Disclaimer: The characters belong to J.K. Rowling.
Summary: For as long as he lived Harry was never going to forget the sight of those black eyes in pain. The light hit Snape from the side and then it seemed to cover him as he turned in it to face the boy he had protected so many times before. And it looked like he was melting...
Author's note: Be warned...this is one of my pet projects so update may be erratic.
Thanks: To Whitehound for the Britpicking. I hope the mild editing I did makes it good enough now. Thank you!
The Cinderman's Kiss
With his own two eyes, Harry Potter had seen Severus Snape die.
After Sixth year, Harry had spent a year in training, learning first the discipline of the Aurors and then the skills of the Healers. He figured that he needed it because for another year, his life had been devoted to the total destruction of Voldemort. The horcruxes had been no picnic to track down and each one he destroyed almost took a piece of him with it.
The day he faced Voldemort he had been two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday.
It was easy to remember information like that because he had been so damn sure he was going to die that he had even started seeing flashes of his funeral in the back of his mind. One hex after another flew by him and always it seemed that it was the Cruciatius Curse that never missed. He had never screamed so much in his entire life. It had all been a sport to Voldemort of course. The bugger didn't know that Harry had come to him only after he made sure that the only horcrux existing was the one that Voldemort was so actively using. So they fought in a relatively huge circle while the Death Eaters watched.
Then Voldemort had gotten bored with his little game. While Harry laid writhing in agony Voldemort had laughed and then shouted a curse Harry had never heard about in his life. It had sound demonic and it was. Only Harry hadn't felt it, because just when he thought the prophecy was going to be fulfilled in Voldemort's favor, Severus Snape jumped in front of him and shielded him from the angry stream of burgondy light.
For as long as he lived Harry was never going to forget the sight of those black eyes in pain.
The light hit Snape from the side and then it seemed to cover him as he turned in it to face the boy he had protected so many times before. And it looked like he was melting. Harry didn't even realize that the screams he heard was his own. When he could move again, when he remembered why he was there and why Snape had sacrificed himself like that, he gathered all the love and all the regrets and all the guilt he had been carrying around his whole life. He crawled out of the arch that Snape's body had made above him with tears he could no longer hide and somehow he managed to focus his wand through the pounding in his head.
Voldemort's body exploded and his soul, suspended in the air for a second, seemed to crumble like ashes.
The Death Eaters began to scream after that. All collapsed to the ground, clutching their left arm. They formed an ocean of black hooded figures across the mountainside. The first person Harry thought was Snape turned out not to be. He had wanted to carry what was left of Snape to the Healers at St. Mungo's but no matter how he shouted the man's name or searched for him, the screams were just a choir of voices that masked the one voice he wanted to hear.
He apparated that night knowing that Severus Snape was dead.
Harry enrolled in a Muggle university in London soon after, where he proceeded to try and find some sort of normalcy in his life. For months he wanted nothing to do with magic. Instead he found comfort in the arms of women who knew nothing about his former life. After Ginny there just seemed to follow a string of nameless faces. And even from them something was still missing.
Then Harry met Nathan and for a while he thought that he had finally found the missing links in his life. Nathan however turned out to not be so perfect, but at least when Harry finally walked out on his cheating arse, he left with the epiphany that, yes, he was gay and that was what the women could not provide for him. So of course the string of nameless men followed. It took a night of tears and a therapist to finally get him to face the fact that he was not alone in the world and he hadn't really killed everyone in his life who truly cared about him.
The two years that followed after that was a whirlwind in his mind of mending relationships with people like Hermione, and the Weasleys, who had never left him. It was a time to rediscover his magic too and to begin to seriously training in a career that held a promise of salvation for him. Not everyone could be a Healer but Harry was determined to become one. He made friends in the Muggle world too and changed his major in university from Undecided to Psychology. So of course, that meant that he had to spend hours catching up not only in the Wizarding world but in the Muggle world also.
Which was why on that particular day in December, when he stepped off the bus that had taken him from his university's campus, Harry's mind had been a little preoccupied even as he searched for an appropriate place to apparate.
The winter night was dark, with only just enough moonlight to see for the short distance it took to walk from one streetlight to the next. The few stubborn representatives of London's begging population took to huddling beneath the glare of the lamps in hopes of being granted even a small bit of heat. Such heat of course was only wishful thinking. Whenever Harry passed one such group he fiddled with the wand in his pocket and softly murmured a warming spell. It was the least he could do, although he greatly wanted to do more. The spells would only last the one night and come morning the people would return to the surprising cold of this London winter.
Harry didn't see the figure huddled in the shadows because he had just spotted another such group on the path ahead and he had been readying his wand to cast the spell.
He pitched forward over the lump, and went sprawling upon the pavement, barely missing the mountain of snow that had piled up on the roadside. It took a second for him to make sure that he only had a few bruises from the fall because his winter attire had padded his landing. It took another second for him to remember that he had tripped over something.
"Are you alright?"
The something turned out to be a someone, but the someone wasn't moving. Harry could just make out the black hooded cloak that was draped over the still figure. He was lying on his right side in an awkward manner as if Harry's clumsiness had jarred his unconscious form into the position.
"Are you alive?" Harry asked softer this time. His breath escaped in a cloud of smoke that did nothing to appease the fear he felt.
First things first, he checked for a pulse. Grabbing the limp hand, he pushed back the sleeve of the cloak and searched until he found the beacon of pounding beneath the thin layer of flesh. As soon as he found a pulse, Harry sighed in relief.
"Well you're not dead yet but you won't last another night out here."
It made sense to try and soothe the man -for it was a man, judging by the shape of the hand he held- and Harry had to silently admit that it helped him too, as if with his words he could indeed keep the man alive. Using both hands he clasped the cold fingers between his palms wondering if maybe with a little heat the man would wake. When that didn't work he took out his wand. What he need was some light. If he could make sure that the man wasn't injured in any other way then he could try the warming spell on him.
The light of his wand flickered on, just as the fingers he held twitched in his palm. Harry almost dropped his wand in surprise, but he recovered quickly enough. He hovered the light over the hand he held, just to make sure that he hadn't imagined the movement. Long, pale fingers were illuminated. The nails were still yellowed and in desperate need of a good clipping, was the next thing that Harry realized. The fingers were definitely skeletal from lack of proper nutrition, but Harry had seen the hand stir enough potions to recognize the fingers.
Harry took a deep breath, knowing what he had to do to make sure, yet not wanting to see that face again if he could help it. He remembered the last time he had looked upon Snape's face. He still had nightmares sometimes on that scene alone.
"If you are who I think you are then this is going to be unpleasant for both of us." He was rambling aloud into the night again but Harry honestly felt that he needed something to brace himself. "You and I both know that you are in no position to argue so try not to. I won't hurt you. I just need to make sure that you're you."
Harry swung the light up towards where he assumed a face should be. In that split second he found himself hoping that he was wrong and the professor he had known had not been reduced to this. Besides, he really was dreading seeing that face again. He was desperately praying that it was Snape though, because if it wasn't Snape then it could be any of the Death Eaters who may have escaped and he honestly hadn't thought of that before.
Of course, one look and he would have recognized that nose anywhere. He would have recognized the dark eye that stared so intently at him also. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with the left side of the familiar face, for which Harry was intensely grateful. At least he could recognize the man. Malnourished or not, Snape was Snape.
"If I turn you over, I'm going to get a nasty surprise aren't I?"
The eye blinked but didn't shift away. Then slowly, very slowly as if it hurt just to move, Snape nodded. That left Harry with a dilemma. He could face his fears head on, pull on the Gryffindor courage he was so popular for and take the man home with him, or he could back away from the fallen wizard and leave it up to the authorities to realize that there was one ex-Death Eater who wasn't as dead as everyone thought he was.
"I owe you so damn much Professor. I can't just repay all that you've done for me by leaving you to die on some Muggle pavement," Harry finally said softly. "I guess that means that I'm taking you home with me. You'll need a good meal, a good bath and a good Healer."
Snape pulled his fingers away from Harry's hand and turned his head away, letting the cloth of the cloak hide what little part of his face Harry had been conversing with. Harry realized that it was as much as a "Go away and leave me the hell alone Potter. I don't need your pity" that he was going to get. Well that wasn't going to happen since Harry had made up his mind. Besides, the man looked light enough to be carried and Harry was just about ready to resort to that if he had to.
"Forgive me professor. I'm sure that when you feel up to it you'll curse me back to Hogsmeade the first chance you get, but as I said, I'm not leaving you here to die."
It was the only warning he gave before he violently pulled the wizard into his arms and apparated with him.
They landed on Harry's lawn in a tangle. It wasn't Harry's best apparition but seeing as he had managed not to splinch either of them, he couldn't feel too bad about the fact that he missed his target of landing before the front door. There was nothing left but to walk the short distance up the three steps and onto the veranda.
"Professor?" Harry looked over at the figure that hadn't move when he had stood to brush himself off. "Oh blimey, you're not unconscious again are you?"
The silence that greeted the question was enough of an answer to the mild accusation.
Harry stooped to grasp one cloth covered arm, which he swung over his shoulder. He tugged the body until the professor was in a sitting postion with his head lulled forward. Harry had to contemplate what to do next. Surely he couldn't pull the man like that across the lawn and over steps and he couldn't exactly carrying him in a full body haul because he would need to get to his keys once he reached the door. When the solution hit him Harry spent a good minute laughing at his own stupidity. One whole year without magic had obviously rendered him stupid and even the two years following, had done nothing to help make him any less dumb.
Pulling out his wand, and still chuckling at his lack of intelligence, Harry levitated Snape.
The first thing Harry did once inside was to gently lay Snape on the bed in the guest room before he used a warming spell to pad the room. The next thing he had to do was to strip Snape of the black cloak. The snow and cold would have seeped through long ago and it seemed that hypothermia was probably what was causing the bout of unconsciousness, if Snape's light blue shade was anything to go by. Even if it wasn't, as a Healer in training, Harry knew that he still needed to check for any internal injuries.
Harry braced himself. He didn't honestly breathe as he worked on removing first the cloak then the smalls that covered Snape's body. He didn't allow himself to register anything that he saw as he turned Snape this way and that to get at the clothes. It was only when Snape laid naked on Harry's brown cotton sheet, that he allowed himself to face the reality of what laid before him.
Where there should have been smooth pale skin there was mostly only the patch and wrinkle of a body that was badly burned and had healed only from time passing.
It began on the right side of Snape's face. Almost at the exact centre of his forehead, the skin had melted. Along the high cheekbone, across to erase the eyebrow and to meld the eyelid shut, upon what should have been smooth expanses of a cheek it somehow missed the infamous nose and lips.
Somehow beneath the curtain of black hair, it had destroyed the ear, spread along the column of Snape's neck and down the right side of his chest. The right arm and shoulder, was unrecognizeable. The fingers looked separate but seemed useless.
Tapering down just as the ribs beneath it tapered, the burn mark disappeared, only to re-emerge just above the knees of both legs. From that point downwards everything was burned, even the tip of his toes. Turning him over, there was not a patch of skin on Snape's back that had not been scarred. In fact the only expanse of skin that had escaped was the left side of Snape's face his left arm and chest. It was as if the Dark Mark that no longer burned there had indirectly protected the arm from damage.
Harry allowed himself five minutes of absolute guilt and pity to envelope his body. And he didn't try to stop the wave after wave of shivers that ran down his back and shook him all the way down to his bones. It was a normal, human reaction he knew but somehow Snape just seemed so much more brave for all he must have endure.
The moment ended when Snape began to shake.
It began so suddenly that it caught Harry off-guard. Within a minute the seizure had built to a full body spasm that at times, jerked Snape almost entirely into the air. Harry pulled out his wand again and was just about to cast the petrifying spell when he changed his mind and decided that what was best was to allow the body to ride out the reaction.
Instead he left the shaking form to draw up a warm bath quickly.
Grabbing potions at random, he dumped them into the water, all the while trying to remember his training at St. Mungo's of what potions reacted best with each other. Just for good measure he added a drop of alabaster oil to the mix as well. Muggles used it to soothe the nerves and Harry was just hoping that it worked well with the muscle relaxant and warming combination that he was trying to achieve.
A loud noise in the bedroom drew his attention back to his suppose patient.
Harry ran back in, fearing that the worse had happened. In his panic, he was all prepared to find the professor on the ground bleeding from the fall with perhaps a couple of broken bones just for karma's sake. Instead it was only the items on his bedside table that had fallen to the floor. He was relieved to note that the professor was still safely on the bed and the shakes seemed to have calmed to just a constant tremor.
Using his wand, he levitated Snape into the bathroom, praying silently to himself that the water was still warm. He didn't want to throw Snape in hot water and cause sudden thawing because that could very detrimental and he really hadn't brought the wizard to his house just to have him die from hypothermia.
He lowered him down gently.
Kneeling on the cold tile floor, Harry slid his hands under Snape's arms, to keep the unconscious man from sliding beneath the water. He could feel the tremors get less and less violent and soon the damaged skin was no longer blue, but a light shade of pink. Harry's arms began to ache. He rested his forehead on Snape's left shoulder, grateful that the wizard wasn't awake to see himself naked, wet and disabled.
"Maybe I should just work on getting you clean first. I hate to sound shallow, but you reek Professor and not in such a good way. I'll probably need a shower too. You'll be happy to know that in your revenge of my man-handling you, I've managed to soak my shirt right through."
Harry kept up the stream of words as he stretched precariously for the soap and washcloth. Managing to lather it up somehow, he sat for a few seconds pondering how he would bathe Snape while still preventing the former professor from slipping under the water. In the end he had to rely on a wandless levitation spell, earning himself a headache like no other. But at least he was able to comfortably disentangle himself from the slightly floating figure.
Looking on the body, Harry wondered where to begin scrubbing. He didn't want to hurt Snape even if the man was unconscious. He didn't want to scrub too hard for fear that the burns would flake or peal off. If he were anyone else but a Gryffindor he would admit to the terror that burned in the bottom of his stomach, some of which had nothing to do with his fear for causing more injury.
"He's just a man, not a monster," he muttered severely to himself in a voice that reminded him of another voice that once commanded him. "Belt up Potter. Are you a Healer in training or a pathetic eleven year old?"
Taking a deep breath, he got to work. Soon he realized that it stopped mattering that the skin he scrubbed at wasn't smooth and pale as he remembered. The important thing was to be gentle and careful. Harry knew how to have care, so much that it was natural to him. He wasn't fooling himself in thinking that he could be clinical about the task. It was Snape beneath the coarse washcloth and it was Snape that was covered in the burns. He didn't hate the wizard so although he wasn't about to start doting and fawning, he allowed the pity and compassion to wash over him as he cupped small amounts of water in the palm of his hands to trickle gently over the soapy, crinkled skin.
"Alright. This is the best I can get you for today, so let's get you out now," he said softly into the silent room as he drained the tub and towel dried the floating form. "Your temperature seems to be better so I bet you'll just hate waking up to me bathing you. The horror alone would kill you."
He levitated Snape back into the guest room, spent a minute fluffing and stacking the pillows in just the right way before he gently laid Snape down. Then he covered up Snape's nakedness with a thick black blanket.
He was pondering whether or not to cast a drying spell on Snape's damp, but still dirty hair, when the phone began to incessantly ring. Grabbing his wand, Harry quickly turned off the light. Then softly he whispered a quick "Goodnight Professor Snape", before closing the door gently.
He spent a few second cursing whoever had the gall to call at such a late hour of the night as he ran to his room to get to the phone before it woke his new guest.