Chapter Four: Love, Death, and Lemon Biscuits
When they were settled in the cozy little room, Albus levitated a cup of tea to his guest, raised a lemon biscuit to his lips, and paused before biting into it to ask, "So . . . why wasn't there kissing, Severus?"
The younger wizard inhaled sharply and placed his teacup on a side table. Throwing his head back into the cushion and exhaling, he allowed his long lean form to relax into the upholstery while casually extracting his wand from his robes and surreptitiously pointing it at Albus' biscuit.
Albus popped the biscuit into his mouth and allowed it to dissolve on his tongue before he swallowed it, and then sighed.
"That was unkind, and it will not prevent me from having an answer to my question."
"This is an unacceptable conversation to be having about . . . a stu--a colleague."
"I think that you were going to say 'student', weren't you? The fact that you thought the better of it should tell you something."
The older man sighed. "Do you know that it took me fifteen years to work up the courage to speak to Merva of my feelings for her?"
"That is very different."
"Minerva was a grown woman when you met her."
"Actually, she was a sleek little cat," Albus said, momentarily lost in a memory. "I stepped on her tail . . . but that is neither here nor there. To return to your situation, I do agree that before you speak to Ree of your feelings, you must contend with the differences between your individual powers and . . . experiences."
"What do you mean by that?" Snape demanded harshly.
Albus raised his eyebrow at Severus' tone, considering carefully before he spoke. "Though lacking finesse in some areas of her life, Ree has experienced . . . much that you have not."
Severus could hardly argue the point. There had been more death than sex in his time with the Dark Lord, and before that . . . . In spite of this, Severus had a strongly developed sense of desire; he'd watched it demonstrated by students, by colleagues, by those upon whom he spied, and, of course, felt it within himself as a burning ache that never cooled. He thought of the wanton flame of Harry's eyes as she had held him pinned against herself. He was not sure what sort of lust had generated it, but it was the same fire that had wreathed her in power as she stood before the hordes of their enemy at the end with nothing but a phial and her wand as protection. She had drunk from the phial, and then drawn her wand down over her forearms, opening her veins. Her blood had painted her dress as it plashed thickly into a living pool at her feet and moved away from her in an undulating circle.
"I am not afraid of her, Albus . . ."
The Death Eaters had swarmed Harry, blocking her from his sight, and he had felt desperately sick as Neville Longbottom, Blaise Zabini, and others he did not know prevented him from going to her aid. Why don't you let me help her, damn you all? he had screamed. And then he had heard Harry chant something in what he knew must be a wizard tongue so arcane, so vile, that it would not have been found described in a tome anywhere in the Restricted Section.
". . . not intimidated by her knowledge, . . ."
He'd watched, horrified, as ropes of blood began writhing out from under the circle of Death Eaters, winding about their bodies, weaving through them. There had been a hissing on the wind that he had barely been able to recognize as Harry's voice. Parseltongue. The blood energy coiled together into a massive, gyrating viper that cast a shadow upon the sky, blotting out the moon over the Ministry of Magic. It found Voldemort and struck him down.
". . . nor jealous of her power."
The Dark Lord's skin had blackened and peeled back. His body had seemed to bubble over as liquefying bones and unrecognizable fluids. All the Death Eaters had died this way, spilling themselves into a congealed mass of viscera that strengthened the spell serpent, which turned on its caster and thrust through Harry's body in a wave of energy again and again and again. Listening helplessly as her commands turned to screams, Severus knew that the spell she was wielding was fueled by death, and that Harry intended to seal it with her own.
"I do not pity her for her choices, . . ."
He had struggled against the Aurors so violently that he had dislocated his shoulder, yet had been unable to escape them. Then, as Voldemort had dissolved, and Harry had, inexplicably, not, the shadow serpent dispersed into suffocating clouds of undirected magic. Severus had dragged himself to Harry and thrown his body over hers in an attempt to shield her. Grasping her head in his begored hands so that she would not crack it open upon the pavement, he saw that she had bitten through her lips . . . with a ragged set of newly presented fangs. It was then that he understood the full extent of her actions: Harry had taken his place.
". . . despite the fact that she takes too much upon herself."
He knew that it must have been Harry who had sent the snakes into his dungeons to steal his blood and weaken him, that she must have been unaware of the curse upon it.
"She is incautious, unprepared, . . ."
It had been Hermione Granger, haruspex and medi-wizard, who had deciphered a means of expelling the noxious energy from all of them after examining the remains of the Death Eaters, but Harry had lingered in a coma for months. Remaining away from her by day as one loved-one after another had the privilege of keeping the vigil at her bedside, Snape had slunk in late during the nights to pour down her throat every cleansing potion it was within his power to concoct. Despite the fact that he eventually cured her of the vampiric infection, despite the fact that she was thriving and he was alive, Severus found it impossible to discuss with her the sense of impotence and rage he had felt during this period.
". . . without those closest to her, she'd be dead."
It seemed petty and vindictive to be angry at Harry for taking away his choice, no, his right, to die in that spell, but his anger lingered to flicker through his exacting emotional control at unexpected moments. Dying with the Dark Lord could have been a release from the cold years he envisioned in his future. Dying in order to forever seal Voldemort from this plane could have proved to his detractors that he was worthy of their respect--and of redemption. Harry's actions had been meant as a gift. But Severus was unused to receiving gifts.
"It is difficult to know how to feel about what she did."
The fact was that Harry Potter, the brightest star of the Wizarding World, had attempted to give her life for the pariah of its masses; she had literally attempted to eat his death.
"And, in the end, I simply do not understand her."
No one had ever done anything selfless for Severus before. Albus' friendship was not to be taken for granted, but what Harry had done . . . what Harry had done seemed almost indecently intimate, and sometimes Severus felt that he remained angry because Harry giving herself for him had prevented him from giving himself for her.
And I do not know how else to show her that--
"You love her," Albus said quietly.
Even the soft whispers from the portraits on the walls of the room stilled at this pronouncement.
"Love is not for one such as I."
"Frog balls, my boy," asserted the older man merrily, startling Severus out of his grim reverie. "Love comes to us as a gift, not a right," he continued, echoing the other man's troubled thoughts. . . . "Perhaps it is time for you to ask Ree why she was prepared to die for you."
"I do not imagine I could bring myself to ask that of the future Mrs. Charles Weasley, Albus."
"Ah. Well, that is for you to say."
"Albus, this conversation is moot. Charlie Weasley got there before me."
"Did he?" Dumbledore asked, helping himself to another lemon biscuit.
"Yes," Snape spat.
"Perhaps, but, as he engaged the Floo Network at Rosmerta's not long after I arrived there this afternoon, I expect he's not the rival you would have him be."
Severus' head snapped up as the irrational, treacherous fingers of Hope seized him and the room seemed to become too hot and too small. "Mr. Weasley was no doubt called away on business," he said in an effort to collect himself.
"No doubt. . . . Incidentally, I should tell you that I'm taking the liberty of arranging a party to be held after this evening's meal."
"What is the occasion?"
"Charmed dessert--rather I should say, too much dessert to charm," the Headmaster answered, his eyes twinkling mercilessly. "And I believe I shall require you to dance in lieu of any retribution I might feel necessary to exact for your interference with my lemon biscuits."
Snape straightened in his chair. "You cannot coerce love into being where it does not exist, Albus."
"True. Yet one might urge it to feel comfortable where it does."
Severus tried to glare, but he was too preoccupied to put the necessary force behind it. He stood up.
"Try to wear something festive to dinner, old friend."
As Snape strode off, he thought he heard a familiar voice admonish, "Do stop eating those before you ruin your dinner." He was soon too far away from the sitting room to hear Albus reply, "Yes, dear."
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