Disclaimer: Not mine, etc. No money being made, etc. Please don't sue, etc.
Warnings: Slash. DH spoilers.
By Daphne Dunham
Memory is an invention of misery.
—Andre Gide, The Immoralist
They may have been happy, Albus thinks, if it weren't for the memories. He's always been envious of those couples who grow old together, who sit together in rocking chairs by their fireplace in old age, holding hands and fondly recalling with sentimentality the sparkling days of their youth—the nervous laughter when they first met, the lightning across their skin the first time they made love, and the joy of watching their children grow. He and Severus don't have that. Instead, Albus is already wrinkled, and Severus lives a dangerous life: He doesn't know if he'll survive to see tomorrow, let alone thirty years from now. And when they sit together by the fire, all they can reminisce about—if they choose to reminisce, that is… which they usually don't—are tragic mistakes, daily risks, and broken hearts: Lily for Severus, Gellert for Albus.
Memory is an odd thing, Albus realizes as he watches Severus' Patronus—the emblem of his love for Lily Potter—dance outside the window, hooves trotting on thin air. It is deceptive: Albus is certain that Severus has forgotten certain things about Lily to suit his perpetual belief in her unwavering goodness. It is malleable: Like Severus' fond recollections of Lily, memory can evolve over time—grow stronger, sweeter, and increasingly precious. Mostly, though, memory is tormenting: For Severus, the last fifteen years of his life have been defined by his past, by this horrible replaying of that moment when he discovered he was partly responsible for Lily's murder.
And for Albus, that torment comes from knowing—as he is unavoidably reminded right now as he watches the silver doe disappear out of sight, into the darkness of the Forest—that Severus' heart has never fully been his. The headmaster's eyes fill with tears; he turns back to his lover. "All this time?" he asks him, his voice hesitant and hollow.
"Always," Severus informs him with a coldness intended to be cruel.
Shaking slightly, Albus lowers himself to sit. He can't bear to look up into his lover's dark eyes, to see the mingled pain and rage there. He is only faintly aware of the slight swish of Severus' robes as he turns to leave and the clang of the door being slammed closed behind him. Severus has been particularly unkind tonight, his accusations slashing Albus more terribly than any Sectumsempra his lover had ever managed during his Death Eater days. He has resorted to calling Albus by his surname—a familiarity they have long since surpassed and something he only does when he is angry, disappointed, or under stress. Worse, Severus has evoked Lily, a tactic designed to cause pain, to take Albus' proverbial eye for the eye he himself has had stolen from him.
The headmaster doesn't quite blame Severus, of course. Presented with the facts of their situation, he may have felt similarly: exploited, betrayed, hurt—all by the man in whom he has placed his trust, all by the man whom he has given all he has left to, all by the man he has loved. Despite the fact that Severus has had a valid point, though, there is much that has been overlooked. Albus has thought he has made himself known to Severus; he thought he has been transparent; he thought he has managed by way of companionship and caresses to convince him of the genuineness of his feelings. He remembers everything he has done or tried to do for the sake of Severus: testifying on the young man's behalf before the Wizengamot, placing his own reputation on the line to keep him from Azkaban; sitting up late with him on black anniversaries, kissing tears from his eyes until he falls asleep; and, most recently, finally assigning him the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Albus knows he is imperfect; he knows he's made mistakes, including where his dark-haired lover is concerned. Never, though, has it been his intention to take advantage of Severus Snape, to use him like a tool in preserving Harry Potter for martyrdom. Regardless of right or wrong, though, this has been a night of clarity for the headmaster, a moment of truth, another unpleasant memory to add to the stores; he'll file it away in the cabinets of his mind, tucked somewhere between Ariana and Gellert.
It's late, the castle silent and still, when Albus goes to him—when he finally gathers enough strength to wipe the tears from his eyes, rise from his chair, and make his way down to the dungeons, to Severus' chambers. For a moment as he stands shyly in the doorway to his lover's unlit bedroom, the headmaster isn't certain if the younger wizard is sleeping or not: The figure curled, back toward him, under the emerald green blankets, is quiet and unmoving—almost too quiet and too motionless to be doing anything but concentrating very hard on being in this state.
The bed creaks slightly as Albus climbs onto it, its antique limbs greeting him back to this familiar fold. He slips under the covers, across the mattress, and toward Severus. With a presumption he is no longer certain he's entitled to take, he sidles up behind his lover, chest to back, breast to spine. Just to feel the young man's body against his—the warmth of his skin against the beating of his aging heart—does the headmaster good. He breathes more easily, feels more relaxed.
"You're not Lily, and I'm not Gellert," says a voice suddenly. It's the dark, silky tone Albus could recognize as none other than Severus'; he is awake, and he is aware of the headmaster's presence in his bed, against his body. "Perhaps we should both stop deluding ourselves on this fact."
"I'm not deluding myself about anything, Severus," Albus replies, a bit wounded by the perpetual reminder of their pasts. "I thought you knew me better than that."
"I thought I did, too," is the sharp retort. "I trusted you. I… cared for you."
"Have I not done the same for you?" Albus asks in gentle defense. "Haven't I tried to protect you from Voldemort? From Azkaban? Haven't I vouched for you to the Order?" He pauses, the memory of the Patronus in his office haunting him. When he continues, it is with great sadness. "Haven't I loved you, even while you make it plain that you still prefer Lily to me?"
In the ensuing silence, Albus attempts to illustrate his last point: He places his hand on Severus' shoulder with a tenderness he hopes will prompt a warm response. "Has everything between us been a lie?" he whispers in closure to his assertion.
With utter pitilessness, Severus shirks Albus' touch, shrugging off the headmaster's hand. He says nothing, only continues to stare callously away.
"Severus, please…" Albus murmurs pleadingly.
His second attempt is more intimate. Albus brings his fingers to Severus' lips: full and pale and pursed furiously; he traces their outline gently, as if he can massage their anger away. When he isn't met with resistance, Albus tilts the younger wizard's face toward his own and leans in to kiss him. He's cautious at first, uses slow and hesitant pecks; he notes that Severus doesn't kiss him back—he just lies still, apathetic. It's this apathy which fills Albus with a sudden flood of frustrated feeling. Severus may choose not to remember all the times the headmaster has proven himself, but he does. Thinking of these times, the headmaster's kisses become more impassioned, deep and possessive. Severus moans into his mouth—he's not sure if for pleasure or discomfort; Albus feels his lover's voice echo in his own mouth as he kisses him, reverberate against his teeth.
It isn't until Albus makes a more desperate attempt to incite Severus' ardor that he realizes the dark-haired man's indifference toward him is nothing but pretense, a charade intended to grieve the headmaster: Never removing his mouth from his lover's, Albus rises over him, half-straddles him, wrapping a leg around him to lock the young man's body against his; and in so doing, he feels Severus' hardness against his thigh. The headmaster indulges it, presses against it to torment it further, to signal to the pallid wizard that Albus knows better—his body has betrayed his will. And this time, Severus cannot deny it any longer: Albus feels the young man's voice again in his mouth—a whimper this time, a yearning one.
"Not a lie," Severus breathes, a belated response to the headmaster's question and all the cue Albus needs.
Within moments, Albus has Severus where he needs him: They sit together closely, facing one another on the bed. The headmaster reaches forward to brush his lover's cheek, to tuck a strand of dark, lank hair behind his ear to see him better through the shadows. Their eyes lock, and the headmaster's mind is at once like a Pensieve, images of their past flashing wildly. In an instant, Severus is suddenly not only against Albus but inside Albus—in his mind: two Legilimens passing in and out of one another's consciousness, watching together as their memories flicker with the fervor of every touch that passes between them.
Barty Crouch peers dubiously down at Albus as the older wizard explains the true loyalties of the Death Eater-turned-spy. "Certainly Severus has proven himself deserving of a second chance, Barty, and I'll take personal responsibility…" the headmaster's saying.
There is a rush of robes and nightclothes being readjusted—pulled open, hoisted hastily aside. Albus' fingers are eager with the young man, desperate, as if he may fade like these memories if he doesn't reach out and cling to him while he still can. A squeeze on the pecs. A scratch across the back. A bruise from too-fervent gnawing forming near the swell of the neck.
"I wish you would stop trying to see something worth redeeming in me, Albus," Severus hisses, "because I know for a fact that there's nothing there." But the headmaster doesn't leave—not tonight, not on the first anniversary of losing Lily. Instead, he only nods sadly, sympathetically; after all, he also knows how terrible it is to live in regret and self-loathing.
Rubbing across the tight muscles of the abdomen, then lower still. They take one another in their hands: Albus in Severus' palm and vice versa. A moist fingertip dragged deliberately across the tip. A firm, possessive grasp. And movement—a slow stroke, a quick jerk. Each motion is careful, calculated, and increasingly intense.
Reluctant gratitude warms Severus' onyx eyes as Albus plays nurse to him, tilting the vial of Morphia Maxima potion to his lips. He has left the decision to flee or to return to Voldemort's supposed service to his lover, and it hurts to see that the young man has paid the consequences for his tardiness with brutal Cruciatus. "Don't leave me, Albus," Severus begs with a tremor of lingering pain.
With a startled gasp, Severus comes. He leaks over Albus' hand and his own as he unabashedly continues to administer to the headmaster. His tugs, influenced by the force of his own frenzy, are even more fevered than before, and in moments, Albus spills himself as well. They kiss, lips mingling once more like the fluids at their thighs, like the thoughts in their minds. It's an intimacy of mind, body, and soul that only few can achieve.
"I trust Severus Snape," Albus is insisting to Harry Potter for what feels like the hundredth time; the words have become so automatic to him over the years that they are second nature, like breathing or the beating of his heart. The boy looks skeptical—angry, even—but the headmaster does not elaborate on the reasons behind this trust. He has promised Severus he won't.
Exhausted, they lean against one another, resting their heads on each other's shoulder. The headmaster wraps his arms around his lover and embraces him. The older man's fingertips trail up and down the younger's back, caressing the bony ridge down the center with such tenderness that all Severus can do is sigh, sated.
"I remember," Severus reassures the headmaster, placing a kiss on the tender patch of skin that unites Albus' neck to shoulder. "I remember."
The headmaster grins in the darkness. He knows that Severus has always loved Lily Potter best of all—the old wizard's eyes may twinkle but they are not green like hers, and his skin smells more like soap and parchment than clean linen and flowers. And Albus knows that Severus is nothing like Gellert Grindelwald—the former's face is too sullen and his manner too melancholic, and although he's just as clever and talented as the latter, he doesn't have the same charisma and has been wounded too badly to prefer anything but solitude.
But Albus also knows that a memory is a poor substitute for love.
A/N: The title should (crosses fingers) translate from Latin to "Perpetual Memory." This piece contains quotes from DH Chapter 33… and is inspired by a bit of back-and-forth on LJ regarding who it is crying—Dumbledore or Snape—and why—when Snape's Patronus is revealed in this chapter.