Chapter 73 — Revenge and Redemption
At home, Harry put Snape's books down in the library and quickly returned in case his guardian needed assistance on the stairs; although, he looked to be managing. Harry hesitated helping without Snape signaling that he would accept it, so Harry followed a step behind, straining to remain patiently inactive.
"Feeling all right?" Harry asked when they made the balcony.
In a reassuring tone Snape replied, "Yes, Harry, I'm fine—just being careful." He patted Harry's arm before turning to the doorway to his room.
"Minerva said I was hovering. I don't . . . sorry."
"Your apology is unnecessary," Snape stated without turning from his slow journey into his room. "My father owled to say he and Gretta would stop by this evening. Show them to the drawing room and come fetch me if you would."
"Are you certain?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Snape firmly replied. "I put them off visiting Hogwarts, but could not put them off longer."
Harry wondered that Snape would put so much effort into not appearing weak before his father but nodded that he would do as instructed. Then he went back downstairs to check the post and straighten things up before guests arrived. The Prophets he stacked neatly and the post he sorted and took to the drawing room where he put it in the desk. Snape's previous desk diary was in the drawer and Harry drew a finger over its soft leather. The desk and the room resonated with Snape's presence and Harry again felt fiercely grateful that he still had his guardian's living presence and not just the hollow memory and physical shell of his things.
Harry wandered the ground floor, unable to settle down to any calm task. He organized his books, pulling them all down to stacks on the floor and reordering them, flipping through several of them to remind himself of dimly-remembered spells from the first month of his training. When the Floo sounded, he shoved the remaining books quickly back on the shelves and went to the dining room. Shazor looked exactly as Harry has last seen him, but Gretta seemed older and her smile strained. Harry welcomed them and led them to the drawing room. He had been vaguely dreading their appearance but was now glad for the distraction.
When he went to fetch Snape, however, he found him dozing and disliked disturbing him. Snape woke on his own though when the hinge creaked and refused to let Harry do more than hand him his cane. Outside the drawing room, Severus straightened his stance more than Harry thought possible, and then entered. Shazor stood quickly to greet him and looked him up and down, shedding his concerned gaze for an annoyed one. "The Prophet seems to have exaggerated your injuries."
Severus took a seat with some care, saying snidely, "I doubt that, given that I spent a rather lengthy ten minutes beyond the veil."
Harry gaped at him, but hid it immediately. Shazor was too startled to notice Harry's own surprise. Gretta tsked in pained sympathy before saying, "You are very lucky to have returned, in that case."
Severus gave a pained, flickering smile before saying to Harry, "Have a seat."
Harry, gripped by bad memories and equally bad possibilities, had to shake himself to obey. Shazor and Gretta seemed more like a television program he couldn't turn off than real people there in the same room. Severus shot him a concerned look before saying to his father, "I was foolish. I knew my ingredient cabinet had been raided by a student, but I was fooled into believing their diversion. They left the Feather Star shifted on the shelf when they must have actually taken some of the extract of Ociumum."
A heated tendril of anger snaked through Harry at that. "You knew someone was brewing a restricted potion?"
"I suspected," Severus corrected. Sounding more defensive, he said, "The door to my office was well-spelled with an Imperturbable Charm, but Nott must have known how to remove it. Your friend Ms. Granger was the only student I've ever previously known to have mastered that cancellation."
Shazor sounded vaguely chastising as he said, "Unfortunate to have been overcome by one of your own students."
Severus explained, "I woke and heard someone in my office but did not realize that the vapor had already started to affect my judgment and my magic." He fell silent then, looking grim, but it faded quickly and he gave Harry another concerned studying.
Winky appeared during the pause, bearing chocolate biscuits, which Harry gratefully accepted.
Small talk consumed the rest of the visit and eventually Shazor and Gretta departed with Harry getting the usual hug from Gretta. Snape slumped slightly when the hearth flared a second time and they were alone. "You should rest," Harry insisted. Snape merely nodded in silence and made his slow way back to his room. Harry followed, wondering what an ordinary family would be doing right about now.
Harry watched Snape settle into his room before he went to his own and stopped beside the corner bedpost for a time, just staring at the floor and the edge of the trunk by the window. He was simultaneously tired and overexcited, but he moved to change into pyjamas and dressing gown, remembering with a jolt that he was wearing some stranger's discarded clothes. After removing the faded black pullover, he held it up and studied it; the knit had stretched and sagged with time, but he tossed it into the hamper for Winky to clean, thinking that he could wear it while gardening in the spring.
With everything put away Harry tried to read for Monday, but instead wrote a few letters to his close friends, explaining that Snape was home now and recovering slowly. The hollow alternatives seemed to resist his writing down these simple things, as though some rational part of him knew differently and didn't want him sinking so far into delusion.
Still uneasy, Harry gave all the letters to Hedwig to deliver around London in one trip. She cocked her head at him at first, but flew off after adjusting her grip, claws spearing the stack to hold them all firmly. Her ghostly form flitted away down the road and over the streetlight. Harry closed the window and sighed at the sight of his lamp lit, neatly made bed. Complete exhaustion drew him to it, otherwise he might have organized his cupboard first.
Harry woke to the dimness of the short wick on his beside lamp. For a moment he couldn't figure out why he wasn't in the dispensary and then wondered why he thought he should be. The last few days came crashing in upon him. He groaned and rolled over, punched his pillow, hugged it a bit, and tried to fall back to sleep.
He must have managed because he found himself jarringly awake, the same confusion playing out again, adding to the wearing on his spirit. He felt around in his nightstand drawer for a potion bottle before giving up on looking with the cold fear that he might not wake up if he were needed. Eventually, because his body demanded it, he plummeted again into sleep.
The next time Harry awoke he stared into the orange dimness of the stone floor between the bed and the door, and, with a nauseating quiver in his limbs, realized what was wrong. The eerie emptiness of the quiet around him felt suffocating suddenly rather than calming. Stumbling from his bed, he tugged his housecoat down from the bedpost and took up his wand from the nightstand. His rational mind told him that if he were correct, then he was much too late. His frayed nerves ached at the renewed urgency and he stumbled from his room.
On the balcony light spilled from Snape's room. Harry stepped unsteadily that way and pushed the door open the remainder of the way. Snape sat in bed, propped up by many large pillows, reading a book. He looked over at Harry in curiosity. Harry let his wand hand fall to the side, feeling very little beyond the throbbing of his overwrought nerves.
"Harry?" Snape prompted.
Harry cleared his throat after unsuccessfully trying to speak. "You're supposed to be resting." It was all he could think of to say. He forced himself to breath normally.
Snape closed his book with a clap. "I have been resting for two days straight," he complained lightly. When he glanced at the wand in Harry's hand, his face fell slightly. "Come in," he invited gently. "What is wrong?"
Harry stepped forward halfway to the bed. He thought about his repeated empty wakings and breathed, "I've lost you."
Snape's expression grew alarmed. "Harry . . . come here," he said said more sternly. "I am right here."
Harry shook his head. "That's not what I mean," he insisted. He stepped over beside the bed, however, and after two attempts found the pocket for his wand and put it away. "I keep waking up and . . . you're not there."
Snape's confused expression narrowed to a very intense one. "You . . ." He swallowed hard. "You do not see me in your mind anymore?" At Harry's half nod, Snape asked, "Are you certain?"
Harry gestured sloppily in the direction of his own room. "I've woken up three times and . . . I'm alone." He pushed his hair back. "I thought something had happened to you. I was too tired to figure it out. To realize."
Snape rubbed his forehead. "Are you certain?" he whispered again.
"Yes. Three times. I usually see you all the time when you're home."
Snape was clearly stunned. "You sound . . . disappointed," he said in disbelief.
"I like knowing when you're around," Harry argued. "When you come check on me." More quietly he insisted, "No one had ever done that before."
"Yes, but . . . " Snape started and then laughed oddly. "Is that possible? To be unmade from such a thing—from being the Dark Lord's servant?" He rubbed his left forearm through his coarse sleeve.
"You weren't anyway. Voldemort is gone," Harry pointed out firmly.
Still gripping his forearm, Snape said, "I did not see it that way." He looked up at Harry, gaze far away, then he laughed lightly again. "I would not have imagined," he whispered. After a half minute more he shook himself. "You are having trouble sleeping?" At Harry's nod, he asked, "Do you want potion?"
Harry shook his head. "I'm afraid I won't wake up . . . if something happens."
"Harry, you must sleep sometime," Snape swung his feet off the bed and reached for his dressing gown. "But it is half past five. We can have breakfast instead. I am quite hungry."
Harry helped him to his feet, which Snape did not resist, and held him steady while he reached for his cane. Putting an arm around Harry's shoulders, Snape gave him a half-hug. "Goodness, I wouldn't have imagined." He ran a hand over the back of Harry's head. "Thank you, Harry."
"You're welcome . . . although I don't know what I did," he said a little smartly.
Snape started for the door, leaning on Harry more than the cane. "You gave me something to return for. Come, let's get you some breakfast." He ran his hand again over his charge's head. "And see what else we can do for you."
Harry ducked his head in embarrassment. He was overreacting to everything but, even with effort, couldn't find a rational instinct for things.
In the dining room Snape asked yet again, "Are you certain?"
"What?" Harry's thoughts had drifted off into a bad circle of memories. He roused himself and stirred the coals in the hearth to warm the room. "Yes, I'm certain your shadow is gone."
Snape lowered himself into a chair. Harry gave up on the fire and sat across the table from his guardian. Snape simply stared at him. "Goodness," he muttered again. "You will forgive me while I am occupied with being stunned, won't you?"
Harry relaxed an inch and smiled. "Sure." He certainly hadn't ever seen Snape with quite this expression; it was an almost amusingly befuddled one.
Winky stepped in, hands clasped before her. "Masters wish for breakfast?"
Distractedly, Snape replied, "Yes, please. Thank you, Winky."
Harry laughed as Winky departed after a bow. "Oh sure," Harry taunted. "One never thanks the house-elf."
Snape appeared startled. He quickly turned to the door and then back. "I must be slipping," he breathed, with a tinge of dismay.
Coffee appeared. When Snape reached for it, Harry grabbed it first. "Pomfrey said you weren't to have any." At Snape's utterly appalled expression, Harry relented and poured him a quarter cup and pushed it over to him. Snape stared into it before taking a very small sip as though to make the scant amount last.
Harry put his cup down and stoked up the fire more and added another chunk of wood. The tongues of flame quickly rose to blacken it. He put the poker aside and returned to his seat and watched the fire build. Usually he found the fire relaxing, now it reminded him of his mad run to Hogwarts.
"Harry," Snape's voice cut through his thoughts. "Do not dwell on it . . . it only feeds it."
"I'm not trying to remember," Harry countered, annoyed. Part of him wondered what he had been thinking to put so much at risk and accept someone as a father yet again. Hadn't he learned from the past?
"Harry," Snape repeated. "I will be here for you."
Angry suddenly, Harry argued, "How can you promise that?"
Snape actually smiled lightly. "Albus is blocking my way through the veil. Otherwise, I would not promise such a thing."
It was Harry's turn to gape. "Dumbledore! You saw Dumbledore?"
Calmly, Snape poured himself another quarter cup of coffee. Morning light was just beginning to infuse the room, brightening the walls. "I did, and I agree, he looked much younger than he did when he died." Thoughtfully, Snape sipped his renewed cup. "I wonder if he reverted to the age he was when he began using the Philosopher's Stone to make elixir."
"When was that?"
"I do not know for absolute certain, but I got the sense it was just after Grindelwald's defeat." Snape was quiet for a long time, eyes focused far beyond Harry. "Albus would never discuss some things and that was one of them. My suspicion was that he knew Riddle would rise to power in Grindelwald's wake, and he wanted to be there to guide whoever was destined to defeat him. That happened to be you."
"So he didn't just defeat Riddle himself," Harry complained, even though he knew this.
Snape didn't reply right way. When he did speak, he sounded as though he were composing his response very carefully. "I suspect he believed that whoever did defeat him had other things that they must do after."
Harry's jaw clenched. "Oh. Great," he muttered. "Here I am going along thinking my life is my own."
"No one's life is their own. Not yours . . . " Snape's voice dropped low as he added, " . . . and certainly not mine, now." With a light smile he teased, "Relax Harry, by the time the next dark witch or wizard makes an appearance, you will be very powerful indeed."
Breakfast materialized while they both thought that over. Harry hadn't believed he was hungry but the heaping plate looked very inviting and his stomach rumbled even before he could pick up his fork. In short order, his plate was empty again and it disappeared.
Snape laughed lightly.
"You're sure you're all right?" Harry asked. "All this chuckling worries me."
The smile didn't fade from Snape's lips. "I've won."
"You're no longer a shadow to me, you mean?"
"There is that as well," Snape stated pleasantly. "I was thinking, actually, of cheating death . . . among other things."
Harry stood up to collect the Prophet from the owl that was dropping it off rather than let it sit outside on the sill. The cold air woke him up sharply before he re-closed the sash. "What other things?" he asked, putting the paper down beside Snape and returning to his chair.
Snape hesitated rather a long while. "Well," he finally began, "I no longer hold any ill will toward your godfather, who sent me back here, to the land of the living."
Harry froze. "Sirius did that?"
"Yes. He apparently has additional powers beyond the veil, perhaps because he arrived whole rather than the usual way."
Harry feared the memory that drew forth, but it didn't cut nearly so deep as it used to. He put his hands down on the table to feel its solidity. "How did he look?"
"Black? A bit melancholy, I must admit."
Harry remembered his own moments beyond the veil. "That's what I thought," he admitted sadly. "Too bad there isn't anyway to . . . to thank him."
"Not that I can think of. I am certain a time will come when you can do so in person, but hopefully that is well in the future." Snape moved to pour himself yet more coffee, but Harry pulled it out of reach.
"That's enough," he chastised his guardian.
"Hm," Snape muttered, but didn't argue. His eyes were abnormally bright, especially given their color.
Harry, needing a distraction from all the emotion churning within him, turned the paper over to glance at the front page. Avery was relegated to the bottom article and a scandal involving someone rigging Quidditch Bludgers had moved into the headline, which read, Falcons Must Forgo Questionable Wins. That nagged at Harry but he dropped it on the worn wood and pushed it back over to his guardian. Snape was giving him one of the closer lookings-over he had ever received.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Nothing," Snape said, sounding strangely pained. He picked up the large folded parchment news and scanned it.
It was still early when the doorknocker sounded. Harry went to answer it and found Candide outside, bundled thickly against the cold.
"Can I come in?" she asked shyly, sounding as though she expected to be turned away.
"Sure," Harry invited, figuring there was nothing for it.
Snape had come into the hall, leaning on his cane. "How are you?" Candide asked him, sounding concerned.
"Improving," Snape answered amiably.
Harry excused himself and went upstairs. When the door to Harry's room closed, Snape said, "Something I can do for you?"
She smiled wryly. "I wanted to see how you were doing. I stopped by the school again and the headmistress said you had gone home." At his questioning look, she explained, "You were out . . . cold when I stopped by the first time." She glanced up a the balcony. "Got a good chewing out from your son." Snape's brow lowered and she quickly added, "It's all right. He explained something I hadn't understood. And he was only protecting you. That alone made me think." She sighed and swung her arms at her sides once. "You know, I miss being around you, but it is really hard to accept some things—no matter how much time has passed. But I keep reminding myself that Harry Potter himself has forgiven you, so who am I to hold things like that over you?"
Snape didn't respond, just stood in calm silence. She huffed into the quiet space around them. "I really want to let it go. I want to be sorry for what I said." She frowned a bit. "I want to spend time with you again," she said with a short laugh, then ducked her head. "Can we try again?"
Snape sighed lightly. "If you wish."
This simple response caught her off guard. "Oh . . . all right."
Snape gathered the sides of his dressing gown together as though he were chilled and leaned a little harder on the cane. "I would invite you for dinner, but I am not the best company at this time, and as well . . . " Here, he too glanced up to the balcony to check Harry's door. "I must devote myself to Harry for a time."
"I understand," she agreed, sounding flustered. "He did seem rather stretched to his limit when I stopped by Hogwarts." After a span of awkward silence, she moved toward the entryway and turned back, head tilted shyly. "Well, owl me then. All right? I can show myself out." Snape nodded.
After the outside door opened and closed, Snape made his way up the stairs and knocked on Harry's door. Inside, Harry was sitting on his bed, immersed in his Auror-assigned readings. "How'd it go?" he asked.
"Fine," Snape assured him. He stepped in and gimped around to the window, stopping at the cages. Hedwig's stood empty but the Chimrian looked up at him and flapped her wings while holding them bent in the confining space. "Shall I let her out?" he asked.
"Sure," Harry replied. "You didn't have any great fondness for the curtains in here anyway, right?"
Snape turned to the window and studied the drapery, which now hung in wide tattered strips. "Hm. No, not particularly." He opened the cage and Kali flapped down to the door edge and then out and over to the bed. Harry perched her on his shoulder where she hunkered down and appeared to read with him.
Snape turned to the window with a wince, attracting Harry's attention. "You all right?" Snape assured him that he was, but Harry went on, "Pomfrey is supposed to check on you, right?"
Harry glanced at the clock; it wasn't even 9:00 in the morning yet. "I can fetch her now."
"It is unnecessary. I will go down to the library and take it easy."
"Why don't you just go to bed?"
"I am . . . thrilled . . . to be up and out of bed. I have no intention of returning until it is absolutely necessary. I will rest downstairs."
Harry followed Snape to where he settled onto the lounger in the library. He fetched Snape's books for him and hovered a minute to be certain he was settled and then went and fetched his own things anyway. Kali, who had gripped him painfully hard when he was moving quickly, settled down when he did at the small table.
Harry tried to follow the chapter on spell dissipation that he needed to read for Monday. It was interesting; really, he had always wondered why certain transfigurations lasted longer than others, why some kinds of spells were easy to cancel and others nearly impossible. But his attention wandered constantly and he had to keep repeating paragraphs to remember what he had just gone over. For the first time in a very long while he wished for a television to look at so he didn't have to think.
Owls arriving provided a welcome distraction. "Ron and Hermione want to stop by this evening. Is that all right?" Harry asked.
"Certainly," Snape replied without looking up. "If they are staying for dinner, you should perhaps inform Winky."
Harry reread the letter from Hermione, which was so full of compassion that he skipped over parts of it to keep from unbalancing himself. "Doesn't say. I'll assume they are."
The morning dragged on with Harry savoring the reassuring presence of his guardian, letting it ease the panic that kept trying to rise whenever his mind wandered backward in time three days.
During one of those moments, Snape urged him, "Do try not to dwell, Harry. Perhaps you should set up the chess board and we can play a little."
Harry shook himself and pretended that everything was all right. Just pretending made him feel better and he went to the drawing room for the roughhewn marble chess set. He moved the small desk over beside the lounger and transfigured it to be a little larger before moving the set onto it and arranging the pieces.
As they played, Harry leaned heavily on his elbow and finally just rested his head on his arm while he waited for his opponent's move. Kali had crawled down into his lap and curled up into a warm lump.
"Why don't you go have a nap, Harry?" Snape suggested.
Harry shook his head; he was about to put Snape in check, and when his move arrived, did so. His bishop made a motion as though to test the weight of his mace in anticipation.
"Have you been playing?" Snape asked as he surveyed the board.
"No." He was however, easily seeing the board as a whole, which was not usually the case.
"You have gotten better at this game," Snape observed as he moved his king one space to the left. Harry moved his other knight closer in, to box in the black king on the next move and waited again for Snape to take a turn. He must have closed his eyes and drifted off because when he opened them a tea set was being placed beside his elbow. The black king was on its side.
"I concede," Snape informed him as he poured out a cup for Harry.
Harry lifted his head and rubbed his neck. "That's the first time I've won playing you," he observed.
Snape settled himself back on the edge of the lounger and blew on his hot cup. "I blame your unorthodox distraction techniques."
"What distraction?" Harry asked, confused.
"Your sleeping beside the board, for one thing. It tends to lower one's expectation for one's opponent to mount a decent strategy."
"Everyone underestimates me," Harry complained while resetting the board.
Snape wrapped his hands around his cup and simply held it. "I think there will come a time when that will no longer be true. I hope you can rise to it when it does happen."
They played two more games which resulted in draws before Harry settled back into his reading, feeling relaxed, although later, the Floo flaring in the other room startled him, until Snape, getting slowly to his feet, said, "That must be Madam Pomfrey."
Harry longed to give him a hand, but held back and instead went to greet the visitor. Lugging a battered, black bag, the Hogwarts Healer took Snape upstairs with her usual efficient manner, with Harry observing their slow progress from the floor of the hall.
Inside his room, Snape made his way to the bed and with his now usual care, lowered himself to sit on the edge. Madam Pomfrey plunked her bag beside him and tapped it open with a finger. Its metal-hinged top yawned wide like a mouth and she plucked her wand out of it. "Looks like you are in a bit more pain than you ought," she observed.
Snape adjusted his dressing gown and nodded his head to the side noncommittally. Using her wand, she tapped him in the center of his chest and huffed quietly. She then extracted a tall, cork-stoppered bottle from her bag, much too large to fit had the bag been the same size on the outside as the in. She used it to fill the bedside glass nearly to the brim and handed it to Snape, who sniffed at it doubtfully.
"Another dose of tissue knitter is in order, Professor." At Snape's frown she retorted, "Better than suffering forever."
He sniffed at the clear liquid again. "Is this a new batch?" he asked.
"Yes," Pomfrey admitted and when Snape continued to examine the liquid doubtfully, she said, "Goodness, Professor, the Potions mistress would not poison another member of the staff."
Snape raised his left brow at her with a dubious expression.
Pomfrey went on, conceding, "And in any event, I tested it this morning on myself . . . no harm done." She lifted her hands from her full-skirted sides, as though to show off her normal self.
Snape huffed and drank a gulp before holding the glass to the lamplight. "Tastes a little off."
"Drink it all. Come now," Pomfrey cajoled as though to a child.
Snape swayed slightly and obeyed with a frown. She took the glass back and suggested that he lie down. "The knitting isn't the most pleasant, sleeping through it would be better anyway."
Snape's head was nodding and in a blink he fell over onto the pillow. Pomfrey scooped his slippered feet onto the bed and covered them with his dressing gown. "There we are," she said happily.
Speech slurring, Snape muttered, "You . . . slipped in . . . sleeping potion."
She propped her hands on her hips. "Serves you right. After the last dose of knitting potion you ran down to dinner. No wonder you needed another."
She adjusted his pillow and had to lean close to hear him say, "Had to . . . reassure Harry."
She sighed. "Well . . . never mind. This should be the last now." She closed up her bag and held it in her hand while resting two fingers on the pulse point of his wrist hanging over the edge of the bed. Humming lightly to herself, she finally turned down the lamp and departed.
Harry met Pomfrey at the bottom of the stairs. "How is he?" he immediately asked.
"He'll be fine," she stated pleasantly. "Although he'll be asleep for a few hours. See that he isn't disturbed." She headed for the hearth in a businesslike manner, but before she tossed in any powder she said, "When he wakes up, see that he gets a good meal . . . he should be quite hungry."
Harry returned to his reading without much ability to concentrate, but it wasn't long before Ron and Hermione arrived. Harry was very grateful to see them as he was in dire need of an understanding ear and something different to occupy his thoughts. They settled into the drawing room and played wizard chess while Hermione perused a few books she found in the library.
"I shoulda brought my set," Ron complained at one point.
"What? Mine aren't as crazed as yours?" Harry asked.
"I like a chess set that always does as I say," Ron went on. He ordered his rook to slide over beside his queen.
Harry didn't usually try very hard at this game, mostly because Ron almost always won anyway, but today, bolstered by his other win, he was in the mood for a challenge. That move looked as though Ron were trying to distract him from some other ploy. Harry studied the board thoughtfully, refusing to be baited. Thinking of making his own distraction, Harry asked, "Would you like a butterbeer?"
"Oy, yes, thanks."
Harry started to stand, but Hermione volunteered to fetch them from the kitchen.
When she got there, Winky was holding three, fully warmed butterbeers and glasses on a tray for her. "Thank you, Winky," Hermione said as she accepted the tray. She lowered it to her waist and stood with it, hesitating. "Are you happy here?" she asked a little quietly.
Winky straightened her sparkling white tea towel. "Oh yes, mistress. Winky very happy. Masters is very nice wizards."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, they are, aren't they. Well, thank you for the refreshments." Winky bowed her out, smiling broadly as well.
"Are you staying for dinner?" Harry asked later when his stomach began to complain.
"We'd like to," Ron stated forcefully.
"Ron, you don't invite yourself for dinner," Hermione complained.
"I wasn't," Ron retorted.
Harry held up his hand. "It's all right. I'd like you to stay. I don't think Severus is going to be awake for a while." He should have just invited them outright, he regretted to himself as each of his friends eyed the other in annoyance.
The meal was quiet, given that his friends were continuing to be a little peeved with each other, although Hermione kept trying to keep a conversation going regarding Harry's attempts at teaching. Harry, who had decided perhaps he hadn't done all that brilliant of a job, wasn't really in the mood to dissect his performance. When the dessert dishes cleared themselves away, the two of them made their goodbyes to Harry, including a long hug from Hermione that made Ron tap her on the shoulder.
"I'm glad everything's all right, Harry," Hermione said with feeling as she released him.
When they had gone, it felt much too still in the house. Glancing in concern at the late evening hour, Harry made his way quietly upstairs to check on his guardian, wishing that Pomfrey had told him exactly how long Snape should sleep.
Inside Snape's room, the low lamp and the flickering coals in the hearth were just enough to see by. Quietly, Harry stepped in, causing only Franklin to turn his head. Snape lay on his side in his dressing gown, one foot slippered—the other had fallen off—his bare foot overhanging the edge of the bed. The air felt cool so Harry moved to add fresh wood to the grate. He crouched and prodded the new wood against the radiating embers until it caught and only then let them roll forward on the wrought iron to continue burning. He then straightened, brushed off his hands, and approached the bed, where he stood and watched the reassuring lift of Snape's shoulder as he breathed. Two strands of black hair lay across his face. Harry gingerly lifted and brushed them back and considered Snape's angular profile, stern even in sleep. He stood that way, with bent back, forcing this scene to overlay the other memory, to dull its razor-like edge. Afraid suddenly of being caught so close should Snape awaken, Harry backed off and stepped lightly away, latching the door carefully.
In the dimness Snape rolled onto his back and rubbed his brow, and only after doing so did he remember how much pain to expect with that much movement. There was none; apparently the last dose of potion had worked itself to completion. Feeling Harry's distress like a weight on his chest, Snape stood with new ease and went over to the low shelf behind Franklin's cage. On a square of scrap parchment he scrawled out a quick note to Tonks, folded it, and gave it to the owl before letting him out the small window to deliver it. He then pulled an old straight-backed chair before the cracking fire and sat meditatively, long enough to make Harry expect he had woken separately from his visit. A quarter-hour later, and overheated from the high fire, Snape took up his cane, straightened his dressing gown, and quitted his room.
Harry looked up from his reading in the library when Snape appeared in the doorway. "How are you feeling?" Harry immediately asked, glancing down at the cane Snape still used, although he wasn't leaning on it nearly as hard as before.
"Much better. I think I will ask Winky for a plate of cold joint and bread. I assume you have eaten?"
"Yes." Harry stood and went over to him. "My friends were here for dinner, but they left half an hour ago."
Turning, Snape commented, "Good, at least you had company."
Of a sort, Harry thought to himself. He went to the dining room to make certain it was straightened before Snape arrived with a heaping plate of cold meat slices and half a loaf of bread. "Hungry?" Harry asked in amazement.
Taking a seat, Snape returned, "The elf apparently believes I am. Why don't you have some as well?"
Harry tore off a chunk of bread and proceeded to press it flat in his fidgety fingers. He looked Snape up and down. "Are you going to be ready to teach on Monday?" When Snape hesitated replying, Harry went on, "You should take another day off. McGonagall said that would be fine."
"Hm," Snape muttered.
"Severus, please don't push yourself," Harry said, hearing a plea in his own voice that undid some of his careful emotional bolstering.
Calmly, reassuringly, Snape said, "I won't Harry. Don't worry. I will take Monday off then."
Harry relaxed and nibbled on the now-dense bread. Hopefully training would not run late on Monday, he thought.
Snape eventually pushed his plate over to Harry who waved it off. He had only been eating out of nerves and was now overfull. After a glance at the clock, Snape grumbled, "Back to resting, I suppose." Using his cane, he gained his feet. Harry put out a hand to steady him. "I'm all right, Harry, really," he said, shrugging him off.
"You should owl McGonagall," Harry insisted. "So she can warn your replacement." A wave of distress hit Harry at that, unsettling him as though he were starting all over again from the worst moments. He ducked his head and waited for an admonishment for his lapse, or something lightly snide even, as he grappled with himself with what he felt was a heroic effort.
Instead of a well-meaning, yet biting, comment, Snape stepped closer with his cane and put his free arm around Harry's back. Harry grimaced with the effort at squashing the renewed surge of memory and emotion. It was as though a gaping wound had opened, revealing a hollow at his core that the cold blew straight into. He let his forehead touch his guardian's sharp shoulder bone. Solid. Warm. Harry calmed with relief.
Snape's voice distracted him. "At least I did not lie."
"About what?" Harry asked without moving.
Snape chuckled and released him. "I don't think I want to tell you."
Harry stood straight and stretched his shoulders back. "Tell me what?" he echoed.
With a sigh Snape squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Goodness, I must be redeemed . . . I'm feeling guilty for what I did."
Harry blinked several times, completely not following this. He waited to see if Snape would explain. Snape paced a little with his cane as though he didn't really need its support. Facing the table, head bowed, Snape admitted, "I got even with your father."
Harry pieced that together with the other things Snape had said. "In the veil?" At Snape's nod Harry uttered, "Oh," with mixed feeling and continued confusion.
Reluctantly, still staring at the table edge, Snape went on, "I regret it now. Ironically, I only now understand what I did."
A long silence passed as the hearth burned down and shifted, throwing sparks. "What happened?" Harry asked.
With a faraway expression Snape finally replied, "Albus restrained me from passing through the veil, but time passed before I could return, or be sent, more precisely." A long pause ensued before he continued, "Your parents appeared." Snape looked up at Harry as he started and gave his charge the smallest of smiles. "Your father was not pleased that Albus was helping me return."
Harry bit his lip, glad that Snape was looking at him now as he spoke.
"Albus explained to your father that he should wish me to return, because I was caring for you."
Harry's eyes widened. "Dumbledore told my father that?" he demanded, stunned silly. He swallowed hard, heart thudding.
Snape nodded and held up his hand to examine the palm of it. "I was fading. It was very strange. I actually forgot what it felt like to be alive, and Albus kept insisting I remember."
"Wh . . . what if you hadn't made it?" Harry asked.
"Just like anyone who refuses to enter the veil. I'd have become a ghost."
"Severus!" Harry exploded, suddenly alarmed. "Don't risk that for me. I wouldn't want that to happen—not for anything."
"Goodness," Snape returned, sounding amused.
Harry found a new measure of control at that insistence; one that he sorely needed.
"Albus most likely would have prevented it, but it was my choice to risk it," Snape finished sternly.
"Don't do it again," Harry insisted, stern as well.
Snape's lip curled. "I don't expect there to be a next time."
Harry thought a moment. "What did my dad say to that?" he carefully asked.
Snape appeared uncomfortable, but finally replied, "Well, he was not pleased. He demanded to know what I was doing with you . . . 'doing with his son'. This was as the world began drawing me back, although it was a world composed entirely of pain—the only time I have ever welcomed it." He hesitated, but finally added, "I told him that you were my son, now."
Stunned by trying to imagine events that he had never considered possible, Harry leaned one hand on the tabletop and rubbed his hair back and forth repeatedly with the other.
Snape added, "I do now regret saying that. I certainly wouldn't want anyone saying it to me. And he has no recourse. Absolutely none."
"You hope he doesn't," Harry commented.
Snape huffed, amused still, "True."
Harry breathed deeply, the wind outside had pushed a curl of smoke out of the hearth and its sweet scent reminded him of Hogwarts and here, of home. "I wouldn't have imagined my parents finding out," he said, uneasily laughing his distress. "What did my mum say?"
Snape shook his head. "Nothing. She remained in the background, in the fog." He brushed Harry's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Harry," he said, sounding more like he meant it than Harry thought possible.
Harry took a half step back at his guardian's fervent expression. The expression dulled an instant later. "Huh," Harry uttered, still trying to take it in. "But Dumbledore told him before you did," he pointed out.
"True. But he wasn't quite so . . . cruel about it." Snape turned with a shuffling of his feet to face the dying fire, gaze far beyond it. "If anyone tried to take you from me . . . " he faded out darkly.
Harry felt undone in a whole new way at the same time as he felt more secure. He didn't have a response.
About the time Harry was going to insist that Snape return to bed, even though he was reclined in the library, the doorknocker sounded. Harry imagined Candide had returned so when he opened the door he was unprepared to find Anita there instead, insufficiently dressed for the wind in a thin wrap, but apparently not feeling the weather.
"Uh, come in," Harry invited when he caught up with the situation.
"How is Severus?" she asked. "I only just received the news about what happened."
"He's fine," Harry assured her. He led her into the main hall and she followed with apparent reluctance, posture uncertain.
Snape looked up and started in surprise. While they stared at each other, Harry backed up a step, uncertain if he should stay. Anita said to her son, "You look to be doing all right."
Snape sat up easily, almost normally. "I have had rather skilled care," he explained. He then stood and approached the doorway and her. "I am surprised to see you here."
She fidgeted. "I don't like being away from the coven, but the copy of the Prophet I saw described your injuries as nearly fatal. I guess if I had known how well you were doing . . . " She trailed off uncomfortably.
Harry expected Snape to react to that, but all he said, in a rather calm voice, was, "I am quite well. Do not concern yourself. I have Harry here to watch over me, if all else fails."
Both Harry and Anita took that in over a few silent seconds. Still awkward, Anita said with a small laugh. "That's good to know. But which of you adopted the other?" she added, trying for a joke.
Snape's lip twitched and he crossed his arms. "It is growing unclear," he stated in that new amiable tone of his that still struck Harry as vaguely worrisome or potion induced. "Trust that we are both all right. Do you require more assurance?" He sounded so confident and calm, that Harry had to bite his lip against the hopefulness that perhaps this woman no longer held any power over his guardian. While she worked out a response to that, Snape continued to levelly meet her gaze without even a flicker.
"Ah, no, I don't require more assurance than that. I realized that, unlike previously, I found myself believing that you perhaps no longer deserved such an attack, even from a former fellow Death Eater." Behind her, Harry's jaw hardened. She went on more brightly, "But I see that you are recovering nicely . . . " She paused, seeming to try to comprehend the altered man before her. She shook her cloak as though considering leaving.
"Recovering very well, I assure you," Snape replied. "But I believe you are uncomfortable here; perhaps you should return." It wasn't a dismissal, simply a statement of fact.
"It has been a very long time since I've been out. But . . . I thought since I had apparently almost lost my only offspring . . . that I should see how he was faring. But you are clearly all right." She gazed closely at him again before stepping back, clearly to depart. "If you can come for Christmas, you would be most welcome."
Harry frowned lightly, remembering their last visit. Snape said, "Owl with the details and we shall see."
She departed with a last long curious look back at Snape. Harry saw her out, wondering at the change in his guardian and whether Pomfrey's potions were still working at him.
- 888 -
In the morning, Harry awoke after an uneasy and frequently broken sleep. He had had a vivid dream of speaking with Sirius through the mirror his godfather had given him. It was very strange, Sirius wanted to know if Severus had arrived all right. Harry wished he really could use the mirror to speak to him, to thank him, but if it ever could have been used for that, the silvering was beyond hope now from the weathering it had received.
Harry was finally drawn from his bed when an owl appeared at the window, one from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry rubbed his eyes, took the letter from it, and discovered it was from Tonks.
Harry, Headmistress McGonagall assures me that Severus is recovering but I think you should take a bit more of a holiday, at least until Severus is back at Hogwarts. Harry blinked at that, feeling suspicious even as he felt grateful. If Reggie begrudges you the extra time, I'll let him have it. Harry grinned at that but then his face fell and he bit his lower lip. McGonagall, when Harry had insisted on hearing details, had told him that Rodgers himself had taken Avery away. Harry had no recollection of his trainer that night. There was nothing in his memory but a queer, confused greyness between finding Snape in his office and his guardian's subsequent rousing him in the dispensary, as though a time-turner had been used in between or it had all been a distorted, potion-induced hallucination.
Harry folded the letter and ran his nails along the edge to crease it, then folded it a second time, again creasing it hard. Darkly, he wondered what Rodgers thought of him now. Certainly he had to believe Harry too weak to be an Auror. Harry imagined his trainer would return to treating him twice as hard as his fellows. Well, he would just match whatever Rodgers threw his way, he thought with resolution, to the point where he hoped the man did just that.
Snape was reading the last few days' newspapers at the table when Harry came down. Businesslike, Harry poured himself coffee and sipped it, ignoring its scalding heat. The world felt more stable this morning, less like a wishful delusion. Oddly, thinking of his parents made him feel calm, as though the truth had released some binding inside him that he had been unaware of. He felt light, almost euphoric.
"Did you sleep all right?" Snape asked.
Harry shrugged, not wanting his guardian to worry. "Well, enough."
Snape considered him closely as though assessing the truth of that. An owl came to the window with a letter. Snape waved Harry to remain seated and fetched it himself.
"Where's your cane?" Harry asked.
Not looking up from opening the envelope, Snape said, "I don't seem to need it this morning."
"Well enough to not require a piece of bent wood to get about, yes."
Snape's snide tone made Harry grin. "I could go to training tomorrow, then."
"I was thinking of something else, perhaps."
"What?" Harry asked, amused by Snape promoting skiving.
"Some Christmas shopping."
"Somewhere Muggle?" Harry asked hopefully.
Snape's lips twitched as he lowered the letter to peer at Harry over it. "If you insist."
Harry spent a quiet morning in the library studying, answering owls from his friends and idly considering what he might get them tomorrow while he was out. After lunch, since he had an extra day to address his reading list, he settled onto the lounger with the purple book, and tried to read some of it. The weight of the dry text—The atmos of the parallel planes presents a disquieting conclusion to the visitor that reality is indeed a thin, fragile construct.— pulled Harry's poorly-slept eyes closed.
Snape, taking a break from a much-needed refiling of his papers, stepped into the doorway of the library. The bright noon sun played at the window Harry had expertly removed and replaced with a spell when Avery had come snooping. Harry himself lay asleep, half curled, his arm trapping his book from falling, even though it hung half off the black leather surface. Snape drew it free and flattened its crumpled pages before setting it on the floor because the side table already contained a teetering pile of Harry's reading.
Harry did not stir through any of this. Snape straightened slowly and considered his sleeping face, his especially mussed hair, the fine white line that was all that remained of his lightening scar. The Hero of Wizardry fast asleep, Snape considered, and then additionally, his personal hero as well. Tempered by his knowing how dearly Harry needed him, he failed to bristle at that.
The library was the only room in the house with no hearth, making it far cooler than the drawing room. Snape shrugged out of his sleeveless outer robe and draped it slowly over the sleeping Harry, but even then he could not walk away and return to his parchments. With a broad sigh he sat on the edge of the lounger, leaned slowly back, and draped an arm behind Harry, who continued to sleep as one shorted on proper rest for too many stressful days.
Snape allowed his head to fall back and stared up at the ceiling, absorbing the moment, and resisted squeezing the shoulder beneath his hand, lest he wake his charge. His chest tightened as he felt the burden of Harry's strained emotions, even though they had been noticeably improving and at the moment, were nonexistent. Raising his head, he studied the top of Harry's mussed head and felt an utterly alien pity for his former nemesis James Potter—pity that James was not here in his place. This guardianship Snape had accepted, too lightly it seemed in retrospect, had grown into covetous honor and it felt almost cruel to be here in James Potter's stead.
One day Harry would rival even Dumbledore for power, but at this moment he needed the shelter of this house and Snape's knowledge and understanding. In response to those simple things Harry returned a fierce loyalty that made everything else extremely easy. One day, too soon, Harry would no longer need these things, but for now Snape felt a burning pride that it was himself in this place, carrying this burden.
Harry shifted as he slept and Snape took that opportunity to pull him closer so that his forehead rested against him. Harry appeared to fall even deeper into calm sleep, making Snape wonder if he should not have been trying to give a bit more affection to him all this time. Harry hadn't given any indication one way or the other, but perhaps he wouldn't know to.
Concerned that perhaps he had been badly remiss in this, yet still bristling at the awkwardness, Snape rubbed Harry's back once, causing his eyes to snap open. Harry seemed rather startled to be held so and Snape read in his green eyes his vague dismay and the certainty that he was too old for this. Snape laughed lightly at the irony that he was just a little bit too late.
"You're doing it again," Harry complained, but rested his head on Snape's shoulder with an expression that hinted at recent pain.
One part of Snape marveled at how ordinary this felt. Soberly, he stated, "Everything is all right."
"I know," Harry said, sounding short on patience with hearing that yet again.
After a silence and thinking of his own renewal, Snape murmured, "'The one with the power to defeat the Dark Lord.' I did underestimate you. You go on defeating him."
"I really didn't do anything," Harry argued.
"Except be yourself . . . your ordinary heroic self."
Harry lifted his head. "Don't you start doing that," he said sharply.
"Only for a few moments," Snape promised.
"Well, all right," Harry conceded reluctantly, but appeared annoyed.
Amused, Snape said, "I do love you, Harry." Only after, realizing that viperous word, that incantation which always threatened to turn and maul the incanter, had slipped out so easily.
Snape froze a few breaths before sitting straight, but Harry appeared to have returned to sleeping. Uncertain, Snape asked, "You have no reaction to that?" When all he got in reply was a shrug, Snape pointed out, "I've never said that to you before."
Closing his eyes as though intent on returning to his nap, Harry said, "I assumed you did. Why else you've adopted me."
Snape sat in stunned silence, working out if that might actually be true, but in the end decided that it did not matter and returned to his filing, leaving Harry to his well-deserved rest.
Harry woke much later to the hard leather surface against his face and lifted his head. He had not intended to sleep quite so very much, just to rest his eyes briefly. Rubbing his hair, he sat up and discovered the faded robe draped over him and smiled gratefully. Chilled, he slipped it on as he rose to his feet. He found Snape in the drawing room, reading from a stack of parchments.
"Sleep well?" Snape asked.
A bit embarrassed, Harry replied, "Yes." With a sigh and a rub at his gritty eyes, he sat in one of the chairs, first turning it to face the desk as though he were still a student. Snape shifted the stack of parchments and put something smaller aside, something that resembled Dumbledore's last message. Harry asked, "So where are we going tomorrow?"
"I was thinking that Edinburgh is much closer and it would be easier to ferry packages back by Apparation. Unless your range reaches London now."
Harry shook his head. "Not quite. Although I actually haven't tried," he added thoughtfully.
"We will go to Edinburgh then," Snape said decisively.
After a pause Harry said, "I'm glad you're nearly better," with far too much emotion.
With a wry smile Snape said, "I have you to thank for that. You and your godfather."
Harry smiled at that. "It helps to know that old animosity is gone."
"It is quite gone and I'll agree, it helps." Snape steepled his fingers and looked to want to add something, hesitated a long moment, but in the end remained silent with a small frown.
- 888 -
They Apparated into a wooded area where a narrow trail cut and winded across a steep slope. "Where is this?" Harry asked in confusion.
With a knowing, haughty smile, Snape said, "Follow me."
Around a bend in the trail, they emerged into cloud-broken sunlight halfway up a forested escarpment. Soon their trail joined ordinary pavement and steps before leading across an old cemetery to a busy shopping street. The wind whipped along the pavement, making Harry wish he had on two jumpers under his cloak.
"Let me know where you would like to stop," Snape said.
"Somewhere close-by," Harry returned.
"There is a sizable shopping center ahead if you can hold out."
"Where?" All Harry saw was a large open monument. He wondered if he could manage to hit himself with a warming charm under his cloak without attracting attention. Snape's robes, despite his cloak mostly covering them, already were attracting extra gazes from passing pedestrians.
By the time they turned indoors Harry couldn't feel the fronts of his legs. But contrary to external appearances there was a bustling multilevel shopping center hidden in the hillside. "This is more like it," Harry muttered, shaking off his cloak and blinking in the colorful artificial light radiating from the shop signs.
They wandered along a few shop fronts together. Harry needed to find a glassware shop if he were to buy potion bottles. A stationery store came up on the right. "Maybe I can find something in here," Harry suggested, thinking of Hermione and perhaps Belinda.
"Do you wish to split up?" Snape suggested, hovering at the threshold of the store, beside the security post.
"No," Harry replied immediately, then more lightly added, "Not until I figure out what I'm getting for you."
Snape followed behind as Harry navigated the narrow aisles, muttering about how ugly and cheap Muggle paper supplies were. That was, until a display of hand-held computers caught his eye. One was a student edition displaying the periodic table and other science references. Harry backed up and peered over his shoulder. "Find something you like?"
"It would break, most certainly," Snape commented.
"It would certainly stop working," Harry teased, "You have no place to plug it in."
Snape brushed the shiny metal edge of the display model. "Do you miss the Muggle things you had before, Harry?"
"No, not at all," Harry assured him.
Snape dropped his hand. "Good. I do not think I could tolerate them, even for you."
"They remind me of the Dursleys, especially my cousin, so I'm fine without them." Harry picked up a warm brown leather folder that held a legal pad. "This is nice," he opined. "Some things like this are better from a Muggle store. At least they are always made from a named animal."
"You disapprove of dragonhide?"
"It's fine for fireproof gloves. What I dislike is finding that my boots are made of trollhide and my gloves of seaworm skin." He flipped the folder open and closed a few times. "I think I'll get this for Hermione." By the time they reached the front of the store, Harry had collected a small pile of presents. As he waited in a queue to pay, he added them up. "Um, do you have a few extra pounds I can borrow?" Snape pulled out his coin purse and handed over some twice-folded pound notes. "Thanks. Sorry," Harry mumbled, thinking that he had more presents he wanted to get. He should have been saving his allowance more adamantly.
The family ahead of them was debating which relatives were going to be the most annoying to have visit and the current sale was held up because of something to do with 'too many transactions this time of year.' Snape intoned, "Do not apologize, Harry." More quietly, if not oddly pained, he said, "I find myself currently unwilling to withhold anything from you."
"Oh," Harry uttered, surprised and touched by his tone. Feeling sly and half teasing, he asked, "Does that mean I can get a new broom? A prototype Flugenblitzen M3 was in the shop in Diagon Alley last week."
Snape raised a brow and replied sternly, "No you may not. You do not need a new broom in any event."
"Ginny does. I was thinking I could give her my old one. They really want to win the house cup and she had Charlie's old one, which was only decent ten years ago." The queue finally advanced and stacks of photo albums were piled onto the counter.
"As little as I wish to assist with improving Gryffindor's chances, may I suggest you just trade brooms."
"That's a thought," Harry muttered. "Trouble is getting Ginny to go for it without hurting her pride. She's supposed to get a new broom when she finishes school, but that will be too late for the cup." Ahead of them the family was debating which plastic card to use for payment. "How are the sunglasses working out for Suze? She sent me a letter, but she hasn't tried them in a match."
"Very well during practice," he assured Harry. "Unwise of you if you wish for Ms. Weasley's team to win the cup."
As Harry put his stack of things on the counter, he said, "I'm sorta torn. I want Suze to do well, but on the other hand, she has more years to show off after Ginny and most of my Gryffindor friends have finished."
As they exited the shop and stood at the edge of the flow of shoppers going past, Snape said in a reluctant tone, "Is there something reasonable that you are hoping for for Christmas?"
Thinking of how much he nearly lost, Harry said, "I have everything I need, Severus."
"Rather difficult to wrap that," Snape complained dryly.
"My first present ever was a birthday cake from Hagrid. It wasn't wrapped." More quietly, in the presence of hundreds of hurrying Muggles carrying thousands of presents, Harry said, "Neither was the one you gave me for my birthday. The ones that can't be wrapped are the best ones."
Their gazes locked a long moment until Snape said, "As usual, you display an odious sentimentality for such things, Potter." But his eyes were just a bit too bright as he made this assertion.
- 888 -
Early, because he had slept long and sound after a day of Apparating back and forth to Chester and Edinburgh for shopping, Harry stepped downstairs and joined Snape already at the table eating breakfast. Snape finished quickly and hooked a cloak around himself as he stood before the flaming hearth.
Harry stood to see him off, wishing he could stay a little longer but holding back on showing any bit of it. As though reading his thoughts Snape said dismissively, "Christmas is fast approaching." His tone shifted immediately, though, and he added in a softer tone, "Owl if you need anything at all. Owl even if you don't."
"All right," Harry promised, working harder on his forcing down his reluctance at seeing Snape go; he clearly was prepared to depart and even eager since he had to get ready to teach that morning.
Rather than reach for the Floo powder, Snape instead rested his light satchel on the floor and stepped up to Harry. Taking Harry's shoulders in his hands he commanded, "Take care . . . when you are at your training, and otherwise."
"I will," Harry promised.
"And I will see you in two short weeks." Snape appeared to wait for Harry's nod before taking down the Floo powder. "Owl should you need anything," he repeated firmly, voice reassuringly full of the promise of swift response.
Later that morning, Harry stepped out into the quiet atrium at the Ministry of Magic. The fountain bubbled musically, drawing him that way as he crossed the open expanse. The translucent, abstract sculpture in the center seemed to radiate light as water coursed down its surfaces; although the glow looked natural rather than magical. The pool was too big for the piece and Harry remembered the larger previous sculpture and the battle that had destroyed it. He had not thought about it in a long time and now considered that he had possessed a laughable amount of skill back then. As he fantasized his current self there now, he felt almost confident with his chances, even alone against the evilest of wizards.
He reached into himself, into that pathway that had drawn him here that night. The path was hollow, empty; Voldemort was gone. Harry not only felt his absolute absence, but had begun to feel he had never been a part of him. Considering that Snape had also freed himself only added to Harry's surge of independence. Standing there in the early light with the water in the fountain glistening, Harry, for the first time, felt truly whole and distinct, and in control of the future.
A figure stepped up beside him, light of foot. Vineet looked over the curves and angles of the fountain with a discriminating eye. "Not a very attractive thing," he observed.
"Better than the last one," Harry opined. Gesturing at the space where each had stood he explained, "It had a man and centaur a goblin and an elf all in these affected poses."
"What happened to them?" Vineet asked.
"Well . . . " Harry said, hesitating with a little cringe. "They leaped to life to protect me from Voldemort. Even the man after his head was knocked off."
Vineet gave Harry a very dubious and disappointed expression. "You cannot believe me so foolish," he stated almost annoyed, crossing his arms to peer along his nose at Harry the way Snape used to.
"I'm not making that up," Harry insisted, then laughed, deep down, in a manner that a few days ago he had not imagined ever doing again. He waved his hand around the atrium and tried to explain the scene more clearly before giving up. "Oh, never mind. It's embarrassing anyway."
Vineet appeared to reconsider Harry's honesty but he changed the topic. "The Daily Prophet spoke of nothing this weekend except your capture of the Last Servant of the Unnamed One. Like all stories about you, it seemed lacking in large substantial fact."
Harry hadn't read any of the articles, but he knew everyone intended to keep quiet about Avery having a mission of revenge against a traitor, because it led to uncomfortable, renewed questions about Snape. "It's finally over," he said, feeling unexpectedly gratified.
"Another will rise," Vineet stated authoritatively.
"That's a positive way of thinking."
"Another must rise. It is the way of things, this circle."
Harry, who preferred to consider a straight line leading out from where he stood, resisted this point of view. Although, he figured it näive to consider that another dark wizard would not rise to power, sometime. "We have a little while though, right?"
"Usually." Grimly, as though speaking only because he felt he had to, arms still crossed, Vineet went on, "The newspaper was mistaken in stating that all Death Eaters were in Azkaban, even though the Minister announced this herself."
Harry met his dark brown gaze and held it steadily. "No, she wasn't mistaken." Then he smiled, broadly, couldn't help doing so. Vineet stiffened.
Harry turned back to the sculpture, smiling wryly. "Have you ever seen beyond the veil?"
"No." Then a long pause ensued before, "And you?"
"Did you see the Unnamed One?"
"No, actually," Harry replied. "Just my family . . . my friends." It would have been odd to have seen Voldemort, he considered, but he must be there. For the tenth time he imagined what his father's expression must have been when Snape made his assertion to him. Mixed emotion roiled in him at the vision.
"You would seem to be there now," Vineet offered, sounding awed.
Harry pulled himself straight. "No. I'm here."
The atrium had begun to fill with witches and wizards on their way to work. A familiar voice hailed Harry and Arthur Weasley stepped over and patted him on the shoulder. "How are you, my boy?" he asked in concern.
"I'm fine, Mr. Weasley, thank you."
Mr. Weasley leaned close and, while gripping Harry's upper arm, said, "Minerva told us what happened. An awfully close one, there, my boy."
Harry, attempting lightness although it came out wavering, said, "I don't mean to continue to be so hazardous to those around me."
"Oh, Harry," Mr. Weasley said, sounding far too moved. "This wasn't your doing. Some things were set in motion long before your time."
"And it's all right now," Harry added. At Mr. Weasley's confusion, Harry said, "It's hard to explain. Maybe over dinner sometime." He fell silent, thoughts pulled back a few days. But calm flowed through his limbs again and he smiled lightly. "Things are better than you know."
"Well, that would be a change." Mr. Weasley redirected his attention and greeted Vineet. "I hope you are helping keep an eye on him," he said, indicating Harry.
"The attempt is being made," the Indian stated dryly.
As Mr. Weasley said good day, turning his balding rear pate their way, Harry halted him with, "Hey, tell Vineet what happened to the old sculpture."
"Oh, it . . . " He paused and to Harry asked disbelievingly, "You really want me to?" At Harry's sharp look he said, "Well, I wasn't here—just Harry and old Albus Dumbledore, oh and of course He-Who-Shall-"
"Mr. Weasley!" Harry snapped.
"Oh, yes, Voldemort. Sorry, Harry. Apparently Dumbledore used the figures as allies in sending the old, evil bird off."
"Really?" Vineet uttered, still sounding stubborn about believing.
"Intent on killing Harry, he was, and mad as hell about not learning the rest of the prophecy as he'd hoped. The figures were all smashed to bits by the end." He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. Nice seeing you Harry, do call for dinner soon."
Harry studied the abstract statue again. Parts of it seemed bulky and solid, other parts reached up and out, but the whole thing remained balanced from all angles. Unlike the figures, this one allowed him to define it himself. It could be anything, and he found himself appreciating that for the first time.
"You are very introspective today," Vineet said after a long pause. "And I am believing you about the other statues."
Harry realized that there was real luxury in being harmlessly disbelieved. "I don't have to make things up," he teased.
The deep brown of Vineet's eyes looked a little softer. "Are there any places where memories do not resonate so for you?"
"Not around here."
After a cart loaded with boxes of parchment rattled by, Vineet said, "And there are no free Death Eaters of any sort?"
"None," Harry replied confidently.
"Hm. We are late, just to be letting you know."
Harry glanced at the time and they both hurried away. In the lift Harry said, "All right, explain this dark wizard circle to me."
"It is not just dark wizards . . . it is all things that cycle," Vineet patiently lectured.
"Day night day night," Harry offered as he pulled open the gate.
"That is a very obvious example"
"And the good wizard cycle coincides with the bad one, right?" Harry said, getting into this notion.
Since they were the first to arrive in the workout room, they pulled the desks away from the wall and arranged the four of them. Harry removed his books from his bag and sat down with blank parchment and a quill, still thinking. Kerry Ann came in, looking underslept. She gave Harry a high-five as she passed. "Good going, Harry. Got them all now."
"Thanks." Harry chewed on the end of his quill before turning to Vineet again. "Can someone read these cycles and know when the next dark wizard is going to appear?"
Vineet's gaze went a little hard. "Some believe they can, but his art is very difficult. When there is a gross imbalance the gods may send an avatar to right things."
"A very powerful wizard, you mean?" Harry prompted.
Vineet didn't respond.
"What are you two on about?" Kerry Ann asked curiously. Rodgers stepped in then, seeming brusque as though he had interrupted something important to come. Aaron dashed in behind him, out of breath, and took his seat with an innocent smile. Rodgers hurriedly straightened his notes and didn't chastise the latecomer.
Harry, sly grin on his lips, leaned over and said to Kerry Ann, "I think Vishnu here is disappointed he didn't get his crack at Voldemort." When Vineet turned to him, eyes narrow though surprised, Harry hit him on the arm and said, "You were welcome to him. How 'bout you take the next one?" Rodgers cleared his throat and Harry dipped into the inkwell and bent over his notebook, quill poised with a ball of fresh ink teetering on the point of it. Harry whispered, still grinning, "Let us know if you need any help. We'll be here."
- 888 - THE END - 888 -
If this were a movie with closing credits, I'd say that Fallen by Sarah McLachlan should be playing about now.
There is an additional chapter that was written much later. It's called "Resonance Chapter 23 & A Half", story id 5055350.
The sequel "Revolution" is complete, it is storyid 2569561. A third story called "Resolution" is a work in progress, or click the "GreenGecko" link at the top to get to them.
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone for their comments an encouragement in continuing this beast. Couldn't have done it without you all. Also certainly couldn't have done it without the enormous help of all the beta readers past and present: Amy, Audrey, Nana, Cathal, Jane, Whitney, Stephanie, EC, Kate.