Disclaimer: The characters and setting belongs to J.K. Rowling.
Summary: Whereby the heart is a well of secrets and love comes in varying degrees.
Flickers of Ascension Unseen
He has the date marked on about five different calendars just because he is so afraid that if he blinks it will be over and he'll miss this very important event. The clock on the wall tells him that it's not quite eleven yet, but he doesn't think that he's getting any more tired. The bed squeaks as she turns, searching for him, but he sits at the edge with his head in his hands listening to the now interrupted tick of the clock. Clocks tell the time, that is their function and no matter how grand his celebrity status gets it makes him feel safe to know that some things remain the same, even amidst all the magic.
"Love, come to bed," she mumbles to him.
Her hair on the pillow forms a orange-red halo. Her pretty blue eyes are darkened by sleep and the candlelight, while her cheeks are flushed for some reason. He reaches out to stroke a finger down one smooth plane, from cheekbone to chin. She smiles and he can't deny her a soft smile in response, pressing his fingertips to her lips. And she kisses them lightly, already drifting back to sleep.
His hand trembles as he moves his fingers and presses them against his own mouth. It's not her kiss that sticks in his imagination and haunts him in his dreams, but he can barely dredge up enough courage to face this realization much less deal with the guilt.
He can remember the promises that he never ever spoke aloud, and the way it felt to never have to lie because once two people started coexisting on a certain higher level then even survival took a back seat and all the things he never said was as plain as day. Plain enough to drill holes into his stomach whenever the silence started to burn him. He strokes the silver chain around his neck that spills more secrets than he cares to divulge.
And he misses him. Misses him so damn much that it makes the room spin and his whole body hurt. While his heart beats to a name that he keeps prisoner in there, behind locking spells and padlocks. Beyond magic and muggle.
The floor seems to shift and tumble when he finally bolsters up the energy to rise and walk towards the closed door. Out of habit he wards it again once he's on the other side, just because he lived through enough years having to watch his back and his back and heaven knows, the whole damn world's back during the war. During a war, which wasn't a war when it was a massacre and just people waking up in the middle of the night to screaming and tears and the dark mark floating over their house, when it wasn't. He feels no remorse for the things he did to stay alive. Maybe that's why he made such a good Death Eater and an even better spy. Some things came a little too natural to him.
The owl that intrudes his house many mornings, brought the paper. He doesn't have to open it to know the speculations are still rampant. Advice is spewed left, right and center amidst its pages as if the boy ever reads the paper anyway. The very fact that his owl brings it here instead of wasting time taking it home is evidence enough that he is probably now rather swamped with planning and well-wishes to spare a moment reading tips on who caters the best and what dress robes are in fashion.
He knows from experience that the bird will not release its package unless there is some sort of treat involved, but he still glares at her in hopes that soon he'll break the annoying thing out of that extortionist attitude. Of course, like every morning he receives a nip to his fingers for his troubles and spend a few seconds cursing the brat that owns her.
The potion that is brewing in the back room is worth more than his entire year's salary at Hogwarts did. The ministry has no qualms about paying him to brew it every three months, because among the aurors, and maybe the Unspeakables, they go through the entire batch in just that short a time. He would have sold it in the black market in any case and sometimes he gets private owls asking for just a vial at three times the regular value. Veritaserum is a popular commodity no matter what the wizard's background.
Still he lingers at the dining table, staring at the black and white image that is the headline of the newspaper.
'Severus',he hears whispered into his ear. 'I asked her to marry me.'
'So I've heard.'
'Really? I only just asked her last night!'
'News of this sort travels fast.'
'What sort would that be?'
'The hero returns and claim a bride. Haven't you read the fairytales Potter?'
He can see the way the emerald eyes would darken, shying away when he frowns in exasperation at the naivity that pours off alabastor skin even after three years fighting a war that wasn't a war at all. Even after all the time that they spent in each other's company. Saving each other. Saving themselves. Dancing around curses that were green enough to kill, hands holding each other grounded, whispering, begging in hoarse voices to hold on. To live. For his part, at least Severus recognizes the moment that he stopped deluding himself. He hasn't hated the boy in years.
But he hates him now, standing beside the woman that is caught in the middle even if she has no idea what she is shielding her darling Harry Potter from.
'Say something. You think too much. You spend too much time stuck inside that place in your head. What the hell do you have to think about so fucking much?'
'You have a very dirty mouth,' he chides. 'Hold your tongue.'
'You're getting married.' Saying the words is harder than he ever imagines. 'What exactly am I expected to say?'
There is an exasperated sigh. Soft, like he imagined it. But long lashes lower over grass green eyes.
'Say no. Say no. Say no. Damn it, Severus. Say...'
Severus stares at the black and white image on the cover of the wizarding newspaper, disgusted with himself for needing to reach out to the man in the photograph who presses his tiny hand to the front of the paper, while the woman who loves him wraps her arms around his waist to steal his attention. The paper is counting down to the wedding. Eleven days. Twelve hours. Forty-five minutes. Seconds. Seconds. Seconds.
Severus drops the paper back onto the table, savoring the whip-like sound it makes, because it gives him something else to listen to than the different conversations that he keeps replaying in his head. He's too old for this, he chides himself as he presses the palm of his hand to his forehead in hopes of stifling his thoughts.
"Dirty pedophile," he spits out into the too-silent room. "He's barely a man, nearly half your age, and he's engaged."
'Damn it Severus. Say no.'
He stalks out of the room before the ache in his chest can rupture its way past his lips.
He walks like he has shackles chained to his ankles, even though he's just twenty three this past July and it's been a year now since he really had to worry about not waking up, even though his dreams remind him every night of how that felt. Likely he'll never forget.
On the mantle there's a pensieve.
Ordinary little marble bowl that it looks like, it makes a great conversation piece when the neighbours get nosy. And he lies so much about it that some days even he forgets that it is more than just a vessel for more than just sugar-quills. It stands there as a reminder to many things that he wishes that he did not have to remember. In his mind, his life is divided between the time before the war and the time he now lives in. There were people who said that the war was pretentious in that it wasn't really a war at all since it was just a few wizards against the world, but of course they were probably the ones locked safely in their basements, not having offended Voldemort and all the Death Eaters with their birth.
He looks up when Ginny walks into the room only half dressed in a lacy negligee that is intended to give Harry ideas. She holds out the cordless phone to him with a wry smile that works as his reminder of how odd she still finds his new house. The fact that she has to walk past the television set and over to the fireplace that has Dumbledore's pensieve and a can of floo powder on the mantle to get to him, only feeds her amusement this morning.
Harry steps away from the flames, catching her with arms around her waist. He buries his nose in the space between her shoulder and neck, pressing a kiss among the tufts of her hair. She laughs, handing him the phone.
"Severus owled to tell me that he has Hedwig again."
His arms slip away from Ginny as he slips into that secret place inside of himself that is filled with tears and relieving laughter, and one small smile that took his breath away like the kiss he never really got to savor. He smiles, even though he never usually realizes that he's doing just that. Moving away as he mouths 'It's Hermione' to his fiancée, he sits on his very comfortable setee with his knees tucked in and his back against an arm rest. Just the name calls forth a deluge of images and fights.
'My owl does not have a chronic dependency problem! She's just tired and you were the closest shoulder.'
'Here in the middle of a forest where everything is a potential perch?' The sarcasm was nearly tangible. 'Am I really to believe that you know your familiar so little?'
'God! Don't you ever just say stuff the way they occur in your head? Plain and simple.'
'Alright.' Long fingers reached out to grasp Harry's wrist. 'Your bird is going to give us away next time if she insists on using me as her scratching post, especially when I'm under an Obscurity spell.'
'Doesn't make her dependent.'
'No?' A scowl. 'Maybe just plain daft then if she doesn't know her master from the man who is standing next to him.'
Harry shrugged, with a mischievous grin. He circled the blur that was Severus, uncanningly knowing where the pieces of the wizard fit, enough to whisper against strands of black hair and the pale shell of an ear.
'Maybe you smell like me now.'
The sound of his soft laugh is breathless and so beautiful that on the other end of the line Hermione squeezes her eyes shut tightly to block out what she knows, and has always suspected, despite the protests that she has listened to over the years. She can picture him in her mind, with his black hair longer than the last time she saw him but forever ruffled. His green eyes would sparkle just from her having mentioned Snape. She knows he would turn a shade of red if she points this out. And his fingers would be at his throat, playing with the silver and green chain that was transfigured for his neck alone.
"Harry," she says softly into the space between his thoughts.
He clears his throat to pull himself back into this moment instead of all the other shards that he keeps so close at hand, which are always so ready to rip their way to the surface of his mind.
"Sorry 'Mione," he murmurs. "I'm still a little too tired this morning to be having a serious conversation."
"Liar," she whispers back. "Sleep has nothing to do with your distraction."
She can see him. Both of them. Sometimes she sees them the way she caught them once, with their arms around each other, their foreheads pressed together, finding answers that existed only in the other's gaze. Trusting only each other after everything that they had to do to live. And she remembers what he pretends to forget. The way their fingers linger when they even brush by each other. The way their bodies are attuned to each other. It's almost too easy to not have to remember the way they all hated each other only six years ago, and now their entire beings are so intertwined that she breathes in one from the lips of the other.
"Why doesn't he just owl me himself?"
Hermione snorts. "Far too easy for Snape. You know him. He didn't even use her to send the message either."
She waits for the penny to drop. Waits to hear if he knows what he's supposed to say now. She's holding the phone so tightly in her hand that her knuckles turn white. So she forces herself to take a deep breath before Ron wanders into the room and asks her what has gotten her so upset. There are some things that her husband doesn't know, that she doesn't know how to tell him. Being Ron, she knows he wouldn't understand her double-edged jealousy. Sometimes she thinks that the months she spent separated from Ron during the war, were all the months in her life that molded her into the woman that she is now.
'Miss Granger, I could be your father.'
'You could be his too.'
'What are you implying?'
'That I'm not blind. Just don't think too much about any of it. Just pretend...'
Harry rolls his eyes, even though there is no one to see. He can't help the smile that tugs at his lips as he gives an exasperated sigh, because this is the excuse that he has been looking for in the last five months. That is how long ago that he last saw Severus.
"He's holding her hostage?"
Her voice is just a little strained. Harry's jaw tightens at the way his gut twists, not at her response but what lay beneath the word. He knows that if he is to examine it there will be too much anger and something that will hurt too deeply to just be jealousy. So as always, he pushes his own reaction inside the safe that resides in his chest, forcing himself to relax. The chain around his neck means something that she cannot touch and will never really understand. Not her. Not Ginny. It was powerful enough to make him blush at the sheer force in the beginning, but now he has had years to selfishly savor it and has had years to deal with the fact that not only is it another man that makes him feel this fragile inside, but it is Severus Snape. It's a little like walking over broken glass while enveloped in calming heat.
"Well, thanks for telling me."
She sighs patiently, and he waits to hear the smile in her voice.
"So how is Ginny?"
"Ginny?" He smiles back.
Right on cue, the object of his affection saunters casually into the room, dressed in proper Ministry robes with her wand dangling innocently from her fingers. She leans over to drop a kiss upon the faded scar on his forehead. He repays her with a quick kiss on her lips, but is too distracted for anything else.
'He's Harry Potter.'
'You say that like he's some kind of god. He's still the same Harry we know. People make mistakes all the time.'
'Me you mean?'
'Oh shut it. I know you mean me. You don't like us together anymore. Why?'
'Ginny, I don't dislike you being with him.'
'Then why do you look at us like that sometimes?'
'How do you mean?'
'Like you've swallowed something wretched.'
She captures his free hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles, murmuring that she'll be home before him today. His fingers are cold for some reason, as if he has been gripping something hard to stop the circulation in his hand. She doesn't have the time to try and breathe warmth back into them because unlike him she's not yet a fully trained auror and her day begins far earlier than his. Instead she whispers goodbye and tells him to tell Hermione the same. Still it hurts a little when he laughs at something that his best friend said. Sometimes she doesn't think she understands him, and that Hermione will always be the woman that he holds on a pedestal. Yet, even Hermione confesses to falling short in his eyes sometimes.
"I'll see you later," she says one final time.
He smiles and nods, kissing her cheek and her neck.
"Later then," he whispers with a wink.
Four years ago
He cries like his lungs have been ripped to shreds. All jagged and erratic. The dirt ground swallows his tears as they fall from his lowered face. He is on his knees with his arms around his stomach. As if it was his spells that killed them. As if he could have saved them if they had arrived just a little bit earlier. Perhaps they could have tried, but the charred remains tell Snape that at least the deaths were quick and impersonal. And it means that someone has realized what they were doing and is fighting back. This horcrux is now beyond their reach. But Potter, with his immaculate ability to focus on the present, is now wasting precious minutes crying for a remote town of muggles, who had been apparently stupid enough to not realize that the relic they probably treasured for years now, belonged to someone willing to wipe out the entire town to reclaim it.
"Your tears will be of no use to them. Mourn for strangers on your own time."
"You unfeeling prick!" The green eyes flashed beyond round-framed contraptions. "They didn't deserve this!"
Snape's lips curl in disgust. "You don't know that. You just believe so much in them that you forget that not all of them deserves to be saved."
"How can you -" His breath catches, and he has to gasp to continue. "How can you fight for something that you don't fucking believe in! God, you're like a machine! They were people. Innocent!"
That last word seems to shatter what little control Potter has mantained over his breathing. The rest of his breaths collapse as soon as they leave his mouth, and he doubles over again, this time in an effort to stop hyperventilating. His eyes find Snape's, somehow holding the dark eyes captive even while his entire body shakes with his gasps for air.
With an effort, Snape tears his gaze away with a scowl that is not quite angry enough to be frustration and disgust. He is honest with himself enough to realize that he has perhaps pushed the boy a little too far by expecting him to learn the lesson of apathy. Their mission is of the utmost importance. By now the Death Eaters would have realized that neither of them are as dead as the papers have been reporting, and they would be on the alert to guard the horcruxes with their lives. But there will be nothing of the boy to hunt if he allows him to fall apart at his feet. Despite everything, he sometimes forget just how young Potter is in the eyes of the world. Nineteen is barely old enough to have a family, and yet here he is, expected to save the world.
Three strides takes Snape before the accusing eyes as he kneels to put them on the same level.
"If you want to live Potter, if you have a hope of surviving long enough to stand and fight him again, it would do you well to remember that you need me. Otherwise you'd crumble at the first sign of death. Just look at you now."
"God I - hate you - sometimes." His voice is a series of gasps and two razor sharp words.
"Sometimes?" Snape tilts Potter's face up. "Look at me."
He waits until the sad green eyes meet his. The tears makes the green look wet and sparkly.
"I don't care what you think of me most days but you're of no use to me like this. Focus on me. Draw your strength from me," he says very deliberately. "I am the only thing that can keep you safe and I know you've realized this by now. When this is all over then you may fall to pieces, lose your mind or retreat into your own dark corner of self abuse. But for now, you have to continue to trust me."
Potter violently moves his face away, trembling with the effort to get his body back under control.
Snape watches him. Even in the dying light of day with the ashes of no less than fifty humans and burned buildings falling like snow around them, he still looked the part of the little hero. Even curled as he is around himself, like a helpless child.
Severus tilts Harry's face again, but this time he presses their face together. Forehead to forehead, nose to nose, breathing each other's breath, he forces Harry to focus on him.
"Come on," he whispers. "Breathe, boy."
"You better be nearly dead to be ringing this early."
"Come to Hogwarts with me."
"Hemione?" Harry groans loudly, squinting his eyes to make out the time, beyond the dark and the blur of his near-sightedness. "Merlin on a mountain, woman it's 3 AM!"
"Come to Hogwarts with me," she whispers like a mantra.
"No. Okay," she laughs softly. "No. Later? Professor McGonagall owled to say that we can come look at the Great Hall."
"I know what it looks like," he grumbles. "Besides, why does everyone owl you to get to me? Why don't they just owl me themselves?"
"You're getting married," she says patiently.
"What the hell's that got to do with it?"
She laughs again, "Well if you don't know then I can't help you."
He calls her something dirty and she breaks the soft lull of the conversation with a laugh that probably woke the man who's supposed to be keeping her occupied and away from tormenting their mutual best friend. It makes him smile to hear her laugh. He remembers the know-it-all that she used to be and knows that she will never grow out of bossing him around. But she's trying to fix a wrong that she never really owed him for. Every once in a while he lets her believe that she's making progress. Although, tonight he swears to let her know that he forgives her for that thing she did when she was sure her fiancé was dead and didn't know her best friend was going to get more than hurt.
"Hermione," he says to her softly, but the words are still much too hard to say.
She gets so quiet that he's afraid that she's holding her breath, waiting for him to admit that thing that they know. But beside him on his bed is the woman he promised he would marry and he's not so heartless to talk about other promises he made three years ago. Promises he meant and still mean. Promises that bound him to the man he said them to. Hermione suspects, but he'll never explain that the time he walked in on her with Severus was so surreal, because he hadn't even known that she liked the bastard and there she was, making Harry's stomach hurt from jealousy and Severus look like he'd been caught committing adultery.
Hemione, I love him. I can't help it. I - I'd give him anything - walk away - leave Ginny - if he just tells me that it's okay. I know what that makes me. I know...So stop appologizing. He's the one who hides so deeply inside himself that he can't admit to feeling something.
"I'm getting married in a week, I can't just change the venue out of the blue," he chides instead, making his voice sound so calm she could almost believe that it's what he was going to say all the while. "I'll have to ask Ginny what she thinks."
"Ginny will say yes," she responds confidently. "She loves Hogwarts and she'll think it's the best surprise in the world that you want to marry her under the four house flags."
She doesn't tell him that Severus might be there. She doesn't have to. He can hear it in her voice, behind the words, because she's cajoling him and she only ever does that when she knows there is the possibility of him saying no. So she treads lightly, but he has been her best friend for forever now and he knows her very, very well. Still, he allows the smile that's tugging at the corner of his mouth to spread, as he responds the way he knows she wants him to.
"Alright, I'll go have a look-see."
She squeals out a high-pitch sound that does wake the man beside her. A few muffled curses and the sound of a tug of war for the phone ensues before another grumpy voice gets transmitted across the line, sounding very pissed and half asleep.
"Shit, Potter. What the fuck have you been promising my wife?"
Harry laughs. "Nothing, Ron. Go back to sleep. Take her with you."
There's more grumbling then Hermione is back.
"You won't call in the morning to cancel will you?" she accuses.
"It is morning!" he gripes, but he's smiling again. "No, crazy woman. I'll apparate to your doorstep just as soon as there is sunlight."
When they hang up, he still has the hint of a smile on his face, and as usual it no longer has anything to do with the woman in his bed.
Ginny wakes up to the scent and sight of her fiancé making breakfast.
Without a word, Harry hands her a mug of coffee and some toast. She hates eating too much before she gets in to work, mostly because she's always in such a rush, but this morning she is awfully tempted to stay and watch Harry bustle around the small kitchen. Of course, it would all have gone much faster if he had just conjured up the food, but when he got like this it made her laugh. Sometimes, his good mood was just infectious, and this morning he has the radio on and no shirt.
"You're up early," she says amused when he bows as he hands her a plate of bacon and an egg. "What has you in such a good mood?"
He smiles the smile that makes her toes curl in delight.
"Well Hermione rang at some god forsaken hour this morning to ask me to follow her to Hogwarts. After that it was just too hard to fall asleep, so this I'm afraid is just excess energy. And I haven't been in Hogwarts since, well, before the whole Voldemort thing. I'm excited to see how McGonagall has kept the school up. The professors will all be there getting ready for the new term, and the ghosts will be there, because well, they never leave do they. Maybe I can even take a spin on the Quidditch Pitch, for old time's sake."
He abruptly stops his rambling to focus on her again. "Do you want to come?"
"I have work," she reminds him gently.
"Ginny, we're getting married in a week," he complains. "You're suppose to be jumping at the opportunity to live a little before you're shackled to me for good."
"Harry, I'm not just going to drop dead the moment we're married."
"You think you're joking."
She laughs. Rising from the chair she wraps her arms around his neck, loving the way he always lets her hold on to him for as long as she wants, and even though she knows that it's probably a side-effect of his childhood, she likes to think that it's because he loves having her in his arms so much.
"I'm more worried about you being with Hermione all day."
"Ron will be there too!"
"And that just makes me feel so much better."
He kisses the side of her neck. "It's for you that I'm going to be stuck with them you know. Hermione thinks we should move the wedding to Hogwarts. McGonagall is willing to lend us the Great Hall for the evening."
She pulls away a little to smile up at him.
"Yeah?" she teases. "Well guess who put the idea in her head?"
"Very cunning, Miss Weasley."
"Mrs. Harry Potter," she whispers back.
He wraps her back into his arms so that she doesn't have to see his expression. Somehow he doesn't think that the smile on his face can outshine the curious way his stomach seemed to turn to lead at her words. Stop it. Gods, Potter, don't do his. He chides himself, pulling her tighter against his body. She laughs because she thinks he loves hearing the words and he lets her believe whatever she believes, because it's easier than the abyss that he's sinking into. He gives himself a moment to pull himself together, wishing that his head would shut the fuck up so that he can focus on the woman in his arms instead of the man whose love he's already so wrapped up in.
"So I'll see you when I get back this evening?" he asks, pulling away again.
She nods. "Yes, of course."
She lets him go and he hurries back into the bedroom to change into proper wizarding garments. When he gets back downstairs, the house is empty of her presence, and he is left feeling ashamed at the way his entire body relaxes again. He decides not to call Hermione and confirm his meeting with her at King's Cross. By now he feels like he has to escape the house and his suffocating thoughts, because they seem to be getting more oppressive the more he stands in the silent house thinking of the wedding he took time off to plan.
And now he needs to go to Hogwarts more than ever before.
During the school year Severus braces himself against the constant lull and flow of conversation that disturbs the silent moments that he craves. He does not work for Hogwarts all the time like he did in the old days, but has never found the strength to leave the one place he felt truly comfortable. Now he does all the research and inventing of potions that he wants under Hogwarts' name. He keeps his office in the dungeon and his status as Head of Slytherin and yet he only teaches part time and lives wherever he wants for the year.
Today he finds himself distracted. Harry is visiting Hogwarts and his presence is more disturbing to Severus than a school full of children, though in an entirely different way. Severus wouldn't call it hiding, but he has not left his office since he glimpsed the raven haired man gracing Hogwarts' corridors again.
When the knock comes at the door however, he responds as calmly and authoritative as always.
"Mr. Potter, what could possibly lure you to Hogwarts at this time of year?" he asks with his head bent and his fingers otherwise occupied. "Surely your department at the Ministry has not found reason to send one of their top aurors here unless in dire circumstances. Has someone died? And I have heard nothing about it."
"Do you mind if I sit?" The direct, no-nonsense tone got the intended reaction of Severus looking up to meet Harry's gaze. "What? You really didn't think I was going to do this standing up, did you?"
Since he had looked up, Severus takes a moment to bitterly curse his automatic reaction to seeing Harry again. His hair has been trimmed in time for the wedding no doubt. His cheeks are flushed, perhaps as a result of walking about Hogwarts all day. His green eyes flicker with the lights of the floating candles in the room. In fact, he looks quite well and relatively happy, considering that there is a look of business on his face. Severus scowls, in another automatic reaction. It is to be like this then, he realizes.
"Say what you came to say, and then leave. I have work to do," he snarls in a low, cold tone as soon as Harry is seated.
"I'm - Ginny and I - well, we want to move the wedding to Hogwarts," Harry stutters. Now that he is before Severus again, he keeps losing his train of thought it seems. "I just wanted to tell you so that you know...well, realize...not to come."
For a second, Severus thinks his face must be giving away all his secrets. Hearing that he has been uninvited to something that he never knew he was invited to in the first place, hurts in a ridiculously horrible way. He wills himself not to cringe. He is not the sort of man to care about other people's opinion of him, but this pierces straight through any wall he has built to protect himself.
"I mean," Harry stumbles on. "You wouldn't want to come to something so pretentious and frivolous as a wedding ceremony. And it's not like you like Ginny all that much. I mean, yes McGonagall will be there and maybe -"
"Stop it," Severus commands, and Harry's nervous ramblings immediately stops. "Say it."
Harry's face turns a stark shade of pale. "Say what?"
"If you can't say it, you're not half the man I thought you were and you're certainly no Gryffindor," Severus responds low and in a voice that's entirely too composed. "I want to hear you say the words."
Harry's gaze fall to the papers on the table between them and his fingers nervously clutch at a quill in its path. The room is silent, as if neither can breathe anymore in the other's presence.
"It's not a crime to be in love with two people at once you know!" he nearly shouts. "And I've never said that I didn't love her."
Severus nods. "And?"
"And I don't want you at my wedding," Harry continues softer. "I'll be distracted. You'll distract me from her. I can't think properly when you're near me. I can't do the right thing."
"There." Severus nods again. "You've said what you came to say. Now get out. I can't stand to look at you anymore."
Harry stands, but he does not leave. Instead he reaches across the table to lightly stroke Severus' fingers. It is allowed for a few seconds before Severus moves his hands away. Harry's expression crumbles. Severus finds that he really cannot endure the hurt any longer.
"That's not all I came to say. Just because I love her doesn't -" But that is as far as he gets before Severus stops him with flashing black eyes.
"I don't care what other justificaions you make in your head," he responds. "You've made up your mind to do what you think is best for everyone. Don't insult me by trying to get me to understand and kiss it all better for you. Spare us both and leave. That should be easy too."
"Really, I hate you sometimes," Harry breathes.
Severus laughs without humor. "Still just sometimes? That would be progress then."
"You're so stubborn that you've stopped trying to listen to anything I'm trying to say! Would you just let me talk?" Harry leans over in snarling anger. His green eyes, so close, makes Severus feel like he's suffering from vertigo. "I'm trying to make this right!"
"Right?" Severus raises an eyebrow. "Between us? Like this?"
Harry turns away in a snap of black robe. "Fine!"
At the door, Harry pauses. His hand shakes as he reaches for the door knob, the hesitation very apparent in his stance. Then, after a thought, he reaches up to his neck and unsnaps the chain from around his neck. As if on reflex he throws it quickly at the suddenly stormy expression on Severus' face. Quickly, as if it burns him to hold on to it for too long.
And then, almost as quickly Severus was suddenly behind him, slamming him face-forward against the door. The chain is in one hand, before Severus wraps it around Harry's neck again and clasps it back into place.
"You can lie to yourself however you want. Whisper whatever you want to her in the safety of darkness, far away from me," the cold, low voice breathes harshly against Harry's ear making the younger man shiver. "But this chain stays around your neck, because you swore to me to keep it there."
Harry turns slowly. He bumps their foreheads together gently, sliding his nose - lips - face across Severus', breathing in the scent of male and potions that he misses so much. And Severus briefly closes his eyes, to fight his own desires to kiss back - to hold Harry prisoner, away from Miss Weasley and the next few days. Harry rests his head upon Severus' shoulder, pressing butterfly kisses along the smooth column of neck in his path. Severus puts his head against the door this time, and hates that he's allowing himself to feel this fragmented.
"Can you just be human for one second?"
Severus wonders when the hell he has ever not been human with this boy. Between the months he spent whisking him out of one death trap or another, and the effort he put into keeping him sane to complete his mission, the one time he actually ever kissed him, the chain, the day he spent whispering him to orgasm to prove a point, and the nights he still spend dreaming about the sounds he made - Potter owes him for a couple hundred seconds by now.
He finally gives in and pulls Harry into his arms. Harry is the only man he could ever stand to hold on to because it feels so natural and Harry looks so beautiful curled against him.
"You smell so much like her."
Harry nods his head. The life seems to drain from the flickers of green sparks in his eyes.
"I want you," he whispers, hating that his voice breaks somewhere in the middle. "Want to smell like you, taste like you. Want to feel you so deeply in me that there's no doubt that I belong to you. This is the hardest thing I've ever fucking done! It hurts not being with you."
"Of course," Severus murmurs back against ebony strands of hair. "Because it is so hard to marry someone you love."
"Shut up," Harry retorts, but the wry smile on his face takes the sting out of the words. "You know that's not what I meant when I said that. I love her," his voice softens. "But not the same way that I love you. I belong to you. Always, Snape. Whether you want me or not, whether you admit to it or not, it is how it is. I'm scratched into your skin. Not in a pretty, neat, perfect way either. I belong to you, no matter who I marry or what we don't do together. It just is."
Severus lightly traces his fingertips across Harry's lips.
"You can't have it both ways Potter," he chides softly. "You can't belong to me and her. Sooner or later you'll have to break your vows with one of us."
"I love you both," Harry whispers back, too low to betray the tears he feels like an idiot hiding.
Severus holds him tighter. "You had a choice. You've made your choice."
"I love you more. Always, Severus."
Severus shifts, pressing his forehead against Harry's, his nose against Harry's nose, his lips close enough to breathe warmth upon Harry's mouth.
"But I'm not your choice," he points out softly. "I am not."
Harry's silence is enough of an answer. And in the silence, Harry's tears fall upon Severus' cheeks.
Three years ago
The strength of the midday sun has mostly been abated by the canopy that the trees of the forest forms. It is easier to travel through woodlands than Muggle neighbourhoods or Wizarding transportation. The floos are being watched and the forests afford better hiding places. Though sometimes, the task of travelling through shrubs and giant trees is far more depressing than brick houses and paved roads. Forests are sometimes too silent, making thoughts scream and echo repetitively.
He stands at the center of a small clearing, so like all the other clearings in all the other forests. Some part of him remembers that he is almost home and if this isn't the Forbidden Forest yet, soon it will be. Home seems like a mirage to him by now. It's a morbid, fleeting thought that stems from the ache inside of him that threatens to tear him into parts, but it's a thought that registers amidsts all the other contradictory thoughts, some of which are too unstable to actually be translated into words.
The thought flees when the wind shifts and there are running footsteps chasing it into oblivion again.
"I'm so sorry," she sobs, kneeling before him in supplication and holding on to his hands to force him to listen. "It's you he wants. You, Harry! Please understand that's why. Harry, please! You have to understand!"
Her face is washed by flowing tears. So different from his own, where his face is now too pale and his eyes are devoid of all light and all emotions.
"I see the way he looks at you. I miss Ron so much. I just wanted to remember what it felt like to have someone look at me like that. That's all! It was nothing. I swear it was nothing - just - a kiss. I swear Harry, it was nothing at all!" She breaks down in more tears. So much tears. It feels like she is shedding enough for the two of them. "He loves you! He does! He loves you so much. Can't you see it Harry? How can you not see how much he wants you!"
The air seems to subtly shift around him as he falls to his knees before her. Gently, he kisses the back of both her palms, wiping the tears from her face and kissing her cheeks also.
"Hermione stop it," he tells her, pulling her into a tight embrace. "It's okay."
She continues to cry anyway, even as he cradles her and rocks her soothingly. Then suddenly he's not the only one holding on to her.
"Miss Granger, you need rest."
It's such a simple thing to say. More of an understatement. She needs to know that her lover isn't dead. She needs the trust of her best friend again. She needs the optimism that has kept her strong throughout this war. She needs a Healer. She needs her sense of gravity back. The three of them knows only too well that rest will not solve any of their impending problems, but she nods anyway because she needs to keep up her strength if she is to survive long enough to ride the portkey that they have been working on to get her to safety. Because they are not safe, and she is not safe with them.
Between the two of them, left alone, the silence burns.
"You don't have to explain. You're both adults and it's not my business anyway. I just wish you'd remember that she's a little vulnerable right now."
"I had no intentions of explaining anything to you. Nor do I need you to remind me that her fiancé is still missing."
"Yes. Of course. You're...Severus Snape...God forbid you actually give a shit about anyone. Least of all me. Because I'm just...damn it...forget it. I'll go see if she's alright. "
He takes about five steps before his name is called. It is four more steps than he ever wanted to walk away, but far less than he expected with this particular man. He would willingly stop at any point anyway. Love is not just about words, it's a lot about actions, and sometimes it's as difficult as hell to face. He stands facing the path to their makeshift cottage with his back to the man who he knows now owns him, and he tries to count the shadows in the wind.
The chain that was once a ring of reassurance hangs around his neck. Its meaning has been transfigured as it has been. It means so much more by now. His fingers find it again before he turns.
"I'm in love with you, you know," he whispers. "I'm in love with you. I want to be with you. Can't you tell?"
And he sees that she was right, from the way the dark eyes seem to melt in response.
Contrary to what anyone may believe, Ginny is a sensible woman. Listening to her fiancé stumble his way out of the living room floo towards the bedroom, is enough to alert her to the fact that Harry's day has not been a good one. So she slips into the kitchen and conjures up a pot of tea for him, which she carefully balances as she just as quietly makes her way over to him. The entire house is bathed in darkness and a trio of floating candles are all that she risks lighting.
He is sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands, shoulders shaking with each breath he struggles to take.
"Migraine?" she asks softly.
He doesn't even startle. Doesn't move an inch.
"Yes," he groans out quietly, but again his breath catches.
He takes the cup of tea from her as she carefully sits beside him on the chair. Wrapping her arms across both his shoulders, she rests her head against him. Just as gently, he tilts his head upon the soft tufts of her hair, moving only slightly each time he takes a sip of the calming tea. They sit like this in comforting silence, barely speaking and only in whispers until the cup of tea is finish and only the sharp, jerky gasps in his breathing tells her that the potion in the tea hasn't worked.
"I'm fine, Ginny," he whispers, sensing that she is about to say something. "I just need to lie down now and relax."
She hesitates slightly.
"Want me to ring Hermione?" she finally asks. "She told me that sometimes you get these anxiety attacks. She could probably help, right?"
"Actually," he sighs. "She can't. Luckily, this is just a mild one. During the war, I would drive Severus mad sometimes when I got one in the middle of doing something absolutely safe. Of course he didn't blink twice when I'd been clutching my chest while hidden under my invisibility cloak, spying on a group of Death Eaters, which was far riskier. But, the second I start gasping as I fall asleep and he'd start yelling at me."
He shakes his head and gives a weak chuckle. "No. That's just the way he is. Completely illogical sometimes. I haven't had one of these in a while though. Five years, is it? Not since the beginning at least."
She strokes his hair soothingly, then traces the plane of his face, along his cheek. In the dark his skin is soft and warm, but even in the curve of his jaw, she can sense the quiet strength that she loves so much about him. Unfortunately her touch does nothing to make him feel better.
"What happened today to upset you?"
"Urgh!" he groans. "There are bodies trailing all over the east coast. Three so far. All Muggles of course and they all show signs of the Killing Curse. Which means no trace at all of who it is that's doing them in. But, the killer leaves a calling card. I'll give you three guesses what it is."
Ginny's eyes narrow. "Dark Mark?"
"Dark Mark," he affirms. "Scratched, burned and drawn so far. And underneath it is my inititals. So now everyone is looking towards me to figure this out and I'm not putting it past some of them to actually think that I'm the one doing it. If I ever thought of taking the next two days off before the wedding, I can kiss that idea goodbye. The Minister has been dropping hints like mad that if I decide to give up our honeymoon and work instead, he'd be more than happy to compensate me."
She pokes him. "Maybe you should."
"No." The green of his eyes seem to glow in the dark when he raises his face to hold her gaze. "The cause of all this anxiety rubbish is the fact that I'm practically carrying the entire Auror Department on my back suddenly. A few people gets murdered DE style and I'm back to being the Chosen One again." He sucks in air, breathing becoming labored again in his agitation. "I need - a fucking - break!"
"Maybe we should postpone the wedding," she suggests quietly.
For one brief, jarring second, she thinks he stops breathing altogether, but then he groans in pain and clutches his chest and she realizes that it's maybe not her words but his condition that is causing the uncomfortable silence.
"No!" he snaps and this time there is too much of something in his voice that she can't decifer. "If you ask me to stop the wedding now..."
"Who knows when we'd get to reschedule, right?" she finishes for him.
But again, she gets the impression that it's something else he's not saying. And it terrifies her so suddenly and so deeply that when she tries to fill the silence again, her words sound nervous and not at all like the Ginny Weasley that Harry Potter has always admired.
"Want me to get Snape? I can actually feel how hard your heart is beating and you're shaking like a leaf."
"Severus?" he asks, so softly, so lost, that it hurts her to hear and she doesn't understand why. "I don't know if..." His voice trails off into a soft, "Yes. Please."
When she returns from flooing the note to the Potions Master, Harry is sitting staring at the glowing new fire with his fingers stroking the chain on his neck and a far away look in his eyes. Only the hypnotic brush of his fingers - back and forth, back and forth - and the sudden catch of his breath tells her that he hasn't fallen asleep in exhaustion.
"You know how I said that Severus hated my panic attacks?" he breaks the silence softly.
"Well, to make them stop, he gave me a ring to wear."
She laughs. "You're lying. Why would he do that?"
He smiles up at her with a teasing yet wistful look. His fingers on the chain comes to a pause, and then he lowers his hands, instead, to reach for hers.
"One day, I was on the floor suffocating and near hysterical because my lungs wouldn't cooperate and I was sure I was having a heart attack. My chest hurt so badly. I was sweating and shaking and nauseated and I think I just kept begging him not to leave me because I'd gotten a vision you see. I still can remember it. Sickening, just the way Voldemort liked to torture people. Severus wanted to get one of the horcruxes. God, I can't even remember which one right now. Anyway, I couldn't go with him and he was determined to be an arse and do it himself. I saw him being captured and ripped, limb by limb to pieces, but shit, he wasn't even worried. So there I was, sure that he was going to be tortured and murdered and I was useless because I couldn't stop him and I couldn't even breathe much less walk."
He tugs her back onto the chair, holding her in his arms.
"And then he said a spell. One of those that we use to trim or cut plants or something. He cuts off a bit of his hair in this highly dramatical, completely cliché way as if it fucking pained him to do it, weaves it into a ring and whispers words over it that I swear, made everything go pitch black and silent. Then, he holds it out to me. 'If you put this on,' he says. 'You can never take it off again.' I thought he was possessed."
"Was it dark magic that he used?" Ginny asks, intrigued now, but Harry shakes his head.
"No." He laughs. "Just a protection spell. He personalized it so that I could feel him. Sense him. Know that he's alive and well and still driving some poor unsuspecting soul to the brinks of suicide."
"Seems a bit drastic then," she points out. "All he had to do was work out some sort of signal with you."
He shrugs, not quite nonchalantly. "Right, but it's Severus, so he gave me a ring."
"Well what happened to it?"
Here, Harry smiles serenely. "I -" he begins, but he doesn't get to finish. In their discussion, they didn't even notice when the floo had opened and the sudden presence of Severus Snape before them is enough to startle both Aurors.
"As with everything else, Miss Weasley, he lost that ring and I had to replace it with…another. But now that it no longer matters and I was roused from my vast amount of work, do you suppose you could give me a moment to discern what is causing him to make that wretched sound? I'm sure he'll be willing to continue this discussion some time in the future."
Six years from being his student and even with six more to deter the reaction, does nothing from stopping Ginny from immediately jumping to her feet as if she has been caught sneaking around in Hogwarts' corridors. She gives Harry a quick kiss on the cheek and nods to Severus, as she rambles about being in the kitchen if they need her. When she walks away, she takes her trio of floating candles with her.
And then pure silence descends.
"You weren't entirely honest with her," Severus remarks. "I thought you would be. I was...worried...that the guilt is what brought on this wave of anxiety."
"Liar," Harry whispers back.
In the fire's light, shadows seem to linger on their faces. Neither of them breaks eye contact, although Severus raises an eyebrow and Harry immediately smiles.
"So says you," Severus chides. "Yet you've suddenly stopped breathing like an animal."
Harry stands. Reaching. Severus catches his fingers in a gentle grasp.
"Careful," he warns. "She could be lingering."
"Liar," Harry breathes again. "Everywhere you go, silence follows."
He moves in closer until their faces touch and his eyes flutter close. This moment is his medication and he's addicted to the effect. Freeing his hand, he wraps his arms around Severus' waist. But again, Severus undoes his action, nearly pulling away. Harry behaves. He'd rather keep their connection for as long as he can.
"How can you act so guilty when we've never really done anything," he whispers, moving away so that he can look into the dark eyes before him but moving his hand to trace pale patches of flesh that peeks out from amidst all the black. "You've never really touched me, and we've only kissed once. You've never been inside of me, no matter how much I once begged. You've never even said the words I've wanted to hear. Nothing. We've done nothing, but this - innocent - embrace. I did more with Ginny in our first week together than I've done with you in six years. And soon it's going to be too late. I won't even be able to have this."
"Don't tempt me," Severus responds. Not seductively at all. "I've...touched you."
"Liar. Liar. Liar," Harry chants.
"I have touched you longer than anyone else you've held in your arms. I'm burned into your soul by now." Severus whispers the words into Harry's ear, low and rough like he did that night that Harry never talks about. But now, Harry moans softly, hiding his face in the crux at Severus' neck and shoulder. "And I've been inside of you. Deeper than you've been inside any woman. I have the name that you secretly whisper in every breath. I have the face that you envision every time you kiss her lips. I am in every breath you take, so much that you can't breathe without me sometimes. No matter who you marry on paper, we both know that you married me first. That will never change, even if you run to the darkest crevices of hell, when I call, you know and you come to me."
"Because I belong to you?"
"Yes," Severus whispers, and this time he is the one to wrap his arms around Harry and align their bodies into each other. "Because you're mine, first. Always mine."
Harry laughs softly and groans. Then, moans, when Severus' hip slides against the bulge in his pants.
"I've been hard for you for almost six years," Harry complains in a strained voice. "Hell of a long time to have an erection, don't you think?"
"Virgin," Severus murmurs back. "No self-control."
"Cock-tease," Harry retorts. He knows what's coming next though and he hates to have to behave any longer. "Don't leave me just yet."
"Your fiancée is in the house somewhere, worried about you."
"You're a Slytherin. You don't give a damn about anyone else but yourself most days," Harry points out. Then softer, "I haven't actually figured out how to say goodbye to you. And what I want to do, well you've been saying no since you got here."
"That's because you want me to steal you away, lay you down in the moonlight, and consummate this thing that lingers between us."
"And you disagree with that course of action."
"Yes," Severus whispers back. "What if I want to pull you through the fire into my house, lie down on the cold hard floor and watch you crawl on top of me, sink into me, until you have no doubt that the words I do not say apply just as strongly in my case?"
Harry's breathing shatters a little. "I can do that too."
"Then I promise," Severus murmurs.
"You know what."
And he is gone. Harry doesn't need to hear the pop of apparition to know that it is all the goodbye that he will be allowed to have. In two days, he is to get married and the vows of marriage he will make will negate any other vows of love that he ever made in the past.
It is the choice he has made.
"Ginny? Wow. You're one of the last persons I ever expected to hear on the phone."
"Harry told me how to ring you, just in case."
"Is something wrong?"
"No! No. I just wanted to talk to you."
"Oh, what about?"
"Harry. Who else?"
"Oh. Well, what do you want to know?"
"Just about the ring that Snape gave him when they were hunting horcruxes in the war."
"He told you about that?"
"Yes. Just now. He's in the living room with Snape right now actually."
"Severus is there?"
"And they're talking about the ring?"
"No, we were. Snape's just here because Harry felt poorly. He had one of those attacks like you warned me about. Snape came over to yell at him I suppose. Harry said that's all the professor ever did in the war anyway."
"He said that?"
"Is there something that everyone isn't telling me?"
"Why would you ask that?"
"Well for one, you're driving me batty with all the suspicion filled questions when I'm the one that called you. And, call me slow, but when the hell did everyone start to call Snape by his first name?"
"Just us exiled ones."
"Ron doesn't do it."
"Ron was cursed, not exiled."
"Hermione, are you going to give me a straight answer or what?"
"Well you haven't actually asked a question yet."
"Is Harry in love with you? Did you two have a thing during the war?"
"What? Ginny, no!"
"Why'd you ask?"
"You act odd around him sometimes. You act odd around me. I was just wondering if it was the residual of something."
"It's something if it's there to be nothing."
"It's nothing between me and him."
"You and who then?"
"During the war. It was nothing."
"You and Snape has to be something. Does Ron know?"
"Really. Nothing. I swear."
"Wow. You and Snape."
"Oh no! Don't say it like that. It wasn't even big enough to be said like that."
"Well...why does it make things funny between you and Harry though?"
"Because it's Snape of course."
"And he hates him."
"He doesn't hate him."
"Of course not. Snape gave him a ring, right?"
"What happened to the ring?"
"I thought you said Harry told you."
"Then ask Harry."
"He said it got lost."
"I don't believe that."
"Ask Harry. Ask Severus."
"Just - Just - not me, Ginny. Just ask."
"Feeling better?" Ginny asks when Harry enters the bedroom. She puts down the book she was reading to keep herself distracted, and looks at the muggle clock on his bedside table. "That took a while. It's been nearly two hours."
Harry changes with a quick spell, and slides into the bed beside her.
"Sorry," he says with a grin. "I went out for a bit after he left. It didn't actually take him that long to get me back to my senses."
"You put up a Silencing Spell. Were you screaming or something?"
Harry laughs aloud at this. "No, I didn't put up the spell, he did. You know how he gets all paranoid. Voldemort has been dead for three years and Snape is still worried about being overheard. Old habits die hard I suppose."
"So you weren't actually being tortured then, I take it?"
"No. No harm."
She smiles at him and picks up the book again, but he can see that she isn't quite finish talking just yet. So he props himself on his side and gives her an enquiring look.
She shakes her head. "Just thinking. I rang Hermione while you were down there."
"I asked her about the ring."
"I told you about the ring."
"I know," she says softly. "But I wondered what became of it. Snape says you lost it. I was just wondering if you really did."
Harry smiles. "Of course not. He was just being a prat. Can you imagine what a Death Eater would have done with it if I had really lost it? He'd have been dead before morning."
"Really?" She turns her full attention to him again. "So if you didn't lose it, where is it?"
"Take a guess," he teases, but his fingers already give her the answer that she seeks.
When she asks, her voice is not quite light. "You made it into your chain? Why?"
"Well." He sits up on the bed. "As it happens, a ring is a very small piece of jewellery. At my very worst it would actually be vibrating on my finger but I wouldn't feel anything. A chain has more surface space."
"And that's it?"
He reaches out to take her hand, lightly stroking it. "Ginny. My past is my past."
"I know." She nods. "I just want to understand."
"I'm here with you," he whispers, leaning across to press a light kiss against her cheek. "That's all you need to understand."
She smiles and nods again, and he takes that to mean that the conversation is finally over. But Ginny is a sensible woman, contrary to what many may want to believe, and she knows that there is something in his words that he is not saying.
And it's what he doesn't say that tells her everything that she is beginning to suspect about her fiancé.
The silk of her dress shimmers in the sunlight as if inlaid with tiny points of crystals. She sits so still that she could be a statue. She feels like a doll sitting amidst the rhododendrons of Greenhouse Five. White and beautiful, they are the flower of secrets and as he approaches her she tries to search out the secrets in his gaze. But she knows that the heart is a well of emotions and his heart is still so much of a mystery to her.
"I wish it was snowing. I feel like it should be."
He sits beside her on the small bench. The black of his formal wizard robe shows the dark purple of her dress for what it is. He takes her hand and she wraps her fingers around his.
"You look beautiful," he whispers. "Are you hiding from all the attention?"
For the first time she breaks her silence. "No. I'm not hiding."
She searches his face again. And just when she's sure she misses something, she sees what she's looking for. He looks content and calm, like nervousness is the last thing on his mind. But his eyes are sad. Just his eyes. It hurts her to look into them because she keeps remembering other times and other places when his eyes shone with so much happiness it made her jealous. And she hadn't even understood then that he was in love. But it's this understanding that makes her want to cry for him now.
"Hermione…" His voice trails off but she hears. She hears and it makes her eyes prickle. Then he takes a deep breath, smile, and kisses the back of her hand. "We should get back inside."
She nods slowly. But when he stands she feels like she has to try to stop the collision that will become the rest of his life. She wraps him into her arms tightly, hoping that he understands without words.
"I want to know," she says fiercely, pulling away a little just to look at him. "I want to hear you say you don't love -"
But he presses a finger against her lips to stop her words. And his eyes turn to emerald stones.
"I should get back inside. We'll be starting soon. You should probably go see if Ginny needs you."
She nods again, and let him slip out of her arms.
She takes her time walking back across the grounds and through Hogwarts' corridors, lost in her memories of simpler days when magic could fix anything and nothing could pierce the warm protection of Hogwarts'. Now everyone is older, embittered and scarred.
She doesn't see Harry standing where he should be at the front of the hall, even though the guests are seated. The wedding party mills around peering past the double doors as she does.
"Hermione?" She turns to see her husband's confused face. "Where's Ginny?"
"Where's Harry?" she asks at the same time.
Ron's forehead crinkles with worry. "Well I don't know. He was just here but Lavender called him away. Why aren't you with Ginny?"
"I went to get some air," she very nearly snaps. "Some Best Man you are. How could you let the Groom slip away?"
"Yes well you're supposed to be with the Bride to the very end. Isn't that your duty?" he hissed back.
She presses a finger to her temple. "Fine. Stay! I'll go look for Ginny. If you see Harry again hold on to him." She hesitates slightly, then says. "And tell him I'm sorry. What I said was rude."
Ron raised an eyebrow, but she was already turning away to retrace her steps back out the front door and onto the grounds.
She found them on the Quidditch Pitch.
Not Harry and Lavender of course, but Ginny and Harry. Even as she approached, with an ache in her stomach increasing with each step, she couldn't help admiring how picture perfect they looked. Ginny in pure white with flowers in her flame colored hair looked like an exact opposite to Harry in black robes. He cradled her face so lovingly in his palms that Hermione almost turns away in embarrassment from her approaching intrusion.
He kisses Ginny on her forehead and on her lips so gently that Hermione wraps her arms around herself and stops walking. Harry rises without a glance towards the castle. His wand dangles from his fingers but he doesn't illuminate his path, and somehow he manages not to stumble.
Hermione waits for him to slip into the Forbidden Forest, as the sun begins to set on the half hidden horizon.
Ginny stands so still that if it wasn't for the light breeze blowing and thus, ruffling her wedding gown, she could have been carved from porcelain. Hermione watches as the tide breaks and the porcelain cracks. She's there to hold the little girl together.
"Don't cry," she whispers. "Don't cry."
The tears fall anyway, free now, away from pride and strength. Ginny's shoulder shakes as her soft sobs rents the air.
"Am I selfish?" Ginny finally asks softly. "It's not him waking up one day hating me that I'm afraid of. It's him loving someone else so much more than me that tears me apart. I can't stand it."
"He would have stayed with you. He would have loved you with everything he had. He chose you and would have married you. He would have given up any other love. It was the only thing he could do and they were both willing to do it. That is a greater testament of love."
Ginny shakes her head slowly, pulling away entirely from the embrace. Hermione can see the embarrassment in her blue eyes now.
"A greater testament," Ginny says quietly. "Of their love not mine. I don't understand so much, but I'm not blind."
Hermione watches as she wipes away more tears and turns away, looking towards the forest. Hermione tries not to stare into that direction too.
"I asked him if he loved someone else." The words are laced with pain. "He didn't answer, but his eyes Hermione…I never knew it was possible to be so connected to someone else. But it's not with me."
It's you he wants. You, Harry! Please understand…
Hermione wraps her arms around herself again, feeling as if all her own secrets are sharp enough to rip their way out. And although Ginny's pain is great and Hermione would never have wanted to experience this for herself, she knew that nothing would be worse than how Harry would be feeling.
Her best friend was suffering.
Shame and guilt would eat him alive. He would despise himself and think his feelings were selfish and disgusting. He would hate the love that she spent so much of her time being jealous of. He would hate himself for hurting Ginny even though it had been Ginny's choice. He would blame himself for letting this get so far, but this was the one thing that Hermione understood now.
And she could only hope that he wouldn't get so lost that he forgot about the love that does anchor him.
The cup of tea in Severus' hand has long since gone cold, still he stares fixedly into the fire, watching the flame dance a rich orange red color. All hints of green are now gone. It has been weeks now, and days since he had to endure an unwelcome guest. Beside him Hedwig clutches a copy of the Daily Prophet within her beak. Severus already knows what the paper will tell him.
"Keep it," he says quietly.
Harry's eyes are flushed with shame as he looks away from the cold set of Severus' jaw. Both of them glance out into the distance where the smiling woman waves again.
"I won't just leave her hanging Severus," he responds. "She deserves better than a man who doesn't respect her enough to tell her he's leaving. Let me explain this to her."
Severus nods, his expression still cold. "You are her soldier man. The one she has nursed a hope for all this time. Whether you admit it or not, that means something to you. So figure this out. Don't use me as an excuse."
Harry fiddles with the ring on his finger again. As he does Severus hears echoes of the words he whispered to create it. Something in his chest tightens painfully.
In the distance Ginny indicates that she will see Harry inside Hogwart's castle. And she leaves, still smiling happily.
"What will happen now?" Harry makes a fist, as if parting with this trinket is just as painful for him. Severus wonders if it is.
"Nothing," he answers. "The bond will remain incomplete until you say the vows to activate it. If you so wish."
Harry looks down. His confusion is so palpable that it melts Severus' coldness. Severus reaches across the distance to gently raise Harry's chin. He memorizes the green of Harry's eyes and the face that he cannot bear to look away from now.
"We will be alright." The sentiment stumbles past his lips, but he forces himself to utter the words. "This is your life Mr. Potter. Be sure of the choices you make. I assure you that I will survive either way."
But because he lies, Severus pulls the boy closer and into his arms, pressing their foreheads together in a silent goodbye.
"Ginny isn't stupid," Harry murmurs. "She knows a bonding ring when she sees one."
"Then when she asks about it, lie."
Harry's eyes become clouded with doubt. Severus touches the band of silver inscribed with his runes and his promises, remembering how it almost tore him to admit his feelings in the first place. Just as Harry did with the first one, now his wand changes the ring into a chain and the runes become invisible even to Harry.
"There," Severus says quietly. "It can mean nothing to you now."
Hedwig drops the paper at Severus' feet and it unfolds to reveal the headline of 'Harry Potter's continued absence.' Severus watches the shy smile that tugs at the corner of paper-Potter's face and though he holds out his wand he cannot cast the spell to ignite it. Disgusted, he kicks it away before standing and taking his cup to the kitchen.
"You knew Harry would leave her. You made him do it."
Severus turns with a nasty scowl. Hermione cringes. It's been a while since she's seen that level of hostility in his eyes.
"I don't know what kind of god you take me for Granger, but I would run circles around myself trying to make that boy do anything just because I've said it."
Hermione gives him a weary look. "You know though, that he didn't get married?"
"I know now."
"I don't understand." Hermione slowly shakes her head as if this confusion is baffling in itself. "Why would he let this get so far?"
Severus turns away from her again. She waits, and the silence fills the air with tension.
"He owed her that much. Respect, Granger. He is not so callous as to punish her for loving him. I am not so kind as to stay and watch her while she fawns over him."
"You love him." Her voice is soft. Incredulous. "I mean I know you do but I thought you'd hide it like the plague of death or something."
"To love Harry Potter," Severus sneers. "What a thought."
"He was going to marry her," Hermione whispers this. "He was going to marry her! You see why I'm confused? This is Harry, who didn't kiss Ginny until the middle of Sixth Year because he was worried about Ron."
"I don't recall saying that he didn't care about her. You already know he did. He was…angry…at me. I don't care to share him. It was all of him or I didn't want him, you see."
"You pushed him away?"
Severus' lips curls into a slight smirk. "You could even say that I forced them back together."
"I kept your secret, and you were just trying to get rid of him, to make him hurt her!" Hermione's mouth curls in disgust at herself. "You just said you loved him."
"I was giving them a chance!" Severus hisses. "Wretched woman I was trying to be good and selfless. I granted him two years away from my presence to make his own choice."
Severus' fingers move of their own accord, tapping out a rhythm of impatience. The fact this particular rhythm is one that Potter had incessantly hummed during the war in remembrance of the dead, does not slip Severus' notice. The fire's flickers remind him of Miss Weasley's hair. The crackles are the sound of her sobs.
When the floo opens, Severus remains seated.
She kneels before him so that they are on the same level, resting on the back of her heels, but she bends her head as soon as he looks at her with his cold, dark eyes. She is ashamed for a reason that she cannot understand. The hem of her white gown is black with soot. It falls gracefully around her.
"Did he love me at all?" She wonders aloud. The tears on her face fall silently and she wipes them away in haste.
"Of course." Severus's voice is hard, but his answer is almost a whisper. "More than I could tolerate at times."
"I didn't -" she takes a breath, and her sorrow is no longer so palpable. "I love him still. I didn't come here to thank you for sharing him with me. I'm not that good a person."
"Gratitude is not something I expect from you."
"He's gone now." She nods as she stands, mostly for herself. "But he'll come back. To you. Lucky you. He loves you that much. So much."
"He was always mine Miss Weasley," Severus says when she pauses before the floo. "Remember that."
The slow knock at his door pulls Severus away from his brooding. There is neither guilt nor anger festering within him as he rises to answer the request for entry. Regret is not a Slytherin trait.
But then, neither is love.
And when he opens the door to see who sits leaning against the frame, he has to actively deny himself the overwhelming urge to gather the boy into his arms. He loves this man. He has only ever said the words once in his entire life but when he said them to Harry Potter, he meant every word.
Severus holds out his hand to brush fringes of black hair off a faded lightning bolt scar as if he was never afraid to lose. And as if he always believed in happy endings and the selfless power of being in love.
"Where have you been?"
"It's my wedding day," Harry says slowly.
He presses a kiss to Severus' palm before slipping a silver ring upon Severus' finger. The markings match the ring that Harry has transfigured again. The same one that is now resting in its place on Harry's finger.
"It's yours too." This he says in another whisper. "I'm sorry for the years after the war. I still managed to hurt Ginny. And I hurt you too. Sorry for that."
Severus merely reaches out to gently peel Harry off the doorway.
Harry awakes to an empty bed and silence.
In the time it takes him to remember that he's not still in Muggle London - renting a hotel room to avoid the hailstorm of publicity once word got out that both the bride and the groom walked away from the wedding - he remembers too where he is and the reception he'd gotten. Severus hadn't been distant or even cold, but he had been firm about Harry's sleeping arrangements.
"You look tired, you know," he had said. "I suspect that what you need is a warm bath and a good night's sleep."
In his confusion, Harry had tried to reach out to him but Severus had looked away and had even taken a step back. Harry felt tired then, as if all his sleepless nights and all the days he spent missing and loving the man was combining to drain all the energy in his body.
"Alright." He took a step forward, then another, until he was close enough to speak softly again. "Is this your way of telling me I stink?"
"No," Severus said.
Just that one word. But, in it Harry felt hope rekindled, because the one word answered all the questions he was inadvertently asking.
Now, Harry slips out of the bed into the bathroom. Half an hour later, he descends the stairs and slowly follows the scent of breakfast being prepared the Muggle way. In the kitchen, Severus is at the stove boiling water and making french toast. Everything else is already on a floating tray waiting to be sent off.
"Breakfast in bed?" Harry asks quietly.
"Not anymore," Severus responds. He doesn't turn around. "I remembered how many sugars to add to your tea Potter, but I can't recall ever cooking eggs during the war. Did we have eggs? I remember chickens and blood at some point, but that could have been after the Cruciatius Curse in Cairo, and was probably a hallucination. How do you like your eggs?"
"It's a simple question Potter. One which I realize I've never asked you before."
Harry sighs. "I don't care. It'll still taste like egg to me no matter how you make it."
Severus turns then to raise an eyebrow, but he doesn't comment to that. Although the eggs, Harry notice, are boiled which means that Severus at least, has a favorite way for his eggs and it is the neatest, most contained way of preparing them.
They retreat to the dining area together, both eating their meals in silence. It's not until Severus clears and, with a quick flick of his wand, cleans the dishes before escaping to the living room that Harry really begins to worry. Up until then Severus could just have not been a morning person. Which is something that Harry knows not to be true. Severus may be an insomniac at times but he's alert and always on his guard. Harry sighs.
"It's real, you know," Harry says when he enters the room. Severus looks away from the glistening band of gold, with its flecks of red, in the candlelight. "I said the words right. It wouldn't have worked if I didn't. I can say my vows again if it's what you want. If you want to hear me say..."
"That is not necessary."
"I love you," Harry says softly anyway. "I love you."
He sits on the floor, curling one leg around one of Severus' and then beneath his body while he aligns the other foot with the captured leg, pressing knee to knee and his bare toes prying at the shoe that hides Severus' toes away.
"I love you. I do know how. It's not something I can get myself to forget, even when I need to escape from the maddening way you make me feel."
Severus looks at him with pitch-black eyes that seem to shackle Harry to their darkness. He runs his fingers gently through Harry's hair as Harry presses his forehead to that one knee, pressing a kiss upon Severus' palm as fingers flitter over his lips.
"Silly boy," Severus chides. "If I had ever doubted that for a second I may have destroyed Miss Weasley in my anger."
"I'm sorry," Harry whispers now, but Severus stops his words.
"Then what is?" Harry asks. "What would you like me to do, or say?"
"Why are you so eager to be put to a test?"
Harry rests his head on Severus' lap, fingers picking at Severus' robe until Severus catches his hand in a grasp of warmth and soothing caresses. Even then, he keeps his eyes away from the piercing gaze that will see all his shame and his guilt.
"I knew it wasn't what you wanted. Being with Ginny, I mean. I always put you after everything in my life, when you're the most important person in my world. I hated being away from you. I would wake sometimes at night after dreaming about the war and need you. And she wasn't you. I'm so tired of caring about everything and everyone else. I love you. I'm done denying it now."
"You needed to," Severus says softly. "It was never about Miss Weasley, no matter how much you professed to love her. I of course knew that you loved me more. But for you to deny me, for you to walk away just to spare yourself the shame in admitting that you loved me, that was what hurt every day."
Harry shakes his head, a pained expression settling on his face. "I didn't..."
"You did." Severus tilts Harry's head up so that Harry's green eyes can meet his gaze. "You told the world you'd rather marry any woman just to save yourself having to admit your love for me. I can't say I blame you really, Mr. Potter. I would deny me thrice too if to avoid the condemnation."
"It wasn't just any woman. It was Ginny!" This time Harry's voice is steady. "And don't tell me I would have any one else but you. You said I'd be better off with her when I said I wanted to be with you. You laughed and told me that you hadn't meant everything you promised during the war!"
Severus remembers that moment. Between their arrival back at Hogwarts and the two years it took for Harry to propose to Ginny, there were the spiteful words and the carefully chosen insults meant to drive Harry away.
I was trying to be selfless, he had said to Hermione, but the truth was that he had loved the boy too much to have only a half of Harry's heart. So, he had made the choice for them.
Harry rises from the floor enraged.
"Don't tell me I don't love you, you idiot! Because I do. Because I bloody well do know how to live without you. I just don't want to anymore!"
Severus rises to capture him in his arms, holding the man prisoner. He knows how sentimental he is being. He can feel Harry shaking and it is the most emotional he has gotten in years. But he cannot let go, no matter how much he tries to pry his fingers away, or wrench his lips away from kissing Harry's hair and cheek, or stop from pressing his nose to Harry's skin and drinking in the scent.
"Alright," he says soothingly. "Are you trying to give yourself an ulcer?"
Harry burrows into the tight grasp, seeking out a patch of skin to tease too and wrapping his arms tightly around his man. He must have been crazy to think that he could just forget Severus, he realizes now. Ginny was beautiful and kind and had never demanded anything from Harry but his presence in her life. Compared to Severus she was an angel. Because standing now wrapped in Severus' arms Harry feels like he has been infused with a double dose of magic and it isn't all pure. But he is in love with this man and if it means spending eternity fighting with Severus then he would gladly give his life over to do just that.
"Don't tell me I don't love you," Harry repeats in a whisper. "I tried to love someone else and it felt like I was killing myself."
Severus steps away, giving Harry a steady look.
"This is the last chance I will ever give to you Potter," he says. "Are you sure that you want me?"
Harry nods, taking a step forward and pressing his smaller body against Severus.
"I want you," he murmurs. "God, I want you so much."
Severus tilts his head down so that his mouth can close upon the lips that seek his. Moaning at the sweetness of Harry's kiss, he ensnares the boy in his arms, leaving no room for escape or second thoughts. Harry kisses back just as fiercely, clinging to his husband as he has never allowed himself to before. Then, with little thought on Severus' part and surprise on Harry's they find themselves sprawled upon the couch with their body's writhing against each other, moaning and whispering incoherent sounds.
"What are you doing?" Harry asks in confusion. A spell from Severus strips them of their clothes. Then, Severus expertly begins to stroke Harry to full erection while preparing his own body with a lubricant. "Severus? God. You don't have to -"
"Let me do this," Severus says gruffly.
Harry's brain turns to incoherent mush and he barely manages to form a complete thought. "But I'm fine with having you in me. What are you doing?"
"What I should have done three years ago. What we both dream about every night since then." The words are low and silky. "I'm going to lay you out beneath me, and then you're going to fuck me."
Harry automatically begins to protest again, about how he never allowed himself to dream that in consummating their love he would find himself sliding into the hot cavern of Severus' body, and how he would have been satisfied with a blowjob and some heavy groping actually.
But he never gets to say much more than a heartfelt "Oh fuck," before Severus' eyes goes even darker than midnight and Harry's center of consciousness becomes focused between his legs the moment that Severus begins to slide achingly, slowly, downwards.
The hallways of Hogwarts are never silent. Not right before the war when tension was so high that fear was like food and water to most in the Wizarding world. Not during the war when the green emblem of death hovered over the arches of roofs and burned brightly in the hearts of the brave and the weak alike.
He descends down moving staircases and along stoned corridors like a manifestation of fear and death alike. When he smiles it is a twist of lips and a flash of teeth. More to taunt than to comfort. Some habits die hard, even after all these years.
As he glides, he remembers one crystallized moment from a culmination of days spent indulging in an idea that he has never before allowed to blossom within him. Powerless now, he pauses in his march to unearth miscreants. Instead, he allows himself one single moment to be overwhelmed by the churning emotions that have coagulated within his insides, fluttering against his ribcage like a winged creature. He frowns even deeper, stemming the tide before he does something unforgivable like seek out the cause of his discomfort.
The memory persists with a vengeance. Of just a few days ago. Just at daybreak. While the breakfast cooked itself and the dishes shelved themselves. While he was so very certain that the boy was too tired to wake after the night he had spent in waking him every hour or two with long, deep kisses and night sex.
Apparently he had underestimated him.
Arms, strong and gentle, wrapped around his waist. A kiss upon his neck. A smile curling upon his shoulder. Words whispered into his ear in a voice that is now as potent to his well-being as the heartbeats that he can feel pressed into his back. And the man who is still a little frightened of ever tearing the two of them apart again.
"Tell me you at least get the morning paper. I order it but I never seem to get the damn thing."
"And I never order it since your blasted bird is directionally challenged and insists on delivering it to me every morning."
Quiet chuckles caused wisps of warm air to flitter across his skin. A sharp twist and quick movements had their positions reversed so that the kisses of the morning could be suitably returned. It hadn't taken long for the breakfast to serve itself, but it did take a while before the food could be eaten. Everything had been forgotten and what was not easily forgotten was coaxed away in a slow, gentle seduction that spilled all his secret thoughts into the open. Of never wanting to again live through hours and days without this man-child in his arms. Of missing him. Missing him. Missing him. Until the need had become an abyss of want and the want, he had carried along with him every day until the quiet ache became a norm.
The paper, he hid away and later tossed into the fireplace. The headline had spoken of a girl in search of an identity. Not in so many words but it amounted to the same thing. Love, once lost, was a hard thing to just forget. Even if the man she loved had always loved another. Was it fair to share? Was it cruel to dangle her dream lover before her eyes, promising a lifetime of happiness, and pretty babies?
He was always mine...
The truth rings in every syllable, even when they were years away from each other, one drifting into another's arms and the other struggling to stand aside and simply watch.
"Even if you run to the darkest crevices of hell, when I call, you know and you come to me."
"Because I belong to you?"
He can remember all the seconds, moments, days of riding the whirlwind of emotions involved with falling so completely in love. Some days he still wanted to give the boy a thorough tongue-lashing. To instill the fear of mortality that he had been afraid would slip further away when the world called out 'hero' and 'monstrous' in the same breath. Some days he loved him, missed him, so badly that he could barely hide the truth in his dark gaze. And there had been the days when he hated the jealousy he felt twisting in his guts, hated the girl who was everything he himself could never be, hated the boy who stripped him of reason and made him into a creature capable of being so desperately in love. But he had kept his dignity. And he had somehow managed to end up happy.
Was it worth it in the end?
He almost laughs aloud at the sacharrine, questionable thought. Almost. And then he remembers black hair and intense green eyes. He remembers quiet chuckles pressed into his chest in the middle of the night. He remembers falling asleep sated, waking up whole, knowing that his future was finally falling into recognizeable pieces. And he knows he has his answer.
Because he loves him, it was worth the sacrifices they both made.
x The End x