I believe this is the last story I have simmering in my hard drive that hasn't been uploaded here. It was written for the 2009 Snarry Games, and it was by far the most challenging story I've ever written. Seeing as this was the final Snarry Games, I'm very grateful I was able to participate and honestly felt a measure of pride when the whole thing was done.

So many things happened during the writing of this story, I feel as though there should be footnotes. I'll just leave you with the original author's notes and warnings. I hope you enjoy.

And for those that are interested, the next chapter of P&C just needs one scene to go before it's uploaded. Cheers.

Team: Snitch!

Genre: Alive and Kicking

Prompts: Dream a Little Dream, Can You Hear Me?

Rating/Warnings/Kinks: NC-17

Word Count: 36,489

Summary: The morning after the battle at Hogwarts, Harry wakes up to find himself alone and the task of defeating Voldemort uncompleted. Overwhelmed and suffering from strange nightmares, Harry finds the strength to finish it for the last time when Snape arrives to help.

Author Notes/Disclaimers/Betas: There are a handful of direct quotes taken from Harry Potter and the Death Hallows in the following fic. All credit for these lines, as well as the world and characters she has created, goes to JK Rowling. I own nothing. There is also a quote borrowed from Thorton Wilder's Our Town, which was just too perfect not to use.

Many thanks to the mods, who put together such a wonderful fest, and to El Capitan for encouragement. This fic would never have been written if it were not for WhiteCotton, beta extraordinaire, who helped keep the commas in place, the infinitives from splitting, the smut anatomically correct, Severus snarky and Harry from being too much of a Gryffindor. Thank you, darling, for holding my hand when it seemed this fic would never be finished. Thanks to thesewarmstars for the 'final word' beta, nailing the commas down, and endless pep talks over messenger. Hugs and kisses also to Accioslash for a read-through and to lovetoseverus for pointing out a major issue. I am profoundly grateful to you all.


"The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction the weight, the weight we carry is love." excerpt from 'Song' by Allen Ginsberg.

"I regret it," Voldemort said in a harsh whisper as he glided out of the room, not bothering to look back on the man he had so casually murdered.

Snape's face was ghastly white as he lay on the floor bleeding and gasping for air, his hands struggling to cover his wounds.

Slowly and against Hermione's protestations, Harry moved out of their hiding place and removed his cloak. He had no idea why he was approaching Snape, who had been the cause of so much suffering. Here was one man Harry could say he truly hated. Nevertheless, he knew no one deserved to die alone: not like this, not in this place.

Snape's eyes went wide as Harry entered his field of vision, and he seemed to use all that remained of his strength to pull Harry close to him. Tears were pouring down his cheeks and blood was gushing from his throat and mouth.

"I—can't...I—can't," he said, his voice raspy and gurgling, but Harry had no idea what he meant.

"You can't what?" he asked, then a moment later wondered why he had. It wasn't as if he cared, or Snape could respond.

"I'm...sorry..." Snape said. "Look...at...me."

Harry did. Black eyes met green and Harry heard the faintest whisper. "Legilimens."

Harry gasped and the room around him drifted away. At once, he felt the intrusive presence of another mind like a sledgehammer to his head. His focus turned inward, and he could barely feel the hands still gripping his collar, his eyes no longer able to see the Shack.

He was inside his mind, but the memories flying past him were not his own.

But, that was not what frightened him most. This was nothing like viewing a memory in a Pensieve, where one watched as a memory played out. These memories were forced upon him all at once, seeming to come from the inside—his inside—and from outside at the same time, and he felt almost crushed under the weight of them. Everything was moving far too quickly, and Harry was having trouble making sense of the sudden onslaught of knowing.

He couldn't take much more of this, he needed to break the spell—needed to push Snape from his mind—

Just as he felt as though he was being drowned by the images, they suddenly stopped, flickered, and he realized the spell had already ended. His head still spinning with the force Snape had used to push the memories into his head, he staggered back a bit, landing half upright, balanced by one knee and a trembling arm. He steadied himself as well as he could and tried again to make sense of it.

It was like trying to catch the wind. He saw faces of people, glimpses of places he felt as though he knew. A tall, dark man with a scowl on his face passed through his mind in a flash, and Harry felt rushes of emotion he didn't have time to identify; he saw wisps of what he thought might have been a playground in his mind's eye; he saw a young boy in clothes that fit him awkwardly talking to a girl with red hair...

That scene flashed and suddenly he thought he might have been on the Hogwarts Express, that same thin boy with the same little girl...

"You'd better be in Slytherin..." he heard the boy mutter before the scene flashed by again.

"...thought we were supposed to be friends?" he heard the same boy, only slightly older, mutter. "Best friends?"

"We are, Sev," the girl said before the scene changed again.

Harry somehow knew who these people were now. He knew who they were; knew for certain—he was looking at Snape's memories of his childhood.

He saw images of Snape and Lily walking to class together, arguing over dark magic. He tried to catch pieces of conversations before they drifted away, but a whisper at the back of his mind told him this memory wasn't what he needed to see.

He thought he recognized the word 'mudblood' before the next memory swept past him, Harry suddenly aware of everything that had happened after Snape's OWL exam.

He saw Dumbledore's face look upon Snape in disgust as he crashed to his knees, begging; he saw himself grow up in Snape's eyes; and he watched as Snape looked on him in what might have been confusion before the memory whirled away.

He saw Snape's Patronus and felt his eyes go wide, even as all the breath left his body. In an instant, Harry realized what Snape was trying to tell him, knew his path, and everything he had done to help him. He tried even harder to move, tried to leave the strange place he was in, but he couldn't—there were still so many memories, and Harry struggled to make sense of them.

He watched as Snape intervened to help him time and again, always casting himself as the villain; always making sure Harry suspected nothing.

He witnessed an argument between Snape and Dumbledore, watching the disgust twist Snape's face and feeling his ire, amazed that the man was defending him, accusing Dumbledore of sending him out like a pig to slaughter, raising him up only to die, and Harry knew the reason Snape had done this.

Finally, he saw Snape with Gryffindor's sword leaving the headmaster's office and Harry was able to move again, the last of Snape's memories rushing through his mind.

Gasping and shaking, Harry shuffled back on hands and bottom away from Snape as the black eyes continued to penetrate his.

Hermione and Ron were upon him instantly, Ron turning to glare at Snape as the man lay dying, probably—knowing him—convinced Harry's shocked state was the result of some malicious act on his part.

Harry shouted and tore at their hands, trying to keep them away from him. His eyes were on Snape's own fading ones, the man's breathing growing more labored as the blood gushed from his wounds.

His lips tried to form a word and Harry thought it might have been 'Potter', but whatever it was only escaped as a gasp of air as his hand extended towards Harry one more time.

The world seemed to spin as Harry stood up only to find himself crashing back down again. His mind was an echo of jumbled images, memories still fighting to gain his attention.

He crawled over to Snape, wanting so badly to say something, anything to him. He wanted to thank him, wanted to hit him and ask why he kept this from him for so long, wanted to weep over his broken body. The knowledge of the very nature of Snape hit Harry like a punch to the chest. In that moment, he knew he didn't want Snape to die.

Most of all he wished he could save him, wished that all the blood would stop—go back in somehow—wished he had an antidote and a Blood Replenishing Potion.

"Episkey," he said desperately, knowing it was futile. He repeated the spell even when it seemed to do absolutely nothing.

"Harry," Hermione said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Harry!" she said frantically as she forced him to stop his useless attempts at getting the bleeding to stop.

"Harry, he's dying. We have to get out of here," she said harshly.

Harry watched as Snape closed his eyes and became still and he felt a great sob wrack his body. He stumbled as he reached out to grab him, willing him to wake up.

Harry suddenly found himself pulled up by his arms, Hermione and Ron dragging him to his feet. He struggled for a moment, not wanting to abandon Snape, wanting to make sure he was truly dead before leaving him in that awful place.

"Let go of me, Potter!" Severus cried as he tried to move farther into the tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack. He finally shook Potter off and opened the door...

Only to find a ravenous beast, a bloodthirsty werewolf on the opposite side.

Severus froze and the werewolf moved to attack him. Suddenly, he was being pulled away and the door was slammed shut. Severus lay on top of another body, both of them panting, Severus realizing what had just happened and cursing James Potter to the seventh layer of hell.

"Fuck!" Harry swore as he collapsed against the tunnel leading from the Shack to the Whomping Willow. He tore off his glasses and pressed his hands against his face, as if what he had just seen were the fault of his eyes and not his mind.

"Harry?" Hermione dropped down beside him on the dirt floor.

"Harry, what's wrong?" Ron asked, joining them.

"Snape...he's— his memories. I don't know."

The world seemed to skew a bit and Harry blinked and put his glasses on again, forcing himself to focus.

"Snape is fine, Harry. He had the antidote to Nagini's poison on him. He's going to be fine," Hermione said slowly.

Harry felt his head spin and he rubbed his temples. He took several deep breaths as the world seemed to right itself and he looked at Hermione's worried face.

"What did you say?"

Hermione looked at him in confusion. "I said Snape is dead, Harry, or near it. You can't help him right now. We have to get to the castle to help the others."

Harry shook his head. No, he didn't have to go to the castle. He needed to go wherever Voldemort was now—

His thoughts were broken as Voldemort cast his voice over the grounds, telling Harry he had an hour before he would storm the castle and destroy anyone who stood in his way.

"Harry—" Ron started to say as the three turned to look at each other.

"Wait, Ron. Just—just wait one moment," Harry said as he caught his breath and forced himself to think of what he'd just learned.

He had no choice, he realized. He had to go to Voldemort, had to offer himself as a martyr, literally giving himself up as a lamb to the slaughter.

A momentary surge of panic coursed through him, and then faded almost as quickly as it had come.

The chaos that had been his life up until this moment began to make sense in light of what he'd just learned from the memories. Now that the picture was complete, he could finally see Dumbledore's machinations and movements for what they were.

Of course Dumbledore had been raising him up to die. Little things he'd begun to think about in the past year shone through the jumbled discord as he began to accept his fate. He thought of how Dumbledore had given him his invisibility cloak at such a young age; how he had allowed and even encouraged his nighttime wanderings. He hadn't thought it odd at the time, but what kind of headmaster allows a thirteen-year-old to go about messing with time travel while a werewolf was on the loose?

And Dumbledore hadn't batted an eye when Harry had started Dumbledore's Army, had allowed him to learn the Patronus charm from Remus...

Everything became clear as he saw his life through Snape's eyes. Harry looked on his friends with a sudden maturity, looking at their years together from a new perspective. Everything seemed different now that he knew what he was here for; knew what his life was worth.

He realized, in the back of his mind, that he should probably be upset by this, should be outraged at being used so blatantly. But then he thought of Snape, who was dead or dying in the Shack, and he couldn't truly be angry at all.

What frightened him most was the calmness that settled over him as his heart began to catch up with his brain. He'd never be married, never go to university or become an Auror; he'd never get to see what would become of the Wizarding World once it was free from Voldemort's shadow.

He'd be dead within the hour.

The Potter name would die with him, and somehow, that gave him an odd sense of peace. He supposed it could be the worst kind of cowardice, but he failed to care. He would never see tomorrow, never see the aftermath of all of this.

He knew it was rather selfish of him to think it, but a part of him was relieved. He thought of Ginny and how he knew he had never truly loved her, how she could think of him always with fondness and never in anger. His friends...well, they would grow even closer because of this. They'd live long and happy lives, hopefully with each other, and he would be the one to give them the peace they'd earned together.

He thought of everything he would never get to do, and yet somehow no rage came, only that odd relief.

Mostly, he realized that it would be over. That he would never again be called upon to save anyone, let alone an entire world. He would never face the pressures of being an Auror and tracking down dark wizards. He would never have to fear for his life or the lives of his friends ever again. He'd have peace in the afterlife, if there was an afterlife, and if not then nothingness.

He'd make his sacrifice for the peace of the world. He smiled and thought the last thing he would ever do would be the greatest. He would save the world from the greatest evil in a hundred years and die while doing it.

Who could ask for a better end?

Hermione and Ron were looking at him oddly, as he sat in the tunnel thinking about the path his life had taken.

"Harry?" Hermione said in a tentative tone as she kneeled down to talk to him.

Harry smiled, looking on her in a way he never had before. Was it odd that she seemed so young to him?

"Harry, it's going to be alright. This is almost over."

Harry gave a soft laugh at that. "Yeah, it is."

"Harry—look, mate—" Ron began to say before Harry cut him off.

"There's something I need to do, but you two need to get to the castle. I'll meet you up there in a little while, but there's something I need to do first."

Ron and Hermione began to protest, but Harry cut them off by grabbing Ron in a firm embrace, then opening his arm to take in Hermione too.

The two seemed a bit stunned, but hugged him back in silence, only Harry realizing that he was saying goodbye.

"Harry, look at me please," Hermione said, removing herself from his arms. "This is almost over. All the Horcruxes have been destroyed—"

"Nagini," Harry interrupted. "You have to kill Nagini. Or someone does."

Hermione nodded, but wouldn't allow Harry to sidetrack her again. "Harry, please. I know it's tempting to give up, but—you can't. All of this will be over and you'll have your entire life ahead of you! You can go back to school and become an Auror and have a wife and family and... Anything you want, anything at all. All of this will be over tomorrow and it'll be a new life for you."

Harry smiled at her words, inwardly relieved they weren't true.

"You're right, Hermione. Now you really do need to go to the castle. I'll be there soon... There's just something I have to do."

Hermione and Ron eyed him doubtfully so he gave them a smile of reassurance. They turned to each other questioningly, then nodded and left the tunnel, leaving Harry by himself.

He thought he might take the hour Voldemort had given him to think or to spend with his friends, but they weren't the people he desperately wanted to see.

I open at the close.

He took out the snitch Dumbledore had given him and whispered against it, "I am about to die."

As the Resurrection Stone fell into his palm, Harry smiled, thinking perhaps there was an afterlife and maybe there would be people waiting for him when he got there.

He fingered the stone in his hand as he walked off into the forest to face his fate.


"I've got to go back, haven't I?" Harry asked Dumbledore, fearing the answer.

"You don't have to do anything, Harry," he responded.

"But Voldemort still has the Elder Wand."

Dumbledore nodded.

Harry closed his eyes and looked around King's Cross station, hearing the whistle of a train in the distance.

"If I didn't want to go back—"

"I'm sure you could just hop on the next train. There seems to be one coming shortly."

Harry looked over to the tracks, the station never having looked so clean. He heard the sound of the whistle again and tried to look onward, past the station, but he couldn't.

"Where would the train take me?"

"On," Dumbledore said simply.

Harry shuddered and looked down. He knew what he had to do, knew what needed to be done, and was far more furious at having to go back than having to come here in the first place.

"If I go back—"

"I believe you can end this, Harry, and quickly. If you go back, you can save your friends, save people and families from being destroyed."

Harry put his face in his hands as he succumbed to the inevitable, realizing he had no choice.

"Harry," Dumbledore said, putting a hand on his back. "Do not be afraid to return. There is an entire life lying ahead of you."

"Yeah," Harry said, inwardly thinking that was the problem.

"Is there any particular reason you seem so reluctant to go back?"

"I'm not, I—" Harry sighed and turned to Dumbledore. "I guess I just thought I was done, you know? It was over and I did everything I needed to do. I left well. I didn't want to die, but..."

"But a part of you was glad to have it done with?"

Harry nodded and Dumbledore patted his shoulder.

"The choice is yours, Harry. You have done everything that was asked of you and you did it well. I would not fault you for wanting a bit of peace." Just as he said this, the train that had sounded so distant pulled into the station and the doors opened wide.

"It will be here again in sixty or seventy years, should you choose to go back. But know that you have no reason to ever fear returning here."

Harry nodded and stood up, so tempted to board the train. He knew he'd be able to see his mother and father, Remus and Sirius. Maybe even Snape...

"Do you think I could just linger here?" Harry asked no one. "Just stay here and not have to decide?"

Dumbledore remained silent, somehow knowing Harry wasn't speaking to him.

"Does anyone ever realize— Do you think they ever see their life like this, in this way and actually—" he broke off as the train pulled away from the station.

"Saints and poets perhaps," Dumbledore said. "And brave young men."

Harry nodded and turned to Dumbledore. "Okay. I'm ready."


"Can you not understand? Snape was never yours! Snape was always Dumbledore's!" Harry screamed even as his mind seemed to flicker, revealing images of a Voldemort he knew he'd never seen before.

He struggled to hold onto reality, but felt as though his mind was breaking apart.

"You claim to care for this woman, this mudblood, Snape?" Voldemort said as Severus knelt before him.

"I do, my Lord, regardless—she was my friend from childhood. Please, my Lord..."

Harry blinked and tried to stay in the present, tried to hold back the memories that were once again trying to envelop his mind.

"Do you think any of that matters now, boy? Now that I am the master of the Elder Wand?" Voldemort hissed as he moved around Harry.

Flashes of that fateful night—of the cave and the Astronomy Tower—swam through Harry's head, but they weren't his own. Harry saw Snape, saw his fear and his disgust at having to kill Dumbledore. He struggled to keep his eyes open even as his mind's eye saw the green light hit the headmaster.

"You were too late! Snape killed Dumbledore, but that wasn't the plan. He was supposed to die undefeated, but he didn't. Draco Malfoy overpowered him, and I defeated Draco weeks ago! Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed?"

Harry's head swam as Voldemort seemed to realize what that meant. He aimed his wand and Harry did the same.

The sun suddenly shone through the Great Hall, obscuring Voldemort's face so that Harry had to squint to see him. He stood his ground, ignoring the memories floating about his head as he tried desperately to think of some way, some spell that would work.


"Avada Kedavra!"

Harry stumbled at the force of the spell and saw the green spell-light pass the red in a blur. The room went silent as Harry tried to keep his eyes on Voldemort, needing to see if Dumbledore had been right, if the Elder Wand truly would be the end of him.

As he lost his footing, Harry sensed something inside his mind break as Snape's memories came back to him in a rush. He closed his eyes, no longer able to keep them open, and was unconscious before he even hit the floor.


Harry had no idea whether he was awake or was still dreaming. He recognized the scent of the infirmary, and strained his ears to determine what was happening. His head still swimming with the events of the past day, he could barely concentrate on the sounds around him.

He tried to open his eyes. He needed to know—he had to know if everyone was alright, if Dumbledore's plan had worked.

"... exhaustion and he could use a good meal. Aside from that, there's nothing physically wrong with him," he heard a familiar voice say and wondered if it was talking about him.

He had no desire to wake since waking meant knowing whether Voldemort still lived. If Voldemort was dead then that meant he would have to... Well, Harry didn't know what he would have to do, but he knew he had no desire to face it. For all his bravery, all he truly wanted was a bit of rest.

And if Voldemort lived, then that meant more hunting, more chasing, and this time he knew he would have to do it alone. His thoughts turned dark as he struggled to remember what had happened before he lost consciousness, but he failed to grasp it.

His mind was bombarded with his final fight with Voldemort and he tried to sit up, but then his head began to spin and sleep claimed him once again.

The next time he woke, he made a desperate attempt to grab hold of consciousness and not let it slip by him as it had done before. He had rested, he told himself, and now he needed to know if Voldemort still lived.

He found that his body was sluggish and so he slowly opened his eyes. The light in the room was blinding and he groaned as a flash of color entered his mind—this time a memory of his own infirmary visit in his third year—and watched as Snape raged at the headmaster over Sirius' escape.

Harry waited and tried to claw his way back to full alertness, but failed. His neck strained to hold his head up and it turned to the side, his eyes struggling to focus on the figure in the bed next to his.

It was a man, of that he was sure. A man with long black hair and bandages around his neck. He squinted and then watched as a mediwitch came and administered a potion to him.

"Snape?" he croaked.

The mediwitch turned around. "Harry? Oh, goodness. Harry, can you hear me?"

Harry tried to respond but his eyes were still on Snape, who seemed to be shifting in his sleep as though he too was trying to wake from some awful dream.

Harry tried to answer the mediwitch, but his mind was swimming again and once more he fell into a dream.


Harry was dreaming, that much he knew for sure.

He was clothed this time, but he was standing alone in King's Cross station, waiting for Dumbledore to reappear, waiting to know if he had accomplished what he had set out to do.

"I'm very sorry, Harry," said a voice from behind him.

Harry turned and watched as Dumbledore approached, looking sad and remorseful. Harry's heart sank in his chest as he realized he had failed. Voldemort was still alive.

"What happened? What did I do wrong?" he asked.

"I have no idea. Everything went according to my plans, yet Voldemort lives. There must be something I missed," Dumbledore said as he began to speak to himself.

"I doubt that, sir. It must have been something I missed. Something I didn't do—some Horcrux I didn't destroy properly."

Dumbledore listened to Harry and seemed to consider his words. "I doubt that very much, Harry, but still I have no idea why my plan failed."

"Neither do I," Harry said sadly. "But I'll finish it. I have to. This is my fight, my purpose, my—my reason for still being here."

The truth hung in the air between them, Dumbledore's silence confirming what he had already known. Harry stood silently as he heard a train whistle blow in the distance, knowing there would be no rest coming for him any time soon.


Harry opened his eyes.

He sat up straight in his bed, the sluggishness he felt before noticeable only by its absence. His head felt fine, along with the rest of his body. He swung his legs out and stood up, walking around the infirmary.

There was no one there.

He looked around, certain he had seen Snape here before, but now thinking perhaps it had just been a dream.

All the beds were made, the pristine, white cotton sheets attesting to the infirmary's empty state. The room smelled like potions and disinfectant, but not of injury. Harry knew there were people wounded in the battle and he wondered where they'd been taken. Exiting the room, he ignored the terrible feeling gathering in his stomach and journeyed to other parts of the castle.

The paintings were all quiet, looking at him curiously as he passed, encountering no living soul or ghost along his way. Reverently, he walked around the rubble of the Great Hall, his steps measured and cautious, before going outside to view the grounds.

They were scorched, but were not littered with the bodies of his friends as he'd feared. Strangely lifeless, the grass seemed as dead as the air, which was still and silent.

The castle seemed to have taken a good deal of damage, Harry thought as he took in thepieces of wall that had fallen, but it still stood. He had no idea why everything around him seemed to be so lifeless. Even the sky seemed odd, the clouds hanging in the air unmoving and the sun absent though Harry was sure it was afternoon.

He walked not knowing exactly where he was going until he reached the Whomping Willow, which was motionless for the first time in Harry's memory. He entered the tunnel that led to the Shrieking Shack and silently walked the path.

As he slowly entered the room, he half-expected to see Snape's body lying there, confirming that his memory of the infirmary was only a dream. But it was empty. He shook his head and looked in the other rooms before deciding that he wouldn't find him here and left the Shack.

Upon his return to the castle, he felt drained, exhausted and extremely hungry. He entered the Great Hall to see if anyone had returned from...wherever they'd been, but again there was no one.

After looking around for a moment, he walked over to the head table, the only table that remained undamaged, and sat down. Instantly, food appeared in front of him and Harry dug in, audibly thanking whichever house-elf had seen fit to feed him.

After his meal, he walked the castle again, still trying to find someone, anyone and becoming more worried and not a little frightened when no one appeared.

Surely, the few hours he had just spent searching the grounds should have yielded some results? Where was everyone and what had happened in the time he'd been asleep?

Harry knew what he had to do, but unlike before, had no idea how to go about doing it. Previously, he'd not been alone, he'd had Hermione and Ron to help him. They'd had a plan—maybe not the best plan— and a path with steps that needed to be completed before they could move onto the next.

Now he had no idea where to find Voldemort, and he wouldn't since their connection was now dead.

Harry shook his head in frustration. Where would he begin?

And where was everyone?

He sighed and thought about going to the library, but realized he had no idea what to do when he got there. What was there to research? What was there to be done?

Hopelessness set into him, almost painfully, and he sunk against a wall on his way to Gryffindor tower. Never had he felt so lost, not even when Sirius or Dumbledore had died. He still had a goal, things that needed to be done, but just didn't know how to get there or do them.

Hopelessness turned into bone-deep weariness, his limbs heavy and his eyes sore. He almost crawled up the steps to Gryffindor tower, distressed that the stairs were no longer moving. Pushing away the thought that Hogwarts truly was dead, he promised himself he wouldn't give up.

Despite this promise, his thoughts were dark by the time he reached the portrait of the fat lady, only made worse when he found her sleeping. The door opened for him anyway and he walked up to the dorm, where he knew a bed would be waiting for him.


Harry was dreaming.

"It's been weeks, Severus," a voice was saying loudly. "If you're right, then you're the only one who can get through to him."

Harry leaned his head and tried to open his eyes, but as usual with his recent dreams, what he saw was covered in a haze. He tilted his head and forced his eyes open, not entirely sure why he was bothering, apart from the suspicion that the answer to his problems lay in his dreams.

He was confused and astounded by what he saw.

Snape was lying in the bed next to his, his throat covered in gauze, looking pale and gray and as though he hadn't slept in a week. He was scribbling something on parchment.

"Harry?" the voice said, but Harry didn't care to turn to it. He was just so happy to see Snape, see him alive even if this was only a dream.

Black eyes went wide upon seeing his, but Snape said nothing. His gaze was long and hard and Harry struggled to keep his eyes from shutting, not wanting to wake up.

He fought to remain in the dream but could feel his mind blurring again as the vision of Snape was swept away.

Opening his eyes, Harry saw he was once again in his bed in the Gryffindor dormitory. Sitting up quickly, he grabbed his glasses and looked towards the other beds, half-expecting to see his roommates there, asleep, but Harry was alone in the room.

Deflated, he swung his legs round and sat on the edge of his bed, wondering what there was to do if he remained alone at Hogwarts. How long should he wait for someone to show up before he ventured out to find Voldemort?

What would he do once he found him?

Harry shuddered and got to his feet. There was no point in allowing his thoughts to get even more depressing, so he squared his shoulders and made his way downstairs. As soon as he'd splashed some water on his face, he made for the Great Hall, thinking if anyone were to return to the castle, they would go there.

Still it was empty, the entire place silent.

Slowly he walked around the rubble of the collapsed castle walls, lost in his thoughts and kicking the pieces of stone that lay scattered on the floor. The sun was shining through the holes in the ceiling and Harry felt odd, almost guilty at being here. Shouldn't the castle resent him for failing? Shame and embarrassment made him sink into the collar of his robes and shove his hands deep into his pockets.

With no real destination in mind, just a vague fancy, he left the Hall and walked along the corridor leading to the dungeons. As he walked, he allowed himself to imagine it was like any other normal day in Hogwarts; he was simply on his way to the potions classroom where Snape would be waiting to berate him just for walking through the door.

He became oddly conscious of his own thoughts, wondering why he was thinking about Snape and not Ron or Hermione or any of the other people who had been lost. But then, none of his friends had led the life Snape had. Even Remus, who'd lived with one of the worst curses Harry could think of, had had friends in his life and eventually a wife and child. Ron and Hermione, wherever they were, no doubt had each other.

Snape hadn't had a friend to his name, not since his youth. Harry knew that the man must have had a life outside of Hogwarts, but he seemed to live in such misery, still mourning Harry's mother even after all these years...

Harry felt a pain in his chest, an ache of regret because he hadn't been able to save him; regret that he hadn't been able to thank him for everything he had done. With his head down, he descended the staircase slowly, his heart heavier with every step.

Just as he turned into the hallway leading to the potions classroom, he suddenly became aware of two black boots right in front of him. Even though he'd never taken notice of the shoes before, he knew instantly who they belonged to, and his heart leapt at the sight of them.

He lifted his head and nearly took a step back in surprise, an audible gasp of confused delight pulled from him.

"Snape?" Harry's eyes went wide and a large smile erupted on his face as he took in the sight of the man. Snape looked exactly the way he remembered him—tall and dark and menacing. He didn't seem to have suffered at all from Nagini's poison and when Harry examined the man's neck—well, what little he could see of it—there didn't even seem to be a scar there.

Snape's hands seemed to follow Harry's eyes almost as if they were joined and he caressed the flesh on his neck. Harry's eyes watched the fingers knead the smooth flesh, as though they were searching for the scars, and Harry brought his eyes to dark ones, so happy to see him alive.

"Potter?" Snape asked in an inquisitive tone. "Are you well?"

Harry gave a nervous chuckle at the odd question. Was he well? The last time they'd met, Snape had been dying.

"Am I—are you well, professor?"

Snape lifted an eyebrow, but held his tongue, no doubt tempted to give into the old habit of remarking upon every stupid thing Harry said.

"It's just—" Harry started, but broke off as his eyes trailed the slender, unblemished neck once again. "Professor, the last time I saw you, you were dying. Nagini—how did you manage to survive? And where have you been for the past—"

Harry broke off as he noticed Snape didn't seem to be listening to him. He was looking around the hallway, seeming to take in exactly where they were and the small pieces of stone that had broken from the ceiling and walls during the battle.

"The dungeons," he seemed to whisper to himself. "Why are we in the dungeons?"

Harry craned his head upward, worried now that perhaps the poison had affected Snape after all.

"Professor... Are you well?"

Snape's eyes, which had been frantically scanning their surroundings, once again turned to Harry and he looked at him in a way Harry hadn't seen before.

For once, there seemed to be no malice there and no harsh words on the tip of his tongue. The only thing Harry could read was concern and some odd thing Harry couldn't identify.

But why was Snape concerned about him?

"I assure you, Potter, I am fine. Now tell me, why are we in the dungeons?"

"Um—" Harry had no idea how to answer that question. He knew why he'd been in the dungeons, but had no idea what Snape was doing down here. "Well, I'm here because—I was kinda wandering, but—Um... Don't you live down here?"

Snape's dark eyes scanned Harry's face, but Harry had no idea what he was searching for. He was used to Snape looking at him in scorn and contempt, but this...odd concern confused him.

The cold and damp seeped into Severus' boots as he stood behind a cluster of tightly-packed trees, waiting.

Trying not to displace the snow, he inched farther behind the thickest tree. There, he stilled, eyes closed and heart thudding, praying to any god who would listen that this plan would work.

Suddenly, through a fork of the tree, almost as if it were a frame around a picture, he saw soft, pale skin being revealed layer by layer.

A familiar feeling tightened Severus' groin and he closed his eyes for a moment. The last time he had felt anything like this, felt desire this fierce, had been a lifetime ago. He felt like a dirty old man.

Nonetheless, he forced himself to watch, telling himself he had to know if the plan would work.

Harry blinked and stared at Snape as his mind righted itself again. He was staring down at Harry with barely-masked concern, but Harry was far too busy wondering what in hell had just happened. For a moment, he thought to ask about the memory, then remembered the man in front of him and promptly shut his mouth.

"Professor," Harry started again, thinking perhaps if he phrased his questions better he would actually get somewhere with him. "What happened to you? The last time I saw you, you were in the Shack...dying. Then...then, I woke up and couldn't find anyone and now you're here in the dungeons-"

"What do you mean you couldn't find anyone?" Snape asked, interrupting Harry's ramblings.

"I mean there's no one here. I haven't seen another person since I woke up in the infirmary. Professor, please! What are you doing down here and what's happened?" Harry's eyes again went to the flawless neck, remembering how the flesh had been torn and bloodied when he'd last seen him.

Snape continued looking at Harry as though he was speaking another language and Harry had no idea what to make of it. Finally, Snape looked around the dungeon hallways again and answered, "I am a potions master, Potter. Do you think I would not carry healing potions on my person at all times—especially in times such as these?"

Harry frowned at Snape's harsh tone, relieved at least that he seemed more like himself. "Oh," was all he said.

Snape exhaled a huff of frustration, but said nothing to Harry's monosyllabic response.

"But, your neck, the wound—It was terrible and—"

"Potter!" Snape growled, finally seeming to lose his temper. "As you can see, I am fine. I need to know what has happened in my... absence. What day is it and how long have you been here alone?"

Harry frowned and tried to recall exactly how long he'd been asleep in the infirmary. He knew it was long enough that he felt well and rested when he woke.

"A few days, maybe."

Snape nodded and again looked around the hallway. "Are you able to leave here?"

Harry frowned again, not sure he understood the question. "Um, well yeah. We can just...go up, if you'd like."

Snape nodded and began to stride down the hallway, leaving Harry to quicken his pace to keep up. They walked in silence until Snape entered the corridor that led to the Great Hall, stopping so abruptly that Harry nearly bumped into him.

Harry walked around Snape and turned to face him, observing how Snape's face twisted in shock and devastation.

"What—" he breathed in obvious distress, then seemed to regain his control. Harry looked around and thought there really was no need to ask what had happened.

"Voldemort," he responded though he knew it was hardly necessary. "Stormed the castle while..." Harry cleared his throat and decided not to talk about the Shack again.

"But the castle itself," he said, his voice still shocked. "It still stands? The infirmary—"

"Yeah, I think this is the worst of it," Harry said as he took in the rubble. "The Great Hall is in shambles...and I know the seventh floor was damaged," Harry said, trying not to think about Fred.

Snape walked past Harry, stepping over stone and mortar as he walked through the dusty, open room and into the Great Hall. He stopped at the threshold and once again looked with shocked sadness at the state of the place.

Harry thought he knew exactly how Snape felt since Hogwarts had been his home as well. He looked over to the front of the hall, recalling the first time he had seen the enchanted room.

He sat down on the stool, the patched monstrosity of a hat sinking down onto his forehead in an almost comical way.

'Well, let's see... You have a good mind, there's no doubt about that. Bravery, yes, there's that too and not afraid of a hard day's labor.'

"Do you think..." Severus began to ask the hat silently, then stopped. How could he even think of asking to be sorted into Gryffindor?

'Did you wish to ask me something, young man?' the hat asked.

Severus shook his head, peering under the brim at Lily, who was looking at him with hope in her eyes from the Gryffindor horde. His eyes darted from her to the blue and bronze from the Ravenclaw table. Perhaps that would be the best of both worlds?

'You have a great mind, but you are also cunning and resourceful. Yes, Slytherin is the house for you. I am sure of it. You'll do great things there.'



Harry blinked and turned to stare at Snape, whose eyes were still taking in the destruction of the Great Hall.

"You—" Harry began to ask before he stopped.

Snape didn't seem to hear him for a moment before he tore his eyes away from the wreckage and turned to Harry. "What did you say, Potter?"

Harry shook his head, unsure whether he wanted to confess he'd seen Snape's sorting in a flash of memory, but confused as to why he was still witnessing them in the first place.

"Perhaps you should start at the beginning," Snape said, moving around the rubble towards the Head Table. His robes wrapped around him as he sat down, never having looked so uncomfortable. Harry walked slower, not knowing what he would say and even less sure how to speak to this man he had hated for so long. Every word Harry had ever spoken to him had come from hatred.

The regret Harry had felt only minutes ago suddenly rose up to choke him and he found he could not look Snape in the eye. He had no idea how to address what he had seen in Snape's memories and from the look on Snape's face, he had no desire to speak about it.

But how could they not? Harry walked at a snail's pace to the Head Table, his eyes on the floor and his fists clenched, having no idea how he could have this conversation and not beg for forgiveness even as he screamed over every terrible thing Snape had ever done.

His feet were kicking bits of rubble when suddenly Harry encountered the sculpted head of a gargoyle that had miraculously managed to stay in one piece from its fall during the battle.

He picked it up and ran his thumbs over its wide nose and slightly parted lips, oddly fascinated by its harsh features. He allowed himself to look on this somewhat grotesque representation as he sat down across the table from Snape.

"Now, Potter—" Snape started, but stopped as Harry began to trace the slitted, inhuman eyes with his fingers, then continued. "I need you to tell me what has happened. I have been... recovering and I do not know the details of all that has occurred."

Harry sighed and rested his hand on the gargoyle's head, still not meeting Snape's eyes.

"Dumbledore never told you what my mission was, did he?" Harry asked, though he already knew the answer. He slowly and cautiously met Snape's eyes and the barely withheld fury there was enough for Harry to lower them to the gargoyle again.

Harry didn't wait for Snape to respond, but merely asked, "Have you ever read about something called a Horcrux?"

There was silence for a moment and Harry held his breath, feeling Snape's lethal glare on him, knowing he had to meet it.

He did.

Snape's face was pale and his hands, resting on the table, curled into fists, his teeth clenched and his eyes mad. Harry had no reason to fear Snape's wrath; after facing Voldemort and the afterlife, Harry doubted he would ever fear Snape's anger again. No, it wasn't fear he felt, it was an affinity and indignation for Snape. While he understood why Dumbledore had not trusted Snape with this information, he sympathized with Snape's fury.

Snape jaw was still clenched when he whispered, "Nagini?"

Harry nodded. "Was one of them. There were six others." Harry watched as Snape seemed to gain control of himself, taking deep breaths and attempting not to show Harry how upset he truly was.

"Again, Potter...perhaps you should start at the beginning."

Harry looked down at the gargoyle and nodded, then began to tell Snape the tale. He first told him of learning of the Horcruxes, and how he and Dumbledore had destroyed two by the beginning of last year. When he got to the ring he paused, thinking about the curse on it, how it had weakened the headmaster, and then how he had died. He didn't look up at Snape.

Then came the locket, and he paused again, forcing himself to continue to the cup and how he, Ron and Hermione had gone through hell to find and destroy those two. He briefly mentioned the struggle to determine what of Ravenclaw's or Gryffindor's had been cursed. That brought him rather quickly to the battle at Hogwarts and to the Shrieking Shack, and he recalled how Neville had sliced Nagini in half and how Crabbe and Ravenclaw's diadem had perished in the fiendfyre.

He stopped for a moment before mentioning the seventh Horcrux, his fingers sliding over the leafy forehead of the silent gargoyle.

Finally, he spoke of offering himself up to die, making his sacrifice, and trying very hard not to sound as though it had been anything other than a simple thing to do. He had no right to boast of his bravery; in fact he knew in his heart that his act wasn't brave—especially not to the man sitting in front of him.

He briefly went over what he had learned from Dumbledore while in King's Cross station, the scope of his mother's sacrifice as well the final details on the ultimate plan Dumbledore had put in place.

He told Snape these things in minute detail, realizing, finally, that he had earned his complete trust.

At least in this.

What he didn't tell Snape was that it had been no burden to die, that he had made an odd peace with it just moments after he had seen him in the Shack. He didn't tell Snape that viewing his memories had allowed him to step outside himself, to truly understand what his life had been lived for.

He did not tell Snape that he had not truly wanted to return.

They were silent for a few moments and Harry's hand was almost caressing the ivy encircling the gargoyle's head, when suddenly one long-fingered, potion-stained hand joined his in their quiet stroking of the silent, grotesque figure sitting between them on the table.

Harry stopped his hand's movements as he watched Snape's, belatedly realizing that it was the absence of hatred for him that allowed him the freedom to observe.

Snape had elegant hands; he had never noticed how slender they were or how they moved so gracefully without any effort at all. The stains almost seemed to give them character, as though they would be less for being clean.

Harry blinked and, realizing he was staring, moved his gaze upward, finally facing Snape. Dark eyes seemed to penetrate him and Harry again felt a terrible guilt. How could he face a man who had saved his life— more than once—and yet hadn't been thanked for his trouble? The remorse caused his eyes to drop to the table again.

He wanted so badly to say something, anything...

"And what happened after you faced the Dark Lord, Potter?" Snape asked, as though Harry wasn't being held up by the strength of his chair alone.

"After that, I woke up and found myself alone in the infirmary."

Snape nodded, but Harry could see that his eyes were unfocused, his thoughts elsewhere. "I see. And the Dark Lord?"

Harry put his face in his hands, no longer able to hold himself up under the weight of his remorse. "He's alive. Dumbledore—I had a dream, a vision in the infirmary. He told me that he had missed something; that something hadn't gone according to plan. But..."

Harry peered through his fingers and he could see Snape clenching his jaw, finally out of patience. However, "Yes?" was all he said.

"But I know it was something I did, or didn't do. Dumbledore had all of this planned out perfectly. It had to be something I missed, something I—"

Harry bit his tongue and cursed himself for having revealed so much, especially to Snape of all people. Despite what he had done for Harry, knowing how brave he was, Snape had still tormented him for showing any sign of weakness. Killing Voldemort was his fight, was his reason for still being here and—

He shook his head, trying to get himself under control, and began running his fingers over the finely shaped eyebrows of the gargoyle again.

"What is it you could possibly have missed, Potter? If they had been your own plans, then perhaps yes, some easily recognized, minor detail could have slipped through that sieve you call your mind..."

Harry flinched and realized this was possibly the first time since he was eleven that one of Snape's insults actually stung.

"But these plans were formulated by a man whose intellect makes yours comparable to a very small rodent's," Snape said, his voice not as harsh as it had been in the potions classroom, leaving Harry feeling as though Snape didn't even realize he was insulting him.

Harry burrowed his chin further into his chest and looked deep into the eyes of the ancient gargoyle, distracting himself by wondering how many students the creature had seen pass through his doors.

Snape was rambling on, no doubt insulting Harry's intellect, his parentage—paternal, at least—and inability to follow basic instructions. Harry couldn't bear to listen. He simply sat there, forcing himself not to say anything, not to react. After all, he owed Snape for having suffered more, for saving his life. So Harry just sat there and let Snape's words cut into him.

"Potter..." he heard Snape say louder than he had been speaking, then again, "Potter!" Snape roared, and his arm crashed down onto the table, sweeping the gargoyle to the floor where it shattered into pieces.

Harry looked down on the poor, hideous creature and felt anger boil inside him.

"What the hell did you do that for?"

Snape got to his feet as well, towering over Harry. "I realize that a person of your intellect is easily distracted by shiny objects, Potter, but this is important and you will listen!"

"I was listening before you started insulting me! I was telling you what you wanted to know, I told you everything that happened—"

"That is impossible, Potter. There is no way you could relate the events of an entire year in a half hour. You must have forgotten something with that under-used brain of yours—"

Harry scoffed and shouted, "See? Why would I want to talk to you if you're only going to belittle everything I—"

Snape growled and slammed his fist upon the table, pieces of stone and dust flying into the air momentarily before settling down again. He clenched his jaw, his yellow teeth grinding together as he appeared to try to rein in his temper.

The attempt failed, and Snape bellowed, "Now listen to me, you pathetic excuse for a wizard, you absolute waste of magic." Snape reached across the table and grabbed Harry by the collar of his shirt, hoisting him up a few inches so that Harry was close enough to feel Snape's hot breath on his face.

"I have been protecting your worthless hide since just after you were born. I was so close, Potter, so unbelievably close to attaining absolution, to finally making amends for a decision borne out of stupidity and prejudice when I was just a child. I will be damned if I will allow you to become so absorbed in your own—"

"Get off!" Harry shouted as he tried to pry Snape's hands from his collar. "Just shut up and let go of me! You call me pathetic... You always try to belittle me—everyone! You, with your huge robes and stupid speeches. 'Bewitch the mind,' for God's sake! You'd be nothing without—"

Harry trailed off as Snape stiffened and released him, his face losing any trace of emotion, becoming instantly cold and mask-like.

Snape stood there, seemingly frozen. An odd flicker of something flashed over his face and then he blinked slowly and it was gone.

"You believe the Dark Lord is still alive?" Snape asked shortly and Harry had to think back to what he had said.

Harry nodded. "I know he is. And I have to be the one to kill him."

Snape rolled his eyes. "Why, Potter? You no longer carry a Horcrux; your connection is gone. Why can you not allow others to do the jobs they were trained to do? Why must it be a boy barely out of adolescence who must destroy the most powerful dark wizard in a generation?"

Harry closed his eyes and wondered how he could possibly make Snape understand this? How could he possibly know the absolute calm Harry had possessed knowing that he was about to die, knowing that he would do what he needed to do and be done with it? How could he explain it to Snape without it sounding like he had been giving up or suicidal when that hadn't been a part of it?

How did he explain the utter terror, the absolute fear...

"Do you really believe yourself to be so important, Potter—"

"Shut up!" Harry yelled abruptly and Snape closed his mouth. "Just shut up for one minute, you absolute bastard, you pathetic waste of a man, and let me talk for once!" Snape's words echoed from Harry's mouth and as soon as he uttered them, he regretted them. Judging by the look on Snape's face, however, he knew he had to soldier on or never be able to say another word again.

"I'm sorry! Alright? I'm sorry! I saw your memories, I know everything you went through and I'm so fucking sorry I never knew. I'm sorry that I judged you and never—" he gasped and took a harsh breath before continuing, "that I never once thought there could have been something more, something bigger that I didn't understand—" Harry saw Snape raise an eyebrow as he opened his mouth, but Harry raised a hand, forestalling him, and said, "Don't! Why? I know you hated my dad, but I'm not him! You hated me from the moment you saw me because you just hated him so much, but— Can you not let that go now? Please?"

Snape looked slightly less furious, but seemed no closer to giving Harry what he needed, so he continued.

"Thank you," he said softly and the words had never felt so small. "Thank you...for everything, for all of it... I—" his voice broke off in a sob and Harry choked back the violent gasp that wanted to tear through his throat. "I don't think I could have done what you did. In fact, I know I couldn't. I'm just so...grateful to you, and yet—"

Harry stumbled on his words, but he needed to get this out, needed to get all the venom out of his system if he was ever to have peace with Snape.

"Did you have to be such a bastard?"

Snape scoffed and interrupted Harry by saying, "It seemed to do hardly any damage to that oversized ego of yours."

"I never had an oversized ego. Do you know anything about me at all? The way I grew up, what was actually going on all these years I was at school? You were a spy and yet you never noticed anything?"

Snape sniped back sarcastically, "Melodrama from you, Potter? How incredibly out of character."

Harry deflated at that and forced himself to calm down. Shouting and name-calling would only hinder his efforts and he needed this. The moment he had seen Snape's memories, somehow felt what Snape had felt, Harry wanted—needed—to make peace with him. So, taking a deep breath, Harry tried again.

"You've never known my character, Professor," he said softly. He lowered his head for a moment before lifting it again. "Do you think it's possible that I'm not the attention-seeking prat that James Potter was and that you're not the traitorous murderer everyone said you were?"

Snape stiffened at that, but said nothing.

"What do you want?" Harry asked. "Do you want me to say I'm sorry she chose my father? That she didn't love you the way she loved him?"

Snape's eyes went wide before he shut them and shook his head minutely. Harry frowned, but when Snape said nothing, he continued.

"Even after what you did, what you said and then what you did after? Isn't it possible that you grew up? That you're no longer that prejudiced child and I am not my father?"

"I was almost finished..." he heard Snape whisper. "I saw you and thought that I was done, that I had finished what I set out to do..."

Harry shook his head. "I can't go on with the two of us hating each other... Please."

Snape rubbed the bridge of his nose and remained silent.

Harry looked around the rubble that lay scattered across the Great Hall and allowed himself to be distracted by that same feeling of destiny, the knowledge that he had a mission to complete but had no idea how to go about completing it.

And he had to do it alone.

But then, he looked at the man in front of him and it hit him that it was Snape's fight as much as it was his. With Snape, Harry wouldn't have that same feeling of burdening his friends, of putting them in danger.

It had been Snape's fight since before he was born.

"Professor...I need your help," he said softly and this time Snape lifted his head to pay attention. "I have to find him, have to...kill him, but I have no idea where to start."

Snape looked thoughtfully at Harry. It was a look borne more out of curiosity than confusion; it was tentative, as though he was allowing Harry to gather his thoughts rather than simply waiting to berate him when he stumbled upon them.

"You said you thought you had missed something," Snape said, his voice low.

Harry nodded.

"Perhaps we should retrace your steps...start from the beginning."

Harry thought about this for a moment before he nodded again. Yes, he thought, things had happened so quickly the first time it was a wonder they'd managed to destroy any of the Horcruxes at all. It was very likely that he had missed something on their year-long journey.

"It would be a good place to start," Harry said, putting his hands in his pockets.

Snape nodded then stepped around the table to walk with Harry towards the Entrance Hall.

"Where exactly is the beginning, Potter?"

Harry's steps faltered for a moment as he mentally reviewed his journey over the past year, recalling where the path to the Horcruxes had taken them first.

"Grimmauld Place," he said, even then remembering how Snape had torn Sirius' old room to pieces just to find a note carrying his mother's love. He put the memory aside and watched as Snape faltered as well, guessing he was recalling the same memory.

Abruptly, Snape turned to him. "We should be able to access the Floo network through the fireplace here," he said, pointing to the fireplace in the Entrance Hall.

Snape lit a fire and Summoned a bit of Floo powder before glancing at Harry and gesturing for him to go first. Harry let the powder sift through his fingers before he looked back.

Snape had his back to him, looking out across the hall, his shoulders slumped and appearing utterly devastated.

Harry wanted to say something, anything to offer some small comfort. That it hadn't been his fault that the castle was attacked, that had Snape not given him his memories he would have never known he had to die.

But Harry simply turned around and let Snape have his moment with the fractured castle, not wanting to intrude any further.

"Number twelve, Grimmauld Place," Harry cried out before jumping into the flames. He stumbled on his way out of the fire, barely managing to pick himself up before Snape stepped out gracefully behind him.

Harry's eyes were on Snape and he grew nervous as his black eyes went wide and surveyed the room. Harry turned to look at whatever had disturbed Snape so badly and stiffened.

Grimmauld Place had not looked this way when he'd left it. It might not have been any place he'd like to live, but it had been clean and had lost that look of abandonment it'd had when Harry had first seen it.

Looking around, he thought the old house had never looked so dark. Dust caked every surface and there were movements in the shadows, as though the darkness was some living thing.

Harry shuddered as he tried to ignore the drastic changes since he'd been gone and turned to Snape, almost wanting to apologize for the state of the place.

"What happened to this place?" Snape asked as he scanned the room. "It was nothing like this when I last left it."

Harry shook his head. "I have no idea," he said, even as Snape looked down on him, concern evident.

"Has it always seemed like this to you?" he asked Harry.

Harry shook his head instinctively, before considering the question. "A bit, I guess. This place has always just seemed so..."

"Yes," Snape said, moving past Harry into the sitting room. "Why are we here, Potter?"

Harry walked around the room, not entirely sure where he was headed. "Because I've—"

"'Missed something,'" he grumbled. "Yes, so you've said. But what is it you've missed?"

Harry had no desire to be in this room any longer, the feeling of darkness almost tangible on its walls. He walked towards the library, not knowing why, but thinking it might help to be able to access the darker tomes.

"I don't know," he said as he entered the library, knowing Snape was right behind him. "Really, I don't even know where to start. Before, I knew what to do, but now..." he trailed off as he swept a hand to take in the book-filled room, feeling more lost than ever.

He watched as Snape gritted his teeth and concentrated on Harry's face, seeming as though he wanted to say something but was holding it back.

"Well," he started. "From what you've told me, there have been six definite Horcruxes— the diary, the locket, the cup, the ring, the diadem, and your scar."

Harry perked up at this and turned to look at him fully. "What do you mean 'definite'?"

Snape looked down his nose at him and asked, "How sure are you that Nagini was a Horcrux?"

Harry frowned and began to protest, only to shut his mouth in horror.

"I was there in the Forest of Dean, Potter. I witnessed Ronald Weasley destroy the locket. I heard the screams; I saw that oozing black liquid seep out of it when he pierced it with Gryffindor's sword. Now tell me, did the other cursed objects do the same?"

Harry nodded. "The diary was the only one I destroyed, but the others..."

Harry pictured the state of the cup after he had seen it as well as the ring and knew they had been Horcruxes. The sheer effort Bellatrix had gone to in order to hide the cup showed how important it was.

But the snake...

"You think it's possible that Nagini wasn't a Horcrux?"

Snape nodded. "Nagini was something the Dark Lord acquired only recently, whereas all the other Horcruxes were objects of magical significance that he went to great lengths to acquire. No matter how he cared for his familiar, I cannot imagine he would put a piece of his soul into something that could so easily be destroyed."

"Oh, God," Harry whispered. "The snake didn't make a sound when Neville killed it. There was no—"

"No oozing fluid beyond the creature's own blood? I thought not. Either way, it hardly matters at this point. If the Dark Lord still lives, there are only two possibilities. Either Nagini was not a Horcrux, or he managed to make another of which Dumbledore was unaware."

Harry shook his head, the thought of having to start the entire hunt all over again demoralizing and overwhelming. And what if Voldemort made more Horcruxes while he was regrouping?

"But seven being the magic number?"

"He had already split his soul seven times, meaning there were eight pieces in total. Magic numbers have nothing to do with it anymore, Potter."

Snape sighed and looked around the library. "You said Dumbledore thought the last item was an artifact belonging to either Gryffindor or Ravenclaw?"

Harry nodded.

"What makes more sense? Putting your soul into a beast that crawls on its belly, or desecrating an object belonging to the founder of the house you despise?"

Harry closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, not wanting to believe what he was hearing, but knowing it was true. He walked over to one of the bookshelves, the books dry and peeling, crumbling with age.

He absent-mindedly traced the spines, barely looking at the titles before spotting one on cursed magical objects. He pulled the book from the shelf and opened it, sneezing when dust went flying through the air.

Snape was looking at him thoughtfully. "Have you ever read that book, Potter?"

Harry shook his head and turned the pages, eager to distract himself with even the driest of tomes.

All the pages were blank.

Harry frowned and curiously leafed through the entire book, finding every single page blank. He pulled the next one, this one about the dark magical fungus found in South America, but it too was blank.

He flung that one to the side, not bothering to put it back and took out the next and the next, anxiously turning the pages—all blank—before Snape grabbed him from behind.

Strong arms held him tight and removed the book from his hands, tossing it gently to the ground before regaining his hold on a now frantic Harry.

"All the books are blank," he whispered.

"Obviously," Snape said, his tone mirroring Harry's.

They stood like that for a moment before Harry realized he was being held by Snape in the middle of Sirius' old house. As odd as the realization was, he discovered he was not at all eager to leave the odd embrace.

Severus came up behind his shorter companion and forced his head to the side, caressing the flesh there with his lips before opening his mouth to bite down.

"Sev—Oh," his friend breathed and Severus thrust his hard cock against the trouser-covered arse, causing the man to push back against him.

"Rutting like a bitch in heat, Reg?" Severus whispered as he reached around to grab his companion's erection. "Want it so bad you can taste it?"

"Gah! Yes, Sev, don't tease!"

Harry blinked as the memory faded, but the sense of it remained. It took him a moment to figure out what it was that tied him to the memory still, but then he suddenly realized he was standing in the same position Snape's lover had been, the soft puffs of air on his neck feeling strangely sensual.

Harry grew uncomfortable as his cock began to respond to the way Snape was holding him, the way his hot breath ghosted over his flesh, making the little hairs on his neck stand on end.

As much as the idea of Snape having such an effect on his body embarrassed him, he didn't want to just push him off. Harry shifted a bit in Snape's arms and moved away, Snape only dropping his hold on Harry once he had moved.

Harry felt a chill go up his spine as his body began to calm. It felt as though he were missing something—something about the experience of having his back against Snape.

Snape cleared his throat and turned away from Harry as he began to pace the length of the library. "There cannot be many objects of Godric Gryffindor's in existence. The only one I know of is the sword, but I can attest to its purity."

Harry nodded and crossed his arms over his chest, feeling confused by the memory and what it suggested about Snape.

How the hell could Snape be gay when he'd fancied his mother? Perhaps he was bisexual, then cursed himself for even caring. Did it even matter?

But somehow, it did matter to Harry. He had only just learned of Snape's allegiance and undying loyalty to his mother. Was he never really in love with her?

"Potter!" Snape bellowed, removing Harry from his thoughts. "Kindly stay involved in the discussion, please."

Harry put his hands in his pockets and nodded, feeling guilty for his straying thoughts. He still hadn't told Snape about the flashes or what intimate details he had learned. This violation felt like the pensieve incident all over again.

Snape sighed and rubbed his temples. "I said the only place I know of that would have information about an artifact belonging to Gryffindor would be the Ministry's Office of Records."

Harry groaned and looked away. "If Voldemort still has control of the Ministry, there's no way we're getting in there."

Snape was silent for a few moments and Harry looked up to meet his eyes. He was staring at him strangely, examining him as he would some odd potion that wasn't working the way he expected it to.

After a few long moments he said quietly, "Trust me, Potter. You will be able to enter."


They sat down to eat their dinner in silence, Harry wondering if Kreacher was skulking around somewhere since he had no other explanation as to how the food had appeared on the table.

When Harry went up the stairs for bed, Snape followed him.

"Oh," Harry said, only then realizing Snape was a guest in his house. "You can stay in any of the rooms, but I don't know if there's anything to wear to sleep."

"Thank you, but I will be fine," Snape said, passing Harry on his way to a guest room. As he walked by, Harry felt the roughness of his robes and detected the scent of the potions lab that Snape hadn't been able to be rid of.

Harry smiled at that thought, though he didn't exactly understand why.

Harry watched as Snape's door closed and then retreated to Sirius' old room, taking in the papers strewn across the floor and the pervasive musty smell. Harry thought the room looked right somehow, almost as though it was used to being abandoned and wouldn't know what to do if someone cleaned it properly.

Harry took off his shoes, tossed his shirt and trousers into the corner and lay down on the bed, not bothering to get under the covers. The air was humid and Harry stretched his back as he took off his glasses.

The stress of the day as well as the journey had tired him out completely and he was asleep within moments.


Harry was having a nightmare.

He couldn't see a thing, and his body felt stiff and sluggish. He had no idea how he was unable to see in his own dream, but hearing seemed to be all he was capable of.

A familiar female voice shouted across the room and then the sound of metal objects falling to the floor. He could clearly hear the sound of air escaping from a nose, the sound of heavy, labored breathing, but couldn't tell what was happening.

He heard the sound of a quill scribbling on parchment and then the woman saying, "Of course Hogwarts still stands! You're in the infirmary for Merlin's sake!"

Harry was curious now and struggled to open his eyes, not entirely sure he wanted to see what was happening around him.

He cracked an eyelid and saw a pale and thin Snape scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment, his hand shaking even as he wrote. As in Harry's last dream, Snape's throat was covered by gauze and his complexion seemed almost gray.

He finished his writing and then handed it to a woman dressed in white. "Severus, what kind of question is this? What do you expect me to say?"

Snape rolled his eyes and his head sank down on his pillow. Then he gestured to himself, then to Harry, finally looking over to wherever it was Harry lay.

Snape's eyes went wide and he struggled to get up, but the woman in white held him down.

"Oh, no you don't! Severus—" she cried out, but Snape cut her off as he pushed her hands off him and came towards Harry.

Harry was never more frightened of Snape than he was at that moment. The man's skin was deathly pale and he smelled of sickness and infection, and Harry thought if this wasn't a nightmare he'd surely be retching. Bloodshot black eyes scanned his own and cold, claw-like hands cupped his face.

Harry's breathing escalated and he tried to tear himself free of this Snape, his senses overwhelmed with disgust. This wasn't Snape, it couldn't be. Snape was fine at Grimmauld Place, asleep and whole.

Snape's haunted gaze attempted to penetrate Harry's and he felt a gentle push against his mind. The cautious touch felt nothing like his last brush with Legilimency, but Harry recognized the spell instantly.

Struggling as much as he could, Harry tried to get free of the hands, the pushing against his mind, but his limbs felt powerless to fight even though Snape seemed half-dead himself.

Snape shook his head, his greasy hair swaying lifelessly, and held Harry's chin to force his eyes back to the black ones. Terror coursed through Harry as he felt the clammy, gray flesh touch his own and he finally found his voice.

He began to scream.

Snape released his face at once and backed away as the nightmare finally faded into darkness.

Harry woke up, still screaming.

His body was covered in sweat, his heart racing as he struggled to take deep breaths. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to adjust his eyes to the darkness, tried to calm himself in some way, but couldn't.

Without a second thought, he rushed to the door and out into the hallway, crossing the distance quickly as he made for Snape's room.

"Snape!" he cried as he pounded his fists on the door. His hands began to hurt with the effort of trying to wake him, crying Snape's name over and over again.

Surely it had been a nightmare. The terrible, ghostly thing that resembled Snape was just a nightmare, a product of having seen him so close to death. Still, he needed to see him, if only to assure himself Snape was alive, that the past day hadn't just been a dream. Any lingering thoughts of awkwardness were thrust aside; Harry owed this man his life.

"Snape!" he called out for perhaps the dozenth time and finally the door was flung open and a very angry man stood framed in the doorway.

"Potter, it is half past two in the morning, and—" Snape stopped his tirade as soon as he saw Harry, but Harry was far too relieved to see him to notice this in the least.

Harry sighed and took a step back from the open doorway to take in the sight of Snape, healthy and whole. There was no bandaging around his neck and he still smelled of potions ingredients and the damp areas of Hogwarts. His skin was pale, but healthy. It wasn't that nearly inhuman gray he had seen and his eyes were steady and black.

Thank God.

Assured that Snape was alright, he then noticed what Snape was wearing. It was half past two in the morning and yet Snape was completely dressed.

He even had his boots on.

Harry stared at him for just another moment before realizing that Snape had stopped yelling and was standing silently before him.

He looked up and immediately felt his face warm and redden. In his haste to see if Snape was alright, he had forgotten to put his shirt and trousers back on and was clad only in his pants. Snape's eyes—sparkling black and intense—were roaming over his body, his face for once bare of that shuttered look.

Fidgeting a bit under the scrutiny, Harry tried his hardest not to look as uncomfortable as he felt. A few more seconds passed before Snape finally cleared his throat, averting his gaze when he seemed to realize he'd been staring.

"Are you alright, Potter?" he said in a soft voice Harry barely recognized. Black eyes met green and Harry found that same roughness there, something he'd never had directed at him before.

He fidgeted again and rubbed his neck, which only served to draw Snape's attention to his arms.

"Don't you have nightclothes?" Harry asked for want of something better to say.

Snape looked down at himself as if he had forgotten that such a thing existed and answered, "I had not yet gone to sleep."

"But—" Harry began to protest as he recalled Snape's anger at, he presumed, having been awoken.

"Potter," Snape said, cutting him off. "It will be a long day tomorrow. I believe you should get all the rest you can manage." And with that he stepped back into his room and shut the door.

Harry went back to his room and quickly got back into bed, under the covers this time despite the heat, and tried very hard not to think about the way Snape had been looking at him.

His thoughts betrayed him, however, and snapped to the flash of memory from the library, and he remembered how Snape had been in no rush to release Harry from his arms.

Harry felt his cock begin to stir and he cursed himself for getting hard over Snape, no matter how brave he was. He didn't want to be cruel, but he couldn't help but feel awkward at the thought of Snape as a sexual being, let alone that he'd been looking at Harry in a sexual way.

It must be some grotesque fascination, Harry reasoned, that was causing his cock to grow hard while thinking of Snape. Nothing else could explain how Harry could still feel Snape's intense stare on his body...

Ignoring it, he attempted to think of the Horcruxes and Voldemort, but his mind kept coming back to how Snape had acted with that man in the memory and then how he had looked at Harry in the hallway.

He sighed.

Harry flicked a nipple before conceding to the inevitable. He was aroused, he reasoned, because he was young and he often got aroused, dammit. Trailing a hand down his chest, he teased himself as he let his hand travel down until he was cupping his balls. Spreading his legs a bit when both hand and balls grew too hot, he continued to build his arousal gradually, teasingly.

Allowing his thoughts to wander as they would, he found himself thinking of Snape. Not as he had been with the man in the library, forceful and callous, but as he had been in that other odd memory, when Snape had stood behind a tree and felt desire for the person undressing.

Harry bit his lip and tried to force his thoughts to someone else. Not Ginny, no—there was no real attraction there. He tried to think of some of the girls from Hogwarts his eyes had been drawn to over the years; girls he'd always thought about while wanking, but none were forthcoming.

Frustrated, he tried to think of any random girl. A girl he'd seen in London boarding a train came to mind and he tried to picture her red dress and heels, and how the shape of her legs made her arse pop her skirt up.

Keeping the fantasy girl in his mind, he began to play with his foreskin, using his pre-come as lubricant as he rubbed his thumb over the head of his cock. He thought of the girl's lovely slender neck and her long black hair.

Harry tried to picture the girl moving, but she slipped away and turned into a tall, dark man hiding behind the tree, and Harry grew disgusted with himself.

With a jerk of his chin, he thrust Snape's image from his mind and tried again to think of a girl, any girl, but it always came back to Snape. Irritated, he succumbed to the inevitable and thought of the man who only days ago had caused him to recoil.

This shouldn't be so uncomfortable; after all, he'd wanked off to thoughts of guys before, but usually for curiosity's sake. Though he'd realized this year that he was not in love with Ginny, he had never allowed himself to explore his curiosity with his own gender. The few times he had thought of guys while touching himself, it was never someone he knew. It was always some man he passed on the street, or that Hufflepuff who was a year ahead of him whose name he never learned.

Nameless, nearly faceless guys were the only wanking material he'd ever allowed himself. That it was Snape's face in Harry's mind now made him squirm.

He couldn't get him out of his head, just kept thinking of those straight lines and angles of his body, thought of his hands. Harry sped up the thrusts into his hands, imagining that since Snape's fingers were long and beautiful, his cock would be too.

Being a spy in dangerous situations, his body would probably be firm and toned, Harry reasoned. He imagined licking Snape's fingers and undoing those buttons one by one as his robes revealed a firm chest and stomach and a thick cock...

Biting his lip to hold back a moan, his breathing became erratic. Only a few pulls later and Harry had brought himself to orgasm, pumping come into his hand.

As soon as he'd recovered his breath, he performed a cleaning charm then lay back in his bed, realizing in horror that he had just masturbated to Severus Snape.


Harry was dreaming again. He was really beginning to hate this.

Again, he was unable to see his surroundings, the smell of the infirmary and the sound of a quill writing on parchment the only things stimulating his senses.

The quill stopped its movement and the ensuing silence became heavy. Harry struggled to hear what was happening, but could only catch the sound of somewhat labored breathing.

Finally, a sigh.

"I don't think this will be possible. I've only just managed to get the last of the bleeding to stop."

Again, the sound of a quill on parchment was the only thing breaking the silence.

"Actually, I don't know that isolation would be the best thing for him."

Again, the quill. Harry grew frustrated and struggled again to open his eyes, wanting and yet not wanting to see.

As he feared, Snape was lying on the bed next to his, scribbling something on a parchment, books piled up on a table next to him. He still looked awful, but his neck was bare of bandages and he could see an open, partial healed wound. Still, Harry closed his eyes again, not wanting to look at this nightmare.

"Severus, I really don't know about this."

The sound of writing became louder, seemed to feed into his head and he closed his eyes while the dream continued to play out.


Harry awoke to the sound of a knock on his door. This time he remembered to put on his shirt and trousers before going out into the hallway.

Snape stood there looking as though he'd been waiting for hours and Harry struggled to meet his eyes.

'Good morning. I masturbated to the thought of you last night.'

Best keep that to himself. "Did you sleep at all?" Harry asked instead, with a yawn.

Snape glared at him, but didn't answer the question. "There's breakfast," was all he said before descending the stairs, leaving Harry to follow after him.

Breakfast was a silent affair, the only sound in the room the soft clanging of spoons against porcelain and requests to pass the condiments.

Harry still had no idea where Kreacher was hiding, or whether he was responsible for feeding them at all.

"We should leave as soon as possible, Potter," Snape said into his teacup. "The sooner we are able to access the information found at the Ministry, the sooner we will be able to end all of this."

Harry nodded, then said, "How are we going to go about it?"

Snape took his nose out of his cup and looked at Harry as though he were an idiot. "Go about what exactly?"

"Getting into the Ministry. We can't just walk in, so we'll need to have a plan."

Snape looked at Harry curiously and stood up from the table. He swept out of the room so quickly that Harry couldn't help but jump up and follow after him. When he noticed Snape was walking towards the door, Harry sped up to stop him.

"Wait," Harry said softly, nearly running to catch up with Snape's longer strides.

"I am merely curious about something." Snape's hand was around the doorknob before Harry finally caught up with him, and he shot out his hand to wrap around the slender, paler one, holding it. He grasped it tightly within his own, pressing Snape's cool flesh against the cooler brass of the doorknob.

Without thinking, Harry caressed Snape's hand with his thumb once before he pulled away.

"Um," he said, backing away from Snape slowly, the dark gaze upon him curious and unrelenting. "Don't open the door. We don't know who's watching it."

Snape continued his study of Harry, but said, "I'm not an idiot, Potter. I have a theory and in order to test it I am, unfortunately, going to have to open the door."

Knowing he'd lost the argument, Harry pulled his wand from his pocket as Snape twisted the doorknob and slowly pulled the door open. Harry's heart was beating rapidly and he stood on the opposite side of Snape so he could aim better if anyone were to attack them.

A few moments passed as Snape peered through the cracked door before he finally opened it wide.

They both stepped out.

"Oh," Harry said, as he walked out into the open. Not only was the street devoid of Death Eaters, it appeared empty of anyone. Harry strained his ears and couldn't even hear any noise or bustle of traffic, or the faint birdsong that was prevalent even in the city.

"It is early, yet, Potter. I'm sure everyone is still asleep."

Harry nodded, but he was no longer sure. "There was no one at Hogwarts either. I walked all around the school, even out onto the grounds, but there was no one."

Snape said nothing, but looked up into the sky to examine the clouds.

"Doesn't it bother you that there's no one anywhere?"

Snape said nothing, but continued looking up into the sky so that Harry had no choice but to look up as well.

The sky was cloudy and far darker than it normally was at this time of day. Harry cast Tempus and saw it was seven-thirty in the morning. Even with the clouds concealing the sun, it should still be bright.

It looked closer to seven-thirty in the evening.

"What's happening?" Harry said so softly he wasn't sure Snape even heard him.

"Unseasonable weather," Snape said as he drew his attention away from the sky and back to Grimmauld Place. "Do you need to gather anything before we leave?"

Harry stood there shocked. "Are we not going to talk about how we seem to be the only people around and how it looks like night instead of seven-thirty in the morning?"

Snape looked at him curiously as if weighing what to say to him. "There are often strange weather phenomena at this time of year. As for the lack of people, if the Dark Lord truly is on the move, it's possible that he's struck out against the Muggle worldand everyone has gone into hiding."

Harry put his hands in his pockets and looked around again, his panic not lessening for everything Snape had said. "But...Hogwarts was the same way."

"A retreat, Potter, is sometimes the only practical move."

Harry shook his head. "But Voldemort was the only one left standing. Even Bellatrix was dead..."

"Potter!" Snape snapped and Harry knew he had outlasted his store of patience. "You are not concentrating on our task. You cannot allow yourself to be distracted. Now," he said, coming up closer to Harry. "Is there anything you need to retrieve from the house?"

Harry shook his head. All he really needed was his wand.

"You can Apparate to Ministry?"

Again, Harry nodded his head. "By the phone booth?"

Snape answered with a nod and Disapparated.

Harry arrived in front of the red phone booth to find the center of London looking gloomier than usual for this time of year. The weather was too cool, and Harry regretted not bringing a jumper.

Snape was already in the phone booth and so Harry squeezed in beside him. As soon as the door shut, he handed Harry a badge that said, 'Harry Potter- research in the Department of Records.' Harry looked down at it, confused. He hadn't heard the typical 'Please state your business,' but then Snape must have been quick and done it all before Harry arrived.

They quickly descended, the few minutes of darkness it took to reach the atrium long and silent for Harry. The journey down seemed to take longer than usual and it was with relief that Harry saw the golden light seep up from his feet as they landed at the end of the large hall.

The heels of Snape's boots made little clicking noises on the dark wood flooring, the only sound in the otherwise silent atrium. Harry paused for a moment as he looked around, the area usually so full of people completely empty. They walked forward and Harry held his breath as they approached the security desk, hoping that the man in his blue uniform would be there to inspect his wand.

There was no one there.

Harry walked ahead of Snape as they passed out of the main hall and into the smaller one where the lifts were.

"Do you know where the Department of Records is located, Potter?" Snape asked.

Harry shook his head, walked into a lift, and said, "Department of Records." For a moment there was silence, and Harry thought whatever operated the lifts had deserted them as well.

"How do you not know where it is?" Harry asked Snape, still waiting. "I can't imagine you've never been here before." He didn't respond.

Finally, a voice chimed in, saying, "Department of Records, dungeon level."

"Oh," Harry said thoughtfully, frowning. "That's odd. Why would they keep the books next to the courtrooms?" Harry turned to Snape, who was staring at him intensely.

"Why indeed," he said softly.

"Did you know about all that happened this year? The trials for the Muggle-borns?"

Snape nodded. "Yes."

Harry answered the nod, then ran a hand through his hair. Of course Snape knew what was happening. Not only was he in Voldemort's inner circle, but surely he read the Prophet.

Harry thought about Snape sitting high up in the headmaster's office, trying to hold the school together, attempting to keep a loose rein on the Carrows, and not for the first time thought how terrible it must have been.

"Was your year as terrible as mine?" he asked miserably. He turned towards Snape and met his eyes, which were looking on him with open amazement. "It's just... I imagine it must have been difficult for you... Having to watch all that and just go along with it. Like you hated Muggle-borns as well."

Snape said nothing, did nothing; he just continued to look thoughtfully at Harry.

"I understand...or...um," he stammered, knowing there was no way he could possibly understand what Snape had gone through, but wanting him to know that he wished he could. "Well, I don't understand, but I—"

Mentally chastising himself for offering comfort where none was requested, Harry rubbed his eyes behind his glasses and shut his mouth. When he looked again at Snape, he was standing closer to him than before, his mouth set in a straight line and his arms crossed.

Harry grunted at what he had got himself into, but wanted to finish it. "I don't understand, but I think I could. Or maybe I just want to. Understand, that is. Ugh." Harry forced himself not to bury his face in his hands, wanting so much to escape the intense glare. "Don't listen to me. I have no idea what I'm saying half the time," he said, trying to infuse a chuckle near the end.

Snape wasn't smiling. He uncrossed his arms and his black eyes penetrated Harry's green ones.

"There were many nights when sleep evaded me due to the events of the day. I saw...terrible things, things that made me sick for having witnessed them while doing nothing to stop them. Defending Hogwarts and aiding you took up all my strength, so that no, I did not spare a thought for the Muggle-born trials."

Harry stood silent, having no idea what to say to any of that and knowing that any attempt would sound simple and stupid. It took all his strength to continue meeting Snape's gaze, their eyes locked as something like regret passed between them. Finally, Snape looked away and moved past Harry, muttering something about 'hidden depths.'

They passed the Department of Mysteries and descended the stairs that led to the dark, gloomy corridor which housed the courtrooms. They walked side by side with an odd reverence that Harry couldn't describe, except to say that it came by some silent, mutual agreement.

The hallway was long and wide, and every door was closed, except one. As they came level with it, Harry realized there was a number nine on the door; it was the room just opposite the one in which he was tried for underage use of magic.

His steps slowed and he could feel Snape's eyes on him as he turned toward the open door.

"Potter? What—" he said, before he broke off.

Harry did not turn to see what had stopped Snape from continuing. Instead, he went inside the room almost as if he were drawn to it, not bothering to find out if Snape was behind him.

He looked around at the empty seats normally filled by the Wizengamot and then at the chair with chains around it. The air was murky and damp and his head began to spin.

"You have been brought here before the Council of Magical Law so that we may pass judgment on you for crimes committed while in the service of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

He fought down the urge to squirm in his chair, grateful at least they had not put his hands in the manacles as they had the other Death Eaters.

"We have heard the evidence against you from numerous sources."

Severus looked around the room, the benches devoid of the usual public who seemed to enjoy witnessing the Death Eater trials. Not that he could blame them. If his family had been murdered, his life torn apart, he would want justice dispensed as well.

He shuddered and shifted in his seat despite himself. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Dumbledore stand, but did not turn his head.

The head of the Wizengamot nodded towards where Dumbledore was standing and said, "We have also heard testimony from Albus Dumbledore in your defense."

Severus shrunk ever so slightly into his seat, keeping his eyes trained directly in front of him. Dumbledore's defense had been part of their agreement, but no matter how his judgment of him may have changed in the past two years, Severus still could not forget the harsh words directed towards him.

Nor could he forget how merited they were.

"I now ask the jury of this closed session to raise their hands if they believe you should be sent to Azkaban for your crimes."

Severus held his breath as he felt every eye turn towards him, judging him. At the beginning of the trial, he had been nervous to the point of nausea. Yes, he had been a Death Eater, but he had realized his mistake and had tried to make amends.

He had failed, and his friend had died.

The one person he loved in all the world was dead and it was due to his actions.

Now, at the end of the trial, he found he hardly cared about its outcome. Dumbledore cared, he knew, and the old man was certain that the Dark Lord still lived and that Severus would be called upon to protect Lily's son. No matter how much he wished it were not so, he knew that was the true reason Dumbledore defended him. He was already laying his pieces out, making moves while the enemy slumbered, setting up his lieutenants where he would need them most.

He'd even allowed him to keep his teaching position.

Severus closed his eyes and lowered his head, not caring what the Wizengamot decided; he just wanted it to be over with, wanted it done. Whatever the outcome, he would still be a prisoner, whether behind stone walls guarded by Dementors or by his own guilt. It hardly mattered. He would never be truly free.

"Severus," the Headmaster muttered into his ear, and Severus looked up. Out of the fifty people dressed in plum-colored robes, each with an elaborate silver 'W' on their left breast, only thirteen had raised their hands.

"Very well," the head of the Wizengamot said. "Severus Snape, you are cleared of all charges and are free to go."

Severus felt his breath leave him as a firm hand grasped his shoulder. "Well done, my boy," Dumbledore whispered, but Severus took no comfort from it.

Gasping in a harsh breath, Harry stood silent, his back straight and his shoulders squared as he stared at the chair Snape had sat in nearly twenty years ago. His body started to shake from the shock of the memory and his hand ran through his hair of its own accord.

"Oh, God," he muttered, still staring at the manacles. He looked around the empty room, remembering where every member of the Wizengamot who had judged Snape guilty had sat, their raised hands burned into his mind. He turned and took in the seat Dumbledore had occupied, seemingly so satisfied that Snape had been acquitted, even if it was only to further his own purposes.

"Oh, God," he said again, only this time it sounded like it had been torn from his throat, some terrible whimper of a noise, and the lament echoed throughout the courtroom.

"Potter?" Snape said and Harry snapped his head around to face him. Snape was looking at him with open concern, and he quickly crossed the space between them, extending a hand towards Harry's face. Harry did not move as long-fingered hands came towards him, he merely continued to look at dark eyes—eyes that were filled with some deep emotion.

Snape touched his face, and only then did Harry lower his gaze, his breath coming in harsh pants. Snape began to remove his hand, but Harry grabbed it, willing it to stay there, and pressed the warmth against his cheek.

His eyes closed as Snape's fingers ran under his eyes and he thought he felt moisture. Curious, he opened his eyes and looked at Snape as the man removed his hand.

Seeming almost as disturbed as he was, Harry knew Snape had been assailed by the same ghosts. Clearing his throat, Snape looked around the room, then revealed his hand to Harry. "You were crying," Snape said as though that was answer enough, and Harry realized he was trying to show him the evidence of his tears.

Snape again looked around the room and it was as though he only then realized where he was. "What—" he said, cutting himself off. He turned around and his robes flowed around him, his confusion seeming almost palpable.

Harry frowned. If Snape hadn't known where they were, then why had he seemed so disturbed before?

"What courtroom is this?"

Harry shuddered and his throat seized up. "Number nine."

Snape looked at Harry again and asked, "Why are we here?"

Harry shook his head and looked down, his breathing no closer to evening.

"Potter," Snape growled, and this time Harry did look up to meet his eyes. "Why are we here?" he said slowly, enunciating each word.

Harry shook his head, not wanting to answer, but the feeling that he'd again violated Snape's privacy returned. Perhaps he wasn't able to help the strange flashes of memory, but he could have told him.

He closed his eyes and walked away from Snape, his feet moving along the circumference of the courtroom. Listening to the sound of his own soft steps, he felt that if he opened his eyes, Snape would be sitting there in the chair, just wanting all of this to be over.

Harry shuddered and stroked his chest with his hand.

"The head of the Wizengamot sat there," Harry said, pointing to the highest seat. He had his back turned to Snape as he pointed, and he felt as though his whole body was struggling to keep from collapsing. "He had white hair and a mustache and he wore purple robes with a silver 'W' on the left breast."

Snape said nothing, but Harry guessed that this was hardly earth-shattering information. Still, he needed to make this confession to Snape, now before it went any further.

"Dumbledore was sitting here," he gestured to the seat behind Snape. "And he stood up when the head listed your crimes." Harry was not looking at Snape, yet he somehow he got the distinct feeling he was staring at him, finally understanding what Harry was trying to tell him.

"And you were sitting here," Harry said, walking over to the chair and fingering the manacles. "But the manacles weren't on your wrists and you thought..." Harry choked at the memory of it and struggled to keep his throat from clenching. "You thought at least they didn't put you in chains the way they did the other Death Eaters."

There was only silence behind him, so Harry soldiered on.

"And that man, he said you had committed crimes, and you thought that if you were one of the victims, you'd want justice as well."

The soft click of heels sounded behind him, but Harry didn't turn around; he owed Snape this. He caressed the wood of the chair and said quietly, "And you thought about how you tried... You thought about my mother and how you failed her."

The heels stopped. The silence was deafening, the only sounds were Harry's voice and twin hitched breathing.

Harry continued caressing the wooden arm of the chair, getting a splinter for his pains, but he didn't dare turn round, just praying Snape wouldn't hex him for what he was about to say.

"And you thought about Dumbledore and how much he hated you for everything you did and how he never forgave you; how he used you, even after all you'd suffered. And you... You didn't care. You didn't care if you were free or not, because no matter what you would still be imprisoned, it didn't matter if it was within Hogwarts or Azkaban. You were still bound to something, to someone and the shell didn't matter. You didn't care..."

A firm hand turned him around. Snape looked furious, his teeth bared and his skin flushed red. He looked at Harry and opened his mouth to begin whatever rant was forthcoming, but Harry beat him to it.

Pulling away from Snape, he said in a whisper, "And I know exactly what it feels like not to care. I didn't care that I had to die, and I didn't care who I left behind. I just wanted it over, just wanted it done with."

Breathing in pants, knowing his face must be redder than Snape's, he clenched his fists, not willing to allow Snape to walk over him this time—not like he had in the past. He needed Snape to understand this, to understand him in the worst of ways.

"Listen to me, please," he begged. "It didn't matter to me if I lived or died. I just wanted it over. The same as you."

Harry could see Snape trying to calm himself, but his words were nevertheless hard. "Over? You mean the Dark Lord?"

Harry nodded. "And then I came back when I really didn't want to."

The anger faded from Snape's eyes, but to Harry's great relief no pity emerged there. Snape simply stood there looking at him as though he had never seen him before.

"I understand," Harry said, his voice cracking. "I know that you've always felt like you were alone, but you're not. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you I was seeing your memories, I just didn't know what to say."

Snape just stared for a while, and the silence was beginning to unnerve Harry. He hoped Snape would understand, that he would see Harry in the same way Harry was beginning to see him, a kindred spirit, a person who knew the hell he had gone through. Harry thought they didn't even need to talk about it ever again, he just wanted Snape to know he wasn't alone.

"You felt it did not matter if you lived or died?" Snape asked, pulling Harry from his thoughts.


Snape did not roll his eyes, as was his wont when Harry said something stupid, instead he looked at Harry and asked again, "You felt it did not matter if you lived or if you died?"

"Oh," Harry breathed. "No. I didn't."

"Surely you know that is not true. There are people who would have missed you. Your friends, Weasley and Granger. The werewolf seemed rather attached to you. Surely you wouldn't want to disappoint him."

Harry looked down at his hands. "Remus is dead." He looked up and noticed that Snape had gone pale.

There was silence for a moment while Snape seemed to absorb what Harry said. He wondered if Snape would want answers now that they had gone down this path, would want to know who had died. Harry wanted to relieve him of the burden of not knowing, but knew he couldn't talk about this. Not here and not now.

"Surely you have something to live for, Potter?"

"Of course I have things to live for!" Harry snapped. "I'm not suicidal. But I didn't care. You had things to live for as well, reasons to be free, but you didn't care either."

Snape stiffened as though slapped and Harry immediately regretted his words.

"I'm sorry," he said softly.

Snape shook his head and said, "What is it you're living for?"

Harry looked at Snape as though he had just said the most stupid thing imaginable. "I have to kill Voldemort," he said plainly and he wondered how Snape could not know this.

Snape walked over and stood so close to Harry he could feel his body heat. "And when he's dead? What will you have to live for then?"

Harry backed up a step and turned away from him. He couldn't bear to think of what would be there for him after. All he knew was that he had to kill Voldemort—he wanted Voldemort dead. But the idea of life after the war... Harry couldn't even contemplate it. What would he do then?

Feelings of confusion and terror overtook him and he could feel Snape's breath on the back of his neck. He found himself thinking back on his time in the Shack, just before he went to see Voldemort and how free he had felt. No, he didn't want to die, but...

He breathed deeply and tried to force himself to calm down. Suddenly, Snape had his hand on his shoulder again and he turned Harry to face him.

"What will you have to live for when the Dark Lord is gone, Potter?" he asked softly, sincerely.

Knowing anything he would say would be either a lie or the worst kind of dramatic, Harry didn't want to answer the question. He had no desire to seem pathetic or suicidal, especially not in front of Snape, who knew exactly what he had gone through ten-fold.

"I don't know," he said, settling on that as the best answer. Suddenly, he thought of Snape and how much they were alike, how their lives had been ruled by one man. "What about you?"

Snape loomed over him, but he didn't seem angry, nor did he seem to seriously consider the question. Harry pressed on. "You've been fighting him half your life. What are you going to do when he's finally dead?"

For a moment Snape seemed at a loss for words and Harry cursed himself for having asked such a question, especially in this room. He stepped closer to Snape and if he had wanted, Snape could have laid his hands on Harry's hips. Harry felt himself leaning into him, needing to be closer to him, the smell of him.

Snape looked down at Harry and for a moment he thought Snape would kiss him, his head turned down and his eyes piercing Harry's.

"I've no idea," was all he said before he took two steps away from Harry. "How long have you been seeing my memories?"

Harry regretted the loss of warmth and closeness, but answered. "Since the Shack."

Snape seemed to grow angry at that and Harry could see that he was having to restrain himself. Not wanting him to hold back for fear of hurting Harry, he pushed onward. "Your entire life flashed before my eyes."

Snape nodded. "I was gravely injured and unable to control the Legilimens spell. It was not my intention to give you so many of my memories, or to transfer a part of myself. You should not, however, still be experiencing them."

Harry frowned. "What do you mean 'a part of yourself'?"

Snape muttered something under his breath and then swiped a hand over his brow. "It matters not. What does matter is that you should not still be experiencing them."

Harry had no idea what to say to that. "What do we do about it?"

Snape looked at Harry thoughtfully for a moment before responding, "There is nothing that can be done at the present. I will need to...ponder it." He took Harry's hand in his and carefully ran his fingers over Harry's, a shudder running through his body from the points of contact.

"Ah!" Harry cried as Snape pulled the splinter from his hand.

Harry rubbed his finger and muttered, "Thanks." Looking around the room, he began to walk towards the door. "Can we leave this place?"

"By all means."


"Fuck," Harry muttered, chucking yet another book onto the pile in front of him. He sighed and slumped down in defeat.

"I don't understand. Why are the books blank?" He frowned at Snape, who was balanced on the edge of a desk next to him. "It just doesn't make any sense..."

He trailed off and then, with a sigh, lifted his head to peer into the cavernous depths of the records room. Endless lines of racks reached up from the floor to a ceiling as high as the sky. It just wasn't possible that he knew all that these books knew about Gryffindor.

Snape cleared his throat and stopped leafing through the large, empty tome in his hands. "Potter..." he said carefully. "What manner of artifact would be lost to history? People are bound to remember weapons, larger things of consequence. To be overlooked, it would be something small, insignificant, something that could be easily disregarded. Think of something like that."

"What do you mean 'think'?" he asked, obviously missing the point. "It's not as though me thinking of some artifact will make it appear."

Snape sighed, then turned a page of the book in his lap. "A cloak pin," he muttered.

"What?" Harry said, shuffling closer to Snape.

"'Gryffindor had a charmed cloak pin that he gave to his friend, a man by the name of Peverell.'"

Harry froze at the familiar name of his ancestor and met Snape's eyes.

Snape nodded. "Where did you go next on your adventure, Potter?"

Harry flinched. "Godric's Hollow."


Exhausted, Harry trudged up the stairs of Grimmauld Place, silently thanking Kreacher or whichever house-elf was taking it upon themselves to prepare meals for them. He slowed his steps as he parted with Snape in the hallway, the events of the day so heavy it didn't feel right just leaving him now.

"Good night, Potter. Be sure to rest well. We have another long day ahead of us." And with that Snape turned into his room and closed the door.

Harry missed him immediately and cursed himself for being so sentimental.


Harry was having a rather pleasant dream.

A large, calloused hand was holding his and its thumb was rubbing slow, gentle circles onto his skin. He took a deliberate breath and noticed the air smelled different than it had the last time he had dreamed. It smelled like spices and the damp and had a distinct lack of antiseptic. The room was completely quiet, except for the sound of the occasional turning of pages. The silence was wholly welcome after the sound of bustling and the voice that had plagued Harry's dreams before, and he took a deep breath in an attempt to move as much as he could. Wherever his dreams had taken him felt very comfortable, as though he was lying on a very soft bed, surrounded by a half dozen pillows.

He didn't want to open his eyes.

Every time he had done so in his dreams, some grotesque lie that resembled Snape had been there. He didn't want to see him in that weakened state, especially not now after Harry had begun to truly care for him.

And he did, he admitted to himself. How could he not now that he knew the truth and all Snape had done to aid him, aid the war effort?

No, Harry thought as he shifted again on his pillows. It was more than that. There was some deep wound within Snape that Harry understood because it was within him as well. He loved Ron and Hermione, but sometimes it was like they lived in a different world. Harry hadn't minded that at all; he was glad his friends had normal upbringings. But now, after all that had happened, Harry found that he wanted someone who knew him. Someone he wouldn't have to explain himself to, someone who wouldn't judge him as weak or pathetic for the toll the war had taken on him.

Someone exactly like Snape.

And the fact that Snape was surprisingly sexy as hell was odd on an entirely different level. Harry almost regretted not having kissed him while in the courtroom. He sighed as he recalled the man's body heat and the strength of his hands.

His hands.

Harry groaned and shifted a bit more, grasping the hand that was holding his tighter. The hand ceased its movements and its partner came up to touch Harry's face.

Harry really did not want to open his eyes.

He did open them, however, and was greeted by a murky haze and the same nightmarish version of Snape that had been plaguing his dreams for days. He immediately stiffened at the sight of him, but decided to remain still since he could scarcely do anything else.

He could avert his eyes without drawing attention, though, so he did, dropping them to Snape's other hand, which rested on the bed, still holding a book. Squinting, he tried to make out the title on the spine, only to start in fear when he did. His vision was blurred but he could just barely make out black letters on the light tan leather saying, 'Legilimency: Manipulating the Subconscious'.

What would Snape be doing with that? What was he going to do?

Immediately, his breathing sped up and he tried to force himself to remain calm, reminding himself that though he was in a nightmare, this Snape had not hurt him, and that the familiar warm hand was still holding his. Perhaps there was a message in that; something his subconscious was trying to tell him.

Snape looked almost as terrible as he had in Harry's last nightmare. The dark circles under his eyes were more pronounced and he looked so thin. Harry focused on his neck, again wrapped in bandages before Snape grabbed Harry's chin and forced his eyes to meet his own dark ones.

Through the haze, Harry blinked and gasped when he saw just exactly how Snape was looking at him. There was concern, but more than that Harry felt as though Snape was trying to tell him something. But why wouldn't he speak?

Harry stared, mesmerized. His eyes moved from Severus' nose, which seemed even larger now that Snape's cheeks looked thinner, and down to his lips. Why Snape's lips, which were thin and chapped, seemed attractive to him, Harry had no idea. And yet they were and he prayed this was the sort of dream where he could control another character's movements, silently wishing Snape would wet his lips with his tongue.

Moments passed and Snape was still looking at him, gazing into his eyes in that strangest of ways and Harry wanted to evade his stare, wanted to back away but couldn't. It reminded him too much of those Occlumency lessons and Harry hated it. Snape still had his chin in his hand and wouldn't allow Harry to move. Sluggishly, Harry brought a hand up to hold onto Snape's, silently begging to be released from this strange hold.

It was too intense and Harry felt so raw, so blasted open by it.

This wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that Snape was looking at him like this in a dream, some strange dream where Harry couldn't move and Snape wouldn't speak. He silently begged him to say something, say anything, if only to break this moment between them. Please, Harry mentally begged. A man could only lay his soul bare to another for so long.

Tears prickled in the corners of his eyes as Harry attempted to read whatever it was Snape was trying to tell him. Harry wanted to answer back, wanted to tell him how much he meant to him, how much he cared.

Looking at Snape's eyes made everything else fade away. He hardly noticed anymore how dark the circles were underneath or how his skin hung just a little too loose. All of Severus Snape was communicated through his eyes and Harry only then realized how beautiful they were.

How beautiful Snape was.

It was a revelation and Harry struggled to open his mouth and say something. He had to acknowledge this, had to tell Snape what he saw.

"I—" he started and Snape's eyes went wide. Harry shook his head, his neck stiff and the room began to spin. He closed his eyes and he could feel a cup being pressed to his lips. Opening his mouth, he accepted the cool water and tried to open his eyes again.

He missed looking at Snape.

The cup was pulled back and Snape again looked at him, his eyes never leaving Harry's. Now that he was able to think, Harry hardly knew what he would have said had he been capable. This was a dream, he reasoned. He could say anything he wanted in a dream, and the real Snape would never know.

But even in his dreams Harry found himself tongue-tied. Snape lifted an eyebrow and tilted his head to the side, as if to ask Harry what was wrong.

Harry's head began to spin again and he tried so hard to steady himself. Even if this was only a dream, he needed to tell Snape how he felt about him. Maybe how attractive Harry found him, even now in his lessened state, or how hard Harry had become when he saw Snape's memories with that other man. Or perhaps how Harry felt so connected to him and that the only thing he really wanted was Snape.

In the end, Harry just opened his mouth and allowed the first thing that came to mind to spill out.

"Your eyes are beautiful."

Snape's eyebrows rose up into his hairline and the surprised look on his face would have made Harry laugh if he were capable of it. Instead, he closed his eyes and thanked God this was only a dream and that Snape would never hear the declaration.

He felt lips touch his eyelids.

His hands dug into the sheets of his bed and he muttered an obscenity at the faint feeling of moisture on his skin.

Opening his eyes, he watched as Snape backed away, still silent through the fog of Harry's mind. He shook his head and then reached out to caress his cheek with a potions-stained thumb.

Harry kept his eyes open, trying to stay in the dream, but his mind began to swirl again and he closed his eyes as the dream faded away.


They Apparated right in front of the church in Godric's Hollow and Harry thought the place looked very different from the last time he'd seen it. There was no soft layer of snow covering the roads and buildings, no twinkling lights or sound of carols. There was only silence and Harry knew that this village would be as deserted as every other place they'd been.

He looked over to Snape as he had at least a dozen times since breakfast, his eyes somehow unable to do anything else. If Snape noticed Harry's longing glances, he said nothing, but he doubted Snape missed a thing. He stood no farther away from Harry than he had yesterday and Harry felt himself swaying closer to him as they stood in front of the church.

"Why are we in front of a church, Potter?"

Harry hadn't had the chance to see his parent's graves properly when he and Hermione were here during Christmas, and so he'd Apparated them in front of the graveyard without a second thought.

"Have you ever been to Godric's Hollow, Professor?" Harry asked of Snape, who stood in front of the church like the greatest of sinners.

He was silent for a few moments and Harry resolved himself to wait him out. Finally, as Harry began to walk towards the graveyard, Snape said, "Once."

Harry looked past the churchyard and into the back, and asked, "Do you mind if we stop here for a moment?"

Snape merely shook his head and said nothing. Finding the slight toss of his hair endearing, Harry groaned to himself and forced his thoughts away from his companion.

Looking up into the sky, Harry noticed that the morning light that should have made the church look warm and welcoming was completely absent. It seemed as though the sun was already setting and Harry quickly opened the kissing gate, forgetting Snape for a moment. He turned around and caught the gate before it closed, and looked up at Snape.

His companion stood on the opposite side, seemingly frozen to the spot, and Harry looked over his shoulder at what lay behind them, then cursed himself for being a greater idiot than Snape had ever thought.

Once, he had said, and Harry realized what must have brought Snape to this place that single time. He looked up at him as his head began that familiar spinning.

He stood at the kissing gate, his robes blowing past him and becoming stuck to the iron framework. He tugged at them even as the wind propelled them back, then finally pulled hard enough to tear the fabric. The black piece of wool flapped in the wind, and Severus stared at it for several seconds in an effort not to turn around.

When he did, it was to see mounds of snow over the graveyard, every marker covered so that very few of the names could be seen.

He made his way to where he had heard her tombstone would be. He took note of the Dumbledore family tomb and went two rows back...



He treaded through the snow gracelessly and stumbled twice before finally approaching her gravestone. He sunk to his knees in front of it and wiped the snow from the stone.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Severus placed a hand on her name as his sobs were lost in the howling of the wind. Despair welled up within him and he put his face in his hands as he wailed his misery.

Harry stumbled a bit at the sheer force of emotion in the memory and closed his eyes. In an attempt to regain control of himself, he took deep, calming breaths before finally facing Snape.

"What did you see?" Snape asked, his tone cool.

Harry took another deep breath and paused for a moment before responding.

"You. Here," Harry said plainly. He wanted nothing more than to reach into the memory and comfort the young man Snape had been, but shook his head and looked back at the one in front of him.

Snape frowned and clenched his jaw, and for a moment Harry thought he would become angry. Harry pushed aside the guilt and forced himself to hold the dark gaze, knowing that while he couldn't help Snape then, he could help him now. Snape seemed his usual self for a moment, and then his shoulders slumped and he nodded, turning his head to look back towards the graveyard.

"I'm sorry," Harry said to him, looking at Snape, who seemed to be standing as though in front of a firing squad. "We can go on. We don't need to stop here."

Snape shook his head and answered back, "Yes, we do."

He crossed the gate and walked past Harry, his steps steady if somewhat shallower than his usual long gait. Harry walked with him as they went past the first headstone onto the back rows where his parents lay.

The ground was grassy and well-tended and there were little flowers growing on a few of the plots, but not theirs. Harry went to stand before the stones, but noticed Snape was no longer next to him. He turned his head minutely and realized he was standing just a step behind him, his eyes trained on his mother's name.

His face looked stricken and pale and his eyes unfocused in their grief, and suddenly Harry felt as though he was intruding. Looking at Snape and then at his mother's stone, he realized not for the first time that he had never known Lily. The only things he knew about her had been told to him by people who had actually known her; his only memory was of her desperate screaming.

He flicked a ladybird from his father's stone and began to seriously contemplate leaving Snape to grieve privately. Any mourning he would do would be over an idea, some vague memory, while Snape had been missing his mother all his life.

"Did you—" Harry began to say before he could stop himself. "I mean, how did you love my mother?" He was appalled that he had asked the question and yet applauded himself on the correct wording. That Snape had loved his mother was obvious, but all his memories of Snape's sex life seemed to be with men. Harry needed to know this, needed to understand Snape's motives in helping him all these years. More than that, he could no longer deny the strength of his feelings.

Snape didn't turn from staring at Lily's grave to answer Harry's question. He simply took a step closer to the stone and laid a hand over her name, muttering, "I'm trying, Lily." He bowed his head so that his hair covered his face and remained quiet.

Standing next to James' stone, Harry watched as Snape mourned, feeling like a terrible intruder and the worst kind of gawker. He tried to look away from Snape, but couldn't, so he simply stood there watching him.

"Your mother was the best friend I ever had," Snape said softly. "She was my first friend and I fear I did her a great disservice." Snape moved and stood shoulder to shoulder with Harry, both of them now looking upon the graves. "She defended me when no one else would, when I was not worthy of defense. I repaid her kindness with malicious words and betrayal of the worst kind. You ask how I loved her, Potter?" He turned to face Harry and their eyes met. "Poorly."

They left the churchyard just a few minutes later and walked down the road towards Harry's childhood home, Harry's hands in his pockets and his eyes trained on the ground.

Snape cleared his throat and began to speak. "Now, Potter," he began and Harry was grateful for the reprieve. "Since the Dark Lord has not died, it stands to reason that the headmaster was incorrect in his original assumption about the number of Horcruxes."

"Right," Harry said slowly. "So it might be here. At the old house."

"Yes," Snape said, his steps slowing as they passed by a giant obelisk in the center of the village square. Harry continued walking as it turned into the statue of himself with his parents but Snape stopped to look at it and so Harry did, too.

"It's weird seeing myself without my scar," Harry said, flattening his hair over his forehead. "I've never been able to even imagine myself without it."

Snape turned to look at Harry and he realized belatedly how close they were standing. Snape's robes blew in the wind and ran over Harry's body, his hair nearly touching Harry's cheek.

Harsh features were softened by a sudden look of desire, reminding Harry of the memory of the woods and the man undressing while Snape watched. Dark eyes trailed down Harry's face to his lips and he licked them nervously.

Snape's eyes flicked back up to Harry's and Harry took the smallest step forward.

"It's getting darker. We should try to get back to Grimmauld before the sun sets," Snape said, brushing past Harry towards Harry's old home.

"Before the sun sets," Harry muttered. "Of course it's nine o' clock in the morning, but yes, let's try to get back before the sun sets." He looked up and, again, the sky seemed even darker than it had before. He hurried to catch up.

They approached the house and this time Harry continued on past the front gate, keeping his eyes trained on the wrecked cottage. He paid no mind to the carved well-wishes, even when Snape lingered.

He caught up to Harry at the threshold and he stepped over the fallen door, which looked as though it had not opened on hinges in ages. The paint had long since faded and the doorknob was missing.

Harry bent down to touch where the wood had splintered, but stopped short of touching it. Looking around the overgrown grass, he saw a place where it was sparse and he wandered over, stooping down to pick up the brass doorknob. The brass was a mix of dark green and black, and Harry supposed it had likely been lying there since Voldemort had blasted it off nearly seventeen years ago.

Standing up again, he stared at the tarnished, intricately-worked knob, trying to imagine how many times both his parents had touched it over their short time in this place.

Much too short, he thought as he tossed the thing back into the grass before turning abruptly and bumping right into Snape. Grabbing Harry's hands, Snape steadied him before he could fall.

Snape's hands were warm and his presence so imposing Harry felt as though he was surrounded by him; as though the dark robes and long hair would cover him completely and he would never be cold again.

"You should enter first, Potter," he said, releasing Harry's hands and taking a step back to allow him to walk over the door.

Harry nodded and took a large step, bracing a hand on the jamb for balance, and went into the hallway. After struggling to adjust to the darkness, Harry looked around, wide-eyed, and took in the wreckage of the house.

"Oh," he said softly, when a mouse ran over his shoe. Through the door into the sitting room, he saw that the sofas and floor had been damaged by water. Ivy— obviously once a houseplant—had outgrown its pot, and had grown across the floor to take over the entire room. The carpet under his feet was nearly black, and Harry could only just make out the deep red it had once been.

Snape entered the room and stood behind him, no doubt taking in the destruction in the same way Harry was.

"Did you ever visit here?" Harry asked before he could think, and he winced and shut his eyes against the insults that were undoubtedly coming.

Snape scoffed and then took a few steps back into the hall and toward the foot of the stairs. "No, I have never been here, Potter. Even after I defected, I would not have been welcome. What possibly led you to ask that question?"

Harry ran a hand through his hair and cursed himself an idiot for not thinking before he spoke. His desire for Snape was starting to reveal itself in embarrassing ways and he knew it wouldn't be the last time he would put his foot in his mouth.

"I'm..." Harry trailed off and softly said, "an idiot."

With a sigh, he looked over toward the foot of the staircase, but Snape was turned away from him.

"I think the best place to start looking would be your room," Snape said before walking up the stairs.

Harry blinked before he understood what Snape had just said. "Right. My room," he said, mulling over the words before thinking better of it. He shouldn't be over-thinking this as much as he was; not here and not now. There would be time to think about being in his home after all these years; time to think about how the room he was about to enter was the only room he could have called his own.

With another deep sigh, he forced those darker thoughts away and followed Snape up the stairs, watching while he paused to look inside a room only to quickly turn away.

"I believe that was your parents' room," Snape said and Harry nodded, though Snape was still not facing him.

Just a few steps away from the master bedroom was the nursery, easily identified by the Peter Rabbit nameplate that said Harry in childish block lettering. Snape paused in the doorway before taking a step back and looking Harry in the eye.

"Did you come into this room on your last visit here?" he asked, his body blocking the room from Harry's view.

"No," Harry said, inching forward, "we didn't come inside."

Snape nodded and moved aside, allowing Harry to enter.

The room was dark and Harry whispered Lumos as he entered. Everything in sight confirmed the years of neglect, from the faded, peeling paint on the walls, to the tattered, moldy carpet, and the few neglected possessions. There was a cot in the corner of the room with damp-looking blankets and children's toys scattered inside. At the side of it, a rocking chair lay toppled over, a few building blocks on the floor trapped beneath the arms.

He turned and saw a small bookshelf that looked relatively unharmed and he kneeled down to look at the titles of the books.

All the traditional stories were there: nursery rhymes and Grimm and Andersen. He ran his fingers over Thomas the Tank Engine and A.A. Milne, and smiled, realizing how old some of them were, and wondering if a few of these had belonged to his father when he was a boy.

One book stuck out from the rest of them in its familiarity. All the others were common enough, but this book seemed special somehow. Harry pulled it out and saw a yellow dog on the cover and a boy laughing.

He stood up with the book and felt Snape walk up behind him.

"Potter, perhaps we should be looking for the cloak pin. You can take that with you, if you'd like."

Harry ignored him and opened the book, wanting to know if this one would be blank as well.

Opening it to a random page, he saw that although there was no apparent damage to the book, the pictures were all blurry. The boy and his dog looked bright and colorful and they seemed so familiar to Harry, and he could almost remember reading this book with his mother. But there were no words to accompany the pictures.

"Potter?" Snape said, laying a hand on Harry's shoulder.

The warm hand distracted him for a moment, but Harry was determined to remember this, if only to have one memory of his mother aside from her screams.

"Are you alright?"

Harry continued staring at the page, but said, "I remember this. This book. I think she read it to me, but I was too young to really remember it."

Holding up the book for Snape to see the blurry drawings, he allowed him to take it from his hands. Snape handled the pages with a reverence Harry thought he would usually reserve only for his potions books. After a few moments, he passed it back to Harry.

"You should take it with you, and anything else you'd like. This is your room, Potter."

Harry gave him a soft smile as an answer and took the book back in his hands, careful not to jostle the fragile binding. He closed it and looked at the cover.

"I didn't even come in here the last time. It felt too...raw, I guess. To see the house this way, and then the messages outside. I just couldn't come inside."

Harry could feel Snape staring at him and he felt ridiculous for saying what he had said, but needed to go on, more than anything needing Snape to understand this.

"I don't remember this place," he said, waving a hand around. "At all. I remember my mother screaming for Voldemort not to kill me, but... I don't remember any of this."

There was silence for a moment, and Harry thought Snape wasn't going to respond to his confession, but then he said, "You were only a year old. It stands to reason that you wouldn't remember this place."

Harry nodded. "I know, but I had always wanted to come back here. At the time...I couldn't come inside. We were on the run and we didn't have much of a reason to come here in the first place. Just some weird feeling I had..."

Harry looked up at Snape and suddenly he realized how very dark it was and how Snape was standing so close to him. He was always standing too close to him...

"It is natural and expected you would wish to come here." Snape looked around the room once again and said with a sigh, "It is good to confront one's demons."

Harry barked out a laugh at the words as well as the man saying them. Snape lifted an eyebrow and remained silent.

"It's just... Well, you're one to talk. When's the last time you confronted your demons?" Harry regretted his words as soon as he'd said them, but bit his lip and resolved to stay silent and let Snape answer.

"This isn't my journey, Potter. This isn't my room we're standing in," Snape said, waving a hand around absently.

Harry looked around and realized Snape was right. This was his room far more than the cupboard under the stairs had ever been, more than his dorm or the room he shared with Ron at the Burrow.

With a sigh, he put the book back on the shelf; back where it belonged, he reasoned.

"I'm not taking anything with me," he said to Snape. "At least not now. Maybe later, after all of this is over. Right now..." he trailed off and began to look around the room, taking in all he could.

Snape nodded. "Do you feel we will find the cloak pin here?"

Harry looked at Snape skeptically. "I don't know. Why do you ask?" Harry said, wondering how his feelings had anything to do with finding the last Horcrux. Shaking his head, and without waiting for Snape to answer, he continued, "We should probably start looking for it."

They looked for half an hour, but the room was only so big and the cloak pin could only be in so many places.

Harry grunted and put his back against the wall. "Accio cloak pin," he said with a wave of his wand.

Snape glared at him from among the building blocks and Harry shrugged.

"It was worth a try, don't you think?"

Snape lifted an eyebrow. "Hardly."

Harry laughed and took out his wand, levitating the wooden blocks until they surrounded Snape and spelled out the word 'wanker.'

"Very clever, Potter," Snape said, his lips twisted in what Harry thought was a half-smile.

"I thought so. Damn, I need a camera," Harry said with a laugh, grateful for the reprieve. The darkness of the room and the moroseness of his thoughts were nearly too much, and he was glad Snape allowed him a moment to breathe.

"I don't believe we're meant to find it here," Snape said, standing up and brushing dust off his robes. "Perhaps we should head back downstairs."

With a nod, Harry walked in front of Snape and headed down. "You think maybe he dropped it on his way up? That seems unlikely. He wouldn't just have the cloak pin of Gryffindor in the pocket of his trousers."

Behind him, Snape scoffed. "No, but perhaps someone picked it up while surveying the damage and dropped it, or it caught on Hagrid's boots as he traipsed through here. It could be anywhere in the house, Potter," Snape said as his fingers trailed over the banister.

Harry sighed and walked downstairs and into the dreary living room again. Snape started picking up fallen objects, casting strands of ivy aside in his search for the pin while Harry looked to other rooms.

"Potter," Snape said, watching as Harry walked away. "Do not go wandering off."

Harry huffed loudly and lost sight of Snape as he turned a corner that led to a small, square hallway. "I'm not wandering off if I'm looking around. This place isn't very big."

Harry heard footsteps behind him as he entered a room with a little table, and pots hanging over a stove. "I'm in the— Fuck!" Harry cried as a large, black object launched itself from a cabinet with a hiss, like a snake about to strike.

Abruptly, Harry was thrust against a wall, only black robes and hair separating him and his attacker, and he tried to push Snape off so he could defend himself.

Snape had his wand out, his presence a heavy shield around Harry, when suddenly the man breathed a sigh of relief and said under his breath, "Cats, Potter? I suppose I should consider myself fortunate it wasn't hippogriffs."

Harry maneuvered his head so he could see the large black cat licking his paws on the floor and shook his head at how he had reacted.

"Sorry about that, but the thing just jumped out..." Harry trailed off as he realized exactly where Snape was standing.

Harry's back was against the wall, Snape's longer, leaner form almost draped across him—pressing against him—and he could feel the heat of Snape's body through his robes. It took less than a second for his cock to catch up with his brain and it began to swell, his pulse racing at the nearness. They were so close that his arousal was sure to be noticed, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He wanted Snape to know how he felt. He'd never felt this strongly about anyone before and he needed him to know how badly he wanted him. Looking up, past the curtain of hair and into dark eyes, Harry licked his lips and then tipped his face up to kiss him.

A moment's hesitation, then Snape leaned back, avoiding his lips, and Harry tensed for a split second before pushing aside his embarrassment at being rejected.

He felt something for Snape, something that went beyond just physical attraction and he thought Snape might have felt something for him in return. There had to be something to the way Snape was always looking at him, the way he would stand so close. All the long looks and gentle brushes of skin had to mean something, and Harry wouldn't be turned away, not now.

Slowly, he put his hands on Snape's forearms and squeezed, pleased by the firm flesh he felt beneath. He lifted a hand to brush dark hair away from Snape's face and let a finger trail down his nose, pleased when he allowed it.

Snape's eyes really were beautiful, Harry thought as he allowed himself to look at him the way he had in his dream.

Snape was standing completely still, his hands on his sides, not moving a muscle backwards or forwards. For a moment, Harry thought it very likely he was restraining himself from hexing him. But then he felt an answering hardness press against his thigh and rubbed against it.

Snape moaned, a strained noise that seemed pulled from him against his will, but still didn't move.

Harry sighed in relief and put his hands on Snape's chest, barely able to feel anything besides heat through the thick robes. His heart raced as his hands roughly trailed the hidden, firm flesh then reached around to grasp Snape's back, sliding down the slim waist to grab his arse and pull him nearer.

Expelling an almost inaudible gasp, Snape inched impossibly closer.

"Release me," he said in a deadly whisper. "You have no idea what you are playing with, boy."

Steeling himself, Harry leaned up and kissed Snape's neck, right where the scars of Nagini's bite should have been, and felt him shudder. He licked upward to Snape's ear, nuzzling his neck and breathing in the scent of him. Inwardly, he begged Snape, 'Please... I don't know what'd I do if you turned me away,' but brushed it aside. Caressing Snape's ear with his nose, he whispered, "I'd never play with you, I swear. I just want you...please."

Snape growled and thrust Harry against the wall, and for a moment Harry thought he'd pushed him too far, but then suddenly thin lips were upon his.

Harry opened his mouth as he felt Snape's lips press against his own. Dark hair framed their faces and Harry dared to run a hand through it as he cupped the back of Snape's head in an effort to pull him closer. The scent of potion fumes and arousal invaded his nostrils and filled Harry with a sense of elation as Snape's weight bore down on him.

A slender leg forced his own apart, and Harry felt his cock pulse in anticipation as Snape pulled his t-shirt up and ran his long-fingered hands over his chest.

Harry moaned into the kiss and allowed his hands to linger over Snape's bottom, his fingers pulling out layers of clothing in order to reveal any small piece of flesh. Finally finding Snape's waistline, he dove in, kneading as much of his arse as he could reach.

Gasping, Snape removed his hands from tweaking Harry's nipples to undo his own belt and the buttons before doing the same to Harry's.

Discovering he was now much better able to reach skin, Harry smiled into the kiss, then shuddered when Snape attacked his neck with his mouth.

Suddenly, one of those beautiful hands was in his pants and Harry groaned and broke the kiss, throwing his head back against the wall.

"Impressive, Potter," Snape said, handling his cock, his voice gravely and thick with passion. He pulled out his own cock and Harry leaned his head down, but could barely make out anything in the dark. Then it didn't matter, and he grunted when he felt Snape lean over him, lining their cocks together, and begin to thrust.

"Stupid boy," Snape hissed, biting Harry's ear. "You have no idea—"

"Harry!" a familiar voice called from outside. Instantly both men froze, their eyes locked.

"You can't keep avoiding me forever, Harry!" Voldemort called, and Harry's eyes went wide as Snape groaned in frustration. "How would your parents take your cowardice?"

"Really, Potter? Now?" Snape asked with a sigh.

Harry frowned and looked up at Snape, his face pleasantly flushed and his lips red from kissing. "How is this my fault?" Harry asked incredulously.

Snape leaned in so that his hair curtained Harry's face and his nose was against his cheek. Although Harry wanted nothing more than to stand here touching Snape, he pushed him back and quickly pulled his pants up, his erection wilted, and took off at a run.

"Harry!" Snape bellowed from behind him. "Don't! We haven't destroyed the last Horcrux!"

Ignoring him, Harry ran out of the kitchen, through the living room and into the hallway. Almost bouncing off the wall, he leaped over the fallen door and took off down the path.

It was night when it should have been noon, and Harry looked up to see the Morsmordre clearly outlined in the sky. A few seconds later, Snape came up behind him, and jerked Harry around to face him.

"No heroics this time, Potter. We have yet to find the Horcrux, and—" He was cut off by the sound of something collapsing some distance away.

"Harry!" Voldemort called again. "How many more lives must be destroyed before I find you?"

Enraged, Harry turned to Snape, adrenaline coursing through him and his voice low and determined. "He's going to keep killing people until I face him! Let go of me!"

Harry tore himself away from Snape and started to run toward Voldemort, the sound of Snape's heavy boots sounding behind him.

He ran the short distance from the old house to the center of the village, where Snape finally caught up with him and yanked him behind the war memorial.

"Potter, there's no one here. Homes can be rebuilt—"

"Do we know that for sure?" Harry demanded in a hiss, his eyes searching the area until he finally saw the cloaked figure walking around the square. "Even you said that it's likely people were in hiding."

With a sneer, Snape said, "I also said that retreat is sometimes the only logical course. There is nothing that can be done now!"

"I know you're near, Harry," Voldemort said, his tone relaxed. "Your Order managed to protect you last time, but it's just the two of us now. Come out and face me or more will die," he said calmly, almost gliding around the square and then pausing to take aim at another cottage.

He pointed his wand and cried out "Reducto" and Harry watched as the front of another home crumbled.

Harry turned to Snape and asked him, "What if you were right and people are in there?"

Snape shook his head and held Harry's eyes. "The smart move would be to lie low until we find the last Horcrux. There's nothing that can be done now, Harry."

Harry barely registered the use of his first name as green spell-light flew over his head, the resulting destruction causing the statue to shake.

Whipping round, he stepped out from the cover of the statute, flung out his wand and yelled, "Avada Kedavra!"

With ease, Voldemort moved away from the path of the spell and it shot off into the distance, Harry silently thanking God it didn't destroy anything when it missed its target.

"Potter!" Snape growled, dragging Harry back. "Listen to me, you fool. This is almost over. We have one thing left to do and all of this will be done with, but not if you are dead. For once, think before you act and we will both live to see the Dark Lord's death."

"No more disarming curses, Harry?" Voldemort called out, his tone light and mocking. "But they were so effective!" He laughed and Harry felt the little hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention.

"Listen to me, please!" Harry begged, echoing Snape's words. He was standing just as close to Harry as he had in the kitchen, and Harry wanted nothing more than to grab his shoulders and force him to listen. "I have to do this! It has to be me, don't you understand? It was always me! There might be people in these homes and he's killing them all because of me!"

Snape looked at Harry incredulously before something caught his attention, and he pulled Harry away and shielded him with his body as the green light of the killing curse went past them again. Voldemort shouted something that was lost in the sound of crumbling brick, and Harry cringed as he took in the destruction around him.

"You are not alone in this, Potter. I want him dead just as much as you, but we cannot face him now. Not without the last—" Snape cut himself off and looked up at the statue.

"Harry, look!" he said, pointing upward towards the monument. "There, in Lily's cloak!"

Harry looked up at the statue of his family. There, embedded into his mother's cloak, was a gleaming silver-chased pin, the initials 'G.G.' standing out on one of the silver bands. But how had it got there in the first place?

Another streak of green light flew past Harry's head and he once again ducked to avoid it, all questions about the Horcrux fled from his mind except how he was to destroy it.

"I can't reach it like this," he said, backing up into Snape. "And it can't be summoned." He watched as dark eyes seemed to scan his face and then looked toward Voldemort, Snape seeming to make a decision.

"Reach up and retrieve it," Snape said just as green spell fire lit up his face and the sound of crumbling brick threatened to drowned out his words. "I'll come to you and we'll go to a safe place to destroy it. I will come to you, Potter!"

Harry nodded and watched as Snape seemed to steel himself to walk out from behind the statue, his back straight and his complexion pale against the spell-fire and dust in the air.

Turning, Snape took a step forward, brandishing his wand and ready to take off in a storm, when suddenly Harry's hand shot out, almost of its own accord, and stopped him.

"Wait," Harry told him at the sight of Snape's furrowed eyebrows and irritated expression. Then, without sparing a thought to how his actions would be received, he leaned up and kissed him.

It was short and perfunctory, but Harry thought it no less sweet for it. The sound of moisture upon moisture cut through the spell-fire and Harry again thought Snape was the bravest man he'd ever known.

Breaking away after only a moment, Harry took in the shocked look on Snape's face and was tempted to smile.

"Avada Kedavra!" Voldemort screamed and Snape pushed Harry away and behind the statue again.

"Be quick about it, Potter," Snape hissed before turning on his heel and walking out into the square.

"Severus!" Snape's name seem to flow off Voldemort's tongue and Harry thought he would be sick at how saccharine it sounded. He watched from behind the statue, his pulse racing at seeing Snape stand before the man who had nearly killed him.

"Ah, Severus, I must confess my surprise at seeing you...alive. How ever did you manage to survive that awful snake bite?"

Remembering his task, Harry summoned a piece of fallen debris and used it to climb onto the base of the statue, wavering slightly as he attempted to keep his balance.

"Easily enough," he heard Snape say in a quiet voice and Harry thought it odd. After Voldemort's betrayal of his supposedly most trusted lieutenant, Harry would have thought Snape would use the opportunity to curse Voldemort upon first sight.

"I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that none of this is necessary?" Snape said, his voice still soft and tentative. "That all of this can end right now if you wish it."

Harry slipped and nearly fell off the statue and for a second he stared over at Snape, eyes wide with shock. He was standing about fifteen feet away from Voldemort, wand ready, but hardly seeming as though he was about to duel for his life.

After all this time, after so many years of spying on the man who had killed the only person he had ever loved, Snape was trying to reason with him?

A dark cackle of a laugh escaped from Voldemort's throat and Harry inched over to the front of the statue, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible for as long as he could.

"There is no end to this, Severus, that does not include your death. You and your precious boy hero will die and then no one will be able to stand in my way."

Harry used the sculpture of his own face as a handle and held on long enough to grasp the cloak pin, the silver pulling away with a hard yank and Harry fell to the ground with the effort it took to detach it.

There was silence for a moment and Harry heard Snape sigh. He looked out into the square and panicked at how odd the picture looked—both men standing there when they should have been fighting.

"I ought to have known it wouldn't be that easy," Snape said, squaring his shoulders and taking aim with his wand, Voldemort doing the same.

Not willing to watch any longer, Harry stuck the pin into his shirt and ran out at a sprint, grabbing hold of Snape and firing off a curse at Voldemort as they both watched green spell-light coming straight towards them.

Apparate! Harry told himself, closing his eyes and thinking of a safe place, some place where they could destroy the Horcrux and then come back here to defeat Voldemort for good.

Green light filled his eyes just as the world began to spin, the familiar discomfort of Apparation a salvation.

Harry fell to his knees upon landing, onto a thankfully soft, mossy ground, and he looked up to face Snape, adrenaline still pumping through his veins.

"Can you cast the Fiendfyre?" he said, removing the cloak pin from his shirt and casting the foul thing to the ground.

Snape nodded and grabbed hold of Harry, pulling them both backwards away from the Horcrux as he took aim.

"Be completely honest, Potter," Snape said, eyes peeled on the pin. "Do you believe yourself able to cast a strong containment field?"

Harry nodded emphatically. Even though his thoughts were racing, he knew he could do this, knew he could do anything if it meant Voldemort would be mortal again.

"Yes," he said, quickly calling to mind the incantation for the strongest containment spell he knew and mimicking the wand movement, readying himself.

"As soon as I conjure the flame, cast the spell," Snape said, his voice tense and hurried. "As soon as you hear me utter the last syllable, Potter!"

Harry nodded and waited, wanting nothing more than for the thing to be destroyed, for all of this to finally end.

"Diabalum Iaculari!" Snape shouted and Harry's eyes went wide with how quickly the flame grew and how out of control it became in the instant it took for him to cast the containment spell.

"Saepire Malus!" Harry shouted and they both stood back as the fire surged inside the hastily erected field that was no larger than the man who had cast it.

They stood shoulder to shoulder as the flame surged, a spectrum of colors dazzling Harry's eyes so that he couldn't look away even if he'd wanted to. There was no heat, nothing harmful that could escape the bubble, but Harry heard the distinct screaming of a dying Horcrux as the fire consumed it and then died out.

He stood there, panting, his body coming down from the adrenaline rush, causing his shoulders to slump. Next to him, Snape was studying him curiously, dark eyes darting over his face.

Harry smiled and gave a bark of hysterical laughter at having it done with, the final piece of Voldemort's soul destroyed. Embracing this moment, so long in coming, Harry closed his eyes in anticipation of relief, then opened them when it didn't arrive.

The final piece of Voldemort's soul was destroyed, except one: the piece within the man himself, the splintered, deformed thing was still alive.

And Harry had to kill him.

All sense of satisfaction left him, and he stood there, panting, the cool summer breeze sending a chill to run down his sweat-covered back.

Suddenly, he looked around and wondered at their surroundings. They were in a forest and Harry had no idea what to make of that.

But the immediate question wasn't where they were. It was obvious that they were safe enough, if this place proved to be as deserted as every other.

The thing he wanted to know most was why Snape had acted as he had in front of Voldemort. Harry thought that if he'd been in Snape's position, he would have cursed the man at first sight, and if afterwards he was still standing, be sure to inform him exactly whose side he'd been on.

But Snape hadn't done that and it went against everything he thought he knew about him. Harry recalled the twisted, deformed thing he'd seen in King's Cross and how he had wanted Voldemort to feel something, some remorse, if only to save some part of his distorted soul. But he couldn't imagine Snape feeling the same way.

"Why did you talk to him like that?" he asked, his breathing calmed, but his body still in fight-or-flight mode.

"Please attempt to make sense, Potter. Why did I speak to whom and in what way?"

"Voldemort," Harry said plainly, as though the answer was obvious, and to him it was. "The way you spoke to him...I just can't imagine why you wouldn't have cursed him and been done with it. Or...said something, anything to him."

Snape rolled his eyes and asked, "And what would you have had me say?"

"Anything!" Harry shouted, disturbed by Snape's calm. "He tried to kill you and he killed my mother—"

Snape growled, "I know exactly what he did, Potter, and I do not require you to inform me of it."

"Then why—" Harry asked before his vision blurred and his head began to swim again.

"You've heard nothing then, Severus? Not one word, not even from the blood traitor?" the Dark Lord asked as Severus knelt at his feet.

The ground was hard beneath his knees, the rough stone an anchor, and Severus felt the cold seep into his body, then further still.

"Nothing, my Lord," he said. "I have no reason to believe Longbottom has made any contact with Potter."

Keeping his head bowed, Severus again reminded himself that the end was almost there, just beyond his fingertips, almost tangible. The thought of its approach and the numbing coldness of the flagstone kept his fear at bay. Even the smallest mistake this close to the end would prove disastrous and irrevocable, and Severus knew the end was coming.

He could taste it.

A black boot slid under his chin, bringing his eyes up to meet the Dark Lord's. Drawing his head up with not even a shiver, he looked him in the eye. A moment passed, Severus mentally held his breath even as he felt the brush of Legilimency and then the Dark Lord nodded.

"Perhaps the Carrows have not loosened his tongue sufficiently?"

The cold licked at his anger and guilt, froze the image of Longbottom in the infirmary, trembling with the effects of Cruciatus, and allowed him to appear to consider the question. He used the time to remind himself again that his inaction served the wider goal. Still, remorse tickled at the back of his mind, and he had to clamp down on it—hard. He protected the students better here, down on his knees, the perfect Death Eater.

And that, he could do.

He quirked his eyebrows as though contemptuous and said lightly, "The boy is stupid, but I believe the living reminder of parents' stubborn foolishness is enough to keep him in line. He knows nothing, I am sure of it."

The boot left his chin and Severus knew it was a command to lower his head again.

"Leave me and do not come back until you have some news."

Another, deeper, bow of his head and Severus stood and left to return to Hogwarts, though the solace and comfort the thought of returning to his home once brought was long since gone.

Walking through the doorway, he recalled a time when he would get rid of the skin-crawling taint over a cup of tea, inane chatter and lemon drops. Albus had been good at that toward the end. He had welcomed Severus into his rooms, purportedly to make his report, but more to give Severus time to find himself again, to let go of Severus the Death Eater and become just Severus.

Now, however, there was no respite even at Hogwarts. Any thought of tea and solace was long gone. His last safe place had been taken from him, and he played his role day in and day out, almost buried by it.

His steps away from Malfoy Manor slowed as his thoughts began to stray. The Dark Lord's taint had finally touched everything that had once been good in his life, including his home, his sanctuary; there was no reason to hurry back.

It was at times like these that he missed Albus and Lily the most. The only two people he could unequivocally call 'friend' in his entire life, and both had been taken from him.

And both by his own hand, one figuratively if not literally.

Loneliness rode heavily upon his shoulders, and Severus carried it with him back to the school, back to a castle full of people who hated him and wished him dead. Back to empty chambers and a cold bed, with no companion to warm him.

He walked to the castle with leaden steps, his cloak unable to protect him from the wind, and could not suppress a shiver as the cold threatened to devour him.

Harry gasped and almost stumbled at the weight of the memory, Snape's depression and loneliness nearly tangible even after it ended.

"What did you see?" Snape asked, his voice low and deadly. He was glaring at Harry with anger and a tinge of fear in his eyes, and Harry couldn't stop himself from taking a step towards him. He was only inches away now and the smell of the dungeon overwhelmed any scent of the forest.

"I saw you, talking to him." At Snape's impatient frown, he clarified, "I saw you on your knees in front Voldemort—the man who killed my mother. I don't understand why you wouldn't take your revenge if you could. Was it because—" but Harry trailed off before he could tell Snape about the creature at King's Cross.

Snape's frown became a scowl and Harry watched as he seemed to deliberate on what he would say. Seeing his face twist up in remembered pain, Harry wished he could take back his statement, but it was too late now and he waited for Snape's response.

"I lived my revenge, Potter," he said, finally. "Every day since I learned of his plan to kill her, I lived vengeance. My actions towards the Dark Lord were far louder than any words I could have shouted."

Snape's words satisfied Harry and he nodded then bowed his head at the weight of Snape's memory, the loneliness and misery still fresh. He could feel Snape's curiosity at his reaction and waited for inevitable inquiry.

"What did you see?" Snape repeated, and Harry wondered why since he'd already answered him.

"You were talking about Neville," Harry said, his heart twisting itself in sympathy and understanding. He wanted to talk about the memory, wanted to tell Snape that he understood that kind of isolation, that kind of sadness. That he didn't have to be alone anymore.

"You didn't want to go back to Hogwarts because there was no one there to go back to."

There was absolute silence in the forest as his words hung in the air, and Harry absently wondered if even the wind and wildlife realized the importance of what was happening here.

"You were leaving Malfoy Manor and you seemed to be eager to get away from him, from Voldemort, but then as you were leaving... You just weren't anymore because you were alone anywhere you went."

Harry's voice dropped lower and he made his intentions clear as he put his hands on Snape's forearms. There was no room for pity in Harry's heart as he leaned up to speak into Snape's ear. There was nothing but empathy and joy at having found someone so like himself and Harry prayed that Snape would understand what he was about to say.

"I didn't realize how lonely you were, especially this last year. You'd been alone for so long except for Dumbledore, and then he was gone." He winced as he heard how ridiculous he sounded, but carried on, knowing he had to get through this.

Harry let the side of his face rest against Snape's neck and intentionally breathed into his ear, feeling Snape's involuntary shiver at the sensation.

"You don't have to be alone anymore. You have me...if you want me."

Harry stood here leaning against Snape for another moment before he was thrust away and Snape swooped down upon him, dark eyes boring into him, slender hands squeezing his arms.

"You don't know what you are offering, boy. If you had any idea what I wanted from you, you would run from me—screaming."

Harry frowned, panting now that Snape was standing so close he was nearly draped over him once again, and backed up into a puddle. Looking down behind him, he realized he was standing at the edge of a pond that looked incredibly familiar.

Confused now, he looked past Snape and noticed a group of trees distinct from the rest only by how close they were together, almost touching each other...

The cold and damp seeped into Severus' boots as he stood behind a cluster of tightly-packed trees, waiting.

Trying not to displace the snow, he inched farther behind the thickest tree. There, he stilled, eyes closed and heart thudding, praying to any god who would listen that this plan would work.

Suddenly, through a fork of the tree, almost as if it were a frame around a picture, he saw soft, pale skin being revealed layer by layer.

A familiar feeling tightened Severus' groin and he closed his eyes for a moment. The last time he had felt anything like this, felt desire this fierce, had been a lifetime ago. He felt like a dirty old man.

Nonetheless, he forced himself to watch, telling himself he had to know if the plan would work.

His eyes roamed over the firm, slender body, imagining what the pale flesh would feel like as his fingers brushed it.

All such thoughts fled when he saw Potter dive into the water. Clenching his hands into tight fists, Severus held his breath and prayed he hadn't made a miscalculation, that Potter would emerge with the sword in his hands.

He didn't.

After almost a minute had passed and Potter still hadn't come up, Severus readied himself to rescue the foolish boy. He had just started to come out from his hiding place to do so when Weasley came running out of nowhere and jumped headlong into the pond. Moments later, two very wet young men surfaced, and Severus breathed a sigh of relief.

Using the tree to support him, Severus tried to force his heart rate to calm. When he felt steady enough to restrain himself from lunging out of the trees and strangling the idiot, he peered through the fork again.

With an inward groan, Severus felt his cock grow hard at the sight of wet pants clinging to a very shapely arse and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Keeping one eye on Weasley as he destroyed the locket, Severus looked his fill of Potter and allowed himself to feel desire; but only for a moment.

Men such as he rarely attracted anything so beautiful; allowing himself anything beyond simply watching would only increase his misery, and so after a while, he looked away.

Harry blinked as the memory released him and conviction took hold. Taking Snape in his arms, he wrapped himself around him so that there was no way the gesture could be misunderstood.

"I know exactly how you want me. I saw you. Watching me," he said, realizing that Snape had no idea what he'd just seen. "You were watching me here, by this pond. You were standing over there and you wanted me."

Snape narrowed his eyes, and tension immediately stiffened his shoulders. Harry thought he detected a touch of shame in the tilt of his head, but couldn't be certain as the feeling was gone in a flash. If Snape was ashamed, Harry was having none of it.

"I want you...just as much as you want me...wanted me," he corrected himself, praying Snape's attraction had become something more, as Harry's had.

Snape shook his head. "You know nothing," he said in a growl. "You are just a little boy playing a man's game."

Harry chuckled harshly and responded, "All my life."

Snape averted his eyes then, after a pause, responded with a nod, so Harry continued. "But not now. I know exactly what I want and I want you."

Leaning closer, Harry continued looking Snape straight in the eye, daring himself to stand chest to chest with him.

Looking down on him, Snape appeared to be waging some inner war. He knew Snape was trying his hardest to gain control of himself, but Harry couldn't lose this chance. But what could he do? He had never seduced anyone before, didn't have any idea how to go about it. He had plenty of ideas of what he wanted to do, but wasn't sure how to begin. All he was confident of doing was laying one hand against Snape's chest, just above his heart, his instinct telling him that sex was not the only thing on Snape's mind.

His instincts were right.

Harry felt only one beat beneath his fingers before suddenly he was held against Snape and soft lips pressed hard against his. It was passionate and desperate and left Harry gasping, the roughness of the kiss making it no less tender.

Harry's heart soared and he moaned into Snape's mouth, pulling at his neck to bring Snape impossibly closer. He'd barely begun to savor the kiss when he was abruptly released, Snape pushing away as he took a step back, trembling arms holding him at a distance.

"You don't realize what you are offering, Potter," he whispered roughly. "If I had you, I would never let you go. I have spent my life in solitude and if I had you..." he trailed off and looked at Harry with open desire and need. "If you gave yourself to me, I would keep you selfishly. You would be mine, Harry, and I would never, ever let you go."

Any trace of nerves that had remained melted away to be replaced by feelings of sanctuary and a warmth that stemmed from knowing his desires were returned. He smiled, breathless at Snape's words.

"Yes, please," was all he could say, his voice low with desire, and then he pushed against Snape's grip and reached up to kiss him roughly, wanting to possess him as much as he wanted to be possessed.

Making a sound of mixed disbelief and desperation, Snape returned the kiss and Harry stepped back at the force of his embrace, his feet making a splash in the pond. Snape spun him roughly away from the water, his feet now wet and soggy, but that didn't matter because then Snape was kissing him again.

Snape nipped at his neck and Harry moaned as he ran his hands through long, black hair and pulled Snape closer. He found that Snape's shirt was still untucked from their hasty dressing in Godric's Hollow and Harry had no problem pulling it up, blissfully caressing any skin his fingers touched.

Again, Snape abruptly pulled away from Harry, but this time it was to shed his robes and lay them quickly on the ground. His jacket was flung off with far less grace and chucked over to the side. Wearing only a white buttoned shirt, he reverently approached Harry, who thought Snape looked much less intimidating without layers of clothing.

Then it hit him.

How many people had seen Snape like this? How many had been allowed to see beneath the layers and through all of Snape's defense to see the man for himself? From Snape's memories, Harry knew the answer. Harry stood there, breathless, as he realized what this must mean to Snape and Harry prayed he would not make him regret it.

Taking a deep breath, he thought to simply strip off his clothes, but then he caught a look of pure adoration on Snape's face and it stopped him, frozen in wonder. Long, slender fingers found the waistline of his jeans and then the end of his shirt and Harry lifted his arms as Snape slowly pulled it off. Intimidated now by Snape's reverence, Harry was far more self-conscious than he would have been if he'd simply cast it off like he wanted to in the first place.

Ignoring his ridiculous and ill-timed embarrassment, Harry allowed Snape to look his fill, wearing that same emotion that graced his face in the hallway at Grimmauld Place, only this time Harry allowed himself to enjoy it.

But as much as it warmed him to know Snape found his body attractive, Harry had no desire to be worshipped. He unfastened his trousers and allowed them to hang off his hips while his hands began to unbutton Snape's shirt.

Snape began to undo his cufflinks, but Harry stopped him and batted away his hands, removing them and putting them in his own pocket before unbuttoning Snape's trousers.

"I want to—" he cut himself off when his hand encountered wiry hair and the shaft of Snape's hard cock.

Gulping and trying desperately to stem the rush of sensation in his balls, Harry slowly parted his trousers and watched as Snape's cock bobbed out. He moaned. This picture of Snape—shirt half-undone, his trousers around his ankles with his boots still on, and his cock hard and leaking-—burned itself into Harry's mind.

Harry smiled and toed off his shoes, then leaned down to remove Snape's boots. As he bent his head, his cheek grazed Snape's cock and his eyes opened wide when he heard Snape's poorly restrained groan. Harry reveled in the fact that Snape was hard and moaning for him, that he had caused such a reaction in him. Knowing that, he felt a burst of confidence he hadn't dared admit was lacking before. He could do this; he could make Snape moan with pleasure and lose control.

Leaning forward again, he wrapped his fingers around the base of Snape's cock and licked experimentally around the head.

Twirling his tongue in circles, flicking at the rim, Harry soon saw a bead of moisture appear from the slit like a dewdrop, and he quickly licked it off. He gave a soft moan and decided he liked the taste of Snape. Not wanting to embarrass himself, Harry sucked only the head of Snape's cock while one hand caressed the inside of his thigh and then gently rolled his balls.

With a groan, Snape pulled himself back and sank to his knees, devouring Harry with a kiss as he kicked off his trousers, Harry falling onto his back and Snape's well-placed cloak.

Harry opened his legs and allowed all of Snape's weight to be pressed upon him, the smell and feel of bare flesh causing his cock to ache. He thrust upward and was met by an answering hardness.

Snape broke off their kiss and began to trail downward, his tongue and lips lightly tracing Harry's chest. Soft trickles of pleasure shot into Harry's stomach as Snape tongued his throat and behind his ear, turning to sharper tingles when the tongue moved down to flick at his nipples.

Arching his back, Harry moaned and whimpered, the utter delight of sensation rolling over him, as his mind shut down and his body's instincts took over. He ran his hands over Snape's slender back, enjoying the smooth flesh under his fingers as lips continued to tease him. Hair tickled his stomach and Harry fought a squirm as the lips moved further down, edging around his cock. He felt Snape grasp his cock, then become still, and he looked down.

Snape met Harry's eyes, then he smirked wickedly before swallowing him whole.

Harry cried out and fought the impulse to thrust into wet heat as Snape's tongue laved the sensitive underside of his cock and then began sucking.

"Fuck!" he ground out hoarsely as his legs flailed a little.

He felt Snape's fingers begin to stroke his perineum and Harry bucked upwards uncontrollably, loving the attention. The soft strokes moved downward, tentatively, to rub along the crease of his arse, making Snape's intentions clear. Harry spread his legs in response, welcoming every touch.

"Merlin, yes," Snape said in a breathless voice as he paused in his attentions to Harry's cock, sitting up to reach for his wand.

For a moment, Snape hesitated and turned a questioning look towards Harry. Realizing Snape was offering him the chance to back out, he smiled up at him and nodded. Reaching up, he gripped Snape's cock firmly and rubbed his thumb over the head, watching the pre-come glisten in the moonlight.

Snape moaned and thrust into Harry's hand as he aimed with his wand, muttering something Harry couldn't hear. With a gasp, he soon felt the effects. His arse felt stretched and lubricated, and he was suddenly very glad he was a wizard.

"Well, that's convenient," he said, and Snape smirked before Harry pulled him down to fall on top of him again.

They stayed like that for a moment, just gazing at each other, their panted breaths the only sound in the forest. Snape was studying his lips and Harry wondered whether he was thinking about stopping...all of this. Kneading his fingers into the pale flesh on Snape's back, Harry tried to plead with him, tried to tell Snape how much he wanted him with his eyes.

Snape looked away for a moment, then an odd sort-of-smile touched his lips and he plucked something out of Harry's hair with surprising tenderness, then looked at it wryly before flicking it away.

"A daisy," he said, and the word sounded so peculiar when said in Snape's beautiful, harsh voice that Harry could do nothing in response except smile and kiss him.

The oddness gone now, Harry thanked the daisy for the moment of distraction as Snape deepened the kiss with a groan. Long-fingered hands gripped his hips harshly before running down his thighs, picking them up by the calves and sliding them onto Snape's shoulders.

Immediately, Harry felt his arse spread open and the coolness of the air touch places it never had before. Shivering with sudden nerves, he felt the head of Snape's cock press at his entrance. Then Snape paused and waited, holding Harry's eyes.

A thrill went through Harry as he realized that Snape was taking care of him, even in this and his nerves left him just as quickly as they had come. He wanted Snape's cock inside him more than anything and yet for the moment was content to continue looking into Snape's eyes, feeling Snape's cock touching against him, reveling in the feeling. He felt his arse begin to twitch, as though impatient, and Snape's eyelids fluttered before he began to push inside slowly.

Despite the lubrication and stretching, Harry felt a sharp stab of pain as Snape's cock breached him. He knew it wouldn't last long, and he was proved right as Snape's cock went deeper. The pain, however, turned to a burning that became difficult to bear.

"Are you in too much pain?" Snape asked with a grunt.

How much pain is too much? Harry thought before answering with a shake of his head.

"Talk to me," he said, trying to hide the strain in his voice.

Severus pushed in farther, his thrusts small and slow, before he looked at Harry, seemingly completely thrown by his request.

Harry gritted his teeth and pushed back against Snape, saying, "Just...say something sexy. Tell me how it feels."

Finally, Snape was fully sheathed inside him and Harry watched as Snape visibly restrained himself, his arms and thighs trembling.

"You feel divine," Snape said hoarsely. "I'm...I'm not entirely sure what you wish to hear."

Harry experimentally moved, but the discomfort had not yet abated.

"Anything. Your voice—" he whispered. "Your voice is beautiful."

Snape stilled on top of him and averted his eyes and Harry felt Snape's body ease. The face that had been so expressive a moment ago became blank and Harry wondered what he had said to upset him.

"Snape?" Harry said, tugging a bit at his hair so that he was looking at him again. When Snape refused to meet his eyes, Harry became almost frantic. He thought back to what he had said, what he'd done, searching for something to make this right again.

Just as he was about to apologize, Snape looked down at him and kissed him again, but he was less forceful, less confident and Harry had no idea why. His heart plummeted and he desperately tried to make things better.

"Your voice is beautiful," he whispered and Snape put his nose on his neck, but continued his silence.

Growing frustrated and having no idea what to do, Harry decided to take matters into his own hands. He flexed his muscles and began thrusting his hips. Immediately, Snape began to thrust back, moaning.

"For Merlin's sake, Potter," Snape said with a grunt. "Call me Severus."

"Severus," Harry whispered with a smile and involuntarily closed his eyes. The pain and burn had eased, surprising him, and it was definitely more pleasure now. That small amount of pleasure increased dramatically when he felt Severus' cock brush against his prostate.

"Yes, fuck! Right there, harder!" he cried and Severus picked himself up and began to slowly move inside him.

Harry moaned softly at Severus' short, shallow thrusts, but as the pain was consumed wholly by pleasure, he realized he was being treated like glass. Wanting more, he awkwardly shifted his legs off Severus' shoulders to encircle his waist, using his feet against Severus' arse to force him faster and deeper.

All control left Severus and he keened as he pulled out and slammed back in. Closing his eyes, Harry reveled in the feel of Severus' cock and the sound of his balls slapping his arse.

Severus' hands sought out his cock and began to tug it in time to his thrusts, his thumb encircling the leaking head every couple of strokes.

Harry shuddered as he felt his orgasm approach and moved his hips greedily, taking in as much of Severus as he could. With a silent gasp, he threw his head back and came onto Severus' hand and stomach as he was pumped of everything.

Severus had halted when Harry came, his teeth biting his lips, but then he grabbed Harry's hips and thrust a few more times before grunting his release. One or two more thrusts, almost spasms, and then his eyes closed and he sank down on top of Harry.

Panting, Harry welcomed the now-familiar weight on top of him, and embraced Severus' body with sweaty arms and legs.

"Am I not crushing you?" Severus asked, still breathless.

Black hair was tickling his neck and semen was sticky and wet in between them, and Harry thought that very soon they were going to have to separate or things would become uncomfortable very quickly.

But then Severus tilted his head up and kissed his cheek and his lips and slid down to pillow his head on Harry's chest, and Harry no longer cared about anything aside from the warm weight beside him, covering him.

"No. You're not," he said, glad that Severus couldn't see the wide smile on his face.

"Hmm," he said, running his fingers along Harry's side. "Tergeo," Severus muttered and then Harry was clean again.

"Thank you."

"Hmm. Rest now, Harry. It's late."

Harry rolled his eyes and puffed out a scoff of amusement that caused Severus' head to bob on his chest.

"It's three in the afternoon. Wonky sun."

Severus replied with a yawn that cooled his heated skin, sending pleasant sensations along his chest. Harry's smile grew as he ran a hand through Severus' hair and looked up into the canopy of trees. It was three in the afternoon, but Harry was already exhausted. His mind began to run through all that had happened in the past few hours and, though he hated to break the silence, he found he needed to talk with Severus.

"He's mortal now," he said, interrupting the peaceful sound of Severus' deep breaths.

He shifted on top of Harry and he felt eyelashes tickle his chest.

"Yes, he is."

"I didn't think I'd have to face him again," Harry said, mostly to himself. "At least not before all of this happened. I always thought...you know... It would be just the one last time."


Harry contemplated the trees and the darkness that surrounded them, allowing his mind to wander. The last time he'd faced Voldemort, he'd been alone aside from the ghostly shadows of his parents and Remus and Sirius. It was right for him to have been alone, it was what he'd wanted. There hadn't been anyone who could have stood next to him, no one who shared a purpose in defeating Voldemort. He looked down into dark hair and thought that this was Severus' fight just as much as it was his.

"You'll be with me, right?" he asked quietly, nearly wishing that his words had been overtaken by the wind.

The steady, peaceful breathing ceased and Severus pulled himself up on one elbow, then leaned over Harry, the irritated look on his face a familiar sight.

"What part of 'I will never let you go' did you fail to understand, Potter?"

"Oh," Harry said, relieved.

"There will be no traipsing off to fight Dark Lords without me, I assure you."

Harry's body relaxed and he pulled Severus down to rest on his chest again, his heart rejoicing that he was no longer alone.

Softly, Severus said, "You will never face anything alone again, Harry. You are mine now."

A smile that could not be helped crept onto Harry's face and he whispered, "As long as you're mine too."

Severus scoffed, but held him closer. "If you insist."


Harry was having...oh...a wonderful dream.

He was lying on a comfortable bed, his head pillowed on something firm but soft with the most wonderful smell. And he was warm...so very warm. His pillow smelled like potions ingredients and damp walls and Harry wondered when those odd scents had become so comforting to him.

He burrowed his head as much as he could into the soft fabric and a warm hand came up to softly stroke his hair.

Harry wanted nothing more than to release a soft moan to show his appreciation for the gentle touch, but he never seemed to be able to move or speak with ease in these dreams. He worked on bunching the fabric in his hand and opening his eyes.

The room around him was hazy, but he recognized the hand turning the pages of a large book propped up by a pair of slender legs.

"Mmm," he hummed, allowing himself to enjoy the warmth surrounding him and the hand caressing his hair.

Both hands stilled and the one in his hair quickly pulled away, and Harry wished he'd stayed quiet. The book was quickly thrown to the side and Harry was rolled onto his back.

As he had come to expect, Severus' dark eyes and pale face immediately came into Harry's view and this time it was a welcomed sight.

Hello, he thought, not quite confident in his ability to control his voice just now. I missed your face.

He smiled and sluggishly brought a hand up to Severus' cheek, tracing the sharp angles with a shaking finger. Curiously, he took in the clean bandage around the slender neck and reached down to touch it, but Severus grabbed his hand.

Severus held his hand firmly, then met his eyes with the same intensity he always did in his dreams. Harry smiled as he looked into fathomless depths and studied the way Severus was looking at him.

"Hi," he said, and he hated how his voice sounded almost bashful.

There was no reaction in Severus' face or in his eyes, but the hand holding his started to rub his palm slowly and Harry did his best to grip it in return.

"Always so quiet," Harry said, relaxing as he realized Severus' gaze had once frightened him and it no longer did.

As soon as he had spoken the words, Harry thought he saw something odd, something impossible out of the corner of his eye, but...no. His heart sped up at the thought of what he might have seen, his eyes staying open almost of their own accord when all he wanted to do was close them. It was almost as though...


Something not quite like lines of fire invaded his vision and he narrowed his eyes and titled his head, squinting in an effort to make out what it was. He felt the cool, familiar rims of his glasses placed on the bridge of his nose, but it hardly aided his effort; his vision was still blurred by the fog in his mind.

Concentrating as much as he could through the haze, he began to make sense out of the lines that were hanging in the air, all the time Severus kept looking into his eyes.

"Do you see that?" Harry asked, finally realizing the lines were letters writing themselves in the air, eerily reminiscent of Voldemort writing his name with his wand in the Chamber of Secrets.

Suddenly, the letters snapped into place and through the fog of his mind and blurriness of his vision, Harry was just able to make out the words.

"Harry, can you hear me?" the words said, and Harry's eyes went wide as he recognized the handwriting.

"Severus?" Harry said, his vision starting to blur. The last thing he saw was Severus' eyes going wide at the sound of his own name.


Harry stretched his back and burrowed deeper into the soft ground below him, wondering if Severus had cast a cushioning charm of some sort on his robes last night.

"Harry," said the man in question. "We need to get up."

"Mmm. What time is it?" he asked, his eyes still closed.

"It's eight in the evening and we have to get up," Severus said and this time his voice sounded urgent.

Harry opened his eyes and took in the sight of Severus dressing, putting his cufflinks in his shirt sleeves and looking around the forest for...something.

"What's wrong?" Harry said, getting up and looking around for his pants.

Severus handed them to him, the red plaid looking odd in such dignified hands.

"It is entirely possible that the Dark Lord does not know he is mortal once again. He is looking for you and—"

"And I have to kill him before he hurts anyone else. Right," Harry said, all traces of sleep vanishing as reality washed over him. Their fight wasn't over yet. They still needed...

Harry smiled as he pulled up his trousers and toed on his shoes. Their fight. The fight wasn't his alone anymore.

"Where do you think the Dark Lord would wait for you, Potter?"

Harry pulled on his t-shirt and considered the question. He'd been waiting for him at Godric's Hollow, the place where Voldemort had been defeated all those years ago. It would make sense for him to return there, to lie in wait for Harry...

But that wasn't where Tom Riddle's journey began, wasn't where he wanted to stake his claim to the wizarding world. Hogwarts had been Riddle's first home in the same way it had been Harry's and Severus'.

The abandoned boys of Hogwarts, Harry thought as he realized where Voldemort would be waiting.

"Hogwarts," he said plainly. "He's waiting at Hogwarts."

Severus seemed to take Harry's answer at face value and he nodded in response.

"Hogwarts..." He turned and seemed to study Harry. After a moment, he asked in a soft voice, "Are you ready for this to be the end of it, Harry?"

Harry's eyes narrowed at the odd question and it seemed as though Severus was looking through him.

He wanted to ask what Severus meant, what he getting at, but Harry already knew the answer to that question.

Was it only days ago that he had wondered what exactly he had to live for and what he would do once Voldemort was finally dead? Looking at Severus, Harry felt a surge of hope as he never had before. Maybe he didn't know exactly what he would do with Voldemort gone, but he knew the person who'd be with him as he figured it out.

"Yes," he said, and thought he saw a trace of a smile on Severus' lips.


They Apparated onto the road that led from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade and Harry was suddenly pelted by hard rain, instantly soaked to the bone.

"Fuck!" he said, pulling his shirt over his head even as Severus' hair seemed mostly dry. "What?" Harry asked, screaming over the sound of thunder and pouring rain.

Severus aimed his wand at him and said, "Impervius," his voice at a normal tone so Harry could barely hear him. "Are you a wizard or not?"

Harry rolled his eyes and cast a drying charm on himself, then looked up towards the castle, the turrets eerily back-dropped by flashes of lightning.

"'A dark and stormy night', Potter?" Severus said with a sniff of disdain that was easily noticed even above the roar of thunder and rain.

"How is this my fault?" Harry yelled.

Severus turned away, looking towards the castle. "Where do you think he would wait for us?"

Harry took joy at the 'us', but said nothing. He looked up to see the rain pelting him, squinted against it reflexively, even as it slid off his face. Turning his head towards the fallen walls of the castle, he considered the battle they had fought there, how it would make sense for Voldemort to return to the place where he had failed.

A crack of lightning flashed over the Forbidden Forest and drew Harry's attention there, and suddenly he knew where Voldemort was waiting for him.

"In the forest!" Harry yelled over the storm and pointed to where he had once happily gone to die. "I don't know how I know, I just know."

Severus nodded and began to walk towards the forest, Harry walking behind him, surprised that he seemed to take everything Harry said with no argument.

They trudged slowly and Harry noticed that the charm didn't seem to extend down to his feet, his shoes becoming muddy and the bottom of his socks growing wet.

The pouring rain and violent storm around him suited their situation perfectly, Harry thought as thunder roared in his ears. Severus was a dark presence at his side, his steps perfectly measured so that Harry had no problem keeping up with him.

They walked side by side and Harry had no choice but to compare this trek to his last. With every step he took, his heart grew lighter and though he knew it was possible he really was marching to his death, he had never felt so alive. He wasn't alone now. He had Severus and felt the most wonderful sense of refuge and companionship at seeing the dark figure out of the corner of his eye.

Nearing the edge of the forest, Harry reached out and took his lover's hand in his, long dark hair shifting in the wind as the other man looked down, then up at Harry again.

They stood that way for a moment, both forms rigid against the pouring rain and the tremendous task that stood in front of them.

Suddenly, lightning flashed and lit up the entire sky, illuminating Severus' eyes in the harsh light, and Harry stilled at all the things Severus did not say in that one moment.

Without another word, Harry tugged at Severus' hand, leading them both into the forest to once again face his fate.


"I never knew your tastes ran to boys, Severus," Voldemort said, projecting his voice over the rain. His face was twisted in hatred, the rain seeming to slide off his sleek head, making him seem less human than ever.

Harry sneered at his words, but wouldn't allow himself to be distracted, not when he was so close to ending all of this.

"Or is it simply because he so resembles his mother?" Voldemort called out.

Harry clenched his teeth and forced himself not to curse Voldemort until Severus was able to distract him first.

"Hardly," Severus said with a scoff, his voice sounding flat and bored over the sound of the storm. "Trust me, Harry," he said under his breath so only Harry could hear, his hand coming up quickly to squeeze Harry's shoulder.

"This has to end, Riddle," Harry said, his voice more pleading than angry. "You—I don't know if anyone deserves—" he broke off as he took in Voldemort's scowl, but carried on. "Do you not regret anything?"

"You can't save everyone, Harry," Severus warned from the corner of his mouth.

Voldemort raised his wand, the bone handle illuminated by the lightning barely penetrating the thick canopy of trees, and Harry waited for Severus' move. When it came, it was so quick Harry might not have noticed the motion if he hadn't been looking for it. Voldemort re-aimed his wand at Severus, and Harry took the moment he was given.

"Avada Kedavra," he shouted, green spell-light shooting from his wand even as he prayed for the end, for all of this to be over.

The power of the spell knocked Voldemort backwards, behind a single, rotting tree, and Harry stilled for a moment, his breath coming harshly and thunder cracking in his ears.

Voldemort was dead...and Harry had killed him. He breathed a deep sigh that was equal parts relief, joy and regret.

Before he could truly contemplate what had just happened, a blue light began to glow from where Voldemort had fallen, an other-worldly, incandescent beam; and though the color was off, Harry was instantly reminded of the cursed necklace that had almost killed Katie Bell.

The glowing light sent the fallen tree into silhouette and Harry shivered at the sight of it, his body tensing, ready to attack again. By his side, Severus lowered his wand and started to walk towards it.

Hesitantly, Harry followed and looked down to where Voldemort had fallen, taking a step back with a gasp audible over the rain when he saw the body wasn't there.

"But—?" Harry shouted over the rain. "What's happened? Where has he gone? I hit him, I know I did!"

"Yes, you did," Severus replied in an even tone, his voice carrying despite the noise of the storm.

Confused, Harry shook his head and began to panic. If he had hit Voldemort with the killing curse and no Horcruxes still existed...

"But this is impossible!"

"Yes, Harry," Severus said plainly. "It's impossible."

Not understanding the tone of his voice, Harry squinted past the rain and dark to look at Severus' face and noticed how he was looking at him—a beseeching, desperate look in his eyes that Harry didn't understand.


"It's impossible, Harry, just as it's impossible that every book in the Wizarding World is blank. Just as it's impossible for the sun to set at dawn or how the world seems devoid of life."

"What?" Harry shouted even as he knew what Severus was saying was true.


Lightning shot through the sky so violently that the light penetrated the canopy of trees, illuminating Severus' face so Harry could see him properly, his eyes focussing on his neck.

His flawless, unblemished neck.

The skin partially hidden by the high collar was pale and perfect where there should have been some sort of scar, even if it was faint or healing, and Harry stared unabashedly for a moment.

"Do you understand, Harry?" Severus asked.

His nerves shot, Harry clenched his fists in an effort to keep them from shaking as he began to suspect what Severus was trying to tell him.

"But then... But—"

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes," Harry said without reservation.

"Then come," Severus said, and with that he turned around and headed towards the light, then disappeared behind the fallen tree.

Harry panicked at losing sight of Severus, but walked toward the light, knowing instinctively that he would never harm him, that he would only ever try to help him.

"Severus?" Harry called, but there was no response. His panic growing, he called out again, "Snape?!" but there was still no answer.

Harry turned around once, knowing where Severus had gone, but still hoping to find him without going forward. His breathing grew erratic and he ran his hands through his hair.

Do you trust me?

"Yes," Harry said softly to no one. "Yes," he said again, louder this time, and he stepped so close to the light he thought it would blind him.

Thunder cracked in his ears and rain poured harder than ever, and Harry's eyes darted around, still looking for Severus. Panic was just setting in when he looked down towards the light and actually looked into it...


The light slowly faded, taking with it the sound of the storm and the wind and even the smell of the forest. In the darkness, Harry crouched down to touch the floor and it was as though he was feeling nothing, as though there was nothing there, just as there had been no words in the books, no people in the city...

"It isn't real," Harry said to the void. "Nothing's real..."

"Trust me, Harry," Severus voice said softly.

"I do," Harry said, reaching out for Severus as the only real thing in the nothingness.

He closed his eyes and suddenly felt thin lips upon his, instinctively recognizing who was kissing him. Both their lips felt cracked and dry to Harry and he felt so weak, but he kissed Severus back as well as he could until he drew away, long hair tickling the sides of his face.

Harry opened his eyes.

He was lying on a very comfortable bed, surrounded by pillows and a thin, dark figure.

Severus, who looked far thinner than he had just moments ago, Severus, who had a bandage around his neck and looked exactly as he had in Harry's dreams.

He moved around in the bed experimentally and flexed his muscles, realizing that he could move and that the world was in focus, cool metal frames sitting upon his nose. Looking around, he recognized the stone walls and the faint torchlight.

He was in the dungeons.

Looking farther, he noticed books on mind magic piled on a bedside table and dark wooden furniture, the bedroom setting having a decidedly masculine tone.

He was in Severus' bedroom.

And he'd been here the entire time.

"It wasn't real, was it?" he finally asked, his voice coming far more easily than it ever had in his dreams.

Severus shook his head, the long, lank hair looking almost comical as it swished along his face.

Harry took a deep breath and began to realize what that might mean.

"Is he dead?" he asked, fearing the answer.

"Yes," Severus said hoarsely, his voice so scratchy and soft that Harry barely heard and might not have understood if he hadn't seen his mouth move.

Picking up a piece of parchment, Severus leaned over so Harry could read his words as he was writing them.

'Yes, Harry. He's been dead since that first time, some months ago.'

Harry frowned and asked, "What's wrong with your voice?"

Severus paled and lowered his eyes, but not before Harry witnessed a dimming, as though he was bracing himself for rejection. His hand trembled for a moment before he put his quill to parchment again.

'Nagini.' Just one word, and yet it said everything Harry needed to know. Severus shifted on the bed and looked far less certain, less confident than Harry had ever seen him.

"Oh," he said for want of something better to say.

Severus seemed to rally himself and he wrote, 'I was damaged, but am healing. Slowly. I know that you were attracted to my voice, but I will not always be unable to speak. There were,' Severus' hand shook for a moment before he steadied it again, 'complications. However, Poppy's prognosis is hopeful.'

Harry sat up in bed, his muscles functioning now, but sore from disuse. Slowly, he reached out a hand towards the bandages around Severus' neck and a pale hand shot up, instinctively, to stop him.

"Please?" Harry said, not an ounce of pity or disappointment in his tone. "It was so odd seeing your neck without them when I knew they should have been there. They're...something to be proud of, Severus."

Something shone in Severus' eyes and he dropped his hand and allowed Harry to pull back the bandages.

There, exactly where Harry knew they would be, were the reddened, partially-healed scars, and Harry almost sighed at the sight of them.

This makes sense, he thought. This is real.

He had to stop himself from touching them just to make sure, but he smiled at seeing them, his relief almost tangible at the world finally making sense.

"They're like a badge of honor," he said again, his hand still hovering over Severus' neck. "And I do like your voice, but..." he said, confused. "How did you know how much I liked it? I only mentioned it that one time."

Taking quill to parchment again, Severus wrote, 'Legilimency. When I gave you my memories, I also transferred a part of myself. It was the product of poor control due to my injury and is responsible for trapping you within your own mind. I am sorry. I managed to remove it—it is only you, now.'

Harry nodded absentmindedly, but his confusion only grew.

"But...that strange fire-writing—"

'Was my attempt at using Legilimency to communicate with you. It took months to learn and a great deal of concentration, which is hardly worth the effort since you are now capable of focusing on a piece of parchment.'

"Right," he said, his eyes lowered to his hands. "And everything we did—"

'Was your attempt at breaking free of the spell while you were battling your own demons. The spell caused you to absorb my,' again, he paused, his hand seeming uncertain, 'heartaches, but you had your own to contend with as well. After a few weeks, it became obvious that you were incapable of coming out of your mind on your own. You required a guide, someone to help you through your journey.'

"You rescued me again," Harry said, looking up from the parchment with a small smile.

Severus titled his head and smirked, nodding his agreement.

Extending a hand to run over Severus' back, Harry wondered at the closeness, how Severus seemed to be looking at him the same way he had in the dream.

"Was none of it real? I mean— What you did...for me... Was any of that—"

Harry broke off as Severus began to scribble furiously.

'No, Harry. Not all of it was false. What I feel for you, what we feel for each other is real.'

Laying down the quill, Severus began to stroke Harry's hand, his face descending to lay a gentle kiss on his cheek.

A great shudder ran through Harry, then a sigh of relief as he turned his head and leaned his face up to kiss Severus passionately. Thin lips caressed his for a moment before he fell back onto the pillows again, weakened by just that small movement.

Carefully, Severus arranged him back on the bed, lying down next to him and pillowing Harry's head on his chest, holding him closely with an unexpected tenderness.

'You're free to live your life now, Harry.' Severus' hand stilled again and Harry leaned his head up so that his hair brushed the side of his face. 'We're both free.'

Smiling with a relief he had never felt before, Harry burrowed further into Severus' embrace, knowing that everything he said was true. Both their lives were their own now, to do with as they pleased. More than that, they'd never be alone again; they belonged to each other.

Harry smiled and kissed Severus again, laying his parchment aside as he snuggled into his chest.

"We'll live for each other then? And we'll rescue each other, won't we?" Harry said cautiously, hopefully.

Thin lips caressed his ear and a voice so impassioned he hardly noticed how scratchy it sounded answered, "Always."