A/N: SPOILERS FOR HBP! Read at your own responsibility.
PLEASE READ the following: I’ve recently read quite a few theories that Snape might not have been evil after all and that he killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore’s orders, to prove to Voldemort that he was a loyal Death Eater. Dunno if it’s true, but in this fic Snape is referred to as an evil murderer, simply because that’s how I want to write about him in my anger over my favourite headmaster’s death. Also, I don’t think Dumbledore was actually begging for his life (perhaps he was asking Snape to kill him)… but I felt like writing that he did. A fallible Dumbledore, for a change.
Disclaimer: the world of HP belongs to JKR. Also, the first few lines in this fic are from HBP.
Thanks to Sherry for the beta!
“We’re with you, whatever happens,” Ron said. “But mate, you’re going to have to come around my mum and dad’s house before we do anything else, even Godric’s Hollow.”
“Bill and Fleur’s wedding, remember?”
“Yeah, we shouldn’t miss that,” Harry replied with a half smile, his eyes wandering off to the lake. Sunshine danced on the lake’s surface, imitating a thousand sparkling fairies doing the ballet. A soft breeze created small ripples, but apart from that, the surface was once again as flat as a mirror; the merpeople had long submerged into the depths and their song had since died away.
Even though his best friends were standing next to him and chatting about meeting at the wedding, Harry couldn’t help thinking that the silence was unbearable. Apart from the happy sunshine, the rest of nature seemed to have gone into a lament. The breeze didn’t carry the excited twittering of birds and even the water in the lake sloshed so quietly that its noise was barely audible. Nature was showing a solemn face today: beautiful and quiet. Everyone who had attended the funeral had dressed in their best robes and talked little – Harry had the impression that nature did just the same: it showed its prettiest face but kept its silence.
After a few minutes, Harry noticed that Ron and Hermione’s discussion about Bill and Fleur’s upcoming event had died away, and that was when he realised that he had distanced himself from them. Where was he going? – he wondered. His legs seemed to have a mind of their own, guiding him along the shoreline, away from the few people still remaining by the white tomb, towards the castle.
As though under the effect of Felix Felicis, Harry felt it was right for him to walk towards the building, even though he had no business there. Every student who had decided to stay for the funeral had their things packed beforehand and the trunks had already been transported to Hogsmeade station and were probably already packed on the train.
Nothing awaited him at the castle, not a single friend, not a hearty lunch, not even a warm, crackling fire in the common room. He knew he would find the corridors empty, probably save for a few ghosts or Mrs Norris, but his heart pulled him into the building like a magnet. To the front door, up the stairs, down a corridor, until he stopped in front of a stone gargoyle.
“Toffee éclairs,” he said, and the gargoyle sprang aside, revealing a spiralling staircase. After a few seconds of hesitation, Harry stepped onto the staircase and let it carry him up to the door with the brass knocker.
He lifted his hand to knock, but his hand stopped in midair. What was I thinking? – he thought bitterly. He isn’t here. Not anymore. Not ever. And McGonagall can’t be here, I saw her leave towards Hogsmeade…
And still, he had to enter. Just for the last time. He wouldn’t be coming back next year, after all. This castle was no longer his home. Not without Dumbledore. Not without the sense of security he had always felt around here ever since he first set foot on Hogwarts grounds.
It was all gone. The security was gone with the headmaster. And while a headmaster could be replaced (Harry didn’t doubt that McGonagall would be an able headmistress), the security would never be the same. Even Dumbledore, who had been the greatest wizard of his time, could be deceived; even his measures of security could be insufficient; but without him, this castle would no longer be safer than any wizarding home or any street in Muggle London.
Draco had managed to find a loophole and let the Death Eaters in, and do it under Dumbledore’s nose. There was no way McGonagall couldn’t be fooled even easier than the deceased headmaster.
There wasn’t any point in coming back, Harry decided. Not with Voldemort out there. He couldn’t just sit in a classroom and waste his time studying unnecessary things while he could spend his time with useful things, such as searching for the four Horcruxes.
Funnily, a year ago, or just a few months ago, he would have done anything to become an Auror, and for that he would have been willing to cram all sorts of superfluous things into his head, but not anymore. Things had changed, for good. Finding out about the Horcruxes had changed Harry’s priorities, and Dumbledore’s death had only made this change permanent. Now he no longer desired to be a dark wizard hunter like those employed by the Ministry. Now he all wanted to do was hunt down two dark wizards, and do it as a free man who didn’t have any authority to answer to.
Two dark wizards… Voldemort and Snape.
A grim smile appeared on Harry’s face and his hand dived into his robes for his wand.
“Alohomora,” he said, and the door to the headmaster’s (currently headmistress’s) office swung open.
It was as the last time he’d been here, shortly after Dumbledore’s death: the little silver contraptions were still whirring on the shelves, and only the absence of Fawkes indicated that Dumbledore was no longer the owner of the office.
Harry felt a lump rise in his throat, but he swallowed it and deliberately walked up to a portrait hanging on the wall.
A soft chuckle came from said portrait. “I have been expecting you,” the amused voice of Albus Dumbledore greeted him as he stood up from his chair, stuffing something that looked like a pair of striped, woolly socks into the pocket of his robes.
“Have you, sir?” Harry tried not to look too surprised.
“Most definitely, dear boy.” Albus nodded. “After all, we had unfinished discussions, and knowing you, I expected you’d be too curious not to come here and ask questions you have been longing to ask.”
“Then you must know what I want to know above all,” Harry said seriously. “Why? Why did you trust Snape? Nobody else did, but you insisted he had mended his ways! And where did it get you? It got you killed! Why did you have to trust that traitorous scum? Why did you ignore my warnings all along?” Although Harry had started out calmly, by now he was shouting, his cheeks red and his eyes watering. “I knew he was up to something, I knew it all along, and yet you reprimanded me every time I dared mention my doubts to you! Why did you think your judgement was infallible? Why… oh, why?” His voice trailed off, as though an invisible hand had started to compress his gullet until he was unable to produce a sound. Even his legs seemed to have lost their strength and he collapsed into the chair facing the headmaster’s (headmistress’s) desk. Hiding his face in his palms, Harry sobbed, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably. He had tried to hold back his tears at the funeral, and had more or less succeeded, but there was a breaking point for everyone who lost someone they loved, and that breaking point had just arrived for Harry.
Some start crying right after they lose their beloved, some need a few hours to come to terms with the tragic event, some don’t shed a single tear until the funeral but there – usually due to the beautiful eulogies – some kind of a dam breaks in their souls and lets them cry at last… For Harry it had taken a journey back here to talk to (shout at) Dumbledore, to finally be able to cry properly. And it felt right to cry. It felt relieving.
After Sirius’s death, he hadn’t cried. Not really. A few tears, perhaps, but that had been all. And Sirius had been a relative, the father he had never had. Dumbledore wasn’t even a relative, he was just a teacher… but someone closest to a grandfather Harry had ever had. And a friend. A friend he could always rely on, a friend he could always be sure would be there if needed. Dumbledore had been a stronghold, an impregnable fortress whose walls were thick enough to stay upright even amidst the most serious siege. And now the walls of this fortress had tumbled down, the strong stones it had been built of scattered on the ground. A ruin that no longer offered shelter. And all that because of a sallow-faced, yellow-toothed, greasy-haired git.
“Do not cry, dear boy,” the one-time headmaster said gently, but Harry was sobbing too loudly to hear him. So, all that Dumbledore could do was wait for the bout of sobs to cease.
Minutes passed, and slowly, the shaking of Harry’s shoulders stopped and the flood of his tears ebbed.
His face red with both tears and shame that he’d let his old mentor see him in a state like this, Harry looked up at the old man watching him serenely from his golden frame.
“Why, professor?” he whispered. “I need to know.”
Dumbledore opened his arms in an apologetic way. “It was the mistake of-“
“…an old man, right?” Harry cut in impatiently, anger again flaring up in him. “Don’t give me that bullshit! I accepted it once, but I won’t accept it again! Hell, you were the greatest wizard of our time!” He sprang to his feet, his hands balled into fists. “You prided yourself on being such an excellent Legilimens that no one could deceive you, and yet Snape could! During the last school year you mentioned at least a dozen times that you were clever, actually cleverer than most, and yet you let that snivelling excuse of a wizard betray you! How could you not notice his deception when you were so clever, when you were such a wonderful Legilimens?! Answer me that, Professor!”
The old man in the frame shook his head, an indulgent but sad smile on his face. “I might have made a huge mistake by overestimating my own skills, but you should not make a mistake overestimating your rights to question me, and do it such a rude way.”
Harry felt a wave of shame wash over him. Dumbledore was right – he had been rude. Probably ruder than he had been when destroying several objects in this very office over a year ago.
A memory he had seen in the headmaster’s Pensieve during the school year, came to his mind. A memory of a much younger Dumbledore visiting little Tom Riddle in the orphanage. That boy had been shouting at the professor: ‘tell the truth!’. Hadn’t his demand ‘Answer me that, Professor!’ sounded the same? Hadn’t his cadence been just as arrogant as Riddle’s?
“Sorry, sir,” he muttered, his eyes fixed on the desk. “But can you answer my question?” He looked up, his eyes pleading. “Can you give me an answer other than ‘the mistake of an old man’?”
Dumbledore seemed contemplative for a moment, then nodded. “I can, but I fear it will not satisfy you.”
“Whatever answer is better than nothing,” Harry replied. “I need to know…”
“Apparently, I misjudged my own talents. Severus must have been better at Occlumency than I at Legilimency… and he must have been better at knowing human nature than I am.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I believe that Severus knew me way better than I knew him. It is what happens if you open yourself too much to the world; if you try to embrace too many people at once… I opened my heart to everyone, full of optimism and the belief that everyone deserved second chances. I welcomed Severus into my heart, and, in the process, let him glimpse too much of it… too much of the hidden me. He has seen so much of my soul that he has found my weak points… he found them, and obviously used them against me.”
“But how come you never even suspected him? How come you believed his story of repentance so easily, without any doubts?”
“At first, I did doubt,” Albus replied. “At first I wasn’t fully convinced of his allegiance. But then he turned spy… or at least I thought he did, and he delivered me invaluable information on Lord Voldemort’s plans…”
“What kind of information?” Harry raised an eyebrow at the portrait.
“On Halloween, 1981, he came to me, looking all agitated, and told me that Lord Voldemort was about to strike at Godric’s Hollow.”
“But he delivered that piece of information late, I presume?” Harry crossed his arms with a look of defiance on his face.
“Unfortunately, he did.” The old man nodded. “Then I assumed he couldn’t come any earlier as the other Death Eaters had been keeping an eye on him, but now I suspect he deliberately hadn’t come any earlier. He came around seven p.m., around the same time Voldemort arrived at your parents’ home. He must have known that no matter how quickly I left Hogwarts, I couldn’t get there before the tragedy happened. And he was right.”
“That calculating… low-down…” Harry hissed. “I expect he put up a show and pretended to be devastated that he couldn’t inform you any earlier…”
An embarrassed smile appeared on the late headmaster’s face. “That he did.”
“And didn’t it occur to you for a single second that it could be pretence? Snape had always hated my father, he would have been happy to see him die!”
“Your father perhaps… but not your mother.”
Furrowing his brows, Harry shook his head. “I don’t understand. What are you getting at, Professor?”
“Your mother was unusually pretty, Harry. James Potter wasn’t the only boy at Hogwarts who had feelings for her…”
“You don’t mean that Snape… that he and mum…”
“Oh, no, no, of course not.” Dumbledore waved. “There was never a ‘he and your mum’. Your mother had eyes for your father only. But Severus… I wouldn’t be sure he didn’t have feelings for her. Deep down…”
“Or it’s just another delusion of yours, Professor,” Harry said bitterly. “Perhaps Snape managed to make you believe he fancied my mother, like he made you believe so many other false things. It could’ve been part of his plan, to show himself a… person with feelings.”
“Alas, it is possible, Harry. I fear I shall never find out…”
“But I still can,” the boy said determinedly. “I will find him, Professor, and squeeze him until…“
Dumbledore made a placating gesture with his hand. “Please, do not risk your life chasing after Severus Snape. Whatever he has done, he doesn’t deserve your time and attention. It is Lord Voldemort you need to concentrate on. Him, and no one else.”
“If only that were so easy!” Harry snapped. “But I can’t help hating Snape just as much as Voldemort. I want to destroy them both, and I don’t care which one is first!”
Dumbledore shook his head, his silvery hair and beard flipping around him gently. “Anger is a bad advisor, Harry. You might want to avenge yourself on Severus now, but he isn’t the one you need to destroy.”
“But as long as he’s alive, he’ll be working for Voldemort,” the boy reasoned. “If only I could get him out of the way… it’d be easier against Voldemort, wouldn’t it? Having to face one Legilimens at a time would be more than enough for me…” He fell into a silence, but for only a few seconds. “I just thought of something, Professor.”
“What, my dear boy?”
“The Occlumency lessons last year. I always had a feeling Snape was weakening my defences instead of strengthening them… now I’m sure I was right.”
The old wizard in the frame heaved a sigh. “I’m afraid you were indeed right, Harry. If I had known, I wouldn’t have entrusted Severus with the task of giving you Occlumency lessons…”
“But you didn’t know,” Harry said, his facial muscles twitching in a way that suggested they couldn’t decide whether to form a sarcastic grimace or an indulgent smile. “You weren’t omniscient, after all.”
“No, Harry, I wasn’t.”
“At least you admit it!” Harry bit into his lower lip. “Sorry…”
“No need to be.” Dumbledore shook his head. “I admit it to have made a mistake with trusting Severus. A mistake that cost me my life. No one’s perfect.” He shrugged with an impish smile that reminded Harry so much of the Dumbledore he had seen in his first year, eating an earwax-flavoured bean. The carefree Dumbledore who, according to what Ron said once, was off his rocker.
“What… what did it feel like?” the boy asked hesitantly.
The impish smile never left the old wizard’s face as he said: “Didn’t feel a thing. Not physically, at least…”
“Psychically, it hurt. And it still hurts. When Severus appeared among the Death Eaters, for a second I thought I was saved… then I saw that glint in his eyes… and I knew I was wrong. I begged him… you must have heard it…” Albus looked down, examining his shoes – a gesture of embarrassment Harry had never seen from him. “I have never begged anyone in my whole life. It may sound silly or childish, but… I always wanted to die a hero, and there I was, begging for my life…”
“You did die a hero, Professor! And to me, it didn’t sound like begging… It sounded like asking a good friend to help… and there’s nothing wrong about that, is there?”
A gentle smile appeared on the old man’s face again. “Thank you, Harry, for trying to restore an old man’s self-esteem.”
“I wasn’t doing a good job of it, was I? Yelling at you that you made a bloody mistake and even refused to accept it…” Harry grimaced. “I think I had no right to question you. I had no right to blame you for not being perfect… The perfect Dumbledore only lived in my dreams… but the real Dumbledore was a wonderful friend. And a friend I love together with all his mistakes. I will miss you, Professor. And so will Ron and Hermione and Ginny…”
“Oh, the charming Miss Weasley…” Dumbledore said knowingly. “I must say I was most pleased to see you two together…”
Harry heaved a sigh and fixed his eyes on the headmistress’ desk again.
“Harry, if I may say something…”
“Don’t push her away.”
Harry looked up from the desk, his features a mix of curiosity and shock. “What d’you mean?”
The old man was once again smiling, his expression more serene and grandfatherly than ever. “I may not know people as well as Severus does, but I believe I know you enough, Harry. I know you to be a person who cares a lot for those whom he loves, and who tries to protect them, at all costs. Logic would dictate that you push Ginny away in order to protect her from Voldemort using her against you. It is only understandable and I do not question your reasons. But I advise you to follow your heart instead of logic on this matter. Do not shut your friends out or you will be left alone…”
“…like Riddle,” Harry whispered.
“Like Riddle.” The figure in the portrait nodded. “But there’s a difference. Tom never wanted companions, never needed any friends, he only wanted servants. You, however, have gained your strength from those you love. They have nurtured your powers, they have given you a reason to live. Ginny loves you, she has for a long time I know,” here Dumbledore winked at Harry, “and her love can only make you stronger.”
“But I could endanger her life,” Harry protested. “She means a lot to me…”
“If she does, then you must respect her decisions. And if she decides to remain with you, then let her. Don’t throw your chance to be happy out the window, Harry.”
Hesitantly, Harry nodded. “Professor…”
“Yes, my boy?”
“I may not return to Hogwarts next term, so… I’m saying good-bye.”
“You intend to go and search for the Horcruxes,” Dumbledore said matter-of-factly.
“Yes… But I was wondering…”
“That if I need advice… could I come… and talk to you?”
“I must remind you that I’m merely an imprint of Albus Dumbledore… a memory of him, not the real thing. If a piece of advice coming from a painting helps you…”
“Of course it does,” Harry said hastily. “The one you just gave me… about Ginny… helped already… I think.”
“Well then, you only have to ask for Professor McGonagall’s permission to enter… Am I right assuming that you haven’t asked for it now?”
Harry’s cheeks flushed slightly. “Yeah. And I think I’d better be going before she returns.” He turned and walked to the door.
“Harry?” Albus called after him.
“Don’t go hunting for Severus Snape. Promise me that.”
Trying to look as polite as possible, Harry shook his head. “I promise not to push Ginny or any of my friends away. But I cannot promise this one.”
Heaving a sigh, Dumbledore gave the boy an appreciative glance. “Then at least try to be safe.”
“I will. Good-bye, Professor.”
“I’m no longer your professor. You may call me Albus.”
“Good-bye then, Albus.” Harry sent the portrait a last smile and walked out the door, without seeing that several other headmasters and headmistresses shook their heads in disapproval, muttering words like ‘rash’ and ‘reckless’.
Feeling as though some weight had been lifted off his heart, Harry trotted down the stairs and emerged into a dazzling sunlight. Blinking against the unaccustomed brightness, he hurried towards the gates upon which the winged boars perched.
A lithe figure was waiting for him there, leaning against one of the boar statues. The soft breeze ruffled her long, red locks.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily,” she said with a smirk.
“Perhaps I don’t even want to,” he replied, letting her tiny hand slip into his.
Dumbledore might have been right, he thought. Ginny was a sun that lit the sky and warmed him from inside out. And the sun wasn’t something he could just switch off or hide or ignore. It shone through the darkness whether he wanted it or not. And for the time being, he felt that he wanted it, more than anything else.
Voldemort, the Half-Blood Prince, and his thirst for revenge forgotten, Harry reached Hogsmeade station, hand in hand with the youngest Weasley.