Eurydice’s Answer by lomonaaeren
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Story Notes:
Author's Note: , I hope you like this! I couldn’t quite make it fluff, but it avoids the deeper angst. And the build-up to romance is definitely the focus of the story.
Harry staggered back as the potion exploded, hurling a collection of silvery globules at his face. The globules hovered in mid-air for a moment, then changed direction and hurtled towards him instead of merely falling.

Harry got his wand up in time to construct a Shield Charm, but it was a near thing. And even then, the liquid clung to the shield and slid down slowly. Harry suspected it’d be swearing at him if it had a voice.

For a moment, Harry stood in the half-destroyed potions lab and stared at the wreckage of glass, wobbling sticky ooze, and glass stuck to the wall with wobbling sticky ooze. Then he said, “Fuck,” and turned and stomped into the next room.

Severus Snape lay on the covered table that Harry had added a pillow to, so it would resemble a bed rather than a coffin. Harry reckoned he ought to say that Severus Snape’s body lay on the covered table, but he tried never to let himself think of it that way. For one thing, Snape still had a very faint heartbeat, and he breathed about once a day. Nagini’s poison had put him in a deep coma, but it hadn’t killed him.

Yet.

Harry leaned over Snape and scowled into his face. He still looked as dreadful as ever. Harry cast a Scourgify on him regularly, but he couldn’t do anything about that jabbing nose or that wide mouth, which even in sleep made a sneer.

“You could have left clearer instructions, you bastard,” Harry told him.

Snape slept on, and Harry glared at him and tried to resist the temptation to kick the table. Then he turned and went to read the instructions for the Eurydice Potion again, to see what had gone wrong this time.

*

Severus knew there was darkness. By this point, when he had spent what felt like years living in it, he would have to be blind to know there wasn’t darkness. And if he was blind, then he would see darkness anyway.

This is more like tar than ordinary night, he thought at himself in disgust. And it has managed to slow my mental processes down, where I once thought nothing ever could.

He knew it had slowed his mental processes down, or he would have discovered some way out of here by now.

As it was, he had to wander in circles, touching the soft, slimy walls of his prison on occasion, trying to determine where the Dark Lord had transported him to. His last clear memory was of Nagini’s fangs driving into his throat. The Dark Lord must have changed his mind soon after that and banished him to a labyrinth before he could die.

Severus paused. Unless I am dead?

But he did not believe so. This was no afterlife he had ever heard of, tunnels full of blind pointlessness. And he was not sure that he believed in an afterlife in any case. He would prefer to think he was alive until he possessed some real evidence otherwise.

And he knew that this mental conversation was one he had had before, and that only encouraged him to turn more furiously to the walls of his prison, battering against them, refusing to flinch from the guck that splattered across his skin and clung to his robes.

I must find a way out of here before I go mad. Unless that has already happened.

But, like death, he refused to accept madness without some proof that he had been condemned, and his mere morbid thoughts were not enough. So he returned to pacing, to examining his surroundings with other senses since his sight was worthless, and to a circle of thoughts that must unwind into a smooth, straightforward path sooner or later.

*

Harry reached out and ran a finger down the envelope that concealed Snape’s last letter. Then he snatched his hand back.

It was a ridiculous supposition, because Snape hadn’t woken up in the more than a month since Harry had found him, and no one else ever came near the experimental cottage where Harry tried (and failed) to brew the potion that would wake Snape. Most of Harry’s friends thought he was a bit mental. They preferred to act like he only really existed when he came back among them and listened to their stories and talked vaguely about entering Auror training someday.

But Harry still thought it would be wrong to look at the letter that Snape had left with the instructions for the potion, which of course were fair game because Harry had to read them to brew the potion. Snape’s familiar letters scrawled and staggered across the envelope, as though he had written them when he was dying of Nagini’s venom. Harry knew how impossible that was, but the impression was still there.

For my last friend in the world.

Maybe that meant Lily. Maybe that meant Dumbledore. Either way, Harry didn’t think he had the right to read the letter, and he wouldn’t violate Snape’s privacy.

But I wish he would wake up, so he could tell me what I’m doing wrong with the damn potion.

Of course, if Snape was awake, then he would have no need to brew the potion in the first place. Harry made a small sound of complaint and dropped his head forwards so that his scar was resting against his arm. Maybe it was time to think about what he was doing here and whether it was really going to help.

He had realized Snape was alive by sheer chance; he’d cast a spell that would help him to detect any sounds in the Shrieking Shack, because he didn’t want anyone to come in and see him crying over Snape, and then he’d heard the faint heartbeat. Harry still remembered the moment when he’d leaped to his feet, staring, and then laughed.

“You win again, you bastard,” he’d told Snape.

And then he’d searched Snape’s quarters and found the instructions for the potion, and it had seemed as though Snape would surely be back on his feet in a few days. All Harry had to do was find help in brewing the potion.

Harry sighed now and lifted his head, staring moodily out through the window at the Forbidden Forest, where the first day of summer was breaking through the trees. The whole world was celebrating and rejoicing, except Snape.

And except him.

Harry had been sure he could turn over the potion to someone else. Not Hermione, because she was helping Ron through his grief for Fred, but someone. One of the other professors; they must be better at brewing than he was. Maybe Malfoy, who’d been an expert in Potions and close to Snape besides. Slughorn, for God’s sake.

But when he showed the paper with the instructions for the Eurydice Potion to anyone else, they stared, then glanced at him and shook their heads before asking if he was quite well.

No one else could see the recipe.

Harry didn’t know why. He’d cast as many spells on the paper as he could without destroying it; he’d tested himself until the magic made his head spin and his nose twitch with the temptation to sneeze. He’d tried to copy out the recipe on a different piece of paper. But still he was the only one who could see the instructions, and still Snape remained there, a large and unmoving problem.

He’d done some research. He’d figured out which ingredients were dangerous and would have to be handled carefully, and he’d found out who Eurydice was—the wife of some bloke named Orpheus, who’d died from a snakebite on her wedding day and gone down to the underworld. Orpheus went after her and played so well for the gods that they let him have Eurydice back, only he couldn’t look over his shoulder at her until they were in the upper world. But Orpheus, of course, had looked, and Eurydice had faded away like a ghost.

Everyone who wrote a classical legend was a gloomy bastard, Harry had decided, when he’d read that.

So he thought the potion must be a way of bringing Snape back from the “underworld.” Why else would he name it after Eurydice? But Harry was the only one who could read it, and he had to act on his own.

Him, the worst Potions brewer in Snape’s class (well, except for Neville, maybe). Him, who didn’t understand half of Snape’s cryptic, abbreviated instructions, and who didn’t have the foresight and the patience to realize how the ingredients would combine before they did.

It was maddening.

But Harry owed Snape for the final realization of what he’d have to do to defeat Voldemort, and for the memories of his friendship with Harry’s mum, and for the sacrifices he’d made. Someone should repay that. Lily and Dumbledore couldn’t. It would have to be Harry.

An owl winged through the window. Harry took the letter from it and sighed when he recognized the handwriting on the envelope. It was from Ginny, probably another gently worded request for him to leave the bloody Forbidden Forest and come and join her. She wanted to live, and enjoy the new summer that had broken over the wizarding world, in every sense of the word.

Harry wanted the same thing.

But to really put the war behind him, he would have to pay all its debts.

He laid Ginny’s letter aside, unread, and went back into the lab to try a new combination of ingredients.

*

Severus paused. At long last, there had come a change in the darkness that surrounded him. He could feel part of the wall shifting aside, revealing a slick path that, from what he could feel, wound straight up.

He smiled. Or perhaps he snarled. He had been alone so long in this blindness that he was not sure if his emotions expressed themselves normally anymore.

One question at a time, he told himself, and began to walk forwards.

At some points he had to use his hands to climb, and when he did, he tried to figure out what he was climbing through by scraping his fingernails against it. That didn’t help. It felt dry and powdery at some points, thick with weeping moisture at others. Now and then his foot slipped. When he brought his face close to it and sniffed, nothing but the smell of dust rose to his nostrils.

He was not desperate enough to taste it—yet. Whatever the conditions of his imprisonment, he suffered from no starvation or thirst.

The path became more and more like a ladder as he ascended, the powder scored with hard rungs. Severus grunted as something hit him in the shoulder. Perhaps it was just the projecting side of the ladder, but he couldn’t be sure, and he hated the feeling of being surrounded and enclosed, in any case.

A gleam of color showed from ahead of him when he scrambled over one particular round hump in the way that might have been an overhang. Severus quickened his pace at once, digging his fingers and legs in almost without care. He knew he could catch himself before he fell far if he slipped.

The color seemed to be a painting; the way it hung above him had told Severus before he reached it that it wasn’t an entrance to another place. But being able to see something was different enough. He gripped the “ladder” just below the painting and stared at it, absorbed.

It showed a forest, full of trees with thick trunks, knobbed limbs, and odd leaves that Severus suspected was the Forbidden Forest; he had spent enough time collecting ingredients in it to recognize it. Night was coming on, if the dusky color in the sky was any indication. Severus greedily absorbed the blue and green, the brown of dead leaves and the velvety gray of the shadows. If he never spent eternity in darkness again, it would be too soon.

Then a figure moved into the center of the painting. Severus blinked twice before he could be certain that his eyes were sending the right information to his brain.

It was Harry bloody Potter.

Severus had to hold his breath to survive the stab of disappointment that went home to his heart then. Of all the things my captor could have shown me, this is what he considers most important?

The boy had a devastated expression on his face, which probably meant one of his friends had just earned an accolade he hadn’t, Severus thought sardonically. Then he lowered his head, stared at something in one of his hands, and turned it over three times.

The air around him shimmered. The shadows of figures came into view. Severus knew them well, as he should. Black. The werewolf. James Potter.

Lily.

She watched her son with affection and pride that made Severus’s heart ache like a barely healed wound, even now, all these years later. He would have given his left arm, Dark Mark and all, for her to look at him like that. He would have cut down the tallest tree in the Forest with a hatchet. He would have swallowed poison.

Potter, the tears streaming down his face, said enough to the shades that Severus could be sure he was walking to his death. The way that Dumbledore had told Severus he would; the way that Severus had tried to ensure he would by leaving him his memories.

What Severus didn’t understand was why he was seeing this, or why the person who had arranged his climb through his dungeon, and for him to spend time in the dungeon in the first place, would want him to see it.

Potter gave the shades a smile that was infinitely sad, and whispered, “Stay close to me.” Then he turned away and faced some goal Severus couldn’t see beyond the boundary of the image, straightening his shoulders.

And the image faded. Severus was left in darkness, clinging to a ladder that no longer went anywhere. When he reached up, the rungs had vanished, resulting in nothing more than smooth, blank, dark ground.

Gritting his teeth, Severus set about finding some way to climb further. It was preferable to wandering around in circles.

He intended to express none of his curiosity about whether Potter had managed to defeat Voldemort. His captor was probably watching him, and Severus wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of showing emotion.

*

Harry, holding his breath, carefully placed the spray of asphodel in the middle of the silvery liquid, and then hurriedly snatched his hand back before the touch of his skin could contaminate the potion. A moment later, his arm carrying a modified Shield Charm was above his head, ready to hold back the inevitable explosion.

Except…it didn’t explode.

Harry peered through the Shield Charm, which made his sight waver and ache, at the cauldron. It sat there, turning slowly from silver to black, a circle of ripples spreading out from the center. But it didn’t explode, didn’t churn, didn’t make ominous rumbling sounds. Instead, it looked like—

Like—

Harry swallowed roughly. It looked like he’d completed the first stage of the potion, and was ready to move onto the second. Of three.

And it had only taken him until his birthday to do it.

Harry slumped back in his chair and stared around the lab, almost dazed. The windows were open in the cabin, and somewhere in the Forbidden Forest a nightingale, or a bird that sounded like a nightingale, was singing as if it absolutely had to finish the song before it died. Harry could feel the sunlight soft and warm on his skin, hear the delicate rustle of leaves rubbing together. He lifted a hand and ran it along the windowsill, feeling the rough prickle of splinters that would reassure him this was real.

“Ouch!”

A splinter had caught under his fingernail. Grumbling, Harry went to find a pair of small pincers to tug it free. A little too real.

But he had succeeded. He no longer believed that the Eurydice Potion was impossible, which was what he’d been thinking in the last few days. He’d even started to muse on the possibility of turning Snape over to St. Mungo’s. He’d shown no signs of waking up in the three months since Harry had found him. Why should Harry think he’d be able to do anything about that? Yes, the potion was one answer, but the Healers knew more than he did. Maybe they could help Snape.

He had wanted to get out of the little conjured cabin and away from ingredient-gathering trips in the Forbidden Forest. He’d wanted to see Ginny again, or at least finally read her letters, which had piled up unopened in a corner of the cabin’s main room. Guilt over the length of time it’d taken him to answer the first one had made him not answer the others, and on and on and on it went, until Harry winced when a new owl arrived.

But he’d finally done something right. It was the first time he’d ever achieved something intellectual on his own, without either Hermione’s help or the instinctive talent that he seemed to have for Defense Against the Dark Arts and Quidditch. It calmed and contented him and made him think more kindly of those ingredient-gathering trips. At least he was out in green territory, with living nature and summer daylight all around him.

And it made him think more kindly of Snape.

Harry paused at the door into the bedroom where Snape lay. As the months passed, he’d changed the table into a more comfortable bed, and mastered the spells that would give Snape adequate nutrition (even though he didn’t seem to need it, what with the magical state he was in, Harry thought it better to be safe than sorry). But he now cleaned Snape and exercised his muscles by hand, mostly. It just seemed better that way. More personal.

Harry had to smile when he saw a beam of sunlight falling through the window onto Snape’s face. It made even him look better. His skin was still sallow, with an added tinge of unhealthy pallor from all the time he’d spent indoors under Harry’s care, but Harry could pretend it was golden if he looked at it the right way. His lips formed what looked like a gasp, as if he’d been caught snoring, instead of a sneer. His neatly folded hands looked like he’d just lain down to take a nap, and the scars from Nagini’s bite on his neck could be the scars from some mysterious occult order that he’d joined to gain knowledge.

Harry snorted when he realized the directions his thoughts were taking. There’s a limit to how far you can go with romanticizing him, Harry.

But he was still fascinating, in a way that Harry had never seen him before. He found himself walking into the bedroom before he thought better of it, and then bending over Snape. Snape lay still, of course, the way he had ever since Harry brought him here.

The fascination didn’t lessen. Harry reached out and ran his finger down the back of Snape’s hand, tracing the veins, which looked like thick blue ropes through the skin. He wondered what it would feel like for those long fingers to suddenly twitch and turn and close on his. What if they crept up his neck and gripped his chin, so that he had no choice but to turn his head and meet Snape’s eyes?

Then he pulled back, clearing his throat. Where had those thoughts come from? He honestly didn’t know. It must be the triumph of finally, finally finishing part of the potion. It was making him a little dizzy.

Well, collecting was the cure for that. No matter how many ingredients Harry had learned to recognize, he was still frustrated by the innumerable small differences in the flowers and leaves he had to find, and he’d never yet seen a Potions book that identified the parts of a toad’s body clearly enough for him. And if he made as many mistakes with the second part of the potion as he did with the first, then he’d need plenty of extra ingredients.

He gathered up his list, his satchel, his set of vials, and the smaller (and so more portable) book where he’d copied down the most important information he needed to have with him at all times, and then stepped out the door. A blue bird exploded past his head. Rabbits fled the thumping of his feet. Harry caught his robe on a trailing twig and had to stop to tug it free, as usual.

But the mood stayed with him, and he began to think of Snape striding along these same paths, examining red-fringed lilies and hoptoads and oak leaves for their fitness in certain kinds of potions. Harry knew he was nowhere near as skilled as Snape, or as careful, or as quiet. Snape probably stalked along the forest paths like a ghost. He wouldn’t want his intended victims to hear him coming, after all.

As he dug in the dirt after the roots of a red-fringed lily, Harry had to admit he felt a certain…kinship to Snape. And he thought more kindly of all the specimens in the Forest around him, as well as returning to the cottage and spending more time with his silent, still companion.

*

It seemed like a long time since he had seen the image of Potter walking into the Forest to confront the Dark Lord, but then, Severus had no way of measuring time in the darkness. He did know that the slippery, powdery ladder upwards had turned into a furrow across level land that led straight ahead. If Severus tried to stray out of it, he ran into high walls made of the same slick but solid material as the ladder.

Severus took to counting his steps, partially so he would have some way of measuring things and partially as a way of distracting himself from thinking about how much he missed light. So far, he had six thousand sets of five hundred.

He was thinking about altering his counting to sets of six hundred and sixty-six when the light appeared ahead. Severus choked and seized hold of his impulses in an iron grip so that he wouldn’t simply plunge ahead without thought. He couldn’t draw a wand, since he had none to draw, but he could approach cautiously and not make a fool of himself.

The window, as before, hung in air, with no frames around it and no sign of where it had come from. Severus frowned at it and squinted at the borders. They were made of fuzzy golden light and gave him no clue about the source of the magic. For the first time, he regretted spending so much time on Dark Arts and Potions rather than simple esoteric magic. At least then he might have known what caused a phenomenon like this, and perhaps even what spell had been used to trap him here.

The spell showed the interior of the Shrieking Shack. Severus could recognize that much at a glance. Several of the worst events of his life had happened there; the least the place owed him was a keen sense memory of it.

His body lay in the middle of the floor, his eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling and the side of his throat torn open, revealing long wound tracks.

Severus felt himself go very still.

A shadow passed over him, and Severus’s stillness became tension; he imagined that the Dark Lord had come to dispose of his body, finally. But instead, someone knelt beside him and reached out to touch his cheek. The shadow and the bent head obscured the sight of the face Severus automatically tried for, but there was no mistaking that messy dark hair. Potter had managed to survive his confrontation with the Dark Lord and was probably mourning over Severus, selfishly turning it into a private lament that he was too late to do anything.

Too late to do anything? Severus frowned, then. If he was, how did I end up like this? His hands tightened into fists and anger surged and pounded through him, assuming a fresh direction for the first time since he’d been imprisoned. That felt so good he wondered why he hadn’t tried it before. I swear, if it was Potter who used the magic that keeps me here, even thoughtlessly—and he is always thoughtless, of course—I will—

But Potter leaped away from Severus’s body suddenly and stared down at it like it was made of gold. Then he whispered, “You win again, you bastard,” whooped, and turned towards the door he’d come in by. “Snape’s still alive! Everyone! Snape’s still alive!”

What?

Severus was still staring at his own motionless body, and especially the tracks of the fangs, when the vision winked out and left him to his dark road once more. He touched his face, and then the side of his neck. This form bore no wounds.

But still, at least he could guess what had happened now.

Nagini had been magically altered to carry unusual properties in her venom. None knew that better than Severus, who had occasionally been ordered to work on antivenins to check if any of them could resist her. And that must have reacted oddly with the antivenin that Severus always carried in his bloodstream now, considering the Carrows’ fondness for poison in food.

He was—unconscious. Perhaps.

Which didn’t explain the visions he was receiving of Potter, or what had happened to trap him in the depths of his mind instead of releasing him.

Perhaps his answer was ahead. Severus began grimly to walk on, now with hope, a foreign and priceless commodity, carried in his heart.

*

Harry shivered with impatience, but forced himself to remain calm. He’d already spent half an hour stalking the Fwooper bird ahead of him. There was no way that he wanted to go back and do it all again with a new one, or jump as the bird fled and tear away the feather he needed. The potion’s instructions demanded a whole Fwooper feather, so Harry would get one.

The bird sat still as he watched, seemingly tired from flitting about the jungle. It cleaned its right wing with one beak, stretched enthusiastically, and then turned around and dug its beak into the left wing. This one seemed to need more preening, and it grew so involved in its pecking that Harry dared to creep a step closer.

At once the Fwooper jerked its head up and uttered a shrill alarm call. It turned around and crouched slightly, and Harry knew it would fly beyond his reach if he didn’t move right away.

Not the way I wanted to do it—

But he flicked a Cutting Curse at one of those outstretched wings, and a feather came neatly loose at its base and drifted into his hand. Harry snatched it up with a triumphant smile. The Fwooper flung itself into the air and flew away, screaming indignantly, as if being deprived of one feather was the ultimate insult.

Harry didn’t really care. He had his feather, and when he examined it from tip to tip, he couldn’t see any damage. Satisfied, he dug the heavy book he’d brought out of his satchel; the book would keep the feather smooth and flat whilst he Apparated home.

Whistling now that he didn’t have to keep a low profile, he strode back towards his Apparition point, using his wand to clear branches out of the way as necessary. It would have been much easier if Fwooper birds had lived in the Forbidden Forest, but Harry wasn’t above tricking, begging, or bribing—with autographs—the locations of their secret sanctuaries out of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He needed one of their feathers for the Eurydice Potion, and he didn’t know enough about Potions ingredients to tell them from common chicken feathers in the shops, so he’d get one himself.

When he made the final jump that landed him back in England, he shivered. His last leaps had all been through warmer countries, but, looking around at the trees already turning rusty orange and red around him, he couldn’t deny that autumn had come here at last.

Even if it is only the first day of autumn.

He stepped gratefully inside the cabin and started a fire burning in the hearth he’d been forced to build when he realized how long the second portion of the potion would take him. He could use Warming Charms, yes, but a fire was more real somehow, and certainly more welcome.

A pile of owl post lay on the table. Harry winced as he sorted through it and found five letters from Ginny, all sent in the space of a week. He paused on the last one and chewed his lip for a long time.

He owed her an answer, didn’t he? She’d patiently stayed away, accepting, as some of Harry’s friends couldn’t, that he felt he owed Snape personally and had to brew the Eurydice Potion himself. But she couldn’t be expected to wait forever. Other people were moving on, making engagements and entering Auror training and rejoicing in the absence of Death Eaters. Ginny was in her final year at Hogwarts now. She would want to make plans of their own.

On impulse, Harry tore the latest letter open.

The words danced in front of his eyes for a long moment, and then Harry realized he was holding the letter upside-down. With a snort at himself, he turned it over and began reading.

Dear Harry,

I think we both know by now that we have to live our own lives. Your sense of what you owe the past is strong. And I just want to forget the past and go on living. It’s been awful, missing Fred so much and only seeing you once a week or so. I know Snape is important to you, but I couldn’t accept any of your invitations to visit because I knew I would see the man who tormented us and told us Death Eaters were going to boil us in cauldrons.

I don’t want you to think you need to come back for my sake. We never really said we would date again, and, well, I think I don’t want to date you now.

I’m sorry. There’s no better way to say this, and it’s horrid to do it by letter. But I don’t know when you’ll succeed with that potion, so I have to do it this way. I wish you all the best, and I’ll always consider you an adopted brother.

Ginny.


Harry pushed his glasses up his face and tried to decide how he felt about this. Now and then he touched the letter, half-hoping it would give him help. He wondered if the appropriate reaction was to fling himself into a chair and shake his fists at the ceiling and scream that he would never love again, or to call Ginny a bitch and a traitor.

But his thoughts were more on the Fwooper feather and on how he’d been home for ten minutes but still hadn’t seen Snape. So he put down the letter and stepped into the bedroom that held him.

One glance made him frown. Snape looked too pasty. Harry had closed the windows when heavy rains obscured July’s sunlight, but he had thought he had also placed a charm on them that would let in air and light whilst keeping the rain out. He must have forgotten to set the charm before he left for Africa. He bustled around the room, casting it now and brightening the fire in Snape’s hearth at the same time.

Then he Summoned a cloth and basin of water from the kitchen, accompanied by a chunk of soap that he’d made from instructions he discovered in Snape’s quarters. It was the first thing he’d made right from one of Snape’s recipes, long before the first stage of the Eurydice Potion, and he was proud of it—even if it did smell too sharp and seemed to take off skin when it scrubbed.

“Here you are,” Harry muttered under his breath as he gently pushed the robes back from Snape’s hands and went to work scrubbing his forearm. He always started with the Dark Mark first, on the theory that he was giving Voldemort a distant but fully-deserved insult. “I wonder how long it would have taken you to get the Fwooper feather? Probably not as long as it took me.” He snorted and rolled his eyes. “No wonder I didn’t make a good Potions student. I didn’t realize how patient you had to be. I liked your book because it told me how to do things quickly, but Hermione was right. It was cheating, and I wouldn’t have been good in the way that Professor Slughorn wanted me to be.”

He cleaned Snape’s arms and his shoulders, then unbuttoned his robes and revealed his chest. Not for the first time, he thought that he could really leave Snape naked most of the time, which would make washing him easier. And it wasn’t as if Snape was about to wake up and care what he looked like.

But Harry still didn’t want to do that. Maybe Snape wouldn’t care what he looked like—maybe not ever again, if Harry couldn’t get the Eurydice Potion right—but Harry did. And it was just too undignified to leave him undressed like that all the time.

“Slughorn’s still teaching at Hogwarts, you know,” Harry went on, trying to think of the things that Snape would most want to know. Maybe the man couldn’t hear him, either, but that was all right. The slight chance that he could was more than enough to make Harry speak the words. “You’d probably say that he’s doing miserably, but he stumbles along. He’s still Head of Slytherin, too.” He snickered and dipped the cloth in the soapy water again so he could get enough for Snape’s belly. “I’ve heard the rumor that most of the Slytherins didn’t come back for their final year because of that, and some of their parents are protesting that McGonagall should find a better Head of House.

“Malfoy’s doing well. Better than he deserves, anyway.” And then Harry paused, because although he said the words, they lacked the bitterness he meant to put in them. He shrugged and pulled down Snape’s trousers. “I—”

And then he coughed and looked away, because Snape, for some reason, had an erection.

For long moments, Harry held still in exquisite embarrassment. He felt as though he’d walked in on Snape wanking.

Which was ridiculous, because men got erections in their sleep sometimes, it had happened to Harry, it was a totally natural physiological reaction—as Hermione would say—and he’d scrubbed Snape plenty of times and never cared about it after the first few—

But somehow today was different. Maybe just because Harry felt accomplished for getting the Fwooper feather and so he’d been comparing himself to Snape more than usual and thinking about what Snape would think.

And he would certainly hate that Harry was seeing him this way.

But it wasn’t like he could help it. So Harry took a deep breath and went on talking, even as he poured water carefully over Snape’s groin and then scrubbed around his cock. “His mum is the peacemaker in the family. Malfoy’s, I mean. She’s the one who goes around to all the dinner parties and smiles at expensive people and makes them agree that Lucius and Draco didn’t do anything so bad. And so I reckon that he deserves to have success, if it’s her success.”

His voice was less raspy now, more natural. Harry pushed Snape’s robes gingerly into place over the erection, then turned to his legs and feet with a feeling of relief.

Which made no more sense than the rest of it, but this seemed to be a day for strange emotions.

*

Severus lifted his head. The road had turned almost steep enough to qualify as a ladder again, leading up what felt like a mountain, but ahead of him hung another painting-window in the air, blazing this time with dimmer but warmer light, like a fire.

When he got close enough to it, he recognized his office, lit with torches, and a sharp pang passed through him that caught him by surprise. He braced himself silently, driving his fingers into his palms. Perhaps there was no one here watching him if he was under the influence of Nagini’s venom, as he had begun to suspect, but he could not be certain.

And at any rate, he thought, as he leaned forwards and tried to make out if Potter was in the picture, it is never good practice to let one’s dignity go to tatters.

And yes, Potter was there, digging through a collection of parchment that Severus had left neatly rolled and bound in a lower drawer of his desk. Severus winced as he saw the sheets flying everywhere, scattered without care for his meticulous numbering, and then sighed. Of course he should expect Potter to be this way. He was probably ransacking Severus’s office in search of a potion to make him even more rich and famous than he already was.

Then a nasty suspicion crept into Severus’s mind like an earthworm covered in blood, and he narrowed his eyes. Every image had focused on Potter so far. He had thought that was because he was naturally curious to know if the boy had survived, and then because Potter was the one to find his body, but what if it meant something else?

The instructions for the Eurydice Potion were for Draco to find, he thought in anger, leaning forwards as if his actions would make a difference to Potter, out in the real world. He’s the Potions student. He’s the one who would have cared enough to investigate my office and survive the trap protecting the recipe. So help me, Potter—

But at that moment Potter slammed his hand down on the desk in frustration, and a sharp popping sound came from it as he hit the mechanism that controlled Severus’s hiding place, purely by accident. Potter stared with wide, fascinated eyes, and then rolled out of the way as a deadly coil of green gas drifted up through a carefully concealed hole. He must have learned some survival skills in the year he’d been gallivanting around England with his friends, because he remained on the floor, and thus missed the dart that Severus had planted to hit the curious. Then he raised his head and cautiously examined the desk.

A moment later he smiled and plunged his hand into the opening, retrieving the parchment that held the instructions for the Eurydice Potion. He unfolded it with a pleased smile, his eyes becoming wide and rapt as he examined the paper. Severus put his hand over his eyes and wondered if it was possible for a dying man to perish completely of exasperation.

He’d thought it was a remote possibility that Nagini would poison him, but his life had been a constant series of preparations for remote possibilities—and as a result, he’d survived most of them. Accordingly, he had left a potion that would wake him from such a somnolent state, with a great deal of work on the part of the finder. But he had not wanted just anyone to take the potion away and perhaps modify it, or involve others in the process who would only muck it up. So he had cast a spell that would ensure only the finder could read the parchment.

It had been intended for Draco all along. He would have the perseverance to find it, the skill to brew the potion, and the respect for Severus’s accomplishment that would persuade him to keep it secret. Severus had walked most of the way to this painting assuming that was what had happened: that Potter had alerted Draco he was alive, and Draco had begun the brewing.

But no, it was Potter.

His life, or better, his return to consciousness, now rested in the hands of Potter the imbecile.

Severus looked up, silently pleading with the invisible sky, or ceiling, of his prison for patience, and then looked back at the image. Potter’s face had taken on a very familiar expression. He nodded once and then clenched the parchment in an unsteady fist. He obviously thought he could brew the potion, and by himself, at that.

Severus leaned back and watched in resigned distaste as Potter left the office, extinguishing the torches with a flick of his wand. A moment later, as if realizing it had nothing more to show, the picture dissolved in a flash of golden light.

Severus hissed under his breath and began walking again. He would find his way back to the surface of his mind and take control of his own awakening. And if Potter was brewing the potion, then Severus would take great delight in dashing it back in his face.

*

Harry stamped his feet and blew on his hands. The cabin, conjured from a set of complicated charms and transfigurations McGonagall and Flitwick had put together, was showing its limited nature and refusing to keep a fire alive through the depths of winter. Harry went to sleep surrounded by Warming Charms, which he made sure to renew on Snape every night, too, and awakened to chill air. It seemed extra chilly this morning, as if in honor of the winter solstice.

As he waited for the kindling to decide it wanted to catch, he stared out the cabin’s window at the Forest. The branches shone with snow, pressed and matted. The roots that had tripped and tormented Harry all summer had vanished beneath it. The leaves were gone, but somehow Harry couldn’t see as far through the bare twigs as he had imagined he would be able to in September. The Forest hunched in on itself in a brooding darkness that seemed to regard human eyesight as alien.

The fire lit, and Harry turned to face it with a sigh. Once, he knew, he would have had to pace the room just to express the emotions boiling inside him. But the past six months had taught him a lot, and he remained still now, knowing agitation would only lead to him messing up.

Today was the day he would finish the second stage of the Eurydice Potion, whether the potion liked it or not.

Still moving carefully, patiently, he turned away from the fire and walked in to check on Snape. Snape lay with his hands folded over his chest this morning. It was the pose that Harry put him into most often, because it was the one he’d found him in. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Snape knew what was going on, somehow, and would resent any loss of dignity.

“I’m going to use the poppies today,” he said, standing at Snape’s head and running his fingers lightly through his hair. It was the easiest way to check whether it was getting dirty, or find snarls and snags that the comb seemed unaccountably to miss. “That’s the transition ingredient between the first stage and the second. I think it’s ready, but I suppose I could be wrong and have to start the brewing all over again.”

He paused a moment, and then laughed to himself when he realized that he was waiting for Snape to make some sarcastic comment about his lack of Potions skill. “I’ll be glad when you’re back to normal,” he said. “It’s rather worrisome being confident about my brewing.”

Snape went on lying there, looking dead and not being dead. Harry didn’t have to concentrate any more to feel the faint flush of warmth when he touched Snape’s cheek, or the way that the stubble shifted against his fingers—stubble that went on stubbornly growing, the way it wouldn’t have if Snape was a corpse.

He hesitated then. You’re doing it again. Reluctantly, he withdrew his hand.

He had promised himself the other day that he wouldn’t touch Snape for no reason, as he’d taken to doing in the last few months. God knew what Snape would say when he woke up and found out about it—and Harry wouldn’t lie to him if he asked.

Harry had to respect Snape before anything else. There were few enough people who had ever done that. He had to remember Snape would wake up in full possession of his faculties—or should if the instructions for the Eurydice Potion were accurate—and despising him as much as ever.

He wouldn’t know anything of how Harry had cared for him these past months. He wouldn’t understand how long the research had taken, how many trials Harry had made with the ingredients; for him, that was the work of an afternoon. He was probably disappointed right this minute that Harry and not someone else, someone like Malfoy or Slughorn, had been the one to find the recipe.

Harry closed his eyes against the brief desolate feeling that assaulted him, like a winter wind traveling past the window.

And then he shook his head. This was stupid. He hadn’t started helping Snape for some hope of a reward. He’d always known that Snape would never have relied on him if he had a choice. If anything, it was the other way around. He owed Snape for saving his life multiple times, and he was just trying to fulfill a debt.

He had to remember that.

He turned and strode into the potions lab, rubbing his fingers together absently. So he would spend the day with potions ingredients that felt harsh after the touch of Snape’s hair and skin. A lot of things were rougher than hair and skin. It didn’t mean he had the right to complain or mourn.

So. Poppies.

With a hard-won skill from reading boring books and keeping himself awake through them, Harry refocused his attention on the chopped flowers in front of him. The Eurydice Potion had said that he needed to cut them up, but hadn’t specified sizes; it had said that he needed to stir twenty times after putting them in the cauldron with the first stage of the potion, but not which direction. Harry had finally learned, after many, many frustrating trials, that things like that were important.

That’s just another sign that he wanted someone like Malfoy to find it. I bet Malfoy would know what potions this most resembles and how to get stirring information from that.

Harry clenched his hands on the edge of the table, shook his head, and waited until the mist of useless thoughts cleared from his mind before he went on. He picked up the first poppy, cut into a slice three-eighths of an inch long, and placed it carefully into the vial that held part of the bottled first stage.

The potion sparked and shimmered before he could even start stirring it, and then the color went out of it; it became a shining, transparent liquid like Veritaserum. Harry rolled his eyes. That was definitely not supposed to happen.

“Not three-eighths of an inch, then,” he announced, and reached for the next piece, cut to seven-sixteenths of an inch.

*

Severus met the next window in the middle of a wide, dusty plain; he could feel the dust whirling against his skin as he hadn’t been able to feel anything in too long. He smiled grimly. The wind was a new sensation, and that was an excellent sign that he was getting near the surface of his mind.

Time to show that imbecile Potter, when I emerge, that I can do this on my own.

He did pause when he saw the window ahead. There was another reason that he might have been coming out of the coma; someone competent had managed to reveal the instructions and taken over the creation of the potion. Severus had designed the Eurydice Potion very carefully. One reason for its complicated process was that it was meant to interact with the mind of someone in a coma even before the brewing finished. The completion of the first stage, for example, would send out invisible fumes that lessened some of the brain and body damage of the sleeper.

If Draco has found it, even Slughorn…

And then he saw the window and hastened forwards. He understood what they were now. This was an experimental feature of the Eurydice Potion, one that he had not been sure would work, genius though he was. They reached out to the sleeper, if all went well, and let him see the steps related to the potion. It would keep him from surrendering to despair—a factor of endless solitude in darkness that Severus had understood intellectually before it happened to him, and understood emotionally now.

As he came nearer, he saw that this window was different from the others. It had six sections, in fact, and each bustled with color and warmth and light, constantly moving images. Severus smiled tightly. Yes, someone else forced Potter to surrender the instructions, and to make up for lost time, they are showing me many stages of the brewing at once.

That idea lasted, at least, until he came close enough to see that every moving figure was Potter.

Potter stumping through the Forbidden Forest. Potter stalking Fwooper birds. Potter pushing his glasses up his nose and shaking his head at a steaming cauldron as though it was his worst enemy (which was true only because Severus himself couldn’t be there at the moment). Potter ducking a silvery explosion. Potter dancing in circles before a cauldron that shimmered black with the completed first stage of the Eurydice Potion. Potter bending over Severus himself, running his fingers through Severus’s hair, a tender expression on his face.

What has the idiot gone and done? Trust Potter to mess up the brewing so badly that it shows me false images.

The images began to change, so that now Potter stooped over another cauldron and measured the black first stage of the Eurydice Potion into vials and chopped up poppies, muttering what sounded like curses under his breath. Severus sneered, but he felt a growing wonder and disquiet stir in him. The images, if they were false, were remarkably consistent and strong. And their being false would suggest that Severus himself had made a mistake in his initial calculations, which he knew had not been the case.

Could Potter perhaps have figured out the instructions and managed to brew the potion? Or part of the potion? No image had yet shown Potter arriving at the end, and Severus thought he could deal with Potter’s brewing being a partial success better than confronting what it would mean for him to have figured out the whole thing. Even a Gryffindor occasionally charges away from danger rather than towards it.

No matter how long Severus watched the images, he saw no conclusive answer to his question. He did see Potter measuring and scraping, cutting and preparing, with a grim patience that Severus would have thought impossible for the boy he had taught. And he seemed to retreat when he failed, wince and grumble and swear, and then fling himself back into the contest with the potion.

He did not understand, but when the images vanished, he felt, for the first time since he had begun to understand what happened, a kind of hope. Severus took a deep breath, shook his head, and proceeded along the dark road.

He would deal with what the images meant later.

*

Harry yawned and then shivered. He hated being up this early on a February morning, but, according to the recipe, there was a certain kind of flower that only bloomed on this particular day of the year—a day that the ancient wizards had taken as a sort of beginning of spring—and he would have to find it. He was glad that he had deciphered that much of the recipe before making any attempt to finish brewing the second stage. Attempting it without the flower would have meant waiting another year.

He shuddered automatically at the thought of being caged in the cabin with Snape for a second year, and then he reminded himself that he’d seen Ron and Hermione the other day. He could have company if he wanted. It was his stubborn determination not to allow himself to be distracted—as he knew he would be if he saw too much of his friends—that kept him here.

And is being with Snape really so bad?

Harry rolled his shoulders irritably. That was the kind of question that occurred to him all the time now, and he didn’t have any better answer than he had the first time he’d thought it.

Most of all, what irritated him was the fact that he was thinking things like this at all. Why should he care whether it was bad to be in here with Snape or not? He was just paying a debt. When Snape woke up, they would go their separate ways. The time Harry had spent brewing the Eurydice Potion wouldn’t matter to him, would probably fade like a dream. Right now, Harry knew the list of instructions by heart because he’d stared at it so long, and when he slept the words came and danced up and down behind his eyelids. But in another year, he wouldn’t remember it.

Is that what you want?

A new question, this time. Harry snorted and tramped out into the snow, looking from side to side. Finally he saw a clump of three trees that grew fairly close together and marched towards them, swishing through the drifts. The Herbology books he’d borrowed from Professor Sprout had said that the flower grew along a line of sight from three trees standing close together, in deep snow. It didn’t need to be three particular trees, as the flower was magical and could take root anywhere the right conditions were found.

And that’s another thing I won’t miss. Sounding like a textbook. I think that’s why Hermione talks the way she does, because so many words have traveled through her eyes into her brain and out her mouth again.

But the question repeated calmly in his head—no doubt only the consequence of living by himself for so long, but still there. Is that what you want? Do you want to forget the Potions skills you’ve developed, the patience you’ve forced yourself to master, the way you can walk away from the Eurydice Potion and come back in an hour with your mind calm and relaxed? Do you want to go back to being impulsive and rash and controlled by your emotions?

“The only reason I learned these skills is to help Snape,” Harry said aloud, standing next to the center of the three trees and sighting along one of the outward-pointing branches. “There’s absolutely no reason for me to keep them later.”

What if Snape needs help after this? Or what if you want to work with Potions again after this, or in a career where you need patience and calmness?

“Now I know I’m a bit mental,” Harry muttered. Yes, now that he concentrated he could make out a patch of blue-green shadow like the one the book had told him to look for. He swished and stamped towards it.

Wouldn’t patience and calmness be an asset to an Auror?

“Yes. Maybe.” Harry thought about that as he bent over the blue-green patch of shadow and breathed on it. The Aurors he had known were impulsive in their own ways: Tonks, bursting out with suggestions and falling over her own feet; Moody, aiming his wand at everybody in sight; Kingsley Shacklebolt, sending his Patronus to the Weasley wedding and terrifying everyone with the news of a Death Eater attack.

But they survived, somehow. And maybe, since Harry knew he could count on Ron to be an impulsive Auror, he could be the calm one. He smiled wryly. It would be a difference from what his enemies expected and from the reputation he’d got at Hogwarts, and that could be an asset in the field.

And that’s another sign of how books have changed me, and potions. I wouldn’t have thought of something like that a year ago.

His breath traveled across the patch of shadow in a cloud, which coiled back on itself and made a hissing sound like steam rising from a kettle. Harry watched, curious as ever; treated right, flowers were as rewarding as hidden mysteries and Quidditch moves.

Maybe that’s why I don’t really resent taking so much time to brew the potion. It’s a mystery and an adventure, not knowing what some of the instructions mean or what’s going to happen next when I add some of the ingredients.

The mist formed into petals, and then a long, slender stem projecting downwards into the snow. Harry started to reach out but checked himself; the books had said that the flower was less powerful if plucked before it fully formed. He didn’t know for certain that the Eurydice Potion required a powerful blossom, but he wouldn’t be surprised.

Finally, it was visible: a blue-green flower with a delicate edging of silver on the petals and stem, as if touched by frost. The center was a large blue spot that reminded Harry of Aberforth Dumbledore’s eye when he’d seen it in the shard of Sirius’s mirror. He smiled cautiously and eased his hand around the flower, carefully plucking it.

The stem parted with a small, sighing, musical sound, and Harry turned back towards the cabin.

When he got back, he wrapped the flower at once in a Preservation Charm so that the warmth of the fires wouldn’t melt it, but he couldn’t resist stepping into Snape’s room to watch him for a moment. Snape still lay with his hands folded, but this time Harry had tried to arrange his elbows in a more comfortable position. It had occurred to him that exercising Snape’s muscles would do little good if he woke up with sore joints from always lying in the same place.

A bar of dim sunlight crept in through the window; Harry had had to find the flower before dawn, since morning would destroy it. It fell on the left half of Snape’s face and made it glitter, leaving the right half of his face in deep shadow. Harry stared, fascinated. He had never felt as if he were seeing the real Snape, but right now he did.

Half evil, half good. Half in shadow, half in light. He did more than anyone else to save the light, but he still liked tormenting Neville and torturing people for not doing well in Potions. I know Potions is an exacting art, but he could have given us better books or taught us more. Taught us the shortcuts that he learned when he was the Half-Blood Prince, for example.

Then Harry sighed. Snape would probably have thought that he’d discovered the shortcuts on his own, and so everyone else should, too. He walked towards the bed and halted beside it, staring at the motionless figure.

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “You were so brilliant and so dumb. Calling my mother a Mudblood to her face wasn’t smart. And neither was hurting people who’d never done anything to hurt you. We might have got on famously if you hadn’t tried to antagonize me the first day of class. I was almost in Slytherin, and I appreciated people who could be sarcastic, because it always puzzled Uncle Vernon and Dudley when I reacted that way. But instead you had to make that little speech and turn me against you. And I don’t buy that it was always the result of a master plan, because everyone thought at that time that Voldemort wasn’t coming back and most of the dangerous Death Eaters were in Azkaban. Besides, you followed Dumbledore’s plans all your life and look where it got you.”

Harry moved closer and bent down, shaking his head. He felt sorrow and sympathy and exasperation welling up in him, especially because he could just imagine what Snape would say if he saw Harry now. He would hate the sympathy and sneer at the sorrow. The exasperation would be countered with sharp exasperation of his own. He would hate that Harry had cared for him and brewed his potion, and—

And he would hate that I’m standing here with my hand in his hair.

Harry started and pulled his hand back, wringing it. How had that happened? He touched Snape’s hair when he was washing it, but that was—well, excusable. Maybe not to Snape, but he would probably accept it had to happen. He wouldn’t accept that Harry had touched him just to touch him.

And if he woke up now and used Legilimency, he’d be able to read it right out of Harry’s head.

Harry winced and strode into the potions lab. He had to remember that he was only a temporary caretaker, just like Snape was only a temporary patient. Come the final stage of brewing the Eurydice Potion, and everything would change.

He might not like the change, but he didn’t have a good reason for resisting it. Questions in his head—the kinds of questions everyone asked themselves at this period in their lives—and the strange urge to stroke Snape’s hair weren’t good reasons.

*

Severus had found the latest image beside a rushing, roaring stream that whirled cold water against his legs. He’d stooped and drunk some of it, but the water simply felt wet in his mouth, not refreshing. Of course, because he did not experience hunger or thirst here, there was no reason for it to mean more to him than any other variation in the landscape did.

He stooped for the drink anyway, because he didn’t have alcohol and he felt as though he needed something to fortify him before he confronted the image. He had seen Potter standing next to his body.

The image had waited for him, and when he went close it showed him the same thing. Potter stood with his hand in Severus’s hair, staring down at him with an expression of wistful sadness. The expression had complex tones; even Severus, who had studied faces more because of his work as a spy than because he took pleasure in seeing diverse moods reflected in others’ features, could not read all of them. More than sorrow, Potter seemed to wish that Severus would open his eyes and sit up because he willed it so.

“You have to do more work than that,” Severus whispered harshly. “You’ve been wishing and dreaming all your life, and you’ve never known what hard work was, Potter. Just like your father.”

But his words lacked the necessary venom, because Potter couldn’t hear him. And because of the expression, Severus had to admit. He had never had anyone look at him like that. Lily’s face had been too bright and open, and she hadn’t experienced the kind of darkness that Potter had when they were still children—when they were still friendly enough that she wanted to look at him at all. Potter had known war and suffering just as Severus had, and the look had the air of a comrade-in-arms.

But not only that, because Severus was certain he had never seen an expression like this on Dumbledore’s face, either. And the way that Potter’s hand moved through his hair, slow and reassuring, as though to give strength to Severus and draw strength from him…

“He’s unable to stand on his own, like always,” Severus said, but he could hear that his own voice lacked conviction. He had no audience. He did not need one. His judging ears had been enough all his life, and if he did not have a strict conscience, he had a strict sense of his own strength and the weakness that others would read into him if they could.

Potter abruptly flinched and pulled his hand away from Severus’s hair. He glanced about for a moment, as though he suspected someone of spying, and then looked back at Severus’s face. His own expression had altered; the touch of wistfulness was stronger than ever, creeping into his eyes and widening his mouth into a peculiar smile.

Then he turned and strode out of the room.

Severus did manage to see, as he left, that he clutched a blue-green flower with silver edges to the petals. The flower was essential in the Eurydice Potion, but he would never have thought that Potter would find it.

The image shut, and left him in darkness once more. Severus did not resent the loss of the light as much as he usually did. Intense darkness would facilitate thought at the moment.

And he had much to think about.

He had constructed the Eurydice Potion the way he had because it was what would work to help him resist Nagini’s venom and return to the world. The underworld of the unconscious mind must be climbed through. The potion had to proceed in discrete stages, with times and ingredients connected to the elements and the seasons. It was tedious labor, yes, but far better than succumbing to the poison of that snake and the Dark Lord’s madness. And Severus had been sure that whoever tended him would have sufficient devotion to the brewing art, if not to him, to keep them at it.

Instead, he had this.

It occurred to Severus that any extended process, laborious enough and different enough from anything the person moving through it had encountered before, might be called schooling. He had found his schooldays a matter of torment, but not so the private studies that had earned him his mastery in Potions. The brewing practice sometimes defeated him; he had studied for six months before he understood why some healing potions worked on Muggle diseases and why some didn’t, and he still didn’t have as good a grasp of those principles as he’d like. But passion kept him moving forwards anyway.

Say that stubbornness substituted for passion. Say that a student was madly determined to succeed against all odds, because he felt that he owed a debt. Say that his mania for setting things “right” had been encouraged to grow out of all proportion.

It might be possible that brewing the potion was transforming Potter. Perhaps he had learned the qualities that Severus himself thought were so necessary for Potions. Perhaps he was more patient, calmer, more willing to listen and spend time going back and revising so that he could catch mistakes.

Severus snorted as he listened to the stream swell out and become a mighty river, spreading out, perhaps, into lakes that flowed beside the road.

And perhaps I was more than Dumbledore’s pawn when I was awake.

*

Harry stepped back, eyes narrowed, and hissed under his breath. He knew he’d done the brewing right. The Eurydice Potion had turned red weeks ago, after he’d managed to work out how to add the winter flower, and that carried it comfortably far towards the third stage. Today he’d added the dragon’s claws that should have meant the potion turned a cold blue and was done.

Instead, nothing. The potion swallowed the dragon’s claws and nothing. Harry knew enough about Potions by now to realize that was unnatural. Perhaps the claws shouldn’t have produced the positive reaction he’d expected, but in that case they should have damaged the color or the consistency, or resulted in an explosion. (An uncomfortably large number of potions could explode if one combined the right ingredients in the wrong order or didn’t stir the correct number of times. Harry was convinced that old Potions masters must have designed the discipline that way in order to scare off students who weren’t interested in study. At least it explained the way Snape jumped and flinched when Neville melted cauldrons or turned his potion into a sticky orange mass).

Instead, the potion was placid and sterile now.

Harry turned to his books. Perhaps he’d added the wrong kind of claws, though the Eurydice Potion’s instructions said only that it required the claws of a dragon. That could be shorthand for a specific kind, though, which all Potions masters knew about. Maybe Harry should have used the claws of a Chinese Fireball instead of a Hungarian Horntail.

But several hours of research in the relevant books told him nothing. All the experts agreed that, because of the danger of mixing up kinds of dragons’ claws—apparently they were among the more volatile Potions ingredients—it was necessary to label them. On the other hand, if a recipe required only “claws,” then one could use any kind.

Harry slammed the last book shut and spent some minutes staring at the potion before he growled, cast a Preservation Charm on it just in case, and stomped into Snape’s room to check up on him.

He felt able to relax the charms on the windows, as it was the first day of spring. Of course, in Scotland that didn’t often mean much, but Harry could imagine what he would like if he was in Snape’s place. He’d always loved being outdoors when he was a child, since there were more places to run away from Dudley and fewer places for people to lock him up, and later because of Quidditch. He’d want to feel sunlight on his face if he was in a coma, even if he couldn’t “feel” it.

“Maybe I should make a document that says that, just in case I ever fall into a coma,” he said aloud, and then snorted. “You’d probably be right disgusted with me, Professor. If you were awake, that is, and if I can ever find the stupid answer for this stupid potion.”

Snape didn’t reply, of course. Harry picked up his left hand and began to flex it, moving the arm into several different positions. He winced when he realized he’d gone too fast in his agitation and yanked it sharply sideways. He smoothed his palm over Snape’s shoulder in apology and readjusted the arm.

“But it’s not impossible. I know a lot of curses cause comas, and someone could hit me with one when I’m an Auror, or if the Death Eaters come back.” Harry grimaced. Fenrir Greyback had been knocked out during the Battle of Hogwarts, by Professor Trelawney of all people, but he’d recovered and run away before anyone could do anything about him. The Ministry still hadn’t captured him, the last information Ron had. “And falling into a coma caught you off-guard, when I thought nothing but Sirius ever did. So maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to make a document that says that.”

Thoughtfully, he moved to Snape’s right arm and extended it up and down, watching his still face. What would he be thinking about if he was awake? Would he find Harry’s progress on the potion commendable? Would he sneer or be respectful when he discovered how much Harry had learned about brewing in the past ten months?

Harry rolled his eyes at his own inane thoughts. Snape and respectful don’t belong in the same sentence.

The thought gave him an unexpected pang, and so he turned the corner and met the epiphany that had been waiting for him until he couldn’t ignore it any longer: he valued what Snape would think of him. A refusal or a rejection of his care when Snape woke up would cut him far more than it ever would have as a student. He wanted Snape to admire him for persisting so long with the Eurydice Potion and mastering so many of the complicated, confusing, and unexplained aspects of the recipe.

“I want you to be proud of me,” he said to the man whose shoulders he was rolling back and forth. “I know you never will, but I want it anyway. A lot of the things I want are stupid. I’ve wanted my parents and Sirius back even though I know it can’t happen. I wanted all the Horcruxes to show up at once and save me the trouble of searching for them. I know this is stupid, too.” He swallowed and lowered his voice. Sometimes unexpected visitors came through the Floo. “But I want it.”

He was massaging Snape’s scalp before he thought about it. He hesitated, then shook his head and grimly pressed on. It was at least possible that Snape would wake up with a tension headache, wasn’t it? And Harry didn’t want that to happen. He would do a lot to make sure that it didn’t happen, in fact.

He wondered if it wasn’t just pride and admiration that he wanted from Snape, but shied back from the thought. If his wish for pride and admiration was stupid, that one was hopeless.

“I wish you could wake up and tell me how to brew the damn potion, as long as we’re wishing for impossibilities,” he told Snape. “Of course, if you did that, I wouldn’t have to brew it anymore.

“But I think I want to. I want to conquer it. I want to show I can do it.” Harry laughed then, despite the emotions cascading through him. “That’s something I thought I would never feel: enthusiasm about Potions.”

Then why not feel something else, too?

Harry stroked Snape’s hair, and was silent.

*

Severus found the next window as he was climbing over a steep wall with no gates. It suddenly appeared in front of him, hovering at eye level and shining with a more urgent light than before. He frowned and steadied himself with one hand. Now that he knew he was witnessing the effects of the Eurydice Potion, he knew that there was something wrong. The windows into the upper world were meant to appear slowly, triggered by certain events in the brewing process, to ease the sleeper into knowledge of reality. Suddenness would undermine that effect.

The image was of a room fitted out as a potions lab, though Severus at once noticed the absence of essential equipment and the collection of vials piled haphazardly on top of each other. He curled his lip. He would have scorned to work there.

Potter stood in front of a cauldron, staring into it. Then he began to pace back and forth, cursing under his breath and occasionally glaring at the cauldron with a force that would have done credit to Lily when she was facing James in their earlier years of school. The window was positioned slightly above and to the side, so that Severus could see the potion that so exasperated Potter.

It was a dusky red-black color, shimmering when the light hit it as if it were a pool of old blood. It had large chunks floating in it. Severus narrowed his eyes and craned his neck, and became fairly sure that the chunks had the sharp curves of dragons’ claws.

“What have you been doing, Potter?” he muttered. “The recipe calls for one full set of dragons’ claws, to be lowered in slowly. No need to force-feed the potion.”

Potter muttered direly back under his breath, as if he’d heard Severus’s voice and resented his good advice as always. Then he whirled around and snatched something from the table behind him. Severus didn’t have to see his own writing or the yellowed edges of the parchment to identify the instructions for the Eurydice Potion.

Severus frowned. Just one piece of parchment? Where is the other piece?

“Have you lost it, you imbecile?” he asked aloud. “That would be like your luck. And mine.”

“I don’t understand,” Potter said, as if he’d heard Severus’s voice. Of course, he would respond with inane nonsense that had nothing to do with the question Severus had asked. “I’ve done everything the recipe called for. Why is it remaining inert when I add the dragons’ claws? That’s the last step. That’s the preparation.” He stepped closer to the cauldron and stared into it. “And I’ve tried every kind of dragon I can think of, too.”

“It doesn’t matter what claws you use,” Severus said. “Books should have told you that if the recipe didn’t. Only you would make a potion more complicated than it needs to be, Potter.”

“And there’s nothing in the recipe about season or time of day or heat in the room,” Potter went on, heedless. “So I know it can’t be those things.”

Severus froze for a moment. Then he leaned forwards and clasped the edges of the window, though he knew he would feel nothing but dry air between his fingers. The light wasn’t solid or tangible. “Of course it needs a particular time!” he shouted. “It needs to be on the first of May, Beltane, the old day of fertility and life. That adds the necessary magic to the potion to raise someone from living death. Merlin’s bloody testicles, Potter, what have you done?”

Potter hesitated, then walked swiftly out of the room. The window followed him, and Severus saw that he’d set up the front room of the house—wherever it was—as an impromptu library. He picked up one of the books from a ragged shelf and began to flip through it, scanning it. Severus hissed, because he knew from a glimpse of the title that that book couldn’t help Potter; he would be very surprised if it had ever helped anyone but its author, for whom it might have earned a few Galleons.

Then his eye was caught by something on the table beyond Potter. He stepped slightly to the side and did his best to adjust his viewpoint relative to the window.

The table under the window had a pile of unopened letters on it. One of them, as Severus recognized from his writing on the envelope, was the letter he had included with the Eurydice Potion, which would tell whoever read it about Beltane and the final, ritual steps to prepare the potion and apply it to Severus’s body.

Potter hasn’t opened it?

Severus threw up his hands, since there was no one there to see him. Then he paced back and forth in front of the window and glared at Potter. He was painfully aware that he was doing the same thing Potter had done with the potion, and that he was doomed to as degrading a failure and a frustration as Potter was.

“You’ve chosen a bloody stupid time to respect my privacy, Potter,” he snarled at the unwitting man, who was gazing rather hopelessly at the last pages of the book in his hands, as if he thought they might hold his answer. “You couldn’t do it with a Pensieve, but you can do it with a letter? A letter which was meant to be addressed to whoever found the instructions for the Eurydice Potion, because that person would have been my last real friend?” He shook his head and leaned his forehead wearily on his palm. “Bloody idiot.”

The window winked out. Severus took a deep breath and considered stopping where he was for a moment. By now, it had become obvious that Potter wouldn’t open the letter in time to save him, and thus that he wouldn’t see the real world again. Why not spare himself the time and effort of struggling to the surface of his mind? No one else would know about his failure of courage and spirit—if it could even be categorized that way.

Except me.

In the end, it was the lash of his pride that drove Severus on. He was still, for the moment, aware in a sense; the world around him had tangible sensations and sounds if it didn’t have light. That was enough for him to consider it “life.”

Others had tried to kill him, to discourage him, to maim him or turn him away from what he really wanted and strove for every day he had existed. Severus was damned if he was going to concede defeat now, when the instrument of that defeat would be a man in another world who would never know what he had done.

And on whose carelessness I should have known better than to depend.

Grimly, Severus began to climb down the opposite side of the wall.

*

Harry knew what he had to do. The obvious answer had been staring him in the face for days now.

But what if he hates me for it when he wakes up? his conscience chattered nervously. I don’t want him to hate me.

Harry hesitated.

Then he reminded himself that at least Snape would be awake to hate him, whilst without the letter the possibility that he would never wake up was strong. Harry had made no progress with the Eurydice Potion; no matter what kind of dragon bodystuff he tossed into it, it stayed inert. Scales, claws, tongues, and bits of wing had no effect on it.

“And besides,” he muttered to himself as he strode back into the front hall where the letter still waited on a table, “what right do I have to demand that he not hate me? He always has, always will. It’s practically one of the defining features of being Snape. I want him back as himself, not the way I dream of him being.”

Grimacing—because that mention of dreaming was too close to the truth for comfort—Harry snatched up the letter and ripped open the envelope before he could consider that there might be curses on it.

The letter inside was simple.

Though you already know this if you have paid attention to my instruction in potions, the Eurydice Potion is not powerful enough on its own to achieve more than stasis. It relies on seasonal magic for the boost in the middle—the flower that grows in February—and for the end—the stage of becoming fully potent and ready to awaken a sleeper. That boost of power is designed to come from Beltane.

“Beltane,” Harry said blankly, blinking at the wall. “I’ve heard Hermione mention that, but—” He spent a moment frantically searching his mind.

Then he remembered. The first of May, right? An old holiday, and an old wizarding holiday. Hermione had said something last year about possibly celebrating it since he’d defeated Voldemort in May, but by then he was involved in helping Snape and Ron was still grieving, and the plans had fallen through.

“So I’ve got to finish the potion on the first of May.” Harry glanced at the calendar that hung on the wall. It was the seventeenth of April. He nodded, slowly, grimly. He would spend the next few weeks learning everything he could about Beltane and hoping it would work.

On an impulse, he stepped into the bedroom where Snape lay with his head slightly tilted back to give him a more comfortable base on the pillows and smiled at the man.

“I figured it out,” Harry informed him proudly. “And I’m going to succeed whether you like it or not.”

He hesitated for a moment, and then scolded himself for waiting. What was he expecting to see? Snape’s lips moving into a smile? That would have been impossible even if he was awake.

Harry did sweep a hand briefly over his forehead before running from the room, though.

*

Severus paused and narrowed his eyes. For so long now, the path had been the same that he couldn’t be sure the difference he sensed in it actually existed instead of being the product of his own hopeful delusion.

But no, he discovered when he eased a foot forwards. The path had risen and now crossed a small hillock, which in turn gave way to another small rise, and then another. They were broad and flat as stairsteps, as he learned when he tested them properly.

Smiling grimly, Severus began to climb them. Perhaps he was deluding himself more than ever for believing they would lead somewhere, but at least it was different.

The steps led to another wall like the one he had crossed when he realized that Potter had no idea about the letter, or Beltane, or any of it. Severus gritted his teeth against the memory and ran his hand along the wall. Unlike the last, it wasn’t old and crumbling. There would be few fingerholds for him to get a grip on as he climbed, and the toeholds would be harder yet.

Not that he intended to let that stop him. He might be thirty-eight years old, but he wasn’t bedridden. He searched until his fingers located a small patch of flaking stone and scraped at it until he had a shallow hole that he felt would hold him. Then he began to ascend.

His knees and his back protested. Severus swallowed in irritation. Of course the sensation of pain would choose now to return, when—

He paused with his hand stretched out ahead of him, his eyes wide as they stared witlessly into the darkness.

Pain. Pain is a sign of returning consciousness. The defining feature of the underworld is that it is not life, which is why I could go so long without water and food and have no ill effects. But the return of pain—

Means that my journey may not have been in vain. Means that the potion may be entering its final stages after all, and Potter has found the letter.

Severus forced himself to remain still for some moments, though he wanted to scramble to the top of the wall and over as quickly as possible. He breathed against hope, and waited until his mad impulses ceased. He could be mistaken. The sensations might mean something else, perhaps the final death of his body.

But the hope came back and burned in his heart like a coal, undeterred.

I may at least think it, he decided, cautiously, in the absence of any contradictory evidence. It is neither more supported nor less supported than any other theory. And as long as I do not exult aloud or spend too much time worrying about it, I cannot make an undignified fuss.

Severus relaxed and continued to climb. The top of the wall was still out of reach, but he no longer imagined, as he might have done a few minutes ago, that the ascent would be endless.

He had other imaginings to occupy him instead. Such as the entirely unexpected revelation that, perhaps, Potter was not useless after all.

If he has opened the letter…

One of his friends probably showed it to him, or explained the significance of my leaving a letter at all to the witless boy.

On the other hand, Potter seemed to have been resolute enough to fit the potions lab out on his own and brew the Eurydice Potion to the point where it needed only the magic of Beltane to activate it. Again, he might have gained help from his friends, including the know-it-all Granger, but he would have had to do most of the brewing himself, thanks to the recipe’s safeguard that made it impossible for anyone but the finder to read it—even in copied form.

Perhaps Severus needed to consider that Potter was more intelligent than his late unlamented father.

*

Harry hastily arranged the cauldron next to the stack of wood he’d placed in the center of the clearing. He didn’t have to be very careful of the potion right now, which remained stubbornly inert no matter what he did to it. Sunset, the beginning of the Celtic day and the beginning of magic, was still a few hours away.

After the cauldron came the small table with the dragons’ claws on it—from an Antipodean Opaleye this time—and a few ready-cast Shield Charms shining around small things Harry could snatch up at a moment’s notice. Just in case he had done something wrong after all, he wanted to be protected from an explosion.

Harry hovered above the next step in the preparations for long minutes before he could make himself move on from it. The garlands of flowers to represent fertility needed to be perfect, or as close to it as possible, to summon power. He’d chosen one of lilies, because white was the color of virginity and he was still a virgin, and because he thought the symbolism of his mother’s name couldn’t go amiss, and one of roses, for passion and the heart’s blood that he’d poured into this project. After long hesitation, because the different books he’d read said different (and contradictory) things, and Snape’s instructions had been none too precise, he put the lilies to the west of the logs, in the direction of the sunset and endings, and the roses to the east, in the direction of the rising sun and birth.

Or rebirth.

Finally, it was time to bring Snape out, on his bed which Harry had Transfigured the feet of into wheels. He rolled it carefully into the open air, and paused for a moment when the sunlight fell on Snape’s face, expecting him to stir and cough. Then he rolled his eyes. No matter how awake he looked—and his face had seemed to have more color in the last few days—he was still asleep.

Harry arranged the bed on the southern end of the bonfire, and went to stand, with the cauldron and the table, on the northern end. And then he only had to wait for the sunset and the moment when—he thought—he would be able to use the Eurydice Potion to summon Snape back to life.

He thought.

The longer he waited, the worse his nerves got. His heart hammered and the sweat increased on his palms until he had to wipe them off on his robes. Then he had to do it again a few minutes later.

Nothing is going to go wrong, he thought to himself, most unconvincingly. Snape would have left more specific instructions if he wanted me to do something at Beltane other than finish brewing the potion. A modified ritual will work just fine.

But the fact remained that he couldn’t be certain. And Harry had learned to value certainty as he learned potions-making, if only so his cauldron wouldn’t hurl violent gobs of nausea-colored liquid all over him.

He stood there until he thought sunset would never come and the shadows weren’t stretching just to taunt him. Then, finally, he could see the sun dip behind the horizon; he’d made sure to choose a clearing where he had a decent view.

And the subtle tingle of magic settled around him, telling him that it was time to begin.

Harry drew his wand and whispered, “Incendio.” The fire tore itself out of him in two leaping sparks that hit the logs like a pair of diving phoenixes; Harry started as he watched them, because he hadn’t expected the spell to be that violent. And then the fire blazed up as though something other than a simple spell had hit it.

That’s the magic of Beltane, I think, Harry decided, and kept an eye on the fire as he reached for the dragon’s claws. Precisely, he flicked them into the cauldron of the Eurydice Potion.

Nothing happened, except the surface bending a bit as it received the claws.

No! Fuck! Harry stared at the cauldron, frantically running over the books he’d read again in his head, from the Potions ones to the ones on Beltane. What was he supposed to do that he hadn’t done? If the day itself and being near a Beltane bonfire wasn’t enough for the potion, then what would be?

He ran over the rituals in his mind again. The fires were a part of the rituals. It’s a day of fertility. Children conceived on a Beltane night were blessed rather than bastards, or at least some of the books said that. And they—

Harry swallowed abruptly and looked back at the fire. The flames were curling high enough now that it looked as if they wanted to scorch the sky.

He acted before he thought about it. Potions-making and all, he still did best when he trusted his instincts.

He turned, jogged back to the table with the cauldron on it, and then ran at the fire. Close to the edge of the logs, so close he could feel the heat flickering over his face and scorching at his eyebrows, he leaped.

The jump wasn’t going to be high enough—

But it was. It carried him over the fire, though Harry felt several sharp stings like bites at the soles of his feet.

And then he landed on the other side, rolling as his knees gave from the sudden impact, and fought his way back up, turning around as a white light surrounded the cauldron and the table.

*

Light tore through the darkness suddenly, and Severus saw another window opening quickly before him, this time with a harsher tinge to the fire about it. Narrowing his eyes, he climbed towards it as quickly as he could; after what felt like months, he was still going up this damnable wall.

When he reached the window, it was just in time to see Potter leap over a bonfire.

Severus stared. The expression on Potter’s face was one he had never seen when the boy was a student, probably because he had spent most of his time scowling at Severus in dislike. It combined fear and anger and desperate hope, and when he landed on the other side of the fire, stumbled, and then whirled and clambered back to his feet, Severus felt his surprise tighten into—something else.

But he didn’t have time to contemplate it.

The darkness around him turned white and intense as a lily or the center of a flame, and he was suddenly rising upwards as if shot from a bow. The darkness became grey, and then white, and then yellow, until Severus feared he would be blinded. For understandable reasons, he’d had no chance to test the Eurydice Potion before Nagini had bitten him. He did not know exactly how it worked or whether the final effects might be dangerous.

But he found nothing to grasp on to, and his speed was increasing. In the end, Severus had to trust that this was the right thing to happen, rather as Potter had had to leap over the bonfire in honest faith.

The white light burst out again as he reached a heavy, yielding roof like the surface of a stream. Severus gasped and struck out with his arms, because suddenly he had difficulty breathing. He struck again, and then someone gripped his arm and held it gently, his fingers running up and down the muscle.

Dazedly, Severus opened his eyes.

The world was all about him again, dazzling in the light of a spring—or early summer, if one went by the Celtic calendar—sunset. The sunlight was a blessing. Severus turned his head towards it first, even as he had to shut his eyes against the unexpected pain of it; he hadn’t opened them for a year, after all. Air whistled against his skin. Into his ears came the sound of snapping flames, and into his nostrils the scent of smoke. He wanted taste to complete the atmosphere, but he did not know what he might be able to taste.

“Sir?” It was Potter’s voice, low and near and warm.

Severus turned to face the Potter who had saved his life, and sought for bitter words, like the ones he had greeted James with when he realized that he owed the fool a life-debt.

The words remained beyond his reach.

“Sir?” Potter repeated, and there was a touch of frantic, tender concern in his voice that robbed Severus of words for quite another reason.

*

Snape sat up. His eyes blinked and opened, blinked and shut. He lifted the hand Harry wasn’t holding as if he would stroke the air, and then dropped it again. But he still hadn’t said anything, and Harry had to wonder if he’d returned with all of his wits.

“Sir?” he said for the second time, and didn’t try to hide how worried he was. Snape would probably turn around and snap at him in a few minutes anyway, because of course bringing him back to life on Beltane wasn’t enough. Harry should have done something else, should have been Malfoy or betrayed no emotion. He braced himself for the cutting words.

No use pretending it wouldn’t hurt, but at least he could act like it didn’t hurt, and maybe even convince Snape.

Snape turned to him at last, and there was the strangest expression on his face. He seemed speechless for once in his life. Several times he tried to speak, but nothing more than a grunt or the first syllable of a word emerged. Then he drew in his breath as if he would have to breathe out and power a ship.

“Thank you.”

His voice was hoarse, harsher and more unlovely than it had ever been, but Harry didn’t care. He could have collapsed in relief. In fact, he thought only his grip on Snape’s arm really held him up. He exhaled shakily and beamed at him.

“I’m glad.” He knew he sounded as if his mind was out of joint, but he didn’t care, not really. “I’m so glad. I didn’t think the potion would work, and then I didn’t find the letter until almost too late, and then I didn’t know if leaping over the Beltane fire would work—”

Snape’s fingers turned and curled around his wrist. Harry shut up. He had imagined again and again, whilst he was exercising Snape’s hands and arms, what it would feel like if Snape clasped his hand of his own free will, but this was reality—hard joints, harder knuckles, and the harder will behind them.

He exhaled another trembling breath and finally dared to look up into Snape’s eyes.

Snape stared back, and Harry could make out anger there. But he had spent a long time looking at Snape’s face, both in reality and in his mind’s eye, and he thought he could make out that Snape’s anger was directed at himself, for not knowing what to say, rather than Harry.

Well, he hasn’t rejected me yet. Harry took another risk and brought his other hand up to clasp Snape’s shoulder. “You’ll still need some time to recover,” he said. “I exercised you as well as I could, but being flat on your back in bed for a year can’t make you healthy. Would you like me to call a house-elf to help? Or Malfoy?”

Snape’s face wrinkled oddly. A sneer and a scowl were fighting for pride of place, Harry thought. “And what would you be doing in the meantime?” Snape demanded.

He wants to know what I’d be doing! Harry told himself there was no reason for the giddy delight that flashed through him, but he couldn’t help smiling. “I would stay and help if you wanted,” he said. “Or I could go back to Hogwarts. Ginny isn’t waiting for me anymore, but everyone else is.”

“You have not completed your NEWTS,” said Snape, as if thinking aloud. His hand turned, his fingers exploring further along Harry’s wrist. “Yet somehow you managed to brew the Eurydice Potion.”

“After a lot of false starts,” Harry said, and then bit his tongue. No need to undermine myself when he’ll do it soon enough.

“You still—saved my life.” It meant a lot that Snape said the words, Harry thought, no matter that he had to force them out. “And you’re doing much less bragging about it than your father would have in your place. Or even than Draco would have.” He shut his eyes, wincing against the light again. “And I have always detested house-elves. They believe that Potions ingredients must be tidied up, instead of left in their appointed places.”

Harry swallowed. “Does that mean that you want me to stay, sir?”

“On a—temporary basis.” Snape looked straight at him this time, and his eyes had regained the anger that had always marked them when he looked at Harry in school. But Harry could live with that, because he had lived with Snape for a year already, and because the bitterness was not there. “You will have your own life and your own visits from friends, of course, elsewhere. But you may be of some use as I recover, and you have already seen me weaker than this, so I can only improve in your sight.”

Harry couldn’t speak at first. His heart was beating inside his mouth, and he bent his head over Snape’s hand, not answering.

Snape’s gaze sharpened. He leaned forwards like a heron stabbing a fish, then stopped. His free hand rose instead, hovered above Harry’s head for a delicate moment, and wandered sideways and onto his cheek. Harry peeked at him through his fringe, not breathing, not swallowing, not thinking, just watching.

Snape’s hand firmed and settled into place. On his cheek. On his face, less than an inch from his lips.

Harry might have turned his head and kissed Snape’s palm.

He didn’t, because he was too happy to move or speak. And he thought he was entitled to feel that way, even not knowing exactly how Snape felt.

*

Severus gazed uncertainly into Potter’s eyes, whilst the bonfire snapped and settled, and the sun sank more fully beneath the earth, escorting summer in.

Then he realized that he need have no uncertainty, and used Legilimency to probe swiftly and painlessly into Potter’s thoughts. He had only a single startled moment to realize what it meant that there was no pain—and thus no resistance—before he was emerged in a whirl of emotions and sensations.

Sadness. Stubbornness. Grim determination. Oddly soft touches. Talking aloud to him even though Harry felt ridiculous and didn’t know if he could hear. Rearranging his body so that he would be more comfortable, because that was what Harry would have wanted someone to do for him in his place. Being proud of his Potions learning.

Severus broke gently free of the contact, and sat there, shaken.

He had concentrated, when he brewed the Eurydice Potion and on his journey through the underworld of his mind, on the moment of his awakening. He had not thought beyond that, or the fact that a reemergence into the light implied an existence within that light.

It might not be—intolerable—to share part of that existence with Potter. Or Harry, although he was calling him that only because a person always thought familiarly of himself in his own mind.

Harry, Severus decided, a bit more firmly, and said, “We will have our lives.”

Harry’s smile was the contented side of the expression he had worn when he leaped across the bonfire.

And Severus wondered if more than one summer might be coming, for him, and for Harry.

End.
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