I'm not sure where this fic came from. Maybe it was a desire to give Snape a bit of dignity. Maybe it was to explore what Harry is like as an adult. Maybe it was my rereading all seven HP books in a weekend. Who knows? At any rate, I hope you enjoy reading about this bit of

Grave Business.

Harry Potter's children have never been able to explain to their friends why their father comes personally to pick them up from Hogwarts at the end of spring term. They know it is not for nostalgia's sake, for he never visits inside the school to talk to his friends and acquaintances among the staff, nor is it for business, for he is an Auror and can have precious little business inside places like Hogwarts. He has never told them, and it is doubtful he ever will. But they are purposeful, his end-of-school year returns. It is not for the living that he comes back to the place that defined his childhood. He comes to visit the dead.

Harry's life has been defined by graves – his parents', in Godric's Hollow, the obelisk that presides over the empty patch of ground that should have held his godfather, the magnificent white marble tomb of Albus Dumbledore, the simple cairn over the remains of Dobby the house-elf. And there are more graves than just these: in the Hogsmeade burial ground the rows in the farthest corner are all his to claim, the ones who died fighting under his command in the last and terrible battle against the Dark Lord for the control of Hogwarts and ultimately, the wizarding world. Noble deaths, each one of them valiant and each one of them honored. Too many familiar names are on these stones, still legible even though the people who bore them are twenty years gone. Remus and Nymphadora Lupin, side by side in death as they did not have a chance to be in life. Fred Weasley, eternally separated from his twin, probably in heaven somewhere telling jokes to anyone who will listen. The names are etched in Harry's memory just as they are etched on their stones.

The Death-Eaters that died here have their own part of the cemetery, and a sad, overgrown, dismal corner it is, untouched by the kindness that keeps these other graves free of moss and weeds. The survivors of those dead want never again to associate with those names. Someday, it is hoped, the grass will grow over them enough that the names, and the deeds that went with them, will be somewhat forgotten. Never forgiven; no, that would stretch the limits of human compassion.

But this year is different. This year Harry is not visiting the familiar graves, or pulling moss from the carved names of the people he has loved. This year he is visiting a grave few people know the whereabouts of, hidden deep to prevent its desecration. It has taken Harry many, many years to stir up enough courage to visit this grave.

This year he goes to visit Severus Snape.

Very few people know where the former headmaster of Hogwarts is buried, and many would be angry to know that his remains rest in the ground at Hogwarts, the same ground that holds Albus Dumbledore, the man he killed, a man that many say was far, far better than he. Early in his life Harry would have agreed with them and been among number who bore a strong hatred for the former Potions master, but in death he finds he can no longer hate.

It is a simple grave, unostentatious and unadorned -- a simple, jet-black stone, with the year of his birth and the year of his death engraved beneath the somber letters that spell out his name. In many respects it reminds Harry of Snape -- severe, masked, his true feelings and intentions unknown to the world. No mention is made of his life's work, or whether any still mourn his passing. There is no quaint phrase picked out by a well meaning relative to reassure any that see the stone that death is the last enemy, or that the body under the stone is resting in peace. In death as he was in life, Severus Snape is a man of few words. But Harry knows something that should be written there, though it chills him a little to trace the letters in his mind onto the blank, polished surface of the stone.

Love Conquers All.

He might have married my mother, Harry muses, thinking of Snape's final gift to him, the gift of his memories, memories in which Lily Evans, Harry's mother, feature prominently. He might have been my father.

It is easy and at the same time difficult for Harry to imagine this; certainly he might look a little different, perhaps with tidier hair or a longer frame, but he would still have had dark hair and his mother's green eyes. But it is the fatherly part of this charade that is difficult, for he had never seen any expression that might pass for fondness on Snape's face. Except in his memories of Lily, Harry recalls. In those memories Harry had, for the first time, seen Snape truly smile. It was that overwhelming fondness, and the audacious hope that someday she might reciprocate it, that had tethered Snape to the side of Good even when Evil seemed to have him completely in its clutches. It was for Lily's memory that Snape remained Dumbledore's agent, watching over Harry even though he stood for everything Snape hated most, a living symbol of the man who had stolen away the love of his life.

Love conquers all. Harry knows the truth of this better than any other person in the world, quaint and truncated and overwrought though the words may sound to other ears. It was his mother's love that allowed him to live, his love of his friends that allowed him to finish his great and terrible task, and Snape's love -- Snape's unrequited, hidden, often despised love -- that conquered Snape's obedience to the Dark Lord, allowing him to live life in both camps, convincing both that he worked against the other, and in so doing allowing the plans for Voldemort's downfall to be laid, inch by perilous inch.

"I named my son after you, you know," Harry says aloud to the empty glade. "Albus Severus. We call him Al, for short. Looks a bit like me; I know you wouldn't like that, but he has got my mother's eyes. I tell him all the time that he was named for two of the bravest men I knew. He's seen Dumbledore's grave, of course, but I've never brought him here. I guess…I thought I should come here first myself," Harry said, finding that even the still silence of the grove reminds him of too many childhood moments spent before the stern taskmaster's taciturn gaze. But something stirs in his heart now that those childhood memories never allowed for – a sense of guilt. The hate was too strong in those days for Harry to feel bad about what rules he had broken, what trusts he had violated. Now in adulthood clearer states of mind prevail, and he is not now as quick to anger as he once was.

He looks at the headstone again, and the guilt surges up afresh. "Hogwarts has changed so much since we were here," he begins, as if the sound of his voice and this casual conversation will somehow calm the dead. "They've added a new tower, and there's some talk of an exchange program with some of the schools on the continent. Just semesters, you know, for 'more fully realized international magical cooperation.' Or at least, that's the circular says."

The silence still lingers, and the image of Snape, arms folded over his chest demanding explanations for some devilment or another still remains hovering over the stone in Harry's mind.

"It's…taken me a long time to come here," the man who was once called 'The Boy Who Lived' ventures, like the schoolboy the man underneath the ground here knew him as. "I didn't think for a while that I could do it. Stand here and talk to you, like this… without… shouting," He adds with a bit of rueful laughter in his voice. "I feel like…if you'd told me about my mother I wouldn't have hated you so much. But then I suppose you thought I would have seen you as weak afterwards, and I know you would never have done that. And besides," he adds, mulling all of this over, "I look too much like my father for that to have ever had the chance of happening."

"So I guess…I guess I came here today to say thank you," he begins, choosing his words like they may be his last. "For letting me meet my mother, and…taking my dad down a few pegs. They do get a little god-like when you don't know them. I'm finding that out now with my own boys. They're good students; I think you might have liked having them in class. Neither one a genius, but, well, they're mine, I guess that's what you'd expect. But I always tell them that some of the things I did at school were wrong. I don't want someone to have to teach them the same lessons you tried to teach me."

Suddenly the stone does not seem so imposing, as if in apology the grave face has softened, the stern pose has weakened a few degrees. The words come easier now as his mind drifts away from the grave into the realm of his own thoughts, mulling over a great deal.

"It's serious business, being a parent. Serious business acting like a parent for someone who's lost them, too. I know a bit about that from my godson, Teddy. Teddy Lupin," Harry supplied for the grave's benefit, as though it had been expressing some kind of confusion. "I suppose you wouldn't have much cared for him, being Moony's son and all. He's a good boy. But so many decisions, so many things to consider. Would they have treated him like this? Would they have allowed him to say this or play that? It's not like he's your own son, even though there are days when you think he is."

He can think of many days when Snape intervened in this way or that, most of the time with a hand that was too heavy for a teenage boy to understand or even reconcile with. But Harry understands now. Now that he has lived it, he knows the reasons why it had to be that way.

"Thanks for being my father, in a way. I don't think I'd be half the man I am today if you hadn't challenged me a little."

It has taken him too many years to say those words, and now, being said, they give him a feeling of restfulness, of being at peace. Perhaps he will come back to this little clearing in the Forbidden Forest. Perhaps not. That is not important. His business here is finally complete.

The walk out of the forest is longer than the one going in, with a little time to wander and wonder at how the world has changed since he walked in these woods as a student. At the forest's edge he pauses, surveying the school grounds and turning his face towards the sudden rush of sound from the school's front doors, opening and letting forth a roiling, sable tide, laughing and celebrating the end of school and the beginning of summer.

His heart lifts to see them, streaming out of the gates at Hogwarts in carriages, the tide welling towards the train that will take them home to mothers and fathers and little siblings who long to know what Hogwarts is like. It is for them that he has done his life's work. Them – his children, and Ron and Hermione's children, and yes, even Malfoy's sons. It was for them that many of the graves in that yard in Hogsmeade gave up their lives. The students, he thinks to himself. That's why they're under the ground now. And the children will learn better than their parents did, to befriend without boundaries.

His own children are waiting at the gates for their father – James, the tallest and oldest, with a carefree tilt to his shoulders, a teenager projecting to the world that he is beyond needing parental care, Albus carefully watching for any sign of Harry, and Lily, the youngest, frightened and constantly haranguing the other two about when Dad will arrive. This was the first year she had spent at Hogwarts, and every experience was a new one, including this, being fetched home by dear old Dad. He can see shadows of other children in their faces, children who should have learned the lessons that his children will learn. A little boy in clothes that did not fit and a little girl who flew from a swing set and landed in the little boy's heart and perhaps changed forever the path of wizard-kind.

We were all that young once, Harry thinks to himself as he strides across the lawn. Ron and Herminone and Neville and Luna and I, we were all this young, and Remus and Sirius before us, and McGonagall and Dumbledore before that. All this young and full of hope, with hate an unknown.

"Dad, what were you doing in the forest?" Albus asks as Harry fills the magically modified carriage with school trunks and owls and broomsticks and all the other detritus of a school year now finished.

"Just taking a trip down memory lane, Al. I needed to speak with someone."

Al nods, some part of his thirteen year old brain registering that Dad is hiding something. He waits for a moment, processing this. "Dad?" he asks, to see if his father is listening between loading trunks.

"Yes, Al?" Harry says, turning to look at his middle child, the other two long since clambered into the front compartment, having a minor squabble about who will sit closer to the driver's seat.

"I love you, Dad," Albus Severus says, and Harry smiles. Yes, a serious business, being a parent. But not without its advantages.

"I love you, too, son."

Somewhere, he knows, several men whom he called father, and one man he should have, are smiling.

So. Grave Business. Hopefully you've gotten by now that the title had several purposes, I won't repeat what they are. I can think of three. Maybe you'll come up with one I haven't thought of. Please tell me in your review:

What do you think the "Grave Business" of the title was?

This story took me quite a while to finish, which might explain why it doesn't read very easily, and it's also one of the first times I've tried writing in the present tense. Somehow it worked better for me that way.

But I'd love to hear your thoughts. I have absolutely no idea what this started out as, and I'm really not quite sure what it finished as, either.