Warnings: Discussion of past sexual abuse, PTSD flashbacks and recovery.

Summary: Harry and Severus go back to Grimmauld Place after the honeymoon, ready to pack up, and find Regulus' portrait in the library. Sirius is able to talk for a short time through his link with his brother, and Harry and Severus find closure.

Notes: Finished! Damn but this came out fluffy. I meant to add a bit more angst to this story, but it just didn't work out that way. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the ride.


CHAPTER 17

EPILOGUE: ANSWERS

The honeymoon had ended, and Harry had come back to Grimmauld Place once more to pack up. Since Severus had always wanted to leave Spinner's End but had never found a reason to do so until now, they were moving into Harry's former home, for the rest of the summer at least.

Severus frowned at the looming house, looking a bit overwhelmed. "Where do we start?"

Harry shrugged. "Our bedroom, I suppose. I think most of our things are either in there, the kitchen, the loo, or the library."

"Ah. I believe we can handle that. I had feared we would be packing the entire house."

Harry shuddered. "Merlin, no. Just the books I'm keeping and my personal belongings. I don't think I want to curse anyone with this place."

"Harry, why not pass it on to Draco if you detest it so much?"

"Well, it's all I have left of …." Harry glowered at the thought of his godfather and his twisted perversions. "On second thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea. But I'm not leaving that bloody monster of a journal anywhere Draco could find it. Probably traumatise him to know what that bastard had almost done to his godfather." He lowered his head and kicked at the dirt. "And to me."

Severus looped an arm over Harry's shoulders and squeezed him tight. "I will handle the journal then."

"Merlin! Are you mad?" Harry gave him a sharp look. "You're not going near anything to do with that madman, you hear me?"

Severus shook his head. "Love, the man is dead. He cannot hurt me any longer, but you, who loved him—your wounds are still bleeding."

"I can't ask you to do that, Severus. Please, even if it does still hurt, let me handle the journal. I can't bear the thought of it being near you."

Severus gave him a sad smile. "Very well. If you feel safest handling it yourself, then I will swear not to touch it."

"Thanks, love." Harry kissed Severus' cheek and guided him up to the bedroom. "Come on. We're definitely taking your photo and mine out of here." He sat on the bed and conjured a padded box, intending to pack both photographs inside, but stopped cold at the sight of them. Photo-Severus was asleep in his frame, whimpering, tears running down his face, his entire body shaking. Photo Harry was asleep on his shoulder, but waking fast.

"A nightmare," the real Severus murmured, his expression pained. "I dread to think of what he might be seeing."

Harry shuddered. "Merlin." He raised his voice. "Severus! Wake up, love."

The man in the photo jerked up and sucked in a sharp breath. He batted photo-Harry away and ducked into a corner of his frame, hands over his face and trembling in terror. Harry had seen behaviour like that far too many times not to know what it meant.

"Dear gods."

The Harry in the photo gave the real Harry a tearful, pleading look.

"You know how to handle it," Harry said to his photo. "Slow and easy. Don't touch without permission. Remind him he's safe. Let him know you love him and you're always going to be there for him, even when he's scared and it hurts. He needs to know." He gave his mate a sad smile. "Even without this kind of trauma added in, Severus needs to know you see him as worthy of your love." He turned back to his photo image. "For your Severus, it's double."

Photo-Harry nodded and, with great care, walked to his mate's side. The real Harry and Severus watched, wrapped in each other's arms, as Photo-Severus slowly came to his senses. After a few moments, the traumatised image of Severus rose and went to his mate, burying his head in Photo-Harry's shoulder. Harry's image stroked his partner's hair and murmured silent words of love in his ear, and Photo-Severus held him tight.

"Let's leave them alone for a while," Harry said with a shake of his head. "I don't want to pack them up so soon after that. They need time to heal."

"I agree." Severus laid the photos on the nightstand once more. "Come. We will start in the library first." He gave the photo couple a worried look. "Will the two of you be all right?"

Photo-Severus lifted his head from Harry's shoulder and gave them a wan smile. He kissed his partner's cheek and nuzzled back into the safety of his arms. Over the traumatised image's head, Photo-Harry nodded and gave them a thumbs up.

"Take care of him for me," said the real Harry. At his image's firm nod, he left the room and guided Severus across the hall.

"Merlin! What happened here?"

They found the library in a state of disarray, half the books already packed into boxes and the rest lying about all over. Some remained on the shelves.

Severus examined the books on a table near them. "It appears your friends anticipated your desire to move and have started the process for us."

Harry grinned. "That's good to know. It'll certainly make things go smoother at any rate." He stretched and moved to the nearest shelf. "Well, let's get started." He examined the titles on the nearest shelf and passed them by. None of those books were on Regulus' 'ban list' and so he felt comfortable leaving them in the library.

"These seemed to be halfway sorted according to their nature," said Severus, pointing towards a stack on a nearby table. "All of these appear to be relatively innocuous."

"We'll leave those then. I just want to take the darkest books out and blood ward them so no one but decent people can ever look at them again."

Severus chuckled. "Our descendants would be able to use them."

"And they'll be decent people," said Harry with a grin.

"So sure of that, are we?"

"Well, they have good parents anyway." Harry shook his head. "I hope so, Sev, but I also plan to put an intent ward on all of those books regardless. And as we'll be sharing magic to do it, I hope, once we're done, no one but Merlin himself could bypass it."

"That will take some doing, Harry. There must be hundreds of dark books here."

Harry shrugged and started packing the books on the nearest table—all quite dark—into a box. "I don't plan to ward any Regulus didn't ban. Just the really dangerous ones."

A voice Harry hadn't heard in months answered him. "That will still take quite a while, you know. I banned a quarter of the library."

Heart pounding in his ears, Harry turned towards the voice. Regulus grinned at him from his portrait above the mantel, bright blue eyes alight with mischief.

"Regulus!" Harry raced to the portrait, tears blurring the edges of his vision, joy and wonder ringing through his spirit. "Oh Merlin, you're alive!"

The boy grimaced. "Um …."

Harry blushed. "Er … damn it, sorry about that. I just meant—you can talk! Gods, I … I wanted to meet you like this so much."

"I must admit," said a morbidly-amused Regulus, "I hadn't expected those to be the first words out of your mouth when you saw me."

Harry gave a wry laugh. "No, no. You should have done. I'm a bit of a dunderhead when it comes to things like that."

Severus wrapped his arm around Harry's shoulders and hugged him tight. "I am inclined to disagree."

"You're joking! You practically coined the term, Severus."

Severus laughed. "That word was in existence long before I laid claim to it."

Harry chuckled and leaned against his husband's embrace. "Still, Merlin, I'm glad to see you, Regulus. I was so afraid … we might never set you free."

Regulus shuddered. "Gods, but so was I. When I cursed the bitch, I never imagined I'd be cursing myself to twenty years of listening to her rant."

Severus cringed. "Sweet Circe. No one deserves that."

"Except for the bitch herself and her dearly departed boyfriend." Harry smirked. "Really, though, Regulus, what were you thinking using a dark curse when you didn't know the cost?"

Regulus raised an eyebrow. "I did know the cost. I simply did not imagine the 'soul shards' to be true pieces of souls rather than images."

Severus snorted. "Good effort, Harry."

"Oh, shut it." Harry softened his words by resting his head on Severus' shoulder. "I'm glad you're free, Regulus. It really hurt to think you were trapped there, slowly going mad."

Regulus shook his head. "Those soul pieces—they were static, Harry. They represented our personalities at the time of death, but they weren't capable of change. I was ready to die and cognizant of what I had gotten myself into, so I didn't change much. Bellatrix was utterly mad. Lupin and his wife were grieving the loss of their son when they died, so they couldn't move beyond it. And Sirius was hacked off at the world, so his soul piece was a bastard."

"Was?" Harry shuddered. "That man … he was messed up, Regulus."

Regulus gave Harry a sad smile. "I know. We all know. Between the time you bonded and your consummation, we were all kind of … floating on the other side. We were whole again, but hadn't quite made the jump. And Sirius … well, he was a wreck."

"Serves him right," Harry muttered.

"Harry …." Regulus gave Harry a searching look. "Do you … would you want to talk to him, if you could?"

Harry scowled. "Of course. I want answers. I want him to look me in the eye and tell me why he hurt Sev so much. I want to know why he thought it was okay to hang Sev up by hi—"

"Harry." Severus' nervous tone made Harry snap his mouth shut.

"Sorry, love."

"It is only that … Regulus is his brother. I did not feel comfortable revealing the worst of him to one who loved him."

Regulus shook his head. "I already know. He talked to me for hours that night, trying to make sense of his life and mine."

Harry sighed. "Well, it's no good to dwell on it anyway. It's too late now."

Regulus closed his eyes. "It isn't."

Harry went rigid. "What? What is that supposed to mean?"

"Sirius hasn't gone over yet. He's been waiting for you."

Harry frowned. "Why? He made it perfectly clear he didn't care about me."

"No, that piece of broken soul didn't, but the whole Sirius loves you."

Harry hugged his waist and leaned closer to his husband, needing the comfort of his warmth. "Well, t-that's good to know, but what good does it do? He's still dead, whether he's crossed over or not."

Regulus hesitated, his expression firming as if he were gathering his courage. "Harry, if you want to … um, it's just that he's my brother and we shared the same space for seven years. There's a link now. If you want to talk to him, you can, through my portrait."

Harry reeled into Severus' arms, cold and shaking. "I … w-we can? He can … come here?"

"Yes, just like the other portraits visit each other sometimes. Since Sirius doesn't have a portrait, at least not one we know of, it will only work until he … crosses over. But for now, if you want to ask him those questions, you can." Regulus gave Harry a sad smile. "If I may say so, think you need to. Both of you."

Severus tightened his arm around Harry's shoulders and turned to face his husband. "What do you want, Harry? Either way, I will support you."

Harry closed his eyes. "I want to, but I'm … I don't want you hurt. He's already done so much damage. And we're bonded now. If he's going to be all jealous and vicious … no."

Regulus shook his head. "Death gives clarity to the soul, Harry. He knows what he did is wrong, and he also knows the two of you are soul-bonded. I don't think he'll attack, but if he does, it's easy enough to boot him out of my portrait."

Severus looked to his husband and held his cheek. [It is your choice, love.]

Harry searched Severus' eyes for any sign of fear or hesitation. [Will you be okay? I … the last thing I want to do is hurt you.]

[He is dead, my love. He is dead, and I have an entire eternity to look forward to with you at my side. There is nothing he can do, nothing he can say which could take that joy away from me.]

Warmth and trust and love, not all Harry's own, filled the younger man's heart. He tip-toed to kiss his husband.

"You're sure?"

Severus nodded. "I am prepared to face him. And perhaps I need to."

Harry kissed him lightly and stepped back. "Okay, but if you get uncomfortable at any time, let me know and we'll send him packing. Promise me?"

Severus stroked Harry's cheek. "I promise."

"Good." Harry turned back to Regulus and gave him a cautious nod.

Regulus stepped aside, and a shaggy-haired, blue-eyed, tear-streaked man stepped into the canvas. Harry hadn't even time to open his mouth before Sirius slammed both hands against the canvas and pleaded in the most desperate voice he had ever heard from the man.

"Oh gods, Harry, I'm so sorry!"

Harry fixed him with a sharp gaze. "And Severus?"

Sirius gulped and looked to Harry's husband. His discomfort was plain, but the vicious hatred and barely-constrained fury had gone from his gaze. "Snape … gods. I don't even know what to say. I … I was so fucked up. Merlin, I'm sorry."

Severus stared at the man, his eyes sharp and searching. After a long moment, he nodded. "You caused me no end of pain during my school years, and again as an adult. However, I will accept your apology, on the condition that you never hurt Harry again."

Sirius turned to Harry and gave him a tearful smile. "I can't. This is … my last moment. The last chance I have to tell him—to tell you, pup—how much I love you, and how bloody sorry I am that … the shade of me hurt you so badly. And your …." He swallowed hard. "Your husband. I am sorry, Harry, from the bottom of my heart, for everything I have done to hurt you both."

Severus squeezed Harry's shoulders. "It is enough for me."

Harry turned Severus' face towards him and gave him a soft kiss. "You're amazing, love. I'm so proud of you."

Severus kissed Harry's forehead and feathered a gentle hand across his husband's jaw. "The feeling is mutual, Harry. You taught me how to love, how to forgive, to be brave in the face of past hurts. I would not be the man I am without you."

Harry squeezed him tight, overcome. "Thank you."

After a moment to gather his wits, Harry moved back and wiped his eyes. Sirius was watching them, his expression tense with remorse and deep sorrow, but no sign of hatred.

Harry stood tall and faced his godfather. "Sirius, I don't know if an apology is going to cut it for what you did to me. I was your godson, I was breaking in pieces from the curse, and I was terrified I would never be whole again. But instead of healing me, instead of fighting for me, you fought against me. You degraded me. You all but disowned me for daring to fall in love. And even now, I don't know whether you treated me so badly out of jealousy or true hatred."

Sirius' face contorted with grief. "I … it was a piece of soul, Harry. Not … not the whole person."

"That part of you still hurt me terribly, Sirius, and it was still you."

The covered his eyes with a shaking hand, breath escaping him in a sob. "I know. Harry, I know. All I can say—I was just as sick. I don't know what went wrong with me. I … my parents—they didn't necessarily like gays, but they didn't hate them like I did either. I have no idea where I picked up that hatred and … and why I destroyed myself and hurt you both into the bargain."

Severus shook his head. "I do not believe it is something you picked up. As you said, you were ill. I am convinced now, seeing you with the grace of death, that you could not entirely control your mind. That does not excuse your actions, but it does allow for forgiveness. At least, it does for myself. Though, I will say, if you ever so much as think of touching another photo of myself in that manner—I will kill you again."

Sirius groaned. "You found it."

"Yes. And despite the limited mental capability and life of a photo, he is completely traumatised."

Sirius rubbed his face. "C-can a photo be traumatised?"

Harry shrugged. "I mean, he's a photo so I don't know if it's real or simulated. But he wakes up from nightmares as much as Severus does. And when he wakes up—screaming more often than not, though of course we can't hear it—I watch him draw back from my own photo's touch with shame and horror in his eyes."

"W-what? They … photos can dream?"

"Apparently. He had another nightmare just before we came in here. I had to advise my own photo how to take care of him—well, he knows, but he always feels a bit helpless when Severus' photo pushes him away."

Sirius frowned. "Pushes him away? But he loves you, doesn't he?"

"Completely," Severus murmured. "But he is reliving trauma in those moments and is unable to think clearly."

Harry nodded. "It's common among rape victims. He can't bear touch during flashbacks sometimes—not even from me." His gaze sharpened. "Severus himself does the same thing when he dreams of that day after his OWLs."

Sirius reeled back, horrified. "Oh gods."

Severus flinched and turned away. "Was it truly necessary to reveal that, Harry?"

Harry froze. "Oh, Severus. Merlin, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—shite. It wasn't my place. A-are you okay?"

Severus sighed and moved into Harry's arms. "He is dead now. There is no harm he can do. It is only … difficult to speak of it."

Harry leaned up and kissed his husband's cheek. "Forgive me, love. I only wanted him to know what he'd done and understand how far his crimes go."

Sirius shuddered and hugged his chest. "I … I know. I really screwed up. Gods, Snape. I'm so sorry. If I could go back …."

Severus shook his head. "I am content. If you could go back, I might not have Harry. And the love I share with him—is the single most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. He saved my life, my soul, and gave me hope for the future. I would not trade that, even if the past does still haunt me from time to time."

Harry leaned into his husband and smiled. "Yeah. I guess that's true." He stared at his godfather, taking in the lines of stress and remorse and the stark pain in his eyes.

And he let his anger go.

"I forgive you, Sirius."

The man slumped against the frame and covered his face, hiding streaks of tears. "T-thank you, pup. And I really am sorry."

"I know. I see it."

Sirius wiped his face and gave Severus a hesitant smile. "Take care of him, S-Severus. Please. Do what I couldn't, and give Harry the life he deserves."

Severus acknowledged his request with a nod.

Sirius took a deep breath and looked to his godson. "I do love you, pup. Congratulations on your bonding, and … and …." He lowered his gaze. "Take care of him, too. Though I never showed it in the right way, I did … care. I don't think I can call it love. But I … just take care of him for me, Harry. I screwed everything up, but I know you'll do it right."

Harry closed his eyes and slipped his hand into Severus'. "I promise."

Severus squeezed his hand.

Sirius sighed. "I think my time is up, you two. Just … be happy, okay? And I'll talk to James about everything—get him to understand."

Severus gave Harry a soft look. "Somehow, Black, I doubt you'll need to. I'm sure he already knows, and whatever Potter thought of me, his son's happiness always came first."

"Should've been that way with me too," Sirius said with a shake of his head. "I'm sorry, to both of you. And I'll …." He gave Severus one broken look, then closed his eyes and turned his face away. "Never mind. Not my place. Just be happy together, and … yeah. Just be good to each other."

Severus nodded and held Harry tighter.

Harry laid his hand against the canvas. "We will."

Sirius pressed his hand against Harry's. Harry couldn't feel it, but knowing Sirius loved and accepted him healed something cracked in his soul. Severus stood by, stroking Harry's hair and lending him strength and comfort, as forgiveness and understanding flowed between them all.

After a moment like this, Sirius wiped his eyes and gave Harry a gentler smile than he had ever seen from the man. "Thank you, both of you."

Harry smiled back. "It's okay. It's over now, and Severus and I are happy together."

Sirius turned to Severus and some silent communication passed between them. Severus bowed his head in acknowledgement, and Sirius nodded and closed his eyes.

"I see that now. I'm glad, for both of you. You'll heal the wounds I gave him, Harry?"

Harry hugged Severus' waist tight. "I promise. Um, will you tell Mum and Dad I love them? And tell Remus and Tonks that Teddy is happy and healthy, and we're making sure he knows just how much his parents loved him."

Sirius nodded. "Remus and Tonks are okay now. With their souls back together, they've been able to heal themselves and go on without regrets. They said to tell you they love you, Teddy, Severus, and Andromeda, and to let you know you're doing a great job with the little tyke. Ted asked you to give Andi and Teddy his love, too."

Relief flooded Harry's heart and released a burden of fear and guilt he had carried since the war—he had never quite forgiven himself for their deaths, but knowing they were okay now, maybe Harry could move on, too.

"Oh, thank Merlin," Harry murmured. "I … I was so afraid for them." He took a deep breath and wiped his eyes. "We'll tell Andi and Teddy for them. Give them my love as well."

"And mine," said Severus softly. "Tell them we are both watching over their little one. Andromeda too."

"They'll all be glad to hear that." Sirius waved. "I really need to go now. Good luck, you two, and may the rest of your lives be peaceful."

"Thank you," Harry whispered.

Sirius waved once more and faded from the canvas, his final smile free of all of the mania that had haunted him in life.

"Merlin." Harry shivered and leaned against his husband. "I hope … I hope he's at peace now."

Severus hugged Harry's shoulders. "I think he is. Or at least, he is on his way."

Regulus walked back into the canvas and gave Harry a hesitant smile. "Are you okay?"

Harry nodded and wiped his eyes. "Thank you. For everything."

"You have my gratitude as well," Severus murmured. "Without your help, I may have come too late to save him."

Regulus shook his head sadly. "If I'd known he was half-souled … I thought because you killed Voldemort, Harry, or maybe a Death Eater—I thought there was no hope."

Harry gave him a sad smile. "So that's why you didn't tell me."

"I didn't want to rush your end." Regulus rubbed the back of his neck and lowered his head. "Can you forgive me?"

"Of course. You were trying to protect me. There's nothing to forgive."

Severus nodded. "I only wish to thank you for watching over my husband."

Regulus grinned. "And now it's your job." He gave them soft smiles. "I'm glad. Both of you were … broken. But now, you're whole again."

"Yeah." Harry gave Severus a loving kiss. "Wouldn't have it any other way."

Severus kissed his forehead and held him tight. "Nor would I, love. Nor would I."

"And you have to admit, the result of that particular little dark spell I cast didn't turn out so bad. So maybe I can get off the hook now that everyone and their mother has chewed my ear off over it?"

Severus snorted. "Have you forgotten that your own mother has yet to have her say?"

Harry grimaced. "Damn. Guess I'm never going to hear the end of it. Not even in the afterlife, apparently."

Severus laughed. "No, probably not." He hugged Harry tight and nestled his face in his husband's messy hair. "But I am content. Thank you for saving me. For loving me."

Harry beamed. "You're welcome, my Sev, but I'm just getting started."

Severus smiled back. "I look forward to the rest of eternity with you."

"Good thing too," said Regulus with a snort, "because you're stuck with it."

Severus and Harry laughed, and walked into their future hand-in-hand.

~…Fin…~