Actions

Work Header

A Superior Choice

Work Text:

Twenty-five hours after the Battle of Hogwarts, the final tally of the dead, injured and missing is released. When Harry holds up the Prophet the next day, the list is (mercifully) shorter than his arm.

"Snape's listed as missing," says Ron.

"They probably haven't found his body yet, is all," says Harry. "I'd better go tell them where to look, otherwise he'll lie there for years."

"Do you think he'll still be there?"

"Well, he isn't getting up and walking away on his own."

::----------------------::

At the next Order meeting, Harry puts the last order of business to rest. "I watched Snape die. Voldemort killed him with Nagini." His gut twists with something very much akin to shame in the long silence that follows. Harry looks around and imagines that he sees condemnation on the faces of his compatriots. Or maybe it's pity.

"You can't imagine how thrilled I am, Potter, that we have something else in common."

Snape walks in and pandemonium breaks loose all around Harry. He can't shake the sudden quivering in his jellied gut, the angry trembling in his knees. He fights his way through to Snape and yanks down his collar, but the gaping, gushing red holes are the barest silver scars. Snape smells just as musky as ever and his eyes snap with life. Not an Inferius, then.

"How did you do it?" Harry shakes the collar clutched in his hand. "You were gone. You were dead."

"Potter, use your head. You could work it out if you just--"

"Stop it!" Harry clenches the collar tighter. "Just -- how?"

"A proactive bezoar and blood replenishing charm set to spell were I down a quart." Snape curls his lip and yanks Harry's fists off himself. "Get off, Potter."

Kingsley clears his throat and everyone falls silent. "Well. This resurrects our last order of business with a vengeance," he says. "How are we going to defend Snape against the charges the Ministry has lain against him?"

::----------------------::

It's hours later and they haven't got anywhere.

Harry thinks about circles, stepping on them and running around, around, infinity, big circles which turn into steak and kidney pies without forks. He's bored, they've said everything before a million times, and he wants supper something fierce. Everyone else has long gone to bed and he wonders where Ginny is.

He briefly flashes on a memory from the Headmaster's office, after he had pressed hands with grief in the Great Hall and stolen away with Ron and Hermione to tell them the truth. He remembers telling them he's had enough trouble for a lifetime, and he feels that same weariness stealing over him again like a Lethifold. The arguing over Snape's fate is making him realize that his role is not over. He can't rest yet -- he's got miles to go before he sleeps.

Right, then, thinks Harry. A shortcut's in order. He stands up, marches over to Snape and grabs his arm, lifts it high and rips the sleeve down.

"No Mark! Tabula rasa!" Harry runs the fingers of his free hand over his forehead. It's still disfigured, and Harry doesn't have time to think about why he suddenly finds that reassuring.

Snape yanks his arm away and taps Harry on the shin with the tip of his boot. "I said get off, Potter!"

"They have eyewitness testimony," says Kingsley, "and everybody's Marks are gone."

"We have eyewitness testimony!" says Harry. "My Mark's not gone!"

Snap sighs, eyes blank and tired. "They could Kiss me for this."

"We know," Kingsley raises tired-looking eyes to the ceiling. "That's why we're--"

"I wouldn't half mind if they did."

::----------------------::

"Here we go. There's food in the pantry. Fresh." Kingsley glances at Snape. "Looks like you could use some. We'll come by tomorrow and update you. Best to stay put."

"Hrmph."

Harry says, "I'm going to be secret-keeper for your hiding place. Just temporarily. Just until we get your story into the Prophet. People need to know what you really did."

"Yes, exactly what I wanted," says Snape. "To live beholden to a Potter."

"After all you've done for me, I reckon it's time I did something for you."

"My, haven't you grown into a fine man."

"You needn't be an arse about it."

"Language, Potter."

"Come off it, Snape. I'm a man, now, you said it yourself."

::----------------------::

Ginny's nowhere to be found and Harry's nervous and on edge. He longs to take her in his arms and hold on for a bit, to be unreasonable in the way she knows how to fix. He mopes at Headquarters until Ron Floos in, takes one look at him, and says, "She's at the Burrow, if you need her."

Harry sifts his fingers through the box on the mantle and flings the powder into the fire. He steps through and finds Ginny in her room.

"I don't know what to do," he says, after they spend a short, quiet time inhaling the same air and trading soft groans. "He wants to die."

"Why do you have to do anything?"

Harry knows her well enough to understand that the question is not rhetorical; she wants him to think about it, to look beyond the obvious, so he does. He owes Snape his life, that much is abundantly clear; many times over, he owes him. But there's something else there, too, in the back of his mind. It's niggling his conscience. He thinks about Snape, his distinct unpleasantness, his love for Harry's mother and his obvious distaste for Harry. Maybe Snape hates Harry so much because his eyes are his mother's. Or maybe he hates Harry because from the first moment they laid eyes on each other, Snape's expected a duplicate of James. This seems closer to the truth, with all Snape's grandstanding about rule-breaking and arrogance. Or maybe... maybe Snape resents Harry for living when his mother did not.

It's not Harry's business to apologize for any of that, but he still feels as though he ought to say something. For all the times Snape's saved him, Harry's repaid Snape with nothing but disrespect and distrust. Snape, Harry is coming to realize, has sacrificed much of his life to amend the consequences of one choice. He gave up choice itself, or any real choice, anyway, as part of that sacrifice. As atonement. So maybe Harry has to do this, has to give Snape back his life, his ability to choose for himself again, as a way to say thank you. He holds that thought close, steps into his trousers and takes his leave.

::----------------------::

Harry gets twenty steps outside the Prophet offices next morning when Kingsley buttonholes him on the way to the Ministry and pulls him into an alley.

"He what?"

"He's in custody," says Kingsley, "not in Azkaban, at the Ministry."

"But how did the Aurors find him?" asks Harry. A sick thought hits him and he scans his mind for any sign of Imperius or Obliviation. He finds nothing.

"Snape said he just walked out."

::----------------------::

In retrospect, Harry thinks maybe shouting, "Do you have a death wish?" between the bars of the Ministry holding cell hadn't been the best way to start a conversation with Snape. But Harry's angry, and with Voldemort's death, it seems so much easier to vent it. The worst that could happen isn't likely to be death, and in his more reckless moments, Harry thinks he's already been dead and lived to tell the tale. Everything else is cake.

So before he knows what he's doing, Harry has marched across the cell to Snape, who sits on a rickety cot staring with dead eyes at the wall, and gathers fistfuls of collar in his hands again. "Don't you dare."

"Dare what, Potter?" says Snape, coming to life, and Harry's glad to see the spark back in Snape's eyes even if he is getting kicked in the shin again.

"Waste your chance!"

"Chance for what? Chance to face prosecution for my crimes?" Snape shoots a glance at the grill in the door and lowers his voice to a growl. "I assure you, Potter, I have committed many."

"No!" Harry lets go the collar and throws his hands up in frustration. "You -- you could have been dead, and you're not!"

"Sadly."

Harry fumes, and it's all he can do not to kick Snape. "You have a deathwish, then?"

"I'd rather go by my own hand than theirs, but going's a choice, at least." Snape sounds just as bitter about that as he ought to be, Harry thinks.

Nevertheless... "It's the wrong one. Anyway, how do you plan to accomplish it?" Harry looks around the sparse cell and sees nothing of consequence that isn't firmly nailed down. "You haven't a wand. There's nothing sharp. Are you going to starve yourself, then?"

"Oh, there's a thought," says Snape, and Harry's disgusted at how cheery the bastard looks.

::----------------------::

If Harry stops to think about it, he's more terrified about the outcome of this trial than he was about his own, the beginning of his fifth year. Too many people have personal experiences on the wrong end of Snape's irascible temper to make Harry's efforts at the Prophet carry much weight. Or the Quibbler, when he realizes the Prophet article isn't working. The public, bless them, are perfectly happy to think Snape guilty, and so his next milestone is facing the Wizengamot.

Unfortunately, their greatest ally on the Wizengamot will be booted out of office before Snape's case comes up.

Fortunately, he's agreed to help with Snape's defense.

"Kingsley's using me as the star witness," says Harry, when he next walks into Snape's cell at the Ministry. It's been pressingly busy and he hasn't been back to see Snape since his arrest. Snape's thin as a rail and Harry's horrified. And angry.

"You haven't actually stopped eating, have you?"

"Got it in one, Potter. How unusually quick of you," Snape snaps, or tries to; the energy's gone out of him.

Harry looks around and sees a plate of congealed sausages and eggs in the corner by the loo. For the first time since he'd returned it to its resting spot, he wishes he'd kept the Elder Wand. He won't be able to banish the food into Snape's stomach with his own.

"Eat it," he says, but Snape just laughs.

He Summons the plate, pushes it and himself in Snape's face and shouts, "Eat it!"

Snape stops laughing and looks at him with an unreadable expression.

"Should I try Imperius?"

That got Snape to quirk an eyebrow and curl his lip. "How disappointing, Potter."

Snape turns away but doesn't get far; the plate crashes to the floor and once again, Harry's got Snape's collar in his fist. He's quivering with anger.

"If you don't stop yanking me around by the collar, you shall break my neck. Not that I'm objecting to the results, mind, just the method." He grabs Harry's wrists in his hands and yanks, but Snape's weaker than before and Harry's not letting go.

Harry rolls his eyes and tries not to pay attention to the fact that they are beginning to well up. "Tabula rasa," he says again, because it's the only thing he can think of with Snape's nose so close to his face, pushing everything else to the edge of his vision. He's tipped his head up slightly and can smell the institutional powdered soap on Snape's neck, the spicy, musky damp of his collar. Something boils through Harry's anger in a billowy roll, leaving him with a startling amount of desperation bubbling on top of it and a sudden awareness that he'd never been closer to Snape in his life.

"My tabula will never be rasa, Potter."

"You get another chance."

"I'm permanently stained."

Harry shakes him once, very gently. "We won't lose."

"I'm not innocent in any way."

"Don't take away my chance to thank you."

"I'm tired."

Shock, when it doesn't lead to a sticky end or have dreadful consequences attached to it, is a very effective motivator, Harry knows. He pulls the collar down, lifts his lips, and surrenders his motivation to Snape's mouth.

::----------------------::

He can't look at Ginny, or even think of her. He doesn't know what he will say to her when he meets her next. Snape's right about him; he rushes into things without regard for others. But it's not as if he never thinks of the consequences. He knows the consequences of this kiss, but not even Voldemort provoked the numbing fear he has facing these consequences. Since the kiss in Snape's cell there's this big, black, blooming thing in his life that looks an awful lot like despair, so he stays away from the topic of Ginny and doesn't visit the Burrow. When he finds out from Kingsley that Snape's eating again, he doesn't go to the Ministry to see him.

Grimmauld Place isn't the best location to do serious thinking, and there's a lot of that to be done before the trial. There isn't enough light, and no matter how well Kreacher's got it cleaned up, it still looks dank and dingy. Nevertheless, Harry sits in the library and writes down everything he knows about Snape: every detail of his work, his life, Harry's own interaction with the man. On a separate page Harry lists the things he wants to keep private, if possible, not just for his own sake, but for Snape's, too. This sheet tells the truth about Snape as he knows it, from Harry's time in school, his interactions with Snape, his memories of disrespect and humiliation and his realization of what it all means. Harry spells the sheet to reveal its contents to no one who doesn't know the keyword.

He checks his vial of memories and keeps it with his testimony. In seven days the trial begins, so Harry spends his days helping rebuild the destroyed parts of Hogwarts, talking to the press about the battle, about Snape, about Dumbledore. He spends his nights giving into the arousal that comes when his imagination runs wild and the kiss he remembers becomes a hug becomes a struggle with trousers and pants and a thousand little buttons, becomes the revelation of skin on skin, Snape's body pressed tight on top of him, meeting chest to knee in a bid to press through to the other side. He wonders if this crush will be a milestone, too, or a bittersweet end. With all his heart he hopes for the former, that Snape will be around and that after such a wearying journey, they can find peace together.

The night before the trial, he goes to see Snape. It's past visiting hours, but for once, he trades on his status and the guard lets Harry in to see him, agrees to stay down the end of the hall instead of on the other side of the door. A tray with the scanty remains of dinner sits next to the man on the bed; someone's brought him a newspaper to read, and he's stretched out on one elbow flipping the page. He doesn't look up.

"So my molester has returned."

Harry's hot about that until he sees the corner of Snape's mouth turn up. He replies, "I see you've decided to wait around in case I did."

Snape folds the paper on top of the tray and puts them both on the floor next to the cot. Only then does he look up. "I couldn't shuffle off this mortal coil without figuring out why you would do such an astonishing thing. Though, thinking about it, I don't know why I should be so surprised."

"I'd like to do it again," isn't at all what he planned to say, but he has no idea what he had planned to say. Nerves have Harry clenching his fingers around a fold of his robe as the silence grows longer and longer between them. He bites his lip.

Snape turns away and shakes his head. It's a long moment Harry holds his breath, waiting for Snape to say something. Anything.

"Come here, then."

Maybe he's floated to the cot, or flown, or Apparated, because the next thing Harry knows he's swept under Snape, who lies on top of him, snogging the breath out of him. In reality, things usually never turn out the way Harry imagines them so he's surprised when the impatience wells up over his head and drags him under, makes the buttons pop off and fly in all directions and the robes pile up on the floor. It feels like deja vu when Snape shuffles Harry around onto his back. A stray sock's stuck to his right buttock so he peels it off and flings it away just as Snape lands on top of him.

"A word of caution, Potter?"

The hazy, boiling lust dies down to a simmer and Harry says, "What is it?"

"If you haven't thought of the consequences of this, you ought to do so now."

He stares at Snape and says "I'm not a kid. I know what this means." And he does. Because if he goes through with this, having sex or making love or whatever it's called, this caring, if he does that with Snape and it's a good thing, he has to face his fears and tell the people he loves, who love him, that this is the way it's going to be: Harry will be with Snape, yes, that way, and he hopes that they will understand and accept him that way, accept both of them.

"I'm afraid to face Ginny," is all he says, but Snape seems to understand that he will.

"And what if you don't win my case?" Snape sounds angry, but Harry realizes this is a cover for fear.

"Then I have another death on my conscience," says Harry, challenging Snape. If that happens, Harry thinks we will never find peace. But all he says is, "I will be sorrier than you think."

Snape harrumphs, which causes his body to ripple over Harry's in a hot wave. "You're an over-emotional child. You will get over it and you will heal."

Harry glares at him. "Is that an order?"

Snape sneers. "It's a prediction."

"Divination?" Harry laughs.

"No, you imbecile. The voice of experience."

Harry laughs even more, marvelling at the alchemy of this man's presence on his mood, at the quicksilver nature of his temperament when he's around Snape. Snape shuts down this line of thought by pulling Harry down and sealing his mouth over Harry's.

It's a good thing they're naked because the simple act of laughing has caused Harry's erection to return with a vengeance, and all he can think about is thrusting his leaking cock into the crevice between Snape's legs and digging behind Snape's balls. Grunts echo off the walls, trading back and forth, punctuated by the silk whispers of skin on skin, the faint crackles of rustling hair. Snape buries his nose in Harry's ear and sucks the lobe between his lips. Teeth worry at the skin, push the blood out of it. Sparks generate beneath the skin of Harry's stomach and build, and build, and he whines in Snape's ear and thrusts harder. He doesn't want it to end like this, but he's decided to have hope: there will be a day when he can spread his legs and let Snape's cock enter him. There will be a day when he can take Snape in his mouth and suck until Snape falls apart beneath him. When Harry lets go and spurts between Snape's legs, it's with the euphoric, slightly hysterical belief that he will always have this man this close. He pulls Snape tight against him, against the ripples of his stomach muscles. Snape exhales into Harry's ear and thrusts his release into Harry's navel.

::----------------------::

Arcanus Leary, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, is a plodding, pedantic man, and about 90 years older than Merlin. Harry can't believe he was chosen over Kingsley for Minister of Magic.

"Leary's been around for 80 years. He's a known element," explains Kingsley, as they sit in the full court and wait for the trial to start. "They didn't want a man whose power might go to his head."

"It's not as though you'd have let it," says Harry.

"But an Auror's power is ostentatious, and not everyone is comfortable with just how much we appear to wield."

"Well, it's not like the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot's power is any less. It's an inside job, if you ask me."

"Order!"

Several times Harry thinks he might nod off if they don't get to the point, but it isn't too long before Leary is saying, "Severus Snape, you are hereby accused of the wilful murder of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. How do you plead?"

Snape stands up straighter in the dock and says, "Not guilty."

Harry breathes, and it isn't until he does that he realizes he's been holding his breath.

"Very well. Can you please recount for us, Mr. Snape, the events of June 6, 1997?"

::----------------------::

"Watch it, there!"

"Keep him steady!"

Aurors guide the cage with gleaming silver bars and spikes into the witness area and on the count of three, set it down.

"Fenrir Greyback, you have been brought from Azkaban to give testimony in the trial of Severus Snape. Recount for us, if you please, the events of the evening in question, from the moment you reached the top of the tower at Hogwarts."

Harry shifts on the bench several times during the recounting, trying to ease the ache in his arse. The bench creaks each time, and Kingsley eventually glares at Harry. A cushioning charm wouldn't go amiss, thinks Harry, and casts one surreptitiously. Leary continues his questioning.

"Just to confirm, you saw Severus Snape draw his wand on Headmaster Dumbledore and utter the Killing Curse."

"That's right."

"Could anyone else present on the tower have cast the curse?"

"No, Minister, unless you think young Malfoy there threw his voice--" Greyback snorts "--and he was having a hard enough time just holding his water."

"Yes, yes, very well. Do you have anything else to add?"

"Don't know why Snape's bothering to deny it. We all saw him do it, we know he did it to cover up the Malfoy brat's cowardice." Greyback's grinning angrily at Snape, practically salivating, it looks like to Harry. "The Dark Lord likely put him up to it in one of their cosy little meetings. He was a good little Death Eater, Snape was."

If Greyback hopes to get a reaction out of Leary, Harry doesn't see it -- the Minister continues taking his notes undisturbed.

The Minister finally looks up and says "That will be all. Defence, you may cross examine the witness."

Kingsley stands up and says, "Greyback, you were a Death Eater too, were you not?"

"You know it."

"Would you say that Death Eaters were a trusty lot?"

"You could trust at some point they'd stab you in the back, but that's about it. Most of us held grudges of some sort."

"Have you ever held a grudge against another Death Eater?"

Greyback looks feral as he stares at Kingsley. He finally answers, "Haven't I just said that?"

"Did you ever resent Snape or any other Death Eater for being closer to Voldemort's 'Inner Circle' than you?"

Greyback spits through the bars. "You're a fool, Kingsley."

"Did you?"

"Aye, and shut up about it," says Greyback, his face crumpling. "The past's gone and I'm still starving."

::----------------------::

"The Wizengamot calls Draco Malfoy to the stand."

Harry listens to Malfoy recount, in slightly self-inflating terms (though Harry has no idea how he manages to do that, considering the circumstances), the events of that night.

"Do the Defence have any questions?"

"Just one or two, Minister. Mr. Malfoy, on the evening in question, were you aware of the Unbreakable Vow between Mr. Snape and your mother?"

Malfoy, Harry notes, looks stricken by this.

"I was not."

"It did not occur to you at any time that Mr. Snape was obliged in any way to carry out the task Voldemort set you, should you have failed."

"It did not."

"And yet, by his own admission, when Mr. Snape arrived on the tower he understood instantly that you could not do it and did it for you."

"Yes, but --"

"Mr. Malfoy, you spent a great deal of time with Mr. Snape when he was a Professor at Hogwarts and after the events on the evening in question. During any of that time, were you ever aware of any agreement between Mr. Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore that would lead you to believe the Headmaster requested this outcome of Mr. Snape?"

"No! He never said anything like that!"

"Mr. Malfoy, please calm yourself. Was there never anything that caused even the least amount of suspicion? Anything Mr. Snape may have said or done or implied that left you confused?"

"Well.... In the weeks after we escaped Hogwarts, Professor Snape seemed very angry with the Headmaster for something, but I don't know what. He often seemed angry with him, but never like this. I thought he might be sad -- they were friends, I think -- but I still think he killed the Headmaster because he was angry with him." Draco pauses and Harry can't look away. "I didn't understand that. I still don't. I... I tried to ask the Professor about it once, but he threw a beaker at me."

"Very well, Mr. Malfoy. No more questions."

"I would remind the Wizengamot that Mr. Malfoy's suppositions are simply that, and not to be considered evidence of Mr. Snape's guilt or innocence." The Minister turned his glare on Kingsley. "And I would remind the Defence to take considerably more care not to lead the witnesses."

"And it's OK when he asks those kinds of questions?" Harry fumes to Kingsley when he sits down.

"Never mind, Harry. They didn't disallow the testimony outright."

::----------------------::

"...And no one aside from the Headmaster was aware of your presence on the tower, Mr. Potter?" asked the Minister.

"None that I am aware of, no."

"Defence, your witness."

"Mr. Potter, do you have any other testimony to make?"

Here it is, thinks Harry. Either he'll hate me forever, or... "I do. Before Professor Snape's death, or what I thought was his death --" Whispers rose throughout the gallery. "-- he put me in possession of a vial containing some of his memories. I would like to share some of them. I think they will clear up any doubt which side Professor Snape was on during the war."

Harry shakes as he gets to his feet, and as much as he dreads looking at Snape, Harry has to see his reaction. The dead look in Snape's eyes is almost worse than any glare; it isn't something Harry can argue against. Snape values his privacy over almost everything; it's the one thing he's been able to keep with him unexposed. Harry understands this, and wishes he could reassure Snape that he isn't going to let out all of the memories into the Pensieve. Just the ones with Dumbledore, the ones asking him to do the deed. Just the ones to prove his innocence and nothing more.

The Pensieve is levitated to the middle of the room, and one by one, the members of the Wizengamot file down from their benches and stand in a ring around the large, stone pedestal.

"I want to go in first, by myself," says Harry. "I want to make sure -- you're not allowed to see all of them. Just a few."

Harry carefully siphons off the memories into the stone basin and plunges in. He emerges in a few moments, satisfied. "Please... take a look. But before you do, I have a statement to make."

Shifting on his feet, he faces as much of the Wizengamot and the rest of the courtroom as he can and unfolds the parchment he's worked on the past week. He looks at it, stares, but there's nothing there that hasn't been said. So he pulls the other sheet from behind it, mutters the password, and begins to speak. Like any piece of the truth, his own truth, he knows this sheet by heart. Still, it's a comfort to have it in his hands.

"I've never liked Professor Snape," Harry begins. "In my first year at Hogwarts, I thought he was out to kill me. He singled me out in my very first class and went out of his way to humiliate me, something he managed to do frequently throughout my school career. And yet when I look back at that first lesson with him, he was even then trying to teach me something important, something that allowed me to save another person's life just a few years later. At the end of my first year, he saved my life. He kept me from falling off my broom after it had been cursed.

"During my third year, he protected me from attack by a... a werewolf," Harry continues, though it's hard; he still sees Lupin lying so peacefully next to Tonks in the Great Hall. "In my fourth year, he made sure I did not fall into the hands of Igor Karkaroff. And he and Dumbledore saved me from Barty Crouch Junior at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. In my fifth year, he sounded the alarm and sent protection after me when Voldemort lured me to the Ministry." More whispers from the gallery.

"Snape spent years enforcing my scholastic reputation as nobody special, in the attempt to have Voldemort and his followers underestimate me. He did this knowing -- well, knowing that it wasn't true. He did it just to protect me. And I never saw what it was he was doing. Not until recently. Not until I saw what you are about to see in these memories. But I think that when you do, you will see a man who has sacrificed half his life to make up for one mistake, and who in turn has prevented true disaster from happening. He's done it to the cost of part of his soul. How dare we punish him further by taking the entirety of it away?"

Harry steps back, and one by one the members of the Wizengamot take the plunge.

"This is certainly unexpected," says the Minister, when the Wizengamot have returned to their seats. "If the Defence have nothing further to add..."

"Minister, the Defence rests."

::----------------------::

Five seconds after his wand is returned, Severus Snape bolts. He doesn't get further than the main hall.

Harry stops him. "Thank you for letting me say thank you."

"Potter, that is probably the most ridiculous thing you've ever said."

"Maybe. Maybe not. 'I love you' might be worse."

Snape gives him a look that says Harry's hopelessly insane, but Harry's gleeful because Snape doesn't turn around and march off.

Instead, Snape asks, "Look... why me?"

"Spur-of-the-moment, jump-right-into-danger-without-thinking-about-it-ness, I guess."

"This will be the first time I benefit directly from that," Snape admits. "Perhaps it's not all that bad a trait."

"Then I'll just have to keep at it, I guess." Harry laughs. "Hermione's always said I have a 'saving people' thing."

"You save them and set them free, and you don't use them for your own ends." Snape pauses and Harry hears the rumble of many voices punctuated by loud requests from the press at the other end of the main hall. Harry takes Snape's hand and quickly seals them into the Visitor's Entrance lift. "I've never encountered someone like you before. You intrigue me, Potter."

They exit the lift in the alley and Harry says, "Take my arm? But only if you want to. It's your choice. Your first real choice." And it's true, and Harry finds himself shaking a bit because he doesn't know what Snape will decide.

"Where are you going?"

"Somewhere isolated."

Snape says nothing.

"I've realized that I will never be rid of the burden of worry until I die, Severus."

"Perhaps."

"But I can sneak in a vacation now and then." Harry takes a deep breath and holds out his arm. "Are you game?"

~fin~