Chapter 27: The Darkness Revealed
"How did it go?" Ginny asked as Harry climbed through the portrait hole and came to join her, Ron and Hermione by the fire in the common room.
Harry shrugged. "Snape just said that he and my mum were the top Potions students in their year and that's how they got to know one another. He said that my mum was friends with everyone."
"I imagine she'd have to have been to be friendly with Snape," Ron said. "I can't imagine him having many mates."
Harry threw an irritated glance at Ron, but said nothing.
"That still doesn't really answer the question of why the Clarifying Solution gave you that particular insight, Harry," Hermione said.
"Who knows?" Harry said tiredly. "In any case, I have better things to worry about and right now I'd like to forget about all of them. Who's up for a game of Exploding Snap?"
For the rest of the evening, Harry did his best not to think about his mother's letters and the uncomfortable truths they had revealed, but the next morning at breakfast his gaze kept straying to the staff table where Snape sat. The Clarifying Solution simply didn't live up to its reputation, Harry decided. That was the only explanation that made any sense. Not that he hadn't appreciated a glimpse into his mother's past, even an unsettling one. But it was absurd to think that a childhood friendship between Snape and his mother could have any importance in his life. What he really needed was insight into Voldemort's immortality.
Harry looked at Ron who was deep in conversation about Quidditch with Gloria Bonhomme and wondered if he'd been too quick to dismiss the suggestion of going back to Wales. He was torn between his promise to Dumbledore and a growing urge to strike out on his own once more. But Dumbledore had promised to tell him all he needed to know about Riddle's spell, so Harry reluctantly put aside thoughts of Wales. For now, he would give the old wizard more time to make good on that promise, but he also knew that time would eventually run out. Dumbledore might have told Harry to follow orders, but he had also told the young man to follow his instincts and those were telling Harry that knowing what Tom Riddle had done all those years ago to achieve immortality held the key to defeating the evil wizard.
Harry had little more opportunity to worry about Voldemort for the next several days. The teachers were piling on even more work than they had during first term, which was saying something, and Harry wasn't the only one staggering under the weight. All of the seventh-year students looked haggard these days. Even Hermione was struggling to keep up and Harry was especially busy given the time he had to devote to his sessions with both Dumbledore and Snape. He was now genuinely grateful for the grueling Potions lessons Snape had put him through over summer. Miserable as those had been, Harry knew that he'd never have passed his NEWT, let alone Snape's class, without them.
Harry and his classmates arrived at Snape's Defense practicum Thursday evening to find that the house tables had been moved back against the walls. In their place was a circle of chairs. The students all sat down, clustering together by house, and waited.
At precisely seven o'clock Snape arrived. "For one reason or another," he began as he prowled around the students like a predator circling a herd of prey, "most of you here either have been or are likely to become embroiled in the current war. The question is do you have what it takes to survive it?"
Harry watched his classmates shift uncomfortably in their seats as Snape passed behind them. He forced himself not to do the same as Snape reached his seat and moved on.
"You have begun to consider your motivations, principles and priorities," Snape continued. "But to effectively achieve your goals you must first know your own weaknesses well enough to compensate for them and, in particular, to prevent them from being used against you. Let us begin then with something simple.
"Mr. Malfoy," Snape said as he stopped next to the Slytherin's chair. "How would you judge your dueling skills compared with Mr. Potter's? Are you as proficient as he? Better? Worse?"
Malfoy looked up at the man hovering next to him. He seemed taken aback by the question, but recovered quickly. "I'm as good a duelist as Potter."
"Do you believe that you could beat him in a fair fight between the two of you?" Snape asked.
Malfoy hesitated, eyeing Harry who raised his eyebrows at him from the other side of the circle.
"Not a chance!" Ron said.
The Slytherin glared at Ron. "Of course I could beat Potter!"
"Show us," Snape said.
Malfoy looked up at Snape, startled. "What?"
"This is a Defense practicum," Snape said, addressing the entire class. "You may all, at any time, be called upon to demonstrate any of the knowledge or skills that you should have acquired during your years here at Hogwarts. Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy, draw your wands and face one another."
Harry immediately got to his feet and pulled his wand from his pocket. This sort of practical defense was the very thing he liked best. Malfoy stood up as well, but didn't look nearly as enthusiastic as Harry. They stepped out of the circle of chairs and faced one another.
"Begin!" Snape said.
"Spicula!" Malfoy cried, launching his attack.
Harry flicked his wand almost leisurely and repelled the attack.
"Relashio!" Malfoy incanted, then dodged as Harry sent the spell rebounding back at him.
"Onis! Reducto! What's the matter, Potter? Afraid to attack me?"
Harry shrugged, blocking Malfoy's spells easily. "I only attack when I feel threatened."
Malfoy flushed in anger and raised his wand. "Inflictum! Turbo!"
Harry parried both curses and grinned at Malfoy's obvious frustration. The Slytherin raised his wand, baring his teeth in a snarl and Harry took advantage of the moment.
"Expelliarmus!" Harry cried and Malfoy's wand went flying.
A cheer went up from the assembled Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws.
"Silence!" Snape barked, quieting the students at once. "This is a lesson, not a spectacle for your amusement."
Snape reached out his hand and Malfoy's wand leapt to it. "Sit down, both of you."
Harry took his seat. So did Malfoy, though he looked angry enough to explode at any moment. Snape handed the young man his wand, a slight sneer tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"It is one thing to misjudge your skills versus those of an opponent," Snape said slowly. "It is another to willfully disregard a known disparity in those skills out of foolish pride. Mr. Malfoy, you know Potter is a better duelist than you. He has proved it on numerous occasions. And yet you chose to fight him knowing you were virtually certain to lose. Why?"
Malfoy glared furiously at Snape, his face burning, but said nothing.
"No answer?" Snape drawled. "Then I shall tell you. It was because Weasley goaded you into it and you didn't wish to lose face in front of your classmates. However, such pointless bravado will only serve to get you killed."
"What do you care?" Malfoy snarled, jumping to his feet, unable to contain his anger and humiliation any longer. "You're on their side!"
Snape regarded his student calmly. "There are no sides here, Malfoy. As a Professor of this school, it is my job to keep every student safe despite their best efforts to the contrary."
"Even your enemies?" Malfoy scoffed.
A tense silence fell across the circle as the students waited for Snape to respond to the blatant challenge. But Snape's face remained impassive and when he spoke there was no anger in his voice, only bored contempt. "You don't know enough to be my enemy. Now sit down."
Malfoy sank back into his seat looking deflated while Snape began to pace around the circle once more. "Pride is one of the easiest weaknesses to exploit and I dare say that many of you would have made exactly the same mistake Mr. Malfoy just did. Therefore, the first lesson you should learn is that it is wiser to admit that you can't do something than to prove it by failing – particularly when failure may cost you your life or damage your own interests.
"Facing such a truth will also give you the opportunity to change it. Malfoy did not need to face Potter as he did. He might have chosen to attack with stealth – gaining the upper hand through surprise. He might have also chosen to take a comrade with him, relying on two to one odds to give him an advantage. Either strategy would have significantly increased his chances of success. By allowing himself to be ruled by pride he threw away that chance."
"Each of you possesses weaknesses that can be similarly exploited. Until you recognize these and learn to guard against them, you will be easily manipulated by your enemies. Each of you will be tested in this class, so I suggest that all of you begin to think seriously about your own Achilles' heel and how you will face it. That will be all for this evening. Dismissed."
The students filed out of the Great Hall looking frankly worried and Harry knew that they were all wondering what sort of humiliation Snape might have in store for them. Harry was worried too. The prospect of having his weaknesses laid bare for all to see was worse than facing a Boggart. At least he knew what he was afraid of – he didn't have a clear idea of what his weaknesses were. He was certain, though, that Snape did and was mildly surprised that the man hadn't chosen to humiliate him this evening.
In the past, Snape had always picked on him as a matter of course. Harry wondered if the recent reminder of Snape's old friendship with his mother had softened the man towards him, but immediately dismissed that notion as laughable. Snape wasn't the sentimental type.
But now that Harry thought of it, he realized that Snape had seemed less harsh towards him for the last several weeks – long before they'd discussed his mother's letters – ever since that first long conversation he'd had with 'Severus' during their Legilimency session. Harry had been working to build a rapport between himself and Snape's alter ego ever since and was glad to think that his efforts might be paying off.
Of course, getting Snape to treat him decently wasn't his real goal. His primary purpose was to discover the secret behind the dark, ominous figure lurking in Snape's mind. Nothing else Harry had seen in his sessions with Snape had filled him with as much dread and now that he knew that Snape wasn't the Death Eater Vigilante, the mysterious man haunted Harry more than ever. Why did he always appear with the Death Eaters and why was Severus so keen on keeping the man's identity a secret that he would allow no one to speak of him or even to say his name?
As far as Harry knew, there was only one person whose name Snape feared to speak and Harry couldn't help but wonder if the elusive dark figure might be the same – might be Voldemort. The idea horrified Harry, but he knew that Voldemort had been a constant influence in Snape's life since he was seventeen so it was only reasonable to expect him to be present in Snape's mind in some form.
Harry wasn't sure what that might mean. Was he going to have to fight Voldemort in Snape's mind in order to help Snape break the mental chains holding him in the past? Was that why Dumbledore had said that it was imperative for Harry to have these sessions with Snape; to give him practice fighting his enemy? If so, then Harry knew he was going to have to work harder than ever to unmask the shadowy figure. Not just for Snape's sake, but for his own.
Harry didn't get the chance to go straight up to his dormitory that evening because Ron dragged him over to the sofa as soon as they entered the common room and began recounting his duel with Malfoy to everyone present. Harry was heartily praised for having humiliated the obnoxious Slytherin, but soon Hermione intervened and insisted that they work on their Herbology essays.
Harry lasted longer than Ron did, but finally, when he could no longer keep his eyelids from drooping, he gave up. Harry went up to his dormitory where his roommates were already asleep and undressed quietly. He climbed into bed and was about to turn off his bedside light when he noticed a small parcel lying next to it wrapped in plain brown paper with a card attached. Harry picked up the package and read the note.
I believe you should have these.
The letters! Harry realized. It seemed that Snape had decided to return them after all. Harry opened the package, but then frowned in confusion. As expected, he found neatly folded letters, but there were twice as many as he'd given to Snape. The letters were tied in two bundles. The first set he glanced through and recognized as the letters Snape had sent to his mother, but the second was unfamiliar. Harry untied the bundle and unfolded the first letter which was written in a soft, flowing script.
Stinging Tentaculas sound horrible! You're lucky though that you have so many useful books. I don't have any except for my school books. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm sorry the summer holidays are here. I didn't realize how much I'd miss Hogwarts, especially not being able to do magic outside of school. At least we can brew potions though. Have you tried any yet? Maybe you could come to my house and we could brew some together. My parents are Muggles, but they're very encouraging. Call me when you can and we'll arrange it.
Harry stared at the letter a moment then unfolded the next in the stack followed by the third. They were signed by Lily as well. There had to be over two dozen in all and Harry felt a thrill of excitement. His fatigue forgotten, he began to read.
Harry spent nearly an hour savoring the letters his mother had written, watching the innocent joy and concerns of a little girl give way to the increasingly discerning observations of a young woman. It made his heart ache with longing for the woman he'd never had a chance to know, but also with gratitude for this glimpse of the person she had been. When he had read the last letter, Harry laid it aside with the others then leaned back against his pillow and considered. He wasn't sure which astonished him more: that Snape had kept the letters all these years or that he'd been willing to admit as much in giving them away.
Harry picked up Snape's card and read it once more. "I believe you should have these." Harry shook his head. The note was carefully neutral, giving no hint of emotion or even of the reason why Snape had chosen to part with the letters. Yet Harry knew what that choice had cost this most private of men.
Snape would never admit it, of course. He'd simply pretend the letters were unimportant – something he'd merely forgotten to throw out. Harry felt bile welling up inside of him at that thought. There were some things he could let Snape brush aside, but not this – not his mother's letters. Still, Harry knew he couldn't force the man to acknowledge that the letters meant anything to him. What Harry needed was a subtle way to let Snape know that he knew.
Harry looked at the note once more and then a slow smile spread across his face. He dug a pen from his bedside drawer and added his own message to the bottom of the card. Then he folded it up and laid it aside. Next, he wrapped all of the letters up once more and laid the bundle in his trunk. Then with a final, satisfied smile, he turned off the light and went to sleep.
Scores of owls swooped into the Great Hall the next morning signaling the arrival of the morning post. Snape didn't bother to look up from his copy of the Daily Prophet. All he ever received by post were Potions supplies and the house-elves saw to it that those were delivered directly to his office. Consequently, he was startled to hear a soft hooting next to his left ear and looked up in surprise at the Snowy owl perched on the back of his chair.
"What are you doing here?"
Hedwig tilted her head to one side as if to say that was a stupid question then stuck out her leg. Snape scowled and cast an irritated glance at the Gryffindor table, but Potter was paying particular attention to his breakfast and not looking at the staff table. Hedwig hooted impatiently, dragging Snape's attention back to the card tied to her leg. Snape retrieved the note and stared sourly at it.
This was surely some sort of response to the letters he'd given to Potter. He had known the boy wouldn't be able to refrain from saying something, but he'd hoped to cut any discussion of the matter short. Potter had a right to the letters, so he'd sent them along. That was all and nothing more than a perfunctory acknowledgement was needed. He certainly didn't want any embarrassing expression of gratitude from the boy.
Scowling, Snape unfolded the note and read it. He stared at the card for a long moment. Perhaps an overly sincere note of thanks would have been better, after all. He could have scoffed at the inappropriateness of that whereas it was impossible to find fault with the simple wording of the missive Potter had sent. Unfortunately, it was also impossible not to recognize the boy's underlying meaning.
Snape glanced at the Gryffindor table once more and wasn't at all surprised to find Potter looking at him this time. The boy gave him a small but unmistakable smirk then returned his attention to his breakfast.
Keeping his expression carefully neutral, Snape laid aside the card then picked up his tea and sipped it. He never should have sent those letters to Potter. He had known, of course, that the boy would read too much into the gesture, and Potter always had been inclined to overstep his bounds. Still, he hadn't expected this sort of response.
Snape glanced at the note lying beside his plate once more. He wouldn't have credited the boy with being so astute, but apparently Potter wasn't entirely without subtlety, after all. He had managed to say far more than Snape wanted to hear in only two words:
It was Sunday evening and Harry stood in Dumbledore's garden. He looked warily around, listening intently for the approach of whatever Dumbledore planned to send against him. He was alert, but not at all nervous. He had mastered the intricacies of dueling in the mind and knew that he could either defeat or outwit any beast or being.
The sound of a twig snapping caught Harry's attention and he raised his wand, turning to face the stand of trees to his left.
"You may relax, Harry," Dumbledore said, as he appeared from among the trees. "It's only me."
Harry lowered his wand. "What are you doing here, Professor?" Dumbledore hadn't joined him in the garden since he'd resumed his lessons with the venerable wizard.
"I thought it might be a pleasant change this evening if we simply went for a walk. It occurred to me that you have become so used to being attacked in this garden, that you may have lost sight of the garden itself. I thought it might be useful for you to reacquaint yourself with the landscape. Come, let us try this path."
Dumbledore led Harry into a broad path lined with wisteria and climbing roses. It was beautiful and Harry appreciated the chance to walk in the garden without being on his guard. He wondered though how this could be useful and asked Dumbledore as much.
"You must never become so focused on the battle that you lose sight of the larger context in which it is fought," was the old wizard's cryptic answer.
Before Harry could think of anything else to say, the path ended and Harry realized that they had reached the cliff overlooking the ocean. Seabirds wheeled in the sky and the sun sparkled brilliantly on the water as a stiff breeze ruffled his hair. For a moment Harry simply drank in the tangy salt air which was invigorating after the cloying sweet fragrance of the garden.
"Tell me, Harry," Dumbledore said. "Have you guessed what this represents?"
"I haven't really thought about it," Harry admitted. He'd had far more important things to worry about, after all.
"Then do so now. What do you think?"
Harry looked out at the ocean stretching to an endless horizon. It certainly wasn't a part of Dumbledore's garden. It was entirely separate with the cliff demarking the boundary between the vast manifestation of Dumbledore's life and the sea. And yet there was a connection. Harry could feel a sense of anticipation as he looked out across the shimmering water. It seemed to call him to new adventures beyond the worries of his life. And suddenly, with a shock of understanding, Harry knew. "Death. It's death."
Dumbledore smiled. "Very good, Harry. You see, death is merely another journey filled with endless possibilities and infinite horizons. Even a life as long and full as mine," he gestured to the vast garden behind them, "is dwarfed by what lies beyond."
Harry gazed out at the ocean again. He had never really feared death, but seeing it depicted this way he could imagine his parents and Sirius sailing off into adventure on a bright morning such as this and his heart swelled with emotion. "It's not so bad then, is it?"
"Not for most."
Harry glanced at Dumbledore and frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Not every soul is able to make this journey. For instance, those who choose to remain behind as ghosts are forever left to stand upon the shore, looking out at the horizon and wondering what might have been. And there are others, fortunately very few, who are still far less fortunate."
"You mean those who have been Kissed by Dementors?" Harry asked, remembering that that fate had been called worse than death.
"Yes, those souls are utterly destroyed, though oblivion is still not the cruelest fate."
Harry stared at Dumbledore askance, wondering what could possibly be worse than the Dementor's Kiss, but before he could ask, Dumbledore roused himself and smiled. "That however is a discussion for another time. My point in bringing you here was to remind you never to forget that what you see around you is not what it appears to be. Do not let your determination to win a battle allow you to lose sight of that."
"I understand, Professor. I won't."
Dumbledore nodded and without any sense of transition at all, Harry found himself sitting in Dumbledore's office once more. The old wizard poured tea for both of them, then picked up his cup and sipped contentedly.
"You did not have your session with Professor Snape last week," Dumbledore said, causing Harry to start in surprise.
Dumbledore took another sip of tea and fixed Harry with a look of mild curiosity. "May I enquire as to why not?"
Harry was sure that Dumbledore already knew the answer to that question. He picked up his own tea and drank some, then answered vaguely. "There was just something else we needed to discuss instead. Which reminds me; there's something I wanted to ask you about," Harry continued, not giving Dumbledore time to question him further.
"Certainly, Harry. What might that be?" Dumbledore looked expectantly at Harry while Harry scrambled mentally to try to frame his question.
"It's about that figure in Sna – Professor Snape's mind," Harry began slowly. "Before we found out that Professor Knight was the Death Eater Vigilante, I thought…" Harry hesitated, trying to find a delicate way to phrase what he needed to say, but Dumbledore smiled and came to his aid.
"You thought that Professor Snape was the one who had killed those people – a reasonable enough misjudgment and, alas, a common one."
"Yes, sir. The point is, I thought that figure was the vigilante. But he can't have been, so now I'm trying to work out what – or who – it might be."
"I imagine you are," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eyes.
It occurred to Harry that tiptoeing around Dumbledore really wasn't useful. "I think it might be Voldemort."
Dumbledore pursed his lips and nodded. "That is a logical guess."
"Do you think I'm right?"
"My opinion is neither here nor there."
"But you must have some idea," Harry insisted. "You've known Professor Snape most of his life. You have to have a decent notion of who that figure might be?"
"None that it would be to your advantage for me to tell you, I'm afraid. Understand, Harry, that I do not know whom this figure is or what he may represent. I have my suspicions, of course, as do you. But I do not wish to prejudice you when it is your task to solve this mystery and discover the truth. I could as well hinder you as help.
"It seems to me that you have made a promising start in befriending Severus. That will surely work to your benefit regardless of whom this individual may be."
Harry nodded. "I hope so, sir."
Severus Snape had endured many unpleasant experiences in his life, but the Legilimency sessions with Potter which he was forced to abide were uniquely frustrating. In the beginning, he had regarded these as simply an annoying waste of his time. But that had changed and as Monday evening approached he found himself dreading Potter's arrival. The fact that he wasn't entirely sure why only made him more irritable.
Snape had read enough about this form of Legilimency to surmise what the general problem was. Whatever Potter was doing in his mind, it had begun to play havoc with his emotions in the last several weeks. That didn't particularly surprise him. He hardly wanted to think of what demons Potter might have awakened in the depths of his mind.
But distressing as this situation was, it had been made far worse by that ridiculous thank you note that the boy had sent. Somehow, Snape couldn't stop dwelling on it, which was utterly absurd. He was a master Occlumens, yet he couldn't put two innocuous words out of his mind! One, actually, he corrected himself – Harry.
It was the name, of course. Snape knew Potter had used it deliberately to show how deeply the gift of Lily's letters had touched him, but it had had an inexplicable affect on Snape that disturbed him far more than Potter's over-familiarity. The name resonated somewhere in the depths of his mind in a place he couldn't reach and it nagged at him like a memory he could almost recall. It evoked the same cloying sense of unease in him that his sessions with Potter had begun to do and it acted as a lightning rod, drawing out all of the lurking emotions the sessions with Potter were stirring up and uniting them into something Snape couldn't ignore.
Snape had used every Occlumency skill he possessed to try to subdue those feelings to no avail. He had considered ending the sessions, but Dumbledore had made it clear from the start that they were crucially important, though naturally he hadn't explained why.
Snape's lip curled in contempt then he sighed. He could bear the misery; he'd certainly suffered worse. What he despised was the helplessness. He had no power to stop whatever Potter was doing. He couldn't even remember what took place during the sessions. Snape scowled. Under such circumstances, one would have thought that 'noble Harry Potter' would make some effort to minimize the turmoil he was creating.
Snape's bitter musings were interrupted by a knock at his door. Right on time, he thought sourly as Potter came in with his usual confident, purposeful air. Snape glared resentfully at him and saw confusion cloud the boy's face.
"Is something wrong, Professor?"
Nothing that an incredibly inane question can't make worse. That thought must have been evident on his face, because Potter's brow furrowed and Snape could tell the boy was rapidly trying to decide what he had done to put his teacher in such a foul mood. He has no idea of how he's affecting me, Snape realized. Naturally. Potter never did give a thought to the consequences of his actions. Snape took a deep breath, feeling his anger abate and a fatalistic calm take its place. "Nothing's wrong, Potter. Sit down and let's get this over with."
February turned to March and winter eased its bitter grasp on Hogwarts. Gyffindor had won their match against Hufflepuff by a comfortable margin, but so had Ravenclaw. Given that they had dominated Slytherin in their match as well, Ron had calculated that Gryffindor needed to win their final match by at least ninety points in order to take the Qidditch Cup. Since Ravenclaw would obviously be a tough opponent he had the team practicing at every available opportunity.
Hermione, however, insisted that time be reserved for studying. She had already made up a timetable for revising and was strict about ensuring that Ron and Harry stick to it. "It won't matter if you win the Quidditch Cup if you don't pass your NEWTs," she reminded them almost daily.
Harry was grateful for both his friends. Between them, they were making sure that he kept up with both Quidditch and his schoolwork which allowed Harry to concentrate on the one task at which he was making no progress at all: he was no closer to discovering the identity of the ominous figure in Snape's mind than he had ever been.
Harry had tried ever more imaginative ways of catching the man. He'd tried following him wearing his Invisibility Cloak, Apparating to a point where the man was sure to pass, flying over the scene on his broom. The figure still managed to outmaneuver Harry every time.
Harry had also continued to spend time with Severus. Not only because Dumbledore had said that it would be useful, but because Harry found that he genuinely enjoyed the rapport that had developed between them during the past weeks. Unfortunately, while Harry's relationship with the young man in Snape's mind and warmed, Snape himself had grown markedly colder towards Harry.
Harry wasn't sure why this had happened. They'd had no rows and Snape didn't seem angry with him. The man continued to treat him decently in his lessons. But the more Severus opened up to Harry the more withdrawn Snape became. It had reached the point where there was no emotion of any kind in Snape's eyes anymore when he looked at Harry. It was as though they were complete strangers and Harry found himself hoping for a sneer or flash of hatred in the black eyes. Anything would be better than the utter absence of feeling.
Harry knocked perfunctorily at Snape's office door and went in. Snape looked up with the perfectly neutral expression Harry had come to loathe.
"Good evening, sir," Harry replied as he took his usual seat.
Harry hated this moment in their sessions. He had come to dread reaching out to Snape's mind because he could feel the emotional withdrawal acutely in that first contact. The man never attempted to block him. Instead, Snape's conscious mind had taken to pulling back at Harry's approach, opening a clear path for him into the deeper recesses of the mind. But the gesture was not at all welcoming. Rather it was the accommodation of a mind that found his presence unbearable and Harry had seriously considered ending the sessions in the face of this reaction from Snape. Two things had stopped him, however: Dumbledore has said that the sessions were important and Harry knew Severus would be waiting for him.
Harry narrowed his concentration to the tightest possible focus then dived past the upper layers of Snape's mind as quickly and unobtrusively as he could manage. He let out a sigh of relief as he appeared in front of the shop where Severus stayed. Harry stepped into the shop and smiled slightly at the sight of the young man, hunched over his cauldron, seemingly oblivious to everything except his work. Harry knew that was only an appearance, however, and a moment later, Snape confirmed as much.
Without looking up he said, "If you have nothing better to do than stand there, then hand me the pickled newt tails. I grabbed the dried ones by accident."
Harry grinned and retrieved the requested ingredient from a nearby shelf. He pulled a stool up next to Snape and straddled it as he set down the jar amongst a slew of others.
"You're making Parchment Restoration Solution."
The young man looked up in surprise and smiled slyly. "I thought you said that you were no good at Potions?"
"I'm not. My professor had me brew this and it's not the sort of potion you forget."
"A modest Gryffindor – will wonders never cease," Snape said with feigned astonishment. He turned his attention back to his potion as he continued. "Believe me, your professor wouldn't have had you brew this if he didn't think that you were at least a competent potion maker."
Harry looked at his companion in surprise, but made no reply. There was a far more important matter they needed to discuss.
"Severus, I need to ask you something."
"What?" the young man said as he sliced up a pickled newt tail with practiced ease.
"I need to ask you about that man on the other side of the wall."
Harry could feel his companion tense, but Snape's voice remained calm as he added the newt tails to his cauldron. "I don't talk about him."
"I know that you'd rather not, but I need to know who he is."
Snape looked at Harry. "No you don't and we've been over this."
"Severus, this is important. I have to know."
Snape ignored Harry, stirring his potion in stony silence.
"Can you at least tell me why you won't talk about him?"
The young man glared at him. "You may harangue me as much as you like. The answer will still be no. I won't discuss what's on the other side of that wall, least of all him and if you value my privacy, you'll stop asking."
Snape turned back to his cauldron once more and Harry gritted his teeth in frustration. He'd exhausted every other avenue. He had to convince Severus to talk to him.
"Is it Voldemort?"
Snape froze and his head snapped up, his eyes blazing with fear and anger. "Never use that name!"
"Then tell me the truth. Is it him?"
"I'm not going to –"
"Is it Voldemort?"
"I'm going to keep saying his name until you tell me what I need to know. Is it Vol –"
"No!" The young man shouted. He caught himself and continued in a calmer voice. "It's not him."
"Then who is it?"
"I can't –"
"If it's not Vol –"
"He's worse than the Dark Lord," Snape hissed.
Harry stared at the young man, stunned. "Worse? How could anyone be worse?"
"The Dark Lord is without mercy or compassion. He has never loved and so, for all of his atrocities, he has never betrayed anyone he cared for."
"But this man has?"
Snape hesitated, then nodded. "Yes."
"Who did he betray?"
Snape looked at Harry with an unreadable expression. "Me."
Harry sat fidgeting on the edge of his seat watching Dumbledore think.
"Well?" he blurted out.
Dumbledore looked up. "I would say you are making excellent progress, Harry."
Harry stared at the man. "Are you joking? I'm making no progress at all! I still haven't any idea who this person is nor apparently any hope of catching him."
Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling. "The situation is not as dire as all that. I believe that once you discover this man's identity, you will find it far easier to persuade him to face you."
"But how am I going to find out who he is? Severus was furious with me for asking about him and he'll probably curse me if I dare to mention the man again."
Dumbledore stoked his beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps Severus is not the one whom you should be asking."
Harry grimaced. "Professor Snape can hardly bear to look at me any more. I really doubt he's going to be any help."
"I was actually thinking of someone else," Dumbledore said.
Harry frowned in confusion. "Who else is there?"
"Often a man's friends will help him even when he refuses to help himself."
"Sorry. I'm not following you."
"Severus is not the only person whom you have encountered during your forays into Professor Snape's mind. Is there no one else there whom you might appeal to for help?"
There was only one other person Harry had talked to in Snape's mind. "Lily," Harry said. "She could help me."
"I imagine she could. The next time you meet with Professor Snape, I advise you to pay her a visit."
It was very late when Snape arrived at Dumbledore's office, but the headmaster was still up, sitting by the fire.
"Come in, Severus," he said, smiling warmly. "Please, sit down. What brings you here at this hour?"
Snape remained standing and folded his arms tightly across his chest. "How much longer must I endure these sessions with Potter?"
"That is difficult to say. Would you like a humbug?"
"What I would like is a useful answer."
"And I would like nothing better than to give you one. Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to say when it will be feasible to conclude these sessions."
"What are you hoping for him to accomplish?" Snape asked in exasperation.
"Regrettably, I cannot tell you that, either."
"I won't have him wandering around my mind when I don't know what he's doing! I have to know what Potter sees in my mind!"
"I cannot tell you, Severus."
"I have a right to know, Albus," Snape hissed.
"It would do you no good."
"I'd like to be the judge of that, if you don't mind."
"Actually, I do."
"Why? Is it too horrifying even for you to speak of?"
Dumbledore was silent, regarding Snape keenly for a moment. "Why are you asking me this? What has happened?"
Snape turned away and ran a hand through his long hair as he paced across the room and back.
"Potter has never known how to hide his feelings. Every emotion stands naked in his eyes. I have seen an endless parade of dread, frustration, anger, wariness. I can stand that; I know what I am and I certainly expected no better. But he was pale as death tonight, Albus. He looked horrified." Snape turned back to Dumbledore his eyes filled with anger and pain. "Don't I even have the right to know why?"
Dumbledore sighed heavily, but said nothing and Snape glared accusingly at him.
"I have done as you asked. For months I have endured these sessions, but I can't bear them any longer."
"Why not? Do you believe that they are causing you some harm?"
"And what is the nature of this harm?"
Snape hesitated, glaring at Dumbledore in frustration. "If you will not be forthcoming with me then I fail to see why you expect me to be so with you."
"It was you who came to me, Severus," Dumbledore pointed out mildly.
Snape scowled, but Dumbledore continued to hold his gaze calmly. At last, Snape sat down in the chair opposite the old man. He leaned back and stared up at the flickering shadows the firelight cast upon the ceiling.
"I don't know," Snape whispered.
"Severus, Harry would never harm you. You must know that."
Snape waved a hand dismissively. "The boy has no idea what he's doing, Albus."
"Nevertheless, I can assure you that you will suffer no genuine harm from him. Discomfort? Yes. Even acute distress. But no harm. I did warn you that this was likely to be unsettling."
"I don't believe 'unsettling' quite captures the experience. I feel as if I'm going mad."
Snape looked at the old man with a bitter, tired smile. "You know that for a fact?"
"Yes." Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes bored into Snape's until Snape nodded.
"And you are still convinced that he hasn't seen –"
"Yes. I've told you, Severus, no memories exist at the level at which Harry is exploring your mind."
"So you're telling me it's simply my soul he finds repulsive?" Snape grimaced. "Well, I suppose that's scarcely a surprise."
"Severus, Harry is not repulsed by what he has seen in your mind, but surely you realize there are things there which he might find disturbing."
Snape's lip curled disdainfully. "To put it mildly."
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Dumbledore spoke in a quiet, reassuring voice.
"I do not believe it will be much longer before these sessions may be discontinued, Severus. But it is crucial that Harry be allowed to finish what he has begun."
Snape looked at the earnest expression in the old man's eyes and sighed. "Very well." Snape stood up and turned to leave, but Dumbledore stopped him.
"Severus, trust Harry."
"I do trust him, Albus. The problem is that he trusts me."
The following Monday evening neither Snape nor Harry said a word to each other as Harry took his seat in man's office. They simply looked at one another in silent acknowledgement of the grim test of endurance they had somehow become trapped in together. Harry avoided Severus this time as he entered Snape's mind and went to find Lily. Harry was anxious to speak with her, but paradoxically, he also dreaded it. He had managed to put his mother's letters as well as her friendship with Snape out of his mind and didn't relish being reminded of them.
Harry found Lily tending the flowers in her tiny park. She looked up as he approached and smiled.
"Harry! I was wondering if you were ever going to come back. How are you? How's Severus? Have you talked to him about coming to see me?"
"We're both all right, but he can't come right now."
Lily frowned, displeased. "Don't tell me. He's busy brewing potions."
"Actually, I think there's something else keeping him away," Harry said. "I might be able to convince him to come back, though. But I'm going to need your help."
"What can I do?"
"I need you to tell me about that man I was chasing the last time I was here."
Lily's eyes widened fearfully. "I can't talk about him. I told you that." She started to turn away, but Harry caught her arm.
"It's because of him that Severus doesn't come here. If we can break the hold that he has on Severus then I know the rest will take care of itself."
"Harry, I can't tell you!" Lily said.
"Please, Lily!" Harry took her shoulders and looked into her green eyes, so like his own. "I know that you want to help him. I do too, but I can't do it alone. For his sake, you have to tell me!"
Lily bit her lip then nodded. She fixed Harry with a penetrating stare. "I can't tell you who he is, but there's only one person Severus has ever been afraid to face, Harry. You know who that is. I know you do."
She held Harry's gaze as if willing him to understand and suddenly Harry did. At that moment a green light lit up the sky. While they'd been talking, it had grown dark and glancing up Harry could easily make out the Dark Mark glowing in the distance.
"Come on," Lily said, taking off at a run up the block. Harry followed her until she stopped at the entrance to an alley. "Go this way," Lily said. "When it dead-ends, turn left. You'll be able to catch him."
Harry nodded and took off down the narrow street, using his wand to light his way in the dark. The alley came to a dead end and he turned left into a wider street. He could hear the sounds of the rioting Death Eaters and began to run. As the rioting reached its crescendo, Harry saw the dark figure dart across his path twenty yards ahead. He put on extra speed and followed the man. Turning the corner he could see the black-robed figure ahead. The man must have heard Harry's footfalls because he glanced over his shoulder. Spotting Harry, he broke into a run.
"Wait!" Harry called, racing to keep up. His quarry didn't slow down, so he cried out again.
The figure halted in the darkness and Harry slowed to a stop, ten feet away.
"I know it's you," he said, panting.
The figure turned towards Harry then slowly reached up and lowered his hood. "So, you've found your truth at last," Snape whispered. "I told you we'd both regret it."
Harry gazed at the young man he'd befriended and the sinister figure whose presence chilled him to the bone and tried to reconcile the fact that they were one and the same. He couldn't and he wanted to scream in frustration. Instead he said, "I don't regret it."
Snape smiled bitterly. "Don't you? Do you think I can't see the disgust in your eyes? Do you think I haven't had enough people turn away from me in revulsion for what I am to know what you're thinking?"
"I don't regret knowing the truth and in case you haven't noticed, I'm still here. I told you nothing I saw here would change my opinion of you and I meant that."
"That's only because you don't accept the evidence of your eyes. You may have found the truth, but you refuse to believe it. You think this is a mistake, but let me assure you it's not."
"Maybe not, but it isn't the whole truth either. I know you were a Death Eater. I know you've made some terrible mistakes. But I also know you've done good, decent, brave things in your life as well. You're more than this."
"You're a fool!" Snape spat. He started to turn away, but Harry stepped forward and grabbed his arm.
"That's your answer for everything, isn't it? Insult people and shove them away so that they won't tell you the things you don't want to hear. I'm not the one refusing to see the truth. You are. You wrap yourself in guilt over a past you can't change because that's easier than letting anyone get close to you. But that won't work with me. You may want to deny that there's any goodness in you, but I've seen it. You can't hide it from me!"
Snape pushed Harry away with a snarl and clutched at the robes he wore as though he longed to rip them apart, but couldn't. "Do you think I want this? Do you think I don't know how empty my life is? I would give anything to undo what I have done, what I have become. But I can't."
"Yes you can! Just because you can't change the past doesn't mean that you can't change the future."
Snape shook his head wearily. "You don't understand."
"Then I'm not the only one who doesn't. Lily sees the goodness in you too." Snape started at the mention of Lily, but Harry hurried on. "She's trying to help you, if you'd only let her. She believes in you. She cares –"
"Stop it!" Snape screamed, his face contorted with anguish. "Why do you insist on tormenting me? Must you remind me of my worst mistakes, my greatest failures?"
"That's not what I'm –"
"You're right. You're just like her," Snape continued to rant. "You both refuse to see me for what I am. You cling to this ridiculous hope. Can't you see that not every soul can be saved? Why do you have to make it worse by caring? Why are you determined to make me disappoint you the way I disappointed her?"
Harry stared at the distraught young man in shock. The hopelessness and agony in his eyes were unbearable to see and Harry spoke without thinking. "You haven't disappointed me and I know you never disappointed her as much as you think you've done."
"How would you know?" Snape scoffed.
"Because I'm her son and I know."
Snape stared at Harry in puzzlement. "What?
"I'm her son. I'm Harry. And I know she wouldn't have turned her back on you anymore than I would do."
Snape's black eyes bored into Harry's then widened with shock. "Harry," he whispered.
Without warning Harry found himself back in Snape's office. The transition had been so abrupt that it took a moment for Harry to realize what had happened and to notice that Snape was no longer seated across from him. Frowning, he stood up. "Professor?"
He froze immediately as he spotted the black-robed figure crumpled on the floor behind the desk. "Professor!"
Harry hurried over and knelt down beside the unconscious man. He shook Snape, but there was no response. "Professor? Professor, wake up! Professor!"
It was no use; Snape didn't stir. Harry pulled out his wand. "Enervate!"
Nothing. Snape remained unconscious and Harry could feel himself starting to panic. He looked around desperately, uncertain what to do. Then he spied the jar of floo powder by the fireplace. Harry stood up and drew his wand. "Incendio!"
At once a crackling fire erupted in the fireplace and Harry wasted no time in tossing a handful of floo powder into it. "Professor Dumbledore!"
Dumbledore's face appeared in the flames a few moments later. "Harry? What has happened?"
"I don't know." Harry tried to keep the fear out of his voice, but could tell that he was failing. He took a deep breath. "We were in the middle of our session and Professor Snape passed out. I can't wake him up."
Dumbledore nodded. "Stay where you are, Harry. I will be right there."
Harry sat beside the closed door to the private ward in the infirmary with his head in his hands. Intense emotions, all jumbled together, were whirling through his mind, but Harry was too weary and dejected to try to sort them out. Instead, he let them crash over him like waves battering a shore.
The door to the private ward opened and Dumbledore came out. Harry jumped to his feet, but the old wizard held up a reassuring hand and smiled. "It's all right, Harry. Professor Snape is awake and perfectly fine."
Harry sighed in relief, then grimaced. "It was my fault, Professor. I told him that Lily was my mother. I know that was a stupid mistake."
Dumbledore pursed his lips. "That certainly would explain why he lost consciousness. The incongruity of being faced with a young man when he believed you to be a baby must have been quite a shock. Losing consciousness was his mind's way of protecting itself from a truth that was incompatible with his chosen perception of reality. All of which is perfectly normal, I promise. I must ask though: why did you tell him that you were Lily's son? Surely you realized that it might have undesirable effects."
"I wasn't really thinking about that." Harry took a deep breath then continued. "I discovered who that dark figure is."
Dumbledore looked into Harry's eyes then nodded calmly. "I thought you might have done so."
Harry stared at the old man and felt anger break free of the swirling mass of emotions in his mind. "You don't even need to ask, do you?" Harry said bitterly. "You knew it was him all along. Why didn't you ever warn me?"
"I suspected, Harry, I did not know. As for why I did not share my suspicion with you, I have already told you that you needed to discover the truth on your own."
"Why?" Harry demanded. "I already have enough to worry about. I don't need to play games!"
Dumbledore's eyes flashed with irritation and his voice became stern. "This is not a game. You ask me why I didn't tell you. Ask instead why I was able to guess the truth from nothing more than your descriptions of what you had encountered while you failed to recognize it when the evidence was before your very eyes?"
Harry felt himself blush in shame at the rebuke. He looked away, too hurt to meet the old man's eyes. "I suppose I'm just thick."
Dumbledore's annoyance vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "Of course you aren't," he said gently. "Experience, Harry. That is what you lack and that is why it is far more important for you to learn than to know. It is the process of discovery that is crucial to understanding and there is no shortcut, much as I wish there were. You have learnt things during these weeks in Professor Snape's mind that you do not even realize you know and which you never would have learnt had I led you by the hand."
"But what's the point?" Harry asked tiredly. "Maybe I'm missing it, but I don't see how any of this will help me to defeat Voldemort."
Dumbledore smiled and his eyes resumed their customary twinkle. "No knowledge that you work to attain is ever a waste, Harry. Even if the knowledge itself proves to be of little use, the effort made in learning will always benefit you."
Harry ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He was too tired for Dumbledore's cryptic wisdom. "So now what?"
"Professor Snape remembers nothing of your encounter, of course, and that needs to remain the case. I have told him that you simply delved a bit too aggressively into his mind and that caused him to pass out. Such things do occur in the practice of Legilimency and I assure you that he is not overly angry with you. He has, however, declined to continue your sessions.
"Do not look so dismayed, Harry. The fault is not yours. The sessions take quite a lot out of him, mentally, and he is concerned that his other duties may be suffering as a result. That is a valid worry and in any case, you have accomplished what you set out to do, so I don't believe further sessions are necessary."
Harry could think of nothing to say, so he merely nodded.
"Go then and get some rest, Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "It is quite late and you look done in."
Harry smiled weakly and bid Dumbledore goodnight then headed to bed. It was late and he was exhausted, both physically and mentally. Nevertheless, he lay awake, unable to sleep. He couldn't stop thinking about Severus. Dumbledore was right to have chided him for not seeing the truth. He might not have Dumbledore's experience, but he knew Snape well enough and should have guessed that the man was his own worst enemy.
Harry supposed that it was the depth of the darkness surrounding the hooded figure that had thrown him off. He remembered the dread chill that he'd felt the first time he'd seen the ominous black-robed figure. The Angel of Death, Harry had dubbed him and that impression hadn't changed just because the person beneath the hood had turned out to be Severus. Harry bit his lip, once again trying to reconcile the detached, ominous figure with the distraught young man consumed by self-loathing and trapped within his dark past.
Harry knew intellectually that Snape must have done some terrible things in his life. He'd been a Death Eater, after all. But as Dumbledore had said, 'knowing' and 'understanding' weren't the same thing. Tonight, Harry had understood for the first time that somewhere in his past, Snape had done that which was indefensible. And Severus had been right: he'd been disgusted and repelled by the realization. But Harry had also felt the man's shame and remorse. And he had understood what instinctively he already knew: Indefensible didn't have to mean unforgivable.
That was what Severus failed to see and it was why he clung to the darkness, wrapping it around him as both shield and prison. He didn't know how to forgive himself. But Harry knew that beyond the darkness there was light and that if only Severus could let go of the darkness, the light would shine through.
Harry sighed. If only he'd understood all of this sooner maybe he could have helped Severus to see that the darkness alone didn't define him. But now Harry was never going to have the chance. He was never going to see Severus again and that realization hurt more than Harry would have thought possible. He felt as though a close friend had just died: one whom he should have been able to save.
"I'm sorry, Severus," Harry whispered to the darkness. Then he turned over, buried his head in his pillow and wept.