Title: Truth, Like Light
Author: Briar (briarwolf)
Prompt: Lingering Curse
Warnings: See Snarry Games Post for warnings.
Word Count: 16,887
Many thanks go to
Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to JK Rowling. No profit is being made by their use, and no infringement is intended.
Summary: Like a typical Gryffindor, Harry runs into things without thinking. Someone has to pick up the pieces.
Truth, Like Light
Harry's head beat a throbbing counterpoint to the ache in his knuckles as he clutched his blanket tighter around thin shoulders. He stared at the silvery spider that crawled across his bedside table and wondered if hallucinations were another symptom in the steady progression of the curse that gripped his body.
His eight-legged guest had gained the edge of his pillow and continued steadily toward his face. He'd never been particularly fond of spiders, but this one didn't fill him with a sense of alarm. It felt oddly familiar, reminding him of dark places that somehow felt like home. He reached out to gently shoo it away, but it didn't back off. When his finger made contact with the small body, it vanished, leaving behind a sense of warmth that lulled Harry into peaceful sleep.
When he opened his eyes an indeterminate amount of time later, he was certain that the curse was plaguing him with phantoms. Settled in the worn chair beside his bed was the nearly transparent specter of Albus Dumbledore. His eyes twinkled just the way Harry remembered, the corners crinkling as the ghost smiled.
"Harry, I know I once told you that death was only the next great adventure, but I didn't suspect it was a venture you would attempt to join me in so soon." The familiar voice was hushed, colored with a faint regret.
"Am I dead then?" Harry's own voice was a rusty croak, though he still sounded alive enough to himself. Of course, if the droning of Professor Binns was any indication, voice alone wasn't enough to determine whether one was living or dead. He thought, though, that it would be rather unfair if he had to continue to sound so frightfully weak throughout his ghostly afterlife.
"No, dear boy," Dumbledore gave a sad chuckle, "Though perhaps not for want of trying."
Harry thought he ought to protest. It wasn't as if he'd intended to get himself cursed, after all. He'd only been trying to complete the task that Dumbledore had set for him: the destruction of Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. He'd done it too, all but the last, and the result was the debilitating curse that left him unable to charm his tea warm, much less confront and kill a wizard of Voldemort's caliber. He saw the spark of truth in the words and couldn't bring himself to argue. He'd intended to die with Voldemort, if he had to.
"Why are you here all alone, Harry?"
"Couldn't let them get hurt, could I?" Harry laughed, bitter and quiet. "Not that they listened, any of them. I had to leave them. Didn't want anyone else to die."
"You can't do this all alone." The twinkle was gone from Dumbledore's eyes and Harry wondered inanely if ghosts could cry, since it looked almost like Dumbledore wanted to at that moment.
"I've done it." Harry struggled to sit up, dragging the duvet with him and breathing hard. "All but one, Headmaster. When I feel better, I'll take care of the end of it. I just need one good day and it will be all over. I can do it alone, sir, just like you did."
"I was never alone, Harry. The Order was created so that no one would be alone when facing the Dark."
"But the ring..."
"The foolish whim of an old man that considered his life expendable for the cause. Even then, I had help. Professor Snape was indispensable when it came to arresting the curse that had been placed on the ring."
"Snape?" The exclamation drove Harry to coughing and he wiped his mouth with a shaking hand when he caught his breath. "The bastard that killed you?" Harry shook his head and sank back against his pillow with a bitter smile. "Now I know that I'm hallucinating."
There was a pause and then the ghostly figure let out a sound like a sigh. "Do you trust me?"
Blinking as lassitude began to tug at him once again, Harry slid down and curled on his side. "I trust Albus Dumbledore, but you're only a figment of my imagination."
"Remember that trust, Harry." The specter smiled and placed a translucent hand on Harry's hunched shoulder, but Harry was too close to sleep to do more than gasp softly at the sudden chill. He was sinking into darkness when he heard Dumbledore's final whisper, "Learn to trust in the truth behind what you see."
When Harry next woke he felt warmer than he had in days. His headache had vanished, leaving behind an odd sense of lightness. He stared at the ceiling with a bemused smile before a movement caught at the corner of his eye. Turning his head, his smile widened when he saw the misty silver spider settled in seeming comfort on the bedside table. Next to it, there was a steaming mug of tea.
"Hullo," Harry said, thrashing his way up out of the bedclothes. He wasn't sure exactly why he was speaking to an odd spider, other than that it just seemed the right thing to do. The arachnid twitched but didn't vanish.
Once he'd managed to attain a sitting position--which took a fair bit of effort for all that he felt better than he had in some time--he noticed that he could see the wood grain of the tabletop through the spider's body. For some reason that he couldn't place, his chest felt tight.
"Are you a ghost, then?" Harry asked conversationally, struck by a sudden urge to giggle when the spider twitched again, somehow conveying derision. Then, it lifted one of its spindly legs to point at the mug.
Harry hummed thoughtfully and then shook his head. "It looks very nice," he assured the spider, "but I don't know how it got here. I have enemies, you know."
It took a minute for Harry to realize that the snorting sound he heard didn't come from the spider. Harry turned, brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of the dark figure that stood in the doorway. The only light in his room came from the hall, so he couldn't see the person's face, but he remembered that he was supposed to be the only person in this house. Somehow, that thought didn't raise as much alarm as it should have.
"Perhaps you've learned something after all." The voice was dark and entirely familiar, and now the panic was there, flailing to get out under the layer of calm that he couldn't shake.
Harry's breath came faster, but he could still feel that silly smile curving his lips. Even when the lights in his room came on and he clearly saw the sallow skin, greasy hair and hateful glare of Severus Snape, he couldn't do anything but grin. Inside, he stretched desperately for the magic that had been far out of his reach for some time. As he had since destroying the Horcruxes, he fell short.
"I've learned a lot of things," Harry answered pleasantly, if a touch sadly. "It's lonely to learn things by yourself."
One of Snape's eyes twitched and Harry was reminded of the spider. He glanced over and was dismayed to see that it was gone now. It figured that the friendly creature couldn't abide Snape's presence.
"Before I find myself treated to any more of your interesting revelations, Potter, I think it wise to remove the spell that's buffering you from your pain, as well as the less than pleasant aspects of our encounter."
"I thought that I must be bewitched." Harry nodded and finally his smile faded. "Do we have to remove it?"
"Of course we do. Don't be foolish." Snape's glare was so poisonous that Harry was almost surprised he didn't drop to the bed stone dead from the force of it.
"Oh..." Harry bit his lip while one part of him screamed warnings at the part of him that seemed to have control over his mouth at the moment. That panicked, defensive bit of him was soundly ignored. "It's just... It's hurt for such a long time. This is... nice."
"Nice or not," Snape sneered, "this state does not reflect reality. It's past time that you grew up and learned that fantasy is for children."
"I'm grown up," Harry protested, pouting. "I destroyed the Horcruxes by myself."
"Nearly killing yourself in the process. A perfect demonstration of adult responsibility, Mr Potter." Snape's sarcasm could have flayed the skin from a dragon. "Enough."
Snape's wand was out and his arm stretched to point the wood at Harry in less than a blink. Inwardly horrified, caught up in memories of the last time he'd seen Snape staring so resolutely over an unwavering wand, Harry wished desperately for a way to break the complacent bubble that trapped him. As if the wish had been made real, Snape's wand flicked downward and then curled left, and the contentment that had overridden his anger bled away.
"Killing the only man to ever trust you proves you the responsible one, Snape?" Harry's words were a pained rasp from his throat, unable to find purchase for full venom on his ravaged vocal cords. It was a bitter question, which Harry didn't expect an answer to. His hands were shaking, joints flaring with a renewed ache as he drew the duvet up to his chest as if it were a shield.
"Not the only man." Snape's voice was ice, his face expressionless. "My actions were coin enough to buy another trust. One that was determined to be of greater value."
Harry stared at Snape, the taste of bile heavy on the back of his tongue. "Has that coin run out now? Need another prize to deliver to Voldemort to earn the right to lick his arse?"
"Hardly, Potter," Snape sneered. "Had my intent been to hand you over to the Dark Lord, why let you wake at all?"
His brain felt muddled, his strength quickly leeching away as the pounding in his head resumed. He groped for words. "You hate me. You'd want me to know that it was you."
"Ever the fool," Snape said, dangerously soft and Harry wasn't entirely sure if the words were directed at him or at Snape himself. He raised his wand again, and Harry braced himself for whatever pain Snape planned to inflict. Instead, he found himself slipping into the darkness of sleep once more. Just before he went utterly under, he felt his pillows adjusted and the duvet tucked tightly around his body.
The room he was in was doused in a blackness thicker than the darkest night he had ever seen. The only sound was the rattling of his breath, labored from within a chest thick with dread. He was so cold that the chill sparked pain along the surface of his bare skin. He glanced down, somehow able to see himself in spite of the vast darkness, and was appalled to realize that he could easily count each of his ribs and see how his hipbones looked as though they would tear through paper-pale skin.
He took a step and cried out as pins and needles raced up his legs and his knees folded. Curling tight, narrow legs clenched close to his hollow chest in still thinner arms, he closed his eyes against the threat of hot tears. He was a hero, and heroes didn't cry.
Something moved across his feet and he bit down on his tongue to hold back a whimper. Back and forth it went, not painful, and when it reached the level of his elbows, he realized that his body below that point no longer hurt. He cracked his eyes open and saw the silvery spider, larger now, walking from one side of his body to the other and leaving thick strands of heavy silk, woven over him like a blanket.
His breath sobbed out in visceral relief and the tears pricked at his eyes more strongly now. Each inhale came easier as the spider continued up the length of his chest, and once his eight-legged companion had covered him to his shoulders, he was no longer fighting the spill of saline that slid across his skin. The spider brushed a leg across the moisture and then was gone. Harry sighed, fingers curling around the top of his shimmering gift, and slept the rest of the night without further dreams.
He wasn't surprised to see Snape settled in a chair beside the bed when he opened his eyes, though he'd rather hoped the man's appearance had been a curse induced nightmare. He'd rather have had the spider waiting than to face the sardonic stare that lifted from the book in Snape's lap the instant Harry shifted. He managed to push himself up on one elbow, feeling stronger but faintly shaky still. His eyes fell on the open book and he felt his face heat. Snape was reading one of Harry's own books, an illustrated collection of fairy tales.
had purchased the book on a whim, in the early days when he was still combing
the stacks in small bookstores with Hermione, in hopes of finding further
information on Horcruxes. He'd found it stuffed into a corner near the floor,
half hidden by glossy, newer books. The cover was battered, but when he'd
opened it to see the rich, moving illustrations, he'd bought it without a
second thought. He had sometimes overheard his Aunt Petunia reading fairy tales
Snape touched the page under his hand, the fox in the picture moving warily away from his fingers. "It is unwise to ignore good counsel, no matter the source," he murmured, and then closed the book.
He rose from the chair and set the book on the seat, then looked down at Harry. "Do you require assistance to sit up?"
"No." Harry glared and managed to struggle upright, the effort leaving him feeling sweaty and weak. "Why are we still here?"
"Was there somewhere you would rather be, Mr Potter?" Snape used his wand to guide a hovering tray over Harry's lap. Another flick and the food began to steam gently.
"Somewhere you aren't." Harry glanced down at the food and then looked away. His stomach contracted sharply in protest, but he couldn't trust Snape enough to eat anything the man gave him.
"Were I planning to poison you, Potter, there are far easier ways of going about it." Snape smirked. "I am fully capable of force feeding you like a recalcitrant child, if you'd rather."
Harry picked up his spoon and kept a narrow-eyed stare fixed on Snape. He made no move to eat, instead turning the spoon between his fingers. "Why did you come here?"
Snape was silent. He lifted the book from the chair and settled once again before meeting Harry's gaze. "I made a promise to do anything necessary to defeat the Dark Lord."
"That sounds perfectly reasonable," Harry snorted, stirring his spoon through his porridge so quickly that he slopped some over the edge of the bowl. Well, at least the tray didn't start to smoke. He took a tentative taste and wrinkled his nose. "I don't know why you think I'd believe that," he paused and gestured with his spoon. "This is horrid, by the way."
"I don't think you'd believe anything I told you, Potter. Perhaps I should take this chance to entertain you with tall tales?" He stroked the cover of the book in his lap while watching Harry. "As for the food, it was marginally better when first made, I would guess."
"Marginally?" Harry ate a spoonful of porridge, hungry enough to ignore the taste. "How can someone who's spent their life mixing things in cauldrons be such a poor cook?"
Snape's eyebrows lifted. "Have you tasted many potions over the years?"
"Point." Harry caught himself on the verge of a smile and he stuffed another bite of porridge in his mouth to forestall the expression. When he'd swallowed, he frowned. "Have you got me under a spell again?"
"A lesser version of the prior spell." Snape nodded. "It's a modification on a Cheering Charm. Eating would prove a trial in the pain you were in, and you won't recover if you don't regain some of your strength first."
He wasn't exactly happy to find that Snape had once again cast a spell on him without his awareness, but the spell itself made it easy for him to concede to its necessity. Harry took a sip of his tea, glad to find that it tasted entirely acceptable. He finished the rest of his breakfast in silence, glancing once at the heavily draped windows and wondering at the time. He settled back with a sigh, realizing that he didn't even know the current date.
After another moment, he noticed something else and a slow flush crept into his cheeks. He glanced in Snape's direction from the corner of his eye and saw the dark eyes fixed on him. The heat in his face grew and he fidgeted.
"Problem, Mr Potter?" The cool voice was faintly amused.
Harry took a breath and reminded himself that he was an adult wizard. "Would you take the tray? I need to use the loo." The reminder hadn't made his blush fade in the least.
Snape rose and took the tray without a word. Harry slid his legs out from under the duvet, shivering as a tiny draft seeped beneath the hem of his pajama bottoms and skittered up his calves.
"Wait a moment," Snape ordered and then vanished out the door carrying the tray.
Harry frowned, bit his lip, and then stood anyway. His knees wobbled but didn't give out. Taking that as a good sign, he moved carefully toward the door, catching hold of the wall to remain steady. The loo was the next room over, but each time he'd needed it the walk had seemed endless, and this time looked to be no exception. It seemed he still had miles of floor to cross to reach the hall when Snape reappeared in the doorway, holding a thick dressing gown.
"I told you to wait," he snapped as Harry took another faltering step.
"I'm not helpless."
"Near enough." Snape draped the dressing gown over Harry's shoulders and carefully slid thin arms into the sleeves. "Aside from that, straining yourself will undo what little progress has been made."
Harry clenched the dressing gown tight around him, grateful for the warmth of the worn fabric. His brow furrowed, and then his eyes opened wider. This wasn't his dressing gown, which meant that it had to be... Harry shivered, fingers springing free of the soft material.
Snape caught him by the elbow with a grip that was firm but not hurtful, steering him slowly out of the room. Harry could feel sweat beading on his brow, and in spite of the buffering spell, his knees ached with each pace forward. He stumbled, and Snape anchored him, sliding an arm around his waist.
"Almost there," Snape murmured, and the nearly gentle tone of the words was almost enough to make Harry miss his next step. He risked a glance at Snape, exhaling a held breath when he saw that the man's face was impassive as ever.
He feared that Snape would insist on following him in, but after making sure Harry was steady, he stepped back and closed the door. So relieved to be out from under those assessing eyes, Harry didn't leave the room until Snape knocked, expressing concern that Harry had perhaps forgotten how the facilities worked. He wanted to hex the man when he stepped back into the hall.
Halfway back to the room, his legs gave out. It had happened once or twice before, and each time Harry had lain on the floor until he found the strength to crawl back to his room. This time, Snape lifted him and carried him easily back to his bed. He turned away and pulled the duvet up to his ears to keep Snape from seeing his frustrated tears. He drifted off to sleep to the soft sounds of Snape breathing and gently turning the pages of Harry's book of fairy tales.
Later on, it was his grumbling stomach that woke him. He sat up, surprised to find it far less of a struggle than usual, and noticed that Snape was absent from the room. The spider was back again instead, clinging to the wall beside the bed.
"You should be careful." Harry leaned his head against he wall, staring at the spider. "If Snape catches you in here, he may snatch you up for potions ingredients." The spider didn't move and Harry chuckled. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
He realized he was still wearing Snape's dressing gown, and his fingers stroked hesitantly over the cloth. "I don't know why he's doing this," Harry said in a near whisper.
"I've told you why." Snape's voice made Harry start, and he looked at the man in the doorway. He had a tray again, with toast, tea and a phial. "I don't care to repeat myself."
Snape deposited the tray on Harry's lap and then sat in the chair beside the bed. He steepled his fingers in front of his face and watched Harry over them.
"You'll need to drink the potion after you've eaten," Snape said, when Harry touched the phial.
"What is it?" Snape favored him with a flat look once the question had been asked and Harry glowered back. "I'm not drinking it if you don't tell me."
"A simple nutrient potion designed to increase your stamina." Snape's tone said quite clearly that the answer was obvious. "I will need to be able to run several tests, and it will be simpler to do so if you can remain conscious for more than a few minutes at a stretch."
"Won't Voldemort be upset to realize that his favorite Death Eater is missing?" Harry picked up a piece of the toast, pulling a face when he saw that it was burned down one edge.
He almost choked on his first bite when he realized that Snape was smiling. It was a cruel pleasure that curled his mouth. "The Dark Lord has several things to be upset about at the moment. The results of my betrayal will distress him more than the fact that I am not the loyal follower he imagined."
"Results?" Harry washed down more toast with some of the tea, silently admitting that even burned toast was better than trying to eat Hagrid's rock cakes. The memory made it hard to swallow around the lump in his throat.
"The loss of his pet snake." Snape voice was warm with satisfaction and the toast fell from Harry's suddenly nerveless fingers.
"Nagini?" His voice shook to match the tremble that crawled down his spine. "You killed Nagini?"
When Snape nodded, brow faintly furrowed, Harry's shoulders curled inward. He clutched his arms around himself, not paying attention to the damp heat that seeped through his blankets when his tea tipped onto the bed. Harry started to laugh, a hoarse, hysterical sound. Snape rose from the chair, gripped Harry hard by the upper arms and shook him once.
"That's it then," Harry said before Snape could snarl at him, "That's it. The Horcruxes are gone. I can kill him now. I can," he heaved a breath, words broken by a sob. "I can die now," Harry finally whispered.
"Idiot boy." Snape hadn't let go, but his touch had gentled. "Do you think Dumbledore would have thrown you into this just for you to die?"
"Don't you talk about him," Harry cried and jerked backward, the tray sliding off the bed with a crash of breaking china. He pulled his legs up close to his chest, wiping his tears on the fabric covering his knees. "Don't talk about him," he repeated.
Snape said nothing, and Harry rocked back and forth until he began to shiver. Pale, potion stained hands pulled the duvet around him. Harry flinched but held the blanket close, sniffling. The corner of the bed dipped under Snape's weight, but the man still didn't speak.
"He always knew," Harry whispered in a voice heavy as lead. "He knew the prophecy--that it had to be me. But he let them all be involved anyway. Then he died, and there was no one to keep them safe. It was only supposed to be me."
"Harry." That was enough to bring his head up, to make him stare at Snape with wide eyes. Snape wasn't looking at him, instead looking toward the covered windows as though he could see through the thick drapes. "Do you think any one of them would have chosen differently, given the chance? If they had known the prophecy, do you think they would have abandoned you to save themselves?"
Harry made a noise, but Snape continued without letting him speak. "Think of the words. 'Neither can live while the other survives.' So long as you're alive, the Dark Lord cannot live, and he knows this. It's why he sought your death when you were a child, and why he continues to hope for your destruction."
"Then why does he go after them? Why did they attack the Burrow, the Weasleys..." Harry knew his words were a plaintive whine, but he couldn't make himself care. "Dean's parents, Neville's grandmother..."
"By driving you into despair, he makes you desperate. A desperate wizard can be trusted to act without thought. So long as he threatens those you hold dear and their families, you will rush in without thinking." Snape turned his head, gesturing to Harry's ravaged body. "As you have done. You are a Gryffindor, and the Dark Lord knows that."
"So it comes down to house rivalry," Harry snorted, shaking his head.
"Not entirely." Snape's fingers laced together, and he laid his hands in his lap. "However, so long as you continue to react in a fashion common to a Gryffindor, it will be a simple matter to predict your next move. The Dark Lord has long since prepared for your solitary frontal assault on his hiding place." Snape's tone said clearly what he thought of that battle plan.
Harry eyed Snape a moment, and then his lips curled in the ghost of a smile. "Then perhaps it's a good thing the Sorting Hat nearly put me into Slytherin."
"I assure you, Potter, no good would have come from that. I was appropriately horrified when the Headmaster informed me of the Hat's malicious humor in making the suggestion."
"Of course," Harry agreed dryly, not particularly surprised that Dumbledore had known. He let his arms drop and carefully stretched his legs out in front of him. Snape stood abruptly.
"Go back to sleep. It will take some time to brew another dose of the stamina potion." A flick of Snape's wand cleaned up the mess beside the bed and dried the duvet, and once Harry was laying down, Snape tucked the blankets around him.
Once Snape had gone, Harry remained awake for some time. He never would have expected to be able to talk to Snape, much less to take comfort in anything Snape said to him. In a lifetime of strange events, he was beginning to suspect that this would be the strangest. The room darkened further, even the faint glow of light the drapes couldn't fully hide vanishing, and still Harry didn't sleep. While he lay staring, the silvery spider climbed up the nightstand and approached Harry's pillow. Harry smiled when the creature settled on the corner of the pillow like a sentinel, and he at last drifted off.
It didn't surprise him that the spider featured prominently in his dreams again. He found himself again naked, but wherever he was it was warm enough that he didn't mind. He lay stretched out on his back, suspended above the floor on strong strands of spider silk.
Above him, the silver-mist spider moved in a spiral, weaving an intricate pattern that made Harry dizzy to follow. The heat built, drawing a sheen of sweat on Harry's skin and plastering his fringe to his forehead. He panted, bitter salt taste thick on his lips as the spider worked toward the center of the pattern.
There was a flash of light, and the upper web fell, draping its lines over Harry's body. The silk dissolved and soaked through Harry's skin. Harry gasped, arching as he felt the strands writhe across muscles and tighten around bone. The spider, clinging to Harry's chest, sank beneath his ribs with a flash of pain that made him grit his teeth and then he descended into welcome darkness once again.
He woke later with a vague sense of disorientation and a desperate need to use the loo. There was no sign of either Snape or the spider, so he rolled carefully out of bed. Braced for finding his footing unsteady, he froze when he realized that his legs no longer felt weak. His first steps were cautious, but he was soon walking with more assurance. He actually laughed when he walked out of the loo, still not plagued by his previous weakness.
Instead of going back to his room, he turned the corner and made his way carefully down to the lounge. It felt like months since he had seen this part of the house, rather than the week or so that he'd been too afraid to use the stairs. He had the urge to laugh again, but he thought that Snape must be nearby and he didn't wish to call attention to himself just yet.
Crossing the lounge, he saw that his guess about Snape was accurate, and was glad that he hadn't given in to his urge. Snape was sleeping, curled on Harry's settee, looking distinctly uncomfortable in the small space. Harry passed quietly, pulling a face when he saw that one corner of the room had been transformed into a temporary potions lab complete with stacks of obscure old books, and then moved on to the kitchen.
Harry was happy to see that Snape had stocked the kitchen well. He'd expected there to be little choice for food, but he set out eggs, bacon and bread and then pulled out some pans. Filling the kettle, Harry put on water for tea and then began to crack some eggs.
"What are you doing?" Snape stood at the table, frowning. "You should be asleep."
"I was hungry and you were sleeping." Harry whisked the eggs in a bowl and then poured them into the warm pan. "I hope scrambled is alright. It's been a while since I did much cooking."
Snape made a small noise, watching as Harry slid several rashers of bacon into another pan. Then he turned and stalked out of the room, muttering under his breath. Harry heard him moving things about with a lot of thumping, but was hungry enough to ignore whatever it was that had caused Snape's annoyance. By the time Snape came back, dropping a thick tome on the table, Harry was half through his plate of eggs and bacon and pondering another slice of toast.
Opening the book so that the cover smacked against the surface with a sharp crack, Snape sat in the chair across from Harry and glared. His mouth was pinched and his fingers drummed on the table.
"What?" Harry quickly swallowed his mouthful of eggs. "What's the problem?"
"You, Potter," Snape snarled, leaning across the table. "I don't know how, but you've managed to bollocks everything up in your usual spectacular fashion."
Harry blinked, glancing down at his plate and then looking quizzically at Snape. "Is there something wrong with the eggs?"
"No, you imbecile. This," a long finger stabbed at the page, "is a spell that should have left you incapable of even getting out of bed, much less making breakfast."
After a moment of silent shock, Harry shoved his chair backwards and reached for the wand he wasn't carrying. Fist clenched in Snape's dressing gown, he could feel his heart pounding under his hand. The edge of the kitchen counter dug hard into his back. "You were planning to take me to Voldemort!"
"Oh, for..." Snape stood and Harry flinched.
"Accio Harry's wand!"
The cry had been instinctual, and Harry was just as startled as Snape when his wand came flying into the kitchen. Snape recovered first, and disarmed Harry the moment the wand touched his fingertips. Gripping Harry's wand tight in one hand, he raised his own.
"Sit down, shut up and listen."
When Harry didn't move, Snape's eyes narrowed. "Potter, you can sit down, keep your mouth closed and listen to what I have to say, or I can petrify you and make you stay silent that way." Snape's voice was a silken promise. "Trust me, I far prefer the latter option."
Slowly, Harry returned to his chair, Snape's wand never wavering as it transcribed an arc in the air to follow his movements. Once Harry was sitting, Snape did the same, lowering his wand but keeping a tight grip on both Harry's and his own.
"The spell," he said tightly, nodding toward the book, "was intended to put you in a state so near death as to make it seem to all outward appearance that you were no longer among the living."
Snape's voice rose when Harry opened his mouth. "Such an action was necessary in order to arrest the progress of the curse through your system until I could determine a way to treat it."
"What about everything you said about tests and my needing to be awake?" Snape's mouth pursed at Harry's interruption; however, he offered a reluctant answer.
"I had thought that the best course, but after we had that discussion, you slept for three days. I was unable to wake you, and feared that further delay would allow the curse to proceed beyond any hope of recovery."
Harry's mouth opened, but at first no words emerged. Three days, lost in a sleep so heavy that Snape had been incapable of waking him. It was a hard story to swallow. Harry looked at Snape, noticing then that the man's eyes were underscored by thick, dark circles and his hair hung more lank than usual.
"Why am I awake now then?"
Snape snorted. "That, Mr Potter, is a question we would both like answered. While you look to be in far better health, I find it unlikely that you have escaped the curse entirely. As seems to happen often in your case, it appears that the spell has had unanticipated effects."
Groaning, Harry buried his head in his hands. "Why can't my life just be normal? Even once, I'd like things to work out like they're supposed to."
"The Boy Who Lived, having a life that's typical?" Harry glared through his fingers as Snape arched a sardonic eyebrow. "You wouldn't be nearly so much trouble if that were the case."
"Now what?" Harry asked, voice muffled by the press of his palms.
"Now we run those tests," Snape smirked and Harry shivered.
Harry sat on the settee, frowning at Snape. "You made it sound like this was going to be unpleasant," he accused, rolling his sleeve down over the point where Snape had just drawn blood.
"That's hardly all that will need to be accomplished." Snape tipped the phial, watching the blood roll over the insides of the glass. "How did you destroy the remaining Horcruxes?"
"Melted them." Harry half shrugged, curling his legs up under him. "Everything left was made of metal, so it seemed like the best way to get rid of them."
Snape's cauldron thumped on the table. "Of course. Inhalation." He muttered to himself for a moment, expanding various jars of potions ingredients and beginning to add things to the cauldron. "Did you think to keep the remains?"
"Um..." Harry flushed, and Snape sighed. "No, I did! It's just... I buried it."
"Buried it." Snape turned around, studying Harry thoughtfully. "For once, I find myself having to consider that you aren't completely devoid of thought. The natural energies of the earth itself may go a long way toward stabilizing any lingering traces of the curses the items held."
Harry fidgeted under Snape's assessing stare. "Actually, I, uh, just didn't want to have to look at it."
Snape's mouth twitched, but he turned back to his cauldron. "How long have you been capable of wandless magic?"
"I haven't." Harry spread his hands in front of him and looked at them as though the lines on his palms would give him an answer. "I haven't always had to be touching my wand, but I've had to have it nearby. Never as far away as it was today."
The answering hum was lost under a hissing sound from the cauldron. Snape was tipping drops of Harry's blood into whatever ingredients he had added previously. He stirred the mixture nine times, then set the stirring rod aside and ladled out a small portion of the resulting potion.
With a steady hand, Snape drew a thin line of the potion across the top of a piece of parchment. A curling flow of ink began to appear beneath that line, and Snape poured the remaining potion back into the cauldron before lifting the parchment. His shoulders stiffened, and he quickly pulled another parchment free of one of the books. As he compared them, he voiced a low string of curses.
"What is it?" Harry was about to stand, but Snape had whirled and crossed the few steps between them before he could even try. He brandished the pages in Harry's face, the symbols and formulas only confusing Harry more.
"This is my own particular variation on a Revealaspell, Mr Potter. This tells me everything I need to know about your physical and magical condition. The first," he shook one of the parchments, "was what I used to build the stamina potion I first brewed for you. The second..."
"Wait," Harry interrupted, glaring. "You took my blood while I was asleep and without my consent?"
"Tears, actually. It isn't as potent, but that's not the point." Snape waved it off, but Harry wouldn't let it go.
"How did you get my tears?"
"Bloody hell, boy, this isn't the time. This," he shoved the second parchment at Harry again, "shows that your thaumaturgic core has changed."
Harry looked at him blankly and Snape growled, swinging around abruptly and storming out of the room. A moment later he returned and dropped Harry's wand, which he hadn't returned after the confrontation in the kitchen, into his lap.
"I want you to cast a spell. Something so simple that you can do it in your sleep."
Harry looked at his wand, then at Snape, who was standing with his arms folded and his mouth tight. Frowning, Harry pointed his wand toward one of Snape's books. "Accio book!"
The book inched forward, then toppled from the stack to hit the floor. Once there, it stopped moving entirely. Harry sighed, not surprised. He had grown used to his inability to perform even the most basic of spells since his destruction of the Horcruxes.
"My magic has been like this since I was cursed." Harry rubbed his fingertips over his wand and gave a slight shrug. "Summoning my wand earlier must have been a response to being scared."
"Perhaps not. Wait here." Snape exited again and Harry shook his head, wondering if what had brought Snape to save him was a descent into madness.
This time, Snape handed Harry another wand, taking Harry's back as he did so. Harry's eyes widened when he looked at the wand, recognizing it as Snape's own. He opened his mouth, but Snape was quicker.
Taking a deep breath and swallowing down a surge of anxiety, Harry pointed Snape's wand at the book. His voice was a near whisper. "Accio book."
The book flew off the floor and thumped into Harry's chest hard enough to make him grunt. Setting the book aside, Harry looked at Snape's wand, shaking in his hand. Wordlessly, he offered it back.
"Ebony, dragon heartstring, thirteen and a half inches," Snape said quietly as he took it. "Your magic responded to the proximity of my wand when you cast your summoning spell to call your own."
"Why?" Harry curled into a tight ball on the end of the settee, looking up at Snape. "What's wrong with me?"
"I suspect that the ritual that was intended to bind you into a death-like sleep instead bound our magics. With your magic crippled by the curses from the Horcruxes, mine has become dominant."
"How do we fix it?" Harry didn't look at Snape as the man sat down on the other end of the settee. The silence stretched, then snapped at Snape's next words.
"I don't know."
Harry stood, clenching his fists and glaring at Snape. "You cast this spell, and now you tell me you can't fix it? That I'm stuck this way?"
"You were dying, Potter. Had I any choice in the matter, I would have happily left you to fade away your last days in a haze of bleeding magic and slow suffocation."
"Did you stop and think that maybe I didn't want to be saved?"
The moment the words were out of Harry's mouth, he took a step backwards, horrified that he had admitted it aloud and to Snape of all people. He turned away, but didn't leave the room. He knew that Snape would only follow him; he had no sanctuary in his own house. His breath shuddered in his chest, and a bitter sting pricked at the backs of his eyes.
"Until the Dark Lord is defeated, that is a choice that is not yours to make." Harry heard Snape stand and leave the room, the echo of his words ringing in Harry's ears long after he had gone. Harry sank to the floor and wrapped shaking arms around himself. He sat that way for some time.
The words he'd said, they weren't precisely true. He didn't want to die, it was just since he had heard the prophecy that the thought had come upon him at all. After that, it had always been there: a nagging whisper in the back of his mind each time he'd let himself actually think about the fact that he had to face Voldemort. He'd never been able to truly believe that he could face the darkest wizard of his time, kill him, and come out of the encounter alive.
He had pushed away any faint hope for something different, once he realized how powerless he was after the latent curses on the Horcruxes had stripped away most of his magic. Now, here was Snape, forcing cracks in the armor he had built around the little optimism he'd felt. To have it be his most hated professor, the one person he would not turn away out of concern for their well being, was an irony almost too keen to bear.
"Potter, get up." Snape stood over Harry, glaring impatiently. Harry hadn't heard him come in and didn't bother to look away from the long shadow the man cast on the floor. He drew his legs in closer to his chest and pressed his cheek to the softness of his sleeve. Snape made a harsh spitting sound in the back of his throat. "You are a fully grown wizard, stop acting like a child."
"Leave me alone, Snape. I never asked for you to come here."
"No, you didn't. When has The Boy Who Lived ever had to ask for anything?" Snape's sneering tone made Harry bristle.
He looked up then, intending to give a sharp retort, but Snape was bending and lifting him as though he was as light as a paper doll, and the words died in a strangled noise in his throat. He twisted, the motion doing him no good in escaping, as Snape only held him tighter and began to walk.
"What are you doing?" Harry pushed at Snape's chest and received a sharp frown in return.
"You stink, Potter. I've drawn a bath, and now I'm going to make sure you take it without drowning yourself," he continued in a harder tone when Harry opened his mouth to protest. "Not that I believe such an action would be deliberate. You are far too Gryffindor for that."
Harry subsided in a huff, mouth making a tight, belligerent line. They were at the bottom of the stairs, and Harry expected Snape to set him down and make him walk the rest of the way. Instead, the man shifted his grip, his hands not pinching so hard now that Harry was no longer struggling. He could feel Snape's heartbeat, where his upper arm pressed against Snape's chest, and feel the interplay of muscle over bone as Snape pulled him in closer to maneuver up the steps.
He was tired suddenly, sick of everything he had done and everything left to do and wishing he could just forget all the fear and loneliness. He'd been isolated so long that even the natural reminders of another's pulse and heat and motion were enough to make the back of his throat feel tight, for all that the other was Snape. He missed the simple, everyday occurrence of just having someone else to talk to, even when he had nothing at all to say.
Snape set him on his feet beside the bathtub. The room was almost uncomfortably warm, steam rising from the water and condensation beading on the mirror. Harry shrugged out of the dressing gown, catching it and hanging it on the hook on the back of the door. He reached for the buttons on his pajamas, his hands shaking so hard that he fumbled and fought to open the first one.
"Stop." Harry blinked as Snape took hold of his wrists and pulled his hands down. He stood mute as Snape opened each button and pushed the shirt off Harry's shoulders. He kept his eyes fixed on a point behind Harry's head, expression carefully blank. "Will you be able to finish and get in on your own, or do you need further assistance?"
The realization that he was half naked in a room with Snape hit him all at once, and he felt the warmth of the color that flooded his cheeks. "N-no... I mean, yes. I can do it. You can go."
"I think not," Snape turned his back, tone wry. "As I said, I intend to ensure that you do not do yourself harm while in the bath. You may protest if you wish, but it will not change my mind."
"And Gryffindors are the stubborn ones?" Harry muttered. Snape's shoulders shifted and he flinched. "Wait! I'm not in yet."
Stripping off his bottoms as quickly as he could, he clamored over the side of the tub and dropped into the slight protection offered by the water. Small waves lapped against his chest, and the chill that had filled him ebbed slowly as he relaxed into the cradling warmth. He closed his eyes with a soft sigh.
A moment later, a damp flannel rubbed along his shoulder and his eyes snapped open. Snape had put his robes aside and knelt next to the tub, shirtsleeves rolled up. Harry reached for the flannel, but Snape shook his head.
"You're half asleep where you sit. Don't be foolish."
"Can't seem to help that, can I?" Harry let his hand drop, lowering his head and staring at the Dark Mark on Snape's forearm. The skin around it was a deep, angry red and the mark itself was puffed and swollen. "Does it hurt?"
Snape followed Harry's gaze, dipping the flannel into the bath water again. He took a breath, then met Harry's eyes. "Yes."
Harry had no answer to that, and the moment between them broke when Snape motioned for Harry to lean forward. He complied, and Snape washed his back with quick, efficient strokes. Harry sighed, feeling lighter as the stale sweat was rinsed from his skin.
"Lean back now." Harry didn't think to disobey the quiet command, but was surprised when Snape curled an arm behind his shoulders and slid him down to recline in the water.
With a tumbler from the kitchen, Snape poured the water through Harry's hair and then rubbed shampoo through the tangled strands. His fingers combed gently, dragging out the knots, and Harry closed his eyes. A warm melancholy spread through Harry's chest as he thought that this must be what it was like to have someone that cared for you. Even when he was young, his Aunt Petunia hadn't treated him with such care.
"Why?" he whispered the question, almost hoping that Snape wouldn't hear the sadness in it over the slow purl of the rinse water.
"I made a vow," Snape answered, and Harry pulled out of his grasp to sit up, pushing dripping hair out of his face.
"No, not that. Why are you being kind?" Harry took the flannel from Snape's unresisting fingers and Snape sat back on his heels with a slight frown. "You don't have to be. Your vow wouldn't keep you from being cruel."
"I am not being particularly kind, Potter. I am only doing what I must to keep you alive."
It was only early afternoon, and Harry already felt too muddled to muster a proper argument. He didn't resist when Snape took the flannel back. He was shivering by the time Snape had finished, though the water was still warm. His skin prickled as he stood, staring at Snape's turned back as he wrapped a thick towel around himself. Stepping out of the tub he slipped, his hip hitting hard against the counter as he caught hold of the basin.
One of Snape's hands slid beneath Harry's fringe, the other pressing against the side of Harry's neck and his lips moving as he counted the pulse there. "You have a fever."
Without offering Harry the chance to object, Snape bundled him into fresh pajamas. This time he'd found Harry's own dressing gown and Harry discovered that the familiar red cloth was less a comfort than he'd expected. Still, the extra barrier between them let Harry tell himself that Snape's arm around his waist wasn't gentle as the man guided him back to his bed.
The linens had been changed, and he sank down into the crisp sheets and heavy blankets with clear relief. His eyes felt hot behind their lids and the chill of his body made him curl up tight as Snape tucked the blankets around him. Even with eyes shut, he knew Snape hadn't left the room, and though sleep beckoned, he was unable to let himself fall into its heavy embrace.
"I don't really want to die," he whispered after several minutes of silence had passed. He heard Snape shift in the chair then give a sigh.
"Not many do, though those that understand the burdens you have shouldered would not begrudge you a wish to escape."
"Did you promise Dumbledore?" It was hard to say the name while thinking about the fact that he was speaking to the man who'd held that wand that ended Dumbledore's life. The same wand he had used only a short while ago. Behind his eyelids, the familiar light burned green: the same light he expected that he would see when it was all over.
"I promised Albus a great many things," Snape hesitated. "If I showed you, would you sleep?"
"No, not now." Harry opened his eyes, pulling the bedclothes up to touch his nose and muffling his next words. "I want to see, but I don't know if I want to trust you."
"You would be wise not to." Snape's voice was without inflection. "Those who have done so have not found benefit in it."
"Not Voldemort," Harry agreed slowly. "But Dumbledore was so insistent..."
Snape looked away first after Harry trailed off, his hands clenched in his lap. He'd left his robes behind, though he'd rolled his shirtsleeves down and buttoned the cuffs. Even without being able to see the Dark Mark, Harry could feel its presence like a low throb in the periphery of his hearing.
"I'm cold," Harry mumbled, burrowing deeper into the blankets and trying unsuccessfully to stem his shivers.
Dark eyes met his and something brief and unguarded flickered across Snape's expression. He rose from the chair and before Harry realized what he was doing, he'd slid beneath the covers. Harry was stiff as Snape's arm curled over him, his head fitting neatly into the hollow space beneath Snape's chin.
"Just until you're warm," Snape said, and Harry gave a tiny nod.
The long body beside his was warm, and Harry curled closer, greedy for that comfort. His fingers twisted the fabric of Snape's shirt and he drew a deep breath. The fragrance of something spicy teased his nose and Harry burrowed closer. It was Snape's turn to stiffen and he made a small, warning noise.
"Cold," Harry repeated, closing his eyes. The chill of fever and loneliness was quickly easing, but he wasn't ready yet to give up the sensation of someone lying beside him. He voiced a soft hum, and then finally let himself follow the siren song of sleep.
When he woke later, he wasn't sure what had brought him so quickly out of sleep. Then he heard Snape's fast breathing and noticed the intermittent trembling of the body that he was pressed against.
"What is it?" Harry whispered, but Snape started and pulled himself away.
"Nothing, Potter. Go back to sleep." Snape lifted the duvet, but Harry caught hold of his arm before he could get up.
"A nightmare?" The flinch under his fingers was enough to tell him that his guess was correct, and he continued quietly, "I have them too, you know."
"Yet you do not cling to others like an attention-starved child because of them."
"I don't?" Harry tightened his grip on Snape's arm and gave a slight tug. "You don't have to talk about it."
"I do not desire your pity." Snape was looking at him now, which Harry was willing to take as a small victory.
"It amounts to the same thing." Snape was sliding back down into place even as he spoke, and Harry stifled a smile.
"We can fight about it in the morning," Harry yawned and rested his head on Snape's shoulder, certain he felt a faint rumble of a near soundless laugh under his cheek.
"I'm sure we will, Potter." After that, they lapsed into silence.
The morning did begin with a fight, just not the one that Harry had anticipated. He woke alone, easing the expected awkwardness of having to untangle his body from Snape's. He frowned at the dent in the pillow and then dragged himself out of bed. After a trip to the loo, he followed the scent of burning down to the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" Harry stared in shock at the chaos that gripped his kitchen, Snape standing at the center of the disaster. The throbbing vein at Snape's temple cautioned Harry against saying more.
"Making breakfast," Snape replied tightly, not taking notice of the wisps of smoke rising out of Harry's Muggle toaster. There were eggshells in a bowl beside his elbow, and a shallow pan on the stove boasted what looked to be the largest omelet that Harry had ever seen, though the edges were crisped a dark brown.
Harry nodded as he passed Snape, quickly ejecting the toast before it actually caught fire. It was so burned as to bear resemblance to charcoal. He pulled a face, then tossed it in the bin. "Let me help you."
"I've seen your attempts at creating a potion, why would I believe that you would be any less a danger in the kitchen?" Snape sneered and Harry narrowed his eyes.
"Worse than this, you mean?" Harry said, just as the teakettle began to shriek. Stalking over to it, he pulled it from the heat and turned to glare at Snape. "Don't worry, I had to cook for the Dursleys all the time. I can find my way around a kitchen better than a potions lab."
Snape didn't say anything, just began to gather up the bits to go in the bin. Harry watched him a moment, then turned his attention to saving the omelet. Other than around the outside, it seemed alright and so Harry adjusted the toaster, dropping in fresh bread. When he turned from that, Snape was studying him.
"You don't call them your family," he observed warily and Harry sighed.
"No, and I don't care to discuss them. They took me in because it was expected and did the bare minimum to keep me alive. My memories of them are less than pleasant."
The toast popped up then, and Harry pulled down plates. He busied himself by serving the edible portion of the omelet, and Snape silently placed teacups on the table. There was still a tension in the room that Harry felt most intensely in the knot between his shoulder blades.
"Look." Harry sat down, sliding Snape's plate across the table. "I know we've never got on, but can we try not to fight? We're stuck with each other for now, and we shouldn't make it any more unpleasant that it has to be."
"A rational suggestion, though one I suspect neither of us can adhere to." Snape sat as well, frowning. "After breakfast, I think it wise to show you the memories of my last promise to Albus."
Harry suddenly found it hard to swallow and he jerked a nod. He wasn't sure if he wanted to see. The idea that Dumbledore's death had been planned made his stomach churn. Had the Headmaster willingly given up his life to help Harry's quest to defeat Voldemort? If so, it would be another weight on his conscience, which felt too shaky to bear the load it already held.
Their food was gone far too quickly, and Harry followed Snape's beckoning gesture into the other room. He clenched the fabric of his dressing gown in his fists and wished irrationally that it were the softer material of Snape's instead. His breakfast was lead in his stomach, and his heart felt unsteady in his chest. The sight of the Pensieve made sweat break out on his palms.
This one was different than Dumbledore's in subtle ways. The stone was darker, the markings around the lip not carved as deep. Snape set it down and then pulled a clear bottle from his robes.
"You are familiar with what a false memory looks like?"
Harry nodded, and Snape lifted his wand to his temple. The silvery strand emerged as he pulled the tip away, stretching and then breaking to hang beside the darkness of Snape's hair. He lowered it into the bottle where it swirled like smoke, and then handed the bottle to Harry.
"If you wish, you may view it alone."
Shaking his head, Harry turned the glass bottle between his fingers. He looked at the Pensieve, inhaled, and then poured the contents of the bottle into the stone. "Come with me." He rested shaking fingers on the lip of the bowl and waited until Snape nodded before leaning into the mist of memory.
He landed in the Headmaster's office, but rather than snoozing in a portrait, Dumbledore was seated behind his desk. The memory Snape was pacing back and forth in front of him as the real Snape landed beside him. Harry glanced over, but Snape's face was blank and he watched his memory self intently. Harry turned back to the scene before him.
"Wearing a hole in my carpet will not bring the situation to a satisfactory conclusion, Severus." Dumbledore smiled at the glare Snape leveled at him. "It is not so untenable as you seem set to make it out to be."
"Certainly not, Headmaster." Snape's voice was bitter, but he stopped pacing and stood with arms folded. "The resolution is clear. Once I break the vow made with Narcissa, I die."
"There are other options." Dumbledore continued to smile and the little color there drained from Snape's face. "Your position is far more valuable than my own."
"I would have no position if I did as you suggest. Your precious children would kill me themselves."
"I doubt that, Severus. Children rarely have the stomach to kill. Why else would Narcissa expect that Draco would be in need of your aid?"
"Yet you expect Potter to kill the Dark Lord."
The twinkle faded from Dumbledore's eyes and he placed his withered hand on the desk. He looked more stern than Harry had ever seen him. "Do not presume too far. I regret many of the decisions I have made regarding Harry, but even I cannot change his destiny."
Snape looked away and Dumbledore sighed. "I don't expect you to understand, nor to thank me for what I will ask you to do. My request is selfish, and I am aware of the danger it will put you in. I won't force you."
Harry inched closer to the Snape at his side, catching hold of the man's sleeve with his fingertips. He knew well how Dumbledore could ask everything while making it seem as though he asked for nothing at all. Snape flinched, but didn't pull away, watching as his memory self sank down into the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk.
"I owe you too much to refuse anything you ask of me, and you're well aware of this. Have done with this charade and tell me what you wish for me to do. If you cannot say it clearly, I will not do it." The memory Snape's hands were clenched tightly on the arms of the chair, his voice low.
Dumbledore inclined his head. "If it becomes necessary, I wish you to kill me in Draco's stead. I would see his hands stay clean."
"As mine are not," Snape said quietly, and it took Harry a moment to realize that those words were not a part of the memory and instead came from the man at his side. He would have looked, but Dumbledore continued.
"When you returned to us, you vowed to do anything in your power to defeat the Dark Lord. I do not think I ask too much of you."
"No, Headmaster." Snape's head lowered in a nod and there was a moment of silence before Dumbledore cleared his throat.
"There is one more matter to speak of." At this Dumbledore smiled again. "The children have long said that you covet the position teaching Defense. In light of all that has happened, I believe that this year that position will be yours."
Snape's head snapped up, his eyes wide. Then his shoulders slumped and he closed his eyes. "You do not expect to last out the year."
"You've always been too quick to see through me, Severus. Perhaps Ravenclaw would have suited you better." He kept smiling even as Snape glared, the expression fading after a quiet chuckle. "Whether it be this curse, or the vow you made with Narcissa Malfoy, I do not believe I am long for this world."
He held up his good hand to forestall Snape from speaking. "You know I have no fear of death, Severus. I have done what I can to ensure that you will be safe from Voldemort's followers. I trust the Order to see the truth of matters when they continue to receive assistance from the inside. Above all, Severus, I trust that you will do as you must to see this through to the end."
The memory faded and Harry found himself facing Snape across the Pensieve. Snape's eyes were hooded, emotions kept in careful check. Harry could not remain so sanguine. He sat heavily on the settee and looked at Snape, eyes stinging with tears.
"Why do I miss him? He manipulated us all to his own ends, and I still wonder every day how I'll finish this without him."
"You'll go on." Snape was replacing his memory, not looking at Harry. "Albus Dumbledore was a great man, but even the greatest of men do not have all the answers. He acted as he thought was right, but one man alone cannot save the world."
"And one broken boy can?" Harry shook his head, swiping a sleeve across his eyes.
"You are far from broken, Potter." Snape put his wand away and settled down on the far end of the settee. "You have suffered the loss of family and friends, lived through several attempts to kill you and foiled the Dark Lord on multiple occasions. Yet you live on, and you still fight. Giving up would prove the Dark Lord has broken you. Have you decided to run from your fate?"
"It isn't like I have a choice. If I run, he'll only keep killing people. No one else can stop him."
"There is always a choice, Potter. What would you do if you had never heard the prophecy? If you didn't know that you were the only chance of defeating the Dark Lord?"
Harry looked at Snape, really looked at him, studying the lines etched around the deep-set eyes and narrow mouth. He saw the shadows left by a life lived in hiding, with no one remaining that cared if he lived or died. In spite of all this, the man remained at the center of a conflict that had destroyed everything he had ever worked for.
"You can run," Snape said softly. "There are others that will fight. You have weakened the Dark Lord already, and there may be another who can take that weakness and finish him."
"No." Harry's mouth twitched into a crooked smile as he shook his head. "Even without the prophecy, I have to see this through to the end."
Snape nodded once, and Harry felt a strange relief flow through him. He had chosen. No matter what came of his choice, it was his own to make. He had accepted that burden and felt lighter for it.
"I should get dressed."
"Go on then. I want to do some research. We still have to find out how to fix the change in your magic."
"Right." Snape was already at the table he had transfigured for his potions work, sorting through the books with a frown.
man made a noise of agreement, already lost in his work, and Harry escaped
upstairs before he could be pressed into reading one of the dusty tomes. One of
the first things he had done, when he'd come of age the summer after sixth
year, was to purchase himself new clothing at Hermione's insistence. He'd been
glad to get rid of
After cleaning his teeth and washing his face, Harry felt nearly normal again. Until he remembered that Snape was waiting for him downstairs. He'd been telling the truth when he'd said he wasn't sure if he was ready to trust Snape, but it was looking more and more like he had no choice in the matter. The memory hadn't played false, and Harry couldn't shake the faint sadness engendered by the words Snape had spoken while watching it.
Dumbledore had given up his life to keep Snape safe and in a position to aid the Order. By rushing ahead, Harry had ruined that advantage. His stomach clenched as the full reality of what had happened that night on the tower struck him. The accusations he had hurled as Snape fled came back to haunt him as he returned to his room. If anyone was the coward, it was him, not even willing to face the fact that the truth meant that he owed Snape an apology.
Harry dragged his broom out of the cupboard, and pulled the broom servicing kit Hermione had bought him out from under his bed. He settled on the edge of the mattress, touching the patterns of wear on the handle of the Firebolt. He'd used it hard during his hunt for the Horcruxes, flying fast and low in the cover of darkness. He'd been alone, but the broom always made him think of Ron.
He flipped the broom kit open, but didn't take out any of the tools. Most of the original items had been replaced; fresh polish and new clippers after a mishap with the twins had resulted in the first pair being broken into several pieces. Even so, the box was enough to remind him of the thought Hermione had put into the gift. Guilt ate at him. He'd been out of contact with them for months, certain it was the only way to keep them safe.
"Potter." Snape was in the doorway, and Harry had the sinking feeling that he'd been there for some time. "It's mid-afternoon. There's tea, if you'd like."
He turned and walked away before Harry could even think to hide the tears that slid down his cheeks. Squeezing his eyes shut, Harry took several deep breaths, then packed up the broom servicing kit and stashed it back under his bed. He held the broom a moment longer before putting it back into the cupboard without testing to see if it would respond to his command. He wasn't sure which would be worse: if it lay on the floor after he called it up, or if his access to Snape's magic brought the broom to his hand. If it was the latter, he wasn't sure he could keep from flying away to find Ron and Hermione and avoid one of the apologies he needed to give in favor of another.
Downstairs, Snape was already settled with a heavy book and a cup of tea. He didn't look up as Harry walked through the room. Unable to find a comfortable way to broach the subject on his mind, Harry drank his tea in silence. He picked at the simple sandwiches that Snape had made, jumping when Snape growled.
"If it is so impossible for you to sit still, use that energy to decant that potion." Snape nodded toward the table, where small bottles were lined beside a simmering cauldron. "You'll find the proper ladle laid out. One in each bottle. When you finish, you may take your first dose."
Harry stood, looking warily down at the thick, blue potion. It poured more easily than he'd expected, and he nearly spilled the first ladle's worth.
"Make a mistake, and you get to brew the next batch," Snape said, though Harry's quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the sallow Potions Master wasn't even looking at him.
"We'll be at it forever if we depend on my brewing skills," Harry grumbled as he moved on to the next bottle.
"Exactly." Harry could hear the smirk in Snape's voice. "So use more caution than you usually display."
He finished without mishap, though it was a near thing once or twice. Luckily there was only enough of the potion to fill a half dozen of the bottles. Taking one of the bottles, he dropped down onto the end of the settee nearest Snape's chair.
"So what's this do?" Snape rolled his eyes at the question and Harry shrugged. "You can't tell me that you didn't expect me to ask."
"There is always hope, Mr Potter." Snape pointed at the book next to the cauldron. "If you wish a detailed analysis, you will find it there. However, as I doubt you intend to delve that far into your own treatment, I will tell you that the potion is meant to strengthen your natural magical abilities. While not designed for this type of situation, it seems worth the attempt."
Harry nodded and drank the potion quickly. It tasted better than he'd expected, with a sharp bite of spice that left only a faint unpleasantness.
"Of course," Snape continued, one eyebrow arched, "there are potential side effects."
"You couldn't have said that before I drank it?" Harry set the bottle aside and wiped his palms on his robes. He wondered briefly how angry Snape would be if he ran off to rinse his mouth, but figured the consequences of that action could prove worse than whatever it was that the potion was going to do to him. If it was truly dangerous, he didn't think Snape would have had him drink it.
"I could have." Snape nodded, one corner of his mouth twitching. "I chose not to."
"Git," Harry grumbled, slumping back in his seat and glaring.
"Take it as a lesson, Mr Potter. Not everyone will tell you everything you wish unless you choose to ask. Think one step ahead and cover all possible ramifications."
Rather than answering, Harry settled on sulking. It had little effect on Snape, who returned to his book the moment he realized that Harry was finished with their conversation. As he sat there, he began to feel very warm and it felt as though the room were spinning around him. He made a soft noise and then heard Snape's book close.
"Do you feel ill?" Snape was looking down at him and his pale face swam in Harry's vision. He shut his eyes, but that only made the swaying feeling worse.
"Dizzy." His throat was dry and he swallowed before speaking again. "It's very hot."
Snape's hand felt cool on his forehead, but the man shook his head. "Your temperature is normal. Would you like a glass of pumpkin juice?"
Harry mumbled an affirmative answer and Snape walked into the kitchen. By the time he returned, Harry had managed to strip out of his robes and was curled on the corner of the settee. Snape coaxed him to sit up and then held the glass for him to drink.
"Would you rather go back to bed?"
"No. I'm not tired." He closed his eyes and then snapped them open again. "Need a distraction, or I'll be sick."
"Wait here." Snape left again and Harry curled his hand around the tumbler. He pressed it to his cheek, sighing as it cooled a little of the heat that was burning him from the inside out.
When Snape came back, he was carrying a familiar book. Harry's cheeks felt hotter still as he blushed. "You don't..."
"Hush, Potter. It will keep your mind occupied until the symptoms fade, and I have doubts as to your ability to read for yourself." The smirk was not as harsh as the words deserved, and Snape's fingers brushed under Harry's fringe to check his temperature again. "If the side effects are too severe, we will test modifications on this potion. There is time."
Nodding, Harry curled up again and Snape sat down. Opening the book, he paged through for a moment and then began to read. It was the first time anyone had read a story just for Harry and he listened intently as the dizziness faded away. Eventually, he pulled his robes back over himself and his eyes closed. He fell asleep imagining that he was riding away on the tail of a fox, just like in the story that Snape's voice carried into his dreams.
The room was dark when he woke, Snape nowhere in sight. If not for the transfigured table lined with bottles and the lack of weakness in his limbs, Harry might have believed he'd imagined the entire thing. He sat up carefully, relieved that there was no lingering dizziness. He walked upstairs, opening the door of the loo without stopping to think.
Snape looked at him, a damp towel wrapped around his hips and another in his hands blotting moisture from his hair. Harry's mouth opened and shut helplessly, and when Snape cleared his throat, he jerked his gaze up from where it had been following the thin line of hair that descending from Snape's navel. Still unable to form words, Harry fled.
In his room, Harry dropped onto his bed and buried his face in a pillow. There was a warmth creeping along his limbs that had nothing to do with the earlier dose of the potion. It doesn't mean anything, he told himself firmly, adding a reminder that it had been a long time since he'd had any real human contact. He was young, arousal was a normal state to find oneself in after being through so much time without even having the energy for a good wank. That's all it was. He ignored the slight tightness in his chest. After all, there was no way he could be infatuated with Severus Snape.
Harry refused to mention the incident, and Snape did not seem inclined to bring it up either. Over the next few days, he insisted that Harry drink the potion and he read him stories until the effects passed. Then, he pushed Harry to attempt spells using his own wand. While Harry did that, he worked on modifying the potion.
Once the initial six doses were gone, Snape presented Harry with the first variation. Harry spent most of that day retching. The cool flannel that Snape washed his face with felt almost like an apology.
For a few days after that, Harry wasn't expected to take the potion as Snape buried himself in research. He continued to practice simple spells, the results more successful than they had been, but his spells still failed more often than not. Determined to take a hand in his own healing, Harry selected some of the books Snape was working from. Other than a derisive snort, Snape left him to it.
A week passed, along with several different attempts at a potion to cure Harry of the curse. Snape managed a brew that had lesser negative effects, yet to Harry it seemed as though his magic was making no recovery. After several tests, Snape assured him that it was and that he would have to be patient. However, neither of them gave up on the research. Sitting together in the evening had become a routine, and if Snape noticed that Harry often sat closer than necessary, or let his arm brush against Snape's while turning pages, he didn't say a word about it.
"I'm sorry." The quiet words made Snape look up from his book and raise an eyebrow. Harry traced his fingers along the edges of the pages open in front of him. "This wasn't the plan."
"There was no plan, Potter." Snape was reading again, the both of them sitting on the settee, and Harry reached over and flicked his book shut. Snape glared but Harry pulled the book away before he could open it again.
"You could at least listen when I'm trying to apologize."
"There's nothing to apologize for," Snape turned to face Harry, frowning peevishly. "The only plan we had was to keep you alive and whole long enough to face the Dark Lord. Judging by my current level of annoyance, you are most certainly still among the living."
"I am, aren't I?" Harry looked at his hands when Snape rolled his eyes, then sucked in a deep breath and wondered if he would still be alive in a moment.
He reached out, placing one palm on Snape's cheek and the other hand lightly on the point where he knew the Dark Mark lay hidden beneath Snape's sleeve. Snape gave a warning growl, but Harry wouldn't be dissuaded. He leaned forward and pressed his lips softly against Snape's.
"Thank you," he said, and before his courage could desert him altogether, he stood. "I'm going to bed."
Harry walked out, not seeing the hand that Snape placed against his lips as he watched Harry leave.
Pain flared across Harry's forehead and he came awake gasping and writhing. The sheets tangled around him, and he tumbled to the floor as he scrambled to rise. With his eyes closed, the pain flashed white behind his lids. Once he was untangled, he saw Snape in the doorway, clutching his forearm.
"I think we're running out of time." His voice was tightly controlled, but Harry could hear the strain beneath. Harry was shaking as he stood.
"He's furious," Harry whispered unsteadily, hugging his arms around himself as he followed Snape down the stairs. "What do you think is happening?"
Snape shook his head. "I don't know."
It was obvious that Snape had not been asleep. There was a pot of tea, still warm, and Snape poured Harry a cup. He started to hand it over, then pulled it back. Without a word, he walked into the kitchen. When he came back he was carrying a pair of tumblers and a bottle of firewhisky.
"This may dull some of the pain." He poured a generous measure into each glass and offered one to Harry.
With a small nod, Harry wrapped his fingers around the tumbler and held it close. He expected Snape to retreat to one of the chairs, but the man settled down beside him on the settee, drinking half his firewhiskey as soon as he'd sat. Harry managed a few swallows of his own, but his hands were shaking hard enough to make it difficult. He jumped when Snape plucked the glass from his fingers.
"Harry, there is nothing you can do right now."
"I know, but it hurts." He wasn't talking about his scar.
"Fool Gryffindor." There was scorn in Snape's voice, but one of his arms curled around Harry's shoulders and pulled him close. Harry's hands latched onto Snape's shirt and he pressed his face into the man's shoulder.
"You would be more foolish not to be." One hand rubbed circles on Harry's back, and Harry lifted his head.
"Can I see?" Snape's eyes locked with Harry's, a faint furrow of confusion between his brows. "I want to see the mark. Please?"
Snape nodded and started to pull back, but Harry held on. "Let me." Pressing his lips tight together, Snape nodded again. He'd removed his robes some time after Harry had gone to bed, and so there were only the small buttons on the cuff of his shirtsleeve for Harry to deal with. He opened each carefully, and then pulled the fabric back to reveal the swollen mark.
The death's head leered sickeningly from skin irritated to a maroon flush. Harry touched Snape's arm, and though he avoided the area close to the mark, Snape winced.
"Did I hurt you?" Snape shook his head and swallowed. "I want it gone. I don't want anyone else ever marked like this again."
Sliding his arm out from beneath Harry's touch, Snape raised his fingers to brush them lightly over Harry's scar. "There are some marks that never disappear. There are some to be proud of," he let his hand drop, his fingers curling, "while others are the symbol of a folly that shouldn't be forgotten."
"Follies can be forgiven." Harry raised his face, but Snape's hands bracketed his cheeks, holding him still.
"Harry, whatever your misguided Gryffindor honor tells you, you don't owe me this."
"I know." Harry's mouth quirked into a momentary grin. "Consider this one of my more Slytherin moments."
He slid his hand under the collar of Snape's shirt and let his fingertips explore the pulse at the side of Snape's throat. Pushing against the restraint of Snape's hands, he watched the man's eyes as the first of his defenses burned away. Harry surged into that breech, his lips finding Snape's and exploring the soft skin that slowly parted for the first tentative foray of his tongue.
It was hot, and wet, and so much more than that; Harry felt as though he were being dragged under by a current that would crush him as Snape's arms closed tight around his back. Snape's tongue swirled around his, then pressed forward to trace along the inside rim of Harry's lips. Harry shook as a shiver raced down his spine, and then felt its echo in the shoulders under his hands.
Their lips parted, and Harry smiled faintly when he saw the regret in Snape's eyes. "It isn't the right time, is it?"
"I don't think it will ever be the right time." Snape reached up and took Harry's hands off his shoulders. "Once you go back to the life you left, you'll understand."
"That life wasn't ever mine." Harry caught Snape's wrists in his grasp and held tight. "I didn't grow up as the Boy Who Lived, and I never really wanted everything that went with becoming him. The things you've done for me here are more valuable to me than any bit of fame I earned for something I can hardly remember."
Snape looked as though he would speak, but Harry lifted one hand to his mouth. "Come to bed with me," Harry continued when it appeared Snape would object. "Just to sleep."
Harry stood, tugging on the wrist he still held, and Snape rose slowly. They didn't speak on their way up the stairs, or as Harry shed his dressing gown and then pulled Snape down into the bed. His scar still ached, but he curled close beside Snape, his head on the man's shoulder and arm thrown over his chest, and tried to ignore the feeling that they really were running out of time.
In the morning, Snape shook him roughly awake. Harry blinked and rubbed his scar, which had returned to its previous state of numbness.
"Get up. I've an idea." Snape turned and left the room, leaving Harry staring after him in confusion. "Harry," Snape's voiced sounded as though he were at the bottom of the stairs, "that means now, you lazy brat."
Climbing out of bed, Harry grinned. He'd never thought he'd be glad to hear Snape insult him, but then, he'd never thought he'd hear Snape address him with anything other than a sneering rendition of his family name either. The situation was bizarre, but to Harry, it felt perfectly right. He hurried down the stairs, not wanting to give Snape a reason to become more than irritated with him.
They stood across the table from each other, Harry looking doubtfully into the cauldron and Snape scowling. "You really think it'll work this time?"
"I believe it has a better chance of working this way." Snape glanced at the notes he'd scribbled on the parchments scattered on the table. "You melted the remaining Horcruxes, which released the curses, melded them and allowed you to inhale the result. While it isn't generally necessary to imitate the method of affliction when it comes to curses, there is a chance that the melding of the curses has caused some seed of the magic to remain in your lungs. Normally, this could be eradicated through other methods, but your reckless actions resulted in the curse being inflicted in a way it wasn't meant to be, and so the treatment must be considered in that light."
Harry's lips twitched. "You still sound like a Professor."
Snape favored him with a withering glare and then held out an impatient hand. Harry slid his hand into Snape's and Snape lifted a small knife, placing the point at the tip of Harry's finger. "Are you ready?"
"I trust you," he smiled as Snape frowned, then gasped as the knife sliced neatly across his skin.
"More the fool you." Snape tipped Harry's hand, watching the growing drop of blood closely. "Inhale the fumes immediately."
He stepped back, a flick of his wand setting up a containment spell around Harry and the cauldron to keep the potion vapors in check. The blood trembled and then fell into the seething potion, a cloud of sweet smelling smoke billowing from the surface.
Harry sucked in a deep breath, his eyes stinging as the cloud swirled inside the containment charm. He resisted the urge to cough, growing lightheaded as he breathed rapidly. The smoke was thinning, leaving a purple-blue tinge across Harry's vision. Snape stood outside the containment barrier, watching intently. Harry gripped the edge of the table and Snape raised his wand, white-lipped. Shaking his head, Harry pushed himself up straight. There was still too much smoke; it was too risky to take down the charm.
His knuckles ached from the pressure his fingers put on the edge of the table, and he closed his eyes. Knees shaking, he gasped in a breath, and clear air dispelled the harsh smoke. An arm wrapped around him and he leaned into Snape. Opening his eyes, he saw that Snape had covered the lower half of his face with the sleeve of his robe.
"Safe?" Harry rasped as Snape started to steer him toward the kitchen.
"Nothing is ever safe when it comes to you." Snape lowered his arm and helped Harry into a chair. "Are you feeling well enough for tea?"
Nodding, Harry propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his upraised hand. His disorientation was passing quickly, though his throat and lungs burned still.
"Do you think it'll work?"
Snape slid a cup across the table, then sat. He sipped his tea, then sighed, watching Harry turn his cup around and around on its saucer. "I have brewed far more complex remedies without mishap."
"Yeah," Harry snorted, "but that was without adding me to the mix."
"Indeed." Snape smiled, masking the expression with the edge of his cup. "Wait and see, Harry. Just wait and see."
Harry nodded, knowing he would have to be content with that for now.
Later that night, he was dozing against Snape's side as the man read one of the books he'd brought with him. His scar had seared with pain again earlier, and the tension of not knowing what was going on kept the both of them from real sleep. Harry looked up when Snape stiffened.
"Something passed through the wards." He nudged Harry upright, a flickering glance assessing all the entrances to the room. "Be ready to run."
Harry nodded, but the visitor wasn't anything they could have expected. The otter came through the wall and Harry recognized it at once, though it didn't look as playful as it had the last time he'd seen it.
"Hermione," he breathed, Snape watching as the misty Patronus pressed itself against Harry's hand. Harry gasped, eyes wide. "He's attacking Hogsmeade. They've..." his voice faltered, and he closed his eyes before pressing on. "They've taken Ron."
Snape was at his side as Hermione's Patronus faded away, his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Are you ready?"
Harry drew his wand, looking between it and Snape. "What if I'm not strong enough? What if it didn't work?"
"You won't be alone." Snape pulled Harry in close to his chest and Harry breathed in the familiar scent of the man as his trembling eased.
When Harry was steady, Snape released him with one arm, drawing his wand with the other. "Expecto Patronum." He smiled faintly at Harry as a silvery spider emerged from the tip of his wand. "Tell her that we're coming," he said, and the spider vanished through the wall.
"You've been watching, all this time." Harry tightened his arms around Snape's waist, then rose onto his toes to brush a kiss across a sallow cheek. "Thank you."
"Always," Snape answered, turning his head to catch Harry's lips with his own. Harry shivered under the slow onslaught, not wanting to give in when Snape pulled back.
"What was your happy thought?"
"You, living free of the Dark Lord." Snape squeezed him once, and then the pressure was replaced by the tightness of Apparation as he took them into the chaos of Hogsmeade.
The dark alley they Apparated into was empty, by some fortunate chance, though Harry could smell smoke and hear distant shouting. Snape started to move at once, but Harry dug in his heels and clung to his arm.
"Don't." Harry stared at him, defiant and hurt. "You've been calling me Harry. Don't go back."
"We aren't alone here. There's always a pretense to be maintained in front of others." Snape's eyes were hard. "Save your foolish sentimentality for when this is over."
Harry raised a hand, touching the lines at the corners of Snape's eyes. "You're afraid. So am I. I just wish..."
His voice died when Snape shoved him up against the wall, their bodies pressed close together. The grit on the wall was harsh under his palms, his heart in his throat as they stared at each other. Then Snape's head lowered and he took Harry's mouth with a ferocity that ripped away his breath. Snape's teeth snapped at Harry's lips until he opened his mouth for the desperate surge of Snape's tongue. Long fingers curled tight in his hair and when Snape pulled back, they were both panting.
"When this is over..." The words were a gravelly promise in Harry's ear, and he managed a nod. Together, they slipped furtively out of the alley, Harry's hand closed tightly around Snape's.
The streets here were nearly deserted, but as they drew closer to the Three Broomsticks, they could see flashes of curse light over the tops of the buildings. Harry's steps quickened, Snape keeping pace at his side, wand in hand. Then they turned a corner into carnage.
A body, wrapped in black and faceless due to the cover of a Death Eater mask, sprawled across the road. The walls wore burns like splashes of shadow, and windows gaped with ragged, broken grins in their frames. Rubbish was spilled from bins, and a torn, bloodied piece of fabric waved from a splintered board in an unheeded bid for truce.
Harry's lips were a tight, bloodless line in his face and he stalked forward like vengeance given wing. Harry could feel power prickling along his skin, born of fury. He wasn't sure if it was Snape's magic or his own. They were around the next corner before Snape could warn Harry to caution, and it was there that they came across a familiar, living face.
"Remus!" The man turned at Harry's low call, wand fixed unerringly on Harry's chest. Snape hung back, watching as Remus slowly lowered the wand, eyes wide.
"Harry?" The hoarse voice was thicker still, strain drawing heavy lines beside his mouth. "We've been watching for you. I'll take you to Hermione."
Harry tugged on Snape's hand, pulling him into the light. Remus nodded, but his eyes were cold. "I thought I'd recognized the Patronus. Why is he here?"
"It's too much to explain now. I trust him, and that will have to be enough." Harry no longer looked like a child, standing in war-torn streets, resolve clear in the firm line of his shoulders. "Tell me where to find Voldemort."
"You should talk to..."
Harry's voice cut over the words Remus sought to speak. "Not now. I'll talk to her when it's over. Now, I have a task that is mine alone."
Snape squeezed Harry's hand hard, and Harry looked back him, eyes bright with promise. "We'll finish this, once and for all."
Remus sighed. "He's headed for Hogwarts. The Order stopped him temporarily, so they haven't reached the gates."
"Thank you." Harry released Snape's hand and stepped forward to clap a hand to Remus' shoulder. "Be careful."
Harry turned back to Snape, took his arm and Disapparated. They reappeared on the road outside of Hogsmeade. Harry staggered.
"Maybe I should have thought that through," he gasped as Snape dragged him to the side, narrowly avoiding the jet of red light that shot their way.
"Perhaps," Snape agreed dryly, pulling Harry behind a screen of trees. He hissed, clutching his arm. Harry looked at Snape's hand, then gripped Snape's wrist below the mark.
"You can use the mark to go right to Voldemort."
"Which I intended to do, if you hadn't Apparated without thinking." Snape raised an eyebrow and Harry looked sheepish. "Do you think you can handle another try?"
"I have to. They've got Ron, and I have to save him."
Snape nodded, wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders and then they were gone again. The chaos here was muted, a circle of forced calm surrounded by the screams and guttural curses of battle. Harry clung to Snape, both with their wands at the ready.
"Ah, Severus, you've come back to me once again. Pity that I won't believe your lies this time."
"I don't suspect you'll live long enough for me to tell any." Snape released Harry and scanned the area with narrowed eyes.
"Voldemort, this is over." Harry took a step forward, still looking too thin in his robes. "I'm the one you want."
The Dark Lord laughed, coming closer. He too looked frail, almost gaunt, wrapped in rich robes that Snape was almost certain he'd once seen Lucius Malfoy wearing.
"Oh, Harry, no. You see," Voldemort smiled, a sickening rictus beneath the slits of his nose, "you're only a stumbling block on the way to my true desires. What use would I have for a nasty little Mudblood who doesn't know his place?"
"Planning to include yourself in your purge of wizardkind, Tom? When it comes down to it, my blood is more pure than yours. At least neither of my parents was a Muggle."
Voldemort snarled, jerking his wand out of a fold in his robes, but Harry was ready. Their curses launched at the same moment, clashing and locking their wands. Voldemort laughed.
"Do you think you're strong enough this time, Harry? Do you want to see what others this wand has killed?"
Harry closed his eyes, ignoring the balls of light that inched slowly toward the tip of his wand. Snape stared, stepping forward when Harry threw his free hand out toward him.
"Severus." Harry's voice was strained and soft. "Give me your wand."
The first ball of light was nearly touching Harry's wand, and with a gasp Harry pushed it back. The hand he held out to Snape was shaking, but his wand arm was steady. Snape stepped forward, placing his wand in Harry's hand and then gripping the young man's shoulders.
Harry raised Snape's wand and time seemed to slow. He watched as Voldemort's eyes went wide, flaring red in the glow cast by the connection of their wands. It was as though his mind had split, the familiar well of his own magic rising and pressing the thick spheres back toward Voldemort, while another deep power focused tightly inside of him. Everything he'd lost, every sacrifice made rose to fuel this core.
"Avada Kedavra," Harry said, watching as Voldemort tried too late to fend off the brilliant flare of green light that flew from the end of Snape's wand and engulfed him.
There was a cry behind Harry, and Snape's supporting hands were torn away from his shoulders. Voldemort stood still a moment and then, like a puppet with cut strings, he dropped to the ground in a heap of tangled limbs. Harry started to turn, a wave of dizziness washing over him. With a soft sigh, he too collapsed into enfolding darkness.
It was a resting ground for heroes, marked by a thick screen of high hedges and protected by barriers that crawled across the skin like an electric tingle when crossed. Far different than the first year, there was no bare ground at the base of each stone anymore. Instead, tribute had been left in the form of blooming flowers and the smooth ground was covered with brilliant green grass.
The stone the boy stared at was far simpler than the others, no magical animal watched the visitor and the blossoms at the base were buried amidst the green of herb leaves. There was no name, only a few carefully carved lines above a holly wand embedded in the surface.
There is truth in tragedy, beyond what the eye does see.
Inside the darkness deep, ever does the light sleep.
A voice pulled his attention away from the stone and he looked up, catching sight of a familiar figure waving. He rose, dusting the knees of his robes and ambling between the monuments toward the gate. There, he reached up, sliding his hand into the one that was outstretched and waiting for him.
"Time to go home, Severus," Harry smiled at the boy, who gave him a grave nod. Hand in hand they walked out of the cemetery. Harry didn't look back, his memories unfettered by the chill stones anchored to the earth behind them.
**A/N - The story Snape refers to and later reads to Harry is "The Golden Bird" by The Brothers Grimm. Harry's book is a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. The text of the story (and many others) can be found here.
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