It started to drizzle when we drove up to the castle. The house hadn’t changed, and yet there was something completely different about it. It had lost its splendour, the sort of magic that didn’t come from wands or spells.
´Well, that’s it,´ Ron said. ´Brings back memories, doesn’t it, Harry?´
I said nothing. The sound of crows in the yew trees, the branches bending towards the dark and unwelcoming windows of Hogwarts did bring back memories. But I didn’t want to share them with Ron. He wouldn’t understand.
When we walked up the driveway, slowly, as if we were not sure we wanted to visit our former home again, I felt this incredible notion of sadness coming up, unleashing painful memories, sounds and voices that were buried for at least five years now, since the Great War with the Dark Lord. I wouldn’t have survived these emotions, day and night, if I had allowed them to enter my consciousness. The war was all-consuming. All emotion, all loving memories, all heartache was to be distorted and denied if you wanted to survive.
But now the War was over. Well, almost anyway. And we happened to be quartered with our regiment at Hogwarts, of all places.
So I opened up my heart and let all the sordid details in. I felt the pain of all those memories again, realizing I somehow craved this pain. Anything better than never to feel anything again.
My eyes searched for his window, the one on the second floor, at the corner. The room that had windows on both sides of it, where he so often sat in his chair, reading. His cool black eyes hardly looking at me when I entered his room, but then slowly softening as I spoke, exploring my facial expressions as if they where his key to any rapprochement. He used to talk about trivial things at first, talked about school matters. In the meantime I saw his body language change, searching for the right moment to open his black and awkward soul. We used to drink sherry, to loosen up. He sometimes laid his hand on my shoulder, not doing anything else. He wanted me wanting him first, afraid of being rejected. An unusual fear for a man with his apparent callousness.
I loved to see the sudden flush on his face, when I softly mimicked his gesture, as an approval, a password almost; my hand telling him that I wanted him badly and he didn’t have to fear humiliation or coldness in return.
`Harry!´ I looked at Ron, not realizing he had asked me something. ´Harry, so where do you want to stay: first floor, Dumbledore´s floor, or what?´
´I’m sorry Ron, wasn’t listening. I don’t care where we stay. Perhaps the second floor?´ I added quickly.
´Sure, whatever you say, captain.´
Ron and had come a long way. We fought in same regiment against Voldemort and managed to keep each other out of trouble many times. Good old Ron. Always wondering why I never married his sister Ginny after all.
When we walked up the stairs, crowded with soldiers carrying things and nurses walking about with bandages and blankets, I remembered how I always looked out for the black, rustling robes in the crowd and how disappointed I was when Severus didn’t show up or didn’t even glance at me when I passed him in the corridor. How it made me feel miserable and afraid it was all over, him getting over it and never wanting to see me again. But he always came back to me, it never went wrong.
´I wonder, Harry,´ Ron said, now we were on the second floor and my eyes stared towards the end of the corridor. ´I wonder if the old goat is still here.´
´Please don’t call him that Ron, you know what happened to him. Bit of respect for our old potions master.´
Ron’s face clouded. ´Yes, I know, I’m sorry. I forgot. They say it really was horrific what they did to him. Imagine, being tortured by Death Eaters. Try not to think about what they did to him, at Voldemorts place. Makes me feel sick.´
Yes, they said it was horrific, but I was one of the few that really knew. I never could make out what was more painful; me having to witness it or not being able to do anything about it. But I didn’t tell Ron that. I didn’t want to think about it now.
I saw his door was open, at the end of the corridor and there was not much sunlight in his room, as if the curtains where drawn. That was how the room was when I sat on his lap, the very first time. He had drawn the curtains – not sure why, as nobody could possibly look into the rooms on the second floor, and just leaned back in his chair. He didn’t speak to me, just leaned back and looked at me. Not a greedy or lustful gaze, nor demanding. He had this completely hopeless, wild look on his face, which I had never seen before. And it came to me naturally to just sit on his lap, astride, touching his long black, untidy hair, kissing his mouth carefully. The expression on his face was almost as if he was in a panic, not knowing what had happened to him, but slowly relaxing, trying to convince himself it was true and it was what he had longed for.
´Here we are then,´ Ron said, as we put our belongings on the floor of an empty room. ´Not bad to be back, what Harry!´ He tapped me on the shoulder. I smiled.
Ron took a shower. I tried to postpone going to Severus´ room, but it was inevitable I went there. I saw a glimpse of Ron’s whitish legs in the water waves and it immediately brought back images from the past: my white bare skin on the thick black fabric of Snape´s robes; how he loved my bare skin on his robes …´
´Harry, towel! For Merlin´s sake, how many times do I have to ask you?´ Ron bumped into a small table, bottles falling al over the place, in search of a towel to dry his soaked face and hair.
´Sorry,´ I said and gave him a towel from my trunk.
We had a meal in the Great Dining Hall, where we met Dumbledore. He had become a very important leader in the War effort and he told us about the latest developments. When we drank some coffee I asked casually if professor Snape was still at Hogwarts.
´Ah…´ Dumbledore said and his voice lowered. ´Harry… Well, you know what happened to him, I don’t have to remind you of all that…´ He hesitated.
What was he trying to say? I felt a sudden panic, a sharp pain, as it occurred to me that Snape might not be at Hogwarts after all, that he had left without a trace and I would never see him again.
´He’s not a well man,´ Dumbledore concluded.
´Yes, but is he at Hogwarts?´ I persisted.
´Yes, yes of course he is,´ Dumbledore confirmed. ´You can see him if you want to.´
Relief. Couldn’t delay it anymore now. I parted with Ron and Dumbledore and went up straight away.
My relief slowly changed into wavering. As I walked down the corridor on the second floor, I saw that the door of Severus´ room was now closed. I didn’t know what to expect at the other end of that door. He wasn’t a well man, Dumbledore said. It could mean anything.
My feet got heavy and the dark corridor seemed to get more gloomy with every step I made. My boots felt like lead, I started panting and got cold and shivery. It was like going over the top in the trenches, only worse, much worse. When I got to the door and tried to knock softly, my hand trembled and halted. I just couldn’t bring my hand to knock.
Then the memory suddenly came back to me, violently and without any mercy. I was not in the trenches, in my mind I was back in the dungeons of Voldemort, that terrible night Snape was captured and I, due to my cloak that made me invisible, remained unseen. I shouldn’t have gone to the dungeons, knowing I couldn’t do anything to save him.
It all went wrong when Draco put the Incantation Paralyzum on me, leaving me unable to conjure for at least 48 hours. The plan was to hand me in to Voldemort, defenceless like a muggle. When Snape quickly gave me the invisibility cloak, Lucius came in, exposing Snape as a traitor to The Dark Lord. I managed to follow them, desperately trying to think of something to help the man that saved my life. How could I have done something, just me against nine Death Eaters and the Dark Lord himself, weak like a muggle.
But I went and I saw it all. How they flogged him until his back was purple and crusted with blood, how they mocked him and put hot pokers in vulnerable places, until blood ran down his legs. And how Lucius, his former lover, abused him, recalling what a lousy lover he used to be in their student time and that he would make him feel how it was properly done. And then he licked his lips as he carved the word ´Coward´ in Snape´s chest with a sharp knife.
The thing that stuck most painfully in my mind was that Severus didn’t cry when Malfoy carved him. There was just this terrible silence, his eyes without any expression, his chained arms stretched, only his thin fingers trembling in agony, as he clearly suffered.
I sat in the corner of this terrible place, unseen, biting my lips until they where bloody and I wished they would put this word on my chest, no, on my forehead, for the world to see what an utter coward I was, to just sit there and do nothing. I still ask myself if there was really nothing I could have done to save him. But I was terrified, paralyzed with fear they would discover me.
So I did nothing. Like a reversed shell shock: not torn between the desire to run and the urge to stay, but between the strange desire to keep watching and the urge to run.
I find myself kneeling by the windowsill in the corridor next to Severus´ door, sobbing. I can’t control myself, my whole body shakes and writhes, like I have to shed all the tears I wanted to shed in the Dark Lords Castle but wasn’t able to then. My glasses get wet and fogged up and fall to the ground as I try to dry my tears. I can’t see, my hands tremble as I search for my spectacles, and I keep sobbing uncontrollably. Then I feel a hand, pressing my glasses in my hand and a familiar touch on my shoulder. I put my glasses on and look in Severus´ black eyes.
´Harry, you have come, at last,´ he says. I weep and hold his hands, still kneeling.
´Please, forgive me, I am such a coward… I didn’t do anything to save you…´ I cry. I can now see his eyes getting moist too, but he composes himself and leads me into his room.
´Come,´ he says. ´Come inside.´
When he closes the door behind us, everything becomes surprisingly easy. He pours us a drink and we sit by the windows, the dark yew branches softly waving about outside.
´You must not cry about what has happened, Harry,´ he says. ´What is done, is done. We can’t change it.´
I feel terrible. Severus is comforting me, instead of the other way around. I can’t stand it. It is too much. It's worse than seeing him weep or suffer. Did he overcome it all? How can he forget so easily?
When I take the glass of sherry from him, I can see he still does suffer, that he hasn’t overcome it: his wrists are heavily bandaged, I can just see bloodmarks at the arteries. I take his hands and kiss his wounds that should have ended his life. The sherry is dripping all over us.
´Please, please forgive me, Severus. It is no good telling me it doesn’t matter anymore. I let you down. Will you ever forgive me?´
´I will say only what I really think,´ he says, recapturing his old stubbornness again. ´You will probably refuse to believe me as usual, Harry, but I want you to know it has been a great comfort to me, knowing that you were there that night.´
I look surprised. But I want to understand.
´It would have been impossible for me to go on if nobody in the whole world could fully understand what they’ve done to me. My friends, however nice and understanding, would have gone tired of listening to me, be embarrassed by me telling it all over and over again. But you know…´ he whispers, and he looks drained and exhausted. ´We know.´
Then I take of his dirty and neglected clothes, I wash his body, touch all its terrible marks of the past and I kiss the word 'Coward' on his chest.