Chapter 2 : Common Ground
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Severus blinked. The last thing he expected was for Potter to question him. "I might ask you the same question, Potter. What I am doing here is no business of yours. What are you doing here, instead of celebrating with your little friends?"
"I . . .didn't feel much like celebrating." Harry admitted, figuring maybe if he told the tall professor something, Snape might leave him be.
Severus' eyes bored into the small boy. The young wizard reminded him painfully of Lily, with his green eyes and earnest gaze. The last time he had seen those eyes had been on a corpse. He suppressed an involuntary shudder. No, he would not think of that. Not now. Instead he focused upon her son, whom he was bound to protect, the son she had died to save. Despite what some might assume, he did not resent the boy for that. He would have expected nothing less from Lily, who had always protected what she loved best. Once, he had been what she loved best. Until he had foolishly followed a silver-tongued Lucius down a shadowy road, and lost her trust and her love forever. What he did resent the Potter brat for was reminding him of his lost love, and reawakening memories he had fought hard to keep locked away.
"Why not? The feast wasn't to your liking?" he asked, the hint of a sneer in his voice.
Harry shook his head. "No. And it shouldn't be to anyone's liking!" he exploded, suddenly sick and tired of hiding his misery. "Doesn't anyone remember what happened tonight? This is the night they died! The bastard killed my parents . . .I saw her die . . .and I can't stop remembering it. I can't stop . . .!" His breathing grew ragged and harsh and a sob escaped him despite his resolve not to cry. "She died for me . . .because of me . . .and they all expect me to be grateful for it! Grateful that I killed her!"
Severus was stunned. He had never thought the boy would have remembered something like that, as young as he was. But apparently he had, and worse blamed himself for her death. But that guilt was not his burden to carry. It was Severus'. "No, Potter. You did not kill her." He began emphatically.
"I did! And everyone knows it! It's all anyone ever talks about. It's what I'm famous for!" Harry cried, swiping at his eyes.
Snape thrust a large embroidered handkerchief at the boy. "Quit sniveling all over the parchment, Potter. Salt doesn't mix well with it."
Harry took the handkerchief and stared at it as if he'd never seen one before. "What?" Then he flushed. "I-I mean . . .right." Had Snape just made a joke? Surely not. He blotted his eyes then, but a defiant tear made its way down his face.
"Look at me," the professor ordered, his voice soft. He had to force himself to meet that tortured green gaze, which mirrored the one he saw in the looking glass around this time of the year. "You did not kill your mother. It was not your fault that the Dark Lord came hunting you. Your family was betrayed by their Secret Keeper. And by one who . . .inadvertently brought news of a prophecy he overheard . . .Your mother would never have stood by and allowed any harm to come to her child. That was not Lily's way. She . . .chose her own death, dying out of love, like many a mother has done before her. She would not want you to feel guilty."
"How would you know?" Harry demanded. "Were you there when she died, to ask her why?"
"I did not need to be." The professor said sharply. "Mind your tone, before I take points."
Harry shrugged. "Like you need a reason."
Severus' eyes flashed. "Since you are not . . .yourself . . .Potter, I shall overlook your cheek. This time only. Out of respect for the dead. Pull an attitude with me again and you shall be scrubbing my entire dungeon with a toothbrush before you can say Quidditch. For your information, your mother and I knew each other well. She was my classmate and my neighbor and my . . .friend."
Harry was flabbergasted. Snape and his mother had been friends? And neighbors? Why had no one ever told him that? Everyone always talked about James, but the only thing they had ever mentioned about Lily was that Harry had her eyes. At the same time he was also angry because so much had been kept from him, first by the Dursleys and now by the Hogwarts staff as well. All of them had known his parents, they had attended school here, and yet none of the teachers had ever volunteered to tell Harry about them. Well, McGonagall had volunteered a few things about James, how he was a Chaser and there had been a few more bits in Famous Witches and Wizards of the 20th Century, but nothing that really told Harry about the kind of person his mother had been. The only memory he had of Lily was one where she fell lifeless to the floor in front of him. That awful, dreadful memory, which never failed to tear his insides to shreds. All this time, Snape had known his mother, and not once had the professor ever offered to share his memories with her son.
The omission made him furious.
"Must be nice, sir-" he sneered the word, so Snape would know he was not using it as term of respect. "-to have such wonderful memories of your friend, especially on this night. I guess that's why you were celebrating along with everyone else, right? Ron told me everyone throws big parties on Halloween in the wizarding world, because Voldemort was defeated that night. He said that it was one of the greatest things to happen in the twentieth century. And it happened because of me. But everyone forgets that people died before I . . .did whatever I did to him. My father and mother died that night, so why the hell would I want to celebrate Halloween?" He was on his feet now, his hands clenched, eyes burning with unshed tears. "Why should I give a damn about sweets and a bloody feast when my mother is dead? You're supposed to be a brilliant wizard, sir. Tell me why nobody cares! Why?"
Snape's face had gone pale as cream, with only his eyes providing a contrast-they glittered darkly against his face. And in those eyes were anger, bitterness, and pain. "Why, Potter? You ask me the question that I have wondered for years. How is it that some can celebrate a victory without tallying the cost? How can they revel in the defeat of an enemy and yet forget the sacrifice necessary to get there in the first place? I do not know. Nor do I care. It matters not." His voice lowered to a rasp. One finger lifted and stabbed at the boy like a dagger. "But do not ever suggest that I celebrate the eve of her death! That I could ever forget what occurred this night . . .the night when she passed from this world forever . . .I saw her at the last . . .closed her sightless eyes . . .her eyes . . .once so full of life . . .of passion . . . you cannot know . . .how dare you compare me with those imbeciles, boy?"
Harry backed up, for the light in Snape's eyes was terrible to see, it seared him to the bone. Here was a man whose pain eclipsed his own, he realized. He could see it in every line of the other's face, in the tautness of the professor's body, but especially the eyes . . .oubliettes of endless grief. Here was someone who had not forgotten the cost of Voldemort's defeat, who still honored the memory of Lily Evans Potter. Who would have thought the intimidating sarcastic Potions Master had such a wealth of grief hidden away behind that grim exterior? With a flash of insight he understood why Snape had come here tonight. It was for the same reason as Harry.
He had come to mourn the one he had lost.
With that, Harry bridged the chasm of misunderstanding between himself and the professor and stood upon common ground, the bitter sting of loss and grief drawing him towards the older wizard. He felt a terrible ache in his soul whenever he thought of his mother, of what might have been. How much worse was it for Snape, who had known Lily for much longer? He did not know what to say to ease the terrible sorrow, he knew in his heart that there was nothing that he could say, except perhaps . . . "I understand."
Snape's mouth twisted, he longed to blast the boy with his rapier wit, skewer the arrogant brat's pretensions with his sharp tongue. How could Potter know what he was feeling? How empty his life was without her? But something held him mute. Perhaps it was the look in the younger wizard's eyes, a look of comprehension and understanding that he had never seen upon anyone's face until now. His loss is mine also. "Perhaps, Potter. Perhaps."
Suddenly it was too much. He could not stand to look at her son any longer. It had been so much easier when all he had seen was James Potter, his rival, his hated enemy. Now all he saw was her eyes, staring back at him from a face he both resented and pitied. Eyes that accused and reminded, condemned and pardoned. Grief knows no boundaries, not of class, race, or age. He could not recall now where he had read that, only that it perfectly summed up this situation.
He made himself look away, down at the book lying upon the table in front of Harry. "Studying potions, Potter? Or is that a ruse to make me think you actually like my class?"
"I do like your class, professor." Harry answered honestly. "Potions have always interested me. You'd know that if you-" he halted, for he did not want to antagonize the teacher.
"If I what?" Snape demanded.
"No, Potter, tell me."
"Fine, but just remember, you asked, sir." Harry said shortly. "You'd know that if you would quit sneering and looking for reasons to take points from me over stupid things. If you gave me a chance, you'd see that I want to do well in potions. Dumbledore said that my mum liked potions . . .well, so do I."
"Lily was brilliant at potions. And Charms." Severus told him. The boy had some nerve! But if he was being brutally honest with himself, Snape knew that Potter was right. Perhaps he ought to give the boy a chance. Maybe there was more of Lily in him than James.
A tiny smile appeared on Harry's face. "Really? Then I guess . . .I'm like her . . .a little."
Severus snorted softly. The boy's honesty scalded, but he couldn't punish the brat, seeing as he had insisted upon hearing the truth. Don't ask, Sev, unless you want to know the answer, Lily's voice whispered in his ear. She had never lied to him, that he could recall. He flicked a quick glance at Harry, just catching a glimpse of a wistful look in those expressive eyes. It touched something within him, enough so he swallowed the sarcastic retort that sprang to his lips. He supposed he could be honest in return. "In some ways, Potter, you remind me of her very much . . ."
Harry's eyes lit up, but before he could respond there came a tremendous bang from somewhere in the castle. The library trembled and Harry was knocked into the table, striking his hip on the edge of the desk. He yelled at the sudden sharp pain.
Strong hands gripped his shoulders, steadying him as tremors shook the castle. "Potter, are you hurt?"
"I . . .not so bad . . .I just hit my hip into the table . . ." He sucked in a breath as long fingers probed deftly at the tender area.
"Bruised, most likely. I doubt you hit it hard enough to cause a fracture," said the Potions Master matter-of-factly. "You'll be sore tomorrow, but you'll live."
"What's happening?" Harry asked, starting to become frightened. "What was that noise?"
"I don't know, but I shall find out. Stay here, boy, right here, and do not move an inch. Understand?" Severus ordered sternly.
"Do as I say for once, Potter!" snapped the older wizard. He pushed the boy into the chair and then spun on his heel and strode rapidly towards the library entrance.
Something had invaded the castle, and his instincts told him it was deadly and dangerous. He snapped his wrist out sharply and his wand fell into his hand, quick-released from his arm sheath. He just hoped that the Headmaster and the rest of his colleagues had gotten the children to safety. Another loud BOOM echoed down the corridor as Snape hurried down the stairs and right into a mass of screaming hysterical students and prefects struggling to bring the children under control.
He sought out Slytherin green among the mass of blue, red, and gold trim and grabbed Flint's arm. "Flint, what in bloody blazes is going on?"
His Captain looked up at him and cried, "A troll's invaded the castle, Professor Snape! Quirrell said it was in the dungeon, but I think the berk was mistaken, because I just saw it go that way!" The tall boy pointed towards the small service stair leading to the second floor, which appeared at random throughout the castle. "The stairs appeared and the damn troll jumped on them and now it's up there, sir!"
"Where are the other teachers?" Snape demanded over the sobs and shrieks.
"Down in the dungeons, sir! What do we do?" Flint asked, looking scared.
"You take the Slytherins down to the common room, Flint. Hufflepuffs, go to your common room!" he shouted. They would be safe down next to the kitchen. "Everyone else needs to go back to the hall. Do you hear? Go back to the hall!" Severus said decisively. It was too dangerous for the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw students to go up the stairs to their dormitories with the troll rampaging.
He helped the prefects with the panicked students, chivvying them into obedience with his glare and soon they had all done as he had said. He was just about to cast a Reinforcement Charm upon the doors to the hall when he heard Granger's voice crying, "Ron, where's Harry? He doesn't know about the troll!"
"Don't worry, Hermione," Ron said easily. "Harry's safe in Gryffindor Tower."
Severus froze. No, he isn't, Weasley. He's trapped in the damn library! Right in the path of a vicious mountain troll. He sprinted from the hall, shutting the doors and casting the Reinforcement Charm before he dashed up the staircase.
He prayed he would be in time, and not have to relive another awful moment, standing over the body of yet another green-eyed casualty of war.
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