TEAM DRAGON ENTRY: Empathic Siren "For the Love of a Good Woman" Title: For the Love of a Good Woman Author: Siren empathic_siren Team: Dragon Genres: Angst Prompt: Shrieking Shack, Inheritance Rating: R (maybe) Warnings/Kinks: *Epilogue-compliant, Het (Harry/Ginny), Major character death, implied infidelity* Word Count: approximately 6,000 Summary: Love defines our choices, our lives, our everything. How does it define Snape and Harry? Harry finds out when he learns that Snape has unexpectedly died. Over the course of seven days, we learn of the relationship he and Harry had after the war, and what it meant to Harry, what it meant to Severus. Author's Note: Many thanks to iulia_linnea, sansa1970, and all of my Team Dragon team mates, without whom this fic would never have seen the light of day.
Day 1: The Day Harry Stopped Breathing.
"Did you hear?" Ron asks.
They're sitting around the back garden, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione. The sun is warm and the grass is green. James runs around in little circles singing a song only he knows, and Ginny is round and glowing. Harry smiles at her, his gaze resting on her stomach. Another boy Potter will join them soon.
"Harry, are you listening?" Ron asks.
With reluctance, Harry pulls his eyes away from his wife. "What?"
"Did you hear about Snape?"
Before Harry can respond, Ron launches into his news.
"The old tosser's really dead this time—potion gone wrong or some such rot. All of those fumes must have finally got to him," Ron says with a snigger.
"Ron," Hermione admonishes, but with no real heat.
Harry stops breathing.
Ginny stares at him as Ron and Hermione banter back and forth, oblivious.
Life-changing things always happen in the most insignificant moments—in back gardens on warm, sunny days. Caught unawares, you stop breathing. You feel as though something's got hold of you around your middle. It shakes you hard and squeezes and squeezes as years of memories compress and flit behind your eyelids in the space of a moment.
"…so, we have to attend the rituals and everything—he was an Order member. We'll have to work ourselves up to it. Drinks all around before the first one, then?" Ron asks, swinging his gaze between the other three.
Harry stares, trying desperately to remember how to breathe.
"Of course," Ginny answers for them. She takes Harry's hand and squeezes.
Harry takes a breath, wincing as it drags roughly through his throat. He nods. He smiles. He makes a silly joke about potion fumes and spends the rest of the afternoon pretending that Snape's death means nothing to him.
Day 2: The Day Harry Remembers.
The museum is silent. Midnight-long shadows play across the Lucite display cases of war memorabilia. The Potter War Remembrance Foundation sways gently as it breathes.
Everyone—with the exception of Ginny and Hermione—told Harry that he was crazy to consider turning the Shrieking Shack into a museum. He did it anyway, and now, as the building breathes, Harry breathes in tandem. He allows the sway and sigh of the building to dictate his in and out, the spaces where life and death hang in between. His eyes are closed. He focuses on inhale, exhale, inhale exhale, while he remembers.
It was two years before he and Ginny fell in love for the third time that he found Snape skulking about in the Shrieking Shack's attic, desperate for the memories he'd demanded Harry take all those years before in order to end a war.
Flashes of memory flare in Harry's mind's eye, like sun refracting through bright pieces of golden glass.
"Oi! This is a museum now, not the attic of some abandoned shack. I know you've been rummaging up here for days, now. Whoever you are, you're not welcome here—you’re scaring my staff. I'm giving you five minutes to leave. If you don't, I'm calling the Aurors in."
"How like you Potter. Calling for someone else to save you."
"What the—Snape? Is that—Snape? You're—you're dead."
"Do I look dead to you?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
"I assure you, Potter, Death has not seen fit to claim me yet. No matter how improbable that seems."
"But you're supposed to be dead."
"Gods, you are a loathsome creature, aren't you? Enough conversation, give them to me and I'll be on my way. I know you have them, I can't find them here, so you must still have them."
"Give you what? What are you talking about? I think you've gone round the fucking twist."
"Give them to me! I want them back!"
"Let me go! I don't have what you want. I don't even know what you want!"
"The memories. The ones you stole from me. I want them back!"
"I didn't steal—Those—Snape—I don't have them. They—"
"What do you mean you don't have them? You took them! You must have them!"
"They—the Ministry—They were evidence. They were destroyed after the war. They're gone. I'm sorry."
Harry winces as he remembers how devastation played across Snape's face. Harry almost reached out to him then, but as quick as devastation came, it dissolved in the wake of calculation.
"There's another way to get what I want . . . "
Harry laughs, the sound bitter and dark. Snape got what he wanted, all right, and took Harry straight to Hell with him.
"You fucking bastard," Harry whispers fiercely to the walls.
The Shrieking Shack sways and breathes, mindless of the rage Harry feels.
Day 3: The Day Harry Tries to Forget.
Harry stares into the glass of Firewhisky, wondering how he got to this point. Guilt. That's what has brought him here. Self-loathing isn't far behind, either. Snape should mean nothing to him. Snape was just . . . he was just . . .
Convenient. Snape was convenient. He gave Harry physical pleasure, nothing more. He gave him access to memories of his mother he would never have had. He allowed Harry to save him. He was a means to an end.
Snape was a bastard. He was ugly. He was desperate. He was an opportunist. He was every awful thing Harry could think of, and yet when Harry squeezes his eyes closed, tears gather in the corners and threaten to fall.
Grief as thick as his tongue coils around him. Harry tries to shake it off, but it's no use. The pain is immeasurable and Harry doesn't understand it. He doesn't understand why in the world he feels like his life is falling to bits around him, because Snape was a convenient fuck and nothing more.
Snape's not worth grief, Harry tells himself emphatically. He was never worth anything at all.
Harry takes another drink. He looks at the bottle. By the time he finishes it, he may actually believe Snape meant nothing to him.
He takes another healthy swallow. He has to make it through the week. No one can know what they did, what it meant, and if he has to drink himself into a coma to achieve that, he will.
He will take the numbness of denial over the pain of acknowledgment any day of the week.
Day 4: The Day Harry Pretends Snape Meant Nothing to Him.
The solicitor's office is cold and sterile. Everything is bathed in a grey as serious as the expression on the solicitor's face. Harry glances around at the motley crew assembled. Malfoy is there. His face is as pinched and haughty as ever.
"Thank you all for coming," the solicitor begins, not even bothering to look up from his large, dusty ledger. "Let's get to it, shall we? Severus Snape, born and returned to the earth, has made a Last Will and Testament. You are all here because you have either been asked to do something or have been bequeathed something. For a few of you, you are here for both reasons."
The solicitor pushes back his crooked glasses and stares at the ledger. His lips are pursed in a hard line. Harry wonders what's written there to cause such a painful expression on the man's face. He shifts in his seat and stares around the room once again, this time catching Malfoy's eye. Malfoy sneers at him and shakes his head. He says something under his breath to the washed-out, watery blonde seated next to him, but Harry can't make it out.
"Mr. Snape wishes a Fire-Burial," the solicitor announces, causing Harry to jump.
"Who has he asked to perform the ritual?" Malfoy asks in that whiny, snide voice that Harry had hoped to never hear again.
"A most interesting combination. You and Mr. Potter have been named as the participants."
Harry nearly falls out of his seat. There is a murmur of incredulity running through the room.
"Do you accept, gentlemen?" the Solicitor asks.
"Yes, of course," Malfoy immediately answers.
"And you, Mr. Potter?"
Harry swallows and closes his eyes. He nods while saying, "Yes. I accept," in a voice that sounds otherworldly to him.
The incredulity in the room spikes.
Harry finds himself back in the attic, staring at the spot against the wall where they'd fought; where they'd got drunk together; where they expressed the depths of their desperation; where they'd transfigured boxes into a cushions and soft bedding and made a mockery of intimacy. He stares at the place where the world he'd known was lost and something altogether different emerged.
"Can't get enough of it, can you Potter," echoes through Harry's mind in Snape's taunting voice.
"No. Never could," Harry answers in a bare whisper.
"It doesn't have to hurt, you know. I could slip into your mind and give you everything you ever wanted. What I'm asking for in return is so very small, Potter. Just let me in."
Harry inhales sharply and tries to drive away the memories. He can't, though; he doesn't really want to. He gives in and remembers Snape staring into his eyes and slithering into his mind with a touch so sensuous, Harry's eyes roll back in his head even now.
"That’s it, that's it. See? It doesn't have to hurt."
"But it always did. Every time I woke up and realized what I let you do," Harry spits at the wall.
"Just there. See her? Laughing, smiling, perfection."
And Harry had seen her. Every time he'd let Snape in, he'd seen his mother, peering down at him, holding him, protecting him. Snape told him he was seeing memories from his first year of life. They were both greedy for them, taking and giving whatever there was to find them.
And when Snape's fingers curled around his hard cock that first time, Harry had cried out in ecstasy.
"I can make it so much better. We can go deeper, see more. Come for me, boy. Come!"
"No!" Harry shouts. He staggers backward.
"I gave you everything and took almost nothing in return. How dare you deny me."
"You gave me nothing! You were a bastard," he screams at the silent wall. "You used me. You never cared about me. You only wanted her. I was nothing more than a convenient fuck. I was what you needed to get to her. You meant—You meant—" Harry steels himself—"You meant nothing to me. You never did. You were nothing."
The wall continues to stand, staring blankly ahead, not believing Harry's lies. Harry thinks the wall is mocking him. Anger burns more brightly than grief for the moment. He takes out his wand and decides to teach the wall a lesson.
Harry wakes in his bed. Sunlight is streaming through the gauzy curtains. Sunny yellow, Ginny calls them. She says they make her smile.
He blinks and tries to remember how he got home, when he got home. He remembers nothing except screaming at a wall and Blasting it over and over and over again.
There is a soft rustle of toddler feet across the bare floors. Harry knows the sound of his son by heart. As he draws nearer, he closes his eyes, pretending to sleep.
"Da?" James inquires. "Up!"
Harry cracks one eye open and stares at his son.
James peers at him for a moment and then smiles. He claps his hands and runs from the room, his little toddler feet pounding across the floor.
Harry hears James tell Ginny that he's awake, and the soft murmur of her voice in response. There is a clanking of dishes from the kitchen. An admonition of "No," which can only mean James has tried to get into the chocolate biscuits again.
Harry's eyes close and he slips into a half-sleep, a surreal world in which he can hear Ginny shushing James while making breakfast and feel Snape's breath on the nape of his neck as he fucks him.
Harry's hands curl into fists in the soft sheets as he tries to force back the memories. They come unbidden, carried on the bitterness of Snape's inflection, the salty taste of his skin. He hears Snape's voice mocking him, laughing at him, moaning with him, losing control as Harry sucks his cock and makes him come.
There was a moment when they'd almost been equals, when they'd almost been what each other wanted, instead of what each other needed. There was a moment when Harry thought about giving up—
James's cry is like a bucket of ice-cold water hitting him.
Harry looks around his bedroom, blinking back the sunlight. It hurts, the sunlight, but Harry forces his eyes open. This is his reality, he tells himself.
Day 5: The Day Harry Can't Pretend Anymore.
Only Snape would be blasphemous enough to hold a Speaking ritual in a Muggle church. Harry snorts as he peers at the Stations of the Cross, wondering which Snape would say he'd been forced to bear. Probably all of them.
There are only six of them present. Harry's not surprised. Snape was universally reviled. But then, he reviled the world in turn, so it evened out.
Ron and Hermione sit in the front pew, talking and laughing about something inconsequential. McGonagall is talking quietly with Draco Malfoy—an odder sight Harry cannot recall seeing. And then there's Ginny. She's sitting in one of the back pews staring at Harry. Harry has never felt so exposed in his life. He turns away when he can bear her scrutiny no more.
"If everyone will take their places," the solicitor says.
Conversation stops. The church is silent and watchful.
"Thank you all for coming. As you know, this is a Speaking ritual, an opportunity to speak honestly of the deceased in a way that will give meaning to his life. You may begin."
Having done his duty, the solicitor leaves. Harry looks around the church and thinks they're all there out of duty.
Harry looks through the stained glass as Malfoy gets up and begins speaking about the Great Severus Snape. There is a piece of glass as red as blood. Harry closes his eyes as he remembers another piece of glass the same colour.
As a gesture of something Harry confused with love at the time, he'd left a small glass bottle filled with all of the memories of his mother Snape had skilfully retrieved during their attic trysts. The next morning, it was gone, along with Snape.
Harry had never gone looking for him. He was married and had a son on the way and Snape had left him, damn it. So fuck you, Snape.
Pain and sorrow and bone-deep grief assault him. Snape is dead. He is gone. He is never coming back. How can Harry live with that, with so much left unresolved? How can he see past it? How can he—
Someone's shaking Harry's shoulder. He turns away from the red glass and blinks at Ron. "It's your turn, if you want to say something. You don't have to, you know."
Harry shakes Ron's hand off and stands up. He walks to the front of the church and stares out at the other five faces.
"Snape was—" Harry clears his throat. He's not sure what to say. He can't really say that Snape was a good fuck, now can he? He can't say that he still fantasises about how they'll meet up one day, trade a few barbs and then fuck each other against the wall. Maybe even treat each other with a soft touch, a modicum of tenderness rather than a mockery of it.
Instead, he thinks of everything they did, everything that underscored it, and he suddenly knows exactly what to say.
"Snape gave up everything for love. In the end, love defined him more than any other choice he made. I—He will . . . he'll be missed," Harry finishes in a bare whisper.
Harry expects applause or searching glances, perhaps a gasp at his damning confession. Instead, Ron yawns and Malfoy stares at the floor.
Ginny is the only one staring at him.
Day 6: The Day Harry Understands the Human Heart.
"I can't believe you have to be the one to do it," Ron says again.
Harry doesn't know how many times Ron has expressed this particular point. He stopped counting after forty.
"Leave it, Ron," Hermione says through a long sigh. "Snape wanted him to do it, and he will. Enough's enough."
"But he doesn't have to. He's not required. All he has to do is say that he has no affinity to Snape and he's out of it. No one's going to make him participate in a Fire-Burial ritual when he loathes the bastard."
A vague sense of alarm rises in Harry, but he's too tired to figure out what it means. There's been too much thinking, too much remembering. Too much grieving. He stares at the fire and forgets that there's a drink in his hand. When the tumbler crashes to the floor, spilling Firewhisky and causing the glass to break, he remembers.
And he remembers Snape, and laugher, and drinking, and other broken tumblers, and kissing, and fucking, and memories of his mother and—
"You okay?" Ron asks, cutting through Harry's reverie with the sharpness of a knife.
Before Harry can respond, Ron turns to Hermione. "See? Look at him. He's positively sick at the thought of performing the ritual. That's it. He's not going through with it."
The thought of not being the one to say goodbye to Snape, of not being the one to give him one last breath of magic before returning him to the universe in a brilliant ball of flame, has Harry on his feet in a second. "I'm doing it. The ritual, I'm doing it."
Ron comes to a dead stop. He stares at Harry as if glass marbles are falling out of his eye sockets. "What?"
"He asked for me and Malfoy and I'm not about to deny a dead man his last wish."
Ron's eyes narrow, then they shoot to Ginny and back to Harry. "Why are you doing this? You hated him."
"I never hated him. I—well, okay—I hated him when we were kids, but we're not kids anymore. At least I'm not."
"Oi! Just what are you implying?" Ron's skin is red and blotchy and his hands are curled into tight fists.
"Oh for God's sake," Hermione says under her breath. "Is this really necessary?"
"Harry's the wanker here, not me. He just insulted me. Didn't you hear?"
Hermione presses her lips into a thin line.
"Go to bed, Ron," Ginny says in a tired voice.
"You too? You're going to let him insult me like that? Oh, I forgot. Harry's special. Harry's fragile—"
"—I'm not fragile!—"
"—Harry, Harry, Harry—I'm sick to death of everything revolving around Harry. And Snape. I'm doubly sick of him. Dump his body in the fucking manure for all I care. It's where he belongs."
An unbearable pain lacerates Harry's heart, traversing skin and bone, remorse and regret. The sting momentarily steals his breath away and forces him to move forward in search of air.
"You take that back!" Harry barks.
"No, I won't. All of this shit we've endured for a week and for what? For an awful, petty, disgusting excuse of a man who got off on your mum and mucking about in your head. Probably got off on you, too, come to think of it."
Life comes at you faster than you can handle sometimes, blindsiding you with emotion so big, so strong, that you'll grab onto anything stationary, anything that isn't moving in order to keep from drowning.
Harry grabs onto Ron by the front of his robes and slams him into the wall. Hermione and Ginny are shouting in the background. Harry doesn't pay attention to them.
"Take it back. Now," Harry demands, pushing Ron into the wall over and over again.
Ron kicks him and pushes him away, causing Harry to stumble backward. He stares at Harry incredulously, as if he's seeing Harry for the first time and realizing that they're nothing alike.
"You're cracked, mate. You've bloody lost it," he says in a soft voice. "It's like you were in love with him or something."
Harry can't breathe. His mouth flops open and his brain tells him he has to defend himself, but the words are stuck in his throat.
Ron's eyes widen. He takes a step forward. "You knew he was alive, didn't you? That's why you spent every waking moment trying to get him cleared." He glances at Ginny. Anger clouds on his face. "Even after you were married. Even when she was carrying James, you spent every waking moment in that damn museum, trying to make sure that bastard's record was clear. And for what? For what? What did he ever give you?"
The most amazing sex I've ever had, a chance to redeem my father, a fresh glance at my mother, everything. He gave me everything, is on the tip of Harry's tongue, but thankfully, Ginny steps in.
"Let it go. Snape wasn't nice, but he was honourable in his own way."
"You're defending him? He left you all alone all those nights for Snape, and you're defending him?"
"He was working on the museum. He was working on something that put a face and name to everything we lost in that stupid war."
"How many times do we have to go over this, Ron? I know exactly what my husband was doing and that's all that matters."
Harry turns to her, and in that moment he realizes she knows, that she's always known. And that she married him anyway.
"Ginny," Harry says, his voice cracking.
She shoots him a look, his favourite actually, made of equal parts exasperation, calculation, and a fondness that makes him feel like he could fly without a broom.
"So what if Harry wants to participate in the Fire-Burial ritual? Why do you care? Is it because—once again—you're not special?" Ginny taunts.
"Ginny," Ron begins.
"Go to bed," Ginny says. She rubs her belly. "You're upsetting the baby," she adds under her breath.
The statement has its intended effect. Ron almost rushes to her side, but Hermione stops him with a hand and a hissed, "You've done enough."
Ron drops his head and swallows. "Er, sorry," he says, nodding in Harry's direction. "I think I'm just—This whole week, it's just been surreal. I don't know what I was thinking."
Harry nods back, knowing exactly what Ron means, but on an entirely different level.
Hermione and Ron shuffle off to the Floo. There is a flare of green light, and then the room is still and quiet.
"Well," Ginny says after a long stretch of silence.
Ginny shushes him with a soft kiss. "It's okay," she says.
"But it's not okay. We've got to talk—"
"Not now. Later."
"It's okay," she repeats.
Harry sighs. He nods. He doesn't believe her, but he's not up for talking about this now.
"It's okay," she repeats.
Harry nods again, but only just. He realises with alarm that he's shaking, that his arms feel heavy, that his body is cold, that his throat is closing up.
"Shhh. It's okay."
Grief has been battering him from all sides for the last six days and it's slowly forcing him to his knees. He feels it come at him again and he hasn't the strength to drive it away.
"It's okay, Harry. Shhh."
Harry grabs onto Ginny and holds her tight. He feels the first sob tear through him. He can't stop it. Another comes. And another. And another, each interspersed with a memory of Snape. A touch, a lingering glance, a soft, acerbic chuckle, the smell of dittany—These are what he remembers most, small, insignificant flashes of character that meant nothing in the moment but are everything to him now.
"It's okay. It's okay."
They slide to the floor. Harry buries his head in his wife's shoulder and holds her as tight as he dares. She smells of sunshine and redemption, and he can't get close enough to her. She's the only thing in his life that has never moved. He can't lose her.
"It's okay. It's going to be okay."
Harry nods into her shoulder, finally giving in.
"Shhh. It's going to be okay."
Harry begins to believe her.
Day 7: The Day Harry Remembers How to Breathe.
Harry puts away his formal robes. They hang heavy on the wooden hanger. The half-light of the gloaming catches at the golden thread and brings out the intertwined houses of Slytherin, Potter and Gryffindor.
Harry's fingers trace the embroidery down the front. Snape would have hated these robes. The thought makes Harry snort, which turns into a broken sob caught at the back of his throat.
The funeral is over. Snape has gone up in a brilliant flame of ritual fire shot from Harry and Malfoy's wands. There is nothing left of him but memories and bone-deep grief that Harry thinks will hang on him like a mantle for the rest of his days.
"It will get better," Ginny whispers from behind as her hands slip around his waist.
He starts, but then relaxes into the loose circle of her arms. He has no idea how long she's been there. "How can you say that?" he asks.
"Because I love you. Because you love me."
Harry can't believe it's that simple. "But—"
Ginny silences him with a soft kiss to his shoulder.
"That you could feel something for him, that he meant something to you, that maybe you loved him in your own way—that's, I think, the test."
Harry turns around and stares at her, bewildered. "I don't understand how you can feel that way. I was—we were—Ginny," Harry says desperately, begging her not to make him tell her everything he'd done.
"I know you were with him before James was born. I—" She tosses her head as if the conversation is little more than a nuisance. "I won't lie to you. It angered me, but I'd never really wanted anyone other than you, so I decided I'd have you in whatever way you'd give me. That was enough."
A sob nearly rips itself out of Harry's throat. He's foul, he's disgusting, he's—
"And you love me, I know you do. He loved you too, I think. In his own way. I saw they way he looked at you . . . " Ginny says with a far off expression on her face.
"Look, the Harry I love is the Harry that grieves for Severus Snape, is the Harry that changed the world and the people in it."
"How can you be so calm about this?"
"I've had a lot longer to prepare for the possibility of losing the person I loved."
Harry's heart is breaking. "I'm so sorry, I'm so—"
"Stop. We're fine, Harry. We always have been and we always will be. I'm not so sure about you, though. You hold all of this so close to you, hold it so tightly, that it's like you're holding your breath, waiting for the worst thing that could possibly happen."
"It already has."
Harry stares at Ginny, wondering what she means, thinking through every possible terrible outcome.
"You lost someone you loved. There isn't much worse than that, I think."
Harry has to look away. The sun is too bright, Ginny's hair is too bright, everything around her—a nimbus of something beautiful and pure that he will never attain—is too bright.
She begins to leave, but stops just inside the doorframe. "I'm going to the market. Need anything?"
Her tone is too casual. Harry can at least recognize this. "No."
"I'll be back in an hour or so."
"Be careful," Harry says.
"Of course." Ginny takes a step forward and stops again. She breathes deeply in preparation. "And, Harry?"
"I like your idea. About the baby's name." Ginny rubs absently at her swollen belly. "I can't think of anything more perfect."
Harry feels guilty. It had been in a moment of grief that he'd suggested the name Albus Severus. "Ginny—"
Ginny whirls around, fire in her eyes and her hair glinting bright in the warm light spilling through the windows. She doesn't say anything. She doesn't need to. Her expression is one that Harry is well-acquainted with. He nods in acquiescence. She smiles. It's decided.
"Back in an hour," she says.
"Be careful," Harry repeats, feeling more cautious than he can remember ever feeling. He can't lose her, too.
She smiles again, this one making Harry's stomach flip just a little bit. His lips curve into an answering smile.
She nods and turns away.
As she leaves she calls out, "Oh, I forgot. There's a package for you downstairs. It arrived about an hour ago by Owl."
The house is silent and still when Harry finally makes his way downstairs, like it has taken a deep breath and is holding it. Waiting.
On the table sits a small, black package with gleaming silver script across the top. Unease bubbles in his stomach. He approaches the table with trepidation. He lays his hand across the top and the package opens, unpeeling like a banana. Harry's breath catches. In the centre is the small, red bottle he'd given Snape all those years ago filled with the swirling silver of memories. A small piece of parchment attached to it reads simply,
To: Mr. H. Potter. Bequest of Mr. S. Snape. Category: Personal. Description: Memory(ies) of Unknown Origin.
The script is unfamiliar—likely that of a Solicitor's Clerk, one who'd written it without regard to the power of his quill.
Harry takes the bottle in his hand and stares at it while the house stands silent, still, and waiting.
"Sod this," he says to himself. He slams the small bottle on the table and uncorks it, marvelling at the way vespers of memory waft outward. He withdraws his wand from his back pocket and lets the tip of it connect with the lip of the bottle. With care and finesse he slowly draws his wand back, tugging the swirling memories with it. In one smooth arc, he transfers them, closing his eyes as the tip of his wand connects with his temple.
He expects to hear his mother's laughter, expects to see flashes of gold and green and red and silver. Instead he sees dusty walls bathed in moonlight and grey shadows. He stops breathing as he recognizes what he is seeing. He'd always thought it was a dream. He never—He thought it was a dream.
They'd lain on the floor sweaty and sated. Harry had felt disconnected, like he was there without being there. He'd let his eyes slip closed and decided that he didn't care if he was about to fall asleep on Snape. Let the bastard push him away if he was of a mind.
This is where Snape's memory picks up, Harry can tell, because suddenly he's feeling Snape's hesitation, his unexpected yearning.
Severus's hand lifts and hovers over Harry's head. "You utter fool," he whispers harshly to himself, but he doesn't pull his hand back. His fingers skim through Harry's hair, his breath catching as Harry unconsciously leans into the touch.
He's moving his hand through Harry's hair in a slow, steady rhythm, perfectly timed with Harry's breathing. They are synchronized for once in their lives.
Severus wants more.
Careful not to move Harry, he withdraws his wand and casts a mild Sleeping Charm. Harry's breathing deepens and he rests completely against Severus's chest.
Severus allows himself a rare, fleeting smile as he relishes the heat and weight of Harry's body against his. He looks down at him. Harry is defenceless. He is trusting. He is—for one moment of self-indulgent insanity—Severus's.
Severus leans down and kisses Harry's head before reason and reality have a chance to stop him. His lips linger in the soft warmth of Harry's hair. He inhales deeply and closes his eyes, storing this memory in a deep place he will only access after too much Firewhisky.
When the moment feels close to breaking, Severus pulls back. He stares at Harry and lets his fingertips slide down his cheek.
He lays Harry down with more care than he thought himself capable of. He stands. He shakes his head as his eyes dart between the door and Harry, both freedom of a sort, but more different than can be imagined.
"You stupid fool. You share nothing. Nothing. Except a woman long dead."
But he knows this isn't true. He knows that they share more—no matter how twisted and dysfunctional it is—they share more than the love of a dead woman. It was Lily who first showed him love. It is Harry who shows him the full measure of it.
Severus wills himself to leave without looking back. The door creaks closed, the soft puff of air in the vacuum of the closed door sealing things between them.
The memory swirls away.
Harry is standing in his dining room. There are pictures of his son and his wife on the walls, and yet the lingering tendrils of Severus's perspective, his memories, wrap around him and squeeze until Harry cannot breathe. His wand clatters to the floor, the sound ricocheting through the small space with the sharpness of reproach.
Invisible lips press against his temple. Harry closes his eyes and mouths, "Severus," thinking for a moment it wouldn't be so terrible to live in a world encompassed by that memory.
The feel of Severus's lips against his temple fades, becoming ghost-like. Harry grabs at the air instinctively, seeking arms and legs and body long-gone from him, but then he looks up into the smiling eyes of his wife, his child, his life.
Grief leaves him for a moment, though it hovers in the background, allowing only a slight reprieve. He thinks of Snape's memory, what it means, how it alters everything he's ever known.
He thinks of Ginny, how lucky he is to have her, how much he loves her.
And in that moment, he holds them both—Ginny and Snape—and allows his two lives to enmesh, embracing the discordant angles, and finds that he has lost neither the bitter nor the sweet of either. He will remember everything that has led him to the moment he's in, and he will not regret a single memory, a single choice.
The air lifts, the great vacuum that has pressed at him for seven days dissipates in a long, mournful sigh.
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