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I wrote this for the 2008 [livejournal.com profile] snarry_games.

Title: Ghost Story
Author: [livejournal.com profile] aqua_alta
Team: Team Dragon
Genre(s): Angst
Prompt(s): Optical Illusion, Deathly Hallow
Rating/Warnings/Kinks: PG-13, I think. Epilogue-compliant.
Word Count: 7166
Summary: After his defeat of Voldemort in the final battle, Harry forgot something very important, which is brought to his attention some years later. He has to resort to drastic measures to prevent terrible things from happening.
A/N (Beta's/thank you's/et al): Many, many thanks to my betas [livejournal.com profile] joanwilder (aka our most esteemed capitan), [livejournal.com profile] eeyore9990 and [livejournal.com profile] ivylady - you rock! And another heartfelt "Thank you" to my lovely teammates at [livejournal.com profile] teamdragon - you were amazing and I couldn't have done this without you.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling. I did this for fun and I don't intend to make money with it. The lyrics at the beginning of the fic belong to Sting.




Ghost Story
(Sting)

[...]

Another night in court
The same old trial
The same old questions asked
The same denial

[...]

And all these differences
A cloak I borrow
We kept our distances
Why should it follow I must have loved you

[...]

If this was all correct
The last thing I'd expect
The prosecution rests
It's time that I confess: I must have loved you




Chapter One: Boys' Night Out

"So what's the big news, then?"

Four pairs of eyes were fixed on Harry, echoing Ron's question.

Ron, Neville, George, Bill and Harry were gathered around a table in the Leaky Cauldron. It was a quiet night;, only three of the other tables were occupied. Hannah was busy cleaning glasses behind the counter. She looked over to where they were sitting and waved, still holding the towel in her hand.

"Yeah, mate," George said after a pause. "One doesn't receive an owl bearing an invitation like that every day - Harry Potter requests your presence for a Boys' Night Out at the Leaky Cauldron this Saturday night, eight o’clock sharp." He took a sip from his butterbeer and looked at Harry expectantly.

"The card was Ginny's idea." Harry said. "She wanted us to have a proper night out. To celebrate." He smiled.

George raised his glass. "Cheers, then!" He took another swallow from his bottle. "What are we toasting, by the way?"

Wiping his mouth, Harry said, "I'm going to be a dad."

"Again?" George raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah," Harry grinned. "Again."

"But James is only-"

Harry shrugged. "I know. We always wanted more than one."

"Ha!" Bill shouted. "Another Weasley!"

"Congratulations, mate!" Ron exclaimed and raised his bottle. "That's terrific news!" He leaned over and hugged Harry briefly.

"Congratulations," Neville, George and Bill chimed in. Their bottles met over the middle of the table.

"When- I mean, how far along is she?" Ron asked.

"We just found out a couple of days ago," Harry answered, beaming. "Ginny thinks it's going to be another boy."

"Blimey, Harry." Neville rose. "Looks like you're working on your very own Quidditch team!" He turned towards the counter. "Hannah, come over for a second! Harry has some great news!"

Wiping her hands in her apron, Hannah approached their table. "Promotion?"

"Sort of." Harry rose as well. "We're going to have another baby."

They hugged, and Hannah congratulated him.

"Now, if that doesn't call for something other than butterbeer!" Hannah clapped her hands. "Neville, why don't you fetch one of those bottles of Summerbee's Special from the cellar? I think something sparkling is in order, right?" She gave Harry another hug and walked back towards the counter.

"It's on the house, of course," she added, looking over her shoulder.

Neville looked at the others, and Ron, George and Bill nodded. "Summerbee's Special it is, then," he said and turned to the door that led to the cellar.

"Wait." Harry took hold of Neville's arm. "I'll come along and help you. The other bottles are on me. Of course."

Still grinning, he followed Neville down the narrow staircase. The air became cold and moist as they descended further.

"Another boy, eh?" Neville said, unlocking the old wooden door to the wine cellar, the heavy iron keys jingling in his hand.

"Well, we're not a hundred percent sure yet," Harry answered, passing Neville and entering the dark room. "But she has a strong feeling about it, she says. It was the same with James. She could tell right from the beginning. She said-"

Harry froze. A vague sense of fear washed over him.

"Lumos!" The tip of Harry's wand lit up, and Harry looked around.

High shelves filled with dusty bottles covered the back wall. A couple of barrels stood in the far left corner. He shifted. The room seemed to narrow, the walls closing in on him. He felt his pulse quicken, and his palms began to sweat. His left hand went to his collar.

Air. He needed air. Fresh air. It was too cold down here, the room was too small, too narrow. He shouldn’t be here. Panic seized him.

"Harry?" Neville stood behind him, still holding on to the door's handle. "Harry, are you all right?"

"I don't know," Harry muttered.

"I-" His heart was beating rapidly in his chest.

"I-" His vision began to blur.

"I can't breathe. I-" He was cold.

He felt his body stiffen and his knees give in. His wand fell to the floor, a hollow sound of wood against stone. He heard Neville gasp and the sound of keys dropping to the ground. His body hit the floor; his face touched cold stone, then nothing.

***

"I don’t know. He's never been claustrophobic."

Ron's voice penetrated the darkness. Someone was feeling his pulse. He didn't feel so cold anymore, but he wasn't able to move.

"Harry?" Hannah's hand brushed his damp hair from his forehead.

"Harry?"

He opened his eyes. He was back in the main room of the Leaky Cauldron. It was empty except for Ron, Neville, George, Bill, Hannah and himself. He was lying on one of the wooden benches.

"Where has everybody gone? What happened?" he croaked. His voice was hoarse and raw.

"We don't know, Harry." Ron sounded worried. "Neville said you collapsed downstairs. You couldn't breathe and then you screamed and fainted."

"What- Why?" Harry sat up slowly.

"We're not sure," Neville said. "I- It was a Boggart. After you'd fainted, I saw it. I mean, I didn't know immediately, but when I saw that giant snake rise from the floor, I knew. And I finished it off." He fell silent.

Harry rubbed his forehead.

"Ron's right. I've never been claustrophobic. I don't fear-" He reached for the glass of Firewhisky Hannah handed him and took a huge gulp. "It can't have been a Boggart."

Neville sighed. "It was. I saw it. I used Riddikulus on it and it withdrew into that old, empty barrel again. And then Ron and Bill came running down the stairs because they'd heard you scream."

"It wasn't a Dementor," Harry muttered. "I didn't see a Dementor."

He turned so his feet touched the floor again. "It was dark, of course, at first. But then I lit the room and it was empty. There was no Dementor."

"It changed," Bill said. "They change, sometimes. It happened with Neville. And me, too. It changed; it's different now from what it used to be. For me. And for Neville."

"I don't know," Harry said. "I think I want to go home."

Ron nodded. "Yeah, you better go home. Let Ginny look after you and all."

"We'll have that champagne some other time, okay?" Harry rose, smiling weakly, and put on his coat. "Thanks, everyone. I'll owl, okay?"

He walked out the door and Disapparated.

The others remained behind, silent and at a loss.



Chapter Two: Quite Obvious

"If I only knew what it was," said Harry for the hundredth time. He was sitting at their kitchen table at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. He and Ginny had invited Ron, Hermione, Luna and Neville for dinner.

"Okay, let's go over it again," Hermione sighed. "You are not claustrophobic, so it wasn't the room alone. It was no Dementor either. It could have been something very small. You might not have noticed it, just your sub-conscious."

"But he would have had to see it, wouldn't he?" Ginny asked. "He would have had to see something."

"But I didn't!" Harry sounded exasperated. "I didn't see anything. Nothing. Nothing at all!"

"Well, it's quite obvious then, isn't it?" Luna's dreamy voice cut through the silence that followed Harry's outburst. Luna, Hermione and Ginny had listened to Harry recount the events of that night the week before over dinner.

"Yes?" Harry's voice was impatient. "Let us hear."

"If you didn't see anything or anybody, well, it must have been something invisible. Or someone."

"Oh, yes, of course!" Ron slapped his forehead. "How could we forget? Something like a Blithering Humdinger, yes?"

"Oh, Ron, but everyone knows that Blibbering Humdingers are not invisible," Luna stated calmly. Ginny and Hermione looked at each other and started to giggle.

"You know," Harry mused. "I think Luna might have a point, actually." The giggling didn't stop. Ron looked utterly bewildered.

"Harry, are you all right?" Ron reached over to feel Harry's forehead. "I think you might be running a fever."

Harry slapped Ron's hand away and got up.

"Where's my cloak?"

Ginny wiped her eyes and tried to calm her breathing. "It's upstairs in your study, Harry. Right where you left it after you came home from work last night."

Harry looked pale. "Are you sure?"

"It's there, don't worry." Ginny tried to reach for Harry, but he was already running up the stairs.

A minute later, he was back, carrying his Invisibility Cloak in his hands.

"Luna is right, I think," he said, slightly out of breath. "It must have been something invisible."

"Or someone," Neville added.

"Right. Or someone." Harry sat back down again. "Someone invisible."

He let the supple cloth run through his hands. Everyone was staring at him, but he wouldn't meet the others' eyes.

"Someone invisible," he muttered again. "Wearing my cloak."

"Hmm," Ginny said, reaching for the bottle of wine and pouring Harry another glass. "But why would someone wearing your cloak frighten you so much?"

"Yeah, mate," Ron added. "Why would it?"

He got up and took the cloak from Harry's grasp. He threw it over his head and disappeared.

"Are you frightened now?" His voice came from behind Harry, who turned around, facing the empty space behind him.

"No. Not at all," Harry smiled, but his smile faltered after a brief moment. "But I know it's you. I don't fear you."

Ron pulled the cloak from his head and straightened his hair.

"Who do you fear then, Harry?" Luna reached for Harry's hand and covered it with her own. "Who – or what – would you fear so much, if that person – or thing – was invisible?"

"A Death Eater," Hermione suggested.

"No." Harry shook his head. "I mean, all the remaining Death Eaters are fearsome, but I've fought them before, invisible or not. They're not what I fear most."

"But you never fought one who was wearing your cloak, did you?" Ginny asked.

"No, I didn't," Harry answered, withdrawing his hand from Luna's and running it through his hair. "But that doesn't sound that threatening to me. Not the way I felt down in that cellar."

"Maybe it was-" Ron started, but Hermione interrupted him.

"No, Ron. That's impossible."

"Voldemort," Harry whispered.

"Impossible, Harry," Hermione repeated emphatically. "He's gone."

"And your scar," Ginny said. "It hasn't been hurting again, has it?"

"No," Harry answered. "But-"

"Harry, stop it!" Hermione sounded angry. "He's gone. Period. And he won't come back. He can't!"

She got up and began to pace the kitchen. "He's gone for good, remember? No more Horcruxes. He's dead."

"And we're sure of that?" Ron asked timidly. "I mean – there are no more Horcruxes, right? We won. You won, Harry, right?"

Neville cleared his throat. "Harry won. There are no more Horcruxes. The snake – we finished it off in time, remember? Gryffindor's sword, right? And that little piece of Voldemort's soul that was inside of you, Harry, that's gone, too. He took care of that himself, remember?"

Harry winced. It had taken him a long time to confide that particular piece of information to his friends. He still couldn't bear hearing it treated so casually.

"Sorry," Neville murmured and fell silent.

"No, Neville," Hermione said. "It's important to take everything into account. He's dead for good, and we know that. He's dead. And nobody can come back from the dead," she added firmly.

A ringing silence followed Hermione's last statement.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other.

"No." Ginny reached for Harry's hand. "No."

"Oh, no-" Hermione's hand went to her mouth.

Ron raised his eyebrows. "Anyone let me know what's going on?"

"It can't be," Ginny said. "Nobody but you knows where it is. And even you might have forgotten after all these years."

"Where what is?" Ron scratched his head.

"I haven't," Harry said. "Well, I mean, I know its rough whereabouts. Not the exact location, of course."

"The exact location of what?" Ron was almost shouting. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Do you?" He glanced at Luna and Neville, but they looked as clueless as Ron himself. They shook their heads.

"The Stone, Ron," Hermione snapped. "The Stone."

"The Resu-"

"Yes."

"Shit."

"Yeah, thanks, Ron. That's a way of putting it." Harry sighed. "The four of us-" he glanced at Ginny, Ron and Hermione, "are the only ones who know about the Stone. And now Neville and Luna, too."

"Oh, you're talking about the Resurrection Stone?" Luna asked. "But Dad knows about it, too. A lot of people do, actually. The Believers. It's common knowledge, really."

"Yes, Luna, we know. But nobody besides us knows that the Hallows really exist. Nobody besides Harry knows where all three of them are." Hermione looked at Harry questioningly.

"Tell them," Harry said. "It doesn't matter. You can tell them."

Neville's and Luna's eyes turned to Hermione.

"The Hallows are real. Harry united them. He hid the Elder Wand after he defeated Voldemort, though. And the Stone- the Stone is hidden as well, right, Harry?"

"Wait a moment," Neville interrupted. "You mean Harry found the Deathly Hallows? But they're a children's tale!"

Harry winced. "Well, they're not, actually. They are real." He reached for his glass and took a sip. "As Hermione has told you, I hid the Wand. The Cloak, well, it's my cloak."

Luna's eyes widened and she stole a glance at Ron, who was still holding the Invisibility Cloak in his hands.

Harry nodded. "And the Stone..."

"It's hidden," Neville said, still slightly bewildered. "You just said that."

"Yes, it's hidden. But what's hidden can be found, right?" Harry got up. "It's too dangerous. I've got to-"

"But who would-" Hermione interrupted.

"If we've learned one thing about Voldemort and his followers, Hermione, it's that they always try to find a way to bring him back. And so far, they've always succeeded. He has always succeeded. He always came back."

"So that's what you fear, then?" Ron turned to Harry. "Voldemort coming back?"

"But you didn't see him in the cellar," Neville added. "You said you saw nothing."

"Luna's right," Harry said. "I saw something invisible. I saw Voldemort hiding under my Cloak. Voldemort brought back by the power of the Resurrection Stone. And I'd be very surprised if the Elder Wand wasn't hidden underneath that Cloak as well."

He sat back down again and let the air stream from his lungs.

"Now how's that for the one thing to fear most? Voldemort – master of death."

"Blimey!" Ron reached for his glass. "Impossible," he muttered against the rim of the glass.

Ginny hadn't said anything in a while. Her face was pale and her hands were trembling.

"Gin," Harry started, but Ginny interrupted him.

"I know. It's all right, Harry. You'll find a way. I trust you."

"Thanks, Gin. You know that I have to-"

"Yes, I do. But you'll have to concede to me the right to be a bit worried." Ginny reached for his hand and smiled at him encouragingly. "Be careful, yes?"

"I don't even know what to do right now," Harry sighed.

"Between you, Hermione and Ron, you'll find out. Neville, Luna – come on. We'll drop by the Leaky, see if Hannah'll serve us a pint, okay?"

She ushered Neville and Luna out of the door and looked back at Harry over her shoulder, blowing him a kiss.



Chapter Three: First Things First

"Wow, she's great," said Ron after the door had closed.

"Yes, she is. She knows that we're- that I need you two to plan this." Harry got up and walked over to the window, peeking through the blinds. Ginny and the others walked down the stairs and Apparated from Grimmauld Place.

He let the blinds fall into place again and returned to the table. Hermione had taken out quill and parchment and had begun to scribble down notes. Ron was staring into the air.

"Why has nobody thought of looking for the Stone yet?" His voice sounded hollow and tired. Harry closed his eyes for a moment.

"I'm sorry to drag you two into this again. If you want out – you don't have to-"

"Nonsense, Harry." Hermione dropped her quill. "We're in this together. We've always been, and that's not going to change today."

"Exactly," Ron added. "You're not going to get rid of us that easily."

"Okay," Harry whispered. "Okay."

Hermione took up the quill again and resumed writing. Ron watched Harry sit down again and asked, "What's next? How do we stop him this time?"

"I have no idea," Harry answered.

"First things first, then," Hermione stopped taking notes again and looked at them. "He can't become master of death without the Hallows. Harry, you have the Cloak, so that's safe for now. He will have to duel you to win the Elder Wand. But before he can do that, he'll-"

"Have to return from the dead," Ron concluded.

"Exactly," Hermione said. "And to achieve that, someone has to bring him back by using the Stone."

"But who could that be?" Ron asked. "It has to be someone who knows about the Hallows. Maybe Mr. Lovegood can help us figure out who-"

"It doesn't matter," Harry interrupted.

"What?" Ron sounded surprised. "What do you mean – it doesn't matter? Of course it does, if we mean to stop him!"

"Or her," Hermione added.

"Yeah, right, or her," Ron replied.

"No, it doesn't matter," Harry repeated. "It doesn't matter who might do it one day or when somebody might get the idea. We have to get rid of the Stone for good. That's the only way."

"But, Harry, that's impossible!" Hermione nibbled on the edge of the quill. "Dumbledore pierced the ring with Gryffindor's sword to destroy the Horcrux, and the Stone still worked afterwards when you-"

"I know. We have to find another way." Harry sighed.

"I hate to break it to you," Ron said, "but I don't think we're going to find anything more effective than an ancient, Goblin-made sword drenched in Basilisk blood..."

Hermione glanced at her notes. "You said ‘get rid of', not ‘destroy'." She looked at Harry. "Maybe that's the other way."

"But," Ron objected, "we've already established that everything that has been hidden can be found, haven't we?"

"Yes," Harry said. "But if we don't hide it but truly get rid of it for good – that would be different."

"We would have to get it out of this world to achieve that, mate," Ron said.

"Exactly," Harry said, a grim grin appearing on his face. "That's exactly what we'll do."

"How?" Hermione sounded desperate. "How?"

"We let someone take it with him – or her," Harry answered.

"Where?"

"Out of this world," Harry said.

Ron and Hermione looked at him blankly. "What do you mean?" Ron asked.

"We'll use the Stone, Summon someone from the dead, and let that person take the Stone with him – or her."

"But they aren't real when they are Summoned back," Hermione objected. "Ghosts aren't real, so they can't be, either. They are optical illusions in a way, aren't they?"

Harry shook his head.

"They're different," he said. "I didn't try to touch my parents when they came back that night, and they didn't touch me, but I have a feeling that they could have been substantial enough. They're not ghosts when they come back. I'm sure they aren't. Between the person who Summons them and themselves – they are real. That's what my parents told me. They said they were part of me. And what's part of a person is real. I can't explain it really; I just know that that is the way it is."

"I see," Hermione said slowly. "I see. It's a good idea, Harry. It might work."

"But who would be so- who would agree to do that?" Ron reached for his glass again. "Who would take the world's only hope to bring people back from the dead away? Who'd fear Voldemort that much?"

"Dumbledore!" Hermione exclaimed.

"No," Harry replied. "The Stone always was his weakness. Remember? He told me so at King's Cross."

Hermione nodded. "He might not be able to take it away forever."

"Your parents," Ron suggested.

"No," Harry shook his head vehemently. "I wouldn't be able to let them go like this forever. Nor Remus, nor Sirius. I just couldn't let them go forever like that."

"Well, that only leaves-" Ron started.

"Snape," Hermione finished Ron's thought.

"Snape," Harry repeated. He looked determined. "Snape. He'd want Voldemort gone for good and he's pitiless enough to take the Stone away with him."

"Good. That's settled, then," Ron said. "When are we leaving?"

Hermione reached for Ron's arm.

"I'm going alone," Harry said. "I have to do this alone. I'm the only one alive who knows where the Stone is. And I'd rather it stayed that way."

Ron withdrew his arm from Hermione's clasp and began to speak. "Harry, we-"

"Harry's right, Ron," Hermione interrupted. "He should stay the only one who knows."

"I'm sorry," Harry said. "But I really think-"

"We understand," Hermione said firmly. "Don't we, Ron?"

"Yes," Ron whispered. "You're right. We'll be here. We'll wait for you."

"I'll leave tomorrow," Harry said. "I want to tell Ginny."

"Of course," Hermione nodded. "We'll be back tomorrow to see you off."

"You don't have to," Harry said.

"We know, mate," Ron answered. "But we've told you before – you won't get rid of us that easily."



Chapter Four: The Forest Again

Harry swore as he stumbled through the undergrowth. He was cold and his back was aching from looking down at the forest ground. He didn't remember that many shrubs and weeds, thorny twigs and old, dry leaves.

Of course, he had tried to Summon the Stone, although suspecting that a simple "Accio" wouldn't work. Nevertheless, he had kicked a dead tree trunk in frustration, causing his toes to throb.

He was sure that it must have been around here; that it must have been somewhere close by, where he dropped the Stone all those years ago. The clearing was in front of him, immaculate. Nothing reminded of the dreadful events that had taken place here that fateful night.

Harry shivered. He remembered Voldemort's high-pitched voice, his own dread and the paralysis that had threatened to take hold of his body while he walked towards his destiny. But he also remembered his parents and Remus and Sirius, accompanying him, supporting his decision.

He tried to remember where exactly their shapes had dissolved. He had already seen Voldemort and had been able to observe what was going on in the clearing, so it must have been a little bit further on. He grabbed his wand tightly and charmed the high grass at the clearing's edge to part.

"If it is still here at all," he muttered.

Somebody could have picked it up, a child, someone from Hogwarts, or a mole could have misplaced it while building its den, covered it with earth, burying it forever.

Harry remembered the conversation with Ginny, Hermione and Ron before he'd left. They had been there, Ron and Hermione, just as they had told him the night before. He smiled.

He remembered pacing the kitchen, thinking. The Deathly Hallows had been on his mind, and Snape. He kept going over the events of the past again and again.

"I never had all three of them anyway," he had stated at one point. The others had looked at him questioningly.

"I never had all three Hallows at the same time," he had repeated, his voice quivering slightly. "I dropped the Stone before I took the Wand. I've never been-"

"Nonsense, Harry," Hermione had cut him short. "You had won the Wand's allegiance way before you dropped the Stone."

"But I never really united them," he had said again, stubbornly. "I never was master of death. I have no special defences. Voldemort could beat me in a duel any time, if he just found a way to come back."

"No way!" Ron had exclaimed. "You're far better than-"

"No, I'm not," Harry had said. "I'm good, yes. But I have never been better than him."

Ginny walked up to Harry and put her arms around him. "Yes, you have. You are the better man, without a doubt, master of death or not. And remember, that's what you're going to prevent anyway, aren't you? Voldemort coming back."

Harry had wrapped his arms around her and had hugged her tightly. "You're right, Gin. That's what I'm going to do."

He had kissed her briefly and then had said goodbye to Ron and Hermione, whose worried faces appeared in front of his eyes now, amidst the cold darkness of the night-time forest.

He realised that he didn't really care if he had united the Hallows or not. It was essential to prevent Voldemort from ever coming back.

"Dead or alive," Harry mused and had to smile.

He recalled the events of the night he'd defeated Voldemort. He'd approached the clearing in the company of his parents, Remus and his godfather. He'd been talking to them, and they had given him their love and support. Then, he'd dropped the Stone, and they had dissolved.

Here. It had been about here. The perspective on the clearing was the same; the huge tree over there had been almost blocking his view back then as it was now.

He directed his wand at the shrubbery and parted twigs and leaves. Crouching down, he used his hands now. Here. It had to be here.

A small blackish stone lay between old leaves and crumbled earth. The Resurrection Stone at last!

"Yes!" Harry let out a sharp cry.

He sat down on the mouldering tree trunk, weighing the Stone in his hand. It was heavy and surprisingly warm. Harry hesitated. He could Summon his parents. He could bring James and Lily back from the dead, talk to them again and look at their faces. Or Remus. He could bring back Remus and Tonks. He could carry the Stone with him to London and let little Teddy bring back his parents. He could-

No. He couldn't. He had to resist. His task was to get rid of the Stone, not to use it.

"Have to use it once, though," he muttered, tossing the Stone in the air and catching it again with a swift movement of his hand. He remembered the Golden Snitch in which it'd been hidden in by Dumbledore.

'Snape,' he thought. ‘I need to bring Snape back from the dead.'

He turned the Stone over in his hand three times.

‘Snape,' he concentrated.

A dark figure appeared before him. It was Severus Snape, wrapped in his robes. He looked as pale and sallow as ever, lined face, hooked nose, greasy hair and all. He glared at Harry.

"You," spat Snape.



Chapter Five: Two Birds With One Stone

Snape's voice sounded a little hoarse, as if he hadn't used it in a long time.

"Yeah, me." Harry looked at Snape's image intently.

Snape's shape was a little blurry, a little transparent. He looked far more solid than his parents, Sirius or Lupin did the night he'd Summoned them from the dead.

"Why do you look so solid?" Harry blurted out.

"What do you want, Potter?" Snape asked curtly, flexing his fingers and taking a few, surprisingly careful steps across the forest ground towards the clearing.

Harry continued to observe Snape. Snape's figure emanated a very faint glow, and even though Snape hadn't changed in appearance, Harry found him rather fascinating to look at.

Slowly, Snape stepped into the clearing. He took a deep breath and let his shoulders fall. "Where are we?"

"In the Forbidden Forest," Harry answered. "I need your help."

"Of course," Snape muttered and turned around.

He approached Harry and stopped just inches in front of him, looming over him like he had done in the classroom and in detention.

"I could read your mind," Snape said, looking down on Harry, who was still sitting on the tree trunk. "But I'd rather have you tell me."

A thin sneer appeared on his face. "It's quite obvious that you don't want to."

Harry shifted, but he held Snape's gaze. He inhaled slowly.

"I need you to take something with you when I let you go again," he said quickly, letting the air stream from his lungs again.

"Ah," Snape smiled. "Of course. And what would that be, pray tell?"

"This." Harry held out his hand holding the Stone.

Snape's eyes went wide. "The Resurrection Stone."

Harry nodded. "Of course you know. You were with Dumbledore when he- after he'd been cursed. The ring, I mean. The Horcrux. I forgot."

"That," Snape replied dryly. "And working with Xeno Lovegood for years."

"You worked with Luna's dad?" Harry asked, flabbergasted.

"Potter, haven't you learned yet never to judge a book by its cover? Lovegood may seem to be out of his right mind, but he's an excellent potioner. His skills reach far beyond Gurdyroot Infusions." Snape continued to sneer. "He didn't bequeath it to his daughter, though."

Harry stared at him. Once again, he realised that there were many, many things he didn't know about his former Potions master. He searched Snape's face for traces of irony, but besides the sneer, he couldn't find any.

"Yeah, anyway," Harry said. "I need you to take it with you." He held out his hand toward Snape, the Resurrection Stone lying in his outstretched palm.

"Here."

Snape didn't flinch. He looked down on Harry's outstretched hand and frowned.

"And why would I be willing to do such a thing?" Snape asked calmly. "Why should I take away the little werewolf's only chance to talk to his parents?"

He raised his head and looked straight into Harry's eyes. They were dark and glittered maliciously.

"Why should I do that for you, Potter?" An etching tone crept into his voice. "For you, of all people?"

Harry had expected that question.

"Because it's the only way to make sure Voldemort can't come back," he answered slowly.

"Ah, so he's gone, then?" Snape pondered. "But why are you still here?" He studied Harry like he was a rare insect. A scientist's look.

"Long story," Harry answered. "I died, well, sort of, but then I came back. In a way. Don't bother with it." He held out his hand again. "Here, take it away with you. He must not come back."

"And of what interest could that possibly be to me?" Snape sounded bored.

"He killed you," Harry said. "Don't you want revenge?"

"I was a pawn, nothing more," Snape gritted through his teeth. "Pawns die."

"So you'd rather have revenge on Dumbledore?" Harry asked. "Fine with me. As long as you take the Stone with you." He extended his hand again, tilting his head.

"I don't care if Dumbledore comes back from the dead or stays wherever he is now forever," Snape said. "It's empty in there."

"In death?" Harry asked, letting his hand sink into his lap. "How is it? To be dead, I mean."

"Dull," Snape answered.

"Shapeless." He opened the fastening of his robes.

"Timeless."

He took a few steps towards the clearing again. "Given the circumstances and considering the options, I'd rather not go back."

Harry couldn't see Snape's face, but he had to smile at the defiant undertone in Snape's words.

He dropped the Stone, and Snape vanished.

After a couple of seconds, he picked it up again, turned it over in his hand three times and – ‘Snape' – Snape reappeared, gasping.

"That is not your decision to make," Harry stated, looking at Snape's chest.

"Why, Potter! I never thought you could be that cruel," Snape whispered. "You'd make a good Death Eater."

"Shut up, Snape," Harry bellowed, raising his eyes. "Or I'll-"

"What?" Snape shot back. "Drop the Stone again? Not the best way to persuade a dead man to do your bidding, Potter. I'd reconsider, if I were you."

Harry made a motion as if to drop the Stone again, his eyes never leaving Snape's face. He noticed the faintest flinch and a distant darkening of Snape's eyes. He inhaled slowly and froze.

"No?" Harry asked quietly.

"As you've pointed out so subtly, Potter, it's not my decision to make." Snape's hands shook ever so slightly as he ran them over the front of his robes.

"But back to your bargaining," he added. "Why would I do what you demand of me?"

"He killed my mother," Harry answered. "He killed Lily."

Snape closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, they were as dark as ever.

"Not enough," he muttered. "What's done is done. There's nothing-"

"He'll try and kill me when he comes back. He wants the Hallows. He wants the Elder Wand. And he won't think of just disarming me to win it. He'll resort to more drastic measures."

Snape didn't reply for a while. Instead, he sat down on the tree trunk next to Harry. He reached for Harry's chin, a spidery, chilly touch to Harry's skin.

Harry shuddered.

"And why, Potter, would that matter to me?" Snape asked, searching Harry's eyes.

"Because-" Harry cleared his throat. "Because you promised Dumbledore. Because that's what shaped your life for so many years. Because you owe it to Lily."

"I owe nothing!" Snape jumped up. "I owe nothing, to anyone!"

He started pacing back and forth in front of Harry, who had remained seated.

"Nothing!" His robes swept the forest ground, gathering old, dry leaves with their seam.

"Yes, you do," Harry replied. "And you know that."

He got up and stepped into the line of Snape's pacing.

"You owe it to my mum, you owe it to me and you owe it to yourself."

Snape stopped pacing.

"All those years you were manipulated and cheated by Dumbledore. You were the means to an end he devised. You were played by him like a pawn."

Harry tightened his grip on the Stone and took a step towards Snape.

"You agreed to have me killed even though that was against the one promise you ever held sacred."

Snape stepped backwards, away from Harry, but Harry closed the distance again, taking another step forward.

"You agreed to have me killed, to let me die, because you were told that finishing off Voldemort was more important than keeping me alive, which you had sworn to do in the beginning. Like a pig for slaughter, remember?" Harry took another step forward, but this time, Snape didn't budge.

"You can make up for that now, Snape. You can keep me safe by making sure he never comes back. Two birds with one Stone, so to speak."



Chapter Six: The Bravest Man I Ever Knew

"Cheap," Snape snorted. "Don't think I don't see behind that pathetic little rhetoric of yours, Potter." He took a step forward now, making Harry retreat. "If I do it – and I said if – I want something in return. To compensate for my giving up this," – he gestured around – "forever."

"The Tale of the Three Brothers said-" Harry started but Snape interrupted him.

"I told you I'd rather stay."

Harry hesitated, but finally he asked, "What do you want?" He bit his lips, awaiting Snape's demands.

"Like I've said; something to compensate for all this." He turned around sharply, leaving Harry frozen to the spot.

"A kiss."

"I beg your pardon?" Harry squeaked.

"I want a kiss. I never kissed Lily while she was alive. You remind me of her, your eyes and your mouth. If I can't kiss her, I can kiss her son."

Harry coughed.

"Plus," Snape continued, "I want you to do something you detest as much as I don't want to take the Stone with me, as much as I don't want to go back to the dead. Something that you're as unwilling and as unprepared to do as I am to oblige your plans."

He turned around again and approached Harry.

"If not less."

"You sick fuck," spat Harry. "You sick old pervert!" He pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, shielding himself.

"Never!"

"Then you're stuck with the Stone, Potter," Snape said calmly. "You'll have to find someone else prepared to do your bidding." He crossed his arms in front of his chest and raised his eyebrows.

"Over my dead body!" Harry yelled and stamped his foot.

Snape's only reaction was to raise his eyebrows even more.

"Exactly," he said.

Harry's shoulders sagged and all energy seemed to leave his body, together with the air that whooshed from his chest.

"Okay, let's make it quick," he murmured and took a step towards Snape.

"Oh, I think not," Snape drawled. "Let's take our time, shall we?"

Slowly, he walked towards Harry until their bodies were almost touching. Harry stepped backwards. Snape followed, pushing Harry further until Harry's back touched the trunk of a large tree.

Snape almost collided with Harry's body, but he stopped himself in time.

In the corner of his mind, Harry registered that Snape was still blurry at the edges and that he, if he'd try, would surely be able to see through Snape's body, to see the trees behind Snape and the clearing and the sky above the field of grass. He wondered briefly how Snape would be able to hold the Stone at all, if he really were solid enough.

That question was answered as Snape placed one of his palms flat against Harry's chest and grabbed hold of Harry's arm with his other hand.

Harry gasped.

Snape's face drew closer and closer to his own. He saw Snape lick his lips and expected to feel Snape's breath on his skin, but the sensation never came. Even though Harry could see Snape's chest move with what he had thought was breathing, there was nothing.

"You are-" Harry started to speak.

"Don't drop the Stone," Snape whispered, before his lips met Harry's.

Harry tried to pull away at first, but Snape's grip on his arm was firm. He could feel Snape's hand against his chest and he could feel his heart beating in his ribcage. He didn't perceive Snape's touch as cold as he had before when Snape's finger had touched his chin. On the contrary, Snape seemed to radiate heat. Or maybe it was just the warmth his own body radiated, reflected by Snape's spectre, Harry didn't know.

Snape's lips were firm against his own. Snape kept them closed; a thin, firm line against his own mouth. Harry noticed that his own lips were pressed together as well. He swallowed and felt Snape's lips soften a little.

Snape's hand moved across Harry's chest and then grabbed hold of his other arm. Harry felt Snape's fingers clawing the cloth of his shirt. He flinched, but Snape held him close.

After a few more seconds, Harry could feel Snape opening his mouth, and the tip of Snape's tongue touched Harry's lips. Harry gasped in surprise, involuntarily offering Snape's tongue an entrance to his mouth.

"Open your eyes," muttered Snape against Harry's mouth, but Harry's eyes remained closed. Snape's hand let go of Harry's arm and went across Harry's back into his hair. "Open your eyes."

This time, Harry obeyed. Snape's eyes were shut when Harry opened his, but they didn't remain so for long. Snape's eyelids fluttered and his lashes cast long, spidery shadows upon his cheeks. When they finally lifted, Harry was taken aback by the intense glitter in the black depths. He stared into Snape's eyes and a sudden sense of vertigo took hold of him. He felt as if he were falling into those glittering pools of darkness, drowning. His head was spinning and his whole body began to tingle.

Snape tightened his grip on Harry's arm and his other fist closed around Harry's hair even more firmly.

Harry opened his mouth further, allowing Snape's tongue to probe and explore. Tentatively, he reached out with his own tongue and felt Snape's body inch even closer to his own in response.

Harry's stomach lurched, and he felt his knees go weak. His left hand grabbed hold of Snape's arm for support; his right fist still clutched that hard piece of stone. Its edges cut into Harry's palm, grounding him.

He felt Snape's leg force its way between his own legs, and Snape's arm went around Harry's waist, pulling him closer. Harry heard himself moan into the kiss and tried to free himself from Snape's embrace, but Snape didn't allow that. He tightened his hold on Harry even more.

Harry watched how Snape's eyes closed again, and he let his own eyelids drop, too. The spinning motion inside of him increased. He felt his knees give in.

Snape held him close while both men sank to their knees.

"Don't drop the Stone," Snape whispered again.

The words penetrated the ringing haze inside of Harry's head slowly, like dripping liquid. He shook his head slowly, bringing their lips together again for another open-mouthed, wet kiss.

"Merlin, Snape!" Harry breathed. He tilted head and let his left hand run up Snape's spine until it found its way into Snape's hair.

Snape intensified the kiss, his tongue caressing Harry's. He bit Harry's lips almost playfully, before he dived in again.

Harry was hard and throbbing in his jeans. He felt out of breath.

"Snape," Harry murmured into the kiss. "I-"

"Don't drop the Stone," the other man said a third time.

Harry felt Snape's hand reach for his, Snape's fingers closing around his own tight fist.

"I'm not here," Snape whispered. "I'm not real. I'm an-"

Harry closed Snape's mouth by initiating another kiss. He vaguely registered his grip around the Stone loosening under the onslaught of Snape's caresses. Harry moaned again.

With a quick movement of his hand, Snape wrenched the Stone from Harry's hand.

Harry opened his eyes in shock, just in time to see Snape slowly dissolve. He reached out for the other man, but it was too late.

"Snape!" Harry yelled. "Wait..."

But Snape was gone.

Harry glanced around, panting, his fingers clutching thin air.

He sat down on his heels, trying to catch his breath.



Chapter Seven: The Last Thing I'd Expect

When Harry returned to number twelve, Grimmauld Place later that night, they were there, waiting for him. Ginny, Ron and Hermione were sitting in the kitchen, talking quietly.

He didn't elaborate on what had happened in the Forbidden Forest. He just told them that everything had worked out according to their plan.

After a couple of days, they finally let it rest, knowing that he would never talk about that night to any of them.

A night or two before their second son was born, Harry and Ginny talked about names. It was Ginny who suggested naming him Albus, in honour of Albus Dumbledore. And it was Harry who suggested naming him Severus, in honour of Severus Snape, whom Harry claimed to be the bravest man he'd ever met.

Ginny looked into Harry's eyes and nodded.


***end***

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