~ In which much blood is in the heir ~
The door to the Trophy Room creaked slowly open. There was a whispered Lumos and soft wandlight spilt out onto hundreds of gleaming awards. A slim fourth year boy with blonde hair closed the door quietly behind him. He crossed the room, one hand holding aloft his wand, the other tightly clutching the handle of a silver sword. The boy knelt down, running his fingers along a groove between the marble tiles of the floor, stopping when he found a notch. He levered the notched tile up carefully until there was just enough space to quickly slip his hand underneath and twist an ancient iron ring nestled in a small hollow.
The walls of the Trophy Room groaned with the sound of rusty mechanical cogs and wheels grating against stone. The blonde-haired boy dropped the tile back into place and turned to where several marble tiles were lowering into the floor. With narrowed eyes he watched as one by one they locked into place, creating a line of steps down to a dark passage below. Turning his glowing wand in his cool fingers, the boy descended down the flight of steps and vanished.
The stairway groaned closed after him, leaving the Trophy Room in darkness.
Draco stood straighter, his sword blade against Harry's throat.
Voldemort stared at him. "I own you, Draco. I can control you. Why would I bargain with you?"
At that moment a gust of wind broke a gap in the clouds, and Ginny, who had been silently trying to get Draco's attention and Severus, whose nails were bleeding from being clenched so tightly, caught a glimpse of the glowing tattoo through a giant rip on his left shoulder.
No… they breathed.
Draco narrowed his eyes. "Your control isn't precise enough. You make the slightest mistake and Potter's head drops."
Lucius took a step forward. "You don't honestly think we'd believe you'd kill your own class—"
The blade pressed tighter and Lucius took a step back.
"You forget, Draco," said Voldemort, unperturbed. "I need Harry Potter, and I need a pureblood. If you take the girl, you shall have to give me yourself in return."
"What about him?" said Draco, his eyes flicking from Voldemort to his father. "He's as pureblood as they get." Lucius clenched his fists and a humourless smile touched Draco's lips. "What, you're surprised? You said it yourself: I am my father's son."
The Death Eaters shifted uneasily, looking to their Master for instruction. Voldemort was looking at Lucius in a calculating way, one in which Lucius didn't like. He stilled his trembling hands and turned to Draco with a steely smile.
"You are indeed your father's son, Draco," Lucius murmured. "You are one of us, a spiller of dirty blood, and a wielder of immense power." He paused, waving his wand slowly and deliberately. Draco tensed, his eyes never leaving his father's as Ginny drifted through the air closer towards him. "But have you told her—" continued Lucius, "—that your soul is no longer your own? Does she know that you're dangerous? That you're broken? That every time you use your wonderful, new magic, you are burning up bits of your humanity? Do you really think she would still want you?"
Draco never meant to look at Ginny, never meant to let himself get sidetracked, but as his Father's spiteful words cut into him, he was unable to help himself. As soon as he did however, he felt his whole body crumple, for Ginny was staring at the Dark Mark on his body and when she met his eyes, he saw fear.
Severus took in the scene as if in slow motion, seeing all the things that weren't seen by anyone else. He saw Ginny hovering so close now to Draco. He saw how weak Draco actually was, and how very little he had left in him. He saw Lucius's flicker of triumph as Draco's grip weakened on his blade. He saw the rest of the Death Eaters all take a step backwards, as Voldemort lifted his staff.
No. Draco was distracted—he'd never react in time. There was nothing Severus could do. There was nothing he could…
Severus leapt from the tree with a roar.
Draco's eyes flicked back into focus, pushing any jumbled thoughts to the back of his mind.
Severus froze in mid air, held in place by Voldemort's staff. The Death Eaters looked upwards, all attention on the dangling boy. Severus realised that his sleeves had ridden up during the fall. No! he screamed inside his head. NO!
Draco stared at his left forearm. "You're…"
"Severus Snape," murmured Voldemort. "It's been a long time, though it wears little on you. I daresay you even look younger than when we last met."
The blade against Harry Potter's neck shook, nicking the skin ever so slightly. Draco's eyes were red-rimmed and wide as he stared at his best friend suspended in mid-air above Voldemort.
"All this time," he breathed. "All this fucking time… it was you."
Draco's gaze jerked back to a fallen Ginny, who had landed just in front of him during the disturbance. She was still bound and gagged, lying on her side as she stared back up at him. Her gaze also faltered towards Severus Snape and Draco made no move to free her.
"And you…" spat Draco, breathing raggedly as her eyes snapped shut. "Why would you…" Draco tore his eyes away from her and stared back up at Severus. "How could you…"
Voldemort's wand never wavered as Severus screamed silently, convulsing in the air and clawing at his left arm. Nothing existed for him but pain, impossible pain from all directions. He'd had everything, everything he'd ever wanted and then it was taken away. Before this year he'd had nothing, and now… now he was going to die with nothing. It was what he should've expected.
Voldemort's look of bemusement faded into a frown. Snape was supposed to be incapable of speech and yet his struggling seemed to be…
"NO!" screamed Severus once more, barely able to breathe. "I WANT IT BACK."
One of the Death Eaters shrieked in pain as a piece of rubble collided with his face. The rest of them raised their wands and faced the source of the noise, as a thick cloud of dust filled the garden. Voldemort turned also, leaving Severus to fall to the ground half-stunned.
The ancient stone bench lay in pieces beneath the Founders' tree, and in the swirling dust a slim figure could be seen. With a flick of his wand, Voldemort parted the cloud, revealing a young boy with blonde hair. The Death Eaters made to move forward, but were frozen mid-step by another flick of Voldemort's wand.
Voldemort observed the boy casually and started to walk towards him, releasing his Death Eaters who slinked away like dogs. There was something about the boy's face that gnawed at his mind, something about the lean figure, the angle of his jaw, and the fire in his green eyes. Standing a mere ten paces from the boy, Voldemort stopped. The boy was radiating such force of will…
"Who are you?" murmured Voldemort.
The boy's eyes drifted over the garden, the ring of Death Eaters, Draco, Ginny, and Severus lying on the ground barely conscious. His eyes lingered on a stock-still Lucius Malfoy before returning to Lord Voldemort, looking him square in the eye.
"Don't you know?" Philip Woodley said softly. "Think back, fifteen years ago. You came here before."
The Death Eaters shuffled in apprehension but still their Master said nothing, his red eyes burning with an intense curiosity, almost fascination. "You have used the fountain also," he murmured.
The fire in Woodley's eyes burned fiercer. "Not exactly."
"And yet you have knowledge of the true entrance into this garden." Voldemort eyed the sword hanging by Woodley's side. "Gryffindor's sword does not lend itself lightly. Your lineage must be similar to my own."
"Similar, yes," said Woodley. "Like you I was an orphan, unaware that Hogwarts had existed until a late age. When I arrived I had recurring dreams of violence and power, and yet unlike you, my magic was mediocre. My visions grew more and more vivid, triggered by objects and places around Hogwarts that seemed all too familiar, as if they and my destiny were intertwined. I knew instinctively of the Founders' Garden, knew that my past, my identity was connected with it. When finally I found the entrance, I realised that my visions were not visions at all." Woodley paused, his eyes never leaving Voldemort's. "It is said that the Founders' longevity was due to an enchanted fountain, The Founder's Pool, active once every three years. The water could transform the drinker to how they truly saw themselves, giving the illusion of never aging."
"Fifteen years ago you entered this garden by force, but you were young, not interested in what your forefathers did. The thing you craved, the quality you valued above all else wasn't youth, and it wasn't even power. It was pure blood, blood untainted by Muggles, blood purer than every one of your Death Eaters. So you created a way to alter the Founders' Pool, a way to strip away the impurities… But the process would whittle you down to something less than human. You needed raw material to remain whole, so you demanded a sacrifice from your purest Death Eater. You rose from the pool cleansed of not only your Muggle ancestry, but also your humanity. You cut out those despised feelings of love, the ones you hated yourself for having. You were no longer human enough even to die."
The curiosity in Voldemort's eyes was dissipating into awareness, and yet the fascination remained. "Your visions were not visions. They were memories."
"Yes," said Woodley, raising his shabby wand. "I am the remains of the child Lucius Malfoy sacrificed, and the bits of you that were discarded. And tonight, Voldemort, I am here to claim what is mine. Accio, wand!"
In the blink of an eye Voldemort's long, black wand shot to Woodley's left hand. Woodley smiled and tucked his old one into his belt. "Finally."
At that moment two things happened at once. Harry Potter, who had been regaining consciousness during Woodley's speech, slammed Draco's face as hard as he could with his elbow and reached for his stolen wand. The Death Eaters, enraged at this impostor's claim to their Master, charged at Woodley with their wands raised.
There was another deafening crack as the multitude of hexes ricocheted from Woodley's shield charm, sizzling across the surface of the murky pool. Voldemort raised his staff. "Away from the Pool!" he bellowed, sweeping his arm.
A circle of wind exploded from Voldemort, throwing everybody backwards. Woodley was flung to the far corner of the garden and Voldemort strode towards him, all traces of fascination gone.
Draco sat up numbly, reaching for his sword. He was met with a swift kick in the stomach from Harry Potter before he sprinted after Voldemort. The Death Eaters around him struggled to their feet, following an instant later. Draco coughed and heaved but made no move to follow. His eyes moved instead back towards the pool, where the body of Ginny Weasley was lying at an odd angle. As Draco stumbled towards her, an ache of pain tore through him that had nothing to do with his injuries.
"Draco, DRACO! WATCH OUT!"
At the sound of Severus's voice, Draco whirled, his sword raised but barely able to stand. Lucius Malfoy skidded to a stop, his wand an inch away from his son's sword. "You shamed me," Lucius hissed, his face livid.
"No," spat Draco, his grey eyes taking in his shaking Father's. "You shame me."
Severus staggered over a fallen Death Eater, punching his way through another. He had no idea what Draco and Lucius were talking about but he knew how it would end. His body was in agony from his fall but he started to pick up speed, hoping he would get there in time. But as he saw Draco's eyes widen, Snape felt a sudden stab of terror and realised he was too late.
"NO!" Snape screamed, taking a running leap straight into Lucius Malfoy.
Severus felt the two of them sail through the air, the green ribbon of energy dissipating from Lucius's wand he fell sideways. Lucius's body hit the churning water of the pool with a scream, and bits of froth splashed up at Severus's clenched eyelids. But as the young Gryffindor awaited the inevitable, he realised he'd stopped moving, and was once again suspended in mid-air. Snapping his eyes open, Severus craned his neck sideways and was flooded with disbelief as Draco stared back at him, one knee on the ground but with his sword pointing directly at him.
"Hang on," Draco grated out, his arms quivering. "Just…have to…"
But the flutters of elation that Severus was feeling at that moment disappeared into panic. He saw the way Draco was struggling to lift him, the way he was so pale and not even able to stand. Where was he getting the strength? No ordinary wizard should have the strength for this…it wasn't right…It wasn't…
"Wait!" croaked Severus, meaning to shout but his voice refusing. "You can't do this! It's… It's killing you, Draco!" Severus paused, swallowing hard. "Your body isn't capable of power like this, wandless magic… you're burning up bits of your soul, Draco."
Draco's jaw tightened, his brow wet with perspiration.
"Draco!" pleaded Severus desperately. "Think of Ginny! This isn't worth it, you can't…"
Draco shook his head jerkily, the sword continuing to waver. "I can."
Severus's breathing grew more ragged as he realised he was now inching upwards and away from the pool. "NO!" he tore out in anguish, as Draco dropped down to both knees. "You're not the one who should die! I should be the one, let me go! I'm the broken one, I lied to you, I betrayed you! You don't need me–"
"Shut…UP!" With one last heave of strength, Draco fell forwards onto his stomach. Barely able to flick his eyes open, he glared at the boy who hit the ground next to him. "I still… hate you," he muttered, as Severus wrenched his sword from his grasp.
Severus gave a choking cry and tried to shake the Slytherin back awake but Draco was unmoving. A motionless Ginny lay beside him, the vivid red of her hair seeming dull against the pool of blood beneath it. Screams and curses were radiating from the corner of the garden, and if Severus had glanced towards them, he would have seen Woodley and Potter side by side, encompassed in a blue bubble whilst fighting off Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
But Severus only had eyes for the two bodies beside him. He never saw the wounded Death Eater starting to crawl towards them. He never saw Professor Dumbledore blasting him out of the way. The last thing Severus saw were his two best friends, before his vision blurred into nothing.
"It's all right," announced Madam Pomfrey. "They'll be fine after a good night's sleep."
All the worry and weariness on Harry's face evaporated into happiness. He gave the matron a sudden hug then made his way over to Dumbledore.
"Ron and Hermione." Harry smiled. "They're OK."
"I'm very glad to hear it," said Dumbledore, replacing the slender wand upon Woodley's bedside table.
Harry stared at the dozing Woodley. "Is he…?"
Dumbledore smiled. "Philip will be fine. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be resting also?" he added, eyeing the empty bed on the other side of Woodley.
Harry shrugged, taking in the Headmaster's tatty robes. "I could say the same to you."
Dumbledore's smile faded. "I'm used to this sort of thing."
Harry sighed. "Me too."
Nevertheless, Harry took a seat on the empty bed and Dumbledore sat next to him. For a few minutes they said nothing, with only the sound of the sleeping patients and the swish of Madam Pomfrey's robes to break the silence. Harry glanced across the room to Ginny's bed, the curtains of which drawn closed. Everything in the Founders' Garden had happened so quickly, and then the Aurors had arrived… but it had all stopped dead when he found Ginny lying unconscious by the pool. Since then he'd been a mess, worrying about his friends. But now everyone was going to be fine.
He glanced at Dumbledore, who he saw was smiling again. It was then that he realised that he too was smiling, and he laughed.
"I can't believe it," he murmured.
"Yes." Dumbledore smiled. "I'm having difficulty myself."
Harry grinned back. "It's just… it's so unbelievable. It's over."
Dumbledore could only laugh in return. And inexplicably Harry found himself unable to stop himself from joining in. For a while the two of them laughed together, until they were silenced by a sharp look from Madam Pomfrey.
"I can't even begin to understand how it happened," Harry muttered to himself.
Dumbledore's eyes drifted over Woodley's peaceful face.
"I spoke to Philip," said the Headmaster. "He was able to explain quite a bit before he fell asleep. Do you know the legends of the Founders' Pool, Harry?"
"I have heard of it," Harry admitted, "but I don't know it very well."
"Few do," replied Dumbledore. "It has been called 'The Fountain of Youth' by some, a legend so popular even Muggles have heard of it. You see, the Hogwarts Founders, among other things, were famous for their longevity. It was said there was a secret pool they would visit to restore themselves to youth and beauty. When I came upon this pool myself fifteen years ago, I learnt that this was only partially true. The pool takes a person and makes them how they want to be, how they see themselves. In the case of the Founders, they saw themselves as young, or at least for a long time they did."
"Godric and Salazar however, have always had a family history of fighting. After several hundred years of peace at Hogwarts, their differences grew apparent once more. It was then that Helga and Rowena took drastic steps to seal away the pool. They surrounded it with wards and enchantments, leaving only a single secret passage as an entrance. They considered Salazar's prejudice, and Godric's poor logic, and devised a hidden entrance that used no magic at all. If Gryffindor or Slytherin had ever discovered the complicated system of Muggle mechanisms, neither would have given it a second thought. I don't know that any of the Founders ever used the pool after that, and they never passed their secret on. Perhaps they thought it was better forgotten."
"But it wasn't forgotten," Harry muttered. "Voldemort found it."
"Yes," mused Dumbledore. "I think he may have found it when he was still at school here. He never found the true entrance, mind you, for he still suffered from the same prejudice his ancestor did. It was only much later that he somehow managed to burn a hole through the enchanted hedge wall. He must've studied that pool for years, trying to learn how it worked and how he could manipulate his body at will. It was fifteen years ago to the day that he finally achieved his task, casting away the Muggle blood in his veins and all the frailty of humanity. All that remained when he rose anew was a deathless monster. Everything else became Philip Woodley."
"Hagrid was the one that found him. He was in the Forbidden Forest in the early hours of the morning when he heard a baby crying and followed it until he came to the enchanted hedge. He searched around it for many hours until he found the small hole and beyond it, the Founders' Garden and baby Woodley. Of course, Hagrid came straight to me. That Hagrid had stumbled upon the entrance to the Founders' Garden seemed improbable, but there could be no doubting what it was. As for the child, I drew the conclusion that anyone might. I believed a wizard had used the pool and washed up a new-born baby. Whether it was a mistake or whether he wished to start again, I didn't know, but I knew the Ministry wouldn't approve. Remember, these were the days when Voldemort was still at large, and the Ministry was very suspicious."
"Whatever the baby had been as an adult, I could feel only compassion for him. If he had wanted a new beginning, I decided to give him one, so Philip went to stay with my brother in London, Aberforth."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "How did you know he wasn't a grown wizard in a baby's body?"
The Headmaster smiled. "He was nothing more than an ordinary baby." Dumbledore paused. "Perhaps a bit too ordinary. By eleven years of age, Philip hadn't shown an ounce of magical ability, much to Aberforth's chagrin. I regretted choosing to have him raised in a Wizarding household. I thought perhaps he'd wanted to be done with magic, and to start again as a Muggle."
"You should've swapped him round with me," said Harry gloomily, then waving his hand as Dumbledore tried to interject. "All right, all right, I know I had to stay with my blood relatives."
Dumbledore chuckled, and his eyes drifted back to Woodley sleeping, then he became strangely sombre. "It's been a difficult year for him, you know," he said softly. "Even more than I thought it would be. All his schooling before Hogwarts was from Aberforth, insisting there must be some magic in him. He never would give in without a fight. I thought it was a fool's errand, but he was right in the end, and Woodley was so happy to go to Hogwarts. At the time I thought the wizard he had once been would have in all likelihood gone to Hogwarts, and it was likely the school would bring back memories. I knew it would be difficult for him to reconcile his new identity with his past… but I had no idea that his memories would be those of Tom Riddle."
"I know what it's like to doubt who you are," Harry said softly. "In my second year, I almost convinced myself I was the Heir of Slytherin, that I was trying to kill those students."
"Doubt is a curious thing," Dumbledore mused. "So hard to silence once it has your ear. Still, Woodley didn't hide from himself; he had the courage to seek out the truth."
Woodley stirred, as if he could feel the heavy gazes upon his face. He opened his eyes sleepily. "Oh, hullo Uncle Albus," he said, smiling at Dumbledore. He noticed Harry. "Are you all right, Potter?"
Harry looked curiously back, seeing that he did indeed have Riddle's eyes. He was wondering how he'd never noticed before when he realised that beneath the intensity was a layer of warmth and compassion. "I'm OK," said Harry, smiling in return.
Woodley rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I heard what happened to your friends, I'm really sorry. I actually never saw Malfoy, all I wanted was to direct you all as far away from the Death Eaters and the garden as much as possible." Woodley paused, taking a deep breath before glancing back at Dumbledore. "As you know it's my birthday today… and I'd never felt a stronger urge to visit the place I was found. I took the passage there this evening, only to have a bunch of Death Eaters enter through the hedge. I hid and managed to escape the way they came. I hoped to catch you before you left…"
Dumbledore sighed. That afternoon he'd been called to Azkaban, to help fight the mass breakout. The distraction had suited Voldemort's plan well.
"I know I should have waited in your office," continued Woodley, "but you don't know what it's like to struggle for months about your heritage, and then to realise your life is second-hand. I knew I had to face him. I had to prove to myself I was different from the wizard who'd killed so many people." Woodley lowered his gaze. "So I left you a note."
Dumbledore laid a hand on the fourth year's shoulder. "Long before tonight, Philip, you have proved to be a completely different wizard to Tom Riddle. You had the exact same knowledge at your disposal, and yet you were able to figure out the secret of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw's passageway in a matter of weeks. There is no prejudice in your eyes as you laugh with your friends, and the affection you feel for them is genuine. You are the very sort of wizard, Philip, that Riddle would have despised."
Woodley exhaled deeply, the corners of his mouth tugging into a wide smile. Harry also smiled, feeling a sudden kinship for the younger boy. A thought soon crossed his mind however, which made him frown.
"Hang on," said Harry. "What did I have to do with this evening? Voldemort seemed think he needed me to activate the Founder's Pool…" Harry shook his head. "He always did have an unhealthy obsession with ruining my last days of term…"
Dumbledore chuckled. "It's true," he admitted. "The obsession with you, Harry, has been apparent from the start. The events last year and this evening have only strengthened my beliefs." Dumbledore glanced at Harry before starting again. "Voldemort has always been obsessed with his lineage. Discovering he was the Heir of Slytherin was the peak of his existence. From then on, he took the feud between his ancestors and Gryffindor very seriously. He's always wanted revenge for his bloodline, revenge against Gryffindor." Dumbledore looked at him seriously. "And this is where you come in."
Harry frowned. "What, I represent Gryffindor? Aren't you a better symbol for him to fixate on?"
"You are the Heir of Gryffindor," said Dumbledore gently. "He considers you his greatest enemy simply because of your bloodline. That's where his obsession stems from. A Founder's heir is also required to activate the pool, which is why he needed you tonight."
Harry looked disbelieving. "But I'm not the Heir of…" Harry snorted to himself. "And even if I was, Voldemort's an heir himself– he could have activated the pool."
"Ah," responded Dumbledore. "But you told me yourself, last year: Voldemort was reborn from the bone of his father, not his mother. His mother was the one whose blood he really wanted."
"But if it was just about blood…" Harry hesitated. "He took mine. Gryffindor's blood would run through his veins also…"
"Voldemort was only born into his new body last year, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Which makes you the eldest. You are Gryffindor's heir."
"You'd think he'd try harder to kill me then…" muttered Harry.
"No." Dumbledore smiled. "That is precisely why he couldn't, and neither could his servants. To kill one of the same bloodline discredits the bloodline. It is an ancient magic that can't be deceived or broken. You cannot kill your sibling to become heir. If you do, you lose your place also."
"So that means… I'm no longer…"
"It was self defence."
Harry glanced at Woodley in surprise. "All we did, Potter," continued Woodley, "was protect ourselves. It wasn't our fault Voldemort's curse rebounded upon himself."
"Oh," said Harry, unenthusiastically. "Great."
"I'm surprised you're not rejoicing," said Dumbledore, scratching his beard. "Being the heir of a Founder has benefits."
Harry stared at Woodley. "Wait… so, the Heir of Slytherin is wielding the sword of Gryffindor…"
Woodley shook his head. "I actually borrowed it for the play…" Woodley clapped his hands over his eyes. "Oh, no… everyone's going to kill me for missing it."
"Just tell them you're the Heir of Slytherin," Harry suggested. "Then they'll think you'll kill them."
Woodley groaned but Dumbledore chuckled. "Since you two are the heirs," he repeated, "I was hoping for a favour from one of you, in regards to the pool."
"I'll do it," both Harry and Philip replied.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "You do not know what I may ask."
"You want to use the pool to be young again," said Woodley promptly.
Dumbledore's eyebrows rose further. "I am still in my prime, thank you Pip." Woodley looked crestfallen and Dumbledore twinkled. "Perhaps in several years, when I'm feeling particularly selfish." Dumbledore's face turned serious. "No, it's for Severus Snape."
"Snape?" said Harry disbelievingly, glancing over at an occupied bed. "Which one? Junior or…" Something dawned on Harry's face and his glasses nearly slid off his nose. "Oh no. Don't tell me Hermione was right!"
"I would appreciate discreetness," murmured Dumbledore.
"I let him play on my Quidditch team!"
"I'm sure Professor Snape would feel much gratitude…"
"Woodley can do it," muttered Harry.
"He has been through a lot this past year," continued Dumbledore. "And I feel he deserves to be given what he wants."
Harry stared across the room at the sleeping figure of Severus Snape, remembering the Professor that used to pick cruelly upon Neville in Potions. His memories shifted, however, to their Quidditch games together, duelling against him, and the way Ginny used to stand up to him. He'd never liked Severus Snape, and he didn't think he ever would. But he didn't seem to dislike him enough to hate him anymore.
And so Harry eventually nodded at Dumbledore and felt the mattress shift as the Headmaster stood up.
Severus tossed in his bed, waking up to the sound of Dumbledore calling his name.
"Draco!" mumbled Severus in panic. "Ginny! What happened?"
Dumbledore put a hand over Severus's. "They're safe and going to recover. You don't have to worry, Severus."
His face awash with relief, Severus closed his eyes once more, only to hear his name being called softly once more.
"Severus," repeated Dumbledore. "I'm exceedingly sorry to wake you, but this opportunity will not arise again for many a year." Severus's eyes opened groggily, and Dumbledore continued. "I've had the Founders' Pool cleansed of Voldemort's modifications, and technically it hasn't been used yet. You may regain your old body."
Severus's eyes opened wider at the Headmaster's words.
"We have until the end of the Solstice," Dumbledore added. "A few more hours until dawn."
His mind blank, Severus found it difficult to form words. "The Dark Lord," he said eventually. "Is he…"
Dumbledore smiled and touched his arm. "Look, Severus."
Severus lifted his left arm slightly and stared at the smooth, unmarked flesh of the underside. "Was… was it Potter?"
"Harry and Philip, yes."
Snape frowned, bits of the battle blurring into one headache. "But… Woodley… he had the Dark Lord's wand…"
"Yes," said Dumbledore again. "Brother wands are useless against one another – but together… together they can achieve magnificent things."
"But Woodley is…" Severus continued to frown, though it was mostly due to his headache. "He's the combination of Riddle and Malfoy… Malfoy's blood sacrifice…"
"His blood sacrifice was a baby," said Dumbledore, soberly. "Draco's twin, in fact. I believe they run in the family."
A flashback to Christmas day washed over Snape. I've always had an extra, Draco had said to him, as he'd presented him with the sword. It's my spare.
Severus clenched his fists. "Lucius, you filthy, rotten…"
"Lucius Malfoy is dead. Draco, on the other hand, is quite lucky to be alive."
The anger over Severus's face dissipated into misery at Dumbledore's words. "He saved my life… he almost died because of me."
"No, Severus," Dumbledore smiled. "He is alive because of you. I have spoken to him – he's asleep now," Dumbledore added, as Severus tried to sit up. "And I am aware of what happened. He has committed some serious acts I'm afraid, and there will be consequences… but you, Severus, are responsible for him still being here."
"Of course I am," mumbled Severus. "And he's going to stay here for the next few weeks probably. He hadn't the strength, he even said he hated me and yet he still…"
"Severus," repeated Dumbledore patiently. "Do you recall the conversation we had a few months ago? I asked if your reason for spying was still the same as it was sixteen years ago, do you remember?"
"Yes," muttered Severus, looking away. "You doubted me."
"No," replied Dumbledore. "I didn't. When you joined Voldemort, you told me the reason was that you wanted to rid the world of Muggle lovers and half-breeds. And your reason for joining me, was that now, you wanted to rid the world of Voldemort. All your life you've been fighting against things, Severus. It was only this year, from your time stranded in the forest, to this evening in the Founders' Garden – that you have finally found something to fight for."
Severus stared at the Headmaster, his mind devoid of words.
"You said that Draco hadn't the strength to save you," continued Dumbledore. "And more ridiculously, you said he hated you. Can't you understand, Severus, that if Draco truly hated you, he could not have summoned the strength to save you? You thought he was burning up his soul through Voldemort's mark. You didn't understand that it was that last strain of magic– purely directed towards wanting, and needing to save your life— that was the final straw in defeating the dark magic that had been bound to Draco's heart. It drained him completely, but it saved his soul."
Snape buried his face in his hands. "Will he be all right?"
"Yes," said Dumbledore emphatically, then glancing over to where Harry and Woodley were watching them. "But I believe, Severus, that time is of the essence at the moment. If we are to regain your body, we must leave very soon."
Severus stared off into space and Dumbledore looked at him curiously. "Severus," he said gently. "You do still wish for your old body, don't you?"
Severus still said nothing, and waited in vain for the rush of excitement he should be feeling at those words. He'd been working towards it for so long but all he could seem to picture now was Draco, telling him he still hated him.
Why, when he could finally be his old self again, he tried to tell himself. He'd be able to teach, move back to his quarters, and stop wasting his life away! For that was essentially what the past year was, his thirty-six-year-old voice told him. A giant waste of time…
His gaze dropped as a flutter of memories swept through him, washing away the images of Draco and Ginny's unconscious bodies. Water fights in the Prefects bathroom, swooping around the Quidditch pitch as Draco cheered him on, decorating their Christmas tree, ripping off the paper to find the photo album, the three of them whooping and punching the air when they made it back to Hogwarts... In that one year he'd never felt so wonderful in all his life… or so horrible.
For that was how he felt, he realised, as his gaze swept over the occupied beds of the hospital wing. It didn't matter what Dumbledore had said, he was still the reason they were in here. He had betrayed Draco, and had almost gotten Ginny killed. Just because Draco saved his life, didn't mean he'd want anything to do with him. Draco and Ginny had each other, and if he stayed how he was, he'd only be in the way.
Severus stared at the floor before looking up to meet the Headmaster's eyes. "I'm ready to change back."
Ginny awoke with a sigh, her vision somewhat blurry. As her eyes adjusted to the midday sun pouring in through the window, pieces of memories drifted through her mind. And suddenly she was wide awake, the vividness of the visions startling her from her daze. Her head ached slightly as she sat up, but aside from that she felt quite well. She looked around the very few occupied beds in the hospital wing and was noticed by Madam Pomfrey, who smiled and started toward her.
"Where's Draco and Severus?" Ginny said immediately, before the matron had a chance to speak.
Madam Pomfrey looked taken aback. "Mr Malfoy is resting in his dormitory."
Visions of Draco screaming her name clouded Ginny's thought processes. "Can I see him?"
Pomfrey looked at her critically. "I believe the Headmaster is talking to him at the moment. However," she added, "first we must determine that you are well enough to see him."
"I feel fine," said Ginny honestly, as Madam Pomfrey started doing some tests. "Can I see Severus?"
Pomfrey eyed her once more. "Mr Snape has returned home," she said shortly.
"What?" exclaimed Ginny, batting away Pomfrey's prodding wand. "When? How?"
"Perhaps you should ask Professor Snape," said Pomfrey grimly. "He could probably give you a few answers."
Ginny stared at her in consternation. "Wait…d'you mean…" Ginny rubbed the side of her face, the ache in her head suddenly not so minor. "Look, I know about his Dark Mark, and how he used to be a Death Eater. I know who Professor Snape…" Madam Pomfrey frowned at her and Ginny frowned back. "I know he's Severus!" she burst out.
Pomfrey's eyebrows raised and Ginny realised it was the first time she'd actually properly admitted it to herself. "Can I see him?" she repeated, as Pomfrey finished her wand-waving.
The matron sighed. "As I said before, perhaps you should ask Professor Snape." At Ginny's confused look, Pomfrey continued more gently. "The last I saw of him was just before dawn. He left with the Headmaster and Mr Potter to regain his old body."
Ginny stared at her numbly. "But… did he say to tell me anything? Did Draco bother to say anything to me either?" Madam Pomfrey shook her head as Ginny started to tremble in anger. "Well, why would they just leave me?"
At Pomfrey's silence, Ginny's anger grew. "Am I all right? Can I leave now?"
The matron looked as if she was going to rebuke Ginny's rudeness but as she looked at the trembling Gryffindor, she decided not to. "You're free to go, but make sure you check in tomorrow before you leave."
Ginny slid out of bed but when she turned to go she hesitated. "Do you know where… where Snape is?"
Pomfrey shook her head. "You know Professor Snape better than I."
Ginny turned away bitterly. If what she said was true, then Ginny didn't know Professor Snape at all.
Severus Snape slouched in his armchair, a glass of Firewhiskey in one hand. His quarters had been kept dust-free but the whole room smelt musty and unused, the crackling fire doing little to warm the place. He heard a knock on the door but he made no move to answer it. He guessed it would just be a house-elf sent by Dumbledore, asking him to come to dinner. "I'm not hungry," he muttered.
The knocking grew more insistent. "I'M NOT HUNGRY!" he roared.
But it was a voice much deeper than a house-elf that yelled back at him. "SNAPE! SNAPE, LET ME IN!"
Snape jerked, his glass slipping from his grip and smashing upon the ground. The knocking paused for a split second before the handle started rattling. "LET ME IN!"
Snape reached for his wand, only to have the door split with an echoing crack and a pale, bare foot kick through the pieces.
"SNAPE!" Draco yelled, struggling through the debris. "SNAPE, I KNOW YOU'RE IN HERE AND I-"
Draco froze, all words forgotten as he stared at the person before him. "You're…"
Severus had half-risen and was staring back at him.
"Dumbledore explained to me…" Draco's voice trailed away for a second time as he stared at the figure before him. "He said you used the pool."
Severus finished rising but turned to the crackling fire, unable to look at him. It was a long time before he spoke.
"I did," he muttered. A log burst in a shower of sparks but the heat felt like nothing compared to his face. "Turns out there's something wrong with my mind because I washed up exactly the same." Severus glared into the fire. "Or didn't Dumbledore tell you that part?"
Snape heard Draco take a few jerky steps forward. "I didn't get to that part, no. I ran off in the middle of the conversation."
Severus gripped the mantelpiece, Draco's angry tone making it even harder to look at him.
"I ran off," continued Draco, "because apparently you think you can just run off – or go on some holiday – or just change into somebody else and everything will be OK."
Severus whirled around, unable to believe that that was what Draco thought. "I'm doing this," said Snape furiously, "for you. I tried to do this for you. And it's not somebody else, it's me. I'm Professor Snape and it's who I should be!"
"But you're not!" yelled Draco. "Look at you! Even you don't think that; look what you washed up as!"
Severus spluttered at him. "I'm not a child!"
"Oh yes you fucking are," said Draco with vehemence. "Emotional maturity of one; I had to save your life that many times."
"I've saved you countless times!"
"Well, I saved you last!" yelled Draco back. "You'd be nothing without me! I stuck by you even though you're a fucking Gryffindor! I taught you to swordfight, I gave you a fucking life besides spy-boy for Dumbledore. We had a good thing going on and I probably failed my OWLs because you fucked everything up!"
"I'm not the only one to blame!" yelled Snape back. "You think Ginny just fell into my arms? You drove her there! We both knew it was a mistake but you didn't have to go running off to Voldemort!" Severus paused for air, unable to contain his angry despair any longer. "If you hate me so much, then why did you even bother? Why not just let me die?"
"You're such a fucking idiot!" screamed Draco, raising his wand. "I ran off to join Volde-… VOLDEMORT because I wanted to fucking destroy myself! Because I wanted to destroy everything I had become! Because I didn't fucking hate you, you stupid bastard, and I fucking hated myself for it!"
Severus took a step backwards but Draco whirled towards the broken door. "REPARO!" A fist on the handle, Draco turned back to glare at him. "So sorry for wasting your time!" he spat, and slammed the door behind him.
Severus stared at the spot of grainy wood where Draco's face used to be, his heart beating a million times a minute. He didn't hate him. He didn't hate him.
Snape rushed for the door and pulled it open so hard it smashed against the wall. "It was never a waste of time," he yelled, his voice echoing through the stone corridor. A wave of misery swept through him, drowning out his embarrassment. "And even if it was," Severus paused, his throat raw, "it was the best waste of time I've ever had."
Draco stopped halfway down the passage, his back still to him. Severus stared at his back, noticing for the first time that he was still in his pyjamas. "I'm sorry." The words sounded strange and empty in the corridor, but as soon as they left Severus's throat, they felt bigger than anything he'd ever said in his life. For those words had proclaimed that he'd been completely and utterly wrong. They proclaimed that he should have fought to keep their friendship because it had meant the world to him. That he should have told him who he was, for he trusted him with his life. Those words screamed to Severus Snape that he needed Draco much more than a teacher needed a student. He needed him as an equal. A best friend.
And although he felt the vulnerability crashing through him, it was accompanied by an undercurrent of warmth. For Draco had seemed to miss their friendship just as much as he did, and didn't even seem to care who he'd been.
"I'm still…" Snape hesitated. "I'm still thinking of going to the Mediterranean. If you're ever keen…"
Draco glanced over his shoulder, his face contorted with a scowl and a scathing reply upon his lips. His scowl faded however, as he saw an awkward boy staring wistfully back.
Draco turned away. "I'll think about it," he muttered, and walked off.
Ginny sighed as she slipped through the doorway into the old classroom they had used for play rehearsals. It was a Sunday morning and the last day of the school year. All of her classmates were tearing around Hogwarts looking for items that had been borrowed, misplaced, or confiscated. No one had noticed her leave the breakfast table. She had been meaning to follow Pomfrey's wishes and check in at the hospital wing, but had felt the need to escape from the bustling chatter for a while.
She ran her hand over a piece of plaster scenery, looking despondently at the collapsible stage still set up at the front of the classroom. She trudged towards it, stepping up onto the wooden planks. A slight scuffling and giggling made her step backwards in surprise, and she grabbed wildly at a hanging curtain to steady herself. Unfortunately the curtain was attached to the backdrop, which fell to the floor with a mighty rip, revealing two flushed figures behind it.
Emily Lane untangled herself hurriedly from the figure beneath her and surveyed Ginny indignantly. "Well," she said snootily, "must you ruin all aspects of my life, Weasley?"
Ginny mumbled an apology but gaped when she recognised the other flushed figure.
"I'll see you on the train, Terence," said Emily stiffly, presenting him with her hand.
Terence Higgs grinned in reply, slapping her on the rear then winking at her scandalised look. "Lookin' forward to it," he called, as she hurried away blushing. Higgs cocked an eyebrow at Ginny. "What d'you want, then?"
"She's a bit young, don't you think," choked Ginny, quickly averting her eyes from the large bulge in the front of his robes.
Higgs rearranged himself comfortably, while Ginny watched in horror.
"Shut up, Weasley," he said distantly. "So, come to thank me then? I don't think much of your timing."
Ginny sighed, her melancholy catching up with her once more. She glanced at the door but Higgs was staring at her expectantly. "Thank you for what?" she said tiredly.
Higgs snorted indignantly. "You know," he exclaimed, although his face twisting into a slightly admiring leer as he spoke, "distracting everyone while you and Malfoy and Snape all skipped the Ball to do the dirty that night…"
Ginny stared at him in horror. "I have no idea–"
"Well, that's what everyone was saying," interrupted Higgs offhandedly, waving his hand impatiently to silence her. "Besides the death of You-Know-Who and all the other dull things… anyway, so it turns out that that Woodley chap – apparently the Heir of Slytherin - had a burst of jealous rage and went after you all –"
"I know!" said Higgs emphatically. "Fancy being jealous when there's only one girl… but, anyway, stop fixating on the unimportant things, Weasley. The point was, I kept your cover and played all the lead roles in your shitty little play."
"What?" repeated Ginny in confusion. "How did you even…"
"I snuck backstage to see if anyone was getting changed," said Higgs unashamedly, but then continuing in a cheated voice. "All I found were Emily and Woodley fighting though, what a rip off. But the point is," he repeated, a heroic smile coming to his lips. "I stepped up and I said to them all: 'Look. If Malfoy and all those Gryffindors want to be together, then not even Dumbledore himself can keep them apart.'"
"Oh really?" said Ginny disbelievingly. "And everyone just went along with it?"
"They were desperate," said Higgs, with a grin. "And although they didn't trust me, they believed me when I said this wasn't about the feud between Slytherin and Hufflepuff…"
"I'm from Gryffindor."
Higgs shrugged. "All right, but it was the best line ever and, coupled with me in tight pants, I was a massive hit."
"Well…" Ginny paused, about to make a sarcastic comment when she remembered how much she'd enjoyed working on the play and what a welcome distraction it had been when depressed. She really was sorry that she'd missed it. "I'm glad it went well," she said eventually, feeling miserable once more. "And…thank you."
Higgs shrugged once more but he looked pleased. "So, you and Malfoy and Snape then…"
Ginny shook her head, her misery growing. "There is no me, Malfoy and Snape. It's just… me."
"Oh," said Higgs sympathetically. "Shit."
Ginny jumped from the stage to land heavily onto the ground. "I know," she muttered. "They don't even want to see me. Draco's staying cooped up in the Slytherin dorms, I swear to avoid me, and Severus…" Ginny walked towards the window and slumped on the frame. "I don't know if I want to see him either."
Higgs coughed loudly at this and Ginny glanced towards him.
Standing in the doorway was a miserable looking Severus. "Why don't you want to see me?" he mumbled.
Ginny's breath caught in her throat and she started towards him. Higgs coughed loudly once more and exited hastily, but Ginny didn't notice. As soon as she was close enough, she brought her hand upwards and slapped Snape across the face.
"That's for making me think you'd left!" she shouted, but then all of the angry words she'd wanted to yell at him left her mind, and she was unable to stop herself from throwing her arms around him. "I don't care though," she said eventually, her voice muffled. "I'm just glad you came back."
Severus hugged her back just as fiercely. "So am I." His mouth felt terribly dry and he realised that it wasn't any easier to say the second time. "I'm sorry."
Ginny pulled back so that she could see his face once more, one side of which was flushing red. Now that she was looking at him closely, she wondered how she'd never figured out his true identity. Severus's eyes dropped at Ginny's intense scrutiny and she realised then that it was because Professor Snape had never looked at her this way, with trust or respect, with awkward bravado, or a certain level of tenderness. He'd always been Severus in her mind, related to Professor Snape…but not defined by him. She'd seen what she'd wanted to see, a person who'd do anything for her, and she for him.
"It's OK," she answered, and she smiled.
Snape also smiled, and the two of them untangled their arms and broke apart. They stood in the doorway, both smiling at nothing in particular. Ginny was the first to break the silence.
"I kissed a teacher!" she exclaimed.
Severus groaned as Ginny started laughing, the tension that had been building over the past couple of days completely dissipated.
"Please don't tell anyone about that," he muttered.
"Why?" said Ginny seriously. "Was I your first?"
Ginny started laughing again at Snape's groans, and the two of them wandered over to the window seat as the laughter sobered. Both of them were thinking the same thing.
"Do you think he'll ever forgive us?" sighed Ginny, flopping onto the seat.
Severus glanced out the window, a hint of his rare smile upon his lips. "Well… he burst into my quarters saying he didn't hate me…"
Snape's smile grew into a slight grin. "I know… and it was almost as if…" Snape's grin faded, as if he still couldn't quite believe it himself. "It was as if he didn't even seem to care about my secret."
"Well, of course he didn't care! I didn't." Ginny sighed. "We both knew there was something you were keeping from us… He probably thought you were a werewolf… or something ridiculous. The only reason he never asked you about it, I think, was because he was waiting for you to tell him yourself." Severus's stomach churned, and Ginny gave him a sad smile. "Actually it doesn't surprise me that he's talking to you," she continued, "and he's yet to even see me… he probably blames me…"
"There's plenty of blame to go around," said Severus, shifting uncomfortably. "And he also blames himself."
"That's a surprise," said Ginny, bitterly. "Since everything we'd ever fought over he always put down as my fault. You know, Severus, when it's not the three of us it's usually just you and him. Very occasionally it's me and you. But it never was me and Draco. We were the part that didn't make sense, the part that all our fights seemed to stem from. He doesn't trust me like he trusts you, and whenever he looks at me…" Ginny sighed as a pang of emotion snaked through her stomach. "He doesn't… You treat Draco and I exactly the same. If you and I don't have any problems then why do Draco and I…"
"Because I'm not in love with you," said Snape. "And you know that Draco – so completely and madly – is."
"What?" said Ginny weakly. "But…"
"And you and Draco might not seem to make sense," continued Severus, "but neither do the three of us. We don't make sense at all but somehow, despite expectations and our own judgement and our own undoing… somehow we work."
Severus smiled at her and held out his hand. Ginny put her hand in his and he pulled her to her feet.
"The Hogwarts Express leaves this afternoon," she said desperately. "What am I supposed to do?"
"I have no idea," said Severus. "But you know… chances are he'll be feeling the same way you are. So whatever you say, picture him saying it back…"
Unable to help herself, Ginny laughed and enveloped Severus in a hug once more. "I'm going to miss you," she said. "What are you doing for the holidays?"
Severus shrugged, and glanced out the window towards the blue sky. "Anything I bloody want."
Ginny smiled as she followed his gaze. "But… you'll always come back?"
Severus looked back at her. "Always." He rummaged through his robe pockets and pulled out a piece of parchment. "I stole this from Potter's trunk so I could find you. Perhaps you can use it to find Draco." Severus handed her the active Marauder's Map. "You've also a better chance returning it to Potter without being hexed."
Ginny unrolled the parchment and scoured the jumble of names. Her eyes gravitated towards a small, stationary black dot on the castle grounds. "He's by the lake," she murmured.
"Good luck," said Severus, as Ginny enveloped him in a third and final hug. "Though you don't need it."
Ginny ran her hands over her face and headed for the door. "Yes I do."
The sound of rubber soles hitting stone was soon drowned out by the roar of students in the Entrance Hall. Ginny cascaded downwards, taking stairs two at a time and hitting the crowd of students head-on. She elbowed her way through the crowd, tripping over suitcases and broomsticks to make her way towards the doors.
Ginny ignored her classmates gaping faces, ignored the fact that she hadn't even begun to pack, and continued onwards.
She was nearly at the doors when someone grabbed her elbow.
"Ginny!" exclaimed Woodley. "Hang on, a parcel arrived for you at breakfast!"
Shaking off his grip, Ginny hesitated but accepted the parcel Woodley thrust into her arms. "Thanks," she said reluctantly, ripping the top open and meaning to thrust it straight back at him. "But I don't want…"
Ginny froze, unable to believe what she was staring at beneath the ripped brown paper. Around her the students continued to jostle, shouting and laughing amongst themselves, as she unravelled the green cloak she'd given to Draco for Christmas. Why would he…
Clutching the cloak tight to her chest, Ginny began to run through the crowd once more, not caring that she was knocking people over. A warm blast of air hit her face as she burst from the castle, and a few students paused their conversations to eye her curiously as she tore past.
She rounded the castle, running straight through flower beds and barely missing old statues to finally reach the end of the lawn. It was only when she rounded a clump of bushes and the back of Draco Malfoy swung into view, that she found herself unable to run any further.
Her hands were shaking as she clutched the cloak even tighter against herself. With a deep breath she forced herself to take the final few steps towards his turned back.
If Draco had heard anyone approach he made no sign. He was sitting on a grassy bank overlooking a mass of reeds, his back to the castle, his head turned towards the shimmering water. Beside him were a couple of expensive looking trunks, and his grey eagle-owl perched atop his broomstick. He didn't look up even when Ginny cleared her throat, but continued to stare out across the empty lake.
"Draco," she said finally, forcing the waver from her voice. "I've been looking for you." When Draco's silence continued, she held out the cloak. "This is yours, why did you give it back to me?"
Draco turned his head to glance at the cloak before looking back to the lake. "I don't want it."
Draco's voice was flat and expressionless, devoid of its usual bitter tone or traces of scorn. But the short way he'd replied hadn't filled Ginny with the usual wave of irritated anger. Instead she just felt horribly empty and miserable as she clutched the swaying material back to her chest. She saw Draco's shoulders tense slightly, before she realised that he was just getting to his feet.
He turned around and Ginny tried vainly to read his expression, but the afternoon sun was behind him and her eyes saw only a hazy shadow. "What do you want?" he said quietly.
Ginny wracked her brains for the elaborate speech that she'd been planning, but as she stared upwards at the hazy figure before her, her mind had gone horribly blank. She tried to say something further but her mouth was unbearably dry, and Draco turned away from her once more, flicking his wand and making his trunks rise in the air.
"That's what I thought," he muttered, reaching for his broomstick. "I'm leaving."
"Harry and I aren't seeing each other anymore!" Ginny burst out desperately. "Please don't leave!"
Draco's eagle-owl shot off in a disgusted squawk, as he grabbed the broomstick somewhat violently. And for the first time that week Ginny heard anger in his voice.
"So you think I'm going to come running back to you now?" sneered Draco, whirling on her and gripping his broomstick tightly. "Just because Potter's gone, and Severus–" Draco's face twisted slightly as she jerked backward, and he left his sentence harshly unfinished, whirling back round as quickly as before. "I'm leaving," he repeated.
"Don't," said Ginny desperately, swallowing the rapidly growing lump in the back of her throat. "That was stupid of me – that's not what I meant, you know that—"
"I don't know anything!" shouted Draco suddenly, his voice cracking slightly as he made to push past her. "I don't know what happened between you and Severus, I don't know why I can't hate him for it, I don't know, and I don't think I'll ever know what the fuck you mean, and I don't even know why I'm fucking still here!"
Ginny forced herself to take a deep breath. "You're here because…" Unable to say the words her brain was now screaming at her, she clapped a hand to her face in despair. "…I don't… I don't know. Where are you going for the summer?" she said finally, her stomach aching horribly.
Draco waved his wand at his suitcases, his face once more in shadow. "Haven't decided."
Ginny's gaze dropped at Draco's sullen reply, but she felt a distant sense of relief that his voice hadn't been as unbearably blank as it was before. It'd almost reminded her of how he used to speak to her – and she was suddenly hit with an onslaught of memories involving Draco bragging to her, Draco arguing with her, Draco drinking with her, Draco laughing with her… and it was with an empty feeling of helplessness that she looked up to see Draco now turning away from her.
"I'll miss you," she said desperately, before turning around herself; staring out at the lake and wondering hopelessly what was stopping her from simply running after him and…
Ginny jumped slightly at the sound of three loud thuds on the ground behind her. She turned to see Draco's suitcases lying burst open on the ground, with clothes and books splayed around them. Draco was already standing stock-still facing her, a wave of bitterness twisted over his face.
"Will you just stop with the fucking mind games, Ginny!" he yelled out, his fists clenched tight and his chest heaving. "I can't stand it anymore!"
Ginny stared back at him in shock, her train of thought obliterated by the look on his face.
"What do you –"
"Don't tell me you don't know what I mean!" interrupted Draco, his eyes flashing angrily. "It's always obvious what I'm saying! I'm sick of – why can't you ever – why won't you just –"
"What?" demanded Ginny desperately.
" –SAY WHAT YOU FUCKING MEAN!" roared Draco, his jaw clenching as Ginny staggered slightly, before the tension rose once more in her face also.
"I CAN'T!" she yelled back, the lump in her throat returning tenfold. "You have no idea what it feels like to be around you! My mind fogs up, I can't think and I don't think before I say something to you! You think I'm playing games – I'm not! I hate the way you exclude me, and hate my friends and don't trust me – but Merlin, Draco, the thing I can't stand most is how you never seem to feel what I feel when you touch me! You confuse the fucking hell out of me!"
"I confuse you?" cried Draco, throwing his broomstick to the ground and taking a jerky step backward. "How can you say that when you –"
"What do you want me to say?" shouted Ginny tearfully. "I've pretty much just told you I'm fucking mad over you; how else can I fucking put it?"
"You're not!" yelled Draco in anguish, continuing to stumble backwards as she started to run towards him. "I'm not Severus! I'm not Potter! I'm Draco Malfoy–"
"I know," interrupted Ginny fiercely, as she threw her arms around his neck. "And that's why."
And Ginny pulled her lips to his and forgot, for a split second, all the fears of pain and rejection screaming in the back of her mind. All of her surroundings seemed to instead fade away, leaving just her and Draco and their long overdue kiss. When she eventually pulled away, she saw that he was staring down at her with that characteristic half-frown on his face, as if waiting for some sort of explanation for her behaviour.
Ginny swallowed hard as she gazed back at him, her head finally drooping at the lack of response. There was a brief pause as Draco continued to stare at her, the sunlight glinting sharply off her tousled red hair.
"Fuck it," he muttered, and pulled her back to him, deepening the kiss and immersing himself with complete abandon into the embrace of Ginny Weasley.
A pair of dark eyes turned away from the entwined couple in the distance, before the owner of which made his way slowly back to the castle doors. Severus Snape paused in the sunlight, his gaze sweeping the near empty lawn before he sat down upon the great stone steps, and opened a leather-bound book. He was soon joined by a small black cat, purring noisily as she rubbed herself against him. Severus thumbed slowly through the pages of photos, his eyes softening at the untidy, flushed faces grinning back at him.
"Ah, Mr Snape."
Severus looked up, a trace of rare amiability still in his eyes as he raised his eyebrows inquiringly at the speaker.
"Professor Dumbledore would like to see you before dinner," continued Garwood pleasantly. "He's in his office."
Snape nodded in response, his eye catching sight of a smirking Draco motioning suggestively at him from the page below.
"Professor!" called Snape suddenly, getting to his feet and starting after the retreating Garwood. "Er… just a moment…"
Professor Garwood turned, and looked questioningly at an uncomfortable looking Snape. "Yes?"
"What are you –" Snape cleared his throat noisily, " –er, what are you doing this evening?"
Garwood stared at him for a brief second. "Nothing at the moment," she said slowly, raising her eyebrows.
"Well, perhaps," continued Snape determinedly, thrusting the leather book in his pocket and attempting to give her an uncertain smile, "perhaps you could join me at the Three Broomsticks…"
Garwood's eyebrows raised even higher and she gaped at him. "You forget yourself, Mr Snape!" she exclaimed, shaking her head as she stalked off.
Severus watched her leave in righteous indignation, before a slight smile started creeping slowly upon his lips. Oreo mewed as Snape burst into laughter. "Perhaps," he told the kitten, in between guffaws, "I should wait a few years."
Ginny pulled away from Draco at the sound of a faint train whistle in the distance.
"I think," she murmured, though nestling back into his chest, " –we've missed the train home."
There was a long pause before Draco spoke, his eyes half-closed as he nuzzled the side of her neck.
"Well, I think," he murmured softly, close to her ear, " –it's all your fault."
Ginny grinned suddenly into his chest, fighting the urge to burst into tears and kiss him all over again. "I suppose we'd better tell a teacher," she said at last, reluctantly untangling herself from his arms. "Actually I'm not even packed…"
Draco glanced around at his scattered possessions. "You know I really haven't made up my mind as to where I'm staying."
Ginny grinned at him and started scooping up some of his clothing nearby. "You could come stay with me…"
"I think I've had enough near-death experiences for the year without having deal with your brothers and your parents..."
Ginny laughed. There was a long pause as Draco straightened his suitcase. "Well, I suppose you've spoken to Severus."
Ginny sobered slightly and dropped her armful of clothing into an awaiting trunk. "What happened between us…"
"Was a mistake," said Draco, impatiently. "I know. That's what he said. And I'm still angry about that so just…" Draco frowned and Ginny reached for his hand. "How do you know," said Draco, starting again, "that we're not a mistake?"
Ginny smiled, wondering how she'd never noticed that Draco's grey eyes held a hint of blue in the sunlight. "Because I'm in love with you," she murmured. "It's always been you."
Draco stared at her in shock.
Ginny caught his eye and started to laugh, her voice suddenly muffled as Draco pulled her towards him once more.
"Draco," she chastised, though nuzzling into his chest once more, "we have to find a teacher."
"I'm sure a teacher will find us," he murmured back, smirking as she tilted her face up to his. "And if they do, I'll tell them to piss off."
Ginny laughed and met his lips with hers, all scattered possessions forgotten.
Severus Snape left Dumbledore's office with the hint of an uncommon strut in his step, to make his way down to the dungeons and his old living quarters.
The door creaked open and Severus glanced around the room, pulling the leather photo album from his pocket and placing it carefully on the bookshelf. He then strode towards his wardrobe, opening the wooden doors and sweeping his gaze over the line of black teaching robes.
"Oreo," he said to the purring kitten, "we need to do some shopping."
Well…there you have it. After three years of stalling on that bloody chapter ten, I've finally pulled my socks up and finished the story. It was a bit of a slog but it feels fantastic to sit back and see it finally basking in completion.
It's a bit of an open ending I suppose, because I like the idea of the characters continuing to live their lives…especially now that the world seems like a slightly happier place to live. I'd like to think that Draco and Severus do go off to the Mediterranean, and Severus does eventually create a reversal potion and becomes hideously rich because of it. Whether or not he uses it, or ever does end up going out with Garwood… well, it's up to him. I like the idea of the three of them continuing to grow up together… and Draco and Ginny continuing to fight and make up…and fight and make up…and fight and make up…
I also like the idea of Woodley and Harry running off to have sexy slythindor babies, but I don't think anyone would want to read about it…except for me.
A huge gigantic thank you to all the fantastically loyal and probably hating-my-guts readers out there, for sticking by the fic for an inexcusable six years and getting me off my sorry arse.
Because I really enjoyed getting into it again. And although I often found myself wincing and hurriedly rewriting some of the original dialogue, I'd forgotten how much I'd fallen in love with ridiculously sexy Severus, and of course deliciously angsty d/g. You know it wasn't actually supposed to be a major d/g fic, but somehow they managed to beat their way in there whilst denying of course, that it had anything to do with each other. It's been a fantastic journey and I'll never forget the way it always made me grin (usually when the current scene being written was filled with either d/g bickering, gratuitous Slytherin nudity, or poor blushing Snape).
A huge, heartfelt thanks again to you guys, especially, especially to Jam_Jackson for whipping me the first couple of years or so, and my Mark-man for being the best Beta I could've ever hoped for.
P.S. For cut storylines and other delicious things click here!