I'd like to sincerely thank all of you who have reviewed, followed and favorited this fic. It means a great deal to me. I haven't had a great week (when do I ever?) and I think this chapter really shows it emotionally. Also-a shout out to anonymous reviewer:shewhohasaname-you guessed right ;) Songs for this chapter: "Into Dust" by Mazzy Star and "Time to Say Goodnight" by Two Ton Boa.
"You'll stay with me?"
"Until the very end," said James. (DH "The Forest Again")
"What are you doing here?"
The other man said nothing for a moment. Harry grew angrier by the minute.
"Why are you here, Snape?!"
Snape's eyes seemed far gentler looking upon Harry now than they ever had in life. The older man wore the same robes he had always worn in Hogwarts, though in such a pristine state Harry swore he could see the reflection of the trees and shadows behind him displayed upon it.
Harry's rage continued to simmer until it finally boiled off and he slumped to the ground, head in his hands. "If you won't say anything, then I won't either."
"You cannot see them, Harry," said Snape suddenly.
Harry looked up, startled out of his reverie. "What?" he whispered, brow creasing. Snape must have taken a deep breath because Harry could see his robes move slightly.
"...Any of them. We do not belong on this plane. Furthermore, using the stone will only give the illusion of them being alive for you. And they are not."
"You think I don't know they aren't ALIVE, Snape?," Harry stressed his words for emphasis, just in case Snape thought he was still a child of some sort, "I hadn't seen them for seventeen years! Ten minutes just wasn't bloody enough for me, alright? Sorry!"
Snape bowed his head and when he met Harry's eyes again his own glistened with unshed tears. He's always been a good actor though, Harry thought. It's not like he actually cares, even though he's dead.
"Oh, don't pretend Snape," said Harry, his voice echoing strangely in the clearing. "I saw the memories in the Pensieve, the ones you gave me before I went off like "a pig to slaughter" as you so poetically put it? You never gave a hippogriff's arse about me. Only my Mum, right? Not like I can blame you, though, I did get her killed-"
"Enough, Harry!" Snape's voice was laced not with anger but a deep sadness. "There is no doubt that both I and Dumbledore treated you wrongly, I for comparing you to your father, and Dumbledore-"
"We aren't talking about him, Snape! I already did, in that bizarre dream that I still don't know wasn't some hallucination from the Horcrux being knocked out of me and, erm, I dunno-DYING!" He was out of breath, but Harry continued on out of sheer anger and frustration.
He actually had not thought about everything that night up until now-how he been like a pawn in a game of Wizard chess, sacrificed at the proper moment to advance the more important players forward; time had been short and be had been far too busy trying to work up enough courage to die-
Harry banged a fist upon a nearby stump and stood up, his face inches away from Snape's. He opened his mouth to yell and shout and scream at the man some more, but found he simply couldn't bring himself to expend any more energy. (He couldn't see his parents, his Mum?)
"What now, Snape?" Harry's voice broke, and to his embarrassment he found himself crying in front of his former Potions master. Sitting down on a log, Snape sighed.
"I am sorry, Harry. For...everything. I wish I had treated you better in life but I could not see past my hatred of your Father. You carried a tremendous burden...I will not even ask for your forgiveness, for I deserve none," he finished quietly.
Harry said nothing. The two of them sat in silence for a time. The forest was nearly silent except for the sound of distant birds above them. It was oddly peaceful, thought Harry. He longed for that peace. Seeing his parents had made him feel that way, and Sirius, Remus...none of them had deserved to die. But they had, and Harry would not see them again, at least not for a very long while. Despair gripped him then, a cold fist around his heart, and he recalled the moment he'd stood before his parents graves in Godric's Hollow wishing for nothing more than to be under the ground with them.
"I understand why Cadmus killed himself now," said Harry softly.
Snape turned to look at him, eyes wide, "What?"
Harry continued, eyes downcast, "The Peverells. The second brother brought his love back with the stone but he couldn't really have her...she didn't belong there," he dug a foot into the leaves at his feet and barked a bitter laugh.
"You're supposed to choose the Cloak in the story, least that's what Hermione said. I could never understand why anyone wouldn't choose the Stone, or why the two brothers had been so easily taken in. I do now, though. Figures," Harry stole a glance at Snape and found him staring back, his face unreadable, so he went on,
"I wish the Stone had never come to me. I just...wish none of this had ever happened-"
Harry was finding it harder to go on talking without his chest feeling heavy, or his eyes stinging. He put his head in his hands, gripping fistfuls of his hair tightly.
"I...cannot tell you that your life will be easy, Harry, even now with Tom Riddle's death," said Snape. "And there will be dark times ahead still, I am sure. But you have your friends. Do not seek to keep them out now, when you need them most," He gave a heavy sigh, "That was my disadvantage. I turned away...the only friend I had when I could have used her help the most. But I was young...and foolish...do not make the same mistakes."
He was talking about his mother, wasn't he? thought Harry, bringing his head up. Part of him felt a bit sad that Snape and his Mum had that falling out. Knowing what he knew now about the man, he was sure things would have turned out differently.
They sat in silence again, listening to the forest. It had gotten darker, and Harry wondered how long he had been out there in the deep woods, away from the warmth of the castle and those who knew him--(he'd left without saying goodbye, just like THAT night, all alone and frightened, a child seeking comfort from spirits in the dark-)
"Harry, are you alright?" questioned Snape.
Harry blinked. He had been panting heavily and was in a cold sweat that made it feel chillier outside than it really was. He shrugged and shakily stood up.
"Yeah, Snape. M'alright."
Snape's brow furrowed. "Harry, what you have been through is nothing to be taken lightly. You died."
Harry flinched at the words but stayed upright, "Tell me something I don't know, Professor."
Snape regarded him with a strange expression. Was it guilt, pity...no, definitely not that last one.
"I'm afraid I must leave you now, Harry," said Snape, standing effortlessly. His robes billowed in that familiar way that normally gave Harry and every other student in Hogwarts a horrid feeling of dread. Now, though, they seemed to have an airiness to them, a sort of majesty.
"You only just got here...can't you...stay a bit longer?"
Harry was startled to hear himself speak those words aloud and felt he needed something to cover his mistake.
"It seems I feel more comfortable around the dead than the living," he coughed out a laugh, hiding the truth in the statement.
But asking Snape of all people, to stay...it appeared that the Potions master had changed after all.
Snape gave him a sad smile, "I cannot, Harry. Being here for so long already has tired me; we Dead are not meant to remain for more than a little while."
Snape continued, his dark eyes boring into Harry's. "It would be wise for you to "lose" the Stone again. You have shown a strong inclination towards using it that is, frankly, unhealthy."
Harry gave a sharp nod, and grimaced. "Of course, yeah. I could...lose it, somehow."
Snape looked at him so disconcertingly that Harry was sure he was using Legilimency and averted his gaze. Was the man taking lessons from Dumbledore? This was ridiculous. Only his former Headmaster had ever looked at him with such worry and doubt at once.
"Erm, goodbye, then. Professor," he said as he dropped the stone.
Snape inclined his head and Harry swore he saw a smile come to the older man's lips before he disappeared,
"Good luck, Harry."
Harry picked up the Stone. Rolling it around in between his fingers he whispered, "Thanks, Snape."
Harry pocketed the Stone.