“And now the Carrows have left,” muttered Harry Potter, staring at the Marauders Map thoughtfully.
“Hmm?” asked Hermione Granger, engrossed in one of the many volumes she had brought along on the Horcrux hunt, her wizard space bag lying open on the tent table next to her lamp.
Harry looked up, an intense expression stealing over his face. “The only Death Eater left in the castle right now is Snape himself. All the others are gone, but I don’t know for how long.”
Marking her place in the text with a slender fingertip, Hermione frowned at her emerald-eyed friend. “How is that significant?”
The Gryffindor tapped the Map. “It means, it would be easier to sneak back into Hogwarts, if Snape is the only one we need to look out for.”
“Sneak back into Hogwarts!” Hermione’s brown eyes widened. “Why ever would you want to go back now?”
“It’s Christmas Eve, ‘Mione,” Harry hissed in a low voice. “Most of the students are gone, all of the staff left, except for Snape, would be on our side if we need them, and it would be the ideal time to get back into the Room of Requirement.”
The bushy-haired witch frowned. “And why, pray tell, do we need to get into the Room of Requirement?”
Harry’s fist lightly thumped the table. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, Hermione. We need to get the Prince’s Potions book.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Harry! Why do you think we need to get that book? Hasn’t it already caused enough trouble? Or have you forgotten Malfoy?”
Shaking his head, Harry tapped the Map again. “No, I haven’t forgotten, but consider this. There are a bunch of other spells in there, other curses and counter curses, that Snape knows and may have taught the other Death Eaters. At some point, we’ll be facing them in battle, and I think it would be a good idea if we had some way of meeting them with evened odds, if you know what I mean.”
Hermione closed her book. “You’re saying, if we know what they know, we’ll not be as severely disadvantaged. Right now, we just know school-taught spells—“
“Plus what you’ve learned from all of your extra reading,” Harry added, “but the school curriculum and Madam Pince’s library collection don’t cover the things that Snape invented… “
Nodding, Hermione tucked her thick tome back into the tiny bag. “So, you want to go now?”
Harry took a final glance at the Map. “Looks good. We can try to get in through the tunnel from Honeyduke’s cellar. The store will be crowded with last-second Christmas shoppers, and we can slip in under the invisibility cloak.”
“Won’t the tunnel be guarded?”
Biting his lip, Harry stared into her eyes. “I don’t know. On the Map, it looks deserted at the moment. But with only Snape to go up against, this is our very best shot. We’ll never get this lucky again.”
“I thought you’d wanted to visit your parents’ graves on Christmas Eve.”
Harry huffed impatiently. “We can go to Godric’s Hollow later. It’s just gone dark right now. We have hours before midnight.”
“Right,” agreed Hermione. “But I think it’ll be too hard for both of us to get all the way through the castle quickly while hiding under the cloak. You may have to go to the Room all by yourself, so you’ll need the Marauders Map. If we make it as far as the One-Eyed Witch, I can wait just inside the tunnel. Here – let me give you this… “
She rummaged in her pocket and pulled out two Galleons. After pointing her wand at them and murmuring several incantations, she handed one to Harry. “These coins are now linked. All you have to do is tap yours with your wand and say your location, and I’ll come as fast as I can.”
“Thanks, ‘Mione,” he grinned. “You’re the best.”
“I wish someone would tell that to Ron,” she sighed, her lips drooping sadly.
Harry nudged her with his elbow. “He knows. He just hasn’t figured it out, yet.”
Hermione gave half a chuckle. “We’d better get going, then.” And she led the way out of the tent so the pair could Apparate to Hogsmeade.
-:- -:- -:-
Sneaking into Honeyduke’s sweets emporium hadn’t been all that easy. There were adults and children squeezing through the aisles, all focused on finding their favorite candies in time for Christmas. Every now and then, there came a cry of dismay when some customer or other discovered an empty tray, followed by the lament, “Sold out! I can’t BELIEVE they’re sold out! On Christmas Eve!”
Harry and Hermione quickly gave up the notion of using the invisibility cloak in the store proper, although they had arrived in an alley nearby while safely concealed beneath the cloak’s folds. In the end, they decided to half cover their faces with their long, knitted mufflers, figuring that the customers would be too interested in their shopping to pay much attention to two more late shoppers shoving their way through the crowd.
When they finally gained the less-crowded back of the store, they pushed into a tiny alcove and draped the cloak over their heads once more, waited for a strategic moment when the proprietor’s attention was focused elsewhere, then slipped silently through the door behind the counter into the back room. From there, they had an easy descent into the cellar, where Harry pointed out the trapdoor covering the tunnel leading to Hogwarts castle.
“You’d better go first,” he cautioned, “since you’re much better than I am at detecting wards and disabling them.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Hermione nodded uneasily. “Do you think we’ll set off any alarms?”
“I’m hoping that disabling the wards won’t set them off, unlike if we just blundered into them. After all, they would need to be disabled at some point, wouldn’t they? By whoever set them, if they needed to exit the castle,” Harry reasoned.
“I only hope you’re right,” said Hermione, lighting her wand with a Lumos, and carefully climbed down the steps into the damp tunnel.
The two teens walked for about ten minutes before Hermione abruptly halted.
“Here’s a guardian ward,” she cautioned, her hissing whisper sounding loud in between the narrow walls.
She carefully scanned the ward, defining its type, and frowned. “This is not as complex as I’d assumed the wards might be,” she said nervously. “I’m wondering if this is a trap.”
Harry squinted at the faintly-shimmering screen blocking the width of the tunnel. Beyond the ward, the tunnel disappeared into utter blackness which their Lumosed wands could not penetrate over that distance. “Maybe it’s rigged to alert the castle if we go through, but if you can disable it… “
The Gyffindor girl took a shaky breath. “Keep your eyes and ears open, Harry,” she cautioned. “If you see or hear anything, grab my arm, and I’ll Apparate us back to the cellar. From there, we should be able to Apparate outside of Hogsmeade village boundaries, and from there, back to the tent, okay? No heroics, Harry. I mean it! We can’t afford to get caught.”
“I’m with you, ‘Mione,” he agreed, pointing his wand ahead, after having taken a quick, penetrating look down the tunnel behind them.
Hermione took a breath, steadied her wand, and incanted something unintelligible in Latin to dispell the shimmering ward. Blue light shot out of her wand, connecting with the ward, and it fizzled and faded, leaving the tunnel stretching blackly before them.
They held their breath, listening for the sound of an alarm, but all they could hear were their heartbeats pounding against their eardrums. Finally, after an age of sweaty terror, they slowly let out their breath, breathing shakily.
“That could have gone worse,” Harry whispered at last. “I just hope that nobody in the castle got alerted.”
“Shall we press on?”
-:- -:- -:-
The Carrows were out of the castle.
Severus Snape, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sighed in relief and sank back in the leather chair which had acquired the shape of Albus Dumbledore’s posterior through the decades of his tenure as Headmaster.
“Really, Severus,” chided Dumbledore’s portrait. “You need to relax while you can. I do realize how difficult this has been for you, but most of the students have gone home for Christmas—“
“On pain of their families’ deaths, if they fail to return in January at the start of the next term,” gritted Snape, scowling blackly.
The portrait sighed. “I daresay, some families who possess the means to relocate will probably do so immediately, possibly to the Americas, or even farther. Australia, perhaps, or New Zealand.”
“I happen to know the Patils do not possess the means. Otherwise, they would undoubtedly remove themselves all the way to India.”
“Very true,” agreed Dumbledore, nodding his painted head.
Snape looked about the circular office, a hunted expression crossing his features. “This term has gone far worse than I’d ever envisioned, Albus,” he sighed. “Older students using the Cruciatus Curse on the young ones… “ He shook his head, black hair flaying his cheeks, as if to whip the memory aside. “And the punishments inflicted on those who have refused… I had honestly never thought to admire Longbottom for anything, but the depth of his integrity has astonished me. And humbled me,” he added in a near whisper. “I never possessed such psychological strength or conviction of principles when I was his age. If only I had… “
Dumbledore’s painted eyes twinkled a bit, but sadly, and the dried surface of the portrait dulled their usual sparkle. “It’s Christmas Eve, Severus. Why don’t you take a walk, try to work out some of the kinks before the Carrows return. I know you tried to get them to take tonight and tomorrow off, but at least you’ll have a couple of hours free. And with the few students remaining confined to their Common Rooms until morning, the castle should be practically empty now.”
Snape blew out his breath. “A walk.” He snorted. “As if that could make up for months of… I don’t even know how to describe it… “
“Well, do try, Severus. You need a break of some kind.”
The hook-nosed Headmaster glared at the portrait hanging cheerily above him. “Next thing I know, you’ll be playing Father Christmas, trying to grant my dearest wish.”
Dumbledore studied the younger man inquisitively. “Just what IS your dearest wish, my boy?”
Unwisely, Severus Snape blurted it out.
The former headmaster nodded thoughtfully. “I just might be able to help you. I can’t fully grant your entire wish, mind. But just for tonight… “
-:- -:- -:-
Harry and Hermione encountered four other ward screens before they reached the slope leading up to the One-Eyed Witch statue. As before, they had held their breath, waiting for the worst to happen each time Hermione dispelled the wards, but no alarms sounded, and no distant shouts could be heard echoing along the dark, dank passage.
At last, they squeezed up under the statue, and they held a whispered consultation. Hermione wanted Harry to keep the Map with him to watch out for all danger, but Harry insisted that the Map needed to stay with Hermione, in case he couldn’t activate the Galleon to call for help. At least, if she had the Map, she would know where Harry was, if she decided to effect a rescue.
“And don’t take any unnecessary risks,” Harry warned his frowning companion. “You know luck always seems to be on my side.”
“Luck and friends,” Hermione reminded him caustically. “Don’t forget how often you’ve had help getting out of all your escapades.”
Harry grinned rakishly. “How could I ever forget? You never fail to remind me!”
In the end, Hermione kept the Map, huddling down in a corner beneath the statue, while Harry got ready to reveal the opening into the corridor above.
“All clear,” announced the human witch, studying the Map, and Harry moved the stone witch aside with a murmured, “Dissendium” and a tap of his wand. He poked his head up, glanced quickly around, then clambered out of the hole into the silent corridor.
Harry waved once to Hermione, then moved the One-Eyed Witch back into position. He swung the invisibility cloak over his head and headed for the nearest stairs. The castle seemed eerily silent as he padded along, his worn trainers making barely any noise on the bitterly-cold stones of the floor. A chill wind wrapped around the corner ahead of him, and he shivered in the breeze. Why did the castle have so many openings? And why weren’t they spelled to repel the weather? You’d think, with magic, that the castle shouldn’t be this cold.
He ducked into a narrow stairway and climbed above the level of the moaning wind. Two flights later, he traveled down a dim, torchlit corridor, where the flames caused shadows to dance creepily all the way up to the high, arched ceiling. At every corner he approached, he slowed down, extending his sense of hearing to see if he could detect trouble ahead, but he remained alone. No other students were wandering the corridors, snogging heatedly in corners, oblivious to the cold around them. No staff members patrolled the stone passages, and he never even encountered the ever-nosy feline form of Mrs. Norris as he climbed ever higher toward the seventh floor of the castle.
At long last, he emerged on the seventh floor, feeling a sudden yearning sense of nostalgia for the Gryffindor Common Room, far away down to his right. But instead, he turned left and crept warily along the passage past the entrance to Dumbledore’s – no, Snape’s – office. The stone gargoyle sat silent guard and did not react to Harry’s quiet passing. The teen could only hope that the gargoyle wouldn’t send some silent alert to Snape about invisible intruders on the seventh floor.
Eventually, he was able to pick up his pace and strode purposefully toward the cross corridor containing the hidden entrance to the Room of Requirement.
-:- -:- -:-
Below the One-Eyed Witch, Hermione suddenly drew in her breath, watching the Marauders Map with anxious trepidation. “Oh, Harry! Watch out! Be careful… “
-:- -:- -:-
So this was it, Snape thought with ill humor. Dumbledore’s grand plan. The old fool’s attempt to grant a Christmas wish, as false as the premise sounded.
Severus Snape had heard of the Room of Requirement, after the Umbridge debacle. Until then, it had merely been a brief description in Hogwarts, A History, and more myth than reality. He’d seen the room after Dolores Umbridge had blasted the hidden door open, but not much inside had impressed him. Relics left from the activities of Dumbledore’s Army scattered here and there. Merlin only knew what all the impossible children had gotten up to, secreted away like that.
And then, there was apparently another entire version of this fabled Room, which Draco Malfoy had made nefarious use of, trying to fix a broken Vanishing Cabinet, in order to help Death Eaters gain access to the castle last year. Snape had learned the details only after Dumbledore’s death, from a raving Bellatrix LeStrange, who couldn’t stop praising her nephew’s cleverness. Draco himself couldn’t meet Snape’s eyes, but at least the Dark Lord had seen fit to reward the blond boy by not offering him up to Nagini as a dinner treat.
According to the information bandied about after that hideous night on the Astronomy Tower, Snape had learned that there must have been ten centuries’ worth of hidden things in a cathedral-sized room, the Vanishing Cabinet being just one item among countless others.
Then there was Dumbledore’s cheerful description of a moderate-sized room full of ornate chamber pots…
Apparently, this Room could manifest itself in a myriad of forms, each one suited uniquely to the seeker’s individual needs.
As Snape stood before the blank wall, he wondered what the Room would look like for him. How on earth did Dumbledore think the Room could grant his dearest Christmas wish? Nevertheless…
Following the former Headmaster’s instructions, Snape began to pace back and forth before the blank wall, concentrating upon what he most wished to see this Christmas Eve…
-:- -:- -:-
Harry could hear the rustle of robes against stone as he approached the final corner before reaching the Room of Requirement. Cautiously, he crept forward, hoping it was only Professor McGonagall, or even Slughorn out for an early evening stroll along the seventh floor. Steadying himself by gripping the protruding angle of stone through the fabric of the invisibility cloak, he leaned carefully forward to peek around the corner…
His heart sank past the pit of his stomach, plunging all the way down into his trainers. Severus Snape himself was pacing before the hidden door, and even as Harry watched, the door suddenly appeared in the granite wall, and Snape hesitated before reaching out to caress the ornately-carved wood.
Of all things! Why ON EARTH was SNAPE trying to access the Room of Requirement just when Harry needed it? When there might be only a tiny window – a sliver! – of opportunity for Harry to do a quick in-and-out to retrieve the Prince’s Potions book. WHY???
Harry remained silently still, hoping that Hermione wouldn’t panic and dash up to the seventh floor when she saw him in such close proximity to the enemy. He didn’t doubt her courage – she was a Gryffindor, after all, as she had proven on numerous occasions – but at least one of them had to find the Horcruxes, and if both of them got caught…
Snape carefully pushed open the door… And he paused.
Harry made up his mind. He HAD to get into the room. If Snape got in there and locked the door from the inside, there was no telling how long he’d spend in there. Malfoy seemed to practically live in that room during sixth year. But if Harry could use the cloak to sneak in, then he could retrieve the Prince’s book and unlock the door with the inside key to let himself back out when Snape was busy doing … whatever Snape did with all of the abandoned stuff in the Room of Hidden Things. Probably looking for poisonous potions, Harry thought with disgust.
As Snape began to step over the doorsill, Harry flitted across the silent stones, coming up behind Snape so quietly, the man never knew he was there. Harry took great care not to tread on Snape’s trailing robes, keeping his gaze locked on the black hem as it slid forward over the doorsill and a couple of steps further into the room. Harry carefully slipped around the doorframe to the left of Snape and took several careful steps away from the dour Headmaster, Dumbledore’s murderer. Snape didn’t bother to glance behind himself as he absently waved his wand to close the carved door to the corridor with a dull thunk.
Given his previous experience within the Room of Hidden Things, Harry kept his eyes locked on the floor, staying alert to anything that he might stumble over that would cause Snape to realize that he wasn’t alone in the Room. But strangely, the floor was not only clear of discarded objects this time, it appeared to be covered with snow.
Odd… And the floor stones seemed to be transformed into cobbles… Very odd… And when Harry raised his eyes…
Severus Snape was standing in the middle of a snow-covered, cobbled street, with small shops to his right, and a couple of cottages to his left. As Harry watched in astonishment, Snape headed unerringly toward one of the cottages, which had warmly-glowing windows and a gentle spire of smoke rising from its stone chimney.
-:- -:- -:-
Many floors below, Hermione Granger watched in horror as Harry’s name-labeled dot disappeared into the Room of Requirement, apparently following the ominous dot labeled Severus Snape…
“Oh, Harry,” she breathed in disbelief. “What have you done… “
-:- -:- -:-
Harry followed Snape toward the cottage, noting the graceful lines of its walls and roof. A boundary fence separated the front garden from the street, and it was easy to see, even in winter, that when warm weather came and the grass turned green, the vines and stems sprouting from the unforgiving snow would suddenly leaf out and bloom in riotous spring colors. What a cheerful place for someone to live, he thought, but was this lovely little cottage Snape’s personal home? Somehow, he doubted it. There was just something “not Snape” about this homey abode that denied the possibility of Severus Snape ever taking up residence.
There was something… Something familiar… Not that that Harry could define it, no, but something definitely familiar about this cottage…
Snape reached the garden gate and passed through it, slowing his steps as he walked up the front path. However, rather than knocking on the round-topped wooden door, or opening it himself, he veered sideways to peer through one of the front windows, the one that was twice as wide as all the other ground-floor windows.
Harry slowly followed Snape, stepping lightly upon the snow-covered ground, careful not to crack the frozen twigs in the flower beds under the window, as he, too, put his face to the window, staring through the fabric of the invisibility cloak at a scene that suddenly seemed to sear his very soul.
This was his home! This must have been the cottage at Godric’s Hollow, exactly where he and Hermione had planned to visit later tonight. He remembered this very room, from his earliest memories. The stone fireplace, tall enough to stand in, the whitewashed walls, dark woodwork framing the inside windows and doors, the cheery yellow light from the fire causing the walls to glow golden, the braided rugs on the floor, and that – that was the door to the kitchen, where good smells came from when his Mummy went to do the cooking, and where he sat on a high chair with a tiny tray trapping him in his seat until he’d finished eating…
This was his home! Harry’s home, not Snape’s. So why was Snape here, spying through the windows of Harry’s childhood home?
“Oh, Lily,” came a whispering sigh from Harry’s right elbow.
He looked at Snape, and saw the man’s face twist with inner anguish and some other emotion that Harry couldn’t identify.
Snape stared longingly – longingly? – through the cottage window, and Harry returned his attention to the cottage as well, wondering why Snape seemed to see Lily Potter within. And then Harry saw her…
Well, not really. It couldn’t be his mum, obviously, since she had died all those years ago, but he could see a faint image, less substantial even than the castle ghosts, but in full color – a slender woman with long red hair and a gentle smile, leaning over the back of the sofa to talk to the faint image of a dark-haired man with glasses, who was bouncing a hazy toddler upon his knee. The child reached out away from the man, begging to be put down, so the man set the boy’s bare feet upon the braided rug, watching indulgently as he toddled eagerly toward the brightly-lit Christmas tree. After plopping down on his behind, the tiny tot grabbed at the shiny ribbons festooning a large, gaily-wrapped box beneath the tree.
Was that me as a baby, Harry wondered? But wait. I only had one Christmas with my parents. They died on my second Halloween. We never got a second Christmas together, and this boy – me – looks to be about a year and a half old, not just a few months. Older, probably, than when my parents died…
“This is the way it should have been, Lily,” murmured Snape, oblivious to Harry’s presence next to him. “You and your family, safe in your home, with Christmas coming, and all the Christmases left to come, spent together, safe, always safe… “ The man’s breath caught. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t even know what I’d done at first, but when I realized, I begged Dumbledore, begged him to keep you safe, you and your family… I thought he would. I believed he could. But then Pettigrew… Even then I begged the Dark Lord. Begged him to spare you. He said he would. I believed he would. But he killed you anyway. I never meant for it to happen. Never meant it. Never, ever, ever… Please forgive me, Lily. Please forgive me… “
Harry stared at Snape, wondering how to make sense of it all. What had Snape done that he didn’t realize at first? What had he DONE? The way he was going on, it sounded almost as if he thought he was responsible for something horrible… Responsible for…
And then the penny dropped.
Harry’s parents’ deaths. The entire attack on the Godric’s Hollow cottage? But wasn’t that Pettigrew instead? After Lily and James had switched Secret Keepers from Sirius to Pettigrew? How did Snape fit into the tragedy? How could he possibly?
Snape’s face was a study in pain and… guilt, Harry realized. Snape had somehow done something connected to the deaths of Harry’s parents, and all these years later, he still felt remorse and guilt.
Harry’s mouth twisted. Too bad Snape’s remorse couldn’t extend to his murder of Albus Dumbledore.
He must have snorted without realizing he’d made a sound, for Snape suddenly swung sideways with a snarl, drawing his wand, and when he thrust it forward, he managed to poke Harry nearly in the eye through the fabric of the invisibility cloak.
“Potter!” growled the furious Headmaster.
Harry backed hastily away, wondering how on earth Snape had detected him, but when he turned to run for the door to the Room of Requirement, he saw two sets of footprints upon the snow-covered path, and the answer became obvious. Someone invisible had followed Snape into the Room, and it was widely known that Harry made use of James Potter’s invisibility cloak. Even Crabbe and Goyle wouldn’t have had difficulty putting two and two together and coming up with Potter…
Harry made a run for it, but then felt himself stiffen in the Body Bind which Snape cast upon him. His forward momentum caused him to crash headlong in the snow before he’d reached the gate to the street. He could hear Snape approaching, his feet crunching frozen grass and twigs, and then the cloak was abruptly yanked off of Harry, and he felt the cold snow beneath his warm cheek as he lay on the ground.
“There’s no end to you, is there, Potter,” glowered Snape, clutching the cloak in one hand and his ebony wand in the other. “Just when I thought you could sink no lower, you amaze me yet again.”
Even if his ability to speak hadn’t been curtailed by the Body Bind, Harry could think of nothing to say that wouldn’t set Snape off, so he decided to let the man have his tirade and be done with it. Maybe, if Snape took long enough bawling him out, Hermione might have a chance to get up to the seventh floor and stun the man when he finally opened the door leading from the Room to the corridor.
Snape rolled the stiffened form of the Gryffindor over so the boy was lying on his back. How had Potter gotten into the castle, and where were his two usual cohorts?
The man peered intently back toward the door of the Room, but he could see no other footprints besides his own and Potter’s. That, at least, was a relief. But Potter alone was bad enough. Snape cast a quick Tempus – the Carrows would be back inside the castle in an hour or less, depending on how contrary they chose to be. As Headmaster, Snape had given them Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, but the brother and sister Death Eaters showed greater loyalty to Voldemort, and they asserted that they would take only two hours away from their assigned duties to partake of some “Christmas cheer” at the Hogs Head pub before returning to the castle.
If Potter were exceedingly lucky, he might be able to “escape” from the stone edifice before the Carrows returned. But why was he here?
Snape waved his wand, and Harry suddenly felt his tongue loosen and could move his jaw again, although the remainder of his body lay frozen on the cold ground. As he thought about how cold it was, he wondered how much more snow could fall, and the Room obediently began to send flakes down from above to melt on Harry’s cheeks. Above him, Snape rolled his eyes impatiently.
“Why are you here, Potter? Speak up!”
Harry thought frantically, looking away from the dark man’s penetrating gaze. If Snape were to perform Legilimency and see the Prince’s Potions text in Harry’s mind…
“I wanted to speak to Dumbledore’s portrait,” Harry said quickly. “I wanted advice that I thought he might be able to give me.”
“So you naturally followed me into the Room of Requirement to speak to the portrait. How very original a detour to the Headmaster’s office, Potter.”
“Er – Well, no, not really. We – I – saw you going in, and I wondered why, so I followed you before heading to the Headmaster’s office. That’s all.”
Snape hadn’t missed the young idiot’s slip. “We who,” he demanded.
“I’m here alone, Professor,” Harry said truthfully, at least sort of, since Hermione had actually stayed in the tunnel. “I just was curious about the Room, and when I saw the cottage, I had to wonder about a lot of other things, too.”
Snape could only imagine, especially if Potter had overheard any of his mutterings to himself while watching the image of Lily with her young family. That had been his dearest wish, to see how Lily’s life would have gone on, if Voldemort hadn’t attacked the cottage that Halloween. The Potters would have enjoyed a second Christmas together in their warm, glowing home, with a black-haired toddler having a free-for-all beneath the sparkling Christmas tree, playing with bright wrappings and bows even more than the toys he’d been given, as children always do, making their own fun.
Dumbledore had granted him the means to fulfill his Christmas fantasy, to see the family as they would have been, as Snape could imagine them, if only he had not acted so rashly as to put them in danger in the first place. Snape had never wanted to see Lily harmed, had given his life to Dumbledore in payment for that debt, and he continued to pay that debt, doubting it would ever be marked “lien released” before he died himself.
But the Carrows would be returning, and Potter had to “escape” – he could never realize that Snape would be the one to allow him to exit the castle; Potter had to believe that he himself had engineered his own escape. “On your feet, Potter,” Snape ordered, waving his wand once more to Finite the Body Bind. “If you wish to see Dumbledore, you may see Dumbledore. In fact, his portrait may be the LAST thing you see in this life.”
Harry scrambled to his feet, feeling his clothes clinging wetly to his chilled body where the melting snow had saturated the fabric. Before he could draw his wand, the length of holly had whipped across the narrow space and landed in Snape’s pale hand protruding beyond his many-buttoned sleeve. Just ducky…
“Walk,” commanded Snape, and Harry walked. There was really little else he could do, until he got a chance to make a break for it, although he couldn’t see Snape being careless enough to let him get away.
The teen took one last look at the cottage with its glowing windows and asked, “Is this really the way my home looked back then? I really lived there like that?” At that moment, he had to ask; even if Snape had killed Dumbledore, he still had to ask, to know.
Snape didn’t look away from the youth, refused to allow himself to be distracted for even a split second, but he nodded. “Yes.” He could be generous enough to answer truthfully on Christmas Eve. Give the boy a memory to sustain him through the trials yet to come. Snape shuddered inwardly, knowing what would come. Yes, he could unbend enough to be that generous. “That was your home.”
He marched Harry to the door into the corridor at wandpoint, and told the Gryffindor menace to open the door and step through.
The corridor was as cold and silent as ever, and Harry shivered in his wet clothes in the ever-present breeze.
“You may speak to Dumbledore’s portrait, and then I shall turn you over to the Carrows to bear their punishment for breaching the castle’s defenses,” Snape said, satisfaction tinging his smooth baritone.
A flash of red dropped Snape in his tracks, almost as if he’d been a hapless bird slamming into a plate glass window.
Harry jumped away from the puddle of black wool, looking around wildly, and Hermione stepped out from behind the nearby corner where she’d been waiting for them to emerge. Her nonverbal stunning spell had saved Harry’s day.
“’Mione! You almost gave me heart failure!” Harry gasped. “But am I glad to see you. We’ve got to hurry. The Carrows will probably be returning soon.”
Hermione nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
“Not without what we came for,” Harry objected. He closed the door to the Room with Godric’s Hollow. “Stand back.”
“Harry, come on! We don’t have time to waste!”
“Stand back and let me concentrate. This will only take a couple of minutes.”
Hermione shook her head frantically. “We might not have a couple of minutes, Harry. You’ve been up here forever! And if the Carrows are coming… “
Even so, she stood aside and began perusing the Map, as Harry called up a different incarnation of the Room, this time the Room of Hidden Things. When he opened the door again, the interior looked as it had when he’d hidden the Half-Blood Prince’s potions text.
“Quick! Help me get him in here!” Harry urged, grabbing his holly wand out of Snape’s motionless hand.
Hermione gave a quick swish and flick with her own wand, and Snape was levitated off the stone floor, with Harry guiding him through the door so he didn’t strike his head. Once inside, Hermione lowered Snape gently to the floor and gazed around at the countless heaps of discarded items with fascination. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it fast,” she said urgently.
“Right.” Harry took off running among the massive piles of debris, trying to find the Vanishing Cabinet, hoping that Draco hadn’t actually moved it from its original location when he was trying to fix it last year.
He ran for what seemed like hours, but probably wasn’t more than a couple of minutes, before Hermione called from a distance, “Harry! The Carrows are back in the castle! Hurry!”
Harry swung around corner after corner, and then in his rush he almost bypassed it. The Vanishing Cabinet! The blistered cabinet with the bust of a wizard sporting a dusty wig and a tarnished tiara had to be nearby… And there they were!
He yanked open the door and snatched out the Prince’s book from behind a five-legged creature’s skeleton, and turned to run back to Hermione.
“I’m coming,” he gasped as he rounded the last pile of junk. “Got it!” he added, waving the book.
Snape was just beginning to stir, mumbling under his robes, when Hermione pointed her wand at him again. “Stupify!” Snape slumped into unconsciousness once more.
“Happy Christmas, Professor,” Harry sneered ironically.
“Let’s get out of here,” Hermione ordered, shoving Harry ahead of her to the door.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Harry asked, glancing back at Snape.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Of course. He’s only stunned. Besides, he’s still got his wand. Let’s GO!”
Once in the corridor, Hermione grabbed Harry’s sleeve to drag him in a different direction than usual. “The Carrows are coming the other way,” she informed him, waving the Map for good measure. They hurried down the corridor, took several side passages, waited for Argus Filch to pass by one floor below, fortunately not accompanied by his trouble-making cat, Mrs. Norris. Finally, they made it back to the One-Eyed Witch’s statue, and Harry tapped it with his wand, saying, “Dissendium,” before the statue slid aside and they dropped into the hidden passage beneath it.
Their trek through the tunnel back to Honeyduke’s cellar went without incident, with Hermione stopping every so often to recast the wards she had cancelled on the way in. She had no idea whether they would function to alert the castle, if that’s what the original wards had done, but at least the same number of the same type of wards were in place. At last, they gained the cellar, and after Hermione ascertained that no anti-Apparition wards guarded the cellar, unlike the now-closed store above, she took Harry’s arm, and they Apparated back to their tent’s location.
“Too bad we couldn’t have simply Apparated into the cellar in the first place,” Harry commented, settling down with the Prince’s book for a prolonged study, intent on taking notes on the scribbled curses and counter curses.
Hermione huffed. “You know as well as I do that we had no idea if the cellar was warded against Apparition. We risked serious injury if we tried to go through wards. Just read your book.”
Harry glanced at her, then asked, “What exactly are you smiling about?”
The witch grinned. “I was just imagining Snape waking up.”
Harry laughed aloud. “Ron would love it!”
Severus Snape awoke in pitch blackness, lying awkwardly on a hard floor. He immediately assumed the worst: that he’d been discovered as a spy and had been imprisoned by the Dark Lord, who would allow his Death Eaters to use him as a plaything until he finally died.
As hopeless as the situation seemed, his instinct for survival kicked in, and he held out his hand to wandlessly summon his wand. To his shock, the length of familiar ebony immediately bounded into his grip, unnerving him so that he nearly dropped it.
Snape sat up, stunned to find himself in a large space full of innumerable objects, heaped upon themselves nearly as high as the vaulted ceiling far overhead. “What in Merlin’s name --?
The last thing he remembered was following Potter into the corridor outside the Room of Requirement.
-:- -:- -:-
Several hours later, Harry and Hermione Apparated to the village of Godric’s Hollow.
As they gazed upon the ruins of the Potters’ cottage, the windows sadly dark, the roof split asunder, Harry visualized the image he’d seen in the Room of Requirement.
“We were happy here,” he whispered. He knew it, and that knowledge was possible because of Severus Snape.
Harry felt conflicted.
He’d seen Snape kill Albus Dumbledore, and Snape had apparently played some role in James’ and Lily’s deaths, but Snape had also given Harry a momentary glimpse of his past life, one that Harry could barely remember, and only in tiny snippets, like firelight warming the walls, the smell of supper cooking, and his tiny high chair.
The village glowed around the darkened cottage, life still abundant despite tragic death. Life continued somehow, and Harry knew he had to live it to the fullest, because of his parents’ sacrifice.
Snape had sounded seriously remorseful, asking Lily to forgive him for whatever he’d done. He hadn’t been faking his deep regret. His penitence this Christmas Eve had been real. Even though he was a Death Eater?
But, as Sirius had said, everyone carries both Light and Dark within them.
Harry sighed, torn by his conflicted emotions. His mother wasn’t alive to forgive Severus Snape. But, if Christmas was a time for forgiveness, perhaps, just for tonight, Harry could set his feelings aside. Just for a few hours. Before he rejoined the fight against the Dark. Snape had given him a precious vision of his past, one that he could carry with him always.
Sighing deeply, Harry murmured, “Happy Christmas, Professor.” He wasn’t certain if he meant it from the heart, but his tone sounded even, not ironic.
“Let’s head to the cemetery,” Harry said, and they turned to walk down the snow-covered cobbled street. The sound of singing arose from the village church, a full-toned rendition of “O Holy Night” drifting on the chill night air. As they entered the adjacent cemetery, Harry listened to the lyrics sung so joyously, hearing meaning he’d never really paid attention to when the hymn was merely played between Christmas advertisements on the Muggle wireless.
Moments later, as he and Hermione gazed upon the flowers that Hermione had conjured for the Potters’ graves, Harry murmured the words again. “Happy Christmas, Mum and Dad.” He felt his heart fill with the warmth from Snape’s vision of their cottage.
-:- -:- -:-