Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor do I make any profit from this fiction.
A/N: This story follows the canon until the epilogue in Deathly Hallows. In this story Severus survived Nagini's attack, thus qualifying the story as an A/U.
The Killing Curse
Severus gazed at the vial in his hand with an intensity that felt hard to abide.
For a long moment he considered destroying the wretched thing, just knowing that his memories existed in some real and tangible form was enough in itself to make his bile rise and his blood boil. It was tolerable to know that his private and personal experiences were out in the public sphere when he had been dying, knowing that those same memories would shed the light of truth onto matters cast in darkness, but now that he lived it seemed a blasphemy unlike any other.
He felt violated. He may not have had the perfect life, but it had been his life. His memories had been his own, little moments in time that – whether good or bad – had influenced the entire course of his life, and his entire personality and his very soul were the results of all that he had endured, and now those very memories had been put on display for the world to see. It had been the fault of that damned Potter, the boy wonder that had decided to announce to the Great Hall the truth of Severus' supposed loyalty to the Dark Lord. Of that Severus could understand, but what he could not understand was why the idiot child had believed it proper to reveal what he had inferred of Severus' relationship with Lily. If Severus had been there – alive and well, of course – the Dark Lord would not have had to worry about the prophecy, for Severus would have killed the child himself. It was not fair at all, but he would not be so foolish as to whine about fairness. Life was not fair. It was not fair that the boy had revealed deep and dark secrets and laid bare Severus' soul for the world to see, but that was the way it had been, that was a thing the older man could not change. He would endure it, the same way he endured everything in his far too long life, but if there had ever been a time to do otherwise now would be it. Potter had no right to reveal such a secret, even if he had believed that Severus had been dying. He had no right, no right at all!
It was strange. He should have hated Potter for revealing such personal things publicly, they did – after all – destroy his credibility and reputation, and the respect he had garnered through all his years teaching was effectively smashed to pieces, for who could respect a man they suspected lovesick through unrequited love? No one would question it either. It had been spoken aloud by the boy wonder himself, spoken moments before the Dark Lord's death at the hands of said golden child, and from now on that would be all people would see when they looked at him, the man who had came second-place in the quest to win Lily's heart. He did not hate Potter for all of this, however, and instead he felt mildly ashamed that he felt that he should. He loved Lily dearly, and to be ashamed that the world should know of his love was to be ashamed of Lily herself, it was a feeling akin to the guilt and remorse that he felt upon the day he had declared her to be nothing more than a 'mudblood' . . .
He had rejected her once, he had betrayed her trust and friendship with the cruellest of all insults, and for that he would never forgive himself, but hadn't he tried to make amends? He had done all that he could to take back the damage that those words had done, everything from attempting to camp outside the Gryffindor common room all night to betraying the Dark Lord in order to try and save her life, and yet she had never forgiven him, and in return he had never forgiven himself . . . would he now reinforce her belief in that dark part of him by rejecting her once more? He had no reason to feel ashamed of her, no reason to dread the reactions of his peers and students as they knew he had once loved a muggle-born, and to reject her now – in death – was the worst sin of all, and yet . . . what if he could rid himself of those memories? How sweet it would be to obliviate himself and eradicate every last trace of her from his mind, to no longer feel the isolation and alienation of her abandonment, to no longer hate himself for having cast one of the few friends he had out of his life with reckless abandon. He knew though that this was something he would never do. It was the bad experiences that made him who he was as much as the good, and it was these tragic feelings that made him appreciate what he had all the more, without these memories . . . without regret, hindsight and hope . . . he would be no different to any other Death Eater. No, he may not enjoy his pain, but he needed it. He needed that pain to keep him human.
It was an easy decision in retrospect. He took one final long look upon the glass vial, turning it in the light to catch sight of the beautiful patterns within the silver liquid that swirled around in its insides, and then placed it carefully in a small box that lay beside his desk. He placed that box within a larger one; one crammed to the brim with various books, knickknacks, potions, and tools, before he took one last look around what would soon become the office of the new potions master.
There was nothing that could instil a sense of finality and loneliness more than the sight of one's own room laid bare of its contents. It had taken Severus years to collect all of the potions ingredients, equipment and various objects that had lined the multitude of shelves of his office, and to see years of collecting reduced to nothing in a matter of two days was somewhat disconcerting. Why he had kept his office these past two years he would never know, but for some reason Horace had never put a claim to it and in his time as headmaster he had felt a rather unwanted sense of attachment to the damned place, it had always been his office and the bloody thing held a lot of memories. How strange it was that he could simultaneously wish to burn it to the ground and yet preserve it forever all at once, and yet that was exactly what he felt and wanted.
Nothing could be eerier than to see his room empty and void save for that one box, because it meant that his personality was no longer stamped upon it, and now some other teacher would come along and mark it with their own persona, it would belong to someone else and all traces of his existence would be gone. There would be no 'creepy' ingredients lining the walls to intimidate idiotic Gryffindors, there would be no firewhiskey stashed in a drawer to get him through the more turbulent days, and there would be no more powerful aromas floating through the air as he corked a fresh potion into a glass bottle. These things were so familiar to him in all his years spent in that darkened room that he could almost sense them still, as if their very ghosts lingered around to haunt him with their presence, taunting him with all that was and all that could be, reminding him of lost potential and possibility, begging him to reconsider and place them back within their rightful resting places. If he so chose he could easily reclaim his job as Potions Master, but what would be the point? It was not that he envied McGonagall for the title of 'headmaster', for it was a job that he had never wanted to begin with, he had always disliked having such a power of responsibility foisted upon him by the Dark Lord, just as much as he resented the inability to decline lest the Carrows run rampant, but still he could not return to his previous position. The room may be his, it may be sad to see the absence of all it held, but it was not worth the responsibility that came with it, the responsibility of being a teacher . . .
He could not honestly say that he had ever wished to be a teacher; it had been a job forced upon him in much the same vein every other experience of his life had been inflicted upon him against his will. Still, although his life had led him unrepentantly into such a career, he could not say that he hated it. In a rather odd way he had enjoyed moulding young minds and shaping their futures, and – in a rather expected way – he had been thrilled at finally having some control in life, able to dictate and command and punish at his will. Yes, he would have preferred teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, but simply being a teacher in itself was a pleasant experience at times. He adored the power.
Maybe it made him a sadist, maybe it made him no better than the Dark Lord, but he enjoyed the power he wielded! He liked that he finally had control over something in his life, that he could manipulate the emotions of his students to suit him, that he did not have to suffer alone when he could make others suffer also, and now that was gone to him, he was not sure what to do instead. Now he was no longer a teacher, no longer a spy, and no longer a slave . . .
It truly was the end of an era.
He gave a weak form of a smirk. It was all over and he felt pleased concerning that, but he also felt such a strong feeling of nostalgia and loss that it was as if he was saying goodbye to everything he knew, walking life without a map, and knowing that what once happened would never happen again. Finally he could grieve for all those that he had lost, Lily and Albus, and finally he could find his own path in life without having to follow the path set for him. A weaker man would have been felled by the sudden freedom, especially after having led such a life of servitude, but he was not a weak man, he was strong, and he would find a way.
It was then that he heard a loud knock upon his study door. Correction, it was then he heard a knock upon the door, for he could no longer claim that it belonged to him now that he had quit his infernal job teaching senseless brats, brats that could not tell wolfsbane from monkshood or even perform the simplest of charms. Whoever it was clearly did not know that unexpected visitors were not welcome.
"Enter," he snapped bitterly.
He turned to see just who had dared to intrude upon his private study, and felt somewhat shocked to see that it was – of course – Harry Potter. It should not, in retrospect, have surprised him in the slightest. The young brat was notoriously known for his rebellious nature and inability to care in the slightest about the feelings of others, and in that respect he was just like his father . . . his father whom had started the Marauders and founded that idiotic group that had led to a world of trouble even decades later, his father that had tortured and bullied Severus from the very moment they had met, his father who was more pig-headed and foolhardy than any other person Severus had met in his entire lifetime. Yes, in retrospect it could not have been anyone else, but that did not stop the flicker of surprise from resonating in Severus' heart. He wished it could have been someone else, anyone else, but such wishes were foolish when they could do nothing to remove such a disgrace from his office.
"Ah, Mr. Potter," he spat, the sound thrown from his mouth as if expelling a horrid poison from his orifice. "What do I owe this pleasure?"
He gave the young man a glance of contempt, making sure to take in every aspect of his appearance. It seemed that the boy had changed a lot in the last six months since Lord Voldermort's death, and no change was more noticeable than the look within his eyes, and those eyes indeed -! It would be almost a blasphemy to see upon any other child, where such innocence and confidence had almost diminished entirely so that the towering inferno had become but a dying ember, and instead those eyes were now marked with experience and pain, marking the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood . . .
No longer did the Potter boy seem sure of himself, content within his own skin, instead with every glance he seemed to be constantly on edge and somewhat suspicious, as if he expected the worst to occur at any moment. He had seen death and destruction, he had seen his family cast out of their own home and his school reduced to rubble, and these memories clearly lingered vividly within his mind, attached to him like a shadow to a body, always there, always a reminder of what had happened, always darkening future experiences with the bitter pain of the past. If Severus was lucky the boy would never be the same again, instead he would be a mature and knowledgeable adult, one who wouldn't snap sarcastic comments at his superiors because of childish misconceptions, one who would owe his elders a degree of respect knowing what pain they had endured, one who would finally listen to reason instead of base and basic instinct. It would no doubt be too much to hope, but for as long as he saw the creases of a permanent frown in the wrinkles at the corners of those eyes, or the developing bags underneath from sleepless nights and possible tears, he could not help but to believe this boy may perhaps change for the better. Yes, he no longer had the innocence of youth, but that only meant he was an adult now, one that probably thought he stood as an equal to the other adults around him, but – regardless of such arrogance – was an adult nonetheless.
He could not help but gaze deeply upon those eyes regardless of his anger, because no matter what emotion was held deep within those green orbs they would forever be the same beautiful eyes he had gazed upon so many times before, those same eyes he had looked upon moments before he had believed he would die, those same eyes that would forever be etched deeply into his memory . . . those eyes had once belonged to Lily so many years ago, and each time he would look upon them he would always feel a twinge of guilt at exactly what he felt for them. There would always be some loves that would forever be unrequited, some loves destined to die before they had even taken breath, and he knew that the love he held would always and forever be that kind of love. It was a love he had no right to feel, a love not meant for a man like him, and every time he looked upon the face of the boy before him he would always feel the absence of such love as acutely as the feeling itself.
It was then that he noticed that the boy had failed to answer him.
Harry Potter stood there in the now closed doorway merely glaring daggers upon Severus, his eyes narrowed into snakelike slits, and his mouth was pressed into so tight a line that his lips appeared almost white. In his time since the war he had significantly improved his appearance, now wearing what was rather fashionable wizarding attire – although not as expensive or chic as what some wizards would wear, notably Mr Malfoy – and his glasses seemed far more flattering than what he wore before the war. He stood in a rather inelegant manner, but the way he kept his head raised and his back straight spoke of both power and anger in equal measure. The very rage that he expressed was almost fascinating, capturing Severus' attention in a rather curious way, and as he looked he found it difficult to hold back a smirk from crossing his lips. The very fact that a mere child such as Harry Potter could dare to attempt a livid look was most amusing, after all what could a child like him know about true pain or anger?
"I believe I asked you a question," Severus said, the venom dripping from his voice almost visibly as he turned away to organise the contents of that final box of belongings. "It is usually good manners to answer a direct question, but it seems that all that fame and gloryhas gone to straight to your head. Was it not enough to defeat the Dark Lord? Is it not enough to have your face in every paper, your name on everyone's lips? You are as infuriatingly cocky as your father was."
"Don't you dare bring my father into this! Not now, not ever."
"Oh? Did I touch a nerve? You always were rather protective of that arrogant sod, just the same as you always felt unconditional love towards that mangy mutt of a godfather, each one as repulsive and infuriating as the other. What will you do if I insult them further, I wonder? Will you cry? Shout? Curse me? Or perhaps you will invade my private and personal memories in the pensieve in order to gain confirmation of the things that I tell you, my own word being worthless, I'm sure. Well, you know all my deep and dark secrets now, you've seen every bloody memory of my past, you have little else to see and little else to know, and so I can only assume it's sheer arrogance that's brought you here. Like your father you assume you can go anywhere, do anything, and it's always 'Snivellus' that becomes the amusement, like a snake in a cage that you think you can point and laugh at. Do you truly have nothing better to do?"
"This isn't about my father, Snape, and it never was."
Severus sneered audibly at the sight of the man before him and the pathetic words ushered forth from those lips, it sounded too much like a reprimand and a reprimand from the mouth of a babe at that. Who was this boy to tell a man like Severus what the matter was or was not about? Who was he to snap and criticise as if he had forgotten that he was talking to a Hogwarts professor, who - . . . yes, that was right, he was no longer a professor, but still . . . he deserved far more respect than what Potter was currently giving. If Potter wanted to talk to him in such a manner then he could damn well forget about it! Snape would not put up with such disrespect.
"I beg to differ, Mr Potter," Severus snapped, lifting the box from his desk. "Unfortunately I have better things to do than debate matters of morality with a B-list celebrity, so if you would please excuse me . . ."
Severus marched past the young Mr Potter and stormed outside into the dungeon's corridor. The contents of his box rattled rather loudly as he moved, and as he marched he caught the sight of his own robes billowing out behind him in the shadowy light from the candles all around, it was an effect that tended to intimidate and terrify the students who were unused to it, and he was grateful that it still had its desired effect upon those few pupils scattered about. The first years were the most terrified of him, for his absence had carried over into the beginning of the school year and this was the first time that they had laid eyes upon him, but the older years – particularly the school's first ever batch of eighth years who had repeated their Year Seven curriculum – were somewhat less effected and more reverent.
He was aware that Potter was following him, it was very hard to miss what with the constant stares and wide-eyed looks of hero-worship cast in his direction, and it was even more infuriating to see students stopping dead in their places just to stare at their newly acquired god as he strode through the corridors, almost as if he still owned the damned place. What was Potter doing now anyway? Severus had not been conscious for long, in fact it had only been a week since he had been discharged from the hospital ward and handed in his resignation, and after reading the list of those killed in the war . . . those students he had taught, cared for and effectively raised . . . he had grown too depressed to care about much else, let alone the social lives and careers of those that had survived. The last he had heard the boy had wished to be an auror, but that had been so many years ago and only recently he had been offered a position at the school, the reason – in fact – that Mr Potter had tormented his existence for the past week since his release from hospital. How ironic that Potter may be starting a position when Severus sought to end one, although – judging from his behaviour in the past week – he would not be surprised if Potter only pretended to be interested in a job at the school just to have this inane conversation with him. Who would start a teaching position midway through the year anyway?
He passed by several seven-year Slytherins, noting Draco and Blaise's presence amongst them, but before his closest friend's son could greet him he gave them all a dark look that demanded silence. It was not that he did not appreciate Draco's presence, but he had seen plenty of the young boy since he had regained consciousness and the last thing he wanted was for Draco to get involved in this growing drama between him and Potter. It was bad enough that he had spent six months in hospital as his body sought to reject Nagini's poison, and the potion that he had hid within his robes in anticipation of what might occur had been just as traumatic upon his body as the poison it sought to eradicate, perhaps it would not have been so bad if someone had found his body sooner, but having been presumed dead . . .
It was not until he exited the dungeons and made his way along the staircases and corridors that he began to grow tired with Potter's following of him, and after a few long moments he slowed his pace and allowed the boy to fall in line with him. When he spoke his voice was so pained and bitter that had they still been teacher and student he was sure the young boy would be trembling in fear by now.
"What brings you here, Potter? Have you come to mock your old potions master with your incessant rudeness and intolerable presence? If all you have to say is silence I implore you to take it elsewhere."
"I thought you were dead, Snape."
"Ah, so you've came to see whether it was true or not? Well, I am alive and well, as you can clearly see. The potion in my pocket was experimental, I shall admit, had it not worked I would most certainly be dead . . . as I would have been had the potion had not been there. If you had just thought to check my pulse, to administer basic spells and potions, to even call for help, then I would have healed much faster than I did, the poison would not have had time to take such a great hold. I noted how quick you were to take my precious memories, how like you. You got what you found interesting, but never mind that my life was hanging in the balance."
"That isn't fair!"
"Life isn't fair, but in my observations I believe that I have been fair."
The sun was impossibly high as they wandered outside the castle and into the castle grounds; it was almost blinding and it dazzled Severus for a moment as he was forced to squint away the unpleasant beams. It seemed far too cheerful weather for such an ugly moment, besides that it lured one outside and made the open air more tolerable than that of the humid indoors, it meant that ridding himself of Potter's presence would be next to impossible. If it had been a torrential downpour typical to Scottish weather then he doubted that the boy would still be following by his side, and it was an awfully long walk into Hogsmeade, the question was if he could abide the presence of the other for such a long amble. It was only made worse by his black clothes, robe and cloak; such attire only served to absorb the strong rays of the sun and cause him to swelter and grow uncomfortably warm.
He sought to get to Hogsmeade as quickly as possible, and from there he would use the floo network to reach his home in Spinners End. He still had very little idea about what his future entailed; the very second he had been able to make an informed decision he had quit his job at Hogwarts, but what he would do in its stead was still an alien concept to him. He had been offered jobs at other schools, at St Mungo's in a position of potion-maker, and even it had been suggested to him by Lucius that he might enjoy starting his own company and selling potions to other wizards via the owl delivery service. Whatever the case he would no longer be teaching, and that was the main consolation that his life so far had offered him. Minerva had said that she would consider the last six months of term and the summer holidays to be a well-deserved sabbatical, leaving his job open to him should he wish to return in the following academic year, but he had very little doubt he would not be returning. His entire life had been spent in the service of others, and there was only three precious years between leaving school as a pupil and returning to school as a teacher, he simply wanted nothing more than to have time to himself in order to do things on his own terms, to mourn for his past and to seek out a future of his own choosing. He wished to find himself. He wished to start afresh. He wished to be far, far away from servitude and slavery, two things that – in his opinion – were synonymous with the art of teaching, a career that forced one to enslave themselves to the needs of students of total ineptitude. He did not want to be tied to anyone, he did not want to be employed by anyone, he just wanted to be alone and work things out for himself, free from the orders of Albus or the advice of Lucius. He just wanted to be alone.
"So you're just going to run away from me forever?" Harry snapped.
He reached out to grab a hold of Severus' sleeve, but the older man snatched his arm out of the way at the last second so that the boy's fingertips only managed to brush against raven-coloured fabric in the weakest of fashion. The contents of Severus' box rattled loudly as his arm jerked, and the noise caused a pair of seventh-year Ravenclaws to gasp loudly and part from an intimate embrace, they were not only out-of-bounds but missing what he knew was a very important Potions lesson. He quickly deducted twenty points each and promised to alert Minerva to the matter, growling as he watched them run off and Harry roll his eyes.
"The moment I was told that you were alive, I dropped everything," Harry continued, having to quicken his pace to keep up with Severus. "You know that, don't you? I went straight to St Mungo's to see how you were. I went every damned day just to make sure you were alive. I owed you my life, you sacrificed yourself just so I would live, and I couldn't just turn my back on you."
"So you came to pay off a debt? How sweet."
"I came because I cared! When I saw your memories I understood, I understood everything! I saw you in a new light. I might just be a fool to you but I still know what it means to be human, and I can appreciate all that you've done for me, and I can admire you for all that you've achieved . . . I cleared your name. I had a portrait of you installed in the headmaster's office. I then learned everything I could about you, it was kind of my way of making amends . . . it was childish of me to have held a grudge against you based on baseless assumptions, but now I know. I know what my father did to you, what you sacrificed for my mother, what you dared to do for the wizarding world itself. I came because I owed you. I stayed because I cared about you, because you were the bravest man that I have every met."
Severus was unsure how to respond to such flattery. There was a part of him that felt he should be honoured to be considered in such a manner, after all his students had never considered him as anything other than the 'greasy, old dungeon bat' or – as rumour had it – a rather evil vampire. He had never been more than a 'filthy half-blood' to the Death Eaters, always a 'filthy Death Eater' to the Order, and no matter what side he stood on he always seemed to have far more enemies than acquaintances, and more acquaintances than friends. It was an honour indeed to have someone deem him of having some form of worth. It was not just worth either; he was not being judged upon what he could do for Harry, what chores or jobs he might fulfil, what use he might be of, but he was being judged solely on his merit and redeeming qualities alone, something that made him feel . . . human. It was an incredibly strange feeling, one that made him most uncomfortable and awkward, but it also made him feel extremely suspicious and sceptical of what he was being told.
He knew that he was worthless. He knew that as far as appearances went he would never be as handsome as what Sirius had been or as beautiful as Lily; his hair would forever be matted and greasy and his skin sallow and pale, his body was frail and far too skinny, and he would always look gangly and somewhat shabby in comparison to the robes of his colleagues and closest friends. He also knew that as far as wealth and status went he was far inferior to any other wizard alive, and the very fact his house stood in a poor and miserable muggle ward in a less affluent county was testament to that. He had inherited nothing from his parents, his mother having been disinherited for marrying a muggle and his father but a poor muggle himself, and it was well known that teachers were the least well paid of all professions. All that was left was his character, the least practical and useful of the sum of his parts, and if anyone was to be a judge of his own personality and moral fibre he should like to think he was the best man for the job, no one else had to spend the last forty or so years in his skin like he had, no one had endured the hell that he had, and no one had better knowledge of the heinous acts he had committed like he had. He may have made amends for his past, but the fact remained that he would not have had to make amends were it not for the fact he had committed such crimes to begin with. It was Severus who had told the Dark Lord the prophecy, Severus who had cursed one of the Weasley twins into permanent disfigurement, and Severus who had killed Albus . . . no one could care for a man like that. No one could call a murderer brave.
"Ginny left me, you know," Harry continued on rather forlornly.
The comment seemed rather disconnected to the boy's previous comments on Severus' character, comments that he had yet to respond to or make comment upon, and as such he was left uncertain as to whether this seemingly random statement given to him by Potter was worth acknowledgement or not. If it hadn't been for the reports in The Prophet,and the constant updates from Minerva and Lucius, he might have assumed the Harry had been lying throughout the rather one-sided conversation and attempting to mock him somehow. It was only because he knew what the boy said to be true that he attempted a perfunctory sympathetic remark, one that he hoped would not sound too out of character for a man of his stature and reputation.
"I am sorry to hear that, Potter."
"It was because I was coming to see you each day," he said, jumping as the Hogwarts gates closed abruptly behind them. "Of course she never explicitly said that, but I knew that's what it was. She said that we were just too different, that we had clung to each other in the war from fear and desperation, and that we didn't really consider what the relationship would be like in the long-term because we never thought that there would be a long-term . . . I was angry at first. I did love her, I really did, but she was my first ever love and it wasn't until recently that I realised I had been mistaking 'love' for a 'crush', that I had been too young and inexperienced to distinguish between the two. We're still good friends, but we would never have worked out . . .
"She told me she realised it about September, it had been several months and yet I was still putting my life on hold. Hermione and Ginny had started back at school, you see? Ron went on to train as an auror. I spent my whole time just kind of . . . floating. I spent every day by your side, just kind of clinging to the past, like if you survived somehow the past could survive along with you, that everything would just go back to how it was and I wouldn't have to think about the future any more. Ginny was always talking about joining a Quidditch team, what we would name our kids, how it was a shame that Percy couldn't have made up with their brother before he was on his deathbed, how it'd be great to see him again at Christmas . . . she blamed you a little, I think. She said that for as long as you lived I couldn't, that I just couldn't bring myself to let go. She was right. I can't let go. If you had died along with everyone else then maybe things would have been different, maybe I would have trained as an auror to distract myself from my grief, maybe I would have married Ginny like everyone expected us to, and maybe I would have had kids and lived some mediocre existence . . . but something would have always been missing. I wouldn't have been complete. She knew that and I knew that, and I think you know that, too . . ."
Severus paused as they reached Hogsmeade.
The small village was cast over in a thick layer of snow, much of it untouched upon the roofs of the buildings and vast expanses of the fields, and yet the many paths and roads were so trodden and used that that snow appeared nothing more than a tainted mush, contrasting the purity of the rest so strikingly that it made one wonder how the two could co-exist in the world together. There was an unfortunate hustle-and-bustle of the local residents, and a lot of noise from the older students who had foolishly deigned to leave their cosy dorm rooms to brave the snow storm, and no matter where he looked or turned he seemed to see other people, others who would torment him with their presence and judge him with their ever staring gaze.
He couldn't help but stand stock-still, clutching at the box in front of him as if it was his only lifeline. He was truly relieved that he hadn't shrunk his belongings as he had done to the rest, because if he had he would have nothing to hold and nothing to distract himself in that bitter and cold moment in time, and if that had been the case he may have just been forced to grab a hold of something else . . . namely his wand. This was far from the most appropriate time for the annoying brat to be bringing up such pathetic and trivial things, especially when it was beginning to sound like a love confession rather than a simple discussion. It had became obvious in this past week that Potter sought for a friendship, – why, Severus knew not – but indeed the boy had spent each and every day by his side within the hospital and had even been there when he had awoken, and since then he had been desperately trying to get in touch with the older man . . . owls, floo calls, letters, and even messages passed on through his colleagues and friends . . . the boy was relentless. If it were a love confession it would have made much more sense to him, for who would go to such lengths for a friendship that was clearly one-sided and not reciprocated? That was foolish though. No one would love a man like Severus, especially not one like Potter. The boy was perhaps richer than Malfoy, he was as famous as Voldermort or Dumbledore, and he was as handsome and beautiful as his mother had been. Potter had so much to offer the world. He could be a famous Quidditch player or a world-class auror; he could even take up a teaching position at Hogwarts or simply live off his own inheritance, whereas what was Severus good for? No, there was no way that a man like Potter could love him or desire him, and so for what purpose had Severus even imagined such a situation? He felt like a fool, a fool indeed.
He firmly and abruptly turned around so that he was facing Potter directly. The younger man blanched somewhat as he wrapped his arms around his body, desperately trying to keep himself warm in the cruel wind that had suddenly and unexpectedly struck. It struck at his cheeks so that they reddened like a child's, his lips so dry that he was forced to lick upon them almost constantly to keep them moist, and as he shivered he appeared to draw further and further into himself. His glasses seemed to form a barrier to his eyes, distancing his gaze and making him seem a little untrustworthy to Severus, as if the inability to see directly into the other's eyes made him unable to see at all into the other's soul. The younger man seemed truly taken aback, yet somewhat expectant as if he hoped for Severus to say something of profound importance unto him, and yet the longer the silence went on the more uncomfortable the silence between them became. It was Severus who broke the silence, much to his own displeasure.
"What is it that you think I know?"
The boy bristled most noticeably. His eyes appeared to crinkle in the corners ever so slightly and his lips became but a tight line, and Severus could not help but admire this sudden sight of self-control, a control that his former student had lacked in abundance only a few years previous. He was clearly holding his tongue, but – as Severus knew – that was only because it was in Potter's best interests. Whatever it was that the child wanted from him it was enough to make him polite, quiet and respectful, but were the circumstances different – were Potter to want nothing at all – then no doubt the boy would be the rudest creature known to man.
"I know that you love me."
Severus immediately tensed. His every nerve felt like it was on fire, his muscles grew tense with overwhelming emotion, and as he stared into those green eyes he felt a great conflict wage war within him. There was a great, insane part of him that wanted nothing than to strike Potter, to curse him into oblivion for his insolence and presumption, and another part that was somewhat awed by the boy's confidence in his own speculative ideas and his newfound ability to see beneath the underneath. It was both insightful of him to think such a thing, but also incredibly foolish. Severus truly and utterly despised him in those few seconds.
How dare he? How dare he suggest such a thing? It was beyond infuriating that the boy would have doubted him for all these years, assumed him to be the villain that he only pretended to be, allowed him to lose his reputation and nearly his life, and then declared his love for Lily before the entire school and surviving aurors, only to now see the truth! It made all that he had suffered and endured seem trivial, as if he had been humiliated for little to no reason, and he could not bear to hope that there would be some happy end to this . . . that they may all live happily ever after, like some twaddle written by Beadle the Bard or the Brothers Grimm . . . because there were no happy endings in life. Potter no doubt sought to mock him or criticise him, or perhaps he found it so amusing that he sought to blackmail his old professor, although if that were the case he would not get much out of Severus . . . the life of a teacher hardly compared to the fabulous life of a truant and attention-seeker. Still, how did the boy know about his feelings? Was he just guessing? There was no way that the snivelling idiot could know, especially not when even now – despite the intensity of his warm affection – he still saw the boy as nothing more than a childish prat. A child like Potter would only understand the concept of love in terms of passion, intensity, and obsession; to a naïve man like Potter it was not possible to see the flaws in a loved one, nor was it possible to ever feel dislike for them, and to fight or argue would evidently mean that hatred was present in the place of love . . .
A man who could not understand love was incapable of love, and a man incapable of love would never be able to recognise love within another's heart. Potter could understand crushes and sexual desire, but actual love . . . no, that was beyond someone like him. Besides . . . even if Potter could somehow know of Severus' heart, even if Severus was being too harsh in his judgements – and perhaps Potter was capable of love – it still meant nought.
Love was a killing curse. It was something many people wanted, that many strived for, but when it came to actually giving one's heart to another – to whispering that incantation – one often found that they fell short . . . their heart simply was not in it, they did not feel the love and thus were unable to give it, and when they did feel love . . . well, that was when the true curse came out, that was when they killed. Of course, no one meant to harm the person they loved, but they did, oh, they always did. Love was like the waters of a river, something fast and uncontrollable, something pure and life-giving, and at the same time the object of that love was like the smallest of pebbles, so that the more one loved – the faster the waters ran – the more the pebble would become eroded, first losing its former shape and soon becoming nothing at all, so that all it once was became lost in the river's waters, so that it became nought but a quintessence of dust. His love had been the start of Lily's; in return her own love for her son had compounded her problems and secured her demise . . . and what happened in return? The river's waters became polluted, the ability to love died with the grief and mourning that came from the losses of love, and thus the killing curse succeeded. One ultimately destroyed oneself. One brought about one's own downfall . . .
"I love you? That is rather presumptuous of you, is it not? Why . . . the Boy-Who-Lived has not enough admirers that he has to invent some in the form of the man who most despises him? I cannot tell if you are insanely foolish or irreversibly arrogant."
"You know it's true, Severus."
"I do not believe I ever gave you permission to address me by my forename, Potter. Would you really address the man you believe to love you with such disrespect? Even if I were inclined to 'love' you in return I certainly would not feign to do so now. Honestly, Potter, when have I ever given you reason to believe such a hideous untruth? You are lucky I am in such a well-humoured mood, any other day I may be inclined to curse you for such impudence."
It seemed that he had struck a nerve. Potter was evidently furious that Severus could doubt his words, because – of course – no one alive would dare to contradict the wonderful boy who defeated the Dark Lord. It was probably the first time alive that anyone had dared to disagree with him. It brought such a smirk to Severus' face that he had to turn away lest the boy see in him the depths of pleasure he received from the boy's frustration, and to see that pleasure would be to see Severus unable to hide his own emotions, it would be to see a sign of weakness, something that he could not allow. He shook his head to rid himself of his smile, then proceeded to walk away to the nearest place to floo, but Potter grabbed him remarkably hard by the upper arm and yanked him back. He gave the boy a dark glare unlike one he had even given before. The impudence of this boy indeed . . .
"Listen, Severus," he said darkly, "I know you love me. You can keep insulting me all you like. What is it, Snape? If you call me 'Potter' you can pretend I'm my dad and not me? If you call me 'boy' you can pretend I'm just some kid that you aren't allowed to touch? You keep trying to distance yourself, but you can't! You try over and over to save my life, and it's more than just some oath you swore . . . you keep distancing yourself and distancing yourself, but it's not going to work! You know it won't work! It was fine before the war began, we were effectively on separate sides and I was underage anyway . . . but now it's different. What's the point in distancing yourself now? What is it you hope to get out of it?
"You love me, it's obvious. Your patonus didn't change to mimic my mother's, to mimic the woman you supposedly 'loved'; it changed to complement mine! The doe to my stag, that's it, isn't it? You can call me vain or arrogant, you can call me what you like, but you know as well as I do that it wasn't my mother's eyes you wanted to see as you lay dying, it was my eyes that you wanted to be your last ever sight. I don't know if your love for her was platonic, I don't know if maybe it was a crush or real love or what, but all I know it that here – now – you love me, and I . . . I don't know. I've had girlfriends before, I've had Ginny, too, but I don't think I ever loved them, so I don't know . . . I can't say . . . I don't know what it is that I feel for you in return. I just know that I love you in some way, and that I can't get rid of this feeling, and that it feels more real than anything I've felt before! You've been avoiding me since you woke up from your coma, and I've had enough, Severus! We need to talk. Properly! So, yeah . . . if you won't stop to talk to me then I'll just have to make you, it's as simple as that."
Ah! There was that sheer arrogance he so oft associated with James! He had almost forgotten for a while the boy that Potter used to be, he so very nearly came close to believing that the boy had changed, but – of course – that arrogance was in built and bound to seep through at some point. It just wouldn't be a conversation with Potter without the younger man's idle threats, rude commands, and egocentric attitude. Did it matter to him that Severus wanted nothing but silence? The only thing that mattered to Potter was Potter. No doubt he would make Severus' life a living hell until he gave in to his ridiculous demands for a 'talk'.
He still could not shake the feeling that he was being mocked. Surely there was some spell or charm or hidden bug eavesdropping upon their little talk . . . didn't rumour have it that one of the reporters for the Daily Prophet was some sort of animagus? It was some sort of insect if he remembered right, bringing a whole new meaning to the muggle phrase of 'being bugged'. He wouldn't put it past Potter to have some sort of device in place to record his expressions and reactions, to later make his old professor's comments public and humiliate him nationwide . . . worldwide. That was the only way to explain how a boy like Potter could claim to love a man like himself, because why would Potter love him? His reasons were flimsy, his confession was weak, and yet . . . Severus could not sense any dishonesty from him as he probed his mind, in fact all he received was an unusual amount of memories dedicated to Severus . . . memories that included tears spilt over Severus' prone form, ecstatic joy upon the man's awakening, and constant worry over his anticipated inevitable conversation with the older man. He certainly seemed sincere, and – in fact – he was not even trying to prevent Severus from reading his memories, but seeing as he had never even had the ability to master the basics of occlumency that did not really prove much to Severus at all, except not to expect much from the boy in terms of academic progress.
He did not know what to think about the matter, but he knew that he could not trust Potter and that he was not willing to admit to anything before he had some sort of certain knowledge that the boy was not setting him up for some huge humiliation. The last time he had trusted a blasted personality like Potter's he had nearly been mauled to death by Lupin in the Shrieking Shack, and of course James had to jump in to save the day – desperate to save his friend – but he had to pretend like it was for Severus' sake, when really it was not. Was this like that horrific day from his teenage years? He could not help but presume that Potter was only pretending to care about him, all to serve some other selfish purpose . . .
"I am obliged to attend a dinner party at Lucius Malfoy's home later tonight," Severus said in a rather nonchalant and non-sequential manner. "I am told it is somewhat of a . . . truce. Trust my old friend to turn an attempt to get back into polite society into a political statement for the 'greater good', but – nonetheless – it shall be nice to socialise with former Hogwarts colleagues and – I dread to imagine – former Death Eaters, too."
"I don't –"
"Understand? I know. God forbid your idiotic intelligence should comprehend such a simple implication! It is a well-established fact that at these infernal affairs one always invites the spouse or partner of any given invitee, when there is not a spouse or partner then that invitee may instead bring a guest. I am allowed to bring a guest. I have never before brought one, seeing as I have never before attended such public affairs, but as I have – thanks to you – spent the last several months in a coma I have much to learn and catch up on regarding recent public events. I will not give you the honour of private correspondence or private conference, but a dinner party inevitably leads to tedious talks in the drawing room afterwards . . . I would not object to your company should you wish to explain your feelings in depth, and the reasons to which that I should care."
"So you want to discuss things with me, but you're too much of a coward to do so in private? You really haven't changed at all, have you, Severus?"
"No, and as such I shall give you one warning: call me a 'coward' again and next time you may find your wand so far magically inserted into your rectum that you'll be coughing wood for weeks. I couldn't threaten you in such a manner before, but I can do so now. I am not – nor have I ever been – a coward. If you're seeking to win me over you're doing a horrific job."
Severus turned quick upon his feet and headed directly towards one of the less reputable pubs in the village, knowing that there would be a good fireplace to floo to his home from. He noted how forlorn that Potter looked, as if the prospect of becoming centre of attention at a pure-blood's party wasn't a dream come true for him, and couldn't help but sneer at the boy's stupidity. It seemed though that the boy obviously realised how such a party could help raise his profile and make excellent connections, and so he followed Severus at once, struggling to keep up.
"It's at eight o'clock. Meet me outside Malfoy Manor if you are going to attend."
"I will. And you promise we'll talk?"
"Oh, I'm sure we'll make some small talk at some point in the evening . . ."
In truth he was amused to see just what the boy would do or say, if he would make a scene or use his manners to speak to Severus in a mature and adult manner, and if so just what would he have to say? If he was lucky then perhaps the younger man would get distracted by the rich and famous around him, perhaps he would leave Severus to wallow in his loneliness and isolation, and if so then Severus could forget this whole ridiculous conversation and get on with his life. Even if Potter did like him, love him even, if would never work out. They were just too different.
"Well," he said, turning into the open pub, "see you later, Potter."
And, with that, he left before the boy could stop him.