The Usual Disclaimer: Jo Rowling's people and setting; my plot. No dollars were harmed or traded in the crafting or reading of this story.

AU; post-Battle by 7.5 years. Ignores Epilogue and is male/male relationship-centered, but is otherwise canon-consistent.

Warning: This is a (very mild) Harry/Severus slash fic. That means an INTIMATE relationship between two adult men. If this bothers you in any way whatsoever, please don't make yourself uncomfortable by reading it. And don't bother sending me hate mail about it, either. It won't do either of us any good - it brings negativity and hate into the world, and that stuff just doesn't stick to me. Teflon coated, like all authors learn to be.

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What Counts

Thursday Oct 17, 2005

Severus Snape sang the spell to let himself out the gates at the entrance to the school grounds. He paused a moment to check the path that led from Hogwarts to the nearby town of Hogsmeade. One could never be too careful, even now. Death Eaters and Snatchers were still loose, seven years after the Battle of Hogwarts, and there were always new threats. The wizarding world would never be wholly safe, though it was much safer now than it had been in nearly his entire lifetime, he acknowledged.

Shaking his head loose from the habit of constant worry and vigilance, he turned his eyes to the night sky, seeking Cassiopeia, Orion, Polaris. He'd taken up studying astronomy after Potter left – not for divination, just… something to help him figure out where he was in the world, help him find his bearings. It grounded him, oriented him. He'd felt so lost…

He missed the boy. He missed knowing who he was, his purpose in life. Seven years on, and he still hadn't figured it out – why he was still alive, what he was supposed to be living for now, without Potter in his life. It had been six years… and five months, and seventeen days… since he'd seen the boy. He'd taken to calculating it, along with counting other things. His mind performed the calculations automatically. It always did. The boy would be twenty-five years, two months, and twenty days old. He had turned eleven fourteen years, two months, and twenty days ago. Seven years, five months, and seventeen days ago, he had nearly died… they'd both nearly died. He'd been seventeen years, nine months, and three days old… And he'd almost died that day.

On the rare occasions he found himself, mid-morning, not having oriented himself that way, not having counted, he panicked. It had been six years, five months, seventeen days. If he counted it, if he kept track, he felt like he still had a hold on himself, like there was a connection… like the boy might come back some day, and he could tell him... how he really felt… that he'd come to care… If he forgot to count, it was as if the boy was slipping away, permanently, as if he could forget what the boy looked like, what he sounded like, what it had been like to have Potter here for six years… and then gone for one terrifying year – not that they hadn't nearly all been terrifying – and then back again, the day he and the boy had almost died. If he forgot to count, as absurd as it was, it was as if the boy had forgotten him, as if some connection between them had been severed. His mind shied away from that. It hurt too much.

He'd felt numb at first – shock, perhaps – after the boy left just as he'd been well enough to… something. And then he'd felt such loss that he could barely stand it, and had fallen asleep nightly with tears leaking down the sides of his face into his pillow. It's from the pain in my arms… my back… my neck, he had told himself – from the wounds he'd suffered in the attack by Nagini, intended to kill, but cut short by the Dark Lord's curt call, and his haste to use the Elder Wand to see the boy dead and win the day. But they had both survived, he and the boy, and neither the Dark Lord nor Nagini had. Thank Merlin and all the gods!

But even then, he'd known it to be a lie, that the tears were from his sense of loss, and had told himself, Don't lie, Severus. And then he'd been angry. Why didn't the boy even send a damned owl? Don't I deserve that much, at least? But behind that, and after that, when anger started to fade, was hurt… and loss. Doesn't it matter at all, that I tried to protect him? Don't I matter to him at all? And he knew that, above all, he wanted to matter to the boy.

Tell the truth, Sev.


He'd last seen the boy a year after the Battle, at the memorial for the fifty-four students, townspeople, and members of the Order who had given their lives to protect the school and the wizarding world. It had been better than six months since he'd seen the boy… six months, eighteen days. Snape had been barely recovered, even then. He'd needed support to get to his seat, but he'd still had the strength to notice Potter's shocking thinness. He'd thought the boy gaunt, though not so wasted as Snape had been. He thought it was a result of the boy's grief, and what he'd been through before and during the war.

He'd been too ill to approach the boy, and though they had made eye contact when the boy stood at the end of the ceremony, and there had been… something… on the boy's face, the boy had hesitated, nodded, and then turned away. Maybe he hates me.

That had hurt so badly that he had retched and vomited until Poppy had dosed him back to sleep, declaring that the service had been too much for his weakened state. It had hurt more, later, the pain of the absence of the boy in his life increasing nearly day by day until the very thought of the boy was painful… and not thinking of the boy, on the rare occasion he had a day that started without thinking of Potter, brought about panic – that he would forget… that he would lose whatever it was that he had left of the boy.

He knew the boy visited the school. McGonagall or Hagrid, usually, would say something about it, casually dropping mention of it into conversation at lunch. Then Snape would sit still, close his eyes, and, after moments during which he tried to force calm upon himself, fighting back a pain almost like panic, he would excuse himself and go to his quarters, where he would retch, or pace, or try, unsuccessfully, to focus on potions, which he always would have to toss as utterly useless. Minerva eventually noted his distress, and stopped mentioning the boy's visits.

It took him a long time to figure out why it mattered, and then it had hurt so badly that, one day, he found himself at the top of the Astronomy Tower. Why am I up here? Because there was nothing left… no reason to go on. He wasn't teaching yet, wasn't sure McGonagall would let him, would be able to counter public opinion and offer him a spot at the school. Rita Skeeter had done a smear job on him - and on the boy. It was the boy who was the problem. He'd gone, without a word… without goodbye… without anything. He was just completely, inexplicably, gone from Snape's life, and he didn't know what to do with that, who he was, without the boy.

It was the boy who sent him up there, and it was the boy who brought him down the stairs, rather than off the Tower – not to save himself, but to keep from hurting Potter. What would it be like for the boy to hear of it? After the boy saved him, for Snape to throw it away… after Potter nearly died, lost so many others, for someone to throw it away – life? So he backed away from the wall, backed away from the image of Dumbledore falling… away from following his mentor off the Tower. He couldn't leave the boy with that… so he'd come back down.

He'd taken to counting, calculating the days, as if he could get some kind of hold on it. It didn't work, but he couldn't give it up, as if hanging on the days, the numbers, somehow assured him that the boy was still alive… still out there… that it was possible he might simply see him again. So he counted religiously, throughout the day, and his mind performed the calculations in his sleep, waking him in the middle of the night, when he pretended he simply needed to use the loo, then fell asleep, calculating the days since he had seen Potter, quantifying his grief and his loss. Did it help? He didn't know, but he was too terrified to stop, so he continued, and assiduously followed stories about the boy in The Daily Prophet, and searched for mention of the boy in Kingsley Shacklebolt's weekly reports about events at the Ministry.

And then the boy disappeared off the map, gone to ground for some reason that Snape didn't know, that no one could tell him, disappeared despite frantic searches by the Ministry, frantic Owls between Snape, Arthur, and Kingsley. Even his friends did not know where the boy was – or if they did, they weren't saying. What had happened? Was he in danger? What was he running from? Was it just some long mission? The Ministry denied it, but who trusted the government anymore… or ever? He didn't even know what day Potter had disappeared, so he didn't know how to count, but it had been eleven months and then some.

He kept counting those things that he could, as if counting could tether Potter to life, keep him alive if he were in danger, and cursed himself, and the Ministry, and the boy's friends for not putting a Trace on him, as ridiculous as that would have sounded before the boy disappeared.

And then, just before breakfast this morning, a tawny owl tapped at his window, and he let it in, thinking it his weekly update from Kingsley, though a bit early for that. He opened it, and the half-familiar scrawl had his heart pounding before he dropped his eyes to the signature – Harry. Just Harry. He reached behind himself, blindly searching for a chair, something to support him, and practically fell into it, staring at the signature, his hands shaking. Meet me at the Hog's Head for dinner? it said, 8 p.m.