This is the last chapter! Just so you all know, this has been the most favorite/alerted of all of my fics, so my readers pretty much rock. I do have another story in the works. It's Snape/Lily, and I hope to post it soon. I don't know how frequently it will update, but I'm going to aim for once a week. Glad I could write something you all liked!
There was an air of indecision at the party as people glanced from Malfoy to Snape, wondering who to bombard with questions first. Malfoy looked quite young, pale and shaking with his arms full of wands. Snape hadn't moved since Lucius pulled off his cloak.
"I think," Mr. Weasley said before anyone could approach the two men, "that we may need to reschedule the party." An approving murmur rippled through the crowd, and several people stepped forward and took their wands back from Malfoy, avoiding his eyes.
"Luna said something about him," Neville said when he passed Harry, jerking his head toward Snape. "Don't know why I didn't believe her…"
Finally, the yard had cleared except for Harry, Hermione, Snape, Malfoy, Andromeda, McGonagall, Kingsley, and the immediate Weasley family. Ron still seemed to be out to market. Mr. Weasley took a step toward Malfoy and kindly said, "Draco, what—"
"My father made me do it!" cried Draco. Harry had never seen him look so upset; he was biting his lip and trembling from head to toe. "I didn't want to, I just thought he might think it's interesting that Sn-Snape was alive, but all he wanted to do was turn him in and get the reward and go back to our old house! And I just want to take my N.E.W.T.s, really, I just want to leave."
Harry and—he assumed from their faces—the rest of the party felt completely gobsmacked. He rarely sympathized with Malfoy, but he couldn't help but pity the sniveling, twitching boy in the garden.
"Draco, why don't you have some pudding," said Mr. Weasley, after a long pause. He pointed Malfoy over to the large, untouched chocolate pudding on a back table. Everyone's eyes seemed to follow him, but snapped back when Mr. Weasley said, "Snape."
The atmosphere shifted from piteous to tense. Ginny bit her lip and fidgeted with her robes, and Harry swore Hermione was eyeing the exits. Andromeda had quickly ushered Malfoy away from the pudding and the party.
"Please—explain—how you came to be Harry's dinner guest."
Snape sighed and launched into the explanation Harry had heard several times. He found his own mind wandering. He wondered where Ron was gone; he longed for someone who hadn't heard Snape's story, even if he seemed a bit touched in the head. Perhaps he'd gotten lost and rambled into Muggle London, or tried to use galleons and broken some Secrecy clause…
Harry had been so lost in thought he hadn't realized Snape had stopped talking until Mrs. Weasley had the most unexpected reaction he had seen so far. She had swept Snape into a hug.
"You poor man!" she gushed as she embraced him with the same rib-breaking intensity that Harry knew so well. Harry had never seen Snape look this uncomfortable. He was standing straight as a ruler with his arms pinned down by his sides, and his eyes were wide as saucers.
"Ahem, Molly," Kingsley said in his calming, slow voice, "we have some things to discuss."
"Of course," said Mrs. Weasley, disentangling herself from Snape, who looked quite relieved. "I just—the centaurs—it sounds horrid—he was so—brave."
"Er, yes, I agree, but surely you recognize the severity of the situation. Snape, you killed Dumbledore, and no matter how innocent you are, I doubt anyone's going to see past it."
"Oh, why don't you just print a big story in the Prophet?" said Mrs. Weasley, smoothing the front of her robes off-handishly. "I don't know why, but everyone still believes that rag."
If people hadn't been staring at Mrs. Weasley before, they certainly were now. Even Kingsley's mouth was agape. An odd, angry, bubbling sensation was taking over Harry's stomach.
"Just tell the world he's innocent, and stick him someplace no one goes. Everyone loves a vindicated hero as long as he keeps his nose clean."
"I suppose," said Kingsley slowly. "It's better than any idea I had."
Finally, Harry snapped. "Wait," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "You mean I've been keeping this man in my house, keeping a huge secret, when all I had to do was tell you?" Kingsley nodded. "No! That's stupid! That's too easy!" exploded Harry. "We thought prison, with thought Azkaban and you—you're telling me—"
"Harry, calm down," Hermione said urgently.
"No! I'm not calming down! That's a stupid ending, and I—"
"Hey." Suddenly every eye was on Ron, who had just walked in carrying two baskets of strawberries. "Sorry I took so long—Muggle money—where'd everyone go? Why's the butler here?"
The last of Harry's shouts died in his throat. He turned to Hermione and said, "He's your boyfriend, you tell him."
The next few weeks were completely centered on Snape. The Daily Prophet had an entire week devoted to telling his story in addition to interviews with other Hogwarts staff members and Harry. Reporters clambered for an interview with Snape, whom they'd dubbed 'The elusive Hero,' but he was nowhere to be found. Harry was one of the few privy to knowing his hiding place: the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley had welcomed him like a child and not let him leave until he was, in her words, "fully healed, emotionally and physically." To do so, she had spent much of her time arranging private dates with several single witches, including Andromeda.
Andromeda seemed to be slowly and grudgingly forgiving Harry. He still hadn't seen Teddy, but when he took the N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts he swore she had smiled at him.
Hermione and Ron had left for France only hours after the exams. Ron sent letters nearly every week, and it sounded like they were having a good time. Ron did not, however, have a strong grasp of the language, and had apparently ordered a restaurant's entire quantity of snails one night at dinner.
Harry was quite fond of living alone, but he did miss his friends and Ginny. He was rather delighted when she sent word inviting him to Hogsmeade that Halloween.
"So, how's school?" he asked, after they broke apart from a long and rather pleasurable kiss.
"You sound like Mum," she laughed, grabbing his hand. "Where are you taking me?"
"I thought we'd go someplace quiet." They walked hand-in-hand through Hogsmeade. All around him Harry saw happy couples. Neville and Luna were walking together wearing matching furry hats shaped like lions to protect them from the brisk wind. As Ginny talked about Quidditch scouts frequenting games, Harry noticed Dean and Daphne, who seemed to be on a double-date with a rather awkward-looking Malfoy and a girl Harry assumed was Daphne's younger sister.
"Have you gotten your N.E.W.T.s back yet?"
"Yeah, I did pretty well. Got an 'O' in Defense Against the Dark Arts." He didn't think it necessary to mention his 'P' in Potions. He was very grateful for Kingsley's promise of a job.
The road was starting to wind, and there were fewer and fewer Hogwarts students walking along.
"Harry, where are you taking me?"
"Well, I'm not sure if this is the right place, but I was talking to Kingsley and mentioned…is Snape still living with your parents?"
"No, thank goodness. Mum said he got a job somewhere people never go. Now what did Kingsley mention?" They stopped outside a familiar pub, looking up at the painting of a hog. "Oh, gods, not the Hog's Head?" She swung the door open and stopped cold.
Snape was standing inside, wearing a barman's apron over his typical black robes. He looked at Harry and Ginny with utmost malevolence and said in the flattest, coldest tone Harry had ever heard, "Welcome to the Hog's Head. What can I get you?"