New Coin


Something he never thought he'd see: Snape holding Dumbledore close against his chest, soaked through with rain and mud and blood.

Dumbledore was still breathing; Harry could see his breath in the cold air. He skidded to a stop in the muck, kneeling at Dumbledore's side, nearly mirroring Snape's pose. "Headmaster?"

"Harry, lad," Dumbledore said, but his eyes were unfocused, and he turned his face away from Harry, into Snape's robe. "Severus, my dear boy, let me sleep."

"As long as you like."

Harry had never heard Snape's voice so soft. He hadn't known that Snape had any capacity for gentleness in him.

Dumbledore's voice seemed to come from far away. "Severus?"


"Look after the children for me."

Snape pressed his mouth to Dumbledore's forehead. "I will." His kiss left blood on Dumbledore's skin; his long pale fingers brushed straggling locks back, cleared water from Dumbledore's eyes. "I have," he said, his voice low and intense, and Dumbledore smiled up at him.

"I know."

And then there was only the sound of breathing: Harry's, Snape's, Dumbledore's--and that last was slowing.

Harry clutched at Dumbledore's hand, but it was slack in his, and he could no longer see breath hanging in the air.

He felt that all the magic had gone out of the world, and a sob choked its way out of his throat and chest, as bitter as the coppery taste of blood on his tongue.

Snape ignored him; he closed Dumbledore's eyes and dropped a kiss on each lid. "Aes signatum ex sanguis," he whispered, almost too quietly for Harry to hear, and the blood-red marks of his mouth bloomed into bright pennies that gleamed through the rain. He gathered the body to him, standing in one smooth motion. He looked down at Harry, somehow more terrible and imposing in blood and grief than he had ever been at his driest and most vicious.

"Come, Mr. Potter. Time to go home."

* * *


He almost thought Snape was a shadow, until Snape shifted and his skin caught the firelight. "Professor?"

"Mr. Potter."

"Can I--" Harry waved his hand at one of the chairs.

Snape raised his head and light glanced from his cheekbones. "This is a common room. You may do as you please."

Harry came closer. "Professor, I--"

Snape looked down at him, and Harry felt eleven again, when Snape had seemed to be monstrous. But he was nearly grown now, and Snape's height advantage had shrunk to six inches--and Snape was thinner now, he noticed, hard skin and muscle over harder bone. He touched the sleeve of Snape's robe gently. "I know--you loved him. Too. I--"

Something like compassion glimmered in Snape's face. "He was my truest friend, boy. I was blessed by his friendship and by his teaching." He raised one hand and rubbed his eyes, the firelight staining his incruent skin. "*You* were blessed. I do not know if you can comprehend how much and how deeply."

"I can," Harry replied. "I think." He rubbed his hands up and down his arms. He still felt chilled, as if he were back in the rain and the mud, with Dumbledore's hand cooling in his. Snape turned his face back to the fire. "Professor?" Harry said, expecting a sneer or a snipe, a wish for him to vanish.

It failed to come. "Yes, Mr. Potter?"

"You, too." He stumbled on, his words tripping over themselves. "I mean--what you taught me." He could go no further; talking to Snape had become a minefield over the past several years, with each rescue and insult lying between them. He had no idea now how to navigate it.

"And what did I teach you? Your Potions grade has always been just shy of--"

"Lots of--that not everyone I don't like is a bad person just because I don't like them. That--lots of things."

Snape exhaled. "Ah." He was silent for a long moment. "Thank you, Mr. Potter."

Harry took a step closer, until his shoulder brushed Snape's upper arm. "I'm going to miss him--"

His voice broke like a twig underfoot, and he found himself sobbing, helpless once more in front of Severus Snape.

And it must have been compassion he saw in Snape's face earlier, because Snape's arm was around him, and Snape's robe was sleek against his face, and he was clinging, desperately, to one of the few people left living that he hated with all his heart. The grief was too much to bear alone, flooding him with bitter seas of tears and blood and bile.

He raised his head from Snape's shoulder, and pale trails of tears marked Snape's face, silver-gilt gliding over his skin. Wondering, he traced the tears with his fingers, and felt Snape flinch slightly from his touch--a quiver of the skin, stilled almost instantly. He touched a finger to a teardrop that rested, vibrating, just above Snape's mouth.

And he couldn't help it, couldn't help himself; he slid one hand behind Snape's head, pressed his mouth to Snape's mouth, remembered blood and kisses and copper in the rain.

Snape broke the kiss. "No," he said, but he didn't let go. Harry could feel the other man's body thrumming under his robe, as though heat and grief tangled into desire.

"Yes," Harry said, pressing closer.

"You're a student." There was no mistaking the lowering hiss in that, or the sudden distance between them.

"I'm sorry."

Snape's eyes softened. "For once, Mr. Potter, the fault lies with me." He sighed, and his breath seemed to stop, so that for a moment Harry thought he, too, had died.

"It has been a long battle," Snape said, finally. "A very long battle. And we have earned our rest, you and I." He walked to the door, his steps unhurried. "I will talk to you tomorrow, Mr. Potter. Sleep well."

"Yes, Professor."

And then Snape was gone.


At breakfast, McGonagall told the students about Voldemort. *Dead*, she said, as though it were a certainty.

Harry felt sickly uncertain. Voldemort had disappeared before; he could do it again.

McGonagall quieted the cheers with a gesture, and it was Snape who told the students that Dumbledore, too, was dead. "Hogwarts shall enter mourning," he said, his face dispassionate and pale, as though he felt nothing. As though salt-silver tears had never been; as though bloodied kisses had never turned to coin.

Harry shivered under the chill of Snape's gaze, and the great hall wreathed itself in wintry black.

Afterwards, Harry went to find Snape in his classroom, and found him sprinkling featherdust into a simmering cauldron. Here, in his own element, Snape was no warmer than he had been at breakfast. His sallow skin seemed more sallow in the light, and his hair fell over his eyes and hid them from view. He smelled faintly of greasepaint and daffodils.

He turned to look at Harry, tall and shadowed, his face grim. "Mr. Potter."

Harry folded his arms over his chest. "Yes, Professor?"

"Professor McGonagall wishes to speak to you in her office."


"Go!" The whip of his voice snapped out; stung, Harry went.

McGonagall looked at him steadily, and her eyes were very kind. The Dursleys and Sirius Black had been among the dead, she told him; the Weasleys had applied for his guardianship. Harry looked at his hands, pale against his black robes, and said, "I'm nearly eighteen."

"I know," McGonagall said. "But you are not eighteen yet. Another three months."

"I don't need guardians. I'll be at Hogwarts most of that--"

"Harry," she said. "Please."

Harry bowed his head. "Yes, Professor."

As he left the room, he turned to her and said, "Can you hate someone more than anyone, and still love them?"

She looked at him, her eyes confused, and did not answer. He wondered if she were as wounded and heartsick as he. "He didn't tell you," he said. "Snape--he didn't tell you."

"He told me," McGonagall said. She looked at her hands. "I--understand perhaps better than you would think, Mr. Potter.


He went back to the classroom, and Snape looked at him, cold and pale as ice.

"Don't send me away," Harry said. "Please. Don't send me away."

Snape's robes rustled like raven's wings as he breathed.

"I want--" Harry said, and then stopped. *Want* had never had an effect on Snape. "I feel hollow," he said, and Snape nodded.

"His will not be an easy loss to bear," he said, and something like pain crossed his face. "You have friends. Seek comfort in them, Mr. Potter, not in me."

Harry took a step closer. "They don't understand."

"I know," came the answer, as lacewings drifted down into the cauldron. "You and I and Minerva, Mr. Potter, we who love him beyond reason and life--we are the only ones who understand."

"I need this," Harry said, reaching out, wrapping his hand in Snape's robe, old enough and strong enough to pull the other man to him.

Not strong enough to keep Snape from twisting away, from holding him still in long arms. "You're a child," Snape whispered against his hair. "A child."

"I'm old enough."

Snape's chest vibrated against his back. "It is not fair, boy. Minerva and I may comfort each other, and neither of us may comfort you. Go to your friends. Ask of them what you would ask of me."

Harry closed his eyes against the image of Snape's hands on McGonagall's body, of her strong features softened by sex and grief, of how the two of them might comfort each other in an earthquake of sorrow.

"Go." Snape spun him out like a kite on a line and released him. "Go," he said again, more gently, "or stay and watch. I can offer you nothing more."

He fled.


The day blurred into numbness, and night came sooner than it should. Harry left the black-robed shelter of the castle and walked to the lake. At its edge, he found Blaise Zabini, tall black-eyed Slytherin Blaise, standing watch over the silent waters.

Blaise's voice, when he spoke, was rough with weeping. "You all right, Potter?"

"No," Harry said, and Blaise stepped close, until their shoulders brushed.

"It should have been someone else," Blaise said, at last. "Me. You. Snape. Not him."

The words crawled, serpentlike, over Harry's skin. Blaise's hand found his. "I don't mean that," he said, his fingers warm on Harry's. "He died to protect us. He wouldn't want us to die protecting him."

Harry made no answer, but he pressed Blaise's fingers with his own, leaned into the heat of Blaise's body, felt Blaise's heart thump in his chest.

Watched the giant squid ripple the surface of the lake under the stars.

"Snape made coins from his own blood," he said. "For Dumbledore's eyes."

"New coin," Blaise said, and in the darkness, the sound of his smile was like a bell. "The gift of a son to his father," he said. "The last gift--copper in death, copper from blood--"

"New coin," Harry said, and this time the vibration against his back was laughter, and Blaise smelled sweetly of the sea.