Harry shook himself and pretended that everything was all right. Just pretending made him feel better and he went to the drawing room for the roughhewn marble chess set. He moved the small desk over beside the lounger and transfigured it to be a little larger before moving the set onto it and arranging the pieces.
As they played, Harry leaned heavily on his elbow and finally just rested his head on his arm while he waited for his opponent's move. Kali had crawled down into his lap and curled up into a warm lump.
"Why don't you go have a nap, Harry?" Snape suggested.
Harry shook his head; he was about to put Snape in check, and when his move arrived, did so. His bishop made a motion as though to test the weight of his mace in anticipation.
"Have you been playing?" Snape asked as he surveyed the board.
"No." He was however, easily seeing the board as a whole, which was not usually the case.
"You have gotten better at this game," Snape observed as he moved his king one space to the left. Harry moved his other knight closer in, to box in the black king on the next move and waited again for Snape to take a turn. He must have closed his eyes and drifted off because when he opened them a tea set was being placed beside his elbow. The black king was on its side.
"I concede," Snape informed him as he poured out a cup for Harry.
Harry lifted his head and rubbed his neck. "That's the first time I've won playing you," he observed.
Snape settled himself back on the edge of the lounger and blew on his hot cup. "I blame your unorthodox distraction techniques."
"What distraction?" Harry asked, confused.
"Your sleeping beside the board, for one thing. It tends to lower one's expectation for one's opponent to mount a decent strategy."
"Everyone underestimates me," Harry complained while resetting the board.
Snape wrapped his hands around his cup and simply held it. "I think there will come a time when that will no longer be true. I hope you can rise to it when it does happen."
They played two more games which resulted in draws before Harry settled back into his reading, feeling relaxed, although later, the Floo flaring in the other room startled him, until Snape, getting slowly to his feet, said, "That must be Madam Pomfrey."
Harry longed to give him a hand, but held back and instead went to greet the visitor. Lugging a battered, black bag, the Hogwarts Healer took Snape upstairs with her usual efficient manner, with Harry observing their slow progress from the floor of the hall.
Inside his room, Snape made his way to the bed and with his now usual care, lowered himself to sit on the edge. Madam Pomfrey plunked her bag beside him and tapped it open with a finger. Its metal-hinged top yawned wide like a mouth and she plucked her wand out of it. "Looks like you are in a bit more pain than you ought," she observed.
Snape adjusted his dressing gown and nodded his head to the side noncommittally. Using her wand, she tapped him in the center of his chest and huffed quietly. She then extracted a tall, cork-stoppered bottle from her bag, much too large to fit had the bag been the same size on the outside as the in. She used it to fill the bedside glass nearly to the brim and handed it to Snape, who sniffed at it doubtfully.
"Another dose of tissue knitter is in order, Professor." At Snape's frown she retorted, "Better than suffering forever."
He sniffed at the clear liquid again. "Is this a new batch?" he asked.
"Yes," Pomfrey admitted and when Snape continued to examine the liquid doubtfully, she said, "Goodness, Professor, the Potions mistress would not poison another member of the staff."
Snape raised his left brow at her with a dubious expression.
Pomfrey went on, conceding, "And in any event, I tested it this morning on myself . . . no harm done." She lifted her hands from her full-skirted sides, as though to show off her normal self.
Snape huffed and drank a gulp before holding the glass to the lamplight. "Tastes a little off."
"Drink it all. Come now," Pomfrey cajoled as though to a child.
Snape swayed slightly and obeyed with a frown. She took the glass back and suggested that he lie down. "The knitting isn't the most pleasant, sleeping through it would be better anyway."
Snape's head was nodding and in a blink he fell over onto the pillow. Pomfrey scooped his slippered feet onto the bed and covered them with his dressing gown. "There we are," she said happily.
She propped her hands on her hips. "Serves you right. After the last dose of knitting potion you ran down to dinner. No wonder you needed another."
She adjusted his pillow and had to lean close to hear him say, "Had to . . . reassure Harry."
She sighed. "Well . . . never mind. This should be the last now." She closed up her bag and held it in her hand while resting two fingers on the pulse point of his wrist hanging over the edge of the bed. Humming lightly to herself, she finally turned down the lamp and departed.
Harry met Pomfrey at the bottom of the stairs. "How is he?" he immediately asked.
"He'll be fine," she stated pleasantly. "Although he'll be asleep for a few hours. See that he isn't disturbed." She headed for the hearth in a businesslike manner, but before she tossed in any powder she said, "When he wakes up, see that he gets a good meal . . . he should be quite hungry."
Harry returned to his reading without much ability to concentrate, but it wasn't long before Ron and Hermione arrived. Harry was very grateful to see them as he was in dire need of an understanding ear and something different to occupy his thoughts. They settled into the drawing room and played wizard chess while Hermione perused a few books she found in the library.
"I shoulda brought my set," Ron complained at one point.
"What? Mine aren't as crazed as yours?" Harry asked.
"I like a chess set that always does as I say," Ron went on. He ordered his rook to slide over beside his queen.
Harry didn't usually try very hard at this game, mostly because Ron almost always won anyway, but today, bolstered by his other win, he was in the mood for a challenge. That move looked as though Ron were trying to distract him from some other ploy. Harry studied the board thoughtfully, refusing to be baited. Thinking of making his own distraction, Harry asked, "Would you like a butterbeer?"
"Oy, yes, thanks."
Harry started to stand, but Hermione volunteered to fetch them from the kitchen.
When she got there, Winky was holding three, fully warmed butterbeers and glasses on a tray for her. "Thank you, Winky," Hermione said as she accepted the tray. She lowered it to her waist and stood with it, hesitating. "Are you happy here?" she asked a little quietly.
Winky straightened her sparkling white tea towel. "Oh yes, mistress. Winky very happy. Masters is very nice wizards."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, they are, aren't they. Well, thank you for the refreshments." Winky bowed her out, smiling broadly as well.
"Are you staying for dinner?" Harry asked later when his stomach began to complain.
"We'd like to," Ron stated forcefully.
"Ron, you don't invite yourself for dinner," Hermione complained.
"I wasn't," Ron retorted.
Harry held up his hand. "It's all right. I'd like you to stay. I don't think Severus is going to be awake for a while." He should have just invited them outright, he regretted to himself as each of his friends eyed the other in annoyance.
The meal was quiet, given that his friends were continuing to be a little peeved with each other, although Hermione kept trying to keep a conversation going regarding Harry's attempts at teaching. Harry, who had decided perhaps he hadn't done all that brilliant of a job, wasn't really in the mood to dissect his performance. When the dessert dishes cleared themselves away, the two of them made their goodbyes to Harry, including a long hug from Hermione that made Ron tap her on the shoulder.
"I'm glad everything's all right, Harry," Hermione said with feeling as she released him.
When they had gone, it felt much too still in the house. Glancing in concern at the late evening hour, Harry made his way quietly upstairs to check on his guardian, wishing that Pomfrey had told him exactly how long Snape should sleep.
Inside Snape's room, the low lamp and the flickering coals in the hearth were just enough to see by. Quietly, Harry stepped in, causing only Franklin to turn his head. Snape lay on his side in his dressing gown, one foot slippered--the other had fallen off--his bare foot overhanging the edge of the bed. The air felt cool so Harry moved to add fresh wood to the grate. He crouched and prodded the new wood against the radiating embers until it caught and only then let them roll forward on the wrought iron to continue burning. He then straightened, brushed off his hands, and approached the bed, where he stood and watched the reassuring lift of Snape's shoulder as he breathed. Two strands of black hair lay across his face. Harry gingerly lifted and brushed them back and considered Snape's angular profile, stern even in sleep. He stood that way, with bent back, forcing this scene to overlay the other memory, to dull its razor-like edge. Afraid suddenly of being caught so close should Snape awaken, Harry backed off and stepped lightly away, latching the door carefully.
In the dimness Snape rolled onto his back and rubbed his brow, and only after doing so did he remember how much pain to expect with that much movement. There was none; apparently the last dose of potion had worked itself to completion. Feeling Harry's distress like a weight on his chest, Snape stood with new ease and went over to the low shelf behind Franklin's cage. On a square of scrap parchment he scrawled out a quick note to Tonks, folded it, and gave it to the owl before letting him out the small window to deliver it. He then pulled an old straight-backed chair before the cracking fire and sat meditatively, long enough to make Harry expect he had woken separately from his visit. A quarter-hour later, and overheated from the high fire, Snape took up his cane, straightened his dressing gown, and quitted his room.
Harry looked up from his reading in the library when Snape appeared in the doorway. "How are you feeling?" Harry immediately asked, glancing down at the cane Snape still used, although he wasn't leaning on it nearly as hard as before.
"Much better. I think I will ask Winky for a plate of cold joint and bread. I assume you have eaten?"
"Yes." Harry stood and went over to him. "My friends were here for dinner, but they left half an hour ago."
Turning, Snape commented, "Good, at least you had company."
Of a sort, Harry thought to himself. He went to the dining room to make certain it was straightened before Snape arrived with a heaping plate of cold meat slices and half a loaf of bread. "Hungry?" Harry asked in amazement.
Taking a seat, Snape returned, "The elf apparently believes I am. Why don't you have some as well?"
Harry tore off a chunk of bread and proceeded to press it flat in his fidgety fingers. He looked Snape up and down. "Are you going to be ready to teach on Monday?" When Snape hesitated replying, Harry went on, "You should take another day off. McGonagall said that would be fine."
"Hm," Snape muttered.
"Severus, please don't push yourself," Harry said, hearing a plea in his own voice that undid some of his careful emotional bolstering.
Calmly, reassuringly, Snape said, "I won't Harry. Don't worry. I will take Monday off then."
Harry relaxed and nibbled on the now-dense bread. Hopefully training would not run late on Monday, he thought.
Snape eventually pushed his plate over to Harry who waved it off. He had only been eating out of nerves and was now overfull. After a glance at the clock, Snape grumbled, "Back to resting, I suppose." Using his cane, he gained his feet. Harry put out a hand to steady him. "I'm all right, Harry, really," he said, shrugging him off.
"You should owl McGonagall," Harry insisted. "So she can warn your replacement." A wave of distress hit Harry at that, unsettling him as though he were starting all over again from the worst moments. He ducked his head and waited for an admonishment for his lapse, or something lightly snide even, as he grappled with himself with what he felt was a heroic effort.
Instead of a well-meaning, yet biting, comment, Snape stepped closer with his cane and put his free arm around Harry's back. Harry grimaced with the effort at squashing the renewed surge of memory and emotion. It was as though a gaping wound had opened, revealing a hollow at his core that the cold blew straight into. He let his forehead touch his guardian's sharp shoulder bone. Solid. Warm. Harry calmed with relief.
Snape's voice distracted him. "At least I did not lie."
"About what?" Harry asked without moving.
Snape chuckled and released him. "I don't think I want to tell you."
Harry stood straight and stretched his shoulders back. "Tell me what?" he echoed.
With a sigh Snape squeezed Harry's shoulder. "Goodness, I must be redeemed . . . I'm feeling guilty for what I did."
Harry blinked several times, completely not following this. He waited to see if Snape would explain. Snape paced a little with his cane as though he didn't really need its support. Facing the table, head bowed, Snape admitted, "I got even with your father."
Harry pieced that together with the other things Snape had said. "In the veil?" At Snape's nod Harry uttered, "Oh," with mixed feeling and continued confusion.
Reluctantly, still staring at the table edge, Snape went on, "I regret it now. Ironically, I only now understand what I did."
A long silence passed as the hearth burned down and shifted, throwing sparks. "What happened?" Harry asked.
With a faraway expression Snape finally replied, "Albus restrained me from passing through the veil, but time passed before I could return, or be sent, more precisely." A long pause ensued before he continued, "Your parents appeared." Snape looked up at Harry as he started and gave his charge the smallest of smiles. "Your father was not pleased that Albus was helping me return."
Harry bit his lip, glad that Snape was looking at him now as he spoke.
"Albus explained to your father that he should wish me to return, because I was caring for you."
Harry's eyes widened. "Dumbledore told my father that?" he demanded, stunned silly. He swallowed hard, heart thudding.
Snape nodded and held up his hand to examine the palm of it. "I was fading. It was very strange. I actually forgot what it felt like to be alive, and Albus kept insisting I remember."
"Wh . . . what if you hadn't made it?" Harry asked.
"Just like anyone who refuses to enter the veil. I'd have become a ghost."
"Severus!" Harry exploded, suddenly alarmed. "Don't risk that for me. I wouldn't want that to happen--not for anything."
"Goodness," Snape returned, sounding amused.
Harry found a new measure of control at that insistence; one that he sorely needed.
"Albus most likely would have prevented it, but it was my choice to risk it," Snape finished sternly.
"Don't do it again," Harry insisted, stern as well.
Snape's lip curled. "I don't expect there to be a next time."
Harry thought a moment. "What did my dad say to that?" he carefully asked.
Snape appeared uncomfortable, but finally replied, "Well, he was not pleased. He demanded to know what I was doing with you . . . 'doing with his son'. This was as the world began drawing me back, although it was a world composed entirely of pain--the only time I have ever welcomed it." He hesitated, but finally added, "I told him that you were my son, now."
Stunned by trying to imagine events that he had never considered possible, Harry leaned one hand on the tabletop and rubbed his hair back and forth repeatedly with the other.
Snape added, "I do now regret saying that. I certainly wouldn't want anyone saying it to me. And he has no recourse. Absolutely none."
"You hope he doesn't," Harry commented.
Snape huffed, amused still, "True."
Harry breathed deeply, the wind outside had pushed a curl of smoke out of the hearth and its sweet scent reminded him of Hogwarts and here, of home. "I wouldn't have imagined my parents finding out," he said, uneasily laughing his distress. "What did my mum say?"
Snape shook his head. "Nothing. She remained in the background, in the fog." He brushed Harry's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Harry," he said, sounding more like he meant it than Harry thought possible.
Harry took a half step back at his guardian's fervent expression. The expression dulled an instant later. "Huh," Harry uttered, still trying to take it in. "But Dumbledore told him before you did," he pointed out.
"True. But he wasn't quite so . . . cruel about it." Snape turned with a shuffling of his feet to face the dying fire, gaze far beyond it. "If anyone tried to take you from me . . . " he faded out darkly.
Harry felt undone in a whole new way at the same time as he felt more secure. He didn't have a response.
About the time Harry was going to insist that Snape return to bed, even though he was reclined in the library, the doorknocker sounded. Harry imagined Candide had returned so when he opened the door he was unprepared to find Anita there instead, insufficiently dressed for the wind in a thin wrap, but apparently not feeling the weather.
"Uh, come in," Harry invited when he caught up with the situation.
"How is Severus?" she asked. "I only just received the news about what happened."
"He's fine," Harry assured her. He led her into the main hall and she followed with apparent reluctance, posture uncertain.
Snape looked up and started in surprise. While they stared at each other, Harry backed up a step, uncertain if he should stay. Anita said to her son, "You look to be doing all right."
Snape sat up easily, almost normally. "I have had rather skilled care," he explained. He then stood and approached the doorway and her. "I am surprised to see you here."
She fidgeted. "I don't like being away from the coven, but the copy of the Prophet I saw described your injuries as nearly fatal. I guess if I had known how well you were doing . . . " She trailed off uncomfortably.
Harry expected Snape to react to that, but all he said, in a rather calm voice, was, "I am quite well. Do not concern yourself. I have Harry here to watch over me, if all else fails."
Both Harry and Anita took that in over a few silent seconds. Still awkward, Anita said with a small laugh. "That's good to know. But which of you adopted the other?" she added, trying for a joke.
Snape's lip twitched and he crossed his arms. "It is growing unclear," he stated in that new amiable tone of his that still struck Harry as vaguely worrisome or potion induced. "Trust that we are both all right. Do you require more assurance?" He sounded so confident and calm, that Harry had to bite his lip against the hopefulness that perhaps this woman no longer held any power over his guardian. While she worked out a response to that, Snape continued to levelly meet her gaze without even a flicker.
"Ah, no, I don't require more assurance than that. I realized that, unlike previously, I found myself believing that you perhaps no longer deserved such an attack, even from a former fellow Death Eater." Behind her, Harry's jaw hardened. She went on more brightly, "But I see that you are recovering nicely . . . " She paused, seeming to try to comprehend the altered man before her. She shook her cloak as though considering leaving.
"Recovering very well, I assure you," Snape replied. "But I believe you are uncomfortable here; perhaps you should return." It wasn't a dismissal, simply a statement of fact.
"It has been a very long time since I've been out. But . . . I thought since I had apparently almost lost my only offspring . . . that I should see how he was faring. But you are clearly all right." She gazed closely at him again before stepping back, clearly to depart. "If you can come for Christmas, you would be most welcome."
Harry frowned lightly, remembering their last visit. Snape said, "Owl with the details and we shall see."
She departed with a last long curious look back at Snape. Harry saw her out, wondering at the change in his guardian and whether Pomfrey's potions were still working at him.
* * *
In the morning, Harry awoke after an uneasy and frequently broken sleep. He had had a vivid dream of speaking with Sirius through the mirror his godfather had given him. It was very strange, Sirius wanted to know if Severus had arrived all right. Harry wished he really could use the mirror to speak to him, to thank him, but if it ever could have been used for that, the silvering was beyond hope now from the weathering it had received.
Harry was finally drawn from his bed when an owl appeared at the window, one from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Harry rubbed his eyes, took the letter from it, and discovered it was from Tonks.
Harry, Headmistress McGonagall assures me that Severus is recovering but I think you should take a bit more of a holiday, at least until Severus is back at Hogwarts. Harry blinked at that, feeling suspicious even as he felt grateful. If Reggie begrudges you the extra time, I'll let him have it. Harry grinned at that but then his face fell and he bit his lower lip. McGonagall, when Harry had insisted on hearing details, had told him that Rodgers himself had taken Avery away. Harry had no recollection of his trainer that night. There was nothing in his memory but a queer, confused greyness between finding Snape in his office and his guardian's subsequent rousing him in the dispensary, as though a time-turner had been used in between or it had all been a distorted, potion-induced hallucination.
Harry folded the letter and ran his nails along the edge to crease it, then folded it a second time, again creasing it hard. Darkly, he wondered what Rodgers thought of him now. Certainly he had to believe Harry too weak to be an Auror. Harry imagined his trainer would return to treating him twice as hard as his fellows. Well, he would just match whatever Rodgers threw his way, he thought with resolution, to the point where he hoped the man did just that.
Snape was reading the last few days' newspapers at the table when Harry came down. Businesslike, Harry poured himself coffee and sipped it, ignoring its scalding heat. The world felt more stable this morning, less like a wishful delusion. Oddly, thinking of his parents made him feel calm, as though the truth had released some binding inside him that he had been unaware of. He felt light, almost euphoric.
"Did you sleep all right?" Snape asked.
Harry shrugged, not wanting his guardian to worry. "Well, enough."
Snape considered him closely as though assessing the truth of that. An owl came to the window with a letter. Snape waved Harry to remain seated and fetched it himself.
"Where's your cane?" Harry asked.
Not looking up from opening the envelope, Snape said, "I don't seem to need it this morning."
"Well enough to not require a piece of bent wood to get about, yes."
Snape's snide tone made Harry grin. "I could go to training tomorrow, then."
"I was thinking of something else, perhaps."
"What?" Harry asked, amused by Snape promoting skiving.
"Some Christmas shopping."
"Somewhere Muggle?" Harry asked hopefully.
Snape's lips twitched as he lowered the letter to peer at Harry over it. "If you insist."
Harry spent a quiet morning in the library studying, answering owls from his friends and idly considering what he might get them tomorrow while he was out. After lunch, since he had an extra day to address his reading list, he settled onto the lounger with the purple book, and tried to read some of it. The weight of the dry text--The atmos of the parallel planes presents a disquieting conclusion to the visitor that reality is indeed a thin, fragile construct.-- pulled Harry's poorly-slept eyes closed.
Snape, taking a break from a much-needed refiling of his papers, stepped into the doorway of the library. The bright noon sun played at the window Harry had expertly removed and replaced with a spell when Avery had come snooping. Harry himself lay asleep, half curled, his arm trapping his book from falling, even though it hung half off the black leather surface. Snape drew it free and flattened its crumpled pages before setting it on the floor because the side table already contained a teetering pile of Harry's reading.
Harry did not stir through any of this. Snape straightened slowly and considered his sleeping face, his especially mussed hair, the fine white line that was all that remained of his lightening scar. The Hero of Wizardry fast asleep, Snape considered, and then additionally, his personal hero as well. Tempered by his knowing how dearly Harry needed him, he failed to bristle at that.
The library was the only room in the house with no hearth, making it far cooler than the drawing room. Snape shrugged out of his sleeveless outer robe and draped it slowly over the sleeping Harry, but even then he could not walk away and return to his parchments. With a broad sigh he sat on the edge of the lounger, leaned slowly back, and draped an arm behind Harry, who continued to sleep as one shorted on proper rest for too many stressful days.
Snape allowed his head to fall back and stared up at the ceiling, absorbing the moment, and resisted squeezing the shoulder beneath his hand, lest he wake his charge. His chest tightened as he felt the burden of Harry's strained emotions, even though they had been noticeably improving and at the moment, were nonexistent. Raising his head, he studied the top of Harry's mussed head and felt an utterly alien pity for his former nemesis James Potter--pity that James was not here in his place. This guardianship Snape had accepted, too lightly it seemed in retrospect, had grown into covetous honor and it felt almost cruel to be here in James Potter's stead.
One day Harry would rival even Dumbledore for power, but at this moment he needed the shelter of this house and Snape's knowledge and understanding. In response to those simple things Harry returned a fierce loyalty that made everything else extremely easy. One day, too soon, Harry would no longer need these things, but for now Snape felt a burning pride that it was himself in this place, carrying this burden.
Harry shifted as he slept and Snape took that opportunity to pull him closer so that his forehead rested against him. Harry appeared to fall even deeper into calm sleep, making Snape wonder if he should not have been trying to give a bit more affection to him all this time. Harry hadn't given any indication one way or the other, but perhaps he wouldn't know to.
Concerned that perhaps he had been badly remiss in this, yet still bristling at the awkwardness, Snape rubbed Harry's back once, causing his eyes to snap open. Harry seemed rather startled to be held so and Snape read in his green eyes his vague dismay and the certainty that he was too old for this. Snape laughed lightly at the irony that he was just a little bit too late.
"You're doing it again," Harry complained, but rested his head on Snape's shoulder with an expression that hinted at recent pain.
One part of Snape marveled at how ordinary this felt. Soberly, he stated, "Everything is all right."
"I know," Harry said, sounding short on patience with hearing that yet again.
After a silence and thinking of his own renewal, Snape murmured, "'The one with the power to defeat the Dark Lord.' I did underestimate you. You go on defeating him."
"I really didn't do anything," Harry argued.
"Except be yourself . . . your ordinary heroic self."
Harry lifted his head. "Don't you start doing that," he said sharply.
"Only for a few moments," Snape promised.
"Well, all right," Harry conceded reluctantly, but appeared annoyed.
Amused, Snape said, "I do love you, Harry." Only after, realizing that viperous word, that incantation which always threatened to turn and maul the incanter, had slipped out so easily.
Snape froze a few breaths before sitting straight, but Harry appeared to have returned to sleeping. Uncertain, Snape asked, "You have no reaction to that?" When all he got in reply was a shrug, Snape pointed out, "I've never said that to you before."
Closing his eyes as though intent on returning to his nap, Harry said, "I assumed you did. Why else you've adopted me."
Snape sat in stunned silence, working out if that might actually be true, but in the end decided that it did not matter and returned to his filing, leaving Harry to his well-deserved rest.
Harry woke much later to the hard leather surface against his face and lifted his head. He had not intended to sleep quite so very much, just to rest his eyes briefly. Rubbing his hair, he sat up and discovered the faded robe draped over him and smiled gratefully. Chilled, he slipped it on as he rose to his feet. He found Snape in the drawing room, reading from a stack of parchments.
"Sleep well?" Snape asked.
A bit embarrassed, Harry replied, "Yes." With a sigh and a rub at his gritty eyes, he sat in one of the chairs, first turning it to face the desk as though he were still a student. Snape shifted the stack of parchments and put something smaller aside, something that resembled Dumbledore's last message. Harry asked, "So where are we going tomorrow?"
"I was thinking that Edinburgh is much closer and it would be easier to ferry packages back by Apparation. Unless your range reaches London now."
Harry shook his head. "Not quite. Although I actually haven't tried," he added thoughtfully.
"We will go to Edinburgh then," Snape said decisively.
After a pause Harry said, "I'm glad you're nearly better," with far too much emotion.
With a wry smile Snape said, "I have you to thank for that. You and your godfather."
Harry smiled at that. "It helps to know that old animosity is gone."
"It is quite gone and I'll agree, it helps." Snape steepled his fingers and looked to want to add something, hesitated a long moment, but in the end remained silent with a small frown.
* * *
They Apparated into a wooded area where a narrow trail cut and winded across a steep slope. "Where is this?" Harry asked in confusion.
With a knowing, haughty smile, Snape said, "Follow me."
Around a bend in the trail, they emerged into cloud-broken sunlight halfway up a forested escarpment. Soon their trail joined ordinary pavement and steps before leading across an old cemetery to a busy shopping street. The wind whipped along the pavement, making Harry wish he had on two jumpers under his cloak.
"Let me know where you would like to stop," Snape said.
"Somewhere close-by," Harry returned.
"There is a sizable shopping center ahead if you can hold out."
"Where?" All Harry saw was a large open monument. He wondered if he could manage to hit himself with a warming charm under his cloak without attracting attention. Snape's robes, despite his cloak mostly covering them, already were attracting extra gazes from passing pedestrians.
By the time they turned indoors Harry couldn't feel the fronts of his legs. But contrary to external appearances there was a bustling multilevel shopping center hidden in the hillside. "This is more like it," Harry muttered, shaking off his cloak and blinking in the colorful artificial light radiating from the shop signs.
They wandered along a few shop fronts together. Harry needed to find a glassware shop if he were to buy potion bottles. A stationery store came up on the right. "Maybe I can find something in here," Harry suggested, thinking of Hermione and perhaps Belinda.
"Do you wish to split up?" Snape suggested, hovering at the threshold of the store, beside the security post.
"No," Harry replied immediately, then more lightly added, "Not until I figure out what I'm getting for you."
Snape followed behind as Harry navigated the narrow aisles, muttering about how ugly and cheap Muggle paper supplies were. That was, until a display of hand-held computers caught his eye. One was a student edition displaying the periodic table and other science references. Harry backed up and peered over his shoulder. "Find something you like?"
"It would break, most certainly," Snape commented.
"It would certainly stop working," Harry teased, "You have no place to plug it in."
Snape brushed the shiny metal edge of the display model. "Do you miss the Muggle things you had before, Harry?"
"No, not at all," Harry assured him.
Snape dropped his hand. "Good. I do not think I could tolerate them, even for you."
"They remind me of the Dursleys, especially my cousin, so I'm fine without them." Harry picked up a warm brown leather folder that held a legal pad. "This is nice," he opined. "Some things like this are better from a Muggle store. At least they are always made from a named animal."
"You disapprove of dragonhide?"
"It's fine for fireproof gloves. What I dislike is finding that my boots are made of trollhide and my gloves of seaworm skin." He flipped the folder open and closed a few times. "I think I'll get this for Hermione." By the time they reached the front of the store, Harry had collected a small pile of presents. As he waited in a queue to pay, he added them up. "Um, do you have a few extra pounds I can borrow?" Snape pulled out his coin purse and handed over some twice-folded pound notes. "Thanks. Sorry," Harry mumbled, thinking that he had more presents he wanted to get. He should have been saving his allowance more adamantly.
The family ahead of them was debating which relatives were going to be the most annoying to have visit and the current sale was held up because of something to do with 'too many transactions this time of year.' Snape intoned, "Do not apologize, Harry." More quietly, if not oddly pained, he said, "I find myself currently unwilling to withhold anything from you."
"Oh," Harry uttered, surprised and touched by his tone. Feeling sly and half teasing, he asked, "Does that mean I can get a new broom? A prototype Flugenblitzen M3 was in the shop in Diagon Alley last week."
Snape raised a brow and replied sternly, "No you may not. You do not need a new broom in any event."
"Ginny does. I was thinking I could give her my old one. They really want to win the house cup and she had Charlie's old one, which was only decent ten years ago." The queue finally advanced and stacks of photo albums were piled onto the counter.
"As little as I wish to assist with improving Gryffindor's chances, may I suggest you just trade brooms."
"That's a thought," Harry muttered. "Trouble is getting Ginny to go for it without hurting her pride. She's supposed to get a new broom when she finishes school, but that will be too late for the cup." Ahead of them the family was debating which plastic card to use for payment. "How are the sunglasses working out for Suze? She sent me a letter, but she hasn't tried them in a match."
"Very well during practice," he assured Harry. "Unwise of you if you wish for Ms. Weasley's team to win the cup."
As Harry put his stack of things on the counter, he said, "I'm sorta torn. I want Suze to do well, but on the other hand, she has more years to show off after Ginny and most of my Gryffindor friends have finished."
As they exited the shop and stood at the edge of the flow of shoppers going past, Snape said in a reluctant tone, "Is there something reasonable that you are hoping for for Christmas?"
Thinking of how much he nearly lost, Harry said, "I have everything I need, Severus."
"Rather difficult to wrap that," Snape complained dryly.
"My first present ever was a birthday cake from Hagrid. It wasn't wrapped." More quietly, in the presence of hundreds of hurrying Muggles carrying thousands of presents, Harry said, "Neither was the one you gave me for my birthday. The ones that can't be wrapped are the best ones."
Their gazes locked a long moment until Snape said, "As usual, you display an odious sentimentality for such things, Potter." But his eyes were just a bit too bright as he made this assertion.
* * *
Early, because he had slept long and sound after a day of Apparating back and forth to Chester and Edinburgh for shopping, Harry stepped downstairs and joined Snape already at the table eating breakfast. Snape finished quickly and hooked a cloak around himself as he stood before the flaming hearth.
Harry stood to see him off, wishing he could stay a little longer but holding back on showing any bit of it. As though reading his thoughts Snape said dismissively, "Christmas is fast approaching." His tone shifted immediately, though, and he added in a softer tone, "Owl if you need anything at all. Owl even if you don't."
"All right," Harry promised, working harder on his forcing down his reluctance at seeing Snape go; he clearly was prepared to depart and even eager since he had to get ready to teach that morning.
Rather than reach for the Floo powder, Snape instead rested his light satchel on the floor and stepped up to Harry. Taking Harry's shoulders in his hands he commanded, "Take care . . . when you are at your training, and otherwise."
"I will," Harry promised.
"And I will see you in two short weeks." Snape appeared to wait for Harry's nod before taking down the Floo powder. "Owl should you need anything," he repeated firmly, voice reassuringly full of the promise of swift response.
Later that morning, Harry stepped out into the quiet atrium at the Ministry of Magic. The fountain bubbled musically, drawing him that way as he crossed the open expanse. The translucent, abstract sculpture in the center seemed to radiate light as water coursed down its surfaces; although the glow looked natural rather than magical. The pool was too big for the piece and Harry remembered the larger previous sculpture and the battle that had destroyed it. He had not thought about it in a long time and now considered that he had possessed a laughable amount of skill back then. As he fantasized his current self there now, he felt almost confident with his chances, even alone against the evilest of wizards.
He reached into himself, into that pathway that had drawn him here that night. The path was hollow, empty; Voldemort was gone. Harry not only felt his absolute absence, but had begun to feel he had never been a part of him. Considering that Snape had also freed himself only added to Harry's surge of independence. Standing there in the early light with the water in the fountain glistening, Harry, for the first time, felt truly whole and distinct, and in control of the future.
A figure stepped up beside him, light of foot. Vineet looked over the curves and angles of the fountain with a discriminating eye. "Not a very attractive thing," he observed.
"Better than the last one," Harry opined. Gesturing at the space where each had stood he explained, "It had a man and centaur a goblin and an elf all in these affected poses."
"What happened to them?" Vineet asked.
"Well . . . " Harry said, hesitating with a little cringe. "They leaped to life to protect me from Voldemort. Even the man after his head was knocked off."
Vineet gave Harry a very dubious and disappointed expression. "You cannot believe me so foolish," he stated almost annoyed, crossing his arms to peer along his nose at Harry the way Snape used to.
"I'm not making that up," Harry insisted, then laughed, deep down, in a manner that a few days ago he had not imagined ever doing again. He waved his hand around the atrium and tried to explain the scene more clearly before giving up. "Oh, never mind. It's embarrassing anyway."
Vineet appeared to reconsider Harry's honesty but he changed the topic. "The Daily Prophet spoke of nothing this weekend except your capture of the Last Servant of the Unnamed One. Like all stories about you, it seemed lacking in large substantial fact."
Harry hadn't read any of the articles, but he knew everyone intended to keep quiet about Avery having a mission of revenge against a traitor, because it led to uncomfortable, renewed questions about Snape. "It's finally over," he said, feeling unexpectedly gratified.
"Another will rise," Vineet stated authoritatively.
"That's a positive way of thinking."
"Another must rise. It is the way of things, this circle."
Harry, who preferred to consider a straight line leading out from where he stood, resisted this point of view. Although, he figured it nšive to consider that another dark wizard would not rise to power, sometime. "We have a little while though, right?"
"Usually." Grimly, as though speaking only because he felt he had to, arms still crossed, Vineet went on, "The newspaper was mistaken in stating that all Death Eaters were in Azkaban, even though the Minister announced this herself."
Harry met his dark brown gaze and held it steadily. "No, she wasn't mistaken." Then he smiled, broadly, couldn't help doing so. Vineet stiffened.
Harry turned back to the sculpture, smiling wryly. "Have you ever seen beyond the veil?"
"No." Then a long pause ensued before, "And you?"
"Did you see the Unnamed One?"
"No, actually," Harry replied. "Just my family . . . my friends." It would have been odd to have seen Voldemort, he considered, but he must be there. For the tenth time he imagined what his father's expression must have been when Snape made his assertion to him. Mixed emotion roiled in him at the vision.
"You would seem to be there now," Vineet offered, sounding awed.
Harry pulled himself straight. "No. I'm here."
The atrium had begun to fill with witches and wizards on their way to work. A familiar voice hailed Harry and Arthur Weasley stepped over and patted him on the shoulder. "How are you, my boy?" he asked in concern.
"I'm fine, Mr. Weasley, thank you."
Mr. Weasley leaned close and, while gripping Harry's upper arm, said, "Minerva told us what happened. An awfully close one, there, my boy."
Harry, attempting lightness although it came out wavering, said, "I don't mean to continue to be so hazardous to those around me."
"Oh, Harry," Mr. Weasley said, sounding far too moved. "This wasn't your doing. Some things were set in motion long before your time."
"And it's all right now," Harry added. At Mr. Weasley's confusion, Harry said, "It's hard to explain. Maybe over dinner sometime." He fell silent, thoughts pulled back a few days. But calm flowed through his limbs again and he smiled lightly. "Things are better than you know."
"Well, that would be a change." Mr. Weasley redirected his attention and greeted Vineet. "I hope you are helping keep an eye on him," he said, indicating Harry.
"The attempt is being made," the Indian stated dryly.
As Mr. Weasley said good day, turning his balding rear pate their way, Harry halted him with, "Hey, tell Vineet what happened to the old sculpture."
"Oh, it . . . " He paused and to Harry asked disbelievingly, "You really want me to?" At Harry's sharp look he said, "Well, I wasn't here--just Harry and old Albus Dumbledore, oh and of course He-Who-Shall-"
"Mr. Weasley!" Harry snapped.
"Oh, yes, Voldemort. Sorry, Harry. Apparently Dumbledore used the figures as allies in sending the old, evil bird off."
"Really?" Vineet uttered, still sounding stubborn about believing.
"Intent on killing Harry, he was, and mad as hell about not learning the rest of the prophecy as he'd hoped. The figures were all smashed to bits by the end." He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. Nice seeing you Harry, do call for dinner soon."
Harry studied the abstract statue again. Parts of it seemed bulky and solid, other parts reached up and out, but the whole thing remained balanced from all angles. Unlike the figures, this one allowed him to define it himself. It could be anything, and he found himself appreciating that for the first time.
"You are very introspective today," Vineet said after a long pause. "And I am believing you about the other statues."
Harry realized that there was real luxury in being harmlessly disbelieved. "I don't have to make things up," he teased.
The deep brown of Vineet's eyes looked a little softer. "Are there any places where memories do not resonate so for you?"
"Not around here."
After a cart loaded with boxes of parchment rattled by, Vineet said, "And there are no free Death Eaters of any sort?"
"None," Harry replied confidently.
"Hm. We are late, just to be letting you know."
Harry glanced at the time and they both hurried away. In the lift Harry said, "All right, explain this dark wizard circle to me."
"It is not just dark wizards . . . it is all things that cycle," Vineet patiently lectured.
"Day night day night," Harry offered as he pulled open the gate.
"That is a very obvious example"
"And the good wizard cycle coincides with the bad one, right?" Harry said, getting into this notion.
Since they were the first to arrive in the workout room, they pulled the desks away from the wall and arranged the four of them. Harry removed his books from his bag and sat down with blank parchment and a quill, still thinking. Kerry Ann came in, looking underslept. She gave Harry a high-five as she passed. "Good going, Harry. Got them all now."
"Thanks." Harry chewed on the end of his quill before turning to Vineet again. "Can someone read these cycles and know when the next dark wizard is going to appear?"
Vineet's gaze went a little hard. "Some believe they can, but his art is very difficult. When there is a gross imbalance the gods may send an avatar to right things."
"A very powerful wizard, you mean?" Harry prompted.
Vineet didn't respond.
"What are you two on about?" Kerry Ann asked curiously. Rodgers stepped in then, seeming brusque as though he had interrupted something important to come. Aaron dashed in behind him, out of breath, and took his seat with an innocent smile. Rodgers hurriedly straightened his notes and didn't chastise the latecomer.
Harry, sly grin on his lips, leaned over and said to Kerry Ann, "I think Vishnu here is disappointed he didn't get his crack at Voldemort." When Vineet turned to him, eyes narrow though surprised, Harry hit him on the arm and said, "You were welcome to him. How 'bout you take the next one?" Rodgers cleared his throat and Harry dipped into the inkwell and bent over his notebook, quill poised with a ball of fresh ink teetering on the point of it. Harry whispered, still grinning, "Let us know if you need any help. We'll be here."
* * * THE END * * *
If you were looking for music to go with the closing credits, Fallen by Sarah McLachlan would probably be my pick.
An extra chapter was added to this story at a much later date. It is a separate story called "Resonance Chapter 23 & 1/2 -- Getting Detention". The sequel is completed. It is titled "Revolution". You can find these other stories by clicking on the author name "greengecko" near the top of this page.
Thanks to everyone for their comments an encouragement in continuing this beast. Couldn't have done it without you all. Also certainly couldn't have done it without the enormous help of all the beta readers past and present: Amy, Audrey, Nana, Cathal, Jane, Whitney, Stephanie, EC, Kate.