Rating: Teen (for safety)
Word count: ~ 4,000
Warnings: EWE, English from someone who only recently learned it, and weird writing style.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Wow. Okay, this is the fic I never thought I'd write. But, uh. Here it is. ^.^' For the information of those who might be interested, the waltzes that inspired this are Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber, The Blue Danube and The Emperor Waltz by Johann Strauss Jr., and Waltz of the Flowers and Swan Lake Waltz by Tchaikovsky.
One two three is the beat of the dance. One two three is the beat of their hearts, rising and falling. One two three for the music as it pulls them under and doesn't let them go.
Three is for the number of deaths between them, cheated and overcome. Three is for the weapons in their daily duels, words and looks and knife-sharp smiles. Three is for the things they share that stand between them—their childhoods, their schooling, their war.
Three is for the things they share that bring them together—the love for a good man who played them like chess pieces, the love for the school in which they teach, the love for a woman who lives in the green of her son's eyes.
Harry Potter is tired. He is getting older without going anywhere, but there is nowhere in particular that he wants to go. He is stable and steady and stagnant and hates it.
The others speak of the war as something horrible, to be broached in bare whispers in darkened rooms. They fear it, avoid it, mourn it.
To Harry, it was the last time he truly felt alive.
He mourns along with everyone else when Voldemort falls, but he's never entirely certain just what it is that causes him grief. As much as he laments the fallen and hoards their memories, his purpose now is over.
Never has he wanted more than to be free of the burden of being someone, but now he is no one, and it is more terrifying than the war ever was.
The others are braver. They move on, go out and live without fear in the bright lights that Harry cannot stand. He cowers away, shrinks back into the shadows, and lets them pass him by. He is a former hero, but former heroes are by definition no longer required. Heroes are a reminder of war in a time when war is best forgotten, and its heroes along with it.
There is no use for heroes in times of peace. They only remind the people of what has come before, what can happen again.
Harry wonders what it says to his former convictions of being normal that he resents this so completely and utterly.
He stands in his living room, waiting for nothing and expecting nothing. He is not disappointed. There is no sound but the grandfather clock, no movement except for his own breathing, and Harry thinks, 'Oh, I see. This is a dream.'
Because there is a man in front of him who cannot be other than a dream, a man who sacrificed himself when Harry had given him no reason to, who had protected him for years before the war even when they hated each other so very, very much. He is the ghost who haunts Harry most of all, invading his dull grey world with sweeping black robes and greasy black hair and a sallow-skinned beak of a nose, snapping and snarling like the werewolf he once attempted to spy on. But those dreams have never before come in Harry's waking hours, and this most certainly has.
"Snape," he says, just to confirm it.
"Potter," Snape returns, and there is no doubt at all that it is him, not with so much condescension dripping from his acid syllables. "Do close your mouth and stop staring like an imbecile."
(There is a beat of three somewhere far away, string and woodwind and French horn echoing a heartbeat, but they do not hear it, or cannot.)
Snape is wearing a finer black robe than Harry has ever seen on him, with the Hogwarts crest stitched discreetly on the right breast, badger and raven and snake and lion twined together in harmony. Harry stares at it for a moment, mesmerized by the apparent wholeness of a school that is so very shattered, and then lets himself sink down into a chair. He folds his hands in front of him to hide their slight shaking—they're always shaking nowadays, always—and says, "Headmaster, what can I do for you?"
It's the only acknowledgement that Harry can give which Snape will accept, the only apology and recognition that Snape will hear and not dismiss.
Dumbledore and Snape are the only Headmasters that Harry will ever recognize.
(The beat of three carries on. One two three for the tick of the grandfather clock in the hush. One two three and their hearts are finally restarting after years of silent stillness.)
A heavy parchment envelope falls from Snape's fingertips, tumbling to the coffee table in front of Harry. "Take the job," Snape says sharply, no request anywhere in his body language, only hidden away in desperate, tired eyes. "Merlin knows it's the best you're likely to get, Potter. We shall see you on August first."
(But his stride down the stairs outside somehow manages to fall in a beat of three.)
Harry picks up the letter, already knowing that he will accept no matter what offer it contains, and is faintly surprised to find that his hands have stopped shaking.
One two three and they move with grace, slide across the open floor in perfect step. Not the same grace—never the same, never completely alike because that would be simple, and simple would be boring, and they are anything but boring.
Age carries one, the weight of years and time and too many tragedies. But there's a special grace in it, an awareness and care in each movement that someone younger would not have. Movement is choice and consequence and something that cannot be withdrawn once it is put forth.
Youth takes the other, light steps and easy grace and long limbs. There is care in it, as well, but tempered, eased by the immortality of the constantly dying, the recklessness of the brave. One two and turn, twist and fall and dance like it is the last motion on Earth, the last time a foot will ever fall in this place and the last measure of the music even when it isn't.
But one two three steps with the beat, one two three and three two one and their steps fall in perfect time, and they dance together.
Hogwarts is as it ever was, huge and imposing and twisting and home, even when nothing else has ever been. Harry steps out of the Forbidden Forest and looks up the sloping grounds, to where the castle hovers dark and daunting. The Black Lake is a flat sheet of jet-tinted glass, the perfect surface broken only by the flash of white that is the reflection of Dumbledore's tomb. There is no sign of the Battle, not trace of the deaths and killing and hearts that broke that day—only peace, only quiet, and Harry does not know what to do with that calm and serenity, because for so long he has only known discord and conflict.
Snape is waiting for him at the entrance, just as imposing as Hogwarts with his plain black robes and stern features. But he looks at Harry with eyes that say he understands and then turns without a word, heading deeper into the castle.
Harry follows with matching silence, because it's what he never did as a child, and he owes this man at least a little obedience for everything he has given up and done.
(He half-expects that the silence between them will have the reek of death, because that is all they've ever really known. Instead, it is peace in a triple meter, heretofore-unknown solidarity in a 3/4 beat.)
Their steps echo off the empty corridors as they walk, sharp and ringing boot-falls for Snape, the quiet tread of trainers for Harry, but the echoes they throw back are softer, more muted, the edges dulled by time and distance. They are the same way, Harry thinks, and is not certain if he should be pleased with that or not. He has never been softer with Snape, never wanted to be so. Long since gone is the anger that Snape was the one to betray his parents, because that action had wounded both of them in equal measure, but enmity is not something easily put aside. And there's so much enmity between them, so many willful misunderstandings and so much careful blindness to everything but faults. Harry can see now, with the clarity of hindsight and the distance of years, that Snape protected him more than any other person, even Dumbledore and Sirius, and nearly died for it.
At least, Harry had thought he died. But then, he's never been smart where Snape is concerned, and it's easy enough to admit that now.
With a flare of dark cloth, Snape halts before a heavy wooden door and turns to face Harry, features set. He looks like he is building an argument in his head, preparing to spit it at Harry at the slightest sign of provocation, so Harry is careful to keep his expression neutral and his stance easy—meet his eyes, bow a little, and then wait for him to make the next move, he remembers from that disastrous lesson with Hagrid, and nearly forgets to stifle a smile.
"Potter," Snape says severely, sharply, as though Harry is going to argue and protest. "You will teach here. Defense classes may only be moved out to the grounds or elsewhere in the castle with my express permission. I expect a syllabus and lesson plan from you by the end of next week, with your chosen texts. Do I make myself clear? Ms. Granger is not here to do your assignments for you, but I will not accept shoddy work."
Were he not so tired, not so overwhelmed, Harry thinks he would be angrier than he is. But he cannot summon up the energy for more than basic indignation, and he meets Snape's narrowed eyes firmly.
"Yes, sir," he says quietly, equally sharp, and vanishes into the classroom, shutting the door carefully behind him.
There is a long moment of still silence before he hears Snape's footfalls heading away, the swish of his robes over stone as he rounds the corner.
It is only when silence has crept back in that Harry lets himself move away from the door, glance around the room where he will spend the majority of the next nine months. It is empty, but not barren, and there's an unfamiliar energy to it.
This is where I am and will be, Harry thinks, skimming his fingertips over the surface of the closest desk. This is where I will teach and where they will learn. This is where a new generation will take their teachings from me, and I will try to make certain that they never die from dark magic, even though it's an impossible task.
He knows already that every child he teaches here will become his personal responsibility, because Harry knows he can do no less. Every death by Dark magic, every Dark Wizard who leaves Hogwarts will be his own failure. But it will be worth it, because every one that survives will be his triumph. He is fighting a new war now, one that is just as important as—perhaps more important than—the war he fought against Voldemort. But this one is waged differently, and Harry will have to fight harder, push himself beyond what he knows.
He's taught before, the DA in Fifth Year being the most memorable time, and he had loved it then. This will be the same, but on a greater scale than anything he has done before. He is setting himself up as a guardian not only for this generation, or against the next madman with power, but as guardian for all of them, as long as he teaches.
How staggering, to think of it that way. To realize the extent of what it is he must do here.
The teacher's desk is tall and arresting, hard to think of as his. Harry steps around it, sinks down in the padded chair to look out over the room. He can see all corners from here, all the possible spots students could make trouble and conspire, and it makes him smile a little to remember doing just that when he was younger. It's easy to imagine three heads bent together, black and red and brown, whispers just a bit too soft to reach his ears from here. The professors were the enemy then, and he supposes he'll be the enemy now, that he'll be changing roles. Somehow, he finds he doesn't mind as much as he thought he would.
Taking a breath, Harry stands and draws his wand, raising it in the air like a conductor's baton. The space trembles, awaiting his changes, and he smiles a little more, then flicks the length of holly in a rhythm of three and sets the classroom to dancing.
He does not see the dark shadow in the doorway, sallow-skinned and hook-nosed and hidden by the barely-ajar door, watching him with sharp eyes gone just a little soft with reminiscence.
(Because Snape was also once a student, then a teacher, before he became a leader. For all that Snape is one ahead of him, Harry has taken the same two first steps in the series of three. Perhaps, Snape thinks as he watches him, surprising even himself with the thought, someday he will even take the third.)
One two three and three two one and they move, backwards and forwards as they find their steps, first careful and wary and at a distance, but the music is too much, too powerful. The beat of three is overwhelming, overtaking the past and changing the future, sweeping over the idea of permanent separation, of polite detachment and professional reserve. They cannot but dance, hand in hand and face to face, eyes on each other and moving as one.
One two three and three two one, and gone is the past and future. One two three and three two one and all that is left is the now.
One two three and they are the only dancers on the floor, hearts beating in perfect 3/4 time.
The inside of the castle shows no more marks of the war than the outside and the grounds, for all that so many died here. But it is fitting, somehow, that Hogwarts should be untainted by anything her former students did. She is like a vast and impartial god, seeing but never taking sides, leaving them all to their petty squabbles as she looks only ahead and behind, never in the present.
Harry wanders her halls at midnight, remembering other wanderings that were far more illicit, but also planned. Now he has no set destination, no idea of what is drawing his feet onward or pushing him forward. From the dungeons to the towers, he moves like one of the ghosts, rediscovering passages and false rooms that are actually staircases and doors that are actually paintings but open anyway. There is no bias to his steps, either. The path to the Slytherin common room is just as tempting—and just as quickly followed—as the well-remembered path to the Gryffindor common room. Library and Potions lab and Charms classroom and Astronomy Tower all call to him equally, and he visits them all as night edges into early morning edges into dawn.
There is a restlessness in his blood, in the beat of his heart as he tries to recall the last night he spent here, the last time he felt this at peace even as his head refuses to take its rest. It was years ago, he thinks—too many years, now. But he's returned, he's come back, and there's nothing that can drive him away this time, not Snape and not teaching and never Hogwarts, because for the first time in too many years, too long to remember, Harry Potter has come home.
He does not see the shadow that dogs his steps as dawn creeps up to morning, because the shadow does not want to be seen and Hogwarts is always loyal to her Headmaster. But Severus sees Harry, follows him with a spy's furtive care, and does not have to wonder at his late and early wanderings. He has done the same himself, though it is startling to see a Potter, of all people, so enthralled by Hogwarts's open secrets.
But Potter is no longer the headstrong, stubborn, damnably offensive boy that Severus remembers. He's been broken in a way the war never managed while it lasted, picked up and shattered by rough handling from careless fools. Severus has to wonder where his friends have been, if they've noticed or if they were the ones to be so lackadaisical with something so fragile. Before, he would never have applied the term to Potter, but it's clearly pertinent now, showing in the line of his body and his wary steps as he edges past the light.
It is a puzzle, how Harry Potter became this shattered, quiet thing, and Severus finds that he is as poor as ever at resisting a mystery. His damnable curiosity is playing up again, making him want to poke and prod and take Potter apart to see what is missing.
Perhaps he will. There is nothing stopping him now.
Severus lets himself fade back into the darkness, makes himself step away from the puzzle of logic that Potter represents. It is almost the time for breakfast in the Great Hall, and he has little doubt Potter will be there, if only to see the other professors now that he is one of them. Hagrid will most likely be there, another draw, and Severus has to wonder how Potter will handle being a peer when he has always before been a student. Likely, he thinks, the same way he handled being a teacher when he was a peer. He still remembers Dumbledore's quiet amusement at the thought of Harry teaching other students, calling themselves Dumbledore's Army when they were barely more than infants. But Severus knows the determination of children, has seen in bring down the greatest Dark Wizard of three generations, and knows that they only called themselves what they were.
An army, indeed.
Minerva is already seated at the table, back perfectly straight and robes immaculate, looking as though she has been up for hours after a good night's sleep rather than having just dragged herself back in from the Hog's Head with Rolanda Hooch and Poppy Pomfrey. The other two women look much the worse for their night out, Rolanda with her head buried under the Daily Prophet and Poppy with a death grip on her cup of tea. It amuses Severus to see them like this, and he makes no effort to be quiet as he drags his chair back from the table, scraping it freely over the flagstones.
"Good morning," he offers smoothly and a little more loudly than normal, just to see all three of them wince.
Filius chuckles at him, not being especially accommodating either. "Good morning, Severus. You're looking particularly cheerful for this hour."
He feels that way, too, Severus realizes with a start. For all the misgivings he had approaching Potter with the DADA position, they are…lessened now, even if they are not gone completely. Potter has always been accomplished in undermining Severus's expectations for him, and in this it is no different.
"I have filled the Defense position," is all he says, however.
That is enough to draw Rolanda out from beneath the paper. She sits up, looking as interested as she can while wincing at the bare sunlight in the Hall. Pomona Sprout beats her to the question, however, asking cheerfully, "You have? Did Hestia Jones agree?"
Severus focuses on spreading his toast with marmalade. "I didn't ask her. There was…another possibility I found better suited to the task."
As though on cue, quiet footsteps make them all look up as Harry Potter walks into the Hall. He looks no worse from his sleepless night, dressed in new robes and carrying roll of parchment and a quill. Severus admits, if only to himself, that he had expected Potter to come waltzing in wearing Gryffindor crimson, proclaiming without subtlety his House ties, but instead Potter is wearing dark green, very nearly a Slytherin color, trimmed in darker burgundy. His glasses are sliding down his nose, just as Albus's used to do, and there are ink stains on his fingers. He looks the very image of the absentminded professor, and what startles Severus perhaps the most is that is it not a mask, not something put on for acceptance. This is Harry Potter, his vast depths of determination turned to a new task.
Perhaps Severus has made the right choice for the Defense position after all. He lets himself relax, just a little, back into his chair, and ignores the startled and incredulous looks the others give him. They'll adjust, soon enough. Severus already has.
"Potter," he greets the other man.
Potter looks up as though startled, and blinks a little at the group of professors gathered around the small, round table. He pulls the Self-Inking Quill from his mouth and offers a slightly sheepish smile. "Good morning, Headmaster, Professors. I'm sorry, I hadn't realized everyone was eating together."
Rolanda immediately scoots her chair over as Minerva conjures another one. "Nonsense, Harry," she says, with considerably more cheer than she might have shown a moment ago, and far more disregard to her hangover. "No one told you. And we're not your professors anymore, relax."
Potter smiles at her, setting his parchment on the ground and sliding into the seat. "Right. I'll have to work at remembering that, I think. Rolanda."
She beams at him, as though he's just performed a particularly clever trick—but then, she's always had a soft spot for Potter, even when she wasn't supposed to. She's like that with all the very good flyers. "There you are, not so hard, is it? So you're the new Defense Professor?"
This, too, is something that Severus is familiar with: the polite interrogation of the new staff by the old. He'd had to endure it as a first-time professor, and it nearly makes him gleeful to see Potter getting the same treatment. More proof that Potter is not above anyone, no matter what everyone else seems to think.
('More proof that he's not above you,' a little voice whispers, but he crushes it as ruthlessly as he always does.)
He ignores the steady thumping of his heart rate, elevated for some unfathomable reason, and goes back to his eggs.
Somewhere in the castle, someone is playing a waltz.