quote an old cliché, a dark and stormy night in August, not a fit night out for man or beast. I had dropped into the Hogs Head for a cup of warm cider with a dash of rum, there weren't many patrons in there and I wanted to get out of the wet. I had been instructed by Lucius Malfoy to listen to any rumors and try and pick up any interesting tidbits of information being spoken of. I had further been told by Riddle himself that I was to try and apply for a teaching post at Hogwarts—the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.
"I had spoken to the Headmaster earlier and was planning on meeting him later on in the week to discuss the position. Imagine my surprise when he showed up at the Hog's Head also. I seized my chance and approached him, he ended up giving me the position of Potions Master, since Slughorn had just retired and he recalled that I was excellent in that area. I tried to get him to give me the Dark Arts position, fearing the wrath of Riddle if I failed, but he refused, telling me that the position was not one for a new teacher, rumor had it that it was cursed and I would do much better in potions. We had been conducting the interview upstairs in a small private room, and just as I was leaving, Trelawney, who teaches Divination here, came in. She had been searching for Dumbledore and finally found him, she was late for her own interview." Severus shook his head. "Then again, Trelawney would be late to her own funeral. She rushed in, nearly knocked me down, and started babbling about how sorry she was that she was late and that she had something extremely important to tell Albus, a matter of life and death, as she put it. I was on my way out when I caught that, and figured I might as well see what she had to say. I shut the door behind me and then made believe I was going down the stairs, but then made my way back up and cast a charm upon myself called Cat's Ears, which gave me hearing as keen as a cat's. That was when I overheard the prophecy.
"At first I was unsure what to think. Soothsayers are a dime a dozen and those Seers who can actually predict true are rarer than water in the desert. Still, it sounded interesting. I was obligated to report any information concerning Riddle to him or Malfoy. I committed what I'd heard to memory, then slipped away, just missing running into Aberforth on the stairs, who owned the establishment. Later on I learned there was more to the prophecy than I had heard, for Trelawney had gone into a second trance and spoke the rest of it.
"I waited for a day and a night before telling Lucius, because I was uncertain if it was a real prophecy or the ramblings of a charlatan trying to get in good with the Headmaster. Finally I decided to tell him about it, if it was fake, it was hardly my fault and if it wasn't . . ." He repeated the prophecy to Harry then. "You can see how vague it is. Nowhere did it mention anything about whose child it was. If it had said anything about Lily or hinted at her child, I would have never told anyone. But I assumed it was a fake, and it would come to nothing.
"It was only when Voldemort summoned me some two days later to discuss the particulars that I realized he believed it was real. He became obsessed with finding the one who would destroy him, searching for those who had "thrice defied" him with a vengeance. Months went by, and still he searched and searched. He could not rest. He could not bear it that there would be someone who could topple him.
"Finally he narrowed down the choices available to your family and the Longbottoms, whose son Neville had also been born at the end of July, a day before you were."
"Really? I never knew that."
"Once I learned that, I was horrified. I knew, none better, that when the Dark Lord choose to mark you for death, you died. No one had ever defeated him in a duel, and he was the most powerful sorcerer I had ever known, strong, ruthless, and deadly. Still, I tried to rectify my mistake. I tried to suggest that it was a fake, to no avail. Riddle was convinced it was a true prophecy and the Potters had to die.
"I tried to reason with him, but there is no reasoning with a madman. He is always right.
"I was frantic. I had done a terrible thing and I was desperate for help. I had seen what Voldemort did with his victims, he sometimes played with them before he killed them, and I felt ill thinking about Lily or you being subject to torture. I had to warn them, but I hadn't spoken to Lily in years.
It was while I was making up my mind who to tell, who would believe me, that I realized something. I was not truly a Death Eater. I did not worship Voldemort, was not devoted to him like so many of the others. They believed he set the sun in the sky and when he spoke it was as if God Himself came down to the earth. But I did not worship him. I knew he was a powerful sorcerer, but he was not a god. I respected and feared him because of his temper and power, but I was not utterly subject to his will.
"It was then that I came back to myself and realized what I had done was catastrophic and I hated myself for what I had become. I was destroying myself with dark magic just as surely as my father destroyed himself with alcohol. I had to get out, had to save Lily, and so I went to Dumbledore.
"I told him all, and then he questioned me under Veritaserum to make sure I wasn't lying. I asked him to allow me to atone for what I had done, and he told me all he asked was that I work for him as a counteragent. I agreed. I have been doing so for years."
"Wait a minute. If you told Dumbledore about what you did, and he warned my parents, then why did they die? I thought you told him too late for them do anything about it." Harry exclaimed.
Severus shook his head. "No. Your parents went into hiding in Godric's Hollow in September and they were placed under a powerful spell called the Fidelius Charm. In it they have a Secret Keeper, who alone knows their location and can find them, anyone of evil intent searching for them will never find them, they could walk past the house a dozen times and never even see it. We all thought they were safe, but they were betrayed again, this time by their trusted friend, Sirius Black. He was James' best friend and stood as godfather to you."
Severus' lip curled. "Who knows why Black betrayed them, but the fact remained that he did, and revealed the location of the cottage to Voldemort on Halloween night. Once he had broken his word, Voldemort could find the cottage. I just managed to get word to Dumbledore that he was coming, but it was too little too late. I failed and he destroyed them. It was the worst mistake of my life, the revealing of that prophecy, and I never wished you to know about it until later.
"I killed your mother as surely as if I had put a wand to her chest and cast the Killing Curse. I have had to live with that guilt everyday, and there is nothing I regret more. Nothing." Their eyes met and Harry saw in Snape's obsidian gaze a pain as deep as the ocean, and regret enough to drown in. Severus folded his hands and said softly, "Now you have heard the truth from my own lips. I kept it from you because I felt it was too much for you to accept at this time, not because I wished to pretend it never happened. I know I shall never be able to atone for it, and do not expect you to forgive me for it. But at least you know the truth. If you . . ." Severus coughed abruptly. " . . . wish me to rescind the guardianship and search for another candidate, I shall do so, rather than have you remain with someone you detest."
"You mean you don't want me?" Harry cried plaintively, the words bursting from him unexpectedly.
"No. Do you think I would have applied for guardianship if I did not want you?" Severus asked. "But I don't wish for you to be forced to live with me, to make you as wretched as you were living with the Dursleys. You do not deserve that. So you may leave, I shall not hold you here."
"What if. . . I don't want to leave?"
"You would rather stay with the murdering bastard?"
"No! I mean . . . yes! I'm sorry I ever said that. But I was so mad, I thought you did it on purpose, but then I talked with the Wise One and Icefyre and even Dumbledore told me I shouldn't judge you too harshly. I've been thinking about it ever since yesterday, about what you were and what you are now."
"You spoke to the serpents about me?"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, but I really needed someone to talk to, so I told them . . . and Hermione."
"You told Miss Granger about this?" Severus snapped. "Name of Merlin, but are you sure you're not a Weasley?"
"She won't tell anyone. I made her swear not to, on her wand."
"And after all this discussion, what have you decided?"
"That you're not a murdering bastard. You made a horrible mistake and it cost me everything, but you've done what you can to help me since. You saved my life three times or more and third time pays all debts. I don't want another guardian. There's nobody else who understands what it's like for me. Only you. Whatever you were, you're not the same now." Harry took a deep breath. "I forgive you, sir. Now don't you think you ought to try forgiving yourself?"
Severus was speechless. For the first and only time in his life. He had never dreamed that Harry would accept his mistake, that he was capable of forgiving to such an extent. But the boy's words, spoken in utter sincerity, showed him the error of his ways. He stared into the green eyes, which were bright with understanding and longing, and whispered two words.
Harry gave him a tentative smile. He knew he had taken the first and most important step in mending their relationship. Acting on impulse, he reached out and hugged the Potions Master.
A startled Severus cautiously returned the hug. Truly the boy was amazing. The best of both of his parents. You're luckier than you deserve, Snape, whispered his conscience. And for the first time since that fateful night, Severus Snape knew peace. All because of one small boy.
His fingers tightened on the slender shoulders and he pulled Harry to him, holding him against his shoulder. He knew he still had a long way to go to regain the boy's trust in him. But that was all right. Harry had done something no one had ever done for him before. He had forgiven him utterly, without conditions. And that was priceless.
They remained that way for a long time, reveling in the newfound peace they had found, and the only sound in the room was the soft crackle of the fire and the ticking of the clock upon the mantle.
Only one more chapter left! See how the rest of the school reacts to Harry's new guardian and also the Ministry and Ron. Will Harry be accepted as a Parselmouth and the true Heir of Slytherin? Will Severus eventually regain Harry's trust? Will the snakes be treated with the respect they deserve? Find out next chapter!
Thanks everyone for the awesome reviews.