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Fic: Terms of This Conflict (1/2)
animated LD7
lemondropseven
Title: Terms of This Conflict
Author: lemondropseven
Giftee: serpenscript
Word Count: ~20,100
Rating: R
Pairing: Severus/Harry
Warnings: Slavery, violence, torture (there is a hopeful/happy ending)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Left angry and bitter after the war, Harry’s whole focus is now on exacting due punishment on the guilty. Unfortunately, only one man is within his reach, and Harry is intent on making Severus Snape pay.
Author’s Notes: Some dialogue taken directly from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t have even attempted to write this story, much less finished it, without the wonderful hand-holding of my beta, whitecotton. Thank you so much. Also, thanks go to torina_archelda and accioslash for encouragement and read-throughs. serpenscript, I took your second prompt and kind of ran with it, I hope you enjoy it. Happy Snarry Holidays!

Terms of This Conflict


Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash.
-Louis Aragon

~~~


Harry felt a moment’s regret at his decision to Floo second when he stumbled into Snape’s waiting grip. Fingers dug into his upper arms tight enough to leave bruises as Snape slammed him into the unyielding stone wall of the fireplace.

“What the hell have you done, Potter?” Snape sounded incredulous, as if he couldn’t believe the events of the day. Harry was having a hard time of it himself. He was drained mentally and physically, long past tired, past exhaustion; he didn’t want to deal with this shit right now.

“I was almost free. Almost free!” Snape shouted.

“Free? You were almost dead!” Harry retorted.

Snape punctuated his outrage by shoving Harry against the wall again. Blinding white light filled his vision as his head cracked against stone for the third time.

Enough was enough.

Harry exploded without moving a muscle, without grabbing his wand or whispering a word. Pure magic burst from him in a cacophony of light and sound, throwing Snape into the opposite wall. He hit with a dull thud and slid to the floor, dazed.

Crossing the four feet inside the fireplace in two steps, Harry bent down and thrust a rough hand into the greasy black hair. His hand clenching into a fist, he smiled at Snape’s involuntary gasp when blunt fingers burrowed all the way to the scalp.

He pulled.

Snape scrambled to his feet, trying to relieve the sharp pain of his hair being torn out at the roots. Cursing and clawing at the iron grip, he struggled for an advantage. Harry quickly put an end to that idea, yanking Severus’ head down and leaning in close to whisper in his ear.

“I think you’ve forgotten that you are now my legal property, my slave. No one will stop me if I want to kill you. No one will care. You have no rights, no life, no identity,” Harry paused to savor the rare look of fear on Snape’s face, “Maybe a lesson is in order.”

Harry pinned Snape to the wall with magic, like a butterfly pinned to a board. With legs spread wide and arms stretched high above his head, Snape was completely immobilized, though he continued to strain futilely against the bonds. Releasing Snape’s hair with a vicious tug, Harry stepped back and surveyed the clearly furious man.

He could, and probably should, his conscience reminded him, walk away now, as he had won this battle. But the tilt of Snape’s head and the blazing glare directed at him showed a captured opponent, not a defeated one—completely unrepentant too, as he showered epithets on Harry in helpless rage. Instead, Harry slid his left hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a wand.

Snape’s wand.

The sweet, heady thrill of power rushed through his veins as Snape fell silent, frozen with dawning horror and apprehension. Absentmindedly, Harry twirled the wand through his fingers, watching the dark eyes track every movement. Acknowledging to himself that the act he was about to commit was comparable to chopping off a man’s hand, he locked eyes with Snape.

Then snapped the fragile wood in two.

Smirking in satisfaction at Snape’s groan of anguish and the cessation of his struggles, Harry replaced the useless kindling in his pocket and considered his options. So this type of misunderstanding didn’t happen again, he wanted proof of his ownership to be visible at all times as a reminder to Snape. A brand or anything that would leave a scar was not an option, nor was a tattoo.

He held out his hand and concentrated on what he wanted to create. Only the most powerful wizards were capable of conjuring items out of nothing, as it was a difficult skill to master. With Dumbledore and Voldemort dead, there was none who could match the pure strength of Harry’s magic.

A thin, circular piece of black leather materialized on his palm, one inch wide and inlaid with delicate silver scroll work. There was no opening or seam but it was quite clearly a collar. Harry ignored the choked sounds of rage and loss coming from Snape and studied his handiwork.

Something was missing.

Hissing softly in Parseltongue, he commanded a piece of the silver decoration to become a snake. Lazily, the fledgling serpent slithered round the collar and slowly blinked open emerald eyes.

“Yes, Master, how may I serve thee?”

“You are to guard my slave. Obey no commands but those given by me in your language. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Good. Please, open the collar.”


In answer, the small serpent straightened into a vertical line, head pointing up, then split himself in half. As he did so, the collar opened, with one jeweled eye remaining on each side like the clasp on a necklace. Harry smiled.

“Perfect.”

Meeting Snape’s eyes, his smile faded as the intoxicating thrill of having an enemy completely at his mercy was replaced with a vague sense of disgust for what he was doing—was about to do. Wanting to end this scene as quickly as possible and retreat into solitude, Harry brusquely placed the collar around Snape’s neck and spoke in staccato commands.

“You are no longer a person; you are a slave. You are mine. You will call me sir. You will always stand in my presence. You will not look me in the eyes—ever. You will not speak unless spoken to and you will answer every question or statement I make to you. Do you understand?”

There was a long pause as Snape visibly searched for a way out of this latest predicament in his life. His face blanked, knowing there was no escape.

Chin up and eyes down in a contradiction of defiance and obedience, Snape answered in a clear voice devoid of any emotion.

“Yes, sir.”

But Harry was already walking away.

Slamming the door to his bedroom shut, Harry kicked off his shoes, set his glasses on the night table and threw himself behind the blue velvet curtains of the bed. Settling in among the pillows, he slung an arm over his eyes and welcomed the soothing darkness.

Harry groaned, wondering what the hell he’d got himself into. He’d acted on impulse and was now operating on instinct and emotion. Sighing, his thoughts turned to Snape, still hanging in his fireplace, and all that had happened that day in the courtroom.

~~~


Harry trained his eyes on the door the prisoners would enter through, pointedly not looking at the people surrounding him. Most wanted to heap praises on his head, raise him on their shoulders in triumph. Despite nearly every person experiencing the personal loss of a loved one, joy mingled with their mourning as the wizarding world celebrated: their Savior had defeated Voldemort.

Harry did not want to join in the revelry, but he handled the well-meaning expressions of gratitude as best he could, misplaced though he thought they were. It was the silently accusing looks of those who blamed him for the deaths of friends, family and lovers that tore into him.

He should’ve ended it earlier. Why did it take so long? So many people, dead.

Throat suddenly tight, Harry dropped his gaze and pretended to be fascinated with the floor. Peering from under his eyelashes, he studied the man he’d called his best mate since he was eleven years old.

Ron’s face was a mask of grief and rage, his jaw clenched against the fierce emotions. Suddenly he turned his head, perhaps sensing Harry’s regard, and stared hard-eyed at his friend. Harry’s stomach flipped and he opened his mouth to protest a statement that hadn’t been made yet.

But nothing could be said here, like this, with two people squashed between them and who knew how many more staring at him. He’d tried right after the battle—tried to apologize, to explain. But nothing he could say, nothing he could do, would bring Ginny back.

Ron looked away and Harry fixed his eyes on the door again, avoiding Hermione’s look and the silent apology he knew would be on her face.

The din of murmured voices fell silent as the large, dark oak door opened and the prisoners were led into the centre of the circle of benches and stepped seats.

Harry couldn’t hear the crowd’s jeering and boos over the sound of his heart pounding in his chest. His breathing accelerated, hands clenching and releasing rhythmically as his gaze landed on the Malfoys. Fury surged through him as he remembered his encounters over the years with both the younger and elder Malfoy. Breathing deeply to maintain control, he looked away.

Glancing over the rest of the Death Eaters, he saw Snape enter the courtroom last, his bloodstained, filthy robe—the same one he’d worn at the Last Battle two weeks ago—trailing on the floor behind him. Thinner and paler than usual, it was clear the stay at Azkaban had been a hard one.

Not noticing Snape return his intense regard, Harry flicked his eyes back to the Malfoys. Snape’s entire body sagged in despair then straightened in the blink of an eye, his lapse noticed by no one, least of all by Harry.

The trial proceeded smoothly and swiftly until Snape was called to the center of the room. Witness after witness testified against him; students who had been tortured by teachers under Snape’s command, teachers who saw an evil man preying on children, Death Eaters hoping to sway an execution sentence to life in Azkaban by selling out one of their own.

Harry was the last to speak.

He hadn’t been at the school for his last year, but he had seen what no one else (barring a few Death Eaters) had: Dumbledore, weak and begging for mercy, Snape, face blank, green light streaking from his wand. Then Dumbledore falling and Snape running. Helpless anger and tears rose in him as they always did whenever he thought of that night. He didn’t let the tears fall, though there were many in the courtroom that did.

There was a deep silence when he finished speaking, a moment of respect for the memory of the greatest wizard of the age and those who had joined him to fight and die for the Light. Harry didn’t bow his head like the majority of the room; he glared at Snape.

Snape didn’t seem to care that he was being watched as he lowered his head, hair swinging forward to partially obscure his face. Harry saw genuine respect and grief cross his features. Blinking in surprise, he looked at Snape’s face but it was blank once more, and Harry dismissed it, sure he was mistaken.

Before sentencing, the prisoners were allowed to speak in their own defense. There were some very interesting pleas and outright fiction as the remaining Death Eaters scrambled to save their souls—literally. Still, no one expected what Snape claimed.

“Yes, I killed Dumbledore—” Snape paused while the courtroom erupted into chaos. Shouts rang out as everywhere people surged to their feet, fists raised, chanting for the Dementor’s Kiss. Harry reached for his wand only to have his wrist clamped firmly. Looking beside him, Harry tugged against the surprisingly strong grip of Neville Longbottom.

“Let me go, Neville,” he snarled. “You heard him, he admits it. And he had you tortured; don’t you want him to get what he deserves?” His words came fast and furious, spit flying in Neville’s face.

Neville looked into his eyes calmly and with utter assurance said, “Not like this, Harry. Don’t turn it into revenge; let the court handle it.”

The Wizengamot member heading the trial, William Loftis, pounded the gavel onto the already-pitted mahogany table, calling for order, but Harry didn’t hear him. Dragging his eyes back to Snape, he whispered, “I can’t.”

Snape slowly raised both hands in the air until the crowd finally quieted. His voice took on an edge that hadn’t been there before, “Yes, I killed him, but I didn’t murder him.”

Neville couldn’t stop him this time as Harry wrenched his arm free and vaulted over the rail, intent on murder. Reaching Snape unimpeded, he twisted his hand in the ratty cloak and yanked him to his feet, the tip of his wand digging deep into Snape’s throat.

What do you mean?” Harry gritted out the question, hanging onto his self-control by mere fingertips.

“Dumbledore ordered me to kill him. He had been cursed and was dying. This act of mercy…” Snape’s voice trembled on the last word before he regained his composure. “It would allow me to keep my cover as a Death Eater, spare Mr. Malfoy the stain of murder on his young soul, and give peace to a man who spent his life fighting for it.”

Harry’s grip loosened in shock, his wand falling away from Snape’s neck.

“You’re lying,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

“I assure you, I am not.”

Harry heard the honest conviction in that simple statement and wondered for the briefest moment if Snape was telling the truth. Shaking his head, he ignored the thought and shoved Snape away, causing him to fall back into the chair.

“You’re lying!” he shouted, raising his wand once more.

“Have you spoken to his portrait? Have you seen his memories? Do so and you will know I am telling the truth.” Snape’s voice was intense, and he looked up, eyes boring into Harry’s, making little effort to hide his desperation as he pleaded for his life.

Harry felt the pain of losing Dumbledore stab into him all over again at Snape’s words and he roared his hurt. “You know he hasn’t woken up! He may never wake up! And you’re the reason why!”

With a curse on the tip of his tongue and fury in his heart, Harry didn’t see the confused shock on Snape’s face, didn’t hear his stammered explanations. He opened his mouth… and froze.

The courtroom receded, the Auror rushing towards him blurred into the background, and then he was crouching, dodging, firing spell after spell, frantically searching—he’d lost her. But then he saw, and there... there she was, falling.

Stunned disbelief was quickly overtaken by guilt, horror, and rage.

Darkness crawled through his mind and body, clawing from the inside out until, with a shout, he released it. Burning through him, it left him raw and empowered, drunk on revenge and sickened by it.

A hand on his wrist, lowering his arm, snapped him back to the present and he met Snape’s knowing look.

“Go ahead and kill me, Potter. I can see you want to. But know this: it will not bring him back.” Snape dropped his eyes, defeated, and whispered, “It never does.”

Disgusted with himself and the truth of Snape’s words, Harry brushed off the Auror’s hands and thrust his wand into his robe. Making his way back to the front row, he collapsed onto the bench and buried his face in shaking hands.

Snape watched him the whole way.

The rest of the trial passed in a blur for Harry, his thoughts drowning out Snape’s testimony. An order. It couldn’t have—he wouldn’t have—no. Snape was lying. Circling around and around, he kept coming back to that night. He had been there; he knew what he saw.

When the sentencing began, he forced himself to pay attention, but it brought no relief.

Harry watched in stunned disbelief as the youngest and newest recruits of the Death Eaters were given the opportunity for “rehabilitation” since they were young and so could only be held partially responsible. Some received short sentences, but most were released into the custody of their closest family members. Draco’s smirk as he walked to a seat next to his mother, who had already been excused for helping Harry, was like salt in a wound.

Several of the low-ranking Death Eaters were also released on parole under the supervision of their spouses or, in some cases, a court-assigned guardian. A few, those notorious for being especially vicious, were to be executed.

By the time Voldemort’s inner circle, what was left of it, was to be sentenced, Harry was a mass of nerves. His whole body was tense, leaning forward, fingers gripping the wooden bench as he waited for justice to be done. Lestrange and Nott were immediately sentenced to receive the Dementor’s Kiss, as were some others, such as Greyback and Amycus Carrow. The rest, Lucius Malfoy among them, were sentenced to life in Azkaban.

He heard Draco’s gasp and Mrs. Malfoy’s half-aborted sob, but felt no sympathy. The distinction between Malfoy’s crimes and Lestrange’s was lost on Harry. In his opinion, the bastard had got off lightly.

Then it was Snape’s turn and the courtroom once again erupted into chants and shouts.
Loftis stood and shouted for order, his gavel simply adding to the confusion and noise instead of quieting the crowd.

Eventually, the room grew silent, and Snape stood and calmly awaited the Wizengamot’s decision.

“Severus Snape, for crimes committed while in the service of the Dark Lord and for the murder of Albus Dumbledore, we find you guilty and sentence you to the Dementor’s Kiss.”

Two hours later, Harry walked the grounds of Hogwarts contemplating the various fates of the Death Eaters. Kicking a rock out of his path, a black mood descended over him as he thought about the court’s inexplicable leniency. Murderers and psychopaths were basically walking free after only a slap on the wrist, except for the few in Azkaban and those who, like Snape, were to be executed.

Snape, at least, had got what he deserved but even that was almost merciful. He wouldn’t suffer as he had caused so many to suffer.

It wasn’t fair.

He stood looking out over the lake, the tranquil waters doing nothing to soothe his turmoil. His confrontation with Snape and the unjust sentencing pounded through his brain, mixing with his frustration. Suddenly his thoughts merged into an idea so startling he wondered where it had come from.

He could ask for Snape to be released into his custody and he could make him pay. No one would care about the fate of Severus Snape, Death Eater and murderer of the greatest wizard of the age.

But as it turned out, there were some people who cared.

The visit to Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, did not go as smoothly as Harry had hoped. Pacing the length of the plush office, he made his case while Shacklebolt remained silent. Finally running out of words, he halted abruptly in front of Shacklebolt’s desk and waited for his verdict.

“Mr. Potter, I am not inclined to believe that your motivations are entirely pure… I know about your outburst in court today.” Shacklebolt paused to level a disapproving look at him. Harry flushed.

Heaving a sigh, Shacklebolt continued, “But I see no other option that will give me enough time to get to the bottom of this. Unlike you, I have my doubts about Severus Snape—for many reasons, the least of which is the fact that Albus Dumbledore trusted him with his life.”

Harry bit back a retort about that trust getting Dumbledore killed.

“I’ve never known Dumbledore to be wrong about a person.” Shacklebolt said as he placed a piece of parchment on his desk. Harry signed without reading it while listening to an explanation of the particulars of the situation. As Shacklebolt droned on, Harry tuned him out until he heard the word slave.

Harry’s head snapped up, sure he’d heard wrong. “He’s my what?”

“He’s your property; essentially a slave. Given the public opinion of Severus and your well-known hatred of him, I think entering this into the public records would be a mistake. It is official, but only you, me and Severus will know of his actual status. Everyone else will believe he received the Dementor’s Kiss with the other Death Eaters.” Shacklebolt looked appraisingly at Harry. “Don’t make me regret this.”

Snape was brought in and informed of the situation, but he just stood there and stared, too shocked to react. Harry thought it best to get back to his rooms at Hogwarts before Snape could process the facts, as there was bound to be an explosion. Hurrying Snape through the Floo, he stepped in after him, Shacklebolt’s look of doubt and suspicion following him.

~~~


Harry sat up, shaking his head to clear his thoughts, and swung his legs over the edge of his bed. Shacklebolt could make trouble for him if he thought he was mistreating Snape. He’d have to be careful and make sure he kept the Minister out of his business.

That should be easy, as McGonagall had offered Harry the use of one of the guest suites at Hogwarts while he sorted himself out. The ones Harry had chosen were rambling, consisting of five rooms, and tucked far away from the others down a series of twisting corridors. His intention had been to avoid everyone, but now the main advantage was that no one would chance upon the rooms and discover he’d brought Snape to them.

A shout followed by a loud crash had him lunging to his feet. He threw open the door and skidded into the sitting room at a dead run.

Snape hung in the fireplace, a defiant smirk gracing his lips and the mirror from above the mantle shattered on the floor in front of him. Harry didn’t care about the mirror, as it had been in the room when he moved in, but this act of rebellion couldn’t go unpunished.

He smiled at the thought.

Vanishing the shards of glass, Harry strolled casually over to Snape and, without warning, backhanded him. A surprised grunt escaped Snape as his head snapped to the side. He recovered quickly, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth.

“Potter, you will pay for that. I swear—”

Silencio.

Snape fumed silently, gritting his teeth. However, apparently some of the earlier lesson had sunk in, as he carefully avoided eye contact. Harry backed up a pace and stroked his left pocket, smirking when Snape’s eyes were drawn to the movement.

“And what will you do, Snape?” Harry taunted, spitting the name out as if it tasted foul. “Do you think that pitiful bit of wandless magic will help you? Really?” He scoffed, patting the bump of Snape’s broken wand.

Snape deflated, despair flickering over his features before hardening into the familiar blank mask.

“I’ll tell you what you’ll do,” Harry sneered, “not a damn thing.”

Harry abruptly released Snape’s bonds and he fell to the floor in a heap, sending up a cloud of ashes. Snape winced as he slowly righted himself, the feeling obviously returning in a rush to his numbed arms. Harry grabbed Snape roughly, pulling him into the room, but then paused. Wrinkling his nose in disgust as he caught a whiff of Snape for the first time, he pushed him back into the fireplace.

“You’re filthy and you reek. Strip.”

Snape looked at him in mute disbelief, but Harry was determined. “I said, strip.”

When Snape continued to stand there, making no move to obey, Harry swept cold eyes from his head to his toes, then reached for his wand. “I’m going to burn those rags you’re wearing and I don’t much care if you take them off first or not. Your choice,” he said nonchalantly, aiming his wand at Snape.

Whether Snape actually stripped or not was inconsequential; he was worthless, less than insignificant. Harry had him at his mercy and that squirming, insidious thing inside him was screaming for revenge, begging his enemy to make a wrong move. The question was not whether Snape would obey him or not, it was whether Harry could wake the cold inside him enough to care.

Snape stood there for a moment, glaring; then something of what Harry was thinking must have seeped into his eyes, or else his face bore too many signs of the cruel indifference he felt for Severus to think Harry was anything other than serious. Snape’s eyes widened, looking from Harry’s face to his wand. Then, his face paling, he lowered his head, dirty hair swinging forward to hide his humiliation, and fumbled with his cloak.

Finally shrugging it off, he let it pool at his feet and reached for the buttons on his jacket. Discarding it, he started on his shirt, finally adding it to the growing pile on the floor. He reached for his belt, hesitated, then glanced at Harry before dropping his eyes to the wand still aimed at him. Resigned to it, Snape slid his trousers down his legs, stepped out of his shoes and trousers at the same time, and stood there in only his underwear, socks and his vulnerability.

“Everything,” Harry said tersely.

Once he was completely naked, Harry motioned Snape out of the fireplace and then aimed his wand at the pile of rags in the fireplace. “Incendio,” he hissed, and watched the flames eagerly consume the rags, remembering, knowing what Snape would have looked like, incandescent, writhing in indescribable pain.

Turning his head sharply to dispel the image, he studied Snape. Covered in so many layers of grime and filth that the color of his skin was unidentifiable, his ribs and hipbones poking out obscenely with scars littering his body, he looked exactly like what he was: a dead man walking. The only beauty to the picture was the green-jeweled eyes glinting at his throat.

Face and voice expressionless, Harry uttered his first thought, “Not much to look at, are you?”

Jerking slightly in either surprise or fear, Snape just looked at him, and Harry saw the poorly concealed mortification in his eyes before a sneer transformed his face. Straightening his spine, Snape stormed into the closest room, the loo, and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving the violent noise to speak loud and clear for him.

Mouth tightening into a flat line of anger, Harry slashed his hand through the air, Vanishing the door as easily as he had the broken mirror. Glaring at a shocked Snape, he walked in and crowded him back against the sink. In a deadly calm voice he said, “For a Slytherin, you’re a little slow on the uptake, aren’t you? I have the power here. Don’t push me. Understood?”

Snape nodded once, sharply.

Wanting to make absolutely certain that Snape got the message, Harry countered the silencing spell. “Now, tell me you understand,” he said, condescension dripping from the words.

Snape shivered, whether from fear or cold Harry couldn’t tell, and answered through clenched teeth, each syllable distinct. “I understand.”

Not backing off, determined to make Snape give just an inch, Harry demanded, “‘I understand’ what?”

Hunching his shoulders, Snape seemed to shrink in on himself, the fight leaving his eyes as he mumbled, “I understand, sir.”

Harry cocked his head and considered him: the posture that screamed misery and resignation and the “sir” that sounded like a word you’d hiss after stepping in dog shit. Something hot and dangerous coursed through his veins as he realized he’d won this round, and satisfaction settled deep into his bones, a ghost of a smile appearing on his lips.

“Fine. Get in the shower,” Harry said dismissively as he turned to leave the cramped space. “You still stink.”

As he walked away, he heard the sound of running water and smirked to himself.

The rest of the evening passed in surprising peace. Snape dressed in the plain black trousers and long-sleeved shirt Harry had left for him without the derogatory comments or complaints he was expecting. It was odd seeing him in regular clothes instead of the full robes he’d worn all the time, but Harry supposed he’d get used to it.

Gesturing towards the kitchen, he said, “Dinner’s in there.”

His eyebrows shot up when Snape gave a meek-sounding “Yes, sir” and then fell on his food as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. He guessed that wasn’t much of an exaggeration, though, considering he’d been in Azkaban since the Last Battle. Harry wandered back into the living room and sat on the couch staring blindly into the now-empty fireplace.

When Snape had finished eating, Harry took him to the guest room just down the hall from his bedroom, expecting a protest about the lack of a door. Other than flinching slightly, Snape gave no indication he’d even noticed the absence, and didn’t question the arrangement.

He couldn’t tell if it was trust, disrespect, or resignation when Snape silently climbed on the bed and closed his eyes, seemingly uncaring whether Harry was there or not. Looking at him, flat on his back, long fingers laced together over his stomach, Harry was betting on one of the latter two.

~~~


Gray and black and white swirl around him, weaving his heart and soul and mind into blankness. His eyes want to close, screaming at him through his eyelids: no! No, no, no. Pounding feet. He knows he’s running but he can’t hear the steps, can’t feel the reverberation of the manic pace.

Too late too late too late: the words write themselves in the air.

Air suffocates him as he pants, chasing the faint trail of color in this empty world. Red teases him, brushes over him—entices him. Red laughs with him and makes him laugh. He can see it, almost touch that red. It promises peace; he reaches toward it, and then… falling.

Not him.

No, he’s safe. Safe, safe, safe. The red. The lovely bright red is falling; tainted with a haze of electric green. It comes for him. Not to make him fall, no. No, it wants him; it wants inside, deep where it’s never been before. Invading, but not; he invites it in. It seeps and slithers.

Good, the green feels good, filling him, and he plays with it; he feels it building building building and rushing.

Then it’s gone and Harry is...

Awake. Gasping for breath and reeling from the abrupt return to reality, Harry staggered to the bathroom. He was very familiar with the pattern by now and made it just in time to empty the contents of his rebellious stomach into the toilet. Staring at his vomit floating in the water, the stench burned his nose and throat.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Something cold and hard nudged Harry’s shoulder. He turned his head the bare minimum distance needed to see the small glass of water with a hand attached, just as it bumped against him again. Following the hand up to the arm, travelling over the shoulder and past sleep-mussed hair, Harry’s gaze landed on Snape.

He wasn’t surprised, exactly; there was no one else it could be, after all. But it didn’t make sense. What was he doing?

Long seconds passed as Harry stared at him, looking for a clue to his behavior. But Snape stood motionless with his eyes averted. Harry opened his mouth without knowing what would come out but the glass nudged him once more, this time on his half-parted lips.

Harry took the glass in the manner it was offered—wordlessly—and rinsed out his mouth, pondering the last two weeks. He’d discovered pretty quickly that it was impossible to maintain the level of hate and animosity he’d felt that first day; it was too draining. It was still there, underlying every interaction with Snape, and escaped more often than not, but he was no longer on a hair trigger, responding violently with little or no provocation.

Snape had been quiet in response to Harry’s demeanor, not overtly angry, though the muscle in his jaw would twitch when Harry insulted him, his eyes flashing before he lowered his head to hide his expression. But this was different. Snape had sought him out to…what, exactly? Offer comfort?

Snorting at the thought, he shifted back against the sink, resting his forearms on bent knees. He closed his eyes, letting his head drop back against the cool porcelain of the pedestal. The position exposed his throat and another thought struck him.

“You know, if you were ever going to try and kill me with your bare hands, now would be a good time.”

The words were supposed to be ironic or taunting, instead they sounded like a request. Harry kept his eyes closed, not caring if Snape took him up on the offer.

“I know how it feels to watch someone you love die.”

Harry’s eyes snapped open, searching Snape’s face for the emotion he could hear in the quiet, raspy voice. But he was hiding again, all black hair and shadows.

“I know how it feels to know you killed them.”

Barely breathing, his body shaking, Harry listened.

“I know how it feels to kill for them.” Snape’s head came up suddenly, the fire in his eyes nailing Harry in place. “I know how it feels to be both attracted and repulsed by the power coursing through you. How addictive it can be. How tempting.”

The last word was barely a whisper, almost an enticement. Harry knew that feeling. Everything Snape had said—

Standing abruptly, Harry turned his back on Snape and leaned on the sink, shaking his head in denial. He didn’t want Snape to understand him. He didn’t want to understand Snape; but he did.

“You don’t know how I feel,” Harry whispered, forcing the lie out. “You don’t know what I did.”

In the mirror, Harry saw Snape shift, heard the rustle of cloth and bare feet. Snape looked away, at the door. Then, his words halting but firm, he said, “I was there, near you, watching. I saw everything.”

Harry froze, muscles clenching as his breath hitched, knuckles turning white where he gripped the edge of the sink. He hadn’t seen him. Why had Snape been there? There was no way Snape hadn’t seen what he’d done.

Mind racing, it was a long moment before he was able to speak. “You don’t know anything,” the lie came more easily to his lips this time as he sank deep into denial. “You’re a liar and a murderer.”

Hanging his head, Harry wondered when the nightmare would end. When he looked back up into the mirror several minutes later, Snape was gone, leaving as quietly as he’d come.

Harry turned on the cold water, letting the frigid liquid pool in his cupped hands. Splashing his face several times, he hissed in a breath as the icy water stung his cheeks and trickled down his neck. Grabbing a towel from the hook on the wall, he rubbed the rough fabric hard over his face and stared into the mirror.

He looked like shit. And somehow, he managed to feel worse.

Sighing, Harry turned away from the pale figure with dark circles under his eyes. Knowing there was no chance of him getting any more sleep, he dressed quickly, and left his rooms to wander the halls of Hogwarts, hoping the familiar routine would bring some comfort.

The flickering light of an occasional torch caused the shadows to dance and sway across the corridor, their edges catching on the craggy surface of the stone walls. Harry moved through the darkness, blending seamlessly with the night.

The silence was a living thing, full of hopes and fears, desires and demands; it shouted pain and joy, life and death. Harry felt every word. It throbbed in his veins and pulsed through his blood, the cries from without and within mingling, melding.

He walked for hours, never passing the same portrait twice, talking to the silence and listening to it in return until the chaos inside him calmed. The nightmare was just a memory now, in the light of a new day starting to peer through massive glass windows. It hid like the moon from the sun, unseen yet still there, waiting until nightfall to shine down on him again.

~~~


Harry ran a hand through his hair and huffed out a breath as an unfamiliar owl pecked at him impatiently.

“Yes, here,” he said, distractedly feeding it a treat. His eyes skimmed rapidly over the parchment. Reading the short note for a second and third time, his heart jumped. It’d been almost three weeks since the trial when he’d last seen Ron. There had been no communication between them for even longer, not since the Last Battle. He’d almost given up. What if Ron was still angry?

Cursing himself, he paced back and forth furiously. Of course, he’s still angry—Harry was still angry. He was supposed to watch out for Ginny and now she was…Maybe Ron would let him apologize this time. If he just knew…

Harry’s shin banged painfully against the low side table. Growling, he rubbed the wounded area briskly. He needed to escape for a while so he could think.

Crumpling the letter into a ball, Harry tossed it up into the air and waved his hand, watching it burst into flames, raining ashes that dissolved long before they reached the floor. He was halfway to the front door before he remembered Snape.

He’d had as little contact as possible with him since their awkward encounter in the middle of the night last week. In fact, they seemed to be ignoring each other. Snape hadn’t reprised his surprising role as comforter when Harry awoke sweating and trembling every night, and Harry hadn’t spoken to him at all, even though he hadn’t left his rooms since wandering the castle that night.

Biting his lip, he looked through the open door of the room Snape referred to as “the library”. It wasn’t anything of the sort; just a small room where a previous guest had left his books, some on shelves but most stacked precariously high on the floor. Whatever it was, it was where Snape spent most of his time. Harry shifted from foot to foot, watching him from the threshold for a minute, as Snape flipped a few pages in a large text, scribbled some notes, then flipped and scribbled again.

Snape’s instincts were as honed as ever and he looked up, sensing Harry’s gaze on him. Striding into the room as if he had planned to do so all along, Harry took a deep breath trying to clear his mind.

Snape stood as Harry entered, and contradicting images flashed through Harry’s memory: Snape, insulting and cruel in Potions class; Snape with downcast eyes and soft voice offering sympathy; Snape, face blank as he cast the Killing Curse; Snape mourning Dumbledore at the trial.

Maybe he was telling the truth, but then…he was a spy. If he had lied to one side, he could lie to the other.

Snape was playing him.

Stomach churning, Harry pushed aside his doubts as other memories replaced Snape’s face. This time it was Malfoy’s face sneering, his wand aimed at his heart; the nameless Death Eater casually killing Ginny, a sixteen-year-old girl, in the name of a madman; his classmates, mostly Slytherins, that had fought for Voldemort but were now walking around, policed only by their sympathetic parents or aunts and uncles.

The others were out of reach, but Snape was his.

He knew it wasn’t a completely rational thought, and at the moment... No. He couldn’t—wouldn’t bring himself to care. Harry straightened subtly, the confusion of the last few days falling away from him as he gave the usual commands to the snake on Snape’s collar.

“I’m going out for a bit. You know the rules. If you attempt to leave these rooms or contact anyone by any method, your guardian will choke you to death. “

Jaw tense, Snape gritted out, “Yes, sir.”

Harry looked at him for a long moment, noticing the way Snape held himself unnaturally still, shoulders tense and chin thrust out and up; but something in his eyes belied his posture.

It was disappointment.

Did he think anything would change just because he’d pretended to be nice, offering water and false understanding? Mentally scoffing, Harry ran his hand over his left pocket where he habitually carried Snape’s wand, smirking when dark eyes tracked the movement as they always did.

Message received.

Without a backward look, Harry left the room.

Keeping to the more obscure corridors and staircases, Harry wandered aimlessly, lost in thought. The chattering voices of students rushing to and from classes drifted through the walls into the hidden passages, drowning out the soothing silence of the castle. He dragged his fingertips over the rough stone, smooth wood, and velvet curtains of the hallways, rubbing the prickly-soft fabric the wrong way.

Harry,
Meet me and Hermione at Hogsmeade, Friday night at 8. We need to talk.
Ron


The words reverberated through his brain. He could think of nothing else. Four days and then he could explain, apologize...make it better, somehow. But how could he?

Ginny…so sorry. He’d tried so hard.

Staggering to a stop under the weight of his grief, Harry slowly crumpled in on himself and leaned against the wall, grateful he was alone. He took in a shuddering breath, and released it slowly, searching for control. To distract himself from the tears forming in his eyes, he looked around, noticing for the first time where he was.

He was in the seventh-floor corridor, the gargoyle protecting the Headmistress’ office loomed over him. Staring up at the harsh features, Harry jolted when the massive statue tilted its head down and met his gaze. Scrambling to his feet, he backed up a few steps as the guardian smoothly stepped to the side, leaving the spiral staircase open.

Harry didn’t move, glancing from the gargoyle to the stairs and back, unsure what it wanted him to do. He couldn’t just… go in. McGonagall was protective of him and had let him know Hogwarts was his home as long as he needed or wanted, but even so, he didn’t think she’d easily forgive him for entering her office without permission.

He started to walk past the statue, thinking he could really use a ride on his broom instead of a walk, but a stone arm as big around as his body stretched across the hall, blocking his way.

“Okay, I get it,” Harry muttered, raising his hands in defeat. “I’m going.”

Taking a deep breath, he cast his eyes upward and hoped whatever the castle was up to wouldn’t end with him in trouble. He cast an exasperated glance over his shoulder at the guardian and sighed when it shrugged. He started climbing.

The heavy door swung open on its own, revealing the dimly lit Headmistress’ office. Harry hesitated as memories washed over him before stepping over the threshold; he’d been here only once since the end of the war. Looking around the room, he avoided the large portrait behind the desk, not wanting to see its occupant sleeping. The room wasn’t the same without Dumbledore’s twinkling blue eyes and his offers of tea and sweets. More than anything, Harry missed hearing him say—

“Harry, my boy—”

Startled, Harry jumped, letting out an inarticulate yelp, his head snapping around so hard he feared he’d given himself whiplash.

“Come in, come in. Lemon drop? I believe Minerva has some around here somewhere.” Dumbledore searched the desktop for the sour sweets, smiling as if his portrait hadn’t just woken up after more than a year of sleeping.

Harry stood stock still, mouth gaping and eyes wide, wondering wildly if this was a different nightmare to torture him. Give him hope and then yank it away when he woke to find the portrait lifeless.

“Breathe, Harry, breathe.” Dumbledore peered down at him, a frown of concern etching his brow. “You are not dreaming and this is not the first time I’ve been awake.”

Gasping much-needed oxygen into his lungs and not once taking his eyes off Dumbledore, Harry stumbled to a chair. Strangely enough, the seemingly psychic comment about dreams actually reassured him, as Dumbledore had always known what Harry was thinking. Or close enough.

“But—but you—what do you mean you’ve been awake before? Nobody’s seen you—we thought you were lost forever.”

Dumbledore hesitated uncharacteristically, and Harry’s stomach dropped, knowing he wasn’t going to like whatever the professor said next.

“Actually, there is one other person who has seen me since my death.” Dumbledore glanced down and away for a moment before leveling a serious look at him. “Harry, I need you to promise to keep your temper in check as this might come as a bit of a surprise.”

Harry snorted, one corner of his mouth quirking up in a cynical smirk. “I make no promises that I can’t keep, Professor,” he said respectfully, but with no give in the steely tones of his voice.

Sighing, Dumbledore gracefully conceded the point and continued somewhat cautiously. “This portrait is spelled to awaken only in the presence of two men, Harry—you and Severus Snape.”

Flinching at the name, Harry’s stomach roiled, hands clenching instinctively as if hiding something inside his closed fists. Swallowing hard, he asked, “And when was the last time you saw Snape, Professor?” Unable to resist the anger welling in his chest, he added tightly, “I mean other than the night he killed you, of course.”

Ignoring the scathing sarcasm, Dumbledore answered honestly, “I saw him and spoke with him often during his tenure as Headmaster”—he paused, narrowing his eyes speculatively at Harry—“but I haven’t had contact with Severus since you brought him here as your slave.”

Harry’s lips parted, an immediate denial on his tongue, but he knew it’d be pointless to protest. Obviously Dumbledore still had ways of finding out information. Even dead and assumed gone, he knew everything that happened in Hogwarts.

Ah, Hogwarts… of course. The castle itself must have told him about Snape. And Dumbledore had wasted no time instructing the castle to lead Harry to the office and let him in.

Harry’s heart raced as his dirty secret lay uncovered between them, feeling like he was sitting there naked, completely exposed. He said nothing while fear and guilt chased the anger coursing through him.

Finally Dumbledore broke the silence. “I know why you’ve done what you have, Harry, but you’re wrong. Severus does not deserve death, nor does he deserve to be made a slave to yet another powerful wizard.”

Harry turned his head away from the faded blue eyes, perceptive even in a painting, and stared unseeing at the Sorting Hat resting on a shelf.

“My boy, there are things you do not understand, things I never told you—” Harry couldn’t help but snort at that understatement. Dumbledore looked chagrined briefly but continued, “Things I couldn’t tell you at the time.”

Anger was winning the race inside him and Harry clenched his teeth to keep from yelling at the one he respected above all others, delusional though he was.

“Harry, as you know, Professor Snape was a spy, working for the light side—”

“He was a liar,” Harry spat, “and a traitor!”

Dumbledore raised his voice and spoke over Harry’s interruption, “But what you do not know is what happened the night I died.”

Shooting to his feet, Harry slammed his hands down on the desk. The stinging slap to his palms went unnoticed as he shouted, “I was there! I saw him kill you! You trusted him and he killed you without a second thought! Then he ran back to Voldemort to celebrate his victory.”

“Yes, I trusted him, with my life and my death. I trust him still.”

Dumbledore’s calm declaration pushed the boundaries of Harry’s control. Ink bottles and trinkets on the desk and shelves began to rattle with Harry’s rage. Panting harshly, he grasped desperately for the reins to his wayward magic.

“He—is—a—murderer!” he roared, face contorting violently, the tendons in his neck corded and strung tight. A small bottle shattered, showering Harry in tiny fragments of glass and splattering blood-red ink on his hands.

“Sometimes, Harry, taking a life is necessary,” Dumbledore’s heavy voice draped over Harry, smothering him with the horrendous truth that killing was acceptable under certain circumstances. His insides twisted. He looked down, the color draining from his face abruptly when he saw the backs of his hands dotted and smeared with dark red. The icy chill of death spread through his heart.

Holding up stained hands, he said in a small, shaking voice, “Necessary? Was it necessary for my parents to die? Was it necessary for Sirius to be killed? For you to be murdered?” Harry turned his hands over and stared at his spotless palms, seeing the blood of many lives covering them. “For Remus, Tonks, Fred, all the students who fought and died—was that necessary? Was it necessary for Ginny to be fl-flicked aside l-like a fly, like a-an annoyance? Didn’t she de-deserve to live?” he stuttered, shuddering as memories swamped him.

He scrubbed his hands on his jeans, but they wouldn’t come clean. He’d never be clean again.

Shoving them into his pockets, he glanced around the office, lost in thought, focusing inward as he let his gaze rest once again on the folded, ratty hat.

“Was it necessary when I took his life for hers? Or was it pleasure? A choice—my choice,” he almost whispered, his voice filled with self-loathing.

Harry’s breath caught in his throat and his stomach heaved as he recalled Dumbledore’s words from a conversation in his second year about this very subject. He whispered, “It is our choices…” to himself, and was sure he was going to be sick.

He needed to go, to leave. He couldn’t deal with this right now.

Harry turned away from Dumbledore, not wanting to see revulsion on the normally kind face. Clutching a hand to his stomach, he stumbled towards the door, a jumble of images and emotion blinding him. A mangled sound halfway between a sob and a hysterical laugh escaped him as the last month of sleepless nights and tormented days came crashing down on him.

“Harry!”

He stopped and for a long moment, the only sound in the office was his raspy breathing.

“Death is always a terrible thing, Harry. And the sacrifices of war are… regrettable and tragic, yes, but sometimes they are necessary.” Dumbledore spoke softly as if to a wounded wild animal, trying to soothe it enough to get close and heal it. “You are quite correct, though, it is our choices who determine who we are. We can choose to make the necessary decisions, choose to know the truth, or choose to run and hide from it.”

Harry didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t even breathe. Something petulant and rebellious clawed inside his chest. He didn’t want to have to make those choices. He should care, but… what if he wanted to run and hide? Hadn’t he done enough already?

Sighing, Dumbledore tried one more time, saying, “You are a good man, Harry, I know you will make the right choice.”

Harry flinched. The dark thing surged higher, beating against his ribs, wanting out. He wasn’t—he didn’t—he couldn’t—

“I need you to know the truth about Severus, about the night of my death. Severus was a spy for the Order, as you know. I was already dying and I—”

Harry shut down. He didn’t hear the rest of Dumbledore’s sentence, he didn’t want to know the truth. If that was the wrong choice, or the coward’s way out, then so be it because he just couldn’t handle this right now, not on top of everything else.

Dumbledore didn’t understand. Nobody understood. It didn’t matter anyway.

Harry walked out.

He’d done everything he was supposed to do. Everything. It was his life that’d been taken over. It was his parents who’d died. It was his destiny. He was the only one who could save them.

And he’d done it. He’d killed Voldemort, ended the war, and saved the fucking world. Why wasn’t that enough?

Harry found himself at his door with no memory of the route he’d taken to get there. He didn’t open it.

Everything was supposed to be better after the war. But it wasn’t. Ginny was dead. Ron wasn’t—was maybe—speaking to him. Voldemort still haunted him though he was dead, too. The darkness hadn’t lessened inside him when the war ended; it had increased.

Shaking violently, Harry stood, hands clenched and teeth gritted. He stared at the door, Dumbledore’s ridiculous defense of Snape pounding through his mind.

After all that, it still wasn’t enough. He hadn’t done enough—hadn’t been good enough—he was still the abandoned one. Dumbledore took Snape’s side, not his. It was all Snape’s fucking fault. He was the one who’d tormented Harry on his first day in school, he was the one who’d turned Dumbledore against him…

He was the one still making Harry’s life miserable.

Blood racing, Harry slammed open the door. Stalking into the library, he found Snape just as he’d left him, sitting at the desk, looking innocent.

Snape barely had time to look up before Harry was on him. Grabbing Snape by the shirt, Harry yanked him to his feet.

“You’ve ruined everything, you bastard,” Harry hissed into Snape’s shocked face.

“What are you—”

A blur of movement—the thud of knuckles sinking into flesh—and Snape was doubled over, gasping for air. Harry grinned and pushed him away. Snape stumbled but stayed on his feet. Raising his head, Snape opened his mouth again but Harry’s fist was there.

Snape hit the ground this time. He pressed one hand to his jaw and cradled his stomach with the other. Looking up, he exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing, Potter?”

Harry spat into his upturned face.

Eyes narrowing, Snape wiped his face and started to get to his feet.

Sneering at Snape’s stupidity, Harry answered, “I’m giving you exactly what you deserve,” and pulled back his foot.

He heard the crunch of ribs fracturing, saw the startled pain flash across Snape’s face and felt the pure satisfaction of a hunter cornering his prey. Adrenaline sang through his veins.

“You’re pathetic,” Harry taunted.

Snape was curled up in a ball, trying to protect his side. He almost wasn’t worth the effort. He wasn’t a threat. Smirking, Harry stepped closer—this was too easy.

His elbow hit the floor first then his head cracked against stone. White light flared in his vision and Snape was on top of him.

Snape’s left arm was huddled protectively against his body. The strong fingers of his right hand were wrapped around Harry’s throat. Choking and gasping, Harry pried at the tight grip cutting off his air.

Suddenly he could breathe—Snape had let go.

Warm and wet, Snape’s saliva hit Harry’s cheek a split second before his fist. Growling, Harry aimed a punch to Snape’s injured ribs. A grunt told him he’d landed it.

Rolling them over, Harry leaned hard and heavy on Snape’s chest, his body a crushing weight. He was finally going to put Snape in his place. He grinned.

All those years of taunts and unfair treatment, avenged. The lies and betrayals, finished now. Exultation screamed through him. Roaring his joy, Harry hit him again and again.

Snape struggled underneath him. His hands flailed, trying to cover his face and inflict whatever damage he could, but Harry was unstoppable in his fury.

Finally Snape’s body went slack.

Harry leaned back, sitting on Snape’s thighs and just looked at him. Chest heaving, heart pumping, he could feel the beast inside taking over. He could end it so easily. A whispered spell, a twist of his neck—and it’d be over. It’d all be over.

No.

It’d be too easy. Snape hadn’t suffered enough. For everything that he’d taken from Harry, he deserved more than a beating, more than a quick, merciful death. He deserved to suffer.

Harry lurched to his feet. Stepping over Snape’s unconscious body, he staggered to the bathroom. Pissing hurt. He must’ve taken a shot to the groin. The fight was such a blur of sensations, feelings and thoughts, that he couldn’t recall every hit… Suddenly, cold sweat prickled over his skin and an uneasy chill swept through him.

An overwhelming feeling of something not right made his stomach roil. Lunging towards the toilet, he threw up, again and again.

Even after the spasms had stopped, he stayed there for a while, curled over the basin, shaking. The discomfort increased, spreading past the ache in his stomach, past the bruises, but he refused to examine it.

It must have been the elbow in the guts. Nothing else.

He glared at his face in the mirror, a face that looked nothing like the Harry he knew—the Harry he thought he knew. Nothing else, just another hit he’d taken at the hands of Snape.

Not bothering to heal his injuries or undress, he fell into bed, his demons temporarily exorcised.

Part 2

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