Disclaimer: I own nothing.

I'm sorry it has taken me so long. I would tell you why, but it's a very long explanation; part of it has to do with my hoping to launch a freelance career soon, the other with something very personal that occurred. I'll update the other story hopefully soon after this one (as the older southerner's say: God willing and the creek don't rise). Thank you all very much for the reviews. Now, enjoy the next chapter!

Chapter 24: Lost

Snape awoke the next morning with a horrible hangover. His head pounded fiercely, and even the sound of his wand being removed from the bedside table agitated his brain. Snape dressed slowly, attempting to be careful not to make any loud sounds, although failing miserably once one of his shoes fell on the floor with a loud thud. Walking quickly, Snape ventured to his potion stores and found his own special concoction of his hangover cure and took a long swig from the phial.

Trudging slowly as the potion began to take effect, Snape made his way to Harry's room to wake the boy; it was far past time to wake up, and the boy would have much work to do once he was awake. Snape knocked out of courtesy on the door, but received no answer. 'Potter is being stubborn again,' Snape thought snidely. He pushed open the door to see a surprising sight; Harry was not, nor did it look like he had ever been, in bed. The sheets were pulled back, but there was no sign that anyone had slept there during the night. The room was entirely undisturbed.

"Potter!" Snape growled. There was no answer. "POTTER!" Still nothing. Snape slammed the door and strode from the room, seething that the boy would dare to wonder off, especially since he knew all of the work that would have to be done.

Thinking that the boy had possibly become hungry and gone to the kitchens, Snape started looking there. A house elf in a beige rag greeted him. "What can we do to help you, good sir?" The elf squeaked.

"Has a boy been here? Dark hair, scar on head?"

"Master Potter? No, we have not seen him for a few days. Dobby was going to give Harry Potter his tray, but could not find him in his room."

"Thanks." Snape growled, and walked away seething.

As Snape strode down the hall to find his charge, a sudden thought hit him. What had happened during the previous night? Snape did not remember seeing the boy at all after his Potion's lessons. Was it possible the two had had an encounter? If they had, there was no telling what Snape could have said to him. He had begun to drink out of his own wretched self-pity, and drinking tends to enhance one's present emotions, he had to admit. What had been said? What had been done? Countless imaginings plagued Snape's mind as he began to jog down the hallways calling for Harry.

Snape began to think, his thought processes limited by the numbing potion he had just taken. Where would the boy be? The sudden image of the astronomy tower came to mind, and Snape immediately ran there. The many steps seemed to fly beneath his feet as he ran up, with the horrible feeling that something was wrong. Throwing open the door to the tower, the first thing to come to Snape's ears was a raspy breathing.

Snape knelt beside the boy, who lay sleeping on the floor, curled into a ball. "Potter," Snape voiced, shaking Harry's shoulder. "Potter!" The boy made no attempt to respond. His eyes stayed closed, and his breath remained shallow but consistent. "Potter!" This time Snape nearly yelled, sending his own head into a ruckus as his own shout re-awakened the quieted hangover. It did not, however, reawaken the boy. Snape pulled his wand from his pocket, aimed it at Harry and whispered "Enneverate." Harry's eyes slowly opened, and a look of near panic flashed into his eyes.

"That was…." Snape was seething.

"Incredibly stupid," Harry finished in a hoarse whisper. "On both of our parts." His eyes drifted closed again.

"What the bloody hell do you mean by that!"

Harry did not open his eyes, but continued speaking. "Stupid of me to bother you, stupid to run up here and spend the night in the cold night air when I am sick, and you were stupid to get drunk when you are my caregiver until Dumbledore returns and it was stupid of you to lose your temper for no obvious reason."

"Stop rambling, Potter," Snape growled. "And the next time you even insinuate that I am stupid, it will be a week of detention for you." Snape grabbed Harry's upper arm. "Now stand up." Opening his eyes once more, Harry pulled himself up with the aid of Snape at his arm. "We'll go back to your room, where you will take a hot bath and get some more rest."

"You're not mad at me, then?" Harry asked, glancing at Snape with a bewildered expression.

"I have not decided yet."

Harry decided it would be best not to question Snape any further. If he wasn't mad, why instigate?

The pair shuffled back to Harry's room, where Harry took his bath. As Snape waited, he retreated temporarily back to his office. What was it he had said? Why had he drunken so much the previous night? No, he knew the answer to that. It was his anniversary. Eighteenth to be precise. He had celebrated alone as usual; alone except for the bottle of gin that was used to celebrate the occasion. All he remembered was breaking out the bottle and pouring shot glasses into his throat. After that, it was all a blur. Should he ask?

Snape opened his desk drawer to take out the ring that he kept in there and occasionally held. But as he reached his hand in, his fingers could not find the piece of cold metal that should have been there. Snape pulled the drawer completely out and began rifling through the sorted papers that were inside, unable to find his most treasured possession. And yet he could find it nowhere. Snape felt a sort of unfamiliar panic begin to overwhelm him from the pit of his stomach. Where was it? Where was Isabella's wedding ring? The small gold ring with the blue diamond? How could he have lost it?

For the next hour, Snape scoured his entire office and his room. The ring was nowhere to be found. Slowly, the disheartened man went into his office and sat at the desk. He closed his eyes in frustration. Where was it?

"Sometimes, the things we think we have lost aren't really lost at all," a sweet voice said. Snape looked up to see Isabella standing before him. "Sometimes, it's just misplaced."

"I'm dreaming," he said.

Isabella nodded. "Yes, you are dreaming."

"Isn't misplaced and lost the same thing?"

"Not at all my dear. It all depends upon where you look."

"And where should I look?"

Isabella only smiled. "You only have to look. Sometimes, it's right where you left it, and although you've seen it, your eyes were too unfocused to see what was right before you."

"Isabella," Snape said, his voice tight. He rose from the chair. "I miss you."

"I missed you too."

"I feel so alone."

"But you never are, Severus. I have never left you. Sometimes, your eyes are too unfocused to see what was right before you." Her smile grew sadder as she spoke.

Snape looked at his wife with a perplexed expression. He reached out for her, but as he did, his vision became cloudy. He blinked to clear his sight, but even as he reopened his eyes, he was sitting back in his desk chair.

Immediately, Snape rose and went to the bookshelf. He slid the one book entitled Semper out of the shelf and opened to reveal a photo inside. He looked at it intensely as the photo of his wife smiled out, her smile sad, as though she knew the fate that would await her only weeks later. He closed the book back, and as he looked at the shelf where he had retrieved the book, there lay the ring. He picked it up carefully, as though afraid it may break. He took the book and the ring to his desk and sat down, fingering the picture and the ring tenderly. "I'm so sorry, my love," he whispered. "I lost myself after all this time. I lost sight of the things that were truly important, and covered all traces of them in gin." The last word he spat out. Looking up to the place where the gin was, Snape made a decision. He strode quickly to the bottle that remained, snatched it up, and dumped it out into a cauldron. "May I never lose sight again. Evanesco." The drink disappeared.

Snape went back into Harry's room after lunch. The boy sat up in the bed, reading one of his potions books. "Hello Professor," Harry said without looking up.

"Potter," Snape acknowledged. The Potions Master pulled a chair from the corner of the room and sat near the bed, gaining the boy's attention. Even as Harry looked at the older man, he knew something had changed.

"What is it Professor?" Harry asked in an almost concerned voice.

"I just wanted to tell you that yesterday was not a good day for me, but that is no excuse for my behavior. I also wanted to say that whatever I said…," he paused, "I didn't mean it."

Harry studied him for a long time. "Whether you meant it or not doesn't matter. It was the truth. There is nothing else to it."

Snape looked sharply at Harry. "What truth is that?"

"That I am a self centered brat. That I am in fact, killing Albus Dumbledore."

"I said that?"

Harry nodded. "You don't remember do you?"

Snape reluctantly shook his head.

"It doesn't matter. Whether you meant to say it or not, I know now. I think I always knew, it's just that I never really thought of it. So thank you, Professor. And also, thank you for trying to cure me."

"You're thanking me? You're thanking me when it is very likely that either way I will be the cause of you losing your life?"

"Sometimes," Harry said, "things aren't really lost. Our eyes just aren't focused to finding them."

"Potter…"

"What I mean is, even though I probably will die very soon, it doesn't mean my life was lost. It just means that I left this place; that my job was done. That's all."

"Very well said," Snape said. And he rose and left the room without another word from either of them.

End

A/n: Okay, I would have made it more profound and all, but I was on a time limit. Please r/r!