Harry walked through the covered market, mentally checking off his shopping list. Leeds was bustling, full of students newly arrived for the term. First years excitedly exploring their boundaries and the initial flushes of young adulthood. It made him feel old and a little alone. Next year, he would be shopping for two as Lily joined her brothers at Hogwarts. The family home would return to being just him and Ginny, their children flying the nest. He felt a strange twinge of envy for the muggles around him, the muggle parents who had their children for longer. He had been so grateful to escape the Dursleys to Hogwarts at the tender age of 11, but now that he was parting with his own children all he could think was how young they were. How much of their formative years he and Ginny would miss out on.
He wondered if it was age and fatherhood that was altering his thinking, or maybe living in an anonymous muggle city. He liked Leeds, a simple yet friendly place. He even liked the students, in a way. Magic meant any rowdiness by student neighbours failed to penetrate their little house. Ginny had been confused initially at his desire to raise their children at least partially in the muggle world, but with her growing fame as an internationally recognised Quidditch player she had agreed that it was good for them. The wizarding world was small and insular, and Harry feared the impact of his fame on his children's chances at living an almost normal life. They would never be normal, they would know about their history and Hogwarts would undoubtedly be a different experience for them than any other wizarding child, but giving them a humble grounding seemed sensible to him at least. He had not believed it possible, but watching Ginny's careful dedication to learning to pass as a muggle had made him fall even more in love with her. He had come to realise that it was not easy for purebloods like her to adapt so easily, as seen by the way that Ron still struggled with relatively basic things at times.
Having bought the vegetables he needed with a smile and casual exchange of friendly greeting, he headed towards the fishmonger he had grown accustomed to buying from. The fishmonger flashed him a quick smile of recognition, before returning to his current customer. Harry smiled easily in response and gave a cursory glance at the wares on offer. He already knew what he wanted, so he let his gaze wander round the market stalls. Watching carefree muggles going about their grocery shopping was peaceful in a way. It served as a constant, soothing reminder of why he kept doing his job, and why he had faced Voldemort all those years ago.
Amongst the throng of people, a young man caught his eye, and everything else in the world seemed to fall out of focus. He was dressed all in black. Black boots, black jeans, black jacket. His hair was black, falling to his shoulders. He wasn't looking at Harry, but Harry was certain even at the distance that his eyes were a deep, mysterious black. The face was younger than Harry had ever known it to be, but even unlined the underlying structure was the same. The same hooked nose, the same sharp cheekbones, the same set of his jaw. There was even a ghost of a frown playing over his features.
The fishmonger touched his arm, breaking his reverie. Harry looked at him in surprise.
"You alright?" the fishmonger asked, in his reassuringly warm voice, "You seemed to be away wit' fairies there for a moment…"
Harry glanced back up to where he had seen the young man, but he was gone. Lost in the crowds, if he had ever been there to start with. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of all the thoughts that suddenly swirled and enthused his every sense. All the memories that clamoured for attention, clamoured for him to review and analyse them for every tiny detail he might have missed. Occlumency, the learning of which had been a hard won battle he never fully accomplished, helped keep the worst of the swirling chaos from overwhelming him.
"Sorry," he said out loud to the fishmonger, a kindly chap wearing a concerned expression, "Thought I saw someone I used to know for a moment,"
The fishmonger nodded at this explanation, "Sorry for keeping you waiting, that lady couldn't quite make up her mind what she wanted,"
Harry smiled vaguely, remembering a dark voice telling him to clear his mind. He tried, focusing on the fish in front of him, "Four fillets of mackerel please," he said calmly. The transaction went smoothly, but Harry would have struggled to recount any of the details had he been quizzed on them. His mind was in the past, remembering a man who had played a crucial role in his life. In the same daze of memories he turned and walked home.
Hours later, the floo in the Potter house flared and Ginny stepped through with a cheerful yell of "I'm home!" She was looking forward to having a relaxing bath after what had proved to be a trying day. She loved her job, but she found some of the meetings to be the unpleasant combination of boring and stressful. She was grateful that it was Harry's turn to cook and that therefore there was nothing more she needed to worry about for the rest of the day.
She heard a vague "Hi mum," from the direction of Lily's bedroom, though nothing more.
"…Harry?" she called out, questioning. She knew he was supposed to be home. The fact that Lily seemed to be home suggested he had picked her up from school. He had been intending to go shopping and make tea for them. She hoped he had done so, as she didn't think she had the energy left if she had to do it herself.
Curiously, she walked up the stairs. She peered round the door of the small study off the landing, where the children weren't allowed. It was here they kept important mementos, mostly from the war. The items that weren't quite appropriate to have lying about, but that Harry in particular could never dream of parting with.
She sighed heavily, gazing at her husband. He was sitting at the desk, old photographs spread in front of him. The pensieve was out, and she could see he'd been watching old memories. The carefully fashioned goblet that bore the engraving Severus Snape's Memories was out and unstoppered, the silver tendrils swirling around in the pensieve. He met her eyes, an odd, haunted look on his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked in sudden concern that this was more than one of his regular, maudlin trips down memory lane, "You look as if you just saw a ghost…"
"I think I did," he replied, his voice sounding tired and lost. He looked both far older than he should, yet at the same time the innocent confusion of the very young played across his slight frown.
She came into the study, all thoughts of her bath forgotten for the time being. She crouched by the chair, taking his hand and drawing it to her lips, "Harry…"
He looked into her soft brown eyes, full of love and worry.
"Who did you think you saw?" she asked gently, stroking his hand with her fingers.
"Snape…" he answered, gesturing to the photographs and pensieve. She glanced at them and noted that the photographs were almost entirely of Snape. They weren't the ones showing the man she remembered from school, but rather the few photographs of him as a teenager and very young man. She had not entirely understood Harry's need to collect those photographs, but she understood that it mattered to him to try to understand the man who'd been a constant enemy and protector so she'd quietly supported it while monitoring him carefully for worrying behaviour.
"Snape," she repeated gently, her eyes returning to Harry.
"Yeah," he said with a heavy sigh, "I could have sworn I saw him in the market…"
Ginny smiled almost indulgently and stroked his face, "You can't have," she said simply, "If he was going to come back as a ghost, it would have happened by now. And he'd have appeared at Hogwarts or the Shack, not Leeds market,"
Harry smiled ruefully, "I know," he admitted, "I just can't shake it. It just looked so much like him…"