Written for the Snarry Games 2008. HBP but not DH-compliant.
Thanks to Leela Cat for the beta and Rinsbane for the inspiration.
Harry Apparated to Spinner's End in the evenings, or on overcast days. Six months of stalking Snape had taught him that the canal was the safest Apparition point; along the more desolate stretches it was rare to encounter another living soul. Teenagers loitered under the bridge sometimes, or an occasional homeless person. If any of Snape's ghosts haunted the embankment, Harry had never met them and hoped it stayed that way. He had enough of his own.
Beyond the iron railings, the city sprawled like an old, sick dragon covered in cracked, smoke-blackened scales. Snow and soot mingled to slush on the asphalt. After dark, an eerie glow rose over the slate rooftops, their shingles bright with frost.
Harry wandered the strand, half-listening to the car tyres hissing by. The icy mud crunched under his feet, and streetlights reflected off the dark water. The voice of reason in his head (which sounded embarrassingly like Hermione) urged him to pack it in and go home.
He wouldn't, though. Not until he'd seen Snape. He considered it his responsibility to make sure the bastard was still locked up tight. The argument with his inner Hermione was just part of the ritual, a sop to his conscience. Shivering with sudden loneliness as the water's quiet gurgle stirred up memories that didn't belong to him, Harry wrapped his robes tighter and scrambled up the muddy bank.
Wand out, he ducked through a gap in the railings. Rust streaked his sleeve, and he removed it with a thought. No red marks. No memories. On one corner, plastic-bagged bundles of newspapers leaned tipsily against skeletal Christmas trees, tinsel sparkling in the sweep of passing headlamps. The new year was only a few days old. Already an entire year free of Voldemort. Funny, Harry didn't feel much like celebrating. He slunk along like a hungry werewolf, soles slipping on the worn, damp cobbles.
As he turned the next corner, fog drifted down the street like smoke from a gutted building. Harry let it roll over him, willing to enter the flames head-on. After all this time, he was the only one still burning.
Stop it. There were no flames, no fire.
Silencing his - well, not conscience, maybe his sense of self-preservation - he crossed to the kerb. Stay away from the house. It always went like this. Don't do it, stay away. But the urge to trespass was overwhelming. If he didn't stop giving in to it, sooner or later he was going to get caught.
He looked forward to that, actually.
Distracted by fantasies of hexing Snape, he stuck the tip of his wand between his teeth and nibbled. Practically everyone had pointed out how dangerous this was. What if he blew a hex through the back of his head? Well, so what? Score one for his ghosts, then. The rest of them could carve FUCKING IDIOT on his tombstone.
He spat out a splinter and paused. At the end of the rundown street, Spinner's End stood shrouded in darkness, save for one yellow rectangle in the upper storey glaring out at the fog. It was a tall, narrow house, dark and ugly, a perfect fit for its lone occupant. Harry craned his neck. Somewhere inside the lit room, a candle wavered. The restless git was probably pacing. Harry scooted closer to the front of the house to avoid being seen, pressing against bricks so cold they burned. He chafed his fingers, and a thorn jabbed him.
"Hey, lay off," he whispered, half in jest. "It's me." The wards crackled irritably, but the creamy scent of roses swirled up in greeting.
His ghosts chose that moment to invade his lungs. Shielding his mouth to keep the fog at bay, Harry tried to cough them out. They wouldn't go. Of course not. He'd long since given up the hope that he'd ever be rid of them.
"Alohomora." Unoiled hinges complaining, the door to Snape's home creaked open. Knowing he'd underestimated Snape in the past, Harry waited, restoring circulation to his stiff face by rubbing it with his scarred hand. The magical residue that lingered in I must not tell lies tingled faintly against his chapped lips. With his other hand, he wrestled several lengths of balled-up, shimmering cloak from his pocket. He checked the window again, but still no silhouette.
Not that Harry needed to see it to know Snape was there. For how much longer, he couldn't rightly say. He'd decided, months before, that he wanted this window empty. Unlit. That was why he kept coming back. That was why he braved the cold and risked getting caught. He intended, someday, to extinguish it.
He swung the shining cloak over his head. The shadow of his obsession swallowed him up.
From a creature essentially bereft of a soul, he'd inherited the guilt of a thousand mortal sins.
That night in bed, Harry dreamed of it again. He often did after visiting Snape. It had been the last curse to leave Tom Riddle's lips, his last act in this or any other life. It had struck Harry down before he could Disapparate – Harry, who'd thought he'd finally won. Who'd thought it was over, at a cost no one had calculated yet, but over for good. Hemmed in by flames, he'd collapsed in the middle of the burning Ministry, screaming in shock, not knowing what had hit him.
Neither had the healers who'd toiled over him for days, weeks. Months, if he hadn't thrown a tantrum and stormed out. It had been touch and go with his sanity for a while. He'd been so obsessed with turfing the ghosts out of his head and purging his body of Voldemort's sins. Only it hadn't worked, had it? St. Mungo's had been crap at identifying the spell derivation and its counter-curse. After weeks in hospital, the shamefaced healers had seen him off with one absolutely shitty piece of advice: get used to it. Learn to live with your ghosts.
Learn to live with the faceless wraiths hungering through him? No problem, mates. How bad could it be? No worse than being eaten alive by Thestrals.
Anger didn't help. It merely fed the bitter spirits. They craved vengeance, tormenting him in ways that would never have worked on a Dark Lord. Why would Voldemort have cared? But Harry did. They couldn't know he was innocent of their blood.
Clutching at his pillow, Harry almost smothered himself in his sleep.
The wisps of ghostly presence inside him – Merlin, those were bad enough. But what was like to drive him mad if he let it obsess him was the guilt about his mother and father's deaths.
At least the dream was different that night. Flames still roared, like they always did, but it was Spinner's End that burned, not the Ministry. And in the middle of it all, Harry sat atop Snape, his hands around Snape's throat, and it didn't matter if they were both going to die, it had felt –
A brisk knock at the wall of his nightmare snapped him awake. Groggy and disoriented, he blinked as a head of bushy brown hair poked around the door.
"Harry? Sorry," Hermione said. "I know you got in late last night, but I was wondering if you could come to breakfast soon. I need help with Ron."
"'Kay," Harry mumbled. Only after Hermione shut the door again did Harry register the throbbing in his groin. He'd come all over his pyjama bottoms. To a wet dream about Snape.
"Merlin," he groaned in disgust, and dragged himself out of bed. Of all the jokes for fate to play on him. He pulled a dressing gown over his soiled clothes and summoned his glasses. Maybe the dream was his reward - or punishment – for having revealed himself to Snape at last. Well, not like that – revealed his existence, was all. Pretty bloody stupid thing to do, but it had been bound to happen sooner or later.
He found the book he'd dropped next to his bed and tossed it in a corner, knocking a few other items to the floor. It was the corner he reserved for all the things he'd stolen from Spinner's End. Mostly books. Snape was pretty skint these days, and the loss of a book hurt him like nothing else.
Out in the hallway, Harry bumped into Remus and Tonks on their way to the loo. He immediately backed up a respectful distance. His ghosts had a malicious streak and tended to use him for some literal bumping when Tonks was around.
"Morning, you," she grinned. She had a spectacular case of bed head, and her hair sported the orange-streaked magenta that always appeared whenever she and Remus had just had sex. Harry kind of wished he didn't know this. She was just so – well, bouncy about it.
"Going for a shower," Remus said, looking a bit sheepish. "Unless you need to – ?"
"I'll use the w.c. downstairs," Harry said. "Ron first, shower later."
"Won't be long," Tonks said, and they both crowded back politely while Harry sidled around them. He could just endure being touched, but he preferred to avoid it, and everyone in the house bent over backwards to accommodate him.
Just then a door banged open across the hall and Ginny darted out, already dressed for Quidditch practice. Behind her sauntered Owen Thornycroft, the boyfriend she'd acquired once Harry had finally got it across to her that when he said he didn't like being touched, he didn't mean "except for Ginny Weasley." He'd had to cast a Body-Bind on her the night she'd tried to sneak into his bed. He reckoned that had been the breaking point. But for Merlin's sake – his hands froze when he touched people, and his ghosts crept under the surface of his skin. Harry had no way of knowing what they'd do to his friends if they ever broke free.
"Hey, slug-a-beds," Ginny called out. "You'll never guess. Owen finished my portrait!"
Tonks beamed. "Congrats!"
"Cheers," Remus offered, shuffling rather urgently in the direction of the loo. Tonks snagged his arm, tugging on him to wait. Her hair was dandelion-yellow with curiosity and her ears slimmed to points and swiveled forward. "So, when do we get to see it?"
"By invitation only," Owen apologised. "Eh, love? Thing is, it's a wee bit risqué."
"Harry?" Ginny spoke right over him. "Don't you want to see it?"
"Sorry, I'm past late for Ron's feeding," he blurted, and Apparated downstairs to Scourgify himself in the loo before Ginny started pouting.
Back upstairs, he found Hermione finishing up with Ron's breakfast. She was neatly turned out in her Ministry robes and dictating notes in a happy, sing-song voice. She'd spooned most of the porridge into Ron's mouth, but some of it had ended up on his jumper, as usual, and some on the table, and pumpkin juice had splattered all over the floor. Ron moaned at Harry and drooled porridge bits.
Taking charge of the spoon, Harry smiled at Ron and made funny faces, pantomiming, "Open wide." Ron gurgled. Behind his back, Hermione stealthily pulled out her wand and cast cleaning charms, then tucked the wand away again before Ron spotted it. The last thing they needed this morning - any morning - was a screaming fit.
"Sorry to leave you alone with him," Hermione said, stuffing her Auto-Quill and parchment into a satchel. "Adrian Owled me about some fantastic old scrolls he's requisitioned from the Department of Mysteries. I imagine they're proofs relating to our latest experiments in sympathetic magic."
Hermione had got a job straight out of Hogwarts as a research assistant in a small back office stuffed to the gills with crazy Arithmantic types. She had, in fact, converted almost overnight to being a crazy Arithmantic type herself. By the time she returned home, she'd be covered in ink and chalk dust and would be spouting the most incomprehensible gibberish.
"Have you seen our resident sylph and faun this morning?" she said archly, pouring herself half a glass of juice.
"Ginny and her painter bloke? Nearly tripped over them in the hall."
Hermione grinned slightly. "Did they stampede you into the bedroom to see her portrait? It's finished, you know. Very nice, too."
Harry wiped a smear of butter off Ron's chin. "They tried, but I gave 'em the slip. Tonks was pretty keen on having a gander, I think. They fobbed her off. Kind of rude, if you ask me."
"Ginny doesn't give a toss for Tonks' opinion, that's why." Hermione set down her glass. "I know they won't rest until they've pestered you into taking a look. Prepare yourself, Harry. She's absolutely starkers."
Harry blinked at her, spoon arrested midway to Ron's mouth. "Cripes. They can't both be trying to get a leg over, can they? I mean, what's up with Owen?"
"You're the famous Harry Potter, that's what," Hermione said. "Are you sure you'll be okay here?"
Harry shrugged. "We'll be fine. Ron will help protect my virtue. Won't you, mate?"
Ron scrunched his face and grinned vacantly at the sound of his name. Hermione leaned down to plant a kiss on the top of his unbrushed head, and her wand slid about two inches out of her sleeve.
It was bad luck Ron's head happened to be turned toward her at that moment. He caught sight of the wand and bleated softly. His eyes started to roll. "Shite," Harry said as the blubbering sirened into pathetic wails. Ron swept out his arms, and the bowl of porridge went flying.
The bedroom door burst open, Ginny behind it, and the bowl ricocheted back, catching Hermione in the breast. She cried out and staggered against Ron, and her already-jostled wand shot out. It spun as it hit the table and skated so fast it probably would have vanished out of sight if it hadn't fetched up, with a loud ding, against a Black-family china saucer.
Ron went berserk.
It took all three of them to catch him, hold him, get a calming potion down his throat, and then coax him, weeping, into bed. Ginny drew the covers over him and murmured gently. Face pale, Hermione put things to rights.
At the first opportunity Harry sat down, fists jammed in his pockets, while he listened to the crackle of burning skin. His tongue scraped against his teeth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge the taste of smoke. His memories were all of fire, but his teeth chattered with cold. Fucking ghosts.
"I'm so sorry," Hermione said for about the fifteenth time. "Is he asleep yet?"
"Yes, no thanks to you," Ginny snapped. "Stupid cow, can't even manage a proper sticking charm."
Hermione looked at her, but said only, "See you tonight, Harry."
Owen timed his moment nicely, popping his head round the door to say, "Jump your broomstick, love. We need to be off out. I told your brother I'd meet him for a sitting."
Harry didn't look up as they bustled variously out the door. Once they were gone, he shifted over to sit beside Ron and watch his sleeping, tear-stained face.
It was all bollocksed up. Back when he'd thought Ron might still be reachable, sealed up in memory somewhere, he'd wanted to try legilimency. Snape would have come in handy, if he hadn't been in Azkaban at the time. Of course, Snape would likely have dismissed Ron's condition with the same cold words he'd once directed at Hermione: "I see no difference."
Harry listened to Ron snore and put his face in his hands. He wasn't going to think about Snape.