AN: Thank you all for reviewing and giving me so much enthusiasm and encouragement and criticism and advice throughout this story installment. I've loved hearing from all of you. And thanks to my ever faithful beta, Fawkes Song, for all her hard work in finding all my mistakes. I appreciate it all so much.
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Harry gradually came awake, aware that he was lying in a bed. He opened his eyes to find himself in the hospital wing, lying in the very last bed. Other people were lying in them as well.
Harry sat up, and immediately the nurse hurried over.
"No, now lay back down," she said in a soft voice as she pressed him back down into the pillow. "You're weak and still healing."
"Snape?" Harry was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice and how much his throat ached. "Did anyone find Snape?"
"Just rest for now," Madame Pomfrey tried to get him to be quiet.
"I'm not going to rest a second until I know," Harry looked straight at her.
"No one's found him," she put a hand on his shoulder. "You were the last to see him so you know better than anyone what happened."
"How long have I been sleeping?" Harry asked, feeling dread mounting in his chest.
"Since yesterday. The whole wizarding world has been turned upside down. There's going to be a celebration later, but I won't let you attend unless you rest for now."
"I don't care about celebrating – I just want Snape back." Harry rolled on his side.
Pomfrey made no comment; she spread another blanket on him and went to check on other patients.
Harry stared at the wall, trying to come to terms with what he had seen happen to Snape. He remembered the look on Snape's face right before the three lights hit him, that astonished surprise. The way Snape had looked on fire – his mouth open in a silent scream. Then the explosion and Snape was gone.
Unbidden, Harry felt the tears slide down his cheeks. He didn't make a sound; he just let the tears come. The last time he had been in the hospital, after pretending to be sick to get away from Moretta, Snape had come up and been so worried, so frantic that something bad had happened to Harry. What had Snape promised after that? If Harry ever ended up in the hospital, Snape would stand by his bed until he got better and then soundly wallop him every day for a week for getting hurt.
At the time, that had been yet another thing for Harry to worry about: getting hurt and having Snape find out. But now, as he lay alone in the bed, he would have given anything to have Snape stand beside him. If Snape would just come through the door, stomp over, "What have you done to yourself? I swear, Harry, you find more trouble to get into. What am I going to do with you?"
That was the unbearable part. After years of having no one to look after him, he had found Snape's protectiveness slightly annoying. Harry had chafed under the restrictions, and he thought Snape really should understand that at sixteen he wasn't a completely helpless child. But now that he had lost the one person who took care of him, who really cared about what happened to him, who was all concerned about his physical, mental, and emotional well-being – it was too much.
Harry wanted the ache to stop, wanted the pain to go away. It was awful, overwhelming and brutal, to miss someone this much.
"There, there," Pomfrey was back, her voice concerned as she hovered over him. "You're upsetting yourself. No more crying – just deep breaths. I'm going to give you something to help you rest."
She brought a spoonful of medicine close to him, holding it out so he could swallow it. Harry stared at the spoon, flooded with memories of all the potions Snape had given him. The medicine when he was sick at the Manor in the early summer, the potion to help him warm up after he had snuck out to meet Moretta, the health drinks to help him build up his body so he could become the warrior that Snape wanted him to be. The tears came hard and fast until Harry couldn't see anything. But he leaned forward and took it.
A few minutes later he fell asleep, still crying.
The next day was awful. The whole school was celebrating, and presents and gifts and food kept arriving at the school as a week-long holiday was instated. Special guests arrived, eager to meet Harry, but he stayed in the hospital wing, under Pomfrey's strict orders that he stay calm and not get excited. Ron and Hermione came to stay with him. Hermione's arm was still healing, but Ron bore the scar across his face.
"It might never heal," Ron said cheerfully as he sat on the end of Harry's bed and ate candy. "I'll always have a battle wound, proof of my bravery in this last war. Not bad, I think. Could be worse, like Draco."
"Ron," Hermione shook her head.
"What happened to Draco?" Harry asked numbly.
Ron looked at Hermione before proceeding cautiously, "He jumped in front of Luna. His father was there and aimed a deforming curse at her. Draco just stepped up and tried to deflect it. It hit him in the left eye. He lost the eye and Pomfrey couldn't heal it up because of the dark magic behind it."
"Where is he now?"
"Draco's mother came to get him," Hermione said. "She made him come home, and she's not letting him come back. Luna was fine, just a few scrapes."
"What about Lucius and the rest of the Death Eaters?" Harry asked.
"Neville killed Bellatrix," Ron's expression became awe-inspired as he remembered. "He took that dagger and just –"
"Mr. Weasley!" Pomfrey scolded from across the hospital room.
"Well, she's dead," Ron went on. "Mad-Eye showed up and he got killed early on. They rounded up the Death Eaters for trial. I think Dumbledore is in charge of that. The whole world is changed, and we're heroes, mate."
The hospital door opened, and Harry jerked his head towards it, hoping for the hundredth time that Snape would come walking in. Snape would come in, and the last days of agony would become a distant memory. But it wasn't Snape; it was Ginny with a message for Ron.
"Hi, Harry," she smiled at him, the same way one might smile at a small baby. "Feeling better?"
Harry couldn't bear the coddling either, everyone treating him like he was fragile. Didn't they understand that he was already broken inside?
"Yes," he nodded.
"Thanks, Ginny," Ron pocketed the scrap of paper. "Tell them they might be able to see him for ten minutes later this afternoon, but no pictures."
Harry wanted to protest that he wasn't an invalid, that he didn't need Ron and Hermione acting like bodyguards, that he could stand on his own, but he just leaned against the pillows and stayed quiet.
That night, Hermione and Ron slept in the room with him, insisting to Pomfrey that they could stay in the infirmary or Harry could come back to the dorms, but they weren't leaving him alone. Hermione had rubbed his hands and petted his hair and Ron had talked in a low voice, and Harry pretended to fall asleep so they would stop worrying over him. Later, when they went to bed, Harry stared at the lone candle, watching the light flicker as the night went on and on.
Somewhere, deep below him, Snape's quarters lay empty. Harry couldn't stand the thought of those rooms with markers of Snape everywhere. It would be like a mausoleum, and Harry wondered if he could convince Dumbledore to wall off the rooms, just brick them up and never let anyone go in there again.
The next day, Harry finally insisted on getting out of bed. Pomfrey fussed, but she finally let him go, with the promise that he would come back later for a check-up. Harry went up to the Gryffindor common rooms, but Hermione and Ron flanked him, standing so close Harry almost asked them if it would be easier to carry him. They let him have short conversations with other people, but Hermione kept insisting that he rest, making him sit down in an armchair and wondering if a nap would help.
The unspoken topic remained unspoken; no one said a word about Snape. Harry tried once, but Ron told him they could discuss it later. "Snape did his part for the war," Ron said. "He would want you to get better now."
Harry tried to venture the topic again, but he found himself so overwhelmed emotionally at the thought of talking about his loss that he stayed quiet.
By that night, he realized that Snape had been gone two days. He lay in bed, unable to sleep with exhaustion pressing all around him. Finally, Harry threw off his covers, put on a robe and slippers, and headed down the stairs. The dark hall loomed with blackness, and he tried not to think about the time Snape had caught him and Ron sneaking around at night with the Marauders' Map. Harry didn't bother with his Cloak; if someone found him, he planned to say that he couldn't sleep and he couldn't stay still any longer.
At one point, he thought he heard footsteps, but he didn't turn around. He went into the dungeons and stood in front of the closed door to Snape's quarters. He put his hand on the latch, and it opened as Snape had charmed it to do. For a wild minute, Harry thought he might find Snape inside, sitting in his armchair or at his desk, "What are you doing out of bed at this hour? You might think you can wander around all you like, but I have news for you, young man."
The room was empty. Papers were on the desk, and books lay on various flat surfaces, but Snape was gone. Using the light from his wand, Harry circled the room. His chest hurt so bad he thought it might explode, but he made himself look at each object: the table where they set the tea tray when Harry spent the night, the two textbooks that Harry had left in here (Snape always got onto him about leaving his stuff everywhere), the potion bottles that Snape had been working on before they left for the holiday.
Harry realized that Snapdragon Manor lay empty, except for the house elves. He supposed it belonged to him now, but he couldn't endure the idea of living there without Snape. He would sell it or leave it to rot or burn it down – anything, except stay in it. He would give the house elves their freedom, and then he would never enter the Manor again.
Harry didn't go into Snape's bedroom; he had never really gone in there anyway. But he stopped at the small side room. About a month ago, Snape had cleaned out some books and extra items and given him the room, telling him that he wanted Harry to have a place to stay in case Snape had to stay over a few days on holiday break and Harry wouldn't have to sleep alone in the dorms.
The moment he stepped into the room, flames burst out of the fireplace and began to heat the room. Snape had charmed it; he said that Harry would forget to sleep with enough blankets and Snape didn't want to find a Harry-popsicle in the morning. As the room glowed warm with fire, Harry went to the bed and sat on it. The bed still had the green spread on it that Snape had nettled him with, smirking that the Gryffindor hero had to sleep under a Slytherin spread.
Harry lay on the bed and tried to concentrate on breathing. The pain had to go away eventually. It had to – he couldn't continue on like this forever, a shell of himself.
"Harry?" a voice spoke softly.
Harry sat up. Luna stood in the doorway, swinging her bare feet beneath her nightgown which was covered with pink radishes.
"I followed you down here," she brushed her feet over the stone floor. "I thought you might want to be alone, but I also thought you might want someone near. Should I stay in the next room?"
"No, come in," without thinking, Harry scooted over on his bed, and Luna sat down.
She didn't say anything, but she looked deep into Harry's eyes.
"Aren't you going to say that I'm going to get better?" Harry finally broke the silence. "Aren't you going to tell me that it will get easier?"
"No," she shook her head, "because you don't want it to get easier. You think the pain you feel is good, that it means you hurt for a good reason. But if you didn't, it wouldn't mean you loved Snape any less. He knew how much you loved him."
Harry choked on a sob, but Luna was there, and suddenly their mouths were meeting. Harry didn't understand what was happening to him, but Luna was there and alive and warm and comforting, and he clung to her like a drowning victim. Harry knew he was crying, but he felt weak with desire for her, almost a need to crawl into her body and escape his pain for a while.
Then she laid him back on the bed, and for some unexplainable reason, she took off her nightgown, and he was looking at her pale, soft body in the firelight. Harry felt sure he was dreaming, but then he tugged down his pajama pants and reached up to grab her fingers for stability.
They didn't speak as they made love. Harry wasn't sure he was doing anything, and he kept crying, and he didn't know if he felt good or bad, but he was barely alive, depending on her to keep living. It was over after a few minutes for Harry, but Luna stayed on top of him for a few more moments before pulling off.
As she moved, he saw the small smear of blood between their two bodies. He had guessed that she was a virgin, just like him, but the mark of it, the fact that he had just taken her virginity when he was so lost and helpless –
Harry rolled on his side and broke into sobs.
"Shh, shh," Luna spooned behind him. "I'm here for you. Let me make this better for you. Just relax."
"I miss him so much," Harry grabbed Luna's hand and pulled it tight around his torso, glad for the warmth.
"Of course, you do. Do you think that if you died, he would miss you any less?"
"No," Harry muttered, "but it would be easier for me. Dying is easy. It's living without someone that's hard."
"Very hard," Luna sighed.
Harry turned over to look at her. "Is it going to get easier?"
"It will," she promised.
"And that will be a good thing?"
"The best thing in the world."
He leaned forward to kiss her. He watched her eyes drift shut slowly, the firelight turning her golden hair a reddish tint. Harry finally closed his eyes, falling asleep with his hands still holding onto her.
They awoke before dawn and went back upstairs, hand in hand. Harry had given her his robe, wondering why Luna could never remember to wear the right clothing. It was a wonder she didn't freeze to death.
They kissed right before they went back to their respective dorms, but Harry went into the bathroom. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. He didn't look any different. Bags were still under his eyes, and he looked haggard and drawn, but he didn't seem any different. He wasn't even sure if he felt different. He had always assumed his first time with a girl would be some glorious experience that made him feel like a hero, but it hadn't.
He wasn't even sure if it had made him feel better. But as he had gone to sleep beside Luna, he felt something besides numbness. Maybe that was a start.
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Snape had been gone for ten days. Classes had resumed, but Defense Against the Dark Arts had been canceled. Dumbledore had called Harry into his office to see if he wanted to talk about what had happened.
"There's nothing to talk about, sir," Harry had replied. "I'd prefer not to talk about it."
Dumbledore told him to take time to grieve, and Harry nodded respectfully.
He went to all his classes, but none of the teachers assigned him any homework. They didn't ask him any questions in class, and McGonagall had told him in private that he would be exempt from any exams this year.
In the last week, he hadn't told anyone what happened with Luna. Luna saw him each day, and they kissed, but they didn't talk about what had happened. Harry even wondered if he had made the whole thing up or if it had been a bizarre dream.
He had stopped looking for Snape to appear, stopped expecting him to be right around the next corner, stopped hoping he would appear. For ten days, Snape was gone.
Harry stood in front of Snape's desk, wondering what to do with all the papers on the table. What should be done with Snape's potions? His books? His clothes?
Harry sat down on the sofa and propped his elbows on his face to bury his face in his hands for a moment. Then something shifted. Somewhere, something had changed.
Harry realized he was sitting on the floor of Snape's office, but the room felt different.
He stood up and turned around. Snape was sitting at the desk.
Harry felt a thrill rush through him, but before he could speak, he noticed that a window was at the end of the room, a window where there had used to be a bookcase. And outside the window it was raining. It was raining upside down, the droplets of water running up instead of down.
"This is a dream," Harry said to Snape. "This isn't real."
Snape said nothing.
"You're dead, aren't you?" Harry dropped his hands by his side. "You aren't really here. I'm asleep on the sofa."
"You look terrible," Snape said.
"You died. Of course, I look terrible. Would you look all right if I had died?"
"Even in grief, you're still cheeky," Snape noted. "You need to let me go."
Harry opened his mouth, but then he hesitated. The door opened and a second Snape walked in.
Harry jumped back with a cry, but the second Snape walked right past him and went to look at the window raining upside down. "Blasted students," Snape scowled. "Always playing pranks."
The second Snape headed back to the hall, his robes billowing around him. Harry turned to the other Snape in shock.
The Snape sitting at the desk shook his head. "After all this time, you don't recognize Legilimency."
"We're in my head? But how?"
"No, Harry," Snape frowned at his lack of intuition, "we're in my head."
Harry's knees suddenly felt weak. "In your head? But how? I thought you were dead? Are you dead? Are you alive?"
"I'm not sure," Snape admitted. "I feel scattered. I think it's my time to move on. I can't figure out where I am or what I am anymore. I'm lost out there, and I want to move on."
"No, no," Harry rushed to the desk. "No, Snape, I'm going to come find you. We'll put you back together somehow. If you aren't dead yet, I can still save you."
"Not anymore," Snape stood. "I fought a good fight. I protected you. You killed Voldemort – I can feel that much. The evil power is gone."
Harry looked closely and could see smooth skin on Snape's forehead. "I still have the Dark Mark."
"Dumbledore can probably remove that. I leave you in good hands. You've proved yourself, proved you don't need me anymore."
"I'm sixteen!" Harry cried out. "I'm still in school. Don't you want to see me in my twenties? Don't you want to see me get married and have kids and have some important job other than Voldemort-killer?"
"I would," Snape looked sad. "But my time is over. I've taught you all I can. I'm ready to leave."
Snape started walking towards the door and Harry looked around desperately. "You can't go. Please don't go."
Snape put his hand out for the door, and Harry tried to think of the most extreme thing he could say to make Snape stay, to get him not to leave.
"I slept with Luna," Harry blurted out.
Snape froze, and Harry could see his back tense up. Snape turned around and bellowed, "You did WHAT?"
"I slept with Luna down here in my room," Harry pointed towards the closed door of his small bedroom. "Two nights after you died. Or got scattered, whatever that means. I took her virginity and she took mine."
Snape drew himself up. "You slept with her? What were you thinking? What did I tell you, over and over again about girls? How could you do something so reckless?"
"You weren't here to say no," Harry crossed his arms smugly. "I can do whatever I want."
"I'm going to tan your behind from one side of Britain to the other," Snape threatened. "When I get a hold of you, I'll make sure you are the sorriest boy I've ever had the displeasure to meet. I can't leave for two days before you start sleeping with every girl who throws herself at you."
"Foolish, impulsive, thoughtless, childish –"
"I'm coming to find you," Harry smiled. "I'm getting Ron and Hermione, and we're coming to get you. Wherever you are, however long it takes – we're leaving today to find you."
"You can't leave school without permission," Snape was outraged. "You aren't of age yet. Don't you dare take one step –"
"I'm stopping by the manor first," Harry went on. "I'm rounding up anything we might need. And I'll get Hermione to raid the potions closet to see what we can take with us."
"You lay one finger on that closet and I'll –"
"I'll strip the manor bare and sell it if I have to," Harry said. "It belongs to me now. You didn't give me a choice in the whole exchange of marks thing, and I'm not giving you a choice now. How does that feel? You better hang on for us because I promise that I will spend the rest of my life tracking you down. I don't care what I have to do, or who I have to use, or what I have to give up. I will find you."
Harry lifted his head. He was back on the sofa, and the room was empty.
He stood up. He could feel the magic coursing through him, pure power of righteous strength. He went up to the dorms and found his Cloak in the bottom of his trunk where Dumbledore had placed it after the last fight.
Harry went up to the Grand Hall and found Ron and Hermione finishing up lunch. "Come with me," he told them.
Once they were outside, Harry turned around. "Snape's alive. He used Legilimency on me to reach me, I'm not really sure how."
Hermione's jaw dropped, and Ron's eyes got big.
"He's scattered out there somewhere. I'm going to find him. I know that sounds crazy, and if you think I've lost it, you don't have to come. But I'm going to find him. There wasn't a body. We didn't find any more of him other than the scar he stole from me. He's out there, and I'm going to figure out a way to put him back together."
"Harry," Hermione began, but Ron put a hand on her arm.
"I know he sounds mad," Ron told her, "but after all this time, don't you think we owe him a chance. The last time he got the vision thing, my dad was bit by the snake."
"But how could Snape survive this long?" Hermione shook her head. "How can someone be scattered without bleeding out?"
"I don't know, but I fail to see how Snape could talk to me if he's dead. I have to go do something. I can't stay here. I understand if you have to, but –"
"Of course, we're coming with you," Ron said. "Just because Voldemort's dead doesn't mean his followers are all rounded up. You need us for protection. I want another battle scar, maybe on the other side of my face to even it out. Hope I won't get too ugly for you, Hermione."
She laughed in spite of herself. "Oh, fine, but I wish you could have chosen a time other than the beginning of second term. My marks will plummet."
"Your marks will be fine," Ron told her.
They started down the path together when Luna ran up to join them.
"I felt something had changed," she said.
"It has," Harry swallowed. "We're leaving now to find Snape. I know it sounds crazy, but I promise we'll be back soon."
"I'm coming with you."
"No, Luna, you can't. It's too dangerous."
"Always his favorite line," Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I've felt weird lately," Luna dreamily looked up at the gray sky. "I had an extra self-diagnosis test. I did it on myself and found something."
"You're sick?" Harry froze.
"No," she smiled at him, "I'm pregnant."
The world stopped.
Luna put a hand over her flat stomach. "It's only been a week, but I can feel it. I have to come with you to protect the father of my child."
"Harry?" Hermione gasped as she turned huge eyes on him.
"Blimey, mate," Ron shook his head, "Snape's going to kill you."
That, Harry thought, was an understatement.
Somehow, yet again, his story had changed and a new beginning was dawning.