Actions

Work Header

Painted in the Worst Light

Chapter Text

Part I: Pre-Trial
Chapter One

 

"Shacklebolt wants to see you."

Harry pulled his toothbrush out of his mouth, rinsed, and looked in the mirror to meet Trainee Dalton's dark-eyed gaze. He mopped his face with a damp towel and scrubbed it over his hair before slipping his glasses on. "Did he say why?"

Dalton shook his shaggy blond head. "The message came from the commander. I don't know why the Minister wants to see you. Only that he does." His lip twisted into a mild sneer. "Probably some public appearance thing, but Commander Robards did say there's no need to rush. The Minister will be in his office for another hour or so."

Harry nodded and grabbed his deodorant, slathering it over his pits. Dalton hung around whilst Harry combed his hair, but when it finally became clear that Harry wasn't about to say anything further, he left.

Wearing nothing more than a towel slung low around his hips, Harry headed directly to his locker and dressed swiftly, paying little attention to the chatter of the other trainees going on around him. There were twenty students in his class and he was the youngest by a fair bit. The whole 'Saviour' thing aside, he had little in common with any of them, except a burning desire to protect the community for which he had given his life. That he didn't die was icing on the cake. He meant to die, and that was enough.

He pulled on his boots and gave his appearance a quick glance in the mirror. Black robes, conservatively cut. A pale grey shirt open at the throat. Black trousers and boots. He looked like he was in mourning. Perhaps he was. Merlin knew he'd lost enough. Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore. Remus and Tonks. Fred. He and Ginny had decided right after his 18th birthday that they were both too young to consider a relationship. Ron had spent all of one month at the Academy before deciding he really had no desire to be an Auror and was working with George instead. Hermione was at Hogwarts for her seventh year and Harry was alone.

After rattling around Grimmauld Place for most of autumn, Harry decided he'd be much happier if he lived in the barracks at the Auror Academy with the rest of the trainees. He enjoyed, if that was the right word, the solitude his single room afforded him, but he could have done without the communal bathroom.

Harry slipped almost silently out of the locker room and took the Academy Floo to Level One of the Ministry building. It was a short walk from the lifts to the Minister's office and he plastered on his public smile as he entered the spacious anteroom. Crystal chandeliers hung from a high ceiling decorated with plaster medallions and the deep blue carpet absorbed the sound of his footsteps as he made his way to the glass topped desk that stood sentinel in front of ornately carved pale beech cabinets. Lights twinkled in the bevelled windows through which he saw rows upon rows of books and ledgers.

The witch who guarded Kingsley's door reminded Harry of a cross between McGonagall and a portrait of Scheherazade that hung on the fifth floor landing of the winding stair at Hogwarts. She had long, dark hair and loads of curves, and an attitude that would quell an angry hippogriff. "You can go straight in, Mr Potter. The Minister is expecting you."

"Thanks, Daveen." Soundlessly, he crossed the room and knocked very lightly on the door before pressing down on the latch.

Kingsley's office was smaller than one would expect. There were two comfortable couches set on either side of a low table arranged in front of a tall fireplace. Beyond the sitting area was a wide desk strewn with parchment. A heavy silver inkstand shone under the light of a beautiful cut-glass lantern, in which a blue flame danced brightly. Behind the desk was the portrait of George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, who gazed upon Harry with frank interest, winked, and gave him a knowing smile.

Kingsley lifted his head from his paperwork and waved Harry towards the couch. "Pour yourself a cuppa if you're so inclined and have a seat. I'm nearly through with this memo."

Harry shot the portrait a quelling glance and scurried to the sofa, his footfall much louder on the silk Turkish carpet. "Did you want a cup, then?" he asked as he poured a splash of milk into a mug that looked as if it had been crafted for use instead of decoration.

"Milk and two sugars, thanks." Kingsley scribbled his name in the margin and tossed the quill onto the desk. He tilted his head back and scrubbed at his eyes for a moment before rising from a chair that appeared more ceremonial than comfortable. He saw Harry shake his head at the throne-like thing and snorted. "Remnants of Fudge. I'll replace it as soon as I have a moment."

"Why not transfigure it instead?"

Kingsley stretched. "The charms don't hold. I suspect it was Fudge's design. Rufus didn't care what he sat on as long as it held him." He stepped around the desk and sat opposite Harry, his broad hand reaching for the steaming mug in the centre of the table. "All I ask is a comfortable chair. How is training going?"

Harry looked over the rim of his cup, his green eyes shining. Here, with Shacklebolt, he could let down his guard. "It's brilliant. I'd no idea there was so much to policing, but I think I'm going to enjoy the work. We're starting the module on Field Medicine on Monday. Most of the Weasleys have already volunteered to let me practise on them."

Kingsley chuckled. "Arthur and Molly are as steady as the sunrise. And after Bill's years with the goblins, I doubt there's much that alarms him." He drank deeply and set the cup down, appearing weary beyond words. He offered a polite smile to Harry before saying, "Your instructors have been rather complimentary, and yes, before you ask, I've been checking up on you. It's not often the Minister himself has the opportunity to appoint a trainee to the program, but my faith in you was not misplaced."

Picking up a finger sandwich, Harry studied it for a moment before taking a bite to stall for time. "Sometimes I'm a bit sorry I didn't go back to Hogwarts to finish, but I'm managing all right, I suppose." It wasn't false modesty. Harry found some of the coursework so dense as to be almost impenetrable. He gobbled down the rest and eyed the plate for a moment before leaning back.

"Better than some, not as well as others," Kingsley allowed, "but no cause for shame, either. Eat up if you wish. There are plenty more where those came from. I recall training as being hungry work."

"Ta." Harry filled a small plate to overflowing and refreshed his tea, offering more to Kingsley who accepted eagerly. They chatted easily whilst Harry ate, discussing everything from the regulations on the misuse of Muggle artefacts to the obsessive need for writing reports that no one would ever read. "Quite honestly," said Harry as he finally unwound a little, "I'd no idea there were so many ways to abuse a Hoover."

"Rather fascinating what a wizard with a bit too much time on his hands can imagine," said Kingsley with a booming laugh. "As enjoyable as this has been, you must be wondering why I sent for you."

"It had crossed my mind. I can't imagine you find my difficulties with surveillance charms all that interesting." The easy peace vanished as Kingsley began to fiddle with the detritus of their informal meal and Harry felt his pulse quicken. A sense of dread crept over him, but he dismissed it as paranoia left over from the War.

"As you must be aware, the Death Eater trials have been underway for nearly a year and it's been a much more complicated process than any of us anticipated. It seems that Pius Thicknesse issued a blanket pardon for all Unforgivable Curses cast from the time You-Know-Who was resurrected until they were made legal under his administration."

Harry sat up so quickly that he spilt the tea he had forgotten he was holding. "What? You mean the Death Eaters are getting away with it? With killing Fred and Lupin and Tonks? With ruining Teddy's life? They were torturing people, Kingsley. They were murdering them! How can you let—"

"I'm not letting them get away with anything," interrupted Kingsley. "I said we can't lock them up for using Unforgivables, but Thicknesse always was an incompetent fool. As much as I'd love to throw them all in Azkaban and throw away the key, I have to follow the law and whilst Vol-" he stumbled over the name, "Voldemort was pulling the strings, our former Minister made Dark magic legal. As much as I'd like to wave my wand and say that doesn't count, it's not the way we do things."

Harry wanted to storm through the office, to throw things and shout at the top of his lungs about the unfairness of it all, but he sat quietly, his angry green eyes the only indicator of his unrest. "So how do we do things?"

"Every Death Eater was given the opportunity to select a Ministry employee to represent him at his trial before the Wizengamot. As you can imagine, many of them have selected Aurors with, shall we say, less than stellar reputations."

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement had suffered a tremendous blow to their reputation when the Death Eater Trials began. Many of the Aurors who had risen through the ranks during the final years of the first war had been seduced into turning a blind eye to the machinations of those who were merely suspected of Death Eater activity, but were exonerated after the Dark Lord's mysterious disappearance. Galleons greased palms and the Aurors somehow never caught wind of illegal activity unless it would further the purpose of those within Voldemort's inner circle.

"I remember seeing a few articles in the Prophet. There was a fair bit of concern that Lucius Malfoy would manage to avoid Azkaban entirely. Lucky for us, Voldemort decided he liked Malfoy Manor enough to use it as his headquarters and Mr Malfoy played host to a load of people who would rather not have visited." Short as it was, Harry's time in their dungeon had been most unpleasant.

"Precisely. We cannot prosecute the Death Eaters for their uses of Dark Magic. Nor can we prosecute them for their use of Unforgivables. But one thing I've learnt, Harry, is that the Death Eaters, whilst ambitious, were considerably less cunning than we gave them credit for being.

"Take the gangs of Snatchers, for instance. They had lists of people wanted by the Ministry, but there were no charges pending against any of them. Most of them were declared enemies for the 'crime' of having Muggle blood, but they never passed any laws that said that having Muggle blood was illegal. All the law said they had to do was register with the Committee. It didn't say anything about being held in the dungeons at Malfoy Manor or here at the Ministry for failure to appear."

Harry remembered it differently, but he wasn't Minister of Magic either and he still wasn't a sworn member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. "Did you want me to investigate the backgrounds of the victims we pulled out of there? I'm certain we can convict some of them for kidnapping. The Snatchers, I mean. Not the people we rescued. Ron and Hermione and me, well, we found Griphook and Ollivander at Malfoy Manor along with Dean Thomas and Luna Lovegood. I know Luna and Ollivander are purebloods and I think Dean is as well."

"No, I'm afraid…no, you're right, Harry. We can—and will—convict the Snatchers on charges of kidnap, torture, wrongful imprisonment, and anything else we can think to add to the list, but I don't need you to conduct any investigations. You still have your training to complete and I can't have you out in the field quite yet. I have something else for you."

It was the way Kingsley was refusing to meet his eyes that made Harry nervous. "What is it you want me to do?" he asked slowly.

"Do you recall my saying that the Death Eaters could choose a current employee of the Ministry to represent them?"

Harry nodded as a cold ball of dread congealed in his stomach.

"There's no easy way to say this. Severus Snape has selected you to defend him. His trial is scheduled to begin on the 31st of May, which should give you adequate time to prepare."

Harry was propelled to his feet by pure rage and swept his hand along the table in a violent arc. Crumbs scattered as dainty little plates crashed against the wall. The teapot tumbled through the air to smash against Kingsley's desk. Tea sprayed all over the papers scattered on the top, the ink pooling in dark puddles on the parchment. Harry stormed through the office before flinging himself back down on the sofa, crossing his arms mutinously across his chest.

He truly did not know how he felt about Snape. Every time he thought he found it in his heart to forgive the man for his many (many, many) misdeeds, he would recall the innumerable times Snape managed to humiliate him or ignored him completely and his rage would spiral out of control again. All he wanted, or so he told himself, was Snape's respect, but it seemed as far out of reach as the stars.

Kingsley pulled his wand with a long-suffering sigh and waved it in the direction of his desk. With a sharp flick of his wand, the teapot mended and floated slowly back to the table. The plates pulled themselves back together again and organised themselves into a tidy stack. The crumbs vanished. "Worse, you cannot decline."

"I can't even say no?" Harry pulled himself up straight and rested his elbows on his knees. He buried his face in his hands for a moment, ducking his head to avoid smashing his spectacles against his nose. "Is there some sort of binding magical contract I should know about?"

"No, but the rules say that Snape can be represented by a Ministry employee of his choosing. He chose you. The only way to decline is to quit the Auror Corps, but if you do that, you won't be eligible for rehire, by the DMLE or any other department."

"This is utter crap." Harry looked up and dragged his hands through his messy hair. "Why did that fucker choose me?"

"I have no idea," admitted Kingsley. "I would have thought he'd ask someone who was in the Order, like Arthur Weasley for instance. You'll have a chance to ask him, though, when you interview him."

Interview? Harry leaned his head against the back of the couch. "I'll have to speak to him, won't I?" he groaned. "Hours upon hours with that greasy git." He lifted his head and cracked open an eye. "Can I put in for hazard pay?"

Kingsley frowned. "Forgive me, Harry, but I thought you wanted him to be exonerated. A full pardon. I was under the impression you were opposed to trying Snape at all."

"I am," exclaimed Harry. "The man's a hero. He was forced to do terrible things, but he did his best to see to it that no one suffered. It's just, well…" Harry's voice trailed off. He recalled a lecture from the earliest days of his training about ethics and professionalisms, how there would be times as an Auror that he would encounter people he absolutely could not stand but who needed the very best he could give them anyway. "We don't really get on all that well," he mumbled.

Kingsley laughed, a great booming sound that filled the room. "No one gets on with Severus Snape. If he's not puncturing holes in their inflated egos, he's reducing what little there is of their intellect to rubble. His tongue is more dangerous than his wand—and he's one of the most skilled wizards I've ever seen."

"Tell me about it. I wager he'll refer to me as a 'dunderhead' at least fifty times by the time the trial begins." Insolent, lazy, arrogant, just like his father. Harry had heard it all a hundred times over. Lucky him, he was about to hear it a hundred more. "What about my training?"

"As I understand it," said Kingsley, "you sit your first qualifying exams in the middle of March. Once the results come out, you receive your first posting. Rather than being assigned to one of the squadrons, you'll be assigned directly to the Ministry. Once the trial is over and Snape is sentenced, you'll be given your next assignment on the training rota.

"This won't hurt your career, Harry. Everyone in the Auror Corps at one time or another has to appear before the Wizengamot or work with the juridical officers assigned to the investigation of serious crime. And most of those officers have favourites that they request time and time again. If you have any aspirations towards heading the department, this experience will only serve you well."

Harry's eyebrows knitted together. "Yeah, that's what they said about the Triwizard Tournament. 'Fortune and glory'—and all I had to do was win the bloody thing. We both know how well that turned out." He sighed. "It sounds to me like this is little more than a formality in any case. You already have him convicted, so what's another nail in the coffin? Will Robards be interrogating him?"

Kingsley arched an eyebrow. "Have you not had the course on proceedings before the Wizengamot?"

Harry shook his head. "Not yet, but Arthur said my hearing for the use of underage magic was a trial, so I suppose I know how it works." Harry had also watched bits of several Death Eater trials that had taken place during the first war, but Kingsley didn't need to know he had fallen into a Pensieve he had no business being around.

"Then you saw the very end of the process," said Kingsley. "Ordinarily, the head of the department conducts the examination of the witness before the Wizengamot, but Robards is busy rebuilding, so that honour has passed to me."

Harry's eyes widened and he swallowed heavily. "You?"

Kingsley nodded and a grim smile curved his lips. "Welcome to the world of law enforcement."

~*~

The next few weeks were among the busiest Harry had ever known. Not only did he have his training at the Academy to contend with, but Kingsley had sent over the entire file on one Severus Tobias Snape.

To call it a file would be doing it an injustice. It was boxes and boxes of material collected by the Wizengamot and the investigative arm of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. There were statements taken under oath to read, phials and phials of memories to view, photographs to examine, and records to review. There was so much to learn that Harry's head swam every time he glanced at it.

For reasons Harry didn't quite understand, he was terribly conflicted about defending Snape. Ever since the Final Battle, Harry had descended into a state of profound confusion whenever the subject of Severus Snape arose. There was no question he despised the man on a personal level, but his animus was tempered by a rich vein of empathy. He understood on a visceral level why Snape had made the choices he had done and found himself wondering time after time if he'd have done half as well.

For all his virtues though, Snape was about as easy to love as a rabid hedgehog. He was all prickly quills and gnashing teeth and slashing claws. He hissed and fought anyone who would show him kindness and tore to shreds anyone who was the least bit threatening.

~*~

The final module of Harry's Auror training, the Juridical Traditions of the Wizengamot, brought with it some unwelcome surprises. He had a fair understanding of the hearing process from his own experience before the Wizengamot, but he had not known that the Investigation Department made regular appearances before the Wizengamot when it sat as a jury. The investigators also worked hand in glove with the Wizengamot Administrative Services, who compiled the various investigative data into reports which the Wizengamot relied upon in reaching their verdicts. That was how Fudge had known the specifics of Harry's actions the day he and his cousin had been attacked by Dementors in the alleyway near Privet Drive.

The process went something like this: a crime would occur. The investigators would interview witnesses and collect evidence. They would interrogate suspects and run down leads. At the conclusion of their investigation, all of their records were forwarded to the Wizengamot Administrative Services and a judicial officer, called an interrogator, would be assigned and would review the case file with the lead investigator. In the event of a major crime or one that was deemed to be 'politically sensitive', the Minister himself would serve as interrogator.

It was during the unit on witness testimony that Harry learnt that portraits were not allowed to provide testimony if they were an interested party to the proceedings. His heart sank. The lion's share of his defence rested on the testimony that Dumbledore's portrait would provide. All the plans that Dumbledore made, all the schemes he had launched, had been held very close to the vest. Dumbledore confided in very few people, but one of those had been Severus Snape. The rug had just been pulled out from under his case and he found himself grasping at straws.

"What does that even mean?" asked Harry during class when the subject of Interest came up, hoping against hope an exception existed. "Interested how?"

Terrence Patrickson, an elderly member of the Wizengamot who found teaching at the Academy more rewarding than his legislative work, lectured a bit on 'interest' as it pertained to legal proceedings. "Let's say a portrait witnesses a witch perform a dark ritual to cause her rival's business to fail. She conducts this ritual in a space away from her home and her business. In her home are several portraits, some of which know what she is doing and what her intent is. They want to see her succeed. They have an interest in our witch and cannot testify before the Wizengamot.

"But let's say she chose the place for her ritual poorly and her preparations and the ritual itself are seen by a small portrait she never noticed. This portrait doesn't know her, nor does she know it. That portrait has no interest in the outcome. It doesn't matter to its subject whether the witch is innocent or guilty. The Wizengamot can hear the portrait's testimony, whether it is probative or exculpatory, because it is thought to be an impartial witness. Would anyone care to venture why portrait testimony is frowned upon?"

A classmate of Harry's, Leigh Bates, raised her hand. "I would think it would be very difficult to question a portrait. They don't really have much body language to read so it would be too difficult to tell whether it is being truthful. "

"That is certainly a factor," said Patrickson. "Can anyone think of another reason why portrait testimony isn't favoured by the Wizengamot?"

There was a pause whilst several students flipped through their books to see if the answer lay somewhere in their readings. Harry thought it was likely in one of the footnotes he had glossed over, but it turned out there was an entire section he had no recollection of reading at all.

Quentin Watson, a Ravenclaw who had been some years ahead of Harry, raised his hand. "It says here because it is almost impossible to impeach the character of the portrait unless they are either well known or if they died within the past…" He skimmed over a paragraph. "Within the last ten years and you can find people who can provide some rebuttal testimony." He massaged his temples with long, thin fingers. "Why do we have to know this, again?"

Patrickson chuckled with delight, a high reedy sound that made Harry think a wheeze was hiding right behind it. "Why would a lowly Auror need to know how our legal system works? Is that your question, Mr Watson?"

Watson slumped down in his seat whilst Harry's classmates joined in the laughter. "An Auror is an officer of the law. We on the Wizengamot believe it would be useful for our Aurors to know what the law is and how the law works. That, Mr Watson, is why I have the privilege of having you in this module."

It was during the unit on the rights of a suspect that Harry discovered that, as Snape's defence advisor, he was not allowed to give testimony. In fact, unless it worked to the Ministry's advantage, anything Harry had said about Snape—any statements he'd made, any evidence he had provided—would be stricken. Once again, Harry found himself wondering why Snape had chosen him.

Chapter Text

Harry stood on the Apparition platform and stared out to sea. Biting wind buffeted his ears and cheeks and the salt spray was so heavy that his spectacles were impossible to see through in seconds. He dragged his sleeve over the lenses and drew a deep breath.

He turned sharply. Immediately, his cheeks hollowed and his arms were crushed against his sides. His insides were compressed and for a very long minute, he could neither breathe nor see. An invisible fist tightened around his heart and just when Harry thought it would burst, he materialised on the promontory near Azkaban.

The prison rose from the sea like a jagged fang. Flecks of crystallised salt sparkled against the dark granite tower, but rather than lending a bit of cheer to his surroundings, the crusty deposits lent an air of decrepitude. Gathering his courage and his sodden cloak around him, Harry pushed his way through the heavy steel door into the bleakest place he'd ever known. Signs hung in a crooked row directing visitors to an inspection desk. Given the amount of dust and grime that coated the floor, Harry surmised that guests were few and far between.

His footsteps echoed as he followed the labyrinthine corridor that ended at a service window. He glanced around for a bell or buzzer and wondered if there were monitoring charms at work. A piece of parchment gusted off a counter and danced in front of him and Harry snatched it out of the air.

"Hunh." It took a moment, but he located a cup full of quills and nearly empty inkstand and began filling it out. Name of Prisoner: Severus Snape. Name of visitor: Harry Potter. Purpose of visit:. Harry stared for a moment, his thoughts racing. He couldn't very well put down that Kingsley had ordered him to speak to Snape, though that was the only reason he'd made the trip. After a moment's thought, he printed On behalf of the Ministry of Magic.

More instructions appeared, so Harry signed his name and dated the form and tapped his wand against the parchment. An ornate seal appeared, and then the parchment folded itself into the shape of an aeroplane before zooming off to parts unknown.

Harry lingered around the window, peering past the counter to search for signs of life when the sound of heavy boots clomped along the corridor caught his attention. Icy blue eyes stared from beneath short, pale silver hair and the voice that spoke was husky and deep. The guard was clad in the severe uniform of the Azkaban guards and was several inches taller than he. Woman, Harry decided at last.

"What would the Saviour of the Wizarding world want with Severus Snape?"

Harry arched a brow. "Is that an official inquiry? Ma'am?" His voice rose a bit, giving evidence to his uncertainty.

The guard looked at him frankly and Harry stood a little taller. "Reason for visit appeared a bit vague is all. This way." She pulled her wand and tapped it in a complicated sequence against the smooth wall. An archway opened and she ushered Harry through. "Follow this to the end, take the staircase down on the left. There will be another guard who will escort you to the prisoner's cell. You'll need to leave your wand with him."

It was fortunate Kingsley had briefed him about that or Harry would have returned to London by any means possible. Being in the bowels of Azkaban without his wand sent shivers down his spine. At least the Dementors were gone, though Harry was certain that their presence lingered in the mortar that held the walls together.

The row of cells was surprisingly well lit, the walls so white they nearly glowed. The white tile floor was spotless, as were the lanterns that shone overhead. The black of the iron bars at the front of each cell was the only thing that broke up the relentless lack of colour.

"He's in the sixth cell." The guard's whisper broke the silence and it was then that Harry noticed how quiet it was. As he walked down the row, he discovered Snape was the only one there. The rest of the cells were empty. There was Snape. There was his guard. There was no one else.

Harry stood at the front of the cell and examined the contents. There was a steel frame bed with a thin white mattress. There was a body in a tight curl under a white blanket, and a white pillow upon which rested matted locks of black hair. In the far corner was a white toilet placed next to a white sink. A clear plastic cup perched on the rim. There was nothing else.

"Let me in," he ordered, his eyes fixed on Snape's still form as the guard muttered a password. They had told him he was coming, hadn't they? The odd tingle of a spell washed over him and Harry flinched violently. "What in Merlin's name was that?"

"You can step through the bars, sir, and back out again. One time each way," replied the guard in a bored tone. "If you leave before you finish, you won't be able to get back in again until next week."

"And how long before I'm stuck inside?"

The guard appeared puzzled. "To be honest, sir, I don't rightly know. I've not heard of anyone stayin' that long."

During the short conversation, Harry noticed that Snape never stirred. He stepped through and automatically patted himself to make certain he hadn't left any parts behind. The only way Harry could describe it was like walking through a cheese grater and waiting for the rest to catch up.

He paused next to the low bed and stared around. The bare cell with its pristine walls was starting to unnerve him. "Snape?" he said in a low voice. "Professor?"

The figure in the bed gave no sign he had heard. There was no change in breathing, no shift in position. Harry bent over and pulled the covers back. Snape was haggard and thin, his skin grey rather than the sallow complexion Harry associated with too many years cooped up in the dungeons. His dry lips were flaking and cracked and there was drool crusted in the corners of his mouth.

Harry caught a whiff of something putrid and drew back, catching a glimpse of angry pus-filled wounds around Snape's neck. What in Merlin's name?. His eyes narrowed as he looked more carefully, noting dark streaks under Snape's skin leading towards the man's chest. Though Harry had no knowledge of healing beyond the course he'd completed at the Academy, he was almost positive those streaks were a bad sign. He turned and walked to the front of the cell, remaining a safe distance from the bars lest the spell interpret his actions as intent to leave.

"Guard," hollered Harry into the corridor and heard his voice echo back. The guard sauntered over, having taken several minutes to traverse the thirty some-odd yards from his station to the cell. He glanced past Harry to the bed and back again, his eyebrow arched.

"Has it perhaps escaped your notice that this man is ill?" said Harry through clenched teeth. "That he requires medical attention? Some food, maybe? A shower?"

The guard's face morphed from disinterest to contempt. "He's alive, ain't he? It's not my job to do anything more than make sure he lasts long enough to show up at his trial. After that, he's the Wizengamot's problem, not mine."

Fury sang through Harry's veins and he clenched his fists to keep from reaching through the bars and throttling the man. "What is your name?" The words came out edged in cold steel and though the man had forty years on Harry, he stepped back nervously, his face pale.

"Carruthers. Walter Carruthers. But you see," continued the guard, "he's a Death Eater."

"And he's the only one here. Why is that?"

Carruthers met Harry's icy gaze head on. "It seems the rest of that lot don't take kindly to traitors. Imagine that. And them not caring much for the accommodations, neither. All that resentment's got to go somewhere and Snape here is as good a target as any. So we keep him segregated, though he don't seem nearly as appreciative as he should be."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that old Snape here does nothing but sleep all day or sit and stare at the walls."

"Yeah, I can see how that would be a lot to deal with," said Harry sarcastically. "Making all that work for you."

"Hey, a 'please' or a 'thank you' now and again ain't all that difficult, but you'll never hear somethin' like that comin' from the likes of him," said Carruthers indignantly.

It was all Harry could do to keep from rolling his eyes. "In the meantime, do you have any Healers here? Any mediwitches or wizards? And when was the last time he ate? He looks half-dead."

"Here's the thing. He don't eat 'less I stand over him. And why should I do that? He ought to know enough by now to feed himself, don't you think?"

Pointedly, Harry gazed the length of the corridor. "Just how many prisoners do you guard, Carruthers? Or is this where you trot them out when they have someone coming to see them? You know, so we won't look too carefully at how they're being treated?"

Carruthers threw up his hands and stalked off. "I'll have some porridge sent up. Maybe you can get him to eat some of it instead of endin' up wearin' it."

The mattress creaked and Harry spun to stare at the prisoner. His 'client', he supposed. Snape, who appeared to be naked, at least from the waist up. Harry didn't want to check under the duvet to know for certain. His eyes darted to all corners but didn't see any sort of robe or garment hanging anywhere. "I didn't mean to wake you," he said awkwardly as Snape swung his long (bare) legs over the edge of the bed.

Snape stared through hollow eyes and licked his lips nervously. He clutched the edge of the mattress with long pale fingers and swayed before dropping his gaze. "I've nothing better to do," he replied in a voice that sounded like it had been sifted through a sieve filled with gravel. He stood slowly as though rising were an effort and staggered the three steps to the toilet to relieve himself.

Harry felt his cheeks grow hot and averted his eyes. In a thousand years he would never have imagined sitting on Snape's bed watching him piss. It wasn't like he'd never stood at a urinal and peed next to someone, but this was different. It felt invasive, almost as bad as peering into the man's Pensieve when he was fifteen and stupid.

"What do you do all day?" he asked when he heard the toilet flush.

Snape said nothing. Instead, he sat back down on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor, his matted hair glued to the side of his head and cutting across his cheek like a jagged fork of black lightning across the bleakness of his winter white flesh. Morbid fascination with Snape's pale pink nipples and smattering of black body hair gave way to a frank assessment of his condition.

In a word, Severus Snape was skeletal. It wasn't enough that Harry could see each rib, that every vertebra poked through his skin. Even sitting, Snape's hipbones protruded. The ends of the radius and ulna defined a too-thin wrist. His hands, once classed as elegant, were little more than a collection of bones. "When did you eat last?" Harry asked again.

Eyes that once bored into him as though unearthing every secret now gazed dully at him. The tip of Snape's tongue ran over parched lips. "I've no idea."

Harry was aghast. "Don't they feed you?" Before Snape could answer, Harry was at the bars yelling again for Carruthers. When the overweight blob of a man appeared, Harry demanded that the promised food be brought immediately.

A tray appeared, courtesy of those few house-elves 'sentenced' to work at Azkaban, laden with an enormous bowl of thick, steaming porridge. There was no milk or sugar. No fruit or granola. Nothing to make it more palatable. Just thick, bland porridge.

To Harry's surprise, Snape's throat worked convulsively and tears filled those once-proud eyes. Without a word, Snape crawled back in bed and pulled the covers up to his ears. Tears continued to leak from his eyes and drip off his prominent nose.

It gutted Harry to see Snape like this, brought so low that he would succumb to tears in front of 'Harry Potter' rather than sit down to a bowl of porridge. What the hell had happened to the man? "You really need to eat something," he murmured in what he hoped was a soothing voice.

A choked sob erupted followed by a wet, wounded moan. "I can't," he cried. "I can't eat it. I cannot eat it."

"Are you certain?" For Merlin's sake, the man was clearly starving. "It's porridge. How bad can it be?"

Snape sat up so abruptly that his nose nearly collided with Harry's head. His eyes blazed with fury and a part of Harry was relieved to see some sign in him, no matter how faint the flame. "Why not ask me to pour lava down my throat or skewer myself with Gryffindor's godforsaken sword? Do you not understand plain English? I cannot eat that." Suddenly, as if the hosepipe were shut off, Snape collapsed back onto the bed again. "But it's all they ever bring." He turned his face away and wiped his cheeks.

"Wait. You're saying you literally cannot eat porridge? Like, you're allergic or something?"

"It's an intolerance," said Snape wearily. "It's not an allergy, but I'd rather eat nails. It wouldn't feel any different."

Seething with anger, Harry returned yet again to the bars of Snape's cell. "Carruthers!"

"I am not your lackey," snarled the guard. "I'm here to guard the prisoners—"

"—All one of them?"

"Not run a catering service. If he don't want to eat, then he don't eat. If he don't want to clean up, then he stays filthy. It's his choice."

"Not when the food you bring him is killing him," snarled Harry. "Summon whatever house-elf serves this cellblock and bring him to me as soon as humanly possible and I might not mention this to the Minister of Magic." He turned to Snape. "Any other allergies I should know about?"

"Just oranges. Lemon, grapefruit, and limes pose no difficulties. Just oranges. And oats."

Carruthers' face reddened and his eyes hardened, reminding Harry of Uncle Vernon in the seconds before he lost his temper. He glared back until Carruthers snapped his fingers. A house-elf appeared with a sharp crack and stared up at him through rheumy eyes as Carruthers stormed back down the hallway. If it wasn't one of Kreacher's siblings, it had to be a near cousin. "What's your name?"

"Name's Woffle," the house-elf croaked in a voice black as tar. "Wot's wiv 'im?" The house-elf gestured with his head towards Snape as he picked up the tray, the bowl of porridge clearly untouched. "He don't eat noffin' I brings 'im."

"Yeah, about that. Do you bring him anything besides porridge?"

"Rules say he don't get lunch 'til after he's finished brekkie. He ain't never finished, so..."

"Are you telling me that in the..." Harry turned towards the bed, a frown furrowing lines in his forehead. Harry wasn't certain when Snape had been brought in. "In all the time he's been here," he continued, taking a step closer to the house-elf and towering over it. "He's never had anything other than porridge? Ever?"

"When it finishes," replied Woffle stubbornly. "It—"

"Bring a plate of scrambled eggs, white toast, butter, jam, a flagon of pumpkin juice, and a pot of tea with two cups. I take mine with milk. Assume he takes his with sugar."

"Prisoners get porridge," replied Woffle, crossing his arms over his chest.

For a moment, Harry gave serious consideration to breaking the loathsome creature's neck or putting his fist through the wall. "Kreacher!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

To Harry's surprise, the house-elf appeared almost immediately. "Master Har—You." The decrepit house-elf roared like a wounded bull and charged, his arms outstretched. The next thing Harry knew Woffle and Kreacher were brawling like Gryffindors and Slytherins after a brutal Quidditch match.

Snarls and curses filled the air. Dust, dirt and clumps of hair flew in every direction. Harry reached down to pull one off the other and was badly bitten for his trouble. "Fuck!" He leapt back and held his bleeding hand up, adding a trip to St Mungo's to the day's schedule. Having no wand available he couldn't stun the pair, so he snatched a plastic cup from the sink and threw a cup of water on the combatants.

The effect was instantaneous. Woffle began to beat his head against the wall whilst Kreacher gazed up at Harry, his eyes filled with reproach. "What is Master Harry doing with that?" he growled in the coldest tone Harry had ever heard from him. He pointed at Woffle, who was now trying to yank his ears off and wailing at the top of his lungs. "He besmirches the name house-elf."

The screeching was getting on Harry's last nerve, which was a bit surprising given Harry had thought it shredded a good fifteen minutes ago. "Oh, shut it, will you?" he snapped and flung the last few drops of water at Woffle as good measure. "What do you mean, Kreacher? Besmirches it how?"

"That thing betrayed his owners. That's why he's here. He's a turncoat. Master Harry ought not associate with vermin such as the likes of him." Kreacher crossed his arms and glowered with malice.

Before Woffle could launch himself at Kreacher, Harry stepped between the two house-elves, sorely tempted to grind his boot onto Woffle's foot. "You are not to touch my house-elf. Nor are you to leave yet. Stay right there and remain quiet. Do you understand me?"

Woffle hissed and hopped from foot to foot. He clawed at his arms and snarled, but he nodded and stayed put.

At the moment, Harry truly didn't care if Woffle punished himself or not. Of all the vices, betrayal cut to the quick and was something Harry couldn't forgive, so if the bloody elf felt like tearing his ears off or ripping his skin to shreds, Harry would allow it. He turned his attention back to Kreacher, eyeing the elf critically to make certain Woffle hadn't hurt him.

"Do you know," he said after a long minute, "if you are able to enter Azkaban if I'm not here?"

Kreacher curled his lip and growled at Woffle before responding. "Kreacher can come and go from Azkaban, as Master is not imprisoned here. What is Master wanting from his poor over-worked house-elf, Sir?"

Harry glanced over at the bed where Snape still lay motionless. How the man was able to sleep through all that ruckus was beyond him. Standing over Woffle, his face twisted in disgust, he directed his remarks to Kreacher. "This house-elf tells me that prisoners aren't given their next meal unless they finish the one before it. Since Snape can't eat porridge, they're not feeding him at all. I want you to bring Snape three meals a day, preferably of foods he actually enjoys.

"Right now though, Kreacher, I want you to bring him a light breakfast." He described quickly what he wanted and waited for the sharp crack that told him that Kreacher was obeying his orders. The moment Kreacher vanished, Harry put his face down near Woffle's and focussed his attention fully upon him. "Get out—and never let me see you again."

The house-elf fled as though an angry herd of hippogriffs was on its metaphorical tail.

"And here I thought those creatures loved you," rasped Snape when both of them were gone.

"I can't abide a traitor." Harry's voice was cool, his eyes hard. "However, I know why you did it, though I've no idea how I'll manage to convince anyone else of that." He blew out a breath. "That's not why I'm here. I'm here to make certain you're being treated properly and that you have a fair trial in front of the Wizengamot." Suddenly devoid of energy, Harry slumped against the wall of the cell and stared bleakly at Snape. "Though I have to be honest, if you'd actually wanted to be acquitted, you should have chosen anyone else. Merlin, Snape, what were you thinking choosing me?"

Kreacher popped back in with a fresh tray of food, including the large pot of tea Harry requested, brewed to perfection. Seeing there was nowhere for Harry to sit unless he sat on Snape's bed, Kreacher Summoned a chair from somewhere, which Harry sank into gratefully.

Snape sat up and his eyes widened when he saw food he could actually eat for the first time in months. He extended a shaking hand and sloshed pumpkin juice into a tall goblet, splashing some on his eggs. He drank thirstily, his Adam's apple bobbing with each swallow. Harry couldn't look away.

The bedding pooled around Snape's waist and Harry watched transfixed as Snape carefully spooned the eggs onto a piece of toast, folded the bread in half and ate it as slowly as he could manage. He poured another glass of pumpkin juice and swallowed it nearly as quickly, then a third. He nibbled at the remaining piece of toast, taking tiny bites to make it last.

Through it all Harry sipped his tea and watched in fascination. He knew only too well the dreadful ache that came with starvation. He knew first hand how hard it was not to swallow food whole. He knew there was a strong likelihood that Snape's stomach would ache and his digestive tract would be messed up.

"Please don't ask me for more," said Harry quietly when Snape shook out the last few drops from the pitcher of pumpkin juice. "There will be more where that came from, but you need to go slowly for the next few days. Give your stomach a chance to remember what food is." He poured a cup of tea and held it out, his eyebrows arched in question.

Snape nodded and Harry dragged his eyes from Snape's chest to watch him savour the first sip. "It's been…what is the date, Potter?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"How would I? The lights never go off. There are ten different guards and no clear pattern that I can see. That wretched house-elf brings porridge whenever he remembers, which is both too often and not often enough. I'm not allowed books, journals, or newspapers. They do not play the wireless and I'm not blessed with the sort of friends who might be inclined to write." Snape shifted and leant against the cell wall. He took another sip of tea and his eyes closed in bliss.

"It pains me to know that you are responsible for the best day I've had in years," he said thickly. "Indulge me for a moment, Potter. How would you know what starvation feels like?" His dark eyes opened and drilled into Harry. The only problem was that there was so little life in them.

"I know you know we were on the run. I know you know we hid for awhile in the Forest of Dean. What no one knows is that we don't know how to forage, we're not good at stealing, and that none of us are particularly good at cooking, especially when we're trying to make a meal out of, oh, I don't know, pine needles. Moss. Snails. We ate what we could find, and that wasn't much."

Their first few days at Shell Cottage, after Dobby had been buried and Harry had questioned Ollivander, he was nearly certain he was going to die of dysentery or something. It was three days before he could keep food down and another week before every bite no longer passed straight through him, mysteriously turning to water before exiting. He was embarrassed by the number of times he fell asleep on the loo. His only comfort, such as it was, was knowing that Ron and Hermione weren't faring any better.

"I'll have Kreacher bring you foods that Madam Pomfrey recommends." Harry's eyes narrowed. "I know there's no love lost between you—and anybody, really—but she's a highly skilled mediwitch and worries about the people under her care. Which includes you, for what it's worth."

Silence fell between them, but to Harry's surprise it was neither heavy nor oppressive. They just sat quietly, lost somewhere within their own private thoughts. Harry wasn't even certain why he'd come. There was no duty on his part, no obligation to see Snape before his trial started. Kingsley had provided him with all of the information the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had collected, but Harry had to see Snape for himself, hear him explain away all the horrible things he had done over the course of his life. Maybe in hearing Snape's story, he'd come up with some inkling of how he was going to keep Snape from a lifetime in Azkaban.

Harry was startled from his reverie when Snape suddenly slumped over. Recalling his lessons from his field medicine course, he checked to make certain Snape was still breathing and that his heart was beating. As Harry started to move him, Snape let out a deep, window-rattling snore. The combination of hot tea and a full stomach had been too much. Snape was sound asleep.

Chapter Text

Harry left Azkaban so furious he could hardly see straight. He should have known that removing the Dementors wouldn't be enough to reform the penal system on its own. That Azkaban was no longer quite the hellhole it once was didn't mean that the prisoners were treated any better than they had been during the days of Fudge and Scrimgeour.

He took the Floo from Halkirk directly to the Ministry of Magic, bypassing the employee entrance to spill haphazardly into the anteroom near the Auror Corps offices. After dusting himself off, he stormed past the desks of the watch commander and desk sergeants on duty, shoving through the heavy door that proclaimed in shimmering gold letters that the Magical Law Enforcement squad stood ready and able to assist the Wizarding public.

Too angry to wait for the lift, Harry began a long sprint up the winding staircase that led from level two to level one where the important people lived. How dare the Ministry treat people like cattle? No, worse than cattle. Farmers actually tended their livestock, keeping them fed and watered and sheltered. Carruthers had tried to let Snape die from Nagini's wounds, and if that didn't work, to starve him slowly. It was unconscionable the depths to which people would sink if they believed for one moment that no one cared.

Huffing and puffing like an old bellows, Harry burst through the door from the stairwell and into the wide corridor with its thick blue carpet and soft grey walls. He barely glanced at the portraits lining the hallways, ignored their amused snickers as they watched him pass.

Reaching the beautiful carved door that proudly proclaimed the Minister of Magic worked here, Harry pressed down on the latch and shoved against it. The door didn't budge, though his head collided with it readily enough. Stepping back in a bit of a daze, Harry tried the latch again and found it locked.

"Minister? Minister? Kingsley!" Harry pounded on the door with his fist, earning for his trouble a throbbing hand to go with his bruised temple.

"It being the week-end, the Minister is not in."

Harry whirled at the posh tones of a cultured voice and found himself staring at a portrait of a middle-aged woman with powdered hair and a string of natural pearls around her throat. "The weekend?" he replied stupidly, feeling a wave of embarrassment that started somewhere near his left pinkie toe and rose swiftly until his ears felt like they were on fire. No wonder the Aurors on desk duty were staring at him.

The woman's amused laughter tinkled like silver bells. "'Tis most fortunate indeed that the Minister is hard at work preparing for his upcoming appearance before the Wizengamot. Should you desire it, young Potter, I will happily fetch him for you."

"Yeah, that'd be…if you would be so kind," he amended at her arch look. Somehow he'd managed to pick up a few manners along the way, though Hermione was certain he didn't use them nearly as often as he should.

The portrait gave a brief nod of her head and disappeared. To Harry's relief, the door to the Minister's office opened before she returned and Harry breathed an audible sigh of relief.

"I'm told you nearly beat the door down," said Kingsley as he ushered Harry inside. "What is so urgent that it can't wait until Monday?"

"Snape, sir."

The irritation at having been interrupted vanished to be replaced by resignation and Kingsley sighed heavily. "I was working on my statement of fact to the Wizengamot and realised that we'd not established the limits of your witness list. I haven't even made time to speak with Snape regarding some inconsistencies in the record. Shall we?" He gestured to his office and Harry stepped inside.

Since it was Saturday, Kingsley offered Harry his choice of beverage, include whisky or ale, but Harry stuck with his preferred butterbeer. He did, however, fall on the platter of battered fish and chips like a man possessed. "I've arranged for my house-elf to feed Snape whilst he's waiting," he said between bites. "They're not feeding him and I'll not have him half-starved and looking like a wastrel in front of the Wizengamot."

Kingsley set his piece of fish back down and stared wide-eyed. "What do you mean they're not feeding him? We've implemented about a hundred new rules and regulations despite the Prophet declaring that we're coddling murders and Death Eaters. Every prisoner is entitled to three meals a day, a daily shower, and clean sheets once a week."

"They're supposed to have reading material, a prison uniform, and a few hours to socialise as well, but Snape doesn't have any of those things. He's cooped up in his cell 'round the clock. I've no idea when he's showered last and he was starkers the entire time I was with him." Harry felt his cheeks grow hot and steadfastly refused to look in the direction of the portrait of the Duke of Buckingham. He was too…something. Harry didn't quite know what it was, but the portrait made him feel ashamed somehow. Like it knew secrets about him that it was more than willing to share.

"I remember how Sirius looked the first time I saw him. He was all scraggly with these huge circles under his eyes and he was just so fucking thin. He had on these wretched striped pyjama type things with his number on it. And he was just filthy—and that was after living as a dog for nine months. But he looked a lot better than Snape does now.

"They're not even treating that bite Nagini gave him. It's all open and oozing and filled with pus. And it stinks." Harry wrinkled his nose. "It really stinks, like worse than bubotuber pus or Stinksap. He's the only prisoner in his cell block and the guard just laughed at me when I asked for medical help."

Kingsley rose from the sofa and swept over to his desk, his tribal robes fluttering around him like the wings of great blue heron. He grabbed a quill and a blank sheet of parchment and began to scribble across the page. "Keep going, Harry. What else did you observe?"

Harry craned his neck a bit in an attempt to see what the Minister was writing, but he was too far away to see anything clearly. "Well, they have some odd rule that a prisoner won't get lunch unless he finishes breakfast, and since they're feeding Snape food he can't eat, he never gets anything but porridge. He says he'd rather eat nails. I guess it's allergies or something.

"And I don't think he's bathed the entire time he's been there…" Harry's voice trailed off. Snape wasn't nearly as filthy as he should have been if he'd ignored his hygiene altogether, so he must be keeping clean somehow. "Maybe he uses the water from the tap to rinse off, but his hair is just disgusting. It's not like Snape ever kept it clean or anything, but now it's all matted and hanging in clumps. I don't know how he's not scratching his head constantly."

Kingsley set down his quill and knelt in front of a vaguely oriental cabinet. He rummaged through it and pulled out a couple of bottles before rising and lifting the cover. "There are times when nothing but a gin and tonic will do. Have you had one before?" he asked as he Summoned a couple of short, wide glasses. He glanced over his shoulder at Harry as he squeezed some lime juice on top of a small pile of ice cubes.

Harry shook his head. "Not really had much of a chance to try my hand at drinking, sir." Not to mention that Uncle Vernon was a nasty drunk, which had the added benefit of putting Harry off liquor. But since Kingsley was offering and was well on his way to having two cocktails made, Harry decided he could at least taste it.

Kingsley handed Harry his drink before sitting down. "I'm going to launch an official inquiry into the goings on at Azkaban." He took a long sip and smacked his lips. "This will be the fifth official inquiry of my administration. I'll tell you, Harry, there are days when I wish I could hold a meeting with all of the Ministry department heads and ask them what the hell is going on? Unfortunately though, I'm to ask the division heads for a report from the department heads, who push the inquiry to the supervisors, who want to know why I'm asking. This is a horrible job."

"It might be a horrible job, sir, but you're getting more done than Fudge ever did," volunteered Harry. He took a cautious sip and couldn't decide if he liked it or not. There was something sharp under the taste of lime and a bit of bitterness as well, but the alcohol burned the back of his throat and he set the glass down. For now.

"Sir, Snape was crying."

Kingsley knocked back his drink and rose to fix another one, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. "Severus Snape was crying?" he said as he sat back down. "The Severus Snape? Crying? As in tears?" Harry nodded and Kingsley sank into the sofa, appearing more troubled than at any time Harry had known him. "I didn't even know the bastard had a heart and now you're telling me that he wept in front of you."

He shook his head and lifted his wand. A folder thick with papers sailed through the air and landed neatly on Harry's lap. He opened it and picked up the first page. It was a detailed sheet of information about Minerva McGonagall: where she was born, where she attended primary school, who her parents were, what she'd done after leaving Hogwarts. "What's all this?"

"This is why I planned to meet with you the day after tomorrow. It's the background information on every person interviewed by the Investigation Division of the Auror Corps. It's also the name of every person who's been notified that they might be called upon to offer testimony on Snape's behalf." Kingsley gestured toward the folder, glass in hand. "There's even a page in there about you, though you're not permitted to offer testimony of any kind."

Harry took another sip from his glass, not really paying much attention to the taste. There were fifty, sixty pages inside, each one a complete dossier on the person whose name appeared. McGonagall, Flitwick, Trelawney, all of the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army, plus a considerable number of people Harry had never heard of.

He took his time, skimming through each sheet as Kingsley read reports of some sort. "Sir, what do I have to do if there are witnesses I wish to call who aren't in here?"

Kingsley was sitting back savouring his drink, either his third or fourth, Harry couldn't remember. He'd been too engrossed in the file to pay much attention to Kingsley's wanderings. "The investigators are pretty thorough, Harry. I can't imagine there's anybody they missed, but if you think someone else has something noteworthy to add, just send me a list of names and I'll have their profiles drawn up."

Kingsley's brow furrowed and his eyelids drooped a bit. Harry wondered if the Minister was about to fall asleep. First Snape, then Kingsley. He hoped he wasn't a candidate for the dullest person in existence. He always thought that title belonged to Percy. It wasn't often he could find someone who could speak for a solid two hours on the thickness of cauldron bottoms or number of threads per inch used in flying carpets. Merlin! Percy could make the Quidditch World Cup sound dull.

"If you think you might need to call extra witnesses," said Kingsley quite unexpectedly. Harry jumped and stared at Kingsley through wide eyes. "I've not nodded off, Harry. I was merely organising my case. As I was saying, you can also list John Brown and use numbers, but I can't imagine you'll have more than one or two of those."

It took a moment before Harry's heart settled back down. It was a bit embarrassing being caught out like that, but Kingsley had a taxing job. It hadn't helped any that Harry had barged in on the weekend to disturb the Minister whilst he was attempting to get some work done. "And what of magical artefacts? Patrickson said I can't use the portraits if they have an interest. Does that mean I have to exclude all of them?"

"All of the portraits at Hogwarts? Do you truly believe you'll need the Wizengamot to hear from all of them?" Kingsley chuckled and shook his gleaming bald head. "I appreciate your zeal, Harry, but you must understand that the Wizengamot will have read my report and have likely made up their minds. It would take a miracle for Snape to be acquitted."

"If it would take a miracle," said Harry coolly, "why do we even bother? Why do they get to hear everything and make up their minds before I've had a chance to ask a single question? It hardly seems fair."

"It's not fair, but if the person on trial were completely innocent, do you think they'd have been accused in the first place? Look at your trial, Harry. You used magic in front of a Muggle when you were but fourteen years old. It was a clear violation of the law, except for the fact that you were defending yourself and your cousin from a Dementor attack. The Wizengamot was told what you did, but not why you did it.

"You will need to explain motive. To place Snape's actions into some sort of context. To give his actions meaning, provided you can find one."

"But I can't even testify," shouted Harry. "Snape saw to that himself. How am I to explain if the only person who can explain can't? Everyone else is dead. Dumbledore's portrait can't testify because the whole scheme was his idea in the first place, so of course he wanted it to succeed." Harry sagged against the back of the sofa. "I am utterly fucked."

The portrait hanging on the wall spoke up. "Not yet, dear boy, but before this ends, you will be." The Duke of Buckingham winked slowly and his lip curved in a knowing smile.

Harry couldn't help but shudder. "Oh, shut up," he growled as he glared at the portrait. Maybe he could move it to Grimmauld Place and let it hang opposite Sirius' mum for a bit, see how he liked that. "You're not helping."

He turned his attention back to Kingsley. "Let me see if I have this straight." There was a snort from the Duke. "If I figure out I want to call someone who's not in here, I send a list to you. The investigators will make up these sheets so everybody knows the witnesses' backgrounds. If I think I might need to reserve some spots, I guess, I just list a bunch of John Browns. I can't call any of the portraits… And why is that? Did you ever say?"

"Because Snape was the headmaster of Hogwarts, and whilst they may not like him either…" This time it was Harry who snorted. "They do have some loyalty to the school itself. The ones who might be neutral died hundreds of years ago. The law doesn't make allowances for portraits whose subjects died—"

"—more than ten years ago, I know." Harry pulled off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. No matter how hard he tried, he kept seeing images of Snape's naked body parading before his eyes. No, he wasn't parading. Snape had been too still, too withdrawn for that. It was almost as if Snape accepted his nakedness as part of the price he was required to pay for still being alive.

"The problem is," said Harry as he slipped his glasses back on, "that nobody likes Snape. I don't. You don't. Hogwarts doesn't. Merlin, even the Death Eaters would be willing to bring the Dementors back to Azkaban if it meant Snape was Kissed. Can't we just ship him off to Nurmengard or something? Exchange him for somebody they're not fond of?"

"Foist our problem off on someone else? Is that what you're asking?" Kingsley's rich voice was thick with disappointment and Harry hung his head. Yes, that was precisely what he'd been thinking. He wasn't a solicitor. He had no idea what he was doing. He didn't even know why it mattered so much to him that Snape be treated fairly, except that Harry hadn't been, and if it weren't for Albus Dumbledore, he might well have had his wand snapped.

Chapter Text

Part II: Trial
Prosecution

Harry arrived on the ninth level of the Ministry of Magic early Monday morning having no idea where he was supposed to go or what he was supposed to do. He tugged at the black ribbed collar of his brand new uniform and paced along the expansive hallway, his new black boots clacking noisily on the tile floor, his red cloak fluttering comfortingly around his knees. All he knew was that Snape's trial would be in Courtroom Ten and that the bailiff assigned to the case would be meeting him there.

"Mr Potter?" Harry turned at hearing his name and saw the bailiff, Rhoda Gauntlett, approaching. She unlocked the courtroom and ushered him inside. "You can set all your things on that table. When you're ready, I'll take you to your client," she said politely, her hazel eyes appraising him dispassionately.

"My...client?"

"Snape. I suppose I could just call him the defendant, but seeing as you're representing him and all—"

"He chose me," said Harry firmly. It was important that no one thought he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He wasn't. If he'd found some way of getting out of it he would have resigned by now, but Kingsley had made it quite clear that with his resignation would go any chance he had of becoming an Auror.

"Well," said Gauntlett "it's still my job to take you to him. He's just arrived from Azkaban, so he's not changed into anything suitable for trial."

Suitable for trial? What did that mean? "I don't understand. Didn't he have a chance to eat before they shipped him off?"

"No, I mean the only clothes he has are his prison uniform and slippers."

Harry stopped walking. "You mean he doesn't have robes? Boots?"

"Not unless you brought them."

"This is ridiculous." He turned and stabbed his finger towards Gauntlett's chest. "Find Kingsley. Tell him we're delaying the start until I can find something for Snape to wear. In the meantime, take me to him so I can at least find out what size clothes to get."

"But—"

"I'm not dragging Snape before a bunch of people who want him dead looking like he just escaped from Azkaban. They'll have him convicted before he ever says a word if I do. Now tell Kingsley we're delaying. I'll find Snape myself."

The bailiff sighed and nodded her head. "They're not going to like this, but I reckon that's your problem." She pointed down a narrow corridor. "Through the double doors at the end of the hall. You can't miss him after that." She scurried off and Harry watched her until she disappeared around a corner.

When this was all over, he thought angrily, he was going to write a book about this miserable excuse for a system of justice. How on earth was anyone supposed to get a fair hearing if the rules changed willy-nilly? He flung open the door and found Snape sitting by himself in a small room with large windows, alone. That he hadn't tried to escape came as a bit of surprise, but the Ministry wasn't the easiest place to traipse about unseen.

A moment later he learnt why. Snape was chained to the chair, his hands secured behind his back, his feet secured together from knees to ankles. Another chain lay across his hips and fastened to each rear leg of the metal chair upon which he sat. Harry looked at the faded grey striped uniform and shook his head. "Sirius wore it better," he said, "but it was only a couple of sizes too big for him."

Snape lifted his head and speared him with a sharp look. His lip curled with contempt. "As despicable as your godfather was, Potter, even I know he wasn't likely to cause people to want to claw their eyes out rather than look at him."

Harry eyed Snape critically. The uniform he was wearing would be large on Slughorn and fell off Snape like a basilisk shedding skin. His hair had been cut slightly shorter than Harry's, which had the unfortunate effect of emphasising Shape's nose. At least he appeared fed. With some food in him though, his cheekbones merely looked sharp, not skeletal.

"I've just learnt that you've nothing better to wear into the courtroom than what you have on," said Harry, "so I've told Kingsley to delay the start for a bit. I need to know what size clothes to get."

"No."

"What? Are you mad? You can't mean to walk out there dressed in that."

"And why not?" sneered Snape. "Do you expect any of them will undergo a magical change of heart because I'm suddenly made presentable? Or what passes for it in your eyes?"

"Because appearing like someone who has already been convicted will be so much better? " Harry sighed. "Why does everything have to be a battle with you? You need proper clothes to wear into court and unless you have some, I need to get some. So what are your sizes?"

Snape turned his head and looked away. "I should ask Neville's gran for one of her old dresses," muttered Harry under his breath. "Along with her vulture hat." He pulled himself to his full height. "Be grateful I've no skill at Transfiguring clothes. I'll be back in a few minutes. You'd damned well better be here when I return."

Snape's only response was to lift an eyebrow. "Or you'll what?"

"Or I'll have you declared missing and considered dangerous. The Aurors tend to hex first and ask later." He gave a tight smile and stormed out of the room.

Bastard. Why must the man turn every act of kindness into a fight to the death? Ridiculous.

It took him a few minutes to find Kingsley and less than that for Kingsley to tear a bite out of his hide. "We are not going to delay this trial so you can turn Snape into your personal dress-up doll."

"I am not turning him into a dress-up doll," gritted Harry. "But I can't send him in there looking like he came out on the wrong end of a battle with a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Let me use the Floo in your office to firecall Professor McGonagall. All of Snape's things are still at Hogwarts as far as I know. She should be able to find him a decent set of robes and a pair of boots. Fifteen minutes, Kingsley. That's all I ask."

Kingsley folded his arms across his chest and glared down at Harry. "You have ten minutes and tell Daveen I gave you permission."

Harry didn't bother with thanks. He had nine levels to ascend and a firecall to make, and Minerva needed time on her end to find Snape's belongings. Naturally, the lifts were packed, but then Harry noticed that everyone stuffed inside was getting off to see the trial, so he had a relatively easy journey to Level One.

Luck was with Harry. Professor McGonagall was at her desk and waved him through. "I must admit I was as surprised as you were to learn that Severus appointed you to be his representative," she said once quick greetings had been exchanged. "He never made a secret of how little he cared for you. I always thought it would do him a world of good to be locked in a room with you for a month, but I could think of nothing you'd done to warrant such ill treatment."

Locked in a room with Snape? There was a revolting thought. "Occlumency lessons were bad enough. We would have killed each other rather than find a way to work together. He's just...he's just so unfair. He always thinks he knows best, that he's the smartest one around, but he's not. He's clever, I'll give you that, but he can't be reasoned with, not if he gets his back up. I swear I've never met anyone more stubborn than he is. He just expects everyone to just know everything. And he calls me arrogant. If I had half the ego he does, I'd be insufferable." Harry was a bit surprised to discover he was shouting and immediately stopped talking.

McGonagall was staring at him as though he'd just sprouted antlers. "Well, it seems Albus was right. You are more alike than not. But I thought you were in a hurry?"

Harry's eyes widened. How had he forgotten he had a deadline? "Kingsley's going to have my head," he exclaimed.

McGonagall shook her head. "There's a staircase just past the Pensieve. Turn left at the top and you'll be in the headmaster's private rooms. It's just as Severus left it."

"Why didn't you move his things out?" asked Harry as he moved to the spiral staircase.

"I've lived in Gryffindor Tower for well over thirty years, Mr Potter," she said. "I'm happy there. It's my home and I see no reason to leave it. Besides, it gives me a reason to leave this place every evening. It feels like work has ended."

That seemed like a perfectly rational reason to Harry. He sprinted up the stairs and found the room where Snape had once lived. There was a large wardrobe right inside the room, but no matter how hard Harry pulled on the handle, the cupboard wouldn't open. "Is there a password or something?" he shouted down the stairwell.

"I shouldn't think so." McGonagall's voice floated up. It sounded far away and Harry wondered if she was leaving.

"Look, I need something for Snape to wear," he gritted out as he tugged and rattled the door. He tried Alohomora but nothing happened. Giving the handle an enormous yank, he tumbled backwards when the door flew open. Satiny robes the colour of aquamarine fluttered out, followed instantly by a pair of slippers and a tall pointed hat. A tight ball of underthings launched itself at his head and he snatched it right out of the air. He stared at the robes, but the door slammed shut. Knowing he was out of time, he bundled the clothing up, wincing at the thought of what Snape was going to say.

Sprinting back down the stairs, Harry was only mildly surprised to see that McGonagall was gone. He paused for a moment in front of Dumbledore's portrait. "I'm sorry I don't have more time, but Kingsley will have my head if I'm not back in about thirty seconds."

"Mustn't keep the Minister waiting, Harry," said the portrait, his blue eyes twinkling. "We'll have a chance to speak another time."

Spotting the jar of Floo powder, he tossed some on the fire and crossed his fingers that there wasn't a password he needed to know. He stepped into the fire and spun off, heading for the Aurors' Office on Level Two. At least he knew how to access that fireplace, even if it was designated for emergency use only.

The lifts to the ninth level seemed to take forever and Kingsley was pacing furiously when he arrived panting and out of breath. "I know, I know," he wheezed. "Give me a minute so he can get changed." He sprinted off to the holding cell where he found Snape still shackled and bristling with enough anger that Harry felt it the second he dashed into the room.

"You need…to give me…the password…to your wardrobe," he panted as he set the ball of clothing down in front of Snape. His lungs were pulling in air like a bellows and it took another minute before he could complete a sentence without needing to take another breath. "I don't know why, but I think it gave me some of Dumbledore's things instead of yours. Why didn't you clear his things out first?"

Snape just stared at the clothing as Harry unshackled him. He said nothing as he removed his prison garb; then again, he didn't have to. His eyes spoke volumes, and if it had been possible for fire to spit from them, Harry would have been roasted alive. Snape dressed and Harry watched, hoping his perverse fascination with Snape's body wasn't advertised on his face. "The charm to remove wrinkles is—" hissed Snape.

"I know what it is," muttered Harry as he pulled his wand and made Snape as presentable as humanly possible. Ignoring the heat spooling in his belly and the hint of arousal building between his legs, he opened the door and waited for Snape to stalk through it.

Gauntlett was waiting on the other side and swiftly had Snape back in manacles for the walk to Courtroom Ten. Harry followed behind, not knowing if he was supposed to walk in with Snape or with Kingsley. It would have been helpful to have some sort of instructional pamphlet to read over before the actual trial started, and given the Ministry's predilection for reducing everything to bullet points, it was just short of amazing that there wasn't such a thing.

Chapter Text

Courtroom Ten was a monstrous place. Tall black walls disappeared into the gloomy darkness miles above their heads where the light from the flickering torches refused to climb. Along each of the four walls were benches climbing in steep rows. A tall, wide bench sat between two doors and Harry had a sudden vision of Umbridge simpering down at a poor witch accused of stealing magic, with a Polyjuiced Hermione cowering at Umbridge's side.

Harry hated this place, hated everything it stood for. Echoes from the past rang in his ears, especially the heart-rending cries of Barty Crouch, Jr as he pleaded innocence. "Father, please! It wasn't me!" Harry closed his eyes as the bile rose in his throat. Father, please! The words affected him on a visceral level. You are no son of mine!

Eyes wild, Harry stared around the courtroom and finally settled enough to watch Gauntlett fasten a wide leather strap across Snape's hips. Chains slithered up the four legs to wrap themselves around Snape's limbs. He wouldn't be going anywhere without the chair's permission.

A noise off to the left drew Harry's attention and he watched as the jury filed into their assigned seats. The jury comprised members of the Wizengamot who were chosen months and months earlier in a lottery system Kingsley dreamt up. With a hundred or so trials looming on the horizon and only a hundred potential jurors, he needed to find a way to distribute them at random. A small black bag was created for each trial with a hundred runic tiles inside.

On a rainy Saturday, the Wizengamot Administrative Services, their friends and family sat in a huge circle, each with a lined and numbered scroll of parchment in front of them. The witches and wizards of the Wizengamot stopped at each station, dipped their hand into the bag, and selected a tile. If the tile had one of the first twenty-one characters of the runic alphabet on it, their name was written in the corresponding position on the parchment. If they selected a tile with the last letter on it, they would sit out that trial.

Naturally, some members were luckier than others. Athelmore Barrow found himself on over seventy trials; Regina Chandler only had to sit on eleven. By the time of Snape's trial, they were all practiced jurors. They settled into their assigned seats and pulled out their knitting or sketchbooks and readied themselves for hours of testimony. None of them had the first idea that they would be there for days.

The twenty-one members of the Wizengamot, chosen at random to decide Snape's fate, filed in and took their seats in three orderly rows. Next to Harry in the elevated wooden chair sat Severus Snape, his aquamarine blue robes sparkling in a shaft of magical light pouring from someplace high over their heads.

"All rise for the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt." Bailiff Rhoda Gauntlett stepped back as Kingsley swept through the door hidden near the section reserved for the 'jury of Snape's peers'.

The gallery was packed, with the first row taken up by staff from the Daily Prophet, the Wireless Wizarding Network and, inexplicably, Witch Weekly. If they were thinking to find him a girlfriend, thought Harry, they were barking up the wrong tree. As soon as that thought entered his mind he wondered where it had come from. Unconsciously, his eyes stole over to Snape and his pulse quickened. Again. This obsession was becoming embarrassing.

Eschewing the high bench Umbridge had favoured when holding Registration hearings, Kingsley paced around the well, his colourful robes flowing around him.

Kingsley's dark eyes swept over the gallery and the members of the Wizengamot. They examined Harry before settling on Snape. The anger in them rose until his eyes were all but spitting fire.

"This man," he thundered as he pointed at Snape, "acting on the orders of Lord Voldemort, murdered Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, recipient of the Order of Merlin, first class, and leader of the Order of the Phoenix.

"His betrayal started years earlier when he provided Lord Voldemort with the information necessary to murder James and Lily Potter. This bitter, vindictive man sought his revenge for schoolboy pranks by making those same schoolmates targets for the Dark Lord.

"As the Dark Lord's 'most trusted servant'," Kingsley's voice became scathing, "he turned loose upon a castle full of defenceless students a team of Death Eaters known as Amycus and Alecto Carrow. He allowed them unfettered access to the weakest among us—children!—where they taught those same children that the use of Unforgivables was acceptable, if not expected.

"The students of Slytherin House, where Snape ruled with an iron fist for nearly twenty years, took to such instruction like ducks to water. The other three Houses, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw, did not fare as well, unaccustomed to such vile and reprehensible actions as they are.

"The students of Hogwarts were forced into hiding for the latter half of the school year to avoid being the targets of whippings, floggings, and, in some cases, the use of the Cruciatus Curse.

"For reasons known only to himself, Severus Snape, Death Eater, spy, and traitor, chose Harry Potter to represent him. Perhaps he believes that having the man who defeated Voldemort will paint his words with a veneer of respectability. It is hard to imagine what goes through the mind of the person who would look his only friend in the eye and cast the Killing Curse.

"Snape will have you believe that his was an act of mercy, that Albus Dumbledore was dying from a Dark curse, that he acted as any true friend would by putting a dying man out of his misery.

"But notice that he acted when it best suited him to do so. There was no mercy shown to a purportedly dying man. No, Snape saw an opportunity to advance himself within the ranks of the Death Eaters and was rewarded handsomely for it.

"You, the members of the Wizengamot, have sat in judgment as more than a hundred Death Eaters were brought to trial. In nearly every case, you have come to a just conclusion. In nearly every case, a Death Eater is serving time at Azkaban because of his or her crimes. Property and monies have been forfeited to fund repairs to the homes, businesses, and families affected most by this war. Hogwarts was rebuilt by the selfless donation of countless hours from members of our community and their generosity is being acknowledged.

"Severus Snape is being charged as an accessory to the murder of James and Lily Potter, for being an accessory to the attempted murder of Harry Potter, for the endangerment of the more than five hundred Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw children under his care. For the premeditated murder in cold blood of Albus Dumbledore, one of the greatest wizards the world has ever know.

"There is only one sentence possible, my friends. Upon presentation of the evidence, and the rebuttal by Harry Potter and his many, many witnesses, you must convict Severus Snape on all charges and return a sentence of lifetime imprisonment in Azkaban. It is the only way we can keep ourselves safe from the most evil man alive in Wizarding Britain today."

Kingsley mounted the steps to the high bench where Percy Weasley sat watching a Quick-Quotes Quill dance across the page. In case of a discrepancy between witnesses, or if the Wizengamot wanted to review testimony, they would view Percy's memories in a Pensieve. Harry wished that the Wizengamot Administrative Services department had selected as recorder someone with more than three brain cells to rub together, but the entire Ministry was exhausted by endless trials. In the end, only Percy had volunteered to serve as scribe and from all accounts had done a yeoman's job of it. Still, Harry wished it had been Hermione up there. She picked up on nuances that others tended to miss, which made her recollections rich in detail. Almost like Dumbledore's.

After a full minute passed where nothing happened, Kingsley gestured to Harry. "It's your turn to speak, Mr Potter. Don't be nervous. You're amongst friends here."

Harry was under no illusions. The only friends he had in this courtroom were Arthur and Molly Weasley, who were sitting along the back row of the gallery, Kingsley Shacklebolt, who wanted nothing more than to see Snape hang, and Snape himself.

It was an odd thought, counting Snape amongst his friends, but Harry had spent a month doing nothing but conducting interviews and reading reports that dealt with Snape. The man was even appearing in his dreams, though not in a manner he'd ever admit to anyone.

Wiping his hands on his robes, Harry came to his feet and tried to work up enough saliva to swallow. Knees knocking, he walked out into the centre of the room where Kingsley had stood and gazed out at the members of the Wizengamot, all of whom seemed to be staring back with varying degrees of pity. "Severus Snape trusted the wrong people, as so many of us do. He believed the whispers and lies of his housemates and pledged himself to a madman, to his everlasting regret.

"Snape was Dumbledore's man through and through. When Snape was betrayed, when he pleaded for the life of the person he loved beyond all others, he was mocked and made a fool of." Harry stopped and swung his gaze back towards Snape. He walked slowly past the tall wooden chair on its raised platform and faced the Wizengamot, feeling very small and insignificant with Snape towering over him.

"Imagine this man, this proud, proud man, on his knees, sobbing as though his heart had been yanked from his chest, begging the most powerful wizard alive to spare the life of the woman he loved. That he would do anything, anything to see her kept safe, regardless of the cost to himself.

"Imagine the betrayal he felt when the most powerful wizard alive failed in his promise. Imagine his heartbreak, his anguish. Imagine having nothing left to live for and then being asked to protect the son of the man who bullied you, who tormented you, who loathed you for nothing more than existing because he was her son, too.

"I can hear you thinking, 'But he was a child. Who could hate a child?' It was the child's existence that caused the death of the mother. It was that foul, loathsome, tormentor who married her and had a child with her. If not for them, she would still be alive. You can see, I hope, how that could twist the heart of an ordinary person.

"But Severus Snape has never been ordinary. He has never had the things most of us take for granted: friendship, compassion, acceptance, a sense of well-being. Not even Albus Dumbledore believed enough in Severus Snape to take him at his word. He exacted an oath from Snape that he would protect that little boy, the son of the man who made his life a living hell for seven long years."

Harry stepped forward and offered them a sad smile. "Do you know what the hardest part of defending this man is? It's knowing the truth and not being able to testify. It's being the only other person alive who knows the whole story and not being able to tell the tale. So, you'll have to trust me when I parade all my witnesses before you that they know parts of what happened, but not all of it. I'll have to trust you to assemble the pieces together properly."

Harry cocked his head and studied the faces before him. Only a couple of members wore thoughtful expressions. The others looked at Snape with revulsion, with loathing. Convincing these people that Snape acted on Dumbledore's orders was going to be an uphill battle, and one he had no intention of losing. Hermione called it his 'saving people' thing. He called it basic decency, and a warped sense of responsibility.

"Fate has not been particularly kind to Severus Snape, but I am forced to admit he's had a hand in his destruction."

A few of them shook their heads as though that was the most idiotic thing they had ever heard. Harry was inclined to agree with them.

"I can't say I blame you for rolling your eyes, but consider this: the people who know the truth, besides me, are dead. My mum, Lily, who was his friend, is dead. The Marauders—that was their name for their little group—are dead. Dumbledore is dead—"

"Because that man murdered him," said one of the Wizengamot quite unexpectedly.

Harry rocked back on his feet as though struck. "Dumbledore planned his death with the same amount of care he planned everything else." Except searching for Horcruxes maybe. Harry had had precious little information to be going on with and the months and months they spent in hiding as a result had been too much to bear. The Wizengamot didn't need to know that, though, and Harry kept the thought safely to himself.

"When we're done here, you'll know the truth as well as I do. Snape made mistakes and he paid for each and every one of them. More than that, though, he regrets them…"

Snape was sitting with his head bowed. Without the curtain of greasy black hair, Harry could see his eyes were closed. His fingers clutched the armrests of the chair so tightly that his bony fingers were skeleton-white. To Harry's chagrin, Snape was the very picture of a condemned man.

"Umm, that's all I have to say. Is this where Kingsley starts calling witnesses or something?"

Percy snorted, and Kingsley's eyes cut towards his clerk, his dark eyes sharp and narrow. "This, Mr Potter, is where I question the defendant about his crimes. This is where he is given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. This is his first chance to convince the Wizengamot that the information provided by the Investigation Division is incorrect. After that, it's your job to prove everything he says in his defence is true."

Chapter Text

For the first time, Harry was grateful for the parchment and ink that Rhoda had so thoughtfully provided. He had no idea what was going to come out of Snape's mouth, and if he knew the bastard at all, then it couldn't possibly be good.

From their few conversations, Harry was certain Snape had no interest in being acquitted. This was a bridge too far, a hill too steep, and Snape saw no reason to bother.

"What could I possibly have to look forward to, Mr Potter? I'm a traitor to both sides. Who would possibly have me work for them? Who would visit any apothecary by whom I was employed? What right-minded witch or wizard would purchase the potions I brew?

"For once, Mr Potter, remove your Gryffindor-tinted glasses and see the world as it is instead of how you want it to be. I am, and always will be, standing in a sewer looking up. Should I then be surprised when shit rains down on me? I am wise enough to know when I am being pissed upon and you will never hear me say it's raining."

Harry had said nothing for the longest time. "I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire, but we both know that. As I see it, my job is pull the shovel out of your hand and tell you to stop digging." It would be nothing short of a miracle, though, if Harry managed to avoid clubbing him with it later.

Harry took his seat and looked up at Kingsley. A thick book appeared on both Kingsley's desk and his little table and Harry opened it. Flipping through it, he noticed Minerva McGonagall's name at the top of the second page. It was summaries of all the reports he had read.

"Thanks," mouthed Harry. It was something Harry should have thought to do, but Dumbledore hadn't brought any paperwork when he had a hearing before the Wizengamot for defending himself against Dementors. Of course, there was nothing ordinary about that situation at all, so it shouldn't have some as a surprise to learn that wasn't how things worked.

Kingsley opened his book to somewhere in the middle. Nervous apprehension made Harry's fingertips cold and he fidgeted restlessly. He grabbed the quill and dipped it in ink as the courtroom seemed to inhale in unison.

"Severus Snape, did you or did you not provide Lord Voldemort with the Prophecy about his defeat?"

"I did."

"Do you recall the words of that prophecy?"

"I do," replied Snape. He licked his lips and waited, but when Kingsley said nothing, he recited, "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. That was all I heard." Harry jotted a note: Trelawney.

"What did you do with that information?"

"I informed the Dark Lord."

"How did you come to hear the prophecy?"

"At the Dark Lord's request, I approached Albus Dumbledore about the Dark Arts position. He offered me the post of Potions Master instead. He interviewed another candidate after he spoke with me and I heard her speak as she entered the room. The barkeep tossed me out when he noticed me listening."

"And where was this?"

"At the Hog's Head." Harry made another note: Aberforth?

"So you were complicit in the deaths of James and Lily Potter, were you not?"

Snape's head came up and he glowered. Harry was relieved that Snape appeared ready to fight, but then he opened his mouth and spoke. "If bringing to the Dark Lord a vague prophecy that could have referred to anybody makes me complicit in their deaths, then yes. It was because of my actions that they're dead. Had I said nothing, it is likely the prophecy would not have come to pass."

Great. Snape had just admitted to being a co-conspirator in his parents' deaths. Harry tossed the quill onto the table and sighed. This was going to be a very long trial. Or a very short one. Harry was finding it impossible to make up his mind.

"Did you inform Lord Voldemort that the prophecy referred to the Potters?"

Snape shook his head. "No. I had no idea Lily was even pregnant. But the Dark Lord had other spies who were able to discover the possible identity of the one foretold."

"What did you do when you learned that the prophecy referred to Lily's son, Harry?"

Snape said nothing for a moment. He turned his head and studied Harry. Harry stared back at him. Nothing Snape said could possibly be news to him. "I arranged to meet with Albus Dumbledore and informed him that the Dark Lord wanted Lily dead. I begged him to save her life."

"What of Harry and James?"

Snape shrugged and hung his head. "I truly did not care if they lived or died." He looked up and met Kingsley's gaze. "It was beyond my ability to care about what became of James Potter. We had an unfortunate history. Lily mattered. Only her."

A frisson of shock ran through the courtroom at Snape's callous disregard for James Potter, but there was little that Snape could say about his father that would come as any surprise to Harry. James had been held up as a model of Harry's worst attributes and, after all this time, there was nothing anyone could say or do that would change how James was seen through Snape's eyes.

"Did you or did you not cast the Killing Curse on Albus Dumbledore on the 30th of June, 1996?"

Every member of the Wizengamot leant forward to hear Snape's confession and Harry sat on his hands to keep from crossing his fingers. 'Don't make things worse. Please don't make things worse.' He tried to keep a neutral expression on his face, but his eyes closed of their own accord.

Snape folded his hands in his lap and stared down at them as if he'd never seen them before. He inhaled deeply and squared his shoulders. Lifting his chin, he gazed directly at Kingsley. "I did, and if I had to do things over again, I still would."

Kingsley folded his hands and glared as he waited for the buzz of conversation to die a natural death. He merely started to rise when a hush fell over the courtroom. "Thank you, Mr Snape. The men and women of the Wizengamot will not have to waste much time deliberating those charges."

Harry started to come to his feet to lodge a protest when Kingsley spoke again. "That was an improper remark on my part, Mr Weasley. Just draw a line through it if you don't mind." Harry sat swiftly and rested his head in his hand. Surely slaying dragons was an easier job than this. Maybe he should send an owl to Charlie to see if they needed any assistance at the Dragon Preserve. That way he could quit the Auror Corps, quit Snape, and still have some semblance of a happy life.

"The final charges, five hundred counts of recklessly endangering the lives of children, are an accumulation of the crimes that were committed against the students of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw Houses whilst you were headmaster of Hogwarts. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement found it impossible to arrive at an exact figure, though they suppose the number to be much higher than that.

"Our team of investigators attempted to interview the students who attended the school last year. They stated that, in many cases, they were unable to obtain the statements they needed because the students either…" Kingsley flipped to a marked page in his book and began to read aloud. "They either 'became hysterical, began to cry or shake, refused to speak to us any further, demanded we leave, or, in one case, Petrified himself so he couldn't respond'. The Healers at St. Mungo's believe them to be traumatised.

"The evidence shows that you hired a known Death Eater, Alecto Carrow to teach Muggle Studies. Is that correct?"

A furrow appeared in Snape's brow. "It is true that Alecto Carrow taught Muggle Studies. It is not true that I hired her to do so. It is my understanding that her contract was signed by Pius Thicknesse himself."

"And do you assert the same in regard to Amycus Carrow, the Death Eater assigned to teach Dark Arts to the students?"

"Amycus Carrow was the Dark Arts professor. Again, I did not hire him. He was sent to Hogwarts by the Ministry."

"Why did you make Alecto Carrow your deputy headmistress? Minerva McGonagall held that position for years, yet she was forced to step down when you were given the post of headmaster."

For a moment, a blaze of anger appeared in Snape's eyes and a slight flush stained his cheeks. "Do you suppose I appointed myself headmaster of Hogwarts, Kingsley? I was 'awarded' the post, as were the Carrows for our 'faithful service' to the Dark Lord. Tell me, Kingsley, what other staffing changes came about as a result of my appointment? Was Hogwarts suddenly awash in Death Eaters? No. Could it have been? Most definitely." He sat back and Harry noticed Snape was trembling.

"As headmaster, did you assign detentions to students?"

"Yes."

"Did you oversee those detentions yourself?"

"Only upon rare occasion."

"Do you recall the names of any of the students who served detention with you?"

Snape blinked rapidly a few times, clearly unprepared to answer the question. Harry flipped frantically through the book, seeking some reference to detentions, but only found a notation on a page headed 'Rubeus Hagrid'. He read through the paragraph and sucked in a breath. Hagrid had been very busy. Snape started to speak and Harry made certain to take notes.

"There was Luna Lovegood, Ginevra Weasley, Terry Boot, Cho Chang, Hannah Abbott, and…" Snape paused as the corner of his lip twitched and curled. "Neville Longbottom." With all the distaste he exhibited, he might as well have said greasy grimy gopher guts and meant it.

Harry dutifully wrote the names down and hoped he'd be able to speak to most of them at the weekend. It was interesting that all of them were members of Dumbledore's Army. No younger years, no disinterested bystanders. What could it mean? Harry was so busy contemplating the list that he nearly missed Kingsley's next question.

"And what was the nature of their punishments?"

Snape leant forward and snarled up at Kingsley. "They were given detention and made to perform menial tasks suited to their natures. Ms Abbott was discovered roaming the halls past curfew and was given lines. Ms Chang ventured into parts of the castle declared off limits and was required to spend her Saturdays organising some old records. Mr Boot entered the Restricted Section of the library without proper authorisation, so I required him to devote several evenings a week cataloguing the contents of the former headmaster's personal library. Is it necessary to continue enumerating the menial tasks I assigned? I assure you that every student was required to work for the betterment of Hogwarts."

It was interesting, Harry thought, that Snape failed to mention Ginny, Luna, and Neville, the three students most likely to actively work against Snape's regime. Apparently, Kingsley wasn't satisfied with Snape's answer either. "Please tell the members of the panel what rule or rules Ms Lovegood broke and how she was disciplined."

The muscles of Snape's jaw worked. "Ms Lovegood demonstrated an appalling lack of respect for her instructors in several of her courses. She was sent to me after…more traditional methods of detention failed to correct her behaviour. I assigned her to spend a month with—"

"So, you're saying you did not send Ms Lovegood into the Forbidden Forest at night as punishment for her supposed infractions?"

"That," snarled Snape, his clipped words clattering off the stone walls of the courtroom, "was a separate matter. You demanded to know the nature of the detentions I oversaw personally. I did not take any students into the Forbidden Forest and I would appreciate it if you would stick to the truth and not twist my words into something unrecognisable."

"Did you or did you not assign detentions to Ms Lovegood?"

"I did."

"Did any of those detentions involve forays into the Forbidden Forest?"

Spots of colour appeared high on Snape's cheeks and he growled his answer through gritted teeth. "That is my understanding."

Kingsley's booming voice thundered through the courtroom. "You admit to endangering the life of Ms Lovegood!"

The members of the Wizengamot leant forward, hungry with anticipation as Snape sat and glowered up at Kingsley. Harry drew in a deep breath and crossed all things cross-able that Snape's acid tongue didn't sear the flesh off of everyone within earshot. There was more than one way to hex a broom and, since Snape seemed hell-bent on being convicted, Harry could only hope Snape left them bristles enough to fly out of this morass.

Snape said nothing, though Harry had the distinct impression that he would have walked out of the courtroom if he'd not been chained to the chair. "Well?" demanded Kingsley. "What have you to say for yourself?"

"Was that a question?" Snape arched a brow and sneered, a look so reminiscent of Potions class that Harry winced. "It sounded to me as though you'd already determined the answer."

"For the love of Merlin," hissed Harry as a buzz of angry whispers filled his ears, "would you please cooperate?"

"Mr Potter, would you please attempt to control your client? Perhaps impress upon him the seriousness of these proceedings?" admonished Kingsley. His dark eyes locked with Snape's and it appeared they were both engaged in a strong battle of wills.

"Control Snape? Are you barking? I'd rather control a Horntail, thanks." For a moment, Harry wished that the matter could be resolved by having the Wizengamot choose a champion and have them duel to the death with Snape. It would definitely be easier on his nerves. "But he's right, you know. It wasn't really a question."

For a moment, it looked like Kingsley was about to ask him whose side he was on, an utterly inappropriate question given that Harry had been strong-armed into representing Snape, but Kingsley's jaw snapped shut and he conferred in low tones with Percy. His demeanour grew icy and Harry sighed inwardly. "Do you admit to endangering the life of Ms Luna Lovegood?"

Snape's answer was as contemptuous as the question. "Absolutely not." He and Kingsley engaged in another silent skirmish until Kingsley sighed and turned to another page in his book.

"Very well. Turning to Ginevra Weasley, did you personally oversee any of her detentions whilst employed as the headmaster of Hogwarts?"

"Ahh, the Weasley chit." Snape's lips curved into something that may have been a smile, but made Harry's blood run cold. It was clear he was going to have to speak with Ginny to see just how traumatic her prior year at Hogwarts had been.

"That's my sister you're talking about," shouted Percy, his voice shaking with rage.

It was almost enough to startle Snape out of his vindictiveness and he bowed his head in something that might have been called respect had it come from anyone else. When he spoke next his tone was more conciliatory than it had been all day. "Yes, I personally oversaw a number of Ms Weasley's detentions."

"And what was the nature of her detentions?"

For the first time, Snape appeared discomfited. He shifted uneasily in his seat and his eyes slid over to Harry as though he was about to offer some sort of apology. Harry's brow furrowed and he flipped quickly through the pages of the book until he found the transcript of the investigator's conversation with Ginny. It didn't take more than a few lines before Harry wanted to pound his head against the desk.

Snape fidgeted again and blew out a long-suffering sigh. "I-I…lectured her on the nature of propriety. She was required to listen without interruption."

A sharp crack came from the bench and Harry's head snapped up, his eyes widened and heart pounding in his chest. It took a moment for him to discover the source of the noise. The top half of the quill in Percy's hand toppled to the desk and as he opened his hand, the other bits floated down to join it.

The vein in Kingsley's temple pulsed. His jaw worked. His mouth opened and shut enough times that Harry was reminded of an eel he'd seen in a picture book once. It was hard to tell whether Kingsley was about to burst out laughing or launch into a tirade. Mostly, though, he appeared incredulous. "You 'lectured' Ms Weasley? On propriety?"

"One must establish standards of behaviour if one is to maintain any semblance of order. Ms Weasley in particular had difficulty adapting to the rules defined for the new regime at Hogwarts. It was important to convey to her the danger she would face should she fail to comport herself appropriately. I merely took advantage of the many opportunities she provided me to remind her."

"Merlin, Professor. What did you say to the poor child?" The question came from a youngish man in the middle row of the Wizengamot and, judging from the horrified expression, he'd suffered a few detentions in Potions during his years at Hogwarts.

"The poor child," said Snape, his tone dripping with sarcasm, "was told that she had a responsibility to the younger years to set a good example, that her family's status as blood-traitors was unlikely to be seen as a positive attribute by those in power. I reminded her that her famous friend had a price on his head, but even turning him over to the Ministry would not be enough to save her worthless hide from the horrors of Azkaban should she be as obstinate as her brothers had proved to be."

All Harry wanted to do was bury his face in his hands. He could picture how those "detentions" had gone, having suffered from enough of Snape's tongue lashings on his own. But if he knew Ginny at all, then he knew she had let Snape's words wash over her like rain rather than let them batter her like rocks. Her eyes would have flashed with defiance, but she'd have known her part just as Snape had known his. She would have left the office pale and shaking with rage. It would have been enough to fool anyone into thinking her detention had been agonising. Worse, she would have known Snape meant every foul thing that had come out of his mouth.

"All stated with your usual level of tact and diplomacy, I imagine," drawled Kingsley. Percy's scowl deepened as a number of people in the gallery snorted.

"I find it more effective to speak plainly, especially where Gryffindors are concerned. I have yet to find one who both appreciates and comprehends subtlety, but I must admit those are not traits associated with a House who rushes blindly into situations of which they possess little to no understanding. Indeed, asking any of them to consider the possible ramifications of their actions before embarking on their quest is met with little more than a blank stare before they're off, leaving little more than chaos strewn in their wake. I would have better luck brewing Felix Felicis in a copper cauldron with little more than six drops of murtlap, a measure of powered moonstone and a sprinkle of pixie dust than getting any one of them to use what meagre brains they were given and think."

A sudden hush fell over the courtroom as Snape's last word hung in the air. "Been saving that up awhile, have you?" said Harry mildly. A roar of laughter filled the air; even Kingsley appeared mildly amused.

After waiting a moment for silence, Kingsley cleared his throat and turned to a new page. "And lastly, we have Neville Longbottom." Just at hearing the name Snape shuddered. "Based upon this report, Mr Longbottom was disciplined regularly. It says here that he received no less than a dozen detentions with you specifically. What rules did he break?"

It took a moment for Snape to regain his composure enough to speak. "Mr Longbottom was the de facto ringleader of Mr Potter's little band of renegades. Nearly every instance of organised lawlessness could be traced back to him, which necessitated direct intervention on my part. For the good of the school and the continued safety of its students."

"The safety of the students is what's at issue, Snape, if you haven't noticed. It appears there was none," thundered Kingsley. "I have here report after report of abuses, if not torture, conducted by your deputy headmistress and her brother. I have documented cases of curses and hexes used by Slytherin House on the other Houses at Hogwarts. How can you look these people in the eye and say you're not responsible for the harm these children suffered?"

Before Kingsley had finished shouting, chains whipped out of the chair and tightened around Snape's calves and forearms. The thick leather strap that lay low across his hips tightened and another snaked out to wrap around his chest. Even restrained as he was, Snape still bristled with fury; Harry could feel it coming off him in waves.

"Perhaps it escaped your notice, Minister, that those charged with establishing policy at Hogwarts, namely the former Minister of Magic and the Undersecretary for Magical Education, demanded changes in furtherance of the Dark Lord's plans. The students who actively worked against Ministry objectives—Mr Longbottom and his merry men—"

"—and women," said Harry. "What?" he added after a moment's silence. "We had a lot of girls in the DA."

Snape looked at him incredulously and Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. "A fine example of Gryffindor idiocy, Mr Potter," he sneered. "Perhaps I should someday thank you for proving my point. As I was saying, The students who followed the rules were, by and large, left alone—"

"Unless they were half-bloods, Muggle-born or blood traitors," said Kingsley. "In other words, not in Slytherin House."

"The Carrows were following the dictates of Thicknesse, who was appointed by the Dark Lord when the Ministry fell. They re-formed the Inquisitorial Squad, which was created by Dolores Umbridge and her patron, Cornelius Fudge. That harridan built a foundation that rested solely upon her ability to prey upon the weak. Albus Dumbledore was effectively hamstrung by the Educational Decrees enacted by the self-styled High Inquisitor and signed by Fudge himself.

"What else would you have me do, Kingsley? Any failure on my part to be seen as nothing less than a fervent supporter of the Ministry and its policies would have resulted in my death and the Carrows left wholly in charge with no one left to remind them that the future of Wizarding Britain demands that at least some of the little urchins be left alive, and whilst ultimately that might have made the fine, upstanding members of the Wizengamot happy and saved us all from this farce of a trial, try instead to imagine how things might have gone with Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback teaching Charms and Transfiguration!"

Snape was breathing heavily and tried to wipe away the moisture that beaded on his forehead, but his action was forestalled by the chains holding him in place. He jerked his arms and tried to kick his feet, but after a fruitless struggle, he slumped wearily in his seat.

No one said a word. The scritch scritch scritch of Percy's quill was all Harry could hear whilst the Wizengamot sat gazing at Snape as though he was an exhibit in a zoo. "I suspect that's enough for you to be going on with," said Kingsley slowly, "unless Mr Potter has a witness who can speak on the defendant's behalf?"

Chapter Text

Harry came awkwardly to his feet and pulled a scrap of parchment from within his robes. "Actually, I have twenty or so witnesses, but I'm not certain how I'm to get them here. Am I just supposed to have them come every day and sit around 'til we get to them?"

"I'm sorry," interrupted Percy. "Did you say twenty witnesses?" He glanced at his copious notes and back down at Harry again, his eyebrows climbing into his hairline.

Harry frowned and pushed his glasses further up on his nose. "Is that a lot? I mean, there are five hundred counts of child endangerment, but I thought bringing them all here would take quite a lot of time, so I chose the best of the lot. Plus, some of them are starting their NEWTs and OWLs, so it's not really a good time to bring them down to London. Oh, and one's a Muggle."

"You can't—" "International Statute—" "How would we know—" "Muggles? Here?" It sounded like a thousand voices began speaking at once and Harry blinked in confusion whilst the reporters from the Daily Prophet began scribbling madly in their notebooks.

It came as a bit of shock that anyone would be surprised by this. After all, Fudge thought Mrs Figg was a Muggle, so it was clearly possible. Harry supposed he'd have to use the callbox on the corner, but it was more fun to imagine Aunt Petunia shrieking like a banshee as she stepped into the Floo, and then wondered if Muggles could use it at all. Would they simply burn up? Drown? It was a question worth asking, but one he'd save for later. As tempting as the thought of experimentation was, he was pretty certain he'd be in loads of trouble if it all went wrong.

"It's late enough to adjourn for the day," said Kingsley. "I'm going to call a recess until Wednesday morning. Gauntlett, please escort the prisoner back to his cell. The rest of you are free to go. Harry, a word if you don't mind?"

For the life of him, Harry couldn't figure out why Kingsley would want to talk to him, unless maybe to advise him on how he was supposed to get his witnesses to show up. They'd not covered it in Auror training. That was more about what sort of evidence was admissible and who was and was not allowed to testify. It didn't really get into the nuts and bolts of how things got done and Harry had been so busy reading all the reports that he quite forgot about all the millions of details that went into a trial.

A line of autograph seekers appeared along the rail separating the gallery from the well of the courtroom and a few of them, young women mostly, shouted his name and waved quills around. He tried to ignore them as he placed the stopper back in the inkwell and gathered up the notes he'd made whilst Kingsley and Snape were trading invective. He was just about to vanish through the door when a flash of green light caught his eye.

Harry whirled, wand extended and with a Stunning Spell poised on the end of his tongue. Another bright flash followed and the photographer for the Daily Prophet grinned broadly. "Thanks, mate. That's tomorrow's front page."

A "fuck off" nearly escaped, but Harry was afraid that some sort of nasty hex might be triggered if he cursed out loud in a courtroom and sheathed his wand instead. Angry enough to kick a puffskein, Harry kicked the door open and bolted through it to disappear safely within the bowels of the Ministry. He would give the lifts time to clear before he made the long journey up, preferably alone.

It was twenty minutes before Harry appeared in Kingsley's office. He ignored Villiers' remarks about his appearance and fell on the plate of sandwiches sitting on the table between the sofas. Kingsley was at his desk, snatching aeroplane memos out of the air and reading through them before assigning them to one tray or another. One or two he binned.

There was a steaming salver of tea and two gin and tonics sitting on the sideboard, the outside of the glasses glistening with beads of sweat and Harry set down the bite of sandwich he had left to snatch up one of the two drinks. He took a long pull before resting one hand on the sideboard and dropping his head.

The muscles in the back of his neck screamed in protest and he closed his eyes as he drew in a deep breath. "His Majesty the King said I had the hands of a god. Oh, how I wish I could work my magic on you," purred the portrait.

"George..." warned Kingsley, never lifting his eyes from the paperwork in front of him. Harry continued to stretch and, when he finally sat back down on the sofa, he felt much more relaxed. "What did you need to speak with me about?" he asked through bites of his second sandwich. He was ravenous.

"No, I'm not going to authorise a thousand Galleons for development of a chess set with my likeness on it," Kingsley muttered. He slashed a line across the face of the memo and set it in the reject pile before coming to his feet to collect the watered-down drink swimming in a ring of its own tears. He sat opposite Harry and munched his way through a sandwich of his own before settling back with a sigh.

"Twenty witnesses, Harry?" he asked as he tipped his head back. "You found twenty people willing to testify in support of Severus Snape? How did you manage that?"

"I didn't say they were in support of Snape, not exactly," said Harry, eyeing a profiterole. He reached out and picked it daintily off the tray. "But they were there, most of them anyway, and what they saw might not have been what happened. Since I didn't get to investigate anything, and I can't testify on Snape's behalf, I have to have a chance of letting everyone see it a bit differently. Follow?"

Kingsley thought for a moment and drank for a moment longer. "I think I see your point." He breathed out a long sigh. "Very well. You can have your twenty witnesses."

"Or so. I've no idea how many I'll actually need. It may be more, it may be less. How do I get them here?"

"That was what I was going to explain next," said Kingsley. "Send a list to me and a copy to the Wizengamot Administrative Services. You'll have to take them as they come, I'm afraid, so be prepared for anyone to show up."

That certainly made things a bit more challenging, but Harry thought he could cope. "What if I need someone to come back?"

"I can't see why you would, but if you do, just send a memo." Kingsley glanced back at the two or three widebody aeroplanes still circling his desk. "And use a colour other than pink. That way I'll know it's from you."

Chapter Text

Defence

Wednesday morning found Harry back at the Ministry shortly before 8 o'clock, a cup of coffee in one hand and an egg and bacon croissant in the other. He dashed down to the holding area to find Snape attired once again in Azkaban stripes. He stormed into the tiny room and glared. "Is there a reason you're not in proper robes?"

Snape laced his fingers and rested his arms on the table. "Perhaps it's because the guards took back the robes you found for me and gave this back to me to wear. Perhaps it's because they're more comfortable than going without. Or perhaps it's the closest I'll be able to come to wearing something a little less gaudy than what you brought back for me last time."

There must be someone in charge who would ensure Snape was garbed appropriately for trial, but Harry had no idea who to ask. "Have you eaten?" he asked as he licked the crumbs off his fingers. Snape was staring, but it was the expression in his eyes that gave Harry pause. There were notes of hunger there, but Harry wasn't certain that food was what Snape wanted. It was disconcerting and Harry took an unconscious step back.

The mask fell over Snape's features again and he turned his head away. He swallowed before shaking his head no. "They brought me porridge," he said quietly.

"I'll get this sorted," said Harry through gritted teeth. "I promise you that. In the meantime, I'm off to get you something to wear—"

"I swear to you, Potter, if you attempt to humiliate me…"

The banging of the door cut off the rest of Snape's threat. Harry sprinted for the nearest Floo so that he could, once again, find something presentable for Snape to wear and arrange for food for him to eat.

It seemed to take forever to jostle and bounce his way through the Floo Network to the Three Broomsticks, where he sprinted outside the moment he stumbled out of the fireplace. It was another quick second to Apparate to the border of Hogwarts. The gates were wide open when he arrived—there was no longer a reason to keep them closed—and Harry found himself smiling as he jogged across the rebuilt bridge that forded the stream that fed the Black Lake. The courtyard was quiet and still; classes were in session. A large placard sat outside the entrance to the Great Hall warning him of severe consequences should he disrupt the OWL in progress with any sudden loud noises, a legacy of Fred and George's dramatic departure.

As he dashed up the Great Stairs, he wondered where the NEWT students took their tests. Not having made it that far in his own education, he had no idea which part of the castle had been commandeered for that purpose. He supposed he could ask Hermione, who would probably remind him that the information could be found in Hogwarts: A History, but he and Ron had made a vow never to open that book.

The only being he encountered on his trip to McGonagall's office was Mrs Norris, who growled threateningly and hissed at him for being out of class. Automatically, he looked around for Filch and hurried to the seventh floor and stood perplexed in front of the gargoyle. "Since I'm not a student, I don't reckon you'd just let me in, would you?"

The gargoyle arched a brow. "Not a student, eh? You could try asking politely, you know."

Very well. Harry could be polite. "Will you let me in to see Professor McGonagall, please?"

Obediently, the gargoyle hopped aside and allowed him onto the staircase. "Surprising how much more effective that is than a password," it muttered as Harry passed. Harry barked out a laugh. The gargoyle had once guarded Snape's office and Harry could just imagine the number of people thwarted by simple courtesy. Snape demanded respect as a matter of course. Honorifics like 'sir' and 'professor' were important to him. It was impossible to imagine people like the Carrows managing a simple phrase such as, "May I please see the headmaster?" with the proper amount of deference in their tones.

Once at the top of the spiral stairs, he knocked lightly on the door, but received no answer. To his relief, however, the door opened at his touch and he stepped inside. He glanced around and took a moment to familiarise himself with McGonagall's office now that he could no longer hear the imaginary ticks of a second hand counting away the time.

The office hadn't changed much since the end of the war. Dumbledore's portrait still sat directly behind the headmistress' desk, right where Snape had installed it. There were instruments whirring and spinning, though much more slowly than they had done in years past. Fawkes' perch was gone and in its place was a climbing post with places to curl up at various levels. As Harry stepped forward, a charmed mouse ran across his foot and disappeared under the cabinet that held Dumbledore's Pensieve.

Scurrying up the spiral stairs to which McGonagall had pointed him on Monday, Harry confronted the wardrobe that had given him such fits on Monday. "I need robes for Snape," he said through clenched teeth as he fought with the cupboard door again. Remembering his previous encounter with the maniacal wardrobe, he cast the unlocking charm and repeated his demand. A ball of heavy robes with undergarments and pointy-toed shoes nearly took Harry's head off. Not bothering to thank the demented piece of furniture, he leapt down the stairs in three bounds and ran for the Floo.

~*~

Harry swallowed convulsively as he came around his little table to stand in between Snape and his first witness. No wonder the headmistress' office had been empty. The members of the jury and those assembled to watch settled in, the wooden benches creaking a bit as they shifted to become more comfortable and Harry felt the weight of their gaze on him. He wanted to run through the door behind Kingsley and throw up.

The reporters in the front row eyed him as eagerly as a thestral did raw meat, their quills poised over their scrolls of parchment. It seemed to him that the quills were quivering as much as he was. The jury was gazing expectantly at him and he felt the food in his stomach congeal into a ball roughly the consistency of a Bludger. He cleared his throat and promptly choked, coughing so hard his eyes watered. Behind him, he heard Snape sigh.

"Okay," he wheezed and Rhoda crossed in front of him to pour a glass of water from the pitcher on his little table and stood in front of him until he drank it. Nothing like feeling twelve in front of two hundred people. "Okay," he repeated, clearly this time. "Thanks, Rhoda."

The bailiff tried not to grin too broadly. "My pleasure, Mr Potter."

Harry dared not look at Snape, but looking at Kingsley was no help either. If Kingsley wasn't biting the inside of his cheek until it bled to keep from laughing, Harry would eat a broom. "My first witness is Minerva McGonagall." He turned and gestured towards her and then pulled his note card out of his pocket. "I'm supposed to ask you to state your name."

"Minerva McGonagall," she said archly to a roar of laughter.

"Alright, I deserved that," said Harry ruefully. "I think most everyone here knows you work at Hogwarts."

"Perhaps it would be best if you simply asked me your questions, Mr Potter? That is why I'm here, correct?"

It was like being grilled in Transfiguration for a lesson he hadn't studied particularly well. "Yes, Professor. Where do you work?" Somehow, that question managed to elicit as much laughter as her name. A second later he figured out why. No wonder Snape thought him a fool.

"I am the headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—and if you should wish to complete your education and sit your NEWTs, I'm quite certain arrangements can be made for you to do so." Harry quickly shook his head. "I taught Transfiguration last year, and served as deputy headmistress when Albus Dumbledore was headmaster. I took his place as Transfiguration professor when he was promoted to headmaster, you know."

As McGonagall spoke, Harry noticed that she never once glanced in Snape's direction and he suddenly questioned his wisdom at thinking she was an ally. He glanced back at Snape and found him just as difficult to read. The caramel coloured robes he was wearing did him no favours, but to Harry's eyes, Snape appeared listless and careworn. Setting aside his curiosity, he turned his attention to his notes. "Professor, do you recall the date the war ended?"

McGonagall gave a sharp nod. "It was the second of May, 1998. It was the day you defeated You-Know-Who."

"His name was Tom Riddle," said Harry sharply. "Or Lord Voldemort. But yes, that was the date." Harry paced a bit, reviewing his questions in his mind, and took a deep breath. "I want you to think very carefully about this next question before you answer." He gazed up at her, his deep green eyes steady. "Before the war ended, had you ever heard of Horcruxes?"

Very few witches and wizards outside of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had ever learnt what the word actually meant, and Harry knew Kingsley was determined to keep it that way. The last thing the Wizarding world needed was someone to learn about this Darkest of arts and attempt to follow Voldemort's quest for immortality. "Harry, a word, please?" said Kingsley and beckoned him over to the doorway Harry had wanted to bolt through not ten minutes before.

Once the door had closed, Kingsley turned on him, his eyes flashing dangerously. "I thought you understood the need for secrecy about this matter. And now you're raising it in front of half a dozen reporters, twenty-one members of the Wizengamot, and a few hundred spectators. What exactly do you plan to ask Minerva about those disgusting things?"

Harry held up both hands in a gesture meant to be placating. "Only if she's heard of them, that's all. I promise, Kingsley. It's important or I wouldn't bother."

Kingsley's hands went to his hips and he studied Harry carefully. "How many others do you plan to ask about them?"

"The other Heads of House, Ron and Hermione," said Harry, wondering if half of his defence was about to be yanked out from under him. "But I might need to ask Ron and Hermione about a part of it in detail. Can we, I don't know, put the jury under Fidelius and close off the courtroom for that part?"

Kingsley paced a bit in the narrow hallway. "I'll make that decision when I have a better sense of what you're doing." He pulled open the door and waited for Harry to step through. "Just be careful, Harry. You know what's at stake here." No one wanted to see the rise of another wizard who aspired to immortality.

Once he and Kingsley had resumed their places, Harry shot Snape another glance, but for all the interest he was showing, Snape might as well be doing Potions calculations in his head. "You said you were hired on at Hogwarts to teach Transfiguration after Professor Dumbledore became headmaster. When was that, roughly?"

"In 1956."

"So you taught Professor Snape when he was there."

"Yes."

"What was he like? I mean, not what kind of a student was he. We know he's really smart and all and probably has a dozen NEWTs, but what sort of child was he?"

McGonagall finally glanced over at Snape. He was clenching the arms of the chair and his shoulders were hunched up to his ears. It appeared he was staring at his knees. Harry figured that if Snape hadn't been chained in place, he'd be curled up in a corner somewhere hiding under a blanket. "I remember when Severus was Sorted. He was a wee little thing, all arms and legs under his secondhand robes. It looked to me as if he'd never had a proper bath in his life and wasn't acquainted with comb or brush. When Lily Evans was sorted into Gryffindor, one would think someone had kicked Severus' crup. Such a wounded child." For a moment, McGonagall's face softened, but the moment she looked over at Snape, her face hardened again.

"When the Sorting Hat placed him in Slytherin, well, I don't recall any child seeming quite so defeated. My own House was quite relieved he wasn't placed in Gryffindor and I must admit I was as well. That particular group of first years never took to Severus. In many ways, it reminds me of another Potter who was Sorted into Gryffindor and managed to make enemies in Slytherin House straight away."

"So you knew the Marauders were bullying him right from the start?" asked Harry.

"The five of them began hexing each other after their very first Defence Against the Dark Arts class, Mr Potter. Neither side was innocent," said McGonagall.

"Did Professor Snape earn many detentions in your class, Professor? When he was a student?"

"As opposed to when he was a teacher?" McGonagall arched an eyebrow. "No, Mr Potter. As I recall it, he was rather more studious than most of the other members of his House. He and Lily Evans studied together fairly regularly until about their fourth year or so. Now, your father and godfather—excuse me, James Potter and Sirius Black—those two were determined to set new school records for detentions, rivalled only by the Weasley twins. They could dream up more mischief before breakfast than most people manage over the course of their entire lives."

"Is that why my mum…I mean Lily Evans, thought of James Potter as a toerag?"

McGonagall peered over the top of her glasses. "I beg your pardon, Mr Potter. I was not aware there was any animosity between your parents, though now that you mention it I recall that, in their early days, they got on about as well as Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Is that what you wanted to know?"

Harry didn't really know what he wanted to hear, except to emphasise that Snape was more a victim than instigator. "You remember who my father's friends were, correct?" he asked.

"Your father's dearest friend was Sirius Black. The others were Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew." The last name was spat from her lips as though she'd bitten into something foul. "For over a dozen years we all thought Sirius Black had betrayed your parents and sold their location to…to Tom Riddle, only to learn that Peter Pettigrew was the traitor."

Harry nodded vigorously. "That's right. A Gryffindor betrayed my parents. Not a Slytherin. A Gryffindor. A member of your House—and mine too, I reckon. But do you remember what they called themselves?"

"I believe they styled themselves 'The Marauders'. What has that to do with Severus Snape?"

"Professor, were you aware that during his OWLs, Snape was set upon by—"

"No!" The word erupted out of Snape like a blasting hex. "Not another word, Potter."

Harry flinched at the outburst, but continued, not daring to peek over his shoulder at Snape. "By James Potter and Sirius—"

"I will not have this. I will not allow you to make a mockery…"

"—Black. They dangled him by his ankle—"

"Just like your father, wallowing in someone else's…"

Harry heard the chains tighten and he spun on his heel and marched over to Snape. "I am nothing like my father," he snarled, his anger flashing through him like Fiendfyre.

Snape leant forward to the extent possible, his face mottled with rage. "You are exactly like your father: lazy, arrogant, think the entire world—"

"Will you shut it? I'm trying to defend you, you git," hollered Harry. "The least you could do..."

Harry and Snape waged a war of escalating volume and heated words, shouting over each other in a futile attempt to be heard. Kingsley pounded on the bench with a huge fist until Gauntlett pulled her wand and with a quick wave of her wand, Silenced Snape. Harry blew out a breath and returned to his place before McGonagall. "I'm sorry, Professor. He's not very happy with me, well, ever. As I was saying, did you know James Potter dangled him upside down in front of his classmates, his robes covering his face and leaving him practically naked? Have you any idea how humiliating that is for a fifteen-year-old boy?"

McGonagall was shooting daggers at Snape and Harry wondered if she'd even heard the question. "Professor?" he asked softly. "Did you know James Potter was that much of a bully?"

"Oh, Harry," she said with something akin to pity in her eyes. "James and Sirius were high-spirited boys. They weren't deliberately cruel to anyone. If something like that had happened, I'm certain Remus Lupin would have taken a point or two. He was a prefect that year and almost as observant of the rules as your Ms Granger."

Harry pressed his lips into a tight line. "It happened, Professor. Sirius said he and James were just being idiots because everyone is at that age. I know the Marauders—James, Sirius, Remus and Peter Pettigrew—loathed Severus Snape and that he hated them right back. What I want to know is what the teachers ever did to stop it?"

The temperature seemed to drop a few degrees and McGonagall's tone was a bit cooler than it had been before. "I seem to recall a trio of Gryffindors and a trio of Slytherins who could not be trusted to cross paths without wands being drawn. How many detentions did you draw for all the hexes and harsh words you exchanged with Draco Malfoy?"

As much as he hated to admit it, Harry could see her point. "Okay, I probably deserved a few more than I was given." Somehow, Snape managed to snort at that. "But do recall if Snape had any friends who had his back the way Ron and Hermione had mine? Or was it usually four against one?"

McGonagall's brow furrowed a bit. "The only friend I recall Severus having was Lily Evans, but something happened between them. After that, he seemed to keep to himself or socialise with the other Slytherin boys."

Harry knew precisely what happened, but he didn't think bringing attention to Snape's opinion of his mother's blood status was a wise strategy. "Okay, so he wasn't a particularly popular bloke."

"I would consider that a bit of an understatement," said McGonagall dryly.

"Did he have any friends after he started teaching at Hogwarts? Did anyone like him then?"

McGonagall opened her mouth, but closed it abruptly. She gazed up at Kingsley with a slight frown, as if trying to recall a particular moment before her gaze swept over the members of the Wizengamot. For a moment, her attention appeared focussed on one of the younger members, a wizard who was roughly Bill Weasley's age. "For the first year or so after Severus started teaching, he was quite distant. He used Horace's, Horace Slughorn's, old lesson plans until he developed a bit more confidence in front of his students.

"We offered advice and suggestions, but it is difficult to say if he took any of our counsel to heart. His is a difficult subject, Mr Potter. A single careless accident could kill an entire classroom of students if the teacher isn't paying strict attention to what they are doing. He became a formidable taskmaster out of necessity.

"As for whether he got on with the staff..." For a moment, McGonagall's eyes glistened, but she lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. "I considered Severus Snape to be a friend, right up to the moment when he murdered Albus Dumbledore." For a moment, Harry felt her grief as a physical blow and he returned slowly to his table to compose himself.

Perhaps it was something in McGonagall's tone, but for a moment, Harry was certain he was back on top of the Astronomy Tower and seeing the green spell fire surround Dumbledore. Panicked, he whirled to face Snape. His heart raced and his mouth filled with the metallic taste of fear as he met Snape's quizzical stare and he suddenly realised that it had been memory playing tricks on him.

"Why do you suppose he did that?" he asked, hating the way his voice shook. He clutched the edge of the table for balance as his knees trembled. 'Get a grip,' he ordered himself, not knowing why the back of his neck prickled as though he was in danger.

"Are you well, Potter?" she asked and he waved off her concern. "As I understand it, Severus was—"

Harry cut her off. "I'm sorry, Professor. I'm not asking you what you were told. I want to know what you believe."

"When Severus murdered Albus, he betrayed us all," said McGonagall, her voice strangely thick. She stabbed a finger towards Snape. "He was your mentor and your friend. He trusted you, he confided in you, he took you in when no one would have you. How could you?"

Her gaze finally swung round and fixed on Harry and when she spoke, her tone was brittle as glass. "Severus Snape chose the opportune moment to murder Albus. I have no doubt he was acting on," she paused and swallowed, "Lord Voldemort's orders. It was Snape who benefited most. After all, he was rewarded with Hogwarts herself."

"Rewarded?" It was unlikely that Snape considered his post to be a reward, but Harry's opinion counted for nothing. "What do you reckon Hogwarts would have been like with the Carrows left in charge? Or the Lestranges?" It was the most revolting thought Harry had had in his head in a long time and he shuddered.

Apparently, that was not a question McGonagall had anticipated. "I doubt I would have remained behind to find out," she admitted. "Or survived to tell the tale, I suppose." Her gaze turned shrewd. "It may very well be that Severus Snape was the best we could have hoped for, but it does nothing to absolve him of his crimes."

"Nothing to absolve him? You were there when Umbridge was headmistress and her little Inquisitorial Squad ran the school. What if she were back in charge? Don't you suppose that she'd have sacked the teachers and allowed the Slytherins to use Unforgivables and Dark magic on everyone else?"

"Which is a rather accurate summation of what did happen, Mr Potter."

"Was it, Minerva?" Snape's question was soft and filled with reproach.

Had Snape somehow broken the spell? Gauntlett was frowning and examining her wand, so Harry thought not. Was Snape so powerful that he could break a Silencing Charm without the use of a wand? It gave Harry pause and he stared in befuddlement up at Kingsley, who appeared to be asking himself the same question.

Patting a wisp of hair back in place, McGonagall tightened her lips and shook her head. "You kept us all on, though I must admit I did wonder why." Before Snape could respond though, Kingsley placed him back under a Silencing Spell. Judging from the colour, this one was much more powerful.

There were strange undercurrents running between the two, but Harry couldn't quite lay his finger on what was taking place between them. Snape's year as headmaster wasn't quite as black and white as McGonagall would like to acknowledge, but Harry didn't know the correct questions to ask to bring that out. All he could do was hope that the jury could figure it out better than he could.

"Alright, so what I'm hearing is that Snape murdered Professor Dumbledore on Voldemort's orders and was given Hogwarts, right? And even though you don't care for him much, it's likely things would have been worse with someone like the Carrows or Umbridge in charge. Do I have that right?"

It was a moment before McGonagall turned her attention back to Harry and when she did, her smile was almost motherly. "It will do, Mr Potter. Have you any other questions for me?"

"Loads," said Harry earnestly to a groan from the reporters seated behind him. As long as the jury didn't mind how long he kept McGonagall speaking, he wasn't going to let their opinion sway him any. He stole a quick glance towards some of the members and received a few encouraging nods.

Picking up his quill, he lined through a few things he wanted to cover and found his next question. "Before his trial started, when was the last time you saw Severus Snape?"

"Let me try to help you out a bit," said McGonagall. "You are referring to his last night as headmaster, yes?" Harry nodded and leant back against his table, not quite sitting on it, but with his feet crossed at the ankles and hands gripping the edge. Until now, he would never have believed anyone who said that interrogation was exhausting work, but his brain was trying frantically to sort through everything McGonagall was telling him as well as struggling to remember everything he wanted to ask. He was so grateful for his little note cards that helped him stay on track.

"Professor Filius Flitwick and I encountered Severus outside Ravenclaw Tower. He was quite adamant that the two of us knew where you were and demanded that we send you to him at once. Naturally we refused and we commenced duelling. After finding himself outnumbered and out-duelled, Severus elected to jump through the window of a nearby classroom and flew away. I didn't see him again until Poppy—mediwitch Poppy Pomfrey—let me know he had been found in the Shrieking Shack barely alive and was in the Hospital wing.

"I spent a few minutes with him then and asked him if what you had said was true, that he truly had been 'Dumbledore's man, through and through'. I..." McGonagall blinked a few times and she gave a tiny sniffle. "To this day I still don't quite know what to believe. He murdered Albus. He put all those children at risk. I'm not certain I can ever forgive that."

"He still is Dumbledore's man, Professor," said Harry quietly. "I am certain of it."

Kingsley held up a hand. "Percy, scratch out those lines. Harry, I must remind you that you're not allowed to testify. Next question, please."

It took Harry a moment to gather his thoughts. "Right. Okay, you said that you, Professor Flitwick and Snape duelled. Do you remember which spells he cast?"

"Which spells?" McGonagall's brow furrowed. "We were using non-verbal spells, Mr Potter. I'm certain I can't identify them."

"Okay, do you know if he used any Unforgivables against you and Professor Flitwick? I mean, he wanted me, right? The Imperius Curse would have come in handy."

"Not against both of us," sniffed McGonagall. "But no, he didn't use any Unforgivables."

"Did he try to use the Killing Curse? We were at war then and he was the enemy, right?"

For a moment, McGonagall appeared shocked. "No, of course not."

"Any Dark curses?"

"None that I'm aware of."

"Did you deflect a lot of curses, then?"

"I—" McGonagall broke off suddenly and drew back in her seat. She tilted her head and her brow furrowed as she looked across the narrow space at Snape. "I don't believe I deflected any curses," she said slowly. "I cast quite a number of spells at him, but I don't recall blocking any of his."

"But he wanted to capture me, right? That's why you and Professor Flitwick fought him. To protect me."

"Yes," she said slowly as she continued to stare quizzically at Snape.

"But he had loads of opportunities to capture me at Hogwarts, right?"

McGonagall's gaze sharpened. "Not with Albus there, and I was protecting you as well."

Harry couldn't quite work that out in his mind, but he let it go. There was no reason to challenge her assumption. "But Snape protected me as well. Do you recall my first Quidditch match?"

A touch of delight entered her eyes and she smiled. "We won, if I remember correctly, though there was a bit of trouble with your broom."

"Yes. And I nearly swallowed the Snitch. Never made that mistake again," said Harry with a broad grin. "But the trouble with my broom. Do you know what happened?"

McGonagall's smile faded. Up on the bench, Kingsley made a sound of impatience and Harry turned pleading eyes on him. He wouldn't bring this up if it weren't important, and all of Snape's missed opportunities to see to Harry's death added up to something. "As it turned out, Professor Quirrell was hexing your broom so it would throw you off. Severus was countering the curse, but he somehow caught on fire." The teacher in McGonagall rose to the surface. "I don't suppose you know about that?" she asked in the tone that made Harry certain he was about to lose a substantial number of House points.

"Well," he said slowly. "I do, but I don't think it matters much at the moment. Can you think of any other time Snape tried to save my life instead of letting Voldemort win?"

"Good heavens, Mr Potter," exclaimed McGonagall acerbically. "When wasn't he trying to save your life? He kept you from being bitten by a werewolf. He protected you from that snake in your duelling lessons. He stood between you and that Umbridge woman on more than one occasion. And, as I recall, he argued rather forcefully against permitting you to participate in that dreadful Tournament. I do wish Albus would have listened to him. I suspect you owe him your life several times over. But," she added, "that doesn't absolve him of the crimes he committed whilst doing so."

That seemed like a good place to stop and his stomach gurgled its agreement. "I don't think I have any more questions, Minister." Harry gazed uncertainly at Kingsley and waited for some sort of direction.

"Very well." For a moment, it looked like Kingsley was about to stretch but thought better of it. "Minerva, thank you for coming all the way from Hogwarts. You're free to go." He smiled down at her as Percy closed up his ledger and set aside his quill. "This seems like a good time to take our lunch break. If you'd like to join me, Minerva, we can take a look at those budget proposals you submitted."

As Percy grimaced and massaged his hand, Harry sank down in his seat. Kingsley and Minerva disappeared through the door behind the bench whilst Gauntlett cancelled the Silencing Charm on Snape and allowed the chains to retract. She escorted him through the same door a moment later to escort him back to the holding area, where Kreacher would serve him some lunch. The gallery and jury must have been almost as hungry as Harry, since the courtroom cleared in record time, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

Chapter Text

It was just shy of 1:30 pm when Gauntlett brought Snape back into the courtroom. Harry looked up from his note cards when Snape was escorted at wandpoint back to the defendant's chair. "I don't think you need to have your wand pointed at him," he said mildly. "He's not a threat to anyone."

"We can't be too certain of that, can we, Mr Potter?" Rhoda strapped Snape in with practised efficiency. "It's surprising what these people think they can get away with. Why, just last week one of these Death Eaters tried to bite the Auror transporting him down from Azkaban."

"Can you leave his arms undone at least? I reckon he'd like to move around a little bit." The thought of sitting bound all day sounded like torture to Harry. Being unable to move, to get up and walk around a bit… He didn't know how Snape stood it.

"I'll do as you ask, but if he causes any trouble, it's back in chains for him." Gauntlett sent a tightly focussed spell at Snape and the chains around his forearms retracted. The belt around his waist tightened, though, as did the chains around his legs. "Mind, it's only because you asked," she said to a pronounced roll of the eyes from Snape. Lovely.

Once he and Snape were settled, Gauntlett ushered in jury and gallery alike. The rows and rows of benches filled quickly with the press back in the front row. The photographer from Witch Weekly was whispering to the bloke from the Wizarding Wireless Network and he laughed. Harry turned away, his ears burning even though he had no idea what they said.

As Harry opened his notebook, Kingsley and Percy filed back in. "We're back in session. Rhoda, do you have another witness for us?"

"Yes, sir, I do." Gauntlett disappeared for a moment through the tunnel that led to the public waiting area and returned with a tall, blonde woman. Her heavy satin cloak brushed the floor of the courtroom as she proceeded in, her head held high. "The Wizengamot calls Narcissa Black Malfoy."

Harry flipped through his book frantically to find the pages where her statements could be found and was relieved to note he didn't have that many questions for her. He tapped the book with his wand and the contents of the pages were duplicated onto the cards he held in his hand. Useful spell, that, but he understood why it wasn't taught at Hogwarts.

The butterflies started the moment he stood up, and Harry was acutely aware that he owed his life to this person. If she hadn't lied about him, there was no doubt in his mind he'd be dead—and that his second death would in no way be merciful.

"Thank you for coming, Mrs Malfoy," he said politely. "I only have a very few questions for you."

"You saved my son, Mr Potter, and I will never forget what I owe you. You may ask of me anything you wish and I will answer truthfully." Narcissa's eyes fell on Snape, but Harry couldn't tell what lay behind them. "I will consent to Veritaserum if you wish."

The only way to show the jury he trusted Narcissa to tell the truth was to decline her offer and Harry did so. "But it was kind of you to offer. How long have you known Severus Snape?"

"Straight into it, I see," replied Narcissa with a slight smile. "Very well. I've known Severus since the old days when the Dark Lord was at the height of his power. I knew of him before then. You see, I was some years ahead of him at Hogwarts, but my understanding was that he was something of a target for a small group of Gryffindor boys. Such stories tend to spread through Slytherin House. We watched to see how he acquitted himself."

Harry hadn't heard this before and his ears perked up. "And how did he acquit himself?"

"Better than one would anticipate. But I didn't come to know Severus until after he had taken the Mark." A pall fell over her and she gave an involuntary shiver. "He did not fit in with the others and despaired of earning the Dark Lord's favour, so he volunteered to apply for the Dark Arts post."

"The Defence Against the Dark Arts post?" asked Harry.

"So you say, Mr Potter. But Severus' true talent lay in crafting potions. Few are as skilled in the art as he is, so the Dark Lord was quite satisfied to know Severus had been offered the post of Potions Master instead. It enabled Severus to spy upon Albus Dumbledore and keep the Dark Lord informed of Dumbledore's plans."

"What of the Prophecy?"

A slight crease marred Narcissa's forehead. "What of it, Mr Potter?"

"Didn't Voldemort—" A sharp gasp sprang from Narcissa. "I'm sorry," continued Harry. "Would it help if I called him Tom?" Narcissa nodded. "Alright, didn't Tom begin to trust Snape when Snape delivered the first part of the Prophecy to him?"

Narcissa laughed, but there was no amusement in it. "Trust? Whatever trust Severus earned was destroyed when he begged for the life of Lily Evans. The only way Severus could atone was to risk his life to spy upon the headmaster, which he did splendidly. My sister was the only one of us who saw through him. Somehow she knew he was a traitor to the Dark Lord's cause, but none of us believed her." A note of pain entered her voice. "Bells did not fare well in Azkaban. By the time she escaped she was a bit mad. Remarkably enough, it turns out she was right after all. Severus was working for Dumbledore all along."

Saying Bellatrix was a bit mad was one way of putting it. Barking mad, more like. "But you trusted him anyway?"

"But even though your sister didn't trust him, you still trusted Snape enough to make the Unbreakable Vow with him, right? To keep your son safe?"

Colour leached from Narcissa's face and her eyes grew round. "I've never told...It never came up when the Aurors questioned me. How did you come to learn of the Vow we made?"

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a single syllable Kingsley stopped him. "Not a word, Mr Potter." Kingsley turned his attention to Narcissa, who was still staring a bit fearfully at Harry. "Tell the jury about the Unbreakable Vow between you and Snape."

Narcissa turned her head, but her eyes didn't follow. They remained fixed on Harry's face until finally she spoke. "It was the summer before Draco's sixth year. To atone for my husband's failure at the Department of Mysteries, the Dark Lord ordered Draco to kill Dumbledore. Should he fail at his appointed task, the Dark Lord would kill us all.

"I-I could not permit that to happen," she continued as she wrung her hand and stared down at her lap. "Severus was there at Hogwarts, working alongside the headmaster, in perfect position to carry out the Dark Lord's plan should my son not succeed."

"What were the conditions of the Vow?" asked Harry.

"To watch over Draco, to protect him from harm, and to…to carry out the deed should Draco fail," said Narcissa, her voice almost mechanical. "It was a horrible thing to ask of a child, especially one as foolish as my son, but his father believed that Draco would be able to restore the family honour so that the son could take the place of the father." Contempt filled her eyes. "Nothing can replace what was never there to begin with. The Malfoys will become a footnote in history, remembered only for what they failed to do." Her lips twisted with revulsion. "To think that we were once filled with pride at being Dark, for becoming Slytherin. They should burn that House to the ground."

The reporters began scribbling furiously rather than let their Quick Quote Quills do all the work and Harry could just imagine the next day's headlines. "'Destroy Slytherin House,' says Malfoy." "Burn It! Narcissa Malfoy Calls for Abolishment of Slytherin House." "Slytherin House Nest of Dark Magic Confesses Malfoy." As if McGonagall didn't have her hands full already. There was a groundswell of conversation; even members of the jury were whispering amongst themselves.

"Obviously, Snape kept his word," said Harry once the ruckus had died down. He took a step in the direction of the witness chair, but stopped abruptly and whirled to face Snape. He rubbed the back of his neck and frowned. "Is the Vow still in effect?" Snape's eyes widened.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Narcissa, perplexed.

Harry turned to face her, his brow furrowed. "The Unbreakable Vow. Is it still in effect? Is Snape still obligated to watch over Draco and protect him? I don't know how these things work, to be honest," he admitted.

"I—" Narcissa laid her hand at her throat, as befuddled as Harry. "I would think the Vow has been fulfilled, but in truth, Mr Potter, I'm afraid I don't know either." Both of them looked up at Kingsley, but he was frowning at Snape and seemed as confused as the rest of them.

"I will have someone from the Department of Mysteries examine Snape this afternoon," said Kingsley after a long moment's reflection. "They should be able to determine if the Vow's magic is still active. It's a good question, Harry, and I'm glad you asked it."

"Yeah, thanks." It would be just Harry's luck to go through with this farce of a trial just to have Snape keel over dead because Draco managed to do something stupid. He shook off the distraction and returned to where Narcissa sat patiently awaiting his next question.

"As I was saying, Snape keeps his word?"

"He does, Mr Potter. Whilst Severus might be the most cynical, biting, sarcastic man I've ever met, there is no question he is also the most loyal person I know." A soft smile graced her lips. "Severus is not the man one seeks out if in need of a warm shoulder. He coddles no one and he has little patience for those who are too dimwitted to see what is under their noses.

"He is, however, possessed of a keen mind and sharp intellect. His curiosity knows no bounds and he possessed a rare ability to act prudently and with great foresight. It is rare to see Severus put his foot wrong. If only he had developed such skills earlier in life. It would have spared him great heartache."

"What do you mean?"

"Severus has a tremendous capacity for love. Were you aware of that, Mr Potter?" said Narcissa. The lines of her face softened as she looked at Snape. "I will never forget how the Dark Lord laughed when Severus asked if it was entirely necessary to kill Lily Evans. All we needed was the boy, we all knew that, but Severus wouldn't hear of it. When the Dark Lord asked if he harboured some affection for her, if he wanted her, a Mudblood, Severus would only say they had been children together. The others taunted him mercilessly and he lost standing with our Lord, but Severus endured it for her sake.

"Something died in Severus that day. It was like watching the death of hope." Narcissa bowed her head for a moment, but when she looked up, her blue eyes were piercing and Harry felt himself being turned inside out by her gaze. "I've always wondered what Severus would have been like had he grown up with some understanding of what love should be. He always reminds me of some scraggly little plant clinging tenaciously to life because he knows no other way to be. Never enough food, never enough light, never enough warmth, spreading out shallow roots in all directions so as not to be torn asunder. Growing up between jagged rocks so he's not crushed underfoot, not entirely.

"I try to imagine from time to time what his life would be like were he tended properly. If the broken bits were pruned away, or supported properly so they could heal. If he were nurtured by someone who wanted only what was best for him. I would like to think that Severus would be strong enough to survive the shock to his system, that he would eventually grow strong and true."

Harry's heart pounded against his chest as Narcissa held his gaze, and then she snorted a small laugh. "Severus Snape loved Lily Evans enough to risk the Dark Lord's wrath and enmity. He spoke, knowing that to do so for someone like her, a…" She inhaled deeply through her nose and squared her shoulders. "…a Muggle-born, could mean his death."

There was little Harry could think to ask after that, so he moved to the stand and assisted her down, bowing slightly over her hand as he took it.

~*~

"I don't quite understand why I'm here, Mr Potter." Ollivander turned his strange blue eyes on Harry and blinked once. "Is there a question about Mr Snape's wand?"

Harry wasn't quite certain why Ollivander was there either, except his instincts said there was something that the man could contribute and Harry's instincts seldom steered him wrong. "I'm not quite certain either, but you know loads about wands, including the Elder Wand."

A chill seemed to settle over Ollivander. "It is not a wand I care to discuss. Now, if you'd like to know which wands are best for the healing arts or for Transfiguration, or which cores can aid the potioneer or duellist, well, I'm happy to answer those questions."

"Can you tell what a witch or wizard might be good at by their wand?" asked Harry. He recalled Ollivander describing Draco's wand as being 'reasonably pliant', which Harry interpreted as 'easily led by the nose', but he wasn't certain that's what Ollivander had meant.

"Oh, yes. For example, your father's wand was particularly well-suited for Transfiguration. I understand that he mastered the Animagus transformation at a remarkably early age. Your wand, Mr Potter, was a curious blend of Dark magic and restoration and rebirth. It is no wonder to me at all that it chose you. Given its affinity for you, I can safely say it will serve you well all the days of your life. I daresay it will never wilt, not if it remains in your hands."

As much as it pained Harry to do so, he asked the next question. "Do wands wilt?" As expected, a titter of embarrassed amusement sprinted through the courtroom.

Ollivander peered down his nose at him. "They do indeed. Wands lose their magic, hazel wands in particular. They are so loyal to their owners that once their owner passes, they will never work again. Upon rare occasion, the wand itself dies. Not even replacing the core can save it," he added sadly and Harry pictured him mourning over the wands he couldn't save.

"Did Snape purchase his wand at your shop?"

"I believe so," replied Ollivander uncertainly. "I recall the wands, every wand I ever made," he said with a note of pride. "I can examine any wand you choose to give me and I will know who it selected. Alas, I'm afraid I am not adept at remembering the wand when only presented with the wizard. As Snape is a potioneer, I—"

"Potions Master," said Harry firmly, though he wasn't at all positive there was a difference.

"A Potions Master," corrected Ollivander. He looked at Harry strangely. "I rather suspect his wand would be made of black walnut, black oak, or possibly rosewood. The core is most likely unicorn, though phoenix is possible, as is thestral, though none of my wands have that as a core."

There was something vaguely disturbing about the thought of Snape with a phoenix core in his wand. It was likely that Harry associated phoenixes with Dumbledore, and the last time Harry had seen his phoenix, Fawkes, was the night of Dumbledore's death.

"But the wand chooses the wizard," said Harry. "Would Snape have been as good at Potions with a different wand?"

Ollivander's eyebrows leapt up towards his hairline before settling back down in a long, straight line. "Intriguing question, Mr Potter. Would you have been able to produce a fully corporeal Patronus at thirteen with a different wand? You've used several wands, as I recall. You would know better than most what can and cannot be accomplished with a foreign wand in your hand. But would you have been better at Charms if you'd had a different wand? That's the sort of question that can keep a wandmaker up nights."

"And I'm certain you need your rest," said Harry and was surprised by a muffled outburst of laughter. A second later he realised he'd managed to call Ollivander old.

"Not all of us are young," remarked Ollivander.

Harry's cheeks flushed and he fiddled with his note cards for a moment whilst he stole a quick glance at Snape. As suspected, Snape's expression all but shouted 'idiot boy', but for once, Harry thought Snape might be right about that. "Once the wand chooses the wizard, does the wand stay loyal to him?"

Ollivander's gaze was keen. "Not always. Wands can be won if the wizard who wields it loses it in a contest of wills. 'To the victor go the spoils', have you heard that phrase before? A good number of witches and wizards duelled fiercely during this war. Many lost their wands and have found they no longer work as well for them as they once did. As I understand it, you defeated young Mr Malfoy. Do you still have his wand?"

"Yes," replied Harry after checking quickly to ensure he was free to answer. "I tried to return it, but he said it no longer worked for him. I just thought he got a new one."

"Once a wand's allegiance has been surrendered to someone else, it is very difficult to get it back." Ollivander leant forward and stared down at him with a strange gleam in his eyes. "Some wands will remain in a family to be passed from brother to brother, from father to son. But a wand that is defeated…that is a different forest altogether. Not only does the wizard lose the loyalty of his wand, he also loses the loyalty of any wand he has won as well."

"Let's say, hypothetically, if Severus Snape managed to disarm and kill a wizard, would that wizard's wand be loyal to Snape?"

Ollivander shot him a penetrating look. "I would say yes, the defeated wizard's wand would recognise Severus Snape as its new master."

"What if," said Harry slowly, "someone else disarmed the wizard before Snape killed him? Would Snape still be the wand's master? Or would the wand recognise the person who disarmed him?"

"These are very unusual questions, Mr Potter," said Ollivander. "The wand would belong to the person who first defeated the wizard."

"If you had to sum up Severus Snape in one word," said Harry, "which word would that be?" It was a peculiar question to ask and he knew it. It didn't speak of Snape's deeds or shed any light on the decisions Snape might have made, at least not as far as Harry could see.

Ollivander's eyes were razor sharp as they sliced deep into Harry's psyche, laying him bare. "Loyal." It was almost a pronouncement. "Loyal unto death, beyond imagining. The sort of loyalty of which legends are told."

A chill ran down Harry's spine. As always, Ollivander unnerved him. It was as if he could see beyond Harry into realms unknown and used the knowledge from there, but to what end Harry did not know. On the whole, he much preferred Luna Lovegood's outlook on the world. At least she didn't make him feel like he was peering into his own grave.

He felt Snape's eyes boring into him and peered over the top of his spectacles at him. There was wonderment on Snape's face and perhaps a touch of grudging respect. Warmth ran through Harry veins and he for a brief instant he wanted to cheer. But he confined his reaction to a broad smile and felt inordinately pleased. It was a very good ending to the day.

Chapter Text

The next morning Harry was up with the sun. After staggering through his morning routine (shower and wank, hair, teeth, clothes) and downing a cup of coffee, he Apparated to Diagon Alley, took the Floo to Hogsmeade, Apparated to the gates and sprinted up to McGonagall's office. He waved a cherry hello to Dumbledore and dashed up the stairs to Dumbledore's old living quarters and coaxed the wardrobe into tossing a set of robes to him.

The set was blinding yellow, brighter by far than anything Xenophilius Lovegood would wear, and Harry cringed. Snape was going to flay him alive, crucify him by vocabulary. He gazed sourly at the wardrobe. "You do realise this is for Severus Snape, right? The one whose rainbow comes in black and white?"

The wardrobe just sat there, an impenetrable piece of furniture that refused to open no matter how much Harry begged. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he shrank the robes down and shoved them deep inside his pocket before trudging back down the stairs. He paused before Dumbledore's portrait for a moment. "Tell Professor McGonagall that I died by tongue lashing, will you?"

Dumbledore gave him a cheery smile. "It will all work out in the end."

"But at the end of what?" grumbled Harry as he tossed some Floo powder into the fireplace in McGonagall's office. "The Ministry of Magic," he said clearly as he stepped into the bright green flames.

He found Snape sitting in his holding cell eating the breakfast Kreacher had delivered. There was a plate for him under stasis and Harry sat in the chair opposite and began to eat. Neither of them said a word, their morning routine already established as if by fiat. Snape had one section of the Daily Prophet, courtesy of bailiff Rhoda Gauntlett, and Harry took the other, turning to page three to avoid the headlines.

When they'd both finished eating and had started on their second cup of coffee, Harry tapped the table with his wand and the plates disappeared. "You know the wardrobe in the headmaster's chambers?" he asked as he clutched his coffee cup with both hands. "The one I asked you about earlier? Is there a spell or something to open it?"

Snape peered at him over the rim of his coffee cup. "What are you blathering on about now, Potter? It's a tall cupboard. To open it, one merely pulls on the handle. Surely you've encountered one before?"

Harry scratched his head and readjusted his spectacles. "We're talking about the one in the Headmaster's Tower, right? The one near the top of the stairs that start over by the Pensieve cupboard? That's where you kept your things, right? That's what Professor McGonagall thought, anyway, though she still has her rooms over by Gryffindor Tower. I'm not sure why except she says she's lived in them for thirty years and she doesn't want to move."

"Is there a point to this?"

"I've made three trips to Hogwarts since this thing started so you'd have clothes to wear. See, we can't find your usual black robes. Well, I don't know if we can find them or not since the wardrobe won't open, but it shoves a set of robes out for me, well, for you, actually, and I just want you to know that I really had nothing to do with this. The cupboard decides what you get to wear and I'm really sorry, but..." Harry enlarged the robes and handed them over without comment.

There was thirty whole seconds of silence before Snape began shouting, storming around the small cell in a rage. Harry scrunched his shoulders as each pointed barb found its target. "Of all the loathsome, irresponsible, disrespectful, idiot pranks you could have pulled, you elect to turn me into one of the Weasleys' giant canaries. I won't stand for this, Potter. I will make it known that this was your doing. Now, return these to whatever misbegotten shop you found them and bring me something black."

"I told you this is what the wardrobe gave me," growled Harry through gritted teeth. "Surely you don't think this was my idea."

"I won't wear them."

"You can't show up looking like you just escaped from Azkaban," shouted Harry as he came to his feet. "Besides, I'm pretty sure this was Dumbledore's idea. If you want clothes, great. Either tell me your size or where your old teaching robes are and I'll bring them to you."

Snape turned swiftly and snarled, his face mere inches from Harry's. "My robes are in the bloody wardrobe."

"They may bloody well be, but the wardrobe won't open and this is what it let me have," Harry growled back. Suddenly, he was aware of Snape in every inch of his body and he took a step back, his heart skipping around madly as though someone had cast a Tarantella hex on it. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm down. "I know there's not much time, but I'll see what—"

The door to the cell opened and Gauntlett stepped in. "You have five minutes before you're due in court." She ran her eyes over Snape and arched a brow at Harry. "The Minister doesn't like to see the defendant in prison garb. He says it's no way to get a fair trial, so if he has something else to wear—"

The bright yellow robes rose from the corner where Snape had thrown them and floated toward the table. A strange little grin appeared on Gauntlett's face as she waved them over to where Snape stood, his arms crossed defiantly over his chest. "Not what I'd have chosen, but there's no accounting for taste." With a flick of her wand, Snape's prison robes disappeared, leaving him standing naked in the centre of the cell.

Harry's eyes widened and his cheeks burst into flames as Snape's colour faded. Automatically, Snape's hands dropped to cover his genitals and Harry's eyes followed the movement. He drank in the sight of the line of hair leading from Snape's navel to the v of his crossed hands and swallowed. In that moment, he realised both Snape and Gauntlett were staring at him and he was instantly mortified. "I'll just leave you to get dressed," he stammered and bolted from the room.

It was several minutes before Gauntlett led Snape to his chair. In the dim oubliette of the courtroom, the brilliant yellow paled to the colour of soft butter and drew attention to the sheen of Snape's cropped hair. The robes fitted him splendidly through the shoulders and waist, and the fitted long sleeves only made his elegant hands appear more graceful.

The gallery filled. By now, those who were watching the trial had staked out their seats on the steep benches and were getting to know those in their immediate vicinity. One woman set a basket on her lap and began distributing muffins and rolls. A middle-aged wizard who reminded Harry painfully of Lupin worked a crossword puzzle. The plum-clad jury filed in and, within minutes, they were ready to start.

"Bring in our next witness," ordered Kingsley and Gauntlett disappeared. Some sort of commotion from beyond the doorway drew Harry's attention and he frowned. The clatter of heavy chains echoed off the stone walls as a scarecrow of a man in the familiar stripes of Azkaban shuffled in, struggling to escape Gauntlett's grip as he did. He was surrounded by Aurors and guards and fought as they placed him in the witness box.

Finally, he looked up. When his eyes fell on Snape he lunged, his eyes nearly incandescent with rage. "You! You traitor!" The Aurors wrestled him back into his seat as Gauntlett spelled ropes and chains around him.

"Let go of me. Let go!" The man continued to struggle until one of the bailiffs hit him with a Body Bind. Once the man was subdued, Harry turned his astonished gaze on Snape. The man was sitting like a statue, his eyes fixed firmly straight ahead. This was going to be an uphill battle and Harry didn't even know yet which Death Eater he was questioning.

"Whenever you're ready, Harry," murmured Kingsley, and that was Harry's cue.

On wobbly legs, Harry stepped out from behind his table and gave a sharp nod to the Aurors. With a flick of a wand, the Body Bind was gone and the witness glared down at him. "Err...who are you?" asked Harry, feeling every bit the idiot Snape always accused him of being.

Mocking laughter erupted from the witness. "Wouldn't you like to know," he sneered and Harry rolled his eyes. Fine. He had a way to deal with recalcitrant witnesses.

"Permission to place the witness under Veritaserum?"

No sooner had Harry asked the question than the man began to shout. "Avery! Guy Avery." He slumped back in his chair to the extent the ropes and chains would allow and gave Harry a murderous glare. "Just ask your questions."

"Very well." Harry returned to his table and found the section with Avery's name on it. He returned to the witness, note card in hand. "When did you first meet Severus Snape?"

"What sort of question is that? When we were Sorted into Slytherin House, of course. D'you reckon I was friends with the likes of him? A murderer and a traitor?"

"Yes, actually, I do," replied Harry coldly. "In fact, I know you were—and if you lie to me again, I will have them give you Veritaserum. Tell them about Snape's relationship with James Potter."

Avery laughed, an ugly sound to Harry's ears. "Relationship?" He snorted. "They were as like to drown each other in the Black Lake as not. If they'd been in the same boat, only one of them would have stepped on shore. Your dad and Snape hated each other. The only person Snape hated more than James Potter was Sirius Black. Bit ironic how all that turned out."

"Ironic? What do you mean?"

"Old Snapey here were banging his brother. I've no idea if he actually felt something for the poor lad or were just usin' him to get at Sirius. Worked though. Sirius nearly killed him with his pet werewolf when he found out."

The world tilted on its axis and Harry had to grip the edge of the table to keep himself on his feet. That couldn't be right. Snape loved his mother, obsessively so. It was the one constant in Snape's life, the only thing about Snape of which Harry was certain. Snape Patronus was a doe, for Merlin's sake.

Unable to look at Snape, who must be apoplectic or close to it, Harry shook his head, dazed. "That...that can't be true. It's impossible."

Avery smiled, revealing a row of dead, rotting teeth. "Oh, he was right taken with your mum. Only person in Hogwarts who would give Snape the time of day. Who knows? Maybe he'd been able to get it up for her. Merlin knows he wanted her enough, but there's just no telling with someone who's queer as a gold Knut."

This was not going at all the way Harry expected it to. Somehow, with one innocent question, he found himself mired in a morass up to his neck. He needed to get this interrogation back on course. "Leave my mum out of this. We're talking about James Potter and Severus Snape. Did they prank each other?"

Avery shook his head and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Prank each other? No, mate. You've got the wrong end of it. They came as close to killing each other as they could without getting tossed from school. There weren't a person at Hogwarts who dared leave them alone together. James and his mates put a target on Snape's back from their very first day. It weren't 'til James started dating your mum that Snape figured out where his bread was buttered."

"Is it true that Snape knew more Dark magic than most seventh years when he first got to Hogwarts?"

Avery's eyebrows shot up. "Where'd you hear that bit of malarkey? No, Snape was as ignorant as the rest of us. Had a bit of a gift for Potions, though, and best at Charms in our year. Except for your mum, perhaps. Snape was crafting spells of his own even before we'd sat our OWLs."

Harry was well acquainted with Snape's spell-crafting abilities and wasn't certain he wanted to wander down that road, but before he could redirect the conversation, Avery spoke up again. "He made this one spell..." Avery snickered, a wheezing sound that set Harry's teeth on edge. "Made the poor bloke's toenails grow right through their boots. Ruined about a dozen pair of your dad's shoes, that did. Always good for a laugh, since it was pure hell getting them off your feet. It were real popular back in the day."

"Yes," said Harry dryly. "I can imagine how that would endear him to everyone."

"Endear? Snape?" Avery cackled. "You know Snape better than most. Who would ever endear themselves to that?" He turned and locked eyes with Snape. "Just you wait 'til you're back at Azkaban. We've not forgotten which side you were on. There's not one of us who's not ready to take you apart piece by piece. And don't be thinking the guards will want to save you, neither. You murdered Dumbledore and they've not forgotten, any more than we have."

It was almost impossible to disguise his disgust for Avery. "No longer friends with him, then, eh?"

"Friends? With Snape?" Avery shook his head. "Look, you've got to understand something about Snape. He never fit in, not in Slytherin House, not with those of us loyal to the Dark Lord. He actually begged for your mum's life, and her a Mudbl—"

"Don't say that word!" snarled Snape, his dark eyes flashing. "Lily Potter was Muggle-born, a circumstance of birth. She didn't choose her parents, any more than you did."

"You're pathetic," sneered Avery. "Still pining for her, Snapey? Still moping after a dead woman twenty years after our Lord eliminated her?" His face twisted and his lip curled. "I doubt you even shed a tear for poor Regulus. Did you ever figure out where he disappeared to? Or have you kept him stashed away all these years?"

Snape turned his head and stared blindly out into the gallery. Harry had no idea what might be passing through the man's mind. "When you say he didn't fit in," Harry began as he paced through the small area that he regarded as his. "What exactly do you mean?"

"You can't possibly be that dense," replied Avery as his eyebrows shot up. "Listen, Potter. There's always one, right? That one kid who just doesn't fit in? Who has no idea how the world works? Always sayin' the wrong thing at the wrong time. Or doing the wrong thing but can't quite figure out why. We're supposed to be cunning in Slytherin House. Snape was about as cunning as a Hufflepuff. All he wanted was to be one of us, so he created some spells and brewed his potions and joined up when Lucius told him to."

The words writhed and twisted in Harry's gut, touching a chord deep inside him, and he didn't want to hear any more. "Take him back to Azkaban," he said softly, gathering his cloak around him. He stood at his table, head bowed, unable to meet anyone's eyes. It hurt, knowing that even in his own House Snape was so thoroughly ostracised, imitating those around him in a futile attempt to fit in somewhere.

It took Gauntlett a few minutes to remove Avery, who was none too pleased to find himself on his way back to the cold and lonely prison standing sentinel in the middle of the North Sea. He fought and protested as much on the way out as he had on the way in. Once he was gone, the next witness sat herself in the witness box.

The woman appeared to be within a few years of Narcissa's age, solidly built, square through the shoulders and a bit too heavy for her frame. She had a warm, motherly sense about her, but her hazel eyes were wary, as if sensing a trap but not quite able to find it. Drawing her deep burgundy robes around her, she gazed at Harry, waiting, waiting.

"I'm sorry, I've not been told your name," he said.

"I'm Emma Vanity."

"And how do you know Severus Snape?"

Vanity looked over and met Snape's eyes, and whilst it was apparent that she recognised him, the same could not be said of Snape. He appeared not to have any idea who she was or why she was there. "He was two, maybe three years behind me in Slytherin." She turned her attention back to Harry. "I believe it would be safe to say that everyone in our House knew Severus, or of him. He was the one losing us points faster than anyone could earn them."

"Snape? Lost points?" It was hard not to laugh. No wonder he took as many as possible for any infraction, real or imagined. It also went a long way to explaining why he awarded so many to Slytherin when all they had to do was exist to earn them.

"By the bucketful," replied Vanity. "If he'd just learned to ignore Potter and his minions instead of rising to the bait every single time they laid it out for him, we might have won the House Cup a time or two. I did the best I could with the Quidditch team, but it was never enough to offset his losses."

"You played on the House team?" asked Harry. "What position?"

"I was captain of the team, Mr Potter. I played Chaser and Seeker when necessary. Severus tried out, but I'm afraid his skills weren't quite refined enough, though he knew the rules inside and out."

I'll bet he did, thought Harry. "He's a great one for following the rules," said Harry evenly. "Were you friends with him?"

"Friends?" Vanity glanced at Snape and shook her head. "No. Severus didn't have any friends, except for that girl in Gryffindor. He tried to make friends, but it was like a ferret trying to befriend a hippogriff, doomed to an unhappy ending for everyone. No, Severus tried to ingratiate himself with the other boys in his year, but they saw through his attempts. It would have been better all around if Severus had been able to keep his damned fool mouth shut."

Harry recalled Avery's words. "Always the wrong thing at the wrong time, I'd imagine."

Vanity's voice was scornful. "No, Mr Potter. It was the insults, the scathing remarks. He was a very nasty boy, and very good at twisting the knife. Anyone who got on the wrong side of him—and that was nearly everyone—rarely came out of it with their hide intact. It was his own doing that he was universally disliked."

"But he was good at magic, right? That has to count for something."

"Oh, he was quite good at dreaming up the odd little spell," said Vanity. "I must admit there is one spell of his that I've come to rely upon in my everyday life."

It was hard to imagine any spell of Snape's being useful to anyone who didn't dabble in torture for a living. Slytherin though she may be, Harry found it hard to believe that the person in front of him doing much more than spanking her kids when they misbehaved. "Oh? Which spell is that?" he asked.

"It's called, well, I don't know if he gave it a name, but the incantation is Muffliato. It muffles sound, which, in a houseful of children, can be quite useful. It allows me to carry on a conversation with another adult when the kids are playing."

The blood drained from Harry's face. Muffliato had saved their lives a number of times when he, Ron and Hermione had been hiding from the Death Eaters. "You're right. It's dead useful." He glanced down at his little note card and realised he had nothing left to ask. "Thank you for coming today, Ms Vanity. I know it doesn't seem like much, but you've helped."

Vanity regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "I must admit I do not understand your strategy, but if you believe it helped, that's all that matters." She stood and nodded to Kingsley and the jury before stepping down. On her way out, she paused by Severus' chair and touched his hand lightly. "All my best, Severus."

The next thing Harry knew, the Aurors were scanning Snape from head to toe for contraband and curses. They yanked him from his chair and made him stand in the centre of the courtroom whilst everyone craned their necks to get a better view. "Stop it!" shouted Harry. "Leave him be. She didn't give him anything."

The courtroom was cleared whilst Snape was dragged out into the hall and made to lift his robes so the Aurors could complete their examination. All the while, Harry fumed at the ridiculousness of it all. "Can we please just finish?" he begged Kingsley. "All she did was wish him good luck, which is more than most people would do. If you want him cursed, just leave him alone with the people watching the trial. They'll make certain he doesn't last 'til noon."

"His safety is not the point," said Kingsley. "Imagine what he could do with a wand."

"You ought to be more concerned about what he can do without one," muttered Harry darkly. He returned to the courtroom and sat down heavily, glaring up at Percy's smug expression and wishing he had the courage to let loose with a Bat-Bogey Hex or something.

"Pssst. Harry." It was one of the reporters in the front row. "Did she pass him anything?"

Harry shook his head at the insanity of it all and waited.

When Snape was confined to the defendant's chair, there was a dark red blotch under his eye. Furious, Harry drew his wand and grasped Snape's chin in his hand. Snape jerked it back instantly and tried to bat Harry's hand away.

Harry grabbed Snape's hand and glared. "Stop. I'm going to heal you. That's all. Now hold still." They glared at each other, with much more than words passing between them until Snape finally surrendered. Harry chanted the healing charm he'd been taught at the Auror Academy and the rapidly forming bruise vanished.

Sheathing his wand, he paused as he passed by one of the Aurors. "Harm him again and I'll make certain you're permanently assigned to Floo detail. Don't think I can't." He met Gauntlett's startled eyes and drew himself to his full height. "Bring out the next witness. Please," he added as an afterthought.

To Harry's delight, Madam Hooch was escorted to the stand and his smile was genuine as he approached. They exchanged pleasantries and Harry shook her hand. "How's Gryffindor's team this year?"

"They're trailing Ravenclaw, but not by much. I'm sorry to say they need a better Seeker. They'd be top of the table if you'd returned to school with Ms Granger."

There wasn't even a twinge of guilt. "I'm doing what I was born to do," said Harry. "I'm sorry to bring you all the way to London for just a couple of questions, but there are only a few things I want to ask."

"Quite alright, Mr Potter," Hooch replied briskly. "It's a chance to meet up with my colleagues in the Department of Magical Games and Sport. Plus, I'll be meeting with the head coach of the Wimbourne Wasps. She's going to come up to Hogwarts to watch the final match. There are rumours that one of Ravenclaw's Beaters will be offered a try-out, so it's not a wasted trip."

"That's a relief," replied Harry, and it was. "I just wanted to ask you about Quidditch."

A great number of puzzled glances accompanied that remark, Hooch and Kingsley included. Snape, though, continued to watch impassively. "What did you want to know about Quidditch that you don't already?"

"Well, you remember that I played in my first year even though I wasn't supposed to. And that Professor Quirrell tried to hex my broom during my very first match."

Hooch's brow furrowed. "It was a long time ago, but yes. I remember."

"You usually referee the matches, correct?"

"Yes. I also teach flying, oversee the Quidditch matches, and advise the captains on training and practice sessions." Her eyes narrowed and she cocked her head. "Although..." Her yellow eyes narrowed and she tilted her head. A long finger came up and she rested it against her lips. "The professor decided to referee one of your first matches."

Harry nodded vigorously. "That's right. There was some trouble during my first match."

"Yes. Your broom was being hexed. It was hopping up and down and jerking around like it was possessed. We didn't find out until later that Professor Quirrell was responsible."

"But my second match, do you remember that one? It was against Hufflepuff."

Madam Hooch stole a quick glance at Snape. "As I recall, I didn't supervise that match. Professor Snape appointed himself referee. He certainly knew the rules well enough—almost as well as I do. It's about the only time I've seen him take any interest in a match where Slytherin didn't play."

Harry felt inordinately relieved. "Yes." He smiled. "Now I realise you might not know the answer to this, and if you don't, please say so, but do you know why he chose to referee?"

"Certainly," replied Hooch. "Severus thought your life was in danger and didn't trust anyone else to protect you."

That sounded like Snape—better than mere mortals at everything, except getting along with people. "How do you know this?"

Hooch barked a laugh in her deep voice. "It's not the sort of thing Severus Snape ever made a secret of. If it came to watching over you, Mr Potter, he was always first in line once he'd had a chance to complain bitterly about having that responsibility thrust upon him. At the same time, he trusted no one else to do it properly. My own guess is that he took perverse pleasure in doing the exact opposite of what he wanted to do."

"Were the two of you friends?"

"Friends?" Hooch studied Snape for the moment and then looked over at the jury. Roughly half of them appeared to be paying attention. "I wouldn't say we were friends, but I admired him. I just learned early to stay out of his way. He was very good at choosing Quidditch captains, though. I respected him for that."

That was enough, Harry thought. "Thanks again for coming."

"Come up to Hogwarts sometime, Mr Potter. Watch your old House team. They'd enjoy that." With a brisk nod, Madam Hooch saw herself out of the courtroom, her heels clicking sharply on the stone floor as she left.

Chapter Text

The trial broke for lunch and Harry followed Snape back to his holding cell. The brilliant yellow robes seared themselves on the backs of Harry's retinas enough that Harry could see a ghost image of Snape when he closed his eyes. He was just lowering himself into the chair when Snape spoke.

"Why are you here, Potter?"

Harry froze with his arse hanging in inches over the seat. "To have lunch. To spend time with you. To see how you think I'm doing." To see if you're alright. "You don't mind, do you?"

Snape extended his hand and gestured toward the chair. "Since you're nearly sitting already." He spread a serviette across his lap and sighed at the forlorn burger and soggy chips on his plate. Harry's looked no better. The bun had been crushed and some sort of sauce was slopped over the edge. The lettuce was wilted and the tomato was barely pink. But it smelled edible and Harry was starving.

"I'm sorry about all that with Emma Vanity," said Harry around a mouthful of food. "Who hit you, anyway?"

Snape stared back in disgust. "Polite people, those possessed of good manners and the decency to use them, do not speak with their mouths full of food. Surely seven years of watching Ronald Weasley has taught you that much?"

Harry poured whatever was in the pitcher into a glass and drank. Ahh, pumpkin juice. Good enough. "You're dead right about that. I don't think Ron ever got through a meal without showing us all what he was eating. Sorry." Setting the glass down, he leant forward and asked again. "Who hit you?"

"It doesn't matter," said Snape. Picking up fork and knife, he fastidiously cut the burger in half, each side precisely the same size as the other. He picked up one half and took a cautious bite, but chewed enthusiastically upon discovering the burger tasted far better than it looked. "I suggest you either speak to Kingsley or let it go. In any case, you won't learn anything from me."

"Fine." Harry settled in to eat his lunch with one question buzzing through his head—was Snape gay? It wasn't the sort of thing he wanted to come right out and ask, especially since it was also a question Harry genuinely didn't want to think about having to answer. Ever since that first day at Azkaban, a nervous flutter seemed to arise in his belly every time he was alone with Snape. He was usually able to attribute it to being anxious about the trial, but it was becoming harder and harder to ignore his fascination with the man.

Pouring some catsup onto his plate, Harry dragged a chip through it, drawing looping patterns through the sauce before eating each one. Head propped on one hand, he thought about what Avery said about Regulus and how Snape had been using him to get back at Sirius. "Is any of what Avery said true?" he said abruptly as he pushed his plate aside.

Dark eyes focussed intently on Harry's face and bored into him. "Some was, some wasn't. Why didn't you place him under Veritaserum if you were concerned at all about his veracity?"

Harry was still pants at Occlumency even though it had been encouraged during his training as an Auror, but he didn't sense Snape's presence in his mind. Perhaps his thoughts were safe. Nevertheless, he found it difficult to look Snape directly in the eye and his gaze skittered away. "I'd hoped the threat of it would be enough. Were you really going out with Sirius' brother when you were at Hogwarts?" He glanced shyly back at Snape, watching him from under his lashes.

"Ah, so now we come to it." Snape tossed his serviette onto the table and leant back in his chair. One foot slid forward and brushed against Harry's, but didn't retreat when it encountered the obstacle. "Does it bother you, Potter, that I may have carried on with Regulus? Is there some part of you that finds the mere suggestion of it revolting? Does it change your perception of what I thought of your mother?"

Harry swallowed nervously, wanting to look up but desperately afraid of what Snape might see there. He wasn't ready to address those thoughts, but Snape's questions deserved answers. He rose to his feet and stood at the door, peering out into the hall where one of the bailiffs paced back and forth. "No, I don't find the thought revolting. I've known Charlie Weasley too long to think that.

"As for my mum..." Harry picked at a cuticle and tried to order his thoughts. "I reckon it's about as complicated as you are." He turned to face Snape. "I know you loved her, or at least the idea of her, but I don't think Avery had it right, either. But what I think doesn't really matter, does it? What you keep in your heart is your own, and I know better than to pry into your affairs."

A very strange look came into Snape's eyes, a note of hunger with an undercurrent of challenge to it. "Curious, then, don't you think, since that's precisely what you chose to do?"

The way Snape was eyeing him, as though he was a tasty morsel to be devoured, made Harry's pulse quicken. "What do you mean 'I chose'? You chose me, remember? I didn't choose this."

Snape's only response was to fold his hands and arch an eyebrow.

Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, Harry stormed out of the room. How was it that Snape was able to get under his skin so easily? It was bad enough that Harry was wasting the first month of his career defending the bastard, but now Snape was invading his dreams as well. It was untenable and Harry couldn't wait for this trial to be done.

Once everyone was back from lunch, Kingsley announced that they would call one more witness and then wrap up for the day. On the one hand, Harry was happy to finish early and return home, where he might be able to shake off thoughts of Snape. On the other hand, he would like this ordeal to be over as soon as possible so he could get on with his life, but either way it wasn't worth arguing about, so he nodded so Kingsley would know he'd heard.

Harry was flipping randomly through his book when Gauntlett brought in the next witness, but his head snapped up when he heard a sharp gasp.

"Oh my!" Fat tears rolled down the woman's face as her face drained of colour. "I'd seen photographs, of course," she sobbed, "but I'd no idea, you see." She dabbed her eyes with a conjured handkerchief. "You look exactly like James the last time I saw him. He was your age when I saw him last and..." Her voice caught and she turned away.

Gauntlett led her to the witness stand and brought her a glass of water whilst Harry stood stricken by the table. Naturally, he'd been told over and over how much he resembled his father and that he had his mother's eyes, but he was nearly the age his father had been when he died and never fully appreciated until now how hard his appearance must be for those who knew his father well. Suddenly, Snape's animosity made a little more sense.

It was fully five minutes before Harry dared approach the woman, but her eyes and her voice were steady. He suspected Calming Draught. "You're Mary Mcdonald, yes?"

Mary nodded and brushed a dark curl away from her face. "Yes. I went to school with your mum and dad. We were all in Gryffindor together. Lily was my best friend, but I wasn't hers. Her best friend was Sev. Severus. Severus Snape, until they had a falling out. He said something awful to her, shouted it, actually. It tore her to pieces, spent the rest of the day in tears, but she'd made up her mind, you see." She gave him a watery smile. "Oh, but I'm making a right mess of this, aren't I?"

"No. No," Harry hastened to assure her. "Just go ahead and say your piece. You're here to talk about Snape and my parents anyway, so just tell everybody what you know about them. Say whatever comes to mind."

"You're very kind." Mcdonald gave Snape an anguished look and dabbed at her eyes again. "Lily knew Severus before they arrived at Hogwarts. They were already friends and hoped to be Sorted into the same House, but it wasn't to be. Sev was such a suspicious, cynical little thing and he'd already made enemies of James and Sirius; he'd have been miserable in Gryffindor. Lily made time for him anyway, to James' disgust.

"He truly resented Severus, you see. And Sirius was happy to have a victim." For a moment she appeared guilt stricken. "One mustn't speak ill of the dead, but Sirius had a bit of a mean streak about him. I know his home life was quite miserable—they all but disowned him for being Sorted into Gryffindor—so I suppose it's natural that he found an outlet for his anger. I often wonder if Lily would still be alive if Sirius hadn't hated Severus quite so much."

This was news to Harry. The only people who had ever told him about his parents painted them in glowing light. Only Snape had pointed out his father's flaws, but he'd taken such delight in doing so that Harry immediately disregarded every word out of his mouth, until the Pensieve had proven the truth of Snape's words.

"What do you mean? I know my dad and Sirius ganged up on Snape, but I don't see how it would have made a difference in the end whether they hated each other or not."

"Don't you?" Mcdonald twisted the handkerchief in her hands and kept her attention focussed on Harry. "It's true that James and Severus clashed from their very first moment, but James was much more pragmatic than Sirius ever dreamt of being. James lived for Quidditch and being the centre of attention. He was such a friendly boy, Harry. He was outgoing and loved to be around people. They warmed to him, you see. Other than the Slytherins, James never met a stranger.

"But Sirius was different. He came from a long line of Dark practitioners and it didn't set well with him. Though he claimed he hated his family, deep down I think Sirius was embarrassed to be associated with them. Perhaps that's why he hated Severus so much. Perhaps he saw what he might have been, or maybe they were just too much alike.

"But Sirius couldn't leave Snape alone, not for a moment. Every single day, from our first trip to Hogwarts on the train to the day we all left school, Sirius found some way to make Severus miserable. And Severus, being Severus, fought back.

"It didn't matter how often Lily told Severus to ignore them, he just couldn't. And with Severus being in Slytherin House, he learnt Dark magic from his Housemates. I suspect it was as much an attempt to fit in with them as it was a way to defend himself from James and Sirius, though all it really managed to accomplish was landing James and Sirius in detention on a regular basis. I'm not quite certain how he managed it, but all Severus seemed to manage to do was lose points.

"But, don't you see? If Sirius hadn't hated Severus, he and James would have ignored him. If that happened, perhaps Lily would have kept Severus away from Dark magic and he would have had no reason to take the Mark."

A knot was forming in the back of his neck and Harry rubbed it. He should be years past the days of 'what if', but every now and again he wished his life had gone differently. "I understand," he said softly. "You said earlier that Snape and my mum had a falling out. What do you know about that?"

"Oh, it was horrible, just horrible," exclaimed Mcdonald. "Lily came into the common room with her face all blotchy and it was clear she'd been crying. I asked her what was wrong, but she didn't want to say anything in front of everyone else, so she grabbed my hand and led us up to our dormitory. We sat on her bed and pulled the bed hangings closed.

"'Sev called me a Mudblood', she whispered to me and then she just fell apart. Your poor mum was so distraught, Harry. She knew she couldn't make excuses for him anymore, that he truly was every bit as mean and nasty as Avery and Mulciber, right down to the core.

"I can't tell you how much she wanted him to be different, to try to ignore the other boys in his House. Lily told me once that she'd even considered going to Dumbledore to see if Severus could be Sorted into another House. But in the end, it didn't matter how much Lily cherished him. Severus wouldn't change—not even for her."

A low moan sent shivers down Harry's spine and he turned just in time to see Snape bury his face in his hands. His thin shoulders shook slightly and, as Harry watched, a tear dripped off the end of Snape's nose and splashed onto his robes.

Harry swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Did he show any remorse?" His voice was high and tight. A few members of the jury wiped at their eyes as the reporters and illustrators scribbled furiously. Even Mary Mcdonald was sympathetic to Snape's plight.

"Oh yes. Severus tried to get the Fat Lady to open the portrait hole, but of course she wouldn't without the password. Severus threatened to sleep in front of it until Lily finally came out, but the Fat Lady wouldn't have it, though if he'd tried I imagine McGonagall would have given him detention for breaking curfew. She kept announcing that someone wanted inside, so I went out to see if I could send him away.

"He begged to see Lily. I recall he was quite agitated, so I told Lily that she had to do something before Severus managed to get in more trouble. She was back a few minutes later. 'Well, that's over, I suppose. At least my sister will be happy.' She was white as a sheet when she went up to bed. Didn't want to hear his name ever again, but as we had lessons with the Slytherins she couldn't avoid him.

"After a while, it was clear Severus had just given up. After that, he kept to his own House and started working on Darker spells. It rather ironic, I suppose, that his 'Levicorpus' spell was what finally drove him from the one person he ever cared about. He never forgave James for using his own spell against him."

Another piece of the puzzle slotted into place for Harry. No wonder Snape was so incensed when Harry tried to slice him to ribbons with Sectumsempra. It wasn't what the spell would do that raised Snape's ire; it was that he had created the spell in the first place, and after what happened the last time a Potter had gotten the better of him with his own spell, Snape would be damned if it happened again.

"Was 'Mudblood' a word Snape used frequently?"

Mcdonald nodded and resumed shredding her handkerchief. "They all did," she whispered. "Avery and Mulciber in particular. They wanted to put us in our proper place and since we weren't purebloods, we didn't fit into their New World Order." Her dark eyes came alive with inner fire. "Thank you, Mr Potter, for eliminating that monster from our lives. It is a relief to no longer live in hiding because some witch thought I'd stolen magic from somewhere."

There was no doubt in Harry's mind about who that 'witch' might be and he felt an overpowering urge to draw his wand and blast a hole in the wall or something. It was impossible to think of Umbridge without being consumed by rage, not only because the nightmares she'd caused at Hogwarts, but because of the damage to countless Muggle-born witches and wizards whose lives were torn apart by her actions.

"I think we all know that magic can't be stolen," said Harry as his eyes blazed with indignation. It took a couple of deep breaths before he felt calm enough to speak. "I'm glad my mum had a friend like you. Thank you."

Mary Mcdonald's eyes brimmed with tears. "They would be so proud of you." She stepped out of the witness box and stood before Snape. Harry couldn't tell what was going through her mind as she watched him. For a moment, it seemed as though she was about to speak, but she shook her head and walked silently through the archway and into the corridor. The entire time she stood there, Snape never moved. His head was bowed and his shoulders bent, as though the weight of all his sins was crushing him.

Chapter Text

Harry was late the next morning, so restive were his dreams. They were filled with dark hair and pale skin, with long legs and a hard, flat chest. Long fingers moved surely over his flesh, leaving trails of flame in their wake, quenched by a warm wet mouth following in their path. His throbbing prick woke him and he came by the third stroke with Snape's name on his lips. Shaken, he stumbled into the shower and stood under the hot running water, his mind reeling.

He fumbled through the rest of his morning routine and found himself standing in front of the Three Broomsticks with no clear recollection of how he'd gotten there. It was pouring in Hogsmeade and the hard pounding of cold rain brought him out of his stupor enough to realise that he needed to hurry if he was going to make it back to the Ministry in time.

The warm, dry air of the Floo Network ensured Harry wasn't a sopping mess by the time he arrived back in London, but he had to sprint to the holding cell so that Snape would have time to change before Gauntlett escorted him back to Courtroom Ten.

"Here," said Harry breathlessly as he shoved a set of deep emerald green robes at Snape. "Sorry I missed breakfast. I need to let Kingsley know I'm here, so I'll see you inside." He dashed forward and snatched a piece of toast off the plate and sprinted down the hallway, leaving Snape to stand with his mouth hanging open, unable to get a word in edgewise.

As usual, Snape was one of the first ones in the courtroom and Harry's jaw dropped as he was escorted past. "God, you're beautiful," he blurted and stood so quickly that his chair toppled over. Both Gauntlett and Snape stared at Harry as though he'd just spoken Mermish and Harry wondered if he could just Vanish part of the floor and disappear through the hole it left. But he couldn't tear his eyes away from the way the clear green robes set off the colour of Snape's skin. Or the way the cut emphasised the sleek lines of his body. Snape, it turned out, was an alarmingly attractive man. Harry thought he was about to sick up.

~*~

After four days of trial, the rhythms of the courtroom were becoming familiar and Harry barely looked up as the gallery began to fill. Stealing a glance at Snape was out of the question and he wasn't too keen on making eye contact with Gauntlett, either. The only saving grace, if he could call it that, was that Percy hadn't been around to hear those words explode out of him.

Once he could no longer ignore the inevitable, Harry gave Gauntlett a quick nod to signal that he was ready to begin. A moment later he was on his feet and craning his neck at the unmistakable sounds of a struggle.

"Unhand me!" A female voice shrieked at the top of her lungs. "I'll see you all arrested for this, just see if I don't. Help! Help! I've been abducted! Help!"

It took two bailiffs to drag the woman in kicking and screaming. "Ow! Let go—she bit me!" shouted Walter Embry whilst Gauntlett grabbed the woman around her waist and tried to haul her through the tunnel. Embry clutched his bleeding hand and left a trail of blood in the woman's wake.

"Help! Someone ring the police! Help!" she shouted. With the exception of Snape, everyone in the courtroom stood to watch the spectacle. The woman's foot lashed out and caught Gauntlett square in the shin. As Gauntlett grabbed her injured leg and began to hop, the woman broke loose and began to flee. Embry tried to pull his wand, but the woman elbowed him in the ribs. He collapsed with a groan against the side of the tunnel.

"Impedimenta." The spell from Kingsley was almost a pronouncement. The woman froze long enough for Gauntlett and Embry to each grab an arm. They pulled her into the courtroom and wrestled her onto the stand, and Harry collapsed into his chair when he saw who it was.

His aunt, Petunia Dursley. "You!" she roared as she attempted furiously to rearrange her clothing. "I should have known. Freak." Her wild eyes darted through the courtroom, taking in their brightly coloured robes and cloaks. "All of you! Freaks!"

She drew her cardigan around her thin shoulders and peered down her exceedingly long nose at Harry. "Take me home at once," she ordered in scathing tones. "And then never set foot in our house again. If you do, Vernon will see to it—"

"Vernon will see to nothing." Harry's steps were measured as he approached and his eyes were glacial. "I'm of age, in case you've forgotten, and I can do magic whenever and wherever I please." His smile turned cruel. "I've killed a man since I saw you last and these people," Harry swung his arm out in a broad arc, "regard me as a hero, so I'd think twice about threatening me.

"I," he paused delicately, "regret you experienced some difficulties with the Aurors on duty. They're just trying to do their jobs, you see, and one of their duties is making certain that everyone who is supposed to testify shows up."

"Testify? Is this some sort of trial?" Petunia's voice shook with rage. "As if there were any justice in this world. Where were all these people when you were deposited on our doorstep? Where were they when we were forced from our home because of my horrid sister?" Rising from her seat, Petunia drew herself to her full height and sneered down at him. "I refuse to utter a single word and there's nothing you can do about it. Send me home."

No matter how much her life bumped up against the Wizarding world, Aunt Petunia never seemed to understand that there were some forces in nature against which she was powerless. Harry feared she'd never learn. "No," he said, and it felt as if he were speaking to a stranger. If the Fates were kind, then this would be the last time he ever saw her again.

"Sit down." Harry drew his wand and pointed it at her, gesturing with the tip when she stood frozen next to the chair. Petunia sat slowly, her eyes wide with fear. As much as Harry wished he could admit to being ashamed of his actions, it was in all likelihood the only way he could impress upon her the gravity of the situation.

"You will testify and you will answer truthfully." Without warning, Harry went to stand before Snape. "Professor, can Muggles be given Veritaserum? Is it safe for them?"

As Snape's eyes rose to meet his, Harry felt his cheeks grow steadily hotter and his mouth went instantly dry. It was the absence of derision, the slow, thorough appraisal that rattled him most, and Harry wished Snape would just answer the damned question.

"Yes," said Snape after a pause that seemed to take a lifetime, "but the Veritaserum must be of high quality and the dosage reduced slightly: two drops instead of three. Muggles are prone to dehydration and it, ah, also seems to unleash the worst of their emotions."

"I remember you. You're Severus Snape," exclaimed Petunia. "That wretched boy who used to follow Lily everywhere. Are you the one on trial, then?" Her eyes gleamed with delight and she lit up like she'd won the national sweepstakes and an invitation to the Royal enclosure at Ascot on the same day. "I always knew you'd amount to trouble. Your father was a lazy, good-for-nothing drunk and your mum was a spineless coward who let herself be bullied."

"Not another word," said Harry, each word crisp and distinct. "I will ask you questions and you will answer them, but I will not permit you to insult this man. You don't get to do that. You did it enough with me, but no longer."

Harry saw the colour rising in her cheeks and instinctively took a step back. It was a mistake. Her mocking laugh filled the courtroom. "What a nasty piece of work you've turned out to be. Not a surprise, really, considering. You're a freak and always have been."

The courtroom seethed with unspoken anger. Everywhere Harry looked, he noticed people staring in open-mouthed horror at his aunt. "We are not here to talk about me. We're here to discuss Severus Snape. You knew him when you were children, right?"

"I should have left you on the doorstep to freeze instead of being forced to provide for a loathsome child I never wanted."

"That's Harry Potter you're talkin' to," shouted someone in the middle of the sea of faces and a murmur of agreement swept through the audience.

Harry tried to ignore the agitation of the crowd and the rising anger pressing in on him from all sides. His aunt was a nightmare, but she was the only person who knew Snape before he started at Hogwarts. He stood before Kingsley. "May we speak out in the hall?" The two of them disappeared, but were back within seconds.

Returning to his place, Harry locked eyes with his aunt. Thinking of all the times he thought a Stinging Hex would do her a world of good, he aimed his wand and readied a spell. "Since you've no intention to cooperate, I'm forced to resort to magic." As a strand of bright yellow spell light wrapped itself around Petunia's ribcage, she shrieked, though Harry wasn't certain if it was from rage or fear.

"Let's try this again," he said as he sheathed his wand. "You knew Snape when you were children, right?"

Petunia gritted her teeth and her eyes bulged from the effort of refusing to answer Harry's question, but the mild compulsion charm woven into the spell worked a treat. "Yes," she blurted before clapping her hand over her mouth. Harry reached for his wand. "Yes, he was spying on us in the park. He saw Lily do magic and said she was a witch." Her eyes darted toward Snape. "Grubby, greasy thing. It looked like he was wearing his mum's cast-off blouse and his dad's old ruined coat."

"Judged him by his clothes, did you?" asked Harry coldly, remembering how grateful he would have been to have something that fit him properly.

"And his ugly face. He called me Muggle and told Lily she'd be going to a special school for freaks like him."

"Did you go to primary school with Snape?"

A moue of disgust twisted Aunt Petunia's lips. "Of course not. He was from the dodgy part of town, along with the rest of the drunks and thieves and those on the dole. You could always pick them out, all pinched and scrawny with dirt under their fingernails and behind their ears, and reeking of cigarette smoke. Vile, the whole lot of them."

"So, since Snape was poor, I take it he wasn't welcome at your house?"

Petunia stiffened. "My mum pitied him. She fed him and tried to teach him manners, but he was too stupid to learn any. Never a 'please' or 'thank you' from him. No table manners to speak of. Just a rude greasy boy who always spoke out of turn and exploded in a temper whenever anybody tried to help him. Except Lily, of course. She never put a foot wrong with him."

Oh, how that must have rankled; Snape being shown kindness under the same roof where Petunia lived. "Was this in Surrey, then?" Harry knew there were some places not far from Little Whinging where Uncle Vernon refused to go, but given that he had largely been confined to house and school had no idea where those might be.

A flicker of shame appeared in Petunia's eyes. She clutched her cardigan, shrank back in her chair, and shook her head. "No," she whispered. "It was in the north. Cokeworth." Her face twisted into the sort of expression one might make stepping in fresh dog doo.

Cokeworth. The name rang a bell, though Harry couldn't work out why. "But not the dodgy part."

"What would you know of it?" hissed Petunia. "You were only there that one time when we tried to escape all those wretched owls and letters that followed us all over the blessed countryside. If those freaks wanted you back so much they should have left you there to start with."

Harry's brow furrowed. That one time? "When—" He broke off suddenly, recalling their panicked flight through England and their stop at a gloomy old hotel in a rundown, ramshackle town before Uncle Vernon hired a boat to take them to an island that was little more than a rock jutting out of the sea. "I remember that. It was almost as bad as...well, it doesn't matter."

"Your cupboard?" sneered Petunia. "You should be grateful you had a place to sleep."

Movement out of the corner of his eye startled Harry and his head snapped around to see Snape attempting to rise from his chair. The chains tightened around his waist and Petunia barked a laugh. "See? Even you lot know how dangerous that man is. He tried to kill me when he was ten years old."

There was an outburst from the gallery and the jurors all exchanged startled glances. The reporters scribbled furiously and even Kingsley frowned. "Explain what happened," he ordered from the bench as Percy peered around him to stare down at Petunia. Harry shrugged at Percy's quizzical glance; though he knew what happened, it wasn't his story to tell.

"He and Lily had sneaked off together, as always, putting their heads together and telling each other how wonderful everything would be once they left for that school. As if anyone but my sister would be friends with the likes of him. He saw me standing nearby and threw a wobbly. The next thing I know an enormous branch fell from the tree I was under and nearly took my head clean off. My sister knew, though. She knew he'd made it happen."

Kingsley glared down at Snape. "Is this true, Severus? Did you cause a tree limb to nearly fall on Mrs Dursley's head?"

Snape fixed his beetle black eyes on Petunia whilst he answered the question. "I was ten years old, Kingsley, with a concomitant lack of control over my magic. Lily's sister provoked me and I lost my temper. It was juvenile magic, nothing more than that."

"You were scared to death. Admit it," snapped Petunia.

"Of course I was scared," replied Snape scornfully. "You threatened to tell your parents. Lily was angry with me, and if my father found out I'd done magic intentionally or not, he would have thrashed me to within an inch of my life, as you well know."

"What was Mr Snape like?" interjected Harry. "The professor's father? Did you actually know him?"

For the first time, Petunia appeared uncertain. "I may have seen him once when Severus ate supper with us. He didn't come up to the door, but he dragged Severus off telling him what a worthless piece of shite he was."

"I take it Mr Snape—"

"His name was Tobias," said Snape unexpectedly. "I would prefer you use his name rather than refer to him as Mr Snape."

Harry blinked owlishly. "As you wish. Was Tobias a rather strict parent, then?"

Petunia's gaze flickered back and forth between Harry and Snape. Her mouth opened several times, but no words came out. A dull flush rose from beneath her collar and crept steadily over her cheeks as she fought the compulsion to respond. "Tobias fought with his wife and with Severus. He beat them. He yelled horrible things at them. I know Severus used to hide from his father, especially once his father discovered that Severus is bent."

As if unable to resist turning the knife, Petunia's eyes gleamed with malice as she looked at Snape. "I see the way you look at him, with the same hunger in your eyes as when you looked at Lily. It must have destroyed you to know you would never be man enough to have her, but you're willing to settle for the next best thing, aren't you? You perverted, lecherous freak. The two of you deserve each other.

"And you," she continued, rounding on Harry. "You're just as foul and disgusting as he is. You might think you can hide your deviance, but I've known ever since you started whispering about the other boys in your sleep. You two deserve each other."

Harry stood frozen in the centre of the courtroom, unwilling to meet the eyes of anyone who heard Aunt Petunia's diatribe. Whispering about other boys? The only one he knew of was Cedric, but that was because he was forced to watch his murder every night when he dreamed. It wasn't because of any latent attraction—none that he would admit to, anyway.

"Return her to her home and Obliviate her," he said in clipped tones. "She's a Muggle, so it falls within the Statute of Secrecy." With that, Harry walked out of the courtroom without a backwards glance.

He found himself wandering through the bowels of the Ministry and turned down a corridor that was hauntingly familiar. He stopped at a black door and reached out with a trembling hand. Would they be able to tell about him by looking? Or would they divine his secrets just as easily as everyone else appeared to do? Unnerved, he retraced his steps until he arrived at Snape's holding cell.

It felt like it took forever to work up the courage to open the door and step through, but Snape barely glanced up when he did. By mutual agreement, they remained silent through lunch, barely even making eye contact as they worked through a platter of tasteless food Harry wasn't certain he could identify. Every once in awhile, though, Harry stole a quick glance when he thought Snape wasn't looking, feeling an unwelcome thrill rush through him every time he did. It was the robes. It had to be the robes. Anything else was unthinkable.

Chapter Text

Lunch was over quickly enough and Harry readied himself for his next witness. The Fates must have been cackling and rubbing their hands together with glee because the next person to take the stand was none other than Dolores Jane Umbridge herself. Harry could have screamed. Which god had he pissed off to get Umbridge and Aunt Petunia on the same day?

Once she was seated, that simpering sweet smile appeared on Umbridge's face. Harry's blood started to boil. She was thinner than she had been the last time Harry had seen her, right here in this very courtroom, as a matter of fact, with a Polyjuiced Hermione at her side. Azkaban did not agree with her, he was happy to see, and her prison stripes served as a reminder of how horrible a person she was.

Harry consulted his notes for a brief second, relieved that he didn't have much he wanted to ask. The less time he spent with her the better. "Did you know Severus Snape before you were rewarded with the Defence Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts?"

"Rewarded?" Her revolting smile deepened. "I was the best qualified, Mr Potter. Surely you realise that?"

"More qualified than Severus Snape? He took the position after you had your little run-in with the centaurs." Harry plastered on the most innocent smile he could manage. Pity she had been so traumatised by the experience that just the sound of hooves could send her into a panic. He wondered if that was still true today.

The smile faded from Umbridge's face and her eyes grew remote. "I believe I was better suited to the task. Professor Snape had been turned down for the position five times in the past, whereas I was selected by Cornelius Fudge himself."

"Selected because Fudge was afraid of Dumbledore, you mean. He needed a spy at Hogwarts and who better than a loyal supporter of a Ministry who refused to believe until it was too late that Voldemort was back?"

"Come, come, Mr Potter. You know as well as I do that there was no reason to believe what you'd told Dumbledore was true. Such a fantastical tale, whisked away by a Portkey in the middle of a tournament. Seeing the Dark Lord's resurrected in a graveyard with the use of the Chosen One's blood. What right-minded person would buy that tale?"

"Dumbledore did. Snape did. Did Fudge know you were Dark when he appointed you?"

Umbridge heaved an enormous sigh. "Further proof that I was unable to teach you anything. People aren't Dark, Mr Potter. Only their actions define whether they are using the Dark Arts or not. It is intent, Mr Potter, and my intentions have always been of the purest kind."

Harry held up his left hand. "'I must not tell lies.' It's etched into my skin from the lines you had me write with a Blood Quill. What were your intentions then?"

"Why, to make you see the truth," she exclaimed in a high, girlish voice. "To try to keep your sense of importance under control. You were spreading fear and terror throughout the school. Surely even you can see how terribly inappropriate that was."

"You used a Blood Quill on a student?" The question came from Snape, who was staring at Umbridge as though she were a ruined potion.

"It was necessary," she declared firmly. "The rumours had to stop lest the students panic. It was the best way to gain control of the situation. Mr Potter was a disciplinary problem from the very beginning. As you well know, no matter how much I tried to rein him in, he continued to create problems for the staff.

"If I recall, Severus, his performance in your lessons was so sub-standard that you were forced to give him private tuition. I was forced to give him a lifetime ban from Quidditch for fighting on the pitch. He and his little friends started their own army and disrupted examinations. They created a swamp in the corridor near my office. If you'll remember, they even broke into my office to engage in illegal communications with someone on the outside.

"It was unfortunate that you ran out of Veritaserum, Severus. We were so close to finding out about the rebellion and crushing it before it could get out of hand, but—" Umbridge's face twisted in anger. "He lied to me. After everything I'd done to impress upon him the importance of speaking the truth, he lied to me and put my life in danger by leading me into the Forbidden Forest." She shuddered and her face paled at the memory, but then her nostrils flared as she inhaled and her smile was victorious.

"But, your little adventure with your friends didn't have quite the ending you hoped for, did it, Mr Potter?"

"Let's see," said Harry, ignoring the taunt about Sirius. "You used a Blood Quill on me. You disbanded student organisations at Hogwarts. You formulated an Inquisitorial Squad and pitted student against student. You arranged for Dumbledore's ouster. You used Veritaserum, a Ministry controlled substance, on students. You threatened me with an Unforgivable. What about any of that isn't Dark?"

"Do you have even the slightest idea what the Dark Arts are, Mr Potter?"

Harry quoted from memory. "'The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible.' Professor Snape taught me that. That tells me that it's not only your intent that determines whether something is dark or not.

"Voldemort wanted a perfect world, which he saw as being free of Muggles, the Muggle-born and half-bloods. By your definition, nothing he did to achieve those aims was Dark. Hubris, Professor Umbridge, and arrogance, and a certainty that you're right and everyone else is wrong, is just as wrong. That's what I call Dark. Wouldn't you agree?"

Umbridge was nearly speechless with indignation. Her toad-like eyes bulged and her mouth opened and closed like a guppy's. "How-how dare you?" she sputtered. "Everything I did was for the greater good."

"And there's a phrase I'd like to never hear again," muttered Harry. "One last thing before you're sent back to Azkaban. How did the Order know to come to the Ministry the day you met the centaurs up close?"

"I'm quite certain I have no idea what you're on about," sniffed Umbridge.

"I'll answer that," said Kingsley, to Harry's surprise. "Severus Snape alerted the Order after declining to administer Veritaserum to you, after which he went into the Forbidden Forest himself in search of you." He pushed back from his seat and locked eyes with Gauntlett. "I think we've heard enough from this witness. Send in the next one."

As Gauntlett escorted Umbridge to the Azkaban guards waiting outside in the hall, Embry dashed off to bring in the next person. There was a tinkling sound echoing off the stone archway and Harry took a step back to see who was coming. The tinkling stopped and was replaced by an unearthly moan that rose steadily in pitch and volume until it was very nearly a scream.

"You. You're the reason that nag is still at Hogwarts," came a quavering voice. "I was happy there once but you ruined everything." There was a choked sob and the tinkling resumed. Sybill Trelawney stepped out of the tunnel in a swirl of scarves, beads, and incense, staring through her thick spectacles at the sea of faces surrounding her. She turned in a slow circle, her movements furtive, almost fearful.

"Professor?" said Harry in a gentle voice, but she flinched as though struck.

"Harry? Harry Potter? What are—oh. Oh yes." She placed the back of her hand against her forehead. "And Severus Snape. The Inner Eye saw a great burden placed before you, but I could say nothing. Alas. It is such a burden to know the outcome before the task is set."

"Professor? Why don't you take your seat right over there?" Harry led her to the witness box, but she refused to set foot in it.

"Too many misdeeds have happened here. No, I'm afraid I will have to step aside." She peered at him and inched closer until they stood nearly nose to nose. "You are balanced on very fine point. A single misstep will end all chance for happiness. But should you last 'til the very end, you will know joy beyond measure."

It took all of Harry's efforts not to roll his eyes, but this was better by far than being told he was in grave danger. He'd had enough of that to last two lifetimes. "Professor, what is the Lightning Struck Tower?"

Trelawney stood erect and blinked at him. "You studied Divination, Harry. I'm certain I taught you both the major and minor arcana and how to interpret the cards relative to their position and orientation."

"You did," replied Harry, knowing that he understood as little about Divination now as he did as a third year just starting lessons. "But some of these people might not know."

"I don't understand why you're asking me about it when you're perfectly capable of answering the question yourself, but the Lightning Struck Tower represents sudden and violent change. Upheaval. Chaos and disorder. It represents a need to make an abrupt change."

"You saw that card on the day of Dumbledore's death, correct?"

"I didn't understand," she wailed. "I noticed the signs but I failed to heed them. I tried to warn him of the danger that was surrounding him, but he wouldn't hear it. Death! Death and destruction! It was everywhere! There was nothing to be done once the card appeared. Events would play out. The die was cast. There was no changing it." She darted around the well in agitation.

"What was Snape's role in the Lightning Struck Tower?"

Her wailing stopped and she spun around so quickly that Harry jumped. "Snape's?" She peered around as if she'd forgotten where he was sitting. "He was where the lightning struck," she whispered. "The Tower was Dumbledore. The lightning struck the Tower, but Severus was not the lightning. The lightning was Draco Malfoy."

"The lightning was Draco," repeated Harry in confusion. "You saw him earlier that day, right?"

Trelawney gazed at him in confusion. "Saw Draco Malfoy? No, he wasn't one of my Divination students. I would have no reason to see Draco Malfoy."

"But you heard him, right?" persisted Harry.

"I—" Her eyes narrowed and she gazed at him shrewdly. "I told you, the Room went black and I heard whooping, but then I was thrown out of the Room where I had...I needed to find something I'd left behind." She had wanted to hide her sherry bottles, but Harry had no reason to bring that up, so he gave the lie wide berth.

"But you didn't recognise the voice, right?"

"That's what I said at the time," admitted Trelawney as she resumed her wandering. She peered hither and yon, giving Harry the impression she had misplaced something. "But after everything that happened...I'm certain it was him. He was the lightning. It had to come from him." As her agitation increased, Harry inched his way slowly back to the relative safety of his table. "The Inner Eye was clouded...the storms...I couldn't make sense of it. It was all too much."

"Do you recall what else you told me that day?"

"I—" Trelawney came out of her crouch and gazed around in confusion until she spotted Harry and meandered towards him. "I believe I mentioned to you something about the day Dumbledore hired me to teach Divination at Hogwarts. We were overheard that day by Severus. Poor man. His life was never the same after that." Her eyes focussed sharply on him. "You must find it in your heart to forgive him for that, Harry Potter. He is always an instrument of Fate and his path, like your own, was not of his choosing." With that, she gave a little cough and wandered out of the courtroom, muttering to herself and waving her arms about as though conducting an invisible orchestra.

Harry would never understand that woman.

~*~

"Do we have someone waiting in the hallway to speak?" asked Percy as he massaged his hand. The notebook was filling rapidly and it would come as no surprise if he started a second volume before long.

"I'll find out," said Gauntlett.

"Definitely not my day," muttered Harry as Horace Slughorn was seated. He went to work making his note card whilst Professor Slughorn made a show of cleaning his spectacles and waving to the innumerable people he recognised. Given Slughorn's penchant for collecting people, that could take awhile, so Harry made the proper introductions to the Wizengamot. It turned out he needn't have bothered; most of them knew Slughorn all too well.

"Professor Slughorn, what is the difference between a Potions Master and a Potioneer?"

"Hello to you too, dear boy," boomed Slughorn with a broad smile. "It has been such a very long time since I saw you last. You're looking quite well in your Auror robes, I must say. Now, as for your question, the title of Master is given to one who is teaching Potions at Hogwarts, but it's never been a title I've been comfortable with. I much prefer being what I am, a Potioneer. A brewer of potions.

"Severus, though. Why, did you know that he was the youngest member inducted into the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers in over three centuries? A prodigy! One of the most innately talented brewers I've had the pleasure to teach. You came quite close yourself, Harry, but you didn't have Severus' gift for improving the recipe. Genius! Sheer genius. He is a Master in every sense of the word."

Upon hearing Slughorn's assessment of his brewing capabilities, it was impossible not to look back at Snape for the sneer Harry knew he so richly deserved. To his astonishment there was none. There wasn't even a calculating gleam in Snape's dark eyes. There was pride, as though Snape was accepting credit for his gifts as a true Potions Master. Harry bowed his head in respect and warmth spread through him down to his toes.

"Like Snape, you were also Head of Slytherin House, correct?"

By this time, Slughorn was waving his fingers at various members of the gallery and making 'write me' gestures, so Harry repeated the question. "Yes, I was and still am Head of Slytherin. Such a misunderstood House, I'm afraid. We're not all conniving and manipulative people. We're ambitious, true, but we're clever and resourceful as well. And loyal. I was quite loyal to Albus and I'm quite loyal to Hogwarts."

"Were you Head of House when Snape was Sorted?"

"Yes. It was a long time ago, though. Such a long time, though I do remember he was a feisty little thing, in his hand-me-down robes and a chip on his shoulder nearly as big as he was. He had such a devil of a time fitting in. Some do, you know, especially the half-bloods."

"Tom Riddle was a half-blood," said Harry. "Did he have trouble fitting in?"

The blood drained from Slughorn's face and he wrung his hands and fished for his pocket square. He dabbed nervously at his lip and forehead before stuffing the kerchief back in his robes. "Tom Riddle was a charming boy who strove to make friends with as many people as possible. Very charismatic. Quite the opposite, really, of Severus. It's no one's fault, of course. Some people are just not well-suited to having a large circle of friends. Others are."

Harry smiled, playing his role as amiable...whatever he was to perfection. "I know you have a rather large circle of friends. You have loads of photographs of them in your office. Your 'Slug Club', I believe it's called."

An amused chuckle burst out of Slughorn. "Yes, that's right, though I didn't name it that, to be sure. You yourself are one of my stars, as is your Ms Granger. Such a clever witch. I expect her to be amongst the highest flyers."

"Was Severus Snape one of the students chosen for this honour?"

The handkerchief came back out. "Severus?" Dab, dab, dab. "Well, as I said, he was one of the most gifted students I had the pleasure to teach, but his, ahh, his attitude... He was a bit of a troubled child, not quite as smooth around the edges as one would hope. The makings were there, mark my words, but he wasn't quite what I was looking for."

Harry's brow furrowed in feigned confusion. "But I thought—"

"No, Mr Potter. Severus was not one of the members of my little association."

Harry knew better, but he let it go. It wasn't worth provoking Slughorn and it was a minor point, anyway. "You said that Snape was a half-blood. Do you know anything about his home life before he came to Hogwarts?"

Slughorn rubbed his brow at Harry's question. "I recall his mother, Eileen Prince. Such a sullen girl, though quite proficient at Gobstones. I'd heard she left the Wizarding world to marry some ne'er-do-well Muggle boy. It was a poor match and her family was rather put out." He lowered his voice to a near whisper. "She was in the family way, or so they say." There was a creak from Snape's chair and Slughorn cowered a bit.

"As I understand it, they lived in squalor. Eileen and her husband were forever at odds, fighting over every last thing. By the time Severus arrived at Hogwarts, he was already conditioned to do battle over every little slight, real or imagined. It was inevitable, I suppose, that someone like Severus would end up the target of more well-adjusted boys."

"Meaning my father and Sirius Black," stated Harry grimly.

"Harry," said Slughorn in a kindly, almost grandfatherly tone. "You can't blame your father and your godfather. It was high jinks, nothing more. If Severus had learnt to control his reactions, if he could simply keep his temper, then he would never have been such a delightful target for such high-spirited boys. But boys like Severus, quiet, introverted, studious boys, will always be a target for the popular children. It's simply how the world works."

"Thank you, Professor. That will be all." Harry returned to his table and jotted a note onto his card as Slughorn struggled to his feet. "Oh, Professor. One more thing. Once you returned to Hogwarts, when I was a student there, did you ever hear anyone speak of Horcruxes?"

Slughorn gasped and turned white as a sheet. Tottering as quickly as possible on unsteady legs, he bolted from the courtroom leaving the question hanging unanswered behind him.

Chapter Text

Saturday morning bled into Saturday afternoon before Harry rolled out of bed. Aching from lying in one position for too long, he limped to the shower and stood under the hot stream of water for a solid quarter hour before he summoned enough energy to wash his hair. Not even the earliest days at the Academy had exhausted him to this extent, so tired that scrubbing himself clean barely seemed worth the effort.

Not even his prick showed any interest in doing anything other than resting against the thatch of hair that darkened his groin. It was just as well. The only thing that seemed to capture its attention lately was Severus Snape and the most disturbing thing about that thought was how little it disturbed him at the moment.

It wasn't as if the attraction was entirely unforeseeable. Both Ron and Hermione had accused him of having a crush on the Half-Blood Prince, though none of them had known who he was at the time. Nor had he forgotten that Parvati had predicted that he wouldn't come out until—how had she put it?—after he had sworn a vow whilst wearing a red cloak. Harry had laughed with the others, given that he'd been snogging Ginny at the time. Then again, Divination homework had always been an exercise in creative writing.

After a half-hearted attempt at drying himself, Harry shrugged into a pair of jeans and pulled his long-sleeved Tutshill Tornados shirt over his head. Ron hated that shirt, so naturally, it was Harry's favourite. A pair of trainers saw him dressed and he finger-combed his hair as he stepped out of his dormitory, Firebolt in hand.

It was a lovely day: clear skies, mild breeze, a bit cooler than usual for this time of year, perfect weather for flying. Carrying his broom up to the roof, he swung his leg over and set off. He wasn't the only one with the idea; the skies seemed a bit more crowded than usual, so Harry turned south and off the beaten path.

With no destination in mind, Harry flew mindlessly until landmarks started to appear. A few minutes later he touched down in front of the Burrow, propped his broom up against the wall on the rear porch and stepped through the kitchen door.

"Harry!" Molly Weasley set down the knife she was using on a small mountain of potatoes, wiped her hands on her apron and gathered him up in a motherly embrace. Harry peered over her shoulder and inhaled deeply, welcoming the smells of molasses, spices, and beef stock simmering on the stove. It smelled like home to him and he rested his head against hers and smiled and he hugged her back.

"Sit," she ordered with a smile. "I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a nice cup of tea." She bustled about the kitchen with practised ease and had slices of date cake laid out by the time the tea had finished steeping. "What brings you to the Burrow? Ron's up in London with George and Ginny's still at school. It's another month before she's home."

Filling a small plate with cake, Harry tucked his crossed feet under the long bench and dribbled a bit of milk into his tea. "I was out flying and found myself in the neighbourhood and thought I'd stop by." He grinned at her. "Weird thing is that's the truth." He gazed at her uncertainly. "It's okay, right? Coming here?"

"Psh," scoffed Molly. "You're family. Arthur's in the shed if you want to wander out that way. I'm just doing the baking for Sunday supper."

A knot loosened in Harry's stomach. No matter how often he heard he was welcome, some small part of him refused to believe it. "Can I help? With the baking? I used to be a fair hand at it back when I lived with the Dursleys."

"I'm just doing up an apple pie, a lemon cake and a treacle tart, but I'll never turn down help." Molly sipped her tea and smiled. "Charlie's the only one of the kids who showed even a little bit of interest in the kitchen. The rest of them couldn't find a fork with a map and a Summoning Charm. Even Ginny. Naturally, the only one who's likely to lift a finger lives in Romania."

The nervous twitch was back in Harry's stomach again, the same one that plagued him when Aunt Petunia was on the stand. "Charlie, hunh? He liked to cook?"

"He still does, as far as I know. The rest of the dragon handlers think Charlie makes the best Beef Wellington they've ever had. Frankly, I think he's a bit worried they'll try to make him the cook, but they know how good he is with those dreadful beasts." Something in Molly's eyes changed a bit; became a bit more patient, a touch more loving. Or maybe it was the light. "Did you cook at the Dursleys because you enjoyed it?"

"God, no," admitted Harry. "My aunt expected me to cook. I didn't want to let on that I liked it, though, or I would have done all of it. But baking..." He smiled at the memory of plum crumble fresh from the oven with custard oozing into it. He'd been so proud of coming up with that recipe on his own.

"Finish up, dear, and we'll get started." Molly rose from the table and patted him on the shoulder, and then began gathering up everything she'd need for the menu she'd planned. Harry helped himself to another slice of cake and more tea as she got herself organised, then carried the dishes to the sink and began to wash up.

Once they had tidied up, Molly charmed a knife to peel apples whilst she began to measure out flour, butter, sugar and lard. Harry busied himself with slicing the apples once they were peeled. "Molly, can I ask you something?"

Scrubbing a bit of flour off her cheek with her shoulder, Molly grinned and nodded. "Anything you want, dear." Her strong hands began to mix the ingredients, folding and patting the dough as she worked it, whilst keeping half an eye on Harry's side of the counter.

"You were there when my aunt was testifying," said Harry hesitantly. "Do you think she was telling the truth? Was he...was Snape watching me the way she said?" The knife in Harry's hand continued to slice each apple into even sections, but he never looked over to see what her reaction to his question might be.

Molly sprinkled a bit more flour into her bowl. "The question is, does it matter? If Severus is interested in you, if he's attracted to you as she said, it should make absolutely no difference to you unless it's mutual or unless it makes you uncomfortable. Do you trust Severus to be around you knowing he might desire you?"

The knife stilled and Harry looked at her with wide eyes. The thought that Snape's attraction didn't matter unless it was either welcome or a threat had never occurred to him. What did rankle was that he was responding to it on an instinctual level. He turned his attention back to the apples. "I trust him," he admitted.

"How bad would it be if I was interested in him?" The question did not emerge willingly. Harry had to force it out from behind clenched teeth and tight lips, and even then it hung on for dear life. "I already know that anybody I decide to see is going to have to get used to seeing their name in the Prophet on a regular basis. But...Molly, what happens to wizards who, well, you know? Like Charlie."

"What happens?" Molly paused and gave Harry a close look. "What do you mean, Harry?"

It took Harry several minutes to explain the particular biases which many Muggles held, and by the time he had finished, her face was red and she was sputtering with indignation. "They throw their children away?" Her hands massacred the dough, ripping it and tearing it to pieces whilst muttering under her breath about what should happen to people who were cruel to their children.

"Umm, is that ruined?" he asked when she finally took a breath. He pointed at the dough sitting in a forlorn grey lump in the bottom of the bowl.

Molly snarled and Vanished the mess. With another flick of her wand, the bowl was clean and she started measuring out flour again. "Now you listen to me very carefully. I'm going to tell you the same thing Arthur told Charlie: Who you love is your affair. Naturally, we would prefer to see you bring home someone of good character, but as long as you're being treated well and with respect, then we will open our hearts and our home to whoever that might be."

Molly's hands never stopped as she continued on. "Harry, I know you were reared by monsters—no argument from you, young man," she ordered before Harry could so much as draw a breath. "Petunia Dursley showed her true colours in that courtroom. I know that our world isn't perfect. It's mostly the old families, you know the ones I mean, who think it's unnatural." She snorted. "Some of those same people would also let a vampire marry into the family for the novelty of it, so take what they say with a grain of salt."

A weight Harry didn't realise he was carrying rolled off his shoulders. "And if it turns out to be Snape? You'd invite him in?"

Molly paused and faced Harry squarely. "That man has done some horrible things, Harry. He's practically the reason you were orphaned and there is simply no escaping the fact that he murdered Albus—"

"—but he was—"

"I know he was," said Molly as she turned back to her dough. Her brown eyes were swimming, but she held back her tears. "Arthur's faith in Severus has never wavered, which is remarkable, all things considered. And then there's poor George. I don't know how he'd feel having Severus about. Would you like me to speak to him first?"

Harry arched a brow. "I think it might be a bit soon for all that. All Snape's done so far is maybe look at me like I'm a step up from a flobberworm he accidentally stepped on. He's not even good looking, more than a bit on the ugly side actually, and he's the meanest person I've ever known. Not like Bellatrix-mean," he amended. "She was just vile. He's—"

"Wounded." Molly wiped her eye with her upper arm. "That poor man breaks my heart. Then he speaks and any sympathy I had flies straight out the window. You'd be good for him if you're able to hold your own against him."

"I'd rather it not turn into a battle. I've had enough of those." Harry moved closer and rested his head on her shoulder for a moment. "Thanks, mum." He felt Molly's lips brush against his hair and he smiled.

~*~

Monday found Harry filled with energy. He woke with a smile and sprinted through his morning routine, in a hurry to get up to Hogwarts and back early enough to have a leisurely breakfast with Snape before the trial resumed. He'd made the trip up to Hogsmeade the day before to attempt to negotiate with the stupid wardrobe, but it just stood stubbornly in its place a few steps from the door and refused to open no matter what hexes and charms Harry used on it.

He waved a cheery hello to Minerva and stood with hands on hips in front of the wardrobe. "Just so you know, I'm beginning to take this personally," he informed it in no uncertain terms. It chucked a set of amethyst robes and matching slippers at him and slammed shut.

On his way back to Minerva's Floo, he paused at Dumbledore's portrait. "I don't suppose you could talk that cabinet into letting me have more than one set of robes a day, could you?"

Dumbledore's portrait had the audacity to twinkle at him. "Magic happens for a reason, Harry, and whilst you may think your trips up here are a waste of your time, I'm beginning to suspect an underlying purpose to them. How is Severus faring? I do worry about him."

Harry considered the question, setting aside his growing fascination with the man and trying to evaluate Snape objectively. "He seemed to be holding up all right. He's not exploded at anyone, not really. Not even my aunt, which is saying something. But he's loads better than he was at Azkaban. His hair's too short though."

The twinkle brightened and a knowing look came into Dumbledore's eyes. "If he wants it longer, the spell is Crinis Porrigo. Good luck, Harry. I'm certain you're doing splendidly."

After a dizzying trip through the Floo system, Harry stepped out into the foyer of the Ministry of Magic and bustled over to the lifts along with the hordes of witches and wizards trying to make it to their offices on time. There was another long queue at the security desk for those who were at the Ministry on business or to watch more of Snape's trial, but by keeping his head down and putting as many people as possible between him and the line, Harry managed to make it to the lifts undetected.

Snape was already eating when Harry burst into the holding cell, but, remembering his manners, Harry stood next to the table and waited to be invited to sit. To his relief, it was not a long wait. "Sit, Potter. I have no desire to eat whilst you stand there hovering over me like a Golden Snidget."

Beaming a smile, Harry sat as Snape poured him a cup of coffee. He poured golden syrup over the small stack of pancakes and dug in. Between those, the thick slice of ham and cup of yoghurt dotted with fresh berries, Harry was quite sated by the time he'd finished. "How was your weekend? Are they treating you well here?"

Snape's long fingers rested on his coffee cup as he pondered its dark depths. "It was rather pleasant, all things considered. I was uncertain whether I'd remain here or be sent back to Azkaban, but the Ministry is run largely by Hufflepuffs who do as little as necessary to see the job done, and thus they were happy not to move me." His eyes met Harry's. "Your house-elf saw me fed and brought some books from your library. I trust you have no objection."

"As long as they weren't some of the nastier grimoires," said Harry. "I'd rather not have to explain to Kingsley why I sent you books on Dark magic. It wouldn't do either of us any good. Oh, I have your robes for today. The colour's dark, but..." He pulled them out of his pocket and unshrank them.

To no one's surprise there was a ringing silence. "Purple velvet?" Snape groaned. "I don't suppose I'm fortunate enough to have something to wear under this?"

"Umm..." Harry fished in his pocket for the slippers he knew were in there. Once they were found, he tapped his wand against them. A satiny lilac garment floated out, as did a floppy tam of the sort Dumbledore preferred. A pair of pants small enough to qualify as a suggestion of them fell to the floor. Harry's cheeks reddened as he picked them up. "I'll just leave you to it."

"And miss the show?" Snape's tone was scathing. He pulled his prison stripes over his head and flung them into the corner. His dark eyes burned as they dared Harry to look away. He held Harry's gaze as he stepped into the briefest of briefs, so black against his milky white skin, and made a spectacle of adjusting himself.

Pulse pounding, Harry turned away and walked out. His breath came in ragged gasps and he noticed his hands were trembling. Heat was building in his thighs and his prick ached to be released from its confinement. Snape would never let him live this down, not for a thousand years. It would come as no surprise if the next word Snape said to him was 'coward'.

The Snape who strode into the courtroom with the same charisma as he did his classroom was not the same man who had shuffled in the week before. There was confidence in his posture and dignity in his bearing. He took his seat and waited patiently as Gauntlett affixed the chains to his ankles and settled the leather strap low across his waist.

When his eyes met Harry's, Snape arched a brow ever so slightly and Harry bowed his head in capitulation. He'd lost this round and was willing to acknowledge it. But Snape nodded his head as well, not as though accepting his due. It was more a recognition that he'd met a worthy opponent and Harry's eyes shone.

Chapter Text

By now, Harry was barely aware of the gallery filling. The reporters were all in place, the same lot as last week, he noted. The jury was back in position and Percy was sitting at the high bench waiting patiently for Kingsley, who appeared to be running a few minutes late. The door banged open and the Minister burst through in a flurry of brightly patterned robes, cup of coffee in hand and with a sheaf of parchment fluttering in the other.

"I trust everyone is here and ready to begin?" asked Kingsley as he sat down and spread his papers out before him. There were murmurs of assent and some rustling in the jury box as the bags of knitting and needlework came out. "Let's get started then, shall we?"

Embry rose from his seat and brought in their next witness. Lucius Malfoy appeared little better than he had the last time Harry had seen him. His once immaculately groomed hair was wild and unkempt and his face was unshaven. His robes were splotchy and stained and his boots were in desperate need of polishing. Lucius Malfoy had aged, and it did not sit well on him.

Shuffling over to the witness stand, he reached out with a shaking hand and pulled himself up onto it and into the chair. It seemed to take him a long time to find a comfortable position in which to sit, but he finally settled and glanced quickly over at Harry before his gaze slipped away.

"Good morning," said Harry politely as he rose from behind his table, note card in hand. Lucius said nothing, his dull eyes staring unseeing at the stone floor. "I don't have a lot of questions," continued Harry, bending his body to catch Lucius' eye. There was no change, no blink of an eye, no twitch of a lip, no twiddling of a finger. Harry didn't quite know what to make of it.

"You've known Snape since he started at Hogwarts, right?"

Lucius' mouth moved a little, but no sound came out.

"I'm sorry?" Harry waited, but nothing happened. "Could you repeat that?"

"Yes," whispered Lucius.

"You were Slytherin's prefect that year, correct?"

Lucius gave a tiny nod of his head. It was the only indication he'd even heard the question.

"I need you to speak up," ordered Percy in a crisp voice and Lucius startled. "I can't record nothing, you know."

"Yes, I was pre-prefect," stammered Lucius in a reedy voice. "Severus sat with me that first night. He re-required my guidance." His gaze darted towards Snape, but skittered away almost instantly.

Harry moved closer to the witness stand and pitched his voice lower. Gauntlett caught his eye and lifted her wand. He wasn't certain what she was going to do, but she'd given him no reason so far not to trust her judgment, so he nodded slightly. To his relief, his voice seemed to carry further and he was grateful for the modified Sonorus charm. "He must have done," agreed Harry. "His best friend had been Sorted into a rival House and he'd managed to acquire a pair of enemies. That's quite the first day. Was there anything else about Snape that led you to believe he needed guidance?"

"His-his robes. They were clearly second hand." The tiny voice coming from that broken man was doing Harry's nut in. Lucius slid his hands along the top of the railing and clutched at it. "He-he was very skittish, looking con-constantly over his shoulder. You s-see that from time to time in ch-children who've been beaten." He risked another quick glance at Harry before staring back at the counter.

"Do you know if Snape encountered any difficulties during his first few years at Hogwarts?"

Lucius nodded with quick, jerky movements of his head. "Your father and Sir-Sirius Black. We-we taught Severus how to m-make spells of his own. He needed to fight back, you see. He co-couldn't let them get the upper hand. It wouldn't speak well for Slytherin if he did."

"Was it more than just the usual Gryffindor-Slytherin rivalry, then, this thing with my father, Sirius Black and Snape?"

Lucius finally met Harry's gaze directly and peered at him through bloodshot silvery eyes. "It wasn't a matter of rivalries, it was personal between them. Worse, by far, than anything that ever existed between you and Draco." There was a quicksilver flash of guilt when Harry recalled the worst between him and Draco. "Worse than that, Mr Potter," said Lucius in a quiet voice. "Much, much worse." His eyes sharpened and he gazed keenly at Harry. "Did you know that was one of Severus' spells, that cutting spell you used on my son?"

"Not at the time," said Harry. "I only found out when he and Snape escaped from Hogwarts the night Dumbledore died. He told me he'd invented it when I tried to use it on him. He blocked it. He blocked all of my spells."

"Don't take it personally," said Lucius with a sigh. "Severus is unparalleled in duelling."

"I can imagine. Let's see…Ahh. Okay. Here it is. You knew Snape after Hogwarts, yes?"

Lucius nodded his head, answering only when prompted again by Percy. "Yes. I was on Hogwarts' Board of Governors. It afforded me the opportunity to maintain my, ahh, friendship with Severus and to keep an eye on the headmaster."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, you spied on him."

"Yes,"

"And tried to have him sacked when the Chamber of Secrets was opened."

"Yes."

"What do you know of that?"

"Noth—"

A low growl built in Harry's throat. "Don't even consider lying to me, sir. Ginny Weasley nearly died because of you. What do you know of it?"

For a moment, the Lucius Malfoy of old appeared and he sneered at Harry, but when the jury stirred his shoulders drooped and his arrogance fled. "I-I had a meeting with Albus after that unfortunate business was over. It seems that a basilisk had been on the loose and travelling through the castle's pipes. Students were being petrified and your Ms Weasley somehow ended up in a secret chamber built by Salazar Slytherin himself."

"There was an old artefact involved, wasn't there?"

For a moment, Lucius appeared terrified. "Ye-yes. An old diary that once belonged to th-the Dark Lord. It had been entrusted to me, but I-I found it necessary to dispose of it."

Harry glanced down at his notes, his brow furrowed as he tried to work out how to ask the next question. "Speaking of artefacts, when I was brought to the Manor by the Snatchers along with my friends, do you recall the item that was found amongst our possessions?"

Lucius' eyes clouded with confusion. "An item? I don't...it was very confusing that day. So much shouting. Greyback was there, in my home, and goblins."

"And your sister-in-law. She found something that wasn't supposed to be where it was."

"The Sword," whispered Lucius. His eyes closed and he shivered. "That accursed Sword. There were two of them." Signs of life finally shone in the silvery depths of his eyes and he scrutinised Snape carefully. "I've no idea how he managed it," he replied in the arrogant tone with which Harry was most familiar, "but Snape had a duplicate crafted. It was so well done that it fooled even the Dark Lord himself. He entrusted it to Bellatrix. She had it stored in her vault where we all believed it safe. Have you any idea the amount of trouble you caused when we found it with you?"

"A fair bit," said Harry as Lucius slumped back down in his chair. The price of entry into Gringotts had been the Sword. The bill from their escape had been rather alarming, but the Ministry managed to negotiate it down to a portion of the contents of the Death Eaters' vaults.

"I only have one more thing to ask about," said Harry. "There was a small battle just before I left my relatives' house, but you weren't in it. What do you know of it?"

Lucius fiddled with a loose string on the cuff of his shirt. "I wasn't there, Mr Potter, because I-I didn't have my wand. The Dark Lord believed your wand to be an enemy of his wand. He was certain another mishap would occur if he used his own, so he..." Lucius licked his lips and squirmed uncomfortably. "He requested the use of my wand. Naturally, I provided it to him."

"How did you learn when I would be leaving Privet Drive?"

"Severus knew. He brought the information to the Dark Lord. He knew your friends would be Polyjuiced to appear like you, but he had no way of knowing who would be with you." His face twisted into a mask of disgust. "We had no idea you'd be entrusted to the bloody Gamekeeper. We all suspected you'd be flying with Mad-Eye Moody. Given the connection to your parents, though, Severus thought you'd be flying with the werewolf."

Lucius' brow furrowed. "What spell did you manage to cast against the Dark Lord that night? None of us were ever able to learn what it was."

"That's because I didn't cast one," said Harry, knowing he wouldn't be believed. Somehow, his wand had performed magic independent of his actions, but not even Ollivander understood why. "I can't explain it. It just happened."

Lucius arched an eyebrow at him, but Harry simply shrugged. Just because no one understood what had happened didn't mean that nothing had.

Harry turned back towards his table, prepared to allow Lucius to step down when a furtive gesture from Snape caught his eye. 'Lily,' mouthed Snape. 'Your mother.' Confused, Harry stared at his note cards but wasn't certain what Snape was on about. Walking over to the table, he thumbed through his book, scanning through the material the Investigative Division had assembled on Lucius Malfoy, but didn't see anything that mentioned her.

Skimming through the pages, Harry found a reference that he thought he'd missed, but the name at the top of that page was 'Narcissa'. Suddenly, he realised he had turned one page too far, but he understood what Snape wanted him to ask. "Do you recall," he asked as he turned suddenly, startling Lucius, "that Snape delivered a prophecy to Voldemort?"

Lucius flinched violently. "Please," he whispered. "Do not speak his name. I implore you, Mr Potter. If you have a heart at all, do not speak his name."

"I will not refer to him as 'the Dark Lord' or use one of those silly nicknames for him," said Harry coldly. "But I've no desire to cause you distress. I'll call him Tom, but that's as far as I'm willing to bend."

"Very well," sighed Lucius. He touched his upper lip with his tongue. "I was not present when Severus delivered word of the Prophecy to the Dark Lord, but I was one of his Inner Circle sent to discover to whom it referred. It did not take long for me to learn that Frank and Alice Longbottom had a son who was born as the seventh month ended."

"Who informed Tom that I was born at the end of July?" asked Harry.

Lucius hung his head. "I do not know. The Dark Lord rarely requested the presence of more than a handful of us at one time. It was too dangerous. The Aurors were gathering up anyone suspected of being a Death Eater and questioning them at length."

"You mean 'us', don't you? I don't think it's much of a secret at this point that you were one of Tom's biggest supporters."

Shrinking down his chair, Lucius averted his eyes and nodded. "Y-yes."

"Have you any idea when Snape learnt that I was also born at the end of July, same as Neville Longbottom?"

"It was not long after y-your birth, as I recall." Lucius shot Snape a pleading glance. "He—Severus begged for your mother's life. She, a filthy mud—" The courtroom inhaled sharply and Snape's eyes grew dagger sharp. "A Muggle-born witch." A deep furrow appeared in Lucius' forehead. "The Dark Lord mocked him. We all mocked Severus for his excess of sentiment. But..." His voice trailed off and he turned confused eyes on Harry.

"It wasn't that your mother was Muggle-born. It—that should have bothered him more. The Dark Lord. He should have been outraged. But that was not..." His silvery eyes settled on Snape for a moment and he rubbed his chin as the thoughts crystallised. "The Dark Lord derided Severus for loving her. It was love. How peculiar that I didn't see it at the time. He did not seem to care that she wasn't of pure blood. It was the fact that Severus loved your mother at all that the Dark Lord saw as a weakness."

"So you're saying that the fact that Snape could actually show love towards another person was what Tom found so repulsive?" No wonder Dumbledore always thought love was Harry's greatest strength. The revelation that love was more offensive than blood status had a number of people nodding and gazing thoughtfully at Snape.

Lucius said nothing. He continued to sit quietly as his carefully cultivated world view fell to pieces in front of him. It took Gauntlett several attempts to get his attention and, as he was led away, he continued to glance back over his shoulder at Harry.

Before Lucius was through the archway, the next witness loped up to the stand and bounded onto the witness stand with an enormous grin on his face. "Look at you all dressed up in your Auror robes. You're looking mighty fine there, Harry." He winked and Harry laughed.

"Hi, Bill. Good to see you, too. How's Fleur and the baby?"

"They're both splendid, thanks. We'll have them to the Burrow Sunday next. Oh, that reminds me." Bill Weasley turned in his seat and gave Percy a little wave. "Mum wanted me to remind you that you're expected to be there and that she won't take work as an excuse."

"This is an official proceeding," hissed Percy. "I can't put all this in my notes. Harry, would you please ask the witness some questions? I'm quite certain the Wizengamot doesn't want to hear our family business."

"Was it a boy or a girl?" came a voice from somewhere in the middle. "You had a baby? How lovely!' exclaimed another. "What's its name?" shouted a third.

"Might as well satisfy their curiosity," said Kingsley with a broad grin. "And as for you, Percy. Don't you dare disappoint your mum. I'd rather not get any more Howlers about the hours you've been keeping."

"Fleur and I had a little girl," beamed Bill. "She was born on the fourth of May so we named her Victoire. She's a bonnie wee lass, as Professor McGonagall said." For a moment, Bill seemed a bit overwhelmed. "She also has some powerful lungs. Can already outshout a banshee."

"Getting a little sleep deprived?" asked Harry just as Bill opened his mouth to yawn.

"A little," confessed Bill. "Now, before Percy has apoplexy, what did you want to ask me about? I was a bit surprised when Administrative Services asked me to come in, since I'm not certain I know anything that will prove useful."

"Not loads, certainly," said Harry. "But the night I left Little Whinging, the scheme to move me from my aunt and uncle's house to one of the safe houses, you know more about how that came about than most anyone else I could think to ask. Kingsley and I can't testify and Moody..."

"Yeah." Bill ran his hand over his face. "Well, it was Dung's idea." He glanced over at the jury. "Mundungus Fletcher. He's a prat, make no mistake, but a dead useful one on occasion. He came up with the idea to give Polyjuice to members of the Order so that we'd all look just like you." A funny little grin twisted its way across Bill's face. "Rather peculiar sensation, living in your skin for a bit."

Recalling the hours he spent as Gregory Goyle, 'Barney Weasley', and Andrew Runcorn, Harry could only agree. It was a stomach-churning experience, feeling his body twist and turn into someone else. Everything was different: the way he moved, the way he spoke, the way he'd been treated by others. All in all, it was an experience he'd rather not repeat. "It was fairly odd seeing myself six times over," admitted Harry.

"But you said Dung thought it up?" Harry scratched his head. "Dung's a liar and a thief, and he's not terribly clever. Didn't anyone think it was odd that Dung would come up with something like that?"

"We all thought it was odd. We also thought it was barking mad, to be honest," said Bill. "But none of us could come up with anything better. Mad-Eye thought it was so insane it was genius, so that's what we did."

"I reckon Mad-Eye was a fair hand at brewing. D'you know if he made all of the Polyjuice himself, then?"

Bill gave Harry a strange look. "Where'd you come up with that idea? Mad-Eye wanted nothing to do with that part of the scheme. He handed that part off to Fred and George. They might both be jokers, but they're both damned clever with potions."

Harry eyes popped open and he opened his mouth to say something, but Bill hastily added, "Well...Fred was good at brewing."

"I know he was, but I can't believe you gave Polyjuice that Fred and George made to Ron and Hermione!"

"And to my wife," added Bill sternly. "They knew how important it was to get right and they came through for us."

"Let me see if I have all this straight. The Order bought into a scheme concocted by Mundungus Fletcher, a person known to have no scruples at all, and then assigned to Fred and George, owners of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, the task of brewing enough Polyjuice potion for six people, and somehow people were surprised that Voldemort got wind of it?"

"That's not fair and you know it," shot Bill. "These people willingly risked their lives for you. Moody died to protect you. Do you honestly think any one of them would have sold you out to Voldemort?"

"The way Peter Pettigrew sold out my parents?" Harry fired back. "Dung would have sold his own mother if there was a Galleon in it for him. He stole from Sirius about half a second after Sirius fell through the Veil and he abandoned Moody the moment the Death Eaters found them. He was a coward of the worst sort and yet the Order trusted him."

Bill's eyes softened. "I don't care much for the bloke either, Harry, but Dung was much more of a help than a hindrance. All in all, we're lucky he was on our side. Besides, the plan worked. We got you out of Little Whinging, didn't we?"

"You're right," said Harry grudgingly. "I should be more grateful to him." He sighed and turned away.

"That's it, then? Nothing about Snape?" asked Bill.

"I was rather hoping you didn't know where the Polyjuice came from," admitted Harry. It was frustrating in so many ways to know the truth but not being able to express it. All he could do was chip away at it, one tiny fact at a time and trust that the wisdom of Wizengamot would override any latent prejudices they might hold. "But other than that, no. Nothing about Snape. I don't know if you ever saw him outside of Hogwarts, truth be told."

Bill fingered a long, deep scar on his left cheek. "I didn't see Snape much after I left school. He was at the odd Order meeting now and again, but he didn't speak much. Mostly, he informed us of how little he knew of Malfoy's—Draco Malfoy's intentions. All in all, it was a rather frustrating time for the Order."

"Did Snape share in that frustration?" asked Harry.

"More than most of us. He complained bitterly about being left in the dark, but Albus simply assured him that he had the matter well in hand."

Harry cocked his head and frowned. "What matter would that be?"

"I've no idea. I don't know whether it was related to Malfoy's scheme or the task he left for you. Perhaps both, perhaps neither. Albus parcelled out his information in dribbles and bits. It seems he was the only one who had the entire picture; all the rest of us ever saw was little flashes of colour."

"Yeah, my box of crayons felt a bit light as well," said Harry, his voice tinged ever so slightly with bitterness. "I think we're done. Back to Gringotts, then?"

Bill grinned broadly. "The goblins gave me the entire day off. They're still not happy about losing their dragon, yet they're chuffed the war is over. They've still no idea whether you're hero or villain or some curious mix of the two, so there's a great, awkward silence whenever your name comes up."

"It's been a year!" protested Harry. "They've been paid and the bank's been repaired. They even came out a bit ahead after all was said and done."

Bill quirked an eyebrow as his smile deepened. "Still using the Probity Probe on you, then?" Not a small number of people in the gallery laughed.

Harry scowled. "Off with you. Go see Fleur and Victoire. Tell them I'll be by on Sunday." He waved a dismissive hand in Bill's direction but pulled him into a one-armed hug when he stepped down. Bill ruffled his hair and Harry swatted at him. "Prat."

"Git." Bill leaned close. "You're doing well, mate. Keep it up." Embry shuffled him off before Harry could reply whilst Gauntlett retrieved his next witness.

Chapter Text

A sharp staccato beat a fast tattoo against the stone floor and a frisson of electricity raced through the courtroom as Madam Rosmerta emerged from the tunnel, her blonde head held high and her green eyes flashing warnings. Harry was close enough to see her nostrils flare slightly as she inhaled, her penetrating gaze sweeping slowly across the faces assembled.

Her gaze was cool as she stepped up into the box, though her hands trembled slightly as she took her seat. Though she seemed filled with confidence, Harry noticed her pupils were so wide that they nearly swallowed the green of her irises and, as he approached her, she drew back slowly. "I'm so pleased you were willing to come all the way to London for me, Madam Rosmerta," said Harry, his green eyes wide as a little tingle of panic dashed down his spine.

"You asked to see me, Mr Potter. How can I help you?" Rosmerta lifted her chin and gazed coolly down her nose at him. She did not smile, but her stillness spoke of wariness. She did not trust him, though Harry did not know why.

"By telling these people about the last time you saw Professor Dumbledore."

Rosmerta's eyes flickered towards Snape for a moment. "We all know how Albus died," she said in tones as clipped as her footsteps. "He was murdered by that man." She pointed a long, well manicured finger in Snape's direction. "I cannot see how anything I have to say will change that."

It had been ages since Harry had last worn his 'lost puppy dog orphan' mask, but he donned it for her sake. "Please, Madam Rosmerta. I wouldn't ask you relive such an awful night if I didn't think it was terribly important."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence whilst Rosmerta weighed Harry's words. Her haughty stare swept over the row of reporters sitting along the railing and she bent forward just a bit, a knowing smile curving her lips as their eyes slid down her body. "Very well. I was closing my bedroom curtains when I saw someone Apparate. It was you and Albus. I came out of the pub and I must admit I was taken aback. He...his skin was pale and he was shaking and sweating as though he had some terrible illness.

"I recall that you wanted to bring him inside the pub, but he wasn't having it. That's when I noticed the Dark Mark hanging over the castle." Her hand clutched at her heart. "I was terrified. The Dark Mark. I had only just put the cat out and there it was. Oh, if only Albus had stayed at the Three Broomsticks! He might still be alive if he hadn't been so determined to return to Hogwarts.

"I offered to nip inside to fetch my brooms, to spare him from having to Apparate, but you Summoned them instead. The last thing he said to me was to please contact the Ministry. He thought it unlikely that anyone knew there were Death Eaters at the school. I managed to find Tonks and she gathered up those she could, but it was too late. The next thing I knew, he was dead." Tears glistened in her eyes as she glared hotly at Snape.

Harry glanced over as well and met Snape's interested eyes. It occurred to Harry that Snape might not have heard anything at all about this before today. It was a startling thought. Harry was so accustomed to thinking Snape was practically omniscient, even if he had a propensity for drawing the wrong conclusion whenever Harry was involved.

"Do you remember seeing Professor Dumbledore earlier that same evening?" asked Harry. He glanced back again and caught Snape's gaze focussed on his backside. A shiver of delight spread through him and he hastily began to scrutinise the card he'd made up for Rosmerta in order to hide his reaction.

Rosmerta's keen gaze grew penetrating and her green eyes danced back and forth between Harry and Snape before her eyebrows arched delicately as if questioning his taste. "I do recall seeing you and Albus together earlier that night. He was taking you to..." Her voice trailed off as her eyes widened. She blinked furiously and stared again at Snape. "He wanted someplace quiet. Why was he taking you to the Hog's Head, Mr Potter? Why was Albus taking you to an inn?"

A shocked murmur raced through the crowd and Harry felt a powerful need to bang his head against the tabletop. "We didn't go the Hog's Head that night. We Apparated to a cave along the coast somewhere. It was for the war, don't you see?"

"If you say so, Mr Potter." Rosmerta's tone indicated that she had some doubts. "But Albus appeared hale and hearty when I saw the two of you early that evening, except for his hand, of course. So ridiculous a thing, him getting cursed like that, though it never seemed to bother him any."

Harry risked another quick look at Snape, who was staring at him in open curiosity. Once they'd finished the morning session, Harry would tell him all about the trip to the cave and the phony locket they'd found. Snape would hear about the Inferi and the infernal potion he'd forced Dumbledore to drink. If only they'd brought a bezoar with them, but they'd not expected to find a vat of poison to drink.

If only Dumbledore had thought to bring Snape along instead of him. Snape would have recognised the potion straight away and would probably have the ingredients on hand to either neutralise it or brew an antidote by using the skull of an Inferius, some rope from the small boat and a bit of water from the cave. Snape would have stood coolly in the middle of that small isle, wand drawn, and cursed the Inferi from hell to breakfast.

Harry shook himself out of his musing and coloured at finding all eyes on him, waiting for him to ask another question. Even Kingsley was staring down at him with a faint air of impatience. "Sorry," mumbled Harry. He gave his card a quick peek and looked back up at Rosmerta. "I know you're not a mediwitch, but would you say there was a difference in Professor Dumbledore's health from the time we left to the time we returned to Hogsmeade?"

"A difference?" exclaimed Rosmerta. "You know as well as I do that Albus appeared to be on his last legs when you came back to Hogsmeade. In truth, I wasn't certain he would return safely to Hogwarts, but he was so determined and he needed me to contact the Ministry. I should have stopped him somehow. Don't think that hasn't weighed heavily on me. It is my great failure, Mr Potter and I will carry it to my grave."

"Please don't," said Harry. "Please? He had a plan, Madam Rosmerta, and he needed to be on the Astronomy Tower that night. It could have ended much worse for all of us if you'd tried to stop him. I know it's hard to believe, but I promise you he knew what he was doing that night, even if none of the rest of us did."

Rosmerta dabbed daintily at her eyes. "Do you truly believe that, Mr Potter? That Albus knew the risks?"

"With all my heart," replied Harry. "It was good of you to come. You've been a great deal of help."

Madam Rosmerta rose slowly from her chair. "If you say so." She stepped down, but paused next to him. She placed her lips near his ear. "Be careful, Mr Potter. He watches you like a hawk." Her warm breath tickled and he took a hasty step back. Rosmerta reached up to pat Harry on the cheek, but before she could complete the gesture, she was swept off her feet and swung around like a child.

"Rosie! How are you, love?" George Weasley planted a noisy smooch right on Rosmerta's cheek, his brown eyes sparkling with good humour. "Have you seen Bill, then? He was here just a bit ago. No idea we'd be having a family reunion today or I'd have worn my dragon hide boots."

"Of course I saw Bill, but he's only got eyes for that wife of his," said Rosmerta with a laugh. She thrust a hip out and rested her hands on her hips. "That doesn't explain why I've not seen you around the Three Bs. Is the shop keeping you so busy you can't sit down for a bit of a nosh with old Rosie?"

"You'll never be old, Rosie my lass," George assured her. "But I'll bring ickle Ronnikins up after work sometime soon. He could use a visit to a certain young lady, if you take my meaning. But first I need to let Harry rake me over the coals a bit. It's good practise for when he gets a chance to question real lawbreakers."

"It is unlikely that Mr Potter will ever have the opportunity to question a rule-breaker as accomplished as you, Mr Weasley," said Snape quite unexpectedly and to a good deal of laughter. "Madam Rosmerta." Snape gave her a formal bow, but she did not return it. Instead, she stared as though he were a puzzle she couldn't quite work out.

"What story would you like me to tell?" chirped George as he settled into his seat in the witness box. "Oh, how about I tell them all about Potterwatch? We couldn't have done it without Kingsley's help. Ta, mate."

"You helped with that, then?"

"Of course," said George. "Lee and Fred did most of the broadcasts, along with Kingsley and Lupin, but I was working on the intelligence side of things." He waggled his eyebrows. "I reckon you thought I wasn't smart enough for intelligence." A broad grin appeared. "It was one of the best things Fred and I ever did, gathering up rumours about your whereabouts and thinking up grand schemes to thwart the Death Eaters. I'm right proud of that."

"I heard bits of it. It was a relief to know how things were at Hogwarts, though it was hard hearing about the ones who were caught." Harry couldn't bring himself to say 'killed'. A year had lessened the sting a bit, but there was always an ache right behind his heart for those he couldn't save. "But, as helpful as Potterwatch was, I was hoping you'd talk some about the night I left Privet Drive."

George leaned back and rested his foot on his knee. "Ahh, the night of my canonisation." He gave a beatific smile. "When I became holey. Where shall I start?"

Harry scurried over to his table and quickly made up his note card, placing Rosmerta's in the tiny stack in the corner. "Well, Bill said you and Fred brewed the Polyjuice you lot drank that night. Start there."

The smile faded from George's face and he frowned. "Fred and I had nothing to do with the Polyjuice potion. We heard Mad-Eye grumbling about it since we were coming up on thirty days and we offered, but Mad-Eye didn't trust us to brew it according to the recipe. He was afraid we'd try to turn him into a giant bowtruckle or something. We promised we'd put together something as good as old Snape here would have done, but Mad-Eye wouldn't have it. We even offered to make a Vow.

"Bill must have heard the bit where Mad-Eye admitted we know our way around a cauldron, even if we've not got the NEWTs to show it, but since we needed enough for six and possibly more than that, he was going to ask around the Ministry for someone else to mix it up for us."

"Did you find out where he got it, then?"

George shook his head. "No. Mad-Eye had a flask of the stuff that night, so we reckoned he found someone in the guild, or that he put Slughorn up to it." He combed his fingers through his hair, brushing the strands back over his missing ear. "I never thought to ask about it. Sorry, mate."

Harry picked up his quill and made a little mark on the note card. Where had the Polyjuice come from? "I suppose it doesn't matter, really. It worked and that's what counts. Who did you pair up with that night?"

"We need to tell the story properly, Harry," admonished George. "We can't give it to them in dribs and drabs." He spun round slowly in the chair, gathering all eyes to him whilst Harry made his way quietly to his little table. This was George's show and Harry yielded the floor to him. "The plan was to move Harry from that hovel his relatives lived in to a secured location known to absolutely no one, so of course, everyone knew where it was—except for Harry.

"Dung, that would be Mundungus Fletcher to you lot, came up with the remarkably brilliant plan of disguising six of us as Harry Potter, rather than disguise the one and only Harry Potter as someone else."

He tapped the centre of his forehead. "It's the scar, you see? Even under Polyjuice, a bit remains. Not enough to see from a distance, but it never quite disappeared. But seven Harrys, that would confuse anyone, and for someone who was regularly confused for his twin, I know a little something about confusion." For a moment, George did appear confused and he tracked his finger through the air as he worked out how many confusions there were in that sentence.

"We all thought the Death Eaters would think the real Harry would be paired up with either Mad-Eye or Lupin, Mad-Eye because he was a bit mad, not to put too fine a point on it; Lupin because he was the last of the Marauders and one of Harry's dad's best mates. We also reckoned that the Death Eaters would think Harry was on his Firebolt. It's only one of the most famous brooms in Britain and, after the Triwizard Tournament, it was no secret that Harry can fly.

"Since Snape knew all that and we knew Snape would tell old Voldystones everything he'd ever learnt about Harry Potter, the Order thought it best to put Harry with Hagrid on Sirius Black's old motorbike. It worked a treat, too, since we were set upon nearly the moment we left.

George's smile faded. "I was one of those Polyjuiced into Harry and was flying on a broom to my rendezvous point with Remus Lupin. We were about halfway there when we were ambushed by a pair of Death Eaters. They swooped out of the clouds; we never saw them until they were nearly on top of us. Remus and I were surrounded; never saw so many black robes in my life."

"There we were," he continued as he began to act out the chase, "just the two of us on our trusty brooms, wands in hand. Spells were flying everywhere and it was hard to keep track of who was casting at whom. All of the sudden, there was a trail of bright green spell light and I dove left as Remus shot straight up into the sky. I rolled to get under one of the Death Eaters and the next thing I knew, there was a flash of pure white and my ear burned.

"Not a second later, I saw a flash of blue and Remus jerking hard to the right. I looked behind me and there was Snape coming up on a Death Eater. We dove for the ground—I doubt Victor Krum could have flown as fast—and wove in and out of light posts." He illustrated his moves by flying his hand through the air in sharp turns and steep dives. "Before long, though, they fell back. We heard they'd discovered that the real Harry Potter was somewhere near Salisbury and Snape peeled off as though being chased by a herd of Hippogriffs.

"I made it to Hestia Jones' place and managed to catch the last Portkey to the Burrow. Mum fell apart a bit when she found I'd lost an ear, but I reckon she was glad for it since she could finally tell me and Fred apart. Threw a bit of a wobbly when she discovered Snape was responsible. It's worked out all right in the end, though. We lost Fred at the Battle of Hogwarts and I'll miss him all of my days, but Mum would never have survived losing us both." He lifted the glass of water that was as much a part of the witness stand as the tall chair. "To Fred."

Wands were pulled and glasses conjured, though Harry wasn't going to try to guess what they were filled with. He lifted his own water glass, "To Fred," and took a sip. "I only have one question: how certain are you that Snape was aiming for you?"

George shook his head. "I'm not certain of anything anymore. It was chaos and, to be honest, I've no idea whether he tried to hit me or whether I flew into his spell. I know at the time I was certain he was trying to kill me—I am, after all, a hard man to resist—but I'll admit I was still pretty hacked off about him killing Dumbledore. I would have blamed Snape for it being dark at night." He flashed another of his winning smiles. "Is that all you have for me?"

"That's it," said Harry with a gentle smile. "You're free to go."

George stood up and swept a bow as members of the gallery and not a small number of jurors burst into applause and cheered his performance of the Battle of the Seven Harrys.

Kingsley chose that moment to stand, towering above Harry and George. "After that spell-binding re-enactment of Harry's escape from Privet Drive, it seems like a good time to break for refreshment. We'll reconvene at half after one." He stepped down with Percy at his heels. George followed his brother and the members of the jury escaped through their door as well. It was astonishing how quickly the courtroom emptied when food was on the line.

Chapter Text

Harry lingered by Snape as Gauntlett released the charms that kept him confined to the wooden chair and followed them back to Snape's holding cell. Kreacher already had lunch laid out: a basket of fresh rolls, a big bowl of penne and several sauces. There was salad, as well as a small plate of cheeses. It was a much fancier spread than usual and Harry eyed it suspiciously.

"Do you not enjoy pasta?" asked Snape as he seated himself. "I will endeavour to remember that when I speak to your house-elf next."

That changed the equation and Harry kicked himself for being a fool. Again. "He brought it for you?" he asked as he sat down. "Because he knows I love it. I expect it's from not ever getting enough to eat when I was a child. All the starchy things—rice, potatoes, bread, pasta—at least I feel full afterwards. It's just...I'm supposed to try to eat better."

"I've not noticed any deficiencies in your diet," remarked Snape as he spread his serviette in his lap. "Only in your table manners. Fortunately, it is not too late to attempt to teach you to behave in a civil fashion."

With a bit of a smile playing around his lips, Harry imitated Snape's every move, from his slightly arched brow to placing his serviette just so across his lap. It was just as well he had the linen to use, since his prick was twitching with interest and Harry had no intention of permitting Snape to see that. He reached for a roll at the same time as Snape, but when Snape's fingers brushed against his, Harry felt the touch clear down to his toes.

"Please, help yourself," he said thickly, reaching instead for the tall carafe and pouring the contents into his goblet. Pale yellow liquid splashed into the glass and Harry bolted back a mouthful, only to choke and spew wine all over his plate. His cheeks burst into flames and he couldn't begin to meet Snape's eyes.

"I will add an appreciation for wine to your tuition," said Snape dryly as Harry pulled his wand and cleaned up his mess. "As a rule, it is best to sip a beverage with which you are unfamiliar until you've developed a more refined palate. This, for example, is a white Burgundy from the Côte Chalonnaise region. It is particularly delightful with cream based sauces, such as the lemon-caper sauce in this dish."

"Is that what it is? I thought it had gone off or something," said Harry miserably. At least he no longer needed to worry about his wayward prick. It lost interest the moment Harry elected not to swallow the mouthful of wine. He watched as Snape served himself some penne and drizzled the sauce delicately over his portion. Some salad, a roll, and a small wedge of some pale cheese completed his plate and he set to work, eating with the same precision and attention to detail with which he saw to everything else.

Once Snape was busy with his meal, Harry filled his plate with pasta and slopped some sauce on it. He fished a roll out of the basket and heaped some salad onto his plate, picking the remaining olives and tomatoes out of the bowl to add to it. A moment later Harry tucked in, devouring his lunch with far less elegance than his tablemate was exhibiting.

"This is precisely what I meant," said Snape, catching Harry with his fork just entering his mouth. "Slow down. Take a moment to enjoy what you are eating. The food won't vanish before you've had a chance to consume it." He took a moment to study Harry and his brow furrowed as he reached some inevitable conclusion.

"It is difficult," continued Snape after he had eaten several more bites, "to teach yourself that there is enough when you've not had that for a very long time." He held Harry's gaze for a moment and his eyes were soft.

It was the kindest thing Snape had ever said to him.

~*~

A fierce vein of possessiveness ran through Harry as he escorted Snape back to the courtroom. The ideation of the notion was not important to him; perhaps it was part and parcel of his 'saving people thing' as Hermione called it, but he owed this man his best, and Harry wasn't certain he was providing it. All he could do was continue to hammer away at the facts as he understood them and hope that the Wizengamot would see reason.

He stood next to the chair as Gauntlett affixed the restraints and squeezed Snape's hand lightly when she was done. It felt like touching a sunbeam and he looked down at his hand to make certain it wasn't glowing. It should be, if the way he felt inside was any measure.

With a warm glance over his shoulder at Snape, Harry resumed his seat at his table and opened his witness book whilst listening to the creaks and moans from the benches in the gallery as they filled. Had he been aware of it, he would have been flabbergasted to know he was humming under his breath the waltz that had played when he and the other Champions had opened the Yule Ball years ago.

Once the court was settled and back in session, Gauntlett went off to fetch the next witness. Professor Filius Flitwick tottered over to the witness stand and stared up at the tall chair. "Oh my," he squeaked and pulled his wand. The chair shrank to half its size, and enlarged itself the moment he was seated. "Much better," he chirped. "Hello, Mr Potter." His eyes cut over to Snape and his smile dimmed.

"Professor." Harry inclined his head. "I'm certain everyone knows you, but why don't you introduce yourself?" He waited whilst Flitwick went through his history: the studies he'd completed after Hogwarts, his years as a duelling champion, how he became the Charms instructor at Hogwarts and how long he'd known Snape.

"I'd actually pegged him for my House, truth be told," said Flitwick brightly. "There was such an inquisitive nature about him, even under all that bristling hostility. But then," he continued darkly, "there aren't any murderers associated with Ravenclaw House." Never in Harry's experience had Flitwick's voice sounded so cold. Frankly, he was growing tired of how judgmental everyone was being.

"No, I suppose Ravenclaw simply turn their victims over to someone else so as not to bloody their hands," said Harry. "Or did you not know that Xenophilius Lovegood tried to exchange me for Luna? I suspect we can all work out for ourselves how that would have ended up." Another one of those uncomfortable silences fell over the courtroom and Harry blew out a breath.

"Let's not do this. Let's not pretend one House is better than another. They're different, is all. That's why the Sorting Hat places us where it does." Harry consulted his notes. "You were a duelling champion. How does that work?"

Flitwick's eyes grew steely, a far cry from the cheery warmth Harry was accustomed to. "One must practise and study. It is not a matter of knowing the best charms to employ. It is a matter of reading your opponent, of testing his mettle." Some of the hostility seemed to fade, but then Flitwick glanced at Snape. "Of finding his strengths and weaknesses. It doesn't hurt either that I'm a fair bit smaller than most of my opponents are used to duelling."

"Duelling is both offensive and defensive spells, is that correct?" asked Harry.

"Why, yes, Mr Potter. One cannot win a duel by relying on one without the other, any more than one can win at chess without both advancing your pieces and protecting your king. A skilled duellist must have both tools at his disposal."

"I've lost enough chess matches to have learnt that lesson," admitted Harry. "Now, about the last time you saw Snape. That would have been the last day of the war, right?"

"Yes," said Flitwick. "He was outside Ravenclaw Tower and was engaged in a battle with Minerva. She had sent her Patronus and I knew she was in desperate trouble. I was worried for her and jumped in with Pomona to drive him off. The three of us battled him down the corridor and into a classroom, where he finally admitted defeat and flew off through a window."

"What did you say to him when you fought with him?"

"I said, 'You'll do no more murder at Hogwarts,' or something very much like it. I was not going to stand by when Minerva was in mortal peril. She is a friend and colleague and he is a traitor to everything we stand for."

"Let's talk about that duel for a moment," said Harry. "Can you recall any particular spells you might have cast?"

"Certainly, Mr Potter," exclaimed Flitwick with some of his customary enthusiasm. "There were several tapered exploding curses, some fire based spells, a gravity-inverting charm, a few hexes that fall within the binding classification and, oh yes, one of my favourites: Pierto Locomotor. It makes the suits of armour move.

"Rather than fight the three of us, Snape actually tried to hide behind one of them, but they're all charmed to protect the school. Oh, how I was hoping Snape would catch the sharp edge of an axe. He murdered poor Albus. Struck him down as if he hadn't a care in the world."

Snape sat quietly through Flitwick's tirade, though his hands were clenched in tight fists. Harry could only imagine how much it hurt to hear Flitwick, of all people, speak so forcefully for his death. Flitwick, who always had a kind word and delightful smile for everyone he came across. "We'll come back to that, all right, Professor? Right now, though, I want you to concentrate on that duel. Three against one, yet Snape escaped."

"Ran off, more like," said Flitwick.

"As you will," conceded Harry, though his blood was boiling. "Can you tell me which offensive spells Snape used against the three of you? Take some time to think about it. I know it was over a year ago."

Flitwick gave a little laugh and wagged his finger. "I'm not that old, Mr Potter. Now, let's see..." Flitwick closed his eyes and reversed his wand in his hand. His body swayed and he flicked and swished his wand as though casting spells. As he moved, however, the furrows in his forehead grew deeper and deeper. He cracked an eye open and peered across the courtroom at Snape.

"Hmmm," was all he said as he repeated the motions, though slowly this time. At last, he opened his dark eyes and fixed his gaze on Harry. "He didn't. Not a single one. How very peculiar, especially if one considers how skilled he is with wordless spells. He could have taken advantage any number of times. If he'd thrown a Flammeus Carcerous whilst Minerva and Pomona were rounding the corner, for example, he'd have had both of them in a position where I'd have to either let them burn or free them, which would have kept me from being able to protect myself.

"He didn't want to win. How positively extraordinary! I'm going to have to study this encounter more closely, review it in a Pensieve when I return to Hogwarts. Goodness! There's a lesson to be had in there." Flitwick conjured a little paper aeroplane similar to those found zipping around the Ministry and sent it off somewhere with a sharp snap of his wand.

Harry was amazed. "I can see why you teach Charms," he said with a smile. "You mentioned earlier that Snape murdered Prof. Dumbledore. Do you recall that day?"

"I doubt I shall ever forget it," said Flitwick. He extended a short, fat finger in Snape's direction. "He Stunned me! There were Death Eaters in the castle. They invaded us through the Come and Go Room and Minerva sent me to fetch Sev—to fetch Snape and he Stunned me!"

"That's right," said Harry. "He Stunned you. You were a duelling champion, and yet Snape was able to Stun you. And if he could Stun you, isn't it true that he could have killed you instead?"

Flitwick's jaw dropped and his beady eyes widened. "I suppose he could have," he squeaked, appearing truly frightened.

"But he didn't. Knowing how risky it could have been, Snape let you live so you could protect your students from the invaders. Does that sound like the actions of a man who was callous enough to murder his friend and mentor in cold blood?"

Flitwick's eyes darted back and forth between Harry and Snape. "I don't know what to say, Mr Potter. He...he killed Albus. There is no question he did it. But you raise profound questions and I find that I must consider all that you've said."

"Someday, I'd like to hear what you think," said Harry. "But I still have a couple of questions. When we first started, you said you thought Snape might end up in Ravenclaw. Why did you think that?"

"Ahh," replied Flitwick as his eyes began to sparkle again. "You should see a Sorting from the teacher's table sometime, Mr Potter. It's quite a special moment. We see all these young people come into the castle for the very first time in their lives. Many of them have heard about Hogwarts their entire lives and they think they know what to expect, but they do not. The wonder, the delight, the sheer magnitude of the castle is something to behold. They see the ghosts and the ceiling and the hundreds of candles floating overhead. Even for those who grew up in the magical world there will be something they've never seen before.

"I remember young Severus, how he took in everything and started working out in his head how it all came about. What spells were keeping the candles from dripping? How many sorcerers did it take to charm the ceiling? Were the ghosts friendly? How did the poltergeist draw its energy? It was quite something to see all the questions behind those eyes. He hungered for knowledge; one could see it in every line of his body.

"But it was the hunched up shoulders and the way he tried exceedingly hard not to make eye contact that made me think he'd be Sorted elsewhere. In the end, it was really no surprise that the Sorting Hat placed him in Slytherin. Even still, Severus earned nearly top marks in everything he attempted. Why, he was even crafting his own spells before he sat his OWLs," exclaimed Flitwick.

"But even more importantly, he was also crafting counterspells. Too many witches and wizards forget that many spells must have a counter to end them properly. Finite Incantatem can only accomplish so much. One's toenails might stop growing, but it is one thing to end a spell; it is something else to restore the status quo. Severus never forgot that part."

"So his Levicorpus spell had a counterspell?"

"That's right. Liberacorpus would turn the victim right side up before ending the spell," said Flitwick. "Where a Finite Incantatem would drop the poor soul right on his head. Snape always thought a thing through right to the end."

Harry beamed. "That he did, Professor. One last thing: at the beginning of my last year at Hogwarts, my sixth year, Professor Dumbledore somehow managed to touch a cursed object. Did he allow you to examine him or try to cure him?"

Flitwick's face fell. "Albus permitted me to examine him only after Severus had done all that he could, but I could think of nothing that Severus hadn't already tried. It was just a matter of time before the curse would spread."

"When was that, do you recall?"

"When did I examine him, Mr Potter?" asked Flitwick, somewhat bewildered. "That would have been...oh, let's see. Sometime in August, just before the term started. It seemed likely that the curse would start spreading by Christmas, I should think. I would like to think he would have been around to see you come of age, Mr Potter, but the Fates—and Snape—weren't that kind, I'm afraid."

"You're quite certain that Professor Dumbledore was already dying from the curse?" asked Harry.

"Absolutely, Mr Potter. I would stake my reputation on it."

Harry was about to send Flitwick off when a deep voice called out from the jury. "Wait a moment. Did you say that Snape attacked you before he murdered the headmaster? That makes no sense at all."

"One cannot cast the Killing Curse wordlessly," reminded Flitwick. "And I do not recall Snape uttering an incantation for the Stunning Spell."

"But there are loads of spells that can kill, Professor," said Harry. "One of which Snape invented. He could have left you to die in dozens of ways, but he didn't. You survived to protect your students from the Death Eaters, both during the attack and the entire next year whilst Snape was headmaster. I believe—"

"Harry," cautioned Kingsley. "Your beliefs are not on trial here. The jury will decide what's important and what's not."

Harry made a low, frustrated sound deep in his throat. "Of course, Minister," he gritted as Flitwick performed a bit of magic to shrink his chair enough to step down.

"Expect an owl from me in the near future, Mr Potter," he said gravely. He examined Snape for a moment and shook his head. "You've given me much to think on." He walked down the tunnel, peering over his shoulder a number of times, clearly deep in thought. And Harry felt the first stirrings of hope.

The clatter of chains alerted Harry to the fact that his next witness was another Death Eater from Azkaban and he braced himself for an uphill battle. If Avery had been any indication, Mulciber was likely to be worse.

The person who took the stand stared hollow-eyed at Harry. He looked miserably around the chamber, noted the presence of Kingsley Shacklebolt and sighed heavily. For someone who was a contemporary of Snape, he appeared about a hundred years older and tired of life. If Avery had been combative and Lucius reduced to a shell of his former self, then this man was the very picture of defeat.

"You are Mulciber?" asked Harry after he'd made up his card.

"Barnabas Mulciber, yes."

"How long have you known Snape?"

Mulciber glanced over at Snape, wetted his lips, and said nothing.

"You do know Snape, right?"

"Yes."

"When did you meet him?"

Turning bleak eyes on Harry, Mulciber shrugged. It could have meant anything. That he didn't remember, that he didn't care to answer, that it really didn't matter. Harry had no way of knowing.

"Do you wish to use Veritaserum, Harry?" asked Kingsley.

Harry studied Mulciber and came to the conclusion that the witness simply didn't care one way or another. "I'm not certain it would help, to be honest. I'm going to try sticking to yes or no questions and see where we end up. With any luck, we can be done with him relatively quickly."

Kingsley arched a brow. "Very well. This is your witness, Harry. Just let me know if you change your mind."

Harry nodded and spent a moment organising his thoughts. "Did you know Severus Snape prior to starting at Hogwarts?"

"No."

"Did Snape strike you as being self-confident and friendly?"

Mulciber blinked. "Snape? No." He shook his head and stared at Harry as though making certain they were talking about the same person.

"Would you say Snape was bullied whilst a student at Hogwarts?"

Mulciber nodded. "Yes."

"By Gryffindors?"

"Yes."

"By my father in particular?"

"And Sirius Black. And that prefect, whatshisname."

"But not by Peter Pettigrew?"

Mulciber appeared confused. "Who?"

Harry waved it away. Pettigrew wasn't worth dwelling upon. "Was he singled out by James Potter and his friends?"

"Yes."

"Did you ever try to protect Snape from my father?"

"What?" Mulciber wheezed a dry laugh. "No."

"Was Snape a fair student?"

"Good at book learnin', sure," said Mulciber after puzzling through the question. It took a long time.

"Could he invent his own spells?"

"Yeah, he could. It's harder than it looks, inventing spells. Snape was good at it. He was good at nearly everything."

"Was there anything he wasn't good at?"

Mulciber finally showed some signs of life. "Snape was the meanest son of a bitch in Slytherin House. You crossed him at your own risk. That's why he was the Dark Lord's favourite. Cold as ice, that one, and don't you ever forget it."

"But he cared about my mother, Lily Evans, didn't he?"

Mulciber sat in glum silence as if his outburst had used up his monthly allotment of words. His eyes became unfocussed and he no longer appeared to pay any attention to what Harry had to say. After several more questions, all of which went unanswered, Harry sent him off.

Chapter Text

After a questioning glance at Kingsley, Harry took a quick look at the clock. Almost three o'clock, much too soon to quit for the day despite the number of yawns from the Wizengamot and the somnolence of the press. Half the members of the gallery were dozing and Harry wondered why they'd bother to come to watch at all. For the most part, trials were dull affairs: hours and hours of dry testimony with the occasional explosive fact thrown in to see if anyone was still paying attention.

Courtroom Ten burst out in an excited buzz the moment the next witness emerged through the tunnel and Harry's head shot up to see who had drawn their attention. A moment later he was smiling so hard his face hurt. "It must be my day for Weasleys," he said as Ron walked over and shook his hand.

"You should have called me first, Harry," murmured Ron as he drew close. "You'd have been done by now and out on patrol with the others."

"I would have been back here at some point," said Harry as he walked with Ron to the witness stand. "Everybody needs to work with the W.A.S. I'm just doing my rotation early is all." He turned away briskly to fix up the note card for Ron, feeling his crimson cloak billow out behind him a bit like Snape's robes used to do. For some reason, that made him extraordinarily happy.

He turned back to find Ron waving to the crowd and mugging for the cameras. Harry rolled his eyes. "Order of Merlin, First Class, wasn't enough for you? Tsk, tsk."

"Well, it's not like I'll be winning Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile award anytime soon, eh? I think you'll have that one sewn up for the next fifty years or so." Ron leant back and laced his fingers behind his head. "So, what do you want me to tell them about Snape? How he tried to get Sirius chucked back in Azkaban? About how he tortured you during Occlumency lessons? Or…" Ron's brow furrowed for a moment. "Oh, I know! How about when even You-Know-Who tried to do him in?"

Harry's eyes blazed and Ron's smile faded. "Or I could just ask you some questions and you could answer them."

"Oh, do you suppose we're seeing a bit of that famous Potter temper?" whispered a voice behind him.

Another voice whispered back, "Potter and Weasley bark at each other all the time. It doesn't mean anything."

Would there ever come a day when people didn't whisper behind his back? Harry was inclined to believe he'd be pointed and stared at for the rest of his life, unless he managed to become ordinary somehow. "I actually don't have a lot for you," said Harry. "Sorry, Ron."

Ron shrugged. "It's a bit quiet at the shop, though we're starting to work on new things for this fall. August is our best month anyway. So, what'd you want to ask, mate?"

"I wanted to ask you about Remus Lupin, actually," said Harry.

Ron started with surprise. "About Lupin? What's he got to do with Snape? Especially since Snape's the one who got Lupin sacked. Should have been the other way 'round if you ask me. Lupin was a decent enough bloke—and Snape's…not."

"Do you recall why Lupin was sacked?"

"Yeah," said Ron indignantly. "Because he," he extended his finger and pointed at Snape, "let everyone know that Lupin was a werewolf, and most right-minded witches and wizards don't want to be caught out by one at the full moon. They especially don't want one around their children."

"Do you remember Lupin telling us about being at Hogwarts with my dad and Sirius?"

"Why are you asking me all this, Harry?" said Ron. "What's any of that have to do with Snape murdering Dumbledore? It's all just excuses for Snape spending six years bullying you because you look more like your dad than your mum."

"It wasn't just my dad bullying Snape," Harry fired back as he started to pace through the courtroom. "Sirius was even worse. Go ahead. Tell them what Lupin told us about Sirius' little prank and how that almost turned out." He came to a halt positioned halfway between Ron and Snape, his feet apart and his arms held loosely at his sides.

Though Harry didn't see it, Ron most certainly did. Ever since sixth year and Harry's unrelenting obsession with both Malfoy and the Half-Blood Prince, he'd teased Harry for being more interested in broomstick rides than tea at Madam Puddifoot's with the girl of his choice, at which Harry reminded Ron of his 'crush' on Victor Krum. But Harry's deep-seated loathing for Snape had undergone a sea change during the final battle, even if Harry spent the following year paying lip service to his hatred for the man.

Ron sat up a bit straighter and he locked eyes with Snape, directing his words at him whilst answering Harry's question. "Okay. One night when they were all at Hogwarts together—Sirius, your dad, Lupin, and Snape, I mean—Snape saw Madam Pomfrey take Lupin to the Whomping Willow. Sirius told Snape how to enter the passageway that led from the tree to the Shrieking Shack and that way Snape could find out what happened when Lupin disappeared.

"Snape, being the great nosy git that he is, took Sirius at his word and followed Lupin into the tunnel. Your dad found out what Sirius had done and dragged Snape out of the tunnel before Lupin could bite him. I reckon from what Lupin said it was a bit of a near thing, especially since your dad wasn't in his Animagus form. Sirius was lucky he had your dad to watch his back."

"So my dad protected Snape."

Ron was slow to drag his gaze from Snape's face. "Yeah, but I reckon Snape's not too fond of having Potters protect him."

"Yet he chose me to do that, Ron," said Harry. "In all the years he's known me, I've never once given him any reason to trust me. He's been cruel to me and I've been just as cruel back. I've done my bit to carry on for Sirius and my dad. I even went so far as to blame Snape for Sirius' death, even though he did his best to save both of us without giving himself away.

"Wouldn't you say," continued Harry as he resumed his restless roaming throughout the confined space, "that Snape has shared the most intimate part of himself with me? Even after all the horrible things I've done?"

Ron's eyes all but bugged out and a susurration of alarm swept through the courtroom. Percy choked on his water and several members of the jury coughed politely. "Do tell us, Harry, what you meant by that?" intoned Kingsley with an ill-disguised grin.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake," groaned Harry as he caught a glimpse of all the wide eyes staring at him. "Haven't any of you ever watched memories in a Pensieve before? Been inside someone's head through Legilimency? What's more private than your own thoughts and recollections?" He started back towards his table and met Snape's gaze. It was warm and open and accepting, and it made Harry feel breathless. "And sharing that—isn't that what intimacy is?"

"Indeed, Mr Potter," murmured Snape in a dark voice smooth as satin.

"Tell them how it happened, Ron," said Harry, unable to tear his eyes from Snape's face. "Tell them what happened in the Shrieking Shack."

"Well, it was right after Fred died," said Ron in a hushed voice, as though trying very hard not to disrupt whatever sort of moment Harry was having. "You popped into You-Know-Who's mind—"

"His name was Voldemort. Or Tom. Use it," instructed Harry, his tone slightly astringent.

"—and found him hidden away with that bloody snake of his in the Shrieking Shack. It was a battle just to reach the Whomping Willow, what with the giants and Dementors. Even Hagrid had been carried off by Acromantulas. I thought he was a goner for certain, but we got there in the end.

"We had to crawl through the tunnel; seemed to have shrunk a bit since third year, but when we got there, we found Vol—Tom speaking with Snape. Tom was going on about how the Elder Wand wasn't working properly for him, that it wasn't any better than the wand he got from Ollivander.

"Snape wasn't having it. The entire time Tom was going on about his wand and how he knew you'd just surrender, Snape wanted nothing more than to find you so he could have the glory of turning you over to Riddle himself." Harry arched a brow.

"Okay, maybe not, but then Riddle sicced Nagini on Snape. It was..." Ron's voice trailed off and his freckles stood out in stark relief. "We saw loads of horrible things that day. Seeing my brother die right before my eyes..." Ron swallowed hard and exchanged a long look with Percy. "Seeing Fenrir attack Lavender. The Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement. Loads of shit that still gives me nightmares, especially when George...Well, I suppose that's only natural. Fred was his twin.

"But seeing Snape with his throat all torn out, blood everywhere, gurgling like he was about to die. And then he started oozing memories. They were gushing from his eyes, from his ears, even from his mouth. Then Hermione conjured a flask or something—I'm not quite certain—and he's grabbing your clothes and staring at you with those coal black eyes of his and all he wants is for you to look at him.

"I was sure he was dead," whispered Ron. "I don't see how he lived. He just lay there, staring up at you, and there was just nothing in his eyes. And you just knelt next to him like you weren't certain what to make of it all.

"Then Riddle started to speak again. He called off his Death Eaters and gave us time to collect our dead and wounded, so we went back to the Great Hall. We—" Ron looked over at Snape. "We left you, Sir. We thought you were dead. I'm...I'm sorry we didn't stay behind to help you. For his part, I don't think Harry wanted to leave you there. He was...Voldemort wanted him and he had your memories. He thought you'd died to give them to him so he felt he had to honour you by watching them.

"Harry changed right after that," said Ron. "He wouldn't hear a bad word spoken about you and he shut himself away when he heard you'd somehow managed to survive. After that, though, he was furious with you. I've not been told why, though I've my own theories. I reckon it's for Harry to decide how it all fits together. All I can tell you is that we've all learnt not mention you when he's in a mood or he's likely to bite our heads clean off."

"Snape doesn't need to know that. Besides, he's the defendant. That's the jury over there." Harry actually pointed them out. Anything to redirect this conversation. Ron was dancing far too close to the truth for Harry's comfort. "The ones in the plum robes with the 'W' on them. Rather hard to miss."

"But they're not the ones who need to hear it," stated Ron. "But Snape… Look, mate, everyone needs a hero, even if they're thick enough to deny it to their dying day. And you're a hero. I mean...I don't mean being all heroic, like getting rid of You-Know—of Riddle. That's not the sort of hero I'm talking about. I mean like you've been for me." By this point, Ron was florid and Harry took a certain amount of enjoyment in watching him flounder.

"Like being the Boy-Who-Lived?"

Ron muttered something under his breath. "Can you just ask me about something else?"

"All right." Uncrossing his arms, Harry drifted over towards Snape, certain he could feel the man's eyes burning holes between his shoulder blades. "Dumbledore left something to me in his will, but—"

"The Sword of Gryffindor," interrupted Ron. "But the Ministry said it wasn't Dumbledore's to give, so that berk Scrimgeour wouldn't let you have it."

"But you were a bit involved in the Sword coming to me, right?"

Ron puffed out his chest. "I rescued you from drowning." He turned to face the jury, his blue eyes wide and earnest. "See, I'd abandoned Harry and Hermione earlier, but Dumbledore gave me his Deluminator and it led me straight to them. It was a good thing, too, since Harry was drowning in a frozen pond when I got there.

"I found Harry's clothes next to this pond and the ice had been broken, so I figured he'd fallen in or something, so I dove in after him. That's when I figured out he was trying to get the Sword, but the Horc—"

"Ron, we need to skip that part," cautioned Harry. "Just, you know, don't mention why I needed the Sword."

Ron gazed quizzically at Harry, but shrugged and continued on. "Anyway, Harry was a bit tangled up, so I got him out and the Sword along with him. Once he was warm enough to talk again, he said that a Patronus in the form of a doe had led him to that particular pond. It was only later that he told us that the Patronus was Snape's."

"Young man, are you implying that Snape sent a Patronus to Harry Potter?" asked the elderly man in the third row.

"Harry said a Patronus in the form of a doe led him to the pond where he found the Sword. You must be barking if you think he'd dive stark naked into a frozen lake with no reason otherwise," snapped Ron. "The locket round his neck was dragging him under and he couldn't reach the Sword. I jumped in, and managed to get him and the Sword out of the pond."

A woman in the front row scoffed. "It is well understood that practitioners of the Dark Arts cannot produce a Patronus. For that charm to work, it is necessary to feel great happiness or joy. That is the antithesis of Dark magic."

Harry's eyes narrowed for a moment as he glared at her, but he remembered Kingsley's admonishment not to take their questions quite so personally. "Professor Snape," he said before breaking the gaze. "Will you please cast the Patronus charm for the Wizengamot?" He turned, truly hoping he wouldn't have to battle his client.

"The Patronus charm cannot be performed wandlessly, Potter."

It was a fair point, especially since Harry had forgotten Snape wasn't allowed his wand. "Here. Use mine." He drew his wand and reversed it in his hand, extending it hilt-first to Snape. Gauntlett rose to her feet and Kingsley came halfway out of his chair, but Harry ignored them, focussing his attention on Snape and hoping Snape didn't make a fool of them both.

Snape held Harry's gaze and reached for the wand. The moment his hand touched it, a stream of opalescent sparks gushed from the tip, droplets erupting like a silver fountain rimed in gold. Magic, Snape's magic, enveloped him in a rush, and Harry's lips parted in surprise as the veil that shrouded all his secrets was torn away.

It was more than desire that flooded through him and, if there was a note of warning ringing in his head, it was drowned out by the symphony of joy singing through his veins. It was exultation. It was coming home. It was longing for love and acceptance and it was seated at the other end of his wand. Harry saw into Snape and found a soul battered and bowed, but singularly whole. It reached for him and Harry took it into him, understanding as he did so that there was more to it than sympathetic magic at work between them.

He released his hold on the wand and stepped back, his green eyes wide and sparkling. "The spell, Professor," he said quietly.

There was a great slash of the wand. "Expecto Patronum." It was barely more than the movement of lips but Harry heard it as clear as a bell. A beautiful white doe stood before him and gazed at him with its great dark eyes. As he reached for the wand, it nuzzled against his chest and his head snapped up in surprise.

"Expecto Patronum." Harry's voice was as clear as a bell, joyous as the morning lark. His great white stag erupted from the wand and stood proudly for all to see. The doe gave a little kick and scampered off, bounding around the room again and again, each circle taking her higher.

Harry's stag followed in her wake, chasing her through Courtroom Ten to the amazement—and amusement—of the Wizengamot. The stag and doe cavorted merrily through the wide open space where Dementors once congregated until the doe stopped and accepted the brush of the stag's neck against hers.

Suddenly, Kingsley's deep voice boomed through the hall. "Expecto Patronum," he said and his lynx emerged. It spotted the doe and gave a warning snarl as it dropped into a crouch. The stag reared as the doe skittered sideways, moving farther and farther from the lynx that preyed on it.

Harry could not look away from the drama playing out twenty feet over his head. The doe seemed to be luring the lynx away from the stag, which was growling and pawing repeatedly as though readying itself to charge. The doe broke into a quick gallop and the lynx sprang forward, gaining feet with every stride. The doe turned quickly aside, pausing midstride. The instant the lynx drew close enough, her hooves flashed out and connected sharply with the lynx's ribs.

Kingsley's Patronus rolled from one side of the courtroom to the other. The stag lowered its head, its enormous antlers just skimming the ground. In three tremendous strides, the great stag was on top of the lynx, impaling it and tossing it as far from the doe as was possible. It reared, its hooves waving threateningly, and turned sharply, springing across to where the doe stood.

The stag galloped around her once before coming to a halt between her and the lynx. She leaned her head against his neck and the pair walked silently through the wall as the lynx shimmered out of sight.

The courtroom was silent. Harry said not a word as he returned to Snape's chair, drawn there like a magnet. His heart was hammering like an entire percussion section and his mouth was bone dry. The darkest secrets of his heart had just been played out in front of the entire Wizengamot, in front of Ron, in front of a packed gallery and a bench full of press, and he had no idea what to say or do.

"Your wand, Mr Potter," said Snape, and Harry reacted as if George had set off a box of fireworks right behind him. He felt the blush creeping across the back of his neck and his ears felt like they were on fire. For all that, he couldn't tear his eyes away from Snape.

"Ten minute recess," announced Kingsley. "Gauntlett, take the prisoner back to the holding area."

"I'll do it," Harry heard himself say. He pointed his wand and the chains fell away. Once Snape stepped down, Harry fell in behind him, his wand held loosely in his right hand. As if he'd use it on Snape.

Harry couldn't look at anyone as he left the courtroom, couldn't meet anyone's eyes. He followed behind Snape at a brisk pace, his eyes boring a hole between Snape's shoulder blades. How had it happened? All he'd done was hand Snape his wand so the man could show the Wizengamot he was not the Dark wizard everyone proclaimed him to be. And yet, his entire life changed. How was he supposed to explain this to anybody?

So lost in thought was he that Harry almost didn't notice Snape come to a stop in front of the holding cell. Harry muttered the charm that unlocked the door and stepped inside, walking to the near corner whilst waiting for Snape to seat himself at the table.

The door closed and Harry looked up to find Snape standing inches away. "I don't know—" he started, but Snape lowered his head and warm supple lips pressed against his and Harry was lost.

Harry's arms came up as his eyes fluttered closed and he pressed his full length against Snape's warm body. The kiss was so slow, so tender Harry thought he'd die from it. Soft, sweet, so unlike the acrimonious man bestowing it. He moaned softly as something deep in his chest loosened and unfurled. His lips parted and he felt the tip of Snape's tongue explore the velvety lining of his lower lip.

Heat rushed through his veins and settled in his thighs. His cock lengthened and filled as Snape explored more of his mouth, stroking and teasing much as his Patronus had done. He stepped back and Snape followed and he felt long fingers bury themselves deep in his messy hair. Another hand followed the curve of his spine to settle at the top of his hips and pull him close.

Harry couldn't help himself. His hips rocked forward and he thrust against Snape's groin, felt the swell of hardness there and cried out into the kiss. Snape backed him against the wall and they thrust against each other, their hands entangling in the other's hair, their lips engaged in deep, open-mouthed kisses that seemed to go on forever. His body tensed as his pleasure spiked and he swallowed the sharp cry of release that left him shuddering.

A choked sound, almost a sob, broke from Snape as he threw his head back, his mouth open in a surprised 'O'. He took a few deep breaths and stumbled to the chair, all but falling into it as he stared at Harry.

A rising sense of panic filled Harry and his eyes darted to the door, but he forced himself to remain calm, to keep still, and above all, not to flee. "Did you know that would happen?" he forced past the lump in his throat.

Snape shook his head, his alarmed eyes still wide as saucers. Harry could see him tremble from where he stood. "I've never—" His voice seemed to catch and he cleared his throat. "Not even Albus...I can't imagine anyone has seen that happen." Snape ran a shaking hand over his head. "What about you, Potter? You taught the charm to your classmates. Did anything like that happen? Certainly the circumstances would have been ripe for it to have done."

It took Harry a moment to work that out, but as usual, Snape was right. There were a lot of...highly excitable fifth and sixth years in Dumbledore's Army that year and none of them were particularly well known for making logical decisions. Well, except, perhaps, for Hermione. He shook his head. "No, most of them could barely conjure wisp. It wasn't until just before we were discovered that they started producing corporeal Patronuses, and even that was only some of the time. I think we were all too scared for anything like that to happen.

"Do you think—"

Harry never had a chance to complete his thought. Gauntlett came in and ordered Snape to his feet as Harry watched in dismay. "Shacklebolt has decided to end a bit early. He reckons that after that bit of drama, the jury won't pay any attention to anything else. He needs to know whether you want Mr Weasley brought back for the morning session or if he should be dismissed."

"I'll take care of it," said Harry wearily. He suddenly felt adrift, untethered, and his eyes searched Snape's face for some hint about how he should conduct himself, but there was nothing there but Snape's usual neutral expression. He moved close enough to touch Snape's hand and was relieved at the tingle of magic he felt. "I'll see you in the morning," he said quietly and left the room to leave a note for Kingsley that Ron would not be needed again.

Chapter Text

Harry stared up at the castle as the sun broke over the horizon, edging the morning clouds in molten gold. Streaks of bright pink brightened the morning sky as deep purple began to give way to blue. His pace was slow as he approached the castle, his feet travelling the path automatically as he tried to wrap his head around the events of the day before.

Slipping through the tall oaken doors into the Entrance Hall, Harry moved as silently as a wraith up the Grand Staircase. It was early, too early for the students to be up, and he thought that exams must nearly be over. It was so early, in fact, that McGonagall hadn't arrived yet for work, a fact that disturbed the gargoyle not at all. It hopped aside when he asked politely for admittance and he rode the spiralling staircase to the top.

"Did you know?" Harry's eyes searched Dumbledore's face for some clue that all this had been yet another of the headmaster's orchestrations, but serene blue eyes smiled back at him.

"What is it that I am supposed to know, Harry?"

"That I'd fall in love with the bloody git? That I'd be this far into the trial and still not have the first clue how I'm going to get him off? Didn't you have a plan for this? You've planned everything else, or did you count on Snape dying so that no one would look too closely at how it all came about?"

Dumbledore appeared wounded and his eyes dimmed. "It had not occurred to me that Kingsley would change the rules or that Severus would make it impossible for you to testify. I regret that Severus oftentimes acts as his own worst enemy. I cannot help but wonder even now how his life might have gone had he even one person who loved him unconditionally."

"So there's no clever plan? There's no one else you might have confided in?" asked Harry desperately. "What if he'd died before he ever saw me again? What would have—"

A violent sneeze interrupted Harry and he jumped about a foot in the air as he searched frantically for the source. "Hello?" he ventured cautiously. "Who's there?"

The tip of the Sorting Hat quivered and the brim stretched out wide as it yawned. "Why, if it isn't Harry Potter," it said. "It's been a very long time since I've peered into your head. Would I see the same thing now, I wonder?"

"Er, I've lost a bit since the last time," said Harry. Losing that bit of Voldemort's soul hadn't been a great hardship in the end, but he did miss the ability to talk to snakes.

"Lost a bit of your mind, have you?" The Sorting Hat laughed. "I thought our previous headmaster had as well. Always arguing with the portraits about how the school should be run. Still, it was good we had a Slytherin to get a Slytherin's job done."

Harry clutched the robes for Snape tighter. "What do you mean?"

"Who better to provide misdirection? Though to hear Phineas tell it, Headmaster Snape was behaving in a most Gryffindor fashion. Still, he promised to protect the students and he did."

Harry could hardly believe his ears. "You know of Snape's promise?"

"His promise? I know of all his promises, Harry Potter. He was headmaster and I am the Sorting Hat. Did you think my sole purpose is Sorting students into their Houses? No, I am the voice of Hogwarts. I hear everything that happens here. How else do you suppose I can craft my song?"

This might be the solution to all his problems, and Harry bounded eagerly over to the bookcase where the Sorting Hat lived when it wasn't being used to Sort students and deliver swords. "Can you leave Hogwarts?"

"What do you have in mind?"

Grasping the Hat with trembling fingers, Harry set it on his head and explained.

~*~

"Here, put these on," said Harry as he burst into Snape's holding cell, green eyes sparkling behind his spectacles. He thrust the bright robin's egg blue robes at him, bouncing lightly on his toes as he did so.

"You seem revoltingly merry for this time of day," Snape pointed out as he removed the finest in menswear direct from Azkaban.

Harry's eyes feasted on Snape's body. He was still too thin, still ridiculously pale, but those barely pink nipples drove Harry mad. He wanted to lick them, bite them, suckle on them until Snape moaned. When it appeared that Snape's prick took notice of his interest, Harry's breath caught in his throat. "Yeah, I am," he choked out. Wrenching his eyes upwards, he met Snape's smouldering gaze. "I may have found the answer."

If Harry's words registered, Snape didn't show it. He took half a step forward and Harry launched himself at him. Snape's arms enfolded him, and for the first time since he'd earned it, Harry found himself resenting the presence of his uniform. Their lips met and Harry angled his head to keep his spectacles from colliding with Snape's nose.

As his hands roamed slowly over warm flesh, Harry's lips parted willingly under Snape's kiss. He followed Snape's lead, though he sensed from its tentative nature that Snape had about as much experience with kissing as he did. So much the better. They could learn together.

Burying one hand in Snape's hair, Harry let the other drift down Snape's spine, feeling each bump under his fingertips. The mere thought that he was touching Snape's bare skin made shivers of delight course throughout his body and he moaned as their tongues touched. His hand settled at the small of Snape's back, only to discover that he was echoing Snape's movements.

They drew closer, the heat of Snape's erection a brand even through his robes. Snape's hips moved and Harry hissed a 'yes' against Snape's lips. He clutched at Snape's bony arse, pulling it tight against his, moving his hips in the same rhythm to provide Snape with the friction Harry knew he needed. His cock throbbed. His nipples were hard pebbles that rubbed against the tight shirt he wore under his uniform.

The scent of musk, sharp and spicy, rose on the heat from their straining bodies and Harry moaned low in his throat. He rotated his hips slightly to the left, feeling the rub of Snape's body right...there. Snape cried out and Harry's eyes cracked open. A flash of blinding light seared his retinas and his spine arched, and he spilled hot and sticky in his pants. He blinked furiously and looked between them to see pulse after pulse of milky fluid spurt from the head of Snape's prick.

"Oh god," moaned Harry, fighting the impulse to drop to his knees and lick the tip of Snape's cock. "I...you...I don't...should I be apologising or something? I want you in the worst way. Well..." Harry was hopelessly confused, especially since Snape was staring at him. "Say something, please," he begged.

Snape extended a hand. "May I have my robes?"

Harry's jaw dropped and he felt the blood drain from his face. He stared uncomprehendingly as his chest grew impossibly tight. Why had he thought Snape cared? Because their Patronuses cavorted around the courtroom? Because they'd kissed the day before? His eyes stung and he turned away, fumbling with his wand to clean away their spunk. Gathering up the blue robes, he offered them wordlessly to Snape.

Snape took them and then laid his hand against Harry's cheek. Leaning in, he whispered, "Idiot boy. Gauntlett is waiting at the door. Have some coffee and try to eat something whilst there is still time." Snape's lips brushed against Harry's cheek and the huge knot of misery loosened.

Whilst Snape donned the robes Harry had brought from Hogwarts, Harry poured a coffee and shoved some scrambled egg between two pieces of buttered toast. The moment Snape was properly attired, he opened the door and checked in with Gauntlett, coffee cup in hand. "How much time do we have before Kingsley expects us?" He took a sip and gazed at her over the rim.

Gauntlett's eyes narrowed as they swept over the room. "You have just enough time to finish your toast, but we'll be cutting it rather fine. What kept you this morning? You're usually earlier than this."

"Something came up," explained Harry. Snape coughed. After years of lying through his teeth to Snape, Harry had perfected the art of appearing guileless. His eyes filled with concern and he said, "The courtroom is a little draughty. Do you need a Pepperup?" He unfastened his red cloak and draped it around Snape's shoulders. It fought a terrible battle with the brilliant cyan of the robes and Harry couldn't tell which colour was winning. "Better?"

It would be so easy to close the small distance between them and steal a kiss, but with his back to Gauntlett, Harry had to settle for allowing his gaze to rest on Snape's lips for a moment. It was enough.

Snape looked past him at Gauntlett and nodded. "Much." He gazed impassively at Harry, his thoughts hidden behind his mask. "I suggest you finish eating whilst the bailiff shackles me. I've no desire to deepen Kingsley's enmity by being late, especially when it was not my doing." His eyes lingered on Harry's face and Harry basked in their heat.

Kingsley's eyebrows shot up as they met in the corridor that ran behind Courtroom Ten. "Why is Snape wearing…you know what? Never mind. I imagine it's your own affair."

"He sounded a bit congested and I was afraid he's taking ill," said Harry. Percy coughed explosively, though Harry thought there might have been an expletive in it. Or maybe he'd coughed out 'Patronus'. "As you say, Kingsley, it's my own affair." Stepping closer, he slipped his hand between the cloak and Snape's robes to rest his hand in the small of Snape's back.

After securing Snape to the witness chair himself, Harry moved his table a bit closer to Snape and took his seat whilst Embry and Gauntlett opened the courtroom to the Wizengamot and waited for the gallery to fill. It was too much to hope that no one would notice the absence of his red cloak, or that it was securely fastened around Snape's shoulders, but after yesterday's...demonstration by their Patronuses, Harry expected to be the focus of renewed attention. The gallery did not disappoint.

Ignoring the questions that were being shouted at him from all sides, Harry caught Gauntlett's eye and nodded. He was ready for his next witness. A quick examination of his book indicated that there weren't many people left to speak with. With any luck, he'd be able to wrap up his side of things in a day or so. Tonight was going to be spent on research and Harry kept his fingers crossed that he would be able to present his final witness for the defence.

An excited outburst swept through the gallery as Neville Longbottom emerged and Harry felt a smile bubble up from somewhere around his toes. He bounded over to clasp Neville's arm and shake his hand as his fellow Gryffindor took the stand whilst Snape audibly groaned. Some things never changed.

Neville gave a nervous wave to the sea of faces smiling down at him and smiled crookedly at Harry. He looked worn to a frazzle and Harry said so.

"They're called 'Nastily Exhausting' for a reason," said Neville. "Just finished my last one yesterday, but I've loads to revise yet for the Herbology Guild. Three days of practical demonstrations and two more days of written examinations. But once I finish, I'll be the youngest Herbology Master since Phyllida Spore herself."

A half a dozen quills skittered over parchment as the press took note and Harry's smile deepened. "Congratulations, Neville."

"I have to pass first, Harry," replied Neville as he blushed to the roots of his hair. He laced his fingers together and regarded Snape with curiosity. "How can I help you?"

With that, Harry was back in his role as Snape's champion, deciding it was not a bad place to be. "You met Snape for the first time same time as I did: in Potions class, right?"

Neville nodded. "That's right. It didn't take long before he managed to work out that I was hopeless at Potions. By the end of that first month at Hogwarts, all he had to do was turn his head in my direction and I was practically pissing myself. He might have hated you, but I was beyond contempt." Neville gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I think I'd rather have been hated, all things considered."

"I just hated him back," said Harry. "It was easier than fighting him. Do you recall our third year Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons?"

"When Lupin taught us about boggarts?" Neville laughed again. "I doubt any of us will forget Snape stepping out of that wardrobe and suddenly wearing my Gran's robes and vulture hat when I tried to banish it."

"In other words, you were so afraid of Snape that he was your boggart?"

"Yeah, I was." He studied Snape for a moment before turning his attention back to Harry. "I reckon that changed, though. I'm not certain whether my Boggart would be the Herbology Guild or Voldemort's great bloody snake. It wouldn't be Snape, though. I'm certain of that."

"Oh? I thought he was everyone's worst nightmare, especially when he was headmaster at Hogwarts."

"You thought wrong." Neville's pleasant expression faded and his blue eyes hardened to flint. Suddenly, he was every bit the warrior he'd always been, though hidden under layers of geniality and self-doubt. "Let me tell you what that year was like.

"But for that man, you would think the Carrows were in charge. If you ended up in detention with one of them, you knew you'd wake up in the hospital wing with Madam Pomfrey pouring potions to counteract the Cruciatus Curse down your throat. One time, Ginny got caught by Alecto, but when I tried to take her detention, I ended up serving it with the headmaster instead."

"You had detentions with Snape?"

"Loads of times. Some of them he handed off to Hagrid, but most of them I served in his office." Neville's brow furrowed. "He is very good at curses," he said slowly. "I remember screaming and blacking out during some of them. There were times he used Legilimency on me. I was so afraid he'd find out that we were trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor or that I was hiding people in the Room of Requirement, but he never did.

"Anyway, Dumbledore's Army ran a lot of interference, especially with the younger years. Somehow, we always managed to know just when things were about to get worse. We knew how to avoid the Carrows or when not to. We even worked out which one of us would earn detention with Snape whilst the rest of us were off stealing food." Neville's face brightened. "The house-elves helped with that. Don't reckon I remembered to thank you for it at the time."

"Er…" Harry blinked in confusion. "Thank me for what? I wasn't even there."

"For the house-elves. Well, for Kreacher, mostly, but he organised the rest of them. They'd arrange to hide food in various parts of the castle. Like, the Carrows knew about tickling the pear to get into the kitchens, but they weren't too fond of the Trophy Room and they always forgot about Myrtle's bathroom, so the house-elves would hide bushels of stuff there. I'd find a leaf in my Herbology book—that was Kreacher's signal—and I'd use those charmed Galleons to let someone know to make a food run.

"After awhile, we had so many people hidden away in the Room of Requirement that smuggling food in got to be too dangerous. I was afraid we'd starve, but somehow I got the idea that one of the portraits knew a way out. There was a passageway between the Room and the Hog's Head. The barkeep there kept us from starving. It was genius!

"Turns out it was all Snape," explained Neville. "I thought I was being clever, but..." He studied his hands for a moment. "I followed you that night. The night of the Final Battle. Into the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack. I saw Ron make the branches freeze, though all I have to do is ask it."

Harry's eyes were round as saucers. "You followed...? How? There wasn't anyone else around. We'd have seen."

Neville shook his head. "Once I'd worked out where we were, I moved back down the tunnel and Apparated to the attic of the Shrieking Shack. When I got there, I cast a feather-light charm on my feet and wrapped myself in a Muffliato spell. It was one of those things I just seemed to know how to do after one of my detentions with Snape. Anyway, I crept down those old rickety stairs, so I was behind Voldemort the whole time. You were behind Snape.

"You left it bloody long, you know," scolded Neville. "He very nearly bled out. But I found the potions Snape had in his robes—blood replenishers, antivenin, even Draught of the Living Death—and healed up the holes that fuc...that bloody snake made in his neck." He ran a shaking hand over his face. "It's a damned good thing I had some wormwood heads in my pocket. They're sharp-smelling and brought him around right quick. Once he was conscious, he told me what to do."

"I'll bet." It didn't take much effort for Harry to imagine that conversation, though he had no way of knowing how utterly off the mark he was. "Why was he carrying Draught of the Living Death?"

"No idea," admitted Neville.

"To effect my escape, Potter," said Snape. "I had hoped merely to feign my death after passing along the information entrusted to me rather than embark upon it."

"I, for one, am quite pleased you didn't die," said Harry quietly, his expressive green eyes soft on Snape's face. Turning, he found Neville sitting gobsmacked, his jaw hanging down somewhere around his knees. "So you were in the Shrieking Shack the same time I was?"

Neville nodded. "I Summoned Winky and she stayed with Snape. Another house-elf—I don't know who—Apparated me back to the castle. I got to the Great Hall just before Ron and Hermione did, but I didn't see where you went. But Snape used Legilimency on me again and revealed the memories he'd hidden in my head. All those detentions...he was planting those ideas. The Room of Requirement. Nicking food. Holding little insurrections against the Carrows to keep them away from the kids. It was all him. He saved us, Harry. He saved all of us."

It was a ringing endorsement from someone for whom Harry had the deepest respect. "Neville, whose side was Snape on?"

"You said it yourself, Harry. In front of about two hundred people. Snape was Dumbledore's man, through and through." A few furrows appeared in Neville's forehead. "You even said that Dumbledore arranged his death. You practically shouted it. So, why are we here if everyone knows that Snape only killed Dumbledore because that's what he was ordered to do?"

"Because I can't prove it," sighed Harry. "It doesn't seem to matter that I told Voldemort that Snape had betrayed him or that Voldemort believed me. They need to hear it from somebody else. That's why you're here. To tell these people what you know about Snape."

"You want me to tell them how I was so scared of him that a Boggart would turn into him? I can do that." Neville took a sip of water and cleared his throat. "I came to Hogwarts thinking I was a Squib, but I got my letter at the beginning of July like everyone else. Uncle Algie was so relieved that he asked Gran if he could have a huge party for my eleventh birthday, but Gran wouldn't have it.

"I thought I'd be Sorted into Hufflepuff for certain, but when the Sorting Hat shouted Gryffindor, I nearly fainted. Then the famous Harry Potter was Sorted there as well, and I figured I wouldn't have anything to worry about. He was already famous, see? No one would ever notice someone like me hanging about. Except it seemed like everyone did.

"I think I set a new record for exploded cauldrons. Not even Seamus blew up as many—and we're talking about the bloke who set his Wingardium feather on fire. Most of them were because I made stupid mistakes in Potions. Added one too many pine needles or didn't crush the scarab shells enough. It was all fixable if I'd just paid attention some, but Snape scared the ability to think right out of my skull.

"I'd like to say that he was the worst teacher I ever had, but we had Quirrell that first year, and take it from someone who knows—it's impossible to learn from somebody who's afraid of his own shadow if your own shadow is worse than any creature Hagrid keeps. Quirrell stuttered and stammered so much that I was certain that I would die during a class demonstration just because I was never quite certain what he wanted us to do.

"Then we learnt that Quirrell had Voldemort stuck in the back of his head and that Harry killed him—Quirrell, I mean—and I thought maybe if I just paid attention to what Harry did, I'd survive school. Except Harry wasn't afraid to get shirty with Snape and that just wasn't on, so I tried to do what Hermione did during lessons, but it didn't matter. Snape just belittled everything I did to the point where I couldn't even cut a flobberworm in half.

"By the time we had Lupin for Defence, I was nearly certain I was going to die during Potions. Either Snape would make me drink something I'd brewed or show how some poison worked. I'd pretty much resigned myself to being his first casualty, but instead, I did what Professor Lupin said—I imagined Snape in my Gran's clothes. And you know what? It helped.

"You know, it's really strange to think about it, but Umbridge might have saved my life," said Neville with a pensive smile. "If she'd allowed us to learn the spells that would be on our OWLs, then you would never have started the D.A. And if you hadn't started the D.A., I wouldn't have discovered I can actually do magic. Everything came much easier after that. Well, not Herbology, but that was only because Professor Sprout expected so much more. Then the Department of Mysteries happened."

No matter how inured Harry thought he was to the events of that day, every once in awhile grief had the power to blindside him. In his mind's eye, he could still see Sirius, his wand arm raised and a triumphant grin on his face. Then the spell struck and he disappeared through the Veil. Neville's nose had been gushing blood and the little glass ball holding the prophecy had fallen from Neville's pocket and broken.

"My wand broke then," said Neville, startling Harry. He wasn't certain he knew that. At the time, he'd had more pressing matters on his mind. "I replaced it over the summer." Neville pulled his wand and admired it. "This one suits me," he said as he sheathed it. "Once I had a wand that had chosen me, magic became much easier. I even earned respectable marks in Snape's Defence course—and I learnt I wasn't afraid of him anymore.

"Then came seventh year." Neville slumped in his chair. "The beatings, the torture, the cat and mouse games. Never knowing for certain who was on your side and who was on theirs." His eyes clouded with remembered pain. "I earned my scars and I reckon I'm proud of them, but Snape's the one who won the war for us—or at least led us to the point where we could win it without him."

"There are some who would say that Snape was the worst headmaster Hogwarts ever had. What would you say to that?"

Neville's eyes flashed and he snarled. "Unless they were there at Hogwarts during Snape's regime, I don't give a thestral's backside for what they think. Look, you know what it's like when the Ministry decides to take charge at Hogwarts. It leads to shite like Umbridge being put in charge, and you know what that was like: Inquisitorial Squads and detentions for every little infraction. It meant sneaking behind her back to learn what we should have been learning during lessons.

"Now imagine that instead of one Umbridge, we have three of them, plus a Ministry who has decided that Muggle-borns are vermin, that Unforgivables are legitimate curses, that Dark magic needs to be part of the curriculum, and that the only House that matters is Slytherin House. Somehow, Snape had to walk the line between what the Ministry wanted him to do and keeping his promises to Dumbledore. I don't know of anyone who could have done any of that and still kept their humanity intact."

"Not McGonagall? She was deputy headmistress for years. She knew how Hogwarts was to be run."

"McGonagall?" Neville laughed mirthlessly. "Have you gone completely mental? Alecto Carrow was deputy head. She was there to make certain Snape toed the line.

"Do you know what we learnt our first day in Dark Arts?" asked Neville abruptly. Harry shook his head. "We spent the first week learning how to use the Imperius Curse and, since we still had classes with the Slytherins, they used it on us to have us torture the other Gryffindors. By the end of the first week, almost all of us had been under the Cruciatus Curse at least twice.

"McGonagall would have tried to stop it—and they'd have killed her for interfering with 'Ministry objectives' and put someone far worse in her place. No, Harry. Snape was the only one who could have been headmaster last year. There would be no Hogwarts without him."

There was nothing Harry could add to Neville's impassioned defence of Severus Snape. Only a student who had been in the thick of things, who had been the leader of the resistance movement, such as it was, could have illustrated how much worse things might have been if Snape had not been there to curb the worst of the Carrows' excesses. It wasn't impossible to imagine the Killing Curse being used as a form of discipline—especially on those who were not of pure blood.

"Thanks, Neville. I guess you'll want to get back to A Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi now."

"That's 'One Thousand'. Get the name straight, Harry. But I'm rereading chapter six of Flesh Eating Trees of the World. Did you know there's a tree in Australia that will suc—"

"Neville!" Percy's face was pink as he scribbled Neville's last statement out of the official record. Kingsley laughed and Harry dimly recalled that Percy had taken NEWT level Herbology and probably knew which tree Neville had been talking about.

Chapter Text

Laughing, Harry returned to his table as Embry escorted Neville out and brought in the next witness. There were cheers and hollers. Half the gallery came to their feet and even members of the Wizengamot craned their necks to watch Hermione Granger step anxiously into the courtroom. Someone shouted, "I love you, Hermione!" and she turned bright pink.

"Harry!" Before he knew quite what was happening, Harry had an armful of Hermione. He hugged her back, recognising as he did so how much he'd missed her. "You've made the front page of the Prophet again," she whispered fiercely. "Or, at least your Patronus has." She stepped back and studied his face carefully and he felt his cheeks grow hot under her examination. Instinctively, he sought out Snape and found him scowling fiercely at her.

She gaped at him. "Oh my god. Ron was right," she breathed as she took a step back and found her way to the witness stand, leaving Harry to wonder what Ron had been right about and why she felt the need to admit it. "Half-Blood Prince, Harry," she added with a knowing grin. As if suddenly remembering where she was, she adopted a serious expression and smoothed her school robes.

"Oh, Minister," she exclaimed suddenly just as Harry was about to ask his first question. "I'll need a note in case I'm late for my Ancient Runes NEWT. It's scheduled to begin at one o'clock and I still need to revise the ablative case rules one more time. I really don't have time for this, Harry, so please make it quick."

"Very well." Harry picked up her card and stood in front of her with an expectant air. Seconds later, her finger began to tap relentlessly on the stand in front of her and her eyes became as focussed as a basilisk's death stare. "Can Snape cast a Patronus?"

"You brought me here for that?" she exploded. "Of all the half-baked questions...of course he can. He demonstrated it yesterday. Really, Harry. Don't you have anything important?"

"What's the magical theory of a Patronus?"

Hermione gave an exasperated sigh. "A Patronus is a magical construct that draws upon deep feelings of love or happiness to produce a corporeal being, generally an animal, that is capable of protecting the witch or wizard from the overwhelming sadness and sense of hopelessness created by the presence of Dementors. Only strong, positive emotions can be used to produce a Patronus, which is why it is never associated with practitioners of Dark magic. The incantation, Expecto Patronum means, quite literally, 'I need a saviour'. It is considered advanced magic and many adult witches and wizards have difficulty producing more than a wisp.

"Dumbledore was the first to realise that a fully corporeal Patronus could be used to send messages and taught that skill to members of the Order of the Phoenix to great effect. Professor McGonagall sent several of hers throughout Hogwarts the night the Death Eaters invaded and Minister Shacklebolt was able to send his to Bill and Fleur's wedding in time to warn us that Death Eaters had seized the Ministry."

"And?" prompted Harry.

"And what?"

"And there was another Patronus that was used rather famously to aid our cause."

Hermione folded her arms across her chest. "Well, yes. Professor Snape sent his Patronus to you in the woods in the Forest of Dean. That's what you told me, anyway. I never saw it, but I'm quite certain you would not have jumped into a frozen pond without having been led there, and I know you would never have followed Professor Snape if he'd appeared in the flesh. You'd have killed him before he said a word, as we all would have done."

"How did Professor Snape determine where we were?"

"I apologised for that," said Hermione crossly. "I inadvertently allowed the portrait of Phineas Nigellus to overhear me when I told you where we were and, since he was a former headmaster, his portrait hangs in the headmaster's office."

"Why did you have a portrait of Phineas in your handbag?"

"You know perfectly well why," she started and then seemed to remember that the Wizengamot was hanging on her every word. "There was a portrait of him hanging in Grimmauld Place where we were hiding from Death Eaters. I put it in my bag so he couldn't overhear our plans and report back to Snape. He did tell us what was happening at Hogwarts, though, and that our friends were safe—for the most part. All in all, I suppose it's fortunate we had him with us. We needed the Sword and he was able to provide it, after a fashion. Or at least enabled Snape to get it to us."

"Or Snape's Patronus."

Hermione's brow furrowed. "But the Patronus led you to a particular spot. He had to be nearby to direct it since he had no other way of knowing precisely where you'd be. He was watching you, Harry. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"If Snape had found us in the Forest and if he was loyal to Voldemort, do you suppose he would have sent his Patronus to me?"

Hermione shook her head hard enough to send her bushy curls flying. "If Professor Snape had been loyal to Voldemort, he would have Summoned the Snatchers or taken you to the Dark Lord himself. There was a hundred-thousand Galleon price on your head, Harry. Only Professor Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore could have kept him from collecting that."

Harry beamed at her. "Thanks, Hermione. You can go back to your books now."

"That's it? That's all you have to ask me about?" fumed Hermione. "But I had notes about all sorts of things." She glared at him from beneath lowered brows and stepped down. "I'd best have an owl from you by the end of the day. It seems the Prophet isn't commenting on everything."

Glancing nervously at the line of reporters, Harry licked his lips and grimaced. "They've said all that needs saying. Good luck with Ancient Runes."

"Thanks, Harry." She gave him another hug and whispered. "Don't forget to owl."

"Do I ever write as often as you'd like?"

"Well, no," she admitted. She stepped away from Harry and paused at the tall chair where Snape was shackled and gazed up at him. "He cares about you, though I've no idea why. He deserves better, but I don't get to make that choice."

"As it happens," said Snape in his slow, dark voice. "I agree with you. But it has been my experience that Potter will do whatever he pleases, regardless of my counsel to the contrary."

Hermione smiled crookedly. "Harry does have a bit of a stubborn streak. Goes right along with his saving people thing. Best of luck, Professor. You'll need it."

Not having any desire to hear his shortcomings discussed, Harry returned to his table to find an origami bird fluttering around upon it. He snatched it out of the air—no challenge, really—opened it and read the short note.

Put me on the stand. ~Adrian Wheeler

Adrian Wheeler? Harry had no idea who that was. Beckoning Gauntlett over, he showed her the note and explained where he'd found it. Taking a quick glance at it, she handed it up to Kingsley, who passed it to Percy, who shook his head despairingly at Harry. "Don't you ever read the papers?" he asked. "Adrian Wheeler is sitting right behind you and has been since the first day of trial."

That observation did not fill Harry with confidence. The only people who were directly behind him were members of the press, and he cheerfully admitted to loathing them. Steeling himself, he turned slowly and peered at them in turn. The fourth one down the row waved at him and Harry tilted his head. "Are you Adrian?"

The man nodded and rose. "May I?" He gestured towards the stand.

"Hang on," said Harry. "I need to speak with Kingsley first." Feeling like he was losing control of the trial, he stepped through the narrow door behind the tall bench where Kingsley presided.

"I don't know who he is and I don't know what he wants," said Harry once he, Kingsley and Gauntlett were gathered in the cramped corridor. "But I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with this. He's not in the witness book, so I'm guessing that the investigators never questioned him. Do you want to speak with him first?"

Kingsley thought for a moment. "This is highly unusual, but then again, it fits right in with the rest of the trial. On the other hand, I do know Adrian, so why don't I question him? I can have Percy strike his testimony if he has nothing to contribute and we can alter the memories of the Wizengamot if he falls out of line.

"Go ahead and take your seat, Harry. I'll have Embry bring him 'round. This shouldn't last more than a few minutes, so we'll break for lunch when I've finished with him." Kingsley held Harry's gaze for a moment. "Be careful with Severus, Harry. He is not the sort to bend with the winds. He is the sort who is shattered by them."

There were so many things Harry could say to that, but it was too early to start making promises. Not to himself. Not to Snape. Certainly not to Kingsley, who wasn't even a friend of Snape's, at least not as far as Harry could tell. "Not on my watch," he said as he strode back into the courtroom. He missed the swing of his cloak as he turned to sit, but Snape was watching him with undisguised interest. He couldn't help but preen a little.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," said Kingsley once Adrian had been seated. "This is Adrian Wheeler, a staff photographer for the Daily Prophet. Some of you may have noticed the note he sent to Mr Potter. It was simply a request to be allowed to testify. Not even I have any idea what he wishes to say or if his testimony is relevant. If it's not, we'll ask you to remove those memories so that the Department of Mysteries can dispose of them properly."

Kingsley peered down from the bench at Adrian. "Tell them what's on your mind."

Adrian ran short, stubby fingers through his sandy blond hair and gave a brief nod of his head. "My name is Adrian Wheeler, as you heard. I went to Hogwarts with Snape there, though I doubt he remembers me."

"I remember you well, Mr Wheeler," said Snape. "You were one of the best in our year at Transfiguration. You also took Honours in Muggle Studies as well, if memory serves."

"I did. My father was Muggle-born, so I learnt firsthand from my grandparents. I was able to hide during the worst of the war at their place in Somerset. I reckon it was a bit cowardly of me, but we sheltered a number of Muggle-born witches and wizards at their farm."

"Then not a coward at all. It was a dangerous thing to do in such uncertain times. You would have been murdered where you stood had the Dark Lord caught wind of your activities."

Lacing his fingers over his round belly, Adrian's thin lips curved into a tiny smile. "That's...it's good of you to say so. Anyway, I was Sorted into Gryffindor along with James Potter and Sirius Black. I was the fifth boy in that dormitory, but I wasn't part of the Marauders." Shifting uneasily, he shot an apologetic glance at Harry before continuing.

"See, James and Sirius were pranksters and I was a bit too quiet for that. I got on better with Remus, who was more studious than they were. But something must have happened on the Hogwarts Express because Sirius started planning ways to get back at Snape the very first night. James was a bit slower, but the next night, after he'd found out that Snape was friends with Lily Evans, that drove the nail deep into that coffin.

"I wish I'd been Sorted into Ravenclaw. I would have done much better there," sighed Adrian. "I wouldn't have had to hear about all the hexes and curses they planned to use against Snape, wouldn't have spent every single night listening to them gripe about the latest jinx he'd used against them or how Slytherin House needed to be wiped off the face of the earth. I found some friends in other Houses and spent the next six years tuning them out."

"In other words," said Kingsley slowly, "you're here to tell us that what the others have said is true: James Potter and Sirius Black were the sworn enemies of Severus Snape."

"More like the other way around," said Adrian, "but yes. It wasn't a typical House rivalry. But that's not all I wanted to say." He reached into his rust coloured robes, removed a photograph from an inner pocket, and sent it floating towards the jury. "I've been carrying these around since Slughorn testified. That's a photograph of the Slug Club as it existed in 1976. Look at the back row, second to the right. That's Severus Snape."

A woman in the front row of the jury snatched the photograph from the air and studied it intently before passing it to the person next to her. "How do you know this?" she asked, her voice filled with suspicion.

"Because I was a member of the Slug Club as well," said Adrian, and he pulled another photograph from his pocket, this one of him with Slughorn's arm around his shoulder. The Adrian in the photograph appeared a bit discomfited, but Slughorn was beaming. "This one should prove it, but look at the back of that one." He gestured with his hand toward the picture that was being passed around.

The wizard holding it turned it over and read aloud: "Christmas Party, 1976. Hogwarts' Best and Brightest with Prof. Horace Slughorn. Photograph by Adrian Wheeler." He looked in the direction of the defendant. "Severus Snape's name is listed on the back."

Both photographs made their rounds through the jury before ending up with Percy. Curious, Harry got up and took a look at both of them. Adrian was thinner then and had much more hair. Other than having fewer deep lines in his face, Snape looked much the same: stringy black hair, long nose, and much too skinny. Even then, his scowl seemed permanently affixed. Yet, Harry found himself smiling. The Snape in the photograph seemed utterly bewildered by that.

"I don't know why Slughorn lied to you," said Adrian. "At first, I was going to let it go, but after hearing the Longbottom boy talk about how much Snape did to keep the school going, I couldn't just sit there any longer and let everyone think Snape's talents had never been recognised. He was a genius with Potions. Head and shoulders above the rest of us, and Slughorn knew it too."

The jury nodded and murmured amongst themselves as Harry exchanged a long look with Kingsley. "This seems like a good place to stop. I'll see everyone back at one o'clock." The gallery started to clear as the photographer from Witch Weekly snapped several shots of Adrian Wheeler stepping down. That, Harry thought, would be a far more interesting headline than anything they usually came up with.

Chapter Text

It came as no surprise to anybody that Harry walked Snape back to his holding cell with his arm around Snape's waist. After the demonstration of Snape's Patronus took a turn for the unexpected, Harry felt himself to be more the centre of attention than usual, but after Molly's words of wisdom, he had made a conscious decision not to be ashamed of how he felt towards Snape. If anybody had a problem with that...well, it was their problem, wasn't it? The only thing Harry had to worry about was how Snape felt.

They walked back in their usual silence. Ordinarily, the silence was comfortable, but today Harry would have given anything to know what was going on inside of Snape's head. Trying to read his expression was useless; Snape seldom wore his thoughts on his face. His body language was the same as it had been since the trial started, though he appeared a little less defeated in Harry's eyes.

Some of Harry's worry was allayed the moment they stepped into the room. Snape turned swiftly and swooped down on him, his long fingers framing Harry's face as he pressed his lips softly, sweetly against Harry's. Kiss after gentle kiss until Harry's head was spinning. He gasped and pressed his body tight against Snape's, shuddering as Snape's lips blazed a trail along Harry's neck.

Snape bit down lightly just above the join of neck and shoulder and Harry nearly collapsed. His knees turned to jelly and fireworks exploded behind his eyes. His cock grew impossibly hard and his hips wriggled as he sought something to grind against. Snape's tongue dragged over bare flesh and Harry heard himself whimper. Every touch, every sound, was congregating between his legs and he was desperate for release.

Suddenly, Snape was holding him at arm's length and staring at him as though bewildered. Harry blinked furiously as he tried to focus on Snape's face. "Wh-what are you doing?" he stammered as his erection fled. "What's wrong?"

"You wouldn't piss on me if I were on fire," Snape quoted at him to Harry's shame. "You said so yourself, so it must come as no surprise that I find your motives somewhat suspect." Pain shone in the depths of those beautiful dark eyes and Harry's heart clenched. "What do you want from me, Potter? I'm a condemned man who has nothing to offer the hero of the Wizarding world." The last words were bitter, steeped in decades of acrimony and grief.

Harry took a step forward, but Snape stepped back. They continued that dance until Snape was pressed against the wall and had nowhere left to go. Harry kissed him, his lips as gentle and soothing as Snape's had been. "You've plenty to offer me, Sev, but I want to earn it. And the trial's not over, not yet." Harry's green eyes were earnest. "Let me love you, Sev. Let me show you it doesn't have to hurt."

Snape stared at him. Suspicion danced around the corners of his eyes, but after a moment he nodded. "Your mum used to call me 'Sev'. No one else ever has done."

"I know," said Harry softly. "Well, the first part, at least. I heard her in your memories." He gave Snape a lingering kiss and, taking Snape's hand, led him to the table.

"It doesn't bother you that I loved her?"

"Like I love Hermione?" asked Harry as he took his seat. He shook his head. "Not at all. Should it?" He tapped his wand on the table, signalling their readiness for a meal.

"Avery was right, you know," remarked Snape as their lunch appeared: Shepherd's pie, thick with gravy, meat, and vegetables. A full flagon of pumpkin juice and a pot of tea completed the meal. Harry placed a stasis charm on the tea, and served up two steaming servings of pie, handing one to Snape before diving into his own. "I wanted Lily—or wished I was straight enough to want her. It seemed so unfair that I would love someone, obsessively so, and yet not desire her."

"I dunno," said Harry between bites, making certain he swallowed first before speaking. "It seemed to me that you desired her. I saw the way you looked at her, like she was something to be devoured, or something to win. You know, a great prize."

"I sought her approval, you dolt," snapped Snape. "I wanted her to like me best, or at least more than she liked your blessed father." His eyes narrowed and he speared Harry with a sharp look. "Do you know why I set that particular memory aside when I made the unfortunate attempt to teach you Occlumency?"

"Because my fa—no. That's not it, is it?" Harry pushed away from the table and walked around it to stand behind Snape. He wrapped his arms around Snape's shoulders and brushed his lips against Snape's cheek. "I know how much you regretted hurting her. I know you were speaking from a place of anger and humiliation and I don't blame you for lashing out. Let it go, Sev. You've more than made up for it." He held Snape for a moment as the thin shoulders shook, hoping that one day Snape would forgive himself for being sixteen and stupid.

After dropping another kiss on the top if Snape' head, Harry returned to his meal, keeping his thoughts to himself as he ate quietly. It was no hardship to afford Snape a modicum of privacy, such that it was. Harry had enough to be going on with for the moment.

Instead of thinking about the trial and the few remaining witnesses, though, he found himself ruminating on the fact he'd used the L-word—twice—in relation to Snape, once to Snape himself. He hadn't even worked out yet how he felt about the man, other than a strong need to protect him, a deep desire to see him happy, and a longing for his touch that nearly drove him to his knees. Maybe that was enough to start with. It wasn't as though Harry was a font of experience in such matters. Nor was Snape, for that matter.

Snape didn't say another word during the rest of the break, but when it came time to return to the courtroom, he slipped his hand into Harry's and laced their fingers together. Gauntlett arched a concerned brow but said nothing other than, "Let's go."

Harry was pleased to see his next witness was Hagrid. He'd always held affection for him, especially since Hagrid had been his introduction to a whole new world Harry had known nothing about. He was a wizard, and a thumping good one—at least Hagrid had said so and Harry believed him.

It took both Gauntlett and Embry combined to enlarge the witness stand enough for Hagrid to step onto it, and Harry held his breath when Hagrid started to sit. "No. Don't think this chair will—" There was a sharp crack and Hagrid stood hastily as the two halves fell away. "Sorry 'bout that," he said as Embry repaired the chair and relocated it near the wall. "Maybe I'll just stand instead." He gripped the edges of the box with his dinner-plate-sized hands. Harry winced.

"I'll try not to keep you too long." Though Harry suspected he said that to everybody, he meant it in Hagrid's case. Hagrid had a way of seeing straight through Harry and was far more perceptive than he was given credit for being. To say that Harry was nervous about what might come out of Hagrid's mouth was an understatement.

"What can you tell us about Dumbledore's relationship with Snape?" said Harry, hoping Hagrid would simply talk and spare him the agony of working out questions to ask.

"Great man, Dumbledore," said Hagrid, big fat tears welling in his eyes. "Never would hear a bad word spoken about Snape. Trusted him, he did. Said so time and time again." He shifted and Harry felt the vibrations in his feet. "I could not believe it when you told me Snape murdered Dumbledore. Thought you must have been mistaken 'bout that. I was right then, wasn't I? Snape is no more a murderer than I am. Shoulda known Dumbledore had a plan. If he says there's good in a person, then there is even if the rest of us have a bit of trouble picking it out."

He wagged a giant finger at Harry. "Let that be a lesson to you. How many times did you think Snape were up to no good? And how many times were you wrong about that? Snape was on our side all along. All you had to do was trust Dumbledore." He sniffled and blew his nose on a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth, but when he leaned on the witness box, it shattered under him.

It took a few minutes to work out how best to accommodate Hagrid's size, but when Snape suggested that it might be useful to conjure a boulder for Hagrid to sit on, their problem was solved. Harry didn't need to look back at him to know that Snape thought they were all dunderheaded idiots. Even Kingsley. "Hagrid, was Snape a good headmaster?" asked Harry once Hagrid was made comfortable.

"Well, he weren't in the same league as Dumbledore, but he were a fair sight better than that Umbridge woman. Snape never once made me get rid of my hippogriffs, not even after they threatened some Hufflepuffs. And whilst he wouldn't let me get a dragon or two to keep around the place, he didn't let those Carrows bring in some Lethifolds neither. Dangerous creatures, Lethifolds. A bit like your average Dementor, they are, except they devour you whilst you're sleeping. Rather cowardly creature, to attack someone in their beds. Need a Patronus to drive 'em off, but it's hard to conjure up one of those when you're half asleep. Seems just like something the Carrows would want, but Snape—"

"Did he give out many detentions? He used to give me loads of them," interrupted Harry before Hagrid spent the next hour going through the entire encyclopedia of Dark creatures.

"What's that? Detentions?" Hagrid gave Harry a reproachful look. "I never once gave you detention. Come to think of it, I reckon I never took points neither. Never saw the need for it. No point in breaking your spirit, what with all the burdens on your shoulders. No, Snape saw to your discipline. Reckon he was the only one of us who didn't turn a blind eye to your rule-breaking. How many times were you running around under that Invisibility Cloak of yours, visiting me with your friends when you shoulda been up in the Tower?"

Harry groaned. "Not your detentions. Snape's. I know he gave a lot last year."

"Right you are. The Carrows gave out the most, but old Snape took some of them or I reckon the Carrows woulda spent nearly every day on them. But Snape sent loads of them to me. Like that first detention with you and Malfoy. Remember, Harry? Somethin' was disturbing the unicorns."

Harry remembered. Voldemort was killing them and drinking their blood. Harry had come across his twisted form but was saved from certain death by Bane and Firenze. Draco had run off long before, scared witless by the things that lived deep within the Forbidden Forest. "You took students into the Forbidden Forest?"

"Well, only to see what was bothering the thestrals. The unicorns disappeared not long after Dumbledore died and the acromantulas became wild once Aragog passed on. The centaurs stayed far away from some parts of the Forest, so I knew not to go there. There's not much that will drive off a centaur; dragons, for one, but there aren't any left near Hogwarts, werewolves, for another. Heard a rumour or two about a coven of vampires, but never did find any signs of them."

The gallery shifted uncomfortably at hearing talk about vampires and werewolves. A few phobic members shivered visibly at hearing Hagrid remark blithely on acromantulas. Harry couldn't blame them. Ron would be hyperventilating. "Hagrid, don't you think it's, well, a bit dangerous there?"

"Dangerous? Bah." Hagrid waved away Harry's question like it was a gnat. He took a sip from a silver flask and speared Harry with a look. "There aren't nothing in the Forest that's dangerous if you give it a bit of respect is all. Take the spiders, for instance. It's right clear they'll eat you if you give 'em half a chance, so you respect their territory and don't wander in 'less you've been invited. And the centaurs won't attack the young, so the children have naught to fear from them.

"But I only took them partway inside, see. We needed to feed the thestrals and I needed a bit of help catching ferrets to feed the hippogriffs. They get a mite temperamental if they're not fed regular, and there's not much they like better than fresh ferret. And Snape, well, he always needed some particular plant harvested when the moon was just right. But he couldn't just leave be, so he'd send some students down with drawings of what they had to find. It weren't dangerous, Harry. 'Sides, we had Fang with us.

"But the Carrows, now that lot was dangerous. You can't never get a creature to respect you once you beat it. All you're doing then is teaching it to be afraid and once it's afraid, it's likely to lash out. A beast that's afraid is more dangerous by far than anything you'll find in the Forest. Couldn't ever seem to get them to understand that. They'd just pull their wands and start cursing willy nilly.

"Hated seeing what they were doing to the students. Patched up a fair few of 'em, I did, when Madam Pomfrey were busy. Dumbledore would not have stood for that sort of thing, but Snape didn't have much of a choice, what with all the Ministry codswallop coming out all the time. Weren't a week went by without some new Educational Decree hanging up in the Great Hall. The teachers all did the best they could, but learning didn't seem to be something the Ministry wanted to happen."

"The other teachers, did they respect Snape?"

Hagrid dropped his hands to his knees and rocked back and forth a bit on his boulder. His eyes jumped around through the vast chamber as he looked anywhere but at Harry. "Dumbledore trusted Snape," he repeated stubbornly, "so I reckon he musta respected him some. Leastways, that's what I kept telling myself. Great man, Dumbledore."

"But Hagrid, that's not what I asked. Was Snape respected by the other teachers?"

"Now, I'm not wanting to speak ill of anybody, but there's somethin' you've got to understand about Snape. He's a hard one to know, he is. I'd hear him arguing with Dumbledore over some task or another. 'You ask too much of me' or somethin' like that. It's not like Snape to beg off now, is it? Always does his work, he does. I reckon he didn’t want the job, but he was stuck with it."

"Hagrid—"

"Enough of this, Harry. The other teachers and me, why I 'spect we did what the headmaster asked us to do. If he sent students to me to pick flowering gorseberry leaves at the waxing moon, then that's what they did. If he wanted them to get their hands dirty, they'd help with feeding the Nifflers. If he wanted them scared a bit, then we'd lay traps for Kappas."

That Harry got that much from Hagrid was a bit of surprise. Snape had Dumbledore's seal of approval and in Hagrid's eyes, that was that. For reasons Harry didn't quite understand, he felt a sense of great pride for Hagrid. In Harry's experience, few things were as unshakeable as Hagrid's faith in people.

"What about earlier, though? Like, back when you had Norbert and Fluffy?"

"Ought not to have told you about that," muttered Hagrid, eyeing Harry with a bit of fond exasperation. "I reckon Snape—"

"I'm sorry, but did you say Norbert and Fluffy?" asked Percy as he flexed his hand a bit. "Who are Norbert and Fluffy?"

"Er—" For a moment, Harry was nonplussed, but then he decided that events from eight years ago couldn't come back to haunt him, at least not too much. "Norbert was Hagrid's pet dragon. When he got too big for Hagrid's hut, Charlie took him to Romania. And Fluffy was the name of the three-headed dog that guarded the third floor corridor my first year. You remember the bit with the Stone, right?"

Percy blinked and his eyes widened. "Ahh, yes. Quirrell. Don't think I ever knew the dog's name, though." He eyed Harry thoughtfully and then scribbled a couple of notes in the margin.

"Where were we?" mused Harry as he turned his attention back to Hagrid. "Oh, yeah. You were telling us about Snape back when I first started school."

"Tha's right. As I were saying. Snape were well-regarded back in the day. I used to hear him make bets with Professor McGonagall about the Quidditch matches. Why, he was one of the youngest Heads of House Hogwarts ever had. The students never much cared for him, but he got on well with most of the others. Not so much with the Defence professors, but they were an odd lot." He snorted. "Gilderoy Lockhart. What a puffed up old toad he turned out to be."

"Can't say you're wrong about that," agreed Harry. "Is there anything else about Snape you think these people ought to know?"

For a moment, Snape and Hagrid regarded each other with a look of long understanding. Finally, Hagrid sat back and cast his eyes over the jury. "I reckon some of you lot recall what it was like when Thicknesse were in charge. It's a hard row, not knowing who to trust. But Snape trusted the same people Dumbledore did. He threw in with them, though I reckon they didn't know it. Snape here did his best to keep the students safe, just like he promised.

"He's had a hard life; thought he had to be the meanest one to survive. Some are like that right from the start, have to fight for the smallest share 'til that's all they know. I reckon that's Snape for you. But if you treat it with a bit of kindness and earn its trust, why you have its loyalty so long as you don't break your word. Reckon Snape's always kept his. Can't ask for much more than that."

Deciding he'd had enough, Hagrid lumbered to his feet. "Got to be getting back to Hogwarts. The tomatoes won't pick themselves and the jobberknolls will be hatching soon. Don't be a stranger, Harry. Fang would love to see you again. Right fond of you he is."

Harry smiled. "When this is over I'll come up for a visit. You have my word." He watched as Hagrid nearly crawled through the tunnel to leave the courtroom and thought he felt the ground tremble a bit as Hagrid left the Ministry. For a moment, Harry wondered if Hagrid even fit in the lifts, but figured an expansion charm would probably do the trick. Life as a half-giant couldn't be easy.

Buoyed by a sudden lift of excitement, Harry fairly bounced over to his table and flashed a brilliant smile to the jury. Hagrid's examination had gone better than he expected and there were only two more witnesses left in his book: Poppy Pomfrey and Draco Malfoy. Inwardly, he hoped the next person on the stand would be Madam Pomfrey, but part of him wished to get Draco over with as soon as possible.

Whilst he waited for Gauntlett to bring the next witness in, Harry made up his note card for Draco. This was going to be a taxing examination, especially for Snape. None of them held fond memories of that night on the Astronomy Tower, Snape least of all. If Draco gave him any attitude, Harry would see to it that an entire flask of Veritaserum was poured down his throat until Malfoy gagged on the stuff.

To Harry's surpise, Gauntlett emerged from the tunnel alone, carrying in her hand a bright orange aeroplane that signalled an urgent message. Mounting the stairs that led to the bench, she whispered to Kingsley as she handed him the memo. Percy craned his neck to try to read over Kingsley's shoulder, but a stern warning from the Minister ended that quickly enough.

"I have a message here from Minerva McGonagall, headmistress of Hogwarts," he said, his deep voice carrying to every last set of ears. "Mediwitch Poppy Pomfrey has an emergency involving a hinkypunk, a boggart, and a small group of traumatised third-years. And whilst Draco Malfoy can be made available, he is presently sitting his NEWT Ancient Runes exam along with Hermione Granger. He is requesting postponement, since he will not be able to take the examinations again until December.

"Under the circumstances, I believe it only fair to grant their request for a delay. We will adjourn until nine o'clock tomorrow morning. As I believe Mr Potter has but two witnesses left, you should be able to begin deliberations tomorrow afternoon. Enjoy your free time."

The jury appeared far too happy to leave early and they chattered excitedly as they gathered up their puzzle books and knitting bags. Perhaps it was only that the end was in sight that made them giddy. Harry could understand that. He, too, wanted this ordeal to be done.

Mounting the steps that led to the defendant's chair, he rested his hands on the armrests and leaned close. "I wish I could stay and have dinner with you," he murmured, heedless of Adrian's presence nearby. "But I have a bit of research I need to do."

A small smile threatened to appear on Snape's face. "You do realise that research typically involves such things as books and journals, do you not?"

Harry laughed. "Yeah, I've seen Hermione do it once or twice. I reckon I can find my way around the Ministry library well enough." He kissed Snape lightly and smiled into those dark eyes he adored as a flashbulb exploded nearby. "I want you so much," he whispered. "It's all I can think about."

Snape blinked in surprise, but his eyes softened. "Ever the foolish Gryffindor," he murmured. "Rushing in without a thought for the consequences. Go take care of your research, Potter. I will be here when you return."

Chuckling, Harry bestowed another light kiss. "Always the git. Just keep your fingers crossed that I find what I'm looking for—or don't find what I'm looking for, as the case may be." He glanced over his shoulder to find Kingsley and Gauntlett whispering to each other and pointing in their direction.

"I'll handle it," Harry heard Kingsley say, just as the Minister started over in their direction.

"I reckon Kingsley going to yell at me for a bit." Harry straightened and hopped lightly off the platform where the chair was set before reaching up and patting Snape's knee. "I'll see you in the morning." Eyes filled with promise, he held Snape's gaze for a moment before following Kingsley up to his office.

"I have some work to do, Minister," said Harry the moment the door closed. "Will this take long?"

Hands on hips, Kingsley studied Harry for a moment. "I never expected to have to say this to you, Harry, but Aurors are not allowed to fraternise with prisoners. It's an abuse of power and I won't have it." Stepping over to the sideboard, he mixed a drink for himself and offered one to Harry.

"But what if it's mutual?" asked Harry, declining the drink and invitation to sit.

"Is it?"

"Given that he kissed me, I'd say yes." Frustrated, Harry ran his fingers through his hair. "Look, I never expected this to happen, all right? Me and Snape? Who would have seen this coming?"

The portrait of the Duke of Buckingham laughed. "Anyone with eyes, m'dear. You are a delightful morsel and I envy the man who scoops you up."

"Better that than a portrait that can only watch," remarked Harry with a roll of his eyes. "The last thing I want to do is hurt him, but right now, I want to see where this goes. I've earned the right to choose for myself, don't you think? And if I get my way, then Snape won't be a prisoner for more than a day or so."

Kingsley took a sip of his gin and tonic and regarded Harry steadily. "Do you still think you have a ghost of a chance at winning this thing? May I remind you that the Wizengamot hasn't been too kind to Death Eaters?"

"Which is why Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are still free, right?"

"Under some rather onerous conditions. If they break any one of them, they'll find themselves in Azkaban so fast their heads will spin." Kingsley set down his drink and came to his feet. "I don't want to see you hurt. Nor do I want to see you accused of misconduct. If this infatuation with Snape goes pear-shaped, it's likely he'd bring you up on charges. And from what I've seen, I'd have to say he could make a very strong case."

Harry's brow furrowed. "Snape's vindictive, I'll give you that, but he's not cruel. Okay, maybe he's a little cruel, but I can't believe he'd ruin my career over this." He stepped over to the door and rested his hand lightly on the handle. "I trust him, Kingsley. Completely." Opening the door, he stepped through and closed it quietly behind him.

Chapter Text

Six hours later found Harry deep inside the Ministry library. There were stacks of books piled so high around him that the top of his head was barely visible. Despite the name of the book, Nigel Gold-Bikin's Gargoyles: Chipping Away at the Truth had been no help whatsoever. Tips and Tricks for Interrogating Ghosts was opened to "Examination of Spectral Beings and Manifestations", which Harry discovered by reading a footnote in Smoke and Mirrors: Discerning the Truth Through Reflections. All his research led back to where he started, and Harry was beginning to think that he'd found the loophole he'd been searching for.

The librarian, an elderly man who looked like a warm breeze would knock him over, shuffled over to Harry's table to let him know the Ministry library would be closing in twenty minutes and did he need the charm to return all these books to their proper places? Harry shook his head. If there was one thing he'd learnt from Hermione, it was how to put his research materials away at the end of a session. Writing quickly, he jotted down the name of the last case he needed to read and, with a flick of his wand, sent thick tomes whizzing through the air to come to rest on their proper shelves.

Once back in his tiny dormitory, Harry organised his notes and transferred the important bits to a single sheet of parchment. Setting an alarm for six o'clock, he crawled wearily into bed and fell immediately into a dreamless sleep.

His wand began chirping much too early the next morning and Harry was still more asleep than not when he made his way up to Hogwarts. After collecting Snape's robes (raspberry this time), he pulled the Sorting Hat off the top shelf and started to fold it. "Your magic works outside of Hogwarts, right? It's not tied to the castle, is it?"

The Sorting Hat wiggled and stretched in Harry's hand. "You've nothing to fear, Harry Potter. Godric wore me every time he stepped outside. Many a time have I been to the Hollow and even as far away as Caer Lundem once where we camped by a mighty river."

"You mean London?" asked Harry. "That's where we're going. Hold on now and please, don't breathe a word until I take you out again."

"Upon my honour as a hat." Harry had no idea if hats had honour, but this seemed like a singularly bad time to debate that issue. He folded the Hat carefully and tucked it away under Snape's robes for the day.

Feeling the strain in every line of his body, Harry rolled his shoulders before tossing a handful of powder into the Floo. He gazed at Dumbledore's portrait. "Wish me luck, sir. If I don't win..." His voice caught and he thought he would strangle on his desperation. "Level Nine, Ministry of Magic," he eked out in a tight voice, unwilling to hear Dumbledore's sage advice about the state of his heart.

Spinning dizzily, Harry whirled past hundreds upon hundreds of fireplaces until he was spat out into the processing area towards the rear of the building. Of all the Floos in the Ministry, Harry liked this one the least. It was short and tucked into a corner, which meant he inevitably banged an elbow or knee against the angled wall of the firebox. Today, he managed to skin both and nearly take the top of his head off when he stood too soon. He probed at his scalp and was surprised to discover it wasn't bleeding.

The holding cell was empty when Harry stepped inside, so he conjured a rack and hung Snape's robes on them, laying the undergarments and slippers aside. A tap of his wand had breakfast arranged: a pot of strong coffee, thick slices of ham, grilled tomatoes, a basket of breads, a covered bowl with poached eggs still simmering.

It was nearly a quarter hour before Snape arrived and by that time, Harry was nearly frantic. "Where have you been?" he demanded the moment Gauntlett escorted him inside.

Snape stared at Harry as though he'd lost his mind. "It's not quite eight o'clock yet. If anything, I'm early."

"I'll be back in about an hour," announced Gauntlett. Harry fingered the enormous bump on his head and wondered if that was why the world had suddenly gone mad. "Behave yourself, Harry. I'd rather not have to make a report." His fingers fell away from his scalp and he nodded dumbly, his eyes wide.

"What did Kingsley wish to speak with you about?" asked Snape as he poured two cups of coffee and prepared Harry's to his liking. He gestured towards the table and began to serve up food once Harry was seated.

"He reminded me that Aurors are not allowed to fraternise with prisoners," said Harry as Snape took his first sip of coffee. "And that you'd be well within your rights to file a formal complaint about my conduct." A look of horror appeared on Snape's face and he set his coffee cup down with deliberation and laid his hands in his lap. "I told Kingsley that it would never happen."

That mask of utter indifference was back on Snape's face, the one Harry truly loathed. "Why would you tell him that?" asked Snape in a strangely thick voice, and in that moment Harry wished with all his heart that he were enough of a Legilimens to break through Snape's mental shields and see what lay behind them.

"Because," said Harry evenly. "I trust you. Because I'm certain you've figured out that I'm not toying with you and that I don't want to see you hurt. Because I care about—" Harry stopped suddenly and waited until Snape looked up. "That's not quite the truth though, is it? Our Patronuses taught us that much. The fact is I love you. I've no idea how or even why that happened, but I don't see the point in denying it.

"And to be honest, I think Kingsley's warning was to protect you from me rather than the other way around. He knows you well enough to know that you have a tender heart, Sev, even if you do everything in your power to hide it."

"Foolish, impetuous Gryffindor," hissed Snape as he sliced savagely into his ham. "Haven't you realised yet that with a few well-chosen words I could destroy you? Have you no idea how vulnerable you've made yourself?"

There was a note of challenge in Harry's voice, a confident gleam in his brilliant green eyes. "Yeah, I reckon I do, but like I said, I trust you." He arched a brow slightly before turning his attention to his breakfast. Your move, Sev.

Snape said nothing, though he continually gazed at Harry through lowered lashes as if testing the mettle of Harry's words. "Aren't you the least bit curious about how I might feel, Potter?" he asked as he sopped up the last of his egg yolk with a slice of buttered toast.

Harry splashed a bit more coffee into his cup. "Well, I figure you must have some affection for me since you've snogged me more than a few times and your Patronus definitely wants to shag mine." He took a sip from his cup, leaned back and rested his ankle on his knee. "As for how you feel, I reckon you'll have to work that out for yourself. I only know how I feel about you."

"I won't be mocked, Potter," growled Snape.

"I'm not mocking you. And my name is Harry. You might want to think about using it from time to time."

"Very well, Harry," sneered Snape. He tossed his serviette onto the table as Harry sighed.

"I was hoping for something a little more memorable for your first time, but I suppose that will have to do." He watched as Snape pushed away from the table and showed Harry his back as he began to disrobe. Harry didn't mind. It was an opportunity to stare greedily at all that pale skin without being made fun of for it.

There shouldn't have been anything appealing at all about the sight. Snape was bony, all spindly arms and legs with the muscle tone of a flobberworm. His nose was too big and his teeth were yellow and crooked. But his eyes smouldered and his hands were graceful and elegant. And those insanely pale rose nipples drove Harry to distraction. It was hard to look at that scrawny arse and not be incredibly aroused anyway.

"Do you truly think I don't know you're staring?" said Snape as he stepped into long pants that clung to him like a second skin. He turned to face Harry, displaying a bare chest and a hard prick outlined by dark raspberry hose. Harry's mouth went dry.

"And if I stripped down to my skin, are you saying you wouldn't look?" he said in a rough voice. "I want to taste every inch of you and I still wonder what it must feel like to feel your skin against mine. I dream about it, Sev, and I wake up wanting you next to me so much that I could scream."

Snape pulled on a pale rose sheer under-robe and tugged it into place before shrugging into the heavier outer robes and doing up the buttons. "I dare not look beyond each day," he said as he fastened the buttons on the cuffs of his sleeves. "I do not wish to disappoint you. Nor do I wish to see you tie yourself to someone who has nothing to offer."

Harry came to his feet and walked around the table. Reaching out, he straightened Snape's collar and ran his palms down Snape's arms. "You've plenty to offer." His eyes fluttered closed as Snape brushed a fleeting kiss over his lips. It did nothing to slake his thirst for more. "But one day at a time." The door opened and Harry stepped away.

Gauntlett walked in carrying Harry's red Auror cloak over her arm. Snape stepped forward before Harry could move and claimed the cloak. Standing behind him, Snape laid it tenderly over Harry's shoulders and kissed his cheek after fastening it. "You will notice," he declared in the voice that never failed to get his class' attention, "that Mr Potter did not touch me at all. However, should he feel he has been assaulted in some way, he is free to file the appropriate paperwork with Minister Shacklebolt."

"It wasn't my idea to—"

"Don't lie to me, Bailiff Gauntlett. I've no doubt Shacklebolt would have turned a blind eye but you felt the need to interfere where it wasn't warranted. Harry is of age. He alone will decide the course of his future." He held out his arms. "I'm ready to be moved to the courtroom."

Harry laid his hand lightly on Snape's arm. "She's just doing her job, Sev," he said softly. "It won't do either of us any good to antagonise her. I'll speak with Kingsley again if I need to, but let's just get through today." He gathered up his satchel and walked with the two of them into the courtroom.

~*~

Poppy Pomfrey was wearing her familiar white apron and cap when she entered the courtroom and Harry hoped he hadn't pulled her away from anyone needing her attention. "Are the students from yesterday all right?" he asked once she'd introduced herself and gone through her vita for the jury's benefit.

She smiled. "Yes, Mr Potter. No lasting damage," she replied in her high warbling voice. "I understand you have some questions for me?"

Harry nodded. "I do, yes. Do you recall when you first met Severus Snape?"

Pomfrey reached into her pocket and set a tiny square on the lectern in front of her, which she enlarged into a thick file. "This is Professor Snape's entire medical history from age eleven until he was taken to Azkaban by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

Harry opened his book and flipped through the pages. He dimly recalled having seen something like that once before, but he didn't appear to have copies within the materials Kingsley had provided for him. "Do I have that somewhere?" he asked. "Was it in one of the boxes of stuff?"

Kingsley rifled through the reams of material shoved under the bench near his feet, but could only locate the most recent entries. "Embry, make two copies of that file, will you?"

It took a few minutes for the Gemino charm to work its way through all that parchment, but in the end both Kingsley and Harry had duplicates of Snape's records. The material was organised with the most recent entries at the top, so Harry turned all the way to the bottom page and cringed at what was written there.

"Should I start?" asked Pomfrey.

"Would you please read your first entry to the jury?" Harry's eyes cut over to Snape. "I'm sorry, Sev. You're not going to like this much."

Snape glared down at him. "The way I've enjoyed having the rest of my past dissected in front of me? Hmph." He propped his chin in his hand and looked away.

"Very well." Pomfrey cleared her throat, glanced guiltily towards Snape, and started to read. "Snape, Severus Tobias. Date of birth, the ninth of January, 1960. Height, five feet. Weight, 77 pounds. Request for examination by Prof. Prunella Rathbun after observation during Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons. Investigate for possible signs of neglect.

"Professor's Recommendation: hygiene instruction for all first-year Slytherin and Hufflepuff boys commencing on Saturday, the 11th of September. All boys will report to the hospital wing Saturday mornings through the first term of instruction for follow-up review of progress. Notification sent to Albus Dumbledore.

"Examination: Mr Snape appears to have little to no understanding of personal hygiene. There is visible dirt around his fingernails, behind his ears, crusted around his neck. His hair is matted and there is a strong possibility of a Muggle infestation of lice. His body odour is profoundly noticeable. Rathbun reports that Mr Snape flinches at loud, sudden noises and avoids eye contact at all cost. Movement at or near his face will cause Mr Snape to duck, though he makes prodigious effort to disguise the movement. Observation of Mr Snape with his peers supports this conclusion.

"All first year boys will report to the hospital wing every weekend through the end of the first term for assessment of progress. Nutritional potion will be administered to Mr Snape daily. Rx: one half teaspoon added to morning pumpkin juice.

"Examination conducted by Poppy Pomfrey, 11th of September, 1971." She closed the report and met Harry's gaze. "I checked on him weekly, but I'm sorry to say that Severus showed no signs of understanding that the lessons pertained to him. I was forced to summon him to the hospital wing and bathe him myself. He was given clean robes and undergarments and his head treated for lice. Albus provided him with three complete sets of secondhand robes we had tucked away. Sinistra made certain he had scarves and gloves, and everything else was provided by the Board."

"You...you gave Snape a bath?" If Harry was mortified—and he was—then Snape must be hoping the floor would swallow him whole.

"Mr Potter," said Pomfrey archly, "I am a mediwitch and the health of the students at Hogwarts is my responsibility. Bathing is known to have a salutary effect, not to mention it is a necessary component of preventing the spread of disease. If it comes to taking matters into my own hands, then I am certainly capable of placing a first year student under a full body-bind and scrubbing him from head to toe. I am sorry to report that, in Severus' case, it was critical."

It was a morbid sense of curiosity that prompted Harry to ask his next question. "Was that the only time you had to bathe him?"

"Heavens, no. Severus was a regular visitor to the hospital wing whilst he was a student and nearly every trip resulted in a bath, though by the end of his first year he had finally learnt that his own opinion on the matter had very little to do with the outcome. By then, he accepted that he would be clean when he left and saw to his own needs once he'd been cleared to bathe alone."

Snape might as well have been carved from rock for all the emotion he showed, but Harry recognised it as his way of coping with the abject humiliation of having his shortcomings revealed. "How often was Snape admitted to the hospital wing whilst he was a student at Hogwarts?"

Pomfrey flipped through the thick file and shook her head. "Admitted? Probably not more than six or seven times all told, but he was seen for all sorts of curse damage. He...there was a particular group of students, you see, and the four of them did not get along well. I treated him for boils, burns, lacerations, a few broken bones, removed a set of donkey's ears, a tail, changed his hair back to black, repaired a broken tooth, that sort of thing. Really, it was nothing more than the usual spells and hexes that students exchange in corridors despite having about a hundred rules telling them not to do so."

"Did Sirius Black have anything to do with any of those injuries? Or James Potter?"

Pomfrey smiled a bit and shook her head. "Mr Potter, one thing I've learnt over the years is that students will seldom tell the truth about how they were hurt. The only time I know for certain that James and Sirius were involved was when your father brought Severus in after nearly being attacked by a werewolf and even then I didn't get the full story." She opened the file to the entry she wanted. "He was given Calming Draught and Dreamless Sleep and spent the night under observation. Albus sat with him, if I remember correctly. But for your father's quick thinking, Severus might have been killed."

Not that Snape had ever been appreciative of that fact. "Did you ever learn the identity of the werewolf involved?"

Pomfrey nodded, a quick bird-like move of her head. "It was Remus Lupin, who was a close friend of both James and Sirius."

"But not a friend of Snape's, correct?"

"My goodness, no." Pomfrey placed a fluttering hand against her bosom. "No, Severus and Remus never got along particularly well, not even when Remus took the Defence Against the Dark Arts post."

"But didn't Professor Lupin take the Wolfsbane potion whilst he was teaching at Hogwarts so he wouldn't be a danger to everyone?"

"Oh yes," said Pomfrey. "Severus insisted and Remus was happy to oblige him. It makes the transformation so much easier, you know."

"Where did he get the Wolfsbane? Is that something you stock in the infirmary?"

Pomfrey shook her head. "No, it needs to be taken within a short time of being brewed. Severus saw to it that Remus had a fresh supply of Wolfsbane. He brewed it special every month. It's quite a complex potion to make, but Severus made it anyway. He wouldn't hear of Remus taking something of unknown quality, and from what Remus said, the potion Severus brewed was of better quality than anything he'd ever had."

"In other words, Snape spent hours upon hours working on a complex potion for someone he detested. And not just once, but for the entire time Professor Lupin was on staff."

"Severus has a…rather healthy fear of werewolves, Mr Potter. It's rather surprising it never manifested as a full-blown phobia."

Harry thought it would take a lot more than seeing a werewolf at the far end of a tunnel to give Snape lasting nightmares. They'd come much closer than that at the end of Harry's third year and the experience hadn't really made a lasting impression. Dementors, on the other hand... He suspected they'd always be unnerving. "Did you treat Snape whilst he was on staff at Hogwarts?"

"A number of times," replied Pomfrey. "Let's see...there was an exploding cauldron back in '85, a spilt potion in '88—that one was caustic, an animal bite back in '92, a head injury in '94, a rather nasty burn from a dragon. Oh, that was also in '94. Some mild curse damage in '95. Migraines in early '96, and Cruciatus curse exposure in the summer of '97."

Harry didn't need to look behind him to see the arch expression on Snape's face. He was fairly certain he knew the origins of most of those injuries, especially since he was the cause of at least two of them. Fortunately, he could honestly state that he had nothing to do with the injuries Snape sustained during the 1980s. He was in primary school then and hadn't even known there was a world of magic waiting for him.

"Was he hexed or cursed whilst he was headmaster?"

Pomfrey's eyes widened. "Are you asking if someone attacked the headmaster?"

"Snape attacked Flitwick, sort of," said Harry. "I even attacked a teacher." He stopped and counted. "More like three or four of them. One of them...well, let's just say that Snape and I crossed wands a few times." A strange little titter ran around the courtroom and Harry's cheeks grew hot.

"I didn't treat Severus for anything like that, but he is a Potions Master. It wouldn't be unheard of for him to treat himself. Merlin knows the man keeps a well-stocked potions cabinet, so if he needed a phial of Pepperup, he'd take some he'd made himself." Pomfrey glanced at Snape and her eyes softened. "In another life, Severus might have made a very fine Healer."

"He healed Draco Malfoy. Were you aware of that?"

"I heard about that spell, Mr Potter." There was a mild rebuke in Pomfrey's tone. "You're very lucky that Severus was nearby. Draco Malfoy very nearly died." And because of the Unbreakable Vow, Harry realised belatedly, Snape would have died with him. The knowledge felt like a punch to the gut and Harry needed a moment to collect himself.

"That counterspell," continued Pomfrey, "the Vulnera Sanentur, he devised that charm himself. I've used it many a time, especially on students who've come out on the wrong end of an encounter with one of Hagrid's beasties. It's a well-crafted piece of magic, especially for deep tissue damage."

"Dumbledore went to him as well, when his hand was cursed. Did you also have a chance to examine it?"

Pomfrey's face fell. "I did, yes. It was powerful Dark magic of a type I've never seen before." Her eyes were glistening when she spoke. "It is quite rare for me to have to treat curses caused by Dark magic, or it was until Severus was put in charge of the school." Her lips tightened into a thin line. "Those Carrows sent most of the school to the hospital wing time and time again. It was so bad that I very nearly requested an aide from St Mungo's, but I was afraid my request would be denied, so I did the best I could. At least Severus and Horace kept me well supplied with potions."

After seeing Neville's battered face the evening of the final battle, Harry could safely assume that Poppy Pomfrey likely had the worst year of her entire life whilst he was off hunting for Horcruxes. "Were you able to give Dumbledore a prognosis when you examined him?"

"I could do nothing," said Pomfrey in a hushed voice. "I sent him to Severus. I thought that, since Severus had taken the Dark Arts post, he might be able to heal Albus' hand, but there was nothing he could do, either. Severus told me later that the curse would be fatal and urged me not to take it to heart. Albus had behaved foolishly, he said, setting aside the degree of caution necessary when handling cursed objects. Albus knew better, but was so excited by his find that he acted impetuously."

"I expect the phrase 'foolish Gryffindor' was uttered at least once," said Harry, earning a tremulous smile from her for his efforts. "As I was looking through Snape's file, I noticed that your notes are very detailed. Do your records contain anything having to do with blood status?"

Pomfrey's eyes widened and her already pale complexion whitened a few shades. Her eyes scanned the gallery as if she was searching for danger and she sat very still. "I would rather not say," she whispered. Even now, her trust in the Ministry was finite.

"Very well. Do you know personally whether Snape is a pure-blood?"

Again, her eyes looked over the crowd. She noted the reporters in the front row and shook her head a little bit.

"Poppy," said Kingsley in a kind voice. "We already know the answer to that. Would it help if I told you that he is a half-blood?"

Pomfrey sighed. "Very well, Minister. Yes, blood status is in the health records of everyone I treat. In some cases, it makes a difference. There are diseases particular to those of wizard lines and some that only appear in those with Muggle heritage. As you can imagine, the Carrows were very interested in knowing what information I held in those records, but Filius and Severus helped safeguard that information with some rather intricate spells."

"Professor Flitwick needed help setting up some protective enchantments?" asked Harry. This was the first he was hearing about this and it added a bit more to his understanding of how things went during that last year.

Twisting her hands a bit, Pomfrey nodded. "There were some spells that Severus added because he said that the Carrows were fairly skilled at dismantling straightforward pure magic. He was able to tie the spells to the Dark Mark so that anyone bearing it wouldn't be able to read some of the entries. It would appear like medical jargon to them—and to him. That way, he could honestly state that he had no way of identifying Muggle-born students at Hogwarts. It was the best he could do to protect them."

"That seems like the perfect place to end. Thank you for taking the time to help me yet again, Madam Pomfrey."

"It's much easier to do when you're not confined to a bed. Please take good care of yourself, especially now that you're no longer my patient." Pomfrey stepped down and smiled at him, but it carried with it a tinge of worry. Harry suspected it was because he seldom managed to go a year without a visit to the hospital wing and she'd rather not hear he'd been injured again.

Chapter Text

Taking a moment between witnesses, Harry steeled himself for his first encounter with Draco Malfoy since the day he defeated Voldemort. He watched the tunnel entrance like a hawk as he waited for Draco to emerge, pacing around his small table to burn off his nervous energy, but when Draco did arrive, he wasn't what Harry expected. Gone were the fashionable robes and affected arrogance. This Draco had nothing left to be proud of and it showed.

As he made his way to the witness box, Harry noticed that Draco was wearing an old set of school robes with the indicia of his House removed. His tie was charcoal grey and his boots were scuffed and rundown at the heel. The cuffs of his shirt were frayed and his waistcoat was missing a button. Harry couldn't remember a single moment where Draco appeared so unkempt. Even Snape seemed nonplussed by Draco's appearance.

Faced with this new, unforeseen version of Draco, Harry quite literally didn't know where to start. He went with an obvious, if relatively stupid, question. "When did you first meet Severus Snape?"

"Not even a hello first?" said Draco, a bit bewildered. "Very well. I've always known Snape, as least as far back as I can remember. He was an...associate of my father. He wasn't a frequent visitor to the Manor, but I knew who he was when I started school."

"He was your Head of House, correct?"

"And my Potions professor."

"Was he a good teacher?"

"Slytherin House thought so," said Draco. "I'll admit he might have favoured us a bit, but that's because no one else gave a bowtruckle's backside about us." He turned his pale silver eyes on Snape. "I wish you were back, sir. Maybe if you'd still been there, we wouldn't have been used as sport by the other three Houses."

Hot words flew to Harry's lips, but he bit them back. As far as he was concerned, Slytherin House deserved whatever the other three could dish out to them. "But did you personally think he was a good teacher?"

Draco eyed him coolly. "He was my favourite teacher until sixth year. Slughorn isn't a tenth the Potions instructor Snape is. If Snape hadn't moved to the Dark Arts position, I might have learnt to brew the advanced potions properly and had a better time of it on my NEWT. But I guess we'll never know if he'd have made a difference."

"Was the reason he wasn't your favourite any longer have to do with the subject he was teaching?"

Draco opened his mouth to answer, but snapped it shut and eyed Harry appraisingly. Experience had taught him that Harry was relentless, that if he didn't get the answer he wanted to hear, he'd keep asking questions until he did. And Draco would have to answer all of them. He sighed. "No. Snape was a stellar Defence teacher. My problem with Snape had nothing to do with Hogwarts. It was...personal."

"We'll come back to that," said Harry, his voice firm. "In sixth year, we, umm...wait. Let me start over. Do you recall our first duel?"

Draco ran his hand over his hair and Harry noticed that he was wearing it long, as his father had done back when he fancied himself important. "You mean that tragic excuse for a Duelling Club?"

Harry grinned, though the event in question had been far from amusing. "That would be the time, yeah."

Some of Draco's inherent smugness returned. "Snape told me to cast Serpensortia at you. We reckoned you'd be afraid of snakes—most people are—but, no. You went and spoke to it. Snape ended up Vanishing it when it was about to attack someone."

"It wasn't going to attack anybody," sighed Harry. "I'd already asked it not to. Do you recall the demonstration Lockhart arranged?"

Draco snorted. "The one where Snape blasted him off the podium with a simple Expelliarmus charm?"

"Had we been taught that spell yet?"

Draco's brow furrowed. "Not officially," he said slowly. "Of course, I've no idea what spells I knew before I came to school and which ones I learnt there. You'd have to be brought up in a magical home to understand that distinction."

Harry ignored the gibe. "But Snape's spell sent Lockhart flying. In your estimation, is Snape a powerful wizard?"

Draco stared at him. "Snape? If you don't think Snape is a powerful wizard, Potter, I'm not certain you know what one is."

"I'm not asking you if you think I think Snape is powerful." Harry stopped and ran through that question. "You think I think..." he repeated. "Yeah. Okay, then. That's right." He locked eyes with Draco. "Is Snape powerful?"

"Yes, Potter, he is," said Draco clearly, as if Harry were particularly thick.

"And then there was our second duel—"

"The one off the pitch?" interrupted Draco.

"In the sixth floor toilet," Harry clarified. "When I nearly killed you."

"And Snape saved my life and your arse," finished Draco. "It was a near thing, from what he tells me. It's fortunate he was nearby and could stop the bleeding or I'd have died in a puddle of water in the boy's toilet. Not quite the end I envisioned for myself.

"He invented those spells. I found that out the night we left Hogwarts. He warned me never to invent a spell without inventing the counterspell for it, since you can never trust that your own work won't be used against you. He pretty much promised me he'd use them against me himself if I did anything so stupid."

"That sounds like Snape," said Harry. He made a notation on his card before looking up at Draco. "Are you familiar with Occlumency?"

Draco drew back a little, as though sensing some sort of trap but unable to find the edges of it. "Yes, my Aunt Bellatrix taught it to me. But—"

"And you are familiar with Legilimency?" interrupted Harry.

"Yes."

"Would you know if Snape was proficient at either of them?"

"He is accomplished at both of them. What's your point?" demanded Draco suspiciously.

"To find out whether Snape is good at Legilimency and at Occlumency," replied Harry honestly. "That's all."

"But why do you want to know that?" asked Draco, clearly confused by this line of questioning.

"So that I can explain to them," Harry gestured to the Wizengamot, "how Snape managed to fool Voldemort for three solid years without anyone suspecting he was Dumbledore's man."

"Aunt Bellatrix didn't buy it," declared Draco. "She never trusted him. The Dark Lord did. Gave him Hogwarts as a reward whilst my father was in disgrace. That's why I no longer respected Snape as much as I once did. That, and I thought he was trying to steal my glory." A look of disgust appeared on Draco's face and he shook his head. "What a fucking idiot I was to think there'd be any reward for murdering the headmaster."

"I'm glad you brought that up," said Harry. "I'd like you to talk us through that day, from repairing the Vanishing Cabinet to the moment you and Snape Apparated away from Hogwarts."

Wetting his lips, Draco cast a wary gaze over the members of the jury, a few of whom had sat on his trial. "I wish I could say that was the worst day of my life, but there were so many others that were more horrifying than that. Professor Burbage..." The blood drained from Draco's face and he swayed enough that Harry leapt onto the stand and grasped Draco's arm in case he fainted.

"I can't get that out of my head," he whispered. "It was...And to know that Snape..." Draco closed his eyes for a moment and Harry saw his forehead was beaded with sweat. Snape, too, was whey faced and the hand that rested at the base of his throat was visibly shaking. There was nothing Harry wanted more than to see to Snape's welfare, but Gauntlett was already on her way over to him with some cold water, which left Harry to take care of Draco. "Are you all right?" he murmured.

"Just a moment." Draco drew several deep, centring breaths before permitting his eyes to open. He wiped sweaty palms on his robes and turned his attention to the jury. "What you have to understand is that I'd spent the entire school year trying to repair that Vanishing Cabinet and I was becoming desperate.

"I'd been given a mission by the Dark Lord himself. I had to kill Dumbledore or he'd kill me and my family. With Dumbledore gone, he could get his men into the castle where Harry Potter would be left vulnerable, and with Potter out of the way, the Dark Lord could rule Britain.

"I needed someone on the outside, though. Someone who could keep track of Dumbledore's movements, so I placed Rosmerta under the Imperius Curse. She helped me smuggle in a cursed necklace, but Katie Bell touched it instead. After that, she poisoned some mead and sent that to Dumbledore as a gift, but it ended up with Slughorn somehow and Ron Weasley drank it.

"Potter found me in the sixth floor boys' toilet after another failure with the Vanishing Cabinet. Yeah, all right, I was crying. I was bloody terrified my mum would be killed. My father was in Azkaban, which was bad enough, but my mum... She was at the Manor with the Dark Lord and his Inner Circle and they're not the most patient of people.

"It was humiliating, being caught out by Potter, and I tried to hex him. That's when we had our second duel. We traded curses; I tried to use an Unforgivable, but he slipped and I missed and the next thing I knew, I'd been sliced to ribbons. Water was pouring out everywhere. Myrtle was screaming about murder—"

"Myrtle's a ghost," supplied Harry for the jury's benefit.

"And Snape charged in. He knew right away what had happened and healed me enough to get me to the hospital wing. And somehow it managed not to scar. I tell you all that so that you'll understand my terror.

"When I fixed the Cabinet, I cheered—and was nearly discovered. I've no idea why Tre—Professor Trelawney was in the Room of Requirement, but I heard her calling out. I had some Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder—I bought it at the Weasleys' shop—and tossed her out of the room so she wouldn't know what I'd been doing. I sent a message through it to Borgin and Burke's letting them know it was repaired.

"I truly had no idea I'd be hearing from Madam Rosmerta that same night, but she let me know that Dumbledore had left the castle. It seemed like the best time to bring in the Dark Lord's followers, so I signalled them to come." Draco's mouth twisted into a moue of distaste. "He sent the Carrows, Fenrir Greyback, Gibbons, and a few other Death Eaters that I didn't recognise through the Cabinet.

"We were supposed to wait at the top of the Astronomy Tower for Dumbledore to return, kill him, find Potter and bring him back to the Dark Lord, but it all fell apart. I should have known that Dumbledore would never leave the school unprotected. There were Phoenix members crawling all over the school and the next thing I knew, we were fighting our way to the Tower.

"Then Potter's little club got involved and I didn't think I'd make it up there in time." By this time, Draco's eyes were like round silver coins and his face was stark white. "I used the rest of the Darkness Powder to get them out of the Room of Requirement and used the Hand of Glory to see through it, but we had to fight our way to the top. I stepped over a body—I thought it was a body—and when I made it to the Astronomy Tower I saw Dumbledore leaning against the wall and two brooms nearby.

"I disarmed him, Expelliarmus, and he-he promised he could protect me and my mother. He even offered sanctuary to my father. He asked me questions about how I'd managed to get Death Eaters into his school and who I had helping me. He-he told me that I'm not a killer, but I threatened him anyway.

"It was horrible. I-I had no idea...he-he was right. Killing is much harder than it looks. I—he didn't even have a wand, but he was still stronger than I was. I felt like such a coward up there, and then Alecto and Amycus showed up, and Fenrir. They were taunting me and telling me to do it and I-I just couldn't."

"How did he look?" asked Harry.

"How did...? Dumbledore?" Draco closed his eyes for a moment, thinking. "He was weak," he replied, opening clouded eyes. "All pale and sweaty. He told Alecto it was age, but it couldn't have been. I'd seen him that morning and he looked the same as he'd always done. He kept sliding down the wall 'til I thought he was going to fall over, but he wasn't addled or anything like that. Polite, might have been taking tea for all he seemed to notice that he was being threatened with murder.

"Then there was more fighting on the stairs and Snape came through the door. By that time, Dumbledore couldn't barely stand. He-he..." Draco swallowed heavily. "Everything changed the moment Snape arrived. Amycus told Snape I couldn't do it, and then Dumbledore said his name. Dumbledore—he sounded so sad, so desperate. He almost seemed sorry about something. Then Snape shoved me out of the way and Dumbledore said, 'Severus, please,' and Snape pointed his wand and said the words."

Silence filled the courtroom. "Dumbledore fell off the Tower and I just stood there like a berk. Then Snape grabbed me by the neck and shoved me down the stairs. The next thing I know, Potter's chasing us like he's lost his mind. There are curses flying everywhere and we're running like mad for the front gates. Then Potter starts throwing curses at Snape, and Snape was deflecting them. I remember he said something about a half-blood prince, but I've no idea what that was about.

"Then that horrible hippogriff started clawing at Snape and that stupid giant's dog was barking. There was fire and Potter still trying to curse Snape—he even tried to use an Unforgivable. I mean, it was Potter. He plays by the rules. I got through the gates just ahead of Snape and Apparated to some run-down old house. Snape got there about a minute later and we Apparated to my house. Snape reported what had happened, that Dumbledore was dead, then he disappeared. I've no idea where he went after that.

"The next time I saw Snape was...I think it was early July. When Burbage happened. He was at a meeting telling the Dark Lord when you were scheduled to be moved from your relatives. I've no idea who he might have been talking to. By then, there wasn't a single member of that Phoenix group who would speak to him. But his information was solid. The Dark Lord took my father's wand then and I knew then we'd never recover. We'd never be a part of his New World Order. The Malfoys were done for."

"Draco," said Harry softly. "I hate to ask, but it's necessary: can you please tell these folks about how Professor Burbage died? You've mentioned being there a couple of times now."

A green tinge rose on Draco's face and he stared at Harry in abject horror. "Have you any idea how vile that was to witness? When Snape and I were escaping after Dumbledore, I thought that was about the most bloody awful thing I'd ever seen. He fell for miles. And that was nothing compared to her. Nothing!

"Why don't you ask him instead?" demanded Draco, pointing directly at Snape. "He was there. He can tell in nauseating detail what happened to her."

"I know he can. But can't you see why it's better coming from you? Please, Draco. I'd rather not have to use Veritaserum and question you about it. It would be so much better to hear it in your own words."

Draco's eyes blazed with hatred, though whether it was directed at him or the situation Harry couldn't be certain. "I am sorry, but you were there."

"I was there," said Draco hoarsely. He scrubbed a shaking hand over his face before wrapping his arms tightly around himself as though he were on the verge of freezing to death. "It was at the meeting where Snape told the Dark Lord of the Ministry's plan to move you.

"She was bound in cords and suspended upside down near the ceiling over the banquet table in our drawing room, spinning and spinning like a top, though slowly. I couldn't look away, though I wanted to. The Dark Lord questioned Snape and Yaxley about the plan to move you, but she just hung there. Someone locked in the dungeon screamed and Wormtail left, and then he summoned that great bloody snake in Parseltongue.

"He wore it around his shoulders and petted it. You have to understand, the thing was enormous, bigger around than my leg, and it was hissing and flicking its tongue. I had no idea why it was there, but he was mocking Bellatrix and my mum because my cousin married that werewo—" he swallowed hastily and flinched from the anger in Harry's eyes. "Professor Lupin. Tonks married Professor Lupin. He was not pleased.

"Then he woke her up and she started screaming. She begged Snape to save her. He—the Dark Lord—told everyone who she was, Charity Burbage, the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts. I hadn't taken that course, so I didn't really know her, but I recognised her from school. He hated that she thought well of Mud—of Muggle-borns. He called them 'thieves of knowledge', though I still don't see how magic can be stolen.

"She kept saying 'Severus, please'. But when he was done telling us she wanted us to mate with Muggles and werewolves, he killed her." The greenish tinge left his cheeks and he sat there, grey-faced, as it all played out again in his mind. "I suppose I should be grateful for that, that he used the Killing Curse first. She crashed to the table, or at least her body did, and then he fed her to his snake whilst we sat there and watched."

"Did Severus try to save her?" Harry asked in the gentlest voice possible.

"Are you truly that thick, Potter?" snarled Draco angrily. "What do you suppose he could have accomplished besides getting them both killed? I would like to return to school now and try to put this behind me—again. I have my Astronomy NEWT tonight and I'd like to pass."

Harry nodded as his nerves began to take hold. The moment of truth had arrived and he was every bit as anxious as in the long, lonely moments before he faced the Hungarian Horntail. "Good luck with the exam," he said as Gauntlett assisted Draco off the stand.

~*~

"Are you ready to begin your summation?" asked Kingsley once Gauntlett had returned.

"I actually have one more witness to call. I didn't give the Wizengamot Administration the name since I only just found out about it yesterday, but I have it here." Harry ducked down and grabbed his satchel. Placing it on his table, he opened it and fished out the Sorting Hat. "Where should I place it?"

Pandemonium broke out as questions were shouted from the Wizengamot, from the press and from Kingsley as well. Harry was sorely tempted to cover his ears to block the din, but stood resolutely with the Sorting Hat dangling from his hand.

"Well, find somewhere to set me down, Mr Potter. This isn't a dignified position to be held in at all," said the Sorting Hat crossly. Moving over to the witness stand, Harry perched it on the edge with the ripped seam facing the jury.

"You can't use the Sorting Hat as a witness," thundered Kingsley from the bench once some sort of order had been restored.

"Why not?" asked Harry. "Just because no one has ever called it as a witness before doesn't mean it doesn't have something to say."

"How do you even know that thing is sentient?" demanded Kingsley.

"Ahh, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Sorted into Ravenclaw as I remember. You were terribly afraid of being seen as ignorant, of not being able to keep up with your school mates," said the Sorting Hat. "I know the Houses of everyone who is gathered here, Mr Shacklebolt, except..." The Sorting Hat paused. "There are seven minds I don't recognise."

Kingsley stood, his height impressive from where Harry stood. "Is there anybody in this courtroom who did not attend Hogwarts? If so, stand now so that I can see you." Slowly, several people came to their feet, including one member of the Wizengamot. "Where did you attend school?" asked Kingsley, surprised.

"In Canada," said the woman, who identified herself as Leah Jones. "At the Borealis Academy. I came to Britain after that messiness with Grindelwald was over. I attended the Broom Flying Academy for two years, and then signed with the Falmouth Falcons as Chaser. I played for ten years, and after I retired, I married Ian Jones and was elected to the Wizengamot some years later." She sat back down and picked up her knitting, working a row at blinding speed.

Kingsley gave a quick count, and sure enough, there were six others standing: three from Beauxbatons, one from Durmstrang, one from Uagadou School and one from Bruxaria in Brazil. "Just because it knows who it Sorted doesn't mean it can testify. I'm sorry, Harry, but I have to disqualify your witness."

"On what grounds?" demanded Harry.

"Because it's a hat!"

Harry stormed over to his table, pulled a sheet of parchment out of his satchel and began to read aloud. "In 1747, the Wizengamot heard testimony from an enchanted mirror in an attempted murder case. Chastity Bloxham put poison in her husband's hair tonic because she suspected him of having an affair with a chambermaid in the village. The mirror saw her do it and warned her husband. The mirror was brought in and Mrs Bloxham was convicted based on its testimony.

"Then in 1894, a clock was admitted into evidence in a blackmail case. The clock was like Mrs Weasley's. It didn't tell time; it told where a witch or wizard was. In this case, the hand with Rufus Fletcher's name on it kept pointing to 'Mortal Peril'. His wife called the Aurors when it wouldn't change and they discovered he was being threatened by a smuggler named Jeptha Marsh.

"And in 1922, a statue was questioned in a missing person's case, but since it was really heavy, the Wizengamot Administrative Services decided they could just have the clerk read the statue's testimony into the record. So, why can't the Sorting Hat testify? It's here. It can answer questions."

"But how do you know if it has any idea what's going on? It doesn't have a brain, Harry."

"Ho ho ho," laughed the Hat. "Not have a brain? I have 273 of them right now. But if you want proof..." The Hat bunched up at the base before springing out, the tip quivering. "Professor Snape has worn light blue, caramel, yellow, green, purple, and blue robes to this courtroom. No black robes. Mr Potter has arrived at Hogwarts between 7:04 and 7:36 every morning since last Wednesday to pick up fresh clothing for Professor Snape. Whilst there, he has spoken with Headmistress McGonagall and with Professor Dumbledore's portrait every morning. He once asked Dumbledore to tell McGonagall that he expected to die by tongue lashing. Need I go on, Minister?"

Eyes moving continuously from Harry to Snape to the Sorting Hat and then to the jury, Kingsley took a long time to make up his mind. It was almost impossible not to pace, to wait patiently as the minutes seemed to tick away. "I've decided to put the question to the jury: those in favour of hearing from the Sorting Hat, please raise your hands."

Harry held his breath and tried not to appear desperate. One, two, six, nine, thirteen... Seventeen members of the Wizengamot raised their hands and Harry nearly collapsed with relief. "Thank you," he breathed and turned quickly to start his interrogation before Kingsley could change his mind.

"Do you recall the night Dumbledore's hand was cursed?"

"I do indeed, Mr Potter. The headmaster appeared gravely ill."

"Who did he summon for help?"

"He called Severus Snape, who performed a highly complex set of spells to trap the curse in the headmaster's hand. I saw all this happen. Professor Dumbledore asked Professor Snape how much time he estimated he had left. Professor Snape guessed he had a year at best."

"What was Dumbledore's reaction to the news?"

"He was quite pleased about it. The headmaster informed Professor Snape that the young Malfoy boy, Draco, Slytherin, was involved in a plot to murder him. The professor thought that the plot was doomed to failure, which pleased the headmaster. He asked Professor Snape if Tom Riddle expected him to do the deed instead and Snape admitted he believed that to be the case." The Sorting Hat stretched and nodded towards Snape. "A thankless job to lay at a man's feet."

"What did they discuss next?" asked Harry.

"After that, the headmaster instructed Professor Snape to aid Draco in his mission, which Snape appeared none too keen to do. Dumbledore exacted a promise from Professor Snape to do all in his power to keep the children of Hogwarts safe should he be placed in charge of the school."

"Did Snape agree?"

"Oh yes. And I must admit, young Mr Potter, few could have done as well. It was a year fraught with danger, yet our Professor Snape kept his head and wits about him."

"Having heard their conversation, how do you think Professor Dumbledore expected to die?"

The Sorting Hat seemed to blink. It straightened and wiggled a bit in the middle. "Professor Dumbledore extracted a promise from Severus Snape that, at the proper moment, Snape would kill him. The headmaster did not want a long and protracted death. He wanted a quick death, one that would serve his ends."

"Did Snape agree to kill him?"

"Yes," replied the Hat. "Though he was quite unhappy about it."

"They spoke again, later that year, about the mission Dumbledore gave me. Do you recall any details of that conversation?" asked Harry.

The Sorting Hat quivered and rotated its brim like a periscope as it peered around the courtroom. "It was late at night. Professor Dumbledore paced through his office whilst Professor Snape sat quite still. The headmaster spoke of a time when old Tom Riddle would keep his snake at his side. When that happened, it would be safe to tell you that you needed to die and that Tom must be the one to carry out your death.

"I remember well the look on your face when you saw the memory, young Potter. I remember well the look on Professor Snape's face when he finally understood the words. He accused the headmaster of, and I quote, 'raising you like a pig for slaughter'. Professor Snape was furious. He had been protecting you, his beloved Lily's child, all these years, keeping you far from his heart, only to learn that you harboured within you a bit of soul that wasn't yours and needed to be destroyed.

"I wonder, Harry Potter, what I would see now if I looked in your head. You would have done well in Slytherin, and now I know why I believed that you—the most Gryffindor of students—should have been placed in the House of Salazar Slytherin. Should I have known? Should I have seen? Should I have recognised that twisted bit of humanity that did not belong to you? It is a question that would have plagued the great Godric Gryffindor himself. Where to place you? But it all worked out in the end. You found the courage you needed, did you not? As did our misunderstood headmaster, Severus Snape."

"When was the next time you saw Professor Snape after the headmaster died?"

Harry wasn't certain how a hat managed to look sly, but the Sorting Hat did. "You mean after Professor Snape murdered him?"

"After Professor Snape fulfilled Dumbledore's plan," said Harry stubbornly.

"The next time I saw him was between terms. I was working on my song for the upcoming term when he appeared in the headmaster's office. He went immediately to Dumbledore's portrait and they discussed the plan to move you from your aunt and uncle's. The portrait suggested the use of Polyjuice. Dumbledore also recommended Confunding Mundungus Fletcher. Hmm, he was particularly difficult to place. Had a lot of trouble Sorting him."

"So the Seven Harrys plan was Dumbledore's idea?"

"Hmm, yes. They chose Fletcher to serve as catspaw. A wise choice it was, too."

"Did any of the other portraits help Snape during his year as headmaster?"

"Why, yes. Phineas Nigellus brought in reports of your welfare and whereabouts as often as circumstances allowed. There was one night that Nigellus reported you were in the Forest of Dean. Dumbledore urged Professor Snape to take the Sword to you, but to do so in a manner that ensured he would not be seen."

Harry walked around a bit. "I want to be very clear about this," he said. "You are saying that when Snape informed Dumbledore that the headmaster had a year to live, Dumbledore proposed that Snape kill him at the proper moment?"

"That is what I heard, Harry Potter. Professor Snape believed at first that the headmaster had spoken in jest, but it became clear very soon afterwards that the headmaster was quite serious. As the year progressed, it became apparent that Professor Snape did not wish to complete the task Dumbledore had assigned him. He complained about it bitterly and on more than one occasion, if what Dumbledore said to Fawkes can be trusted."

"I did," said Snape. Harry watched the jury's faces as Snape explained. "I told him that he was asking too much of me. I did not have any understanding of the many plots and plans Albus was weaving. I only knew that he spent hours upon hours in his office with Potter. It was only after I tried to beg off that I was given the message I was asked to impart. To tell the boy that he must allow himself to be murdered by the Dark Lord."

The jury hung on every word. Sensing Snape's anguish, Harry stepped over to stand close to Snape, so close that he felt Snape's long fingers drift against his hair. "There is one other meeting I want you to tell them about," he said, trying to resist the urge to rub his head against Snape's hand like a cat. Noticing Kingsley was looking on with a frown, Harry stepped away. "You've already made mention of it once," said Harry. "Tell them about the night Snape learnt my mum and dad were dead."

The Sorting Hat shook. "Such sounds I've seldom heard. Only a creature in deep pain can cry out like that. Professor Snape could barely speak through the tears. The headmaster told him that Lily and James had trusted the wrong person but that the son, you, Harry Potter, had survived. The headmaster exacted a promise from the professor—that he would help the headmaster protect you. In return, Professor Snape also exacted a promise—that no one would ever find out that he pledged his life to your protection in memory of your mother."

"If Voldemort was dead—and everybody thought he was—why did I need to be protected?"

"The headmaster did not believe that Tom Riddle had perished," replied the Sorting Hat. "He was certain that Riddle would return, but whether it was in ten, twenty, fifty years, he could not say. That is why he enlisted the aid of Professor Snape."

"And that is why Dumbledore trusted Snape? Because he swore on my mother's death?"

"In exchange for the headmaster's silence," replied the Hat.

"I have one more question, if you don't mind," said Harry, thinking that the Hat sounded grim, as if it hadn't approved of Dumbledore's silence. "You refer to Albus Dumbledore as 'the headmaster' even though Professor McGonagall is in charge. Why?"

A sense of mystery shrouded the Sorting Hat. "Professor McGonagall is a caretaker of Hogwarts, as was Professor Snape before her. The headmaster of Hogwarts is still Albus Dumbledore until the proper one takes Professor McGonagall's place. She and Professor Snape carry out the headmaster's plans for the school. They have made no changes of their own. But one day, Mr Potter, one day, Hogwarts will have a proper headmaster and Professor Dumbledore will become yet another portrait on the wall."

Those were chilling words and struck Harry hard. He stared at the Hat for a long whilst as his blood froze in his veins. The Sorting Hat was right, of course. Someone else would come along, sooner than Harry would like, and remake Hogwarts into something new. Progress would happen, even in the magical world, and new generations of students would learn new ideas and principles. It was a disconcerting thought and Harry turned stricken eyes on Snape.

"As is the way of the world, Harry," murmured Snape. "We change, for better or worse."

Harry turned and faced the jury. "I'm done with my part now. I'm not certain what happens next."

"What happens next, Mr Potter, is lunch," announced Kingsley. "When we return, you will provide a summation. You will need to tell your jury the important bits and why they are important. Once that's done, they will vote to provide a verdict or vote to deliberate upon the matter." He stood up. "Everyone be back here at one-thirty."

Chapter Text

Part III: Verdict

 

"Have you any idea what you'll say to them?" asked Snape the moment the door to the holding cell closed behind them.

"None at all," replied Harry as he began to arrange for their lunch. "I didn't even know about the bit at the end until Kingsley told me. What's it called again?"

"The summation." Snape appeared uncharacteristically anxious, as though he had suddenly decided he cared very much about the outcome instead of being nothing more than a guest at his own funeral. He paced through the small room, his raspberry robes swirling gently around his legs, drawing Harry's eyes to the slight curve of his arse. "You should consider confining your remarks to address the charges. There is no benefit to revisiting my childhood. It addresses none of the issue the Wizengamot cares about."

"And what do they care about?" asked Harry. Food appeared—nothing particularly memorable—meats, cheeses, breads—but Harry still waited for Snape to wear himself out enough to eat. He poured out some pumpkin juice for them both and sipped at it as he watched Snape move from one corner of the tiny room to the other.

"If you've not figured that much out yet, Potter, there's no hope for me at all." Snape flung himself into his chair and slumped down in it, staring at the contents of the table as though deciding which of a dozen poisons might bring about his end most swiftly.

This was unacceptable. Harry banged his open hand on the table hard enough that the plates and platters jumped. "No, you don't get to do this," he snarled in Snape's face as he leaned across the table. "You don't get to play the victim."

Instinct had Snape reaching for a wand that wasn't there and he shoved away from the table, springing to his feet so quickly that the chair clattered to the floor behind him.

"You asked for me, remember?" shouted Harry as Snape edged along the wall, gazing warily at him. "Which means you either hoped my celebrity," he put as much scorn into the word as humanly possible, "would get you off, or you thought my inexperience would be enough to see you condemned. So, which is it? You never have explained, and now that I'm supposed to beg those people for mercy, it might be helpful if I knew why I was doing this." Harry took a bite of his sandwich. It turned to ash in his mouth and he threw it on his plate in disgust.

Snape reached for the door handle, but drew back swiftly as if scalded the moment his hand touched it. He backed into a corner and sank to the floor, burying his face in his hands.

"You can't leave," said Harry quietly. "I'm sorry." He rose from the table and crouched in front of Snape, reaching out to touch a bony knee. "Did you think I was deserting you? I'm not. I promised you I'd see this through."

Snape lifted his head, his eyes desolate. "How do you wish for this to end?" he said in a thick voice.

"Your trial?" asked Harry. "Or this?" Reaching out, he took Snape's hand and clasped it firmly. "Because I don't want this to end." It took a bit of arranging, but Harry managed to sit beside Snape, slinging the man's arm around his shoulders. "At some point, you're going to figure out that you can trust me. I'm not my father, Sev. I never have been. Of course, I'm not my mum either."

"Thank Merlin for that!" The words exploded out of Snape with such force that Harry chuckled. "I miss her, you know," Snape confessed. "This whole thing, it's my fault. I caused her death. I caused you to wind up with that loathsome sister of hers. Then once you arrived at Hogwarts, I spent every waking moment ensuring I earned your enmity. Perhaps it is I who should ask why."

Harry turned Snape's face toward him and kissed him. "I never took you for someone who wallowed in self-pity. That's more of a Malfoy thing, if you ask me."

"I am not wallowing, you impertinent brat. I am attempting to apologise for the part I played in your wretched life." He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. "I should not have requested to have you represent me. It was…I wanted you to know…to have…"

It was rare to see Snape at a loss for words unless he was sputtering with rage, but he hadn't done that much, not really, not since Kingsley questioned him at any rate. Harry brought Snape's hand up and pressed his lips against it. "When was the last time you were just you? Do you even know who you are?"

"And when would I have discovered that?" said Snape bitterly. "When I was trying to fit in with Slytherin? When I was kneeling before the Dark Lord, grateful for the smallest scrap of his attention? When I was mourning the death of the only friend I ever had—which I caused, by the way. Let's not forget that shining moment. When I refused to see his mother in her son? When I set about earning the Dark Lord's trust? Have you any idea what it's like to have no sense of yourself? To look deep inside and see nothing?"

"Hmm. When this is over," remarked Harry. "I'm going to find the Mirror of Erised and have you sit in front of it for a spell. When you know what your heart desires, then you'll know who you are." It sounded remarkably simple to him. Harry wanted to be surrounded by family, to love and be loved in return. But if Snape didn't know what he wanted, how would he know where he needed to go?

But Snape just looked at him in confusion. "The what? What mirror?"

"Oh, come now. You must have heard of the Mirror of Erised. It was Dumbledore's grand scheme to save the Philosopher's Stone from Quirrell. I figured you all congratulated each other for your clever ideas once he'd been defeated."

Snape shook his head. "No. All Albus asked was that I set up a potions-based trap. He asked each of us to play to our strengths to keep the Stone from being stolen. Personally, I thought Minerva's was rather clever. Mine was a simple logic problem, rather straightforward for someone capable of rational thought. I would have come up with something more elaborate had I more time, but that damned Fluffy took an immediate dislike to me."

"That's why I thought you were the one trying to steal it," admitted Harry. "When I saw your leg all bloody. And by the way, your logic problem wasn't simple. If Hermione hadn't been with me, I'd have likely poisoned myself, and I'm not certain how that would have figured into Dumbledore's grand plan."

Harry glanced over at the table, sensing his stomach was about to growl. "We should eat before we have to go back. I'm not much of a public speaker as it is, and it's hungry work. I'll tell you all about the Mirror whilst we eat."

"Very well."

Harry climbed to his feet and assisted Snape off the floor, stealing a quick kiss when the opportunity presented itself. Pulling his chair around to the perpendicular side of the table, Harry sat as close to Snape as he could possibly manage, speaking between bites about his experience of seeing his parents in the Mirror and visiting it as often as possible until Dumbledore hid it away.

"Ron saw himself with the Quidditch Cup," he explained as he ate. "Which makes sense, I guess, being the last of six brothers. He always felt overlooked. I asked Dumbledore what he saw, and he said something about new socks, but I'm thinking he saw his sister. I guess we all want happy families."

"I wouldn't know," said Snape as he finished his sandwich. "Lily's mum and dad were proud of her, but her sister made her cry. Is there such a thing as a happy family, Harry?"

"Yes," said Harry firmly. "The Weasleys are happy, even though they've lost Fred. Percy's back and, while one will never fill the space of the other, they're happy. Bill and Fleur have Victoire, Percy's working for the Ministry and is relatively successful with Administrative Services. George has the shop and he's starting to date some. Ron's working with him, and he and Hermione will probably get married once Hermione is finished with school. They're happy," he reiterated.

"And what of Ginevra and Molly's fervent hope that you marry her daughter?" asked Snape, though his tone was gentle, considering how barbed his words were.

Harry laughed. "Molly knows I'm set on you. Thanks to the Prophet, it seems everyone knows—except you, of course. Fortunately, I have time."

"If you think that ridiculous display with our Patronuses meant anything—"

"You can bluster all you want, Sev, but we both know it did. And after the way you snogged me when we finally had a moment to ourselves, you'd be lying through your teeth if you tried to deny it at this point."

The fear was back in Snape's eyes. "I-I do not wish to deny it." He hung his head. "You must think me an utter fool."

Harry gave him a soft smile. "I think you're the smartest and bravest person I've ever known."

~*~

The courtroom was packed to the ceiling with spectators, rows upon rows of faces peering through the gloom to judge every word out of Harry's mouth. Little did they know that Harry's mouth was dry as dust and that his nerves were strung so tight that they were screaming. His head was filled with white noise and his heart was pounding so hard Harry thought there was a chance it might burst through his chest.

With effort, he raised his head and glanced at the jury, and while he noticed a sympathetic face or two, he couldn't begin to tell what the group as a whole was thinking. Perhaps that was a good thing. Maybe it meant that they hadn't made up their minds, or that calling all those witnesses had made a difference after all.

"You may start whenever you're ready," said Kingsley. "We're all listening."

That was the problem. Everyone was paying attention. No one was nodding off. No one seemed bored. Even the knitting bags were set aside—and that fact intimidated Harry beyond words. He tried to work up some saliva but his tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth. A sip of water was his only hope, and Harry raised his glass to his lips with surprisingly steady hands.

Taking a deep breath, Harry moved to the centre of the well and stood before the jury. "Let's start with the easy stuff," he said, relieved to discover his voice worked, though it was shakier than he would have liked. "It was pure happenstance that Severus Snape overheard the prophecy made by Sybill Trelawney. He wasn't in the Hog's Head to spy on her. He had no idea who she was, though I reckon he knew she was applying for a post at Hogwarts. It could have been Divination. It could have been Defence Against the Dark Arts. Perhaps Dumbledore decided that he needed a secretary. The important point is that Severus didn't know.

"At that time, Severus was a spy for Tom Riddle—or Lord Voldemort, if you prefer—so he did what any self-respecting spy would do when the enemy puts in an appearance: he listened, and he heard a strange voice say, 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...'

"That was it. That was all he heard." Harry spread his arms wide. "It could have meant anybody. It could have meant me. It could have meant Neville Longbottom, who was also born at the end of July. It could have been somebody we've never heard of. But the reason, the only reason, we know it was me is because of the part Severus didn't hear.

"'...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...'"

Holding his fringe back with one hand, Harry pointed at the famous scar that bisected his forehead, the bolt of lightning that was all that remained of a Killing Curse gone wild. "I heard the prophecy in full the day after my godfather died and I've wondered a hundred times since then whether Voldemort would have marked me as his equal if he'd known how it would all turn out in the end. Would he have gone after my parents personally? Or would he have gone after Neville's, since they were both purebloods and all?

"It wasn't Severus' fault that Voldemort chose my mum and dad. In fact, Severus begged Voldemort to spare my mum's life. Severus loved her, enough to embarrass and humiliate himself in front of Voldemort and his Inner Circle to plead for her life. You heard the other Death Eaters say they mocked him and laughed at him."

Harry moved back to stand in front of Snape and pointed up at him. "They mocked Severus Snape. Think about that." He looked into the faces of the jury, saw a few of the younger members shudder and counted on them having had Snape as a professor. "This man, with a reputation for savaging people with words alone, was made fun of for loving a Muggle-born woman."

Moving close to the rail that separated them from him, Harry spoke softly. "Remember what Draco Malfoy told you about how Professor Burbage died. Remember why she died. It was because she regarded Muggles as people, people without magic, but people just the same. And Severus loved someone who was born of Muggles, who was reared by Muggles, and had no cause to think ill of them."

Harry paused and shifted a bit as he considered his next words. It was something that hadn't come up in any testimony; in fact, he didn't know if anyone alive knew about it or not. Taking a deep breath, he plunged forward. "He offered her a chance to escape, you know," he said casually. "My mum. He told her to stand aside so he could kill me, but she didn't. She refused. That's why I survived. That's how I got the scar. She didn't get in the way, she stood in the way.

"Severus had nothing to do with their deaths. He had nothing to do with Voldemort's attempt on my life. Voldemort chose to believe in the prophecy. He could have ignored it. I mean, Trelawney hadn't made any 'til then, so why believe this one? Because Severus told him about it? There are thousands upon thousands of prophecies in the Department of Mysteries. I've seen them. What made this one special?

"But let's not forget what happened next. Severus went to Dumbledore, the very person he'd spied upon and begged him—"

"How do you know this?" asked the elderly man in the second row. "You mentioned it at the beginning, but no one said anything about it. I've been paying attention, but I never did hear anyone say what happened."

Uncertain what to do, Harry looked to Kingsley for guidance.

"Just a moment." Kingsley leant over and whispered to Percy, who began flipping through his books of notes. They argued back and forth in hushed voices, Percy jabbing his finger at some line of text and Kingsley frowning at it in response. "You're absolutely correct, Alfred. No one has testified about that." He stroked his chin and gazed down at Harry before glancing over at the wizened juror. "Do you mind if I give him some advice?"

Alfred Sneddon gave Harry a kindly smile. "By all means, Minister. Help the poor lad out."

Kingsley rose and beckoned Harry out into the narrow corridor, and Harry gave Snape a frantic glance before closing the door behind him. "The only two people who were there were Severus and Dumbledore," said Harry frantically. "Snape begged him, Kingsley. He grovelled. He was terrified that Dumbledore would kill him. I saw all of it. What am I going to do?"

"First off, calm down," said Kingsley. "Let's work on what you know. Your parents went into hiding. Why?"

"Because Voldemort wanted them dead, Kingsley!" Harry heard himself shout. "Why else?"

Kingsley arched a brow and Harry felt about an inch tall. "Sorry," he muttered.

"How did they know that?"

"Err..." Harry's mind raced. "Sev told Dumbledore," he said slowly, "so Dumbledore must have told them, and then worked out a plan to hide them. Except Sirius switched with Pettigrew...and then Dumbledore told Sev that they..." Harry smiled with relief. "Got it. That should make Alfred happy. Thanks, Kingsley."

Beaming, Harry bounded through the door and returned to face the jury with much more spring in his step. "You made a good point, sir," he said as the man settled into his seat and nodded. "But Kingsley gave me an idea. Do you remember Professor McGonagall mentioning that Peter Pettigrew betrayed my parents?"

"I recall she said something about Pettigrew being a traitor," said Alfred in his thin, quavering voice.

"I have the quote if you want it," volunteered Percy from his place on the bench. "She said, 'For over a dozen years we all thought Sirius Black had betrayed your parents and sold their location to…to Tom Riddle, only to learn that Peter Pettigrew was the traitor.'" He sat back with a pleased smile.

"Thanks, Percy." Harry took a quick moment to steal a glance at Snape before returning to the jury. "The Sorting Hat said that Dumbledore thought my parents had put their trust in the wrong person—Pettigrew. I reckon nearly everybody knows he was their Secret Keeper, yes?"

Most of the jury nodded, as did the press and the vast majority of those in the gallery. "Sirius Black was thought to be their Secret Keeper. Everybody thought so, like McGonagall said, and when they were murdered by Voldemort, nearly everyone reckoned Sirius had gone Dark like the rest of his family.

"But how do you suppose my parents knew to go into hiding?" Harry paused and waited to see if anyone answered. A witch in the front row of the jury raised her hand. She was older and somewhat stout with a very no-nonsense air about her. "Yes?"

"Tabitha McCade," she announced in a voice deeper than Harry's. "It's plain that Dumbledore would have hidden them away somewhere under one of those fancy charms of his."

"True, but how did Dumbledore know to hide my parents?"

"He heard the prophecy, didn't he?" asked someone in the back row, but Harry couldn't tell who it was.

"Yes, but he didn't know who Voldemort had targeted. Remember, the Longbottoms didn't go into hiding. Neville's parents were tortured by the Lestranges, including Bellatrix. The only family Dumbledore hid was mine. Why? Because Severus begged for Lily's life. Maybe Voldemort remembered that Sev asked for her to be spared. Maybe that's why he gave her a chance to live, but she didn't accept it. Whether that's the reason or not, the point is that you can't say he caused her death when he did everything he could to prevent it. And if he didn't cause hers, then he didn't cause my dad's.

"And since my name is mentioned as someone Severus tried to kill, I'm here to tell you that's simply not true and I will take it personally if anyone sees fit to convict Severus on that charge." Looking at each juror in turn, Harry waited to see if each person acquiesced before he moved on.

"Now that we've dispensed with that ridiculous charge, I want to talk about last year when Severus was headmaster at Hogwarts. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has seen fit to charge Severus with five hundred counts of child endangerment. They couldn't decide on an actual number, so they made one up out of whole cloth. There are a lot of students at Hogwarts and there's no doubt that most of them saw the wrong side of far too many curses, but those curses were not cast by the headmaster.

"You heard Professor McGonagall say that it was unlikely that she would have remained at Hogwarts had the Carrows been in charge. She also said she wasn't certain she would have survived if she'd stayed behind. Professor McGonagall was the deputy headmistress for years and years. She knew better than anyone else how to run the school, but not only was she not placed in charge, she wasn't even allowed to serve as Severus' assistant.

"The Ministry under Pius Thicknesse decided who would run Hogwarts. They decided what would be taught and who would teach it. Somehow, Severus managed to keep all the teachers from leaving, which meant that the Ministry only needed their usual Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and a Muggle Studies professor. But the Ministry decided that the students would learn about the Dark Arts instead of how to defend against them. The Ministry decided that students would learn that Muggles were no better than animals.

"Remember what Neville told you about that year. He organised the D.A., Dumbledore's Army—that's what we called the group who learnt Defence together—to keep the Carrows away from the younger students. He worked out how to hide everybody in the Room of Requirement. He even managed to keep everybody fed and was pretty pleased with himself, only to discover every clever scheme he had was Severus' idea.

"I know it must not be hard to forget that Hagrid was here. He told you that Severus sent students to him for detention. Now, I realise that Hagrid might not be the best judge of what's dangerous and what's not, but there's no denying that he's probably the best there is with animals and magical beasts.

"Hogwarts has one of the biggest herds of thestrals in the world and they're all tamed to pull the carriages. That was Hagrid's doing. The centaurs know him and respect him, and that speaks well for him, doesn't it? Even the acromantulas know him by name, though even Hagrid knows to stay out of their territory. The point is that Hagrid knows the Forbidden Forest probably better than anyone alive. More importantly, he's not afraid of anything in it.

"It sounds crazy sending students to Hagrid for detention, especially if they're supposed to be gathering magical plants or something. I didn't ask, but I'm willing to bet that most of those harvesting missions were unsuccessful." Harry gazed warmly at Snape. "I'm also betting that Severus would deny every word out of my mouth. And whilst we all know he would, we'd also know he would be covering up the truth—that he didn't want to see the students get hurt.

"I could have asked the teachers who testified about last year, but I didn't. Professor Trelawney is maybe a little more scatter-brained than usual, but she seems pretty much like herself. We can safely assume that Professor Flitwick did everything possible to keep his Ravenclaws safe, and I'll bet Pomona Sprout would have told us the same thing had I asked her here.

"We know from Poppy Pomfrey that Professor Slughorn brewed potions for the hospital wing, as did Professor Snape. Everybody except the Carrows and their Inquisitorial Squad watched out for one another. Were students hurt? Yes. There is no denying that beatings and whippings took place, but Snape wasn't the only one complicit in that happening.

"Can you truly picture Professor Slughorn standing between a Death Eater and a student being punished? What about Professor Trelawney? Or Professor Vector or Sinistra?" Harry focussed his gaze at McCade and spoke directly to her. "If you want to hold Severus responsible for everything that happened to every single student, then you have to hold the adults who stood by and let it happen equally responsible. I know he was headmaster, but his hands were just as tied by the Ministry as theirs were, maybe even more so. Severus was all that stood between a total takeover of Hogwarts and business as usual—or at least as usual as it could be."

Pausing a moment for a sip of water, Harry gave his words a chance to settle before moving to the last, and most difficult count facing Snape. "There is no getting around the fact that Severus used the Killing Curse on Albus Dumbledore. Draco testified to watching Severus do it. I was there as well and I saw it happen." He raised a hand in acknowledgement of Kingsley's likely objection. "I am not testifying. I am merely saying that you need to give Draco's testimony a lot of weight.

"Before I talk about that night on the Astronomy Tower, I want to go back in time a bit." The problem was, though, knowing where to start. There were so many things that led to that moment, not least of which was the subject of Horcruxes. Harry wasn't certain how he was going to avoid speaking of them, but he'd dance his way very carefully around the topic.

"My mother loved me enough to die for me," said Harry soberly. "And that's where it all began—with her death. Because of her love for me, the Killing Curse Voldemort sent at me reflected off me and hit him. At that moment, a piece of him broke off and latched itself onto me."

"Harry," interrupted Kingsley. "We spoke about this."

Harry turned, prepared to argue with Kingsley over the necessity of discussing Voldemort's bid for immortality. "I know and I promise I won't say any more than is absolutely necessary. But it's important that people know that Voldemort left little bits of himself scattered all over Britain, but those little bits are destroyed." Turning, he faced the gallery. "And I hope that none of you here is so evil that you'd murder a baby in its cot in search of power."

Heads turned as the people in the gallery nervously examined those sitting nearby for signs that they'd gone Dark. "Honestly, I think we have little to fear on that account," continued Harry, a bit bemused by their reaction. "I do not know if Professor Dumbledore was the one to tell Severus of my mum's death or whether Severus sought him out, but there's one thing that came out of that meeting that you have to keep in mind: Severus made a promise to Dumbledore to do anything he asked to keep me safe. Anything. And Severus swore on the love of my mother that he would.

"Dumbledore knew that Voldemort would return, but he didn't know how or when. I don't think he worked it all out until my second year. That's what that business with the Chamber of Secrets was about—Voldemort's second attempt to return. Severus didn't know any more than Lucius did why the diary was important, but Dumbledore did.

"That's when he began to learn everything he possibly could about Tom Riddle. I'm not going to say anything about Voldemort's return. It's not important in the grand scheme of things, except in the sense that Dumbledore believed me when I returned from the graveyard. So did Severus. Dumbledore knew that we were running out of time, so he sent Severus to spy on Voldemort. The first thing Severus had to do was earn Voldemort's trust.

"It can't have been easy making Voldemort believe that he was completely loyal whilst still working for Dumbledore, but Severus never revealed more than Dumbledore wanted Voldemort to know. Because of that piece of Voldemort that was stuck in my scar, I knew more about what was going on inside his head than I ever wanted to know, which made it very easy to lure me to the Department of Mysteries where the prophecy was kept. Severus was supposed to teach me Occlumency and maybe if I'd made some effort, my godfather would still be alive." Harry shrugged. 'What if' was a trap he couldn't afford to fall into right now. "I'll never know the answer to that.

"But that was the year that the Ministry spied on Dumbledore. And there's Severus, now trapped between three people who all want him on their side: Voldemort, Umbridge and Dumbledore. When Umbridge found out about the D.A.—Dumbledore's Army—she notified Fudge, who tried to arrest Dumbledore—for treason, I guess. I'm not quite certain. But Dumbledore used that time to find out more about Tom Riddle.

"Sometime during the summer between my fifth and sixth years, Dumbledore found another bit of Tom. In his excitement, he must have forgotten that Tom wouldn't leave something like that lying about without putting some pretty horrible charms on the container, in this case a ring. When Dumbledore returned to Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat told us he asked for Severus. Madam Pomfrey told us that she sent Dumbledore to Severus. Flitwick could do nothing for him, but Severus managed to keep the curse confined to his right hand.

"The Sorting Hat said that rather than being upset, Dumbledore was relieved to know he had about a year to live. It would make things easier, especially since Draco Malfoy had been assigned to kill him. Dumbledore's plan was coming together. With Severus positioned at Voldemort's right hand, it was a simple thing to arrange for Severus to kill him and assume control of Hogwarts.

"Dumbledore wanted his death to mean something, to bring us one step closer to ending Voldemort's reign." Harry paused. "Wait. That's not quite right. He didn't want to die, but if he had to, he wanted Hogwarts to be protected. There was only one person he trusted to do the job: Severus Snape. And if Severus killed him, it would cement Voldemort's trust.

"The truth of the matter, though, is that I killed Dumbledore." Harry swallowed heavily and stared down at the floor. It wasn't hard to bring up recollections of the cave: the Inferi who invaded the tiny islet, the fire and flames, the terrible potion that Harry poured down Dumbledore's throat. "He thought he'd found another bit of Tom, so we left Hogwarts and went into the village so we could Apparate from there.

"Remember that both Madam Rosmerta and Draco Malfoy testified that Dumbledore appeared same as usual before we left and that he was pale and sickly when we returned. It's because I poured poison down his throat on his orders. It was the only way to retrieve the locket Voldemort had hidden. I did what he said and, because of that, it's likely that Dumbledore wouldn't have lasted the night. When we returned to the Astronomy Tower, he ordered me to get Severus, but Severus was already on his way.

"Draco couldn't go through with it. Amycus said as much. But Draco said everything changed the moment Severus arrived. He's right. Thinking about it, Dumbledore seemed…relieved. He looked at him and said, 'Severus, please.' It was horrible, seeing him fall. But Severus never flinched, at least not where anyone could see it. He dragged Draco off the Tower and I chased them.

"I could have been running straight into a trap. I could have been killed. But Severus kept all that from happening. If he was loyal to Voldemort, that's what he should have done. But he didn't. He blocked my spells, every single one of them. If he wanted to drag me in front of the Dark Lord, that would have been the best time. But he didn't.

"I know some of you are still convinced that Severus Snape is a Death Eater, that's he's Dark, that he's a horrible person and deserves every awful thing that's ever happened to him. And to those of you who think that, then I say you're not fit to wipe his boots." There was a gasp from the crowd and the reporters scribbled furiously with their quills. "Severus was a Death Eater. He bore the Dark Mark on his arm the way the rest of the Inner Circle did.

"But why did he take the Mark? It's no secret that Severus was a bitter, sarcastic, cynical child. My aunt described his home life and to me, it sounds much worse than mine ever was. I know something about being bullied, about getting sound thrashings, about not being wanted, but I grew up surrounded by love—even if none of it was directed at me. I knew what it was like to be wanted, to be cherished. Severus didn't.

"He spent his Hogwarts years being tormented and, like Draco, he nearly lost his life at the hands of his tormenters. My father and godfather were relentless, hexing and cursing Severus every chance they got. As much as I'd like to, though, I can't claim that Severus never fought back—he did and with everything he had. There was true hatred between the three of them, hatred so enduring that it spilt over onto me."

Harry shrugged and offered the jury a smile. "That's okay, though. He still brewed the Wolfsbane potion for Professor Lupin even though they didn't get on all that well. Or at all, really. He still tried to save Sirius when I was lured to the Department of Mysteries by Voldemort.

"Severus Snape had a million opportunities to kill or kidnap me when I was in school. But Madam Hooch told you all that Severus Snape saved my life during my first Quidditch match when Professor Quirrell was hexing my broom. And what thanks did he get? He was set on fire. He could have hexed me senseless when he and Draco were escaping from Hogwarts, but he didn't. Instead, he reminded the others that I was meant for the Dark Lord.

"I want to leave you with one last thought. Ollivander described Severus as loyal, the sort they speak of in legends. Narcissa said he has a tremendous ability to love." A warm smile lit Harry's face. "I think most people who know Severus would be surprised by that, but remember what happened when we conjured our Patronuses.

"Severus Snape is not guilty of the crimes the Ministry has charged him with. He didn't kill my parents. He never tried to kill my parents. He did everything possible to keep the students at Hogwarts safe. And even though he used the Killing Curse on Albus Dumbledore, it was only at Dumbledore's request. Please acquit him. Please?"

Instead of returning to his table, Harry went to stand next to Snape's chair. Reaching up, he snaked his arm under the armrest and rested his hand on Snape's wrist. He smiled up at Snape when the man covered his hand with his own and waited for Kingsley to poll the jury.

For a few minutes, nothing much seemed to happen. Kingsley and Percy were exchanging whispers again whilst Percy closed his third volume of notes. "Given the complexity of this trial, the number of charges and the extensive defence presented by Harry Potter…" Kingsley nodded in Harry's direction. "I must ask the jury whether they are ready to vote or if they wish to deliberate. It will take a minimum of seventeen votes to convict, but only eleven votes to call for deliberations.

"All in favour of deliberations, please signify by raising your right hand." Harry held his breath as hands began to go up. Asking for a vote now, before they'd had a chance to think about everything, to talk it over amongst themselves, would come as a huge blow. If they talked about it, if they debated the merits of his case, then maybe, just maybe, he'd have a chance. They'd have a chance.

"Very well, we have fourteen votes for deliberation," announced Kingsley. "Bailiff Embry, please escort the members of the Wizengamot back to their chamber. Gauntlett, return Professor Snape to his cell. We will bring you back to the courtroom when the jury has signalled their readiness to vote. Harry, you are free to go. Just let me know where you'll be so I can contact you when they're ready."

"I'm going wherever Severus goes," said Harry. "He chose me and I'm not leaving him."

"Harry—"

"We can argue about it if you'd like," said Harry with as much dignity as he could muster, "but in the end, I'll be with Severus. I have that right, Kingsley. You know this."

Kingsley studied him and stared at their hands for a moment before shaking his head. "I expect you to comport yourself as a sworn member of the Auror Corps. Do I make myself clear?"

There was little Harry could say. He wouldn't lie to Kingsley. Nor did he have any intention of complying with Kingsley's directive. "Yes, sir. Clear as crystal." He watched as the jury filed out and the gallery cleared.

Finally, he, Snape, and Gauntlett were the only ones left. "Let's go," she said as she unfastened Snape from the chair.

Chapter Text

Instead of taking Snape to the holding cell, Gauntlett led them through a door at the end of the long corridor against which the holding cells were placed. Beyond the door were several long flights of stairs that doubled back again and again, carrying them deep inside the Ministry building. Their footsteps echoed off the stairwell as they trudged down the stone steps, descending deeper and deeper into the gloom. At the bottom of the stairs was another door, which Gauntlett opened with a key. "Magic won't open this door, nor any door beyond." Snape stepped through and Harry followed.

The wide space was musty and Harry's nose wrinkled as the acrid odour of mould and mildew hit him squarely in the face. The mortar in the grey stone walls seeped, the moisture trickling in meandering paths to vanish between the stones of the floor. There were two long rows of broad arches running from one end of the room to the other. Between the arches were thick iron bars and Harry realised that he was standing in an actual dungeon, one whose sole purpose was to hold prisoners.

Two of the cells were occupied, with lanterns flickering high overhead. One of the prisoners, a man who couldn't have been more than five years older than Harry, stood at the bars and called out to Snape. "What colour today, Snape? Come closer so I can see."

Snape ignored the voice and marched with his back straight to a cell in the middle of the right-hand row. He waited for Gauntlett to unlock the heavy padlock built into the centre iron bar and pulled open the gate. Once inside, he started to pull the bars closed, but Harry slipped in between before they could clang shut. "I'm staying with you for as long as it takes."

"Ministry employees are not allowed in the cells, Potter," said Gauntlett. "You can't stay in here with him. Besides, you heard what Kingsley said. You are not allowed to fraternise with the prisoners. Rules are rules. Not even Kingsley can break them."

There was a low-pitched laugh from Snape. "I assure you, Ms Gauntlett, that Harry Potter believes himself to be above the rules. No matter how trivial a rule may seem to mere mortals such as ourselves, Harry will either find a way around it or simply go through it."

"You are not helping," grumbled Harry, feeling his cheeks grow hot. This was not working out as planned. "Besides, it's not true. I followed the rules most of the time."

"Harry, go. I assure you I will be fine. I've spent every night here since the trial began and no harm has come to me." He tilted Harry's face up and collected a lingering kiss that Harry returned with all the passion that burned in his soul. "I will cherish these memories for the rest of my days," he murmured when they parted. "Now go."

"Don't get too comfortable," he warned, his voice thick. "I'll be back before you know it." He allowed Snape to walk him to the front of the cell and stepped through. His heart clenched as the tumblers fell and he stood in the centre of the vast space whilst Snape moved to the back of his cell and changed into his Azkaban stripes.

Gauntlett Summoned the raspberry robes Snape had been wearing and tucked them under arm her before marching back to the door. Harry watched with interest. So magic wasn't forbidden down here. That was good to know. Moving with obvious reluctance, he followed her to the locked door and peered continually over his shoulder at Snape whilst he waited for her to open it.

"I thought you were going to stay with Snape," remarked Gauntlett as Harry stepped through. She locked the door behind them as Harry began the long climb back.

Harry rounded on her instantly, his green eyes blazing with fury. How dare she? Without thought, his wand came up and he pointed it down at her chest. "What was I supposed to do? Conjure a chair and sit in the middle of the hall like a great berk? You wouldn't let me stay in the cell with him and, since you've already gone running to Kingsley once, I didn't really have a lot of choices, did I?" Turning, he bolted up the remaining flights of stairs.

"You're a brand new Auror, Potter," she hollered back. "But if you're not going to give a flying fuck about your career, then I won't either."

Her voice bounced off the heavy stone walls and Harry smiled grimly as he sprinted up the endless staircase. So she thought he'd done a bit of a runner. Good. Walking through the corridor that ran behind Courtroom Ten on legs trembling with fatigue, Harry embarked on the next phase of his plan. He made his way to the public lifts, glaring daggers at those who entered with him. Word would spread that he had left the Ministry in a lather; word always spread whenever Harry Potter was involved.

The moment he was outside the Ministry building, he Apparated to Grimmauld Place. "Kreacher," he yelled the moment he stepped inside.

"Blood traitor! Defiling the home of my ancestors!" shrieked the portrait of Sirius' mother. Dammit, he'd woken Walburga. Pulling his wand, he shot a ball of fire at it, not that it ever did any good. All he'd ever managed to accomplish was singeing the wall around the damned thing. "They're not your ancestors," growled Harry. "You married into the family, you cow."

"Has Master decided to return home?" asked Kreacher, hope shining in the depths of his eyes. Briefly, Harry wondered if Kreacher was lonely, but after glancing around the place, seeing the heads of house-elves mounted on the walls, feeling the Darkness leaching out of the walls, Harry knew he could never live in this place for long.

"No, but I do need your help," said Harry. "Look, you brought meals to Severus down in the Ministry dungeons, so you know its magic. Can you Apparate me into his cell?"

Kreacher fingered the locket he wore around his neck, the one Regulus Black had swapped for the real Horcrux. "It can be done, Master," he croaked slowly. "But the dungeons is having heavy enchantments. Let Kreacher see." Before Harry could answer, Kreacher vanished with a loud crack.

Whilst Kreacher was off investigating, Harry dashed up the stairs and into Sirius' old bedroom. Flinging open his old school trunk, he extracted the long, flowing Invisibility Cloak and wrapped it around his shoulders. It took a few minutes to gather up the few other things he wanted, and by the time he'd finished, Kreacher had returned.

The house-elf stared at the bits of Harry that showed around the Invisibility Cloak. "Kreacher is able to get Master into the cells, but is not being able to get him out again. The Ministry is not seeing why anyone would want to break in if they cannot get out again."

"What about the space right outside the cells? Can you move me out of a cell into the hall?"

Kreacher gave him an odd look and disappeared again, though he was back in just a few seconds. "Kreacher can do this." He tilted his head and stared up, the wheels in his head grinding slowly. "Kreacher is leaving Master to his own devices," he said with a slight shake of his head.

It amused Harry to see Kreacher so befuddled, but he had no intention of explaining his motives to the house-elf, even if Kreacher was one of Snape's supporters. Speaking swiftly, Harry explained in great detail what he needed the house-elf to do and at what time he needed it done.

~*~

Shortly after dinner had been served to the other two prisoners waiting for their trials to start, Kreacher Apparated into Snape's cell, nearly buried beneath a rolled up bolt of black cloth balanced on one shoulder. Pointing his finger, Kreacher croaked a word and it unfurled, spilling its contents all over the floor. A bundle of clothing expanded, toiletries clattered across the cold stone floor and a camp bed unfolded itself as Harry watched from his place in the corner, hidden under his Invisibility Cloak.

"What is all this nonsense?" demanded Snape. Kreacher ignored him and moved the camp bed to a spot just outside the iron bars. The black cloth righted itself and leapt up, revealing a moth-eaten tapestry of a dragon being slain by the inhabitants of a smouldering village, and attached itself across the front of the cell, leaving a small window of space right under the arch.

"Well, that's certainly a cheery image," said Harry as he threw off the Cloak and stepped aside so Kreacher could work his magic and widen Snape's bed into something that would fit the two of them with room to spare. A pair of bedside tables set with lanterns turned the cell into a cosy bedroom. A small table set with two chairs gave them a place to enjoy a meal in all the privacy the tapestry could afford them.

"Kreacher is bringing food in just a moment." The house-elf vanished noiselessly, leaving Snape to stare at Harry from beneath a mocking arched brow.

"More of your lawless behaviour, Potter?"

"Incorrigible rule-breaker, that's me." Harry's eyes were glowing with warmth as he approached Snape slowly, the way he would a skittish animal. "Don't even try ordering me to leave. I can't get out; not even Kreacher can get me back to Grimmauld Place." That was true, as far as it went, but Harry omitted the bit about Kreacher being able to get him past the bars. Snape could bite his head off later for that tiny deception.

Snape took a step forward. "You appear to be labouring under the misconception that I have some intention of sending you away. Nothing could be further from the truth." He spread his arms and Harry launched himself into them.

Mere words could never express how at home Harry felt in the warmth and safety of Snape's embrace. He tilted his face up and Snape kissed him, a slow, thorough exploration of his lips and mouth. Heat spread through him, starting in his heart and expanding at a languid pace until Harry was ablaze. He could get drunk on these kisses.

The cool touch of Snape's long fingers against his cheeks came as a blessed relief. Harry gazed into molten eyes and leaned in for another kiss, but Snape placed his index finger against Harry's lips. "Your house-elf has served dinner," he said in his sinfully smooth voice. "Food first. Then we'll see to your other appetites."

Harry moaned. "You could kill a man with those words." But he took the hand that was offered and allowed himself to be escorted to the table. Kreacher had outdone himself. There was grilled salmon, herbed rice with bits of cranberry and slivered almonds. There was steamed zucchini with tarragon and a basket of steaming bread. Kreacher had even managed to smuggle in a bottle of a light, fruity red wine that Harry was able to open with a flick of his wand.

"To the end of the trial," said Harry once he was seated and the wine poured.

Snape touched his glass to Harry's and drank. "You've done remarkably well. Even your summation was fairly well structured, if a bit rambling." He laid his serviette in his lap and began to eat.

"I should have focussed more on the way my father treated you. I wanted them to understand you, to be able to put themselves in your shoes and see why you made the choices you did." Harry took a bite of salmon and closed his eyes as it melted on his tongue. The wine paired well with it and it took some effort not to devour the salmon in three large bites. He tried some rice and promptly decided Kreacher had been holding out on him.

Across the table, Snape appeared to be as taken with Kreacher's cooking as Harry. "Truly, I did not expect you to delve as deep into my past as you did. I still have trouble believing that you had the Aurors bring your aunt here. What on earth prompted you to do that?"

Harry slid his hand across the table and touched Snape's fingers. The tingle of magic raced through him, making him breathless. "I wanted them to see that we're the same. I could have just as easily been you if the Sorting Hat had decided I belonged in Slytherin. Maybe you would have been more like me if you'd been Sorted into Gryffindor, or even Ravenclaw.

"Dumbledore used to tell me that it's our choices that define us, but he never really explained what we become when we haven't any choice to make. Do we just drift through life without really finding out who we are?" Harry met Snape's eyes. "I think that's what happened to you. When did you ever choose, Severus?"

"I chose the Mark, Harry," said Snape evenly. "Don't ever forget that I joined up of my own volition. It was the worst mistake of my life." He took a long sip of wine and finished his salmon.

Harry buttered a roll. "What utter shite." He gestured with the knife, nearly knocking over his wine. "Who in Slytherin didn't join up? You'd have been marked as a blood traitor or reduced to being a Mudbl—" Snape growled and the sound was ominous enough that the back of Harry's neck prickled with a sense of danger. "A Mudblood. I know how much you loathe the word and why, but you'd have been tarred with the same brush."

"And if I had been?" snarled Snape. "I would have been hunted like so many others. My death would have meant something."

"It would have meant nothing. And we wouldn't be having this conversation," concluded Harry. "You'd be dead and Voldemort wouldn't have asked my mum to step aside. Because she wouldn't have been given the choice, I'd be dead too, and the whole of Britain would be under his thumb. Yes, my mum died and I do wish she hadn't, but how many others are alive because you loved her? She was only able to sacrifice her life because of your love, Severus. That's it. It was your love that saved us all in the end. Your love. Not hers. If you hadn't loved her enough to try to save her, he would have killed her straight away, like he did my dad."

"You make it sound as though I've been nothing more than an instrument of Fate."

"Yeah, well, I know what that's like." For a moment, Harry felt emotionally spent. He did not care to think about how out of control the trajectory of his life felt, but no matter how terrible his had been, Snape's was worse. He slouched down, sliding one foot along the floor under the table. Snape flinched and Harry suddenly remembered the man was barefoot. He sat back up swiftly, resting his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers, his booted feet tucked away safely under his chair.

He watched with interest as Snape finished the remains of his meal and nodded in response to a silent question about more wine. Once his glass was full, Harry rose from the table and wandered over to the spacious bed. He sat at the foot and set his wine glass on the floor. Head down, he removed his boots and socks, tucking one inside the other, and rested his bare feet on the cold stone floor.

It was thrilling in some strange erotic sense to be barefoot along with Snape. There was something…forbidden about it, especially since he was sitting on Snape's bed and actively thinking about what might happen there. In his inexperience, Harry would happily admit he was amenable to anything Snape might suggest, though the tiny voice of common sense whispered that he might want to take things a bit slowly. He sipped his wine as Snape continued to eat.

Finally, Snape finished eating—stalling for time, more like—and rose from the table as well, glass of wine in hand. As he approached, Harry peeled off his outer vestments and tossed them aside, leaving nothing more than his black trousers and fitted black t-shirt. He extended his hand and smiled up at Snape as he tugged the man between his parted legs. "Which side of the bed do you prefer?"

Snape wetted his lips and looked nervously at the small heap of clothing on the floor. His face went blank and he gazed expressionlessly back at Harry. "Which side do you prefer?"

Harry snorted. "I've never slept in the same bed with someone in my life." He reached for the hem of his t-shirt, but Snape batted his hands away. He gasped as Snape's hands slid slowly along his ribs and his breath caught as his heart started hammering away in delight. Raising his arms over his head, he assisted as little as possible, only pausing to remove his glasses at the last possible second so they wouldn't get tangled up in his clothing.

He scooted back toward the head of the bed and his eyes lit up as Snape crawled over the mattress towards him. "Off," he whispered as he tugged at the collar of Snape's prison stripes. "Off. I want to touch you. Please." Snape straddled his legs, kneeling up and Harry helped him remove his shirt, revealing those delightful pale pink nipples. Harry couldn't help himself, he leaned in and dragged his tongue over one, laving over it until it hardened. His prick throbbed when Snape moaned softly and he rolled the other between finger and thumb.

Snape's fingers carded through his hair and Harry fumbled around for his wand, casting a wordless Silencing Charm so their activities couldn't be heard beyond the confines of Snape's cell. He rolled onto his side to set his wand on the bedside table and found himself being pulled under Snape.

"Let me learn you," whispered Snape, his dark eyes scalding Harry's skin wherever his gaze touched. "I want to hear all your sounds and know what they mean. I want to know what lights you up and brings you pleasure. I want to discover how to make you beg and plead for more." He claimed Harry's lips in a heated kiss, licking over the seam of Harry's mouth until it opened enough for Snape to taste the sweetness inside.

Snape's lips blazed a trail along Harry's lips as Harry's fingertips set out on an expedition of their own, travelling along Snape's shoulders and down his spine and along his ribs, mapping out all the slight imperfections and establishing landmarks for the next time. Suddenly, Snape bit lightly on a nipple and Harry arched, a deep moan spilling from between his lips as nerve endings he'd never met began firing in wild abandon. "Oh, yes! More," he gasped as he dragged his foot over the duvet, needing the sensation to ground him.

As Snape began kissing along his ribcage, Harry giggled, a strange breathy sound that he'd never heard himself make. "Tickles," he managed as he ground his length into the pit of Snape's stomach. For his efforts, he was rewarded by having Snape roll off of him and stretch out alongside.

"At some point," said Snape between soft nips and kisses over Harry's stomach, "I shall endeavour to teach you patience."

"I thought you had no idea about this sort of stuff," grumbled Harry as he opened the top button on his trousers. "I mean, the whole of my experience is snogging Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley."

"You heard Avery," said Snape as he worked open Harry's trousers. "I believe his words were something to the effect that I was shagging Regulus Black." He knelt between Harry's legs and tugged his trousers and pants down over his hips, shifting to work them off Harry's feet.

Harry's cock sprang free and he reached down to run his hand along his length, sighing in relief at the touch of his own hand. He tucked his other hand beneath his head, wishing he had his glasses on so he could watch Snape undress, but all he could see was a blurry outline of purpling flesh against a black background. At long last, they were naked together and Harry pulled Snape back down on him, the weight of him absolutely perfect. He inhaled deeply, drawing the scent of Snape's musk into his nose and making it a part of him. "God, you smell good."

"And now I know you've lost your mind," murmured Snape as he began kissing down the other side of Harry's body. "It has been two weeks since I've had a proper bath and cleaning charms only go so far." He nipped and licked at Harry's other nipple as Harry wrapped his legs around Snape's body and groaned.

"Who's…been cleaning…you?" A copious amount of clear fluid was welling in the join of Harry's left leg and hip and he was going to go mad if he didn't come soon. Snape was torturing him by degrees, reducing him to a babbling idiot with a few well-placed kisses.

"Two of the turnkeys," said Snape between searing kisses that left Harry's skin pebbled. "I've never asked their names." He moved closer to the foot of the bed and blew a cool stream of air onto the small puddle of fluid pooled on Harry's leg. Harry shivered and then cried out when Snape lapped it up in soft kitten licks.

Turning around so that his feet were near the head of the bed, Snape grasped the base of Harry's prick and took the head of it in his mouth, running the tip of his tongue along the ridge. "Sev..." he squeaked as his balls drew up tight. "Really shouldn't..." Snape sucked and swirled his tongue over the slit and Harry saw stars. A strangled cry burst forth as his hips came up. Waves and waves of pleasure crashed through him as Snape swallowed every drop. Harry's toes curled and his fingers clenched the bedding so hard that he would have been afraid it would tear—if he could string a thought together.

Snape's tongue flicked along the pulsing vein before he finally drew away from Harry's softening cock. "Now that that's out of the way..."

"I'm sorry," whispered Harry, his face burning so hot he was certain he was about to catch fire. "I didn't mean—"

"Don't be foolish," interrupted Snape. "You're not even twenty. And now that your mind is relatively clear, I have a chance of finding out what your preferences are." He righted himself and stretched out alongside Harry, the tip of his cock dripping onto the top of Harry's other leg. "When you fantasise about us," he murmured in Harry's ear. "What do you imagine us doing?" He kissed the side of Harry's neck as his fingers found a nipple to tweak.

The fine hairs on Harry's arms and legs rose and he shivered. "Oh, god. What do I imagine?" Harry's mind spun out of control. What hadn't he imagined? It would be a much shorter list. "I imagine you kneeling down, legs apart, your chest on the bed and you fingering your hole whilst I wank to it. I imagine us in the shower, me on my knees sucking you off. I imagine us spooned together, you deep inside me." He ran his fingertips lightly over Snape's bare skin. "Mostly, I imagine us together any way we fit."

Snape lifted his head. "If there is anything you would like to try tonight..." His voice trailed off and he gazed up with glittering eyes.

"Can...can I try riding you?" asked Harry as his heart threatened to burst from his chest. "I've heard it's a bit easier, and I'll be able to see your face."

For a moment, Snape appeared confused. "Why would you want to see my face?"

Harry blinked. "I dunno. Maybe because I love you? Maybe so you can use Legilimency and know what's working? Or maybe because the way you look at me is the most amazing thing I've ever seen?" The way Snape's lips curled in a shy smile when he was pleased, the way his dark eyes glowed when they met Harry's, the way he could appear so fiercely protective, they all resonated deep in Harry's soul and he knew he'd never be tired of them.

"In that case..." Snape hesitated and glanced away, as if he was about to ask for something deeply personal or highly embarrassing. "Might I borrow your wand?"

In answer, Harry rolled over and snatched it from the bedside table. "Any time you have need for something of mine, please feel free to help yourself." He extended the wand to Snape, handle first and felt Snape's magic surge through him the moment the man touched it. "I've no idea what's happening, but I can't begin to describe how incredible it feels."

"It is supposed to be indicative of sympathetic magic or compatibility or some such theory," said Snape. "I've never paid it much mind, an old wives' tale or romantic myth reserved for those with stars in their eyes. And then I saw our Patronuses." He pointed the wand at Harry and waved it in a peculiar fashion.

Harry's eyes widened as his insides tingled with magic that danced on the edge of familiarity. He felt relaxed, almost languorous, and his arse felt weirdly moist. "Umm, should I know what spells those were?" he asked, the look of surprise almost comical.

"Have you never heard of protection charms?" asked Snape. "They're nearly a requirement in the Slytherin dormitories." He set the wand aside and rolled onto his back, pulling Harry with him.

Harry straddled Snape's hips and shook his head. Those pale pink nipples were hard and he couldn't resist licking them. "We all knew Lubricus, of course, but not the other ones. What are you protecting me from?"

"Injury, for one," said Snape as he ran his hands over Harry's ribs and thumbed his nipples into hard points. "There are relaxation spells and cleaning spells and protection against diseases and such woven into the spell I used." He gasped when Harry reached back and gripped his cock in his strong hand and rolled his hips in response. "But you should use any other lubrication spells you know."

"Seamus said there was no such thing as too much," remarked Harry as he conjured a copious amount into his palm. He reached back and slathered it onto Snape's cock before positioning himself over it. His eyes met Snape's and a lump suddenly rose in his throat at the gentle acceptance he saw in their depths. "You are breathtaking," he whispered as he slowly, oh so slowly, impaled himself.

Rocking his hips gently, lacing his fingers through Harry's, Snape let his prick disappear slowly into Harry's body. A deep groan spilled from Harry when he could sink no lower and he shuddered convulsively when Snape thrust up the tiniest bit. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead and upper lip and he couldn't seem to focus on any one thing long enough to identify it.

The light was blinding and Harry closed his eyes and dropped his head back, lifting up slightly and sinking back down again and again until he'd established a leisurely rhythm. Suddenly, Snape shifted slightly under him, changing the angle. Fireworks burst behind his eyes and he cried out, his voice thick and rough with passion. "Oh, god! Right there! Again!"

He rose up and slammed down; Snape met him thrust for thrust until Snape went rigid and Harry felt Snape's prick pulsing deep inside of him. He didn't really feel the hand on his cock until another orgasm slammed into him and he was spilling hot, sticky fluid over Snape's belly.

It took Harry a few minutes to catch his breath and he propped himself up on one hand until he could breathe normally again. He lifted off carefully and kissed Snape hungrily as he did. "You can do that to me any time you wish," he sighed as he flopped down on his belly and smiled sleepily.

"Might I assume you would be willing to return the favour?" asked Snape as he used Harry's wand again to clean them both up.

"Absolutely." Harry spread the covers over the two of them and burrowed into Snape's side, tears springing to his eyes when Snape gathered him close. I could get used to this, he thought as he closed his eyes. Minutes later, he had fallen into the deepest sleep he'd ever known.

Chapter Text

As instructed, Kreacher woke Harry just before the change of shift and moved him to the camp bed set right outside Snape's cell along with his things. Harry was not at all happy about the change in location. Snape was warm and comfortable and the camp bed wasn't.

Coming awake enough to take charge, Snape had Kreacher remove the tapestry and shrink it so it could be hidden. The narrow bed was moved next to the bars. That way, he and Harry could still touch when they went back to sleep. The small table and two chairs were moved to the back of the cell and a wizard's chess set from Grimmauld Place was set on top of it. A few books from the Black library were brought in as well. Snape had no idea how long the Wizengamot would take to deliberate and wanted some way of passing time.

Grumbling about the unfairness of it all, Harry climbed into his lonely bed and held hands with Snape until the turnkeys woke them a couple of hours later. Apparently, they'd been told to expect Harry, since they barely blinked at him as they ordered their three prisoners out and escorted them through an enchanted archway to the toilets. When Snape returned, his skin was pink from the strength of their cleaning charms.

A new day dawned and that meant a trip to Hogwarts for a new set of robes. In Snape's absence, Harry had managed to get up and dressed before hovering outside the enchanted archway like a distraught mother cat missing a kitten. Having Snape out of sight felt like he'd left a limb behind, a categorically ridiculous thought, but one he couldn't suppress.

Upon spotting Snape, Harry lit up like Piccadilly Circus. He took Snape's hand and led him to the back of the cell, where they snogged each other senseless. "I guess I'll see you in the holding cell for breakfast?" Harry really didn't know what he was supposed to do other than keep Kingsley apprised of his whereabouts and he'd already made it clear that he'd be wherever Snape was.

"I believe I am to remain here until they have reached a decision."

"You still need robes," reminded Harry. He glanced around but the turnkeys were gone. "I've no idea how I'm supposed to leave."

A slow smile emerged on Snape's face. "Perhaps you needn't until Gauntlett arrives to collect us."

"However shall we pass the time?"

~*~

Gauntlett arrived shortly before eight o'clock and nearly stumbled at seeing Harry and Snape sitting side by side on Snape's narrow bed engaged in earnest conversation. "How did you get in here?" she exclaimed, interrupting them. "This place has so many wards a mouse can't get through. But Jon and Padraig said you were here when they woke you up."

Harry arched a brow. "I said I was staying with Severus. Was there something confusing about that?" He turned his attention back to Snape. "As I was saying, I'm really nervous about the forensics rotation. You know how good I am with Potions."

"'Good' is such an inadequate word for it," said Snape lightly. 'Abysmal' is a much better descriptor."

"Yeah, I still have no idea how I managed an Exceeds Expectations on my OWL," said Harry glumly.

"Truly, you were much better at the subject than I gave you credit for," replied Snape. "That and you had a thirst to prove yourself." He lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of Harry's.

"You're not supposed to—"

"You're still here?" Harry stared at Gauntlett. "Why?"

Gauntlett took a step back. "I came to tell Snape that we weren't sure where you were or if you'd be coming back. Kingsley tried to send you a message but no one was at your dormitory and you weren't in the Ministry offices. Your house-elf said you weren't at your house and he had no idea how to reach you."

"Why does no one understand that I am staying with Severus?" Harry shook his head, bewildered by the Ministry's wilful blindness. "I do need to leave for a bit, though. I need to dash up to Hogwarts to get Severus a set of robes for the day." He sighed. "I've no idea what that stupid wardrobe will choose for him, but it's certain to be garish. Will you be bringing him upstairs for breakfast or should I have it delivered here?"

After several minutes of heated debate, Gauntlett agreed to allow Harry to remain in the dungeon with Snape under the condition that the cell door remain open at all times and that he leave the Ministry with her when her shift was over. Kreacher could continue to serve meals to both of them here in the cell and she would return once breakfast was over so that Harry could make his daily trek to Hogwarts to retrieve Snape's clothing for the day.

Harry also requested—and was granted—access to a limited number of books and journals for Snape to read whilst they waited for the Wizengamot to reach a verdict, though Harry was hopeful that they would spend some time engaged in more pleasurable activities than reading. When Harry used his wand to signal for breakfast, though, Gauntlett tried to confiscate it, which led to another round of wrangling.

"What do you reckon he'll do to me with a wand? He can't Apparate out of here. No one can. There's no Floo powder below the fourth level, so it's unlikely that he's going to murder you or one of the guards and manage to make his way through the entire Ministry of Magic undetected."

"Prisoners aren't allowed wands, Harry. It's the rules."

"But I'm not a prisoner," shouted Harry.

"Harry," said Snape quietly. "Give her your wand. You can get it back from her when you leave."

Glaring mutinously, Harry nodded and surrendered it, feeling naked and vulnerable as he did so. They ate in silence and, when Gauntlett returned, Harry left with her without a word to Snape. It took him less than an hour to accomplish everything that needed to be done, and when he returned it was with a full set of ruby-coloured robes and all the accoutrements. He also had the latest editions of The Practical Potioneer and Transfiguration Today, and the newest book by Philberta Willburn, What the Scarab Saw, as well as Quidditch Weekly and a murder mystery he spotted in Flourish and Blotts.

When he returned to the dungeons, his first order of business was to apologise to Snape. "I don't like being without my wand, but you were right. I needed to give it to her. I'm bending enough rules as it is and I don't want Kingsley to change his mind and decide I shouldn't be allowed to wait down here with you."

Snape drew him close. "I was wrong to insist." They settled in to wait, each one determinedly not thinking about the deliberations taking place over their heads. They played chess and Harry was proud to have played to a draw in the third match and win the fourth. His pleasure was short-lived, however. Snape trounced him in twelve moves in their fifth match.

They ate, dozed, read, played more chess, and had dinner, all with the weight of the verdict hanging over their heads. Harry kissed Snape "goodbye" and left with Gauntlett, his Invisibility Cloak tucked safely in the same satchel he used to bring in their books and Snape's robes. Ninety minutes later, he was back with Kreacher and helping arrange the cell to their liking.

Their loving was slow and gentle. This time Harry explored Snape's body, kissing and teasing with fingers and tongue until Snape was writhing and making little sounds in the back of his throat that Harry took to mean that he wasn't certain how to express his pleasure. Snape taught him the spells he used on Harry the night before and this time, Snape elected to remain on his back when Harry entered him.

The sensation was a rush, the heat surrounding him incredible, and Harry stared in wonder down at Snape. "This…oh god, Sev. How did you keep from moving?" Every nerve in his body was screaming at him to thrust hard, thrust deep, to pound relentlessly into Snape until the man came apart. Then Snape rolled his hips and Harry thought he would die of bliss. He moved with Snape, changing his angle until Snape cried out. With that, Harry was lost. Snape's channel gripped him tight, milking him until his cock stopped its relentless pulsing. Reaching between them, he fisted Snape's cock, his hand moving over the velvety shaft until Snape spilled over him.

This time Harry cast the cleaning spells and they snuggled together as sleep claimed them.

~*~

It was the middle of the next afternoon when word came down from above: the Wizengamot was ready to vote on the charges.

The courtroom was packed beyond Harry's imagining. Witches and wizards were standing along the back rows, in the steep narrow aisles, and crammed around the edges like a barrel of flobberworms. All except for the jury box, which sat empty like a great yawing cavern set in a wall of people. Percy filed in, followed by Kingsley and then Embry. Gauntlett was last and she pulled the door shut behind her. To Harry's ears, it sounded like thunder.

"All rise," commanded Gauntlett and Harry rose from his chair, certain his legs had turned to water. Only Snape remained seated, strapped, as ever, into the defendant's chair that dominated the space between bar and bench. The jury filed in and Harry tried to read their faces, but either he'd drawn a group of Legilimenses or they had loads of practise at hiding their thoughts.

"I understand that you are ready to vote on the charges," pronounced Kingsley once they had taken their seats. "I remind you that it takes sixteen votes for conviction on each charge. For the sake of convenience, the five hundred charges of child endangerment are consolidated. Either Severus Snape is guilty or he is not. The charges against the Potters—James, Lily, and Harry—are to be considered separately.

"Please raise your wands and repeat after me: I solemnly swear..."

"I solemnly swear," repeated the jury in one voice.

"Upon my magic and my word, that my vote on the matter before the court is my own, that I have not been influenced by any outside party, and that I have based my vote solely on the evidence placed before the court and not on the identities of any party involved."

A chill ran down Harry's spine as a swirl of magic swept through the courtroom. Nothing like that had happened at his hearing and he wondered if it was some new thing Kingsley had implemented in hopes that the verdict would somehow be fair.

"On the charge of accessory to the murder of James Potter, please raise your wand if you find the defendant guilty."

Harry's heart thundered in his chest and his ears filled with white noise. He could barely bring himself to look in the jury's direction and wished with all his might that he was holding Snape's hand. Not a wand went up and Harry had to blink several times to convince himself that no one was voting.

"Please raise your wand if you wish to acquit the defendant of the charge," said Kingsley as Percy scribbled something on a sheet of parchment. Twenty-one wands went up and Harry took a moment to count each one. It was almost impossible to keep the relief off his face and he mouthed 'thank you' to the jury. He risked a quick glance at Snape and found him sitting back in the chair, his eyes closed.

Kingsley repeated the procedure for the counts against Snape for being an accessory to the murder of Lily Evans Potter and the verdict came out the same way. There were two dissenters on the charge of being an accessory to the initial attempt on Harry's life, though Harry couldn't quite understand how Snape could be an accessory to the attempt on his life and not on his mum and dad's.

"On the consolidated counts of five hundred charges of child endangerment for Severus Snape's actions during the year he served as headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, please raise your wands if you find the defendant guilty," intoned Kingsley after the verdicts about Lily and Harry had been properly recorded.

Harry held his breath. Three wands went up and he felt the sting of tears. "Please raise your wands if you wish to acquit the defendant of the charges." A number of wands went up and Harry watched Kingsley's face as Percy counted. "Seventeen votes for acquittal," announced Kingsley. "Would the member of the jury who wishes to abstain please raise your wand?"

It was Regina Chandler, a red haired witch in the third row. "I simply can't decide," she said unhappily. "All that suffering. Someone should be held accountable."

"Someone was—and he's dead now." To Harry's surprise, it was Percy who spoke up. "Dead because Harry Potter killed him. Tom Riddle is the reason my brother died defending Hogwarts. Tom Riddle is the reason my sister had to listen whilst Snape tore her to ribbons."

Chandler nodded, her distress written in the lines of her face. "It's nothing I hadn't considered, but I just can't. I'm sorry."

"There's no need," said Harry sympathetically. "We've asked a lot of you."

Percy recorded the votes and glanced over at Kingsley. "On the final charge, the murder in cold blood of Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot by Severus Snape, please raise your wands if you find the defendant guilty as charged."

Harry couldn't breathe. A thick band of anxiety was wrapped around his chest so tightly that he found it impossible to believe that his heart could still beat. He gnawed on the inside of his cheek so hard that he tasted blood and his fingers clenched into fists hard enough to dig crescent shaped furrows into his palms. Please, please, please. The refrain echoed in his mind until he could hear nothing else.

One by one the wands went up as if each member of the jury was still wrestling with their decision until after an agonising minute, they were all raised.

"NO!" The anguished cry rang off the cold stone walls and it took a few seconds before Harry understood the cry had come from him. He couldn't bear to look in Snape's direction, couldn't handle seeing the crushing acceptance of his fate. Could God or Merlin or the fates hate him so much that they felt the need to take away from him everyone he ever loved? He buried his face in his hands as he struggled to breathe.

"Before you pass sentence, Minister," said a voice from the jury. Harry looked up and through blurry eyes barely made out the face of Albert Sneddon. "We wish to make a statement." His rheumy eyes swept over his colleagues and they nodded in reply.

"There is no question that Severus Snape used the Killing Curse on Albus Dumbledore," said Sneddon in his high, gravelly voice. "Professor Snape confessed to it. Young Mr Malfoy testified that he watched the professor do what he could not. Even Professor Snape's advocate, Harry Potter, admitted as much. We also understand through their testimony that Albus Dumbledore chose the manner of his death with great care. We, the jury, shudder to think how events might have turned out if Professor Snape had been unable to carry out such a terrible, terrible act.

"Having found Severus Snape guilty of killing Albus, we also find that he did not murder Professor Dumbledore. We ask that the court take the circumstances into consideration in passing sentence. We also reserve the right to modify any sentence we believe to be too harsh." He sat back down wearily. The woman next to him patted him on the shoulder and he gave her a bit of a smile.

Kingsley was quiet for a long time, steepling his fingers as he weighed and considered all he'd heard. He pointed his wand at Snape and the bonds holding him fell away. "Please rise so the court can pronounce your sentence."

Snape rose unsteadily and Harry hurried to the base of the chair. He extended his hand and helped Snape down, standing next to him with his hand gripping Snape's shoulder. His breath came in small shuddering hitches; he could not remember a time in his life when he felt so insignificant.

"Having been found guilty for..." Kingsley paused and studied the faces of the Wizengamot as he searched for the right words. "Causing the death of Albus Dumbledore, it is the judgment of this court that you, Severus Tobias Snape, be sentenced to a term of one year and one day at Azkaban, after which time you will be subject to probation for a term of not less than five years."

Harry turned and buried his face in Snape's shoulder so no one could see his tears. He was a grown man. He'd faced worse moments than this, but the gigantic ball of guilt and misery that lodged in his throat was making breathing impossible. Snape's arms came up and wrapped him in a warm embrace, and Harry heard him thank Kingsley over the din of reporters trying to get a quote for their news reports.

"For what?" Harry asked into Snape's robes.

"For his wisdom and his mercy." Snape looked into Harry's tear-streaked face. "Idiot boy. Did you truly believe I would emerge from this unscathed?"

"Yeah, actually, I did," replied Harry, his voice rough and thick with all the emotions trying to escape.

"Rhoda, please escort Severus to the holding cell. Harry, come with me." Kingsley's voice cut through the tumult like a scythe through ripe wheat. Harry squeezed Snape's hand and took a step back as Gauntlett placed a soft hand in the middle of Snape's back and escorted him gently to the door behind the high bench.

Only after Snape disappeared did Harry follow Kingsley to the narrow corridor where they'd hashed out a few evidentiary matters. He slumped against the wall, feeling as empty as one of Trelawney's prophecies. Once he regained his equilibrium, Harry thought he might blast down a few walls at Grimmauld Place, but right now, his soul ached. Even dragging his eyes from the floor to Kingsley's face was an act of will.

"I know you're disappointed in the verdict," said Kingsley, "but I promise you on my magic that nothing will happen to Severus whilst he's incarcerated at Azkaban."

"How can you say that?" cried Harry, overwhelmed with grief. "They nearly killed him last time."

"Because I know his jailor won't allow it." Kingsley waited for Harry to find the wherewithal to look up at him before continuing. "I spoke to Commander Robards and he agreed to let you serve your rotation at Azkaban early. He also agreed to let you postpone the rest of your training until Snape's sentence is up. He'd rather not take charge of a known rule-breaker, especially one as strong-willed as you are."

Harry heard as far as 'Azkaban' before he was choking on the tears he refused to shed. The corridor seemed to narrow and he swayed dizzily. It would complete his humiliation if he fainted at Kingsley's feet and he clutched at the wall to remain upright. "Wha-what did you say?" he choked.

Kingsley rested his broad hand on Harry's shoulder. "When you arrive at Azkaban with Snape, ask for Solomon Holdsworth. He'll be expecting you and will help the two of you settle in. He'll go over your duties and set your watches. Listen to him, Harry, and do as he says. Now, go with Severus and take care of him."

A surge of hope filled Harry and he nodded as he shook Kingsley's hand. "Thank you. I've never...just...thank you."

The Harry who bounded down the corridor without a backwards glance at Kingsley was not the same Harry who trudged out of Courtroom Ten, so heartsick he could barely lift his head. He burst through the door of the holding cell where Snape was enduring some sort of lecture from Gauntlett and nearly swept the man off his feet. He rained kisses indiscriminately until Snape held Harry away from him in self-defence.

"We're going to Azkaban!" crowed Harry, his green eyes radiant. "I've been reassigned 'til your sentence is up. Seems the Department of Magical Law Enforcement isn't too keen on having someone like me moping about the place, so Robards is sending me with you." He threw himself into Snape's arms and hugged him so hard it was a wonder he didn't break some ribs.

Snape struggled to free himself and held Harry at arm's length, staring uncomprehendingly.

"Say something," begged Harry. "Please!"

"I've just been sentenced to a year and a day in Azkaban with the man I love as my captor. Surely even I'm allowed a minute or two to collect my thoughts." Snape glared angrily, but his expression swiftly melted into a tender smile, one that Harry returned in full.

An hour later, they were still smiling as they walked hand in hand into Azkaban to face their future together.

Chapter Text

"There's a gentleman in the sitting room asking for you, ma'am." The house-elf curtsied quickly and clasped her wrist behind her back. "It's Master Severus, ma'am. I is telling him Master Draco is being with Astoria, but he is saying he is to see you."

Narcissa set aside the book she was reading, her brow furrowing lightly. "Severus? Here?" She rose gracefully to her feet and paced for a moment. "How peculiar." She tapped her finger against her pursed lips as she thought. She'd not seen Severus since Draco's wedding and could think of no reason for the visit. "I would like a pot of strong coffee and a plate of raspberry biscuits brought to the sitting room in ten minutes' time." She inclined her head slightly. Thank you, Sintille."

Severus was standing at the windows looking out at the formal gardens, his back to her as she entered the room. His dark hair, longer now than when she had seen him last, was swept back and fastened at the nape of his neck with a silver clasp and he no longer had the air of a feral cat uncertain of his welcome clinging to him like soot. "Severus," she said, injecting a note of warmth into her voice. "What a delight. Please, have a seat and tell me what brings you to the Manor."

When he turned, she noticed he was carrying a largish box wrapped in silver paper and tied with a pale blue ribbon. "Narcissa. Good morning." Snape stepped forward and brushed a kiss on her cheek before sitting in a sapphire blue chair with delicate arms and legs. He set the box down carefully and watched intently as she perched on the edge of a matching settee. "As for why I've come, do you recall the date?"

"The date?" Sintille appeared with coffee and biscuits, which Narcissa served up properly. "It's the first of June. Draco's birthday is in just a few days. Why?" She waited until Severus had taken a sip of coffee before lifting her own china cup to her lips and smiled approvingly when he selected a biscuit to nibble.

"It's also the fifth anniversary of your testimony," said Snape as he set down his coffee cup. "I owe you more than I can ever repay."

Narcissa was astonished. She had known Severus Snape for over twenty-five years and, since the day he made the Unbreakable Vow to protect her son from the Dark Lord's vengeance, she had considered herself in his debt. It was one that she would never consider fulfilled. "But I did nothing. The Ministry summoned me. Harry Potter interrogated me. I said my piece. Judging from the reaction of the Wizengamot, I'm not certain I was of any assistance at all."

Snape picked up another biscuit and ate it whilst she spoke. "Hmm. I'm not certain you made any difference with the Wizengamot, but you did with Harry. Your testimony, he refers to it as a paradigm shift." He sipped his coffee and she would swear his dark eyes twinkled. It was remarkable!

"You speak of him as though you are still in contact with him," she observed. "Isn't he still with the Auror Corps?"

"He is. He is up for promotion to the head of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol." Snape leant back and crossed his right leg over his left. His deep blue robes rode up onto his ankle and revealed a pair of fashionable black boots of Minotaur leather. Very expensive, as Narcissa well knew. A cloak of the stuff would cost her half her vault. Snape blew out a breath. "Kingsley can't post the promotions list soon enough."

There was affection and exasperation there or her name wasn't Narcissa Black Malfoy. She arched an eyebrow and studied Snape intently. He was easily a stone and a half heavier than he had been during the weeks he was on trial. Some of the sallowness was gone; his skin had more of an olive cast, as though he was a regular acquaintance of the sun. His teeth, whilst still crooked, were much whiter and some of the potions stains had faded from his elegant fingers. For the first time since she'd known him, he appeared to be thriving. "How do you know this, Severus?" she asked quietly.

Happiness shone in the depths of Snape's eyes and he smiled unabashedly. "Did you not know, Narcissa? Harry Potter is my husband. We married more than three and a half years ago."

"Married? To Harry Potter? Oh, Severus." Narcissa was surprised by the tears that filled her eyes. They were a sign of sentiment, of weakness and she felt she should be ashamed of them, but discovered she wasn't. Moving swiftly, she tugged Severus into her arms and hugged him for a long time. "Draco will be delighted as well."

Snape patted her back awkwardly and when he sat down the confusion was evident. "Had we known of your," he searched for a suitable word, "affection for us, we would have invited you to the ceremony. It was quite small and we've made no announcement, but Harry is ridiculously overjoyed, and that's all that matters. I suspect he will, at some point, outgrow his exuberance, but at the moment, it shows little sign of waning.

"Oh, and he sent you this. He told me not to worry if it perished, you would understand all the same." Snape lifted the box and passed it to her. "I've no idea what it is."

Narcissa set it on the table and eyed it cautiously. She had half a mind of checking it for hexes and jinxes, but there was no way to do that without insulting her guest and it was clear that Snape was as curious as she was. The pale grey paper shimmered and it wasn't until she turned the box that she noticed the subtle imprint of flowers.

"And what of yourself, Narcissa?" asked Snape as she ran her finger under the beautiful blue bow and removed it. "Do you intend to grow old here alone?"

"My marriage contract did not allow for divorce," she replied as she set about removing the paper in one piece. "And Lucius will be released from Azkaban in another year or so. We will have many more years of 'married bliss' ahead of us. Besides, I still hold out hope that Draco and Astoria will return home and raise their children here."

To her surprise, the box opened along the long edge and, as she worked it open, the scent of fresh dirt filled her nose. What on earth...? The look she sent Snape had more than a small amount of confusion in it and it was hard to conceal her hurt and disappointment when she pulled out the sorriest excuse for a potted plant she had ever seen. There was a long, green stick about eighteen inches tall sticking out of the soil next to one brave stalk and a number of dead or dying sword-like leaves.

"I-I don't understand," she murmured and turned away to hide the ache in her heart.

Snape's jaw dropped and a dark flush rose up from the collar of his robes to his cheeks. "There must be an explanation. Harry is many things, but cruel is not one of them. Check for a note, Narcissa, I implore you."

Plastering on a brave smile, she searched for someplace to set the woebegone thing until a house-elf could see to its remains. There was nothing else inside the box except fresh dirt and the remains of a long, thin leaf. She examined the paper and discovered a small envelope nearly the same shade with her name written in sparkling blue ink that nearly matched her eyes.

Dear Narcissa,

I found a bed of these whilst weeding out the gardens at our new house. Sorry looking thing, isn't it? This one is the worst of the lot, but once Severus told me what they were, I knew I had to send it to you. It's called Narcissus poeticus and Sev thinks this one is some sort of Pink Lily. They're poisonous though, so be careful.

I know you must think I've gone completely mental, sending you a nearly dead plant, but, you see, I've never forgotten what you said at Severus' trial, about him needing love and light and warmth. This raggedy old plant reminded me of that and I knew I had to send it on to you. I reckon you'll just throw it out, and that's okay. The plant was just an excuse.

I did what you said. I loved him without condition. Still do and I expect I always will. I nurtured him and cared for him. I made certain that he knew that nothing could ever hurt him again, not beyond the everyday things anyway. I wanted you to know that your words took root. It's been five years and I thought you ought to see what you grew. He turned out pretty well, leastways I think so. I hope you do, too.

Love,
Harry

THE END