Severus stood watching the boy from the shadows. He had been keeping an eye on him, as promised, ever since Albus had died. The Ministry was no longer looking for him; Minerva, who was now the Hogwarts Headmistress had found Albus’ Pensieve with an explanation of what had occurred, and informed the Ministry of his demand that Severus would not be prosecuted or sent to Azkaban for following orders.
Minerva also led the Order now, and they had fixed it so that Voldemort and his followers still believed that everyone continued their search for the Potions Master. All the while, Severus had been allowed to retain his position at Hogwarts no matter how the boy had protested. Severus smiled to himself. Now some would think that the students of Hogwarts would be writing home to out their most hated professor, but that was not the case.
Minerva had professor Flitwick cast the Fidelius charm on him, effectively making it possible for him to continue teaching his classes. The students were allowed to see him as long as they were in class, but after passing the threshold of the Potions classroom, they only retained the information they had gathered during the class, not who was teaching it. Only the teachers, Order, Ministry and Harry knew where he was. Severus wondered if Minerva had really been in Gryffindor during her time here at Hogwarts, for the idea was quite Slytherin in nature.
“Ah, good evening Severus,” Minerva said quietly as she walked up beside him, her expression turning bittersweet when she followed his gaze to the boy sitting by the giant tree in the Great Hall near the fireplace. The tree was one of many in the hall, but Harry always chose to sit by the one near the fire every Christmas.
Severus gave a start, not having paid attention, and he grunted in response.
Minerva sighed as she watched the boy beneath the tree. It had been hard on him to return this year. She knew he hadn’t wanted to, that he had wanted to go off and search for the remaining Horcruxes, but she had been relentless in his letters from the school, and had promised him that the Horcruxes would be found and dealt with by the Order, but insisted that he return to the school to complete his training.
Also during the summer break, she had appointed various Order members to stay with him as he mourned Albus’ loss, much to the chagrin of the Dursleys, who were forced to treat him like one of the family while the other witches and wizards were staying at their house. They had learned a lot about Harry then, especially by his reactions to the Dursleys, mostly shock when they called him for dinner when they ate, or that he wasn’t awoken at ungodly hours to start his chores, but allowed to sleep in like Dudley. It was obvious to those that paid attention that the boy had not lived the pampered life the Wizarding world was led to believe.
Minerva sighed and turned her gaze to Severus, who was still watching the boy. Then, there were those who stubbornly refused to see what was right in front of them.
“You know, Severus,” she said kindly, and he turned to look at her to find her eyes twinkling as Albus’ once had.
He groaned and closed his eyes briefly, wondering if she knew she was twinkling. “What?” Severus asked coldly before returning his gaze to the boy.
“It is just that I often wonder why you seem to hate him so much. I think that he has proved several times over that he is not like James.” Severus blinked in surprise, turning to her once more. “Yes,” she continued. “I know that you two did not get on very well. Tell me, Severus, why do you bear such animosity toward him?”
“And why shouldn’t I?” Severus returned. “Why should I treat him like every other imbecile in the Wizarding world does? He has everything given to him on a silver platter, and is nothing but a spoilt brat. Be glad that I am upholding my promise to Albus and still watch over him whether he likes it or not.”
Minerva shook her head, looking at him with sorrow-filled eyes. “Things aren’t always as they seem, Severus,” she said softly. “You of all people should know that. Good night.” She placed her hand on his arm briefly, then turned and exited the Hall.
Severus watched Harry for a while longer before heading to his rooms to get some sleep. Going through his nightly routine, he prepared for bed and read for a while. It was then that he heard it, or thought he did; the soft rattle of chains. He looked around, but didn’t see anything, and yet, an uneasy feeling settled over him as he returned to his book.
A few minutes later, he knew he’d definitely heard something, and snapped his book shut, looking around the darkened chamber. “Hello, my boy,” the sad voice of Albus reached him, and he gave a start when he saw the man materialize before him wearing heavy chains. His robes were shabby and torn, his long hair and beard were matted and dingy, even his eyes had lost their damnable twinkle.
“Albus?” Severus asked in surprise, taking in his mentor’s abhorrent appearance. “What happened to you?”
Albus gave him a withered smile, his eyes still refusing to sparkle. He sighed and sat down at the foot of Severus’ bed. “I am damned, Severus,” he said sadly.
“Damned?” Severus asked in disbelief. “But why? You’re a good, kind man, why would you be damned?”
Albus smiled at Severus’ compliment, but his eyes remained dull. “I may have been good, Severus, having the best interests of the Wizarding world in mind, but not everything worked out like it should have, and now young Harry is paying for it. I could have prevented many deaths in this war, but I did not, always thinking of the bigger picture, when I should have been paying attention to just how much pressure both I, and the rest of the Wizarding world, were putting on him. For that, I am damn to remain like this forever.”
Severus nodded slightly as he swallowed hard. “Why – why are you here?”
“I am here to bring you a warning, Severus,” Albus answered. “You must change, my boy, or many will suffer. Do not end up as I am; change your path before it is too late. Tonight, you will be visited by three spirits. Do not fear them, but listen to them well. It is not too late to change, my boy,” Albus said, and Severus stared at the spot on his bed where the man had sat, his mouth agape as he watched the man fade. “It’s not too late.”
To say that Severus was unnerved by the encounter would have been an understatement. He placed his book on the table by his bed and blew out the candle by which he had been reading, curled up into a ball in his bed and tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep.