Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Anularius. Thanks for reading along.
Chapter Sixteen—With a Bump
Harry opened his eyes to whirling confusion. He was seeing a rushing group of people in front of him, all of whom seemed to be intent on disassembling a golden cage from around Harry. Harry blinked and sat up. He didn't understand why the heartsblood jewel hadn't brought them back to the same place in the Department of Mysteries that they'd reached on their first trip into the past together. It was probably some mysterious Unspeakable thing.
"Perhaps you can cease to point your wand at me? I assure you, I am with Harry."
Harry stood up with a small groan, stretching his legs and arms out, and saw Hermione with her wand aimed at Severus through the bars of the cage. Harry grimaced. Of course something like this was going to happen, in precisely the way so that he would have the most trouble explaining what had really happened to Hermione.
"He is," Harry added, when Hermione turned an incredulous glare on him. Despite the way they'd come back and the fact that the Unspeakables had manipulated him, Harry felt a burst of happiness as he looked at his friend. He was back in his own time, and it had to have survived most of the things he'd done in the past. "We created a copy of him to stay in the past and go through the timeline."
Hermione's wand didn't waver. "You still can't just take someone out of their normal timeline, Harry!"
Harry blinked. Maybe the Unspeakables they'd met on that first trip to the future hadn't told Hermione about what had happened then, after all, the way Harry had assumed they would. "Then why did you send me back into a different one?"
"That's different! You returned eventually. You've just taken Snape out of his original timeline with no intention of returning him, haven't you?" Hermione finally lowered her wand, but she was ruffling one hand through her hair in a way that Harry knew meant she was exasperated.
"Harry had very little choice in the matter," said Severus, in a stuffy, snotty voice Harry had never heard him use, and which made him stare in astonishment. He stepped around to the side and gripped Harry's hand hard enough to bend a few of his fingers. Harry winced. "I saw him right away, recognized him, and made it impossible for him to leave without me."
"Because he told you about the future, right?" Hermione's voice was resigned, and she gave Harry a stern glance. "I knew we should have sent someone back with you."
"You had every opportunity to do so." Severus's voice had gone cold in a way that Harry had only, previously, heard with him in school. He blinked sideways at Severus, but Severus was too busy glaring at Hermione to notice. Maybe it was just an instinctive dislike, because both of them were used to being the biggest intellects in the room. "Why didn't you?"
"Because no one else could use the gifts that Harry could, and we did count on Harry being able to keep out of the way of people who could change history." Hermione shook her head at Harry. "I don't think anything major changed, but we wouldn't know if the change had become part of our history, would we?"
"Exactly," said Severus, still in a voice like a glacier. "You would not know. And that means nothing major has changed, and you should stop fussing at Harry over something that was always meant to happen."
"It wasn't always meant to happen. He was meant to go back, and find the—the artifact, and—"
"It's all right, Hermione," Harry interrupted quietly. "I already brought him here once, and the Unspeakables we met said that they knew it would happen, that they'd had glimpses of the future that included Severus."
Hermione's mouth opened slowly, and she spun to look at the cloaked and hooded Unspeakables behind her. They only looked back without moving, and Harry had the notion that the ones responsible wouldn't reveal themselves.
"It's irresponsible," Hermione breathed. "It's dangerous."
Harry shrugged, wondering if he had just grown indifferent to Hermione's lectures because he'd heard them repeated so much. "Well, they said that this was the way things were supposed to work out, and it's the way it happened. I think it's all right."
"Tell me what happened."
Harry started to, but Severus interrupted with a little snap in his voice. "Perhaps someone could let us out of this uncomfortable cage first?"
"Of course," said one of the Unspeakables behind Hermione, whose voice was suspiciously familiar. Harry glared at him, but he only moved off to the side and touched a crystal chain that made the rest of the cage unfold and lie on the floor, and of course Harry couldn't see his face at all. He sighed and stepped out. Severus trailed him and put one hand on his shoulder. Harry watched Hermione blink, putting things together.
"Did he insist on coming back because the two of you are—"
"And perhaps we could have a meal, and a rest?" Severus interrupted. "It is exhausting, traveling through time."
"I did destroy the Horcrux, Hermione," Harry reassured her. "But Severus is right." Well, it was less that he thought Severus was right and more that he thought Severus would squeeze his shoulder off if he stayed in the same room with Hermione much longer. "I'll tell you all about it later, after we've had a chance to relax."
Hermione nodded, half-smiling. "Of course. I never thought you would have come back if you hadn't destroyed it, Harry."
"A strange way she has of showing her faith in you," Severus breathed into Harry's ear as they turned and made their way up the stairs that led out of the Department.
Harry rolled his eyes at him, and said nothing in return. Severus would have to learn how to get along with his friends sooner or later.
"It is no wonder that you are accustomed to people treating you like an idiot."
Harry rolled his eyes for the fourth time. They had come back to his flat, because they had arrived in the middle of the night and the Unspeakables were confident they wouldn't try to chat to anyone about time travel in an unauthorized way, and Severus had eaten what Kreacher had brought them. But then, instead of sleeping, he'd insisted on pacing around Harry's drawing room and denouncing Hermione.
"It's not specific to me," Harry said. "She does that to everyone. She doesn't trust most people to survive without her experience of things. And honestly, she was right, a lot, in the past. She saved my life I can't tell you how many times when we were hunting the other Horcruxes."
"And she treats you like an idiot."
Harry sighed and sat down in one of the chairs. He wanted to sleep. Perhaps he would just go in and lie in his bed anyway, to encourage himself, if Severus didn't shut up soon. "Imagine what she'll say when she learns we're lovers."
Severus paused, alert. Harry thought he was contemplating the possibilities, but instead, he turned around and studied Harry with an unusually blank look on his face. "That is the first time you have willingly called us that."
"It can't be the first time." Harry tried to search his memory. "Can it?"
"It is the first time I choose to remember." Severus moved forwards, dangerously smiling now. "Would you care to make it official in front of your friends?"
"What do you mean? Use that word in front of them?" Harry blinked and shrugged. "I was planning on telling them anyway."
"I was more thinking that I might persuade you to…kiss me in front of them," Severus breathed, sliding an arm around his shoulders. "Or perhaps do something even deeper and more long-lasting."
Harry opened his mouth to comment—it was probably going to be that and not protest, at least he thought so—when Severus began to kiss him. Harry laughed softly, which Severus probably didn't notice because then he would have protested, and curled his fingers in Severus's hair, pulling him down to the couch.
Then the fire turned green, and Severus got to fulfill one of his wishes earlier than Harry had thought he would as Ron's voice said, "Mate? What's—urgh."
Severus straightened up, brushing imaginary dust off his clothes as he murmured, "Your friends are the most judgmental and short-sighted people I have met. Including many of the Hogwarts students I have taught."
"They were some of the students you taught at Hogwarts," Harry said, battling back the insane urge to laugh, which would probably only get his friends the more upset at him. Severus, maybe not, but only because Ron would be uncomfortable.
"A version of me. I am happy to say I have never had that pain."
Harry finished straightening his robe collar as much as it would get straightened, especially because Severus was eyeing it in a way that told Harry he would probably just pull it out of line again if it became too formal for his liking. "Yes, Ron. Did Hermione tell you about who I brought back with me?"
He had wondered if Ron would recognize Severus, but he needn't have spent time on that wonder. Ron's eyes were twice as big as normal, and his nostrils about three times as big.
"Hermione told me you were back," Ron whispered. "That you brought someone with you. She didn't say—she didn't say he was our age and snogging the daylights out of you!" He shouted that last part loudly enough that one of Harry's neighbors thumped on the wall. Harry hoped he wouldn't have to go over and explain things in the morning.
"Well, she didn't know about the snogging part," Harry said. "Not like we did it in front of her."
"Now that you know," Severus said, in a voice that gave Harry the impression he thought he was talking to something from the bottom of a pond, "perhaps you can inform her. And anyone else who considers Harry their friend but intends to scold him before they listen to a single word he says."
Harry frowned at Severus, who stared unapologetically back. Harry sighed and turned to Ron. "Yes, I do snog him. We became lovers back in his time. Don't worry, though. We created a copy of him and had it live out the part in the timeline that he should have taken, so nothing is going to be disrupted by him being here."
"My eyes are pretty bloody disrupted," Ron moaned, and there was the sound of him covering them.
"Mr. Weasley." Severus's voice had dropped into an arctic region that Harry thought he was the only one to have brought into being when they were at school. "Do you regularly Floo your friends at one in the morning to yell at them?"
"When they've been time-traveling and hauled back a Snape with them for no apparent reason, yeah."
"I am the only living Snape, and you will not need to face this situation again in the future, now that you know," said Severus in clipped tones. "I am sure you will understand the need to ask in advance, before simply using the Floo and projecting your unwanted insecurities into our relationship."
"Insecurities? Just wait a minute, Snape—"
"Ron," Harry interrupted, and he thought it was his exhausted tone that did it. "We can wait for the morning, right? We're still friends no matter what happens, I know that, and I know that you'll come to terms with this the way you've come to terms with lots of things about me. But it can start in the morning."
There was a long moment when Harry thought Ron might not agree to let it go, and then he snorted and said, "Right, mate. But just remember that you've got a lot of friends who want to see you at Ginny's birthday party tomorrow."
Harry groaned a little. He had forgotten about that. "Well, I'll see you there," he said, diplomatically deciding he didn't need to mention Severus. "Right?"
Ron finally took the hint, and shut himself out of the Floo with lots of grumbling. Harry shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. He had thought he'd have confrontations, sure, but mostly with the press and the Unspeakables, not the entirety of his adopted family all at once. Or in one day, if he could count Ron separately.
"I am coming with you to the party."
Harry rolled his eyes at Severus. "You don't need to. You'll probably have to catch up on your sleep anyway, right?" He resolutely ignored the way that Severus's hand was creeping down his robes towards his buttons.
"You will, as well." Severus bit him gently on the ear, and then harder when Harry gave nothing in the way of protest except a moan. "We can go together. Late or rested or sleep-deprived. Although perhaps it would be best not to go at all. Then, I wouldn't have to be further disappointed by your taste in friends."
"They were nice to me when no one else was," Harry said quietly, and took Severus's hand, holding it steady while he leaned back and looked into the man's black eyes. "They took me in when no one else had ever offered that before. I don't want you being mean to them."
Severus hesitated, then nodded. "I will attempt to curb my tongue as long as they refrain from making remarks about you and me that I can interpret wrongly."
"Which is almost everything," Harry muttered, and didn't know if he should be reassured by Severus's thin smile.
But the smile melted into a much broader one a minute later, and Severus kissed him with an aching tenderness that dissolved Harry's fears for tomorrow.
"Hello, Harry, dear. Severus."
Harry had to admire the way Molly pulled that off. She spoke in a tight tone, and her nod was stiff, but she didn't seem inclined to shut her door in Severus's face and turn him away. Severus could come inside with everyone else, and if he was looking around the Burrow with the air of storing up memories for later so he could make disparaging remarks to Harry in privacy, that was still better than how Harry had thought things would go with Molly. Their interview that morning with the Unspeakables hadn't been bad.
"Hi, Molly." Harry kissed Molly on the cheek, not hugging her right now—he wasn't sure it was right for the mood when she hadn't hugged him as they came in—and handed her the silver-wrapped package he'd got for Ginny. He ignored the stares from George, Angelina, Bill, Fleur, and Bill and Fleur's children, the only people in the house right now. "Are the others out in the garden?"
"That's right." Molly beamed at him. "And Ginny's waiting to practice Quidditch moves with you."
"Of course you were a fan of Quidditch," was the only thing Severus said under his breath as they went out into the garden.
"Seeker for Gryffindor," Harry said, grinning, and enjoyed the disgusted look on Severus's face for a second before he turned around and waved to the Weasleys. Ginny was waiting for him, bouncing her foot a little beside her broom. It looked new, Harry saw. He wondered if George had got it for her. The joke shop was doing rather well.
"Harry!" Ginny stared at Severus for a moment, and then visibly dismissed him in favor of stretching her leg over the broom and grinning at him. "Got a minute?"
"Oh, it'll take longer than a minute," Harry said, and took the broom that Ron handed him. Ron was standing on the other side of Harry so he wouldn't have to look at Severus; he even used the broom to block his own line of sight to him. Harry didn't much care. As long as people weren't screaming at each other, it was still good. "I'll probably take at least five minutes to completely humiliate you."
"The overconfidence, where does it come from?" Ginny teased him, and then zoomed into the air. Harry followed her a second later. His broom was older and slower than Ginny's, and he still missed his Firebolt.
But it didn't matter. The minute that Ron released the Snitch, Harry felt the familiar happiness flood his body. It was born of the afternoon air and the soft sun above him and the soft blueness and clouds around him, and also of the fact that he knew he could catch the Snitch before Ginny.
He dived. He heard gasps, or what sounded like them, from the ground; maybe it was just the wind in his ears. He swirled around and rose straight up, and saw Ginny staring at him as if she'd been hit with a Stunner.
Harry snapped his hand out and caught the Snitch, then displayed it to Ginny on his open palm. The Snitch just sat there tamely, not even trying to flutter away again, as if it knew when it was fairly caught.
Ginny snorted like an Abraxan. "Best two out of three?"
Harry nodded casually, released the Snitch, and let Ginny rise, looking for it. Then he turned and circled in the opposite direction, coming around from the outside, bending down and picking up the Snitch like it was standing still.
Laughing, Harry let the Snitch go again. Ginny circled past him, glaring. People were cheering from the ground, but Harry had never let noise like that distract him, and he didn't do it now. He saluted Ginny. "I lied," he said. "Sorry, it wasn't even a minute."
"I don't know how you can even see it that well with vision like yours," Ginny muttered at him, and then shook her head. "Anyway. I want you to give me some more time, this time. Land and let me look for it."
"Whatever you need to beat me," Harry said, and winked at her, and dived down to land beside Severus, who stared at him as if he was a dragon. Ginny circled overhead. Harry tilted his head back and watched her, counting under his breath.
She was looking in the wrong direction, of course. Harry could have told her that, having seen a flash of gold from the opposite side of the field. But he would let her do whatever she needed to show that she could beat him.
And she probably could have, if she was on a broom a lot better and had practiced more. Harry had more years of Seeking behind him than she did, a simple, unfair advantage.
"You never told me you could fly like that."
Harry tilted his head towards Severus without taking his eyes off Ginny. "It never came up."
"Just like—" said Severus, and stopped.
Harry turned and considered him. "Yes, like my father," he said, and ignored the way that Severus flinched as if Harry had drawn claws across his face. "Can you live with that? Because I promise, this is going to come up more than once. A lot more than once." He wasn't a professional Quidditch player, but he played a lot with Ron and Ginny, and sometimes with a changing group of people from the Ministry.
"It is another side of you," said Severus slowly, as if watching unexpected ingredients boil in a cauldron. He glanced around once, then nodded. "And this is yet another."
"The Burrow? The Weasleys?" Harry smiled softly at him. "I told you, not everyone I might associate with thinks I'm an idiot. Not even most people."
"No one considers you an idiot, mate," said Ron, without looking at him. In fact, he was looking at Ginny, too.
Severus looked as if he disagreed with that, but he swallowed back whatever remarks he might have made, and murmured, "That you have other people who—love you. I had begun to imagine you as isolated as myself."
"Despite the references I made to my friends?" Harry asked, amazed, but he understood a second later. "Because I was as isolated as you were, back in your time. I didn't belong there, and I showed it in a lot of different ways."
Harry reached out and brushed Severus's arm with as light and quick a withdrawing touch as he could. "You'll always be important to me," he whispered. "Unless you decide to do something so different and Dark that you become a different person, anyway. But the Weasleys are important to me, too." He hesitated, then added, "You understand?"
That understanding, that concession, might have been reluctant, but Harry knew the Snape who had once been the only one could never have made it. And perhaps…
There would always be pain in the world, no matter what history they attempted to change. Dumbledore had been right about that. But perhaps it was also possible to ease some pain. Severus would never become the bitter, lonely old man he had once been. Harry had condemned someone else to that fate instead.
And if you hadn't condemned anyone to that fate? What would have happened?
No spy for Dumbledore. Harry might have died without some of the information Snape brought back. Dumbledore might have died in some other way than Snape killing him; perhaps Malfoy would have had to do it. And then he might have identified Harry when the Snatchers brought him to Malfoy Manor, and Harry would have died there.
Or perhaps no one would have heard the prophecy but Dumbledore and Trelawney, and Voldemort never would have learned about it, and Harry and his parents both would have led better lives. But the prophecy had to come true somehow, and what would have happened if Voldemort hadn't heard it from Snape? He would have targeted Neville, condemning him to a worse life? He would have targeted Harry anyway?
Harry sighed. No, there was no possible way to know all the alternate paths and outcomes and histories that he could have started or cut off or created. And he did like his life. If he had known a way his parents could survive, he would have taken that path, but not if he had also known that it would cost him his friends.
Who knows what's going to happen next? Harry asked himself next, looking up at Severus and then away, with a blush. I don't. I don't think I'm wise enough to decide things like that.
"You really are like that."
Harry turned, blinking, to Ron. His first thought was that Ginny must have caught the Snitch, because it was the only reason he could come up with for Ron looking away from her for a second.
Then he realized Ron was looking at him, and his eyes were passing over Severus—maybe not willingly, but without flinching away. Harry smiled and nodded.
"Yes," he said, when it became clear that Ron wasn't going to contribute anything else to the conversation. "We are. I think we will be for a good while."
Severus's hand closed on his, hard enough to hurt. Harry leaned against him with a sigh. This was just the way it was going to be. He doubted that Severus minded.
"Well," said Hermione, and Harry glanced at her to find her eyebrows raised and her head wisely nodding. "Good enough, then."
"I caught the Snitch!" Ginny shouted from overhead. There was a pause. "Was no one watching?"
Harry laughed, and the others laughed with him, except Severus. But if there was something deep and fierce in the way he held Harry against his side, Harry couldn't blame him for that. What mattered was that Severus seemed to have calmed down enough to stop making cutting remarks about his friends, the same way Ron had calmed down enough to look at them.
And with the help of the Unspeakables, presenting the remarkable appearance of Severus Snape as one of those mysteries that had to stay sealed in the Ministry's files and not be pried into too much…
Harry thought the chances of them both surviving and prospering were far stronger than good enough.