Chapter 14 – Reckoning
June 11, 1997: Snape
It seemed as though an eternity passed in the few seconds between the time he heard the softly spoken plea from Albus' lips and the time he raised his wand. It was time enough to remember all the times he had sat and talked with his mentor, the times Albus had drawn conversation out of a reluctant Snape and made him feel like a human being for a few moments. Time enough to regret all the times he'd turned down offers of tea and myriad sweets, drugged or otherwise. Certainly more than enough time to remember all the reasons he loathed himself.
But foremost in his mind, however much he might deny it, was the thought that after this Harry would never look at him the same way again.
He took a breath, steeled himself, and spoke the words.
For a split second, it seemed as though everything was standing still and he thought that maybe the cursed hadn't worked.
And then he was dead. Ablus was dead. The only man who'd ever trusted him, and perhaps even cared for him, was falling to the ground, already lifeless.
But, no. He hadn't been the only one. Harry had cared for him, trusted him. No doubt that was over now. He felt his chest heave in what he told himself was not a sob, glad no one was there to see him, and turned to go.
"Severus, wait!" he heard, and spun to see Harry pulling his invisibility cloak off his shoulders. He opened his mouth, but he did not trust himself to speak without breaking down, and he did not dare look at Harry's face. He could not bear to see the betrayal, the contempt he knew he would find there.
He was startled when he felt Harry's hands take his shoulders in a firm grip.
"Severus! Are you okay?"
He looked up at the earnest tone and unexpected words, but still he could not speak. Was Harry forgiving him? His actions were unconscionable, how could Harry look at him with anything but utter loathing?
"No, of course you're not okay. I can't believe he asked that of you," Harry said as he wrapped strong arms around Snape's thin frame. Snape's body began to shake with sobs and he fought to control himself. This was no time to give in to grief.
"Hush now. I know it's hard to…to lose him. It's hard for me, too. But we can't just stand here—Death Eaters will start coming up those stairs any moment."
"Yes," Snape whispered. "They will come, as will Order members. I must flee."
Harry let out a faint whimper and threaded his fingers through Snape's hair. "I know you're right. I know it, but I don't want you to go!"
"The Dark Lord and his followers will be looking to finish what was started back in January, and everyone else will likely be of a 'curse first, ask questions later' mindset, after…after what I've done. Nowhere is safe for me."
Harry pulled back enough to look him in the eye. "Yes, you're right. Do what you have to do. But when you can, Severus Snape, you come back to me!" Harry's eyes shown with fierce determination, and Snape felt a faint flicker of warmth kindle in his chest.
"I've got to go after the rest of the Horcruxes, but when you can you find me. I'll have to stay hidden too, probably with Ron and Hermione. We can hide together. You promise me, Severus, that you'll come back to me. I told you I'd love you always, and I still believe that."
Snape stared at him for a moment before nodding jerkily. "Yes. Yes, I'll find you. I'll find you, Harry."
And then they were kissing desperately. Snape never wanted to let him go for fear they would not meet again, but eventually Harry pulled away.
"We've stayed here way too long. Go, Severus, run! I'll chase you out, watch your back, but you've got to get out of here now!"
One last kiss, and they ran.
August 23, 1997: Harry
Harry sat hugging his knees outside the tent. He didn't know exactly where they were—some forest somewhere—but he didn't really care. They had a promising lead on the locket Horcrux, and Hermione had overrun the tent with color-coded notes and index cards and books in languages he didn't recognize, but none of that was on Harry's mind at the moment.
He was thinking about Severus. Severus, and the fact that he hadn't come yet.
Harry had explained about what happened on the tower to Ron, Hermione, and Professor….no, Headmistress McGonagall, and he was fairly sure they believed him. After all, it wouldn't do for Severus to show up only to have Ron curse him to the Southern Hemisphere on sight.
He hadn't told anyone else, though. He'd hoped that since he was the only witness, the news would not spread. It had worked for a while, but eventually word had got around. Still, he was reluctant to talk because he wasn't sure if anyone would believe him. He knew that Severus wouldn't want him to lie about what had happened, and he was afraid of making things worse by speaking too soon.
He'd expected Severus to turn up by now, and he was sorely tempted to screw the Horcrux hunt and go find him. If he wasn't worried that his clumsy searching would only draw more attention to the man he loved he would have done just that. He tried not to entertain the thought that someone else had already found him and he was injured, or worse. Another possibility was that Severus had decided not to come after all, and that was almost as painful.
He was aware of the clearing where they'd pitched the tent being particularly lovely, with its wildflowers and the stream just over there, but he could not appreciate it in the least.
Severus had to come, and he had to come soon. There was an aching emptiness inside him, and Harry knew that he wouldn't be able to carry on with this task much longer without him. Beyond that, he didn't think he could survive it if something had happened to Severus or he'd changed his mind.
Just as the tears were welling in his eyes and threatening to spill over, he felt a presence at the edge of the wards. He knew he should be worried about Death Eaters attacking or hapless muggles stumbling upon them, but all he could think was that Severus had come at last.
"Harry?" called the silken voice he had been longing to hear. He lunged to the edge of the wards and threw his arms around his Severus.
"You came, you're here, you're safe, you came back to me, you're safe…" he babbled into Severus' shoulder. He looked haggard, worn and tired, but he was here, he was alive.
"Merlin, Harry, how I've missed you."
They held each other tight, swaying back and forth, until Severus pulled away and said, "Harry, I've got to talk to you."
Harry nodded. He thought he could listen to anything, as long as Severus was there, speaking to him.
"I know I have nothing to offer you, I am nothing but—"
"No, Severus!" Well, maybe not anything. "You are everything to me, and—"
"Stop, Harry. Please, give me the consideration of listening to what I have to say without interruption. Just let me get through this."
Reluctantly, Harry nodded. He could listen quietly, then convince him that whatever awful thing he was about to say wasn't true.
"Thank you. As I was saying, I know that I am nothing but an emotionally stunted, mean, ugly old man. I know that I'm a difficult, if not impossible, man to care for. I have almost no experience in relationships of any nature, much less romantic, and until very recently I had no idea what love was. It was not something I believed myself capable of. But I find that that is untrue."
Harry opened his mouth, but Severus silenced him with a look. Harry wished he would get through it already. It sounded like he was saying he loved Harry but didn't think he was good enough for him, and Harry was itching to tell him just what he thought of that.
"I am not finished yet. I have been a schoolteacher, earning a schoolteacher's salary, for fifteen years. I have nothing to offer you but what you see before you. My father left me nothing but copious debt and a ramshackle house filled with grim memories that I have no wish to revisit."
"My mother, on the other hand—" He paused to reach into his robes and remove something, but he kept it concealed in his hand.
"My mother left me these," he said, and pressed the object into Harry's palm. It was a small box, and Harry looked up and Severus questioningly. Severus tilted his head toward the box, so he tentatively opened it.
Harry snapped his head back up, eyes wide and mouth slack.
"The Prince family bonding rings."
"B-bonding? Is that like…getting married?" Harry stuttered.
"Muggles get married, wizards bond. It is deeper, and incontrovertible."
"Forever? Till we die?" he whispered.
"Until we die and after. All eternity."
Harry gulped past the lump blocking his throat. "You would…you would want to do that with…with me?"
Severus looked down. "I understand if you do not wish it—the things I've done... But I had to ask—these past weeks have been excruciating and I do not think I can live my life without you. Still, I know that you are young and I am not ideal—"
Harry finally snapped out of the daze he seemed to be in and flung himself at Severus, clinging so tight he was sure to leave bruises.
"Yes! Yes, yes, I love you, yes yes. I'm yours, my Prince, as you are mine. Yes yes," he sobbed and he could feel Severus' body sag against his with relief.
"Oh, thank the gods," Severus whispered, "I love you so much, Harry. More than I can say."
"It's okay," Harry answered, "There are no words for what I feel for you, either; I understand perfectly."
If we live through this, Harry thought, it'll be a wonderful life, indeed. Never boring, no. But definitely wonderful.
Sappy, I know, but I'm a sucker for sappy endings. Hope you enjoyed.