Harry Potter and the Chained Souls

Chapter 31: Endings and Beginnings

Harry opened his eyes. He was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling and he was exhausted. He couldn't move, couldn't even lift his head. His muscles felt as though they'd turned to water. He rolled his head to the side and looked around. Voldemort's crumpled form lay a few paces away. In death, the greatest Dark wizard of the age looked diminished, like some large, grotesque puppet that had been dropped and forgotten. His deformed features were twisted into a mask of horror, but rather than frightening, he only looked pathetic.

Harry turned away. He'd done it. He'd beaten Voldemort. He had almost never dared to imagine this moment, but when he had, he'd always envisioned himself feeling elated, filled with relief and happiness. He felt nothing like that now. Instead, he felt drained of all emotion. There was nothing but a weary ache in his heart.

Harry's melancholy thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps racing down the corridor outside. They grew louder as they approached, then stopped. Harry could hear muffled conversation just outside the door and then Ron and Hermione stepped into view, their wands raised.

Harry looked at them and managed a wan smile. "Hi."

"Harry!" Hermione sighed in relief. She and Ron hurried forward as Harry struggled to sit up.

"Are you all right?" Hermione asked anxiously.

"Yeah, I'm okay."

Ron was staring past Harry. "Is that –?" he asked hoarsely.

"Yeah," Harry said. "It's all right. He's gone for good this time."

More footsteps were approaching and as Ron helped Harry to his feet, Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared.

"Merlin's beard!" Moody exclaimed, staring slack-jawed at Voldemort.

Shacklebolt, meanwhile, pulled out one of the purple communicators. "We found Potter. He seems fine and You-Know-Who is dead… That's right, dead…"

Even hearing someone else say it didn't pierce Harry's weary indifference. The whole wizarding world would be celebrating soon and he didn't feel at all like joining in.

Moody was sniffing around Voldemort like a bloodhound, examining the deceased wizard closely with his magic eye. Finally, he nudged the body with his toe, then grunted in satisfaction. "We'd better seal the room until a team gets here to dispose of the body. Come on, Potter. Let's get you out of here."

Harry had no objections. He was more than ready to leave and headed back to the lift in silence, ignoring Ron and Hermione's concerned glances.

The atrium was teeming with people. Tonks spotted Harry the moment he stepped out of the lift and shouted out his name, causing the entire crowd to surge forward. In a moment there were people all around Harry, clapping him on the shoulder, pumping his hand enthusiastically. Moody, extolling Harry's accomplishment to all, pounded him on the back so hard that he almost knocked Harry over.

The congratulations were cut short however, as a rapid series of 'pops' sounded and dozens of people Apparated into the atrium. The DPS Aurors, Harry guessed, and in the midst of them was the last person he wanted to see: Ian Day.

The new arrivals all looked much the worse for wear. The Aurors were covered in dirt and the unmistakable scent of Stinksap filled the air. They all showed signs of having been hit by multiple hexes, but mostly they just looked stunned. Day on the other hand looked livid. He was wearing dress robes that clearly weren't his own and which reminded Harry of the ancient ones Ron had worn to the Yule Ball in their fourth year except that Day's were a bright shade of pink and trimmed with even more lace than Ron's had been. The man was plucking yellow feathers from his clothes and had a wild look in his eyes.

"Arrest everyone!" he snapped shrilly. Then he spotted Harry and his mouth drew into such a fine line that his lips seemed to completely disappear. "Potter!" he said furiously, pushing his way through the Order members to reach Harry. "I knew that you were behind this. For years you have done nothing but wage your own private war, heedless of rules or laws, running roughshod over the Ministry's authority." Day sneered at Harry. "'The Boy Who Lived', 'the Chosen One'! Fame has gone to your head, Potter, if you think that you can waltz into the Ministry as you please! You are subversive and dangerous and I will see you in Azkaban!"

"Day, you're round the bend," Moody growled. "Potter here just killed You-Know-Who."

"What?"

"Saw him myself. The body's down in the Department of Mysteries if you have the courage to go and have a look."

Day looked from Moody to Harry and Harry smirked. "You were saying?"

Day opened and closed his mouth several times, clearly at a loss for words. At last he managed to blurt out, "You have overstepped your bounds!"

"If anyone has overstepped his bounds, it's you, Ian," another voice replied. It was the Minister for Magic, Harry realized, who had just arrived as the Order members stepped back to let the man through. "Storming Hogwarts? Attacking students in Cornwall?

"They attacked us!" Day said angrily. He waved his hand at his Aurors, the lace on his sleeve fluttering as he did so. "They ambushed us!"

"Ambushed you," the minister said, skeptically. "Professor McGonagall at Hogwarts says that they were on an overnight campout and thought they were being attacked by Death Eaters."

"That's a lie! They were not on a campout. They lured us to Cornwall so that Potter and his supporters could infiltrate the Ministry!"

The minister was staring at Day as though he suspected the man was mad. "Professor McGonagall insists that they were on retreat and is threatening to organize the parents of the students involved to bring charges against the Ministry. Frankly, I wouldn't blame them. I believe, Ian, that the pressures of your work have proved to be too much for you. You are relieved of your post effective immediately. Mr. Shacklebolt, please have your Aurors escort Mr. Day from the premises."

"Of course, Minister." Shacklebolt clamped a hand on Day's shoulder.

"What?" Day protested. "You can't fire me! I'm telling you the truth. They were all in league together!"

Harry forced himself not to grin as the big Auror steered the spluttering man away.

"Mr. Potter, you have my sincerest apologies," the minister said, looking decidedly embarrassed. "The man is obviously unhinged and I hope you understand that Day's flagrant abuse of power was not sanctioned by the Ministry nor will it go unpunished."

Harry nodded, but he couldn't help wondering if the minister would have been quite so conciliatory were Voldemort not dead.

"The warrants for your and Professor Snape's arrests will be rescinded at once of course," the minister assured Harry.

Harry's chest tightened painfully at the mention of Snape, but the minister continued. "If there is anything I can do to rectify this situation…"

"Actually, there is," Harry said. "Have you heard any news of Professor Dumbledore?"

"There's been no news from Hogwarts on his condition, I'm afraid. But then, with all of the commotion at Cornwall and here –" The minister shrugged apologetically and Harry nodded once more. "Don't hesitate to contact my office if there's anything else you need. You've done the wizarding world a tremendous service, Potter."

The minister turned away and as he did the Order members closed in around Harry once more to resume congratulating him. Harry shook the proffered hands numbly wanting nothing more than to be away from the stifling crowd.

"Harry!" Remus, dirty and disheveled, pushed his way through the throng and grabbed Harry, hugging him. "You did it, Harry! I knew you would!"

Remus pulled back and regarded Harry, tears of joy and pride glistening in his eyes. "James and Lily would be so proud of you." He tousled Harry's perpetually messy mop of hair affectionately, then frowned. "Harry, what's wrong?"

Harry couldn't answer. He blinked rapidly to hold back the tears that were threatening to well up in his own eyes.

"Draco Malfoy? What's he doing here?" Kingsley Shacklebolt's deep baritone caught Harry's attention and he gratefully turned towards it.

"It's not really clear," another man answered. "But he was sitting in the library next to his father's body. Bellatrix Lestrange was there too – also dead. Looks as if a family dispute got out of hand. We sent the boy back to Hogwarts. He doesn't seem to have been involved in the fighting at all. McGonagall's going to contact his mother."

"What about the rest of the Death Eaters?" Shacklebolt asked.

"They're all dead as far as we can tell, though how, I'm not sure."

"What about our people?"

"A few injuries, but no casualties."

"Is everyone accounted for? Where's Snape?"

At the last question Harry felt himself go cold inside. He had to tell them; he owed Snape that. But before he could speak up another voice, exhausted and barely above a whisper, answered.

"I'm here."

Harry froze then whirled around. Standing apart from the crowd gathered around Harry and looking as though he might collapse at any moment, yet obviously very much alive, was Snape. Harry gaped in astonishment, then shoved past the witches and wizards around him to get to the man. Harry only just managed to stop himself from grabbing Snape to make sure that he was real and not some odd hallucination. Abandoning that action, Harry settled for waving his hands to take in Snape's rather bedraggled condition.

"You're alive?"

"Apparently," Snape answered wearily.

"How? What happened?" Harry asked.

"Before or after Lupin let the entire ceiling of the DPS office collapse on top of us?"

"That was your idea, Severus," Remus countered, having come to stand behind Harry. "And you're lucky that my shield charm held."

Snape grimaced. "Oh, please don't tell me I now owe you my life."

"How did you survive Voldemort?" Harry asked impatiently.

Snape considered. "I'm not really sure. It was –" Snape hesitated, a haunted expression in his eyes. "It was an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone." He shook his head as if to banish the memory. "There's no doubt that you were successful, however."

Snape pushed up his left sleeve and held out his forearm for Harry to see. The pale skin was unblemished. There was no trace of the Dark Mark, nor any sign that it had ever existed.

Snape pulled down his sleeve and regarded Harry calmly. "Congratulations, Mr. Potter," he said formally, extending his hand to Harry.

Harry stared at Snape's composed features and outstretched hand in disbelief. The man was supposed to be dead and yet after everything they'd been through he expected to just shake hands? "You're joking."

Hurt and humiliation flickered in Snape's eyes. He dropped his hand and started to turn away, but Harry grabbed his arm.

"Don't be an idiot!"

Harry pulled the man into a fierce embrace. Snape tensed, drawing a sharp breath in surprise. He tried to pull away, but Harry only hugged him tighter and after a moment, he relaxed. Slowly, tentatively, he put his arms around Harry and embraced him in return.

"It's all right, Potter."

Harry nodded and let go of Snape. He stepped back and smiled at the man. "Yeah, it is."

"Potter!" Harry looked around as Moody came stumping up to him. The old Auror handed him a small, dogged-eared book on inanimate Transfigurations.

"McGonagall sent this. It's a Portkey to take you back to Hogwarts. We didn't know if you'd be up to Apparating. Trigger word is victory."

Harry nodded, grateful for the chance to get away from the Ministry and to check on Dumbledore. He clutched the book tightly, then glanced at Snape. The man certainly didn't look up to Apparating and was surely as anxious to get back to school as Harry was. Harry held out the book. "Come on."

Snape hesitated only a moment, then grasped the book tightly as well.

"Victory," Harry said and in a moment he and Snape were standing in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Harry automatically glanced up at the enchanted ceiling depicting the sky and was startled to realize that it was morning. The sky was bright blue with the promise of a lovely spring day. It still had to be quite early though since no one seemed to be up yet.

Harry shoved the Portkey into his pocket, then he and Snape headed for the hospital wing. Harry reckoned that it had been nearly thirty hours since Dumbledore had collapsed. Snape had said that if he survived forty-eight, he'd recover. That was still a lot of time left, but Harry couldn't help but feel hopeful that the old wizard's continued survival was a good sign. He assumed that no news meant that Dumbledore was still alive, but as he strode through the halls, doubt crept into the corner of his mind. It was also possible that McGonagall had kept Dumbledore's death a secret. Given the threat from Voldemort, it would have only made sense to do so until the Order could put their plan into action.

Please don't let him be dead yet, Harry thought, quickening his pace. He desperately wanted to be able to tell Dumbledore that he'd defeated Voldemort; that the war was finally and truly won. Dumbledore deserved to know that before he died and even if the old man was unconscious Harry felt sure that Dumbledore would hear him and understand.

Harry burst into the hospital wing and headed for the back ward at something approaching a run, leaving Snape behind. Reaching the door, he took a deep breath, opened it and stared.

"Yes, Dobby, I am quite certain I have had enough treacle tart," Dumbledore was saying. "In fact I think I shall be sick if I so much as look at another piece. Not that it isn't excellent, of course!" he added hastily as Dobby's ears began to droop. "Ah, Harry, there you are. Would you care for some treacle tart?"

Dumbledore was sitting up in bed, looking somewhat wan but otherwise well. Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey were standing next to him along with Dobby and there was a large tray full of food perched precariously on his bedside table – no doubt the house-elf's well-intentioned attempt to speed the man's recovery. Harry grinned and stepped into the room.

"The great hero Harry Potter has returned!" Dobby squeaked excitedly, bounding over to hug Harry's leg in unmistakable adoration.

"Dobby, stop that!" Appalled, Harry tried to shake the house-elf loose. "And don't call me a hero!"

"You'd better get used to it, Potter," McGonagall said, as she came over and gently, but firmly pried Dobby away from Harry. "Everyone will be calling you that before the day is out and with good reason." She beamed at Harry. "Kingsley Shacklebolt sent us word a few minutes ago and I must say that I have never been more proud!"

"Indeed," Dumbledore said, rising and coming to lay a hand on Harry's arm. Despite his pallor, Dumbledore seemed younger and more full of life than Harry had seen him in years, his eyes twinkling brightly with affection and happiness. "I never doubted for a moment that you would succeed, Harry. Well done!"

The old wizard looked past Harry and raised his voice. "Severus, don't stand in the doorway. Come in! Minerva, I suspect that we will be having quite a few visitors before long. If you and Poppy would arrange to welcome them all in the outer ward; I fear there is not enough room in here and I need to speak with Harry and Severus alone for a moment. Dobby, perhaps you could see to some refreshments for everyone?"

"Yes, Headmaster Dumbledore, sir. It is Dobby's pleasure!" Dobby vanished at once.

McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey left as Snape entered and the moment the door shut behind the two women, Snape turned to Dumbledore.

"You don't look particularly surprised to see me," he said accusingly.

"Not particularly," Dumbledore replied. It was true. Dumbledore didn't look at all surprised to see Snape. In fact, he looked almost smug.

Snape's eyes narrowed. "You knew?"

"I suspected," Dumbledore corrected.

"How?"

"That is rather a long story and as it concerns both of you, I suggest we all sit down."

Dumbledore waved a hand and conjured a garish pink wing chair in which he sat down. Snape scowled at the old man, but reached out towards one of the nearby hospital chairs which obediently slid across the floor towards him. He sat down as well, folding his arms across his chest. Harry quickly pulled up another chair. He was bursting with curiosity to hear whatever Dumbledore had to say and waited expectantly for the old wizard to begin.

"First, I must ask pardon from both of you," Dumbledore said. "I have manipulated you both and have withheld from you information that you had a right to know. In my defense I can assure you that I acted with your best interests at heart and because it was the only means of saving your life, Severus, and indeed of giving you, Harry, the surest chance to defeat Voldemort.

"Nearly three years ago, when I discovered what Voldemort had done to achieve immortality, I realized at once what that would mean for those who had taken the oath of fealty to him. Though I have often asked you to risk your life when it was necessary to the war, Severus, that is somewhat different than requiring you to face death for a mistake you made when you were hardly more than a boy. That was not a price I was willing to pay, not without first doing all in my power to avoid it. And there was, I knew, a hope of doing so."

"But you said that there wasn't any hope!" Harry interrupted. "You said there was no way –"

"I said that there was no other course of action you could take to defeat Voldemort and that was quite true. It was also true that everyone bound to Voldemort by the Dark Mark had to be released from that bondage. As a rule, that could only be accomplished through death. Nevertheless, there are few rules to which there are not exceptions."

"There was no exception," Snape said impatiently. "That bond was unbreakable."

"Perhaps not an exception, then, so much as a caveat. While it is true that the bond could not be broken, it could be superseded by a stronger one. And so it was that three years ago I set out to forge just such a bond, one that would loosen the chain binding you to Voldemort and permit you to slip free when the time was right. I must confess, though, that I nearly despaired after my first attempt ended in such a disastrous failure with the fiasco of those initial Occlumency lessons."

"You mean that you were trying to create a bond between us?" Harry asked incredulously.

"Yes, Harry."

Harry stared at the old man. "We hated each other."

"Yes, you did. Which is why I was so relieved when your second attempt at the lessons proved to be so successful the following year."

Harry frowned in thought. "Then the bond you told me about – the one between a teacher and student of the mental arts – that was strong enough to overcome the bond between Professor Snape and Voldemort?"

"No, Harry. While such a bond between two wizards can lead to empathy and even lasting friendship, it never could have overcome the bond that Voldemort devised. It was merely the foundation upon which I hoped to give both of you the opportunity to build – and you did just that. You, Harry, have consistently shown Severus unfailing compassion and friendship – even when it was clearly unappreciated."

Snape rolled his eyes. "You expect me to believe that Potter's compassion overcame the vow I made to Voldemort?"

"It played a significant role, but I believe it was actually your compassion, Severus, which proved decisive."

Snape stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. "You're joking."

Dumbledore smiled serenely. "You find that unlikely?"

"I find it ludicrous," Snape said.

"It is not, I assure you. While Harry's compassion overcame every obstacle to build the bond between you, it was you, Severus, who sealed that bond and ensured that it was of sufficient strength to overcome Morsmordre."

Snape's eyebrows rose skeptically. "Really? And how precisely did I do that given that it was never my intention?"

"You did it the day that you performed the Healer's Gamble."

"I was hardly enamored of Potter that day, as I recall."

Dumbledore chuckled. "No, indeed you weren't. Nevertheless, you made a blood sacrifice in order to save Harry's life and that bound you unalterably to one another."

Snape shook his head. "The Healer's Gamble forms no such bond between the healer and the patient."

"Normally not, that is true. But normally, the spell is used by a professional healer. All healers swear an oath to defend life insofar as they are able and it is that oath which in the past has called some to risk their own lives to save others. But you, Severus, though extremely skilled, are not a professional healer. You have taken no such oath. It was a very different vow that called you to offer up your life for Harry and it is that vow which you sealed in blood that day."

Dumbledore's piercing blue eyes held Snape's black ones which suddenly widened in understanding.

Dumbledore smiled. "I knew then that Voldemort would no longer be able to hold you bound and that you would afford him no protection against Harry's love."

Harry had watched this exchange with fascination, but Dumbledore's last words made him start. "Wait a minute! You mean that you knew before Christmas that Professor Snape didn't have to die for me to finish Voldemort, but you still let us think –"

Dumbledore raised a hand to halt Harry's indignant outburst. "Yes, Harry. I have already said that I withheld information from you. I regret having caused you such grief, but it was unavoidable.

"I knew Tom Riddle well and he was quite predictable in many ways. In particular, I knew that he would summon all of his loyal Death Eaters to defend him against you and only call upon Severus as a last resort when all of them were dead. After all, what man would not choose to have his allies beside him in battle rather than an enemy?"

Dumbledore turned to Snape. "I was also quite sure that once you arrived upon the scene, Voldemort would not be able to resist tormenting you in some fashion. He has been eagerly awaiting his chance for a year and I could not imagine him passing up the opportunities that the mind affords. This then, I knew, would be our crucial advantage. While he delayed, indulging his vengeance while believing himself to still be invulnerable, Harry's presence would in fact be eating away at the malignancy of his soul and by the time his mistake became clear, it would be too late for him to save himself."

Dumbledore looked back at Harry once more. "But in order for this to work, Voldemort had to believe that Severus's soul was still his and I could not risk telling you otherwise. While you are a competent Occlumens, Harry, you have never been able to hide your feelings. It was necessary for you to believe that Severus was still bound by his oath to Voldemort so that Voldemort would believe it as well. Had he realized – had he even suspected – that Severus no longer afforded him any protection, he would have killed you both at once."

Harry nodded slowly. As much as he hated to admit it, he could understand Dumbledore's reasoning and he marveled at how well the old wizard had orchestrated events to give him the greatest advantage in fighting Voldemort – and at how close he'd still come to losing.

"You said that there was a vow binding us together. What vow?"

Dumbledore smiled. "I think that I will leave Severus to explain that, Harry. I really must go and get ready to meet the rest of your companions when they arrive so that I may congratulate them all on your victory."

Dumbledore rose, patted Harry on the shoulder and left humming happily to himself. As the door closed behind the old man Harry turned to Snape who seemed lost in thought. "What vow?"

Snape answered without looking at Harry. "The one I made to your mother."

"Sorry, what?"

Snape sighed. "I promised to protect you from the Dark Lord as she had done – with my life. I vowed it on her grave."

"What?"

Snape looked at Harry in annoyance. "It was the least I could do, don't you think? Your parents were dead because of me. Your godfather was in prison for life. And I knew that those Muggle relatives of yours weren't going to be able to protect you from the Dark Lord indefinitely, no matter how many enchantments Dumbledore set. Being here at Hogwarts and knowing the threats against you, I was ideally placed to protect you and I owed it to Lily. However, such oaths are binding and the bond they create is not easily sundered."

"So that's why you always protected me even though you hated me?"

Snape nodded and they lapsed into silence. After a few moments, Harry spoke again.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Snape's lip curled disdainfully. "Because I'm a coward, Potter."

"No, you're not!"

"Yes, I am! I never expected you to forgive me last year for my part in Pettigrew's betrayal, so I didn't think there was any reason to compound my misery and yours by divulging my larger crime. Then afterwards, I couldn't bring myself to tell you.

"As monumentally stupid and arrogant as my mistake with Pettigrew had been, it was still only a mistake. I thought that I could control him. But as much pleasure as I took in playing that game and deceiving your father, I was genuinely trying to protect you. My goal was honorable even if my methods weren't. But that wasn't the case the night I saw Dumbledore enter the Hogshead."

"Professor –"

"Don't interrupt me, Potter! I was wrong not to tell you the whole truth. You deserve to know the crimes which I've committed against you. You certainly deserved better than to hear of my culpability from the Dark Lord. So understand – and make no mistake about this – what he told you was the truth. I was his faithful spy. I marked you and your parents for death before you were even born and I did it as a matter of course without the slightest thought for the consequences of my actions or for the lives that I was destroying."

"But why did you tell Voldemort the prophecy?"

Snape sighed. "I was a spy, Potter. Reporting what one hears is what a spy does."

"But you told me that when you heard it you decided to betray him."

Snape shook his head in disgust. "I've never been one to put stock in prophecies, certainly not one made by an obvious charlatan. I thought what I'd heard was intriguing, but I never imagined that the most powerful Dark wizard of the age who was reputed to be invincible would take it seriously, let alone become obsessed with the single-minded pursuit of this phantom threat.

"It was only when I realized how afraid he was that I understood that he had to be vulnerable. That's when I started to plot against him. But still I gave no thought to the child of the prophecy or his family. I remained the Dark Lord's servant while biding my time, waiting for the one who could defeat him to appear and hoping for an opportunity I could exploit to my advantage. It wasn't until I discovered how he had interpreted the prophecy and I realized that it was your parents, your mother, whom he meant to kill; that the horror of what I had done became clear to me.

"Suddenly it wasn't just an anonymous child and his parents – three more nameless victims among the countless casualties of the Dark Lord's rise – whom I could pretend weren't real and ignore. I knew your parents. You're mother was the only friend I'd ever had. The thought that she was going to die because of what I'd done was unbearable! I couldn't let that happen and so I went to Dumbledore and became his spy.

"For over a year I did everything I could to protect you and your parents, to keep them one step ahead of the Death Eaters and when Dumbledore told me that they were to use the Fidelus Charm, I thought that my debt was paid, that I had succeeded in preventing the doom that I had brought upon all of you. I was wrong."

Harry nodded solemnly. "Professor, I understand –"

"I'm not finished!" Snape said harshly. There was an almost fevered look in his eyes. "I lied to you about what happened the night your parents died. I told you that I stayed with the rest of the Death Eaters at headquarters until we heard of the Dark Lord's downfall, but that wasn't true. After he summoned us and announced that he had found you, I intended to warn Dumbledore. I planned to give the Dark Lord my fawning congratulations just as the rest of my companions were falling over themselves to do and then slip away long enough to send a Patronus to Hogwarts.

"But I never got the chance. When he at last approached me he said, 'It is because of you, Severus, that this threat was discovered. You have served me well and I reward those who serve me well. Come with me and you will have the honor of seeing my enemies perish.'"

Harry stared at Snape in horror. "You went with him… to Godric's Hollow?"

Snape smiled bitterly. "My reward. So very fitting, don't you think? Any loyal Death Eater would have been honored, so naturally there was no way for me to refuse. We Apparated to the village. It was very late and the street was deserted. He showed me a slip of paper with an address written on it, then led the way to your house."

"Professor, you don't have to tell me this," Harry whispered, not wanting to hear what he knew was coming, but Snape ignored him.

"He told me to wait outside. He wanted the pleasure of the kill all to himself, of course. But he promised that I would have the chance to see you and your parents lying dead when he was finished.

"I should have tried to stop him. I should have at least tried to create a disturbance to draw your parents' attention. If I could have given them some warning, they might have escaped; at least your mother might have escaped with you. But it never even occurred to me. Instead, I asked the Dark Lord to spare your mother's life."

Harry blinked. "You asked…" The memory of Voldemort's words flashed through Harry's mind. "Stand aside you silly girl!"

"And he agreed?"

"Oh yes. He actually did reward his Death Eaters – at least when it suited him and he never was one to pass up an opportunity to make his enemies suffer. He always preferred to torment than to simply kill. He knew that your father and I were old enemies so when I told him that I wanted your mother alive in order to pay James back, he understood perfectly. What I told him doesn't bear repeating, but I'm sure you can imagine the sort of thing that would have amused him. He readily agreed and so, believing that your mother would survive, I watched him walk up the path to the front door without lifting a finger to stop him or to warn your parents.

Snape looked away lost in memory. "I can still hear the sound of his footsteps on the walkway. He blasted open the front door and I heard James shout to your mother to run. Then I saw the flashes of the curses. Your father was an accomplished duelist, but no one could stand against the Dark Lord. It was over in seconds. And then I heard your mother."

Harry closed his eyes. He had heard his mother in his memories, screaming, dying. It was horrible and he couldn't imagine what it must have been like to be there that night and to listen to her being murdered.

"I was such a fool," Snape whispered. "How could I have been such a fool to imagine that he could have ever touched you while your mother lived? I should have realized Lily would rather die than allow her child to be killed? Of all people, I should have known that! I'd watched my own mother stand between me and my father when I was a child. Time and again she had taken the brunt of his fury in order to spare me. But I'd forgotten that – right up until the moment that I heard Lily scream. I couldn't move. I just stood there listening while she begged for your life. And then I saw the flash of green light and her screams stopped."

"My god," Harry whispered. "No wonder you never got over it."

"If the Dark Lord had come out of the house that night, I would have died. That's all I wanted: to die trying to kill him. But that wasn't to be. Barely a moment after your mother's last scream faded the house exploded. It was like nothing I'd ever seen or even heard of before. I was thrown to the ground by the blast and I remember looking up at the ruins of your home in horror and astonishment. I didn't think that anyone could have survived, but I could hardly believe that the Dark Lord had perished. I sat there in shock, torn by indecision. I knew that I should go and investigate, but I couldn't bear to see your parents. As much as I despised your father, I had never wanted him killed, and Lily – I couldn't even stand the thought of seeing her.

"My decision was made for me when the neighbors began to arrive. The explosion had attracted attention naturally and that snapped me out of my shock. I knew that my first duty was to warn Dumbledore of what had happened. So before the Muggles could draw near I Apparated away and sent my Patronus to Hogwarts. By the time I'd composed myself sufficiently to follow it, Albus had already left. The rest you know."

Harry stared at Snape. Even after seventeen years, grief was still fresh in the man's eyes and there was another emotion there as well.

"You loved her, didn't you?" Harry asked gently.

Snape closed his eyes and turned away. "Would it horrify you if I had?"

"No. There was a time when it would have done, but not anymore."

Snape looked at Harry, frowning as if he didn't believe him, but Harry held the man's gaze and at last Snape seemed convinced, though he appeared to be more troubled than satisfied. He shifted uncomfortably and looked away again.

"Lily Evans wasn't just a schoolboy crush. She was the finest person I ever knew. She was the only one of my classmates who didn't look at me as if I was something unpleasant that had crawled out from under a rock and that ought to do everyone a favor by crawling back. She treated me with respect, kindness even – as though she actually thought that I was worthy of it. And when I looked into her eyes, I could almost believe that she was right." Snape looked pleadingly at Harry. "I couldn't help but love her, Potter. But I never told her. I swear that I never once presumed."

"You don't have to apologize. You don't need a right to love someone."

Snape shook his head miserably. "She died because of me."

"I know. If you hadn't told Voldemort the prophecy, he'd never have come after me. But if he hadn't tried to kill me, he wouldn't have lost his powers that night either and he wouldn't have accidentally bound my soul to his and given me the ability to defeat him. The world wouldn't have had thirteen years of peace without him. He'd have taken over entirely and we'd have had no way to stop him."

"That was your mother's doing, Potter."

Harry regarded Snape in silence for a moment, then asked. "Professor, do you know why I survived that night?"

"Of course. Because your mother's love protected you."

Harry shook his head. "I'm not the only child Voldemort and his Death Eaters ever tried to kill and I'm certainly not the only one whose mother loved him enough to die for him. Last year, I had visions of whole families being murdered. I saw parents beg for their children's lives and die trying to protect them just the way my mum did. And yet what happened when Voldemort tried to kill me has never happened before or sense. Why?"

Snape frowned in thought. It was clear that he'd never considered that question before and his curiosity was piqued by the mystery. But Harry had long since understood what had made that night at Godric's Hollow special.

"It's because my mother didn't have to die. Voldemort said so himself. It was her sacrifice that protected me. It's because she had a choice to stand aside and she chose to die instead. You gave her that choice. If it weren't for you, she couldn't have saved me."

Snape stared at Harry disbelievingly, but slowly his eyes widened as the truth of Harry's words sank in. "I never thought of that," he whispered.

"Well, then maybe you should do."

Harry had barely finished speaking when a roar of laughter penetrated the closed door to the outer ward. It had come from what sounded like a rather large group of people and Harry realized that there was a party going on. Snape must have realized it too, because he abruptly stood up and headed for the door.

"Come along, Potter. You're the hero of the day and I'm sure that your friends are anxious to see you."

Harry followed Snape and found that the outer ward was indeed crowded with people, but no one noticed Harry and Snape arrive. Everyone's attention was on Fred and George who were in the middle of an animated reenactment of the battle against Day at Cornwall. Harry watched, grinning in delight and laughed out loud at their uncanny imitation of Day strutting about covered in chicken feathers.

"Harry!" someone suddenly shouted, interrupting the show. "Harry's here!"

Everyone turned towards Harry and just as had happened at the Ministry, Harry suddenly found himself surrounded as his friends and classmates all pressed forward to congratulate him on his victory against Voldemort.

Ginny pushed her way through the crowd and hugged him fiercely. "I knew you could do it, Harry!"

The love and joy in Ginny's eyes made Harry's heart leap and it finally hit him. They were free. He was free. For the first time, his life was truly his to live. Harry grinned, picked Ginny up and swung her around, then kissed her deeply, savoring the joy of knowing that they had their whole lives ahead of them."

"Break it up, you two!" George said. "There'll be plenty of time for that later."

"That's right," Fred said. "You need to get cracking mate. Dumbledore's already left for the Great Hall to announce to everyone that you defeated Voldemort, so it's time for you to go and put in an appearance as Savior of the World."

Harry grimaced. "I'm not the 'Savior of the World'! You were all brilliant! I couldn't have defeated Voldemort without the rest of you. Every one of you had a hand in bringing him down. Every one of you is a hero."

"Of course we are," Fred said bracingly. "We know that."

"But it's like Quidditch, Harry," George said. "No matter how well the rest of us played, we needed you to catch the Snitch."

"And you just won us the bloody Quidditch Cup, mate!"

With that Fred and George grabbed Harry, hoisted him up onto their shoulders and carried him out of the hospital ward, followed by the rest of the students, all laughing and cheering as they went.


Breakfast was an elaborate affair, befitting the occasion. The house-elves, who had been forewarned, produced golden platters overflowing with the finest food Hogwarts had to offer along with crystal stemware bubbling with champagne for those old enough to imbibe and pumpkin juice for the rest.

The mood in the Great Hall was even giddier than Snape remembered it being at the time of the Dark Lord's first fall sixteen years previously – probably because the conquering hero was right here in their midst this time. Virtually everyone wanted to congratulate Potter personally. While laughter, sporadic cheers and impromptu songs filled the hall, droves of students gathered around the young man.

It seemed that Potter would always be a celebrity, though Snape felt no resentment at that fact. The young man deserved all of the accolades that would be heaped upon him in the days to come and Snape had no desire to share in the glory, especially since Potter seemed rather overwhelmed by it. His eyes kept darting around as if searching for some means of escape from the incessant praise. Snape knew that he would despise such attention as well. He was quite content with having played a supporting role in the Dark Lord's downfall and took particular pride in having at long last done right by Lily.

He had kept his promise to her, though to be honest he knew that it hadn't been about Lily for quite some time. He hadn't even thought of her in the landscape of the Dark Lord's soul. It had been Harry alone who had mattered to him then, but he knew that Lily wouldn't have minded.

Snape frowned, realizing that he had just thought of Potter as Harry, but he dismissed that mental slip as the result of the emotional turmoil he'd endured in the last day and a half. He felt utterly drained and oddly melancholy. He wouldn't have even put in an appearance at this scene of excess euphoria had McGonagall not caught him trying to slip away to the dungeons.

"The entire Order is staying, Severus. Don't you at least want to be present for Dumbledore's announcement?"

"Not particularly. I already know what happened."

The deputy headmistress had not been amused by that answer and had practically dragged him to the Great Hall. Fortunately, he was seated at the staff table where his fellow teachers knew better than to bend his ear with gratuitous conversation. They'd congratulated him warmly on his part in the battle and then ignored him which suited Snape just fine. It gave him time to think.

Snape wondered if it was really true that giving Lily the choice to live or die had been the key to Potter's survival that terrible night. Given all of his mistakes, wretched choices and abominable actions, it seemed impossible that anything he had done in those days might have turned out for the best. It was especially hard to believe that a panicked, split-second decision on his part could have changed the course of history. Then again, fate did seem to have an odd sense of humor sometimes. The fact that he was still alive – a concept that he still hadn't quite got used to – had to be someone's idea of a bad joke.

Far better people than he had died in service to this cause and even on the Dark side, people with more reason to live had perished. Snape looked at the Slytherin table where his students were considerably more subdued than the rest of their schoolmates. Most were as relieved as anyone that the Dark Lord had fallen, but enough had personal ties to the Death Eaters to be worried and this cast a pall over the whole house. Worse, Snape knew all too well that their fears were warranted.

Draco Malfoy had already left for home to help his mother make arrangements for his father's funeral. Official word had not yet come for the others, but Snape knew. Gregory Goyle, Vincent Crabbe and Theodore Nott had lost their fathers; Todd Boles and Patricia Mellette, their brothers. Another dozen had lost cousins, uncles and aunts. And he was going to have to somehow break the news to each one of them amidst the revelry and before they read about it in the papers. Lovely.

Still, Snape was used to miserable, thankless tasks. What galled him was the knowledge that those servants of the Dark Lord had relatives who loved them and would mourn them. He didn't. He had no one – no friends, no family. Dumbledore cared for him, of course, but the old man cared for everyone. As for Potter, there would always be a bond between them, but the young man would be gone from Hogwarts in two short months and had plenty of friends his own age to spend his time with. Snape might expect a letter from him at Christmas, but that would be the extent of their future relationship, he was sure. Potter had his own life to live.

What do I have? That was the question that kept nagging at Snape. For eighteen years he'd been driven by his guilty need to bring down the Dark Lord and atone for his past mistakes. It had been his sole purpose in life and now, suddenly, that purpose was gone. Even his work provided no substitute to ground him. Teaching at Hogwarts had only ever been an expedience which allowed him to continue to spy on their enemies while affording him Dumbledore's protection. The purpose of that too, had vanished and he felt lost. Why did I live when I have nothing to live for?

"Chocolate?"

Snape looked up from his gloomy reverie as Lupin sat down in one of the vacant chairs next to him. The man was smiling and holding the largest bar of chocolate Snape had ever seen.

"No, thank you."

"Go on, Severus. You look done in."

That was rich coming from Lupin, Snape thought. The man looked exhausted. Snape didn't have the energy to argue the point, however, so he accepted a piece of the proffered chocolate and took a grudging bite. He glanced sideways at Lupin who was watching the students affectionately and showed no sign of leaving.

"Shouldn't you be with Potter? He looks as though he could use someone to rescue him from those Hufflepuffs."

Lupin chuckled. "Ron and Hermione are seeing to it that he doesn't get cornered by any one group for too long. See, here they come now."

Sure enough, Weasley and Granger had swooped in to insinuate themselves between Potter and the group of third years who were following him around. Lupin reached for an apple from a tray full of fruit, bit into it and settled back in his chair. Snape gritted his teeth in annoyance. He didn't care for Lupin's company on a good day and this had not been a good day. Worse, the very thought of what Lupin had seen him go through at the Ministry made him cringe inwardly though he refused to show it.

Those last moments in Voldemort's mind had been the most horrifying he'd ever endured. As he'd fallen into the icy blackness of the chasm he'd felt despair envelope him along with a terror like none he'd ever felt before. There would be no relief, no respite from the suffering. But just as he was sure he was about to go mad from the hopelessness, Voldemort's hold on him had unexpectedly vanished and he'd surfaced from the nightmare like a drowning man clawing for air. He'd screamed and fought the hands that tried to hold him still, certain they were going to drag him down into the void again. He'd been so filled with blind terror that he'd barely registered the fact that someone was shouting his name and telling him that everything was all right.

At last, however, the words had penetrated, though the words themselves hadn't really mattered. It was the voice – a human voice, speaking to him – that had swept away his fear and despair. The sound was sweeter than the sweetest phoenix song and lying shaking amidst the ruin of the DPS office Snape had wept in relief.

"Don't leave me alone! Please, I don't want to be alone!"

"You're not alone, Severus. I promise."

Snape had finally managed to pull himself together and mumbled a vague excuse about enduring Voldemort's death throes, but he had been too deep in shock to feel the sting of humiliation at the spectacle Lupin had witnessed. Now, he felt it acutely and as much as he hated to be chased away from the staff table by this wretched man, it was better than suffering his presence. Before Snape could leave, however, Lupin spoke.

"How many of your students were affected?" he asked quietly, glancing meaningfully at the Slytherin table.

"That's none of your business."

"Quite a few of them were my students, too, Severus," Lupin reminded him.

Snape wavered, but realized that the man would find out soon enough. "Twenty lost close family members."

Lupin sighed. "When do you plan to tell them?"

When I can bear it. "When the time is right. What difference does it make to you?"

"None, I suppose. It's just that they don't deserve such grief, especially when everyone else is celebrating."

"No. They don't. But life isn't fair."

Snape stood up to forestall any further conversation and stalked away, retreating to the staff lounge just off the Great Hall. The room was empty and the quiet solitude was a relief after the boisterous celebration in the hall. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.

"Severus?"

Lupin had followed him and Snape glared at the man. "What do you want?"

"It isn't your fault that they died."

Snape started. "What?"

"The Death Eaters. Don't blame yourself for what happened to them."

"Why would I blame myself?"

Lupin shrugged. "Survivor's guilt. I won't pretend to understand what happened to you back at the Ministry, but you looked as if you'd been to hell and back."

"I told you that was simply a reaction to the Dark Lord's death. The eradication of the Dark Mark was not pleasant."

"I know what you told me. I also know that every other person who bore that mark is dead. I'm not stupid, Severus."

No, Snape thought, staring at the man in silence. Lupin was too clever by half.

"I know what it's like to be the last man standing," he continued. "After James and Lily died, I spent months wondering why I was still alive. What cruel perversity of fate had taken the best people I'd ever known and left me behind to mourn alone? You may not have personally cared for any of those who died, but I know that you care about your students and in any case it isn't easy being the sole survivor."

Snape sneered. "Lupin, there are many things I blame myself for, but the choices of others are not among them. Those who died did so because they chose to throw in their lot with the Dark Lord."

"All right," Lupin allowed calmly. "Then if it isn't guilt, what is it? This is a happy occasion, Severus; the happiest we've known in sixteen years, yet you look miserable."

Snape glared at the man. He hated Lupin's naïve considerateness which only served to expose his pain. He hated him for having friends and for being happy. Hated him for having a future when Snape couldn't see beyond the emptiness inside himself. And suddenly he wanted to hurt this man, to make him taste the pain he'd known for so long and the absence of which had left a gaping hole where his life should have been.

Snape stepped close to Lupin and gazed into his eyes. "It wasn't fate that took your friends from you. It was me. I was the Dark Lord's spy, the one who overheard the prophecy and told him of it. So spare me your patronizing concern."

Lupin stared at Snape for a long moment in stunned silence, then let out a deep sigh and ran a hand through his hair. He turned away, nodding to himself. "That explains a great deal," he said softly. He looked back at Snape. "I'd like to say that I'm surprised... Does Harry know?"

Snape looked away. "Yes."

"And?"

"He's his mother's son."

Relief flooded Lupin's eyes and he sighed once more. "Thank goodness for that."

Snape looked at the man in disbelief. He could rationalize Potter's forgiveness. The boy had his mother's exceptional generosity of spirit and Snape had risked his life for Potter more than once which surely counted for something. But he had never done anything of consequence to earn Lupin's forbearance. Why should this man forgive him?

"You don't care? They were your best friends and it doesn't matter?"

"What's done is done, Severus," Lupin said tiredly. "I know that you regret it, but you can't change the past no matter how sorry you are, so what's the point in blame and guilt?"

Snape's lip curled in contempt. "You're even weaker than I thought."

"Why? Because I refuse to hate you? If that makes me weak in your eyes, then so be it. But I've spent entirely too much of my life being hated for something that I would dearly love to change, but can't. I'm not hypocrite enough to put others through that. You can no more change the past than I can change the fact that I'm a werewolf. If you really want to be hated, then I've no doubt that you'll find people willing to accommodate you, but I won't be one of them. If we can't forgive one another then we might as well have let Voldemort win."

Snape was taken aback by Lupin's quiet yet fierce resolve. He had always taken the man's gentle, overly solicitous nature for weakness; the timidity of a man who didn't want to be disliked. But Snape realized now that he'd been wrong. Lupin was no longer the shy boy who had been afraid to stand up to his friends. A lifetime of persecution had simply given him the determination to be better than those who looked down on him and Snape felt a disconcerting stab of shame as he realized that he'd been one of them.

"Don't waste your compassion on me, Lupin."

"It's far more work to hate than to forgive, Severus, and frankly I haven't the energy to hold grudges the way you do."

Snape smiled bitterly. "Chief among my talents."

"Oh, I don't know. I might count that sharp tongue of yours first."

"Can't you ever be serious?" Snape snapped.

"Can't you ever take a joke?" Lupin shot back. "Severus, it's obvious that Harry doesn't hold the past against you in the least. Why are you clinging to this guilt?"

Snape turned away, suddenly weary of the conversation and gave an honest answer since it was the easiest. "Because it's all I have." He wished that Lupin would have the sense to leave, but instead the man came to stand beside him. Snape ignored him, devoting his full attention to examining an ancient painting of a glen hanging on the wall. Lupin gazed at the scene as well.

"Severus, I know what loss and loneliness are like."

"No you don't," Snape whispered. "You don't know what loneliness is like. That's what hell is."

"What?"

"Loneliness. I saw it; I felt it. You're all alone in an absolute void without even an enemy or a tormentor for company; without anything to touch, without a sound or even a breath of air to distract you from being completely and eternally alone; cut off from everyone and everything." Snape closed his eyes, suppressing a shudder at the memory. "I don't want to end up like that."

"Dear god," Lupin breathed. "Severus, you won't!" The man grasped Snape's shoulder tightly and spoke with feeling. "Listen to me. I know what it's like to be alone and convinced that you always will be. When I came to Hogwarts as a student I was terrified that my housemates would discover that I was a werewolf and that I'd be forced to leave school. I never once believed that any of them would accept me for what I was. The most terrifying and liberating day of my life was the day that James and Sirius told me that they knew my secret and that it didn't matter. Your secrets don't matter anymore either, Severus. You have to let them go."

Snape gazed at Lupin. There was genuine concern in his eyes and Snape suddenly remembered seeing that same concern at the Ministry when the Dark Lord had reached out for his soul.

"Why do you care?"

Lupin smiled sadly. "Why not? Shared goals, shared sacrifices, shared memories – what more reason should there be?"

Snape regarded the man skeptically. Was it really that simple? Was friendship really nothing more than sharing life's joys and sorrows with someone else?

"I have to go, Severus," Lupin said, glancing at old clock on the mantelpiece. "It's a full moon tonight and if I don't get some rest, I'll be sorry for it. But I'll come and see you in a few days and we'll talk."

"Lupin, that's not necessary."

"I never said it was." Lupin smiled genially, but there was the barest hint of a feral look in his eyes that said he wouldn't take no for an answer. He turned to go and was nearly at the door when Snape spoke.

"Lupin… Remus, thank you."

Lupin looked back at Snape and smiled. "You're welcome, Severus."

Lupin left and Snape went back into the Great Hall where the celebration was still going strong. It no longer grated on his nerves. He approached the Slytherin table where Crabbe and Goyle were sitting together, looking rather lost without Malfoy between them. Might as well start with the most difficult, Snape decided. He came up behind the young men and laid a hand on each their shoulders. They looked up at him questioningly.

"Mr. Crabbe, Mr. Goyle," Snape said gently. "I need to see you both in my office."


Harry hadn't slept in nearly twenty-four hours and between fighting Voldemort and spending half the morning being congratulated for it he was exhausted when he finally fell into bed. He was asleep at once and didn't wake up until dinnertime. For a moment he seriously considered turning over and going back to sleep, but the thought of food had started his stomach growling hopefully, so he dressed and headed down to the Great Hall.

Harry was surprised to find everyone reading the paper, but Hermione explained this as he sat down across from her at the Gryffindor table. "Special edition of the Daily Prophet," she said, laying aside her own copy.

"What's it say?" he asked.

"A lot of background, mostly. The history of the Order or the Phoenix and the role they played in the war as well as in the final battle. Nothing too confidential," Hermione added at Harry's dismayed look. "And loads of praise for you, of course. It seems as though just about everyone at the Ministry wants to go on record saying what a hero you are."

Harry rolled his eyes and as he did a slew of owls swooped into the hall to deliver yet more papers. How many editions do they need to put out in one day? Harry wondered. But this wasn't the Prophet. As Seamus unrolled his copy, Harry recognized the Quibbler's masthead.

"Finally!" Seamus said. "Now we'll get some real news."

Harry wasn't sure how much news there really was to report. He hadn't read any of the papers himself, but Voldemort was dead. What more needed to be said? After a moment, though, Seamus let out a low whistle.

"Blimey! Sixty-three Death Eaters died last night."

"What?" Harry said. "That can't be right!" Harry had encountered perhaps thirty Death Eaters in total. Even allowing for casualties in the battle with the Order, sixty-three sounded excessive.

"It says here that forty-three died at the Ministry and another twenty at Azkaban," Seamus said.

"Azkaban?" Dean said. "How'd anyone get killed there?"

"It was Knight. Listen to this."

In a bold move, Katrina Knight, aka the Death Eater Vigilante, infiltrated Azkaban and stupefied one of the Aurors on duty there. She then used Polyjuice to take her place and methodically killed every Death Eater in the prison.

There were gasps of shock as Seamus continued.

Though the Ministry vehemently denies any association with the former Auror, the attack on the prisoners – timed to coincide precisely with the battle at the Ministry – defies coincidence. "Clearly this was a coordinated effort," Chumley Gillfish of the Prison Oversight Office declared.

"But why would anyone at the Ministry want to kill prisoners?" Lavender asked. "That doesn't make sense."

"It couldn't have been the Ministry," Neville said. "They didn't know that Harry was going to be going after You-Know-Who."

"Well, someone must have known and tipped her off," Dean said. "There's no way that was a coincidence."

"Maybe it was one of the Aurors working for the Order of the Phoenix, "Neville suggested."

"You're right," Seamus said. "It sounds as if that group had a lot of connections and in any case, I'm sure plenty of the Aurors are still in with Knight. Someone probably wanted a last shot at revenge before the war was over."

Harry listened to this exchange in silence, but he knew that it hadn't been an Auror who had tipped off Knight. There was only one person in a position to provide Knight with Polyjuice who had also known the importance of reducing the Death Eaters' numbers – Snape.

Harry expected to feel horrified at that realization, but he didn't. He'd barely survived his battle with Voldemort as it was. He'd never have managed given another twenty Death Eaters to contend with. And of course Snape had anticipated that. How he'd managed to get word and a dose of Polyjuice potion to Knight, let alone convince her that she wouldn't be walking into a trap at Azkaban Harry couldn't imagine, but Snape was quite resourceful. Surviving as a spy against Voldemort, he had to be.

Harry looked up at the staff table and wasn't surprised to find the man in question watching him. What did surprise him was the frankness of the man's gaze. He was waiting for Harry's reaction to the news in the paper and wasn't bothering to pretend otherwise. Something in the simple admission that he cared about Harry's opinion touched Harry. He smiled slightly at Snape, both in answer to his unspoken question and in acknowledgement of his honesty and Snape returned his attention to his dinner.

Harry began shoveling steak and kidney pie onto his own plate as he marveled at how many quirks of fate had come together to enable him to defeat Voldemort. For all that Katrina Knight had committed terrible acts for the wrong reasons, she had actually been right in a twisted sort of way and her killing spree had ended up helping them. He wondered where she was now and what might happen to her if she were ever caught. He was surprised to realize that he hoped she wouldn't go to prison for life. He no longer felt any anger towards her, only pity. In a way, she was just one more casualty of the war. That was what made war so terrible; its greatest horror wasn't in the death and destruction an enemy might inflict, but in what otherwise decent people could be driven to do to defend against those things.

"Here are the obituaries for the Death Eaters," Seamus said, laying the paper on the table so everyone around him could see it.

"Reads like the bloody Who's Who, doesn't it?" Ron said as he scanned the names.

"Half of the old pure-blood families must be represented," Dean agreed.

Neville frowned thoughtfully then looked across the hall. "Have you noticed that a lot of the Slytherins aren't here?"

Everyone followed Neville's gaze and Harry realized that he was right. There were far too many vacant seats at the Slytherin table. Around the Hall, more and more students seemed to be coming to the same conclusion. Up and down the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, heads were turning in Slytherin's direction.

Harry looked back at the long list of names printed in three neat columns in the paper. Too many of them were familiar and suddenly he understood exactly what Snape had meant when he'd talked about the difference between nameless victims and people he knew. All those Death Eaters Harry had watched die – they hadn't just been anonymous enemies. They'd been parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles: all gone overnight. And Harry couldn't help but wonder in horror which of his classmates' loved ones he might have killed.

Ginny took Harry's hand and squeezed it. "You're not to blame, Harry," she said quietly.

Harry looked into her warm brown eyes and nodded. "I know."

It was true. Harry understood that there had been no other way to defeat Voldemort and he understood something else. He was going to do everything he could to make sure that no other Dark wizard ever gained the kind of power that Voldemort had done. Evil couldn't be defeated entirely, Harry knew, but there had to be a way hold it at bay. If not then the wizarding world was going to continue to fight war after bloody war forever and Harry refused to accept that. No more. Not if I can help it.


It was fortunate that there was still a week of Easter break left before classes resumed at Hogwarts since there was no way that lessons could have carried on during the days following Voldemort's defeat – or at least no way that Harry could have attended any. Visitors were constantly coming and going at Hogwarts and most were there to see him.

Reporters had laid siege to the castle immediately following Voldemort's defeat and refused to leave despite both Dumbledore and McGonagall's insistence that they couldn't talk to Harry. The teachers had chased them away again and again, but they kept coming back and short of warding the grounds like a prison, there was little hope of keeping them out. In the celebratory spirit of the day, Dumbledore was not willing to go to such lengths, but this effectively meant that Harry was a prisoner in the castle. He couldn't go for a walk down by the lake or even to the Quidditch pitch to practice without fear of being accosted by someone lurking in the bushes with a camera.

Even more troublesome than the reporters were the Ministry officials. They could not be turned away and Harry spent hours answering their questions and posing for photos. On top of this, he was being inundated with post from admirers as far away as the continent. He'd enlisted Ginny, Ron and Hermione's help in reading all of the letters, but this still took nearly an hour each day.

Then there were the invitations to lunches and dinners to be hosted in his honor by various influential organizations and individuals. Harry turned down all of these, but he knew that he couldn't beg off the official celebration at the Ministry.

"It won't be that bad, Harry," Hermione said. "Ron and I will be there along with most of the Order of the Phoenix. Everyone who fought at the Ministry is being given an Order of Merlin, First Class and second class Orders are being awarded to those who were 'materially helpful'. So that's just about everyone."

"Fine. I'll go to the awards ceremony, but why do I have to attend a bloody dinner?" Harry complained, brandishing the engraved invitation.

"Because you're the guest of honor," Ron pointed out. He held up his own invitation, cleared his throat dramatically and read. "In grateful recognition of the defeat of the Dark wizard, Voldemort, the Minister for Magic awards Mr. Harry Potter the Order of Merlin, First Class with Distinction for Special Services rendered." Ron looked back at Harry. "That means you have to go, mate."

Harry sighed, but knew that Ron was right. There was nothing for it, so as much as Harry hated the thought of spending an evening shaking hands with complete strangers while reporters took yet more pictures, he donned his dress robes on Friday afternoon and headed for the Ministry along with Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Snape.

The awards ceremony itself wasn't too bad, except for the ten minute speech the minister made extolling Harry's heroism. Harry tried not to squirm during that and was certain that he saw Snape smirking at him more than once. But he enjoyed watching Ron, Hermione and all of the Order members receive their awards.

The dinner, however, started off even worse than Harry had imagined. As the guest of honor, he had to stand in an interminable receiving line, apparently so that none of the other guests would miss the opportunity to shake his hand. While his friends mingled about the room, an official from the Ministry introduced each new arrival to Harry.

"Mabel Prescott, executive editor of the Daily Prophet – "An honor, Mr. Potter!" – "Thank you."

"Emma Wilkes, Director of St. Mungos Institute of Rare Afflictions and Mysterious Ailments." – "A tremendous honor, Mr. Potter!" – "Thanks."

"Timmons Peeble, member of the Wizengamot." – "Good show, Potter. Well done, indeed." – "Thank you, sir."

Finally the last guest, "Mercurial Babbitt, executive producer of the Wizarding Wireless Network" was introduced. "A tremendous honor, Mr. Potter." – "Thanks." And Harry was free. He went in search of Ron and Hermione, but didn't seem able to take two steps without being stopped by someone whose name he hadn't bothered to remember. Oddly enough, they all seemed to want to offer him a job.

"You'd be an outstanding addition to the WWN staff. People would tune in just to hear your voice." – "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."

"You'd be a huge asset to our department at the Ministry, Potter." – "I'll think about it."

"We could really use you at St. Mungos, Potter."

This last comment was so patently absurd that Harry couldn't help but point it out. "I don't know the first thing about healing," he snapped, completely out of patience.

"No, no, my boy, you misunderstand. We'd put you in charge of fundraising, of course. Why, I'm sure donations would skyrocket."

"I'm sure," Harry said through clenched teeth.

Luckily, dinner was announced before anyone else could approach Harry, but as he looked around, hoping to find his friends at last, the Minister for Magic appeared. "Come along, Potter. The seat of honor is reserved for you."

The man smiled warmly and pointed at the long head table at the front of the room. Harry felt his stomach drop.

"I'd really rather just sit at one of the other tables," Harry said hastily.

"Nonsense, Potter," the minister said, leading Harry up to the front of the room. "You're the reason we're here. Not that I don't admire your modesty! That's the mark of a true hero."

The minister took his place at the center of the head table and motioned for Harry to sit next to him. Harry looked out at the sea of people staring at him from the other tables as reporters snapped his picture. He felt as though he were some exotic creature on display in a zoo. Then a hand grasped his shoulder and Harry looked up into Dumbledore's twinkling blue eyes.

"The mark of a true hero is the ability to smile in the face of adversity," he said with a wink, taking the seat to Harry's right.

Harry grinned in relief and sat down between the minister and Dumbledore.

Aside from having his picture taken about every ten seconds and feeling as though he was constantly being watched, the remainder of dinner wasn't too bad. The minister was an affable enough fellow and Dumbledore's company was always welcome, but the two men tended to talk over Harry, discussing the challenges facing the wizarding world now that Voldemort was gone. Harry listened to their conversation, but had nothing to add and so he sat in silence, trying to squeeze in bites of food between camera flashes. It wasn't miserable, exactly, but he would much rather have been sitting with his friends or the members of the Order. From Harry's vantage point he could tell that they were all enjoying themselves.

Hermione and Ron were sitting with Mr. Weasley, Fred and George, Bill who was there to represent Gringotts and two witches from St. Mungos. The group never seemed to stop laughing – no surprise with Fred and George there – and was clearly having a wonderful time. Two tables over, Snape was seated with Remus, Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt and several other Aurors Harry recognized as members of the Order. While they were far more subdued than the group at the Weasleys' table, they looked relaxed and the conversation never lagged. Even Snape didn't seem bored or annoyed. He and Remus were deep in conversation and both looked perfectly content with each other's company.

"… the DPS."

Harry's attention snapped back to the two men sitting on either side of him as the minister continued.

"The department does have the resources to round up Voldemort's stray supporters. The Auror Service doesn't. Plus the DPS has a broader mandate."

"A bit too broad," Dumbledore said. "That one man could abuse his power so readily and to the detriment of so many really cannot be ignored."

"Day was the wrong man for the job, no question."

"Certainly, but on the other hand, his position is a temptation to excess. Our world has survived more than one Dark Lord in the past, all without the DPS."

"You're suggesting the department be disbanded."

"Yes!" Harry blurted out. "They have far too much power which they've done nothing but abuse. They ought to be shut down entirely."

The minister looked at Harry, taken aback, but Dumbledore smiled. "You see, Harry agrees as well."

"Yes, well, I'll consider your advice, Dumbledore." The minister gave Harry an appraising look and turned to the witch seated on his other side.

"I'm sorry if I spoke out of turn," Harry whispered to Dumbledore.

"Never be afraid to speak your mind, Harry. Not everyone will agree with you, but most will respect you for it."


Harry had never been happier to attend class than he was the following Monday morning. The resumption of lessons quickly dispelled lingering talk of Voldemort as homework and exams took center stage in the students' lives once more. As the days progressed, however, Harry could see subtle changes in his teachers and classmates. All of the teachers seemed more exuberant and less tired than usual. Even Filch seemed to have lost the desire to hand out detention for every conceivable misdeed a student might perpetrate. The houses were closer than ever before, too.

Though no one spoke of it, the personal losses suffered by so many of the Slytherins had garnered a fair amount to sympathy among the other houses and this excess of goodwill came at a time when the Slytherins themselves seemed to be reassessing their own priorities. With Voldemort's resounding defeat, the pure-blood prejudice he had championed fell out of favor. It had never been universally held within the house and those who had voiced it loudest were the ones who had suffered the greatest losses. The children of the Death Eaters had lost interest in calling their classmates 'Mudbloods'.

Surprisingly, of no one was this more true than Draco Malfoy who seemed to have grown up overnight. Gone was the smirking, swaggering boy Harry had known: in his place was a serious young man whose eyes held a weariness that Harry knew all too well. Malfoy's attitude towards Snape had changed too. There was none of the hostility in his bearing that had been so evident all year. Instead, he and Snape appeared to have regained something of their old rapport which Harry supposed was no surprise.

The Malfoys had been in the paper. Lucius Malfoy, to everyone's astonishment, reportedly had been working as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. He had been officially pardoned for all of his crimes, known and conjectured, and he was posthumously honored with an Order of Merlin, Third Class.

It was Snape, however, who seemed to have changed the most to Harry. There had been a subtle, but profound shift in the man's personality. He was still caustic and demanding, still a man who could strike fear into a student's heart with a glance and silence a classroom with a whisper. But he was less quick to lose his patience and less apt to snarl at the students when he did. Gone was the undercurrent of bitterness and rage which had driven the man to sadistic excess in the past and which Harry only recognized now in its absence.

But there was something else missing, which was harder to define. There had always been an intensity about Snape, a passion and keen determination that was almost tangible. That was gone too, replaced by a melancholy indifference that disturbed Harry. Snape didn't seem to care about anything anymore. Sometimes Harry felt as though he was only carrying on out of habit: going through the motions of his daily routine because he had nothing better to do.

Harry tried to ignore Snape's malaise. He himself hated people smothering him with questions about what he'd endured in his final battle and what he planned to do with his life now that Voldemort was finished. He needed time to work out those answers for himself and he reasoned that Snape did as well.

In the meantime Harry continued to follow the news of the war's aftermath in the Quibbler and the Daily Prophet. It was all good. Harry was particularly satisfied when it was reported that the Department of Public Security was being disbanded and that Ian Day was being indicted on charges that he had abused his power.

As the weeks went on, Harry stopped receiving letters from strangers and invitations to dinners. Ministry officials found better things to do than talk about him and reporters no longer came to take his picture at Quidditch practice. Harry slowly adjusted to his hard-won freedom from Voldemort and the knowledge that the world was at peace. He began to seriously think about his future while the articles about the war and editorials lauding him as a hero faded little by little from the news. Then inevitably, impossibly, the morning came when Harry's name didn't appear in the papers at all and Harry smiled, relieved that life had finally returned to normal.

And yet it hadn't for Snape, Harry realized as he watched the man closely at breakfast one morning. Harry could see weariness in the man's far-away look. The emptiness in Snape's eyes hadn't faded and Harry couldn't bear worrying about him any longer. Clearly, leaving Snape alone in the last few weeks to work through his depression hadn't succeeded, so Harry did the next most obvious thing – he went to Dumbledore.

The old wizard listened patiently as Harry explained his misgivings about Snape and then smiled sadly. "Yes, Harry. I am well aware of the difficulty Severus is having in adjusting to life without Voldemort. It is not uncommon for those who have spent years fighting a war to feel lost once it has been won.

"It takes time to heal a soul and rebuild a life, Harry. Severus needs to find a purpose, one which will challenge and inspire him as much as the fight against Voldemort did. He needs – and forgive me, Harry, but you must never tell him that I told you so – he needs to be needed. Severus has always derived his self-confidence from his abilities. To be the best at what he does and to be indispensable for his skills: that is what gives him confidence and his life meaning. Alas, I fear that teaching here at Hogwarts is not a sufficient challenge to him. I have offered him the Defense post for next year, but even that has failed to spark his interest."

"So what do we do?"

"At present, there is little we can do but wait. But don't despair, Harry. Life does have a way of eventually bringing us around to where we were meant to be."


The end of term was fast approaching. In addition to taking their NEWTs Harry and his classmates were also busy filling out applications for the jobs they hoped to get after school.

Ron applied to the Ministry. "I can't be any worse than most of that lot and dad says they're desperate for help."

"Oh, that's confidence, Ron!" Hermione said.

"Well, what about you, then? You've been researching every available position for weeks, but so far you haven't managed to apply for any of them."

"Of course I have! I've sent out four applications."

"When? You didn't tell us."

"Last week and I didn't think it was important."

"Of course it's important. Where did you apply?"

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to jinx anything."

"Since when are you superstitious?" Ron scoffed. "Go on, tell us."

"No," Hermione insisted. "I just don't want to talk about it, Ron. I promise that you'll be the first to know if I get any offers."

"If?" Ron said, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "You honestly expect anyone to turn you down? You're mad!"

Hermione huffed. "I just don't want to talk about it. Harry, what about you? Have you heard anything from the Auror Service yet?"

"Not yet, but I only sent in my application to the training program a few days ago."

"Well, they're not going to turn you down, Harry," Ron said.

"Hopefully not."

"Hopefully not? You're even madder than Hermione!"

Privately, Harry thought that Ron was right. He couldn't imagine the Auror Service rejecting him and had a hard time not thinking of his application as a mere formality. He was shocked, however, when the Chief of the Auror Service arrived at Hogwarts the next day to see him. McGonagall ushered Harry into the staff lounge where an elderly man was waiting for him.

"Mr. Potter, so good to meet you. I'm Clarence Langley." Langley was balding with short white hair and warm brown eyes that looked world-weary to Harry. His smile was genuine though and his handshake firm.

"I received your application," Langley continued, wasting no time getting to the point, "and I don't feel that Auror Training would be right for you."

Harry gaped at the man, stunned. "You – you mean you're rejecting my application?"

"Not rejecting it, no! Certainly not! But I feel that your skills would be put to better use in other areas."

Harry frowned. "What other areas?"

"I would like you to head up our recruitment effort."

Harry pressed his lips into a thin line. "I don't want to be a poster boy for the Auror Service. I want to be an Auror. I want to help round up those who are still loyal to Voldemort and to make sure that no other Dark wizard is going to try to gain power the way he did."

"Potter, that is what all of us in the Service want, but your talents are far too valuable to waste working as an Auror in the field."

"Talents?" Harry sneered. "Don't you mean fame? I don't want to get by on my name, on being the bloody 'Savior of the World'. I have the skills to fight! Why won't you give me the chance?"

Langley sighed and ran a hand over the wisps of hair on his head. "Let me be frank with you, Potter. The Auror Service exists in little more than name only. The truth is that we aren't even close to being ready to mop up the dregs of Voldemort's organization, let alone to face the next Dark Lord.

Harry frowned. "Sir, I know that the Aurors suffered considerable losses during the war, but surely it can't be that bad."

"It's worse than you can imagine. Historically, the Auror Service has prided itself on the caliber of its people. There was a time when we only accepted the most qualified applicants – those we knew would do the service proud. That's changed.

Langley began to pace slowly around the room as he continued. "When the DPS failed in their bid to take over the Auror Service, Ian Day got around the problem by creating an Auror Corps of his own. He hired away a few of our people, but mostly he recruited off the streets without any sort of screening and sent his people into the field with no training at all. The result was a band of thugs and hooligans who besmirched the reputation of every Auror in Britain.

"Recruitment to the Service had already been languishing for a decade and with Day's abuses the situation only grew worse. Before the war ended we hadn't received an application from anyone qualified to join the Service in nearly two years."

"But I know you've hired new Aurors during that time," Harry said. "I read the statistics in the Daily Prophet."

"I didn't say we haven't hired anyone. I said there was no one qualified." Our ranks were already stretched perilously thin before Voldemort's most recent rise to power and with the casualties we were taking we were forced to abandon standards and to take virtually anyone we could recruit and to put them in the field with only minimal training."

Langley turned to Harry and the pain in his eyes was palpable. "The mortality rate for these new Aurors both in the Service and in the DPS was horrific. Many were killed in the war and many of those who survived did so by using unethical means."

"The Unforgivables, you mean?"

Langley snorted. "The Unforgivables were only the beginning. Bribery, blackmail, threats of imprisonment, intimidation of every sort. These became common and the Ministry turned a blind eye. What else could they do? What else could we do?

"Now that the war is over and the DPS disbanded, we in the Auror Service are trying to pick up the pieces, but the situation isn't encouraging. There was bitter animosity between the DPS Aurors and those of the Service. Now both groups are back under our control, but they remain very much at odds, each blaming the other for the excesses and failures of the war.

"Needless to say, morale is non-existent. Meanwhile, most of the old-time Aurors who are left are retiring. They only stayed on because of the desperate need the war presented. Now that it's over they believe – understandably – that they've paid their dues and have earned the right to step aside. But this leaves us in a precarious position with a largely untrained, undisciplined corps of Aurors.

"And the situation shows no sign of improving. Most people have had enough of war. They want to put it out of their minds and the last thing such people will do is sign up to continue fighting. We received exactly three applications from Hogwarts students in your class this year. And I cannot rebuild a war-weary, divided and demoralized Auror Service with three recruits, even if one of them is Harry Potter."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to find the best and the brightest witches and wizards in Britain and convince them to become Aurors. We need people with courage and conviction, intelligence and skill, people with the knowledge and integrity to face the worst of the Dark Arts and win without compromising the principles of the Service to do it. And we need them ready to step into the field with nothing but the most basic orientation."

"But what about the Aurors you already have?" Harry said. "They may be undisciplined and untrained, but I doubt they're stupid. They'll know that I'm out hiring new Aurors because you don't think they're good enough. That'll only drive morale further into the ground. It seems to me that training the people you have should be your first priority."

Langley smiled. "In a perfect world, Potter, it would be. But I have no one to train them. We have a few longtime field agents who know their stuff and can mentor bright recruits, such as yourself, but they aren't teachers. They can't begin to create a formal training program."

"Then hire someone who can."

Langley shook his head. "Potter, you don't appreciate what it takes to fully train an Auror. It's not just learning curses and counter-curses. It's strategy and tactics, covert operations, discipline, being psychologically prepared to face an enemy. Even if we had people who were qualified to teach these subjects, getting forty undisciplined witches and wizards to learn is another matter. Half of them hate the other half. Just getting them to sit in the same room together would be a challenge."

Harry smiled slowly. "I bet it would be at that. I'll make a deal with you. I'll head up recruitment on two conditions. I get to hire anyone I want and I get to work in the field as well, at least some of the time."

Langley brightened and extended his hand to Harry. "You have yourself a deal, Potter. Welcome to the Auror Service."


The last week of school passed in a whirlwind of farewells, but Harry saved the toughest for last. On Saturday, as the rest of the students prepared to board the Hogwarts Express, he headed down to the dungeons and knocked at Snape's office door.

Snape was in the midst of clearing away the detritus of the last frenzied days of classes. He looked up as Harry pushed open the door.

"Mr. Potter, shouldn't you be gone by now?"

"You didn't really think I'd leave without saying goodbye?"

"That's hardly necessary. I'm sure we'll see one another again. Lupin said that you're going to be staying with him for a few weeks."

"That's right. Until I get settled into my new job."

Snape looked at Harry knowingly. "Then I presume that I should be congratulating you on becoming an Auror?"

"Not just an Auror. They've put me in charge of recruitment and from what I've heard, hunting down qualified people is going to be even tougher than hunting Dark wizards."

Snape frowned. "Then I take it that Nymphadora's assertion that the Service is on the verge of collapse wasn't as overdramatic as I thought?"

"Unfortunately not. So what are your plans? I heard that Dumbledore has offered you the Defense Against the Dark Arts post."

"That's right."

"Are you sure that's what you want?"

Snape cocked an eyebrow at Harry. "I've applied for the position every year for sixteen years, Potter."

"I know, but that was when Voldemort was still around and you had no choice but to stay at Hogwarts. You can do anything you want now and no offense, but I never got the feeling you liked children all that much."

"Astute observation. I've been offered several research posts by the Ministry and St. Mungos, but nothing that particularly interests me."

"Have you thought about becoming an Auror?"

Snape gave Harry an incredulous look. "An Auror?"

"That's right. I've been given the authority to hire anyone I want and I'd like you to head up the Auror training program."

Snape stared at Harry. "No."

"Why not? You're more than qualified. Your knowledge of the Dark Arts is legendary."

"A little too legendary, I'd say."

"A reputation can work in your favor."

"It's more than a reputation. I was a Death Eater, Potter and details such as distinctions of loyalty often don't matter to those who fought and watched their comrades die at the hands of enemies bearing that name. Do you honestly believe that the Aurors would welcome me with open arms?"

"Who better to train them to fight the Dark Arts? Professor, right now the bulk of the Service is made up of about forty Aurors who were recruited in the last year and a half. Some have done a great job standing guard at train stations and the Ministry. Others have excelled at intimidating innocent people, but not one of them could hold their own against any of your NEWT students, let alone a true Dark wizard.

"These aren't children trying to scrape an OWL or NEWT. These people's lives depend upon them being better trained than their enemies and you're the only person I know who has a chance of teaching them how to survive. They need you a lot more than Hogwarts, the Ministry or St. Mungos do and that's true whether they like it or not."

Harry met Snape's eyes. "Besides, if we have to go and round up any of Voldemort's old friends there's no one I'd rather have with me in a fight than you."

Snape shook his head and gave Harry a wry smile. "I can certainly see why they picked you to head up recruitment."

Harry smiled. "Is that a yes?"

Snape didn't answer. He didn't have to. The old glint of passion and determination was back in his eyes.

"I'm not in any particular hurry to get to London," Harry said. "If you have time, I'd really like to hear your thoughts on what it will take to fully train the Aurors we have."

"That will be a long conversation, Potter. As I'm sure you know, I don't suffer mediocrity."

"I have all day, but could we go somewhere else?" Harry said, waving a hand to take in the dank and cluttered office.

Snape's eyebrows rose in amusement. "Where would you prefer?"

Harry was taken aback by the question. He had expected Snape to pick some alternate place, but the man simply stood smirking at him, then shook his head. "You aren't a student anymore, Potter and if I'm not mistaken, you just offered me a job. Hadn't you even considered where we might discuss the terms of the agreement?"

Harry felt himself flush in embarrassment and picked the first place that came to mind. "The Three Broomsticks."

"Very well." Snape headed for the door and Harry followed him. As they stepped into the deserted hallway, Snape paused to glance back at his office, then shook his head once more.

"What's wrong?"

Snape smiled. "Albus really does have the worst luck with Defense teachers."

Harry couldn't help it. He laughed. He couldn't remember having ever laughed with Snape before and was surprised to discover that it didn't feel awkward at all. Then the two of them made their way upstairs, out into the warm, summer morning and headed for Hogsmeade.


Afterword

Excerpt from Dark Wizard Hunters: A History of the Auror Service: 10th Edition

The lowest point in the history of the Auror service came during the attempts by the Dark wizard Voldemort to usurp power in the latter half of the twentieth century. Casualties during the first war against Voldemort combined with a decline in the number of applicants to Auror Training left the service understaffed and unprepared to meet the challenge when the Dark wizard rose to power a second time.

Desperate for recruits to join the fight, applicant screening to ensure the psychological fitness of prospective Aurors was abandoned. Training was also given short shrift in an effort to get new Aurors into the field. The predictable results were high casualties, plummeting morale and a breakdown in discipline.

This situation was worsened by the establishment of the Department of Public Security which established its own rival corps of Aurors in nineteen-ninety-seven. These Aurors were held to no ethical standards and were given free rein to arrest, torture and kill with impunity, becoming little more than a band of hooligans.

Though the Department of Public Security was disbanded shortly after Voldemort's final defeat, the Auror service that emerged from the war was only a shadow of the proud order of Dark wizard hunters which had defended Britain for over a thousand years.

Luckily, a new leader emerged to take charge of the Service. Harry Potter, who had defeated Voldemort and was heralded throughout the wizarding world as a hero, joined the Aurors in the aftermath of the war and became the youngest wizard to ever head up the Service when he took over as chief two years later upon the retirement of Clarence Langley.

With the reputation of the service in tatters, Potter worked tirelessly in the years immediately following the war to inspire the best and brightest to choose a career in the Auror Service. At the same time he reinstituted stringent guidelines for accepting new applicants.

On his commencement with the Service, Potter brought with him Severus Snape, another veteran in the fight against Voldemort. Snape, a former professor and acknowledged expert in the Dark Arts, was tasked with rebuilding the training program.

Rumored to be a former Dark wizard himself, Snape brought a level of knowledge to Auror training unsurpassed by any head of the training program before or since. He quickly gained a reputation for being a demanding and unrelenting teacher and it was said that no Dark wizard was half as fearsome an opponent as Snape himself. Under his tutelage, however, he quickly raised the competence of the Aurors to a standard of excellence that has never been surpassed and which remains the benchmark for all Aurors to this day.

Though the revitalized Service soon proved competent to defend Britain from all threats, Potter never ceased to fight in the field. He led by example, setting a personal standard of courage and ethical behavior in the face of even the most dire peril. Potter's commitment to defending the wizarding public from those wielding the Dark Arts became legendary. Three times he turned down calls to stand for Minister for Magic, choosing instead to remain with the Aurors, leading the fight against resurgent Dark wizards and Dark creatures.

Snape was also no stranger to field work, though he also devoted time to academic pursuits. While serving as Head of the Auror training program, Snape wrote numerous books on the Dark Arts as well as on Potions, a subject in which he was also an expert. His Advanced Potions Brewing is the standard NEWT level text at Hogwarts as are his series of texts on Defense Against the Dark Arts.

He developed a simplified version of the Wolfsbane Potion in two thousand and one, making relief from the worst symptoms of Lycanthropy available to the general public for the first time. This potion was instrumental in persuading the Ministry to relax restrictions on werewolves the following year.

Harry Potter is considered to be the most influential wizard of the age. He advised ten Ministers for Magic during his years with the Service and often commanded more respect and deference than the men and women he served. In addition to serving as Chief of the Auror Service for seventy years, Potter has held positions of authority in most of the institutions in Britain including president of the Board of Governors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot – both positions he holds to this day.

Snape retired from the Service in twenty-sixty-seven to pursue fulltime research on a vaccine for Lycanthropy. Potter stepped down as Chief of the Service five years later and was succeeded by his son, James Sirius Potter who still carries on the tradition of exemplary service and commitment that his father championed for three quarters of a century.

The legacy of these two men cannot be overstated. In a few short years Potter and Snape brought the Auror Service from its lowest point in history to its pinnacle. Potter's promise upon becoming Chief of the Service was to ensure that no Dark wizard ever amassed the power that Voldemort had done. It was a promise that he kept throughout his tenure. While he served as Chief no Dark wizard ever again posed a serious threat to public safety.

Both Potter and Snape are revered as the founders of the modern Auror service. Their commitment to duty, excellence and courage has inspired generations of Aurors and will no doubt continue to do so for generations to come.

THE END

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