I. The Memory Harry Never Saw
It had been six weeks.
A long six weeks, as it happened. A long, eventful six weeks. The night that he had thought was the start of a new beginning was a bright and painful memory.
Lily was back with James. She had done it so abruptly, so brutally that it left him rocking on his heels. Next was the engagement. That one struck him between the eyes. The news that the marriage would follow within the month was a punch in the gut. The only mercy was that he hadn't told anyone, and apparently neither had she. The humiliation would have been more than he could bear.
Then the rumours started. They sure were getting married in a rush, weren't they, old Mrs Black tittered. Dirty Mudblood had a half-blood abomination in the oven for sure. Eugenia Potter had been a fine woman and she would be rolling in her grave. But then, her blasted children had been harbouring blood traitors for years (she said this with a sneering nod to the burnt-out portraits of Sirius and Andromeda on the wall). So it wasn't a surprise that her grandson was marrying one (and after getting her into trouble, she chortled as an aside). It was just like she'd been saying all along. It's a slippery slope, Severus, a great big slippery slope. Best to stay well clear of them. Thank Merlin I have you to keep Regulus on the straight and narrow.
He found her in Diagon Alley. It was the first week of winter, and the autumn herbs were discounted. Lily had limited financial means since her parents died (Petunia, of course, gave her nothing), and she was a dedicated bargain hunter. She always went on the first day.
He caught up with her in the Women's section of Arabella's Apocethary. She was reaching for Mother's Helper when he grabbed her by the arm. With a look of alarm, she changed course and picked up a flask of Mrs Moorehart's Monthly Pain Remedy instead.
He knocked it from her hand. It smashed into a thousand pieces.
She gasped. Stepped back as the Pain Remedy began to bubble on the floor. (Women drank that? he wondered). Looked up at his glowering face and fled.
He grabbed a box of Mother's Helper and followed.
He caught up with her down an alley. "Lily," he called. "Lily!"
She stopped. Hung her head in her hands.
He slowed. Approached her tentatively, like a wounded animal. "You forgot something."
She stared down at his outstretched hand. Her lip trembled. She took the Mother's Helper, her fingers brushing him, and he caught her hand.
"Lily," he whispered.
She was still staring down at their hands. At his wrist, half-exposed. At the Dark Mark.
"You never did tell me what you had to do to get it," she said. "Did you kill some poor Mudblood, Severus? Or just torture some? How many tortures is worth a kill?"
She pulled her hand away. "Truth hurts, doesn't it, Sev?"
He ignored this. "Lily. Is it mine?"
She looked at him steadily. "If it was, I wouldn't tell you. I would not expose my child to your world." She broke out in a grim smile. "Do you really think I'd lie to James about something like that? Because if you do, you don't know me at all."
"That's not an answer," he said. "He'd probably have married you anyway. I would."
A stricken look flitted over her features, and her eyes were suddenly over-bright. "Sev," she whispered. Like he'd wounded her.
He stepped closer. Drew her in against him. Kissed her, long and slow. Tears streamed from her closed eyes as she kissed him too.
"I love you," he said, his forehead resting against hers.
"I love you too," she whispered, staring up into his eyes. Wrenched herself free and backed away. "I'm marrying James."
She turned and ran away.
II. The Memory That Haunted Petunia
"Where are we, exactly?"
Petunia was holding Harry in her arms.
She was used to holding Dudley. Harry she normally made to walk on his toddling feet. But Dudley wasn't with her, for once. He was safe with Vernon's sister, safe where everything made sense and everything was right side up. It was a place the child in her arms could never go.
"Spinner's End," she said curtly. "It's an industrial area. That awful Snape boy used to live here. It was the only place I could think of where we wouldn't be seen."
"I see," Dumbledore said, looking around him. A sad little house stood to one side of them; factories to the other. Stray cats wove in and out between garbage cans, foraging for food. "And this is Harry, I presume?"
"Yes, of course it's him," she snapped. "You don't think I'd expose my own child to your abominable world, do you?"
If Dumbledore was offended by this, he didn't say so. He said mildly, "I'm sure I don't know, Petunia, but you invited me here, not the other way around."
Petunia glowered at him. "I was given to understand," she spat, "that this boy was the son of my sister and her husband."
Dumbledore stared at her. "But of course, he is, Petunia – why on earth would you think otherwise?"
She gave a rather ugly, hurting laugh. A laugh that hinted at past humiliations. She turned the boy in her arms around to face Dumbledore. "You tell me."
She could see the boy's reflection in Dumbledore's half-moon eyeglasses. His eyes were big and round and deep, preternaturally so. His skin was delicately pale. His long hair fell in slight waves and its colour was a deep, jet-black.
"You have lied to me, Dumbledore."
If he was shocked, he didn't say so. Simply looked up at her calmly. "My dear Petunia," he said, "I have not lied to you at all. This is the child left behind by your sister and her husband. I did not enquire," he said delicately, "as to the circumstances of his conception."
"This is what you will do, Petunia. You will cut his hair short, and keep it short. You will see that he gets plenty of sun." With seeming idleness, he flicked his wand in the boy's direction, and she felt a fission of unwilling protectiveness, and jerked away. "When the time comes that he needs glasses -" (he said this with an odd certainty) "- you will see that they are round ones, like his father's. Children's hair often grows lighter as they grow older, and I am quite sure that will be the case for Harry as well. When you do all that, Petunia, I think you will be in no doubt that he is the son of James Potter."
"Heed me," Dumbledore said warningly. "Do it, Petunia. I insist."
She stared at him mutinously, but she nodded with reluctance.
And though Vernon would chide her for spending the money on him, she had Harry's hair cut on the way home.
III. The Memory Dumbledore Stole Away
Dumbledore looked up from his desk. "Minerva," he said. "Do come in."
She did, but instead of sitting down, she came to stop opposite him. Her arms were crossed and her expression quite mutinous.
"Don't you do-come-in me, Albus Dumbledore! How could you?"
For once, he was quite befuddled. This was such a strange and unfamiliar feeling that he paused a moment to examine it. How very curious, he thought. Some people seemed to exist quite comfortably in a state of befuddlement the whole time; he could not imagine it.
He came to himself. "I'm sorry, Minerva, how very rude of me. You were chastising me for something, I think?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed in frustration, almost purple and apopleptic with anger.
"Perhaps it would help," he said, "if you explained what I have done?"
Minerva's arms crossed even tighter. "I - was - at - Spinner's - End."
"Dear me, were you? How remiss of me not to recognise you. I realise there were a number of cats, but still-"
"Oh, put a sock in it," she snapped. He was surprised and had to work not to let it show. They were on easy terms, and she had told him where to go a time or two, but it was still a rarity. It spoke to her state of mind.
He leaned forward. "Very well. Sit down, Min. Let's talk."
Glowering at him, she did.
"Now, as long as we're trading admonishments, you have been monitoring the boy on and off for some time. You knew he was the son of Lily and Severus, I'm sure. You withheld that information. Why?"
Minerva sighed. "I suppose I did know," she admitted. "I wanted to be sure. And I was reluctant to cast a blemish on Lily's memory. I can still hardly believe - but as you've seen, there can be no doubt."
Albus dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "No one knows what goes on between a husband and wife, Minerva. James may have known, and agreed to raise the boy. Or Lily may have genuinely believed he was her child's father. She wouldn't be the first mother who believed what she wanted to believe. Don't trouble yourself about Lily's memory."
Minerva looked unsatisfied, but she nodded. Her expression was grim.
"Leaving Lily's memory aside, why issue your anger on me?" he queried. Genuinely curious.
"Because Severus is a sad and lonely man, old before his time, and Harry is raised in a home without love. It is wrong, Albus, for you to use your magic to keep them apart. They need each other."
Dumbledore gave a sigh. Took off his eyeglasses and cleaned them, frowning. "Perhaps they do, Min. Perhaps that's true. But the world needs the Boy Who Lived far more. Imagine if people knew he was the son of a death eater. They would think he defeated Voldemort with dark magic. He would be shunned, and the legend would die. In dark times, Minerva, people need legends. It is the very food of survival."
"So...you would deny the boy a father who would love him, for the sake of good PR? Albus, you have always been arrogant and manipulative, but I never took you for cruel."
With effort, he forced himself not to rise to the bait. "If that were all, we might not be having this discussion. But Severus cannot afford to have Harry as his son any more than Harry can afford to have him as his father."
Minerva frowned. "I don't understand."
Dumbledore said gravely, "One day, Severus will need to do difficult and dangerous things for the Order, and for Harry. Things he will not be able to bring himself to do if he has the sole responsibility for a child. If he were to love Harry, if his paternity were known, he can never do the things he will need to do to keep Harry alive."
There were tears in Minerva's crinkled old eyes. Too late, he remembered that she gave birth here in Sixth Year. His predecessor had conspired with her mother to have the child adopted out. Too late, he realised she would never accept what had to be done.
"I'm sorry, Albus," she said, rising. "Some sacrifices are not acceptable. Not even for the greater good." She held his gaze steadily. "I'm telling Severus." She turned to go.
"I'm sorry, too," he said, drawing his wand.
Something in his tone warned her. She began to turn. He said:
IV. The Memory Minerva Didn't Know She Had
Severus went to Spinner's End.
Only Narcissa and Bellatrix knew about the place, so he thought he would be safe there. It was darkly funny that he was safer around the Death Eaters than the Order, but then, killing their Fearless Leader had a way of messing with the status quo.
As for the Fearless Leader himself, well, Severus wasn't sure what to feel. He was still flying on adrenaline, adrenaline from the fight with Harry and the delicate balance of defending himself without harming the boy (he'd even had to feed the boy clues about how to fight him, under the guise of taunts; he really was an average wizard). His mercy killing of Dumbledore seemed very faraway; there was a certain surreal quality to what he had done. Dumbledore had always been larger than life - it was difficult to really accept that he was dead. Dumbledore had been his foe, his friend, his father, his mentor, his conscience, and the one who knew him best. He was the only one who knew him in a world where his own reality was necessarily tucked away. In a very real sense, he was now utterly alone.
He sat silently in the dark, gradually gathering his thoughts and becoming still. Locking away his swirling thoughts, and, yes, his grief into a series of rooms. Assumed a calm that was devoid of either sadness or regret. He would have to go to the Death Eaters soon, and he needed to get command of himself first.
There were voices. Familiar voices. On his doorstep.
"Thank you for coming with me, Minerva," his mother was saying. "I do know how poorly it looks for my poor Severus. But I just can't believe - surely something here will help explain -" she trailed off incoherently.
"Not at all, Madam Pince," McGonagall replied. "I can scarcely believe it myself."
He was oddly touched. It had been years since he and his mother had been anything more than colleagues, and that only because he'd wanted her protected from retribution if his double-dealing ever became known. Frowning, he withdrew into the shadows. Surely they would take only a cursory look to make sure he wasn't there.
His mother unlocked the door and let the two of them in. McGonagall glanced over her shoulder, out the window. There was a vacant lot there, with factories behind it. She stared out in pensive silence.
He wondered whether she was thinking of Dumbledore.
Impulsively, he used Legilimency on her. If he'd thought about it, he might not have done that, because there was always the risk that the person would become aware that you were there. But he did it, and what he saw had nothing to do with what had happened in the tower.
He is transported out into the vacant lot. He is low to the ground, looking up through almond-shaped cat's eyes. Dumbledore is there, and Petunia, with a toddler cradled to her chest with fiercely unwilling care. The garbage can beside him is distorted, too tall and thin, and the sky is a strange shade of purple. These are signs of a memory that has been tampered with. He understands he is looking at a memory of which Minerva herself is no longer aware.
Petunia turns the child around.
It is Harry, but a different Harry. A Harry with eyes that are green like Lily's and large and sad like his, and his hair that is long and wavy and deep, almost blue-black. This is how he might have looked, he thinks, if his father had been someone other than Tobias Snape. A trivial thought occurs to him, and passes in an instant, that he could have been handsome.
Dumbledore flicks his wand. Petunia jerks away, but it is too late. To his trained eye, the subtle changes are immediately obvious. The boy refocuses; his eyesight is compromised. His hair will grow in dark brown from that day forward.
And something inside him screams.
It is only his Occulumency that saves him. Minerva blinks a little, as though she heard. He keeps the connection and conceals himself, but the link is compromised, he senses. He has only a minute or two before it completely dissolves.
He searches her mind for the moment her memory was stolen, and finds it. She is in Dumbledore's office, taking him to task. Trembling with rage. He offers excuses; she intends to defy him and reunite the boy with his father. There was a child for her, a stolen child, and she identifies with them, will not countenance Dumbledore's schemes. And then Dumbledore violates her mind and steals her knowledge.
Oh, Min, he thought as he returned to himself. Thank you for trying. Thank you for wanting. And I'm so sorry.
Minerva's face cleared as Madam Pince returned to the room.
He felt sudden sympathy for his mother - from where, he could not have said. Impulsively, he spoke to her within her mind.
Pretend you believe I have turned. Return to the library, and say nothing. If it is ever in your power, protect Harry Potter. Nothing is as it seems.
She gave the slightest nod of her head, barely perceptible in the dark.
"Let's go, Minerva," she said abruptly. "There's nothing here. I think - I think he really must have gone back to -" she broke off.
Minerva hurried over. Put her arm around his mother's shoulders. "There, there," she soothed. "Come on, Irma, let's get you back to Hogwart's."
He watched them leave. Waited for them to be out of Legilimency range, even if they were travelling on foot. Cast more wards around the house, to hide and barricade and muffle. What he was about to do would open his mind, and even he might not be able to keep an intruder out.
And then he howled.
It was neither a scream nor a sob, but some rasping, agonised sound in between. He was a master at holding on, holding tight, holding his pain to himself, but that invariably made letting go all the worse.
But then, could this be any worse? Could it?
A single cry, that's all he would allow himself. A release valve, not an overflow.
Because if he let go of it all, it would never stop.
V. The Memory Harry Never Saw
He and Dumbledore had reached an accord over the last year.
He had never forgiven the man, but the war was bigger than all of them, his and Lily's son included. And Dumbledore had, in the end, paid a dear price for his manipulations.
Besides. He needed Dumbledore, even now, to do what needed to be done.
He had felt Harry's absence like an ache. Horribly aware of unfinished business between them – business that would likely never be settled. Severus was under no illusions about the chances of him surviving this war. The Dark Lord would wrongly believe that the Elder Wand was rightfully his, and then he would kill him to gain it for himself. Indeed, he and Dumbledore had counted on it. Only then would he loosen his protections on the snake.
And Harry, of course, would die too. The life that he and Lily had made would be crushed on the way to avenging her death.
He had said his apologies to Lily, and Harry too, countless times before the Mirror of Erised, and he believed they had heard him. He needed to believe that. Could hardly even imagine the pointlessness of being separated from both of them across death and time with no way to bridge the gap.
So now, he waited. He had fled the Great Hall and now he sat patiently in the Headmaster's office (strangely, no one thought to look for him there). The Dark Lord would summon him soon, and then it would end. He was stretched out, looking thoughtfully at the torn picture of Lily and an old Quidditch picture of Harry from the Daily Prophet.
He looked like he was waiting for a train.
With no idea of how close he was to Harry's thoughts that night, he murmured, "I am ready to die."
Dumbledore was the only portrait that was still occupied, and now he spoke up. "If it helps, Severus, your love for Lily saved Harry just as much as her sacrifice did. It is because of you, as much as them, that Voldemort will die."
"Don't talk about them," he said morosely. "Please give a dying man that much."
But he went on (didn't he always?). "When you offered Voldemort the trade – James and Harry for Lily –"
That hit him like a punch in the guts. "Oh, Merlin, don't."
Dumbledore continued relentlessly. "Voldemort agreed, did he not? He would give her the opportunity to stand aside. But you knew she never would. Any more than you would have offered, if you had known he was your son."
Severus nodded in silence.
"Consider this, Severus. Had you never created the situation where Lily had a choice, she would not have died for Harry. Her death would have been an inevitability, not an act of will. And then Harry would not have lived, and he would never have held the key to defeating the Dark Lord now. And they both would have died that night anyway."
"Great," Severus said bitterly. "I feel much better now, thank you, Dumbledore."
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Severus. We were all tools of whatever forces move against someone like Voldemort. Has it not occurred to you that everything that has happened, happened exactly as it was supposed to happen? That you, and your love for Lily, and your difficult relationship with Harry are all essential to bringing us through this war? You have lived all these years in penance, and rightly so, but it was more than penance. It was bringing the evil you unwittingly helped unleash to full circle, so it would turn on its creator."
Severus swallowed hard. "That's all very pretty, Albus, but he's my son, and I love him because he's mine. And he will never know."
"Which is why I kept it from you. I'm sorry for your pain, but I, too, am a tool of those forces." Dumbledore shook his head. "You could have loved him all along, you know. If you could just have looked past the illusion of James. If you could have let yourself see the person inside."
"Don't you think I know that?" He meant it to come out as an angry bark, but there was none of that left in him, it seemed. "Don't you think I relive every stupid, petty thing I said and did every day? And you let it happen." This was a tired argument between them; he needed to say it, but the white-hot fury was long since gone.
"I told you to look into his eyes, Severus." Dumbledore sighed. "I can't do more than that anymore. I'm sorry." He seemed as tired, as going-through-the-motions as Severus did.
Just then, Phineas came into his portrait at a run. "Severus!" he said. "The Dark Lord is looking for you. Draco told one of his friends that he's in the boathouse. He said Lucius told him by Legilimency."
Severus and Dumbledore exchanged glances. "This is it," he said.
Dumbledore nodded. "You're a good man, Severus, whatever you may think. I look forward to your company on the other side of your journey. I hope you can find it in you to forgive a fellow soldier for wounds inflicted along the way."
Severus gave a grim smile. "It wasn't forgiving you that was the problem, Albus. It was forgiving myself."
He picked up his photographs and put them into his breast pocket, and then he was gone.
Death came swiftly at the Dark Lord's hand. It was an easier one than he deserved.
He thought this as he lay gasping for breath against the window. This is how it ends, he thought, alone in a boatshed. And he had never told Harry what he had to do. Well, the girl was smart. Smartest witch of her generation. He expected that she would figure it out.
There was a sound, coming from the doorway beside him. Harry and his friends. He looked at Harry sidelong – Harry, who thought he was the enemy, who he had treated so ill – and braced himself for whatever hatred he might see. Braced himself for disdain from his son, of whom he was, so late in life, so very proud.
It wasn't there.
Harry dropped to his knees beside him, the lines around his eyes creasing with compassion. He pressed his hand to his neck, trying to stem the flow of blood. There was no disgust, no rancour, just sadness for a dying man, old before his time.
Tears sprung up in his eyes, and spilled over his tired cheeks. Oh, Merlin, how did he ever think the boy was like James? How could he have been so blind?
With difficulty, he waved his hand towards his face. "Take them," he managed. "Take them. Please."
Harry stared at him in dawning comprehension. "Get me something," he said to Hermione. "Quickly. A flask – anything." He took his hand away to take the vial, and Severus missed the feel of it. It was soft and warm and it made him think of Lily, holding him with her hands either side of his neck the one and only time she said she loved him, and followed it by saying she would marry James, like there was no discrepancy at all between the two things.
Harry was putting the vial to his cheek.
With effort, Severus put all his concentration into the things Harry needed to know to finish the war. That he'd loved Lily, so much. That from the day she died, he had committed himself to Harry's welfare, whatever his bitterness and jealousy. That Albus was dying anyway and they planned his death between them for maximum strategic impact. That like Lily and Albus and Severus before him, Harry must walk into the darkness of his own free will, for the greater good.
Things were fragmenting now. He was scrambling through his memories for messages, personal messages now, but he was no longer sure if they were getting through. That he was so proud of Harry, not just because Harry was his son, but because Harry was worthy of pride, and if he hadn't been so selfish and jealous he'd have seen it much sooner. And Harry was drawing the vial away and he would never know if it contained everything he needed to say.
Harry was gazing at the vial. Realising, maybe, that things were not what they seemed.
"Look at me," he whispered. He clutched at Harry's arm.
The moment for explanations and missions had passed, for better or worse, and now there was just his son, with eyes of Lily-green. And they were his eyes too (how on earth did he never see it before?) but suddenly that was no longer the point, should never have been the point. The point was the boy, Lily's boy, with Lily's heart and Lily's eyes, and he should have loved him for that alone.
Severus said softly, "You have your mother's eyes."
He held on to his son - their son - for as long as he could, and then it ended. It ended as it began.
It ended with him falling into Lily's eyes.