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Summary: The War has ended. Harry is alone and in pain. So is Snape. Their hatred is strong; some things can be stronger.
(H-BP spoilers. Pre-slash? I'm not sure. You decide.)
Note: There'll be a bit of tense swapping here - half of the story is a memory, and the other half is written as though it were happening in the present. Also, forgive my long sentances - I was trying to portray thought processes and when you're thinking about something punctuation tends to go out of the window. Oh yeah, and WARNING: A few swears in here.
You knocked on the door. Once, twice.
I didn't know it was you, but even if I had I wouldn't have acted any differently than I did. I just sat there on my wingback armchair, and continued to stare out of the window.
This small living area was square and a calm white; it housed this couch, another and a rug in the centre of the room. An understated, wooden bookcase rested between the oaken doors to bedroom and bathroom. I kept everything tidy. Clutter confused my thoughts and crowded my mind and the only reason I am here is to escape such strife.
My chair could see the window, the fireplace and, on my right shoulder, the door. I like to be able to see around me; it eases the pain and the paranoia.
My house is always quiet, calm and uncluttered. The lighting is always quite low. Nothing is sudden, or unexpected. There are no stairs; I cannot cope with that. Just this room, a bathroom, a kitchen and my bedroom. It's all I need.
You knocked again, with a little more bite and a little more impatience. I knew you would go away eventually; everyone did.
You tried the handle, and I was mildly impressed. You were the first to think of such a tactic.
You found it locked; naturally. I heard you swear muffled curses and the door clicked open under an Alohomora. I had left the door unwarded; anyone who wanted to talk to me this badly was welcome to come in, say it, and leave.
I looked away from the opening door and out to the window again. The sun shone strongly upon the trees, and the grass around my house waved cheerily at the flowers. Everything was warm and golden in this late twilight.
I heard you come in and shut the door behind you. There was the soft noise of a cloak being placed upon the coatstand next to the door. Silence.
I didn't move. If you cared, you would show yourself eventually. Time here had not taught me patience; it had taught me that everything would be revealed at its own speed. That included other people.
There was a movement of cloth, and your cold, harsh voice said: "Mr. Potter."
I knew then that it was you. My wand hand clenched hard, my jaw tightened, and I felt angry tears trying to form. I fought them back. You were here, and soon you would leave. That's all there was to it.
"It's nice to see your hospitality is as welcoming as ever," you sneered softly. I made no move. I was used to this from you. Six years, I had taken it; six years. Ten more minutes would not make any difference.
I knew you were angry, and your footsteps confirmed this as you strode into the room, robes billowing. You stood in front of me, arms folded over your chest, slight sneer gracing your pale features. Your hair hung in black waterfalls next to your face.
"Hiding again, Potter?" you sneered, enjoying this superiority of height and words. "You always one for the drama, weren't you?"
I never answered you to that. I had nothing to say. Your attempts to enrage me were met by calm quiet, and could sense it angering you.
You leant down, and placed a hand on each armrest so that you towered over me, dark hair swinging forward, sharp black eyes locking on to mine.
"Do you know how long we've been looking for you?" you said in a low, dangerous, guttural voice. "A year, boy. A year. No owl would find you. No letters reached you. No map showed you."
I remember... I remember your intimidation tactics. I remember your face as – as you killed Dumbledore. I remember your loving Tonk's pain. I remember. I remember the hurt and the guilt you caused me. I remember swearing revenge. I remember... I remember leaving you, and the world, everything that had damaged me and my mind. I remember... everything. I remember you.
My silence infuriated you, and you leaned even closer.
"Do you know what everyone gave up to find you? You ungrateful, pathetic child."
This, I had an answer for.
My voice, silent for more than a year, ached and cracked. I didn't care; I'd said what I needed to.
You stood up again, looking furious. Your expression... brought back so many memories. It hurt. It hurts.
It was your turn for silence. I nodded, and accepted it as a 'yes'. I reached around to the left, hidden side of my chair and brought my cane around. Leaning heavily on it, I brought myself to my feet. I stood strong, used now to relying on this foreign body instead of my left leg.
Your glance flickered to the cane, and back to my face. Despite your impassionate, angry face I knew then that you never found out. Never knew that I had lost a chunk of the muscle from my thigh in the War, in the last fight. Never knew that I had to rely on a length of black wood to walk, that I had to take painkillers daily to dull the agonising ache of fried nerve-endings. Never knew that there was a huge indentation in my leg from the missing flesh. Never knew that I could move my leg, but it would never bear my weight again.
I rounded my chair, leaning heavily on the cane. There was door about ten paces away that led into the kitchen, and I pushed it open. I had balanced it so that, for a little over six feet of solid oak, it was easy to move and felt practically weightless. It had no handle and swung open at my touch, magnetic plate on the back locking it to the wall, keeping it open.
I leaned against the counter, weight on my right foot, cane resting against the wall. I picked up the kettle from the draining board and filled it with water from the sink, feeling your eyes upon my back the whole time. I was fine with that; I think you were judging me. It was okay; it was okay. I judged you. Every fucking day.
I put one hand on the kettle, and brought it away again. I felt it begin to grow warm. I had long ago mastered this unchannelled magic.
It might have been easier to merely summon two mugs of tea, but it always tasted flat and two-dimensional and besides, my stomach always insisted it wasn't getting fed. My life as a Muggle before... before all of this... had made me believe that the only real food was the kind that had been prepared.
Not moving from my position by the sink, I opened a cabinet on my right and brought out a spherical, flat-bottomed clear glass phial. It had three fingerwidths left of a deep red liquid. Dragonroot solution. The most potent painkiller I could successfully brew - about two steps down from morphine. I would have to make some more. I needed this stuff to keep me going.
I put the phial down on the worksurface and, using my other hand, opened a drawer that pulled out. I selected two mugs: one plain white, the other a faded purple. Although I lived on my own in this house, I always had four mugs. For the variety. That thought would often make me laugh.
The kettle was nearly done and I waited, bracing my hands on the counter in front of me, only the tip of my trainered left foot touching the floor, cane leaning against the counter by my left hand. I fought the influx of emotion that had come through the door with you. I hated you, still; I knew that what you did was for the best and might have saved the world and was for the greater good but I could never forget the way Dumbledore's eyes saddened when he knew you wouldn't save him and the way your face curled in disgust as you shot the blast of green light that killed him. I could never forget. I had never forgiven, that was certain; it was your fault he was gone and even though I knewhe had asked you to do itI could not release the way I felt when my last connection to someone who could have been a father was ripped away from me. You left me on my own. You destroyed my human connection; I moved through the next year like a robot and now the after-effects of that still lingered in this quiet house of respite. I am on my own and that is for the best because every time I saw those familiar people around me, friends, I remembered a life I couldn't go back to and the lives that had left behind nothing but a corpse for me to cry over. And sometimes not even that.
I felt tears falling down my face, for the way you'd hurt me and destroyed me. I didn't want you here, but I knew that you weren't exactly here for an idle talk. You had purpose. This was merely an interlude. My emotions were wounding me again and I needed to let them bleed before I turned back to face you.
God, I hated you. You destroyed me. I had nothing left to go back to, because of you.
I pulled the purple mug towards me and tipped a third of the remaining dragonroot solution into it. It was today's dose. I then filled it with hot water, diluting it. Dragonroot on its own tasted nauseatingly bitter, and so weakening it made it reasonably palatable. I put a teabag in the white mug and poured the rest of the hot water into it. Whilst letting the tea infuse, I shifted left along the counter to where a refrigerated cupboard stored the perishable food. I pulled out a jug of milk and a jar of sugar and placed them on the counter next to the white mug. Using a spoon, I retrieved the teabag and, with accuracy born of practise, catapulted it perfectly into the bin further along the room.
My face was dry and calm. I picked up the purple mug and grabbed my stick. I glanced once at you and nodded toward the white mug. I turned away from you, never really registering you, and made my way to the wooden table on the other side of the room. There are large windows in my kitchen, as well; I like the natural light, and sought for as much of it as possible.
I sat in the chair that backed against the wall, meaning that if you followed me I would be able to see you come in. I needed such security, meagre as it may seem.
You did come into the room. Maybe you figured that there was absolutely no way I was gong to try to carry two mugs in one hand, or maybe you conceded to saying whatever it was that you had come to say on my terms. I don't know. Maybe both.
You reluctantly took the mug, disdain apparent upon your face. You ignored both the milk and the sugar and simply approached the table, seating yourself opposite me.
I took a few gulps of the pale, clear red liquid in my mug, and a few seconds later I felt the rewarding evanescence of the pain in my thigh. I never made eye contact. I didn't want you to see how much I hated you. I didn't want you to see how much I wanted to kill you, and that I would never be able to. I was never designed to be a killer.
I heard you snarl something like, "This was not worth the effort," and you pushed a heavy parchment envelope across the table, toward me. I looked at it out of a vague sense of curiosity. It bore the words "URGENT" and "IMPORTANT". It also wore the Hogwarts crest.
I made no move to take it. I looked away. I didn't want to see it; it was a link back to a time of happiness and misery. I didn't need it. I was fine on my own.
"N.E.W.T. results, Potter," I heard you say in a snide smirk. I did not respond to you. I drank some more dragonroot. The pain faded a little more.
"Still sulking? Well, you led us a merry dance. But you're still a child, aren't you, Potter? Still hiding?"
I didn't say it out loud, but maybe you got the gist.
Yes, I was hiding, and I wanted to stay that way. Hiding meant not having to accept there was a real world out there. It made the pain so much easier to bear. So much easier to pretend that that world never was and never would be, that it was all a faded dream, that the only thing that existed was this little bubble of reality in this sparsely-forested clearing.
You weren't helping, you know.
It wasn't just Dumbledore. It was the way you needled Sirius, taunted him, made him feel useless. It led him to try to rescue me. I could never say this aloud; it would sound pathetic and immature, grasping at straws, finding ways to blame you. But it was true.
You helped in the Death Eater raid on Hogwarts, the same raid that scarred Bill Weasley. You killed. You maimed. You tortured. And although it sounded picky and pitiful I held you, whether indirectly or directly, responsible for the deaths that occurred. Creevy. The young boy. He's dead. For you. For you.
I felt tears threatening to spill again, and concentrated instead on the soft pink swirl of vapours in my mug.
I heard your snarl of annoyance and out of the corner of my eye I saw you withdraw the envelope. I heard the rustling noises as you slit the parchment open with one long finger. You pulled out a sheet and ran your eyes down it. I watched your hands.
I suppose you would have raised your eyebrow and sneered. I don't know. I wasn't watching your face. Faces lied; hands rarely did. I saw your knuckles whiten for a moment. You were angry. I must have done well.
You withdrew one more sheet of parchment, along with my results. You read it and I saw your knuckles whiten once more.
"The Headmistress has invited you to join the staff," you said, voice dripping scorn and sarcasm. "She wishes you to take up the post of Defence Against The Dark Arts professor."
"Eighteen is too young to teach," I said immediately, not looking up, not moving. I think I startled you; you went still. You were not the type to jump or start at something.
It wounded me deeply; oh God, so deep, when I heard you say 'Headmistress'. I knew that Albus Dumbledore was gone, gone forever, but I would always, for the remainder of my years, associate the headmastership of the school with him. Always. And when I heard you start to say "The Head-" my brain raced ahead, prepared to ground for the "-master" that I knew was going to come, and got caught, trapped in the backwash of shock and sorrow when it never did.
I wondered, for a moment, how I looked to you. Not out of vain concern, but genuine curiosity. I kept no mirrors in the house, not even to shave; I could do that by feel. I knew I had lost weight I didn't need to. I knew I must look thin and tired and gaunt, but I couldn't picture it couldn't imagine it because I'd forgotten what I looked like. I'd forgotten what most people looked like. All I knew was that my hair reached halfway down my neck, where it used to be short.
I wondered about you, for a moment; what you were doing. I'd told everybody about the murder you had committed. I knew you would no longer be teaching at Hogwarts. I wondered why you were free. Maybe McGonagall stuck up for you. Maybe she reminded the Ministry that Dumbledore- that he had trusted you.
I felt the anger race up my spine, clouding my brain. I fought viciously to keep it in check.
He trusted you, and you killed him. You didn't sorrow after it, either; you showed no effects of remorse or guilt. God, how I hated you.
I drained the mug and felt the pain in my leg dragged back beyond the boundaries of conscious feeling. I couldn't stay in this room with you any more. I had exiled myself from the world for a year and three months; three months to hunt down the remaining Horcruxes, and a year since I had departed Hogwarts, not telling anyone where I was going and never looking back.
Never wondering what had become of them all; never wondering what had become of you. The world moved on. I didn't. Fear had disappeared; there was no more threat. I chose to disappear quietly and quickly, using magic where secrecy was needed. I decided to come here, to build my life away from my memories and my mind. But I brought a part of you with me; I brought my anger and sorrow and guilt and hatred that slowly began to fade. And you, knocking on my door, had brought back it all in a tidal wave of force.
I picked up my stick and pushed myself to my feet. I never looked at you. Rounding the table, I limped out into the living room again.
I heard you stand up; heard the legs of the chair scrape back on the floor.
"Potter! Come back here!" you roared. I ignored you. Instead, I stood in the middle of the floor of the living room. I swallowed, once, twice, trying to suppress the rage and the tears that threatened to overcome my control and my body. My eyes felt slippery, glazed with pain and tears. I felt like the animal that was just crazed enough to try to bite the hand that fed it.
I was sick and ill, I knew that. I was weak. I didn't eat enough and felt lethargic a lot of the time I was not emaciated, but I was thin enough. My reliance on a painkiller could not be helpful, and I knew that I was probably an addict by now. I was a badly-corked bottle of impotent anger and grief that had had nowhere to go for two years.
You. The source of my pain. You stood in the doorway to the kitchen radiating waves of cold anger. You hated me, no, you loathed me and I could only return the favour. It was all your fault, wasn't it? Even the reason I hated you. The reason I hated my parents. I learned to hate you because of the way you hated me; I learned to hate my parents for the way they treated you. I could not take sides because the side I was on would be just as bad as the other. I learned betrayal and despair for my father's ways; I learned unconditioned and semi-justified hatred from you. It was a cycle I had broken by leaving the world to be on my own.
You were silent, and I supposed you were preparing your next onslaught of venom.
I felt my knees beginning to weaken; I hadn't the energy for this sort of confrontation. I leaned harder on the cane. Its sturdy wood held me, as it had done so often before. Its reassuring solidity was the only thing that I could call solid in my life.
I knew that everything I held close to me had fallen apart. I knew that by visiting here, you had destroyed what little immunity I had built up to my own emotions.
I moved forward, slowly and haltingly, to the window. It had gotten ever so slightly darker - the sun was on its way out.
I stood and watched the world turn.
I heard your angry footsteps behind me, and I heard you stop behind my shoulder.
"Ungrateful child," you hissed, venom and vitriol clear. "We tracked you down, all this time, for you to pretend like we don't exist. Did you never learn anything?"
That was it. I couldn't stop. My thoughts spewed themselves out into the world, echoing and bouncing from the cage in my skull as they rushed to disappear into the air.
"I learned. I listened. I watched. I learned unconditional and unjustified hatred from you; I learned betrayal and disgust from my father. I learned never to trust from -" My throat clogged and I had to fight. " - from the way you m-murdered Dumbledore. I learned that murder happens and I can't avenge. I learned that everyone will leave me behind because I can't catch up. I learned to loathe and despair and to cry for what I can't bring back. I learned."
I wanted to say it in a voice that I could hear. I wanted to say it coolly and calmly and without crack or fault. But my voice, underused and broken, gave this hoarse whisper to the air to do with as it pleased. I know you heard, though; I knew, because you went dangerously still. I was shaking and I turned from you as the tears fell, unstoppable, uncontrollable. I was shaking. I was, as you had always described me, pathetic. I was an emotional cripple; I wore my heart on my sleeve and because it was not in my chest as it should be I didn't know what to do with it.
You had needed to kill Dumbledore; your position in Voldemort's ranks had required it, and Dumbledore's death had been the price to keep you safe and to make sure that the Dark Lord fell eventually. Dumbledore knew this. You turned out to be crucial; you undermined from within. If you had not killed Dumbledore we may never have won.
I hate you; I fucking hate you. You killed Dumbledore. He's gone. It's your fault. He's gone. He's gone. You killed Sirius. Gone. I'm alone. It's your fault. I needed the past to hold me steady but without it I have nothing to root me, nothing to stop me drifting, and you severed all my ties. Nothing.
But I lie: I do have one last tie to the past. You.
"I don't care about your melodrama," I heard you snarl. Maybe something hit home. I turned my head very slightly and looked at you from the corner of my eye: your wand was drawn and half-raised. What could I have said to do this to you? Was it because I blame you and it came through in what I said? "What's done is done and it can't be reversed," you growled, anger and hatred infusing every word.
Of course. You never knew I saw you do it. You never knew I was forced to watch as Dumbledore disappeared over the edge of the tower.
I turned around to face you, leaning heavily on my cane. I couldn't stop the tears or the hurt or the anger I felt.
"You killed him," I said hoarsely, and I noted a trace of disbelief in my own voice. "He trusted you. You killed him. Don't give me any of that 'it was for the greater good' shit. I know it's true and it needed to be done but... but you... you killed him."
Your wand is pointed at me straight now, and you're breathing heavily. I can't stop the tears; they come from a bottomless pit swimming with sorrow, where monsters hide and dart through the brine.
Without warning, my knees gave out, and they hit the carpeted floor with a muffled thud. I gasped in pain for a moment, leaning over, clutching onto my cane. The world reeled as the remaining muscle in my left leg was stretched, sending wave after wave of pain rocketing through my skull. I waited for a second until the flare died down and struggled back to my feet. You never moved, except for your wand and your eyes to follow me.
"You fucking betrayed him," I choked out, angry beyond belief, tears still streaming. "He... he trusted you. When he drank that potion all he could say was 'Get Severus, not Madam Pomfrey, get Severus,' and I went to find you and you killed... you killed -"
I couldn't continue. I turned from you and started to limp toward the chair. I didn't need sleep, I needed rest. For the last year I had slept no more than maybe five hours a night. If luck was with me.
Sirius said the ones that love us never truly leave us but I never felt him or Dumbledore or Creevy or Cedric Diggory or any of the countless others near me. It wasn't true; they were dead and they were gone someplace I couldn't follow and Sirius lied because he never stayed by me. Never. I was bound by the lives they left behind them, forced to repeat them in an endless loop of despair.
For the first time in over a year, my fingers itched for my wand. It was in this house somewhere. I wanted to take it and turn it on you, curse you apart like you ripped me in pieces.
I sat down heavily into the chair and it wrapped around me, conforming to my bodyshape. I had left my imprint through countless hours of thought.
It was getting dark, and quickly. You had been in my house only about twenty minutes, but the time between twilight and night was short in those summer months. I heard the faint roars of miscellaneous nocturnal beasts. The sky had a dark blue hue, fading fast.
"You killed -" I whispered.
Silence fell again. I pushed my hands under my glasses and wiped away some of the tears. My skin had a sticky, almost gritty feel to it. I felt drained, both emotionally and physically. I couldn't cry anymore. I probably couldn't get up, if I tried. My eyelids wanted to close. I'd done my share of grief for today.
I heard your angry footsteps towards to door. "Don't," I said. "I know you I know you did what you had to do and it probably saved the world. I owe you that much." By God, I hated you in that moment. "But going outside now is suicide. Apparition won't save you. The fire is not connected to the floo network."
I felt you turn and stare at me.
"I hate you, Severus," I said, your given name rolling off my tongue with ease. "But I will never throw you out. Never. And I assume you walked through the forest to get here because of the many anti-apparition wards around. Walking back would be foolish. You'd be dead in a couple of hours. You've survived this long - don't throw it away now."
My voice sounded and felt calmer than I was. I was shaking slightly, a mixture of shock and fatigue. My leg was cramping violently, but I'd felt worse.
"Do not," you said, and your voice was delicately dangerous, "call me Severus."
I tried to smile, but the movement was unfamiliar and I couldn't do it.
"D- Dumbledore did," I managed, saying Dumbledore's name with barely a stutter. "And you killed him. I think it's only fair; after all, you've pretty much killed me."
I could almost feel you shaking in anger. I thought your wand was raised again, but my eyes were drifting closed. "Wait 'till morning," I said quietly. I knew that you knew it was danger outside. I knew there was a vampire colony out there. I traded with them at dusk, sometimes, for the ingredients for my dragonroot potion. I gave them what I found in the forest - eggs of strange creatures, the whereabouts of certain herbs, the knowledge of certain animals. I wasn't scared of them; I had garlic, stakes and a few well-chosen charms about the house.
You didn't move for the longest time. I suppose you had some sort of internal battle to fight. Would you accept my offer? Or would your hatred force you to take a chance with the beasts of the night? You knew as well as I did that the chances of survival now were minimal.
As if to punctuate my point, there was shrill keening noise from outside. It bespoke predators and pain. I think it allowed you to make up your mind.
I kept my eyes closed; I hadn't the energy to open them. I was not going to sleep anytime soon, however; that, too, required energy I didn't have.
I heard you move, and to my surprise the springs in the other chair creaked as you sat down. The only reason I had two was to fill up space - I never expected company.
"How did you find me?" I murmured, partly to fill up the silence, mostly out of curiosity. I did not go out of my way to hide; I just housed myself in a place that you were unlikely to look. I assumed that everyone would be too busy looking for traces from my wand magic, but I didn't need my wand any more. I thought you would assume I'd stayed near a magical community, maybe near Hogwarts, the first place I'd ever in my heart called 'home'. I expected you would have combed the Forbidden Forest.
"Your aptitude for hiding is about as good as your aptitude for Dark spells," you said, scorn apparent in your voice. "The village three miles from here has rumours about a man who lives on his own in the middle of a forest filled with danger, who appears once a month for food supplies. They regard you as something of a legend. Few people talk to you; they say you carry an air of death."
This time, my smile actually worked, to some extent; at least, I got the corners of my mouth to move.
"Something funny, Potter?" you snarled quite suddenly.
"Even when I'm on my own and in the middle of a forest I'm still a legend," I murmured. "How wonderfully ironic."
You didn't reply to that, and silence descended once more.
I cracked an eyelid open for a moment to see that the sky was approaching inky black. I kept no clocks in the house; time like that was a human invention I didn't need. The sun and the night-time told me all I needed to know throughout the seasons. Of course, I still used units, like minutes, seconds, hours; such practises had been ingrained on my mind practically since birth and was an unshakeable habit, but I never used terms like 'nine o'clock', or 'ten past ten'. I just didn't need it. In my own little reality things did not need to be measured or be that accurate. Terms like 'midday' or 'early afternoon' were more than sufficient.
So I guess it was an hour before I next spoke to you.
"Are we the only ones left?"
You said nothing for a moment. I assume you were trying to make sense of what I said.
"Make sense, Potter," you said sharply, but I swore I detected the faintest resonance of fear. I think you knew what I meant.
"Are we the only ones left?" I repeated, never opening my eyes. "Everyone else - after the War - got up, moved on, married their girl- or boyfriends. It was nothing more than a set of unpleasant memories, and a few more graves. People were upset. They got over it. Textbooks were written about it. And that's it.c I paused, thinking about how to phrase what I next said. "But I - I can't. I'm stuck here. I hurt too much. And you-" I paused again. "I know you still won't be teaching at Hogwarts. You were too close to Voldemort for parents ever to trust you again. I have no idea what you have left. But the fact that you're here, and not, say, Hermione, says that you're still living in the past as well -"
"Do not presume my motives, Potter. I was sent here -"
"Why do you think? You still hate me, Severus. That's a reflection of a past I can't let go of. That's a reflection of a past everyone else still recognises, but doesn't really hold onto anymore. They've left us behind. We're the only relics left. I can't think of anyone else. The ones who would have joined us are dead. You're all that remains of that last generation but I'm connected through my parents and their friends."
You said nothing.
I slipped into sleep.
When I woke you were gone.
And now I've just heard two sharp, impatient knocks on the door.
It might not be you. I don't know. Why would you come back? You know I hate you and everything you did. I suspect it's someone trying to convince me to come back to civilisation. No doubt when you got back you confirmed that I lived here. And I hardly think it's a door-to-door salesman.
But why change a habit? I don't move from my chair. I look back to my book, finger marking the place where I was disturbed - a volume on painkilling potions. However, my eyes are glazed and refuse to recognise the words, so I just watch the snow falling past the window. It has been five months, plus a few weeks, since you came with my results. When you were gone I jammed the envelope behind a book on the bookcase in this living area. I never looked at it. I never checked to see who really was Headmistress. I never looked to see my results. What did they matter? They'd never be of use to me.
The snow outside has transformed everything onto a black-and-white chiaroscuro of shade and lines. The days have passed and I haven't counted them but I think it's somewhere near Christmas now. It doesn't matter to me; every day is the same and blends seamlessly into the next. The changing of the seasons is something I watch out for with interest. It's late afternoon, and the sun is trying to set behind a thick quilt of clouds - another ten minutes and it'll be dark.
Two sharp, solid knocks again. I ignore them. If whoever it is wants to talk to me, it's their choice. I will never deny anyone entrance to this house. Whether they persist in trying to gain entry is up to them.
They try the handle, pause, murmur something, and try it again. This time the door swings open.
I don't look.
Footsteps stamp for a moment of the mat outside the door, and then step in, closing the door behind them. There is the soft thump of a cloak being thrown across the coatstand. The movements sound like the person knows what they're doing.
I close my eyes. It's you. I fucking know it. No-one else, apart from myself, knows my house like that.
Your footsteps move toward me and the chair near me, and the chair creaks a little as you lower you weight into it.
I take my hand away from my face and exhale, looking at you.
You're older, tired, thin, and your hair has few silver strands in it. I don't know what you've been doing this last half-year but it's taken its toll, and quickly. But your eyes, oh, your eyes are angry and dark and furious. You look not just physically tired but mentally, as well.
"Trust you to take the easy option," you snarl, eyes enraged and somehow betrayed. "Hide away whilst the world tries to sort itself out."
What has happened to you? When you were last here you were angry and loathe to stay; you berated me for hiding. Now you sound envious. What has happened to you to make you feel like this?
Yes, it is pity I feel. No-one should have to undergo whatever you have been through, no, not even you. You helped to save the world. Your work was invaluable. I know you killed people. You killed people and I haven't brought myself to forgive you for that.
I note the page number and shut the book carefully and quietly. I drop it next to the chair and it vanishes silently before it hits the floor, reappearing without a sound on the bookshelf.
You're tired; you look more than physically exhausted, and maybe even more than mentally. This goes to the bone. Like me.
"You were right, Potter," you snarled, turning those angry, angry eyes on me again. "They've forgotten. What it was like in the war. They've all forgotten."
I say exactly what I said last time.
You look at me, and then look away again. I understand.
So I reach for my cane and stand once more, limping my way to the kitchen. I make the tea as before, but this time I do not make my solution with a clear red liquid. This time it's a cloudy purple. The pain in my leg demanded an upgrade of painkiller, and now I'm onto dragonroot concentrate - no more solution.
I remember you took your tea without anything, so I dump a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into the clear brown liquid and stir it in. You look like you need it.
I take your mug and walk back to the living area, keeping the kitchen door open and the mug of painkiller visible on the kitchen counter.
I stop by your shoulder and hold out the mug. You turn slightly and take it, wrapping your fingers around its heat. I sit in my own chair, and my mug of painkiller is in my hand as if it had never been anywhere else. My aptitude for this kind of magic has done nothing but become more proficient.
I sit once more, groaning slightly as the muscle in my thigh is stretched to almost intolerable levels and the first thing I do after leaning my cane against the chair is to take a couple of hearty gulps of the liquid. The dragonroot solution was sour; this has more of a bitter-sweet taste to it. Somehow, it is slightly less pleasant than the solution. Its taste is slightly overbearing, like it has more to prove.
I glance at you to find you looking at the slightly-chipped white mug in my hand.
"Dragonroot concentrate," you say emotionlessly. I nod, and look to the window. "You do know that it's toxic when taken in large quantities?" you add, some of your old snideness coming back. Somehow, it feels like coming home.
I nod once more. "I'm just treading the line. It won't kill me."
"Potter, did you ever stop in your haste to pump your body full of chemicals and think about the benefits of basic physiotherapy and light exercise?"
I look at you sharply and for a moment your eyes flicker surprise, then back to your natural ground state of basic anger.
"No," I reply honestly, looking back at my mug. Why is it, even when I have finished my school career and have exiled myself, and even when you are in my house, that you can still make me feel like an idiot?
I find myself, to my shock, clinging onto the feeling of slight guilt and embarrassment. It's something other than my emotional void of anger, sorrow and misery. It feels... strange. Emotions I'd forgotten. I want to feel more. I want more of this Something Other than the hurt and resentment I had lived off.
"It hurts when I move it," I grumble, glaring at the cloudy purple that swirls, bored, in my mug. I can almost hear you roll your eyes.
"Just start simple, Potter," you drawl, sounding faintly annoyed at my basic stupidity. "Stretch it a little every day, and then build up on it." As I look at you, you raise the mug to your lips. After a moment you lower it again, swallow, and look at me with anger afresh. I shrug. My smile is easy to suppress. Sugar. For you, that's all it takes.
"You look like you need it," I say, and you know I'm right. But you're still angry for my treating you as though you were a friend. I don't care. "Can't do it on my own," I add, mumbling defiantly, meaning the physio. I know I'm saying this deliberately to annoy you. Oh, God, God, how could I have lived without feeling anything else? The old feelings of good-natured resentment and embarrassment are not generally considered to be pleasant but I cling to their tidal wave of power. Oh, God, I needed this.
"Is that a request for help?" you say softly, cruelly, staring at me.
"Is that a request to stay?"
We've shocked each other, and suddenly I realise that I was right. You are a link to a past of hurt, but you're also an anchor to emotions I'd left behind with the memories. Finding them again is like a shot of heroin: an overwhelming feeling of sweet intoxication that head straight for the opiate centres of my brain. I feel... different. Did I... miss you?
No. I missed the emotions I associated with you, behind the rage and the hurt. You broke me and that's all I remember, and for a damn good reason. You ripped me apart. You murdered my links to sanity and wholeness and I'm here because of you anyway. I know you did what was right but I still haven't forgiven you for -
For Sirius. For Creevy. Especially for Dumbledore, who died by your hand. I never looked or thought about you and associated anything but anger and pain and shame that I couldn't find you to kill you.
But now you bring an influx of emotions I've missed for more than a year and a half, and God, they're sweet. I hate you for what you did but I need you to remind me I'm human.
I have no idea if you've read this in my eyes. Frowning, I look back to the window, and I say, "It's a request for help if yours is an offer to stay."
I can tell I have shocked you. You've gone very still. And for you, that could mean anything from boredom to anger to sheer hatred but I know it's shock. My hand shakes slightly as I draw another draught of painkiller.
How different are we? I sit here, scuffed trainers, old jeans, t-shirt and glasses. My left arm has more power than my right from my depending on it, and my torso is not as thin as it used to be - I can't exactly stand on tiptoe anymore so I'm used to pulling myself up by my arms. You sit there next to me, features carefully expressionless. You wear your black robes and shoes, and your face is sallow, pale, harsh, marked by years of bad emotions.
But we're both gaunt and tired beyond recognition. Maybe that's all we need to co-exist.
I look at you, stare at you unashamedly. You're watching your tea as if there's something swimming in it, and take another sip, wincing in dislike of the sugar.
That's all it takes.
I snort and give a couple of short, barking laughs, my shoulders shaking. And instantly, it feels like some of the poison has been drawn off. I can hate you, but I can live with you as well. I don't know how you feel about it but I haven't laughed in over two years and I feel so good now, so good that the dull pain in my leg is temporarily blotted out and I know the good feeling will fade but for now it's all I need. You look at me sharply, angrily, I've stopped laughing, but I can still feel the memory of a ghost of a smile. My throat is sore. I haven't laughed properly for three years.
I don't know... wait, yes, I do. You've seen the change in me, and your hackles go down.
You've killed me. I know it. I don't know if you do; but I know that what you did destroyed me. I had just enough fight left to find Voldemort and make sure he went and stayed down, but you (in essence) destroyed my life. And now you're here, offering to help me, and I think things happened in the wide world for you to understand how I feel.
I don't know - I can't - I could never imagine you feeling, being, let alone saying sorry, and even if you did I could never be sure you meant it. I'm hovering on a border here: God, I hate you. I do. I don't want you here; I don't want your help. But if you leave me I'll be alone and emotionless again and then the tempting idea of death may be too much for me to resist but for now I want to keep on living.
I hate you, but at the moment you're holding me together. Do you feel the same way about me?
You're the same around me, as if you'd never changed. You still hate me, I can tell. But I get the feeling you're a little like me, outside in the world. You've nowhere to direct your anger - you killed your only scapegoats, and only I'm left to take the brunt. You want to feel normal again - you need someone to hate. I need the reassurance of old emotions I haven't felt in the longest time.
We're a footstep left behind in the movement of civilisation. They've moved on; we've stayed behind, because we simply have no way to keep moving, or nowhere to keep moving to. And when we die the last remainders of the War will be gone, lost in the currents of time. I feel like we are the last survivors of a dead species.
I drag myself from my thoughts. It's now properly dark outside, but for once the air is still and silent. I get up, slowly and laboriously. I know that there is an easier way of doing this but quite frankly I want to appear as if I'm putting some effort in.
I hobble slowly to the bookcase by my bedroom door, and, leaning on my left hand, I drag my fingertip along the spines of the books. The second shelf is dedicated to potions books I never got rid of any of my old textbooks. I had nowhere to put them, and so they merely accumulated. Now I have them all and I'm thankful. Reading helps me to stay sane - to stay together. These textbooks don't judge or tell me things I don't want to hear.
My finger picks out a blue spine and pulls it from the shelf. Advanced Potion-Making, a thoroughly second-hand-looking book. Grasping it, I turn and limp back to my chair. I don't sit down, but hold the book out to you. "Yours," I say softly.
You stare at the book as if you have never seen it before, completely still. I do not withdraw my hand. "You really are a genius, you know," I add. My mind flicks back to a few of the more interesting spells and additions to potions instructions. "I know you probably don't care or want to hear this, but you saved my Potions N.E.W.T.," I said, and once more, "You really are a genius."
You take the book from my hand calmly and you flick through it, pausing every now and then. And I felt it roll from you, your sheer, unadulterated, wine-red anger. It felt like I'd overstepped a boundary. My own rage rose again. What right did you have to be angry with me? Thanks to you thanks to you, lives were gone. Dumbledore -
I stop that train of thought. It wouldn't help. Not now. You had seen me doing my crying. You didn't need to see it again.
Do you not feel my sincerity? Even though she was crazily intelligent, Hermione had never invented any spells. Her intelligence was for learning, application and research; your was for learning, application, improvement and experimentation.
You don't look at me as you close the cover of the book, and lean back in the chair. Your hands grip the arms tightly, and I remember with a sudden jolt that you have not yet accepted or denied my offer. I don't want you to go; crazy as it seems, as much as I hate you, I don't want you gone.
He begged you... to kill him...
Not again - oh God, not again - I don't need my memories resurfacing, giving me reasons to hate you.
I stand up, unusually quickly for my leg. Grabbing my cane I make my way toward the front door. Leaning my weight on the handle and standing to one side, I pull it open and make my way into the snow outside, shutting it quietly behind me.
I wave my hand once and a light springs into luminescence above me. I stand for a moment in the shelter of the porch, watching the snow drift by, and I limp off the roofed wooden platform and into the ankle-deep snow.
My trainers are soaked immediately, but I figure I had better get used to the chill. I stand, letting the snow coat me in a layer of freezing white. It speckles my hair, gets into my eyes, but melts as soon as it encounters the stream of heat running from behind my glasses.
I should not be standing in the snow, in the forest, now that the sun has gone down properly, but I don't care. The animals of the forest are oddly silent tonight. It was just as well; I can feel myself radiating power along with despair and I know I will regret it in the morning my body cannot sustain such energy loss without charging interest.
I am shivering violently but the heat in my tears is whole and absolute. I hate you but I can't live without you in my life. You tore me apart once, and you are doing it again.
The chill has gone straight through my jeans and my thin t-shirt, into my muscles. I'm too numb to shake, too numb to sob. It's partially a blessing; I can't feel my leg any more. I can't actually feel anything any more.
I hear the door open behind me, and faint yellow light is cast out over the snow. I turn. You're standing in the doorway, arms folded over your chest. Your expression is fierce. You still look tired, but I think that shot of sugar in your tea has helped somewhat.
"Done with the theatrics, Mr. Potter?" I hear you say cruelly, just on the edge of hearing.
I turn properly to look at you. "Are all emotions theatrics?" I snarl right back. I'm surprised at myself - I've never been one to snap or sneer much.
Your lip curls and suddenly I'm weirdly thankful that I still have emotions left at all. You don't you look as if you've been bitter and twisted your whole life. It's possible - you came to Hogwarts already steeped in the Dark arts.
I start to move forward, and you make no indication to show that you will help me. I'm glad. If you did, you wouldn't be the person I remembered and this delicate dance we're involved in would crash down around my temples.
'They' say nobody can live in hatred, but I think if I didn't try I would cease to be.
I step up onto the wooden platform of the porch, you making me feel like a trespasser on my own property. I push past you and step immediately into the warmth of my barely-lit living room - the fire is banked, but it still throws out a fair amount of light. I toe off my trainers and, when I am seated properly, peel off my socks. I sit sideways in the chair, hooking my legs over the armrest. I want to be able to see the fire. The numbness in my leg is giving way to a deep, cramping ache, but I know it'll get over itself in an hour or so.
I watch as you seat yourself on the other chair, not quite in my direct line of sight.
"I'll stay," you say, with a sneer that is nothing short of arrogant, "But only because you appear incapable of looking after yourself. Temporarily, mark you."
If I'm incapable of looking after myself, why don't you cart me off to St. Mungo's? And why did you feel it necessary to emphasise your stay will be short-lived, unless you actually plan to stay for a while?
I'll never say any of this aloud. It will chase you away from me. I simply nod.
There is silence for a while. Your decision feels strangely definite.
"Why do you hate me?" I ask. You say nothing. "Is it because I remind you of a time when you suffered?"
You say nothing. I understand, and accept your affirmation. After all, it's the reason I hate you.
And that is it.
Two sworn enemies living together because they're the only ones left of a generation that remembered the true horror of Voldemort's rampage. I lost loved ones; so many, so many. At your hands, whether directly or otherwise. And I can't forget I hate you, just as you won't, either. But maybe after a while, we'll choose to set it aside. We'll never forgive: my father destroyed you and you destroyed me, but when would those memories ever intrude on this current time? We'll just ignore them. For now.
You are tired and weary: for the first time your hair is showing silver and the lines in your face seem deeper, especially in the light of the fire. And I'm young; ridiculously so. Eighteen is too youthful for me to display the signs of age that I do. We've been left behind by the world, and we're never again going to try to join in. We're outsiders. We'll stay that way.
You came back to me because you were alone and isolated. So was I. We can be alone and isolated together now. You've come home.
You're looking at me, and I look right back.
"Merry Christmas, Potter," you say softly, and turn to look out of the window.
I smile. The first true smile for years. I lean my head back against the wing of the chair and watch the snowflakes dance into oblivion.