If not for Snape’s hand upon his shoulder, shepherding him firmly into the woods just beyond the backyard, Harry would have bolted. Harry had flown over the woods often enough in hawk form, but he had never entered it on his own two feet, and had no idea where he was going. But Severus clearly had a destination in mind, his feet never faltered, and he followed a small game trail until they came to a large pond that was fed by a clear running stream. Several willows and rowans circled the pond, which was clear down to the bottom, and the slanting rays of the sun caused the pond to sparkle and dance with rainbows across the surface.
Harry drew in a breath, he had never seen such a place in all of his life, it was a place that conjured serenity and peace, a place of healing and renewal. He looked up at his mentor, not understanding why Severus would bring him to such a spot only to tell him their contract was broken. Unless he wished to soften the blow by telling him in such pristine setting, a place that tugged upon his heartstrings and banished for a moment the dark taint that stained him.
“Sit down, Harry,” Severus ordered, gently pushing the boy down to sit with his back against a rowan tree. Rowan was best known for its protective and healing properties, and this grove had probably been used for cleansing rituals before. Doubtless Jasper had known that when he had suggested it to Severus and pointed out that he had all of the herbs for the ceremony in the potions lab, after Severus had read about a third of the book last night.
But first, he must rid the boy of his clinging guilt, and reassure him that the taint of the dagger was not something permanent. He also was feeling a bit put out that Harry had been avoiding him all this time and angry that some of this trouble might have been avoided if Harry had spoken about the dreams to him. He fixed him with a mild Snape glare, one that might have only made a first year tremble, and should not have fazed Harry in the slightest, as he had seen Severus in a true temper.
Harry gazed up at his guardian and steeled himself for Severus’s final words to him, for the rejection that was sure to follow. Trepidation rode his shoulders like a great black beast and dread followed close upon its heels. He swallowed hard, but forced himself to boldly meet Snape’s black eyes. True courage is not the absence of fear, but facing that fear even when you want to run and hide, he reminded himself, quoting one of Snape’s maxims. Are you a Gryffindor or aren’t you?
“I would have thought you’d have learned by now that running away from a problem does more harm than good,” Severus began. “Problems should be faced, not avoided.”
“I know that, sir.” Harry said, fighting the urge to drop his eyes in submission.
“Then why were you doing it?”
Harry hesitated. Severus was looking at him with that mixture of disapproval and disappointment that always made him feel incompetent. “Because I thought . . .”
“Yes? Go on.”
Just say it, Harry, he ordered himself. Say it and get it over with.
Sensing Harry’s reluctance to speak, Severus made a calculated decision to prod him a little. “Was it, perhaps, because you were looking for an easy way out?”
That barb struck home and anger flared in the young wizard’s eyes. “Easy? D’you think any of this has been easy for me? Not coming to see you as soon as you woke up, not being able to talk to you about this damn evil that’s invaded my soul? I wanted to, Sev, so many times, but I just couldn’t! I couldn’t stand looking at you, half-dead and knowing that I did it to you! You nearly died because of me! Because I was weak and I . . .” He choked up then, and ducked his head to hide the damned tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Severus. I never meant for this to happen. I . . .don’t blame you for hating me. I . . .hate myself.”
Severus’s hand reached out and tilted Harry’s chin up. “Look at me, Harry James Potter. And listen well. I do not hate you. Why would I?”
The green eyes were bleak with pain and resignation. “Of course you do,” he hissed. “Why wouldn’t you? I betrayed you, I let the damn dagger into my head, I let it work its dark magic on me and possess me, and then I stabbed you with it. I really screwed up this time and you almost paid the price. How can you not hate me and want me gone? I’m useless, a liability.”
“Do you truly think that? That I would condemn you for a mistake such as this? I, who was once a Death Eater?”
“I was stupid. I listened to the dreams. I betrayed us both.”
“As I did, so long ago. It is the nature of the young to be stupid, as you say. But the dark path did not claim you, Harry. Any more than it did me.”
“How do you know that? I feel . . .unclean . . .tainted . . .I don’t know how Jilly can stand to be near me, an attempted murderer.”
“She sees deeper than most. You should trust her.”
“Humph! Trust a two-year-old to know the difference between good and evil?”
“It is no different than trusting a fifteen-year-old to defeat the Dark Lord,” Severus countered. “Am I angry that you didn’t tell me about the dreams you were having? Yes, I most certainly am. How many times have I told you that if you were having strange dreams to tell me of them?”
“I thought . . .they were just dreams,” Harry mumbled. “You had bigger things to worry about. Werewolves, the potion being spilled, the dagger . . .”
Severus’ hand tightened upon his jaw, and he gasped. The wizard’s eyes were bright with anger. This is it. This is when he’s going to let me have it.
And Snape did, but not the way Harry had assumed.
“You foolish fledgling! When will you get it through your thick skull that you are my number one priority? To the devil with the werewolves and the bloody dagger! It is you who matters most. Do you not see? This quest is not meant only to destroy a dark wizard, it is meant to give you a chance to live, to grow up in a world free of darkness. I am pledged to your protection,and that is what concerns me. And if something is wrong with you, I need to know about it! Even if you think it’s unimportant, I want you to tell me. Had you spoken about the dreams, things might have been different.”
Tears welled in the green eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Aye, you’ve said,” He agreed, slipping unconsciously into the speech patterns of his childhood. “As am I, for not realizing you were in distress. I knew what the dagger was capable of, I have dealt with the darkness for years. No one knows better. I failed you too.”
“No, don’t say that. It was all my fault.”
“I shall say it. For it is the truth.”
Harry shook his head, or tried to, for Severus still had his chin in his hand. “No. I’m to blame for this.”
“Always ready to play the martyr, aren’t you? Always so willing to shoulder the lion’s share of guilt and blame. You were conditioned to that, though, so I should expect it.”
“It’s the truth! I am to blame!”
“You were possessed! Your mind was subverted by an ancient evil object. You could not have fought that, the Dagger of Discord has been doing such for over a thousand years. You would have had no defense against it. Why do you think I insisted upon holding it?”
“Because you didn’t trust me.”
“No, idiot! Because I was trying to protect you. My shields are stronger and I was familiar with how such a curse operates. You weren’t, and the dagger always tries to subvert the innocent, the vulnerable, it lived for it.”
“I’m not innocent. I have blood on my hands.”
“Compared to me, Potter, you are a newborn babe. And it knew that. Believe me. You are not to blame for something you did while under the curse’s influence.”
“I stabbed you. I wanted you to die.”
“Am I dead, Harry? Do you weep over my grave? No. And do you know why? Because deep inside of you, here in your heart, you did not wish me dead. And though it tried, the dagger could not subvert that inner conviction. You are not a killer, Harry. And for that I thank all that is holy. You are a good person, son.”
“Yeah, I’m wonderful,” Harry mocked.
Severus released his chin, to set his hands upon his apprentice’s shoulders and shake him. “Stop that! Stop wallowing in guilt and self-pity, damn it! If you were evil, if you were truly corrupted, I would not be here. But I am alive and the dagger is destroyed. By your hand, and no one else’s. Jace told me. The dagger’s creature could not have done that, Harry. Only a wizard with free will could have. The darkness touched you but it did not claim you. Trust me.”
Harry remained stubbornly silent.
“Bloody Gryffindor!” the Potions Master swore, and then he pulled the boy to his feet. “Fine! If words cannot convince you, perhaps this will. Stay here and don’t move.”
Severus drew his wand and began to pace off a large circle about the pond, the tip glowing with an odd bluish light. “By the five elements, I cast this circle. I abjure thee—air, water, fire, earth, and spirit—to form the sacred circle and protect those within from harm and evil influences. Let no one see, let no one hear the ceremony within. In the name of all that is good and the power of my magic restored, let it be so!”
The wand left a blue trail of sparks in his wake, which solidified into a line and then Severus tied it off with an eternity knot. “Let the circle be unbroken.” He turned back to Harry. “This is the beginning of the Ritual of Renewal.”
“What is it?”
“Something we both need.” Severus answered enigmatically. “Strip down to your boxers.”
Harry gaped. “What?”
Severus tugged off his cloak and shirt. “Do as I say. Or do you need my assistance?”
“Hell, no!” he muttered, cheeks flaming. He began to undress.
“Be grateful I am not asking you to do the ritual skyclad.” Severus said, concealing a smirk.
“Stark naked,” clarified the Potions Master, removing his boots and socks.
Harry felt himself blush all the way down to his feet. He removed his sneakers and jeans, wondering if this were Severus’s way of punishing him for being an idiot. But then, if that were so, why was he participating in it?
Harry snuck a peek at his mentor, noting the black silk boxers the Potions Master wore. Merlin! Who would have thought he wore those beneath his robes? Blushing furiously, he glanced down at his own ordinary pair of white cotton ones. He shivered slightly, the cool breeze was raising goose bumps on his arms and legs. “Are you sure nobody can see us? Because I don’t want to be arrested for indecent exposure.”
Severus snorted. “The circle prevents anyone from seeing us. As do the trees. Do you care what the birds and squirrels think?”
“Good. Now come over by the pond and walk into the water.”
Harry looked dubious, but he obeyed, sticking a toe into the water.
“Ahh! It’s cold!”
“I don’t care. Get in.”
Severus’s eyes flashed. “Move, Mr. Potter!”
“But—” He jumped when Severus’s hand applied a firm smack to his backside. “Okay, no need to get pushy. I’m not a horse.”
“No, you’re a stubborn ass,” came the sharp rejoinder. “Now get . . .in . . .the . . .water.”
“But it’s cold. I’ll get pneumonia.”
“Quit whining, brat. It’s not snowmelt from a glacier.”
Gritting his teeth, Harry waded into the pond, teeth chattering. “If I get sick and die, it’ll be your fault,” he groused, his feet squelching into the soft mud, which felt good on his toes. The middle of the pond was about four feet deep, and the water came up a little past Harry’s waist. He halted when he was in the center of the pond.
Severus turned and tucked his ebony wand away, picking up a long twist of something. He spoke a word and the end of the smudge stick began to smolder and burn, smoke curling from its tip. Then he waded into the water as well, turning to face north. “I call upon the element of air, and the wind of the north, which purifies and cleanses with its freezing breath. Come, air!”
He waved the smudge stick downwards and suddenly there came a whoosh of freezing wind that rattled the branches of the rowans and caused Harry to shiver uncontrollably.
Severus ignored the gust, then moved on to the east, moving clockwise about his apprentice. “I call upon the element of water, the liquid of creation. Out of water we are born and sustained. It purifies and heals. Come, water!”
The pond began to stir and a geyser of water shot up near Snape’s feet, dousing them both with its spray, which was somehow warm. The drops clung to them in a glistening garment.
Severus continued down to the south quardrant. “I call upon the element of fire, the spark of creation, whose light shall drive back the shadows and reveal the secrets of the dark. Come, fire!”
There was a blast of heat and the stick of white sage entwined with lavender, sweetgrass, and cedar began to glow stridently.
Harry could feel his skin prickle with heat, though he was standing in the middle of a pond.
Severus moved to the last cardinal point and intoned, “I call upon the element earth, the giver of life, nurturer of wisdom. Out of earth we come and to earth we return. Grant us the safety of your embrace. Come, earth!”
Green shoots began to spring up out of the water and Harry swore he could smell freshly turned soil and the perfume of thousands of flowers. He inhaled and the heady scent of spring flowers filled his nostrils.
About the pond was a glittering multi-colored circle—spring green and amber for earth, crimson and orange for fire, white and blue for air, turquoise and silver for water. It reflected off the water in a dazzling kaleidoscope. Harry nearly squinted from the glare. And the water, which had been cold when he first entered, was now warm, as warm as bathwater and small waves began to lap against him.
Then Severus took four steps backwards, until he was standing next to Harry in the center of the pond. Being taller, the water barely came up to his navel, and Harry could see how the man’s pale skin bore faint scars upon the back and sides, as if from a belt. Harry shivered, recalling a conversation he had overheard between Severus and Hagrid, about Snape’s childhood, which apparently had been worse than he’d imagined, if he bore scars some twenty-five years later.
Then Severus turned and faced him, saying in that calm measured cadence, “I call upon the fifth and last element, spirit, the internal flame that burns within all of us, a fire kindled by truth and magic. Help us to know ourselves truly and grace us with understanding. Come, spirit!”
A purple glow began to pulse from the wand he held and settled over Harry and Severus like a cloak and when it touched him, Harry felt all his doubts vanish. He felt serene, as if he were being held in his mother’s arms, safe from harm, and at the same time he could see with his inner eye the pulsing glowing aura of his magic deep inside him. His magic was a mass of cool blues, greens, and gold, and only upon the edges did it become blackened, as if singed by a fire.
“I ask the elements to help me cleanse and purify all within the circle and banish the taint of darkness forever from Harry James Potter. By the power of the sacred sage, lavender, cedar, and sweetgrass, let your spirit be renewed, your heart be pure, your magic unbound. Let any sins you have committed be washed away. You are healed. You are renewed. You are forgiven.”
He moved the smudge stick up Harry’s body, starting at his feet and wafting the smoke over him.
He repeated the words and the smudging four times, four being the sacred quadrant.
Harry remained still, feeling the smoke enter him and a feeling of utter peace and renewal slowly start to bloom within him. He stared at Severus, who then held out the smudge stick to him. Without conscious thought, instinctively, Harry grasped the stick, and repeated the words Severus had spoken.
“I ask the elements to help me cleanse and purify all within the circle and banish the taint of darkness forever from Severus Tobias Snape. By the power of the sacred sage, lavender, cedar, and sweetgrass, let your spirit be renewed, your heart be pure, your magic unbound. Let any sins you have committed be washed away. You are healed. You are renewed. You are forgiven.”
Four times he repeated the blessing and the smudging.
Then Severus clasped his hand and cried, “Earth, air, fire, water, spirit! Though we are unworthy, cast your blessing upon us and make us whole once more.”
He bowed his head in supplication.
The smudge stick burned slowly down the smoke wafting over them in a great billowing cloud and the water beneath their feet began to swirl and bubble and then it arced upward in a great glittering geyser of silver and cascaded over them.
Harry could feel the water encase him, pure and cool and clean, it scoured him of the dark taint, filling him with purpose and resolve and hope. He swallowed some of it and he could feel it renewing him in a brilliant wash of warmth and light, it was tangy and sweet and refreshing, like drinking undiluted liquid sunlight. All the regret and guilt and self-loathing and unworthiness was swept away, unable to withstand the tidal wave of light and hope and love the ritual summoned. It was as if he were bathed in endless light, brimming with hope, and surrounded by love.
And the dagger’s poisonous taint was submerged and drowned, and Harry’s soul cleansed forever of its shadow.
Harry opened his eyes and stared at Severus, water dripping into his eyes.
Yet he could see perfectly, and he saw the same expression of joy and awe mirrored in Snape’s onyx eyes. Severus too had been cleansed and renewed, mind, body, and spirit.
The smudge stick vanished in a puff of aromatic smoke and the pond became still once more.
Harry took a deep breath, still clutching Severus’s hand like a child seeking reassurance from a parent.
“It’s done, Harry.” Severus said quietly, reverently.
He led the teen from the water and back onto land. Dripping wet, they emerged from the water.
Harry stumbled a little when his feet touched the earth and Severus steadied him.
With a gesture, Severus dried them off and another replaced their clothes.
Then the Potions Master stepped back and looked his apprentice in the eye. “The taint is gone from us both, Harry. I forgive you for what you have done. Now you need to learn to forgive yourself.”
As if his words were a catalyst, Harry felt something give way within him, as the last of his guilt was banished by that simple honest statement, and suddenly tears were running down his cheeks. Relief swept through him in a ferocious wave. Severus forgave him. He was not going to be cast out in disgrace and shame, not going to die alone and unloved. The knowledge pierced him like a sword through the heart, but he welcomed the sharp pain. It felt good.
“Sev,” was all he managed to say, before he fell into the other’s arms, weeping.
All of the grief and anguish he had suppressed for days poured out of him and he clung to the other’s broad shoulder and cried, unable to help himself.
Severus gathered him against him, the boy was still light as a bird despite his healthier eating habits, and sat down, Harry cradled close. He began to rock him back and forth slightly, one hand carding the dark hair, whispering, “All right, son. Shhh.”
The boy’s cries tore at him, and Harry’s pain became his own for a brief moment, and he felt his own eyes mist and a few tears slipped down his pale cheeks to glisten upon Harry’s hair. “Hush, fledgling,” he murmured, now rubbing small circles upon Harry’s back. “I forgive you. You will always have my forgiveness, child. Always. Let the guilt go, Harry, let it go.”
Through the purging tears, Harry could hear Snape’s voice, reassuring him, and feel the man’s hands holding him, and he knew then that the other wizard loved him with a pure unconditional love, such as a father has for a son. And he basked in the unaccustomed warmth and washed the last of the guilt away with repentant happy tears, his face snuggled into a familiar black robe.
He cried for a long time and Severus held him, uncaring that he was growing stiff from his back being pressed against a tree or that his knees ached from the unaccustomed weight of the teenager sitting on them. His son, for so he had grown to think of the boy all unwitting, needed him and that was all that mattered.
Gradually, Harry’s sobs became sniffles, then dribbled away to shudders, and finally his breath came evenly, and he slept, safe at last in the arms of his surrogate father and guardian.
Severus looked down at the dark head resting upon his shoulder and allowed himself a rare smile. Harry still had a long way to go to forgive himself, but allowing himself to be comforted was the first step along the pathway to healing.
The Potions Master leaned back against the rowan, muttered a Featherlight Charm, and shifted Harry more comfortably against him. The Ritual of Renewal had worked better than he had hoped, but he was feeling drained and tired as well, it had played havoc with his own emotions, until he was surprised he was not bawling like Harry. Then again, his discipline was years in the making and tears were not something he shed easily.
As if to give the lie to that thought, something wet trickled down his cheek.
Severus scowled, dashed a hand across his eyes firmly, and closed them. He would find solace in sleep.
The sun drifted across the sky and began its descent while the Potions Master and his ward slept peacefully beneath the rowan, weary yet whole once more.
So . . .what did you think?
The Ritual of Renewal is based off of a Native American cleansing ceremony, traditionally used among the tribes to banish evil influences and harmful negative emotions from a person's spirit, body, and soul. It really works and I have the greatest respect for those who taught me and who practice it. It has helped me through this very tough summer--as I have mourned no less than five relatives and friends who have passed away, and just recently my sister-in-law's mother has died. I would recommend this ceremony or one like it to anyone who is having trouble coping with the death of a loved one.
I hope you liked how I used it here with Harry and Severus and meant no offense to any Native American by borrowing it.
Thanks to my reviewers for their encouragement and suggestions, they have really helped me as I write this.
Next: Harry and Severus attempt to redefine their relationship while Severus rests up and writes to Dumbledore for news of the Order, receiving an unexpected reply.
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