|snarryswapmod (snarryswapmod) wrote in snarry_swap,|
@ 2008-01-15 12:00:00
|Entry tags:||creation: fic, gingertart50, rated: nc-17|
Happy Daft Day, ivylady!
Title: A Glow of Candlelight
Warnings: Canon-compliant apart from The Epilogue. Spoilers for DH ahead.
Prompt: You asked for – "Postwar with a realistic reason for Harry and Snape being together, plot, smut, romance, happy ending, some angst is fine, not terribly OOC (with me understanding that some personality/character traits will be changed). May also include: bonding (forced or not), mpreg, holidays, first time (for either). AU is fine, creative use of magic is fine, unique takes on canon events are great." Well, I have given you everything apart from bonding, mpreg and AU. I hope that you like it.
Summary: Is there a reason why Harry dreams of Snape in the glow of candlelight? Harry leaves his tools and his potter's wheel behind to find out.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to my plot-bunny beta and my grammar-and-punctuation guru, without whom this would have been a dishevelled and sprawling mess. With sentence fragments. And, extraneous, unnecessary, commas. Ha!
Snape stared straight ahead, his wand loosely held in one hand, robes hanging in folds around his lean body. Harry reached up, touching the strand of hair that clung to Snape's cheek and allowing his fingertips to trail down the smooth jaw. "Severus Snape," he said. The Parseltongue hiss of the name whispered away through the corridors, dying away into the silence of the ancient castle. "You were the bravest of us all. I'm so sorry I didn't know until it was too late." Snape's lips should have twitched into a sneer at this familiarity. There was only a hint of the Potions master's characteristic simmering anger; a certain tilt to his eyebrows and tightness of the upper lip.
Harry drew his wand, whispered a charm and used the tip to shave away an infinitesimal amount of marble, narrowing the proud arch of Snape's nose. "There, is that better?" He patted Snape's arm before glancing around. Reassured that he was alone, Harry stepped up onto the low plinth and rested his head against the unyielding stone of the statue's chest. If he narrowed his eyes, he could imagine that the man was still alive; he could pretend that this snarling, surly guard dog of a wizard protected him still, and that Snape's hand was about to grasp his shoulder. Harry did not know if he wanted that hand to pull him closer or push him away.
He remembered Snape's voice so clearly, as if it has spoken to him only an hour ago. He imagined it now, the shape of his name on those cold stone lips.
"Potter? What are you doing, boy? Where's your so-called backbone? You Gryffindors are always banging on about your courage; where is it now? A bully and a coward just like your father…"
In the distance, he heard footsteps approaching, the quick, firm tread echoing through the passageway. Harry quickly moved away from the statue, straightened his dress robe and pulled his face into an expression approaching cheerfulness.
"Harry! There you are, we'd begun to wonder where you'd got to." Hermione glanced at her own statue then looked away, as if embarrassed. Ron followed her, hands in pockets; he stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes at his marble facsimile.
"Just checking they were all okay," Harry said; a lame excuse but it was the best he could come up with at short notice.
"Of course they are, mate." Ron sounded slightly too jovial. "They're marble statues, not porcelain dolls, and the house elves look after everything anyway."
The statue of Dumbledore, extending a lovingly carved packet of sherbet lemons, his wand tucked behind his ear, smiled benevolently down at them from his place of honour. Dobby peered around with his ears at a jaunty angle; the elf appeared surprised to be caught in such illustrious company. Next to him, Harry, Ron and Hermione stood in attitudes of eternal watchfulness. Even though Harry had only carved them three years previously, they already looked absurdly young, schoolchildren among the battered warriors of the Order of the Phoenix.
"Professor McGonagall's ready," Hermione remarked, a not-so-subtle hint to get a move on. Harry nodded and the three walked together towards the Great Hall.
A murmur of quiet conversations and the clink of teacups in their saucers indicated that the crowd had arrived and were helping themselves to tea, coffee, biscuits and pumpkin juice. The three former pupils slipped in quietly through the staff entrance, hoping to avoid attracting attention, but of course everyone had been waiting for them. The ringing tap of Minerva McGonagall's teaspoon against her cup put a stop to all the chatter.
"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to Hogwarts for the grand reopening of the fully restored Gryffindor Tower. A big thank you to our special guests; Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt, heroes of the war, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley and of course, the man himself, Harry Potter!"
Harry and his friends had plenty of practice at the gracious bow. It had to be deep enough to be polite but not excessively obsequious. It allowed Harry to hide his gritted teeth, anyway.
"D'you reckon the house elves could get us a few beers afterwards?" Ron muttered. "Or do we have to have champagne again?"
"It's a hard life, this hero business, isn't it? I'll see what I can do about the beer, Ron. Hello, Hermione, hi, Harry." Neville grinned and strode off towards the teachers' seats.
"Scary, isn't it?" Ron said, watching Hogwarts' newest professor take his place with the other staff. Harry nodded.
- - -
Harry placed a lump of clay on the bench and squeezed it with both hands until it oozed, thick and glutinous, between his fingers. He could shape his chosen materials with a word and a swish of his wand but sometimes it felt good to create in the Muggle way, let the dirt grind into his pores and the paint creep under his fingernails. Besides, people paid even more for sculptures made by hand. Sometimes he deliberately left a thumb print somewhere under the base, so that the proud owners could point it out to their friends, and nod, and explain that this was the mark of the man who destroyed the Dark Lord. Harry disliked being treated as something he was not, but he had a living to make after all.
Under his fingers, the clay began to take shape, smoothing and blending, and he saw what it would be and sighed.
"Wassup?" a familiar voice asked from the doorway of his workroom.
"Hello, George, come in." Harry waved, about to run a hand through his hair and stopping himself before he got clay everywhere.
"Creative juices not flowing? Muse buggered off?"
"No, just the usual. The muse only wants to do one thing and it isn't what my bloody customers want."
"They'll buy anything if it has Harry Potter's signature on it, mate, so where's the problem?"
Harry wiped his hands on a cloth and beckoned.
George sauntered after him, through the workshop, past the Muggle kiln and lathes to the door of the storeroom. Harry flicked his wand to light the lamps.
The nearest shelves held rows of the famous Potter Pots; hand-thrown dishes and bowls, finished with a subtle black glaze that reflected the light in iridescent deep green and purple like a rook's wing.
Behind them were squat jugs in the shapes of house elves and goblins, statuettes of dragons and basilisks in wood and stone, and glimmering from the darkest recess, a series of pottery heads.
The busts stared out into the room like death masks. Some were crude earthenware, others painted and polished to a high finish; all depicted the same haughty nose, thin lips and high cheekbones. Sometimes Snape was scowling, or smirking, or now and again, smiling at a secret jest that only he could understand.
"See?" Harry waved at the Snapes. "Everything always ends up looking like him. I started out wanting to do Tonks but she morphed into Snape. I tried Dumbledore but the nose was wrong and he didn't twinkle enough and I realised that Snape was trying to get out of the clay instead. Am I going mad?"
George brushed past him, gazing thoughtfully at the fragile heads.
"No, I just think you've got some sort of unfinished business with the old git."
"So what am I supposed to do, since said git is dead and buried? Spend my time going through his old Pensieve memories like a perverted Elvis groupie?"
"Never mind. Dead Muggle rock icon."
"Oh." George scratched his chin. "Why don't you go and talk to his portrait?"
"Has he got one?"
"Must have, he was the headmaster. Ask McGonagall."
"Suppose I could." Harry seldom visited the headmaster's – now headmistress's – office. Minerva usually met him in the castle itself. She was a very hands-on head of Hogwarts and was generally to be found deep in discussion with the renovations architects. "If he won't talk to me, I could always ask Dumbledore."
"Mind that old manipulator doesn't twinkle at you and send you off on another wild goose chase," George said darkly. "By the way, did Ron tell you the latest about Ginny?"
"No, what about her?"
"She split up with Justin and she's seeing some Ravenclaw. I'm surprised you didn't read it in the paper."
"I try not to."
Despite the fact that the relationship had ended by mutual agreement, the Prophet insisted on referring to Ginny as the 'girl who broke Harry Potter's heart'. Harry privately wondered if he still had an intact heart, or whether it had been irrevocably damaged on the day he had looked into the dead faces of Snape, Lupin, Tonks, Colin and Fred.
Sometimes he wondered if his heart had turned to stone.
- - -
"I'm sorry, Harry, didn't you know?" Professor McGonagall pushed her spectacles further up her nose with a paint-smeared finger. "Yes, I prefer the darker blue, it's more Ravenclaw. Off you go." She watched as the house elf renovation crew levitated their pots and brushes up onto the scaffolding and turned back to Harry. "There is no portrait of Severus Snape." She frowned at the paint on her hand and banished it wordlessly.
"Because he was Headmaster for such a short time?" Harry asked. She turned to accompany him along the wide stone cloister.
"I'm not sure. I asked the other portraits but as usual, it wasn't easy to get a consensus. I have my own suspicions."
"About his motives?" Harry could not help the coolness that crept into his tone. He had spent the last four years arguing Snape's case. Minerva McGonagall responded with equal reserve.
"In a way. I don't believe that Severus Snape thought of himself as Headmaster; he was only holding Hogwarts in trust, protecting us all from Voldemort as far as he could. He knew that his tenure would be short and unpopular, whoever emerged victorious. Frankly, Harry, he never expected to survive."
Harry nodded, unsurprised.
"I wish I could paint; I'd like to do his portrait if only I could do him justice."
"Oh, but you have. Deep down, he did care what people thought of him and you've done more than enough to ensure that he's remembered as one of the great heroes of the war."
"It's so odd that I can't get him out of my head. I thought that carving his statue would help me to let go, but I seem to be obsessed by the man."
"Have you thought about writing his biography?"
"That's more Hermione's style than mine."
The Headmistress nodded and raised an eyebrow in a manner worthy of Snape himself.
"Then I suggest you should simply wait and see what happens. That isn't a very Gryffindor trait, I know, but sometimes things work themselves out, don't they?"
- - -
Harry kept the flask of Snape's memories locked in a cupboard at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Sometimes he took it out and stared into the silvery-blue mist, swirling it gently so that tiny images formed and melted: faces of people Snape had known, Nagini floating in her starry cage, cauldrons and dungeons, staff, students and Death Eaters, Dumbledore and Voldemort. Again and again, Harry thought of tipping away the memories but something prevented him from letting them go. He told himself that pouring the last vestiges of Snape's soul down the sink showed a lack of respect, but he suspected that the truth was more complicated than that. It was simpler, in that he was not ready to consign Snape to the past, but complex in the mix of emotions that Snape inspired.
Snape emerged from clay or stone or wood while Harry worked at his pottery or sculptures, Snape whispered in his ear as he woke, and Snape haunted his dreams. Perhaps the Headmistress was right; Harry should give in, immerse himself in the life and death of this bitter, multifaceted, private and courageous wizard, write his story and thus lay these personal ghosts to rest.
Harry decided to work backwards. His memories of Snape's death were laden with difficult emotions, regret, anger and confusion, but he did have first-hand knowledge of the event, with no need to rely on anyone else's interpretation of what happened. The decision made, he went to bed feeling lighter in spirit than he had for some time.
- - -
Harry was striding down one of the Slytherin staircases at Hogwarts, looking for Malfoy. He knew that he had to put right all those wrongs done in the past; he needed to attempt a truce with the Slytherin even if they could never become friends.
There was little light this far from the student dormitories and someone was moving inside an open doorway with a candle, casting flickering shapes of black and gold. Harry took a deep breath and waited, placatory words ready on the tip of his tongue.
He saw a hooked nose, black eyes and black hair, the severe line of a mouth. This was unmistakably Snape, the unforgettable planes of his face softened by the golden glow of the candle.
“But you’re dead!”
Not the most inspired of greetings but his mind had been full of words that might persuade Malfoy to listen to him. Snape’s initial expression of mild surprise morphed into the old familiar irritability.
“Thank you, Potter, for granting me my release from this dreary existence. Will you carry out the death-sentence immediately?” His dark gaze swept from Harry’s unkempt hair to his scuffed trainers and back. Then Snape breathed softly, “Bugger off, Potter,” and slammed the door in his face.
This was no more than he had expected from Malfoy, so why did it come as such an unpleasant shock?
Harry jerked awake and stared up at the dark canopy of his bed. The dream was as clear and lucid as all the rest. Sometimes he saw Snape in the kitchen at Twelve Grimmauld Place, sipping tea and scowling, occasionally in the dungeons at Hogwarts, or stalking along the corridors or sitting at his old place at the high table. Always, he was lit by candlelight, the subtle illumination lending colour to his cheeks, imparting depths to his black eyes and subduing the oily highlights in his hair.
Snape was instantly identifiable and fundamentally himself, bitter and proud and valiant. He had not changed in Harry's memory, but Harry had grown up, and now he recognised those facets of Snape's character that a child would miss. He could see the defensiveness and insecurity under the vitriol. Harry understood the persona that Snape had assumed, exaggerating his own spite in order to convince the children of the Death Eaters that he was still Voldemort's tool.
Strangest of all, Harry no longer saw Snape as a hated teacher but as a wizard with a body beneath the enveloping robes, a wizard with emotions and desires. He watched, with the eyes of a man, as the Snape of his memory swooped and glared with an underlying sensuality that almost took his breath away. Had only the Slytherins noticed that, for all the imperfections of his skin, his hair and nose and general scrawniness, Snape was a very remarkable man? Such intensity and passion compelled respect.
Harry got up, pulled on his clothes and went downstairs, knowing that he would be unable to sleep again. He was ambivalent towards these Snape-haunted dreams. He ought not to enjoy them so much, surely? Afterwards he always plunged into depression, knowing that he should have tried to save Snape's life. Surely he, Ron and Hermione could have done something more than watch the blood pulse from his neck?
Harry flung himself down at his desk, yanked open a drawer and took out his Pensieve. Smaller than the one at Hogwarts, it was a heavy black pottery bowl, one of his first creations. He placed it on the blotter and raised his wand to his head, squeezing his eyes tight shut as he deliberately recalled the memory that he had tried to block out for so long, pulled loose the silvery strand and cast it into the Pensieve.
Hermione glanced at Snape's body, then hurried back to the tunnel entrance. Ron followed her. Harry gathered up the Invisibility Cloak, then looked down at Snape. He had not known what to feel, except shock at the way Snape had been killed, and the reason for which it had been done…
Harry felt like taking his younger self by the throat and shaking him. Surely he could have cast a simple first-aid charm to slow down the bleeding? He was so incensed at his own thoughtlessness that he almost missed the faint glow that crept around the edge of the door as his earlier incarnation stepped back into the tunnel and the scene changed. Harry frowned and watched the last few seconds again. Yes, there, just beginning to brighten the grey wooden planks of the door and the cracked wall, was a gentle golden light like the shimmer of a candle. Someone else was approaching the room where Snape lay in a pool of his own blood, someone who lit their way through the gloomy building by candlelight. Who would do that, light a candle instead of using their wand to cast Lumos? Was this a Death Eater coming to turn Snape's body into an Inferius, or had a member of the Order of the Phoenix hoped to finish off the ostensible traitor once and for all?
Harry stared down into the Pensieve. Hermione and Ron had left Snape before he did, there was no point asking them for their memories of the event. Harry had never thought to enquire who had collected the corpse from the Shrieking Shack. He had attended Snape's funeral, gazed down at the body, pale and serene in its coffin of English oak and said a silent farewell to the man whose loyalty had always lain at the heart of Dumbledore's machinations. Snape had been carefully dressed in one of his formal black robes, and a white shirt with a high collar to hide the terrible wound in his neck. He had appeared to be at peace.
There had been so many funerals that they blurred in Harry's memories into a crowd of figures in black, leaning on one another for mutual support. So many had been mourned and laid to rest. The burials came like physical blows, predicted yet still painful, one after another; Snape's was just one in a long series. Feeling punch-drunk with grief, Harry had not thought to ask who had collected Snape's body, disposed of his possessions or planned the memorial service. Harry had cared only that everything was done properly, with respect, and that Snape's tomb was placed near Dumbledore's at Hogwarts.
Harry grabbed for a quill and parchment and began making notes with an almost feverish intensity.
- - -
Neville Longbottom smiled at the tray of seedlings as they hurriedly shuffled themselves into neat rows, their tiny leaves quivering towards him like pets, eager for attention. He gently passed his hand over the tray, brushing the fragile shoots with his fingers. Harry leaned back against the bench, forcing himself to be patient.
"I did it," Neville said eventually, and Harry let out a breath that he had not realised he had been holding. "I went up to the Shack and brought him back. After what you said about him, I thought I ought to."
"It was very good of you, I know you hated him."
Neville shook his head.
"No, I was scared of him. He was a bully, but I learned to stand up to bullies, and then I found out that I didn't hate him, not really. I almost pitied him, in a way." Harry made an encouraging noise, a little hum of surprise in his throat. Neville hitched his broad shoulders in a shrug that was almost embarrassed. "He must have been so unhappy all his life, mustn't he? Anyway, what did you want to know?"
"Would you be prepared to put the memory into my Pensieve and let me see it?"
"Don't see why not. There isn't much to it, just the poor old sod lying in a pool of drying blood. What's this all about?"
"I was looking at my memory of his death and noticed something odd, that's all. Just as Ron, Hermione and I left; someone else was coming towards the door with a candle. I could see the glow through the gaps in the planks."
"But it was broad daylight."
"It's gloomy inside the Shack. I don't understand it either, Nev, that's why I'd like to see your memories. I hate the idea of someone interfering with his body."
Neville nodded, wiped the potting compost from his hands and gesturing towards the door of the greenhouse.
"Let's go and have a cuppa in my office and you can show me how to extract a memory. I've never done that before … might be a useful thing to know."
- - -
Neville shared tea and Garibaldi biscuits and then went off to supervise a detention, which no doubt involved doing something smelly with dragon dung or bubotubers. Despite his friend's assurances that there was no sign of interference with Snape's body, Harry gazed at the little silvery wisp, curled in the bottom of his Pensieve with some degree of nervousness. He took in a deep breath and leaned over the Pensieve.
Neville had not known where Snape had died. He searched two empty rooms with his wand out, flinching as he disturbed a mouse, before easing open a door and staring at the dark, bloody huddle of Snape's corpse. Harry peered over the shoulder of the memory-Neville into Snape's white face and felt a moment of disorientation that almost left him dizzy. Neville swept his wand around to banish the blood so that it could not be used by Death Eaters in a Dark ritual and then carefully levitated the body and went out, Snape floating in the air before him.
Harry landed on the floor of Neville's office, his heart beating fast. He conjured up a bottle, poured in Neville's memory and tucked it safely away in his pocket. Then he scribbled a thank-you note for the Herbology Professor and hurried off homewards, oblivious to the pointing and whispers as the students recognised him. Something had happened in the time between the trio leaving Snape, and Neville collecting the body; something that appeared trivial but just might be enormously significant, and Harry needed to find out what it was.
- - -
"Read out the list, will you, Harry?" Hermione leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, a frown of concentration on her face. Ron replenished their glasses with butterbeer as Harry unrolled the parchment.
"One: just as we left the Shack, there was a faint golden glow of candlelight appearing as someone came towards the door. Two – "
"Was that the door Voldemort went out of?" Ron asked.
"Good point, yes it was. They must have been sent by him."
"Not necessarily, mate. They might have been hiding in another room and only came out once they had watched him leave. In fact, as we didn't hear Voldie speak to them, that's quite likely."
"Yes," Hermione murmured, "And why a candle, why not Lumos?"
"That's what I wondered, too. Number two: when we left Snape for dead, his eyes were open, but when Neville collected him they were shut, so whoever followed us must have leaned over and closed his eyes."
"Were there bloody footprints on the floor?"
"Loads, because I stepped in the blood and I think both of you did too. Then Neville Banished it all just after he'd arrived. That stopped anyone working dark magic with it but does mean there's no way of telling if there were extra prints or where they led."
"Three: the clincher. Snape's feet were pointing towards the secret tunnel, his head towards the door. I can remember crouching, watching his boot trembling as he tried to stop the bleeding with his fingers. In Neville's memory, he was the other way round. His feet pointed to the door."
"Hell's bells," Hermione whispered, "so someone really did interfere with him."
"Yes, and I can't understand why and it's driving me nuts. I've been dreaming about Snape in candlelight for ages and I think this is why; my subconscious remembered the glow of candlelight in the shack and thinks it's significant."
"Only one thing for it, mate; we'll have to go and have a look at his body."
Hermione and Harry both stared at Ron, who took a gulp of his drink.
"Only way to set our minds at rest, isn't it? Check that no one's done anything they shouldn't to the old git's remains."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"This is another fine mess you've gotten me into, Ronald Weasley."
Harry guffawed and Ron looked vaguely confused before shrugging and grinning.
- - -
Snape's tomb stood in the shadow of a great cedar, on the very edge of the lawn where the Hogwarts grounds met the Forbidden Forest.
"The Lebanon cedar was very popular with nineteenth century Muggles," Hermione said as they walked across the grass. "They planted it in parks and big estates, usually like this, in between the formal gardens and the more natural woods. As if the cedar is semi-domesticated, holding back the more wild and dangerous trees."
"Appropriate place to plant a spy like Snape, I reckon. In between the dark and the light."
Hermione did not reply but took her husband's hand as they passed the white glow of Dumbledore's tomb. It had been fully repaired from the damage caused when Voldemort had broken into it to remove the Elder Wand.
"We're as bad as Voldemort," Harry said suddenly. "How can we even be thinking of doing this, disturbing the man's last resting place?"
"We're not going to damage anything, Harry. All I'm going to do is make an area of the stone and of the coffin transparent, so that we can see inside. Don't worry, I would feel just as bad as you if we had actually to break in."
They stood in pale sunshine, gazing at the granite tomb. The northern stone was as dark and hard and unyielding as Snape himself. Now Hermione raised her wand, made a complicated little gesture and spoke a whispered charm. The side of the tomb seemed to melt away to reveal the oak coffin in the light of their wands. The brass fittings had tarnished and the polish dulled. Another charm, and the wood turned as clear as glass.
"Oh my God."
They were staring at a bundle of robes wrapped around a splintered plank. Hermione brought her wand down in a sharp sweeping flick, breaking her enchantments. The stone reverted to its previous dense, impenetrable nature.
"So someone broke into the tomb and stole his body," Ron began and then shook his head. "No… why bother replacing it with that? We didn't bury his body at all, did we?"
"We buried a plank and his robes, transfigured to look like him. The transfiguration has worn off." Hermione replaced her wand in her sleeve. "You were right, Harry."
"Inferius? Or worse?" Ron muttered. "Or better?"
He cast Harry a shrewd look and Harry understood yet again what Hermione had seen in his friend. Ron was not an academic but his proficiency in Wizard's chess was no fluke.
"I don't know, Ron."
"Maybe it was one of his friends, Lucius Malfoy or someone from the school."
"I don't think anyone from Hogwarts would have helped him, they all thought he was Dumbledore's killer at the time. Snape duelled McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout, remember? Besides, I can't see old Malfoy lifting a finger to help anyone except his own family. Did someone get there in time to save him?"
"Sorry, mate, but he was dead."
"So was I."
Winter sunlight lay long and low over the grounds. They strolled back towards the castle, where Professor McGonagall was waiting for them with a promise of tea and crumpets before the fire.
"We could have a word with Madam Pomfrey," Hermione said cautiously, as if she had doubts about the wisdom of encouraging Harry's current obsession. "Since we're here already…"
- - -
The nurse shook her head.
"Even a trained Healer would have had to apply a blood-replenishing potion within a minute or two of the bite and also cast healing charms on the wound."
"Would you have been able to save him if you'd been there, Madam Pomfrey?"
"Possibly, Ron, but when your father was bitten by the snake, the wounds were very difficult to heal, weren't they? I would have required an assistant to magically hold something over the severed artery to prevent the replaced blood from pouring out again. I'm sorry, but I very much doubt if anyone could have saved Severus Snape."
"What about a vampire or werewolf? Could they have turned him?"
"A vampire would have needed to drink his blood and he had little left to drink and no pulse to move it through the blood vessels. A werewolf would have been an ordinary mortal outside of the full moon and would have been as helpless as anyone else."
"I still think someone saved him." Harry set his face into a stubborn scowl. "I don't know why, but I do. Someone went into the Shrieking Shack with a candle, someone who reached him just after we left, and they transfigured his robe and a chunk of wood to look like his body."
"A candle, Harry?" Harry nodded at the Headmistress. She narrowed her eyes behind her spectacles, gazing intently at him. "But it was daylight."
"The shack is pretty gloomy."
"How very odd."
As if suddenly making up her mind, Minerva McGonagall put down her teacup. "Well, I rather wish you had informed me before peering into Severus' tomb – yes, I know, you did no harm, but you three are always rushing off doing these strange and perilous things. I can give you one piece of information, I can tell you where he lived. I have no idea what happened to his house after the war, but you may find an indication if he went back again. He lived at number ninety-five, Spinner's End, here are the Apparation coordinates."
She waved her wand at a scrap of parchment. "Do let me know what you find out, won't you?"
- - -
Here there was no sunlight, only a pall of grey cloud. Small, glum houses huddled against the chill wind. Harry pulled his Muggle coat closed and trudged along the road, gazing up at the bulk of a derelict mill. It was in the process of being renovated, with a spindly crane leaning over the roof like an attenuated beckoning finger. A sign declared that a number of luxury flats would be on the market soon.
Number ninety-five was at the end of a cobbled street. Harry approached warily. He had persuaded Ron and Hermione not to accompany him but only by promising to be very careful. He would not put it past Snape to hex first and ask questions later. He stopped dead. Why was he so convinced that the Greasy Git was alive? Was this just wishful thinking? What did he want to say or do if Snape was here? Harry shook his head, took the last few paces and knocked at the front door.
A youngish woman opened it with a toddler riding on her hip. She wore jeans and a stained t-shirt, her hair caught back in a Lycra headband. She was so mundane and so unexpected that Harry simply gaped at her for a moment before remembering his manners.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm looking for someone who used to live here."
She tilted her head.
"Well me Mam's lived here for the last thirty-three years, so it must've been before your time, then."
Had an enchantment been cast here, erasing all memory of the Potions master?
"A Mister Snape? Tall bloke with long black hair?"
"Oh, aye. You want number ninety-five. This's ninety-six. The number's dropped off again." She indicated the next house with a nod of her head and shut the door.
Harry stood in the road, his heart pounding. She spoke as if a stranger asking for directions to Snape's house was a normal, everyday occurrence. She spoke as if she knew him, or at least knew of him, and that he still lived here.
Harry almost ran the few yards to the next house.
He felt the thrum of magic through his knuckles as he tapped on the door. It was subtle but as pure and real as the feel of his wand in his hand. The wards tingled and the door silently swung back. He watched a hooked nose, swag of black hair and pair of shrewd dark eyes appear in the gap.
"I wondered if you'd turn up."
The voice held all its old deep, smooth timbre and nuances of barely restrained exasperation.
"Professor," Harry whispered, his heart soaring with something strange and joyful. "I knew it! I knew you must have survived."
"No thanks to you, Potter. Don't just stand there looking like a stunned trout, you'll scare the neighbours."
Harry sidled into the tiny hall, and Snape led the way into a room lined with bookcases. "I do not know what you expect of me, but I promise you, Potter, I owe neither you nor the Wizarding world, a single, bloody thing."
"I know that," Harry said, wanting to roll over and let Snape rant at him. Hearing that voice again was wonderful, like going back and finding a little segment of the past, wrapped up and safe in a box. "I owe you, Professor Snape, a thousand times over."
Snape sniffed but Harry thought that the wind had been taken out of his sails a little.
"So why are you here?"
"I was sure you were alive."
"Congratulations. Simple statistics indicate that even you have to be right occasionally."
"I wanted to thank you for everything you did."
"Wonderful. You've said it, now go away."
"And I want to know how you managed it: how you survived."
Snape placed his hands flat on the cluttered desk and leaned towards him, lips curled in a smirk.
"Magic, Potter. Now bugger off."
He was lit by candlelight. Old-fashioned sconces screwed to the bookcases held cheap paraffin wax candles which flickered softly in the draughts created by their breath and the movements of their bodies. Snape wore Muggle clothes; black trousers, dark green shirt and black jumper. His height made him as intimidating as ever, even without the sweep of academic robes.
"You have to mean it," Harry said. He had learned a lot in the years since the war. "You shouldn't have allowed me in if you'd wanted me to go."
Snape sniffed and stared down the length of his nose like a fastidious dragon.
"I suppose you expect tea?"
"That would be nice."
Snape drew himself up.
"I do not do 'nice', Potter."
"God, you've mellowed," Harry said in wonder. "Where's the old vitriol?"
He was ready to be hexed or snarled at; what he didn't expect was the sharp burst of Snape's laughter. It was brief but real, and it ran down Harry's spine in a tingle of heat.
"Where do you think? Idiot."
"Something to do with no longer being pulled apart between two monomaniacal wizards of enormous power, I imagine. And I'm not an idiot, I'm a Gryffindor."
"True," Snape said, surprising Harry again. He walked across the room, grasped the edge of a bookcase and pulled. A door that had been hidden behind it until that moment swung open to reveal a small, old-fashioned kitchen with a stone floor. Harry was reminded of wartime films and women in flower-patterned wrap-around aprons. "You are suggesting that the two are not synonymous?"
"You're suggesting that Minerva McGonagall or Hermione Weasley are idiots, then?"
"She married him, did she?" Snape placed a kettle on the hotplate of the coal-fired range in the corner.
"He's no fool either."
"Perhaps he has stopped being controlled by his temper and his balls. Certainly there was a reasonable distribution of intelligence among his older brothers."
Harry watched as Snape made tea the Muggle way. Each movement was as precise as ever; he could have been brewing the most delicate and unstable of potions.
As Snape indicated one of the Bentwood chairs at the tiny table and Harry turned to sit down, he noticed two things. One was a tray on the floor containing a grey, powdery substance rather like cat litter; the other was a doweling rod jutting from the wall directly above it. The rod was scratched with what looked like claw marks. Harry felt his throat close up as he understood.
"It was Dumbledore all along, wasn't it?"
Snape placed two mugs on the table. His hair swung forward, hiding his expression.
"Albus or Aberforth?"
"Dumbledore arranged it before he died, he looked after you."
"The headmaster always knew what was best for everyone," Snape offered in a dry, acerbic voice.
"It wasn't candlelight, it was Fawkes. As soon as Ron, Hermione and I left, Fawkes came to you and cried on your wound, just like he did for me. I bet he was almost too late. Then you Transfigured your robe and a piece of wood to look like your body, but you must have been weak and in a terrible hurry to get away, because you left the body the wrong way round and with its eyes closed."
"I wondered what encouraged you to look for me."
"I'm so glad you lived. I always wished that you could have known that everything you did worked out, that Voldemort died and none of your efforts were in vain."
"But they were." Snape's voice was a deep purr. "I failed abysmally to teach you Occlumency or, come to that, Potions."
Harry stared into the black eyes and felt the subtle pulse of intent as Snape's Legilimency pressed lightly against his thoughts. Then Snape's teeth were bared with rage. "Get out!" The words out of Harry's past merged with the snarl of Snape's current, inexplicable rage. "OUT! How dare you, Potter? How dare you come here to mock me? You are worse than your bastard father!"
"But – no, wait –" Harry scrambled backwards, tripping over the chair in his haste to evade the tall wizard's rage. "Snape, no –"
Snape's hand moved with the speed of a striking cobra and Harry rolled, narrowly avoiding the mug of scalding tea that Snape hurled across the tiny kitchen. Harry raised his wand, managing to cast a shield that earned him the couple of seconds he needed to bolt out of the back door, across the yard and out of the gate. He stood in a narrow brick passageway panting, dishevelled and completely bewildered. Eventually he gathered his senses and Disapparated.
- - -
The owl came back in a sulk, carrying a small piece of parchment. On it was a sketchy drawing of a pie, with a little arrow pointing into it and the legend 'Owl' scrawled in Snape's familiar spiky writing. Harry got the hint and so did the bird; as soon as he mentioned the word 'Snape' it hooted in alarm and hurtled out of the owl-flap.
Harry smashed a pot against the wall, although he did have the presence of mind to choose one with a flaw in the glaze. Then he realised that he was exhibiting all the emotional immaturity of the Potions master himself. If his innate Gryffindor boldness was not enough to win the bad-tempered reclusive wizard, Harry had to out-Slytherin the arch Slytherin himself. For that, he needed help.
- - -
"So what were you thinking about?" Ron got to the heart of the matter with a single question. He and Hermione had listened as Harry told them how Snape had survived, resuscitated by Fawkes' tears as Harry had been saved when the Basilisk had bitten him in the Chamber of Secrets. Now Harry wriggled in his seat and tried not to blush.
"How relived I was that he'd survived; how he's mellowed and how glad I was to see him again."
"But why should he think you were mocking him?" Hermione tilted her head to one side, staring at her friend with narrowed eyes. "Harry?"
"I was thinking how much I wanted to mumble mumble…"
Ron and Hermione exchanged one of those swift glances that carried as much meaning as a full conversation.
"Harry? I didn't quite get that - it sounded like you said you wanted to kiss his nose?"
"Yeah," Harry muttered, staring at his feet. "I was thinking that if he leaned just a bit closer, I could lick the end of his nose."
"Um … mate, why would you want to?"
"'Cos he's mumble."
"He is a bit, isn't he?" Hermione murmured, making Harry stare at her and Ron look dubious.
"You think Snape's sexy? Snape? The greasy Potions master?"
"Yeah," Harry said with a sigh of defeat. "I know. Hit me with a stunning hex or something, but Merlin help me, he's the hottest thing I've seen in years."
"No he isn't, Ron. Harry's trusting us enough to come out to us, you could at least show a bit of sensitivity."
"I don't have any problem with anyone being gay – look at George or Dean and Seamus. I just have difficulty putting Snape and sex in the same thought and adding Harry to the mix is making my brain hurt. Emotional range of a teaspoon, I know."
"What am I going to do?" Harry asked, trying not to sound plaintive. "He threw me out, just when I'd found him and realised why we'd always had this connection."
"If he didn't feel anything for you, he would have laughed and taken the piss."
"That's very true. In those memories he left me, you can see how he always pushed people away when they tried to get close to him. He squabbled with my mum even though she was the only friend he had and he snapped and snarled at Dumbledore."
"Snape's father was a nasty piece of work, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, he beat up his wife even though she was a witch."
"So Snape's early experiences were of dysfunctional relationships. This doesn't bode too well, does it?"
"Hermione," Harry said with a determined tilt to his chin, "Are you saying that I don't understand dysfunctional families, or that I'd allow myself to be bullied? I want someone strong enough to be my equal."
"Well, mate, there aren't many of them around. Merlin knows how you're even going to get that old git to speak to you, 'cos I haven't a clue."
"But I have! Let me think about this for a bit."
Harry and Ron shared a grin that went all the way back to their first year at Hogwarts.
"Fancy a beer and a take-away? Since I'm knackered and it's obvious Madam isn't going to be cooking dinner any time soon…"
- - -
"A full pardon," said Kingsley Shacklebolt thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "He was a murderer, Harry."
"So am I."
Harry watched as the Minister shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"If it was anyone else asking, I'd have to refuse, you realise?" Kingsley narrowed his eyes. "Why him, Harry, and why now?"
Harry simply smiled and waited. He was so glad that it had never occurred to him to ask for political favours before. Kingsley nodded, reaching for the ink. Harry watched Kingsley's quill scratching over the charmed ministry parchment.
"Here you are, then. Something tells me this isn't the last I'm going to hear of this."
"You're probably right." Harry watched as the scroll rolled up with a snap, replicated itself and the copy swooped out of the office to bury itself in the vast archives of the Ministry of Magic. Kingsley held out the original.
Harry saluted him and took the scroll. "I owe you for this."
Kingsley shook his head, slightly bemused.
"There speaks the man who could take over the entire Wizarding world if he wanted. You're welcome, Harry."
- - -
Harry Potter held up a hand and surreptitiously cast a Shield Charm between himself and Snape's front doorstep.
"Just give me two minutes of your time, okay?"
"Why should I, Potter?"
"I've got something that might interest you." Carefully, aware that the angry wizard was twitching visibly, Harry unrolled the parchment and held it up. Snape's eyes narrowed as he read the Ministry pardon. "It's genuine," Harry said, "Test it any way you want. The copy is in the Ministry archive."
Snape scowled and reached out; using his fingertips to ease the scroll from Harry's grasp, as if he feared that it would bite him if roughly handled.
"And what if I do not wish to return to the Wizarding world?"
"At least you have the choice. You didn't get many opportunities to choose anything in your life, did you?"
Snape's gaze flicked up to his face.
"I made my choice many years ago, Potter. Good day."
Harry stuck his foot in the way as Snape attempted to shut the front door, casting a hasty charm to prevent his toes from being crushed as Snape leaned his weight against the wood.
"Don't be daft, you were barely more than a kid at the time."
"And what were you, when you were asked to sacrifice your very life?"
"Exactly." That confused Snape enough that Harry was able to ease the door open again. "Why won't you talk to me?"
"Oh for – just get inside and stop making a public spectacle of yourself, Potter!"
Ducking his head to disguise his grin, Harry followed Snape into the candlelit, book-lined living room. Snape placed the scroll on the desk, turned round and stood with his arms folded. "Why, Potter? What is your point?"
"I owe you."
Snape shook his head. The strands of his hair swung with the movement and a tendril strayed across his cheek. Harry found himself mesmerised by it, that simple black stripe across sallow skin, like a line drawn with the finest of pens.
"Everything I did was done with a single purpose in mind, and that purpose was achieved. There is nothing more to say or do."
"So why did you put your life on hold? Why didn't you emigrate, or open an apothecary? Why didn't you do something for yourself? I don't understand. You don't use magic, do you?" Snape's lips tightened and his eyes narrowed, which was as good as an admission. "The wards on your door have been there for years, you live like a Muggle and a poor one at that. I don't understand."
"When have you ever understood anything, Potter?"
Harry certainly understood enough to know that the more Snape snapped and snarled, the closer he must be to something important. He needed to follow the spite.
"I understood that we were sacrifices to the same end and we survived in a similar way. Dumbledore arranged for Fawkes to save you if he possibly could, but I don't think he imagined that you'd live like this."
"How I live is none of your business. Have you quite finished?"
"Yes, it is my business." Harry felt giddy with a rush like flying high on his Firebolt. "Friends care about each other, Professor Snape, and whether you like it or not, I regard you as one of my friends. No one knew you were alive, otherwise people would have come to see you."
Snape's lip curled.
"Really, Potter? The Weasleys would invite themselves to tea, would they? Your little girlfriend would turn up with a basket of cakes or Hogwarts would send a bevy of schoolchildren round to visit the war veteran? I think not."
"Minerva McGonagall thinks that you're dead, but when I told her that you might have survived, she wanted to believe me. Your statue is with the other heroes at Hogwarts. Anyway, Ginny hasn't been my girlfriend for years." Harry did not want to think about why that particular statement felt so important.
"The last time we met, Minerva and I were attempting to kill each other."
"No." Harry shook his head quite as emphatically as Snape had. "You weren't trying to kill her; you jumped out of a window rather than be pushed into killing anyone. The fact that she, Filius Flitwick and Pomona Sprout were trying to kill you simply says a great deal for your success as a spy and an actor. If they hadn't believed you were on Voldemort's team, you'd have failed."
Snape winced at the name.
"None of this explains why you are here now."
"Nor why you're hiding from the world."
"Why?" The single word was a gasp, filled with exasperation and something a little more vulnerable, something akin to bewilderment.
"Because what you saw in my mind wasn't mocking you at all."
"Then you're truly a fool! No-one wants a Death Eater, Potter, least of all the shiny, squeaky-clean hero of the Wizarding world."
"Don't tell me what I want or don't want!" Harry took a step towards Snape without consciously considering whether he was inviting disaster. Snape stood still, breathing hard. The heat that came off him was like the glow of a candle against Harry's skin. Snape was here, truly alive, in all his vitriolic power, and Harry wanted nothing more than to bathe in that intense passion.
Then something happened, something so small and yet so significant that it took his breath away; Snape broke eye contact and inclined his head a fraction.
"I wanted," Harry breathed, "to touch you, that was all. Just to touch you, to feel that you're real." As if reaching out towards a skittish unicorn, Harry raised his hand and allowed his fingertips to brush against Snape's cheek. The skin was smooth and pliant, more real than marble or clay. Harry was overwhelmed by the fragility and the power of that simple touch.
Snape closed his eyes, the black lashes folding down like the wings of moths.
"Don't." Snape took in a breath, shaking with deep emotion. "Please, don't."
"Why?" Harry's response was equally soft, equally laden with feeling. "I want you and I think you might want me."
The words hung on the air, stated aloud, no longer the swirling, amorphous hints of Legilimency. Poised in that moment, waiting for Snape to explode into incandescent rage, Harry tried to fix the feel of Snape's skin into his memory. He slid his fingers apart, laying them flat so that he could cup Snape's face in his palm and feel the roughness of stubble on his jaw.
Snape opened his eyes to stare down into Harry's, and Harry felt his mind unfurling like a flower, displaying his heart, with Snape suspended there like an insect, feather-light, armed with a scorpion's sting.
"Now do you believe me?"
"I don't understand."
What an admission for the master of sarcasm and dark knowledge to make to the son and godson of his old enemies! This, more than anything, shook Harry to his core.
"We don't need to understand anything, Severus, we deserve to live and feel, and surely that's enough?"
At last, Snape moved. He reached up to cup Harry's head in return, long warm fingers making him shiver as they ghosted over his cheeks, his ears, folded into his hair and then gently tipped his head and held it still as Snape drew closer still.
"This is all beyond my comprehension, a world that I know nothing about. I am not… proficient with matters of the heart."
"Yes, you are. You've loved and you've cared."
"No more than that."
Harry's breath hitched in his chest.
"Will you let me teach you?"
"The Darkest of Dark Arts," Snape murmured, his breath warm against Harry's face, "Damn you, Potter, why are you doing this to me?" Then, without waiting for a response, Snape brought his mouth down over Harry's.
Something in Harry soared in exultation as Snape's lips pressed against his own. He opened his mouth and tasted the man for the first time, and the hints of tea and toothpaste were as real as the candles that stuttered and wavered, sending their light and faint, sharp scent of burning across the room. Candlelight… he was kissing Snape by candlelight and he never wanted to stop. Harry had never kissed a man before and now he understood what he had missed and wanted all his life.
They clung together like shipwrecked mariners, cast up on a beach and stunned by the ferocity of the storm unleashed from a clear sky.
"This…" Snape ran his hands down Harry's sides, fingertips juddering down the cage of his ribs to rest on his hips, hot through the fabric of his jeans, or maybe the heat was his own. Harry could no longer tell.
There was no need to ask 'do you want this?' or 'are you sure?' when the Legilimency of need thrummed between them like a visible glow. Harry blinked. They were glowing indeed, golden light pouring through the room as the phoenix materialised on the desk, sending rolled parchments rustling to the carpet. Fawkes gave a small trill, cocking his head.
"Yes?" Snape snapped, still Snape and still acerbic even with this most magical of creatures. Fawkes stepped delicately to the edge of the desk, spread his wings and threw back his head. Harry recognised the melody from Dumbledore's funeral, the phoenix's farewell. Fawkes sang for a couple of minutes then he sprang into the air.
"Goodbye," Snape whispered.
"Thank you for looking after him," Harry added. The phoenix chirped and vanished in a spiral of flames. A single long, red-gold feather floated down onto the desk.
Snape and Harry turned to one another as if magnetised. Harry slid one thigh between Snape's, pressing his erection against the man's leg. He heard Snape's breath catch and then something hard jutted into his stomach and he grinned, deliberately rubbing up against it. Realising that Snape was not yet confident enough to take the initiative, Harry slid one hand down and grasped the long, hard cock through Snape's woollen trousers.
Snape's voice was a deep, growling purr that seemed to bypass Harry's ears and vibrate through his balls. "Yeah," he agreed, and then whined as Snape's fingers stroked across the front of his tight jeans. "Please…"
"Upstairs," Snape said. The word eventually wriggled through the hot mush of Harry's brain and he followed Snape, back into the hall and up the steep, narrow stairs into a bedroom. The blankets, clothes and rug were precisely folded but threadbare, and Harry silently vowed that next time, there would be warmth and light and – was he a bloody wizard or not? He drew his wand, enlarged the bed, cast a warming charm on it and conjured floating candles.
Snape gazed at him out of Occluded eyes until Harry wondered if he had insulted his host. Then Snape turned away and opened the trunk under the window. It was old and dented; Harry wondered if this had been his old school trunk. From it, he withdrew a roll of cloth and with swift, clinically efficient movements, flicked it open and took out his wand. Harry could see the length of dark wood settling into Snape's hand like a cat, he imagined how this must feel, taking back his magic, allowing it to bloom inside himself without fear of discovery and imprisonment.
"Welcome back, Severus Snape."
Snape faced him with an expression that was as feral as anything Harry had ever seen in a Potions classroom.
"Is it not a good thing that Shacklebolt trusts us both?"
"Together we could do just about anything."
Snape slid his fingers up and down his wand, the movement so sensual that Harry's cock twitched and became, if possible, even harder. Snape saw the direction of his gaze and to Harry's amazement; a faint blush crept over the high cheekbones.
"This, as well."
"I thought you were never going to – umph!"
Thrown backwards onto the magically extended bed, his arms full of Snape, Harry let out a whoop of delight and shoved back a hank of black hair in search of something to kiss. It happened to be an ear, and he found out quite by accident how sensitive Snape's ears were, and how licking them reduced the man to whimpering.
- - -
"I hate the thought of Harry spending Christmas all alone. Poor dear, he's had so little joy in his life." Molly Weasley took a mug of eggnog from the tray offered by her husband.
"I'm sure he'll be fine." Arthur helped himself to the last drink and smiled around at the gathering of redheads and their partners and offspring. "Just think, next year there'll be another little one here to wrap presents for!" He held up his glass in the direction of his youngest son, who grinned and leaned to kiss Hermione's cheek. Molly refused to be so easily distracted.
"You know our Harry, so convinced that he's a burden to people and can't see how much we love having him here. We should Floo him and –"
"Mum, that's a very, very bad idea."
"Hello, Wonnikins obviously knows something we don't," George leaned across to prod Ron on the shoulder with the nutcrackers.
"Harry has a friend round for Christmas," Hermione stated, taking a glass of pumpkin juice offered by Fleur but refusing yet another mince pie.
"That sort of friend, I see." George gave an exaggerated wink, "Who's the lucky fella – oh, bollocks!" He stared at Hermione and Ron, ignoring the exclamations, the clicking of Molly's tongue and the laughter. "Don't tell me – he hasn't? Has he?"
Hermione gave a secretive little smile and a quick nod. George subsided, sniggering to himself and shaking his head in amazement. Before Bill and Charlie could question him, the clock on the wall whirred and produced the first of the twelve chimes of Christmas. As they all raised their glasses to wish each other a happy Christmas, Ginny, who had been sitting in the window seat with her new boyfriend, pointed outside.
"Look, a Patronus!"
The ghostly stag paced across the snowy yard to the door, which Arthur hastened to open. It stepped inside, head held regally high, then turned to stare out into the night. A silver doe walked in, her ears pricked, her eyes black and knowing. She leaned up to sniff delicately at the stag's muzzle and he licked her, a quick, subtle flick of the tongue.
"Happy Christmas, Weasleys!" The voice was Harry's and everyone chorused a response.
Hermione stood up and faced the doe.
"Merry Christmas, Professor Snape."
There was dead silence for a moment then Ron raised his glass.
"Have a good one, Professor."
"Great Merlin, I thought I recognised that Patronus…" Arthur whispered to himself.
The doe inclined her head graciously, her expression as close to a smirk as it was possible to get on the hair-covered face of an herbivore.
"Come over to our place for a drink on Boxing Day," Hermione said quickly as the Patroni turned to leave. She nudged her husband and Ron grinned.
"Yeah, both of you. I challenge you to a game of wizard chess!"
The silvery deer exchanged a glance then the doe nodded once and they leaped out of the doorway.
A golden aura surrounded them, like the trailing nimbus of a phoenix's feather, shining for a moment in their eyes before they melted away into the darkness. Perhaps it was just the glow of candlelight spilling out of the Burrow's windows, but to the watching Weasleys, it looked remarkably like joy.