Chapter 42 : Victory's Price
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His heart was hammering so loudly in fear that he could barely count the heartbeat in Harry’s neck. It was a moment before he even realized that there was life in the boy’s pale still form. Alive, Severus. He’s still alive. He drew in a breath and then another. Just keep breathing, Harry. Do that and I’ll see about saving you. Just keep on doing that. Breathe, son . . .just breathe.
He stepped out of the circle of flickering violet fire, Harry cradled close, and looked about. Through the dust and smoke and flickering spellfire, he could make out the others, Aurors and Order members, that were still able to move and function. Moody was tying up a slash on Minerva’s arm, Remus was wrapping a makeshift dressing about Sirius’ head, the result made Black look like a pirate, in an odd sort of way. Tonks was leaning against Shacklebolt, looking like death warmed over. She had a cut on her face and a black eye, but her hair was still that impertinent bubblegum pink.
His eye was caught by a flicker of movement, and he saw Molly and Bill crouched over Charlie and Arthur conjuring a stretcher for his second oldest, a strange sort of shocked denial written all over his face that Severus was certain must mirror the look in his own eyes. He saw Crabbe senior go over and hug his son, and Susan Bones stood, crying, beside the still form of her aunt Amelia.
He stood there, wooden and frozen, unable to move, until Sirius turned and saw him.
“Snape! What happened to Harry? Is . . .is the bastard dead?”
“Harry . . .what happened, Snape?”
“I . . .don’t know. One minute he was fine and the next . . .like this.”
“Was it a curse?”
Snape shook his head. “Maybe.”
Sirius peered down at his godson worriedly and Severus had to fight to keep from jerking Harry away and snarling, He’s MY son, not yours, Black! Mine!
There was a sudden sound of rocks falling and all of the Aurors jerked up as if shot, wands drawn at the two figures that stood at the top of a broken staircase.
“Who are you? State your business!” barked Moody, his wand and eye trained upon them.
“Alastor, it’s me, Sybill,” came Trelawney’s breathy whisper.
“And me as well, old friend. I’m afraid I’m a bit worse for wear, but at least I’m still vertical,” said Albus, his arm wrapped about the Divination teacher.
“Professor! You’re alive!” Hermione cried, coming up the stairs to help them. “We thought . . .you . . .that they had killed you . . .” Tears glinted in her eyes.
“No, child. There is still life in these old bones yet,” the Headmaster reassured her, reaching out to take her hand. “Thank you, Hermione. I am glad to see you are unhurt. How are Vince and Marietta and Susan?”
“They’re okay, sir. Professor Snape and Harry found us, Vince’s familiar led them here. And I think . . .I think they killed V-Voldemort.”
They walked slowly and carefully down the stairs and when they had reached the bottom, Hermione brought the Headmaster across the floor to where Severus and Sirius stood next to a crumpled black-robed figure—the empty shell of the most evil wizard ever to walk Hogwarts.
Albus looked sadly at the limp form. “Ah, Tom. You were the one I could not save. Such a waste.”
“Save your pity for those that need it,” Sirius growled. “Like Harry.”
Albus looked up and over at the child held so protectively in Snape’s arms. “Severus, what has happened to Harry?”
Snape gritted his teeth. “God damn it, Albus, but if I knew do you think I’d be standing here like this?” he hissed, and in his eyes was a terrible fear and even worse, despair. “We need to take him to St. Mungos.”
“Aye, him, and Charlie and Tonks and all the rest o’them that have been hurt,” McGonagall stated. “You too, Albus. No telling what damage those fiends did to you while you were . . .trapped with them.”
Albus smiled sadly. “Minerva, there is nothing they can do for me . . .”
“Nonsense, you old coot! How do ye know unless they examine you?” she declared, her eyes flashing fiercely. “Come along, Albus, and none of your heroics . . .”
“She is right.” Sybill spoke up then. “At least let them look. What harm can it do?”
Dumbledore caved then, and allowed the two women to help him onto a floating stretcher, and he was taken back through the tunnel to the upper levels of Hogwarts and Flooed to the hospital, along with Harry, Charlie, Tonks, Sirius, Amelia, and Shacklebolt.
Of the Death Eaters only one was left alive for justice to claim—Narcissa Malfoy, and Moody swiftly took her away to Azkaban and then summoned an extra team of Aurors to remove all of the bodies from the chamber. There would be an inquest later on, of course, regarding Narcissa, but not until all of the injured had been made well.
They had won a great victory—and at long last their enemy was dead for all of time---but every victory had its price, and only now was the bill being paid. Moody only hoped it would not be too high.
* * * * * *
The closed ward:
Severus watched as Healer Sandrilas ran his wand over Harry’s still form once more, this time casting a more complex diagnostic of the Animagus’ brain and magical core, trying to determine what had affected him so deeply that he had gone into a coma. Sandrilas’ face was a mask of concentration, and Snape fought to remain utterly motionless, and even harder to lock away the gibbering whimpering part of himself that longed to throw himself down on his knees and beg the Healer to do anything he had to in order to save his child. Rationally, he knew such histrionics would not serve, for Sandrilas was clearly doing all he could to help Harry. Then too, Black and Lupin were in the room, and Severus would rather have been roasted over a fire than show such naked emotion in front of them—his childhood nemesises. Former nemesises they might be, but still Snape was not about to let his guard down. Let them rage and whimper, he would remain in control, precarious though that control was, because falling to pieces was not yet an option.
But his heart wept as he looked at the frail figure in the hospital bed and he cursed himself for not sending Voldemort to hell sooner. Could he have prevented this? Doubt seared him like a brand, and he unconsciously moved to rub his left arm, where once the Mark had been, only to discover it had vanished. His skin was smooth, unblemished, as if it had never been there at all.
Then Snape knew, with utter certainty, that Voldemort was truly dead, and he was free at last.
He could have wept for joy, but for one thing.
His eyes moved again to the Healer and suddenly Sandrilas turned, his face drawn with exhaustion, and said quietly, “I’m sorry, Severus. But all of my diagnostics come up with no reason why Harry Potter should be in a coma. His magical core is weakened, true, and his nerves stressed from the Cruciatus Curse, but potions will mend that.”
“And there is no correlation between this coma and the . . .link Harry once shared with Voldemort?” Severus queried sharply. Somehow, he felt they were all missing something.
“Not that I can determine,” Sandrilas answered. “If the link were still active, Harry would have died when . . .Voldemort did. But he did not, which means the link was well and truly broken.”
“How can you not know what is causing this, Alec?” Sirius cried agitatedly. “You’re a Mind Healer, for Merlin’s sake! You fixed me from the damned curse Bella put on me.”
The Healer frowned sharply. “Sirius, that was an entirely different circumstance, and I regret that I am not God Almighty to have the solution to every medical problem that occurs. Technically, there is no reason he should be in a coma, he sustained no head trauma and no significant magical drain.”
“No magical drain?” Sirius repeated. “He was fighting bloody Voldemort, man!”
“In his Animagus form, correct?” Sandrilas snapped. “Which is a natural state for him, and so doesn’t tax his reserves. He is a very powerful young wizard, and he had barely tapped into his reserves before transforming.” The Healer rubbed his eyes, which were bloodshot and weary. He looked over at Severus. “You suffered more drain than he did, Mr. Snape.”
Severus nodded. He could feel it now, the exhaustion sweeping through him like a tidal wave, but he refused to succumb to it. Not yet. “Can you speculate what may have happened, Healer? Even if it seems farfetched?” At least give me hope. Or something to work with.
“There is only one theory I can come up with, and mind you it is only a theory, based off of something similar I saw once before. I had a patient long ago, a young adolescent girl, who bore a sensitivity to certain types of magical auras. She was sensitive to strong emotional upheavals and magical violence and one day she chanced to be close by a Death Eater attack, she lived in a Muggle neighborhood and they were torturing some poor soul and she felt it and it rebounded on her, threw her into a coma. Her body couldn’t handle the shock and . . .she died soon after, despite all we tried to do.”
“But that didn’t happen with Harry,” Sirius pointed out. “He’s not dead.”
“Brilliant observation,” Severus sneered, but his tone had lost much of its acidity.
“No, but . . .has he displayed any unusual sensitivity to a type of magic?”
“Yes.” Severus recalled. “When we were on the hunt to find all of the Horcruxes, Harry was always complaining that his scar hurt whenever we drew near one. After it was destroyed, however, he was all right. He also had some episodes before that, headaches whenever Voldemort was near or was angry . . .sometimes they made him sick to his stomach, I had to give him potions . . .”
“All those signs are indicators of an enhanced magical sensitivity to dark curses.”
“How come I was never told of this?” Sirius demanded.
Severus whirled upon him. “Because there was no time to tell you before we left, Black, and you were recovering from your own mental problems!”
“You calling me crazy, you damned coldhearted—”
“Sirius!” Remus cried, yanking his friend away from Snape. “Stop it! What does it matter now? The important thing is curing Harry, not pointing fingers.”
Healer Sandrilas fastened a look upon Sirius of extreme displeasure. “Listen to your friend, Mr. Black. Getting into a quarrel over past events won’t help anything, least of all your godson. Now control yourself before I have you escorted out of here. This is a hospital, not a tavern, and if you start a fight here, I will Stun you myself and issue a restraining order, after I’ve thrown your skinny arse out of here personally. Have I made myself clear?”
Severus waited for Black to explode, but oddly enough, Sirius lowered his head and meekly apologized, then went back to stand against the wall with Remus. He cast an astonished glance at the Healer, who gave him a sardonic grin.
“After a few months of working with him, I’ve learned how to handle him,” Sandrilas said quietly. “He respects me, much like an alpha dog, and if I assert myself firmly, he will obey. He only thinks he’s a rebel. But all he really wants is to belong to a pack, like any dog.” The Healer shrugged. “But back to our original topic. As I said before, I think Mr. Potter is suffering from spell backlash due to an uncommon sensitivity to dark magic. It overloaded his system and it responed the only way it could, it put him into a coma-like sleep.”
“Can you wake him?”
“Ah, now that is the tricky part. From a trauma induced coma, then yes, I could. But this one . . .it might be dangerous to do so. You see, a coma is the brain’s way of healing itself from trauma, whether physical or emotional. Waking him too soon might . . .cause irrepairable damage. And so might leaving him asleep. I would suggest we allow him to come out of it on his own.”
“But how long would that take?”
Sandrilas spread his hands. “I don’t know. This is the first case of this kind I have ever treated and there is no timetable for such a thing. It could be a few days, weeks, months, even years. It all depends on his will and what hurt his mind has taken.”
Severus longed to bang his head into the wall and run around screaming in frustration. “I see. We must wait, in other words.”
“Yes. I’m sorry I can’t offer you any more than that, but . . .I am just a Healer, not God, as I said before. There are things that even magic cannot cure. This is not a curse that can be broken.”
“I understand.” Severus said heavily. “Several other members of the Order of the Phoenix were brought here as well. How are they doing?”
“As far as I know, all are on the mend, though some, like that young redhead, will require extensive surgery and an extended hospital stay. More than that, I may not say.”
“Tonks is okay,” Remus spoke up. “She had a mild concussion from that brute snashing her into the floor, and she made it worse by getting up too soon and attacking that other Death Eater that tried to stab me in the back after you did for that big brute Thorfinn. But she’s going to be fine after a week of rest and potions.”
“I am glad to hear it, Lupin.” Severus said sincerely. “I wonder how Amelia and Albus are doing? They were the most gravely injured save for Charlie Weasley and Harry.”
“I don’t know, but I’ll see what I can find out,” Lupin promised. “Come on, Siri. Let’s go check on the Headmaster. He ought to have some story to tell.”
“Let go!” Sirius irritably shook off Lupin’s hand. “I want to stay here with Harry.”
“Not a good idea, pal.” Lupin disagreed. “I don’t want to return and find blood splattered all over. You need to go home and get some rest after we see Albus. We both do.”
“No! I’m fine, I want to stay here, in case Harry wakes up.”
“Later. We can spell Severus,” Remus argued. “Quit acting like a six-year-old and come with me. You need a shower, you stink of blood and death.”
“Ha! You’re no bed of roses yourself, mate!” groused the other, then he followed Remus from the room.
“You’ll be remaining here, I take it?” Sandrilas half-stated.
“I will. I am his guardian, the only family he has,” Snape answered calmly.
“There is a folding cot made up inside the closet.” The Healer said. “Get some rest, you’ll do him no good if you go into a magical shock yourself. I’m amazed you’re not out on your feet after what you just did. Killing Voldemort! Incredible!”
“You’d be amazed what you can do when you need to,” the professor said wryly.
“Yes, well, I have no doubt about that,” Sandrilas laughed. “I’m going home to sleep myself. If anything changes, they’ll notify me. Good night.”
Then the Healer left the room, leaving Snape alone with his ward.
Severus pulled the cot out of the closet, set it up right next to Harry, and then sat down upon it and just stared at his poor broken lost child. Harry, where have you gone? And when will you come back to me? I cannot believe that you will not, we have suffered too much for you to leave me now. Fledgling, don’t leave me. Don’t go where I cannot follow.
He reached out a hand to stroke the errant lock of hair away from Harry’s forehead, and noticed that the livid scar was nearly gone. Come back, child. Come back and see the victory we have won.
A single tear fell onto the boy’s sleeping face.
Then Severus jerked away, ruthlessly clamping down upon his emotions. He would not shed any tears yet. Not until all hope was gone. Because he knew that if he allowed himself that luxury, he might never stop crying for the son he had so recently found and that had been so suddenly taken away.
He mechanically transfigured his battle worn robes into clean pajamas and curled up on the cot, watching Harry. He fell asleep listening to the boy breathe, praying once again for a miracle, though he knew he did not deserve one.
* * * * * *
For three days Severus remained at Harry’s bedside, leaving only for short breaks, to eat, shower, and the like. Otherwise he was a fixture at Harry’s side, waiting and hoping, though with each day that passed his hope grew tattered and faded. There was no change in his ward, Harry remained lost somewhere beyond the realm of dreams, or perhaps within it, and did not wake. Healers and other attendants came by daily to cast diagnostics and make notations, cast Freshen Up charms and spell Nutrient Potions into the boy’s stomach and attend to other bodily functions. They smiled encouragingly at Snape and some showed him the paper, which ran daily headlines about how The Boy Who Lived had defeated Voldemort at last, along with Severus.
They were heroes, their names spoken of in every household of the wizarding community worldwide. Finally Severus had the recognition he had once craved and the respect he deserved for his dangerous work as a spy.
And he did not give a damn.
His victory was worthless, his recognition was worthless, if Harry was not there to share it with him.
The world turned and the other Order members were cured and sent home, and Severus sat in the same room and counted breaths and brushed Harry’s hair and moved him about so he would not stiffen or develop sores. He summoned potions from his private stores, lotions to keep the boy’s skin supple and moist, and rubbed them in at night, while the staff snoozed.
He himself slept very little, only when he was at the edge of exhaustion, and his once keenly honed senses grew muddled. Lupin and Sirius returned every other day to check upon Harry’s progress, and they were the ones who told him of Amelia’s recovery and subsequent retirement, she had named Shacklebolt her successor. Arthur had been promoted to Head of his Department, and Charlie had also been released from the hospital. They had managed to save one of his eyes, though the other had to be removed and he now had a glass dragon eye in its place. He told Remus it was a small price to pay for Voldemort’s final defeat. Molly had been named Witch of the Month by Witch Weekly, much to her delight and she had pasted the article and cover to the wall in her kitchen, Bill had promised her a frame for it as soon as he could make one.
The papers were also hailing Sybill Trelawney as the New Prophetess of the Millenium, and she was nearly overwhelmed with requests from people to predict their futures.
All of the kidnapped children had returned home, though all of them paid a visit to the ward afterwards, hoping that Harry would wake when they were there. He didn’t.
Vince even tried to get Vera to speak to him in Parseltongue, but the little snake got no response.
The only one who had not appeared so far in the sickroom was Albus Dumbledore. Even Fudge had come by briefly to shake his head at the sleeping hero. Rumor had it that the Headmaster was ill, possibly dying. Severus suspected he was sick, but not from the Death Eaters torture, but from guilt. It had been nearly a week since Harry had been brought to the closed ward.
A week since Snape’s never-ending vigil, and he was about to snap.
It was then that Hedwig came and delievered a letter to him.
She too had kept vigil with him, except for those times she flew post duty, fetching the paper for Snape, and this last mission.
“Where did you go?” He asked, having finally learned to understand the speech of birds. “You were away for nearly a day.”
There was a letter that needed delivering and I was the only post owl who knew the way to find the sender. Read the letter, Severus. It’s important.
Severus took it, it was addressed to both himself and Harry, and it was written in an unfamiliar script, an elegant flowing cursive that he himself envied.
He broke the seal on it, which was of simple white wax with an S in the middle of it.
There was a single piece of parchment. Severus opened it and began to read.
Dear Harry or Severus,
I’m writing this because I can no longer stand the awful dreams I have been having and need to know just what has become of you. Since a week or more, I have been dreaming of a dark figure with serpent eyes, and in each dream he strikes you down, Harry, or you, Severus, and dances upon your corpse. At first I put the dream down to simple night terrors and dismissed it. But then it came again, only this time even more vivid.
I wake shaking and sweating, sometimes in tears, and I am afraid, Harry, that something dreadful has happened to you. I did not tell you this before, with our hasty parting it slipped my mind, but the moonstone bracelet I gave you as a gift provides me with a link to you. If you wear it I can feel, though faintly, a little of what you are feeling.
And last week I felt triumph and fear and a terrible pain from you and then . . .nothing.
And still the dreams haunt me.
Please write back to me, Harry. Or Severus, if Harry is not able to, and tell me what has happened. I need to know. And do not insult my intelligence and say everything is fine, because I know deep within me that it is not. A wolfen rarely has reoccurring nightmares like this, and Darkmoon fears they are vision and not dream.
Thus I take my hawk quill in hand, the one that you gave me as your parting gift, and break my silence. I pray this letter reaches you and that it does not reveal your position to the monster you seek to slay.
I must know if you’re all right, Harry. Or even if you’re not.
Please answer swiftly, I am near to chewing my tail off with anxiety, as Vlad says.
Sasha Meadowsweet Atwater
Healer of Sylvanor
Severus set the letter down and looked over at the snowy owl, who was perched casually upon the headboard. “You went to Sylvanor and back?”
I did. No other post owl would know that route, or be welcome within the Forest of the Night. And she was there, waiting for my arrival, and she begged me to fly with all speed to you or to Harry. I remembered how she cured me. Can she do the same for Harry?
“I don’t know. There is a . . .bond between them, through the bracelet he wears,” Severus indicated the moonstone bracelet made from Meadowsweet’s own hair. “Perhaps she can go where others cannot. I must reply to her, she felt his need from half a world away, and that is no small thing.”
Aye. Her magic is strong, no? Hedwig chirruped.
“Her love is stronger.” Severus corrected. There was pen and ink and parchment upon a small table, and he enlarged it so he could pen a reply to Meadowsweet. It was brief, but he did not attempt to downplay the seriousness of Harry’s injury. “Can you fly again so soon? I do not wish to delay giving her this message.”
The owl swiveled about to face him. Need you ask? I would fly through a hurricane for my wizard. I am tired, but I shall manage. Give me the letter. And cast an Express Post spell upon me.
Severus sealed the envelope and Hedwig took the missive. Then he waved his wand and cast the spell that would give her wings the speed of a gale-force wind. “Fly safe, Mistress Softwing.”
Watch well, Warrior, she cheeped, and gently nibbled his hair. I shall return as swiftly as I may.
And with that, she took wing and flew out the window, en route to the Forest of the Night once more.
* * * * * *
Two days later:
The snowy owl held out her foot for the Potions Master to remove the letter attached to her leg, then once he had done so, she flew over to the headboard and nestled there, falling asleep almost instantly.
Severus unfolded the letter.
Thank you for replying so quickly. Now I understand why there was no response from Harry for so long, and though I am dismayed and upset at the extent of his injury, at least he is still alive. My mother used to tell me that where there is life, there is hope, even if it is as fragile as a butterfly’s wing. I wish she were here now, for she knew things about Healing that I am just beginning to discover, she was renowned for her unconventional methods, many of which clashed with conventional practices, but those methods worked. I have but a few of her texts and personal notes, she preferred to show rather than tell and thus much of her findings were lost when she died.
But I have perused her notes and she did extensive research on mind links and bonds and the ways one could use them to find a partner who was lost within his own mind, or had fled his body and was hiding in the astral realm. Her studies were mocked by the College of Healers as mere superstitious nonsense, but I believe in them. I made the bracelet according to her instructions, so that we would never be parted no matter how far Harry traveled and it worked.
I believe that he is suffering from spell backlash and is hiding somewhere within his own mind. I think I can reach him through the bond we share, by walking the Path of the Moon. But I dare not do so alone. You are bonded to him as well, through your guardianship pledge and love, and that should enable you to walk the path with me. My mother’s instructions were explicit—you must ALWAYS travel with a partner, to prevent getting lost within the person’s mind, for the mind is a powerful thing, and the stronger the wizard, the more powerful his defenses, and thus the need for a partner to watch your back.
Will you be that partner? For you know him as well as I, Severus, better even. Together I think we can convince him to come back to himself. If you wish to attempt this, and I must tell you we may fail, for it is a risky and untried magic we attempt, place your hand upon the moonstone bracelet upon the rising of the moon tonight. It shall draw you into the Place Between Worlds and I shall meet you there.
Oh and one other thing, you must not be interrupted while you travel the path, so make certain no one disturbs you. I shall be warding my hut and Darkmoon shall warn my packmates that I am not to be disturbed for the rest of the night.
Till the rising of the moon, my friend.
I shall not rest till I have brought him back, one way or another.
Severus sat back in the chair, his hand clutching the letter as if it were a lifeline. What Sasha proposed was indeed outside of the realm of conventional magic. Long ago, wizards had practiced astral travel, it had been a specialty of the mages of ancient Egypt and Rome, who had learned the art from Egypt, but like much else, the art had been lost when Rome fell. Those who had practiced it had died out or had been killed in the purges that had swept the medieval world, until only fragments of knowledge remained. Little was now known, and the International Confederation of Wizards had deemed the secrets of such travel lost forever, and any attempt to resurrect it a fool’s hope.
But Meadowsweet was convinced that the bond she shared with Harry was enough to attempt it and Severus was desperate enough to try anything. He had done the impossible before. This was no different, except the prize was not a mad wizard’s destruction, but a boy’s life.
I will do whatever it take to bring you home. Severus vowed, picking up Harry’s wrist and examining the moonstone bracelet he wore, which had been made of Sasha’s hair in both her forms and the special moonstone her mother had given her. He touched the tip of his index finger to the bracelet and felt it pulse with magic.
Tonight he would attempt the crossing, and he would set wards about the room so no one could enter until he had done what he had to. Either it would succeed or fail, though he hoped desperately it would work. Love had saved Harry once, it could do so again.
Severus drew back and went to lie down upon the cot. He had a feeling he would need to be rested and at his peak in order to venture down the Path of the Moon. So he meditated and somewhere around the last set of repetitive breathing he fell asleep.
* * * * * *
He woke in the early evening, checked upon his ward, then went and ate a decent supper, for he would need the energy later, and then he returned to the room to await moonrise. He cast the strongest wards he could think of upon the room, ensuring no one would interrupt him. Then he told Hedwig what he was about to do, and fell into a meditative trance, gathering all of his power and focus together, waiting until the instant the moon rose above the treetops before touching the moonstone bracelet.
The bracelet glowed with a cool blue radiance, and as soon as he grasped it he felt a tug upon his spirit. Mindful of what Meadowsweet had said, he allowed the pull of the bracelet to draw him down into the recesses of the stone . . .down and down . . .until he stood upon a glowing moonlit path surrounded by mist.
The Place Between Worlds. The Land of Mist and Shadows.
He blinked, feeling an odd sort of weightlessness. He felt if he jumped he would simply keep floating into the air. There was a surreal quality about this place, of being and not being, and as he looked about, he almost fancied he could see faces within the mist . . .faces of those who were dead. He shivered and clutched his cloak tighter about him.
“Don’t stare too long at the mist, it can beguile you,” came Meadowsweet’s soft contralto.
He looked up and there she was before him, slightly transparent, but otherwise the same platinum-haired wolfen Healer in her gypsy attire, though now her amber eyes burned with blue fire. “Hello, Severus. Guess my mother was right after all, since we’re both here. Can you feel the bond between you and Harry?”
Severus nodded. He could feel a warm pulsing sensation in the region of his heart whenever he concentrated upon his ward. “Yes.”
“Good. Take my hand and we’ll follow the bond down the path and see where it leads. We should be able to slip into his mind fairly easily, but I have no idea what we’ll find inside it.”
His hand clasped hers and together they began to travel the moonlit path.
It seemed as though they had taken barely two steps before they were facing a large tower, black with gold and red pennants atop it. Severus could feel the bond drawing him towards it, but he halted resisting the pull. “Is this construct . . .Harry’s mind?”
“I believe so, yes. This is how he protects himself, I think. His defenses manifest as an impenetrable tower. But he will allow us entry.”
“You are certain?”
“No, but I will not find out standing here,” answered the wolfen and then she stepped forward, laying her hand upon the barred entryway into the tower.
At her touch, the tower door swung open and she led Snape inside.
* * * * * *
Their feet stepped upon cool marble squares, like a chessboard, but they made no sound when they walked. Ahead was a large set of double doors with two armored knights guarding them. The knights wore tabards of green and gold with a hawk flying upon them.
As the two approached, the knights moved, putting their pikes across the doorway to bar their passage. “Halt! Who dares enter here? Were you invited?”
Severus stepped forward, eyeing the knights with interest. “My name is Severus and I am here looking for the master of the tower.”
“Indeed? And how are you known to him?”
Severus opened his mouth to reply that he was Harry’s mentor and guardian, but some instinct made him answer instead, “He is the son of my heart. I am his father.”
The knight slid aside his pike. “You may pass.”
The other knight looked at Meadowsweet. “And you, girl?”
“I am his soulmate.”
The knight drew back. “You may pass also.”
Then the doors opened and they walked through into yet another antechamber, where a pretty red-haired woman was stirring a cauldron. She looked up from it and smiled. “Hello, Severus. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Severus staggered backwards. “Lily! You . . .how can you be here? You died!”
She laughed. “Does anything ever really die, Severus? I am here to watch over my son.”
Meadowsweet touched his arm. “Severus,” she hissed into his ear. “Don’t be fooled. This is not Lily, nor even her spirit. This is a construct made by Harry’s mind. One of his defenses.”
“How can you tell?”
“I just know. Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” He turned back to Lily, hoping that Sasha was right. “Where is Harry, Lily? We need to find him.”
“He is here. But first you must answer a question. If you answer correctly, you may go on. If not, you must leave.”
“Lily, stop playing games!” Severus snapped. “Harry is in trouble, can’t you feel it?”
“He is safe here. I protect him. Answer my question, Sev, and then you may see for yourself.” Lily repeated with maddening calm.
“What is the Sovereign Specific?”
Severus’s brow creased. He had expected the question to be about potions, since Lily had been as ardent a potion-maker as he was. But this . . .this question was ridiculous.
“A universal remedy for all ills?” he repeated. “There is no potion known to man that can cure everything. It is a myth.” Severus began. “Wizards have been searching for the panacea for all ills since the first of us lit a candle and discovered magic. It does not exist.”
Lily’s eyes narrowed. “Are you certain, Sev? What makes the impossible possible? What turns sworn enemies into friends? What saves a soul from the dark path?”
He frowned. Then he realized there was only one answer to all the questions. The same answer.
“Love. Love redeems us all from the sins of the past.”
Lily smiled. “Yes, Sev. Love is the Sovereign Specific.” She gestured to her cauldron. “Drink from my cauldron and you shall see the way forward.”
Severus would have accepted the dipper she drew for him, believing no harm would come of it as he had passed her test, but Meadowsweet stiffened. Her wolfen instincts warned of a trap.
She put a hand upon his arm. “No. We have no need of potions here. Our will and our magic is sufficient.”
Her eyes bored into Lily’s emerald ones.
The sorceress’ eyes flashed with anger then she threw back her head and laughed. “Well done, child of the wolves! You may bring with you into the inner keep only what you came with.” She dropped the ladle back into the cauldron and gestured.
Another door, this one a small green one, appeared behind her.
“Go. My son awaits you.”
They walked swiftly through the door, Severus castigating himself mentally for nearly being tricked into trusting the Lily construct. Now he understood why Mrs. Atwater had insisted one never travel without a partner. Who would have thought Harry so devious and clever? Must be hanging around me too long.
Severus stepped into yet another room, this one was empty, however, and he might have considered turning back but the bond tugged at him.
Meadowsweet stepped lightly upon the floor and suddenly there was a whoosh! And a hiss! And fire shot up from the floor.
Meadowsweet jumped, startled, and without thinking, blurred into her wolf form.
Severus followed suit, reasoning that as Warrior he could avoid the flames easily.
But as soon as he was aloft, there was another long hissing sound and an arrow flew out of a hole across the room, narrowly missing his wing. Warrior swooped and banked, screaming angrily.
“Severus, fly!” Meadowsweet howled. “Don’t think, just fly!”
The white wolf began to run, bounding across the floor, twisting and turning to dodge the sudden spurts of fire, her nose clogged with the stench of smoke and burnt wood and flesh. Her eyes stung and she nearly gagged, but she knew if she stopped, she would be flung out of the tower. So she ignored her stinging burning eyes and nose, and the sparks that burnt her paws as she jumped and dodged.
Above, Severus ran his own gauntlet, whirling and diving, to avoid the arrows that flew at him. He rolled and spun, sometimes avoiding an arrow by inches. He had almost reached the other side of the room when he glanced down and saw a large wall of fire barring Meadowsweet’s path.
The white wolf whimpered and cringed, panting harshly, fear evident in her amber eyes.
Severus understood. Fire was one of his nemesis’ also.
“Meadowsweet, jump!” he urged.
The white wolf howled. “I cannot! It’s too high!”
“You’re a wolfen, I’ve seen you jump over saplings. Just do it!”
“No! It’s fire . . .fire is the enemy!”
Warrior screeched in frustration. “Coward! Have you come all this way to fail now? Just shut your eyes and jump, dammit!”
Meadowsweet bared her teeth. “I am not a coward!”
“Prove it!” Warrior taunted.
Shivering, the white wolf gazed at the crackling wall of flame, it was higher than her head, nearly as high as the ceiling of the room. It was too high for her to jump, wolfen or no. She backed away, her tail between her legs.
Then Warrior got an idea. “It’s not real, Meadowsweet! There is no fire. Shut your eyes and jump. Trust me.”
Gulping, the white wolf obeyed, shutting her eyes and then springing forward, as high and as far as she could.
She expected at any moment to feel the hot searing pain of fire upon her flesh, but there was nothing.
Her paws touched down upon the ground.
Cautiously, she opened her eyes and shook herself.
There was no fire behind her. “You were right, Warrior!” she yipped. “Come, through the wall!”
Then she leaped at the seemingly blank wall and it dissolved, allowing them to enter a small dark room, made of stone, where two figures battled.
They were Harry and Voldemort, locked in a battle to the death.
And suddenly Severus understood.
Harry could not wake up because he was a prisoner in his own mind.
He strode forward, ignoring the attempts to keep him away from his son. The floor turned to quicksand, the ceiling began to fall, a wind slammed him against the wall.
Severus felt Sasha’s hand close over his own and together they walked, inch by inch, through the illusions, their minds focused upon but one thing.
“Why is he fighting us?” Severus called, nearly bowled over by a shrieking gale.
“He is frightened!” Meadowsweet answered. “Frightened and . . .he believes he is somehow evil.”
As soon as the words left her lips, Severus saw the truth. Now it all made sense.
Harry had trapped himself here because he believed he was connected to Voldemort and part of him was within him.
He believes if he locks himself away here, he will keep himself and the rest of us safe from his “evil”. Oh, Harry, you fool! Evil died that day, and there is naught left of him but memories.
He pushed past the last of the illusions and grasped Harry by the shoulder, pulling him around to face him.
Snarling, Harry brought up a fist. “Let me go! I must defeat him!” Desperation and anger shone in the green eyes.
“Harry!” Severus shook him sharply. “Look at me! See me! Do you not know me?”
The green eyes focused past the red mist.
“Sev? Is that really you?”
“Yes. Stop fighting. The battle is won.”
“No. It’s not. He’s not dead. There’s something of him still inside me.”
“Why do you say that, beloved?”
Harry stared at her. “Sasha? How . . .did you find me?”
She brought up a hand to touch his face, which was flushed as with a raging fever. “I followed my heart.”
“You’ve got to leave. I’m . . .dangerous. Get out!” He flung her hand away, half turning from her, hunching his shoulders. “You don’t know what I can do . . .”
Meadowsweet laid her hand upon his shoulder, undaunted. “Oh, but I do. You are the same dangerous sorcerer you were when you entered Sylvanor. I did not fear you then. Why would I do so now?”
“Get out! I won’t be responsible for your death. Or yours either, Severus!”
“No, you won’t. For we are all responsible for our own deaths,” Severus replied. “Listen to me. Voldemort is dead. You destroyed the last Horcrux and then we killed him together. We fulfilled the prophecy, fledgling. He is gone and nothing remains of him save memories.”
“No! I felt him in my head!” sobbed Harry. “Please, go! Please!”
Severus gritted his teeth and yanked the other about, holding his chin firmly in one hand, ignoring the tears. “You felt an echo. He is gone, Harry James Potter. Believe me. Believe.” Their eyes locked and Severus tapped into their bond. “See the truth.”
Harry struggled, but Severus held him fast and he had no choice but to see.
“Backlash . . .not . . .not a Horcrux . . .”
“No. You were never that, my love,” Meadowsweet said softly, hugging him. “Your soul is clean of him.”
“The Ritual saw to that, son.” Severus said gently. “You are no pawn of the Dark. Not any longer.”
“Come home with us,” Sasha pleaded.
Harry stiffened. He wanted to, oh, how he wanted to. He was weary to his bones of fighting this endless battle. “Is it safe?”
“Yes. Come home, son.”
Harry hesitated. He looked at Meadowsweet and Severus, the two who loved him enough to walk inside his head and try to free him from his own deluded sense of responsibility and guilt. “I don’t deserve you,” he whispered, the old inadequacy flaring within him.
“You do. I say you do,” Severus growled.
“And I. We all have a shadow within us. But you have defeated the shadow within. Now come back to us, Harry. Come back.”
“I . . .” he froze, indecision holding him prisoner. Am I worthy?
Suddenly he found himself yanked into a pair of hard sinewy arms and his face pressed against a familiar black robe and a silky voice was growling lovingly in his ear, “Foolish fledgling, you are more than worthy. You always were. I love you, Harry. Damn your stubborn Gryffindor pride. Do you hear? I, Severus Snape, love you, son.”
Then other arms were about him as well, as Meadowsweet caressed his cheek and whispered, “Come home, my heart. Your task is done and now you can rest. Come with me, Harry. I need you. I cannot live without my soul. Come back, beloved.”
The last of his defenses crumbled, unable to withstand the blinding truth of their love. He sagged in their embrace, choking upon tears. He was worthy. He was loved. And it was over.
“Show me the way home.”
They took his arms, one of either side of him, and together they turned their back upon the hissing and withered figure, the shadow of Voldemort that was no more, and walked away.
Behind them, the shadow dwindled and faded, and finally vanished altogether, now that Harry was free.
They took three steps and suddenly were back at the beginning of the moonlit path.
Meadowsweet pulled away reluctantly from Harry. “Forgive me, Harry. But I must leave you here. I cannot stay within the Realm of Mist and Shadows much longer, it is nearly dawn. I must return to my body. But never forget that I love you. And someday we shall meet again. Remember me.”
Then she took his face in her hands and kissed him.
He felt an electric shock flow through him as their lips met and all of the love she bore him flowed through him in that instant.
A moment later she was gone.
“Sasha!” he cried, reaching out for her.
“Come, Harry. It’s time to go home. You’ll see her on the other side.”
Then he grasped Severus’ hand and allowed the elder wizard to draw him back along the shining pathway.
* * * * * *
Severus woke to a voice calling his name.
Struggling up from the mists of sleep that wreathed him, he lifted his head, finding it pillowed on a slender wrist wearing a moonstone bracelet. Huh? How did I get here? I fell asleep. Bloody hell, was it all a dream then? I failed . . .it didn’t really work . . .
Until his eyes met those of his ward, who was wide awake and gazing at him.
“Sev? I had the strangest dream. You were in it, and Sasha . . .”
He never completed his sentence, for the next thing he knew was that Severus was holding him, crushing him so tightly he almost couldn’t breathe. And for some reason he was whispering, “It was no dream. You came back to me. You came back.”
Harry clutched him, still half asleep, and thinking wryly, Where have I been? Was I lost? If I was, I’m home now. “Uh . . .Sev . . .could you . . .maybe . . .not hug me so tight? I . . .sort of need to breathe.”
The Potion Master’s grip loosened. “Forgive me, Harry. I just . . .you almost . . .don’t ever scare me that way again!” He half-shook the boy, then he hugged him again, his emotions were all jumbled, and he could not sort them out. But one thing he did know. Harry had come home to him.
“Okay, Sev. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing.” He said gruffly. He put a hand under his son’s chin and pulled the boy’s head up. “It wasn’t your fault. How are you feeling?”
“I . . .I’m . . .all right . . .I feel sort of woozy though, and my legs feel like limp noodles . . .Sev, are you all right?”
“Of course. Why do you ask?” his guardian demanded, a hint of his old snarky tone creeping back into his voice.
“Because . . .you’re crying.”
He expected the older wizard to deny it, to snarl that he was seeing things, that he would never shed a tear over such an exasperating irritating boy.
Instead Severus lifted his head proudly and declared, “Yes, I am. It’s a normal reaction for a father who has nearly lost his son. Now quit gaping like a half-wit, Harry, and fetch me a handkerchief, dammit.”
Harry smiled. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out the same handkerchief Severus had given him that long ago day in the glade. “Here, Sev. I love you too.”
Snape took the handkerchief and wiped his eyes, muttering something about insolent impossible fledglings.
Harry grinned. It was good to be back where he belonged. “How are the others? Is everyone else all right?”
“Yes. Everyone else is fine. Except Albus. I haven’t seen him since the battle. Which is damn strange. Usually he would be battering the door down by now, asking if I wanted a lemon drop or coming to see how you were.”
“Was he hurt bad by Lucius and the others?” Harry asked worriedly.
Severus sighed. “I don’t know. I have been here in this room with you for almost two weeks, waiting for you to wake up.”
Harry gaped at him. “Two weeks! Bloody hell, Sev! No wonder I’m so damn hungry.”
Severus abruptly turned away from him, his face buried in his hands.
Harry became alarmed. Was the man crying again? Over him? “Sev? Sev, what’s wrong? What did I say?”
The black-clad shoulders shook.
For Severus was not crying, he was laughing. Laughing so hard he couldn’t speak.
“I don’t understand. What’s so funny?” Harry muttered. Had everyone gone crazy while he was sleeping? He pinched himself hard. No, he was definitely awake.
And Severus was laughing.
Finally, the Potions Master stopped and lifted his head.
“Would you please tell me what’s so bloody funny?” demanded Harry irritably.
“You are.” Severus replied. “I was worried that you might . . .not recover from being asleep so long, but if you’re asking for food, you’re going to be fine. Just fine.”
“Huh? You’re happy that I’m hungry?”
Harry shook his head. “I think you’ve lost it, Sev. Totally.”
“Watch it, fledgling,” he mock-growled. “What would you like to eat?”
Before he could answer, there came a knock at the door.
Severus banished the wards and made a quick gesture.
The door swung open to admit Albus Dumbledore.
Severus eyed the old wizard, who looked perfectly fine, down to the twinkle in his blue eyes. There was no sign of any torture in the man’s face and the Potions Master frowned. “You’re looking well, Albus. I’m surprised you didn’t come to see Harry before.”
Albus gave him a sad smile. “I would have liked to, Severus. But there would have been no point to it.” He moved into the room and shut the door.
“No point? What is that supposed to mean? I could have used you to help me,” Severus began angrily. “Instead of having to rely upon a young wolfen Healer and nearly risk Harry’s life walking the Paths of the Moon! Your magic might have given me more of an edge—”
“No, it wouldn’t have,” Dumbledore said firmly. “Because, you see, I have no more magic, Severus Snape. It is all gone, sacrificed upon the black altar so Voldemort would be weakened. I gave it away to save those worth saving. And now I am simply an ordinary man.”
There was dead silence in the room, as both his former students stared in breathless denial at the former Headmaster.
Well, what did you think of that little adventure? I hope this chapter answers any questions you might have had about Harry's condition and Albus.
Thanks for all the support from everyone, I really appreciate it and hope you will continue reading.
Next: Albus discusses his condition with Harry and the two begin to heal from their ordeal.
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