At precisely eleven in the morning on the day that his Ritual of Reckoning was to occur, Severus was led into the antechamber of the Arbitration Hall by a nondescript-looking wizard, who bowed to the Arbiter Wizengamot before taking his leave.
"Severus Tobias Snape, I am Amphitrite Merrythought," the witch standing in the center of the room said, extending her hand.
Severus took it. "It is an honor to meet you, madam."
"Perhaps you'll not feel so, after," the witch replied, with no hint of a smile softening her austere features as she released his hand. "Tell me why you've chosen to submit yourself to the Ritual of Reckoning."
"I was under the impression that all details were to be provided during the ritual," Severus replied, clasping his hands behind his back so as not to fidget.
"You were mistaken, but I do not speak of particulars. I wish to know what you hope to gain by this act."
"Ah. Well," Severus replied, stalling. I don't know. I want to see Harry again. I want her to be reasonable! "I've done Miss Potter an—"
"Do not prevaricate."
"I had no intention of prevaricating."
"That is also a lie," Merrythought replied, closing her eyes.
Severus suddenly realized that the Arbiter was reading him, had already read him, and attempted to Occlude his thoughts.
"I would not be the Arbiter Wizengamot if you could so easily hide from me, boy," Merrythought told him, opening her eyes.
Severus was stunned. She's not even using direct eye contact!
"I do not require my eyes to see into your mind, and what I see there does not please me."
"Forgive me, but perhaps you shouldn't be so rude as to spy on someone's thoughts without permission," Severus replied crisply, hoping that he did not sound as disturbed as he felt.
"How interesting that you should say that to me," Merrythought remarked, turning away from Severus to scan the engraved symbols over the door to the Arbitration Hall. "I understand your fear, of course, but it is you who have come seeking judgment," she continued, turning to regard him again. "Did you think I would pass it upon you in ignorance of your actions?"
Fuck. Perhaps this wasn't a good idea. "Of course not."
"The Old Ways are a mystery to many. The knowledge of my craft was passed to me in an unbroken chain from the first Arbiter Wizengamot, who was Merlin, himself, and all who have taken up the office have sworn to see justice done without prejudice or caprice. Few seek to be judged, but those who do will find it sober and just and utter."
No. I've definitely made the wrong decision in this.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. If you truly seek to right the wrong you have done to Harry James Potter, then you are mistaken, however fearful. I urge you to look to your motivation, and enter the Arbitration Hall with an honest mind. If you do not, your judgment may indeed cause you to feel that you have erred in coming here."
With those words, Merrythought left Severus, who gazed up at the carving over the door as the Arbiter Wizengamot entered it. The carving, translated from the Latin, read: "Let no falsehoods be entertained herein."
"What good is a warning if one doesn't know the penalty?" Severus murmured, wrapping his arms around himself as though he were chilled. "'Look to your motivation', she said." I just want Harry, that's all. I just want her to know that I . . . .
Something, Severus did not know what, would not allow him to complete his thought. That same 'something' also made him feel that Amphitrite Merrythought knew exactly what it was that he was hiding from himself.
Nervously, he began to pace the antechamber and wonder if Harry would attend the ritual—the ritual about which, he realized, he knew very little other than what he had read in an arcane volume of wizarding traditions.
How unlike yourself to be caught so unprepared!
Percy had been surprised when Severus had explained his intention to submit to the Ritual of Reckoning.
"Are you sure that's wise? The only person I know of who did this ended up being banished from Britain."
"I haven't attempted to alter history by using a Time-Turner to commit murder, Percy," Severus had said.
"But Terrence the Time-Tinkerer was banished from Britain by being sent back in time over fifteen hundred years!"
"Your time working at the Ministry was spent indulging in historical research?"
"It's not a good idea. The Arbiters tend to favor poetic justice. Imagine what Merrythought will make of your action."
Severus was imagining it, in great detail, and the idea that he had trapped himself was foremost in his mind.
The Spell of Acceptance was innocuous, useful, but I cast it without asking Harry, and it permanently altered her sense of self. What the hell might Merrythought do to me in kind?
It seemed likely to Severus, now that he was considering the matter rationally, that Harry would not appear.
"Which means that my fate is now in the hands of that bloodless oracle!"
"She's rather alarming, is the Arbiter Wizengamot, but it's mostly for show," a familiar voice said then.
"Boo," the Highmaster replied, grinning at Severus.
"Don't mistake the question, but what are you doing here?"
"Ever since you destroyed your lab and I banned you from it, I've had a tracking charm on you."
"Nothing wrong with your hearing, is there?"
"No, but no one's supposed to know—"
"Oh, I know you well enough to understand what it means that you're here, and also that, once you step inside that room," Spellen continued, nodding toward the Arbitration Hall, "and the spells activate, you won't be able to speak to me about what you're doing here, so I thought I'd lend you a bit of moral support before the ritual—and maybe save your bacon while I was at it."
"How? I can't back out of the ritual now."
Spellen chuckled. "Not once you walk in there, true, but you can decide, while you're still out here, to undertake the Ritual of Reckoning properly."
Severus pulled a watch out of his pocket and saw that he had only twenty minutes left before he had to enter the Arbitration Hall. "Forgive me, but I haven't much time. What do you mean?"
"The old girl probably mentioned something to you about knowing your motivation?"
"Yes," Severus replied, frowning. "How do you know about that? Were you listening?"
"Don't be so suspicious."
"You have been spying on me."
"No, I've been monitoring you so as to prevent your doing anything stupid, not that it helped much. Time, Severus. Let me speak."
"Fine. I'd still like to know how you know so much about this."
"My cousin, Spurton, studied to become Arbiter but found he didn't have the stomach for it. Now then, there's nothing that says your motivation can't change."
"What does that mean?" Severus asked, pocketing his watch.
"It means that, even though you came here merely to see Potter and manipulate her into forgiving you—"
"You know nothing about it!"
"Ha. No one asks for anyone else to cast on him—or her, in this case—the kind of spell you used on Potter, no matter what Skeeter might be reporting. Are you going to allow me to speak?"
"Go on," Severus replied, thinking, You're wrong! Harry wanted me to Obliviate him after—
"You know, I see the thoughts spinning in your head."
"How? You're no Legilimens."
"I imagine that Potter was shaken badly after his final battle with Voldemort," Spellen said, by way of an answer.
"You don't think Obliviation is on a par with what I did for Harry?"
"Did to, Severus. Do keep that in mind."
"Oh, very well. Continue."
"You are free, now, to decide that you do wish to atone for your action, for your spell. You do want to atone for casting that spell on Potter without her permission, don't you, Severus?"
"I can't just say that, think it, and make it true."
"Fair enough. Does that mean that you truly believe you've done nothing wrong?"
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "I know she didn't give me permission, but I was only trying to protect her!"
Spellen raised an eyebrow. "Yes, so you were. Did Potter need your protection?"
"I saved Harry's life on more than one occasion!"
"Severus. Think. Does Harry Potter need your protection?"
Opening his eyes, Severus saw that Spellen was no longer smiling. "No," he whispered. "I don't suppose she does."
"Excellent! You're well on your way to saving your own bacon," Spellen said, striding toward Severus and clapping him on the shoulder. "I've got to leave, but think on this in the remaining time. What does Miss Potter need from you? What do you need from her?"
"There isn't time for riddles, man!"
"No, there really isn't, my friend. Good luck. Oh, and Severus?"
"Come see me at the Guild when this is over. I expect you'll need a bracer."
"I thought you told me never to drink again while on Guild property?"
"True, but I was speaking of tea—or I could always plant my foot up your arse!"
Severus could not help himself. He smiled. Tea it is.
Harry was sitting on her bed, staring at the slim volume of Shakespearean sonnets that Percy had given her for her birthday. She did not read often, something that had always troubled Hermione and annoyed Percy, but the sonnets were easy to take. They were short, and Percy had been thoughtful enough—at least, that was how Harry chose to consider it—to provide her with an annotated edition of them.
I don't need the annotations for this one, Harry thought, frowning at Sonnet One Sixteen. "'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds'," she read, setting the book aside and standing up. "How is it love when your lover changes you so that he doesn't have to deal with your dealing with how you've changed?" And when did I start thinking of Severus as my lover?
Harry sighed. She was not at all sure how to think about Severus any longer.
Ginny's right. I am in love with him. How is that possible? And what does it matter? Severus has never told me he loves me. Severus is just . . . . "Fuck. I don't know what the hell he is," Harry said, smoothing down her formal robes and walking over to her desk to glare at the Portkey she had placed there.
Healer Spriggs had told Harry that, while she might find using a Portkey disorienting, it would not harm Justine, so Harry had prepared her invitation to Severus' Ritual of Reckoning as instructed the previous evening, rising several times during the night with the thought of burning it. Curiosity had prevented her from doing so, curiosity, and the fact that Harry did want to see Severus again. As furious with him as she was, she missed him.
I can't let the Arbiter Wizengamot take his magic. I just can't. No matter what he's done to me, his work's important. It wouldn't be right to—
Dobby appeared. "Harry Potter, can Molly Weasley be coming up?"
"Molly's here? Sure, send her up."
Dobby disappeared, and Harry checked herself in the mirror. She did not want Molly fussing over her appearance. It was embarrassing.
"I think I'll do," she told herself, as she heard Molly's knock. "Come in."
"Oh, you look lovely, Harry. That shade of blue is—"
"Slimming?" Harry replied, half-grinning.
"I know you're not worried about that sort of thing."
"Well, just because I feel like a baby whale doesn't mean I need to look like one."
"You're not as big as I ever was so close to my time—but where are you going?"
"Um, well," Harry said, thinking quickly, "I thought I'd go visit Hagrid."
"That's good, dear. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you. I'm sorry to pop 'round without warning, but—"
"It's fine, Molly, really. Why don't you sit down and tell me why you're here. I'm uh, I'm going to keep standing, I think."
Molly smiled. "I don't blame you. Just see that you don't tire yourself out. How are you getting to Hogwarts? You're not Portkeying, are you?"
"Why? Spriggs said—"
"Oh, it's safe enough, but, in your condition, you'll want to be careful of the landing. If you think getting out of a chair is difficult . . . ."
"I'll be careful. Hagrid'll be there to help me if I bollocks up my landing."
Molly looked down at her hands. "I'm not sure you'll care, but I thought you should know."
"What? What's happened?"
"It's nothing to worry about. Fleur's just taken a turn, is all."
Harry's eyes widened. Fleur was just into her second trimester, which was the period in which she had lost her other babies.
"Molly, no matter how angry I am at Fleur, I'd never wish—is she all right? Does she need anything? How's—"
"She's very well, now, just a bit weak. Her healer was trying to find Severus, but . . . ."
Harry bit her lower lip. I can't tell Molly where Severus is, can I? If he doesn't complete the ritual—
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I was saying that Fleur is fine. The healers just don't—well, let's just say that they've stabilized her and are keeping her at St. Mungo's until Severus is found. Of course, given how he's been, lately, I don't know—"
"I have to go, Molly. I think I might be able to find Severus. As soon as I do—"
"You shouldn't be worrying about this in your condition," Molly protested.
"—I'll send him to the hospital, all right? That is why you came, isn't it? You thought I'd know where Severus might be?"
Molly sighed. "I'd feel better if Severus were to examine Fleur, yes, but I didn't mean for you to search for him, yourself."
"Don't worry. I'll have Hagrid with me. Please, Molly, go be with Fleur."
When Molly left, Harry took a deep breath, checked the clock, and sighed. Damn it! Four minutes.
That was long enough for her to become nervous again about Severus' intentions.
Whatever he really wants, I hope we can sort it out quickly, Harry thought, placing her hand on the seal of the letter-Portkey.
A tall, severe-looking woman stepped forward to catch Harry as her feet hit the floor of the Arbitration Hall and she stumbled.
"Welcome, Harry James Potter," the witch said, steadying Harry. "Are you well? Do you require anything?"
Harry looked around. The Arbitration Hall was a large circular marble hall with no visible sign of entry. She and the witch with her were the only people in the room.
"I'm all right, thank you."
The witch released Harry and said, "I'm Amphitrite Merrythought, the Arbiter Wizengamot. It is an honor to meet you, Miss Potter."
Harry smiled her "it's-nice-to-meet-you-too" smile and asked, "I didn't think I was early."
"The Reckoner will join us at my summons. I wished to see to your comfort before we began. Traveling by Portkey is no easy matter for a witch so near her time."
"That's true," Harry said, forcing herself to remain calm.
"Something troubles you?" the Arbiter asked, peering at Harry in a manner she found disturbingly familiar.
Harry did not even bother to Occlude her thoughts. Something told her it would be a waste of time. Instead, she allowed her worries for Fleur rise to the surface of her mind as she held Merrythought's gaze.
"Ah. I see. Perhaps I should have Pontius contact St. Mungo's and ascertain Mrs. Weasley's condition before we begin?"
"I'd appreciate it."
Merrythought made no movement, but almost at once, an unassuming wizard walked through the wall.
"At once, Arbiter," the faded man said, without ever hearing Merrythought speak, before exiting the way he had entered.
"Wow. He's a ghost, isn't he?"
"Indeed. How discerning of you. Most people never notice Pontius' condition."
"You call being dead a condition?"
"Pontius does. Now then, do you understand what the Ritual of Reckoning is?"
"You're just being polite, aren't you?"
"Yes," Merrythought said, smiling slightly, "you're most discerning. I expect it helps that you're not afraid of me."
Harry smiled. "After evil wizards . . . ."
"Of course," Merrythought replied, conjuring Harry and herself chairs. When they had both sat down, she continued, "You assume that, because I can read you, I am doing so, but I only took that which you offered. It would be clear enough to anyone that you're distressed. I give you my word that I will not invade your privacy."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Of course, during the ritual, your thoughts must be open to me."
"Oh. Well, all right."
"If that is not acceptable to you, you need not participate."
"No, I want to—it's fine."
"I appreciate your courage, Miss Potter."
"I don't know if it's courage so much as . . . ."
"Yes. That's one way to put it."
"Do you understand what is to be done here today?"
"I think so," Harry said, fidgeting a bit.
"Would you tell me, so that there is no room for misunderstanding?"
"Severus is here to . . . I think he's using the ritual as a way to see me, but he should be here to apologize?"
Before the Arbiter could respond, Pontius entered the hall again. "Mrs. Fleur Weasley is well, for the moment, but her healer would like to consult with the Reckoner about her condition."
"Thank you, Pontius. We'll begin momentarily."
"Am I right?" Harry asked, relieved to know that Fleur was not in any immediate danger, but concerned nonetheless.
"Nearly, but what the Reckoner wishes to accomplish and what actually occurs during the Ritual of Reckoning are often rather different. Acknowledgment and justice, those are what we seek in this hall. Severus Tobias Snape will speak truthfully about his actions toward you and be judged accordingly."
"But I get to help decide his punishment?"
"Your voice has weight with me, as the Concerned Person, yes."
"But you make the final decision?"
"I am the Arbiter Wizengamot, and the Reckoner is bound to obey my judgment on pain of death."
Harry's eyes widened. "No one said anything about death!"
"It rarely comes to that, my dear, but what good would this process be if there were no true penalty for failing to see it through?"
"What of the Reckoner?"
"I can't believe he'd—I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't be unfair, but what was he thinking?"
"I believe you understand perfectly what he was thinking."
"I don't want Severus to . . . I'm worried . . . this is just more than, more serious, than I thought."
"It is not your doing. It was his choice, however haphazardly he made it. Have you any questions for me before we begin? Once the Reckoner enters the Arbitration Hall, none may leave until judgment is passed."
That's comforting. Shite. "No, no questions."
"While it is customary for all participants to stand during the ritual," Merrythought said, rising, herself, "I believe you should have the option to sit if you wish. Do you?"
"Yes, but first, could I . . . is there a loo?"