Severus Snape watched with a mixture of amusement and mirth the boy unwrap his Christmas gift. It was nothing much, something transmuted on the fly with his wand and wrapped in transmuted paper. It was a very simple, very long scarf.
Owls had begun flying in the air as Christmas day neared, and even though Cokeworth remained unchanged, the static-filled television in the living room turned on and off at regular intervals.
The creaky sound of stairs and old floorboards had increased dramatically in the past days, and the thick air of tension that Severus breathed seemed to now be all-encompassing. However, it all seemed just a tiny note in the corner of his life, when compared to the bright, bubbling smile of Harry as he wrapped the scarf around his neck.
"It's warm," Harry said, snuggling his face against the scarf, his hands gripping on the edges of the thick wool. "I-I didn't bring you a gift," Harry said, looking up at Snape who merely scoffed.
"Adults don't receive gifts at Christmas," he replied. "Only good children do."
"Then I should give this back," Harry whispered. "It's my fault-"
"Hush," Severus said. "This is not the time for recrimination. It's Christmas. Come on, Harry. We have a long way to go and little time to do it."
Harry nodded, and made a small smile. He knew, because of course he knew, just like Severus knew, that time was wasting. Time was rotting, a tiny piece at the time, bursting like a carcass left beneath the sun to shine, and glow with festering worms carelessly devouring the warm flesh and sinews of shattered bones.
Time and Space were the two heralds of normality, the twin columns that held back the frothing madness that laid neatly beyond the fifth dimension, and slowly they were eroding, chipped away into nothingness to bring forth the reveling madness.
Cthulhu was awake. The Elder God's awakening signaling not the coming of his brethren, for they had always been there, but their interest upon his slumbering form suddenly rising. Their interest, which turned stone to flesh, or flesh to ice, or air to hot, scorching fire, or fire into bubbling water, an inch away from freezing.
The spiraling of events lost track, the frothing hordes of madmen rushing around screaming the end of times increased to the point where sanity became a rare thing, and yet in the middle of such a pool of teeth and glowing eyes of people who were no longer people, but other things, other things inhabited by other things that bowed to different things, things beyond comprehension, a single oasis of peace stood eerily intact.
The Ministry of Magic, erected and proud, its massive black stone bricks holding firmly against the madness with an air of finality, with order and with fierce firmness. Ancient beyond time, the Ministry stood, and smacked like a father would an unruly child, only with too much strength, shattering the face, carving bones deep into the soft cheeks of the screaming youth.
Blood covered thickly the entrance of the Ministry, and it dribbled across the walls and the marble cobbles, drawing lines of madness and symbols that hurt the brain to just look at.
Severus had brought the boy to the Ministry, but his job was not over yet. His wand rose and he moved to where he knew stood the Gate.
This, all of this carnage and blood, was mere influence. It was not reality; it was not the imposing movements of limbs and chattering teeth, but the mere thought of ancient behemoths of magic and power thrumming in the depths of the galaxy raising a single crinkling eye towards the world in question. They were not even gazing at it, insignificant speck of blue in an ocean of burning stars, all far mightier and better to waste their bored gaze upon than it –if not for a single, particular, detail. They were looking at Cthulhu rising, yet the ripples of such gazing nearly shattered the Earth in half.
Cthulhu was waking because he had heard a call. Like a child, sleeping peacefully in its crib and woken up by the soothing voice of a mother's heartfelt plea, so too was Cthulhu slowly shaking himself awake, and with each of them a massive wave of water drowned cities, cracked asunder buildings, tore and snuffed out the lives of thousands.
There was no hate, nor malice, within each action. It simply was. That, beyond all, was terrifying.
Harry walked the empty corridors of the Ministry with Severus by his side, not a man, a wizard or a creature from beyond stopping them. There was no one in there, the place empty and abandoned by all. It was silent, the entire walk. A thousand different ways, a hundred different methods, dozens upon dozens of what-ifs rushing through their minds, and yet they were all meaningless.
The Gate stood firm, quiet and silent in an empty circular room. Many wizards and witches thought it had been brought there from outside, but the truth was different. The Ministry had been built around it. Only a few knew of it, and Severus himself had been told as such from Albus, who had in turn discovered it only once he'd become Supreme Mugwump.
The Gate was alien.
"So this is goodbye," Harry said. He turned and looked up at Severus. "I'm sorry, for everything."
Severus looked down at Harry, and knelt right in front of him, gazing into his eyes that were the same as those of Lilly. "I'm the one who should be sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "And you're a brave boy, the bravest I've ever known."
Harry smiled awkwardly. "I'm scared," he whispered with a squeaky voice.
"That makes two of us," Severus said. "Do you want me to come along?"
"You would?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Severus said. "If you asked, I would."
He shook his head. "They'd hurt you." He looked down. "They'll hurt me."
"All the more reason then," Severus said, but Harry just smiled, a sad, bitter smile of his, and turned to the Gate. "You don't have to do this alone."
"I won't be alone," Harry said, gingerly touching the scarf. "I'll have memories. Beautiful memories they can't take away." He smiled. "I won't be back."
Severus closed his eyes and grimaced.
"Don't let him, Severus," Lily's voice came from behind him, but he didn't turn. "Don't let him go. Don't! Stop him! Come on, Severus, stop him! Grab his wrist, grab his arm, and stop him! You swore to me-to my grave! You swore!"
The voice was a hiss, a small, meddling hiss, which Severus did not listen to. He simply brought his right hand down on Harry's rebel hair and smiled. That was a motion his face hadn't made in years.
"If things had been different," Severus whispered. "This wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't-If Dumbledore-if…"
"It's okay," Harry said. "Everything will be fine."
Harry stepped back from under Severus' hand, and looked up at the massive Gate in front of him. He took off his glasses, and gripped his wand tightly.
"I won't die. I'll just…go away, forever." Harry took a step forward.
"Stop him, Severus. Stop him!" Lily shrieked, and Severus could feel the fingers dig into his back, long claws drawing blood from his shoulders and ripping at his flesh. He didn't turn. He didn't move. He didn't stop.
"Stop him, Severus. The planets-they're aligned-it would be-no, you cannot ruin this-stop him!"
"So when the time comes...the boy must die."
"I'm sorry, Lily," Severus whispered as he watched Harry stop an inch away from the Gate, blood dribbling down from the scar on his forehead, the Gate itself igniting in flames as the stone archway began to crack. "This…"
He lifted his wand, and pointed at Harry's back.
"This is the only mercy I can give him."
Severus hardened his heart.
And Harry's body fell limply over the Gate, disappearing forever from sight.
Lily screamed and shrieked, she tore at Severus' back with her fingers even as she became less and less real, less and less concrete, less and less…everything.
Nothing remained, but a dull headache in the back of Severus Snape's head.
The brain, that wonderful, thinking center of mankind's best and worst thoughts, took care of it all. And where it could not, Severus did it himself, with the wand pointed to the right side of his head.
He returned to Hogwarts, and lived there the rest of his life. To each student, he'd gaze at waiting for the one that he knew should come among the new entries, and yet year after year none would come that were the 'right one'.
So he kept waiting.
He kept waiting for the son of someone he didn't remember, for the son of someone he didn't know if he loved or hated. He kept waiting for the return of someone that did not return, and as the madness of that peculiar day of Christmas disappeared from the world, as everyone forgot, was made to forgot, and the culling was rationalized as an epidemic, the world kept spinning in its ignorance, in its blissful state of ignorance.
And then Severus Snape died of old age, headmaster of Hogwarts, and found himself standing in a train station, the clock ticking the time by and the table of hours unreadable, and near him, dressed in yellow, stood an adult he had never seen before, who was however familiar to him. He knew the name even before his lips let it escape, and it was because of a scarf circling his neck, that Severus knew, beyond a ken of doubt, that he was looking at Harry Potter.
"It cannot die what can forever lie," Harry said awkwardly. "But within strange eons, even death may die."
"I tried," Severus said softly. "Forgive me, but I tried."
"I know," Harry whispered back. "I was happy you did," he smiled. "Your train's here."
And it was, indeed it was, the train was exactly in front of them, the doors open like a welcome home Severus had sorely missed.
"Where will it take me?" Severus asked.
"I don't know," Harry replied. "I'm not allowed to go, or to say," Harry added. "I think it goes wherever it has to go. It's a train, so it follows rails."
"Are…are you happy?" Severus asked.
"I'm fine," Harry said. "I try to keep myself small, and unnoticed. I'm good at hiding," he touched a silvery cloak on his back as he said that. "But now you have to go," Harry said, a hand on Severus' back as he gently guided him forward.
"I'm sorry," Severus whispered.
"You are forgiven," Harry answered calmly, and then he smiled as the doors closed, and Severus went.
The last thing he saw were Harry's eyes, Harry's bright, green eyes, vividly looking at his as the train began to leave the station. Those eyes, so much like those of Lily, were the last thing he thought of as oblivion embraced him.
The Eyes, the mirror of the soul.
The Eyes, the window into reality.
The Eyes, which saw that which should not be seen.