Chapter Twenty: Hope
The moment Snape opened his eyes he knew he was alone. The world felt still, like it had stopped breathing, stopped turning. Like it was waiting to see what would happen next.
He sat up slowly and looked around Slytherin's private chamber, his eyes coming to rest on the magical mirror on the far wall. He could see only himself now, seated on the dark green sofa, and quickly looking away.
Snape glanced down at his hand and immediately saw the long, silver chain dangling from between the fingers of his clenched fist. Slowly, he opened the shaking hand until the silver serpent of Slytherin's pendant glinted in the dancing firelight. The green emerald eye seemed to be watching him and Snape could not suppress a smile. He'd like it if that were true, he realized. He had become so accustomed to the feeling of Salazar's paternal presence and the sense of safety that accompanied it that he could hardly bear the thought of trying to carry on without it.
The memory of his ancestor stopped Snape short and he felt a tear trying to escape from behind his eye. How could he have wished so vehemently for Salazar's departure? Now that he had returned to his pendant, Snape felt more alone than he had at any other time in his life, even while locked in his father's prison. He found himself wondering if he would have to carry this gaping hole inside him for the rest of his life.
Idly, Snape glanced up at the wall of shelves that shielded the secret door Slytherin had shown him earlier and his breath caught in his throat. That sound, he thought. The sound of small bells and shattering ice that accompanied Slytherin's spirit. It was the same sound he had heard down that darkened hallway!
With a gasp, Snape jumped to his feet and thought of hurrying over to the shelves. He hovered there for a moment, however, suddenly remembering the promise Slytherin had made him make. He had said to his ancestor that he would not go down the corridor until he had read the entire book of Salazar's writings and understood everything contained there.
He sighed with frustration at having made the promise and turned to look at Salazar's black desk. His eyes lingered on the green book for a moment before travelling over to the other two Founder's pendants which lay next to it.
With a start, Snape realized that he had likely been either fighting his internal demons or sleeping off the after-effects for most of the day. The remaining Founders would probably already be waiting in the infirmary for himself and Slytherin to arrive. He sighed and shook his head. How would he explain to Rowena that Slytherin had left without saying a proper good-bye to her?
Rowena. The thought made Snape sigh deeply again. She would not be Rowena for long. Helena would be returned soon and this time carrying his child. Oh, Merlin! he thought desperately. What am I going to say to her?
He decided it would be best to face the music as soon as possible. Snape seized the other pendants and, with a last glance at the secret chamber, swept from the room and into the hallway beyond where he abruptly tripped over his own feet and landed hard on the stone floor in front of him.
He pushed himself up slowly, glad his hands had shot up instinctively to protect his face. Well, he reasoned, it was apparent he was going to have to take this a little slower. He had obviously forgotten how to coordinate his own movements over the past few days while someone else had been at the helm.
Snape was suddenly extremely relieved that he had, at least, discovered this unexpected side effect without an audience present. Immediately, he found himself hoping that Potter would have an audience when he went sprawling across the hospital ward after Godric's departure. Severus laughed aloud at the mental image and immediately stopped, startled by the unexpected feelings welling up inside himself. His laugh had felt strange. Light, somehow. As though it were coming from a different part of his mind. How strange, he thought. He had been thinking about someone else's possible humiliation, after all. How different could it have been from what he would have found amusing before his experience with Slytherin?
And then it dawned on him. It dawned on him what Salazar had been trying to tell him all along. The old Founder had never said that Severus should be a different person. Just a happier, more contented version of who he already was. Like Slytherin himself. The man had never made any attempt to apologize for the fact that he was a scoundrel at heart. He embraced it even. It was part of who he was and he wore it proudly. His strength came in knowing when he was causing harm and then trying to deal with it.
For the first time since he was a very young child, Severus felt the sudden overwhelming sensation of true freedom engulf him. He understood for the first time that he no longer had to apologize for who he was. He had admitted his failures and done everything in his power to make up for them. Even putting his own life on the line time and time again in the process. Yes, there were still things to work on. But, now he knew. He knew what Slytherin had done for him. He had cleared the way. Nothing more. He had not changed Snape. He had merely allowed him the chance to choose a happier road to travel.
Severus Snape was not at the end of the journey. He was at the beginning.
It was with this in mind, that he traversed the hallway back to the stairs that led up to his class room, his face wide with an optimistic grin. He had forgotten the feeling of true hope and it was wonderful to experience it again.
In retrospect, Severus knew that he should not have been the least bit surprised to see Dumbledore waiting for him in his potions classroom when he emerged from the stairwell beneath his desk. Of course he would be. He was Dumbledore. And this was a significant moment.
Snape stopped when he saw the Headmaster and sighed. He shook his head and smiled ruefully at the older man. "Well," he said and swiped his hand through the air above the desk, causing it to close over the stairs. "I suppose I should be anticipating some sage advice?" he said, a smile curling the corner of his lips.
Dumbledore returned the smile and looked down at Severus' hand. "Ah," he said with a nod. "I see you have the pendants. Good."
Snape also looked down at the necklaces in his hand and the smile faded from his lips. "I didn't think it would be so hard to let him go," he said softly.
Dumbledore nodded sadly, "I know, Severus," he said. "But he is still here." Dumbledore motioned to the pendants and smiled again. "In fact, why don't you take this one too, now that you have them all in one place."
Snape looked up as Dumbledore handed him a fourth necklace. He took it by the chain from the Headmaster's hand and gazed at the swinging pendant. He smiled and laughed. "Of course," he said as he watched the small red phoenix swing lazily before his eyes. The jewelled golden eye sparkled suspiciously like another eye he knew only too well.
Severus looked up at the old Headmaster, his brow raised questioningly. "Is your—that is to say, have you—"
Dumbledore smiled, amused at Snape's uncharacteristic discomfort. "An imprint of my spirit has been placed inside the pendant, yes," he said. "The moment I touched it, it morphed into the phoenix. Now the Pendant of Dumbledore, I suppose."
"Was it originally Helga Hufflepuff's pendant?" Snape asked softly, almost reverently.
Dumbledore nodded sadly and watched the pendant swing slowly.
Severus looked around the room and sighed deeply. "What do you suppose will become of Hogwarts, Headmaster?" he finally asked, deep sadness obvious in his voice.
Dumbledore shrugged. "I do not know for certain, Severus," he said, regarding the younger man over his glasses. "But I do know this. Whatever happens is meant to happen and nothing we can do will prevent it."
Snape allowed a small snort and he let the pendant slide into place with the others. "I didn't think you believed in fate, Albus," he said.
Dumbledore did not laugh, but regarded his Potions Master seriously. "I believe that some things cannot be avoided nor can they be changed," he said and Snape found himself listening closely to the wise old wizard. "I believe that Salazar was right and that Hogwarts will fall one day. Perhaps one day soon. But, it will not fall in the way we assume it will. Or even for the reasons we think it will."
Snape raised his head and regarded the Headmaster with furrowed brows. "You know something, don't you Albus?" he whispered. "About what is to happen here."
Dumbledore watched the younger man for a long moment before he finally smiled, his face once again gentle. "We should go to the infirmary, Severus," he said. "I believe the Founders are already cutting their departure rather close."
Severus sighed with annoyance at the old man's evasiveness and stuffed the pendants into his pocket. He followed him reluctantly out the door.
Snape sat outside the hospital wing, waiting. Dumbledore had suggested that each of the Founders take some private time with their descendants before departing, so Severus had adjourned to the waiting area outside the infirmary. He sighed and looked around, hoping to find something interesting to occupy his mind while he waited. His eyes fell on the window nearby and he could not help smiling to himself. It had been the very same window where Salazar had stood and declared his undying love for Rowena Ravenclaw to the entire world. He chuckled and looked away. Ah, Salazar. A true character if ever there was one.
Rowena, had not been the least bit surprised to find that Slytherin had not made it up to the hospital wing to say good-bye to her before returning to his pendant. She had not expected him to. She knew him and knew that he simply did not have the heart to say good-bye to her. Their encounter in the hallway that morning would be their last until they met again. One step ahead of him as usual, Snape thought and chuckled again.
Gryffindor, on the other hand, had seemed truly upset that he had not had a chance to speak to Slytherin one last time to try and make things up before parting. Snape had assured him that his ancestor had held no ill feelings towards him and that he had, in fact, been genuinely fond of him. Godric had seemed placated somewhat by his words and had shaken Severus' hand with sincere warmth..
Snape jumped when the hospital door finally opened and he looked up in anticipation. Poppy Pomfrey nodded at him and smiled. "They're all back in their pendants, Severus," she said kindly. "You can come in now."
He slowly followed Madam Pomfrey into the ward, aware that his heart had suddenly started beating faster. He stretched his neck to try and force himself to relax and shoved his hands into his pockets so any slight shake might not be noticed. He instinctively began to check the beds for any sign of Helena, trying desperately not to be obvious about it.
At the end of the ward, he saw a long privacy screen erected and knew immediately that Potter and Helena were behind it. As they drew closer, he could hear Dumbledore speaking softly to someone.
When they reached the screen, Pomfrey turned to him and said quietly, "Helena Ravenclaw is going to be asleep for at least twelve hours. Maybe longer. As a Muggle, this was very hard on her. Mr. Potter is awake, though."
She turned away before she could see the smirk and rolled eyes levelled at her by the Potions Master and headed back to her office. He could not help being somewhat disappointed at finding he couldn't speak to Helena, but also experienced a slight relief at having a bit more time to work out what he was actually going to say to her.
He was about to step around the partition when he heard Potter sigh deeply and decided to stay where he was for a moment. He leaned closer to the partition and eavesdropped without guilt.
"I don't know," Harry said, his voice distant and thoughtful. "He just wasn't what I was expecting, you know?"
Snape heard a rustling of cloth and imagined that he could see Dumbledore nodding with sympathy.
"He was just so bull-headed. He wouldn't listen to anyone! Not even me and I was really trying to tell him some important stuff!" Harry continued, his voice rising with emotion. "I mean, that snake. Nagini. She was trying to talk to him and he just wouldn't pay attention to me and I was just trying to tell him stuff that was for his own good. He just thought he had all the answers and didn't have to listen to anyone, you know? He just charged ahead and did what he thought needed to be done, even when other people were telling him not to, you know?"
Snape rolled his eyes and shook his head. He stepped around the partition and smirked down at his Harry. "Sounds shocking, Potter," he said, sarcasm dripping from every word. "I find it hard to believe you're descended from him."
Dumbledore managed to suppress a grin and looked down at the ornate wooden box he held securely in front of him.
Harry sat up in bed, clearly indignant. "I'm not like that!" he spat defensively.
Snape crossed his arms and smirked again. "Hmmm," he said softly. "I have a mirror you should see some time."
Harry's brows furrowed in confusion and he regarded his potions professor for a long moment. "What was it like for you, sir?" he finally asked. "If I'm allowed to ask."
Snape wasn't certain what he had been expecting his student's response to be, but it hadn't been this. All of the sarcasm seemed to drain from him and he found himself looking down at the floor and sighing deeply. He answered without looking up, his face softening visibly. "Exactly the opposite to yours, I suppose," he said softly. "You are just like your ancestor and wish that you weren't. I'm nothing like mine and I wish that I was."
Dumbledore smiled gently and nodded. He turned toward the privacy screen. "I need to deal with the Founder's Pendant Box, so I will leave you two to talk. Join me for tea this evening, Severus," he said kindly and disappeared from sight.
Snape nodded and watched the Headmaster leave, then turned back to the infirmary beds in front of him. His eyes wandered over to the figure in the bed next to Harry's and his mouth twitched into a smile before he could stop himself. Helena lay sleeping quietly, her long bronze hair trailing over the side of the bed.
Harry noticed Snape's response and glanced over at her as well. "What's going to happen to her now?" he asked, looking back up at Snape.
Snape also sighed and sat down on the side of Harry's bed. He shook his head and forced himself to look away from her. "I don't know. The Founders left us in a bit of a dilemma."
Harry nodded. "Godric told me."
Snape had to force down a sudden anger at realizing Potter knew something so personal about him. "I am assuming," he said icily, "that I do not have to tell you that this information is not to become public knowledge by way of the Potter Grapevine."
Harry rolled his eyes and pulled his blankets up. "You can accuse me of some things, Professor, but not of gossiping. I don't do that kind of thing." He reached over to his bedside table and huffily grabbed a glass of water. He put it to his lips and drank deeply.
Snape nodded and looked back at Helena. "You're right, Potter. I apologize."
Harry choked and had to sit up, water sputtering out of his mouth. "Pardon?!" he managed through his coughing.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Oh, for Merlin's sake, Potter," he said. "Have you taken up slapstick? Should I hit you over the head with a rubber bat now?"
Harry's eyes popped open for a moment before he suddenly put his head back and laughed uproariously. Snape looked down at the floor and allowed a small grin to creep onto his face.
By the time Harry had controlled himself, he was holding his sides and gasping for breath.
"It wasn't that funny, Potter," Snape said, shaking his head.
"Trust me," Harry said, wiping tears from his eyes, "coming from you, it was hilarious!"
"It would have been funnier if it had been a rubber chicken," a soft voice said from nearby.
Both Snape and Harry whipped their heads around to look at Helena. She lay on her side, watching them with tired eyes, a small smile on her lips.
"I'm sorry!" Harry said hurriedly. "I thought Madam Pomfrey had given you a Sleeping Draught!"
She shook her head weakly. "No, it's alright," she said. She looked over at Snape and the two locked eyes for a long moment. They both smiled at the same instant and then Helena's eyes fluttered shut again, the smile fading from her lips.
Snape felt his heart warm and the smile on his face grow. The feeling of hopefulness had returned and he felt as light as air. He stood up and looked down at Harry. "I should go before we wake her again," he whispered.
Harry nodded in agreement. He watched as his Professor turned and stalked out of the ward, robes billowing as usual. He shook his head in disbelief and wondered what had happened during the time he had spent with his ancestor. It felt like something significant had taken place. Like a window had opened somewhere and a ray of light had broken through the darkness. Harry smiled.
Snape stalked through the corridors of the teacher's residence wing, heading towards his personal chambers. He intended to sleep and freshen up before dinner in the Great Hall and then, perhaps, he would go back to the hospital wing and visit Helena again. And Harry. Hmmm. Yes, Harry too. He suspected that they actually might have a lot of things in common, if they gave one another a chance. Maybe.
Snape felt his heart miss a beat when he thought of Helena. So many unknowns and what ifs. His future felt wide open for the first time in his life. Full of choices and possibilities. And hope.
A soft breeze swept across his face and Severus stopped in his tracks. He looked over at the bank of stain glass windows to his right and smiled. This had been the same spot where Slytherin had stood and enjoyed the feeling of sun on his face for the first time in a thousand years. Without thinking, Severus stalked to the window and opened it with a flourish. The scent of spring flowers wafted over him, carried on the early evening breeze.
With a laugh, Severus Snape threw open his arms, put back his head and welcomed in the sun.
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