Fanfic: The Courage to Live by ShadowAceSeverus (Read for Free, 1,332,114 Clicks)

Description: Through the sheerest stroke of luck and some help from a forgotten ally, Severus Snape has survived the Battle of Hogwarts ¡ª but he isn¡¯t quite sure if he¡¯s happy about it. For nearly twenty years, he devoted his life to defeating the Dark Lord and protecting Harry Potter, but, now that both of his goals have been accomplished at last, he finds that he¡¯s at a loss for what to do next. For the first time in his life, Severus has the chance to determine his own future, but what good is that when he still doesn¡¯t know if he wants one? With the help of his new therapist and the support of his friends and fellow staff, Severus must decide if he¡¯s got the greatest courage of all: the courage to live for himself.

Characters: No Archive Warnings ApplySeverus Snape Harry Potter Minerva McGonagall Lucius Malfoy Hogwarts Staff Order of the Phoenix Malfoy Family (Harry Potter) Weasley Family (Harry Potter) Hogwarts StudentsCanon Divergence – Post-Battle of Hogwarts Battle of Hogwarts Aftermath Severus Snape Lives Basically everything is 100 percent canon except for Snape living All characters are their book selves OC’s but they’re good and canon compliant Minerva McGonagall & Severus Snape Friendship Lucius Malfoy & Severus Snape Friendship Severus Snape is Bad at Feelings Severus Snape Needs a Hug Severus Snape Needs Therapy But let’s be real they all need therapy Severus Snape Has PTSD Severus Snape Has Issues Severus Snape Has a Heart If There Was an Eighth Book ALL the beta ¡ª real men proofread

Summary: Summary:

Through the sheerest stroke of luck and some help from a forgotten ally, Severus Snape has survived the Battle of Hogwarts ¡ª but he isn¡¯t quite sure if he¡¯s happy about it. For nearly twenty years, he devoted his life to defeating the Dark Lord and protecting Harry Potter, but, now that both of his goals have been accomplished at last, he finds that he¡¯s at a loss for what to do next. For the first time in his life, Severus has the chance to determine his own future, but what good is that when he still doesn¡¯t know if he wants one? With the help of his new therapist and the support of his friends and fellow staff, Severus must decide if he¡¯s got the greatest courage of all: the courage to live for himself.Updates every other Monday!

Notes: Notes:

Inspired by

The Therapist by tsuki_llama.

(See the end of the work for notes.),Notes:

¡°Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.¡± ~ Brooke Foss Westcott

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.),Notes:

Thank you for checking out the first installment of The Courage to Live! I hope you enjoyed it! This story actually started as a minor passion project ¡ª I only intended to write the first two chapters, if you can imagine. But, as I planned where it might go, I found myself reflected in Severus¡¯ struggles, and I knew I wanted to see it through. This fic has helped me more than I can say, giving me the courage to pursue the life I want despite knowing it¡¯ll be a difficult path, and I can honestly say I wouldn¡¯t be looking at my future as I am now without it. Needless to say, I¡¯m thrilled to invite you along on Snape¡¯s journey to self-discovery!

Chapter 1

Chapter Text
His eyes seared with pain.It was absurd that, of all the agony coursing through him, it was his eyes that brought Severus back to the world of the living. But, as his lungs gasped and heaved, and tears welled up to soothe the burning dryness, the relief that came from squeezing them shut almost overwhelmed the awful ache in his torn neck.Dying ¡ª dying.He was dying.Severus choked and shuddered, curling into himself with instinctive panic. He was just lucid enough to know to lie on his left side, the shreds of his neck facing the ceiling so that less blood would flow out of them, but he also knew that it was pointless.He was going to die.He pressed his hand against the wounds, letting out a hideous, gasping cry as his raw flesh burned with the sweat from his palm ¡ª an involuntary sob wracked him at the touch of his injury, feeling how his neck was torn, shredded beyond repair. He could feel his heartbeat, erratic and weak, in the hot blood pulsing against his hand, and he grit his teeth, taking a rattling breath as it gushed beneath his trembling fingers.His wand. Where was his wand? He¡¯d dropped it, dropped it when he was trying to push Nagini¡¯s cage off of his shoulders. It lied only an arm¡¯s reach behind his back.It might as well have been a thousand.Severus screwed his eyes shut, shuddering as the venom made its way through his body. Even if he¡¯d held onto his wand, he knew there was no reprieve for Nagini¡¯s bites: her venom would make it so that the wound would not close, no matter what spells he might try to cast. Alone and unaided in the shack, he would die long before help could reach him, if any was sent at all.But his death was not in vain.Severus let out a wheezing chuckle, which promptly sent him in a horrible, wet coughing fit, but, even as he choked on his own blood, he didn¡¯t regret it. Instead, a feeling of triumph rose in his thin chest, and he bared his teeth in a defiant grin.He¡¯d fulfilled his last task. Through the sheerest stroke of luck, Potter had the memories he needed ¡ª he knew how to defeat the Dark Lord. Severus had worried for well over a year how he would tell the boy Dumbledore¡¯s plan, appalled that it would fall to him to explain the horrible sacrifice that must be made, but, in the end, he hadn¡¯t needed to. By murdering him, by inadvertently giving him the perfect opportunity to give the boy the necessary information, the Dark Lord had only ensured his own downfall.If he¡¯d had the breath, Severus would have laughed at the pure irony of it all.His head was growing hazy, foggy with blood loss, and he cradled his free arm against his chest, his other hand still pressed against his neck. It was futile to attempt to staunch the wounds, he knew, but he refused to hasten his demise, considering it a last act of defiance against his former master and the world that had worked so hard to kill him. The pain was such that Severus was glad to find himself slipping away, glad of the mist that was descending on his mind, and, as he shook and shuddered on the slick floorboards, his only thought was what might await him in the afterlife. Had he atoned? Had his efforts, in the end, been enough to offset the evil he¡¯d wreaked?He coughed, a wet, awful cough, and his breath caught and stuck. He tried to draw another one, hearing, as if from down a long tunnel, the gurgle as he inhaled his own blood, but the struggle was too steep. Defeated, his hand slid from his neck.It was time.Something rustled over him, but Severus felt no fear. A sense of calm and peace had washed over him, and he did not worry what might become of his body. So Nagini had come back ¡ª so the Dark Lord had discovered that he was still dying.It was too late for them to hurt him.His eyes opened, staring fixedly at the wall, but Severus did not see the aged boards upon it. He saw a pair of vivid green eyes, fading with the pain into the eternity before him. . . . Severus was comfortable.Comfort in any form was a rarity for him, and, as he slowly woke, he found himself relaxing into it, reassured that his body didn¡¯t pain him. It surprised him that he could feel it at all ¡ª he¡¯d expected a more intangible existence. But, his legs were warm, as if in sunlight, and he could clearly feel his weight pressing into a hard surface, numbing the arm tucked against his chest. Beneath his tingling fingers, he could feel a rough wood grain, and, as he came back to himself, a curious thought occurred to him.Did the afterlife have a wooden floor?Severus shifted, opening his eyes in dazed confusion, but they were bleary; he peered frustratedly at the distant wall, trying to make out any detail there. It looked vaguely familiar, but that couldn¡¯t be ¡ª or could it? Did death mimic places he¡¯d seen in life? Why would his eyes trouble him in death? Unless ¡ª Shocked, he raised his head ¡ª and almost vomited, nausea wholloping him with a wave of dizziness. Groaning, he laid back down as the room spun around him, heaving and hacking up a horrible mixture of clotted blood and mucous. The pain was a gift: it told him he was alive.He coughed and coughed until his throat was raw, spitting out the contents of his esophagus until his airway was clear enough that he could breathe without obstruction, and he sucked in air like a drowning man, feeling his chest rise and fall as it always had. His breaths were rasping and painful, but they were no longer rattled with impending death, and Severus was struck by the realization that he might not die.Wand. His wand was just behind him. Maybe, if he could reach it, he could do something, send a message for help. Maybe he could still be saved, against every odd. Maybe ¡ª just maybe ¡ª Potter had fulfilled the prophecy, and the war was over at last.Or, maybe it wasn¡¯t. Maybe he had only survived so that he could keep fighting, living to be killed another day.One felt considerably more likely than the other.Steeling himself against the nausea, which his thoughts had only worsened, Severus pressed his hand against his neck in preparation to turn over ¡ª and froze, feeling the intact skin beneath his fingers.Impossible. Nagini¡¯s wounds never closed on their own. Someone had helped him, but how? It had taken Arthur Weasley weeks of treatment at St. Mungo¡¯s for his bite to heal, and he¡¯d been under the care of some of the best Healers in Wizarding Britain. Who could possibly have saved him?Something rustled behind his back, and Severus felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. He knew that sound. He¡¯d heard it when he was dying. Was it Nagini, as he¡¯d thought? Had she come back to ensure her kill?It was shocking how quickly the fear returned. Now that there was a chance he might survive, Severus felt terrified at the thought of death, an instinctual, mortal panic that defied the acceptance he¡¯d reached earlier. His body did not care that death would be an escape from the pain and fear; it did not care about the dread that filled him at the thought of the future ¡ª it wanted to live. It screamed in the face of the part of him that wished it would all just end, shrieking that he must live, live, dammit!The rustle jumped over him, only a step from his face, and Severus tensed in horror. Instinctively, he raised his forearm to protect his neck from another bite, lashing out with a bloody hand before his eyes could come into focus ¡ª Fawkes the phoenix ducked his blind swipe, flaring his wings in alarm.¡°Faw ¡ª ?¡± Severus croaked, then dissolved into another coughing fit, unable to do anything more than stare at the phoenix in equal dread and gratitude as he hacked up his esophagus. Dread because why, why would Fawkes have saved him, if not because Dumbledore¡¯s plan was not yet realized? Then, gratitude because, for all the fear and trepidation, he was still alive, still breathing with a beating heart, and he was unquestionably grateful for that.Fawkes clicked his beak in annoyance, as if sensing his gratitude and asking, ¡®Then why did you try to hit me?¡¯¡°Sorry,¡± Severus rasped, convulsing as he tried to suppress another fit, and the phoenix ruffled his crimson feathers, then craned his plumed head forward until it hovered over Severus¡¯ face. Sensing what he wanted, Severus stilled himself with great effort, and Fawkes let out a pleased noise, blinking his dark eyes with deliberate slowness.Thick, pearly tears rolled down the golden beak and dripped onto Severus¡¯ neck and cheek, and the irritation disappeared, his raw throat healing in an instant. Severus felt his labored breathing ease, his throat opening to take in the musty air of the shack, and he sighed in relief, not having realized how hard it was to breathe until the pain had disappeared. Even the metallic, cloying scent of blood felt like a gift as he inhaled, breathing in and out until his remaining panic faded and his mind was calm and blank once again.He¡¯d survived. Even if only for an hour, or a day, his life wasn¡¯t yet over.And, as long as he was alive, he would keep fighting.He rolled over and stretched his arm toward his wand, straining to reach it on the sticky floor, and his fingers closed around its handle, unfamiliar in his left hand. He gripped it tightly, lifting himself onto his elbows, then forced himself to catch his bearings, nausea leaping and sloshing in his stomach even as his vision swam, the shack tilting around him.Fawkes started singing.Severus took a long breath as the eerie song echoed through his chest, feeling his icy dread give way to a warm rush of fortitude and bravery. Fresh strength soothed his shaking muscles, and he got his knees under him, struggling to his feet.Sunlight streamed through the window, illuminating the dark blood pooled on the dusty floor, and Severus gripped the windowsill, his weight sagging against the wall as he gasped for breath. His blood was everywhere ¡ª it drenched his robes, its weight dragging on his shoulders; it crackled on his hand, tugging at his skin like a crimson glove; it tracked in patterns on the floor, sticking like red ink on the soles of his boots. There was so much of it, Severus wondered how he was even alive. Even the mere effort of standing up had been almost too much, and he had to focus on the feeling of the floorboards beneath his feet, so woozy that he worried he might faint. As he stood with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to ignore the nausea, Fawkes¡¯ feathers rustled, and Severus almost laughed; now that he was lucid enough to recognize it, he knew the familiar sound by heart, having heard it all the years he¡¯d spent reporting to Dumbledore¡¯s office.As terrified as he was, as much fear and dread as he felt knowing he had to keep fighting, the phoenix¡¯s presence gave him strength. Fawkes had been Dumbledore¡¯s companion longer than he¡¯d been alive, and, in this situation, where the late Headmaster¡¯s plan had been thrown so awry, Severus needed all the help he could get to adjust on the fly. Potter had received his memories and presumably knew what had to be done to defeat the Dark Lord; Severus needed to report that to Dumbledore¡¯s portrait, which necessitated getting back to Hogwarts. He wasn¡¯t sure what the late Headmaster had yet to share with him, but, assuming the Dark Lord had been correct about the Elder Wand ¡ª which Severus had only heard of in legend until he¡¯d been almost murdered over it ¡ª did it fall to him to defeat the Dark Lord for good?The thought made him considerably more ill than the blood loss.¡°What¡¯s going on?¡± Severus asked Fawkes, trying to suppress the undercurrent of panic in his voice. Now that he was on his feet, his sense of urgency had returned, and he had to Occlude strongly to keep his emotions under control, forcing himself to stay calm. ¡°What do I need to do?¡±Some might scoff at taking orders from a bird. Once, Severus would have been one of them.¡®Once¡¯ had been before his life had reached its current level of insanity.To his bewilderment, though, Fawkes didn¡¯t seem to feel the same sense of urgency. Instead, the phoenix craned his plumed head back, preening his golden tail feathers with a distinct air of relaxation.¡°Fawkes,¡± Severus grated, gripping his wand tighter in his bloody hand. ¡°I said, what¡¯s going on?¡±The phoenix didn¡¯t respond, sifting through his feathers with his long, sharp beak and giving every sign that he intended to ignore the question. Severus cursed, caught between disbelief and anger.¡°Fawkes! The Dark Lord just tried to murder me to gain control of a wand I didn¡¯t even know existed! The same wand, I might add, that Dumbledore apparently used for at least the past two decades ¡ª the same wand I¡¯m supposedly the master of, now! Surely he told you something about it, something that I need to know?¡±The phoenix feigned deafness, still preening his feathers, and Severus cursed again, letting his head fall back against the wall in frustration. He tried to Occlude, tried to calm himself, but, the truth was, he wasn¡¯t feeling particularly inclined to be calm at the moment. Was it really too much to ask that Dumbledore just be straight with him for once?Of course, he already knew the answer to that damn question.¡°Fawkes, perhaps you haven¡¯t realized this,¡± he said slowly, seething, ¡°but, if the Dark Lord has the Elder Wand, and I¡¯m the wand¡¯s master after killing Dumbledore, then this is likely one of Dumbledore¡¯s plans, yes? And if it is, I¡¯d assume you¡¯d know about it ¡ª but, seeing as I was one of the linchpins of his plan, and he didn¡¯t tell me shit, maybe he didn¡¯t trust you enough, either?¡±Fawkes raised his head, then, and, though Severus had intended to provoke him, he could have sworn the phoenix was giving him a cool look.¡°Well?¡± He snapped, feeling defensive. ¡°I need to follow Dumbledore¡¯s plan, don¡¯t I? Or, are you not interested in defeating the Dark Lord? It¡¯s not like he¡¯s going to just ¡ª just drop dead on his own . . . ¡±
Severus trailed off, comprehension washing like ice through his veins, and Fawkes waited, watching coolly as the anger ran out of him like so much water.¡°The Dark Lord is dead,¡± Severus said dumbly, slumping against the wall in shock. ¡°Dead? Really?¡±The phoenix ruffled his feathers, as if irritated that he was being asked questions he couldn¡¯t answer, and Severus found that he was gripping his left forearm, his fingernails digging into the tender flesh. Beneath his robe, etched in burning lines on his skin, lay his answer. All he needed to do was roll up his sleeve, and he would know.He couldn¡¯t bear the thought of being wrong, but being right was almost unimaginable. He took hold of his sleeve, then hesitated, his breaths coming quicker than they ought to, trying to find the strength, the courage to look ¡ª Fawkes crooned a soft line of phoenix song, and Severus closed his eyes, clutching tight to the feeling of fortitude, the knowledge that, whatever the answer, he could persevere. He took a deep, steadying breath, tugged up his sleeve, and opened his eyes, lowering them determinedly to the Dark Mark.It had faded.Severus stared dumbly at the pink, puckered scar, not a shred of darkness left in the Mark, and exhaustion fell over him almost like a physical blow.Harry Potter was dead.And he¡¯d taken the Dark Lord with him.Relief. Pain. Severus wasn¡¯t sure which one he felt more. He barely noticed when his knees gave out, banging their recent bruises on the wooden boards, and he sank to the floor, still staring at the Mark scar.Lily¡¯s son was gone, and so was the Dark Lord. They¡¯d won.And he¡¯d lost.He¡¯d had over a year to come to terms with the knowledge that Potter had to die to defeat the Dark Lord. He¡¯d had over a year to look at the facts and admit, through gritted teeth, that Dumbledore had been right. One boy¡¯s life to save thousands of others? Severus was no fool; he¡¯d known from the moment Dumbledore had told him Harry Potter must die that he couldn¡¯t protect Lily¡¯s son, not over the Wizarding World.But that didn¡¯t mean he¡¯d ever forgive himself for it.Memories, he¡¯d given Potter. He hadn¡¯t even gotten to tell the boy in his own words. It had all happened so fast, and now Potter, who¡¯d knelt by his dying side, was the one dead. Severus would never know what he felt while looking at those memories, would never know whether the boy had understood him, in the end . . . Severus closed his eyes for a moment, leaning back on the wall, then opened them, looking up at the dilapidated ceiling. It felt odd, staring at it, as if he wasn¡¯t sure whether it was really there, and he realized that he was dazed, possibly going into hypovolemic shock. He doubted he was at risk of dying after the phoenix tears, but he knew that he¡¯d been greatly weakened, all the same. Could he Apparate? Could he walk? How should he leave the shack? Where was he even supposed to go?Fawkes hopped closer, carefully keeping his golden talons out of the coagulating blood on the floor, and Severus looked blankly at the phoenix, comprehending far too slowly that Fawkes seemed to be trying to answer his unspoken question. The phoenix¡¯s dark eyes raised to his, making sure they had his full attention ¡ª or what attention he could muster, at least. Severus pushed back against his exhaustion, doing his best to focus on Fawkes with the feeling that, whatever information the phoenix might give him, it was probably going to be important.A small flame appeared on the other side of the room, flickering like a beacon, and Severus stared at it for a long moment before he could make out the familiar passageway past the blurs in his vision.¡°Hogwarts?¡±The flame vanished, and Fawkes inclined his head solemnly.A bird nodding. Severus would have laughed, except he knew that it wouldn¡¯t be funny if he wasn¡¯t currently short eight of his nine lives.¡°They¡¯ll kill me,¡± he said instead, trying to grasp the last shreds of lucidity in his mind. It was hard to focus past his remaining dizziness, and it didn¡¯t help that Fawkes decided to answer by shaking his plumed head side to side ¡ª Severus had to bite his tongue to choke back a laugh, sure he must be going delirious. ¡°They won¡¯t kill me? You¡¯re sure about that?¡±Fawkes cocked his head, as if considering the matter, then nodded again.¡°I really am taking orders from a bird.¡± A tiny chuckle slipped out, and Severus brought his left hand to his forehead, trying to pull himself together. He forced himself to think about the matter directly, weighing why the phoenix would want him to return to the school, and, after a few seconds of painfully laborious thought, he was pretty sure he¡¯d come to Fawkes¡¯ conclusion.The battle was over, but the war hadn¡¯t yet ended: the Dark Lord¡¯s followers, Marked and unMarked, were still a threat to both Hogwarts and the Wizarding World at large. As a spy, Severus had spent years collecting information on the habits and weaknesses of the Dark Lord¡¯s staunchest supporters, teasing out their finer loyalties and the locations of their secret Dark Artifact caches and boltholes through Legilimency and hearsay.That information would be pivotal in hunting down as many Death Eaters as possible, and, the sooner he got it to the Aurors, the more could be captured. It would mean putting himself out on a limb as far as a trial, which would be a gamble even if he had all of his memories and was Russian Roulette now that he didn¡¯t, but he wasn¡¯t going to stand aside and let the Death Eaters slink into the shadows because he was afraid to risk Azkaban. No; Fawkes was right. The Dark Lord might be dead, but his job wasn¡¯t over, not yet. He had a duty to his colleagues and allies. He had to see this through.He went to stand, gripping the windowsill behind him again, and Fawkes leapt into the air, hauling him up by the back of his robes. Exhausted as he was, Severus appreciated the help, leaning heavily on the wall and panting out a few spells to help his circulation, which he hoped would keep him from fainting for the time being. He didn¡¯t have any potions on him; he had been in too much of a hurry to grab any last night when the Mark had burned, when he¡¯d known that Potter was in the castle . . . Foolish. What had he been thinking, walking around without a basic stock of healing and replenishing draughts?Fawkes alighted on a large wooden crate next to the entrance of the passageway and resumed preening his tail, sifting through his feathers with almost single-minded determination. Severus watched him for a minute while he caught his breath, curious; he¡¯d never seen Fawkes preen so much before, and it seemed odd that the phoenix would be so caught up with his appearance during such a crucial, urgent time.The thought reminded Severus that he needed to get going, as well, and he took a cautious step forward to ensure that his legs could take his weight. He was shaky, but he didn¡¯t fall ¡ª he drew himself up tall, walking slowly across the room toward the passageway, where Fawkes perched like an ancient, immortal sentinel.The effect was slightly ruined by the fact Fawkes¡¯ head was buried plume-deep in his tail.Severus successfully made it across the room, then paused at the entrance to the passage, leaning on the wall to catch his breath again. He had half a mind to ask Fawkes if he could transport him back to Hogwarts, instead ¡ª even barring the physical benefits, it would do wonders for his credibility to appear with Dumbledore¡¯s lifelong companion ¡ª but something, a feeling that Fawkes didn¡¯t intend to do so, stopped him.Instead, he waited for the phoenix to finish preening, sensing that the act was important somehow. He wasn¡¯t sure why he felt that way; he doubted he could have explained it even if he were fully lucid. But, something about the unusual behaviour piqued his instincts, telling him that this was an anomaly, an act Fawkes wouldn¡¯t engage in unless it had some greater significance.After a long minute, Fawkes at last raised his head, and Severus saw that he had a feather in his beak, held gently by its quill. It was remarkably short for a phoenix tail feather, only about twenty five centimeters, yet it looked fully mature, not like an adolescent feather that was growing in. Curious, Severus leaned forward to study it, quite sure that he¡¯d never seen Fawkes remove a feather before, nor seen a phoenix feather like it.Fawkes tossed his head slightly, the unusual feather still clamped in his beak, and Severus realized after a moment that the phoenix was holding it out for him to take. Bewildered, he lifted his cleaner hand to accept it, and Fawkes dropped the feather into his palm, the dark, ancient eyes smoldering down at him with some unknown message.¡°Thank you,¡± Severus said uncertainly, and he could have sworn that the phoenix¡¯s eyes twinkled.Jumping off the crate, Fawkes took flight, pulling a tight circle around the room. As he flew, a snippet of phoenix song rang through the shack, its eerie notes reverberating through Severus¡¯ soul and filling him with the same warm bravery that they had before.Then, Fawkes erupted into blinding flame, vanishing into the air.Severus stared at the spot where the phoenix had disappeared, blinking the lights from his vision, then looked down at the golden phoenix feather in his hand and wondered for a long moment what he was supposed to do with it. He couldn¡¯t think of any immediate problem the feather would solve; while highly magical, phoenix tail feathers didn¡¯t have healing properties like phoenix tears, nor any properties he could think of that would help his allies at Hogwarts.With effort, Severus tore his attention from the feather and slipped it into his robe¡¯s pocket, casting a quick incantation to ensure it wouldn¡¯t fall out or get damaged. Then, he lowered himself into the passageway, keeping a stabilizing hand on the wall as he started down the long, dark tunnel.The pale light from the tip of his wand jumped over the rough walls, and Severus took measured breaths, his eyes flicking warily from the black depths in the distance to the path in front of him. He hated this tunnel ¡ª it had nearly killed him both times he¡¯d been down it, and he had no trouble believing it might try to do him in again. He tried to at least take solace in that it was daylight aboveground, hardly a full moon, but it was a small comfort. There were dangers greater than werewolves among Hogwarts and the Death Eaters.¡°They won¡¯t kill me? Yeah, right,¡± he muttered sourly, having to bend near double as the ceiling sloped downward. ¡°They¡¯ll all be trying to kill me.¡± Even as he said it, he found himself wondering if it was true. He knew his allies wanted him dead, but had the Dark Lord spoken of his death? There was a sliver of a chance that the Death Eaters might still trust him, if not, but Severus had little faith in luck. Chances were, he was now Public Enemy No. 1, hated for killing Dumbledore and for consigning the Dark Lord to his doom, rather than being a good lackey and dying like he was supposed to.At least most of the Death Eaters were too cowardly to make a point of it.The problem he needed to be focused on for now, he thought grimly, was convincing his Hogwarts allies that he was on their side, at least enough for them to trust his information. He could do so in stereotypical Slytherin fashion, offering information in return for clemency, but he¡¯d spent a long time playing the self-serving double agent, and he found the idea repugnant. No: if he was going to do this, he was going to do it right, and his fate be damned. They could believe him or not, but he would know the truth, and that would be enough. It had always been enough.It had always had to be.Still, he wasn¡¯t going to resign himself to their judgement without a plan. Potter had taken his most convincing memories, but they were probably still in Dumbledore¡¯s Pensieve, and, if he could plead for his case to wait until they were found, he might yet have a chance of getting pardoned. Even if they weren¡¯t, he had two memories of the late Headmaster¡¯s order to kill him; he¡¯d watched it in the Pensieve earlier that year, wanting to curse Dumbledore for ruining his life but hesitant to rail against his portrait, which he had to be on working terms with. It wasn¡¯t as good as a firsthand memory, but it would prove that the Headmaster¡¯s death had been planned between them. It couldn¡¯t prove that he hadn¡¯t simply played both sides as the Dark Lord¡¯s agent, of course, but at least he wouldn¡¯t be immortalized in history as the man who murdered Dumbledore in cold blood. More than anything, he didn¡¯t want to be remembered as the traitor who killed the greatest wizard of the age when he was too weak to stand.It was a long, difficult walk back to the castle, and, by the time Severus limped into the last leg of the tunnel, he¡¯d resigned himself to telling the whole story. He almost felt he didn¡¯t care what the verdict of his trial would be; all he cared about was that he got one, got his time to stand before the Council of Magical law, perhaps even the Wizengamot, and tell his story in full for the first time. It would be freeing, after so long.At the thought, he had an idea.He needed to plead his case before his allies, particularly his colleagues, could murder him, and, while he¡¯d initially thought to just hurl his wand down and beg for a chance to speak, he now had a better idea: his Patronus. Nothing would grab their attention and suggest there was more going on that they didn¡¯t know then hearing his hated voice come out of a gentle, soft-eyed doe. And, if he composed the right message . . . Severus kept walking for several minutes, ignoring how the muscles in his back were cramping after so long spent ducking beneath the rocky ceiling and mulling over what might convince them to not kill him on sight. When he finally thought he had a good plan for what to say, he paused, taking a few deep breaths to focus himself and gathering his strength for the spell.¡°Expecto patronum,¡± he whispered, the echo hissing down the empty tunnel. He closed his eyes against the brightness as Lily¡¯s doe leapt from his wand, blinding in the darkness, then squinted down at her. She looked back, her silver eyes open and kind, waiting serenely.¡°Expecto nuntius: Minerva. It¡¯s Severus. If you don¡¯t hear all of this, send a message back, and I¡¯ll send it again. It¡¯s important. I¡¯m heading back to Hogwarts right now, and I don¡¯t intend you or anyone else harm. You can arrest me; all I ask is a chance to explain. I never left the Order¡¯s side, not even when I killed Dumbledore. Please don¡¯t kill me before I get a chance to tell my side of the story, even if only at trial.¡± He paused briefly, before dryly adding, ¡°After that, I¡¯m fair game. I¡¯m sure there¡¯s quite a waiting list to murder me. You can be first, if you want. I¡¯m not partial. Regardless; I¡¯m coming, and please tell everyone to capture me, not kill. You can even throw in a little maiming ¡ª a bit more today won¡¯t hurt. Well, anyway. I¡¯ll see you soon, then.¡±He felt a touch of anxiety as he finished the message, worried that the doe wouldn¡¯t move, that something had happened to Minerva, and she was beyond the reach of magic, but he needn¡¯t have feared; she turned, then bounded down the rest of the tunnel in a silver streak, bearing his hopes with her.Severus had never put much stock in hope.He resumed walking, holding his lit wand loosely, ready to drop it at the first sign of Hogwarts¡¯ defenders leaping down into the tunnel. It was a nerve-wracking business ¡ª if a Death Eater had been in close enough proximity to hear that message, then he might need to duel for his life, depending on who got to him first. Nervous, he went against his instinct to keep to the darkness, casting a Lumos maxima that tethered itself over his head, illuminating the passageway in its entirety. He crept through the last few hundred meters in silence, his eyes scanning the rough stone for the shimmer of Disillusionment Charms and the gleam of lit wands.A sudden silver flash caught his eye, and he froze as he recognized Minerva¡¯s spectacled cat, racing down the corridor. It came to a halt only a step away, looking up at him impassively.¡°I thought you were dead,¡± the cat said, in a tone of distinct surprise. Severus stared at it, unsure how he was supposed to respond to that, but the cat continued, now speaking in Minerva¡¯s usual sharp voice. ¡°I want to speak with you, too. We¡¯ll come as soon as we can. Good gracious, don¡¯t let yourself die before we do. You¡¯ve got a lot to explain, after all.¡±That, Severus thought, was an understatement. He watched as the cat dissolved into silver mist, then started forward again, feeling massively relieved despite himself. He knew Minerva would keep her word: he would get to tell his story, and that was all he needed to not be afraid.At last, he reached the end of the tunnel, and he looked up at the short, dangerous trail that led steeply to the base of the Whomping Willow. Gripping his wand tightly, he started up it, his boots slipping on the roots and dirt. It was a struggle, as weak and lightheaded as he was; he put his free hand on the ground for balance, climbing grimly. When he¡¯d finally reached the top, he peered cautiously through the exit hole, not seeing anyone in the near vicinity, but his vision was still blurry, and he couldn¡¯t be sure it was clear. He tried to take a deep breath, hoping that Minerva had, indeed, warned Hogwarts¡¯ other defenders of his arrival, and he wasn¡¯t walking into his immediate death so soon after thinking he¡¯d escaped it.With that cheery thought fresh in his mind, he stuck his hands through the gap in the trunk and hauled himself up, onto the grass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.