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Chapter Seventy-Seven—Come to a Decision

Voldemort stared at the man who floated motionless in a bubble in front of him, asleep and so unaware of the passage of time. The bubble was a spell Harry had taught him, which surrounded the sleeper with air but meant that they didn't have to eat, excrete, or fulfill any other function when asleep. Apparently it was commonly used in other worlds to keep patients safe while a specialized Healer was fetched or a potion brewed for them.

He wondered for a moment if Harry would approve of the use he had put it to, and then dismissed the notion. Harry's approval was unlikely to be won by much of anything he would say tonight.

But it was still Harry's approval that motivated him, kept him going. This was simply a long road in which he would have to go through the disapproval first.

The wind at the edge of their grove sighed, warning him, and Voldemort turned around and watched as a braid of darkness flickered with woven stars, then became human. Or a human shape. Harry stepped forwards and looked between him and the bubble, then studied him for a moment.

"Trying to figure out why I called you here?" Voldemort asked. It was a pathetic attempt, and he knew it as he made it, to put off dealing with what they had to deal with a little longer. The knowledge hardly soothed his temper.

"No, you said that. Trying to figure out if you were injured, and that was why you'd decided to make a decision about Severus now."

Voldemort closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. Yes, Harry still cared for him, enough to believe that he might have imprisoned Severus like this because the man had attacked and injured his former lord. Voldemort would have the approval he desired, long though he might have to wait for it.

"I'm all right," he murmured, shaking his head. He opened his eyes again and studied Harry. "But I think I have tormented this man for reasons that you won't approve of once you hear them in full."

Harry canted his head a little, then nodded. That was all he did, and Voldemort felt the familiar prickling of irritation along his spine that one man's approval could matter to him as much as this one's did.

But he had little choice. He sighed and began the story.


Harry listened without comment. Some of the details, he had known; some, he hadn't, or at least not at the level Voldemort was explaining them. He examined Severus in silence, as memories of past lives and past worlds spun through his mind, and he wondered whether any of them could provide a model for the man in front of him now.

Surely at least one could. But then again, Harry had known Severus as a repentant spy, and an unrepentant Death Eater, and a lover, and a sacrifice, and a friend, and an enemy. This man occupied none of those slots, not precisely.

Probably because this is the first time you've found yourself friends with Voldemort.

Harry gave a light shrug of his shoulders. If he could find compassion in his heart for a version of Voldemort, he should be able to find compassion in his heart for this Severus, no matter how much the man permanently hated him.

He realized Voldemort had stopped speaking, and glanced at him. "Are you done?"

"No. You shrugged. I thought that perhaps something I'd said displeased you."

Harry hid his sigh. Voldemort would take it the wrong way. He was glad that the man had changed so much, yes, and had proven himself capable of reabsorbing the Horcruxes. But he did wish that Voldemort didn't pay such obsessive attention to his every movement, every word, that he could be disconcerted simply because Harry had shrugged at something he was thinking.

"It was just a stray thought," he said. "Please go on."

Voldemort did. Harry listened, and comprehended the scope of the problem. Yes, Voldemort hadn't left Severus many avenues of resistance or hope. And if they simply let him go, freed from the curse, the chance was that he would circle around to stab them in the back at some point, because what had been done to him was too much to bear.

Harry would be tempted to let him go and do whatever he wanted if he only had himself to consider. Severus couldn't do anything that would hurt him. But Voldemort would respond with deadly force if he was attacked or if Harry was, and he might be able to crack his soul, so recently-healed, again.

And Harry had known versions of Severus who would take out their hatred on Jonathan. That couldn't be allowed, either.

"Release him from the bubble," he said, when Voldemort finished for good.

Voldemort's eyes narrowed, and he seemed about to ask a question, but then he nodded and drew his wand. Harry smiled a little. Perhaps Voldemort had reminded himself how non-human Harry was, and how he wouldn't need shields even if Severus immediately came out with wandless magic bursting from his skin.

The bubble popped, and a second later, the spell went with it. Severus crouched on the ground instead of lying or kneeling, staring at Harry for a long moment without recognition. Harry waited quietly.

He had had a part in this. He hadn't paid enough attention, hadn't had enough compassion. He accepted that without moving his eyes from the man in front of him, a casualty of his divided attention, and without intending to let it influence his actions beyond making him more compassionate.

"Potter."

The depth of bitterness and loathing made Harry wish that, as had happened sometimes in the past, he had been born far enough in the past of this world to prevent what had happened between Severus and James. On the other hand, if that had been the case, he wouldn't have had Jonathan, might not have had Voldemort. Even for the Master of Death, some wishes couldn't come true.

"Hello, Mr. Snape," Harry said. "Would you be willing to trade an Unbreakable Vow of no vengeance for the removal of the curse on you and enough money to begin your life again in another country?"

Voldemort hissed next to him, "You would do this?" But since Severus couldn't understand Parseltongue, that wouldn't reveal anything in particular to him, and Harry was content to ignore it.

Severus froze, perhaps thinking that a curse would follow the snake language, not an unreasonable idea. Then he snapped, "You would make me give up my rights?"

"What rights?"

"To revenge!"

"Oh. Yes." Harry shook his head. "You would have a right to vengeance on Voldemort for casting the curse on you. And you would have a right to vengeance on Sirius for setting you up to be killed during your school days, and my father for humiliating and hurting you. Perhaps even a right to vengeance on me, although I'm certain some people would like to debate that."

"Harry—"

"I have no hope of hurting you."

Harry smiled a little, pleased. If Severus had recognized that much, the chance existed that he would be reasonable after all. "But I'm afraid that you would take it further. That you would try to get vengeance on my mother, and on my brother. That means that I need that Unbreakable Vow if I'm to remove the curse and get you the money and the chance for a new start."

A long quiver ran through Severus's body, and he bared his teeth. "Do you understand how alone I was after Lily left me?"

"Do you understand how she felt when her best friend called her a racist slur?"

"I was upset!"

"Funny." Harry narrowed his eyes. "I've been upset like that before, many times, and yet my first impulse was never to call someone a name specifically designed to hurt people of their heritage."

Severus stared at him, caught in wordless rage. Harry waited. It was possible that the kindest thing to do was return the man to the bubble he had just been in and let him sleep there, perhaps under a different variation of the spell that would let him dream and feel time passing without aging him. Perhaps his temper would cool in that case.

But Harry would prefer not to do that if he didn't have to. So he waited, and Severus finally said through gritted teeth, "I am willing to promise not to take vengeance on Lily."

"And Jonathan?"

"What right can he imagine he has to vengeance on your brother?" Voldemort interrupted. "If he has none on your mother—"

Harry just shook his head, and amazingly, that was all it took to make Voldemort shut up. Harry gave a mental shrug. He might wish he didn't have that kind of power or influence over Voldemort, but it was obvious he did, and he would be stupid to deny that he did. Far better to embrace it and wield it so that he could use it to the benefit of everyone involved, Voldemort among them.

"He's the cause of all of this," Severus finally whispered.

"And not me?"

"He's the reason that my lord turned his back on me! He's the one that supposedly caused the problem in the first place, by being the child of prophecy! He's the one Albus was so obsessed with controlling that he didn't honor my skills the way he should!" Severus clenched his hands. "And you ask me to give up hurting him."

"Yes. I do." Harry let a little of the vast weight of his experience, his lifetimes, creep into his gaze, and Severus flinched and looked down. "Besides, I'm aware that none of the reasons you listed are the real one that you'd like to hurt him."

"You think you know that?"

"Yes, I do. And the real reason you want to hurt him is because he's dear to me, and you hate me, but as you already said, you have no hope of inflicting the kind of pain you want to on me through physical punishment or magic. So you want to hurt Jonathan, because, yes, that would be the kind of pain I wouldn't recover from. Even if I blasted your body to atoms in the next instant, that wouldn't make up for it. I would still feel pain. And you would die satisfied."

"Harry, let me kill him."

Harry shook his head a little. His eyes were fastened on Severus, and he waited. It remained to be seen whether the man was going to get so angry at Harry's insight that he would attack him, or if he would be devastated enough by it to back down.

He was the one who would have to make that choice.


The brat. The brat.

Severus wasn't even sure whom the words echoing dully in his head referred to. It could have been the Potter in front of him. It could have been the Potter child Lily had been willing to have with her husband, the one who would have been the center of a prophecy and whom she might have died to defend if this one hadn't stood up in front of the Dark Lord instead.

They did so much to me.

But worse than that, Severus was coming to realize, was someone standing in front of him and seeing his motivations like this, flaying them, dumping them on the ground, and spreading them out for everyone to see. And watching him with coldly curious, inhuman eyes, waiting to see how he would decide to respond.

Severus almost did want to attack and damn the consequences.

But while he might not be able to fathom Potter, or affect him, that would afford the Dark Lord the perfect excuse to destroy him. He might even be able to do so before Potter intervened. And if he did, then not all of Potter's excuses and scoldings would bring Severus back to life.

Severus might not be able to do much to affect his enemies, but he could live, and disappoint the Dark Lord. He could have the curse taken off, and have enough money to leave the country.

It was not what he would have chosen. But it was the most attractive of the options currently on display.

"I will make the Vow," he said hoarsely. He was aware of the way that the Dark Lord hissed under his breath, and in a way that didn't make it sound as if it had spoken Parseltongue. Severus might have smiled, but the resting bitterness in his soul ran too deep for that.

How can a mortal man play a game with immortal beings?

He couldn't. Severus thought the only triumph he could have was to turn his back on the board.


"You should have let me kill him."

Harry shook his head and turned to face Voldemort. Voldemort loved and hated the way he looked at him without fear, as if his mind was far away and following Severus into the international Apparition Harry had pushed him into once the curse was broken, the Vow made, the money given over.

It was right that Harry think of such things, and not always what was immediately present in front of him, like a god, like the immortal being he was. It was not right that his mind be fastened on the good of Severus Snape.

But you must have decided to tolerate it, or why call on him to solve the problem?

Voldemort shed the doubt so he could continue speaking. "He doesn't deserve any kind of care you might have offered him. Whatever he was to you in other lives, in this life he is a wasted and broken man."

Harry's gaze sharpened, and he replied in Parseltongue, "He's what we made of him. We wasted and broke him. And if I'd decided not to let my experience of people being able to change guide me, I would never have offered a hand to you."

He said the last word in English, like a crack of lightning, and Voldemort stared at him. "Do you regret doing that?" he breathed before he knew that he was going to ask the question, and then hated himself for doing so.

"No."

Voldemort swallowed, and nodded. Harry was right in front of him now, mind and body in the same place, no longer rushing off after a man who had made the Vow unwillingly, glaring at them all the while. But Voldemort had forgotten how incredibly uncomfortable that attention could make him.

Harry smiled abruptly. Voldemort asked, "What are you thinking of?"

"Just that in the first world where I was born, Severus spent all adult his life trying to make up for accidentally betraying my mum to you by telling you part of the prophecy. But even then, he hated me and never stopped resenting me for being the focus of Dumbledore's efforts in the war and surviving where my mum didn't." Harry laughed softly. "It's not as different from this world as I thought. And even there, you were obsessed with me. You just wanted me to die instead of living to help you."

"I want you to live for other reasons than because you can help me, or because you can teach me magic."

"I know."

Voldemort hesitated. He had got what he wanted, and Harry hadn't been as upset about the curse Voldemort had used on Severus as he'd expected. He should keep quiet, now. Let Harry go away, back to Hogwarts. He should be content with what he'd got and not push.

But he had not ever lived by that creed, or he would not have been Lord Voldemort.

"Will you live? Will you stay in this world with me?"

"I'm afraid that if I do become immortal in one body, I might lose my grip on what it means to be human, eventually." Harry made a gesture down the air in front of him, and Voldemort saw a flicker of the sharp blackness that he had glimpsed when he was seeing the world through Harry's eyes during their "travel" to free Jonathan's mind from Dumbledore's influence. "I shouldn't have stayed human this long, statistically. And sometimes it feels like I make more compromises with my humanity in every life. I treated this Severus like a chess piece. If I decided to stay in one body this time, what would keep me from becoming completely detached, regarding all the humans around me as chess pieces in a private game?"

"I would."

Harry considered him with unblinking eyes then, and his pupils swelled and changed shape, towards those of a snake. Then he murmured, "Would you?"

"I would dedicate my life to it. My immortality."

Harry gave him a strange half-smile and murmured, "Perhaps I shall let you try."

And then he was gone, and Voldemort stood there, in the center of painful hope like a wheel of stars around him.