Disclaimer: The characters belong to J.K. Rowling.

Pairing: Severus/Harry.

Rating: PG-13

Genre: light angst, artistic!fic.

Summary: Waiting and hoping.

Author: Spirit

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N.B - Sequel to 'Chasing Paper Butterflies'. Stands on its own, but if you're lost, go read that.

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BURNING...CARDBOARD...BRIDGES

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"To see a world in a grain of sand; and a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand; and eternity in an hour."

William Blake

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St. Mungo's Wizarding Hospital was not the most appropriate place to lose one's self in thought. The well-known opinion was that in such a place, worry and fear took precedent over all other emotions, except in the worse case scenario whereby fears are turned to reality and worry is tranformed into grief. To be caught in just such a situation, stranded in that moment between reality and nightmares, between hope and despair, was not a space that encouraged deep thinking. But alone, more mentally than physically, it was only that place in his mind that swirled with memories and unspoken thoughts, where Harry found he could truly work his way from surreality to real life.

He would never have thought that it was possible that three years later he would find himself a victim of the dark side once more. But there had been a bet and now all that was left to see was who had been right. The blood that slid down Harry's forehead was testament to the fact that no matter how old he got or how much he tried to move on, he would never be able to escape himself.

And though it ended three years too late, it had ended the moment that the remaining Death Eaters had rallied together to kill the war heroes of the recent war. It was in that space that Harry found himself, locked in dark eyes that held his gaze, speaking to him, glaring warnings, and demanding that he pulled on that side of his magic that made him greater than a dark wizard and servants of death.

But those dark eyes had not been there physically, because physically the owner had been in another place, no doubt fighting his own attackers just like Hermione and Ron and so many other of his Hogwarts' friends had been.

"Mr Potter, come with me," A Healer said, weeding him from the chaos of crying relatives and frantic medical personnel as paramedics levitated victims into the building, shouting for assistance and reeling off the magical maladies that affected their patient.

Watching from that haze inside his head, Harry saw the panic around him as a rising tide like the crescendo of a new fire, dancing in a blur of red and blue, converging and merging. And in that dark place where only his thoughts and memories kept him sane, the words to make it better as he knew was expected from him, their hero, would not rise to his lips and be spoken. The silence was far more comforting. The space behind his eyes was more real to him than the images of his surroundings.

"Help them," he whispered back, barely moving his lips. His eyes remained like stained glass, reflecting but not accepting the real life visions that played like shadows on the green surface.

She gently cradled his chin, turning his head to one side and tsked in sympathy when she saw the cursed raw and reddened flesh that marked the side of his face. The long gash that split his cheek, barely missing his eye, was deep enough to show the whiteness of a bone protruding. A rudimentary healing had been performed to stop it from bleeding too much. The magic was not enough to stop the blood that seeped from a huge scratch above his eyebrow, but at least that was shallow enough to leave unattended.

"Mr. Potter, you're very hurt. Sitting here will not solve anything." But her words trailed off as his eyes went cold, almost dead, and she could see that he had retreated to somewhere safer than this place. She could only whisper back as she released him, "Mr. Potter, you saved us all again. They are all dead. I don't know how, but the bodies will start to be gathered and you will see for yourself that not one who bore the mark of death is alive to exact any other sort of revenge."

If her words were meant to comfort Harry, they burned him instead. His life before, at Hogwarts, his days of innocence that marked his childhood and those months of clarity that marked his maturity, burned like Muggle pictures. Smiling faces were torn open by browned burned edges and in a second, happiness was erased. If hope was lost, if death was what would fill the empty space where his heart ached, Harry wondered if he was strong enough to face such pain.

If Severus should be dead, Harry knew that he would crumble and burn like the pictures in his head.

Should he try and pinpoint the exact second that he started to care about Severus Snape, that second would include a collage of milliseconds and each of them would be inconclusive to a stranger. It had just happened, slowly creeping upon him like a thief and left him more whole than he had been before. That he could find such a disagreeable man beautiful, was testament to how true Harry knew his feelings to be. Not beautiful in the physical sense, but in an earthly sort of way where he was crawling with mistakes and imperfections, and it was the way he tackled each of those faults in the best way he knew that drew Harry like a moth to a flame.

It was in the way that for nearly an entire year Severus said his name without saying a word. From Severus, Harry's name was an intense look of respect and understanding, softened around the edges by desire and compassion, and leaving a lingering feeling of ache and need that fluttered inside of Harry. His soul had trembled in response whenever he had been close enough to feel that look calling his attention.

"Harry?" Hermione's fingers were gentle as she stroked his hair, smiling at him, as if she knew what thoughts haunted him. "Are you alright?"

Harry couldn't tear his eyes away from the door, couldn't stop himself from watching the people rushing about the waiting room. He couldn't force his eyes away from searching the levitated forms in hopes of seeing dark hair and pale skin.

"Harry." Hermione tried again, but when he did not respond she made herself comfortable in the corner where he had found solace on the ground. She sat down beside him on the cold floor and wrapped her arms around his shoulder, resting her head on the mop of hair on his head. "There's still hope that they'll find him and bring him in soon. Don't worry, wherever he is he's safe. They'll find him."

But Harry couldn't whisper to her that he wasn't so sure. That two years apart could have led them too far away and perhaps he wasn't strong enough and careful enough. He couldn't say that he was afraid that when he unintentionally killed all the Death Eaters, he had also unintentionally destroyed the one man that he loved more than he even realized before.

Ron found them in their little huddle on the ground, their eyes glued to the door, scanning the victims as more were levitated in a steady stream. The damage seemed more than it actually was. Many would be healed in an hour or two. Many would return to their homes, having gotten over their panic and fear. Most would be alright. The Death Eaters were dead and that knowledge itself would give them the strength to heal. To Ron however, looking at his two best friends, he knew that this night was already too long in itself.

So he sat down on Harry's other side and had no qualms about joining their entwined huddle, not saying a word. Between them, words were sometimes not necessary and whatever needed to be shared could be expressed just as well in long hugs and sympathetic eyes.

"Find him," Harry prayed to himself, and to the space before his eyes, and maybe to no one in particular. "Please be alive."

There was a time when Harry wasn't sure that on his own he could be strong enough to live. It wasn't a matter of feeling lost in the despair of the war. It was the feeling that he no longer belonged among the survivers. He had survived, yes, but he had given so much of himself in sacrifice to keep everyone else whole that he no longer recognized himself.

So he had first returned to his past by returning to Hogwarts for his Seventh year. In the stone walls he could capture the best parts of his childhood and weave them back onto the ragged edges of his soul. One memory at a time and one moment at a time, he had recreated his past. Now he knew that he had taken everything that Hogwarts had offered to him as a sanctuary. He could not go back there because it wouldn't work anymore. He knew the moment that he left that it would be the last time that he would be able to walk Hogwarts' halls as a student who belonged. That time of his life was now past and nothing remained to take him back there. He wasn't a Gryffindor anymore. He wasn't a Hogwarts' student. That time was now gone.

So he moved on to finding out who he was now, and that had been harder than he thought it ever would be. Getting a job, acting like the nineteen year old that he was and not the eleven year old that he was tempted to try and lure to the surface, being Harry-the-man and not Harry-the-boy-who-lived, took willpower and focus and maturity and inner strength.

He had been afraid, waiting for the last parts of his childhood to crumble like ashes. Waiting for the phoenix that he knew dwelt inside of him to be reborn. And in the end, the transformation had snuck upon him so much that when it had happened it was seamless.

But he was selfish.

He wanted to keep the love that had been kindled like a match in the darkest time of his life and had somehow grown to be a bonfire. He wanted the man who had saved him and protected him to the very end, until he had been strong enough to fly on his own and confident enough to stay in the air.

Watching as the noise in the waiting roomed lulled, and the stream of victims trickled then finally stopped, Harry felt like his lungs were constricting in his chest.

Now they could only wait for the dead to be brought in.

"Mr. Potter, could you please come with us?" The four Aurors who approached their little group, seemed bent upon being obeyed. Even though Harry made no move to acknowledge them. "We know that you've had a very trying day, which only seems to get longer the more you sit there, but we need to know your account of what happened."

Harry slowly raised his eyes to them, not reacting to their reaction when they saw his wound. "I know what you know."

But that was not acceptible to them. They insisted that he remove himself from the ground and found a Healer who was all too willing to offer his assistance in any form that he could to the Great Harry Potter.

Harry cringed more at the look of adoration bestowed upon him than the pain that laced through his body when he tried to rise.

To his waiting audience there was no such impression of pain. To them he looked more like a fallen angel unfolding a dark cloak that looked like wings and arising in such a way that he seemed to levitate to his feet. Accompanied by the only other two people who could cast a light half as bright as he did in their minds. His green eyes were hollow, sad, dulled. His face was calm. Too calm. As if he had faced death one too many times to blanch at it's stench or cringe at the taste of it in the atmosphere. He looked every bit the little hero. He looked his age, and yet not. He was no child that was certain. But the set of his lips and the way his eyes darted to the doorway whenever anyone entered, made them believe that even if he was not disturbed about his surroundings, this angel was not as unaffected as he might at first seem.

"Where to?" Harry asked softly.

Just the sound of his voice seemed to give them new purpose. The Healer smiled and the Aurors indicated. The room seemed to quieten even more as more and more people realized that Harry had been sitting there. They all knew, somehow that he was responsible for the mass killing of the Death Eaters. For now they seemed more appreciative than suspicious. But without looking at their faces, Harry knew that the whispers would come soon, on another day, in another place. They would wonder about his level of magic and the type of person they were sure he had to be to cast such a powerful spell. But between then and now, Harry knew that they would never again see him as just an ordinary wizard.

He sat through the ministrations of the Healer in total silence then answered the rapidly fired questions of the Aurors in an almost monotonous tone. He recreated the story for them giving the little detail that he remembered as honestly as he could. He had no secret in this matter to hide from them.

"So three unknown Death Eaters Apparated to your flat at 8pm last night. You fought, and suddenly they dropped dead?" One of the Aurors - Daniels, or was it Diamonds - reiterated, taking notes.

Harry looked away. Hermione reached out to take his hand, but there was silence until Harry turned back to face the Aurors. Beyond the doorway, everyone could see the levitated sheet-covered figures that were being tallied.

"It was a fleeting thought. I was fighting and I got bored. I merely thought that enough was enough and they should die now. I'm not sure I meant it, but as soon as I thought it the Death Eaters clutched their arms, started to scream and then they fell. I looked at them and suddenly I knew that they weren't the only ones to have died." Harry's voice was once again dull. His words sounded as if he rehearsed them, but the sadness in his eyes said that he was telling the truth and that he wasn't entirely comfortable with the outcome of the squirmish.

"You didn't touch them?"

"No more than I did before," Harry responded softly.

"And did you cast a spell, silently? A dark charm?"

Harry shook his head. "No."

The Aurors looked at each other. Harry looked beyond them, outside again. Watching the bodies with their hanging black sheets, bobbing in the air. The Ministry would know, or pretend to know, how many of the Death Eaters they should expect. Harry vaguely wondered if Severus' name was on that list, despite the fact that he had been welcomed back at Hogwarts like Harry and his friends. Harry wondered if a checkmark would be placed alongside that name. He wondered if beneath one of those black sheets Severus laid cold and silent.

His stomach recoiled at the thought. He closed his eyes to block the image, and when he opened them Ron was looking at him in understanding. Without a word between them, Ron slipped out of the room with such stealth that his footsteps barely made a sound. Harry visibly relaxed. Hermione squeezed his fingers.

"Mr. Potter." His name drew Harry's attention back to the Aurors. They were all smiling as if he could do no wrong. "Thank you for your co-operation. This matter is very delicate and you, I'm sure, can understand that the line between murder and self-defence is rather blurred. We doubt that any charges will be brought against you, however. You did save us all again last night."

Harry smiled tiredly. The words felt as if they were flowing over him like air. He could sense them but they meant nothing. And he was tired. Tired of the wait and the ache and the fear. If he could voice one wish in that second it would be to just know. Death or hope. The uncertainty seemed bent on driving him crazy.

"Is he there?" He asked softly, once Hermione had led him out of the room of Aurors and Ron was standing before him again. "Anything?"

Ron shook his head. "His name wasn't on the checklist. That could either be good or bad."

Harry felt like his skin was separating from his flesh, and if it wasn't he was tempted to do just that in his frustration. Instead he took a deep breath, threw one final look around the waiting area then said softly, "I'm going home. I think I'm soffocating in here."

The floo to Grimmauld Place seemed longer than it was supposed to. The spinning made Harry feel nausious. The flames whipped about his body as he passed from one fireplace to the next. The green of it ensured that no permanent marks got burned into his flesh, despite the actual ache he felt from his wish that this did indeed happen and he was in fact able to catch afire. At least then he would feel something outside of the numbness and the despair that curled hot and heavy in the pit of his stomach.

He had an irrational, nearly hysterical desire to clutch the base of his abdomen, fall to the hearth and wail out his frustration and the overwhelming sense of grief that he was feeling. There was a voice in his head that kept trying to tell him that if Severus had gone missing, he was probably dead and others were just not able to identify the body. Such an idea was so hateful that it made Harry gasp, nearly sucking up a lungful of soot as he stumbled out of the fireplace.

It took only a second for Harry to realize that the hands that caught and steadied him belonged to the person that he had been secretly praying to every god he knew, to keep safe. And then the words that he needed to say would not rise to his lips, so he stood there with uncertainty gleaming in his green eyes until the black eyes that watched him, narrowed in suspicion.

But Harry didn't give Snape a chance to speak.

"There's something I wanted to do," he mumbled instead. "I felt so stupid because there everyone one was, all bandaged up with Healers racing through spells to patch them up..." The steps he had been taking as he spoke, took Harry directly into the path of the obsidian eyes and he didn't stop until he could see his reflection in their surface. "...and there I was stupidly thinking that I should I have held on to you that last evening at Hogwarts and I never should have left you there alone."

"Potter." The one word was like a flint in Harry mind. He felt his body ignite even as the satiny voice continued. "What are you blabbering on about?"

Harry reached out a finger to trace Severus' lips as he pretended that Severus hadn't said anything at all. He rubbed his thumb against Severus' bottom lip, back and forth again and again as he watched in mesmerized fascination.

"Kiss you?" He murmured incoherently. Brokenly. The flames seemed to be travelling up his spine. "Let me. Want to."

He didn't wait for the response. He merely tilted his head and crashed into the thin lips in his path. The kiss was brutal and desperate at first, as if Harry wanted to taste blood to convince himself that Severus was really standing unharmed in his presence. It became slower as Severus snapped out of his surprise and took control. It became gentler when they each realized that it had been two years since the last time that they had gotten to taste and feel each other like this.

"Was so sure," Harry mumbled and murmured in between breaths and lips and air and need. "Hurt so much to think about. Didn't want you to be dead."

Severus arms went around Harry's waist to cradle the trembling body against his body. Harry tried to hide his tears of relief in the crook of Severus' neck and in the collars of both their black robes. It was amazing enough that Severus was holding on to him as tightly as Harry himself was holding on. Harry wanted to stay, forever protected and forever basking in the glow of relief and hope.

"I figured out that you killed the Death Eaters tonight," Harry was finally able to say in a proper sentence. "I couldn't figure out if you had sacrificed yourself to let it happen. You did it very cleverly. Made it seem like me, and a little bit of it was me, wasn't it? But it was a little bit of Voldemort's last power too. You used the Dark Mark."

"Yes," Severus responded. Harry shivered at the tone.

"Why?" he asked instead when he realized that his heart and his head had come to the same decision and there would be no running for cover away from the one wizard who couldn't seem to stop murdering people, because of his personal sense of duty. "Why did you kill them?"

Severus' black eyes narrowed even more.

"For selfish reasons," came the response. "It was necessary. They are a part of my past that I do not wish to revisit and it was easier to eliminate than ignore them. I have no desire to go back to that way of life. It was something I had to do before -"

Something in the way that Severus spoke made Harry's stomach recoil in pain.

So Harry stopped the words. He stopped them with a whimper. With a kiss. This time he let himself go by conciously forgetting his own past and the things of his life that would someday trap or condemn him in the eyes of the wizarding world. He kissed Severus with everything inside of him that hurt and hoped and needed. He had only the desire to be free of everything that made him who he was, and of every decision and choice that had been made in his name before he was even old enough to understand consequences. He pressed himself against Severus' body, barely breathing, barely thinking, selfishly wanting only one thing before it was too late.

Severus pulled away, stopping him with fingers in his hair and a complicated look of rejection and acceptance in his eyes. "Harry, don't be a martyr. Doing this will not change my decision. I can't let it."

"I'm not." Harry smiled wryly. "This is for me. I'm not a child, I know what I want."

"This won't make you into a man," Severus chided.

'But it will get me the man I want,' Harry thought in response, only he answered in a soft pleading tone instead. "Just let me do this. I want to. Let this be my bridge to burn."

Severus gazed at him for a very long time. Harry tried to meet the gaze but the charcoal eyes upon him was driving him insane and a different sort of fire was coursing through his veins, making his chest hurt in anticipation. Without a word, Severus suddenly reached out, took his hand, and led him up the stairs and into the closest bedroom.

There was a mantra in Harry's mind that seemed to be rooted in the magic of the earth. Every time he silently whispered the words he felt the ground shake, heard the air swirl and wondered if water could weep or if the tears he was crying inside was for himself or for his fear. The touch of Severus' fingers on his body reminded him of the collage of images and memeories that he had fallen in love with in order to fall in love with Severus Snape. The lips on his lips, the flesh against his flesh, the soft sounds and firm yet gentle instructions cacooned him in a sensation that was like walking on water. It was surreal. It was almost too perfect to bear.

And that feeling of Severus sliding slowly inside of him for the first time was something that Harry knew he would never forget.

Even when he was enfolded within Severus' arms, drifting asleep to the sensation of fingers tracing the contours of his cheek and lips and nose, he had to fight the urge to whimper aloud. Instead he pressed his face into Severus' shoulder, kissing every inch of skin that his mouth touched and silently breathing his mantra against the column of Severus' throat as he waited for the world to realign itself and for the sky to stop falling down in shards of unshed tears. He clung to the man who held him, wishing that he was strong enough and smart enough to say the spells to bind their souls together.

"You're exhausted. Stop trying to stay awake."

The concern that was apparent in those simple words opened the flood-tides to Harry's emotions. He was exhausted. But he was also afraid and he wanted just once to be selfish enough to not have to worry about anyone other than himself. He had walked out of Severus' arms once before. He didn't think he had the strength once more to stay in the air alone without Severus to hold him up. He didn't want to spend another two years waiting and hoping and alone, being submerged in terror whenever someone with black hair and ivory skin was said to pass away.

"Stay with me!" He breathed and the spoken mantra made his body shake again. The shock of the night and the ensuing events was catching up to his exhausted form it seemed. But some words had to be spoken. "Don't go. Don't disappear. I know that you want them to think you died too and it's easier this way, but I can't fly without you and I'll burn in your wake."

It was the closest he would get to saying what he really wanted to say. He knew that Severus would blanche at sentimentality and syrupy words. He also knew that there were some words that he didn't have to say aloud to be understood, like 'I love you', and 'I need you', and 'This hurts'.

"I cannot stay," Severus said, even though his arms tightened around Harry. "I have walked away from everything in my life that made me who I was. You requested tonight for me to allow you the freedom of making your own choice. I want you to grant me that same favor."

"I do," Harry responded. He propped himself up on the bed so that he could look down on Severus. "So if you can't stay, then take me with you."

But the only response he got was the intense darkness of Severus' eyes. Then there was the steady, comforting sound of Severus's heartbeats as he was pulled back down into the restraint of long arms and a firm body. He couldn't fight the saporific effect of Severus stroking his hair or of having lips lightly gliding back and forth across his face in gentle butterfly kisses, especially when he would have never expected such tenderness from Snape. He fell asleep to softly spoken words, which were whispered too low for him to truly hear and so quickly that they might as well have been in another language because he couldn't decifer them.

Harry awoke to sunlight streaming through the magically reflective glass of a window, draped in soft cotton sheets, as naked as he had fallen asleep. Beside him the bed was empty except for a faded piece of parchment on which words were written in a neat, familiar handwriting. Resting on it was a single black rose. Some of the petals had fallen off. Harry reached for them blindly through the tears that refused to be spilled from his eyes, past the ache that made his stomach cramp as he read and reread the words. He wasn't sure what he was feeling or if he was even feeling anything at all.

You are more magical than the entire wizarding world. To take you away would be taking the brightest star from a midnight sky. I cannot in good conscience do that. You have friends here. You have a life. I have neither for now. But know that you are not one of the things in my past that I have any desire to leave for long. So wait for me. If I return, it will be for you alone.

Still, the dried petals had crumbled like ashes in his palm.

x-Fin-x