The Sugar Quill
Author: Theowyn (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Enemy Within  Chapter: Chapter 18: Hogsmeade
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Chapter 17: Hogsmeade

Chapter 18:  Hogsmeade

The next several weeks proved to be the best Harry had had all year.  Although Voldemort was never far from his thoughts, the hopeless fear that had gripped his heart retreated and with it, the worst of his nightmares.  Harry knew that this was a direct result of his improved relationship with Snape.  The man wasn’t friendly towards him, but Snape seemed to have finally accepted the fact that Harry still needed his guidance and appeared determined to do his duty in offering it.  There was a comfortable familiarity between them of which Harry took full advantage.  He often stopped by Snape’s office in the evenings after dinner to talk.

The first couple of times he went to see his professor, Harry made certain to think of something meaningful to discuss, so that Snape wouldn’t accuse him of wasting his time.  However, it quickly became apparent that this was unnecessary.  Having promised to be there for Harry when he needed someone to talk to, Snape didn’t seem to care what Harry actually talked about, or even whether he talked at all. 

Snape wasn’t indifferent to what Harry had to say and he was always attentive, but he was content to let Harry ramble, offering observations or opinions when needed, but otherwise allowing Harry to talk through his long-suppressed thoughts and feelings or lapse into a companionable silence.  Snape never seemed displeased at Harry’s presence, or impatient for him to leave.  Once or twice Harry even suspected that Snape was glad to see him.  That was probably due to the fact that Harry’s problems were the least of Snape’s worries at the moment. 

It hadn’t taken long for the gist of Snape’s house meeting to become common knowledge.  Many of the Slytherins clearly wanted nothing to do with Voldemort now, and they were also clearly looking to Snape for help.  There was a steady stream of traffic in and out of the Potions Master’s office as the Slytherins turned to him for ‘career counseling’, as everyone had taken to euphemistically calling it. 

Snape, himself, appeared to be on a mission.  He had always favored his own students, but now he was fiercely protective of them, stalking about like a mother bear defending her cubs and growling at anyone who appeared to threaten them.  Any altercations between the Slytherins and the other students brought immediate reprisals, but even off-hand comments muttered in the hallways could incur Snape’s wrath.

 

One morning after Seamus had been defeated in Defense due to a particularly sneaky tactic by his Slytherin opponent, Dean made the mistake of soothing his friend’s wounded pride by commenting that Slytherins never play fair.  Unfortunately, Snape overheard him.  He lost five house points and earned a caustic lecture from the incensed Potions Master.

 

The only thing that made Snape bearable was the fact that his protectiveness did not extend to Malfoy and his friends.  Harry was delighted to note that Snape turned a blind eye towards any insults directed towards this group.  Malfoy and his gang, in turn, seemed to be avoiding Snape as much as possible. 

Harry had spent no more time brooding alone on the third floor, instead devoting most of his free time to being with his friends.  Actually, he spent most of this time with Ginny, either flying or taking walks.  Ron had given them a curious look one afternoon as they left the common room together, but Hermione had kicked him under the table and he’d returned his attention to their chess game.  Harry hadn’t given it another thought.

***

It was the last Hogsmeade weekend of the year and a beautiful spring day.  Ron was in the middle of an animatedly detailed description of the latest Cannons match he’d heard on the wireless as he, Harry, Hermione and Ginny sat outside Honeydukes, sucking on sugar quills. 

“Then after Gudgeon collided with the Tornados Seeker he managed to grab the Snitch as he was falling.  Fortunately they were near the ground and he only broke his right leg and hip,” Ron finished proudly.

“You’re sure he didn’t just accidentally catch it as he fell?” Hermione asked innocently.  “That’s what Dean thought.”

“Of course not!” Ron declared, clearly outraged at the suggestion.  “It was a brilliant move!  Dean doesn’t have the faintest idea of what he’s talking about!”

Hermione grinned and Harry and Ginny laughed.  Ron scowled, then grinned sheepishly, realizing that he was being teased. 

Harry’s attention was suddenly distracted by a figure across the street who was dressed all in black with his hood pulled low over his face, but as Harry watched, the figure disappeared down a side street.  Harry didn’t know why the anonymous individual had drawn his attention.  Perhaps it was his severe dress which stood out among the sea of Hogwarts students taking advantage of the spring day away from school to wear their casual clothes.  Still, there had seemed to be something familiar about him.

“Come on, let’s go to Zonko’s,” Ron suggested.

Ginny raised her eyebrows at him.  “I thought you were only buying Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes these days.”

“I’m allowed to check out the competition, aren’t I?” Ron said as they strolled up the street to the joke shop.

The shop was crowded with students.  Ron perused the latest wares with a connoisseur’s eye, commenting on why comparable Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products were better or more dangerous, though usually both.

“Here’s a new one,” Ginny said, picking up a multicolored ball about two inches in diameter and hefting it expertly.  “It’s a Percussion Bomb,” she said, reading the attached label.  It says, ‘Do not use indoors.  May cause deafness or shatter glass within fifteen feet of detonation.’”

“Cool!” Ron said, his eyes lighting up for the first time since they’d enter the shop.  “We’ll have to tell Fred and George about that.”

Harry moved away to look at the fireworks display.  He happened to glance out the window and froze.  Across the street, half-hidden in a doorway, was the figure dressed in black that he’d seen earlier.  Harry couldn’t see his face, but nevertheless, he could have sworn the person was looking straight at him. 

“Harry, what are you looking at?” Hermione asked, coming up to him.

Harry turned towards her and spoke quietly.  “There’s someone in the doorway across the street.  I think he’s watching us.”

“Where?” Hermione asked, moving to look out the window.

“Right over –”

Harry stopped.  The doorway across the street was empty; the figure in black had vanished.  Hermione was looking at him curiously and Harry frowned at his own jumpiness.

“Never mind.”

Ginny came up to them.  “If you two are ready, Ron’s finished spying on the competition and I could use a butterbeer.”

Neither Harry nor Hermione had any purchases to make, so they all set off once more, heading back down the street the way they’d come.  As they approached the Three Broomsticks, however, Harry saw the figure in black, standing across the street from the pub.  The figure seemed to spot them too, because it started towards them, apparently intent upon intercepting them. 

“Come on,” Harry said, quickening his pace.

“What’s the hurry?” Ron asked as he and the girls hurried to keep up with Harry.  The black-robed figure quickened his pace as well and cut Harry and his friends off just in front of the pub.  He threw back his hood and addressed Harry.     

“Good afternoon, Mr. Potter.” Lucius Malfoy said, smiling pleasantly. 

The four Gryffindors gaped at the Death Eater standing unconcernedly before them.  Harry recovered first, whipping out his wand.

“Manners, Potter,” Malfoy said, rebuking Harry gently, but otherwise unfazed.  “You might wish to take a moment to consider your actions.”  Malfoy looked meaningfully past Harry and Harry followed his gaze.

There were two dozen or more figures hovering inconspicuously in doorways or peering around the corners of alleys.  Harry recognized them because they were all dressed like Lucius Malfoy in what Harry could now see were Death Eater’s robes.  Worse, Harry could see the tips of wands protruding from the folds of those robes.

Lucius Malfoy languidly drew his own wand, still smiling.  “Now Mr. Potter, it’s time for us to have a little chat.”

Ron, Hermione and Ginny had their wands out now and moved to stand protectively next to Harry.

“Your friends are welcome to come, too, of course,” Malfoy said easily.

Harry looked around, judging their odds.  Ron, Hermione and Ginny were obviously doing the same mental calculation and they were all coming to the same grim conclusion:  They were hopelessly outnumbered.  Even if they did fight, Harry shuddered to think how many bystanders in the street might get caught in the crossfire.

Just then, the door to the Three Broomsticks opened and Neville appeared in the doorway.  He started to greet Harry, then spotted Lucius Malfoy and froze in horror.  Malfoy glared over his shoulder at Neville and Harry reacted automatically.

He lunged forward and seized Malfoy’s arm.  “Get inside!” he yelled. 

Ron, Hermione and Ginny ran towards the pub, shoving a still stunned Neville back inside, as Malfoy, surprised by the physical assault, struggled to throw Harry off.  Harry hung on, hoping that none of the other Death Eaters would attack when he was in such close proximity to Malfoy.

“Harry, come on!” Hermione screamed from the doorway. 

Harry broke away from Malfoy who instantly leveled his wand at Harry.

Inflictum!” Hermione yelled and Lucius Malfoy was thrown back. 

Harry bolted for the comparative safety of the Three Broomsticks, but silver arrows shot past him, barely missing his head.  He whirled around and saw another Death Eater taking aim at him.

Protego!” Harry yelled, but the force of the spell still knocked him back.

Lucius Malfoy had his wand trained on Harry once more, but most of the other Death Eaters were being distracted by the crowds of students in the street, who were now beginning to panic.

Relashio!” Ron yelled, as Hermione called, “Turbo!

Malfoy managed to block one spell, but the other sent him sprawling on the street.  Harry raced for the door and ducked inside the Three Broomsticks.  Hermione slammed and warded the door behind him just as a rain of hailstones battered it.

Harry looked around to find a dozen students staring at him in alarm.

“What’s going on?” Ernie Macmillan demanded.

“There are Death Eaters out there!”  Eleanor Branstone said, looking in horror out the window at the chaos in the street. 

“What are Death Eaters doing in Hogsmeade in broad daylight?”  Michael Corner asked.

“That’s not important right now!” Hermione said, joining Eleanor at the window.  “There are dozens of students out there.  We have to get help.”

“I’ve just tried,” Madam Rosmerta said grimly as she came forward from the back of the pub.  “I can’t get through to anyone, not Hogwarts, not the Ministry.  Something’s blocking the Floo network.”

The front window shattered, and Eleanor screamed as glass sprayed everyone.

Madam Rosmerta waved her wand.  Reparo!  The window immediately repaired itself and she hastily muttered several other spells then turned back to the students.  “Those won’t hold for long.  We’re going to need to get out of here.”

“Where else is there to go?” Neville asked.

“Honeydukes!” Harry answered.  “There’s a secret passage in the basement that will take us back to Hogwarts.  I’ve used it myself.”

“But how are we going to get there?” Ernie asked, peering cautiously out the window.  “There are Death Eaters everywhere.”

“We need a diversion,” Ginny said.  “Something to distract them while we make a run for it.”

Ron waved at the pub around them.  “What do you suggest we do, throw kegs of butterbeer at them?”

“Actually, I think we can help with that.”  Walter Sutton and Jeremy Banks stepped forward.  “Fortunately, we’ve already made our rounds at Zonko’s,” Walter continued as both boys emptied their pockets to produce an impressive array of fireworks, stink bombs and other Zonko products.

“This is terrific!” Ginny said excitedly.  “It’s exactly what we need.”

“I don’t know,” Ron said, looking suspiciously at the two boys.  “Are you sure about this?”

Ginny flushed angrily.  “Do you have a better idea?”

“Look, Weasley,” Jeremy told Ron.  “It’s our necks here, too.  I don’t think that lot out there are going to stop to ask what house we’re in.”

“He’s right,” Hermione said.  “We’ve all got to work together and we don’t have much time.”

***

Out in the street, the Death Eaters had cornered two scores of terrified students who had realized too late that they were under attack.  But before the Death Eaters could do more than herd them into groups, the door to the Three Broomsticks unexpectedly flew open and half a dozen dungbombs came hurtling out.  The resulting coughing and gagging made for a very satisfactory diversion.  Madam Rosmerta, Harry and the rest of the students poured out of the pub.

Onis!” Hermione cried to dispel the stench as the others began cursing the surprised Death Eaters, several of whom fell.  Ginny, Walter and Jeremy ran forward to urge the students in the street towards Honeydukes.   

“Follow us!” Ginny yelled and the frightened students obeyed at once.  In a moment, they were all rushing after Ginny and the two Slytherins.  Neville and Ernie helped the stragglers, while Harry, Ron and Hermione brought up the rear along with Madam Rosmerta, ducking behind whatever cover they could find as they retreated up the street.  They continued to fire curses in their effort to hold off the Death Eaters who had by now regrouped and were advancing purposefully up the street, laying down a fierce battery of curses.

Madam Rosmerta was hit with a stunning spell and collapsed.  Harry almost rushed forward to help her, but Hermione held him back.  “There’s nothing you can do.  Keep going!” 

Reluctantly, Harry continued up the street and was relieved to see that the Death Eaters ignored the unconscious woman as they continued to methodically stalk the students.

Just a little longer, Harry thought, jumping into a doorway.  We just need to give Ginny enough time to get the other students into Honeydukes.  A curse blasted chunks of brick out of the wall next to him and Harry ran for cover behind a delivery wagon parked further up the street.  He found Ron and Hermione already huddled together, firing curses at the approaching Death Eaters. 

Harry glanced around for another hiding place, but at that moment a bolt of agony shot through his scar.  He screamed and doubled over, clutching his head as he tried to fight off the mental assault. Worse than the pain, though, was the terrifying knowledge that went with it.

“Harry!  Are you all right?”  That was Hermione’s voice, sounding frightened.

“He’s here!” Harry grunted through clenched teeth.  “Voldemort’s here!”

What?” Ron asked, but before Harry could repeat the warning, he heard Hermione gasp.

The pain in Harry’s scar was beginning to recede and he was aware that the street had grown deathly quiet around him.  He straightened up and looked around.  The Death Eaters had stopped hurling curses.  They stood still, waiting like silent sentries, blocking any retreat back down the street.  Ron and Hermione seemed to have forgotten the Death Eaters entirely.  They were gazing in horror in the opposite direction and Harry slowly turned to follow their stares.

The scene was frozen in tableau, with students strung out in small, unmoving groups all along the street.  Ginny was farthest away and stood only a few yards short of Honeydukes.  Like everyone else, she was staring in shock at the lone figure standing in the middle of the street, blocking the path to safety.

“Hello, Harry!” Voldemort called in the silence.

Harry swallowed and stepped forward, but Hermione snatched at his sleeve.

“Harry, no!” she whispered desperately. 

Harry shrugged out of her grasp without taking his eyes off Voldemort.

“Stay here,” he said quietly.

With his wand grasped firmly in his hand, Harry walked determinedly up the street, past the silent clumps of students until he’d drawn even with Ginny.  He stood as far away from her as possible and didn’t dare glance her way.  He didn’t want to do anything that might draw Voldemort’s attention to her or any of the other students.  Instead, he kept his eyes locked on his enemy. 

Voldemort regarded Harry coldly and Harry suddenly felt a horrible presence in his mind.  Instantly, he threw up his mental barriers to block the invasion.  Voldemort’s eyes narrowed and his brow creased in the slightest frown.

“Severus taught you well,” he hissed softly.

“Thanks,” Harry replied.  “I’ll tell him you said so.”

Voldemort laughed; a chilling sound that echoed up and down the narrow street.

“Ah, Harry!  Defiant to the end!  But I’m afraid the game is over.  Throw down your wand.”

Harry made no move to comply, but Voldemort only smiled and flicked his wand at a nearby student.

Crucio!

A fourth-year girl screamed and collapsed on the ground, writhing in agony.  Harry knew what that pain was like.  He raised his wand and brandished it at Voldemort.

Expelliarmus!” he called, however his spell had no effect.  Voldemort didn’t even bother to glance at Harry, but kept his cold gaze fixed on his victim who continued to shriek. 

Spicula!” Harry cried, putting all of his concentration and force of will into the spell.

Silver arrows erupted from his wand, but dissipated almost at once.  Voldemort continued to ignore Harry.  He twitched the tip of his wand at the girl lying on the ground and her screams became even more tortured. 

“Stop it!” Harry yelled, desperately.

Voldemort obliged with another casual flick of his wand.  The girl stopped screaming and instead lay sobbing hysterically. 

“As you wish, Harry.”  Voldemort waved his hand in a grandiose gesture that encompassed the entire street.  “Their fate is in your hands.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be responsible for any deaths, so why don’t you throw down your wand?”

Harry glanced around at the dozens of students on the street and hadn’t the slightest doubt that Voldemort was ready to kill every one of them.  He knew he had no choice.

“Give me your word that you’ll let them all go free!” Harry demanded.

Voldemort raised his eyebrows in obvious amusement, then shrugged.

“All right, Harry,” he said magnanimously.  “They mean nothing to me.  Drop your wand and your classmates may all return to Hogwarts, unharmed.  You have my word.”

Harry had no idea if Voldemort was telling the truth or not, but it was the best he was going to get.  He tossed his wand to the ground and braced himself to die.

Voldemort smiled triumphantly and leveled his wand at Harry.

Avada Ke –”

The explosion that shook the street was deafening and shattered nearby shop windows.  The students who had stood transfixed by Voldemort’s presence were startled into terrified flight once more.  Harry dove for his wand, seized it, then bolted for the nearest alley as complete pandemonium erupted. 

“Don’t let him get away!” Voldemort screamed at his Death Eaters.

Two curses whizzed by Harry as he darted into the narrow alley and sprinted for all he was worth towards the other end.  He burst out of the alley into an unfamiliar street and raced down it without slowing his pace.  He could hear the sound of feet pounding the cobblestones in pursuit, but he didn’t dare take the time to look behind him. 

Ahead of him, three Death Eaters appeared out of a side street.  There was no place to go or to hide, so Harry did the only thing he could.  He put on more speed and ploughed into the unprepared Death Eaters, sending two of them sprawling on the ground.  He rounded another corner, but could hear the shouts of more Death Eaters up ahead. 

Harry knew he couldn’t keep up his current pace; his breathing was ragged and his side was cramping.  He stumbled down another alley as the shouts of the Death Eaters grew closer.  At the other end of the alley, Harry emerged into a small courtyard with only one other exit: a narrow alley opposite the one he’d just entered from.  He crossed to the other alley as quickly as he could, but stopped when he heard the sounds of Death Eaters approaching from that direction as well.

Harry looked around frantically, realizing that he was trapped, then he spotted a gap between two of the ancient buildings lining the courtyard and hurried over to peer into it.  It was a small crevice that extended only a few feet before the walls of the adjoining buildings came together.  Harry pressed himself into the crack between the crumbling stone walls and tried to blend into the shadows just as the first Death Eaters arrived.

Harry’s heart felt as if it was going to burst from his chest.  He longed to gulp down deep breaths of fresh air to ease his aching lungs, but he didn’t dare.  He pressed himself as far back into the crevice as possible and waited.  He could hear the Death Eaters milling about close by, then heard Lucius Malfoy address them from only a few feet away, almost directly outside Harry’s hiding place.  Harry closed his eyes.  If they found him now, he was dead. 

Well?” Malfoy demanded.

“We’ve lost him,” one of the Death Eaters said.

“He didn’t come our way,” said another.

“Maybe he Apparated away,” a third suggested.

“If he could Apparate, don’t you suppose he’d have done it before now?” another testy voice protested.

“Enough!” Malfoy rebuked the others.  “The Dark Lord will be very displeased if Potter slips through our fingers yet again.” The other Death Eaters fell silent at the mention of Voldemort.  “The boy has to be here somewhere.  Find him.”

The Death Eaters murmured consent and hurried away.  Harry waited until the sound of their footsteps died away, then at last, he allowed himself a sigh of relief.  His heartbeat had slowed to something approaching normal and his breathing was no longer ragged.  He wriggled out of his hiding place and looked around.

Stupefy!

After a year of dueling in Ryan’s class, Harry reacted automatically.  He dove for the ground, then rolled into a crouch.  Inflictum!” he yelled, hurling a curse in the direction of his attacker. 

His quick reaction caught Bellatrix Lestrange off guard.  She was thrown backward, but immediately recovered.  Relashio!

Protego!” Harry cried, throwing the curse back at the Death Eater as he got to his feet.

Bellatrix smiled.  “Well, well, Harry, you’ve learnt a thing or two since we last met.”

Harry didn’t answer.  He remembered Ryan’s warning, Lose your head with a Death Eater and you’ll be dead before you can think better of your mistake.  He wasn’t about to start bantering with this woman while they were dueling; that had cost Sirius his life.  Spicula!

Protego,” Bellatrix said, almost casually as she sent the silver arrows hurtling back at Harry.  Harry dodged the spell easily and glanced around for an escape route, but both exits from the courtyard were behind Bellatrix. 

“Have you nothing to say to me, Harry?” Bellatrix taunted.  “Or are you already over my dear cousin’s death?”

Harry felt a surge of hatred and anger towards the woman, but forced himself to remain calm.  Control your emotions! Harry remembered.  Reducto!” he cried.

Murus!” Bellatrix called, but the force of Harry’s curse still sent her stumbling backward and her eyes narrowed angrily.  Relashio!” Fiery sparks flew from her wand.

Declino!  Onis!  Harry called in quick succession.

Bellatrix dodged the hailstones as Harry tried to maneuver towards one of the alleys.

Turbo!  The whirlwind blew Harry back and Bellatrix smiled nastily, waiting for his next move.

Protego!  Harry called.

Bellatrix opened her mouth, then hesitated in confusion.  It was exactly what Harry had been hoping for.

Inflictum!” he cried and an invisible knot of force slammed into Bellatrix, knocking her to the ground before she could react.  Expelliarmus!  The Death Eater’s wand was torn from her grasp and went skittering across the courtyard to come to rest a few feet in front of Harry.

Bellatrix’s eyes widened in surprise and outrage and Harry smiled as he kept his wand pointed steadily at his opponent.  “That’s a little trick Professor Snape taught me.”

“Did he?”  The woman’s eyes narrowed as she sat on the ground watching Harry appraisingly.  “It would seem that Severus taught you quite a lot.  It’s a pity, though, that you aren’t as clever at choosing your friends as you are at dueling, but then that always was a Potter weakness.” She paused, then looked at Harry out of the corner of her heavily-lidded eyes.  “You do realize, of course, that Sirius and your late father would be rolling over in their graves if they knew that Severus had usurped their place as your protector.”

Harry clenched his jaw in anger, but his wand remained steady.  “They’re not here, thanks to you and Voldemort.”

Bellatrix smirked.  “Actually, there’s someone else who is even more responsible for leaving you orphaned.  Would you like to know who that is, Harry, so that you can vent your righteous anger upon him?”

“Not really,” Harry answered dryly, taking a step closer to her wand while keeping his own trained on her.

“What’s the matter, Harry, afraid to hear the truth?”

“I wouldn’t expect to hear it from you and I’m really getting tired of talking to you.  Stu–

“Don’t you want to hear about Peter?”

Harry hesitated and Bellatrix smiled. 

“Our Lord was very displeased with him after Severus escaped us.  He felt certain that poor Pettigrew must have given himself away somehow.”  Bellatrix smiled conspiratorially.  “But I’m betting that you had something to do with Severus’s rescue, didn’t you, Harry?”

“Yeah, I did.”

Bellatrix chuckled appreciatively.  “I knew it.  You’re not one to leave a friend in need and I suppose you thought you owed Severus a debt after all the time he spent teaching you to shut your mind to the Dark Lord.  You’re wrong though, Harry.  If anything, he’s the one who owes you.”

“How do you reckon that?” Harry asked, curious despite himself.

Bellatrix shrugged.  “He was responsible for your parents’ deaths, though I suppose that’s not really a debt that can be repaid.”

Harry stared at the woman before him in astonishment, then laughed.  “You don’t know as much as you think.  Snape betrayed your Dark Lord a year before my parents died.  He was spying for Dumbledore all that time.”

“Yes, so we discovered,” Bellatrix sneered in disgust.  “We never guessed it at the time, though, because Severus did more than anyone to hand you over to our Lord.  He betrayed your parents.” 

“No he didn’t!” Harry snapped indignantly.  “Pettigrew betrayed them.”

It was Bellatrix’s turn to laugh.  “Yes, poor little Peter, he did betray his friends.  He gave up everything to serve our Lord and what did he get for his trouble?  Twelve years as a rat.”  She laughed again, clearly amused by this.  “We were all sure that the Dark Lord’s disappearance was somehow his fault.  We would have killed him if we’d got our hands on him.”

“It’s a pity you didn’t.”

“Perhaps.  Don’t you think it’s a bit odd, though, that Severus never mentioned Peter’s betrayal to your parents or anyone else, not even afterwards when your dear godfather was rotting in Azkaban?”

Harry frowned slightly.  “He didn’t know.”

“Oh, he knew,” Bellatrix said with a sly smile.  “We all knew.  Tell me, Harry, has it never occurred to you to wonder how Pettigrew became a Death Eater?  Peter’s hardly the type to come knocking on our door, after all.  But Severus knew your father and his friends better than any of us.  He knew who the weak link was and how to exploit Peter’s cowardice to draw him into our circle.  He was the one who sought out Peter and seduced him into joining our cause.”

“That’s a lie!” Harry snarled angrily.  “He would never have betrayed my parents, not while he was working for Dumbledore.”

Bellatrix smiled bitterly.  “That’s what we thought, too.  But just like you, we underestimated how much he hated your father.”  Bellatrix stood up to confront Harry.  “Don’t you see, Harry?  He deceived us all!  It wasn’t about loyalty and which side he was serving in the war.  It was personal.  He used our Lord to murder your parents because he hated your father.”

THAT’S NOT TRUE! 

“Isn’t it?” Bellatrix sneered.  She took a step closer to Harry.  “I hear that you’re quite an accomplished Legilimens now, Harry.  Well, I’m no Occlumens, so look me in the eyes and tell me if I’m lying.”

Harry hesitated, wary of some trick, but the woman stood her ground, glaring at him defiantly and Harry couldn’t resist the temptation.  He had to know.  Harry reached out mentally.  The woman’s mind was easy to penetrate and Harry knew that she had no awareness of him.  Her memories and emotions lay bare before him and as he surveyed them, he could see with horrible certainty one undeniable fact:  Everything she had told him was true.

Harry stared at Bellatrix Lestrange in shock as a terrible numbness spread through him.  He couldn’t move or speak or think and all he could feel was an unbearable pain in his chest, so intense that he could hardly breathe.  The arm holding his wand slowly fell to his side and Bellatrix smiled triumphantly. 

In one smooth, rapid movement, she reached out towards her wand, now lying only a few feet away, and cried “Accio!  The wand leaped to her hand and she whipped it around to point at Harry.  She needn’t have hurried.  Harry hadn’t moved and was only dully aware of the wand pointed at him. 

“Does it hurt to know that Severus lied to you all this time, Harry?” Bellatrix asked cruelly.  “I’ll take your mind off of it, shall I?  Cruci –”

Stupefy!   

Bellatrix froze, then crumpled, unconscious, to the ground.  Neville lowered his wand and hurried over to Harry, along with Ron and Hermione.

“Harry, are you all right?” Neville asked.

Harry didn’t answer; he just stood staring at the unconscious woman on the ground.

“It’s all right, Harry,” Hermione assured him.  “Everyone’s safe.  Dumbledore showed up right after Walter and Jeremy set off their Percussion Bomb.”

Ron chimed in.  “Voldemort didn’t even put up a fight, he just Apparated away.  Then Ryan, McGonagall and Snape showed up along with a bunch of Aurors.  They’re trying to round up as many Death Eaters as they can.”

“Professor Snape sent us ahead to find you,” Hermione continued.  “But he should be here any minute.”

Harry had only distantly heard what his friends were saying, but his head snapped up at this last bit of information and he stared at them, aghast.  “Snape’s on his way here?”

“Yeah, he shouldn’t be far behind us,” Neville said.

Harry threw a panicked look in the direction his friends had come from.  “I’ve got to go!”  He turned and ran towards the alley on the opposite side of the square.

“Harry, where are you going?” Hermione asked.  “You can’t take off all alone!”

Harry paused at the entrance to the alley and waved at Bellatrix Lestrange.  “Just watch her!”  He disappeared into the alley leaving his friends to stare after him in bewilderment.

***

“What do you suppose has got into Harry?” Neville asked.

“I don’t know,” Ron said, shaking his head.  He looked down at Bellatrix.  “What do you reckon we ought to do about her?”

“We need to restrain her, of course,” Hermione said, pointing her wand at the unconscious Death Eater.  Thin, strong cords shot from her wand and wound themselves around Bellatrix’s hands and feet, binding her securely.

“When did you learn to do that?” Ron asked, impressed.

Before Hermione could reply Snape came running into the square, glanced at the unconscious Bellatrix then scowled at the students.

“Where’s Potter?” he snapped.

“He’s gone,” Ron said, waving in the direction Harry had fled.

“What?  Where did he go?”

“He didn’t say, Professor,” Hermione answered.

“Poor little Harry,” Bellatrix Lestrange purred from where she lay bound on the ground, having regained consciousness.  “Has he gone missing?”

Snape scowled and strode over to the Death Eater.

“Where is he?” Snape demanded.

“Are you worried about him, Severus?” Bella asked, her voice dripping sarcasm.  “Do you care?”  She laughed as though this were hilarious.

“What did you do to him?” Snape asked in a dangerously quiet voice.

“Do?  Why, nothing, Severus, nothing at all.”  She laughed as though this, too, were hysterically funny.

Snape bent down, roughly pulled her up into a sitting position and pressed his wand to her throat.

“Just because I no longer serve the Dark Lord doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how.  Tell me where Potter’s gone or I promise you’ll regret it.”

Bellatrix’s eyes glinted with pure loathing and she glared at Snape defiantly. 

“I didn’t touch your precious Harry and I’ve no idea where he went,” she snarled, then collected herself and smiled sweetly.  “Actually, we had a lovely chat about old times, his parents and their old friends.” 

Her smile twisted into a malicious smirk as Snape’s eyes widened in understanding.

In one fierce motion, Snape shoved her back to the ground, stood up and raised his wand.

Stupefy!” he said angrily.  The spell hit Bellatrix with the force of a physical blow.  Her head snapped back and she lay unconscious once more.

“Professor, what’s wrong?” Hermione asked worriedly.

Snape ignored the question.  “Watch her!” he said grimly then hurried away in the direction Harry had taken without a backward glance.

Ron, Hermione and Neville looked at the unconscious woman, then at one another. 

“Do you think Harry’s in trouble?” Neville asked.

“I don’t know, but she certainly seems to have an effect on people,” Ron said, nodding at Bellatrix.

“We have to find Harry,” Hermione said.

“We can’t leave her here,” Neville said, also referring to the unconscious Death Eater.  “She might wake up again.”

“I don’t know,” Ron said.  “I think that spell of Snape’s probably knocked her out for a week.”

At that moment Dumbledore arrived and calmly surveyed the scene.

“Ah, you’ve subdued Mrs. Lestrange,” he said, coming over to the students.  “Excellent!  But where are Harry and Professor Snape?”

The three Gryffindors looked at one another and this time Neville spoke up. 

“Harry took off in a state right after we got here and Professor Snape went after him.”  Neville gestured at Bellatrix.  “We think it’s something to do with her.” 

Dumbledore frowned slightly and peered intently into Neville’s eyes for a moment.  Satisfied, he nodded and gave them a reassuring smile.  “Stay with Mrs. Lestrange.  I’ll find Harry and Professor Snape.”  He strode purposefully across the square and disappeared into the same alley that Harry and Snape had taken.

***

Harry ran through the outskirts of Hogsmeade as though being pursued, as though if only he ran fast enough and far enough he might outrun Bellatrix Lestrange’s taunting words.  He ran aimlessly, avoiding contact with anyone, but without meaning to he found himself back on the road to school.  The main gate came into sight and Harry sprinted towards the sanctuary of Hogwarts.

“Potter!”

Harry skidded to a halt as Snape stepped out of the woods like an apparition in front him.  For an interminable moment neither of them spoke.  They simply stared at one another.  Then Snape stepped forward.

“Potter –”

“Stay away from me.” Harry said, backing away.

“What she told you wasn’t true,” Snape insisted.

“Yes it was.  I saw it in her mind.  You betrayed my parents to Voldemort!”

“No I didn’t!” Snape said, taking a step towards Harry.  “Pettigrew betrayed them.”

“You were the one who arranged for Pettigrew to join Voldemort,” Harry said, his shock giving way to fury.  “You knew he was spying on my parents and you never told them!”

“I never intended for them to die!”

“I don’t believe you!” Harry yelled, clenching his fists in rage.  “You hated my dad!  I bet you thought it was clever getting Voldemort to kill him for you!  Only killing him wasn’t enough, was it?  You had to kill my mum and me too!”

No!  That’s not true!  Snape sounded genuinely horrified and he reached out imploringly to Harry.  “I never meant for it to happen.” 

Harry ignored Snape’s appeal as he drew his wand and leveled it at his teacher.  His anger had coalesced into a pure, perfect hatred.  “It was your fault,” he snarled.  “You know it was!  You can’t deny that!” 

Snape stared at Harry, stricken.  “No,” he said quietly.  “I don’t deny that.”

Harry could feel blood pounding in his ears.  He had never felt anger so intense or hatred so complete.  They wiped away every other feeling, every other thought. 

“I should have let Voldemort kill you,” he said.  “You deserved everything he did to you!  You deserve to die!” 

Harry was trembling with emotion but his wand was perfectly steady as he regarded Snape with cold detachment.  He knew this feeling, the rush of power, the lust for vengeance.  He had felt this night after night in his visions.  Harry knew without doubt that he could kill and if Snape had made a move to defend himself, he would have. 

But Snape didn’t even try to draw his wand.  He simply stared at Harry with a look of profound regret.

“Go ahead,” he said wearily.  

Harry gripped his wand tightly, but he couldn’t speak the words, couldn’t kill, not in cold blood, not a man who so clearly was ready to die.  Harry’s anger broke and his eyes filled with tears.

“I trusted you!” he cried in anguish.  “Why did you have to make me trust you?” 

Snape winced as if in pain and stepped towards Harry again, but Harry backed away.

“STAY AWAY FROM ME!” he screamed.  “JUST STAY AWAY FROM ME!  I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!” 

Harry pushed past his teacher and ran blindly up the road towards Hogwarts.

***

Snape watched numbly as Potter disappeared around the bend in the road.  For fifteen years he had dreaded the moment when this secret might be revealed.  He had feared it more than torture or death.  Time and again he had dreamt of crowds jeering him in hatred and disgust as he was dragged off to prison for his crime.  But even in his worst nightmare he had never imagined such excruciating pain as he felt now.  What cruel fate could have allowed him to betray the boy, not once, but twice?  And what more bitter punishment could there be than that he cared?

“Severus?”

Snape looked behind him.  Dumbledore stood among the trees watching him with a look of infinite sadness.  He’d obviously heard everything and Snape felt another stab of guilt.  Here was yet another betrayal. 

Dumbledore came towards him and laid a hand on his arm.  It was a kind, almost comforting gesture that made Snape cringe.  He deserved neither kindness nor comfort.

“I think we need to have a long talk,” Dumbledore said.

***

Harry was nearly at Gryffindor Tower, when he hesitated.  That was the first place his friends would look for him.  He couldn’t bear to see them; not now, not yet.  He veered away and let habit take him to his old hideaway on the third floor.  He ran down the musty corridor, shoved open the door to the tower room and sank down on the window seat where he had so often found refuge.  He wanted to stay here forever.  He didn’t want to have to face his friends and tell them of this worst betrayal, or admit how wrong he’d been to trust Snape.  The merest thought of the man felt like a knife twisting deep inside him and Harry buried his head in his arms, sobbing. 

He didn’t know how long he sat crying.  He hardly registered the sound of the door opening and closing gently or the soft pad of footsteps coming towards him.  A hand rested comfortingly on his shoulder, but Harry didn’t look up.  He didn’t want to talk to anyone.

“Harry, I thought I might find you here.” 

Dumbledore, of course.  He would know how to find me, Harry thought.  The headmaster’s voice was gentle and compassionate. 

“I have just finished talking with Professor Snape.  He told me what happened.”

“Did he tell you he betrayed my parents to Voldemort?” Harry asked through his tears.

“He told me the truth.  And you need to hear it as well.”

“I don’t want to hear anything he has to say.  I never want to see him again.”

“I understand how you feel, Harry.  But you cannot condemn him without knowing the truth.”

“I know the truth!  Bellatrix Lestrange told me what he did and he even admitted it!”

“What Mrs. Lestrange told you was absolutely true, Harry, yes, but it was also absolutely false.”

“It can’t have been both,” Harry said, finally looking up to meet Dumbledore’s eyes.

“Facts alone tell us very little if we are ignorant of the context and intent behind them.”

“You can’t tell me that you forgive him!” Harry said in disbelief.

A look of sorrow flashed in Dumbledore’s eyes.  “It is not in my power to forgive him, Harry.  Only you can do that.”

“Never!  I’ll never forgive him!”

“That may be”, Dumbledore said calmly.  “But you must at least hear the full story before passing final judgment.  You owe it to yourself.”

“Fine,” Harry said.  “I’ll listen.  But after that, I never want to see him again.”

Harry followed Dumbledore back to the headmaster’s office.  Snape was already there.  He sat hugging himself tightly and staring at the fire.  His eyes were red.

Harry was suddenly reminded of a young boy curled up in a corner, crying while his parents fought.  Stop it!  he told himself.  This was no time to feel sympathy for Snape!

“Severus,” Dumbledore said slowly, as though speaking to a child.  “Harry is here.”

Snape’s eyes flickered towards Harry then away as if he couldn’t bring himself to look at the boy.

“He has agreed to hear you out,” Dumbledore continued.  “I will leave the two of you alone.  Tell him everything.  Do you understand?” 

Snape didn’t speak or look at the headmaster.  He simply bowed his head and nodded obediently.

Dumbledore gave Harry a reassuring pat on the shoulder and left.  There was a horrible strained silence in the room as Harry waited for Snape to say something.  But the Potions Master might as well have been a statue.  He didn’t move or speak and his thoughts seemed very far away. 

Well?” Harry said impatiently.

“We were all so young.”  Even in the deathly silence Harry had to practically read Snape’s lips, the man spoke so softly.  “So young and so sure of ourselves.

“You have to understand what it was like in those days when the Dark Lord first came to power.  There were so few pureblood wizards left.  Most intermarried with Muggles and there was real fear among the old families that the power as well as the blood would be diluted, that our entire world and our way of life were being threatened.  He spoke to that fear.

“By the time I was ready to leave Hogwarts, it was an open secret that most of the old pureblood families supported him.  Within that circle it was an honor to become a Death Eater.  It was expected.  Even though the violence had begun to escalate many people were loath to admit just how evil he truly was.  By the time the truth could no longer be ignored, it was too late.  He had become virtually immortal and had amassed tremendous power.  No one could stand against him.

“We knew, of course, those of us at Hogwarts who were being groomed as his elite followers.  Some, such as Bellatrix Black, reveled in the violence.  Others, like Crabbe and Goyle, were too stupid to care.  But I knew what I was doing and I knew it was wrong even before I took the Dark Mark.  Unfortunately, I saw no way out.  One simply didn’t leave the Dark Lord’s service.  Those who tried were killed.” 

Snape’s voice was almost hypnotic and Harry found himself hanging on every word.  No one had ever told him about the first rise of Voldemort or what life had been like then and Snape wasn’t just talking about the past; he was living the memories as he spoke.  Harry could see it in the man’s far-away stare.  It was as if Snape were looking back through time and seeing life as it had been and Harry was completely transfixed.

“So I became a Death Eater,” Snape continued in the same quiet voice, “and the crimes that I committed can never be expunged.  I hated him and I hated myself.  There were days when I truly wished for death.

“Then one night, one of his spies heard of the prophecy that one would come who could destroy him.  It was kept secret from nearly everyone, but Lucius knew.  He was the Dark Lord’s most trusted servant and he, in turn, confided in me.  Someone had to help hunt down this threat and unlike the more fanatical of the Dark Lord’s followers, I had proven myself to be pragmatic and reliable on numerous occasions.” 

Snape shook his head at the memory.  “It was the worst mistake Lucius ever made.  To me, the prophecy was a miracle I had never dared hope for.  When I learnt that there might actually be a way to defeat him, I knew that I had to be a part of the fight even if it meant dying in the effort.  I couldn’t go on serving him.

“So I went to see Dumbledore and confessed everything I’d done as a Death Eater.  I told him what I knew of the prophecy and swore that I would do anything in my power to help bring about the Dark Lord’s downfall.  The headmaster was quick to see the possibilities and so I began my life as a spy.

“In the meantime, you and Neville Longbottom had been born at the end of July and the Dark Lord became obsessed with killing you.  Of course, your parents and the Longbottoms were well aware of the danger and with the information I was able to provide to Dumbledore they managed to stay a step ahead of the Death Eaters.

“However, as the months wore on, I began to fear that my disloyalty to the Dark Lord would be discovered.  A spy’s life is not an easy one and I knew all too well what sort of fate awaited me were I to be exposed.  I was becoming increasingly desperate to find a way to avert suspicion from myself.”

Snape laughed, a bitter, mirthless bark.  “That’s how it started, as a rash plan to save my own life.”  Snape stood up and began to pace slowly.

“I chanced to meet Peter Pettigrew one day in London where I was studying advanced potions.  He nearly ran into me in the street and strangely enough stopped to talk.  In hindsight it probably wasn’t an accident.  Pettigrew must have come looking for me, but at the time it seemed providential.  It was instantly obvious that he was disenchanted with his old friends and the dangerous life they were leading.  He wanted another option and clearly believed that I could give him one. 

“I could have rebuffed him, of course.  I should have.  But as he nattered on inanely an audacious plan was forming in my mind.  I knew that the Dark Lord was anxious for any advantage he could get in hunting you down and to hand over one of your father’s closest friends as an informant would be an achievement indeed.  It would certainly put my loyalty beyond question.  Besides, I reasoned that if Pettigrew really wanted to join the Death Eaters, he’d eventually find someone to assist him.  Why shouldn’t it be me?  At least that way I’d be able to keep an eye on him to make sure he couldn’t do any harm.  It would be best for everyone, or so I told myself.  It was a convenient deceit, but it salved my conscience. 

“So I invited Pettigrew to meet some associates of mine who might be able to assist him professionally.  I half expected him to lose his nerve, but he showed up and there was no turning back.  By the time he really understood what he was committing to, it was far too late for second thoughts.  The Dark Lord was ecstatic and I was credited with achieving a tremendous coup just as I had known I would be.” 

Snape stopped and turned to Harry who had no doubt that the anguish in the man’s eyes was real.  “But I never meant to betray you and your parents!  I would have sooner died!” 

“How could you have led one of their best friends to spy on them and not intend to betray them?” Harry demanded harshly, annoyed at his own fascination with Snape’s tale.

“Because he was useless!” Snape spat in disgust.  “Don’t you see?  That was the whole point!  That’s what made the plan so brilliant!  Pettigrew had been incompetent in school.  The only reason he managed to pass at all was that he had his friends to help him.  I knew what it took to be a spy and I knew he didn’t come close to having it!  He couldn’t spot crucial information if his life depended on it.  Besides, I’d recruited him, so he was supposed to report directly to me.  It would have been simple for me to warn Dumbledore of anything important he uncovered.  But in six months, I never once had to.” 

“Then why didn’t you tell Dumbledore about this brilliant plan?” Harry asked, his voice rising in outrage.

“Because I knew he’d tell your parents and Black.”

“Why not tell them?” Harry persisted savagely.  “If your purpose was so innocent, why hide it?”

“Do you know what Black would have done to Pettigrew if he’d known the truth?” Snape sneered.  “He’d have killed him!  He certainly couldn’t have kept the secret to himself.  Pettigrew’s betrayal would have been revealed and my work would have been for nothing.” 

“You don’t know that!” Harry yelled angrily.  “You hid the truth on purpose even though you knew they had a right to know!”

“They had no right!” Snape shouted, his calm control shattering.  “For seven years your father did nothing but torment me.  I was already risking my life to protect him and his family, I owed him nothing else!  I warned Dumbledore that there was a spy among them.  If your father was so brilliant he should have realized who it was!  But he didn’t.”

“I bet you enjoyed that, didn’t you?” Harry’s voice was dripping with venom.

Yes, I enjoyed it!” Snape snarled, matching Harry’s malice.  “For once, I’d finally managed to beat the insufferable James Potter and I’d used one of his own dear friends to do it.  Oh yes, that was sweet.  Everything was perfect.  The Dark Lord held me up as a model of loyalty and dedication.  Dumbledore thanked me for warning him of the spy in their midst.  And your father spent all his time wondering which of his friends had betrayed him!”

Harry stared at Snape, horrified by the depth of the man’s hatred.  He was too stunned even to be angry.  Snape seemed to realize this and glanced away, for once ashamed of his own vindictiveness.  He collected himself and continued in a chastened tone. 

“My only worry was that Pettigrew’s incompetence would become so obvious it would start to reflect on me.  But I’d learnt of the Fidelus Charm from Dumbledore and I reasoned that your parents would have it in effect long before Pettigrew became a liability.  Once the Secret Keeper was in place, Pettigrew’s betrayal wouldn’t matter.  You’d be beyond the Dark Lord’s reach.”

Snape’s lip curled in a bitter sneer.  “Or so I thought.”

Snape turned away and began to pace restlessly, lost once more in his memories.

“I received the summons just as the Halloween Feast was ending.  By the time I was able to get away and Apparate, most of the other Death Eaters had already gathered.  When everyone was there, the Dark Lord announced that this was a momentous occasion, for it was ‘the night that the Potters would at last meet their doom’.  Then he called Pettigrew forward who was looking ridiculously pleased with himself.  Still, I wasn’t overly worried.  The Dark Lord was given to extravagant predictions of success and I didn’t think that anything Pettigrew was involved in could be that important.  But then he began to explain.” 

Snape looked at Harry in helpless appeal.   

“I didn’t believe it at first.  I couldn’t believe that even Black would be so reckless.  How could they have used Pettigrew, of all people?  Even if he hadn’t been a spy, the man was utterly unreliable.  He would have given them away at the first sight of a Death Eater!  I knew that!  Why didn’t they?  What man in his right mind would trust his life to that miserable excuse for a friend?  Let alone his wife and child’s?  But your father did.  He and Black just had to be clever as usual, had to out guess everyone else.  Only this time they guessed wrong.”

Snape turned away to stare into the fire once more.

“The Dark Lord told us all to wait where we were, that he’d return soon for the victory celebration, then he Disapparated.  There was nothing I could do.  I had no way to warn your parents.  I had no idea where you were and there was no hope of getting to Dumbledore in time.  So, I sat there among all my happily chattering companions and tried not to look as sick as I felt.  More than anything, I wished that I could get my hands on Black just one last time and kill us both.

“I’m not sure how long we waited.  It felt interminable.  But after a time, we began to realize that something had gone wrong.  We started to hear from our supporters in the field.  In Godrics Hollow, the Dark Mark had appeared over a house that had subsequently been blown to bits.  The word was that your parents were dead.  But although the Dark Lord had apparently been there, he had vanished and the Ministry was on the scene.  We knew that the Dark Lord had been gone far too long, but beyond that no one knew what was happening.”  Snape sneered.  “So, naturally, everyone panicked.”

Snape began prowling the office once more.  “People started Apparating away to go into hiding or to erect suitable alibis.  I returned to Hogwarts with every intention of telling Dumbledore exactly what had happened.  But when I arrived, the castle was in an uproar and Dumbledore was gone.  He’d already left for the Ministry.  The entire staff was up and everyone seemed to be trying to tell me what had happened, though truthfully I wasn’t paying any attention.  In hindsight, I should have, but I was only interested in finding the headmaster.  Someone told me to go to the hospital wing.  Professor McGonagall was supposedly there and she’d know how to contact him.  But by the time I got there, she was gone, too.  Instead, I found you.”

“Me?” Harry blurted in surprise.

Snape looked at Harry and nodded.  “Hagrid had pulled you from the remains of your home and brought you to Hogwarts.  It made sense, of course.  There was no place safer.  But I hadn’t even realized until that moment that you were alive.  Madam Pomfrey had set up a makeshift nursery for you and I knew at once why Minerva had been there.”  Snape looked away and smiled slightly at the memory.  “She must have transfigured half the items in the infirmary into toys.

“I’d never seen you before, but I knew immediately who you were.  There aren’t that many fifteen-month-olds at Hogwarts and even then you were unmistakably James’s son.  There wasn’t a mark on you except for your scar.  But what astonished me most was that you were so… happy.”

Snape’s voice broke and his eyes filled with tears. 

“You had no idea that you’d just lost your parents.  No idea what I’d done to you.  And you… you looked up at me with the most… trusting smile.  And I… I turned away and threw up.”

Snape turned back towards the fire and pressed a hand against his eyes.  “I have no idea what Madam Pomfrey must have thought of me.  I didn’t stay to find out and I’ve never asked.  I fled back to the dungeons and locked myself in my rooms.  I spent the whole night pacing the floor, waiting for Albus to return, but by morning he still wasn’t back.  The Daily Prophet arrived, which gave me the first full account of what had happened.  The Dark Lord really was gone, it seemed.  People were celebrating in the streets and Death Eaters were being rounded up everywhere, so at least some good had come out of the previous night’s disaster.

“Then at mid-afternoon the next shock arrived.  Sirius Black had apparently killed Peter Pettigrew and a dozen Muggles in broad daylight on a public street.  Of course, by now everyone else thought that he was the one who had betrayed your parents, but I knew exactly why he’d gone after Pettigrew.  As guilty as I felt, I knew it had to be far worse for him.  He’d killed his best friend and I had no trouble believing that he was mad enough to kill anyone who stood between himself and Pettigrew.

“Finally, that night, Albus and Minerva returned and the headmaster came to see me almost immediately.  I hadn’t slept in over thirty-six hours.  I’d hardly eaten.  But I’d had a great deal of time to think and I was terrified of what he would do to me if I told him how I had deceived him.  I thought he’d probably turn me over to the Aurors to be sent to Azkaban.  I certainly deserved it.  But even if he only dismissed me, I knew I’d end up dead or in prison anyway.  I had no friends or family and absolutely nowhere to go.” 

Snape shook his head.  “I couldn’t tell him.  And I rationalized my cowardice by telling myself that there was no reason to anyway.  Pettigrew was dead and beyond justice.  Black was already condemned to Azkaban for the rest of his life for the murders he’d committed that afternoon.  What was the point in ruining my own life, too?”

Snape stared into the fire and his eyes burned with self-loathing.  “And so, being the gifted Occlumens that I am, I looked into the eyes of the best, most honest man I’d ever known, the only man who had ever trusted me, and lied to him.

“I told him that I didn’t know who had betrayed you to Voldemort, that the Dark Lord had merely summoned us and told us the news.  Albus accepted my word without question and that was the end of it.”

“If you knew that Sirius didn’t betray my parents, why did you try to have him Kissed by a Dementor in my third year?” Harry asked in a subdued voice.

“Because I thought he deserved it,” Snape said tiredly.  “I still believed that he had killed Pettigrew and all those Muggles and I wasn’t inclined to listen to excuses.  Even after twelve years I still hated him.  It was so much easier to blame Black for the disaster, especially since he bore his own share of the guilt.  And I had no idea why he was at Hogwarts. 

“At first I thought that he must have discovered what I’d done and had come to kill me, but after his attack on Ron Weasley, I was convinced that it really was you he was after.  I thought that after all those years in prison he’d become so twisted that he believed he really did need to kill you.  Then again, it was possible that he actually had been working for Voldemort all along and I hadn’t known.  I certainly couldn’t imagine how he’d escaped Azkaban without the use of some very powerful dark magic.  For all the spying I did on your father and him at school, I never suspected they were Animagi. 

“It didn’t exactly made sense, but then I thought Black had to be mad after all those years in Azkaban and I didn’t want to chance having my secret revealed.  Little did I realize that Pettigrew was still alive and could have told you everything, not that it would have helped him in any way, of course.”  Snape sighed. 

“I couldn’t bear all the old ghosts.  It was bad enough having to see you everyday without having Lupin and Black haunting me as well.”

“Why me?” Harry asked and Snape turned to look at him. 

“For ten years I believed that I could put the memories behind me, right up until the night that you came to Hogwarts.  You look so much like your father.  That night at the sorting feast I couldn’t take my eyes off of you.  It was like seeing James reincarnated, as if all the intervening years had never happened.”

“Is that why you’ve always hated me so much?”  Harry asked quietly.

Snape looked away again.  “I suppose it is.  In any case, you can add six years of torment to my list of crimes against you.”  Snape sighed deeply.  “I think that’s everything I needed to tell you.” 

Snape stopped talking, staring once more into the fire.  Harry turned to stare at the fire as well and the silence lengthened between them as they both stood lost in thought. 

The fury Harry had felt earlier was gone, replaced by a deep weariness.  It had been a mistake, and not just one mistake, but a whole interlocking series of mistakes that would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so tragic.  How could so much have gone so wrong?  How could they have all been so stupid?

Harry felt his anger rising again, but this time it wasn’t directed at Snape alone.  He was furious with all of them:  with his father’s arrogance in not accepting Dumbledore’s offer to be Secret Keeper in the first place, with Sirius’s reckless scheme to make Pettigrew the Secret Keeper without even telling Dumbledore the truth, with Pettigrew’s craven betrayal of his friends, and with Snape’s arrogance in believing he could handle that betrayal alone.  Most of all, he was furious that they’d let their old rivalry and mutual hatred blind them to their common purpose. 

How many lives had been ruined that night all because they wouldn’t stop hating each other? Harry wondered bitterly.  His parents had lost their lives, Sirius had lost his freedom, Remus had lost all of his friends and Snape... in a way Snape had been as much a prisoner as Sirius.  Suddenly, Harry remembered Remus’ words from summer.  You need to think long and hard about how many more lives you’re willing to sacrifice to this hatred.  Harry clenched his fists and felt a calm determination settle over him.  No more.  It stops here and now.

Snape interrupted Harry’s thoughts.  “Potter, say something.  There’s no point in prolonging this.”

Harry looked at the man who was still staring into the fire.  The grief, shame and hopeless resignation on Snape’s face were painful to witness.

“I’m sorry for what I said to you out by the gate,” Harry said.

Snape turned slowly to look at Harry with a slight frown of confusion.  “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Harry repeated.  “I didn’t mean what I said.  I was furious and hurt because I thought you’d betrayed my parents.”

Snape stared at Harry in disbelief.  “Haven’t you heard a single word I’ve said?  I did betray your parents!  I as good as killed them!  Which part of that entitles me to an apology from you?”

Harry held Snape’s eyes and spoke calmly.  “None of it, except that you didn’t do either of those things.”

Snape opened his mouth to reply but Harry didn’t give him a chance.

“Did you mean to betray my parents?”

“No, but…”

“Did you mean to kill them?”

“Of course not…”

“Then you’re neither a traitor nor a murderer.  You made a mistake, that’s all.  I even understand why it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Just like switching Secret Keepers seemed like a good idea to Sirius.  And not using Dumbledore in the first place seemed like a good idea to my dad.  None of you meant for it to go wrong.  It just did.  What am I supposed to do, hate all of you?”

“Potter…”

“If so, then I might as well hate myself too, because I know what it’s like to make that kind of mistake,” Harry continued, not letting Snape get a word in.  “It was my fault that Sirius died last year.  I blamed you at first because it was easier than blaming myself, but it wasn’t your fault.  Even if you hadn’t kicked me out of Occlumency lessons, I never would have blocked those visions because I didn’t want to!  It didn’t matter that everyone told me I should.  Even Hermione nagged me about it, but I thought I knew better.  I was wrong and it cost Sirius his life.   Does that make me a murderer?”

“Of course not!”

“Then stop blaming yourself for what happened fifteen years ago.”

“That’s different.”

“No, it’s not!  Do you think Bellatrix Lestrange told me what you did because she cares about me, or wants to see justice done?  She only wanted to hurt both of us and make us hate each other.  Well, I’m not going to do it!  I was wrong, Professor.  I thought I needed to hate him in order to defeat him, but that’s not it.  Don’t you see?  It’s love he can’t bear.  It’s friendship and compassion and forgiveness.  Hate only gives him power and I’m not going to give him any more!  This stupid feud has already cost too much.  It has to end.”  

Harry took a step towards Snape and fixed the man with an earnest stare.  “I forgive you, Professor.”

Snape paled and his eyes widened in panic.  “You can’t,” he said desperately.

“Yes, I can,” Harry said calmly.  “Fifteen years is long enough to punish yourself for a mistake.  We’re in the middle of a war and we need to win it.  I can forgive you for what you did, but I won’t forgive you if you let your guilt get in the way of fighting now. 

“If you want to make amends for my parents’ deaths then stop hating them!  Stop hating my dad and Sirius and Remus.  And most of all stop hating yourself!  Don’t give Voldemort the satisfaction.  If we stick together and don’t give into hate, we can beat him.  I know we can!  I’m going to beat him, Professor.  I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to do it.  I can feel it.”

Snape was staring at Harry in wonder.  “I believe you will,” he said softly. 

Harry blinked.  “You do?”

“Yes, you’re like your father,” Snape said.  “I mean that as a compliment this time,” he added at the look on Harry’s face, then admitted grudgingly, “He did have one or two redeeming qualities.  One was that he always managed to achieve anything he set his mind to.  You’ve demonstrated that same uncanny ability on more than one occasion and I’m certain that you can defeat the Dark Lord.”

Snape meant that, Harry knew, and somehow that meant more to him than even the support of his friends.

“I can’t do it alone, though, Professor.  I need your help.”

Snape waved his hand dismissively.  “I would give my life to see him destroyed, Potter.”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “Thanks, but I’ve had enough people die on me already.  If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you stayed alive.”

Snape’s lip curled in a wry smile.  “I’ll do my best to oblige you.” 

Harry smiled slightly and held out his hand.  “Thank you, Professor.”

Snape hesitated, then reached out and took Harry’s hand firmly.  “No, Mr. Potter, thank you.”

//
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