It had been two months since Severus had seen the sun rise. A month since Remus had been taken away, leaving him alone in darkness. A week since he’d had to watch Potter’s smirking face in the background as Lucius Malfoy very delicately, very artfully, removed his left pinky finger. He’d watched helplessly as some of the most powerful wizards the Light Side possessed had been slaughtered. There were no words for the atrocities he had seen, and he would not speak of them, even to Remus, when he asked. Severus was, at Harry’s order, present at each and every torture session, at every Death Eater meeting, and he learned to fear his dreams. Potter had taken the tiniest of holes in his Occlumency shields and run with it, nightly projecting visions of death and Darkness. And the worst of it, was the reality of every moment.
Snape didn’t look up as he was shoved to his knees before Harry’s silver throne. Absently he noted the smudge on Potter’s black leather boot, the mud on the tread that told him Harry was no paper icon, but a warrior who led his men in truth as well as name. It could conceivably have gone on forever; Snape was eager enough for the touch of sunlight that studying Potter’s shoes in the clear light was certainly no hardship. But Severus suspected Harry knew that . . . and anything that Severus even remotely enjoyed was not to be prolonged for any length of time.
“Will you bow, Snape?”
“I’m bowing now, aren’t I? Not,” Severus added, “by choice, but if all you wanted was a bow, Potter, I could have bowed at your feet two months ago. But if you think this pose is going to demoralize me enough that I will give up my Potions secrets, you are sadly mistaken.”
“I really don’t want to bother with you further, Severus. You have become a most extravagant waste of my time.”
“You never did have any patience, did you, Potter? Perhaps that was why you were so bloody dismal at Potions.”
Harry’s eyes never shifted, his expression retaining its utter serenity. “And will ‘no’ be your final answer? Choose wisely, Professor.”
“No.” And Snape’s voice rang clear.
“Very well.” A snap of Harry’s fingers, and Crabbe and Goyle reached for his arms, dragged him to his feet again . . . held him fast. Walden Macnair made a soft sound of impatience, quickly quelled by his master’s stern gaze. Severus controlled the impulse to flinch away as Harry prowled up to him, standing only inches away, his eyes searching Snape’s. “I always thought you could see straight into a student’s soul with those eyes of yours. As distinctive, in their own way, as mine.”
“You don’t need eyes like mine to see that you have no soul, Potter,” Severus snarled in reply.
“True enough,” Harry agreed. His gaze never left Snape’s as he gave the order. “Blind him.”
“No.” Severus all but whimpered the word. “Don’t . . . Potter . . . Harry . .” His tone climbed higher as the warlord turned away without a word, gesturing for the others to follow him out of the room . . . leaving Snape alone with Macnair. “Please . . .” And it was the last, unwittingly pleading word that made Harry pause in the doorway: “Please don’t do this to me.”
Harry closed his eyes against the terror he read in Snape’s face. It hurt him to do this – to hear that particular note in the Potions master’s voice sounded a death knell to all he had ever known. Harry had burned his bridges a long time ago, literally as well as figuratively. Somewhere along with the line he’d gotten used to the sight and sounds of torture, had learned what it felt like to kill, not with magic, but with the more tangible force of a sword . . . feeling the solid contact of the blade as blood sprayed his face. But deep down his most basic instincts still recognized the wrongness of what he did, and he had known that eventually he would reach a point he could not pass, where one more needless cruelty would shatter what was left of his soul and leave him broken. His magic was Light . . had been so for so long that performing the Dark Arts felt odd to him – not wrong, exactly, but exponentially more draining on not only his powers, but upon his heart as well.
For a moment more he wavered, knowing that standing by the orders he’d issued would be, in its own way, as ultimately destructive as a dementor’s kiss. He eyed Macnair’s arsenal of torturous implements discerningly, and saw nothing permanent among them. If it became necessary, Snape’s eyes could be fixed quite easily . . . . Harry had discovered, first on himself, then on others, that he was a natural Healer. His magic was imminently suited for the purpose, and Voldemort had trained him in that as rigorously as he had in everything else, until Harry’s peculiar flair for torture was matched only by his natural ability to reverse the effects. Should Snape ever need his vision for something vital – say, making an immortality potion, perhaps – the damage was not irreparable. And it was with the faintest of smiles tugging at his lips that Harry left the room and oh so gently shut the door behind him.
“Severus Snape, my favorite Potions professor.”
Snape instinctively shifted away as the door opened, shrinking back from the pleasantly lyrical tone of Potter’s voice. It was rare enough that Harry sounded so incredibly happy with anything, but a session of ‘Let’s torture Professor Snape’ invariably put the spring back in his step, if only briefly.
He heard the click of Potter’s boots on the floor, the delicate, almost liquid sounds of a knife being sharpened somewhere behind him, and winced as Potter began to hum a quite credible rendition of a waltz. Harry chuckled, and abruptly reached down to grasp Snape’s wrist, hauling the older wizard to his feet.
“Now, cheer up a bit, Sevvy. One would think you didn’t enjoy our little visits,” Harry drawled.
“All things considered . . . . not really,” Snape responded, struggling to maintain a casual façade. He would lose it quickly enough when Macnair and Malfoy went to work on him in earnest, but until then, he would fight to hold on to at least some semblance of dignity.
“Well, then, you’ll be pleased to know we’ll be doing something a bit different today.” Snape felt Harry leave his side, heard his footsteps receding, and the low murmur of voices across the room.
“What are you playing at, Potter?” Severus demanded, and was met again by that disconcerting laugh.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Harry queried, amused. “That will be all, Lucius, thank you,” he added to the Death Eater by way of dismissal.
“Yes, milord,” said Malfoy, drawing the door to Snape’s cell gently shut behind him.
“Mind if I turn on a light? Oh, whoops, I’m sorry,” Harry said insincerely, “I don’t think you really care that much either way. It’s all blackness for you, hmm?”
“You’re a true bastard, Potter.”
“Only figuratively, Snape,” came the cheerful reply. “Only that.”
Severus flinched as he felt Harry’s hand come up to his face, trailing across his ruined eyes. “Why do you torment me, Potter? Certainly it has to have lost its entertainment value by now?”
“It took you five years to learn any sort of grudging respect for me. If I can keep you alive that long, I fully intend to return the favor.” Harry’s slender fingers probed delicately at the scar tissue that rimmed Snape’s eyes, and strangely, his touch seemed to lessen the dull ache that had persisted long after his blinded eyes had scarred over so much as to make the damage irreparrable for all but the most gifted of Natural Healers. But there hadn’t been a true-born Healer in Europe for a century, at best, and the world round, their numbers had dramatically decreased over the last few decades.
Severus kept his eyes closed as Potter’s bruque, yet not entirely painful, examination continued. Harry’s fingers paused, lingered a moment over the easily discernable crack in Snape’s jawbone, reached up to map the zigzag pattern of another that had all but destroyed the socket of his eye. Snape reached up to brush Potter’s hand away, firmly banishing any thought of the damages that had been done, but froze as his fingertips came in contact with his own suddenly smooth, unmarred skin. His jaw dropped in surprise, and the fractured bone no longer scraped painfully with every movement. And for the first time in weeks, he opened his eyes to the dim light of a dungeon cell, and the liquid fire of Potter’s emerald gaze.
“You’re a Healer.”
Potter inclined his head slightly in grudging acknowledgment. “Yeah. Lucky break, that. I might not have survived down here otherwise.”
“Why do this for me?”
“Because I have something I want you to see, obviously.” Potter tapped twice on the steel door, then stepped back as two women, closely guarded by a pair of Death Eaters, entered the room. A pair of dementors followed closely; only the Death Eaters’ Patronuses kept them at bay. One woman threw back her hood, revealing the distinctive spiky hair – pink, as was typical – of Nymphadora Tonks. The other prisoner turned to Severus, extending her hand as she unsnapped the cloak’s fastenings at her throat and let it fall to the floor as she took his hands in hers.
“Severus,” Minerva McGonagall murmured with little surprise. “I won’t pretend I’m shocked to see you here. You always were a survivor. But Harry—”
Potter cleared his throat, and as one every person present turned to look at him. “Professor, if you please, try not to speak ill of the supposed dead.”
With a squeal of delight, Tonks leapt for him, intending nothing more a hug of greeting – only to pause mid-stride as Harry’s wand pressed into her throat. “If you don’t mind, I really don’t like to be touched.”
“Tonks . . back away slowly,” Severus snarled, his voice ringing with a fierce command only accentuated by Harry’s devilish smirk. “He’s one of them now.”
“Not one of them, by God,” Harry swore softly. He crossed his ankles as he leaned back against the wall in a deliberately casual pose. “I am the one. You may not appreciate what I’ve done here, but at the very least, show a bit of respect for how long and hard I’ve worked to achieve the position I now hold.” Another knock came at the door, and Harry threw it open with a grin as Avery’s shove sent a pale, almost skeletal figure sprawling into the grime at Harry’s feet. “It seems our other guest as at last decided to make an appearance.”
Lord Voldemort raised his head a little – obviously all the movement he was capable of, at the moment – and spat on Harry’s boots. A flick of Harry’s wand brought the older man to his feet, but unsteadily so, as though only the invisible marionette strings of Harry’s spell kept him upright – a likely enough thought.
“‘Neither can live while the other survives.’” Harry quoted the prophecy with a chuckle of real amusement as he gazed into Voldemort’s red eyes. “I dunno . . . you seem alive enough yet, and it doesn’t seem to have done me any harm. But then, prophecy is a tricky thing, and God only knows what the whole prophecy said, ‘cause I doubt that bit Dumbledore gave me was the whole thing. For all I know every breath you take is like a ticking timebomb, and who knows what might happen if you’re still breathing tomorrow, or the day after that? Why, your empire – pardon me, my empire – might just come crashing down about my ears.” Harry shook his head in mock regret. “No, quite clearly the safest road is to kill you outright, but after all the experiments you’ve performed upon yourself, it would be quite a waste, don’t you think? And so I’ve come up with another idea, one I believe you’ll quite easily see the merits of. Prophecy or no, I expect you’ll be quite helpless after a Dementor’s sucked out your black soul, hmm?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Riddle snarled with as much menace as he could currently muster.
“Why not? For the sake of justice? Really, Tom, I’d expect a more cynical outlook from my role model. Dumbledore is old, and weakening as we speak. I will kill him, very soon – possibly even tonight – and without him his people will fall, and there is no one else.”
“I believed the same – until a child was born to two of my greatest enemies, and I saw in him powers I could not find in myself.” Voldemort stared fearlessly up at his nemesis. “It was stupid to believe that you would fall in with my plans for you. Foolish . . . to believe in your honor when I’ve none of my own. I made too many mistakes. I saw your father in you, when what I should have seen, is the darkest part of my soul staring back at me with Lily Potter’s eyes.”
“Your mistake, milord,” Harry said, very softly, “was in destroying my family and leaving me alone. If you had waited, let Lily and James raise me as they saw fit, I would never have been strong enough to survive you. They would have ruined me, let my full potential be lost because they, I think, would have felt the evil in it. But you took away my sanctuary, and I grew up hard, and strong, and self-reliant. And in doing so, you damned yourself.”
“You were always Dark . . . more than the old fool, Dumbledore, would have suspected with parents like yours. I thought I knew, in your second year, when you slaughtered the basilisk and murdered my teenage form without a qualm, and had the audacity to call yourself a hero for it. And fourth year, when my spy brought me back word of your fascination with the Unforgivable Curses, of an aptitiude he believed you had for them. But I couldn’t get close enough to you to be certain.”
“Well, Voldemort, how does it feel to be proven right . . . . on all counts?” Severus inquired, almost lazily, feeling a sudden sense of camaderie with the Dark Lord. An odd enough thing to feel, he mused; but then, they were all in the same boat, now. Voldemort only growled in response, and Severus nodded. “Yeah. Not a comfortable feeling, is it?”
“Now, one other person in here is going to be joining Lord Voldemort on his soul’s journey to a dementor’s stomach. Who’s going to be the lucky one, hmm?” Harry asked, looking genuinely amused by the terrified whispers that began. “Any volunteers?”
“Me,” Snape said in answer. “Do your worst, Potter.”
“Ah, but Severus, I do hate a martyr. And frankly, I do believe you’d enjoy thwarting me a bit too much. It takes all the fun out of it, really, if you have a willing victim. Much less dramatic. Now, Nymphadora, on the other hand, would make a most spectacular candidate.”
“No,” McGonagall cried. “Harry, you can’t!”
“Watch me,” he said simply, conjuring heavy manacles and chain that quickly bound the Hogwarts professors. “Now, Tonks.” Harry extended his hand to her, and her fingers trembled violently as she laid them on his. “It shouldn’t hurt a bit. ’S only your soul, after all, nothing vital.”
He turned to the dementors and beckoned to them. “Come, my pets,” he all but crooned to the hideous things, seemingly unaffected by the waves of despair swamping his prisoners. He gestured to Tonks and Voldemort before he stepped back to stand beside his captives as he watched the show. Tonks struggled; Voldemort didn’t bother, knowing better than most just how futile resistance would be.
Minerva sobbed harshly, burying her face against Snape’s shoulder, unable to watch. Severus kept his eyes on Harry’s, pleading wordlessly for him to stop this monstrosity. But Harry did nothing, watching impassively as Tonks’s struggles abruptly ceased and the second dementor dropped Voldemort’s lifeless body to the floor. With a wave of his hand he sent the dementors away, their task complete for this night.
“Well, that’s done, and in time for a bit of sport before dawn,” Harry said with a yawn, dusting off his hands as if the night’s activities had left them dirty. He freed his former teachers from their bonds, glanced down at Tonks’s blank expression and Voldemort’s shivering form almost as an afterthought. “My men should be in to clean up in a bit,” he said absently, and that was too much for Minerva.
“You bastard. You scheming, manipulating swine. Albus will kill you for this, you . . you monster.”
In retrospect, Snape knew that was likely the worst thing she could have said. Mentioning the Headmaster’s name was never a good idea at the best of times. And it happened so fast he never saw the blow coming.
Harry slammed the dagger he’d pulled from his belt hilt-deep in McGonagall’s throat, ripping it free with a sideways twist that sent a fountain of blood bubbling from the gaping wound. Silently he watched as the Gryffindor Head of House bleed to death, stood in a growing pool of red and with as little expression as any stone statue. And when it was over, the Darkest Lord of them all gave a silent salute to Severus Snape as he walked slowly away from the carnage he left behind.