Title: At the Divergence
Characters: Severus Snape, Rolanda Hooch, Pomona Sprout, Minerva McGonagall
Beta Readers: r_grayjoy, brightknightie, and iulia_linnea
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Background minor character deaths from canon (not Snape).
Note: Italicised quotes are from Prisoner of Azkaban and Deathly Hallows.
Summary: For Severus Snape, everything changes after Lily Evans Potter's death.
1. October 31, 1981
You know how and why she died
Her name was a whisper, a moan, the barest of sounds, and yet Severus Snape could hardly bear to hear it, never mind say it. He huddled on the floor in front of the fire in his quarters, his forehead resting on his bent knees, his hands buried in his hair, and fought the urge to stop breathing. The promise he'd made to Dumbledore had not been unbreakable. With the Wizarding World to pamper him, what need did the Potter boy have for someone who loved and had lost Lily Evans?
And if the Potter boy didn't truly need him, if his vow of protection had been a mere ruse by Dumbledore to ensure that he didn't—
If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her
Her name tore out of Snape's throat in a hoarse cry. Bile followed in its wake, because he knew — knew beyond a shadow of a doubt — that she would barely have noticed if he'd died. He'd begged for her life, sacrificing his own future so she could have one, and she'd tossed it aside without hesitation. And for what?
Before he could stop himself, he was on his hands and knees, hair hanging down, retching up the remnants of the Firewhisky he'd drunk. His stomach, his oesophagus, his mouth burned, and still the acid forced its way out.
You disgust me
Severus squeezed his eyes shut against the misery that rippled outwards from his chest. He breathed in heaving pants, excruciating gulps of air that felt like sacrilege because she couldn't do the same.
Save your breath
His fingers dug into the carpet, shards of something stabbing up behind his nails. They were small pains, however, and nowhere near enough to make up for what he'd done.
I'm not interested
Her name was a howl of loss, rending the barriers and shields that protected his mind and his heart, baring his soul until all he could see was his fault, his loss, his mistakes, his failures. All of them his and all of them leading to the one thing that wasn't.
Is this remorse
Curling tightly around the pain, knees almost to his forehead, he toppled sideways, barely missing the bile soaking into the carpet. Agony came with every beat of his heart, each breath that seared in and out of his lungs. A thousand images crashed through him: her smile, her laughter, her anger, her joy, her love, her rejection. And, worst of all, her desperate pleas to save her damned son.
Dumbledore had forbidden him to go to Godric's Hollow, but the Dark Lord had had no qualms about ensuring that Severus received a barely legible, handwritten note that informed him of the Potters' address. From that moment on, staying away had been impossible. Not when his love was in danger. Not when he might finally have had a chance to be there for her, to comfort her, to help her.
Not Harry! Please ... have mercy ... have mercy ...
But he hadn't been able to do anything more than stand outside and listen to her plead and beg as if he were Petrified, bound to the earth outside that house, condemned to watch the murder of his last hope.
That flash of green was etched into his memory, engraved on his retinas. That one spell through which death had absolute dominion and for which he would someday exact revenge.
2. November 1, 1981
Her boy survives
Severus awoke to those three words reverberating inside his skull, keeping a syncopated beat with the pounding of his head. His mouth was dry and his tongue a furred and feathered beast. Each movement claimed its own price, from the raw skin on his knees to the hairs that he left stuck to the dried mess on the rug.
Blinking his crusted eyelashes, he scrabbled around until he'd found his wand, pushed himself to his feet, and stumbled to the bathroom. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and looked away.
Silence would not be enough that morning. His back to the mirror, Severus flicked his wand in its direction and said, "Tectum."
The swish of fabric was enough to make him feel safe enough to turn around. The betraying mirror was covered with heavy black cloth. Severus pressed his lips together and gave a nod of satisfaction. He stepped to the bathroom door, moved his wand in a series of flicks, and called out, "Tectum in Ploratio."
Then, ignoring the complaints from portraits and mirrors alike as they were swathed in mourning, he disrobed and went into the shower.
He has her eyes
Choking on tea from the image, the very idea, of those eyes in a Potter face, Severus dropped his mug onto the table with a thunk and buried his head in his hands. He was going completely and utterly around the twist.
The clock dinged a warning, and the hour hand ticked around to "Time for Class" from "Breakfast."
Summoning a phial of Morning After potion and his teaching robes, Severus wrapped rigid self-control around the empty hollows of his soul and pushed himself to his feet. Tuesday afternoons brought him second year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. The little rotters would be out of control given everything that had happened, which would be absolutely perfect.
Or it would have been if the classroom had been filled with chattering dunderheads instead of empty.
Severus snarled at the abandoned benches and the shadowy corners. Then, his face set in grim, vicious lines, he went in search of Dumbledore.
Kill me instead
Severus stepped through the door into the Entrance Hall and was assaulted by light and noise. He blinked and reached automatically for his wand, but before he could punish those who dared celebrate, he heard his name being called.
"There you are, Severus." Rolanda Hooch strode towards him, through the dancing, chanting, excited brats thronging the Entrance Hall. Sunshine blazed through the narrow windows, haloing her grey hair, silvering the tips, and half-blinding him. "I was beginning to think I'd have to get the children to the train station by myself."
"What makes you think you don't?" Severus sneered at her and at the shimmer that seemed to linger in her shadow. "Ask Minerva."
"Not here." Rolanda seized his arm and dragged him towards the doors, grumbling under her breath the whole time. "Close the school down, Dumbledore says. The children need to be with their families at a time like this."
The sun went behind a cloud, plunging the Entrance Hall into dimness, and Severus was hard-pressed not to moan out his relief.
"Exactly," she agreed. "Would it have hurt him to remain long enough to get things organised before he gallivanted off to Merlin-knows-where?"
Since she didn't seem to need any input from him, Severus stopped paying her any attention and began throwing the occasional, discreet jinx or minor hex to leaven their insensitive celebrations with a modicum of grief. He tripped a gaggle of bouncing Gryffindors and stung the lips of a pair of crowing Ravenclaws.
"Your Slytherins certainly seem to have themselves well in hand."
The house name caught Severus's attention, and he glanced over at the corner he'd designated as an emergency gathering place. His Prefects had performed as expected. The Slytherins were gathered in a semi-circle, first years on the inside and seventh years providing a shield on the outside. Careful scrutiny proved that each of them was holding a wand and was on guard against an attack.
"I'd expected no less." Severus glared at a herd of Hufflepuffs, who'd just sent a shower of stars shooting overhead, and cast a subtle Goosing Jinx that had them jumping and squealing.
You don't even deny it
The slam of a hand against the side of his face took Severus by surprise. He blinked against the dull thump of pain and glared at the girl who stood in front of him, her hand still upraised. The Hufflepuff Head Girl, he realised, and his mind presented a sheaf of facts about her and her Hogwarts record. And the night when he'd walked in on Mulciber and Avery tormenting her, and walked back out without a word.
He holstered his wand and snapped out her name, "Carlyle."
"That'll be quite enough," Pomona Sprout interrupted him. "Or I'll have your badge."
Severus's upper lip curled into a snarl, and it was all he could do not to curse her for having the nerve to appear in the Entrance Hall without him noticing.
"But... Professor, he—"
"Your Head of House said enough." Rolanda tapped a finger on the Head Girl's badge that gleamed on Carlyle's robes.
"Off with you." Pomona placed her left hand on Severus's arm and directed Carlyle towards the milling students with her other. "I want the Hufflepuffs gathered and ready to leave in five minutes. No excuses."
"But he..." The girl huffed and flipped her hand in a gesture that was vaguely aimed at the herd.
"Fifty points from Hufflepuff for attacking a teacher," said Severus, concealing his rage behind a silky tone. "And detention to be served every night after school reopens until such time as I believe you have learned your lesson."
"Oh!" Carlyle's mouth dropped open, and her eyes filled with tears as she backed away from him into the comfort and protection of her friends.
Pomona pursed her lips in displeasure, but she didn't attempt to gainsay him.
"Ten seconds," said Rolanda. "If you haven't dispersed and begun taking care of the younger students by then, I'll start taking off points and handing out detentions."
You've chosen your way
After Carlyle went off to do her duty, Pomona turned to Severus. "My apol—"
"Save it." He shook her hand off his arm. "We have work to do."
"Perhaps afterwards," Rolanda began.
"Perhaps." Inclining his head to each of them, Severus stalked over to the Slytherins. He reached them just in time to see Lafolle throw a Revulsion Jinx at a Gryffindor who'd come too close.
With Severus's arrival, the students from the other houses withdrew. He crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed his students. "Report."
The seventh year prefects, Emeline Meliflua and Zeri Whisp, came forward and began to fill him in. When they were finished, Meliflua looked him straight in the eye, and she asked, "Is there any news about our families, Professor?"
"We haven't heard much except that the Dark Lord has fallen." Whisp lowered his voice, but the Slytherins behind him hushed into silence. "Some of us have parents and other relatives who could be... suffering."
Suffering, as in arrested, incarcerated, in hospital, everything but dead. The translations flipped through Severus's mind, and he had to bite down on the instinctive reaction to lash out at them for not caring about — he cut off the thought before it could spawn further, unforgivable emotion. They are Slytherin and in your care, he reminded himself; do not fail them too.
He moved closer and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. Lowering his voice, he admitted, "I do not know the extent of the suffering, but to the best of my knowledge, none of ours fell except the Dark Lord."
"Thank you, sir." Meliflua said. "We'll begin the evacuation, then."
"Stringent evacuation," Severus emphasised. "None to be left alone for any reason. I don't want to hear that one of mine didn't make it safely to London."
"Of course, sir." Whisp gave him a partial bow. "Protective pick-up, I assume."
"You have the roster of who goes where if a family member is prevented from being at King's Cross." When they nodded, Severus took his hands from their shoulders. "I expect your reports tomorrow morning. Visits and other support can be arranged if needed by any student."
"You don't want them tonight?" Meliflua looked as if she wanted to unsay the words as soon as they were out.
Before Severus could reprimand her for questioning her Head of House, the sun came out from behind the cloud and the Entrance Hall was once again filled with bright and punishing light. He spun around, putting his back to the windows. The spots cleared from his vision almost immediately, but a shadow remained near the door to the kitchens for a second too long.
"Watch them," Severus snapped over his shoulder. Wand at the ready, he slipped between the crowds of students. However, by the time he reached the door, the shadows had dispersed, and his spells revealed nothing and no one.
He dismissed it as a figment of his light-dazzled eyes and returned to his duties.
2. November 2, 1981
Make sure it was not in vain
Severus smacked the nose of the gargoyle that guarded Dumbledore's office with his wand to no effect. He'd tried the regular password, the staff password, and the Head of House override password. None of them had had any effect whatsoever. The gargoyle refused to leap aside and grant him entrance. And, after a sleepless night filled with screams and green spell-light, Severus was in no mood to take no for an answer.
He was about to throw Confringo and blast the thing to smithereens when he heard the sound of boot heels rapping on the stone floor.
"Severus." Minerva McGonagall swept up to him and enveloped him in a brief, uncomfortable hug. "I'm so sorry."
The scents of catnip, whisky, and lavender lingered after she released him. He breathed deeply, smoothed out his expression, and tried to shake off the disorientation that came with being touched.
"Dumbledore was called to the Ministry. He instructed me to tell you that the boy is safe, but there was an—" Minerva's voice shook "—unexpected development."
Dread settled in Severus's stomach, and he began to regret the impulse to leave his rooms and come up into the castle, to be useful rather than wallow in his grief. Still, he succumbed to her obvious need to talk and asked, "Unexpected?"
"Aye." She sighed. "I can't imagine that it's good news, however."
Severus arched an eyebrow at her and gritted his teeth against the urge to force the woman to say something useful.
"I don't know how much more I can take. Not after last night."
Then she sighed again, and Severus's fragile hold on his temper frayed. "Since you don't know a blasted thing about the unexpected development, I don't suppose you could throw out more than a vague hint about last night?"
Grief furrowed Minerva's brow, and she seemed to age in front of him. "Dumbledore said it was for the best, that he'd be safe, but... to leave little Harry with those awful Muggles. I simply don't understand."
"He left Lily's son with Muggles? Tell me he didn't—" The word freak echoed in his memory, leaving him unable to finish his sentence.
She patted his arm. "His aunt and uncle, Dumbledore said. Although I'm hard-pressed to imagine Lily Evans being related to either of them."
"Tuney," Severus spat out the name in disgust.
A shuffling noise came from behind them, and he whirled around. "Aperio!"
Simultaneously, Minerva called out, "Detego!"
Their spells flew towards the same target, splashing harmlessly against the wall.
"Odd," Minerva said, walking slowly towards the area.
Your way forward is clear
Together they investigated the area, but their spells revealed nothing. Yet Severus couldn't shake off the sensation that someone had been there, spying on them. Or perhaps, he corrected himself, remembering the earlier shadows, spying on him.
Minerva's voice broke into his thoughts. "You'll help me, won't you, Severus?"
Tilting his head, Severus placed a hand under his chin and arched an eyebrow at her.
"Getting Harry away from those Muggles." She retrieved a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. "I cannot believe Lily would want her son raised by people like that."
Her name was a knife that stabbed into him, releasing the grief that he thought he'd sealed away. "I..." he managed to say, but then his vocabulary evaporated and he was unable to articulate anything else.
But Minerva appeared to understand. She patted his arm again and murmured, "Number Four Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. Come and talk to me when you've seen them."
Help me protect Lily's son
The house across the street from where Severus hid in the shadows was as far from the Wizarding World as he could imagine. Like every other house on the street, number four was large and square, with lace curtains in the windows, a neatly trimmed front garden, and a distinct lack of personality.
The front door opened, and Petunia Dursley emerged. She was thinner than he remembered, but still angular and cold. The child in her arms was fat, blond, and obviously a boy. He waved his arms, kicked its feet, and never stopped sucking on the giant lolly that filled its mouth. Although he appeared big enough to be walking on his own, Petunia carried him over to a large, expensive-looking pram. Placing him inside, she fussed over him, propping him up and offering him toy after toy. Eventually, though, she straightened up and started off, her head held high, looking down her nose at everyone and everything.
As soon as she disappeared around the corner, Severus reinforced his Remember-Me-Not Charm. He strode across the street, casting a series of Perimeter and Warning Spells at appropriate points.
Alohomora got him past the Muggle locks and into a spotless kitchen. The cupboards and the large fridge were full to bursting with food. There was even a dishwasher whirring in the background.
"All the mod cons," he murmured. "You've come up in the world, Tuney."
He glanced around the living room, sneering at the lace doilies. A poke through the pictures on the mantel proved only that Petunia had married the self-important brute she'd been parading around her parents' house the last Severus had seen her. None of them included Lily or her son or, for that matter, came from a time before Petunia's marriage. The pictures in the hallway were more of the same, except for one of a beefy woman surrounded by a gang of yappy dogs.
Severus had one foot on the bottom stair when he heard a whimper and then a cry. He paused to listen, and after a minute or so, the whimper was repeated.
Balancing his wand on his palm, poised to continue on his way up, he whispered, "Reperio Harry Potter."
To his surprise, the wand pointed directly downwards — beneath the stairs on which he stood. He whipped around the banister and repeated the spell until he found himself in front of a small door that was bolted on the outside.
Harry Potter will be in terrible danger
A bundle of smelly blankets lay on the floor just inside the door. Severus was about to push it to one side when he heard the whimper again. Sitting back, he pulled the bundle out of the cupboard and gently pushed the top blanket aside.
Green eyes blinked up at him from beneath tufts of black hair.
"Not just her eyes." A lump formed in Severus's throat, and he traced his finger down the bridge of the boy's nose. "Dumbledore made me vow to protect you, and then he abandoned you to Tuney's tender mercies."
His nose twitched as a new stench rose from the bundle in his arms, and the boy made a noise that was almost a giggle. "I've smelled worse potions," he said. "However, that doesn't mean I need to leave you in it."
"Oh, but you do."
Without thinking, Severus whipped his arm out from under the boy and trained it on the hooded and cloaked intruder. "Stupefy!"
His spell bounced off the intruder's shields and cracked the glass over a family picture. Before he could cast another, he was disarmed and his wand in the hands of his opponent.
"Don't," the intruder said, his voice hoarse and unrecognisable.
At least Severus thought it was a man. Every one of his attempts to see beneath the hood was defeated by a blurring of his vision that could only be caused by a spell. "If you're here for the Dursleys, I won't stop you. I'll just take the boy and go. We'll disappear, and you won't hear from us again."
"Done that already." The bark of laughter was derisive and desperate. "You have no idea how many times or in how many different ways."
Without taking his eyes off the intruder or the wands that were aimed at him, Severus got to his feet. He wrapped both arms around Lily's son, using one of his hands to protect the boy's face from this threat. "I've already given my word, but I'll make an Unbreakable Vow if you'll let us go."
"Letting you go doesn't work, nor does killing the Dursleys." One step at a time, the intruder moved towards Severus. "I've tried stopping Sirius, capturing Pettigrew. A hundred or more changes, minor and major, and they all lead to the same result. He wins."
Severus bit down on the responses that rose to his tongue. Antagonising a madman while he held Lily's son was not an option.
Moving the wands to one hand and holding them as an Auror would, the intruder reached out and caressed the blankets, the boy, and Severus's arm and hand. Despite the distortions, Severus could hear the grief and regret in the intruder's voice.
"I'd change it if I could, walk away and let the rest of them suffer, but—" the intruder raised his head, and Severus had to resist the urge to rub his eyes as the face he'd glimpsed under the hood blurred beyond recognition.
The touch on Severus's face was gentler than any he'd ever known. It confused him almost as much as the tremor that shuddered through the intruder. "How can I let you die?"
Shocked by the question, Severus missed the spell that froze him into place and left him unable to even protest the Levitation Charm that moved him out of the way. The intruder removed the boy from Severus's arms and returning him to the cupboard under the stairs.
"It'll be all right, eventually," the intruder promised before closing the door and locking the child inside once again.
Severus wanted to hex the bastard.
"For you, too, you know. And one day, years from now, when this is all over, you'll forgive me for this day."
There was a pause, and a silver ring was placed on the ring finger of Severus's right hand. "When the time is right, you'll understand enough to confront me about this promise. In the meantime—" the intruder brushed a kiss over Severus's immobile lips "—Obliviate!"