Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Broken after the war, Harry left. Now, two years later, he's finally found the strength to return, only to discover that old sins have long shadows…
A/N: Sorry for the delay – I've been out of town for two weeks. This one is going to be very short and, again, sorry for that, but if I'd added the climax in here, it would have taken me another week to update the story!
Anyway, the next chapter will have the climax, and the one after that will be the epilogue and the end of the story. So enjoy this one!
Chapter Fourteen: It Ends Tonight
The front door of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, opened, and a man walked in, his black eyes shadowed by a curtain of black hair. "Good evening, Potter, Weasley," he said, his voice cool and silky and faintly sneering. "It would seem that I have come at precisely the right time. I believe I can tell you exactly where Narcissa Malfoy is."
Harry and Ron both turned around to stare at Severus Snape.
Ron looked like he had swallowed a pint of Stinksap. "You'll do anything to help Harry get himself killed, won't you?" he said bitterly.
Apparently, Snape did not feel this was worth dignifying with the response. Instead, he directly addressed Harry. "I know where Narcissa is."
"And you'll tell me, will you?" said Harry with dislike. "You wouldn't be trying to lead me into a trap?" Catching sight of the cold look on Snape's face, he decided that Snape didn't intend to send him into the trap. But there was something there, in that sallow face, that startled Harry. It was a very faint trace of humanity. Harry went on, curtly: "Why are you doing this?"
"Miss Granger's death changes things," said Snape coolly. "Narcissa must be stopped."
"So you'll just betray your old friend?" said Harry.
Snape eyed him coldly. "I am not sentimental."
"Ho!" said Ron angrily. "So you think Narcissa killed Hermione! She didn't! She did much worse!" And spluttering, his words tumbling one after another, Ron managed to tell Snape exactly what Narcissa Malfoy had done. Harry, listening to it, fell a new rush of rage. He was exhausted and drained and empty, but there was still enough in him to be furious all over again.
"She left her like that!" Harry shouted. "She left her neither alive nor dead – waiting to be buried alive! Where is she?"
Snape's expression had changed. "If Miss Granger is alive," he said, "Then there is no need for my presence here."
Harry moved so fast he was a blur; his wand was out and pointed directly at Snape. "I am not going to give her a chance to come back for Hermione," he said in a low, deadly voice. "I am not going to let her come after her, or after my son. If I have to squeeze every last bit of information out of you, I will. But you are going to tell me where she is. This ends tonight. Where – is – she?"
"You are tired, Potter. Do you really hope to be able to defeat her?" Snape sneered slightly. "Or me, for that matter?"
"Why don't we find out, then?"
Snape studied Harry for a long time. His loathing of him hadn't changed, Harry realized. But it was tinged with a very faint respect. Harry had, after all, killed Voldemort. And he had proven himself beyond anything Snape had expected. Harry saw the decision being made, slowly and reluctantly. Then Snape said, his cold calm unimpaired by the weight of his choice:
"You will find her at this address." Snape held out a scrap of parchment. Harry and Ron peered at it.
"How can you do it?" Ron blurted, before Snape could leave. "You were her friend. How can you give her up, knowing… what might happen?"
Snape swept from the dark, gloomy house without another word, and lightning crashed against the sky as the door shut behind him. But Harry understood. He knew how Snape could do it. It was for the same reason that Snape had been able to obey Dumbledore's request and kill him, for the same reason that he had been able to pretend to be on Voldemort's side.
"I don't like him," said Harry to Ron, ruefully. "I'll probably always hate him. But he does the right thing. When it comes down to it, and things are really difficult and dark, Snape does the right thing, whatever the cost to him… or to his friends."
Ron looked at Harry in awe, and Harry was slightly surprised at himself. He really was growing up, he realized.
"I don't know if that's a good thing or not," said Ron, "To sacrifice your friends for what's right… I dunno if I could do it, mate."
"Neither do I," said Harry, and then straightened up slightly. He smiled. "But then, my friends are the kind I would be a bloody idiot to sacrifice, wouldn't I?" He looked at the door, through which Snape had just disappeared, and took a deep breath. He knew he might never come back to this place, which had become home to him. He knew that like Sirius, like his parents, like Dumbledore, he might walk out of his home tonight, to do the right thing, and never return again.
But that was all right, Harry told himself. Because as long as he knew Hermione and David were safe, it wouldn't matter. Because, he, Harry, could also do the right thing, whatever the cost.
"Goodbye, Ron," he said.
Ron swallowed visibly. "I'll tell her. And… I… I'll see you later, yeah?"
"We'll meet again," Harry promised, but didn't specify which world it might be in. And then he turned, the address of Narcissa's new hiding place branded like fire in stone in his head, and he walked out of his home.
Ron heard the door close, and then he sank slowly down onto the nearest couch and covered his face with his hands. Then he cried. Too much had happened in the past few days. It was too much for anyone to cope with, and he wasn't strong like Harry and Hermione. Luna was everything to him, it was true. But he needed them—both of them—to be all right. To be whole. Hermione would never be the same if anything happened to Harry tonight. He'd lose them both. He'd already been so afraid he had, when he'd thought Hermione was… and now…
It had to be Harry, Ron and Hermione.
It had to.
"Ron?" He felt a warm, soft arm around his shoulders, and he looked up into Luna's soft, dreamy eyes. She was his escape, the one thing in the world that truly understood him and filled him and… he ruefully acknowledged this… could put up with every part of him. It was Harry, Ron and Hermione, but it was also Harry-and-Hermione. Luna was the other half of the Ron equation.
"I don't know what to do," he whispered.
"He's gone, hasn't he?" said Luna softly. "I thought he might. David's asleep. I just checked on him. How will we tell him?"
"How will we tell Hermione?" said Ron hollowly.
Luna took his hand and helped him up. "Let's not worry about it just yet. Lupin's with her—he told me to come and check on you. I'll make you some toast with Fridwill blueberries. They're enchanted, you know."
"If you say so," said Ron, cracking a very slight smile at that.
But they were halfway through the toast, Ron's stomach jumping at every moment—Harry must be almost at Narcissa's, by now—when Ginny came tearing into the room. Ron's nerves were so badly shot that her violent entrance made him drop his glass of milk. It shattered, and Luna scowled at Ginny.
"Hermione's awake," Ginny choked out.
Luna forgave her. The three of them raced back up the stairs, where Neville and Lupin were just exiting Hermione's room. "Neville, why don't you get David?" said Lupin, smiling as he saw Ron, Luna and Ginny. "He's asleep, but I'm sure he won't mind being woken so he can see his mother again."
"Can we go in?" asked Ron anxiously.
"Yes, of course. I'll be there in a moment. I've got to tell Molly and Tonks."
Ron edged carefully into Hermione's room, and his heart leapt when he saw her lying on her bed, sitting up and smiling at him. He, Luna and Ginny went forward, each wearing ear-splitting grins. "You gave us quite a fright there," said Ron, trying to seem as indifferent as possible.
Hermione wasn't fooled; that was obvious. "Ron," she said happily, "Ginny, Luna. I'm so glad you're all here!"
"How do you feel?" asked Ginny, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Okay?"
"A little tired, but I'm all right. And—"
"Mum!" David shrieked from the doorway. He tore into the room, stumbling over his own feet—he was, after all, only barely two years old—and he threw himself at the bed. Ron obligingly lifted him up onto the covers, and David buried his face in Hermione's neck, sobbing. "Mum, I was so scared!"
"Oh, sweetheart, I'm so sorry," she said, holding him tightly. "I never wanted to frighten you! But, look, Mummy's here now!"
"But—but now Daddy's gone!"
Hermione's face went white. Ginny and Luna both froze and slowly, turned to look at Ron. He felt his entire body and his features stiffen. He hadn't wanted her to find out like this.
"Ron," said Hermione, her voice shaking. "Where's Harry?"
"G-Gone!" David sobbed into her shoulder.
"Ron," said Hermione again.
His tongue was very stiff and heavy; he couldn't seem to move it. Finally, his insides tearing apart as he thought of where Harry might be right now—and wondered if he was even alive or not—Ron Weasley managed to say:
"He's gone after Narcissa. I—I don't know if he's going to come back."