Summary: Unconvinced that Snape is actually dead, Harry sets out to find him.
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling created the characters and plot holes that made this story possible.
Notes: Part one of three. Thanks to celandineb for beta.
A Reason To Celebrate, Part One
Harry sat back, eying the heaping pile of sandwiches Kreacher had left him. He'd already put a two-sandwich dent in it and was thinking about wrapping up the rest for later when the elf in question popped back into being next to his chair.
"Good evening, Master," Kreacher said, bowing low in his spotless tea towel.
"Uh, hello, Kreacher," Harry replied, still not used to being called Master despite the weeks he, Ron, and Hermione had spent in the house at Grimmauld Place. "Did you...did you do it?"
Kreacher looked up from his bow, his tiny worn face twisting, and for a moment, Harry was reminded of his former foul-tempered incarnation, pleased he'd got the sandwiches before Kreacher reverted back. Only instead of a snarl about serving unworthy half-bloods, Kreacher's huge eyes welled with tears. "I couldn't, Master!" he cried, and Harry was very glad they were alone in the Gryffindor common room. It was the only place he could think of to go to sort out the aftermath of defeating Voldemort. And eat a sandwich. Or two.
"Kreacher tried, he went to the place Master told him, but the...the body wasn't there!" The long spindly fingers tugged at one rather forlorn-looking ear in distress. "Kreacher looked everywhere in that old house but could find no trace of the departed."
"What?" Harry shook his head, certain he'd made some error in instructing Kreacher to go attend to Snape's body, not willing to take the others away from tending the wounded or their own dead, but not wanting to leave Snape just...lying there. "You must have gone to the wrong place," Harry said, pulling a face.
"No, Kreacher did just as young Master instructed. He found the marks in the dust where a mighty struggle had taken place. He found the..." The elf took a mighty swallow in his wrinkled throat. "He found the blood."
Harry sat back hard in the squashy armchair, sandwiches and even Voldemort forgotten, staring at the elf. Had Death Eaters, unaware that their master was dead, gotten to Snape first, and were they even now creating an Inferius out of his corpse? Suddenly Harry regretted that second sandwich.
Or had he just, Yoda-like, vanished like a ghost? Dudley had watched that film over and over on the telly and it had calmed Harry when he was young, believing his parents had died in a car accident. The idea of Snape talking in a squeaky high voice with backwards diction forced away the other, more unpleasant possibilities.
"Thank you, Kreacher," Harry said, remembering his manners. "Go on back home. I'll just have to find him for myself." Because he owed Snape that much. Or more, but he didn't want to think about that yet.
As the elf vanished, Harry felt more alone than ever. Where was he supposed to start looking? What did he know about Snape, really? Most of what Harry had thought he knew had been wiped out by what he had seen in Snape's memories in the Pensieve. Who was left who might know the truth?
That question did not make Harry's thoughts any more pleasant. The Malfoys might have known something, but Harry couldn't bear the thought of asking them for anything -- not even some small piece of information that might lead him to Snape. The Death Eaters, like Voldemort himself, could have had no idea about Snape's real loyalties. And that was true for the Order, too. Obviously McGonagall hadn't suspected.
They all owed it to Snape to give him a proper funeral. Snape had promised Dumbledore to keep the students safe, and Harry preferred to remember the hero, not the boy who had walked proudly to sit beside Lucius Malfoy at the Slytherin table while Lily Evans joined the Gryffindors. Surely Snape wouldn't have made a Horcrux -- that couldn't be why his body had vanished, could it? But Harry felt certain of nothing.
Again he thought back to the memories, wondering whether they held some clue. It hadn't seemed like the adult Snape still had family who might have come to claim him. And from where?
Suddenly he heard his Aunt Petunia's shrill voice, only as she had sounded when she was young, in Snape's memories. They live down Spinner's End by the river. That huge chimney dominating the skyline where both Harry's mother and Snape had grown up...where was it? Did Snape still have a home there? Might it hold some clue?
It was several days, however, before he could act on his lead. First he had to check out the Shrieking Shack for himself, not because he didn't trust Kreacher, well, okay, because he didn't fully trust the elf who'd betrayed Sirius for a bit of kindness from his enemy. The scene was just as grisly as he remembered it, a spray of blood cleaving the dusty floor, gleaming in the shuttered light. Harry knelt down, sending a little flurry of dust around the widest spatter. There were handprints, dragged along in the dust as Snape had...
Harry swallowed down his gorge. Snape was dead, wasn't he? He'd seen the light fading from his eyes himself. He'd seen enough death to know what it looked like. But Snape had been fighting to give Harry his memories, scrabbling along this dusty floor as if he wanted to shake Harry the way he always looked like he wanted to in class.
Harry pushed away the memories of Snape alive and whole and utterly malicious in his direction, getting to his feet and staring down at the site where he thought Snape had died. If Death Eaters had come for him, there would have been other footprints leading into the room besides his own, wouldn't there? Or would Death Eaters cover their tracks? It was all too confusing. His best bet was to find the childhood home of his mother, of Snape, and see what secrets, if any, it held.
"Do you know anything about Spinner's End?" he asked Hermione. If it was secretly a wizarding village, she was the person he knew who was most likely to know about it, and if it was a Muggle town, she was more likely to know about it than the Weasleys.
She shook her head. "What's that? Another story connected to the Deathly Hallows?" Harry had no idea what she was talking about. "Spinner's End," she added, seeing his confusion. "I thought maybe it was a variant of Sleeping Beauty, where she was supposed to prick her finger on a spindle and die."
"She didn't die. The prince woke her up," Harry replied automatically, even though this had nothing to do with what he wanted to know. Or maybe it did. If anyone knew a way to inoculate himself against snake venom, it was Snape, who must have known that Voldemort used the snake to kill his enemies. What if Snape had arranged it to look like he was dead when he was only asleep?
What if Snape hadn't died?
Hermione was looking at him with her brow furrowed. "Harry, are you all right? You've been so quiet since...since it happened." He wasn't sure which she meant: since he had killed Voldemort, or since Voldemort had killed him, sending him to that twilight state where Dumbledore had answered so many of his questions yet hadn't told him nearly enough.
Harry knew better than to lie to Hermione, so he only shrugged and smiled a bit. "My mum came from near a place called Spinner's End. Thought that since I've been to Godric's Hollow, maybe I should visit it."
"Well, if that's all, I've a very good atlas right here," Hermione said, digging into the bag in which she still had an entire library.
Of anyone he knew, Harry thought, Hermione was the most likely to have an atlas right on hand. He peered over her shoulder as her finger scrolled down the index.
"Spinner's End," she read off, as triumphantly as if it had been her own curiosity prompting the search. She flipped a few pages, heaving the large book open flat. They both studied the confusing array of county lines and bluish squiggles of rivers as Harry pinpointed the region. "Looks like it's north," she said, "Well, south of us." She turned her face up toward his, her bushy hair brushing his cheek. "Are you going to go?"
Harry straightened. "I've got to," he said, then at her startled expression at his adamant declaration, he amended, "I mean, I think I need to do this. Just like I needed to see Godric's Hollow." The memory of what had happened to them there was clearly visible in her expression. "Only with fewer deadly snakes."
"But...now?" she asked doubtfully. "I mean, there's so much to be done here...the Ministry is still expecting you to make a statement and Ginny thinks..."
"I know what everyone wants me to do," he interrupted her, more angry than he had meant to sound. The Ministry sent someone nearly every day to ask whether he needed anything, with a strong undercurrent of implication that they needed something from him. Ron had already promised his mother that he would return to Hogwarts to finish the next term, and Hermione was planning to come back as well, even though Harry suspected that she could pass her NEWTs without a single additional class. He had no idea what he wanted, himself, except this compulsion to find Snape and attempt to resolve whatever debt he owed to the man. "This is something I need to do, all right? For my mother, and for me."
"Do you want me to come with you?" she asked uneasily. Harry wasn't sure whether she was worried that he would refuse or accept.
"No," he said. "I need to do this alone."
Finding Spinner's End didn't look too difficult, but how was he going to figure out which house had been Snape's, let alone where his mother had grown up? He decided to try sneaking into Snape's rooms at Hogwarts to see whether Snape had left any clues -- he doubted that anyone had had time to clean them out -- but when he arrived, there was Filch, looking as if he'd expected someone to try to do just what Harry had planned.
And then Harry had an idea. "Mr. Filch! I've been looking all over for you," he said enthusiastically.
Filch glared at him with the same suspicion as always, which was rather refreshing. Boy Who Lived or not, Harry was never going to convince the caretaker that he wasn't up to no good. "What have you gone and done now, Potter?" Filch demanded while his cat rubbed sinuously against his legs.
"I remember how brilliant you were at filing detention records," enthused Harry. "You must know where every record at Hogwarts is filed. I'm trying to find some information about my mother -- her parents were Muggles, so the Ministry can't really help me." He paused for a moment. "There must be some sort of listing of students who received acceptance letters to Hogwarts, right? With their addresses. I was hoping you could help me find the records for my mum's year. It's very important -- Dumbledore thought she might have left something where she grew up."
That last might have been a lie, but Dumbledore's name still seemed to hold some status with Filch. "Dumbledore told you this, did he?" he demanded in the same suspicious voice, but he gestured to Harry to follow him. Soon they were in a records office that Harry had never seen before, and Filch pointed at a stack of boxes. Being a squib, he was unable to move them magically himself. "In there, boy. And don't try any funny business."
Trying to look worthy of fulfilling Dumbledore's mythical request, Harry knew he was probably only looking more suspicious but he sorted through the boxes, eying the faded writing on the outside. Luckily, during his detentions with Snape last year he'd got used to reading Filch's spidery scrawls.
The boxes were piled rather precariously, which suited Harry fine, as he was after more than the box with 'Evans' in it. "Seventy, seventy-one, oh here it is," he said, trying to keep the triumphant crow out of his voice. Deliberately he turned his body to shield his rifling fingers, finding the worn index card for his mum almost at once.
"Er, do you have something I can write this down on?" he asked, looking over his shoulder at the hovering Filch. As soon as the caretaker had turned away, Harry made a dive further back in the box. Slate, Smegger, Smatley, Snape! He yanked the card out and tucked it in his robes before turning back to face Filch with the brightest, most innocent smile he could muster.
"Thanks so much for helping me," he babbled, taking the quill and scrap of parchment and scribbling his mum's address down. "Really, couldn't have done this without you, thanks so much." He was backing away now, then realizing he held both his mother's card and the bit of parchment, leaned down to file the card away.
Now that he had a specific destination, he couldn't wait to be away. He had never before experienced such a sense of the walls of Hogwarts as confining, not even when Umbridge walked the halls. But he knew he couldn't get away without letting certain people know that he was leaving. McGonagall, Shacklebolt...Ginny.
"I do hope to see you at start of term, Mr. Potter," was all the headmistress said. She did not quite treat Harry as a peer, but since that night when they had fought the Carrows together, she no longer spoke to him as his professor, either. It would be strange to become her student again. Kingsley, too, thankfully did not ask questions, promising Harry to keep the Ministry from prying into his personal affairs. He had made friends in the Prime Minister's office, and wanted to say his own goodbyes before facing the shambles that was now the Ministry of Magic.
As he expected, things did not go so well with Ginny. "I don't understand why you can't take me with you," she objected. "You traveled for months with Ron and Hermione! And my parents have finally stopped treating me like a child. I could go with you, I could help you look..."
"I need to do this alone," Harry insisted, not meeting her eyes. He felt very strange -- now that he could see Ginny whenever he wanted, unencumbered by responsibilities or guilt, he no longer felt the same urge to lose himself in her kisses. In fact, he didn't much want to kiss her at all. He wondered whether being out of his body in that weird King's Cross version of the afterlife had changed something inside him. "Listen, I know almost nothing about my dad and even less about my mum. Your family is the closest thing to a family that I have, but they're still yours. I need to find out about mine. By myself."
Ginny didn't like it, but in the end she had no choice but to let him go. At least there were no tears.
He set off the way he always had, with just his mended wand, now working as well as it ever had, and his Invisibility Cloak. He patted his robe pocket where the index card with Snape's childhood address on it was hidden and Disapparated just beyond the boundaries of Hogwarts.
He realized several things at once. Spinners End was a gloomy depressing place, and if his mum had found any comfort in the childhood playmate that Snape had been, he could never blame her. And that all the houses looked deserted. Some even looked like they'd been abandoned for years. With a sense of urgency he couldn't explain he set off for Snape's address, wanting to leave his mum's childhood at rest a little longer until he'd figured a few things out for himself.
The house that matched the number on the card also looked quite deserted, standing alone at the end of a row of similarly grim houses. Harry stared at it a moment, trying to imagine growing up in a house like this, in a neighborhood as this one must have been twenty years ago. It made the oppressively middle-class neighborhood of Privet Drive look cheerful and normal by comparison.
He expected one of two things: that the house would be empty and its contents long since removed, or that wards to keep out strangers would prevent him from entering without a good number of anti-jinxes and charms. Yet when he aimed his wand at the doorknob and said "Alohomora," the knob turned and the door creaked open. Cautiously -- alert for anything from new owners to a Death Eater trap -- he swung his Invisibility Cloak over his head and nudged the door open wide enough to step inside.
Even inside the house, the stench of the river seemed to permeate the walls. Faded, dusty curtains kept out most of the light, but Harry could make out walls of books, hundreds of them, stacked sideways on top of the uneven rows on the shelves. All the furniture looked very old, not antique but merely decrepit, with a thinly-stretched blanket covering what were undoubtedly holes in the upholstery of the armchair.
Yet the smell of wax was fresh, as if someone had been burning candles only a few hours earlier. The house seemed neglected but not unused. Pausing when his feet caused a floorboard to creak, Harry looked around again, then stepped through the small parlor, looking for a door leading elsewhere in the house. He saw none.
Drawing his wand, he called out, "Finite Incantatem!" He didn't really expect any hidden doorways to appear, but at once a case of books swung aside, revealing a corridor and staircase behind it. Now, at least, he was getting somewhere. A quick glance at the titles confirmed that most of them had to do with some aspect of magic -- Potions, Transfiguration, subjects that revealed that a witch or wizard had lived here. Or still did.
The staircase was narrow, but not as dusty as he'd expect if it had been charmed into hiding years ago and never revealed. The smell of the river grew fainter, replaced by something subtler, more human, more ordinary, though his Aunt Petunia would have made Harry scrub every inch of a room that smelled like the landing he emerged onto at the top of the stairs.
There was a short corridor, with three closed doors, one to either side and one at the end of the hall. Harry listened for any noise, but hearing nothing but the muffled creaks of a ramshackle house, turned to the door on the right, testing the handle before pushing open the door.
Just inside the doorway there was a spot of something brown on the carpet, too aged to tell if it had been blood. Harry looked around the bedroom. The bed was made, if a bit untidily, the nightstand piled high with the same sort of books he'd passed on the way up here. Somehow he'd never expected Snape, if he was indeed in the right house, to have such an ordinary bedroom. Well, what had he expected--to find the man laid out on the bed with his arms crossed over his chest like a vampire?
One drawer was open slightly in the chest across from the bed. Harry crossed the room, his cloak slipping over his head as he pulled the drawer open. Whatever else he'd expected, it hadn't been Snape's underwear drawer.
For there was no doubt that it was Snape's. The fragment of Harry's mother's letter that Snape had taken from Grimmauld Place, the bit that said, "Lots of love, Lily," was lying with the signature facing up on top of a neat pile of folded white pants.
Which meant that Snape had been in this house since he had rejoined the Death Eaters. Which meant that the furniture and books and everything else Harry had seen downstairs were Snape's. And this...
Harry looked around the room, feeling vaguely like an intruder but reminding himself that Snape had searched Grimmauld Place and had taken the letter, which by rights should have belonged to Harry. Leaving the drawer open, he tugged at the door of the cabinet beside it. There were black robes and trousers, a long cloak, plus some clothes that looked Muggle, though they were also dark and nondescript.
There was a single white shirt that looked clean save for a dark stain spilling over the front. Lifting it from its hanger, Harry took it down and pressed it to his face.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?"
The voice startled Harry so much he dropped the shirt, dragging his loose cloak down with it, so that shirt and cloak muddled together, blurring where the splashes of red went invisible.
"S-snape?" Harry stammered, quite unwilling, despite all the evidence he'd seen in the last few days, to believe that the figure standing before him was no specter.
Snape edged into the room, his wand drawn. Harry saw his eyes widen slightly at the sight of the blood-stained shirt at his feet. "What are you doing here?" he said sharply.
Harry's mouth was open, but his mouth pulled into a sheepish smile. "I was just about to ask you the same question."
Snape seemed not to know what to make of Harry's smile. "This is my home," he said pointedly. "In which you are trespassing..."
"The home of a dead man," Harry interrupted. Despite how happy he was to see Snape, a happiness that spread through his entire body in a way that would have unnerved him if he had had time to worry about it, he couldn't help being irritated. "You do know that everyone thinks you're dead? I thought you were dead for sure, I watched..."
Snape smirked. "Watched and never once lifted your wand to try to save me."
"I was in shock! Voldemort was right there, demanding my death, and I had no idea..." Harry closed his mouth. Snape was actually smiling.
"What a surprise, Harry Potter without a thought in his head for anyone but himself," Snape said, lowering his wand, flicking it once at Harry's feet. The white shirt disentangled itself from the cloak, drifting up like some live-action laundry detergent commercial as it hung itself back up and back into the cupboard.
"I thought," Harry began, "I mean, everyone thought -- Hermione was there too!" he protested, as if her presence was as good as having a coroner on the scene to pronounce Snape dead.
"By what stretch of reasoning did you not suppose I might have armed myself against any of the several means the Dark Lord had of dispatching those he was...displeased with?" Snape replied, as his wand vanished inside his robes.
"A bezoar," Harry said in wonder.
"And restorative potions and snake venom potions and an entire raft of methods to maintain life in the face of certain death." Snape's eyes went cold. "Now get out of my house."
Obviously, death -- or rather non-death -- hadn't changed Snape much. Not even Voldemort being dead seemed to have made a difference. Harry frowned; there was no way he was simply going to leave, not yet.
"I wanted...when I thought you were dead, I wanted to ask you about my mother," he said.
"I gave you my memories. More than you needed or deserved." Snape's voice was still clipped and unpleasant. "I have nothing else for you, Potter. And since you have invaded my home..."
"You were in Grimmauld Place!" Harry announced triumphantly. "You gave me that memory. That letter --" He pointed at his mother's handwriting, the affectionate note that had been meant for neither of them. "Sirius left it to me. That's mine."
They stared at each other across the tiny room until Snape's eyes narrowed and he said, "Arrogant as ever, I see," with a dismissive jerk of his chin that made Harry feel about twelve. No, make that ten.
"Look, I'm not --" He pressed his lips together, knowing he'd never been the one to get points for persuasive arguments. "Look, this is pointless. I'm trying to say, well, I'm not sure exactly what. Thank you?"
Snape's expression was openly suspicious, not that Harry could blame him. "You're trying to say thank you by breaking into my house and stealing my...what are you looking for, anyway?"
He didn't want to admit he'd come looking for Snape because that would lead to even more mistrust and Harry wasn't sure how to counter the -- even to his own mind, fairly justified -- suspicion. "My mum's letter."
Snape looked angry now, and even paler than when he'd first surprised Harry. "I left you all you deserved of that letter!"
Harry looked toward the drawer, easily visualizing the hurried scrawl of his mother's handwriting. "Not the signature. Not the love."
That seemed to enrage Snape even more. Striding over to the drawer, he seized the letter. "Are you going to collect every scrap that was hers, now?" he demanded, flinging the paper at Harry. "It isn't enough that she died for you?"
"Stop that!" Ignoring the paper that was floating slowly to the floor, Harry crossed the small room and grabbed Snape's arm. "Never mind, you can keep it. You deserve it more than I do. I didn't even know you were still alive!"
Snape wrenched his arm free. "I fulfilled my assigned role," he announced. "I told you what Dumbledore expected of you. I saw no reason to remain and risk death at the hands of both sides."
Harry's fingers were itching to grab Snape's arm again. That brief touch, the warm body through the fabric of Snape's clothing, had forced anew the recognition: He's alive. He's alive. Anything they were arguing about was trivial next to that fact. "I'm sorry," he said, meaning the words more than he ever had when it came to Snape. "I didn't mean to intrude, but I'm really happy to see you. Keep the letter -- you lov -- you knew her."
The bitterness on Snape's face was as sharp as his anger. The letter flew up, straightened itself magically and flew at Harry like a paper dragon, so quickly that he instinctively grabbed it like a Golden Snitch. "This was intended for neither of us," Snape said. "I require no additional sentimentality to remind me of my promise to keep her child safe. In the end it mattered very little anyway. Dumbledore was right -- you did what was required."
"I did what I had to do." Carefully Harry set the letter down on the chest of drawers, smoothing the creases. "Just as you did." He stared at Snape for a moment. "You don't want to remember her any more?"
"I do not need a stolen letter to remember her!"
Harry was already shaking his head, remembering the Pensieve memory he'd seen of Snape reading the letter, of taking just this part and tucking it almost tenderly into his pocket. "Neither do I. Thanks to you, I have your memories of her." He let out a heavy sigh, more tired after sparring with Snape than he'd been even after Voldemort. "You showed me more about her than I've ever known from anyone."
Snape made an impatient noise, as if once he'd decided Harry shouldn't be here, he was unsure why he hadn't left. "Surely your beloved godfather told you all about her?"
The admission made Harry feel embarrassed. He'd loved Sirius but hadn't, as Snape probably thought, been blind to his faults. "He liked to talk about stuff he did, you know, he and my dad. Nothing about my mum."
The set of Snape's jaw confirmed his low opinion of Harry's godfather but Harry wasn't sorry he'd admitted it. "Surely that aunt of yours then, her sister, told you about our...adventures as children?"
"Only to tell me how terrible my mum was for being careless enough to get herself killed in a car crash and leave me with her and my uncle," Harry admitted bitterly.
Snape made a face at the words "car crash," something akin to the outrage Hagrid had expressed when Harry had told him the story Petunia had told him, that his father's reckless driving had got his parents killed. "The Headmaster insisted that you would be protected with her and your uncle," he said in a disapproving voice.
"He was right, I guess. Voldemort couldn't kill me there." Harry scuffed his trainer in the worn carpet, unable as ever to summon gratitude. "That's about the only good thing about it."
It was sort of funny to see Snape glance around automatically at hearing Voldemort's name. Of anyone Harry wouldn't have expected to fear the name, it was Snape, but then Snape must have known of the tracking charm that had allowed the Death Eaters to find anyone who spoke it. "I hope you took better care to dispose of his body than you took with mine," he said irritably.
"He's dead. For good this time." Harry rubbed his forehead. He didn't particularly want to tell Snape about his conversation with Dumbledore in that place between life and death. "All the bits of his soul have gone. Even the one inside me."
"And with it, I suppose all your flaws have disappeared as well." Snape sneered as he looked appraisingly at Harry. "What are your plans now -- to become Minister of Magic, or Headmaster of Hogwarts? Did you attend your victory celebrations before you came here to pillage my things?"
"Haven't been to any victory celebrations." Harry scuffed the carpet again. "I haven't thought that far ahead, and I don't feel like celebrating much."
That seemed to surprise Snape. Sitting down on the bed, he gave Harry another vague look of annoyance. "Are you not receiving the accolades you expected for having cheated death and defeated the Dark Lord?"
Harry suddenly felt awkward standing but the bed was the room's only perch so he stayed where he was. "Accolades don't mean much when so many people...didn't make it." The bodies of Lupin and Tonks, so unnaturally still, filled his range of vision for just a moment.
The awkwardness of their positions seem to irritate Snape more. He gestured for Harry to sit on the corner of the bed furthest away from himself. "I heard that most of your friends survived. Nearly all of the children except--" He was looking at Harry very closely as he sat down stiffly on the corner indicated. "Only one of the Weasleys and the Creevey boy--the oldest..."
"Colin. His name was Colin. He was in my House. And Fred Weasley and Professor Lupin and Tonks..." His voice choked, full of emotion and the tears he always put off for later. He coughed to try to cover the moment.
Snape nodded absently. "I had thought it was the other twin," he murmured. Then he glanced sharply at Harry, seeming to realize he was on the verge of crying. "Potter. How many do you suppose would have died had you allowed the Dark Lord to win?"
"I don't know." Harry lowered his head into his hands, studying a spot on Snape's bedroom floor. "Maybe I should have been faster, not taken so long to surrender."
"If you had given yourself up before you understood what was expected of you, you might simply have died. Who knows what might have happened. It's past the time for 'if's -- if your parents had not trusted Pettigrew, if Dumbledore had not been willing to risk everyone in his quest to defeat Tom Riddle..."
Harry knew that Snape wasn't saying this to comfort him -- Snape still sounded angry -- but it felt better to hear it nevertheless. "You're right," he said, shaking his head to clear it. "It's done. But I still don't feel like celebrating. You won too, and you let everyone think you're dead!"
Suddenly Snape smirked. "Until today, I had won," he announced. His hand flew up, and a bottle shot across the room, followed by two glasses. "Ogden's Special Reserve," said Snape, gesturing for an astonished Harry to take one of the glasses. "Go on -- you're of age, aren't you?" Without waiting for an answer, he filled Harry's glass and his own, tossed back his entire glass in a single gulp, then refilled it.
It seemed so unreal, sitting on Snape's bed drinking with him, that Harry took a tentative sip. Instantly his eyes started to burn and his face felt warm. "Age, right," he coughed, trying to cover it up.
"Drink up. It will make you feel more like celebrating." Snape studied the liquid in his glass. "That's what it does."
Lowering his drink, Harry waited for the taste to fade. "I don't want to celebrate. I just want to get on with things," he admitted. "What I did wasn't worth celebrating."
Swallowing half of his second glass, Snape made a faint scoffing noise. "I won't be goaded into praising you like everyone else. What things do you want to get on with? Will you return to Hogwarts in triumph?"
Harry sighed, then took a second, slower sip. "Not sure yet. Haven't even had time to think about what being free of it all means."
Snape had worked his back against the headboard, still holding his glass as he stared up at the stained ceiling. "I had thought of ridding myself of this house. Seeing the world. Though I suppose things are the same everywhere." He took another swallow of the alcohol, his Adam's apple bobbing.
More slowly Harry took a sip of his own drink, getting used to the flavor spreading over his tongue. "I've never been anywhere," he said, though Snape probably knew that. His life was a distressingly open book.
"Nor have I. Isn't that reason enough to go?" Snape took another drink, slower this time while his head lowered to look at Harry, whose face grew hotter under the scrutiny. "Everyone really believes I'm dead?"
Nodding slowly, Harry looked away, hiding his gaze in the liquid in the glass. "I thought you were so I told everyone what you'd done." He took a drink too fast, trying to disguise his discomfort.
Snape made a disgusted noise. "What, precisely, did you tell them?"
The firewhisky was starting to taste better. "That you'd been protecting me all this time," Harry said, lifting his chin defiantly, trying to resist tacking a 'sir' onto the end.
The thin face seemed to swim slightly in Harry's vision, eyes narrowing but obviously striving to sound as if he didn't care. "Nothing about your mother or the prophecy?"
Harry shook his head, then regretted it at once at the room swayed a bit. "That's private."
Even dizzy, Harry could tell that Snape looked relieved. "Yes," he agreed as he had refused to do during Occlumency lessons, tossing back another entire glass in a single gulp. "May I count on your discretion, then?"
Was Snape actually treating him as an adult? "Of course, sir," Harry replied, the honorific falling more easily from his tongue than it ever had done when Snape was his professor. Indeed, Snape looked rather astonished as well. Harry took a longer sip of the alcohol, getting used to the taste. "Thank you for showing me those things."
As he refilled both their glasses, Snape's scowl was the one he had worn in the classroom when he was concentrating. "It was necessary to convince you that the memories were genuine," he said. "If you had doubted my conversations with Dumbledore, you might not have done what he believed necessary."
Nodding, Harry took another drink. "I know. I saw him myself, after Voldemort killed me." That sounded weird even to his own ears, and Snape stared at him, not comprehending.
"What? You saw who?"
"Dumbledore." Blinking, Harry looked up. "At King's Cross."
That seemed sufficient explanation to him, and he took another sip, noting that he could see the bottom of the glass this time. But Snape was still staring as though Harry had taken leave of his senses. "You saw Dumbledore?" he asked with the sort of suspicion that had once meant Harry should expect detention. "Did you see anyone else who was dead?"
"Just Voldemort's baby-thing." Wrinkling his nose, Harry shuddered, finished off his glass and held it out plaintively for more. Snape's expression suggested that he really did not want to know as he poured them each another glass. "Dumbledore explained things." It was amazing how good the whisky tasted now. "Sort of. You know how he is. Was." Giggling, he hiccupped.
"You know, perhaps, better than I," Snape insisted, glaring into his glass. "There were many things he never explained to me. The Elder Wand, for instance -- you obviously had a greater understanding of what it was and how it worked, or I would have attempted to remove and destroy it myself."
"All I knew was that it would do what I needed it to do. And that I never wanted it after it had." He tilted his face down, waiting to see whether Snape was going to ask him where the wand was now -- everyone who knew of its existence wanted that wand, it seemed, except Harry -- but Snape only watched him as he hid his face in his glass, taking a large gulp.
"I think that perhaps you have had enough."
Harry started to protest as his glass and the bottle flew across the room, but the room was pleasantly unfocused and he smiled muzzily at Snape. "You're right -- that stuff does make me feel like celebrating."
He could see that Snape was smirking, but it felt like there was something on his glasses as he peered through them. "It should. It's very fine whisky, taken from the Malfoys' cellar. I doubt the like exists anywhere else in England."
That shouldn't have been as funny as it was. Harry heard a giggle escaping his mouth. "You nicked it!" he said, delighted at the picture of Snape creeping down to the Malfoy cellar, perhaps passing a desiccated skeleton or two on the way, and tucking bottles of whisky under his robes.
Snape didn't look like he found this funny at all. "Lucius Malfoy owed me," he said indignantly. "I convinced Voldemort to spare his life during the raid on Azkaban."
The giggles evaporated. "We all owe you," he said dolefully, feeling, quite suddenly, the weight of that debt.
He was aware that Snape's attention was on him, and he was fairly certain he wasn't acting quite as normally as he ought to be but he didn't think the alcohol had affected him that much. Snape was peering at him as though he was about to take his temperature. "I had a private motive for everything I did," he said slowly, as if Harry might have trouble understanding it.
A wave of dizziness washed over Harry, and he didn't fight the urge to put his head down on his knees, not when had he pulled his legs all the way up on the bed anyway. "You loved my mum," he said with resignation.
Harry felt the bed shifting but didn't look up, waiting for the dizziness to pass. "It wasn't as simple as that," he heard Snape say.
There was too much light in the room. Harry rested his forehead on his hands, staring into the dark space beneath them and hoping it would make things stop spinning. "Nothing ever is simple with you, if you don't mind my saying so, sir."
As if from a great distance, he heard Snape saying, "That's the second time you've called me 'sir.' Don't delude yourself that I pined away in unrequited love for your mother. I would never have given either of your parents the satisfaction."
Though his stomach was now rebelling strongly against the whirling of the bed, Harry turned his face, still resting on arms, to see Snape's face. "I know that. I --" He swallowed hard against the thickness rising in his throat. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Don't you dare!" Waving his hands like an orchestra conductor, Snape summoned a bowl from across the room and sent it flying to Harry's feet while with the other hand he rummaged in a drawer full of bottles, grabbing and unstoppering one. "Drink this. Now."
Though he doubted he could swallow the acrid taste in his throat, let alone anything else, Harry grabbed at the bottle like a lifeline and gulped it down. For another few moments he was certain that he was going to be sick anyway. Snape's fingers closed around his arm as he swayed. "Don't feel like celebrating any more."
"You should lie down." Snape's hand was not gentle as he pushed Harry back on the bed. Though the motion made him wince slightly, the potion was doing its job: Harry no longer felt as though he were going to be sick all over Snape's bedroom. "I should have known better than to keep refilling your glass."
Nodding, though the motion made him wince, Harry croaked, "Better now." Lying back on the bed, he draped an arm over his face. The light still hurt his eyes. "I'm sorry. Don't think I can Apparate right now. I'm an idiot, I know."
He felt rather than saw Snape shake his head slightly. Every movement felt like being on a rocking boat, though at least his stomach had settled down. "I suppose you haven't eaten anything all day, either," Snape huffed.
"Umm..." Harry couldn't think of the last thing he'd eaten. He lifted his arm. Snape had leaned over to examine him, taking in Harry's bony ribcage and narrow arms. It seemed to occur to them both simultaneously that they were practically lying on a bed -- Snape's bed -- together. "Do you have any food?" he asked, though he was instantly abashed by the question.
"I am not entirely destitute." Snape had leapt back quickly and was already moving across the room. Harry shut his eyes, discovering that he was, in fact, ravenously hungry -- no wonder he'd felt so dizzy. Just as quickly, it seemed, Snape was back, thrusting a plate of bread and not-very-fresh cheese at him.
He'd had worse. And all the time he'd been camping with Ron and Hermione there'd been days when he didn't even have this much. He broke off some of the bread and swallowed it. "I'm sorry," he said, "I'm an awful lot of trouble, aren't I?"
Snape didn't appear to have heard him or, more likely, to judge from the eye rolling that Harry could just make out, Snape was ignoring him. He was trying to decide whether to offer Snape anything, but couldn't decide if it was ruder to offer his host his own food or not, so he just mashed some bread around the least objectionable lump of cheese and crammed it into his mouth. "Thank you," he said when he was -- mostly -- finished chewing.
That, though, apparently was the wrong thing to say. "You may stop saying that," Snape said. He'd resumed sitting up against the headboard, arms crossed over his chest.
"Why?" Harry asked, making considerable inroads on the cheese now. "You could have just tossed me out on my arse.."
Snape looked like he still might, but what he said instead was, "If I had done that, you might have told whoever is currently in charge at the Ministry that I'm alive. I'm sure they can spare a Dementor or two."
Harry's mouth dropped open before he realized there was still cheese in it. "I'm not --" He chewed several times, swallowing dryly and said, "I'm not going to turn you in!"
There was an ironic twist to Snape's mouth as he smirked. Reaching over, he broke a piece of bread off for himself. "Thank you."
Certain that he was being made fun of, Harry narrowed his eyes. "You're a war hero now, whether you like it or not." Then he frowned. He had been the only witness to Snape's heroism, and Snape was much too proud to allow the details ever to become public. "You don't expect me to go back on that, do you? It's true."
Snape had risen momentarily and sat back down holding two glasses of pumpkin juice. "Potter, you haven't developed some absurd idea of my innate nobility or goodness, have you?" Harry felt his cheeks warming as Snape handed him a glass. He took a sip of juice to cool off before he replied, and Snape continued, "I gave you my memories. More of them than necessary. I was no saint."
"Not everyone who's good is perfect. Look at the headmaster." Harry shrugged, then cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Former headmaster, I mean. Dumbledore. He was good, but he really wasn't perfect."
Snape made a far less delicate coughing noise. "No, he really wasn't perfect." His fingers bumped Harry's as he lifted another piece of bread from the plate. "You haven't asked any of the obvious questions."
Again Harry had a mouthful of cheese at a critical moment. He swallowed hastily. "Will you answer them if I ask?"
"I suppose. Though I suppose that the answers no longer matter." Nodding, Harry passed him a hunk of cheese. His head was crowded with questions, but he didn't know where to start, and suddenly an enormous yawn overtook him.
Snape was studying the cheese, making a face at it as if he thought it might be cursed before taking a very small bite. Harry wondered whether Snape even remembered that it was his own cheese. He smiled, sliding down against the pillows, feeling too physically and emotionally worn out to move.
Snape chewed and swallowed, then glanced back at Harry with an expectant expression that turned puzzled as his eyes swept down Harry's relaxed body. Harry supposed that it was impolite to lie there as if he and not Snape owned the bed, but he could only summon a small, apologetic smile before another yawn forced him to cover his mouth. "Finished with this?" Snape asked, sending the plate floating off.
Nodding, Harry rubbed his face. "I should let you, well, do whatever important things you were doing before I turned up."
Snape glanced at him pensively. "I have nothing of consequence to do any longer."
"That's funny. Neither do I."
It shouldn't feel this good here, when his own position inside Snape's house was so precarious. But it did feel good, if a bit weird, to be comfortably full, still a bit woozy from the firewhisky, and stretched out beside a man he used to hate. He was glad Snape hadn't pressed him about asking all the burning questions he had, because he was very certain that he didn't want to know if Snape had ever kissed his mum, or ever done more than kiss her.
Snape was still looking at him as if he'd just climbed out of a spacecraft, but worked up a sneer while Harry watched. "I feel certain that a long career of speaking engagements lies before you. If you wish to play professional Quidditch, you have only to announce your intentions. And you must intend to produce another generation of Gryffindors -- Dumbledore's disinterest in bloodlines cannot have fooled you."
Harry felt his cheeks grow warm. It was all very well and good to tell Ron he'd broken up with his sister for her own protection and to think over the many times he'd tried to tell his best friend in other ways -- that he'd always thought of Hermione as his sister, that kissing Cho had been merely 'wet' and not the first kiss he'd fantasized about with someone whose cheeks were rough with stubble. "Not all that interested in breeding," he said, because somehow it was easier to tell someone whose contempt was certain than his best friend.
Snape's eyebrows had shot up into his hairline and the smirk was a natural one now. "Well. Don't tell the Weasleys. I felt so certain you had singled out that girl because she had red hair."
Harry could not control his blush now, and his words were tentative, certain that at any moment Snape would scoffingly declare aloud the suspicion that Harry was trying to muffle under other subjects. "I think Ginny does remind me of my mum...or what I think she might have looked like at my age," he said, seeing Snape press his lips tightly together. Likely Snape didn't think Ginny was as pretty as Lily had been, or maybe not as smart, and really, that was all right with Harry. "But I'm not...I don't..." In exasperation, he huffed at himself.
Snape was not sneering, but he did appear uneasy about what Harry was trying to say. "You're not...like your father?" he asked, dislike for James Potter strong in his tone, knowing that Harry had seen those memories of his father's cruelty. That wasn't the way in which Harry wasn't like his father that concerned Harry at the moment, however. And then Snape did articulate it. "I suppose you won't be chasing every skirt at Hogwarts before settling down, then."
Harry shook his head again. "Don't want anyone in a skirt," he replied. Then Snape's eyes widened, and Harry realized he must have been a little drunk, still. He still had trouble admitting that to himself -- surely he hadn't just gone and said it to Snape!
"Well, well." Snape's brows rose and lowered. "Not just a phase or a diversion, those things you didn't want me seeing during Occlumency lessons?"
Fuck. Harry had been so sure he'd kept all thoughts of sex submerged, except that one time Snape had managed to find out he hadn't much liked kissing Cho. He shook his head very tightly. "No, sir."
Snape's lips twitched, but he did not laugh. "Enough with the 'sir.' I wasn't planning to write an expose for the Daily Prophet."
The rush of relief left Harry feeling almost giddy. It wasn't really that he had expected Snape to tell -- Snape didn't want to tell anyone that he was alive, let alone that the Boy Who Lived was queer -- but he'd thought Snape would surely laugh at him, if not hex him right off the bed. "What should I call you?" he asked with a small smile.
Snape opened his mouth and shut it again. A rare grin distorted his features and he barked a laugh. "I expect 'Your Highness' is out of the question."
Harry couldn't help it; he dissolved into giggles. "No, Your Highness!"
Snape's mouth was still twitching. "I'm not calling you 'The Chosen One,' either, so I hope you left your arrogance at the door." He rubbed a hand over his thin lips. "I must be nearly as drunk as you."
Thinking about Snape being as woozy as Harry was -- or a good deal woozier to judge from the number of drinks he'd knocked back compared to Harry -- was odd. Harry himself felt as though everything had taken on a soft blur and wondered if Snape saw him now through the forgiving lens of alcohol. "I always hated that name -- worse than the Boy Who Lived. At least I have a chance of growing out of that one." He wrinkled his nose. "'The Chosen One' sounds like I'm being offered up on toast."
A noise suspiciously like a snicker came out of Snape's mouth. "With a good bottle of Beaujolais," he said, sliding down a bit on the headboard, his long legs stretching out beside Harry's.
That Snape didn't chide him or make fun of him further for having not one but two such ridiculous nicknames made Harry feel content. "You were right. That whisky did make me feel like celebrating, just not in the way I thought," he said, propping his head up on one hand now that he no longer felt like sicking up in Snape's bed.
"Oh? Shall I send out for a cake?" Snape said, voice dry as an ancient cauldron.
The giggles set upon Harry again. "Yes, Your Highness!"
Swinging his arm as if it held his wand, Snape called out, "Accio cake!" Nothing happened, and he sighed, "There hasn't been a bakery in this town since I was a small boy. Which is just as well, since you'd probably vomit cake on my bed."
Harry held up his hand as if swearing an oath. "I'm better! Really." He looked down at his tummy as if for confirmation. "If I'd kept that Elder Wand, I could conjure a cake. With ice cream."
"That wand is more trouble than it's worth."
"Couldn't wait to get rid of it. I don't suppose you have any ice cream, do you?"
Snape had turned on his side to peer at him, looking distinctly like he might be falling asleep. He shook his head, gesturing lazily. "Does it look to you as though I have been living in the lap of luxury?"
"It doesn't look that bad," Harry told him honestly, glancing around. "I've been living in a tent all year." Sighing at the lack of ice cream, he added, "We should celebrate somehow though. Voldemort being dead and both of us being alive..." Now that he was mostly sober, even though Snape was looking rather drunk, the foremost issue that had been on his mind burst out. "Say! How come you're alive? I thought you were a goner there."
Snape burst into quiet laughter. It was a sound Harry had never heard before, and it made him feel funny, in his chest but also lower, and he didn't want to think about that right now. "Potter, if it has taken you this long to come up with that question..."
"I can't help it -- you got me drunk!" Harry smiled sheepishly when Snape frowned at him. "Well, you kept pouring. I kept drinking. I got drunk. Tipsy, anyway." He took stock for a moment, now that he was no longer feeling sick. "I sort of...liked it.
"That is why people drink it." Snape's voice was slightly slurred. "I didn't realize you couldn't hold your liquor."
"No, I meant..." Harry cleared his throat. "I sort of liked you being, well, nice to me. You haven't thrown me out. Haven't hexed me, even."
"If you had been sick on my bed, I would have hexed you." Snape muffled a yawn. "Lucky for you that I brew the best anti-hangover potion in Britain. Are you well now?"
The yawn made Harry feel contrite. He knew he should go and leave Snape in peace. Swallowing, he nodded. "Maybe not to Apparate, but I can walk."
"You can't walk to Hogsmeade from here."
"I can find a hotel, or, um...summon a broom."
Snape had slid down fully onto the pillows. His eyes were closed. "If you can't Apparate, you certainly can't fly. And there are no hotels."
Harry took that as his cue to stretch out on the bed, his legs mere inches from Snape's own. "Or I could stay right here," he said knowing he was inviting a hex but hoping it wouldn't come. He darted a glance up. Snape had his eyes closed, the sooty lashes very dark against his pale cheeks.
"I still won't have any ice cream when you wake up," Snape warned without opening his eyes.
Under the pretext of getting more comfortable, Harry shifted over a little, his jeans nearly brushing Snape's black trousers. "This is better," he said, thinking of the cramped bed in the tent. He didn't mind so much that they were squeezed in together like this, not when Snape was so warm that Harry could feel him even though they weren't touching anywhere.
Snape did a bit of shifting on his own, pulling one of the thin pillows closer to his chest. "If you rob my house while I sleep, I will find you, dead or not."
Since Snape's eyes were still closed, Harry smiled. It sounded more like Snape was trying to be irritating than as if he bore Harry any real malice. "If I was going to take anything, I would have just taken my mother's letter and left ages ago." Trying deliberately not to hold his breath, Harry wiggled a bit closer, thinking, if he was asked, that he could say it might get cold later.
Snape didn't ask. "You could take the whisky," he said, voice low and drowsy.
Harry snorted softly. "Only if I could nick the potion too." His whole body felt heavy and warm.
A sleepy smirk tugged up the corners of Snape's mouth. "All gone. I'll have to teach you to brew it." Another shift and their hips were touching. "Later."
Later sounded good to Harry. It meant he might not get kicked out just yet. "Maybe I could just help you make it," he murmured. He'd probably get kicked out in the morning, would probably deserve it. But right now he couldn't be arsed to worry about it.