Disclaimer: Harry Potter isn't mine. Woeness.
Beta'd by the fantabulous Dress-Without-Sleeves, who rocks like geology.
In late October, every October, Harry visits the grave.
It's an inconspicuous resting place, barely noticeable even to those few who know it exists – marked only by a large green stone half-buried by the lake, at the foot of Dumbledore's gleaming white sarcophagus.
The trees near the sarcophagus blaze gold and phoenix-red, and all the flowers that normally bloom wildly around it have died from the growing chill and early frosts. Ivy creeps up the tomb's side, thick and tangled and oddly beautiful, contrasting sharply with the brown-orange-yellow leaves lying scattered on the top.
He pauses at the side of the white tomb, rests his palm carefully against the cool, smooth marble and thinks of the man within, the finest professor to ever teach at Hogwarts, an elderly man who'd died to help save the world. Harry's eyes don't burn with the pain of it anymore – it's been too long, now, and this old grief has been overlaid by newer sorrows – but there's still a curiously hollow place deep inside whenever he sees the tomb.
And yet – and yet he's not here for Dumbledore, not today. Dumbledore's time is the spring, when the sun is bright overhead and the air is filled with the scent of roses, when the breeze is warm and comforting as a blanket on a chilly night. Dumbledore's time is when the world's blooming like a flower and students laugh in the sheer euphoria of winter's end.
October – the dying of autumn, the edge of frost overtaking dew – October belongs to someone else.
Harry trails his hand along the side of Dumbledore's tomb, fingers skimming along marble and over ivy as he walks slowly to the foot of the monument, where the green stone lies almost hidden beneath fallen leaves and a patch of clover. Harry takes a step away from the white tomb, until he stands before the green stone.
For a long moment he merely stares, letting the cold autumn winds sweep their fingers through his hair and trace chills down his spine; his robes flutter lazily in the breeze and his teeth begin to chatter.
Finally, he lowers himself to a crouch; it's as much a futile attempt to regain some warmth as anything, or so he reassures himself. Harry doesn't believe in kneeling, and the man at Dumbledore's feet has done nothing to deserve reverence, not really. Not from him.
But he reaches out anyway, brushes the stone clear of fallen leaves and overgrown clover and dirt, traces the line of a tan vein over the rough green surface, and the hollow place inside him feels a little more echoingly empty. And Harry knows it'll disappear later, once he's left the cold October air behind, once he steps into his warm little house and swings his daughter up onto his shoulders, rests his baby son's head in the crook of his elbow. He'll meet Ginny's dark, understanding gaze and the warmth there will thaw him out again, just like it has every October since the end of the war.
Hermione and Ron don't understand it, don't understand why he buried the man in secret at Dumbledore's feet, don't understand why he still – why he still pays his respects, he supposes, though it feels wrong to even consider respecting this particular person. But Ginny's never had to ask why he does it, never tells him he's being irrational; she just brushes her lips lightly against his faded scar and says, "Tell him 'hi' for me."
"You aren't forgotten," Harry finally mutters a little reluctantly, his voice cutting across the disgruntled murmurings of the wind and the rustle of dying leaves overhead. "And I don't mean – I don't mean that people just remember you for…" His tongue feels too large, too clumsy, but he struggles to finish – just as he's struggled every time he's come to the stone, every October.
"Not just for killing Dumbledore," he manages to say at last. "They know the truth, we've made sure of it – the Order and me'n Hermione and Ron. They know Dumbledore ordered you to – well, you know. And even if…even if most people don't care…the Order does. McGonagall, she's old and her mind's going, now, but she keeps calling for you, says she needs to apologize for what she said to you before she knew the truth."
Harry pauses; hot, burning flames lick at the corners of his eyes and his throat feels tight and stretched taut.
His voice wavers oddly, but he continues on anyway. "And I remember too. I remember finding you - "
He doesn't say more about that memory, doesn't have to – it's branded into his mind, scar tissue as angry and red as Sirius' death, Dumbledore's death, the last confrontation with Voldemort. He doesn't have to talk to recall with perfect, vivid detail the October night he found Snape on his doorstep in Godric's Hollow, slumped against the door, staining the wood with his blood.
He doesn't have to talk to remember the wild, fierce urgency in his former professor's eyes, to recall every word the man ground out before Harry had even finished opening the door – words like "Dumbledore's orders" and "I never should have obeyed" and "the last horcrux – Potter, the last horcrux is - ".
He doesn't have to talk to remember staring at Snape's wounds – "Bellatrix never trusted me…" broken by a muted but sharp gasp of pain – and knowing, somehow, that the older man was for once telling the full and unvarnished truth. He doesn't have to say a word, because that night, that October night as Snape lay dying on his bed, they'd said everything that needed to be said – everything except the most important words, the ones Harry knows he can never say out loud.
There were times, that night, when Harry wanted to go outside, let the cold autumn air soak through him and into his heart, freeze it so he could watch Snape die without feeling something inside himself dying as well.
And there were times he wanted to hasten Snape on his way.
But Harry wasn't dispassionate and he wasn't a murderer, and in the end he found himself sitting at Snape's side, muttering pain-numbing spells and trying in vain, trying desperately, to heal him.
"Why did you even join him?" He'd been so angry, so furious at the waste of life, angry at Snape for being stupid enough to become a Death Eater in the first place, stupid enough to land himself in a mess where the only way out was death.
"Slytherin, Potter," and though Snape spoke through clenched teeth and in a voice leaden with pain, Harry could still feel his professor's scorn lash against his skin. But this time the scorn was for them both, equally, and that more than anything had convinced Harry that Snape wasn't the villain this time. "I wanted to – be remembered."
And then, when dawn began to break, when Snape began to fade rapidly as the night into morning, Harry had grabbed his hand and asked the one question that had simmered in him, deep down, since that night in the tower. "Why? Even if Dumbledore ordered you to kill him, even if he wanted it – why did you agree? Why did you kill him?"
Snape didn't answer him for the longest time; he'd twisted in Harry's bed, face slick with sweat, hand trembling in Harry's grip, his eyes fever-bright beneath heavy, half-closed lids. Harry had begun to worry that Snape wasn't even truly conscious anymore when the man finally spoke.
"I would have – given my life – for him," Snape had gasped out, lip curled back in a sneer that somehow looked more full of sorrow than rage. "But he – wanted my – honor instead."
At the time, Harry hadn't known what to say. Words, platitudes lined themselves up on his tongue and dissipated on his lips, and he knew there was something to be said, something important, but he didn't know what. By the time he knew what the right words were – well, he'd been silent a little too long, and his professor convulsed and died with a snarl twisting his lips.
Harry hadn't moved from his bed for hours after that. He stared at Snape's body for the longest time, etching it into his memory (he'd wanted to be remembered, and he would be, but not for the right things, not for his courage or his dedication, never for his honor). He almost tried, eventually, to smooth out the man's face, to help him find a bit of peace in death, but he pulled back before his fingertips made contact. Snape hadn't known the meaning of peace during life, Harry was pretty certain of that, and the angry, pained defiance twisting his face – well, Harry suspected, deep down, that erasing that defiance would be as bad as forgetting the man completely, forgetting every ugly, twisted facet of him in favor of a watercolor lie about noble martyrs and necessary sacrifices.
Harry respected the truth too much to indulge in a comfortable lie.
Hermione and Ron dropped by at about noon that day and were stunned to find their former teacher dead in their best friend's home. Harry had told them quietly that Snape'd been on their side all along, that he knew where the last horcrux was now, and that once night fell, he was going to go bury the former Death Eater by Dumbledore's tomb.
They'd argued – Hermione told him he should contact the Ministry so they could properly dispose of Snape's corpse; Ron just wanted to send the body up in flames. "No one will ever agree to him being left on Hogwarts grounds," Hermione had told him, glancing nervously at the bed. "He killed Dumbledore, Harry, and – well, he's…he was a Death Eater."
"Then we won't tell anyone," Harry had snapped stubbornly, and had made his best friends swear to keep silent. Ginny found out, later, and they told McGonagall after the war ended, but no one else knew the secret of the green stone.
Harry doesn't have to speak to remember any of that. And he doesn't have to speak at all, really, because the words he hadn't been able to find that October dawn, the words he'd spent years wishing he'd been able to say, are carved into the bottom of the green stone. Words only for Snape to see and Harry to know.
Severus Snape. Dumbledore's man, an honorable man.
No one else will ever know, Harry supposes, and no one else will remember. But Harry knows and remembers – remembers a traitor speaking of honor, a murderer dying for doing the right thing. Harry remembers, and it's not nearly enough.
He isn't sure how much time has passed when he finally stands again, his back aching and his knees protesting sharply. He hesitates, his eyes never leaving the stone. "I'll see you next year, sir," he says, his voice quiet and steady. "Next October."
He starts to walk away, then pauses, turns, returns to the stone, comes to a decision. He lowers himself to his knees – not reverence, not for Snape, but respect, maybe, an attempt at an equality they'd never shared in life. "Next October," he repeats to himself, then smiles crookedly. "I'll bring my kids, too. I'll tell them – I'll tell them about you."
For a long moment – a moment masquerading as eternity – he waits, almost as if expecting a sign, a ray of bright sunlight breaking through the gray clouds blanketing the sky, an ethereal voice sneering about the horror of Potters spawning. But he only sees a red-gold leaf sway gently to the ground, hears only the buzzing of a few hardy insects, feels only the wind whipping around him.
"I'll bring my children," he says again, his voice softer than leaves meeting the ground. "Every October. And Ginny – she would appreciate a chance to say 'hi' in person, I think."
Harry shivers as he climbs, once again, to his feet. But he won't be cold for long – his warm little home awaits him, and he'll thaw in Ginny's smile, in his children's embraces.
And tonight, he tells himself as he shoves his hands in his pockets and begins the long walk to Hogsmeade, tonight he'll sit them down around the fire and tell them about an honorable man.