Ria (kessie) wrote,

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HP FIC: In Neglect [NC-17] [Snape/Harry]

Okay, so, I'm late. merry_smutmas reveals are up, so I can now say that I wrote In Neglect for lisaroquin. Harry/Snape, which may be a surprise to no one. So, I'm reposting it here:

Title: In Neglect
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Snape/Harry
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is not mine, obviously enough. I do this only for my own pleasure and enjoyment and, concerning this particular piece, hopefully for the enjoyment of another as well. No profit is being made; I claim no ownership of any of these characters. The title is taken from the poem 'In Neglect' by Robert Frost, which is also the poem used at the opening of this fic.
Warnings: angst, frottage, rimming
Author's Notes: Many, many thanks to jamie2109, the wonderful person who beta'd this for me. I am indebted to you! To lisaroquin, I hope you enjoy this, and I hope I fulfilled your requests in a way that you'll enjoy. It is a bonding… of sorts. ;) Written for merry_smutmas 2005.

In Neglect

They leave us so to the way we took,
As two in whom they were proved mistaken,
That we sit sometimes in the wayside nook,
With mischievous, vagrant, seraphic look,
And try if we cannot feel forsaken.

The man is dangerous. Any fool can see that, but so few actually heed the warnings that he lets slip of how dangerous he actually is. Harry was once one of those fools. He no longer is, and he learned the hard way.

"How long are you planning to keep me here?" Harry asks once, in such a calm voice that he could be remarking on the weather or the latest Prophet headlines. He's quite proud of how calm he's managed to make his voice sound, when calm is the last thing he feels inside.

"For as long as it takes," Snape replies, setting down the tray and sitting down in the chair opposite him. Neither of them glance at the other, as is their custom, but Snape doesn't take his time in pouring the coffee, thank whatever deity is happening to be looking down, and Harry accepts his cup eagerly.

The coffee is strong and bitter, and Snape doesn't offer milk or sugar, but Harry drinks it anyway. They've been here for so long that both have lost their taste for tea, so Snape decided one day to try coffee, and thus it has been ever since.

They remain encased in the comforting silence, neither wishing to break the fragile peace, sipping their coffee and trying very hard to ignore the rather undeniable presence of the other.

"Voldemort is very, very dead, I assure you," Harry says at last, breaking the silence and the peace in an astonishingly deft way. "I fail to see why I have to hide away like I'm a criminal, when I've done nothing wrong and the man intent on my death has now suffered his well-deserved end."

Snape finally deigns to look at him, and the coldness in his dark eyes makes a shiver run down Harry's spine, like it always does these days. Snape doesn't speak for several moments, but when he finally does his voice is quiet and full of intense scorn. "We've been over this time and time again, Potter, and another attempt is not going to change our opinions." He shifts in his seat and readjusts his grip on his mug, and continues. "You are arrogant, as you always were and probably always will be, and your near-fatal death has, somehow, in a way that would only befit you, not affected your arrogant nature at all. The remaining Death Eaters, while not the deadliest or highest-ranking, are still at large and determined to do what their betters could not: grant you a rather slow and painful death."

Snape glares at him suddenly, anger blooming in his eyes as he snaps, "This, therefore, is why I'm stuck here with you, and I can assure you, I'm as unhappy about it as you are."

Harry glares at him, dismayed at how quickly their conversation has gone downhill into their repeated petty squabbles and arguments. What is worse is the rueful knowledge that he has started it and thus cannot blame the bad atmosphere on Snape. "I know you're sick of being stuck in here with me!" he says. "And you know that I feel the same! So I don't understand why I can't help get rid of the last Death Eaters and help get things under control!"

Snape sighs, flings his eyes to the ceiling for a brief second, and then says through gritted teeth, "You barely survived Bellatrix, Potter, and then barely survived the Dark Lord soon after. The public know, deep down, how very lucky they are that you survived, and they really don't want to lose you after so many near misses, particularly now that this mess is all over and done with. Therefore, they decided that hiding you away until the last dregs of this pathetic excuse for a war are over was their best option and, as you will learn, once the public's mind is made up, it's very difficult to change it."

Harry huffs.

Snape smirks, drains the last of his coffee, and drawls, "I thought you knew by now that fame is a very deadly double-edged sword, Potter. Dear me, are you that disappointed that you can't mingle with your adoring public and, instead, must stay locked up with your greasy ex-teacher and generally acknowledged turncoat?"

Harry feels his eyes narrow and tightens his grip on his mug so tightly that he fears he may shatter it. It takes a lot of effort, but several deep breaths and an attempted count to ten help him keep his temper in check. "You damned well know better than that," he finally says. "I just want to try and live a normal life, for once."

Snape slowly meets his gaze and the deep, dark sadness in them makes Harry's skin crawl. He suddenly knows that he won't like what Snape is about to tell him.

"You're the Boy Who Lived, Potter," Snape says slowly, staring down at the chipped mug held tightly between his hands. "You will never live a normal life, no matter how hard you try." Snape abruptly stands, gathers the tray and turns to leave.

He's at the door when Harry finally replies. "If I can't, then neither can you, Half-Blood Prince."

Snape's back noticeably stiffens, but he doesn't say anything, and leaves as silently as he came in.


"I don't understand," Harry says.

Snape doesn't even bother to look up from his paper when he says, "There's a great deal you don't understand, Potter – care to elaborate?"

Harry scowls at him, but it's a pointless action since Snape can't see him do it and he finally says, "It's been months since the war ended and they still haven't let us out. All we're allowed is one trip outside per month, and they've even forgot that the last three times. Lesser Death Eaters shouldn't be this hard to find – the smartest thing they've ever done is managed to stay alive this long, and that's only because they were cowards to begin with. Why are we still in here?"

He expects Snape to glare at him, even expects the glare to be a strong one, but instead all Snape does is look at him for a very long time with an astonishingly blank expression. After several minutes of this, Harry begins to shift in his seat and wishes Snape would do or say something, even if it means getting an hour long lecture.

At last Snape hisses, "Don't ask questions that you mightn't like the answers to, Potter," and straightens his paper with a savage shake as he returns to it. Harry stares at him.

"What?" he asks.

Snape flings down his paper and glares at him. Harry can't believe that he's secretly relieved that Snape can still glare at him in that old and comforting ‘And just how thick are you?' way.

"We're both paying for our crimes, Potter. You just haven't yet realised that you've committed any," Snape says crisply, but he's avoiding Harry's eyes like looking into them could turn him to stone.

Harry frowns. "What are you talking about? I didn't commit any crimes! I saved everyone from Voldemort!"

Snape sighs and pinches the skin between his eyes. "I didn't realise that no one had told you… I thought, perhaps, Lupin, but…" He presses his lips together tightly and mutters, in a voice that he probably hopes is too low for Harry to hear, "If Dumbledore were here, he would have let you know cryptically, at least, but…"

"Well, whose fault is that, then?" Harry demands, more sharply than he intends, but he can't take the words back, and can only glare harshly as Snape presses his lips together even tighter. Harry sighs. "What is it that no one bothered to tell me - again."

To his astonishment, Snape looks away and appears to be… uncomfortable? Harry can't stop his eyes from widening. "What? What is it?" he demands, his voice growing higher in his urgency. Something is very, very wrong, and no one bothered to tell him, and why does this always happen?

"You're a hero, Potter – no one disputes that," Snape says at last, but he's still avoiding Harry's gaze. Did he do that before? Harry can't remember if he did.

"But," Harry says.

"But," Snape says, "the public somehow expect their hero to be pure and free of any… dirty work. No, I don't know how they could expect that," he adds as Harry opens his mouth, indignant, "but they do. But you weren't like that. You killed; you tortured; you used the Unforgivables. It was all for their benefit, of course, but the public could never use common sense if you gave them a map and detailed instructions. In doing all that you could to keep everyone safe, you're not as easy to box in anymore. You were never on Voldemort's side, obviously, but you've done too much to be classified as good and pure. The public can't trust you, and they made this view known."

The dawning realisation makes Harry's chest hurt. "So, putting us in here…" He trails off, unable to complete the sentence that he knows deep down to be true.

"It's wasn't for our benefit. It wasn't even for yours," Snape sighs, rubbing his temples and suddenly looking older than his years. "It was for the public's benefit. They don't want to see you, Harry, and they don't want you to be able to walk freely among them. They want to forget all about you. They'll never forget what you did for them, of course, but they don't want to be reminded of what you had to do to keep them safe." He finally looks at Harry and his eyes are dark and haunted, and Harry remembers all that happened to Snape following Voldemort's first downfall. But at least Snape had Dumbledore back then. Of course, then Snape killed Dumbledore, but that's another thing entirely.

"They're not going to let me out, are they?" Harry asks after several moments of silence, his voice very quiet and very small and very hopeless. After all that he has been through, it's the fact that the people he has saved no longer trust him that has robbed him of his hope. The irony never even occurs to him, thankfully, because if it had there probably would have been a very good chance of Harry exploding and either doing or saying something he would later regret.

"They might in time," Snape says, looking tired. "Perhaps they'll make themselves forget – they like to do that, sometimes, when it suits them. They might forget that you pushed yourself to your very limits against the lunatic that wanted you dead at any cost. They might even forget that I am Dumbledore's murderer because he ordered me to be. Who knows?"

Snape picks up his paper again and hides behind it. "But, for now, we're hidden away for their protection, even if it means they told you it was for your own safety. And that's just the way it is."


Time passes slowly when there is little to do. Snape appears to be writing a novel, or something that enables him to spend hours and hours scribbling away with a quill. Harry supposes it's one way to pass the time considering they haven't allowed him any Potions equipment and there's little else to do except climb the walls out of sheer frustration or growing madness.

Harry feels like he's honestly growing mad, the sensation so continuously strong that it's giving him one mother of a headache.

Perhaps it's out of sheer boredom that he brings up the topic, or maybe he really is as stupid as Snape has always claimed.

"Do you ever regret killing him?" Harry asks, and they both know exactly who he means.

The tip of Snape's quill snaps and ink splatters across the parchment.

Harry winces and his stomach drops as Snape slowly looks up and meets his gaze. Yes, he decides to himself, I am very, very stupid.

"Only you would so thick-headed and ignorant to ask such a question," Snape says in a soft voice.

Once, Harry possibly would have retorted something, or been cowed, or lost his temper, but he was a very different person back then, and so he does none of those things. Instead, he lifts his chin and meets Snape's narrowed eyes without flinching.

"I probably am," he agrees, "but I'm not the one who killed him."

Silence descends like a fog around them. Harry finds himself unable to stop shivering, though he does his best to hide how bad the trembling is.

At last Snape says in his most emotionless voice, "I acted on Albus Dumbledore's orders, though he knew my opinion on the matter. However, this does not really matter, despite the undeniable fact that it saved me from a rather messy and drawn-out public execution. I am an outcast, locked up, and unwelcome in all decent society. I was forced to kill the man who saved me from Azkaban after Voldemort's first wave of terror.

"How do you imagine I feel?" Snape asks in a caustic tone, and goes to find another quill, his robes billowing behind him.

Some days, Harry wishes that he really is able to think before he opens his mouth and speaks.


It's Ron Weasley who comes with the next batch of food and other essentials, much to their surprise. Harry's face brightens up considerably when his best friend hovers at the doorway, though Snape immediately notices that Weasley studiously avoids looking into Potter's face at all costs.

"Ron!" Potter exclaims, jumping up from his seat. "What are you doing here? You never come here. I can't believe you're here!" He rushes over to Weasley, claps his friend on the shoulder, and waits expectantly.

Weasley carefully unloads the many boxes with him and then spends too long tidying them away. Potter begins to frown and stares at Weasley.

"Snape," Weasley says to him in an icy tone, his eyes hard as he glares at him. Snape raises an eyebrow; he's faced down much worse than Ron Weasley, and deigns to nod in reply while keeping a careful eye on Potter.

"Ron?" Harry asks in an uncertain voice, looking confused and terribly, terribly afraid. In moments, he has turned back to that teenager with a terrifying weight upon his shoulders, certain of absolutely nothing, and Snape hates Weasley for causing that.

Weasley finally turns to look at Potter, but holds his gaze for only a moment before sliding his eyes away. "Harry," he says, but he's already moving away towards the door.

Snape immediately recognises one who has decided to believe all of the rumours, and he decides that it is better to stay silent. The war has changed them all; their actions have killed and raised them anew.

"Ron?" Potter askes again, his tone desperate, but his old friend shakes his head and reaches the door.

"Goodbye," Weasley says, and closes the door to silence.

Snape resolutely keeps his mouth shut but when Potter turns and looks at him with large eyes, utterly lost, he knows that Potter is finally, painfully, accepting something that he has been determinedly denying up until now.

The real world is an awful place all of the time, Snape has found, and now he imagines that Potter has just learned that lesson as well.


"When you were the Half-Blood Prince," Harry says one morning, when they are eating breakfast and Snape is drowsily considering going back to bed since he has nothing better to do, "did you ever fall in love?"

Harry cringes when Snape's mouthful of coffee ends up everywhere, and wonders if he should have had a gentler lead-in, perhaps.

"Potter," Snape gasps after several minutes of choking and spluttering, "for Merlin's sake, learn tact!"

Harry sighs. "Just answer the damn question."

Snape glares at him; Harry glares back. The clock's steady tick tock repeats in the kitchen as Snape draws out his sullen silence for as long as possible.

Harry waits, knowing that Snape will reply eventually. They haven't really spoken in the last fortnight, not since Ron's mess of a visit. Every time Harry thinks about it, his stomach churns and he thinks it best to quickly think of something else. Unfortunately, he hasn't found the strength not to mope and Snape has immediately decided that deliberately avoiding him in their small confines is infinitely better than having to put up with him being ‘a wet dishrag,' as Snape has put it.

Harry has finally decided to act as normal as either of them can, so Snape will reluctantly do the same. They understand each other very well, now – almost.

"Once," Snape finally answers. "It didn't turn out in my favour, not that you would have expected it to, of course."

"Well, your current life doesn't point to any successful past relationships," Harry says, and immediately holds up his hand. "I know, I know, don't say it, the same applies to me."

Snape smirks. "So glad that you realise that."

"Should I briefly consider that you might tell me who it was?" Harry asks and then laughs at Snape's expression. "Oh, well, wishful thinking on my part, then. Still…"

"Still?" Snape repeats.

"At least you admitted that you once liked someone," Harry says. "If you hadn't, it would have been slightly awkward for me."

Snape raises an eyebrow as he stares at him. "Awkward for you, how, exactly?"

"It would have been awkward for me, you see, to do this," Harry explains gravely as he leans over and kisses Snape.


Potter's lips are strangely soft, Snape discovers, and it seems odd because he's seen the boy chew them so often that they just couldn't be in any way smooth. But they are, and they also prove to be disturbingly distracting, and this is a very bad idea, but he can't stop and possibly doesn't want to – and this is Potter

Yes, that does the trick.

Potter lets out an inelegant grunt as Snape shoves him and he falls to the floor. He stares up at him, bewildered and not a little potentially lust-ridden, as he sprawls in a crumbled heap. "What did you do that for?"

"Why?" Snape stares down at him, feeling the vein in his temple begin to twitch in that irregular way it does whenever something very unpleasant is beginning to happen – the best warning sign Snape has for when to start running. "Could it possibly be because you were kissing me?"

"I thought you'd like it," Potter says.

That's it. Potter has officially gone insane.

"Admit it. You did," Potter adds, picking himself up off the floor.

"Potter, I shoved you away. That does not equate to enjoying a kiss," Snape says slowly, trying his hardest not to give into the urge to throttle the damned brat. Where has this come from, what has possessed him?

"You said you liked someone when you were my age," Potter goes on, looking and sounding quite reasonable about the entire thing.

"I certainly wasn't referring to you! And the fact that it's been several years since I've been your age, Potter, should tell you something!"

Potter's expression now appears almost hurt and Snape is glad, now trying frantically to think of a way to get away from this mad idiot, but there's not much space to get away to. They've been trapped here for over seven months now, Snape reasons to himself, and the close proximity must be getting to Potter. Yes, that's it… even Snape knows that seven months straight of only his company has to have unpleasant side affects.

To further emphasise how much of a very bad idea this is, Snape says, "Potter?"

"Hmm?" Potter replies, glancing up and looking mildly interested.

"You are an idiot beyond all comprehension."

"Well, then," Harry says, lunging in to kiss him again. Damn, but he can do interesting things with his tongue.


Two weeks later, Snape has learned many things that he did not know previous to this.

He has learned that sex with Potter – because of course their kissing had led to sex as the idiot is young and hasn't been laid in Merlin knows how long – is violent, messy, and one of the best experiences of his life. The fact that it will also lead to countless future mental breakdowns and problems is a lingering shadow that he casts firmly to the very fringes of his mind.

He stops believing that this is wrong almost from the start. They have been trapped together in a confined little cottage for seven months, and short of driving each other even more insane than they already are, there is literally nothing left for them to do. The option of rutting like crazed animals had to present itself at some point or another, and Potter has desperately seized the option with both hands. It's Snape's own rotten luck that he happens to be the significant other stuck with Potter. Sometimes, when he lies in bed, aching and too mentally and physically exhausted to sleep, he entertains himself by imagining all the varied ways Potter would have scarred Weasley's mind by now if he had been locked away with the Boy Saviour.

The fact that Potter is astonishingly talented in bed (extraordinarily talented for someone who hasn't exactly had a long string of lovers behind him) is the best compensation Snape consoles himself with. Of course, some (if not most) of that talent probably has its roots in Potter's undeniable enthusiasm, and Snape is probably making himself feel better in mistaking enthusiasm for finesse, but, well, he's getting regular sex. He knows better than to complain, since many people Potter's age don't exactly fancy people Snape's age.

Still, Snape is happy to learn that he has surprised Potter with his own knowledge. Youth isn't the deciding factor in talent, after all.

Snape knows that he can kiss just as well as Potter can, if not far more elegantly, and he knows that kissing long enough in a certain way can make Potter practically wrap himself around Snape and beg for it.

He knows that Potter likes having his neck bitten delicately and quickly and can make his breath hitch and his face redden until it looks like he's going to explode. It's also the best way to get him to shut up, so Snape can just get on with it.

Potter likes using his mouth and hands to good effect, a habit that Snape wholeheartedly approves of. He never knew just how damn hot it was to lie flat on his back, watching Harry's mouth working at his nipples while his hands roam restlessly at their leisure, ripping all sorts of extraordinary noises from Snape's throat. Snape can admit to himself that nobody he's ever had has been that talented with their mouth and hands before. Not that he'll inflate Potter's ego by actually telling him this.

Potter's expression is priceless the first time Snape mentions rimming, and it takes Snape turning the whole act into a dare before Potter will concede to it, more out of morbid curiosity than anything. But the sight of Potter squirming on the bed, his nails clawing the covers as begging, pleading, wretched sounds pour from his throat as he fights not to buck, is priceless. Snape takes an incredible amount of delight in pinning Potter to the bed at the waist while he works at him, refusing to allow Potter to create any friction for his almost painful-looking erection until Potter is almost wailing for him to just let him come.

Snape isn't too proud to admit to himself that the memory of Potter squirming, rocking and moaning as he struggles to contain himself causes more erections than he's had in the last decade.

Neither of them possesses enough energy for actual penetration most of the time, but Potter has become much more amenable to rimming, and he's developed a rather odd habit of forcing Snape onto the kitchen table. He'll rub against him, until they're both sweating and sliding against each other desperately as everything peaks and floods over.

Snape, when he's particularly exhausted and caught up in the unexpected warmth of having a really good shag, will wonder why it took him and Potter seven months to fall into bed. Thankfully, he usually falls asleep before he can trace that thought any further to its rather uncomfortable conclusion.

The situation doesn't remain as an idyllic paradise of regular sexual acts forever, but it remains so for long enough that it becomes extremely entertaining. And it is somewhat heartening to Snape that just because he and Potter are regularly sleeping together now, it doesn't mean that they stop driving each other mad, nor do they stop asking the worst questions at the most inappropriate times.


Potter curves in a most delicate way when he comes, his neck and back arching as his mouth opens, his lips moving but right at the peak of orgasm unable to make coherent sounds, before he lets out a short gasp and returns to himself. His hands grip Snape if he is on his back, otherwise they claw at whatever surface he is on if he is not, and it's altogether extremely erotic.

They're both panting when they've settled down and a headache is threatening to explode across Snape's forehead. He's discovered the hard way that too much sex gives him headaches – or a fiercely intense migraine at the very worst – and later, he will use this as the excuse for the stupidity that tumbles out of his mouth.

"I wonder what your wretched godfather would say if he could see this. Or perhaps he would be treating you much the same way as your supposed best friend is."

Potter stiffens and pulls away from him, his facial expression shuttering into a blank mask, and Snape glances at him and barely resists the urge to cradle his throbbing head in his hands and groan. For all the times that he has called Potter an idiot, he now realises for the first time that he is probably a much bigger one than him.

For the first time in almost two months, Snape finds himself sleeping alone that night.


For all that his bedroom skills have improved, Potter's enthusiasm has remained and it's during moments like these that Snape is entirely thankful for this fact, as he struggles to remember how to breathe. This is a feat more difficult than it should be, considering Potter is between his legs and more than a little happy to be there, if his actions are any indication.

Snape grips the kitchen table with white-knuckled hands, trying to remember how to breathe, as Potter wraps his mouth around his cock and moves his tongue just like that, and it's too warm, too wet, too bloody –

Potter hums as his fingers brush over Snape's balls, ever so gently, and this is the end of him.

He hopes that he'll later remember to scrub the kitchen table to within an inch of its life, but for now it's enough to remember his name, where he is and whom he's with.

Potter appears far too bloody pleased with himself, chuckling lightly. "So… it seems that I've improved then?" He touches Snape's arm in a light caress and Snape shivers despite himself.

"Arrogance is not an admirable trait, Potter," Snape snaps, suddenly uneasy because he is naked and Potter just sucked him off against the kitchen table, and it just doesn't feel like it should be real. The realisation that he still has some moral standards left is astonishing.

Potter snorts, leaning in to kiss him, and breaks away as an indignant hoot breaks the unremarkable atmosphere surrounding them. They both turn to stare at the seemingly unimpressed owl – is that condemnation in its golden eyes? – and it's isn't until it glares and shifts impatiently from one leg to the other that Snape remembers to move and untie the scroll attached to its leg. The moment that the scroll is free, the owl zooms out the window again, apparently horrified by the scene it has just witnessed.

Potter edges closer to him as he opens the scroll and begins to skim, but he soon realises that the subject matter is too important, and so he slows down. His expression must be worrying to Potter because he frowns and asks, "What is it? What's wrong?"

Snape doesn't immediately answer, instead choosing to reread the letter once more. He lowers the parchment, a deep frown on his face, and silently hands it to Potter. He only begins to speak when he's certain that Potter is hurriedly reading it.

"It's McGonagall. She's… she's ensured our freedom. In three days time, we will be free and able to leave this place." It has been a year and many months since he has been out of this little cottage. What would have brought vast relief to him a few months ago, now only makes a deep weight drop in his stomach.

Harry lifts his face to look at him, and Snape imagines that their expressions are mirror images to each other.


Their lovemaking from then on is quiet and slow, lingering caresses against damp skin, salty kisses from arching necks, low moans swallowed into greedy mouths. Neither of them hurries – that sensation long having been satisfied – yet there is an urgency to their actions that betrays the fear they feel for the approaching changes. They both want to hold time and make it stop; they want the clock to accelerate and allow them to embrace freedom.

They lie tangled and clinging to each other the night before McGonagall is to arrive, and the only sound in the room is their soft breathing. Snape dozes in the warmth of Potter's body and the comfort of the blankets, wishing for the first time in a long time that he can just remain like this. This has become habit, routine; he does not know what is left for him if he leaves this place.

It is Potter, as it should be, who voices this question.

"What are we to do when we leave?" he asks so quietly that Snape can only vaguely make out the words. "What is left for us?"

Snape is in no hurry to answer, (make time stop, keep it like this) and he chooses his words carefully. In the end, they are ridiculously simple words because he has no answer.

"I don't know."

And the dawn comes.


It feels strange to be outside again, to feel the wind against his face, to breathe in fresh air, to be alive again. Autumn is in the air, a crisp bite that hints at cooler times to come. Everything is as it was, and yet it is not.

Potter's hair is blowing into his eyes and he looks reborn, new, and yet absolutely terrified. His hand brushes against Snape's one last time, a familiar touch that will become a faint memory, part of an experience that will belong to a different life, one that once was and is now no more.

"What will you do?" Potter asks, and Snape knows that he must answer.

"Go back to my father's house. Remember what it is to be alive and to go where I want, when I want. I believe I shall reacquaint myself with the activity of several long walks at my own leisure. You?" It's better to keep the details short and simple because it's easier than admitting that he doesn't have the faintest idea of what he will do.

Potter shrugs. "I'm not sure," he says, honest as always. "I think I'll find Hermione and talk to her for a while. Then maybe I'll track down Ron and beat some sense into him. Actually, maybe I'll track down a lot of people and beat some sense into them."

Yes, this is the life that Potter should have, brave and determined and always crusading for what he believes to be right. In the end, as he told Snape a few months ago, he knew better than the Sorting Hat.

"Well…" Snape says, glancing over at McGonagall, who's standing nearby, patiently waiting for them. She looks closer to her real age now than when Snape last saw her, more grey than black in her hair, and lines etched in her face where previously there were none. She's battled against the Wizengamot, the Governing Board and popular public opinion for their freedom, and both are aware that their debt is a large one.

"I'm not sorry that… this… happened between us," Potter says suddenly, looking at Snape in such a way as to dare him to contradict him.

Snape raises an eyebrow. "Nor I," he replies mildly, and the wind blows his hair into his face. Irritably brushing it back with a hand, he looks up just in time to see Potter smile for the first time since they were both thrown into captivity with each other.

It's on days like this one that Snape thinks that perhaps everything he went through was worth it after all.


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