Chapter X - Guilt
Sirius was very worried about Harry. For two days Snape didn't come back. On the first morning after Snape's departure, they had talked to Albus, who had told them Snape had recovered the locket and decided to go to his house in the north of England. Albus had insisted that Snape was all right and that they shouldn't worry.
But Albus's words hadn't soothed Harry at all. Harry insisted he could feel that Severus was unwell, and he wanted to see him.
Remus and Sirius had tried everything, but Harry would not calm down. He kept pacing the house and asking where Severus's house was, and how could he get there. Only Albus could tell them that, but every time Harry had called him, Albus had given the same answer: Give Severus time.
On the morning of their second day without Snape, Remus had asked Sirius if he wanted him to stay and spend the day with them. Sirius had replied it wasn't necessary; as Remus was about to open a breach in the union between the werewolves and Voldemort, he should spend the day among the werewolves. But now Sirius regretted not having asked Remus to stay, for he didn't know what to do with Harry. Everything he had tried had failed, and Harry did nothing but roam the house like a zombie. Harry didn't want to eat or sleep. He kept talking to himself - or to Severus, as he would say. The only thing Sirius wanted to do now was to go to Snape's house and bring him back. Even if he had to give him a punch or two. On his nose.
Remus came back early in the evening, because he was worried about Harry. When Sirius told him Harry was becoming more and more nervous and didn't want to eat, Remus called Dumbledore again through the Floo system. Sirius listened to their talk.
"Oh, hello, Remus. How is Harry doing?"
"He's not well at all. I think he's got a fever, but who can make him stay in bed? Can you talk to Severus and convince him to come back?"
"Unfortunately, Severus is too stubborn. I thought a night of sleep would give him some perspective and make him change his mind, but it seems I was mistaken. I believe the time has come to explain the whole situation to you. Can you come here, the three of you? I shall cast the necessary protections and isolate my office."
Albus served them tea - probably dosed with a Calming Draught, because Sirius felt suddenly light and even Harry visibly calmed down. When Harry was tranquil and lucid, Albus showed them a crystal bottle and told them that, on his request, Severus had been keeping a secret from them. A secret about something he deeply regretted. A secret so terrible that Albus had asked him to remove the memories related to it from his brain. As Harry could easily read Severus's mind, they had to prevent him from discovering the secret at the wrong moment.
"Severus asked me to show you the content of these memories, and I agreed with him that we can't postpone this revelation any more. I just ask you to watch the entire sequence and ponder upon it carefully before judging what you have watched."
Dumbledore touched the bottle stopper with his wand, opened it and poured the silvery-white substance into the Pensieve. The shimmering strands swirled into the basin. Harry, Remus and Sirius bent forward and plunged into the memories.
The first memory showed Severus in the Hog's Head. Harry felt moved by seeing him so young and yet so gloomy and concerned. The pub was full of people talking loudly. Severus couldn't help stumbling into the drunkards who got in his way. Slowly, he crossed the room until he reached the stairs. He climbed the steps silently and stopped in front of a closed door, pressing his ear against it. Suddenly, someone pushed him aside. The door opened and Harry saw Trelawney and Dumbledore inside the room. Trelawney was speaking, in the harsh, throaty voice she had when she was making a "true" prophecy.
"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..."
Dumbledore gazed at Severus with surprise; Trelawney looked to be in a trance. Severus was pulled back by his robes by a man who then pushed him downstairs. Narrowing his eyes, Harry recognised Aberforth, Dumbledore's brother and the Hog's Head barman. As if in slow motion, Harry saw Severus almost fall in the middle of the stairs, trip down the last steps and hit his back against the bar.
Harry didn't want to acknowledge the truth of what he was seeing. It was too terrible: it had been Severus who had eavesdropped on Trelawney's prophecy.
The memory started to dissipate, and before Harry could look at Sirius or Remus, or have any kind of reaction, the next memory was appearing on the Pensieve's surface. The image of Voldemort emerged from the darkness - not the handsome youth Harry had seen in the Chamber of Secrets, nor the skeletal man he was now, but a man with the marks of degradation already imprinted on his features.
The same Severus of the previous memory, young and sombre, was kneeling before Voldemort. To see Severus in that submissive position aroused revulsion, sadness and pain in Harry.
"Master, I was in the Hog's Head pub, following Dumbledore, as you ordered me, when I witnessed a curious scene: a sibyl prophesied before him that the one who will vanquish you is to be born."
"A prophecy? About someone who can vanquish me? Who would that be?"
"She just said he will be born as the seventh month dies, to those who have thrice defied you."
"You did very well by telling me, Severus."
Severus's lips curled in a pleased smile, but his eyes didn't shine.
"Do you know to whom the prophecy refers?"
"Not yet. But this is very grave. We have to find out, Severus, at any cost, and destroy the child immediately."
For a moment, Severus seemed unwell, but soon he recomposed himself. "Your wish will be honoured, Master."
As the memory dissipated, Harry clenched his fists. Bastard. Severus had been the responsible for his parents' death! Rage and pain assaulting him, Harry thought of pulling away from the Pensieve. What would be the point in remaining here? But the scene that started to form on the Pensieve surface exerted an almost hypnotic attraction. Severus appeared, his expression transfigured by pain. There weren't tears on his face, but he looked utterly devastated.
"He's going to kill Lily, James and their baby. And I will be to blame for that."
They were in Dumbledore's office. Both were standing up. Dumbledore stared at Severus sternly and silently.
"I can't..." Severus could hardly speak. He leaned on a column, as if unable to stand upright. "I can't stand the guilt. I could tell you I never imagined the boy mentioned in the prophecy could be James and Lily's son. I could tell you that if I hadn't told the Dark Lord, I would have been running a high risk, since I had been seen in a public place where probably there were others of his supporters and spies. I could tell you that I have never placed much value on divinations, and have always considered them a fraud, so I didn't expect the Dark Lord to attach such importance to the fact. But none of those claims would eliminate my guilt or erase all the damage I caused, all the sordid and hideous things I have done."
Dumbledore continued to stare at him silently, as if waiting for something else from Severus.
Finally, Severus lifted his face and handed Dumbledore his wand. "I put my life in your hands. I don't deserve to live. But if there is something I can do to prevent Lily's, James's and their son's deaths, I shall do it."
Harry knew Severus too well to doubt his words. He knew that Severus's soul was broken. More than ever, perhaps still due to the magical empathy, Harry could feel Severus's pain.
Dumbledore didn't take the wand Severus was giving him. He held both Severus's shoulders firmly, instead. "If you really repent your errors, you will help me defeat Voldemort. It will not be easy, the path I shall ask you to walk into. However, you will be crucially important in the whole process."
The two wizards exchanged a long gaze, and determination blended with the pain and the self-loathing imprinted on Severus's face.
Harry's eyes filled up with tears.
Remus took a deep breath when the last memory dissipated. He didn't know what to think. He didn't know what to feel. It was too much, and all at the same time.
Severus had told Voldemort the prophecy, and had caused James's and Lily's death. But he hadn't acted with their deaths in mind, and had regretted what he had done. Remus believed the sincerity of Severus's remorse. He couldn't doubt it, having seen his expression. Or could he? Could Severus have been misleading them all that time? No, it wasn't possible.
After all, Albus trusted him. And Harry, who shared a magical bond with Severus... Oh, God! How was Harry feeling?
Sirius ran to support Harry as soon as the last memory ended. "Are you all right?"
Harry couldn't speak. Sirius led him to an armchair and squatted before him. His own feelings didn't matter now. The hate Sirius had felt for Snape when he had seen what Snape had done didn't matter. The pain of knowing that James's death might not have happened if it weren't for Snape didn't matter. And it also didn't matter how Severus's remorse had evoked in him an almost unexplainable empathy for Severus. No. The only thing that mattered was Harry. "Harry?"
Harry lifted red eyes to him. "He didn't want to do that. It's terrible, to know that it was his fault, but... he didn't want that."
Albus approached the two of them. "Severus sorely regrets all his acts as a Death Eater, but his deepest regret is for what you have just witnessed in the Pensieve."
Sirius knew how it was to feel guilty. He had always felt guilty for James's and Lily's death, for not having agreed to be their Secret Keeper.
As if reading his mind, Albus said, "What you must understand is that the culprit for James's and Lily's death is no one besides Tom Riddle and, in great part, Peter Pettigrew. Severus made a lot of mistakes, indeed. But he didn't know the prophecy referred to you, Harry. And since then, Severus has done nothing but try and redeem himself and repair his mistakes as best as he can."
"Where is he now? Why has he disappeared?" asked Harry.
"He is devastated: I have assigned him a task that seems unfair and terrible to him. Upon my orders, he made an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy."
Remus widened his eyes. "An Unbreakable Vow? But that is very... dangerous!"
"You are absolutely right. I would never have asked Severus to do that if circumstances didn't require it."
"What's an Unbreakable Vow?" asked Harry.
"It's a voluntary agreement made between two or more wizards or witches, under the supervision of a third wizard or witch. If one of the wizards or witches breaks the Vow, he or she dies," Remus explained.
"And what has Severus vowed?" asked Harry, trembling.
"Severus vowed to protect Draco Malfoy, and fulfil his mission if Draco fails," said Albus.
A wave of revulsion overcame Sirius. He stood up and turned to Albus. "Am I to understand that Severus vowed to kill you if Draco fails?"
"I don't believe we shall come to that," said Albus, in a soft tone. "We should not be rash."
Harry stood up abruptly. "Have you all gone mental? What kind of game are you playing at? Severus killing you? You're like a father to him. He worships you like a god! He..." Harry collapsed again in the armchair, disconsolate. "He must be feeling very, very bad."
Sirius squeezed Harry's arm. "I think we should go home and think things over."
"Yes," said Remus. "I believe none of us can make a wise decision at such a moment."
Seated on the sofa in their house in St Mellyan, Sirius was trying to sort out all his conflicting thoughts and emotions.
In the middle of the turmoil, he hadn't had time to think of his brother Regulus. To know that Regulus had done something very important to destroy Voldemort made Sirius, for the first time, proud of his brother. It was sad to think that, had they been closer, they could have helped each other. Regulus must have felt guilty too, and had acted to redeem himself. Sirius wished he could have helped him. More than ever, he felt the loss of his brother.
Snape was to blame for James's death. Snape had repented and, for seventeen years, had been trying to make amends. Snape had even saved Harry's life once or twice because of that, and was on their side, struggling to defeat Voldemort. Now Snape had been forced to make an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy and was fated to kill Dumbledore if the stupid and incompetent son of Lucius Malfoy failed. Sirius didn't want to feel guilty if Severus died to save Harry and the Wizarding World. There was already too much guilt everywhere.
Sirius heard Harry shouting at Remus in the kitchen, "What does Dumbledore want? He's throwing Severus into the same hell Severus spent seventeen years trying to rise up from!"
Harry ran upstairs, leaving Sirius alone with his thoughts again.
The image of Severus handing his wand to Albus, Severus's face undone by sorrow, was too strong. It recalled to Sirius that crazy moment when he had gone after Peter to try and redeem the guilt he felt and avenge his friends' deaths. He was guilty too. He was to blame for James's and Lily's deaths. He too was trying to atone for his past mistakes, and he knew how impossible it was to get rid of the sense of guilt.
More than that: he had also been a sort of victim of Albus Dumbledore's Machiavellian plans. He had had to be dead to his godson, to break his heart for the sake of those plans. That was not very different from what Severus would have to face by killing his mentor and becoming a pariah in the Wizarding World, hated and rejected by his very allies.
For James's sake, Sirius would like to hate Severus. But Harry, James's son, loved Severus and shared with him a strong bond. It was a very difficult decision to make.
Remus sat beside Sirius, waking him from his musings. "So... What shall we do, love?"
"I don't know, Moony. I have never felt so divided."
Remus intertwined their fingers and they remained in silence for a long time.
"Moony... Would you be angry if I... if I went and brought Snape home?"
Remus looked at him, surprised, and then smiled. "Angry? No. I would be proud."
"I think we all are Albus's sons, in a way. Second chances, you know. Albus gave Severus a second chance, as he did to you and to me."
"To you? But you have never done anything wrong."
"Oh, Sirius... You always forget that I'm a werewolf. How many times,
in our pranks and reckless games, have we put the life of the other children
at risk? Albus didn't know this back then, but he came to know later and
he never rebuked me."
"I'm not so sure. But it doesn't matter now. What it matters is that Severus deserved the second chance Albus gave him."
"That greasy bat. He won, didn't he? I don't know how, but he won: we're going to forgive him."
Remus gave a somewhat hysterical laugh. "I don't think he's feeling triumphant right now."
"Do you think James would forgive us for this?"
"James would at least understand that Harry needs Severus now. Besides, James saved Severus's life once..."
That was another thing that Sirius would like to be able to forget: the Shrieking Shack episode. Once more, he felt guilty. That had been the worst of those times when he had recklessly put at risk the lives of people he loved. He was a teen back then, but Severus was also a teen when he had joined the Death Eaters.
"Moony, you've always been the most sensible of us... Do you think it is sensible to forgive the big bat?"
"This time I feel unable to be sensible, Padfoot. All I know is I trust Severus, and I hate to see Harry suffer."
"So it's settled. I'll go after him."
Harry was standing in the middle of the staircase. He had probably been spying on them all the time... "Tell him I forgive him, okay?"
"Black. Leave me alone. You are the last person with whom I would like to talk."
"You are breaking my heart," said Sirius, brushing the soot from his robes and looking around. A room full of old books and with a musty atmosphere. Typical of Snape. "Put down your wand, please. I'm here because of Harry."
It was as if Sirius had cast a Cruciatus on Snape: he put down his wand, and his face looked pained.
"Is he all right?"
"No, you moron, of course he's not!"
If Snape had turned into a golden butterfly Sirius wouldn't have become as surprised as he was when he saw Snape lowering his head, as if in shame. Sirius waited for him to say something. After a long moment, Snape lifted his eyes, looking more lost than ever.
"I am very sorry. If I had known this would happen, I would never have allowed it. I would never have deepened the bond I have with Harry."
Sirius didn't know how to deal with a defeated Snape. "Er... Listen, I don't know how you've managed to do this, but Harry is crazy for you. Albus showed us your secret memories and..."
Snape's face contorted in agony. "He must hate me now, then."
"No, Severus. He asked me to tell you he forgives you."
Severus frowned. "He forgives me? After seeing that? He must be confused. He is not thinking clearly. And you, have you seen it too?"
"Yes. And Remus too."
"So... what are you doing here? Didn't you see that I am the one responsible for the death of your friends? Of Harry's parents?"
"I love my godson, and he's suffering now not because of his parents, but because he needs you."
"If you loved Harry as you say, you would want to see me as far away from him as possible."
"You're wrong. You're important in the war against Voldemort. Albus says you will make a difference. Without you, Harry doesn't stand a chance. The magical empathy between you will be crucial to our victory. Besides, we've spent a whole week living together, and I've observed the way you behave, especially with Harry. It's not easy for me to say this, but... I trust you."
Severus stared at him in utter bewilderment. It was the first time, in all their history of unending fights, that Sirius had managed to silence him. And Sirius couldn't even celebrate!
"Albus told us the mission he assigned you," continued Sirius, taking advantage of Severus's confusion. "I wouldn't want to be in your skin. You will need support. We... Harry, Remus and me... will be there for you. If we can't be with you right at the moment when you will have to fulfil the mission, at least we will be with you before and after that."
"After that! There will be no 'after that' for me!"
"Don't say that. Think of Harry. Think of how he would feel if something happened to you. There's no way back. The bond between you is unbreakable. He needs you. Without you, he will sink into depression, and will become an easy target for Voldemort."
Sirius sensed that Severus was almost surrendering.
"Do you really believe I am that important to him?"
"I'm sure you are. Do you think I'd come here, if I didn't believe that?"
Severus's lips curled into a crooked smile. "You don't expect me to trust your opinion, do you?"
"Once in your life you could be sensible. Come with me, Severus."
Severus slowly acquiesced, and Sirius let out the breath he had been holding.
As soon as Sirius and Severus stepped out of the fireplace, Harry ran towards Severus, and they embraced.
Remus approached Sirius, smiling, and kissed him. "My hero," he whispered in Sirius's ear. "I knew you would succeed."
"It wasn't easy," Sirius complained.
Sirius and Remus turned to look at the other couple; they were still embracing as if they wanted to merge into one single being. Finally, Severus held Harry's shoulders firmly and pulled away to stare at him.
They kept staring at each other for a long time, as if they didn't need words to communicate. It was a bit frustrating to observe them, because they seemed to be in a world of their own.
"Let's have dinner now," said Remus. "We haven't had a decent meal in this house in two days. And Severus doesn't seem to have been eating either - he's nothing but bones."
Sirius helped Remus to set the table. Harry was sitting on the sofa with his head on Severus's lap, and Severus was stroking Harry's unkempt hair. Sirius stopped to observe them. They were breaking the rules established by Remus, but they didn't seem to realise it. They were both calm and peaceful, after the nightmare. As peaceful as two angels.
Sirius went back to the kitchen. "Have you seen them on the sofa?" he asked Remus. "They look like two angels."
"Yes, I've seen them. Padfoot, I think we should let them stay together, at least tonight."
"If we let them be together for one night, we shall never be able to separate them again."
"That's true. So I think we should let them stay together definitively."
Sirius frowned. "Don't you think that would be... a complete capitulation?"
Remus burst into laughter. "I do! But the truth is... we have already capitulated, haven't we?" Remus squeezed his arm. "Let's have dinner, and then we shall decide."
They all acted shy and awkward at dinner; they had built a relationship based on banter and bickering, and now they seemed to be walking on thin ice. They talked only about safe subjects: food, weather, the season of salmon spawning and the tin industry in Cornwall. After dinner, however, Sirius loomed before Severus and Harry, who were on the sofa again, and announced, "I shall take Severus's trunk to your bedroom, Harry." Sirius wasn't surprised when two pair of eyes widened at him. "Yeah, you've heard it right. As for the bed, I believe a simple Engorgement Charm can solve your problem."
Remus approached Sirius from behind and wrapped an arm around his waist.
Severus lay beside Harry and relaxed. "I'm afraid your godfather has lost what little sanity he had left."
"Just because he acknowledged that it's nonsense to try and keep us apart?"
"I don't know how his chaotic mind works, but I shall not complain." Severus snuggled closer to Harry. "The last morning I spent here... do you remember? I was downstairs, sleeping on the sofa, and I came when you wanked."
"Really? I thought it had been just a dream. I may have lost control. When I'm awake, I can control what we share. Well, if we'll always sleep together from now on, that won't be a problem..."
"There are means of controlling what we share, even when we sleep. We shall have to practise. " Severus sighed. "I'm afraid I don't have the energy to celebrate our first night here together as we should."
"Hmph, I know, I'm drained too. Too many emotions for a single day."
"Tomorrow morning we shall make up for it."
Ptyx, January 2006