Disclaimer: JK Rowling's characters.
Potions Classroom, Hogwarts, July 1997 (20)
The quill Snape was using slipped from his fingers as he shot out of his chair to step around the front of his desk.
"Harry, you should—"
"Leave?" Harry eyed the crates stacked up like bricks against the wall.
Snape's brows drew together. "You should be resting."
Harry scowled. "My arse hurts from all the resting I've been doing…"
"Rather your arse hurt than you ending up back on the hospital ward." Snape crossed his arms over his chest. "You know Poppy thinks you left her care far too soon. She is looking for any excuse to get you back into her clutches."
Harry sighed. Snape was right. If Pomfrey saw him, she would raise hell, hustle him back to his room, and tuck him into bed herself. But he was tired of lying about, his only fun picking at Draco.
"You were gone when I got up. Draco, Papa, and I had breakfast without you. And lunch."
"Yes… I'd intended to have this completed by noon."
"Dobby could have hel –" Harry began, then stopped when Snape hitched a brow at him, as if to ask, 'Are you really going to finish that sentence?' Careful not roll his eyes, Harry nodded at Snape's desk. "You mind?" Clear of its usual potions paraphernalia the massive oak workspace looked even more gigantic and weirdly naked, like a plucked chicken.
Snape narrowed his eyes and said, "Potter." When Harry's lips twitched into something resembling a smile, Snape froze.
Since leaving the hospital ward, Harry's easy grins were as rare as a "How do you do?" from Filch, and because the boy's moods were so contrary and unpredictable, Snape never knew what to expect. Like now, the shadowy grin faded to nothing as Harry turned his attention to his own feet.
It was one of those days. Sometimes he took a step without too much thought. Then there were days like today when his body believed that he should be using the crutches or even the walker. The problem with that line of thinking was that when he used those things, his ego told him he was regressing. It wasn't true, of course, because to everyone's gape-mouthed astonishment, he was still improving, but too slowly for his liking.
After looking at his feet (a habit he soon hoped to be rid of), Harry shifted his weight, leaning on the walking-stick in his right hand. It was a remarkable piece. Not a day passed that someone didn't compliment him on it. Beautifully intricate spirals resembling a hart and a serpent had been carved into the smooth, dark olive-brown wood. Aberforth had commissioned Charlie to craft it.
While Harry had been unconscious, the old wizard had refused to hear talk of the possibility he might not walk again. Harry had sacrificed more than his fair share, Aberforth believed. To him, it didn't seem farfetched to think the boy would walk once he woke up; it was only a taste of what Harry deserved, after all. But there had been no absolutes. No one had known what kind of shape Harry would be in when he woke—if he woke.
When he did, though, Aberforth immediately sought out Charlie Weasley. He and Charlie had remained friendly since Charlie took over Hagrid's position, and knowing the young man as he did, Aberforth recognized that the sudden void in the Weasley family led Charlie to drink too much and sleep too little. The imbalance slashed the man's notorious patience nearly to nothing. Luckily, Ginny spent much of her time with him so that when someone offered their condolences for Fred, Charlie didn't rip their heads off. Ginny was happy to look after her brother. If Ron belonged to Bill, she belonged to Charlie.
After taking a day to sober up and closing his eyes for longer than an hour, Charlie spent three days making the stick. He could easily have used magic, but he had chosen to whittle the wood the Muggle way. "I made the handle from the horn of a stag," Charlie told Harry when, with only Snape, Draco, and himself for an audience, Aberforth had presented it to Harry. "I made the stick from an ash tree. I researched it and learned that the ash tree symbolizes sacrifice. Other than James and your mum, I can't think of anyone who has sacrificed more to keep you safe than your dad here." Charlie nodded at Snape.
Harry had spent the rest of the night clutching and staring at his gift, mouth falling open every now and then as if to say something, but words never came. Then the next day, to everyone's horror, he demanded a walker. Snape, Galen, Pomfrey and the Muggle surgeon who repaired Harry's shattered femur, had all refused him outright, but Harry repeated his demand the next day and the next, green eyes stubborn with want, mouth an angry line. The line eased when he received a walker the following day. The day after that, he used the walker to hobble around his bed, a cursing Snape plastered to his back, an exasperated Draco, Ron, and terrified Hermione surrounding him at every other point. He was shattered afterwards, but he did it again the next day, and for a week until he made it to the entrance without his human buffers. The next week, he wanted crutches. He pushed himself and a week after that he graduated to his beautiful walking-stick.
At present, Snape marked Harry's every movement as the boy shuffled across the room. His legs were still slow to react when getting started, but after the first couple of steps, the nerves and muscles begin firing together. At the desk, he turned to brace his hands and arms to lift up his body. Snape gripped the bureau's oaken edges hard enough to zap the circulation in both hands. He ached to help Harry, to hold him, but he knew better.
It took Harry a little over a minute, but once seated he scooted over, close enough that his arm brushed Snape's. Harry had loved being touched before the battle, much like an attention-starved puppy. He had loved having his hair stroked, his back rubbed, and Snape had spoiled him with full-body massages after Quidditch practices. But since regaining consciousness, he had become skittish about people putting their hands on him. His bones still ached and some folks in their enthusiasm handled him far too roughly.
Harry closed his eyes and rested his head on Snape's shoulder, tilting it so that his breaths, coming faster than they should, puffed up onto the skin beneath Snape's jaw. That momentary weakness provided the perfect excuse for Snape to put an arm around the boy. As Harry relaxed more, Snape lifted his hand. He ran it lightly along the fuzzy black patches growing wild around the scar scoring a path at the back of Harry's skull. At his touch, Harry's breathing calmed.
"Feeling all right?" Snape said quietly, marveling as he looked at Harry. The man had never had a hard and fast opinion about beauty, as he found it in so few things, but Harry's dark lashes crowning the yellowish bruising that still lingered beneath his eyes struck the man as obscenely beautiful. He couldn't help smiling, glad Harry's eyes were closed, glad to exploit this moment of selfishness.
Harry opened his eyes to look up into Snape's. "Better, now. You?"
Snape dipped his chin in a nod, not trusting himself to speak.
"It's finally over," Harry said, after a moment.
"For now. Those who weren't captured will likely regroup."
Harry shifted away from Snape to sit up straight. "Think Malfoy'll head them up?"
Snape shrugged and put his hands in his lap. "Death Eaters are a vicious lot. He will have to earn that spot, kill for it, but he has always had an insatiable hunger for power."
"He'll come after Draco, won't he?"
"Yes," came out a low, angry hiss.
Harry nodded, as if coming to a decision. "I should have killed him when I had the chance."
"What?" Snape frowned. "No! Killing a man is –"
"I killed Voldemort."
"He wasn't a man. He was an…abomination, an experiment."
"You only say that because you don't want me to feel bad for killing him, but I don't." Harry looked at Snape, unblinking. "I'd do it again."
"…But it isn't the same, Harry."
"I don't –"
"Listen to me, after nearly dying that night in '81, the Dark Lord used the blackest, vilest magic to remain in the world as nothing more than a spook. I say again, he was not a man, and believe me, had you killed Lucius, your feelings would be completely different."
Harry agreed with Snape about Voldemort, he had not been a man, but nothing would change his mind about Lucius. He should have killed him in that corridor, that much he knew, and if Lucius ever crossed his path, he wouldn't make the same mistake twice.
"You love him, Draco, I mean," Harry said, changing the subject.
Snape regarded Harry a moment, then said, "You know, he's never asked me that of you."
"Oh…" Harry flushed. "I… Nevermind."
Snape sighed and tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, something Harry had never seen the man do; the gesture made him seem young, vulnerable. "If you must know, in many ways, he reminds me of someone," Snape said, though it seemed to cost him.
A sour, teasing expression settled on Harry's face. "Lucius?"
Snape snorted. "Certainly not."
"Narcissa and I weren't particularly close."
"Harry…" Snape frowned.
"All right," Harry said. "Keep your secret." He then surprised Snape with another half-smile. When Snape's lips relaxed into a responding grin, Harry muttered, "Tell me later."
Snape hitched a brow at the boy's sneaky expression. Gods, Draco was rubbing off on him. "Mm," Snape said, "rather later." He scratched at his left wrist. Harry reached to encircle it gently in his hand. Snape watched the boy push up his robe sleeve, then fumble with the button on his shirt sleeve. Eventually he got it open and shoved it back, exposing Snape's skin.
When Voldemort disintegrated, the scar from Wormtail's Incendio ruptured. Snape hadn't noticed it until Galen pointed it out in the Great Hall. While inspecting the weeping, pussy wound, Pomfrey had screeched at him: "You should have had this looked at right away! Do you want to lose your hand? It's not as if you didn't come close to losing it last summer, is it?" Snape had borne her abuse because though she talked nonstop, she never paused in her work. Had he dared to interrupt her, she would have stopped to glare at him, and it would have taken her that much longer to fix him up, which would have meant more time away from Harry.
Pomfrey removed the bandages days before Harry woke, but one day, Harry had overheard Draco and Snape talking about it. When he demanded the man show it to him, he had been astonished to see a tiny star-shaped scar in place of the previously damaged flesh. Even more surprising had been Snape's expression; it had softened upon revealing it to Harry.
"I s'pose now you can go into Fred and George's shop, no problem." Harry ran his thumb lightly over the tiny bubble of flesh.
"Harry…" Snape eyed the boy, worried.
"Don't!" Harry growled softly. "I know Fred's dead! It's just hard to mention one without the other!"
Snape bit the inside of his cheek. Harry did know Fred was dead, but sometimes the faulty memory kicked in, forcing him to repeat himself, or to stutter, his mouth moving, with no sound until his brain caught up. Even if he didn't recognize it, Snape did. Harry sighed, annoyed at Snape's concern. He applied a possessive pressure to Snape's wrist. "You felt it when he Summoned the others," he said.
"Twinges. Nothing at all like before Pettigrew burned it off."
"It's why you'd leave in the middle of things, isn't it?"
"But you went other times too, when he hadn't Summoned anyone…"
"It was necessary, Harry. Had I stayed away it would have been impossible to communicate with Andromeda Tonks. We wouldn't have known anything of how she and the kidnapped children were faring."
"Someone else could have done it," Harry said bitterly. "Someone else had to do it after you came back hurt and Dumbledore forbade you to leave the castle."
Snape said nothing. Dumbledore had always been horrifyingly emotional about people, but as head of the Order, he had been practical, to a fault, about their roles in the war, so Snape had continued spying after being injured. Though Dumbledore had expressed his displeasure with Snape leaving the castle, he had never technically forbid it. Snape imagined Dumbledore suspected he was still leaving, but because the old wizard had kept his counsel, Snape took it as approval.
And while he hadn't promised Harry he'd stop spying, Snape had been at war with himself then about whether to tell the boy. Now, he worried that when he did tell, Harry might not forgive him. It wouldn't matter that no further harm had come to Snape—what would matter was that he had promised to be truthful following the revelation of his part in the Potters' deaths. And damn it all, spying without Harry's knowledge had felt a lot like lying.
"Dad?" Harry said, bringing Snape back to the present.
"I asked you if he would have killed the children… You okay?"
"Fine, I'm fine. I – I couldn't say. I do know that when he first began kidnapping them they were nothing more than a bit of psychological warfare."
"Yes. By taking the children of those people who had made considerable headway in opposing him, he hoped to cow others, those who might be pondering joining those groups or kickstarting their own. Truthfully, he needn't have concerned himself with the numbers. There were so few so-called rebels at that time. It was only when he started targeting Pure-bloods in January that the ranks truly swelled, but all that activity meant Dumbledore had his hands full, too."
"No one outside of the Order, and the parents involved, knew that back in November, he began working to enlist help from other countries, asking them to shelter children too young to attend school whilst their parents fought behind the scenes. In January, arrangements were finalized to begin Portkeying them to safe houses of Muggle allies in the United States, Canada, to a few countries in Africa, like Ghana, where Mr. Zabini's mother is from."
"Australia took a fair number, but the lions share went to Europe. Then the attack on Hogsmeade happened. As a result, several families wanted to take the fight to the Dark Lord, but Scrimgeour, in a bout of level-headedness, refused to involve the DMLE; Dumbledore declined calls to fight, as well. It would have been suicidal, and a death sentence for Andromeda and the children, yet I completely understood those parents' feelings. Had it been you or Draco…"
"You wouldn't have risked the others just to save us."
Snape looked at Harry, his brow furrowed. "The only reason Dolohov made it to Azkaban instead of ending up with his head on a pike is because I didn't dare deflect my magic from the shield protecting you."
"Harry, I make no apologies for anything I need ever do to protect you."
"B-But you couldn't have lived with yourself."
"I live with worse," Snape said coldly.
Harry stared, searching for a flicker of something, a hint of shame or remorse, but the man's hard gaze never wavered. Harry lowered his eyes; he let go of Snape's wrist. It was times like this he had to remind himself that Snape had traveled a dark path; it was times like this he also had to remind himself that though Snape had once hated him from the depths of his being he now loved him just as intensely. The man was complicated in ways Harry didn't think he would ever understand, yet that didn't make him love Snape any less.
"Why'd you join up with him?" He asked as Snape pulled his arm back.
In the midst of buttoning his sleeve, Snape stilled. He looked at Harry. The boy's normally expressive green eyes were dulled with a maturity that hadn't been so bitterly entrenched before the battle. The sight fed Snape's vengeful hope that the Dark Lord's hell was being forced to relive his death throes over and over while watching Harry regain his strength, his magic, his life. "Yes, I do owe you that," he said quietly.
"…Tell me on the way to the lake?"
Snape snorted softly. "Absolutely not. You're far too weak."
"I could use the air. It'll be fine."
"No, Harry." Snape spoke firmly.
"I haven't been outside since last week."
"You and Draco took Fang out yesterday."
"Oh, yeah." Harry frowned. He'd forgotten. Still, he wanted to go outside now. He tugged at Snape's robe sleeve. "I'll let you know when I get tired."
"I'm not falling for that one, again."
"Fine... Stay if you want. I'm going."
And before Snape knew what he was about, Harry slid off the desk. The boy cried out when he landed and stumbled, his loosened shoelace tripping him up. Snape instantly put an arm around him to balance him, but instead of lashing out, Harry grunted his thanks, leaning on Snape until he felt steady, until the ache in his left leg eased.
"I'm good," he said after several moments.
Snape made a disgusted noise and let him go, then he crouched down to secure the killer shoelace. "We'll go, you stubborn thing… but slowly, all right?"
"Yeah, yeah, slowly. As if I could run," Harry griped, barely resisting the urge to snatch his foot away from Snape.
Snape pinched his lips against a laugh as he stood up. He never took offense when Harry was like this, preferring the boy's crusty get-off-my-lawn attitude to the alternative. Despite everything, Harry didn't see himself as a victim. For that, Snape worshipped him all the more.
Entrance Hall, Hogwarts
Snape trailed Harry through the secret passage that led to the antechamber off the Great Hall. Hogwarts still housed a crowd and Harry diligently avoided it for as long as possible whenever he was out. People had lingered for healing, for funerals, for news of Harry, but most remained because they loathed leaving the company of the others. Life without the threat of war hanging over their heads left a void for many, but Harry was full up.
"I'll be glad when we leave for Soth-ince." He grumbled, after being swarmed in the Entrance Hall by a goggle-eyed gang of second-year Hufflepuff girls. Snape agreed. He couldn't wait to whisk the boys away to the bowl-shaped land, but he knew Harry needed more time to heal before risking such a trip.
Gouges from the battle still scarred the grounds beyond the courtyard. Great sections of it had been scorched black by fire, yet the place buzzed with activity as people savored the warm summer evening. Voices and hands raised in greeting when folks spotted the two wizards; some approached them, Harry in particular. He hated it. He wanted to be left alone to heal and be with his family, like most people, but Harry Potter was not like most people.
Since leaving the hospital ward, some people (children and adults alike) made talking to him, or getting near enough to touch him, into a game, though truly, most were respectful and kind. Of all the times he had been approached, Snape intervened only once: "Touch my son again without his permission and I will liquefy every bone in your hands, roast your manhood, and shrivel your tongue," he told the man, who had already sought out Harry at least five times that day. The man, who had seemed perfectly normal, with perfectly coiffed blond hair, and immaculate, expensively tailored robes, had fled, red-faced, in search of an Auror to report Snape's "terroristic" behavior. Harry had since discouraged Snape from speaking up. The last thing they needed was the ex-Death Eater's name in the papers, so Harry endured people's curiosity and gratitude because he understood it. But he still hated it.
Things calmed before the halfway mark, but Snape demanded they stop; Harry's steps had become sloppier and his breathing more erratic. Snape conjured a wood-slatted bench. It embarrassed him, but Harry barely raised a fuss when Snape insisted he rest; he was tired.
Students had spread blankets along the lakeshore, sharing impromptu picnics. Snape watched for several minutes until Harry leaned his head on Snape's shoulder. Snape looked down at it. Giving in to a temptation he had only given in to twice—once in the Great Hall when Harry finally woke from his 'sleep', and once after he suffered his first seizure—Snape pressed a soft kiss to it.
"We should go back," he said, lightly resting his nose in the fuzz atop Harry's head. He breathed in, inhaling Harry's clean, boyish scent.
"No, I'm all right, really. Thanks for the bench."
"…All right, fine. Here, lie down." Snape conjured a pillow and placed it on his lap. When Harry complied, the man wondered at his lack of argument.
"Tell me," Harry said, blinking up at him.
Of course, Snape thought. Single-minded little wretch. He let out a breath, then said: "When I got my letter, I couldn't wait to come here. Hogwarts was to be my salvation, a respite from a home life that was…difficult." He spoke slowly, gazing out toward the lake. "Lily was my only friend here, same as she was back home. Because I didn't make friends easily, she did her best to be there for me, but we couldn't be together all the time, and she was making her own way. Making friends was rather like breathing for her, but the friends she made, or at least, certain people in her House, they despised me because I was confident in my abilities, even as a first-year. Most students and a fair number of teachers thought me arrogant, evil, so it didn't take long to gain a reputation, or to become a target, but I didn't care. I was a…resilient sort."
"Second year was when I began to gain alliances within my own House. Lily disapproved utterly, constantly prodding at me, asking how I could cuddle up with the likes of Lucius, Avery, the Lestranges."
"I think that was smart of you, you know…considering."
"Yes, but Lily, at first, she didn't understand about Slytherin, that alliances meant survival. Regardless, our friendship continued, until fifth year, at least. I begged her to forgive me after insulting her by the lake, but she was always a bit stingy when it came to forgiveness. Plus, she thought me a hypocrite for espousing Pure-blood notions while being a Half-blood myself."
"What!" Harry's eyes widened with disbelief.
Snape swiped a hand over his eyes. "Yes, my mother was a witch, beaten for her gifts by my alcoholic father who was a Muggle." Snape squinted at the setting sun as a memory came to him. His father had just arrived home from the factory stinking of smoke, sweat and malt whisky. After an admittedly foul dinner (Tobias spent most the money he earned at the factory on drink, leaving Eileen little to nothing to run the house) he beat Eileen unconscious (not for the first time) and broke Severus's arm when the eight-year-old tried to intervene.
"Mm? Oh, yes…" Snape swallowed as the scene faded. "Well, at the end of my fourth year, Lucius graduated. To gain favor with the Dark Lord, he began to focus obscene amounts of energy on me."
"'Cause you were brilliant in potions."
Snape gave Harry a small smile. "Yes, but he also told me that as a Slytherin I had not shown the proper amount of dedication to the 'Cause'. He was bloody right. I had no interest in being anyone's puppet. As early as second year I'd committed to pursuing Potions. The plan was, after Hogwarts, with Albus's help, I would apprentice with Nicolas Flamel in France. It would have taken me away from my father, away from the Dark Lord…"
"You had plans! You were fucking brilliant! Why not go?"
"Near the middle of my sixth year my father died, stepped in front of a bus, drunk. That was in February. Mother hanged herself just before the summer holidays."
"I had Aberforth…but by the end of that term, it was too late. Lucius was convinced the Dark Lord might place me high within his circle. His meddling caused me even more grief. Things happened…"
"The Shrieking Shack," Harry said quietly, letting a momentary burst of anger for Sirius go unchecked. He loved his godfather, but the man had some serious crap to answer for.
"Yes, and the second Pomfrey released me, I contacted Lucius. In hindsight, I realize it was completely rash, and by far the stupidest thing I've ever done. Not a day passes that I don't regret having done it, but at the time it made perfect sense."
"Bastard took advantage of you when you were weak!"
Snape patted Harry's chest, signaling that he wanted him to sit up. When Harry did, Snape said: "Harry, I knew what I was doing when I joined the Dark Lord, and I had absolutely no conscience about it. Was I vulnerable? Yes, but as far as noble excuses go, there was nothing noble about it or about the things I did to earn a place as a Death Eater. I was angry, vengeful, stupid… I hoarded what seemed like every bad feeling known to man within me and it fed a dark, ruinous hunger inside me. I spent a decent chunk of my life clinging to that darkness, a thing that should have died long before last summer." Snape paused. "I look at you and I miss your mother. Then I remind myself that I now have something of hers that is just as precious and even more necessary in my life."
Harry smiled. "The medallion. I thought it might have been destroyed along with Voldemort. I'm glad Aberforth found it."
Snape shook his head. "A trinket," he said. "Can you think of nothing else of hers I might prize above all else?"
Harry frowned, confused. He looked up into Snape's eyes. Seeing his face reflected in their dark depths, he flushed with realization. "Oh… Me?"
"You," Snape said softly. "Harry, until last June, I had no expectation, no desire to survive the war, especially after that business in the Department of Mysteries… But even before that, the night the Dark Lord returned, I was at peace with not surviving, with knowing that I would either die fighting him, or that he'd kill me for being Dumbledore's man."
"Both honorable ways to go."
"Perhaps, but then I think of your parents, of how they died, betrayed; I think of the life they could have had, yet I, their betrayer, get the spoils. I get to call you my son; I get to comfort you when your dreams trouble you; I got to watch you defeat the Dark Lord; and I will get to watch you become a man, have children of your own. They won't."
"The night of the battle, I saw them, twice—once before I killed Voldemort, and then when I… well, when I died."
"Harry…" Snape sighed.
"I know you don't want to hear about that," Harry said quickly, "but I did die, and – and – and I spoke to them. Mum said you needed me, and my father… He's not worried about me or mad at you. They want me with you, both of them."
This was the first time Harry had mentioned seeing his parents. He'd been afraid of how Snape would react. Snape's expression told him was right to have kept it to himself. The man stared. "You wanted to stay. With them. You wanted to die," he said, voice thick with accusation.
"…No…well, yes, I mean, I was in a lot of pain, and where they were, there was no pain." Harry paused, knowing he was botching things. "Dad, it's not what you think."
"What do I think?"
"…That I wanted to stay because I love them more than you."
"It's not a competition, Harry." It's not, Snape told himself.
"I know, but they're my blood and I do love them. But I never knew them. Not really. You I know; you I would die for."
Snape looked off toward the forest, again. The sunset's fire reflected in the moisture glittering in his eyes. He cleared his throat and blinked rapidly. A strong gust of wind carried his hair up and away from his face forming a mad cloud. Harry thought he looked beautiful with his prominent nose and sharp cheek and jawbones, like a Choctaw chief beneath a headdress of silken black feathers.
Snape cleared his throat again. "As with most things, you are singular in that thinking."
"That's not true."
"Harry, I'm the last of a troubled generation, not to mention the least likely to be missed."
"Stop it! Stop it! I'd miss you!"
"Oh, it isn't self-pity, Harry. It's… I've lived through some rather horrid things and a bit of rest would have been welcome."
"You'd welcome death over life?" Harry frowned, stricken. "…Even now?"
"No! God, no! Of course not!" Snape took Harry's face in his hands. "God, Harry, forgive me… I was simply being honest."
Harry closed his eyes. "I just… I can't bear to hear you talk like that…" He began to hiccough.
"Come," Snape said, gently pulling Harry into his arms. He reached to smooth Harry's hair off his forehead, then realizing what he'd done, he sighed, staring at Harry's head resignedly. "When you had hair, its sticking out everywhere annoyed me to no end. Now I can hardly wait for the unruly mess to grow back."
Harry hiccoughed and laughed. "Hermione likes it. Says it makes me – hic – look rugged." He rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Ron's weirded out by it, though."
When Harry hiccoughed again, Snape reached out to gently stroke his throat as he muttered an incantation, putting a stop to the dreaded spasms.
"Oh…Thanks," Harry said. Snape nodded curtly.
As they sat there, Harry still in Snape's arms, dusk began its slow creep across the sky, a signal for the picnicking students to gather their things and go inside. "We should return to the castle, as well," the man said, standing. "You need a lie down before dinner."
Harry rose too, leaning heavily on his walking-stick. "I'm not that tired, plus I want see Hermione."
"Indeed?" Snape's eyes shone with teasing amusement as he banished the bench.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I haven't seen her since lunch, and after everyone leaves tomorrow, I won't see her until she comes to Soth-ince."
"How will you ever survive the next week?"
Harry softly knocked his elbow into the man's ribs as they started back to the castle. "Have you ever been in love?" He asked, thinking of Snape's reaction to the scar on his wrist.
"Once. But that is something for another day when you're older. Much, much older."
Harry poked his lips out, annoyed. "You sound like Papa. I'll be of age in a few weeks, you know."
"Don't remind me," Snape said tightly.
Harry stopped walking; Snape stopped, too, concerned. "It doesn't mean I'll stop needing you," Harry said.
Snape flushed and clasped his hands behind his back. "As you say."
They resumed their slow plod, and despite Harry's protests to the contrary, he was flagging.
"Harry, I'm going to have to carry you," Snape said.
"Dad, no!" Harry reddened as a passing group of Ravenclaw and Slytherin girls cooed and exchanged sugar-sweet glances.
"But you're shattered," Snape said, oblivious.
Harry opened his mouth to argue, then spotted someone moving quickly against the tide of bodies sluicing into the courtyard. He tensed. Harry tended toward flight when quickly approached anymore, but once he realized it was Draco, he relaxed.
"You all right?" Draco demanded, with a concerned frown.
"I'm fine." Harry growled. God! Sometimes Draco was as bad as Snape.
"Right, Paleface," Draco said. "Where did you two get off to?"
"The lake, talking," said Snape.
"Oh. Any interesting topics?"
Harry snorted. "Just can't help being nosey, can you?"
"Not that you know anything of nuance, Potter, but there is a distinct difference between being nosey and innately curious."
"Yeah, several syllables and a dash of self-justification."
Draco hitched an eyebrow. "Damn that Granger. You have got to stop letting her read to you from the dictionary."
"Piss off…" Harry batted a hand at the boy's shoulder; the grinning Slytherin danced out of reach, avoiding it easily. Harry started to give chase, but Snape snagged him before he could get going.
"Poppy would have my head if you ended up back on the ward."
"He's right, Potter. I'll toss you out of the window myself if I have to spend another night in that place."
"Fine… but don't plan on sleeping too soundly tonight. Or the next few months," Harry warned.
Draco flapped a hand at him. "Yes, yes. I'll remember to be frightened."
"Where've you been?" Harry asked.
"Swamped, fending off my usual slew of admirers. I'm ridiculously famous, you know."
"Having been transfigured into the makings of a neck warmer by Fake Moody doesn't count."
Draco scowled. "Shut it! Truly, I came to find you because I overheard something. Weasley's brother, the one that deals with dragons –"
"Overheard my arse," Harry muttered. "And it's Charlie." If what he thought was happening between Ron and Draco was happening, Draco needed to get a grip quick on which redhead was which in the Weasley family.
"Yes, yes, anyway, he was speaking with Minister Shacklebolt about the Baddocks."
"What about them?"
"A team of Aurors found them holed up on an Unplottable Baddock family property. Weasley's other brother, the one with that repulsive fang hanging from his ear, broke the curses shielding their land."
"Bill." Harry exhaled an impressed breath. "Damn, he's good!"
"Quite, but…he was hurt."
"Werewolf. Seems the Baddocks had one on their payroll to guard the place. Malcolm escaped, but Evan, Imelda and the werewolf did not; Aurors killed the werewolf and took Imelda and Evan into custody. Ron's… Weasley's brother, he'll be fine, but they aren't sure how the wound will affect him, if he'll, you know, become one of them."
Harry turned to Snape. "Is there any chance of that happening? Could Bill become a werewolf?"
Snape shook his head. "Without knowing anything about his injury, I couldn't say."
"Well that would truly be… God, haven't they suffered enough, with Fred…" Harry's knuckles whitened around his walking-stick.
"Weasley's parents and the dragon slayer have gone to him. He's at St. Mungo's. They left this for you." Draco held out a bit of parchment.
We're sorry to have missed saying goodbye, but we must go check on Bill. We hope to see you soon at the Burrow and hope that you will have an extended stay with us. 'Til then, dear heart,
Molly and Arthur
"Ron and Ginny still here?" Harry passed the parchment back to Draco.
"Mm." Draco nodded. "They're with the surviving twin."
Harry sighed. Poor George. In all the chaos and horror of that night, he hadn't received a scratch. Harry couldn't imagine how it weighed on George, seeing his twin eviscerated while he escaped unharmed. Ron told Harry that since that night, George had said barely two words to the family, but that he talked to Fred all the time. Ron knew this because he had gone to sit with George one night and found his brother talking to air. The times the family was able to get him up and out, people shied away when they passed. Ginny had punched a man in the mouth when she overheard him call George pathetic.
"You seen Papa?" Harry asked.
"He and McGonagall were speaking with members of the Central African Wizengamot. Blaise's mother was with them. They had quite the load of artefacts and gifts to honor Dumbledore. I wouldn't be surprised if some were for you, though."
"I hope not," Harry mumbled. He'd received embarrassing loads of flowers, plush animals, notes, cards, singing cupids and marriage proposals. The plushies and flowers he had rerouted to St. Mungo's and King's College hospital, but he couldn't do anything about the proposals and singing cupids. Unfortunately, they became a running joke between Theo, Blaise, and Neville.
"He's got a portrait in the Headmistress's office now, Dumbledore?" Harry said to Snape.
"Have you talked to him?"
"Do you think he'd talk to me?" Draco asked.
"Why wouldn't he?" Snape said.
"I was only ever decent to him when I needed his help to escape Lucius..."
"Draco, the headmaster never troubled himself with your behavior. In fact, he's asked why you haven't been to see him. Both of you."
"Truly?" Draco looked at Snape, stunned.
"Oh, well… I'll speak with him when we get inside, yeah?" Harry said eagerly.
"Oh, blast and hell!" Draco spat.
"What?" said Harry, taking in the boy's scowl.
"Your demented, er, devoted disciple…"
Harry turned. Colin Creevey was sling-shotting across the courtyard toward them. After all these weeks, the media was still relentless, but beyond the initial press conference that had taken place in the main courtyard following the battle, McGonagall had barred reporters beyond Hogwarts' gates. Unfortunately, that restriction did not include Hogwarts students with cameras growing out of their necks.
The day after Harry left the hospital ward, he, Snape, and Draco had been marking a measured path down to the dungeons, then Colin Creevey launched himself at them, begging to take a photo. Snape had looked as if he wanted to gut the boy, but Harry had allowed him a picture, thinking it might be nice for Snape, considering his quarters' lack of personal effects beyond books and potions stuff. Snape had tried worming his way out of the shot, but buoyed by Harry's presence and finding safety in the growing crowd of spectators, Colin boldly encouraged the man back into the shot.
Just last week, he accosted Harry and Draco as they left dinner. Again, Harry allowed the picture, then sternly told Colin it would be the last. Draco had stepped away, understanding that Harry was the obsession, not him, but Harry dragged him back to his side. Draco snarked and grumbled, but Harry shrugged; he didn't want to be the only one subjected to Colin's lunacy. So they had stood shoulder to shoulder, unsmiling, waiting for the click of the camera, which came just as they caught sight of a cursing Trelawney slip-sliding on some goo Peeves had conjured. In the photo, which now resided on the shelf beside Snape's box of Pincher Pins, Harry and Draco were leaning against each other, laughing uproariously.
"Hiya, Harry! Draco! Professor!" Colin beamed at them. "Lovely evening, innit?"
"Yeah, s'great." Harry warily agreed.
"I don't s'pose I could tempt you into posing one last time before we all leave tomorrow morning, could I?"
"No, Creevey," Draco drawled, "you couldn't. Now, run along."
Colin looked ready to plead his case, but someone called to him. "Colin! Dad said to get your arse… What? Well, how come you can say it? …You say it all the time!"
Harry's throat closed up; he thought for a moment it was Dennis calling to Colin, but it couldn't be. Dennis was dead. It had to be an even younger Creevey, likely headed to Hogwarts in September.
"Shoot!" Colin said. "Reckon I'd better go, then. See ya Harry, Draco, Professor!" Halfway to his destination, the boy turned back. "Bollocks!" He puffed to a stop before Harry. "Almost forgot, again!" He fumbled in his trouser pocket then pulled out the fake Galleon Dennis had received as a member of Dumbledore's Army. He held it out to Harry.
Harry stumbled back a step. "No, Colin, you should keep that."
Colin shook his head. "It would make him happy to know you have it; it would make me happy. He was my little brother, but he was always so much braver than me. Please, Harry."
Harry stared. He had never seen the boy so serious. "I – "
Harry held out his hand. "…All right, fine. T-Thanks, Colin."
Colin nodded as he dropped the coin into Harry's hand. Then he wrapped Harry's fingers around it. After a moment, he let go and said, "Well, bye, again. Be safe. See ya in September." He then hurried back to his family.
"I started packing your things," Draco told Harry softly.
"You didn't have to." Harry cleared his throat and shoved Dennis's Galleon into his pocket to rest alongside his mother's medallion.
"We'd never leave on time tomorrow if we had to wait on you. McGonagall's dead set on closing up the castle at eleven."
"Oh, well, thanks," Harry said. They walked on in silence for a time. "Papa!" Harry called, spotting the old wizard descending the steps at a snail's pace, gnarled staff gripped tightly in his left hand.
"My boy." Aberforth rasped as a grinning Harry ascended the steps, just as slowly, to meet the man halfway. Snape shook his head, irritated at the two cripples.
"I'd like to speak with the headmaster."
Aberforth reached out, gently cupping Harry's cheek as the boy moved to stand next to him. "He wouldn't say no to that. He's been asking after you."
"That's what Dad said."
Aberforth's blue eyes twinkled. No matter how many times he heard it he relished the ease with which the honorific fell from Harry's lips. He put an around the boy's shoulder as they waited for Draco and Snape to join them. When they were all together, Draco gave a shrill whistle.
Fang exploded out of a bush, upsetting the family of jobberknolls that had been nesting there. The boarhound gave a bark by way of farewell as the family of three tiny blue speckled birds took flight, soaring toward the golden halo of the setting sun.