A/N: This is just a one-shot written by a shell-shockedfan to alleviate some of the shock from Half-Blood Prince, and as far as the explanations in it, that is my theory generally of why things played out the way they did in the book. Naturally, you'd best not read it if you haven't read the book yet, since it gives away one hell of a spoiler. Hope you like!
Harry staggered to his feet, drawing shallow, wheezing breaths as he attempted to wipe sweat and blood out of his eyes. The corpse of Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort, lay in a twisted, contorted heap at his feet. It didn't look like much in his blurry vision. But then, he'd had to blast Voldemort with pretty much every really nasty spell he knew before the Dark Lord finally died.
Strange how someone who only possessed one-seventh of a soul would want to live so badly.
But it was finally over. Voldemort was dead, the prophecy fulfilled. Dead at the hand of the boy he'd tried to kill as a baby.
Hardly anything was moving on the battlefield, the ground scorched black and bare from so many curses. Many Death Eaters were dead, the remainder had fled, and the Aurors and Order of the Phoenix members who had survived had given chase, letting their Chosen One deal with Voldemort.
Harry couldn't see anything around him that wasn't dead.
A few faint groans reached his ears, but it felt as though a veil separated him from the rest of the people on the field who were still alive. They might be Death Eaters, wounded but trying to rally enough to finish Harry off, or they might be wounded Aurors or Order members who needed help…but Harry couldn't seem to make himself move.
Someone was dragging himself upright from amid the sprawled forms, and Harry watched passively through dull eyes until the figure shook himself off and turned in Harry's direction.
And then alertness and adrenaline rushed back into Harry like electricity through his skin as he found himself staring across the battlefield at Severus Snape. The man who had killed Albus Dumbledore right before Harry's eyes, in the Astronomy Tower beneath the glow of the Dark Mark in the sky,was standing here before Harry again, for the first time since that fateful night.
"You,"Harry breathed, his heart speeding up again, all exhaustion and pain andsorrow forgotten.
Snape's lip curled as he wiped a smear of blood away with the back of one hand and drew his wand with the other. "So you've done it."
"Yes," Harry said in a low voice, feeling something dark and powerful rising up from inside him at the sight of the man. His grip tightened on his own wand as he started slowly across the ground toward his waiting former professor. "But it's not over, is it?"
The darkness that was taking over Harry's own heart seemed to also inhabit Snape, judging by the smile on his face as he waited for his former student. "I daresay it is not. For us, the battle was not only about the Dark Lord." He made an almost gracious gesture to Harry as he brought his wand to bear, as though courteously inviting the younger man to go first. "Shall we?"
Harry raised his own wand, mind and mouth closed to keep Snape from blocking the move, and cast the first curse.
Snape had expected it, of course, and blocked it with a snarl as he recognized the insult implicit in Harry's choice, and retaliated. Within seconds, the battlefield was filled once again with flashes of colored light and the hissing, sizzling of curses in the air, and the cries of two men locked in mortal battle.
They were both tired, the combatants, from the battles they had fought with other opponents today, not to mention the heavy, grinding weight of years and years of war. They were angry, that even here at the end of all things, their battle still was not over, at the years of humiliation and misery inflicted upon each by the other, at the degradation and filth each had been forced to descend to due to the other's existence. They were in pain, from wounds physical and otherwise, and weakened from the expense of so much power in the past day.
But each fought with all his remaining strength, desiring nothing more than to force upon the other the same agony that he himself had been feeling for so long.
A curse broke two of Harry's ribs; he threw a Sectumsempra that struck his opponent a glancing blow this time, which bought him time to do a hasty Mending Spell on them. It wasn't pretty, but it would keep him fighting. By the time he'd finished it, Snape too had patched the worst of the damage, and they flung themselves at each other again with renewed savagery, with growls of hate and malice, relishing the other's occasional cries of pain.
Minutes or hours passed; there was no way to know how long they fought, and neither particularly cared. But at last, as Harry went down hard from the effort of dodging a Concussive Curse and Snape moved in to take advantage of it, he twisted sideways in a half-crouch and threw a Disarming Charm that sent Snape's wand flying.
A series of furious hexes that followed left Snape in a heap on the ground.
The older man looked up through pain-narrowed eyes as Harry came to stand over him. "Well done, Potter," he grunted amid labored breathing. "Apparently, you finally have learned to be a respectable wizard. Shall you finish it now? The Dark Lord and his chief lieutenant within hours of each other?"
The dullness was creeping back into Harry's heart, and he hated it. When the adrenaline of battle and the rage at his opponent was gone, he would have to face what came after, and he didn't want to.
"Oh, shut up," he said, and tossed his wand away. Snape sat up, astonished. "I'm not going to kill you."
"How noble of you," Snape sneered. "Going the lawful route, then? Turning me over to proper Ministry justice? Dumbledore would be proud, the doddering old fool." Harry was glad of the hot rage that coursed through him at hearing Snape say Dumbledore's name. "I hear they're executing Death Eaters again; throwing them through the Veil like your godfather. Still, letting them do it in a proper, official action rather absolves you, doesn't it?"
But the heat faded away again just as quickly, and Harry shook his head. "No. I'm not giving you to them." The smirk left Snape's face quickly, and he stared at Harry in confusion. "Now who's being stupid?" Harry jeered. "Haven't you figured it out? I know, Snape. I found out weeks ago."
Snape slowly pulled himself to his feet, facing Harry with a wary expression (and a distinct air of dread.) "Found out what, Potter?" he asked in a low voice.
Something awful and painful was rising into Harry's chest, making it hard to speak. Forcing himself to breath around it, he croaked, "About Dumbledore…about what you did."
The man in front of him flinched, just slightly, but rallied fast and gave a less-than-convincing sneer. "What were you, blind? I killed him, Potter, as he begged for mercy a year ago. I slaughtered him, let him know in that last moment that he had harbored a traitor for sixteen years, and that I was returning to the Dark Lord's side openly at last! I rid my Master of the lastobstacle between him and you…"
Harry actually laughed, but there was no humor in it, only pain. No one would have seen the pain in it, however, except someone else who knew as well as Harry did how to hide grief behind rage and malice. Snape took a step back. "Don't lie to me, you bloody bastard," he sneered, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "I know. Dumbledore told me." At Snape's confused face, he elaborated, "His portrait. He said he had something important that I needed to know, but he couldn't tell me unless I mastered Occlumency—really mastered it, I mean. So Voldemort wouldn't find out. And so I did," he said.
For the first time in all the bitter years Harry had known him, upon Snape's face he saw an expression of defeat. "You did," he confirmed quietly. "The Dark Lord was no longer able to hear your mind."
Harry nodded. "When I did, the portrait moved. He had more memories behind it, all for me to see when I was ready. They told me what he wanted to be sure I would know, before I fought Voldemort." Snape seemed to shrink, no longer meeting Harry's eyes. Forcing air past the tightness in his chest (he must not have mended his ribs quite properly), Harry finished, "He told me why he trusted you. You were the only one with the courage to do what he wanted. The only one with the courage to kill him."
Snape let out a derisive snarl and shouted, "I certainly enjoyed it, Potter. The pathetic old man played right into my hands—"
"Shut UP!" Harry roared, so furiously that dirt blew over the ground, and Snape recoiled. "You're LYING! You bloody bastard, d'you think I'm some stupid student you can fool anymore? I know! I know EVERYTHING! You were Dumbledore's man all along; you came back to our side because you thought you had violated a Wizard's Debt to my father by telling Voldemort about the prophecy! You came back because of your HONOR! You, Severus Bloody Snape, actually had HONOR!" His breath hitching furiously, he railed on, advancing on Snape, "Dumbledore knew it too, so he got you to use your HONOR to spy on Voldemort all those years, your HONOR to swear to protect me above everything else! And when he found out Voldemort would never risk a confrontation with me until he was out of the way, he turned to you, the only person with the courage and the HONOR to make a promise you wouldn't break—he made you promise to kill him, if it ever came down to him or me! YOU KILLED HIM BECAUSE HE ASKED YOU TO!"
With that, Harry lunged at Snape, the pain inside him so great that it felt like it would tear him to pieces if he didn't find some way, any way, to vent it. He threw himself with an inarticulate scream of rage and grief at Snape, and the two of them were soon struggling on the ground, fighting physically, with fists and claws and feet and any other part of themselves that could serve as a weapon.
They screamed and they growled and they fought with their bare hands, bleeding and drawing blood, rolling in the dirt like the two most uncivilized Muggles in the world, wanting nothing more than to hurt each other as badly as each himself was hurting.
Finally, a blow to the temple slammed Harry against a rock, leaving him disoriented, groaning, and bleeding on the ground. He felt Snape move a few feet away, and mumbled, "Now's your chance. Finish it."
For a moment, there was nothing but harsh, ragged breathing, then Snape grunted, "I can't."
"Why the hell not?"
Snape coughed. "You know why. I swore, when it was over I would…"
Harry rubbed his aching head and struggled to sit up. "He thought of everything, didn't he? Even for after the war…"
"The things I did in Voldemort's employ could not be redeemed, you stupid child. Even aiding in the war would not make up for them. I swore to give you the same loyalty I had given him, once it was over."
"Blimey, you must have been awful for him to inflict that on you."
Harry heard Snape laugh, and to his astonishment, felt himself laugh weakly as well. More astonishing still was that there was actual humor in it, from both of them. Humor could hide pain too, but it wasn't as easy to pull off as anger.
Silence fell over both of them; Harry lying against the rock and Snape sitting a few feet away. At length, Snape murmured, "Does the Order know?"
Harry nodded. "McGonagall does, and she made sure the right people in the Ministry know, in case you got caught afterward. Besides, there's probably somebody still alive from this battle who saw you hit Voldemort with that hex from behind."
"Well, I could hardly let him torture you to death."
"I'd have survived it. It's not as if he's never Crucio'd me before." Harry rubbed his eyes and slid down the stone a little. He heard Snape get up and walk away, but didn't bother trying to go after him. He didn't have the energy, and besides, he knew Snape would be back.
He was right; a few moments later, Snape returned, wand in hand, pulled Harry into a sitting position, and began muttering Healing Charms. "He should not have died for you."
"Y'won't get any argument from me," Harry sighed wearily. The dullness had returned, spreading over his emotions, and he knew he wouldn't be able to push it back anymore. His eyes were stinging, but he didn't have the strength anymore to stop the hot tears that slid silently down his face. "He took too much for granted. I might not've been able to beat Voldemort."
"I know; I told him as much on numerous occasions. You did not deserve his love."
"Neither did you."
"He knew he could trust me beyond any other," Snape growled. "To do whatever he asked, no matter what it was. He knew I was the only one with the courage and the loyalty to do as he asked."
Harry met Snape's gaze, trying to focus through his blurry vision. "He knew I loved him," he countered. Snape looked away fast, but that was answer enough for Harry. "So when the war was over…he wanted you to be the same with me? Do whatever I wanted?"
"As good as a servant, yes, Potter, if that pleases you, I am your servant. Yet another part of my bloody penance," Snape snarled.
His eyes slipping closed, Harry murmured, "'f you didn't have to do that…what'd you do now? Where would you go?"
He heard Snape sigh. "As far from this godawful place as I could. Where I would not be forced to endure the Order's pathetic gratitude and recriminations."
"You'd probably get Order of Merlin, once the word gets out," Harry pointed out. "They'll know by now; the whole world knows. I made sure of that."
"You think of everything, don't you?"
"Dumbledore did, actually. He made me promise to clear your name when he gave me the memories."
"Very like him." Harry thought he heard Snape shudder. "All the same, I find I have little interest now in the wizarding world's praise. Their approval means little when they steadfastly give it to the wrong persons for the wrong reasons."
"I've kind've noticed that too." Harry chuckled faintly. "So you'd go away?"
"Yes. I am provided for. Yet another thing Dumbledore thought of."
"'kay. Then if I ask you to do one thing, you'll do it?"
"You know I will, Potter. Bloody make your demand."
"Take me with you."
"What?" Harry forced his eyes open to see Snape staring at him as if he'd grown a second, third, and fourth head.
He managed a grin. "I don't care where you're going as long as it's away from here. You think I want to deal with what the Ministry's going to be dishing out after the war? As long as you're getting the hell away from it, I'd rather put up with you than with them."
"Idespise you, Potter. I cannot imagine a worse fate."
Harry smirked. "If you're not going away, then you don't have to deal with me. Believe me, I hate you. I hate that he trusted you. I hate that he was right to trust you, and I hate you for having the courage to do what he wanted, no matter what. I hate that you're the only person who…understands…what it was like when he…believe me, Snape, I bloody hate you. And if we both stay here and put up with the Ministry and the rest of the wizarding world pinning medals all over us, there's no reason to put up with each other. But if you're leaving…I want to go with you. Away from them." He sighed, and closed his eyes again. "But I'm bloody sick of making decisions. You decide."
"You think I don't loathe you, Potter? He died for you. He forced me to murder him, to degrade myself and all that was left of my honor…not for him. For you. You, the son of one of the most cruel, vicious children I ever knew. You are the only individual in the world I hated as much as the Dark Lord," Snape spat at him.
Harry pulled himself up on his elbow and said, "I figured. But it's mutual; I hated you as much as Voldemort. When I thought you'd murdered Dumbledore, I planned on killing you. Now I'll hate being alone with you as much as you will. I'd just rather deal with one of you than all of them." He shrugged. "If that makes you feel any better."
Sitting profiled in the moonlight, Snape stared at Harry for several long moments. At last, his mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I must admit, Potter…I believe that it does." He pulled himself upright and limped over to Harry. "On your feet, then. We had best be away before Aurors arrive."
Harry grinned snidely and let Snape drag him to his feet. Then they moved slowly off the battlefield and into the night. Two men who loathed each other, who had shared the love of the greatest man they had ever known, and who each hated the other for the sacrifices that man had made on his behalf. For the actions each had taken for that man's sake, at that man's bidding. For the lengths each had gone to.
They were Dumbledore's men, Harry Potter and Severus Snape, through and through. They would hate each other until their dying days for it, and yet…they understood. Each understood why the other had done the things he did, even if that didn't make the hate and rage and grief any less. They understood.
That was more than they could expect from anyone else in the wizarding world.
And when it came down to it, that was enough.
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