Harry yawned tiredly as he walked the familiar path over to the old Ministry for Magic. It had been two years since the end of the war, and clean-up was still underway. After the most onerous jobs had been taken care of, he, Hermione, and Ron tackled the job of dealing with the Ministry as members of an elite team. It was near the end of the process, and most of the other team members were now required elsewhere. All that remained was a few more small jobs and a final sweep.
As soon as they'd cleared all the Death Eaters and their collaborators from within, they had shut the Ministry down. There was a short list of people allowed to be on the team, and they set up wards on the building to keep all those who were unauthorised out. It was an arduous undertaking, however, going through every square inch of the Ministry, collecting evidence, dismantling traps, and ridding the place of latent curses and triggered spells. During their short stay in power, the Death Eaters did some nasty work in the building. Harry suspected some of the things had been in place a lot longer than that. Probably Mad-Eye's doing.
Now, all he, Hermione, and Ron had left to do was attend to the last few rooms in the Department of Mysteries and the Ministry could finally be relocated back into its home. It had not been easy to find a place that could accommodate Ministry staff in the aftermath. What they had done was rent two rather large warehouses and set up row after row of wizard space tents. It wasn't the best circumstances, but it gave them space they needed rather inexpensively and in a relatively inconspicuous way.
"I got your coffee here, Harry," Ron mumbled as soon as he exited the lift. They never went anywhere before checking in with each other. It was yet another safety precaution they'd become used to taking. Hermione still hadn't arrived, but she likely was still reading up on a few of the artifacts they'd found the last time; doing some last minute research that would help them sweep through the last of their task. Her skills had helped the job go much faster, with less danger and more efficiency - it was thanks to her that they were nearly finished almost a year ahead of schedule. And this was even more phenomenal because their first year was doubled with after-work classes and N.E.W.T preparation.
Harry took it with a tired smile. "Thanks, Ron. We're nearly there."
That brought a smile to Ron's face as they leaned back and sipped their coffee. "It'll be great when we can be out in the field instead of always being cooped up in here."
Forcing a grin to match, Harry nodded. While it was true that he would be glad to be finished with this project, he wasn't as sure as Ron that he wanted to be on the front line as an active Auror. That would mean apprehending dark wizards and using his wand defensively again. Years after defeating Voldemort, he still didn't like the thought of using violence. Why couldn't the world be a utopia without a need for a police force? Harry sighed to himself. He would do whatever was necessary, as always, and he was grateful for always having managed.
"What are you two doing just laying about?" Hermione said in a huff as she flew into the room, stacks of parchments in her hands. "I've been up for hours, studying those wooden boxes we found. They are ancient Egyptian and each hold a single spell. They were originally designed for Wizards to give their Muggle relatives for protection in times of danger, but some wizards began putting dangerous spells in them that ended up killing Muggles. Three of the boxes had innocuous protection spells, but the rest were holding some nasty jinxes. And no, Ron, there were no Unforgivables. They could hardly be contained by a box, however magical it may be."
Ron grinned. "Hey, can I get one of those boxes?"
"Why would you want one?" Hermione was instantly suspicious, and Harry thought she had ample reason to be.
"I've yet to think of a decent gift to send off to old Ferret-face." Ron had a dreamy expression on his face, as if picturing the way Draco would look after unsuspectingly unwrapping a Jelly-Legs Jinx, or worse.
"Ronald, there is no way I'd allow you to do such a thing," Hermione replied, but the effectiveness of the reprimand was lost when the sides of her lips curled up in amusement.
"Shame to let them go to waste," Ron grumbled good-naturedly as he drained the rest of his coffee and got to his feet. "Well, I'm heading over to the 'evil brain' room. Fate would have me relive the best years of my life in that pit."
Harry shared a look of commiseration with Hermione, having heard the same whinge every day for the past two weeks.
"I'm going to finish up with the...I'm going to finish up with my project," Hermione said with a smile, bustling off. Harry didn't think it necessary for everyone to pretend as if she wasn't in the room with the Veil, but both she and Ron had been careful to not even mention it by name. It had been years since he'd lost Sirius, but time had passed, and Harry had lost many more people, so he was fairly certain he could handle being in the room, now. He still appreciated their efforts, though.
Harry turned to go down to the Prophecy room where he had been working when he noticed a door to his right, one he was sure hadn't been there yesterday. He almost ignored it, but something kept him from moving, a sense of unease. Curiosity nagged him, overriding any common sense. Instead of sending messages to Hermione and Ron as was routine whenever something new came up, he rashly opened the door, and was almost disappointed to find nothing but a dusty old closet filled with boxes of books and papers.
Hermione would have been better suited to this particular job, but Harry, for whatever reason, decided to conjure up a chair and leaf through a pile of parchments. The first one seemed like a letter to someone, and he couldn't fathom why this was in the Department of Mysteries. It was a simple request for enough money to buy decent robes for employment at the ministry. The second letter was similar to the first in that it was another request for help with the books necessary for research. Harry set down the box, and was about to get up when something caught him out of the corner of his eye.
It was a file cabinet half-hidden in the shadows, and slightly newer papers were poking out of the half-shut drawer. He reached in and pulled out an unnamed file. Thumbing through the stack, he noticed they were much the same - requests for items, success, some more personal than others. Harry reached the bottom of the stack, and his heart almost stopped in his chest. The handwriting on the paper was familiar, like an oft-had dream. It was his mother's.
Taking the piece of paper carefully in one hand, he set the rest of the file haphazardly back in the drawer. Sitting down heavily, he scarcely allowed himself to breathe as he read the short paper.
I don't know who I'm supposed to address this to, so I'll forgo it altogether. I found this the other night as I began packing my things to move in my house with James. School is over, and I can't help but want to wish I could go back where all I had to worry about was my grades or whether or not James liked my hair on any given day. Instead, I'm faced with going to war, and fighting for everything I hold dear. I also miss my friend, and regret not trying harder to make him know that there was another way, that he could have chosen a different path. I know it may be too late, but what I really wish for is for Severus Snape to be loved, to know he's loved, and to be happy.
Harry felt his throat clench and his eyes sting at his mother's words. The man had done so much she'd never known, or perhaps she did know, had been watching. Snape had become a man she could have been friends with again, perhaps.
Sometimes, Harry regretted not acting faster or knowing what to do that fateful night, because now Snape would never have the chance to do what his mother had wished for. Harry placed the parchment in his pocket, and left the room to find Hermione and Ron. Hopefully, they'd be able to explain what these papers were and why they were there.
He stopped at the doorjamb, wondering if he left the room now that he'd found what he had if it would disappear again. Deciding he didn't want to chance it, Harry decided to just send his patronus to them, and wait for them to come to him. With the way the Department of Mysteries worked, it was better to err on the side of caution.
"What is it, Harry?" Hermione said, eyes bright with excitement. This whole project might have started as his, but Hermione was the real force behind it. Not only did she do a majority of the research, she actually enjoyed it. She was in her element, being able to see many different magical artifacts and spells first hand and not just in books. Her drive to overcome not being raised with magic led her to see more in every object and spell than some pureblood wizards ever had.
"Harry?" Ron leaned against the door, frowning. The last thing Ron clearly wanted was for there to be any more complications to further delay his Auror debut.
"Wait," Hermione said suddenly, as if realizing something for the first time. "This room, this wasn't here yesterday."
"No, it wasn't. It showed up and had all these papers in it. A few trinkets on the shelves, but mainly these papers." Harry gestured to the piles of notes.
"You called us over for some more dusty old parchments? It's probably some dead wizard's thesis or something, trying to get into the Ministry Research Department," Ron said dismissively.
"Hermione, take a look," Harry said, ignoring Ron, handing Hermione a stack of the papers. They each had a faint hum of magic on them that he could detect, but nothing nefarious.
"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, eyes moving fast over the text. "I think...this could be...if only we hadn't missed our last year at Hogwarts!"
Rolling his eyes, Harry smiled at Hermione, almost able to visualise the gears turning in her head. "So, you have any ideas?"
Hermione looked up quickly, hair flying out of the custom made bun she'd wrapped it in. "I need to do some research to make sure, but I read in Hogwarts: A History-oh shut it, Ron-that there was some sort of bequeathment to each Head Boy and Girl..." She paused and her eyebrows scrunched up in thought.
"It didn't go into to detail, but I also read in the Annals of the Secrets of Sorcerers that Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw created a gift to students who exemplified characteristics of each house, which, of course, evolved into the position of Head Boy and Girl. It's referred to as The Wishing Papers in the Annals."
Staring at the papers in Hermione's hands, Ron let out a low whistle. "Sheesh. And to think that I had all those Head Boys in my family, and they never told me. Gits."
With a sigh of exasperation, Hermione looked at Ron. "It's obviously supposed to be a secret. If everyone knew about it, people would have found a way to take it from those who deserved it. Harry," she said, turning back to him, "I'm going to do some more research, but you need to decide what to do with it all."
Harry glanced around the room, and back to his friends, "I think I should go through everything, just in case."
"Harry," Ron growled. "That could take ages. If you just stick 'em all in a box, we'll be done by Friday, at the latest."
"Hermione?" Harry looked at her, pleadingly, hoping she'd back him up. It was bad enough that he knew exactly why Ron was beginning to get tetchy with him.
"Don't ask her," Ron spat out, "How much longer are you going to drag his project out? You've found excuse after excuse to extend it, and I've said nothing about it because I know it's important. But I want to start work, and you promised Ginny. You promised her that you'd have time for a relationship as soon as you were done with this. You keep on putting her off. It's not right."
"You're both right," Hermione interjected before either of them got angrier. "Ron, Harry needs to go through this room thoroughly, just in case. Harry, you need figure out what you want with Ginny, because stringing her along is not fair."
"I will let you know what I find, and I won't dawdle," Harry replied, hoping that would pacify Ron, ignoring the discussion about Ginny altogether. He would have to deal with it eventually, but not today. He could feel the weight of his mother's letter in his pocket, but left it there. If he mentioned that, he'd surely be subjected to another discussion of needing to let go of Snape, too.
"Whatever, I'm getting back to work," Ron groused, then stalked off, calling over his shoulder, "Wouldn't want to hold anything up."
Harry sighed, but took the papers back from Hermione and began looking through them to see if he could figure any way to sort them.
Hermione placed her hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Harry. I'll talk to him. Do you want to tell me why you keep putting things off?"
"I don't know," Harry answered honestly. "I just feel like it's not the right time. I know it."
"Do you think there will ever be a right time?" Hermione asked carefully. She gave him a sympathetic look and a tired smile.
"Maybe. I don't know. I just want to finish this first. I'll work late today and try to find a rhyme or reason to this closet; once I get started, it shouldn't take too long."
"All right, I'll finish with the other room and then I can get on to more research." She left after giving him a small hug and Harry was grateful to be alone once more.
It took him just over two hours to spot the main difference between the different parchments: the majority had two signatures. As far as Harry could tell, the papers in the boxes were signed by more than one person and the singled-signature ones were in the filing cabinet. Other than that, each of them was relatively similar; spelled to maintain their integrity, each containing a request. Most of the signed were simply for books, money, or job opportunities, though some contained requests for marriages or heirs. The unsigned, however, seemed to be for vast sums of money, research in rare or unsubstantiated things, and intangible things, the impossible. It made him think of his mother's wish, also an intangible thing, wishing for someone else to find love and happiness. Harry felt a surge of love and melancholy; it felt good to know she was such a person.
Harry spelled the boxes of double-signed requests to stack neatly against the wall, and labeled them according to which dates each box contained, by year. It was a smaller job than it first appeared. Only a little more than two thousand requests had been made. It just looked worse for the state of disarray. He did a few quick cleaning spells after he went into his second sneezing fit, wondering why he hadn't done so before. He scoffed at himself and figured he would always have Muggle habits. He looked over the few books that were in there before setting them aside for Hermione. Lastly, Harry organized the three filing drawers of unsigned requests, contemplating why his mother's had been amongst that number.
Later that night, Harry found himself holding her note in his hand, wondering why things had to be the way they were. It wasn't just about Snape, but himself. Why had he never had a chance to know the man his mother knew? It gnawed at him the same way not knowing his parents did. A lost opportunity that he never truly had to begin with, but was given enough of a taste to make him hunger for it. All those years wasted on hating the man.
"Harry!" Hermione smiled at him widely, hurrying over to him as Ron stumbled through the door behind her, bleary-eyed. Harry wondered if he looked the same, or worse.
"You found something," Harry said with a smile. If Hermione hadn't, she'd have already bitten his head off for breathing.
"Yes, well, they are the Wishing Papers, as I'd thought, but I was able to find out how they worked. Every year, before the Head Girl and Boy leave the school, they are given one of these Papers to make a wish. It doesn't automatically come true. Instead, as soon as you write down your wish, it comes here, and an Unspeakable uses this neat little spell to see if there is a way of granting the wish. If not, the paper is filed away. This is repeated annually until it can be fulfilled, or the wisher dies. Of course, this means that many of the wishes do not come true."
Harry nodded. "It's surprising that it was allowed to remain at Hogwarts. How many people would love to get a hold of something like this?"
"Well, there's a lot of heavy magic protecting the book the pages come from. Only two can be removed a year and anyone that attempts to steal them faces severe consequences, although it wasn't very specific about what those were. Also, there's a secrecy component that recipients and granters are bound to. That's why only the barest information has come forth. Likely from a few Headmasters before they were bound to secrecy, now, too."
"Yeah, Fudge woulda given his left bollock to get his hands on one of those. Probably woulda used it to wish himself in office for life or something." Ron grinned at them, finally looking awake despite having just sat through another of Hermione's diatribes, which usually made his eyes glaze over.
"If only we had our last year," Hermione said with a frown. "I was sure to get Head Girl. I'd be able to actually experience using one."
"I think," Ron said, looking around, "we can be done here tonight, if we stay a little later."
"Yeah, I just have two or three more rows in the Prophecy Room and then I'm done. I can't believe that they hadn't updated the list of prophecies with the records after we made a mess of the place in fifth year. At least we found that 'Unreleased' book, or whatever," Harry said with a sigh.
"Retrieving the Unretrievable," Hermione supplied. "Well, let's get back to work. I'll owl Kingsley and let him know. He'll be able to get everyone ready to move by next Monday, and the Wizarding World can finally start getting back to normal."
Harry lost himself in his work in the Hall of Prophecies and barely even realised he was hungry until his stomach growling echoed in the room. Still, he ignored it until he was finished an hour later. He slunk out of the room, dearly wanting to collapse somewhere soft.
"Done," Ron said, half in exhaustion, half in amazement. "We're done."
"Isn't it wonderful, Harry? Ron?" Hermione didn't sound as if she'd been working all day, without rest and on four hours sleep, and Harry hated her just a little for it. "I just got an owl from the Minister. There'll be a huge opening ceremony and he wants us there to award us for services to the Ministry."
"You two want to come over to the Burrow for a celebratory feast afterwards? Mum would love an excuse to go all out cooking, and we can have Teddy over with his Grandmum, just to see how big he's got." Ron had a wet sound to his voice as if his mouth was already watering at the idea of his mother's cooking.
"That sounds wonderful," Hermione exclaimed, grabbing her cloak off the stool on which it was placed. "It seems like we haven't seen everyone in such a long time."
"Yeah, it sounds great." Harry smiled, but he was debating if he should go. Everyone would be expecting him to finally get back with Ginny, and he didn't want to, not yet...not...yet.
"Let's all get along home. It'll be a long day tomorrow." Hermione walked toward the exit, and smiled at them.
"Like today wasn't," Ron grumbled, following after her. "Coming Harry? We're gonna get something to eat at the Leaky Cauldron before we head home."
"I'll be along in awhile. I have one more thing I wanna do," Harry said, evasively. He wanted to be alone, but he didn't want them to be suspicious and think they should stay behind.
Hermione glanced once at the Death Chamber, before Ron saw, and nodded to him. She knew him so well sometimes that it was scary. "Okay, Harry, but don't forget that you need food and sleep. Let's go, Ron."
Ron gave him a wary look, but obeyed Hermione, and left. Harry waited until the lift had stopped, walked into the room, and headed straight for the Veil. He could still hear voices coming from it, and he found himself remembering that horrible day all those years ago. He shook his head to clear it, so he could do what he came here to do.
"Mum, I don't know if you can hear me...but I wish for the same things you did. I...well, here..." Harry pulled the wish out his pocket, and read it again, following the curve of her name with his finger. He paused a moment, and called out, "Accio quill and ink."
Harry signed the paper, right under his mother's name, and folded up the paper. "I wish for the same things," he repeated, and sent the paper fluttering through the flimsy curtain of the Veil.
With a last look, Harry turned and started to head for the door when he heard a strange whipping noise, as if the Veil was caught in a heavy wind. He turned in time to see the Veil part and a solid white object come out, landing with a thud.
He hurried over to see, and almost stopped breathing when he realised what it was. Severus Snape lay on the floor, naked and shivering, looking around wildly and grasping at his throat. He spotted Harry, and Harry gripped his wand and stepped back involuntarily.
"Wha...Potter," Snape managed to pant out, angrily. "What did you do?"
Harry couldn't believe his eyes, but he could his ears. There was no mistaking that voice in that tone.
"I don't know! Why are you here?" Harry asked, half-hysterical. The alive remained unspoken.
Snape sat up, and pulled the hand away from his throat, appearing surprised that his hand was clean. "I'm alive." Then he seemed to realise he was naked, and he pulled his legs up in front of himself.
Harry thought that Snape sounded more disappointed than thankful, but he had no idea where Snape had been and why he was there now, and what his insides felt like for all he looked healthy on the outside. "I..." Harry shook his head, at a loss, and conjured up something for Snape to wear while he decided on what to do next.
"Thank you," Snape said, subdued, standing up to put the robe on. Harry was sure that only the shock Snape was clearly in could've accounted for those words coming out of his mouth.
Harry could only form one coherent thought, aside from Snape!, and that was need Hermione..
Quickly, he sent off his patronus, private to her so Ron would not come, and watched Snape warily.
"What was that?" Snape asked, and Harry was astonished that he had temporarily forgotten that Snape was there.
"I asked for Hermione to come...alone," Harry added at the murderous look on Snape's face. "I'm not letting anyone else know you're here. Not yet."
Snape didn't reply, just sat down on the dais and looked around the room. Harry could see as Snape realised where he was. "The Ministry."
"We've just finished clearing it to reopen." Harry stared at his feet. So many different scenarios he'd imagined in the last few years what he'd say to Snape if he ever got the chance again, and all he could do was stand there, mute. Harry wanted to think that now knowing the man Snape really was would change the way they'd interact, but he couldn't help but feel old angry feelings wash through him, borne of years of hatred and rancor between them. He decided silence was still the best way to handle things.
"Harry, I came straight away, wha-oh my..." Hermione said, stopping when she came into the room."Is that...
"What's your name? Why are you here? How did you get into this room? Where did you come from? Why now?" Hermione rapidly questioned Snape, who just sat there, unblinking. She looked back at Harry for a moment. "Do you think this is a trap or is it really..."
"Will you cease discussing me as if I'm not here?" Snape asked, and looked back towards the Veil. Harry wasn't sure how, but he just knew it was Snape. Looking at Hermione, he begged her to believe him.
"Yeah, it's Snape..." Harry shifted on his feet."I was in here, and then he came out of the Veil. "
Snape raised an eye at that, as if he didn't quite buy Harry's explanation. Which, to be fair, wasn't strictly accurate, but as he didn't really know what he had done, he couldn't very well explain it. If he had any idea how it could be replicated, he would have immediately gone about bringing Sirius back in a heartbeat, but he had a gut feeling that this wasn't something that could be done.
"Tell me everything, Harry, and leave nothing out...perhaps we should fetch a Pensieve."
"I found a wish in that room. It was my mum's...she wished..." Harry moved closer to Hermione, and whispered in her ear the pertinent details on Lily's wish. "I don't know why I kept it, but I did. I came in here...I signed the letter, saying I wished for that, too, and sent it through the Veil."
"Harry, I think...oh my...the books did say that there were powerful magicks binding the papers..." Hermione looked lost in thought for a moment, then she looked at Snape and back at Harry again, concern painting her features. "You have to go, Harry. Take him and go. There's an old cottage that I inherited from my grandmother. It's stocked and ready to go. I was saving it for a surprise for Ron's birthday, but until we know more...you have to keep him safe."
"What's going on, Hermione? Why are you so worried?" Harry knew the situation was unusual - what else was new- but certainly it would be easy enough to prove?
"It's dangerous for him. For one, people will not accept that a man who died years ago is suddenly back. Also, there are some people that still bear a grudge against him. Plus, the secrecy and sanctity of the Wishing Papers would be compromised."
"I see your point. The cottage is secure? You said you were getting it ready for Ron?" Harry mentally made a checklist of things he'd need to live in hiding for a while and hoped that Snape was as willing to go along with him.
"Yes, I did the basics first. There's not much more than canned goods, but it should be enough for a week or two while I organize something more long-term." Hermione seemed to be making a mental checklist and Harry was betting it was three times as long as his, colour-coded and bulleted.
"Professor," Harry said after coming to a decision. "You're gonna be stuck with me for a while longer."
"Surely, I must now be experiencing heaven. Locked away in a cottage, with only the great Potter for company," Snape said with a snarl. Harry almost laughed at the familiarity of the barb, and how much he had missed Snape's ill humour. Something must be wrong with him when the man's scorn heaped upon him seemed like coming home.
"Unless you'd rather wait around here and deal with the Minister and St. Mungo's and everything else," Harry offered, betting that Snape hadn't thought of the reality that, yes, there were things worse than the two of them in an enclosed place.
"Just don't expect me to cook or clean after you." Snape crossed his arms and glared at him, as if daring Harry to point out that Snape had conceded, quite easily. He knew it was only temporary, the shock would wear off, and Snape would be back to his usual self.
"You two should go quickly. Ron will come looking for me if I don't get home." Hermione stowed a long piece of parchment she had been writing on in her pocket.
"What did you tell him, anyhow?" Harry only felt slightly guilty over just wanting Hermione there, but Ron was absolute rubbish at keeping secrets and rarely kept a level head when people like Snape were involved.
"I told him I needed to get a book from the library. I said was researching the fluctuating sleeping patterns of Wizards that work a rotating schedule versus Wizards that worked strictly on the night shift. He stopped listening after I said fluctuating. But if I don't get back, he'll assume I fell asleep at the library, and come to find me."
"Thanks Hermione," Harry said, giving her a hug. "I'd be lost without you."
"And how," Hermione replied as she squeezed him back. "Use this opportunity, Harry, to figure things out," she added, whispering in his ear.
"Let's go," Harry said to Snape as soon Hermione left, after handing them the coordinates to the cottage. "I'll side -along you until I can get you a wand."
It wasn't until they were in the lighted kitchen of the cabin that Harry realised just how young Snape looked compared to the last time he'd seen him. The lines on his face had smoothed and it was as if a good ten years had slipped away.
Harry watched as Snape sat down at the table, and said nothing, just stared at the tablecloth. He opened his mouth twice, but ended up stopping himself. What could he say? What could he possibly say? Hey, since you died, I can't stop thinking about you and how you failed to shag my mum, and spent the rest of your life pining for her. Instead, he managed, "I'll go make some tea."
There wasn't a reply from Snape, and Harry wasn't surprised. They could attempt talking tomorrow, after a hopefully restful sleep. Just when Harry had placed the cups on the table, a letter flew through the chimney and landed on the table in front of Harry.
I had the owl send this through the chimney just in case you were already asleep. I hope you're both well. I need some time to talk to you in detail about your mother's wish to help me figure out what happened, and what the repercussions might be. I will visit in a few days with supplies and a list of questions. Don't worry about anything else. I told Ron that you were off doing an errand for me that may take some time, and not to worry. I'll make excuses to the Minister and the Weasleys for you. Professor Snape may have some issues readjusting, so please be patient with him.
Folding up the note, Harry put it in his pocket and turned his attention back to the tea, which was cooling before he had a chance to drink it. He drained the rest in one swallow, and set the cup in the sink.
"I'm going to see what sort of sleeping arrangements we have here," Harry explained as he left the room. Snape said nothing, and just continued to sip his tea as if Harry hadn't even spoken. Thankfully, Harry noted after a quick peek down the hall, there were two rooms.
One was larger than the other, completely furnished with a rugged floor. The smaller room simply had a bed, nightstand and a closet. Harry decided to take this one.
"Snape, you can take the room on the right," he called down the hall. Harry could hear the movement from the kitchen and Harry was standing in the doorway of his room moments later. Snape raised an eyebrow as Harry sat down on his bed made up with only a thin blanket and raised an eyebrow before turning to the larger room, shutting the door behind him.
Shutting his own door, Harry exhaled deeply, not even realising how anxious he'd been feeling. The whole situation didn't even feel real to him. Harry frowned at the pittance of a blanket and used his wand to transfigure it into something warm and comfortable, stripped down, and crawled under the covers. He was asleep within minutes.
The next morning, Harry woke with a gasp, glancing around wildly. It took him a moment to orient himself to where he was, allowing him to relax- only to jump up as he recalled the night before. Shite. Snape! Harry raced out of the room, and flung open the door to Snape's bedroom only to find it exactly as had been the day before: clean and untouched.
Harry wondered if he had dreamt the whole thing and had Apparated to Hermione's cottage in a half-conscious state. Then he heard the clank of china in the kitchen, and he ran down to find Snape there, sipping another cup of tea with the same flat expression he had last night.
"When will your little 'dream team' be returning me?" Snape asked after Harry had sat down with his own tea and toast.
"Returning you?" Harry asked, momentarily confused. "Oh, well, about your home, Snape. The plot was sold and someone built on it. I tried to block it, but since you were...and had no will, there wasn't much I could do."
"Not that," Snape said, but only the slightest bit of inflection let Harry know that he was exasperated. "Back to where I was."
Harry stared at him quizzically for a moment before it dawned on him. "Oh. OH. Um, I don't know if we can. I mean, I don't know how I got you back, so I don't know if I-we- can get you back..."
"I see," Snape replied, voice soft, cold. "I think I'll go lie back down."
Helplessly, Harry watched as Snape left the room, leaving his half empty tea still on the table. Was he supposed to send Snape back? Was Snape happier where he was? Did Harry have any right to keep him here when he seemed to miss wherever he had been? Harry wasn't sure about anything except that the idea of Snape having to die again made his chest clench. He sat there, staring at the crumby remains of his toast, wishing that Hermione was here to help him figure this out.
Snape only came out twice more that day, once around two to eat the sandwiches Harry had made and at nine for dinner. He didn't attempt further conversation, and only nodded at Harry once each time in what he presumed to be some sort of acknowledgement for the meal. Harry went to bed early, head filled with all his unanswered questions about what he should do and how he should ask the questions that would get him the answers. Hermione had promised to come soon, and she would be able to help him. Sometimes, he wished he could go to Ron with these things, but he knew he couldn't.
Ron would overreact, and then think it just another excuse to put off Ginny, and call him on it, as if Ron hadn't spent the better part of the time he was in love with Hermione putting her off. Hermione understood how Harry's heart worked, often before he himself did.
That night, for the first time in years, he dreamt about the dungeons in Hogwarts. He walked along the corridors, stretched out into labyrinthine paths until he came to Snape's door, then he fell into a giant Pensieve, feeling as if he could just go to sleep in it, knowing he'd drown. He may have, too, had it not been for the persistent pecking of a fluffy brown owl on the rim. The owl turned out to be Hermione knocking on the door to his room.
"I'm coming in, "Hermione announced seconds after he opened his eyes. "Harry, what's wrong?"
"It's Snape. He wanted to know when we're gonna send him 'back'," Harry said, sounding more upset than he wanted. "Should we...I...should I be thinking about that?"
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, and sat down next to him on the bed, leaning over to hug him. "Why don't we start with your mother's wish?"
"She was sad that she didn't try harder to stay friends with him. It sounded like she blamed herself, at least partially, that he became a Death Eater. And she wished that he could be happy." Harry wasn't sure exactly why he left off the parts about love, but he couldn't get his lips to open to say it.
"Well, that will make things interesting. He's here, magically, because you agreed, by signing it, to fulfill the terms of the wish. When, or if, the terms are fulfilled, I suppose there's the chance he will be able to go back."
"And if the terms are never fulfilled? Will he live forever? Or will he die like a normal wizard?"
"Magic has rules, just like in nature, and because this is an anomaly, it will want to right itself, eventually. Though I suppose...it's possible he could. What would help is if we knew more about where he was...I don't suppose you could try to find out?"
"I just...I just got him back, and I'm supposed to kill him again?" Harry hadn't meant to say kill, but once it was said, he couldn't take it back.
"Harry? You haven't thought that his death was your fault all this time?" Hermione's voice was high-pitched, wavering a bit. "It wasn't your fault. Please tell me you know this."
"I know, but I just stood there and watched. I didn't even try to stop it." Harry closed his eyes, picturing the way Snape's eyes bore into his own until they were lifeless, even as he stood there mute and useless.
"I was there, Harry. There was nothing you - nor I - could do. Everything happens for a reason, and I think you know that. Everything that has ever happened to you had a purpose."
"Most of that stuff almost got me killed, you know," Harry replied with a laugh. "I haven't 'almost died' in two years. I must be overdue for my booster."
"That's not funny, Harry," Hermione scolded, but her twitching lips betrayed her. "Anyhow, I have to get going, so we better discuss the plan before I leave."
"All right, Hermione, what else is there?" Harry hoped that whatever it was wasn't a problem. He was tired of problems. And he was beginning to suspect this issue with Snape was bigger than he'd let on.
"You definitely can't let anyone know Professor Snape is back, at least not for a while. I did a little hypothetical questioning here and there, and it looks like as long as someone is alive, that person is liable for any crimes they may have committed, even if the circumstances of their being alive are a little fuzzy. Since Professor Snape worked for the Headmaster and not for the Ministry, any of his actions are considered vigilante and therefore aren't sanctioned by law. I think we'd be able to get him a fair trial, but it would take a long time, and he'd have to remain in custody with people he's already made enemies of. Plus," Hermione added in a low voice, though it probably wasn't necessary, "I'm not sure how many people will believe the truth about Professor Snape."
"So, how long d'ya think we are going to have to stay here?" Harry asked, not wanting her to show up one day to two dead bodies resulting from the Professor and he trying to kill each other.
"Indefinitely. I also don't think you should leave him alone. We don't know what he might attempt. I have convinced Shacklebolt and the Weasleys that you will be unavailable for some time. I was also able to bring you some things from your flat, as well as the trunk of Snape's things you saved before they wrecked his house. There's more food, and I'm sure Kreacher would come if you wanted. And, lastly, I brought your broom."
"Thanks. I had forgotten about that trunk. Well, I suppose it won't be so bad if we have things to occupy ourselves." He paused. "Oh, no. I know that face. You must have another project for me." Harry wasn't sure if he should be grateful for whatever project she had, since it'd be something to do, or apprehensive, because that face usually meant he'd be attempting to bang his head against the wall within days.
"Now that we've gathered evidence from the Ministry, Ron and I will be busy with the upcoming trials. However, there are a lot of laws that were passed during the many years there have been puppets in office, and we really need to comb through the law books and identify any laws that are either archaic or harmful. I dearly want to have some sort of due process for the accused. It's too easy to abuse the Wizarding World's justice system. We need to change it. We also need to amend any laws that are anti-Muggleborn. I brought you copies of all our laws, and sentencing guidelines. I want you to make notes according to this guide here," Hermione said, handing him a small stack of notes written in her own hand. "I also brought you copies on what has been studied about the Veil. It isn't much, but it may prove helpful."
"Hermione, sheesh." Harry sighed, and got to his feet. He threw on yesterday's robes, and walked out to the kitchen. "Let me have breakfast before you have me researching law that originated before the Magna Carta."
"Goodbye, Harry," Hermione said with a patient smile, kissing him on the cheek. "I'll be back to check on you later. Take care and owl me if you need anything."
After he ate, Harry briefly thumbed through a section of the laws, but sighed and put them back down. This was going to definitely be a long, tedious job, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione had all vowed to not only restore the Wizarding World, but make it better. They all took it seriously, even if it meant long hours poring over tedious law and precedent.
Snape came out of his room for lunch, and looked at the pile of papers he was reading with a questioning eye. "I didn't realize you worked."
"Of course I work," Harry wanted to be offended, but he was too busy being relieved at the idea that Snape was slowly returning to normal. "Hermione would kill me if I didn't."
"I see." Snape took a bite of his sandwich and then took a file and began reading it. "Law? Plan to run for Minister?"
"Hardly," Harry practically snorted. "We're attempting to overturn and amend laws that are unjust or antiquated."
"Ah," Snape said, and proceeded to finish his sandwich. "Miss Granger was here earlier. Was she able to discern when or how I am to go back?"
"About that," Harry said, fiddling with his plate," what...where...um..."
"You wish to know where I was when I was dead," Snape said without a flicker of emotion. "You've been there."
"You were at King's Cross?" Harry asked, incredulously, and at the confused look on Snape's face, "the place in-between?"
"Disappointed not to realize I wasn't burning in some pit in hell?" Snape asked, with a slight furrow of his brow.
"NO! I was just hoping that I haven't...not that I wanted you to be...I was just hoping I didn't make it worse," Harry said, stumbling over just about everything he tried to say, knowing it all sounded wrong.
"It was neither heaven nor hell, Potter. It was neither bliss nor pain. It just was. I suppose there was a measure of peace in that."
"But why?" Harry couldn't help but ask, because none of it made sense to him. Snape didn't seem the type to wallow in nothingness.
"I admit that I am not sure. I do not fear death. At the time, I even welcomed it. Yet, I could not move on. Something held me back - though not so much that I became a ghost. I suppose that plays some part in why I was able to come back," Snape added after a moment.
Harry thought about the wish, and wondered if a simple wish could bind Snape to this world, so long as there was someone capable of fulfilling it. That made Harry pause. He had signed it, but was he capable of doing as he promised? Did he want to be? The idea of Snape being back was different from the reality of Snape being back. Eulogising the man's memory was easy. Caring for the actual man wasn't. Harry decided to push the wish out his mind, and focus on dealing with what was in front of him.
Snape. Only not the Snape he remembered. There were moments when he came through, but they were brief, rare. He was like a shadow of the man Harry once knew. Stilted, like a waxy figure of him, made to spit out a few key phrases, but lacking the bite and vitality of the old Snape.
"Seeing as we appear to be staying here for the foreseeable future, is there anything for me to do?" Snape asked, snapping him out of his reverie.
"Oh! I forgot, but I had snagged a trunk of your things before they tore your house down. Hermione brought it up. It's in the sitting room. You can take a look what's in it. I don't remember."
"And after that?" Snape asked, not moving. "Perhaps I will give you my assistance in the project Miss Granger set for you."
"Really? That'd be great. You're probably a lot better with that sort of stuff than I am." Harry wondered if getting back into research would maybe spark more of the old Snape. He hoped so.
Snape stood so quietly in his doorway that Harry hadn't even known he was there until he turned around and nearly jumped out his skin.
"I don't want one," Snape said, ignoring Harry's reaction entirely.
Harry placed his hand on his chest, and shot Snape a disgruntled look. "One what?"
"A wand," Snape replied, simply, and walked back to his room, closing the door behind him.
It baffled him. Harry couldn't fathom a wizard not wanting his wand. He wanted to get over and ask, but he had the sense this was a topic better left alone. Maybe he'd discuss it with Hermione, but he had a feeling she'd agree with him.
Maybe he'd come back without any magic at all.
"This law," Snape said, passing him a paper, "needs to be flagged."
Harry looked it over, but his eyes grew bleary after about four minutes of long-winded statute that didn't seem to communicate anything other than that old wizards liked to hear themselves talk. "What about it?"
"If you worked your entire life creating a great potion, would you like the Ministry to own the recipe after submitting it for release at the market?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really."
Snape didn't respond, already re-immersed in his pile of the older laws. Harry tackled the newer ones, because most of the time, he could muddle through that legal-speak much more easily than those in the archaic form of English or worse - in Latin.
It was time consuming to pore over these laws, as there were almost always stacks of case-study and notes on precedent to go with them. Rarely was a law simple and self-explanatory. They were also checking for punishments for each and made separate notes if punishments far outweighed any particular crime.
"Let's take a break," Harry said, after the paper in front of him looked just as blurry with his glasses on as it did without. "Actually, let's call it a day."
Dinner was just reheated casserole, but had the distinctly welcoming quality of being ready in minutes and requiring no cooking. They left the huge piles of notes and laws on the kitchen table and retired to the sitting room again. Harry preferred this arrangement. Snape seemed more comfortable, and sometimes they even managed to talk, although Snape was still considerably distant.
"Tell me about cleaning out the Ministry," Snape said, after taking a bite. "If it took you that long to finish the job, something must have happened."
"I'm not completely incompetent," Harry groused half-heartedly. The Ministry job was still a better topic of conversation than current politics or anything that happened, well, before.
"I never said you were," Snape replied with a smug look, a spark of his old self. "I merely implied it."
"And how is that better?" Harry asked, watching the way Snape regarded him.
"Before, you required something a little more direct," Snape said plainly, but Harry couldn't bring himself to care about the insult. This was the first time Snape had referred to their mutual past. Harry placed his plate on the coffee table and leaned forward.
"And now?" Harry didn't know why he felt so excited over something so trivial, but Snape's life was slowly becoming his primary focus, above and beyond anything else.
Snape regarded him for a moment, and pulled back. "You don't."
I hope all is well. We were able to get a conviction on the last case, but this next one could be trickier. Incidentally, I happened to overhear one of the Ministry workers mention a draft in the Death Room. Apparently, the Veil has been fluttering more lately. I suspect it may have something to do with Snape... I'll see if I can nip down later this week. Everyone's doing well. Ron is pestering me to allow him to visit. I won't be able to put him off much longer. Perhaps we can discuss this when I visit next. I'll be up to see you Sunday.
"And Ron was stuck to the wall, with only his pants on, screaming for me and Hermione to save him," Harry said, laughing, "but Hermione wouldn't until he admitted that he heard her when she said to not touch the box, and that she was always right. It was two hours before he admitted it, and another three before we figured out how to release him."
"I shudder to think of where Mister Weasley would be if Miss Granger hadn't been so oddly enamoured of him."
"Me too. Wait. Oddly?" Harry asked after a moment. They'd been a couple in his mind, long before they ever shared their first kiss, so it made perfect sense to him.
"They don't seem like they have much in common. They bicker frequently. She's quite smart and he's...not quite in her league. Miss Granger, although she can be instigated into a fury, is quite rational, while Mister Weasley blows up before he thinks anything through."
Harry smiled at Snape after a moment. "Sometimes those sorts of things don't matter as much."
"As much as what?" Snape asked, sounding a bit irritable.
They looked at each other for a moment, before Harry turned his attention back to the flames flickering in the fireplace. "Other things."
"I wouldn't know," Snape said quietly. Harry knew he was referring to his mother, and of how she was likely the last person to actually appreciate anything Snape had to offer, without reaping some kind of benefit in payment.
Harry sometimes wondered if he were any different.
At first, Harry dismissed the growing tension between them as getting back to normal, but he soon realised the old hostility they had toward each other was considerably different from the room-suffocating one they had now. Perhaps he needed to take a ride on his broom.
There were strange moments when Harry felt a pull in Snape's direction. A near irresistible tug, even. Harry looked over at the man who was currently hunched over an old tome that Hermione had brought, and wondered what it was about him that had occupied his thoughts since they'd arrived.
Then again, it wasn't fair to say that that was when it started. For as long as he'd known Snape, Harry had thought of him, and often. Admittedly, those thoughts were concerned mostly with how evil Snape was and what he could do about it, but even now, Harry didn't want to look away.
"Am I fading away?" Snape asked, jolting him. Harry frowned. Had he found something in that book?
Harry shook his head. "No! Why?"
Snape finally looked up from his reading. "I could think of no other reason that you'd be studying me so intently."
He could feel himself blushing. Ducking his head, Harry turned back to his own book. "It's nothing."
"I'm sure." Snape was once more focused on his book, and Harry once more found himself watching.
A voice in the back of his head was asking, what about Gin-, but Harry cut it off, forcefully ignoring it. Instead, he picked up his book, walked over the sofa where Snape was sitting, and sat down next to him. Harry expected Snape to move away, but he didn't. They merely stayed there, side by side, arms nearly touching, and read their books. Well, Snape read his book. Harry just stared at the same page for the next twenty minutes trying to figure out what on earth had made him think that moving was such a great idea, and why he was thinking of things more insane and impossible than anything he'd ever thought before.
"Potter," Snape said, and Harry turned to face him, nearly jumping as he realised how close they were. "What-"
He didn't think - he moved. Harry leaned forward, and kissed Snape on the lips. There was a moment of pause from Snape, but then he was kissing back. A slight increase in pressure, Snape's body a fraction closer. It was more than he expected, but not nearly enough. There was another pause, and then they were really kissing. Not some closed-mouth peck. Lips, tongue and teeth, wet and hot and messy. Perfection. Snape tasted nothing like...Snape was new, unfamiliar. His nose pressed into his cheek, and his hands rested lightly on Harry's thighs.
"I," Snape began after pulling back. "I'm going to lie down, now."
Harry didn't know what to say to make him stop, so he let him go without a word. He sat there for a long time, staring into the fireplace and thinking about the kiss, why he kissed him, and why he was going to do it again, despite all the reasons he shouldn't.
He wanted to. He wanted. Most of the things Harry had wanted were impossible dreams that would never be fulfilled. This was not one of those things. And maybe, Harry thought, maybe Snape needed this, too.
We lost one case. The vandalism case was touchy from the start, but I had hoped that we'd be able to convince the Wizengamot. There's no time to worry about that, however, as there's another trial on its heels. Mrs. Weasley is getting very vocal about you coming home. I tried to explain that it's only been three months, but she got very cross with me and gave me the smallest slice of cake for dessert. However, I have some exciting news. They've asked me to assist in studying the Veil. It's been steadily more active since we last talked. I have a theory, but I'll wait until I know more. Anyhow, I'll be up in a few days. If you want anything, let me know.
Harry watched Snape from across the room, wondering how Snape would react if he were pushed against the wall and snogged within an inch of his life as Harry was longing to do. It had been four days since their first kiss, and Snape hadn't acted like anything happened at all.
There were a few moments when Snape gave him a curious look, but they were so fleeting, Harry wondered if he hadn't just imagined them to keep his hopes alive.
"You're staring again," Snape commented. Harry grinned sheepishly at getting caught, but didn't look away.
"I was hoping," Harry began, toying with a loose thread on the arm of his robe.
"If you're waiting for me to be spread naked and wanton on your bed, trussed up like an offering for Dionysus, I'm afraid it will be a long time."
"Er...does that mean no more snogging?" Harry asked, bemused, "or does it just mean that I need to be spread naked and wanton, and-what was it-trussed up like an offering for Dionysus on your bed ?"
Snape looked up and gave him a look that Harry couldn't decipher. "Have you no understanding of a middle ground?"
Harry grinned. "Not that I recall."
"If you don't get more work completed by the time Miss Granger visits, it won't be me that she yells at," Snape said, pushing Harry off his lap. "I'm going to make some tea."
Harry grumbled, but went to the table anyhow. The law was not nearly as interesting as Snape's mouth.
"Ugh. What do wizards have against simplicity?"
"If laws were easy to understand, the people subject to them would know when and how to object." Snape placed a cup of tea in front of him, and took the opposite seat.
"Yeah, anyone trying to read this dreck would fall asleep before realising the Ministry would tax them more if they married a Muggle than if they married a Pureblood. Bloodsucking bastards."
"Miss Granger will have enough causes to bequeath to her great-grandchildren." Snape scribbled down a note on his paper. "That should make her happy."
"Seriously, I don't know when she sleeps." Harry knew that for all the work he'd done, Hermione's share was likely double or more.
They continued working for the next few hours in silence. Snape had triple the notes he had, and half the scratch-outs. Harry shuddered to think how behind he'd be if Snape hadn't been helping him.
"Oh, for the love of..." Snape looked dispassionately down at his papers. "This one cites at least fifteen previous rulings."
Harry got up, and made a fresh cup of tea, bringing it out to Snape with a buttered scone. "Here," he said, placing the small plate in front of the mess of papers.
"You're not having any?" Snape asked, looking at the plate with vague suspicion.
Shaking his head, Harry went back to his own research. "Nah, you just looked like you needed something."
Snape looked at him for a long moment before turning back to his own work. Harry tried to not think about dragging him off to the bedroom, not that Snape would allow such a thing, but a boy could hope, and instead attempted to focus on the penalties for flying one's broom during an emergency weather situation.
Harry wondered if he were going crazy. His days, evenings, and nights-when he was lucky-were filled with Snape. And it wasn't enough. He wanted more time, more kisses, more everything. At times he felt like a like a horny schoolboy, fumbling his way through any situation when he and Snape got beyond a few kisses.
He wished and wished for some way to know what to do, and how to act, and what to expect. Snape still wasn't the Snape he remembered, but he couldn't feel bad about it. This Snape liked him. This was not the Snape whose hand he'd held as he died. This Snape never looked at him and saw his mother. Harry liked to think that this is what Snape could have been like if he hadn't spent most of his life hated by everyone, including himself.
Reaching down, he stoked himself, thinking of the man across the hall, and what he would do the next time Harry made it into Snape's room. He thought of Snape's eyes, his lips, the way he seemed a little more alive when they kissed. He came in minutes, and fell asleep thinking about the small patch of hair on Snape's chest.
"Slow down," Snape whispered against Harry's neck. "It's not a race."
Harry ignored him, ignored everything but the skin in front of him, and the hand on his cock. He kissed Snape's neck again, licking at it, eyes closed, and moved with every stroke of Snape's hand. He could feel the heat of Snape's cock against his thigh. If he could just...Harry twisted away, moving down until he could take Snape into his mouth. It almost tasted as good as their kisses. Harry reached down to stroke his own cock as he let Snape's slide between his lips.
"Harry," Snape said, voice a low rumble. It was the first time he'd heard his name from Snape's lips in...he couldn't recall. It made him want more.
He took Snape in deeper, nose pressing against hair and skin, ignoring the way his eyes watered at the intrusion in his throat. Snape gasped, made a shallow thrust, and came. Harry pulled back, wiping whatever he couldn't swallow with the back of his hand, and continued to tug at his own cock until he came over Snape's spread thighs.
After a few moments, Snape dragged himself to his feet, pulling Harry to his. "We should clean up."
Harry nodded and followed. When he lay alone in his room later that night, he thought about why Snape never asked him to stay, and if he was doing something wrong.
My study of the Veil has become my primary focus, which is fine because there are another two weeks before the next trial starts, and Ron has it covered. Percy is helping him. It's about tampering with cauldrons! Poor Ron. The last batch of notes you gave me were simply amazing. I am astounded that anyone even thought to make laws about the circumferences of crystal balls. Certainly, not all of these are worth dealing with. Most are so ridiculous they're ignored during modern-day proceedings. Anyhow, I definitely need to visit with you. I'm sorry I had to cancel last week. See you soon.
Harry held Snape closer, and once again found his eyes travelling to the now bare forearm. The last-and first-time he'd seen Snape naked, he was shivering on the floor of the Department of Mysteries, and Harry'd been too shocked to think anything aside from Snape's alive. Now, he could finally look his fill, seeing every inch of him, and it still wasn't enough.
He thrust in slowly, slowly, wanting it to last more than a few minutes. Harry kissed the back of Snape's neck, his shoulder, and listened to the way Snape's breath hitched.
"Severus," Harry said, voice a low moan, and shifted Snape's leg over his, pressed in deeper.
Snape placed his hand over Harry's, threading their fingers together, and squeezed. More than anything, Harry didn't want that to end.
Hermione's expression was one of concern as she sat across from him in his bedroom. Snape had retreated to his own room with a book once she'd arrived.
"Oh, Harry," she said, looking for all the world like she wanted to hug him. "It's so complicated, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Harry said, not knowing what else to say instead. "It is."
She was quiet for a moment, as if collecting her thoughts. "I wonder if..."
"What?" Harry didn't like that expression on Hermione's face. She looked as if she finally understood something, and didn't like the answer.
"I think," Hermione said, looking him in the eye with a sad expression," the Veil is becoming more active the closer you come to fulfilling the terms of the wish."
"Oh." Harry looked down at his hands. "Well..."
"We don't know anything for sure," she added. "There's so much we don't know, and this is only speculation. I just wouldn't feel right if I said nothing."
"Yeah," Harry said, forcing a smile on his face. "He's here, now, isn't he? There's nothing written in stone about second chances."
He didn't turn to face her, and the pitying expression that was surely on her face. Instead, Harry got to his feet and walked to his window, looking out between the curtains. "I don't miss it, you know. The Ministry, the rest."
"I suppose this is the first time you've had peace in your life." Hermione moved next to him, and pushed the curtain open a little wider. "You don't need to rush it."
Harry smiled, putting an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "I never properly tell you how much I appreciate our friendship."
"And you never will," said Hermione. They stood there for a few minutes more, before she bade him goodbye and left.
That night, Harry dreamt about the Veil. It was utterly still, eerily so. He walked up the dais, and tried to listen to the voices, but heard nothing. A hand pressed against his back, pushing him through, and the other side was nothing more than the other side of the room.
Snape walked up to him then, grabbed him by the arm, and walked them home, which was just through the door.
He woke up in a cold sweat, and stumbled across to hall to Snape's door. Harry watched him sleep for a few minutes, wishing he could be brave enough to take a few steps, and crawl into bed next to him.
Harry squirmed on Snape's lap, pressing his erection into Snape's belly, hoping to convince him of a far better way to spend the afternoon than looking through the stack of notes Hermione owled.
"We're supposed to be working," Snape said, lips brushing against the skin of his neck.
"I thought so, too!" Ron's angry voice came from behind him. Harry whipped his head around to see Hermione placating a livid Ron.
Jumping to his feet, Harry said, "Ron, let me explain..."
Snape had the slightest frown on his face as he stood up. Without a word, he walked away.
"This whole time you've been lying to me?" Ron shouted. "This whole bloody time I thought you were doing something for Hermione, and you've been shacked up with Snape?"
"I have been doing something for Hermione," Harry responded, getting angry at Ron's presumption. "It's not like we could just put some robes on his back, set him off in Diagon Alley, and leave him to it?"
"I wouldn't know, since I only just realised he was alive at all."
Hermione looked between them guiltily. "I didn't mean to tell him."
"My own bloody fiancÚ feels bad for telling me the truth. That's fucking rubbish, that is."
"She was doing it for me. She's my friend," Harry said hotly, not liking the tone Ron had talking about the one person who did her best to keep him sane.
"And what am I?" Ron asked. "I'm supposed to be your friend, too. Or had you forgotten, holed up in your little love nest with that git."
"I didn't tell you because I knew you'd react like this." Harry felt the anger grow inside him. Maybe Snape was a git before. But he was different now. Everything was different now.
"And what about Ginny? Huh? You forget about her?" Ron demanded, face red and blotchy. "I thought you cared about her?!"
"I do," Harry replied, his stomach knotting. "I do. Right now, I just care about Snape more."
Ron's face went from red to white in moments, and Harry didn't think he'd ever seen him more furious. Despite it, he felt relief at voicing something that he'd been denying.
"So," Ron said, voice steely, "this is it, then? You know what everyone's expecting, right? Mum thinks when you're finished, you're gonna finally propose. Ginny thinks so, too."
Harry looked down at the floor, guilt eating at the pit of his stomach. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Don't, Harry," Ron said, barely keeping his voice low. "Just don't. You promised her...you promised me."
"I know. I'll fix it. I do promise," Harry said, meaning it. He hated how everything was so complicated. He hated what he had to do more.
"Would you make a vow?" Ron asked, voice almost a whisper. "Would you make me an Unbreakable Vow?"
"Ron! No," Hermione said, shaking her head, but Ron ignored her, staring straight at him instead. Harry swallowed thickly, but nodded.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I would."
"Hermione," Ron said, motioning her to move forward. She looked between the both of them, sighing, but pulled out her wand regardless.
"Do you swear to propose to Ginny as soon as you're done here?" Ron asked.
"I swear." Harry was only slightly grateful at the wording of the vow.
"Do you swear to be faithful to Ginny so long as you are together?" Ron's face was less angry now, and more disappointed. Harry felt his insides twist, but couldn't betray someone that had been at his side forever.
"I swear." Harry watched as the fiery threads wound around their hands, and hoped he was doing the right thing.
"I...I've got to go," Ron said, pulling his hand away. "I need some time to think."
Ron Apparated away, leaving Harry and Hermione standing in the sitting room.
"Why did you do that, Harry?" Hermione asked, eyes focused on the hallway. "I thought with the way you felt about Professor Snape, that you'd never..."
"It doesn't matter how I feel, Hermione. There's no use discussing it anymore." Harry didn't know if he could properly voice the way obligation hung around his neck like a noose, the way he always did what he thought was right, even when it made him miserable. This was just another one of those things.
"Perhaps Ron needs you more than me right now?" Harry looked at Hermione, hoping she'd understand that what he really wanted wasn't something she could give.
"I suppose you're right." Hermione looked back down the hall again. "I'm sorry. Take care, Harry. I'll come back soon."
He stayed in the room for an hour after she left, just thinking about what she'd said, and what he'd done. Harry sighed, hoping he never had to leave that cottage. For once, he'd been content with his life.
Harry stood in Snape's doorway for what seemed like a long time-but was likely only five minutes-before he felt brave enough to cross over the threshold.
"Up for some company?" he asked, in what he hoped was a light-hearted way.
Snape was reclining against the headboard with a book. "I suppose."
Gladly crossing the room, Harry got on the bed, and under the covers. Snape went back to his reading, and Harry went back to watching him do so.
Twenty minutes later, Snape put the book down on the nightstand and turned to Harry, who waited for something, anything, to happen. There was a moment of hesitation on Snape's features before he moved, tugging Harry on top of him.
"This is what I meant by company, you know." Harry leaned down, and kissed Snape's lips, wanting to forget everything else that happened that day.
"I know." Snape seemed different, but Harry didn't want to think about that. He wanted to think about other things.
Harry woke up, deliriously content, with Snape's arm thrown across his waist. "Hmm."
"You're finally awake," Snape said, breath hitting the back of his neck. "I thought you'd sleep all morning."
Turning over, Harry faced Snape, ignoring how they both needed to brush their teeth. "Yeah. Yesterday was long. Too long."
"I heard," Snape said, looking at him with that strange expression again.
"You heard?" Harry asked, "Everything?"
"No," Snape replied, "not everything. Enough, though."
Harry smiled then. That meant that Snape knew how he felt. That such a little thing made him happy was ridiculous.
"It was nice, sleeping in here with you," Harry commented after, not moving out of Snape's arms. "I think I could stay here forever."
As soon as he said it, Harry felt a pang in his gut, wishing that he could take back his words. Snape looked at him, then he smiled, genuinely, and Harry knew. It was the same smile he often got when he thought of Snape. Feeling panic rise in him, he tightened his grip on the man, hoping against hope.
Harry didn't know how long he stayed like that, he only knew that he was startled when Hermione hugged him from behind. It was only then that he realised he'd been mumbling, "I love you," over and over.
The Veil lay still for the first time in months.
"What if I'm in Slytherin?"
Harry felt a pang in his chest, looking down at his son. He felt a hundred wishes bubble up his throat, and he nearly choked on them.
He wanted to tell his son that he was named after someone he'd loved. Someone that he would have given anything to still have in his life. Someone he hoped was still waiting for him at King's Cross.
Instead, he thought about Ginny, and his promise to Ron, and his obligations to his family. He swallowed everything back, and said the only honest thing he could say that would hurt no one.
"Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."