Authors Note: Yes, yes, I don't normally do these (and I tend to skip over them in other stories), but I'm making an exception. Some of you may have noticed that I did not update for a very long time; this is because I have been busy plotting and writing my own series (not to mention writing shortish one-shots), and I felt guilty taking time away from the Marimae series in order to write fanfiction. But I've realized that taking a step back from the Marimae actually stimulates my creativity rather than restricts it. I can't promise every day updates, but I do promise that I won't go another two months without another chapter.
To all the reviewers: thank you for your kind words. Several people have expressed hope that the type of afterlife I'm writing about will actually happen when the curtains close for the very last time. All I can say to that is I hope so too. Also, and I know this will sound very wacky, I have faith that this life is not the end. I can't imagine that love ends, and I refuse to believe that those I've lost are gone forever as though they had never existed.
Everyone ought to know that if not for gleamingeyes (who is writing a rather wonderful fic called Trouble Rebounds which everyone who is a Harry Potter fan ought to read), I probably would have remained lazy for a little while longer.
And now for Snape…
Harry walked slowly toward the man in the stands, and was somewhat embarrassed to note that his palms were sweaty. He was not afraid, no, this wasn't fear that he felt. Perhaps it was a close cousin that somehow encapsulated anxiety and determination. In his mortal life, he had never imagined that he would have this opportunity. He had honestly not dwelled on it, but he had thought of this man regularly throughout his life. But he had thought that his last chance to say certain things that weighed upon his soul had bled out on a dusty floor in an old shack before he had any idea that he would want to say them.
Snape stood impassively on the stairs leading down to the brilliant green of the pitch. His expression gave away nothing, no more than it ever had in life. One thing was missing, however. Snape did not look upon him with great disgust even hatred. This bolstered Harry a little; he did not think that he could say what must be said in the face of Snape's disdain.
Snape's physical appearance had both changed and not changed. He had the appearance of a man approaching forty, the same age he had been at his death. While everyone else Harry had seen generally affected the appearance of perhaps mid-twenties, Snape's face was lined, and he had wrinkles about his eyes. The changes death had wrought were, instead, smaller. His hair was still a thick black curtain, but it did not stick greasily to his head. His skin was also not sallow; he looked quite healthy. And, something less definable, he did not hold himself so tightly. His manner bespoke relaxation rather than bitterness.
Harry scratched the back of his neck, and was unable to stop himself from looking over at his father. Both James and Sirius were watching him closely. His mother joined them, and smiled encouragingly. He pulled his eyes away quickly; he did not want to give Snape the impression that he was ganging up on him.
"Er… Can we walk?" Harry asked. If the other man was surprised, he did not show it. He merely nodded, and followed Harry as he blindly led the way out of the pitch, and away from the eyes of the others. Harry felt slightly guilty that he was leaving his friends and family so soon after they had been reunited, but he had all of eternity to spend with them. And for his peace, this was important.
They walked in silence, the two of them, in a way that they never had in life. Harry thought of all the meetings they'd had, full of rancor and enmity, except for the last…
Snape seemed perfectly content not to say anything as they continued on rather aimlessly. They must have walked for several minutes, perhaps even twenty, before they came to a small bridge that spanned the river that had so fascinated Ron and Hermione. Harry leaned over the railing to watch the water; it was only water this time, he did not see the faces of his children reflected back at him.
He took a deep breath, and then another just for good measure. Snape, lost in his own thoughts, did not say anything.
"I owe you the greatest apology that a wizard can give another wizard, Professor Snape," Harry said quietly. He did not look at the other man, but felt him start. "I ask that you please not interrupt me…"
He clutched the railing until his knuckles whitened, marshalling his thoughts, and forged ahead. "I was blind when it came to you. I only saw the detest you felt for me, the rancor. From my very first year, I thought the very worst of you. As I grew older at Hogwarts… I distrusted you. I did not listen to Dumbledore. I thought he was a fool for trusting you. I gave absolutely no thought to the fact that he was older, cleverer, and wiser than I was, and that he would never have trusted you without good reason. I quite easily ignored the fact that even though you hated me, you saved my life on several different occasions."
Harry paused, alarmed to notice that his throat felt rather tight. Snape still said nothing. So he continued. "After the war… I deeply regretted the fact that I could not thank you for what you had done for me. You… I could not have defeated Voldemort without you. So… er… I'm very sorry for not trusting you, for always believing the worst of you."
He glanced at Snape, and he did not think he had ever seen a man quite so shocked. The impassive expression was gone; Snape's eyes were wide, his mouth open, and he stared at Harry as though he had never seen him before.
His brows knit together as though he was thinking about a particularly difficult and delicate potion. "But…"
Still he did not continue, but Harry waited.
"I did hate you, you know," Snape said almost conversationally. "It wasn't an act. I wasn't trying to protect you from liking me. Every time I saw you, I saw your father… and worse, I saw your mother."
"I know." Harry told him.
"I didn't do it for you," Snape pressed on.
"I know that, too," Harry assured him. "You did it for my mother."
Snape continued to stare at him, looking very bewildered. "I regret, now, the way I treated you… You say that you regret never trusting me?"
He paused for such a long time that Harry nodded. "I do."
It was Snape's turn to clutch the railing. "How can you possibly forgive me?"
"What?" Harry said blankly.
"I never gave you any reason to trust me," Snape said, looking off into the distance. "I was mean and cruel to you. I treated you with far more unfairness than you deserved… far more unfairly than your father ever treated me."
Harry shrugged. "But that really doesn't matter. You were a git, I'll give you that. You did treat me like I was scum on the bottom of your shoe. You taunted me, you taunted Sirius, yeah. I remember. But while you were being petty to me, you were also working tirelessly to bring down Voldemort, putting yourself in mortal peril to do so."
"Voldemort, whom I also served at one time," Snape pointed out. "Don't forget that I was a Death Eater."
"I know you were," Harry said. This was almost surreal, the way he was defending Snape; it was even weirder than when he'd defended Dumbledore in the waiting place all those years ago. If he had known in his Hogwarts years that he would one day do this…
"I didn't leave his service because I thought he was doing wrong," Snape looked him straight in the eyes. "I left and joined Dumbledore for personal reasons."
"Yeah, I know. You loved my mother," Harry paused, considering very carefully his next words. "I researched your life, you know, after it all ended. I was interested in knowing the person you were, and how you got to the point you did. I saw a little of it in the Pensieve… Believe me, if I'd had your father and mother…"
"My mother and father did not make my choices for me," Snape said quietly. "I was drawn to Voldemort through my own folly, believe me. If not for your mother –"
"Exactly. You loved her. You were still capable of love, and because of that love, you laid down your life."
"I did," Snape agreed.
"Greater love hath no man…" Harry let his voice trail away.
"That doesn't explain how you can stand in front of me and apologize to me."
Harry grinned suddenly. "That's all because of Ginny, actually. I love her deeply. Had she married Malfoy and had a son that looked exactly like him and then gotten herself killed because of him, I think I would've hated that boy as much as you hated me. I would like to think I wouldn't, but…"
Snape gave a wry sort of chuckle. "You know that I count your father as a friend, now. Old differences… they don't seem to matter much anymore."
"Dumbledore was right," Harry said. "You should've been Sorted into Gryffindor. Pettigrew should've been Sorted into Slytherin, that evil little bastard."
For the first time ever, Harry heard Snape laugh.
"Oh, one more thing," Harry said. "And if this can't prove that when everything with Voldemort was said and done, and the Wizarding world rebuilt itself, I never castigated you for your treatment of me, but honored you for your amazing courage, then nothing will. I named my son for you: Albus Severus. He's the only one of my children that inherited my mother's eyes… I thought it fitting."
Snape did not say anything for minutes. Instead, the two men stared at the river, each lost in thought. Harry felt that he had at last had a heavy weight taken from him, one that he had never really known was there. The entire world seemed just a little bit brighter.
"Well, they haven't killed each other!"
Harry turned to grin at Sirius, who had Ron's gift of using inappropriate humor to break the tension. Sirius, Remus, Tonks, his parents, his wife, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, and Molly all stood some feet away. Some looked anxious (namely the younger generation), and others looked pleased.
"I'll have you know, we were having a perfectly civil conversation," Harry said. "Besides… can you actually kill people here?"
He walked down to join them, and flung an arm around his father. "Good game, by the way, Dad."
James reached over and ruffled his hair. "Never forget where you got your Quidditch playing genes, son."
"You've said that since Harry was a year old," Lily said dryly. "Somehow you're entirely responsible for his excellent skills."
"No," Harry said. "He isn't entirely responsible. Sirius is partly responsible; he gave me my first broom, if you remember."
James and Lily laughed. "How could we forget? You were a maniac on that thing…"
Sirius punched Harry on the shoulder. "Who was the world's best godfather, eh?"
"Me," Harry answered promptly. "Teddy told me that every day."
"Yeah… I suppose not getting locked up in Azkaban for twelve years gave you a few bonus points," Ron said. Sirius stared at him for a few moments, eyes wide. Harry was afraid that he would find that offensive, but instead Sirius let out a laugh like a bark.
"I suppose that's true," Sirius said. "But I got Harry a Firebolt!"
Harry gripped his shoulder. "You were the best, you know."
"Anyway," Lily cut in. "We came to find you because we thought Severus might've wheedled it all out of you, and we didn't want to miss it! Sev, did you get the whole story?"
Snape grinned. "I haven't even tried yet."
"You guys really want to know?" Harry asked. "Right now?"
"YES!" shouted eight different people. Ron laughed.
"I think they're a bit eager, mate, better tell them," he said.
"Okay, but it'll be the short version," Harry warned.
"We know quite a lot about all your adventures, sweetheart," Lily said. "But we don't know the why of it."
"Fine," Harry said. "But I'm sitting down." He flung himself down on the grass. Ginny settled herself to sit between his knees, with her back up against his chest. He played idly with her hair. The others settled themselves rather more gracefully. Again, he was shocked to see that Sirius and Snape sat within strangling distance of one another yet seemed perfectly amicable.
"When Voldemort was around sixteen years old, he discovered what a Horcrux is," Harry began. At the blank looks of the others, he continued, "Horcruxes are an object in which a wizard has placed a bit of his soul. There are certain instances – most often murder – when a soul is ripped apart. If a wizard is evil enough, he can use this to his own advantage, and encase the part ripped away in an object. This effectively makes him immortal, because as long as a portion of his soul is on Earth, he cannot die."
"That's horrible," Arthur said, his face white. "That's… so that's what you were doing that last year? Searching for his Horcrux?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione laughed bitterly.
"What?" Molly asked. "It wasn't the Horcrux you were looking for?"
"Plural, Mum," Ron said, ripping up grass by the handfuls. "Voldemort made several Horcruxes. The diary that possessed Ginny? That was a Horcrux."
Lily and Molly looked especially horrified. "You mean… a bit of Voldemort's soul was writing to her? Pretending to be her friend?"
"How could he have made multiple Horcruxes?" Sirius looked aghast. "I've heard of them… my parents knew all about the Dark Arts, and even they would never have made a Horcrux. It's supposed to be awful, do awful things, maim you beyond repair. And Voldemort was stupid enough to make several?"
"Is that why he looked like a snake?" Arthur asked. "Because he'd ripped his soul apart?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "He grew less human each time he did it."
"But what does this have to do with you?" James asked at the same time Sirius asked, "Where'd you find all the Horcruxes?"
"Well, I destroyed the diary Horcrux in my second year," Harry said. "And Dumbledore destroyed a ring Horcrux. When we left after our sixth year, Ron, Hermione, and I found the locket Horcrux at the Ministry –"
"What?" Arthur said sharply. "How did he hide it at the Ministry?"
"He didn't. He originally hid it in a lake full of Inferi," Hermione replied. "But Regulus went and got it out and took it to Grimmauld Place. Mundungus Fletcher stole it, and gave it to Dolores Umbridge as a bribe to get out of trouble."
"Do you mean to say," Molly's face was very pale, "That when the entire world was looking for Harry, you strolled into the Ministry for Magic and took it back?"
"Yeah," Ron said proudly. James and Sirius laughed.
"We found another Horcrux at Gringotts," Harry grinned. "And broke in. That was pretty fun."
"And escaped on a dragon," Arthur replied. "Molly, remember when we heard that they'd done it?"
"Remember how Bill told us what he thought was going on? And how he wouldn't tell me the location of Shell Cottage because he knew I'd try to stop them?" Molly countered. "I think my heart stopped when Lee Jordan started screaming about it on Potterwatch."
"At least they escaped," Tonks said. "You should've seen Remus when he heard. Laughed like a maniac, he did. Said that only the son of James and the godson of Sirius could break into something so impenetrable and get out again."
"I was very proud," Remus said. "Scared for you, but proud."
"So how many Horcruxes did he make?" James asked when the laughter had died down. "And what does the prophecy have to do with any of this?"
"He made seven Horcruxes," Hermione said.
"And about the prophecy… that's a very good question," Harry continued. "I had no idea what it actually meant until it was all over." He glanced at Snape, who had a rather arrested look of understanding on his face. The others merely looked confused.
"We destroyed the rest of the Horcruxes that night," Ron said. "We went to Hogwarts because there was a Horcrux there, and we found it as the battle was raging."
"And then…" Harry took a deep breath. "And then Snape gave me his memories, and I finally understood."
"Even though I didn't, until now," Snape said quietly.
"But what is it?" Lily asked, bewildered.
"The night that Voldemort killed you and dad," Harry said. "And failed to kill me because of your sacrifice, Mum, he made me a Horcrux. That's what the prophecy meant, even though I was too stupid to see it. Neither could live while the other survived. I realized that unless I let him kill me, Voldemort could not be defeated. Because I would anchor him to life."
Everyone looked stunned, except for those who had known everything: Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Molly, Lily, and Tonks looked to be on the verge of tears, while Arthur, James, and Sirius looked furious.
"So when I saw you guys with the Resurrection Stone, I knew," Harry said. "What I didn't know was that I would survive."
Ginny squeezed Harry's knee.
"Yeah, we didn't know you'd survive either," Sirius said after a pause. "I was actually looking forward to having you here…"
Harry laughed. "Oh, I think that if I knew what happened after death, I would not have been nearly so afraid. Dumbledore explained everything in the waiting place, and I went back to live."
"But how did you survive if he killed you?" James asked.
"Because of Mum," Harry said simply. "She died to save me, even though she didn't have to die. She had a choice. And her blood protected me. Voldemort, on the night he returned, took my blood. That kept me anchored to life as much as his Horcruxes did for him."
"If I didn't know it was true," Snape said. "I would never have believed it."
They all fell silent. Harry knew that things would need to be explained more fully, but now was not the time to delve into the intricacies of the first eighteen years of his life. Understanding would come later, and Harry did not have to rush through any stories. They had all the time in the world.