Written for the Snarry Olympics 2006 for Team Romance (prompt: "Posthumous Request").
Many thanks to Lizard for the wonderful illustration below...and to Abstract Concept, Ziasudra, and Meri for their superlative beta work!
At first, Severus Snape thought the source of the annoying buzzing in his ears was yet another infestation of sciarid flies, which no amount of pest control remedies - Muggle or Wizarding - could completely eradicate from the old house at Spinner's End. However, Severus had recently stopped using peat (a favorite breeding ground for the flies) and a quick investigation upstairs showed that there was no sign whatsoever of sciarid fly larvae in the makeshift greenhouse Severus had created in the small room which once had been his childhood bedroom.
He walked back down the narrow staircase and - hearing nothing but the creak of wood beneath the worn and faded carpet - decided that perhaps his concern had been misplaced. However, the moment he settled back down on the couch to read his book, the buzzing started up again, louder than it had been before.
Severus attempted to carry on with his reading and waved his free hand back and forth beside his head to shoo the flying menaces away, but his efforts were futile. The winged irritants refused to leave, forcing Severus to put the book down and draw his wand from the pocket of his robe.
If there had been a competition in the Wizarding World for Expertise in the Art of Fly Zapping during the seventies, Severus Snape would have been given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the time he reached the tender age of seventeen. However, either Severus had lost his boyhood fly-zapping abilities at some time in the past two decades, or these flying things were some bizarre mutant strain which could Apparate at will, because no matter how much care he took, he was not able to hit a single one of his flying targets, at least not if the ceaseless buzzing chorus was anything to go by.
After all other options had failed (including trying to catch them by repeatedly casting the summoning spell until he'd grown hoarse with the effort, and then actually resorting to chasing the too-speedy blighters around the room for almost an hour), Severus finally collapsed tiredly on the lumpy sofa, muttering to himself that he'd "burn the damned house down, if that's what it takes."
Ten seconds later, one of Beelzebub's spawn alighted on the back of his hand. This first one was followed by a second - and they were joined by a third and then a fourth and a fifth and more and more, until the back of Severus's hand was covered with tiny...pieces of parchment?
Severus brought his hand up close to his eyes and stared. Pieces of parchment. Fly-sized - no, bee-sized pieces of parchment, each one folded up to resemble a letter and sealed with a tiny drop of wax upon which was impressed something too minuscule to be read unaided. The curse of aging, Severus thought to himself with annoyance as he cast a temporary magnification spell on his eyes. He looked again at one of the tiny notes and now could see clearly that the wax seal held an all-too-familiar set of initials: APWBD
Severus would recognize that seal anywhere, but how could a message (no, a veritable swarm of messages) marked with Albus's personal seal be arriving now, five years after the man's death? There was only one way to find out: he would have to read them, of course, but...perhaps a shot (or two) of Ogden's Old Firewhisky wouldn't go amiss first, just to prepare him for what he was about to see.
A third of the bottle later, Severus finally felt ready to open the first of the still-buzzing missives and see what was inside.
"My dear Severus" the note began - and that alone was sufficient reason for Severus to reach for the bottle and pour himself another drink.
My Dear Severus - By the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead..."
Severus set his tumbler down on the small polished walnut table and pushed it to the side; suddenly, drinking directly from the bottle seemed incredibly appealing. However, all good things come to an end, and when the last drop of Firewhisky had vanished from the bottle, Severus could put off reading the note no longer.
My Dear Severus
Talk to Harry Bloody Potter.
This was the terribly important message that Albus had meant for him to read? Hah! The parchment itself must have been ashamed of the message it carried; it had certainly taken its own sweet time arriving. In any case, the message was unnecessary. Severus and Harry hadn't needed any reminders from Albus that they needed to work together during the war. More easily than either of them would have believed possible, when the situation demanded it, they reached an accommodation of sorts - enough of one, at least, so that they could combine their respective talents and powers to ensure the destruction of the Dark Lord. And after that, well...Severus disappeared, of course, feeling certain that Potter and his cohort would be more than ready to see the back of him.
Severus looked at the tiny unfurled scrap of parchment in his hand. Once opened and read, it had ceased its annoying buzzing and lay quiescent in his palm. However, there were still another dozen buzzing notes fluttering about on Severus's other hand, none of which showed any sign that they were going to stop buzzing unless they too were read.
He pushed himself up off the couch, and walked, a bit unsteadily, over to the liquor cabinet. There was absolutely no way he was going to be able to endure the memory of Albus and the reminder of the one time in their acquaintance when he could believe that he and Potter might...no, he wasn't going to get through the rest of these damned notes without at least one more bottle.
My Dear Severus - By the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead..."
Did every bloody message begin the same way? As Severus unsealed the fourth note, he felt hot tears start to well up in his eyes.
My Dear Severus - By the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead..."
He scowled, then angrily wiped an errant tear from his cheek with the sleeve of his robe before reading the rest of the message. What would this one say? Two of the messages had already admonished him about his behavior toward Harry and hoped that if he still held any love in his heart for his old Headmaster, that he might become Harry's friend. Manipulative old - dead - bastard, Severus thought, wiping another damned tear away before taking another drink from the bottle. It wasn't his fault that he and Harry...Potter weren't friends. Potter had more than enough friends. He didn't need...
"...best interests. I always loved you as if you were my own son, Severus. When this is all over, please don't lock yourself away and..."
Oh hell, Severus thought, crumpling the message in his fist, there's no damned way I can read any more of these. He took another drink, then stood up and shook the notes off his hand, before heading for the stairs. He'd taken no more than a step or two before he heard the buzzing coming closer again; the damned notes were following him. As quickly as possible in his slightly blurry state, Severus started up the stairs, the notes pursuing him as he went.
"For the love of...do you little beggars mind fucking off just long enough for me to go to the toilet?"
Apparently they did mind, for they followed him inside and buzzed around his head while he peed and washed his hands, then tangled themselves in his hair, still buzzing, as he started down the stairs. "Bloody-minded, hitch-hiking bastards," he muttered under his breath, then clutched the bannister tightly as his foot missed the lowest tread, almost causing him to fall to the floor.
His ankle was already beginning to throb as Severus limped into the sitting room. He lifted the half-empty second bottle off the table and carried it with him across the room, then dropped down heavily on the couch, took a long drink of whiskey, and leaned back against the old cushions, propping his leg up on top of the arm of the couch in the hope that there wouldn't be too much swelling.
He spent the next hour on the couch, slowly drinking the last of the Muggle whiskey he'd found hidden away in Pettigrew's trunk, getting progressively inebriated, and reading note after persistently buzzing note, each one offering unsolicited advice - and almost each one invoking that name.
"Wha's this one say? Oh, eggsel...excellent advice. 'Suspe...spend time with him.' 'Invite him to your home.' Why the hell should I?" Severus asked, the words almost slurred beyond intelligibility. "He wouldn' come anyway."
He took another drink, then closed his eyes in a confused attempt to muffle the sound of the buzzing. "I wonder how he'd like it if I did send a letter to him - to the great Harry Potter."
Severus laughed, which covered the sound of a drawer opening. At the sound of "...send a letter to him," pieces of parchment started to rustle, shuffling themselves until a clean piece of cream-colored parchment moved to the top of the pile. A Self-Inking, Quick-Quotes quill slid out from under a stack of old receipts and wrote "To the Great Harry Potter" on an embossed envelope.
"Albus isn't the only one who ever had a sense of drama. My letter would start...by the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead because...I could not bear to go another day without you!" Severus snorted with laughter, then took another drink.
Unwatched, the Quick-Quotes quill dutifully wrote down his words.
"Oh, Harry...if only we had been able to put our aminosius...our aminosity...animosity aside and been able to spend time together, we might have been able to someday become friends or - dare I say it? - something more? Goodbye, Harry...forever!"
The Quick-Quotes quill ended with a touch of poetic license, in the manner of all Quick-Quotes quills: "Farewell, my dearest Harry...forever!"
By the time Severus had finished the last drop of the last bottle of whiskey and slid off the couch onto the floor, two of the buzzing notes had picked up the dictated letter and had started the journey to Harry Potter's home.
"Get off me!" Harry yelled, as he swatted more of the tiny buzzing menaces away from his hair. "Just get... okay, look Ron, if you think that laughing while I'm under attack is going to win you any prizes in the Supportive Friend Sweepstakes, you're sadly mistaken."
Ron laughed. "Sorry, Harry. It's just...okay, it's funny, all right? But...no, I'll stop laughing. Eventually."
"Next time I'm asking Seamus over instead of you."
"And deprive me of all this entertainment value? I'm cut to the quick, Harry. That's what I am - cut to the quick."
Harry shook his head, and immediately noticed two of the little notes trying to sneak their way back into his tangle of hair.
"Bloody hell...they just won't give up," Harry said, cupping his hand over one of the notes and unsealing it. He read the message, then sighed deeply and crumpled up the now-silent piece of parchment.
"Same as the others?" Ron asked, no longer laughing. "I mean, from the headmaster and all?"
"Yeah." Harry nodded at Ron, then looked back down at the crumpled bit of paper. "He trusts me...power of love...blah blah blah."
"So...nothing about Snape, this time?"
"No, except this one says something about Yorkshire being particularly lovely at this time of year."
Ron grinned, then shook his head. "If I didn't know better, I'd think he was...no, it's too mad to contemplate. So...what are you going to do about all these notes, Harry?"
"What can I do? You heard what Hermione said this morning: there's no way of knowing how many of these things have been spelled to chase after me, and they're not going to stop until I read them all or do what they say."
"So...I don't suppose you've considered just giving in and visiting the git, eh?"
Harry stared open-mouthed at his friend, then got up from the table and went to pour himself a fresh cup of tea.
"Right, I'll just pop over to Snape's place after all these years and...say what? How's it going, Sevvie? I just happened to be in the neighborhood, and I thought maybe we could go for a nice, romantic stroll."
Ron burst out laughing. "Oh yeah...and then I'd fly to wherever he's holed up in Yorkshire to collect your scattered remains after 'Sevvie' casts an immolation spell on you."
Harry laughed along with Ron, but he was uncomfortably aware of the small, silent part of him that had been thinking that he wouldn't really mind visiting Snape as the notes had been asking him to do. Or at least he wouldn't mind if there were any chance in hell of him and Snape getting on the way they'd done right at the end of the war, during those last few weeks when the idea that they might even be heading toward a friendship, of sorts (if they survived, of course), hadn't seemed completely mad.
"You're a good friend, Ron," said Harry with a grin.
Ron smiled back, then his eyes widened in shock. "Harry, you'd better look out before...duck, mate!"
"What the hell was that?" asked Harry, crouching on the floor beside Ron and covering his head with his arms.
"I don't know," cried Ron, "but...look out! It's coming back this way again!"
Harry pulled back just in time for whatever it was that Ron had seen to zoom past him. He watched as it froze in mid-air, then turned around and started to circle Harry's head.
"Do you recognize it?" asked Ron, his face buried in his sleeve and his voice muffled.
"No! Wait...yeah. That's strange. I think it's just a letter."
"Another one of those notes from Dumbledore?" Ron said, looking up and frowning.
"No, this one looks like a regular letter," Harry said, trying to snatch the envelope out of the air. "You didn't see an owl or anything, did you?"
Ron shook his head. "Nope. I haven't even seen Hedwig this afternoon. Except...letters aren't supposed to deliver themselves. You do know that, right?"
"Of course I do," Harry said, scowling a bit as the envelope was dropped directly onto his head.
"Well? Are you going to open this one up and see what's inside?"
Harry nodded, and lifted the flap of the envelope, pulled a piece of cream-colored parchment out and unfolded it.
"What's it say?"
"It says...it says To the Great Harry Potter!" said Harry, with a frown. "That doesn't sound like Dumbledore, does it?"
"No," said Ron. "Go on...keep reading."
By the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead, for I could not bear to go another day without you! Oh, my dear Harry...if only we had been able to put our foolish animosity aside and been able to spend time together, we might have been able to someday become friends or - dare I say it? - something more? Farewell, my dearest Harry...forever!
For a moment, the two young men sat in stunned silence, both staring - mouths agape - at the letter Harry clutched in his hand.
"That's...bloody hell," said Ron.
Harry nodded in agreement, the sudden lump in his throat making it impossible to speak. Somehow, he had always thought that there'd be plenty of time toľ
"Let yourself out, Ron," said Harry as he scrambled to his feet. "I've got to go."
"Wait, don't tell me you're planning on tracking down Snape!" Ron said, clutching at the sleeve of Harry's shirt. "You don't have any idea where he is."
Harry tied his shoes, then slipped his jacket on over his jeans and tee-shirt, all without meeting Ron's concerned eyes.
"You do know where he is, don't you?" said Ron. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I couldn't," Harry said. "His house is under Fidelius."
"So how do you know?"
"Dumbledore's portrait told me."
Ron frowned. "Wait...it can't have done that...can it?"
Harry shrugged. "Don't know if it's supposed to work like that, but, you know...it's Dumbledore. I've tried to tell you at least five times since I found out, but the spell never let me."
"All right, but you could take me with you," Ron said, unwilling to let it drop. "You haven't forgotten about Side-Along Apparition, have you?"
"You know I've been rubbish at that ever since...nah, I can't do it, Ron. You'd end up at John O'Groats and I'd end up at Lands End - and probably neither of us would have all our bits."
Ron shivered. "Yeah, well...okay. But I'll wait here, if you like. Just in case, yeah?"
"Thanks," said Harry. "You know, I don't say it often enough, but you really are a good friend."
"Oh, piss off," said Ron, ducking his head and turning the color of beetroot. "I'll see you later."
As Harry Apparated into the small back garden of the house at Spinner's End, he couldn't help but think how fitting it was that this was the home in which Severus Snape had grown up. Although the herb garden along the length of the back fence looked reasonably well tended, the house itself was dark and gloomy and unwelcoming, and to Harry's eyes, it looked as if it were coming apart at the seams slightly, with its missing bricks and cracked steps. The windows were all intact, though - each one fastened securely and masked with dark curtains which hid the inside of the house from the inquisitive glances of casual passers-by.
More important than the aesthetic qualities of the house, though, was the question of how in the world Harry was going to get inside, which was starting to look as if it was going to be more of a problem than he had originally thought it would be. He'd already tried all the standard opening spells he knew and he'd even resorted to knocking on the door, but so far, nothing had worked.
Finally, in frustration, Harry checked to see that none of Snape's neighbors were watching, then slid his wand out from the inner pocket of his leather jacket and silently knocked the back door right off its hinges. Harry walked slowly through the kitchen, then further on, along the silent hallway. He was just about to climb the stairs, when he caught a glimpse of sunlight shining on glass from out of the corner of one eye. Frowning, he peered around the corner into the front room and was horrified to see Severus Snape prostrate on the threadbare carpet, pale as death, with dozens of tiny pieces of parchment scattered on the floor around him
"Oh hell! He really meant it!" Harry thought, totally shocked. "The stupid git meant it!"
He knelt down beside Snape's too-still form. "Ennervate!" he cried out, but Snape didn't move, then Harry leaned over to see if maybe everyday Muggle artificial respiration might work where Magic had failed. As he lifted Snape's chin and started to make sure his airway was clear, Harry caught a whiff of something that smelled like the back room of the Leaky Cauldron at closing time on a Saturday night, except..no, this was worse!
Snape wasn't dead; he was just drunk enough to look - and smell - as if he were.
"Stupid git," Harry thought, this time with far less sympathy, his concern for the man having disappeared as quickly as it had manifested. Harry scowled at the prone form, then cast a quick sobriety spell on his former teacher.
"All right, let's see what happens if I cast Ennervate now."
Harry sat cross-legged on the floor and watched as Snape jerked painfully back to consciousness, rolling over on his side and squinting up at Harry through the haze of the afternoon sunlight filtering through the windows.
"What are you doing here, Potter?" Snape asked hoarsely, before closing his eyes again and curling up into a tight ball and clutching at his stomach.
"Just answering my mail," said Harry dryly, as he started to collect the little parchment notes that lay beside Snape into a pile.
"What in the hell do you...."
"By the time you read this note, I will most certainly be dead... - does that sound familiar?"
Snape frowned, then pushed himself up until he was no longer lying on the floor. "Of course it sounds familiar," he said, leaning against the front of the couch. "And I'll thank you not to read anymore of my mail."
"I haven't read any of your mail."
"Then...have you been receiving time-delay post from the headmaster, as well?"
"I have," Harry said. "But this isn't one of his. Maybe I'd better read more. Oh, my dear Harry...if only we had been able to put our foolish animosity aside and been able to spend time together, we might have been able to someday become friends or - dare I say it? - something more? How about that?"
Snape squeezed the bridge of his nose with one hand, then sneered as exactly the same as he'd done back when he was still Harry's teacher. "I would have expected even you to have recognized a regrettably delivered drunken comic turn, for what it was."
Snape was many things, but Harry had never thought of him as particularly amusing; however, he supposed maybe it wasn't really particularly likely that Snape would turn to Harry if he were feeling like doing away with himself, and the old bat was alive, after all. If that part of the letter wasn't true, then the rest of it probably wasn't either.
"So...you weren't going to kill yourself then?"
"Do I look dead, Potter?"
Harry refrained from telling Snape the truth - that he didn't really look all that far off from being at least undead - and just shook his head.
"No, I guess not. Okay, so...sorry to interrupt whatever you were drinkin...er, doing." Feeling unaccountably disappointed that Snape hadn't meant at least the last part of the letter, Harry stood up and headed for the kitchen. "Oh yeah, I had a little trouble with the back door. Don't worry, though. I'll just...."
Harry stopped and clenched his fists, before shaking his head and forcing his hands to relax. Even after all this time, he thought, there was still a part of him that automatically responded to orders from Snape exactly the way he'd done when he was a teenager.
"I'll fix the door before I leave," Harry said. "Don't worry."
"I'm not worried about the door," Snape snapped, getting up off the floor and sitting down on the couch. "So... you said you too have been receiving strange messages."
"Notes from...notes from Dumbledore, you mean?" Harry asked, swatting one of the notes in question away from his cheek. "Yeah."
"And?" Snape said impatiently. "What have yours said?"
"Oh, you know."
"I do not know. If I knew what messages they contained, I wouldn't be asking you, now would I?"
Harry set his jaw, but even now, he knew there was no way he was going to be able to outstare Snape; the man was just too good at it. "They've been asking me to get together - - " Two more small notes flew past Harry's nose. "- - Damn, that was a bit close! Anyway, they've been asking me to...to get together with you. To talk, you know?"
Snape nodded, and Harry could see three small notes skimming across the floor, moving unerringly in Snape's direction.
"I thought, maybe, if we talked, they'd stop coming, you know?"
"Which is, no doubt, the reason you appeared uninvited on my doorstep?"
Harry scowled. "No, you prat. The reason I'm here right now is because I was...."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "About?"
"About you, you idiot. You wrote to tell me you were killing yourself because of me!'
Snape leaned forward and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "I'm never drinking again," he muttered, then spat as one of Dumbledore's notes tried to slide into his mouth.
Harry laughed, but Snape's glare made him stop almost immediately. "Sorry. Um...what does that note say?"
"Tell me what the note that's trying to get free from your snitch-grabbing grasp says, and maybe I'll let you read this one."
"Everything's a contest with you, isn't it?"
The corner of Snape's lip curled up, but he said nothing.
"Fine, you win," said Harry, opening the tiny message. "It says...oh, man."
Harry laughed. "It says that Dumbledore would rest easier if only we'd agree to take a little stroll together by the water's edge and talk things out. What about yours?"
Snape unfurled his note, then surreptitiously strengthened the magnifying charm he'd cast earlier. "It says...exactly the same thing."
Both men were silent for a minute, then Harry said: "Okay, so maybe we should just do it."
"Oh, come on, Snape," said Harry. "It's not as if he's asking us to go skipping down the High Street together, hand in hand, passing out remembrance poppies in his name. Just...a walk, somewhere by the water, and then these annoying things will stop. That is what you want, isn't it?"
"Of course it is."
"All right then. So...is there a pond around here or something?"
"The river's nearby."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that'll do."
Two hours later, Severus and Harry were walking back along the steep bank of the Aire, and the sun was just about to set.
"So," Harry said slowly, sounding a bit hesitant to run the risk of ruining the surprisingly congenial mood. "You think this has done it, then?"
Severus frowned. "Do I think what has done what?"
"Us walking, like this. Do you think that was enough to satisfy the headmaster?"
"It appears to have done, unless...you haven't spotted more notes hanging about, have you? There aren't any hidden in the tree branches, are there?"
"No," Harry said.
They walked on, back toward the Snape family home. When they'd gone far enough up the rise that the chimney of the old mill was once again in view, both of them stopped, then turned back to watch a pair of mallards preening in the shallows.
"Have you been here before?" Harry asked.
"Aye, when I were a lad."
Harry turned around to stare at him, and Severus felt himself start to flush.
"When I was a boy," he corrected.
Harry nodded. "It's nice."
Severus knelt down and picked up a flat stone - the exact shape and weight of the ones he'd spent hours skipping across the river when he was younger - but he could see that the current was moving too swiftly, and he let the stone fall to the ground.
"I'm sure we both have things that need doing," Severus said brusquely, taking his wand out from the cloak he'd transfigured to look like a Muggle raincoat. "Good day."
Harry barely had time to nod in agreement before he Disapparated, but Severus's dramatic exit was less satisfying when he arrived in his back garden and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of buzzing parchment notes.
"Oh, for God's sake," Severus groaned, as Harry popped into view. "I thought they were gone."
"So did I," said Harry, instantly covered with the little pieces of parchment just as Severus was. "What does this batch say?"
Severus scowled as he read one of the notes and reminded himself to strengthen the wards against uninvited guests of all shapes and sizes.
"Apart from Albus reminding me that he's dead, which he's now seen fit to remind me of over three dozen times, these ones seem to...oh, look at your own bloody notes. I'm certain they all say the same damned thing."
Harry shook his head, but didn't bother to argue. He just opened his hand and waited until one of the notes currently whizzing around him settled on his palm.
"Okay, this isn't so bad," he said, after he'd had a chance to read the latest request.
"Not so bad?" Severus growled. "'My Dear Severus,' followed by the usual reminder that he's dead, and then '...I would rest easier if I knew you and Harry were able to sit down to a meal together.'What in the name of God does he want? It's not like he wasn't there to oversee six bloody years worth of shared mealtimes!"
"You don't have to yell at me, you know," Harry said, trying to keep three of the more aggressive scraps of parchment from slipping down his shirt. "I'm not the one sending the damned notes."
"I know you aren't!'
"Then shut up before I send a silencing spell your way!"
Severus was just about to offer the sophisticated rejoinder of 'No, you shut up!' when one of the buzzing notes flew into his open mouth.
"Dabbit!" he yelled, spitting the piece of parchment onto the face of the faded plastic garden gnome that had been a fixture in the garden before his parents had even bought the house. "This is getting totally bloody ridiculous." He sat down on the back steps and buried his face in his hands, letting his greasy hair fall over his fingers like a veil.
For a long moment, the only sound was the distant drone of Muggle automobiles on the motorway. Then finally Harry spoke. "You know," he said, laying his hand on Severus's bony shoulder. "I miss him too."
Severus took a deep breath, then pushed his hair back over his ears. "Yes," he said quietly. "I know you do."
"Come on," Harry said, giving Severus's arm a quick squeeze. "I've got some Muggle money. Let's go find an Indian take-away. We'll get a curry or something and bring it back to the house. Maybe that'll do."
"Maybe it will," said Severus.
"You still haven't asked what I've been doing lately," Harry said, wiping up the last of the curry sauce with a piece of Naan he'd filched from Severus's plate.
"Has too little of the dinner conversation been about you?" Severus asked, pouring himself another cup of ginger tea. "Next time, I'll be sure to invite some of your old housemates; perhaps they'll provide a better audience."
"So...you want there to be a next time?" Harry asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Don't be absurd," Severus muttered. "I didn't want there to be a this time."
"Oh, I believe you," said Harry, a noticeable lack of sincerity in his tone of voice. "Although it might have been just a little more convincing if you had, you know...asked me to leave or something."
"While we were still under siege?" Severus asked, flicking scraps of unmoving parchment off the table with one long, jagged fingernail. "You must be joking. In any case, even I am not so far removed from Wizarding society that I could escape hearing about your latest ventures. Didn't I read in the Prophet that you're...writing a book on Defense?" Harry narrowed his eyes, clearly suspicious of this sudden evidence of interest, but Severus kept the expression on his face as neutral as possible. "How very intriguing."
"And what do you find so intriguing about it?"
"Well," Severus said, leaning back in his chair. "To be honest, I was never quite certain whether you could even read."
"Prick," Harry said with no heat in his voice, ignoring the sniggering emanating from the other man.
"I assume Miss Granger has been helping you with the big words?"
Harry tried not to grin, but it was impossible. After all, Hermione really had been helping him write the damned thing.
"So why aren't you writing one?" Harry asked.
Severus frowned. "A book?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "You were actually a pretty good Defense teacher."
Severus waited to see what witticism (or what comment that would have passed as a witticism in the Gryffindor common room) would follow, but Harry was concentrating on sending the dirty dishes off to the kitchen for cleaning.
"Not Potions?" he asked dryly.
Harry snorted. "Like I said, you were an okay Defense teacher."
"I believe you said good, Mr. Potter," said Severus wryly. "In any case, there will be no books from this quarter."
"Why not? Because no sensible publisher is going to be in any way interested in having the name 'Severus Snape' on a dust jacket of one of their books, that's why."
Harry frowned. "What if we...."
"I think it's time we drew things to a close," Severus said, rising abruptly from the table and summoning Harry's jacket from the sitting room, where it had been draped over the back of a chair. "Judging by the noticeable lack of flying correspondence, we appear to have finally satisfied whatever lingering wishes the headmaster had at the moment of his death."
"Perhaps we shall encounter each other sometime in the future," Severus said, standing beside the now-open front door, making his own wishes quite clear. "Good evening."
Harry sighed, then shook his head and stepped out onto the front walkway..
"Okay, good night," he said, but the door was already closing behind him
Harry Apparated directly into his own living room, only to find Ron asleep on the couch, snoring loudly enough to rattle the windows. Harry unfolded one of the quilts Mrs. Weasley had given him as a housewarming present three years earlier and covered his friend with it before turning to go upstairs for the night.
"Ha'? That you?"
"Go back to sleep, Ron."
"Wasn' sleepin'. I was jus'...um...resting my eyes." Harry could see Ron push himself up to a sitting position and wrap the quilt tightly around him. "So...how did everything go?"
"Okay, I guess," Harry said. "It looks like all I had to do was go...talk to him."
"Yeah? So it's all over now?"
"I suppose," said Harry, acutely aware, even if Ron wasn't, of the wistful tone in his own voice. He wasn't so sure he wanted it to be over, especially not before anything even happened. "Listen, I'm dead tired. I'll see you in the morning, right?"
"Yeah. Oh, wait...maybe not," Ron said, scrubbing his face with his hands. "I told Bill I'd help him take care of the triplets for the day."
"Right. Well...have fun."
Ron shook his head. "Fun, the man says. Taking care of triplets. You're mental. You know that, don't you?"
"Oh, you're probably more right than you know," Harry said.
"Never mind," said Harry. "Night, Ron."
After washing up for the night, Harry went to sleep, blissfully unaware of the legion of tiny, folded parchment notes which were slowly, but steadily making their way toward his home.
Moments after Severus woke in the morning, he was forced to do what he hadn't attempted for years: he cast a Patronus to deliver a message. He felt an odd shiver of anxiety as he spoke the words Expecto Patronum, wondering if, perhaps, his Patronus had altered its form to look like a crazy old man with a long beard, but as it transpired, his fears were groundless: his Patronus was the same as it had been when Severus was still a teenager.
Of course, not everything had stayed the same. The memory he'd drawn on instinctively to make the spell work appeared to be that ridiculous walk he'd taken by the river yesterday, but Severus pushed that thought to the back of his mind.
"...and tell him to get his arse here immediately!" Severus shouted over the buzz of dozens of new notes fluttering around his bed. The silvery serpent undulating at the tip of his wand nodded once, then broke free and flew out the window.
Severus got out of bed and watched his Patronus disappear behind a cloud, then sat down on the window sill and started to read the first of this new set of notes. So engrossed was he in his reading that he never noticed the warding crystals resonating with an incoming Apparition signature until Harry stood before him in his bedroom.
"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" Severus huffed.
"What do you think I'm doing here?" Harry said indignantly. "You all but ordered me to come back. You said 'immediately.'"
"Yes, but I hadn't thought you would...."
"...actually come before you'd had a chance to change out of that fetching nighty you're wearing?" Harry said, making no attempt to hide his amusement as he looked at Severus's old flannel nightshirt. "Besides, I was already awake. It's not that easy trying to sleep when you're getting dive-bombed by parchment. You can only hide under the duvet for so long until you start getting low on oxygen."
"If you knew anything about common decency, you would have waited downstairs." Severus suspected that his words would fall on deaf ears, probably as much for the fact that he'd been swatting at parchment notes the entire time he spoke as for his unplanned display of sleeping gear, but he'd rarely been able to stop while he was behind. "But you know nothing of common decency, do you? You've always been..."
"Drink this," Harry said, handing him a large cardboard cup. "I'll go downstairs and wait for you to get dressed."
"What is it?" Severus said, looking at the cup suspiciously.
"Coffee. Muggle coffee."
Severus took the cup in his hand and sniffed. "Hazelnut?"
"Yeah. You used to like that, didn't you?"
He nodded automatically. How in the world had he remembered such a trivial fact for so many years?
"Okay," Harry said, walking toward the door. "I'll see you in a few minutes. Oh, and Severus?"
"What is it now?"
"Leave your socks off when you come downstairs. The sight of your bare toes is driving me wild with desire."
"Out! Get out of my bedroom!"
Without even needing to retrieve his wand from the bedside table, Severus was able to make the door slam shut as soon as the giggling idiot had stepped completely into the hall.
When Severus came downstairs ten minutes later, he no longer seemed on the verge of a meltdown. Harry didn't know whether the coffee or the fact that Severus was now fully dressed (including boots, damn it all) was responsible for his improved mood, but he was grateful, no matter what the cause.
Severus scowled. "I think at this point we can skip the social niceties, don't you?"
"If you like."
"What I'd like would to be for these epistolary pests to cease...bugging me, for want of a better word. What I'd like would be to have some say over who does and does not feel free to traipse all over my home."
"Okay, look...I'm sorry about that, but your Patronus made it sound like an emergency."
"So you say," Severus muttered. "And by the way, how have you been getting inside my home?"
"What do you mean?" Harry said with a frown. "I told you that Albus...."
"I know about his portrait somehow ignoring the secrecy of the Fidelius," Severus said. "However, there are personal wards set all over this property. There is no way you should have been able to come through unless I wished you to be inside."
Unless Severus wanted Harry to be in his home?
Harry almost laughed out loud at this unexpected (and - judging by the horrified look on Severus's face - probably unintended) confirmation that he wasn't the only one who wasn't completely opposed to the two of them spending time together, but he caught himself at the last minute.
"Well, you know I've always been pretty good at getting into places I'm not supposed to be," said Harry, and while it really wasn't an answer to Severus's question, it was enough to allow both of them to change the subject. "Okay, so look...I've been dividing the requests into two piles: Easily Accomplished and Some Planning Involved. Why don't you sort yours out the same way and..."
"You forgot a category," Severus said, a number of buzzing notes clenched tightly between his thumb and forefinger.
"Never In A Million Years"
"Oh come on," Harry said. "It can't be as bad as all that."
"No?" said Severus. "Taking little children on a picnic? Holding hands at a Quidditch match? Dancing together?"
Harry's eyes widened. "Bloody hell. Mine are mostly just Muggle restaurant suggestions."
"He was clearly insane," Severus raged. "So much so, in fact, that his insanity followed him beyond the grave and into the next life. I should have known better than to let that man know anything about my personal life...."
"You had a personal life?"
"Of course I...well, not as such, but that's not the point!" Severus said, still fuming. "Dancing, of all ridiculous things! He's asking the impossible. Even if you agreed to dance with me, there is no way in hell I would subject myself to the stares of...."
"The note doesn't say anything about the dance having to be in public, does it?" Harry asked quietly.
"Pardon?" Severus said, stopped short in mid-rant.
"Just...the note just asks us to dance together, right? I suppose that means we could just do it here, couldn't we?"
Severus stared at Harry.
"Come on, Severus. It's the only way we're going to get these notes to stop. And besides...."
Harry could feel himself start to blush, but in for a Knut, in for a Galleon. "I've always wondered what you'd be like on the dance floor."
Severus scowled. "Now that is a complete lie."
"Okay, maybe not always. But it's not like this is the first time I considered it."
"And what about the picnic with children?" Severus asked quickly, changing the subject entirely.
"Well, Bill Weasley has triplets. I reckon I could offer to watch them for the day so that he and Fleur could get some time alone together." Harry grinned. "The girls aren't even a year old, so it's not like they'd be telling any tales."
"You appear to have given this all a great deal of thought," Severus said through clenched teeth. "One might even imagine that you had found some way to make these notes merely seem as if they were from...from him."
"Are you mad?"
"Oh, I don't know that it's quite so mad an idea," Severus said slowly. "In fact, now that I think of it, it seems....ouch, damn it! Get back, you buggers!"
Harry sat back and simply watched as Severus was pelted from all sides by dozens of notes, each one buzzing furiously.
"Aren't you going to read them?" Harry asked.
"I can't, can I?" Severus shouted. "Oh for the love of...do something, Potter!"
Harry reached out and snatched one of the notes and opened it up. For a moment, he just read in silence, then he started laughing.
"Well, what does it say?"
"My Dear Boy," Harry read. "Let us start by taking the part about my being dead as a given."
Severus sat down on the couch, closed his eyes, and let his head fall back against the cushions.
"All right, go on."
"'While I lived, I always thought of you as a son' - oh, that's sweet, isn't it?" Harry said with a smile.
"Shut up, Potter," said Severus, without opening his eyes.
"'...but now that I'm gone, I can tell you that I also thought you were the most stubborn person to walk the face of this green earth, and you couldn't be trusted to see what was directly in front of you unless...' Heh. He really knew you, didn't....Ow! What the hell!"
Harry drew back, trying to get away from the folded piece of parchment that was jabbing his cheek with one of its sharp corners. "Come on, Severus. Do something!"
"I am doing something," Severus said with a smirk. "I'm enjoying the show."
"Git! Take it away!"
"Oh, all right. Stop behaving like such a child."
Severus pushed himself off the couch and took the note away from Harry's face, then started to read what it said.
"Give it here," Harry said, reaching out for the note
"Not a chance," said Severus, holding it just out of Harry's reach. "These things always sound so much better when they're read aloud, don't they? 'And don't imagine that Severus is the only one capable of acting like a stubborn arse, Harry.' Good lord...I don't believe I ever heard Albus use that word while he was alive!"
"Is that it?"
"No, of course not. By the way, well done - both of you - on disposing of Tom.' Oh, so that little detail made its way to the afterlife, did it? I had wondered," Severus grumbled. "'However, I'd be grateful if you two could see your way clear to doing me one last favour.' Have you noticed that his 'one last favour' seems to have an infinite number of sub-favours?"
"Yeah, I have, actually," said Harry, rubbing at his the red spot the parchment had left on his cheek. "What's the favour, then?"
Severus frowned and turned the piece of parchment over. "It doesn't say."
"What? Give it here."
Severus handed the note to Harry, but he'd been right. It said absolutely nothing about what final request the headmaster wanted to make of the two of them, but...
"None of this was ever about us working together in the war, was it?" said Harry slowly.
"It doesn't seem to be," said Severus cautiously. "I suspect he was perfectly aware we'd do that all along."
Harry nodded. "Right. So...asking us to spend time together, take walks, share a meal...."
"Yeah. That. So...erm...what do you suppose the missing request was going to be?"
There was a hopeful quality to Harry's voice - one that matched his own, rather less transparent feelings - and that was just enough to bring Severus to his feet.
"Perhaps it was this," he said, drawing Harry up from his chair and pulling him into a kiss.
Severus had neither the utter lack of sexual experience that most people who had seen him might have imagined him to possess, nor as much as popular lore had suggested had been the daily lot of Death Eaters in good standing. Instead, he had just about as much as one would expect from a relatively unattractive, situationally misanthropic man who'd spent most of his adult life serving two masters, which is to say "not much."
His limited experience, however, didn't keep Severus from recognizing that this kiss in this place with this most unlikely of partners was so far superior to any kiss in which he had ever participated - or, quite possibly, to any kiss he would ever share again - that his fingers, as if of their own volition, began to claw at Harry's sleeves.
"Hey," Harry breathed, his warm lips ghosting over Severus's own. "I'm not going anywhere."
Severus closed his eyes, not wanting see the acknowledgment of his own pathetic desperation reflected in Harry's eyes. He wanted to pull away, wanted to prove (to himself even more than to Harry) that he didn't want this - didn't need this - but he could feel his traitorous fingers clutching tightly and more tightly still on Harry's arms as the seconds ticked away.
He could hear, beyond the ticking of the clock (beyond the beating of his heart), the soft buzz of parchment notes as they circled, unseen, around the two men, and for a moment, the sense that Albus was in the room with them was so strong that Severus wanted to reach out for him...but then there was heat and the slide of lips against lips and the feel of warm hands on skin and all at once Severus realized that Harry was holding onto him just as tightly as he was holding onto Harry.
When finally - minutes or hours later, Severus wasn't quite certain which - they paused to take a breath, there were no longer any hints of buzzing in the room. No fluttering parchments. No final requests from a much-loved man, now long gone.
There was only Severus and Harry.
It had been a week - nowhere near long enough for Ron to get used to the idea that his best mate was shagging Severus Snape - but that didn't mean Ron wasn't capable of sticking his head through the Floo to contact Harry when it was absolutely necessary.
"You there, Harry?" Ron called, his eyes firmly shut just in case something he really, truly never wanted to see was happening right in front of him on Harry's lounge floor. "Only, I'm here at Hogwarts, and McGonagall says she needs to talk to you."
"You needn't shout, Mr. Weasley," Snape said, sounding like he wished he could take points away from Ron for not using the headmistress's title. "We're sitting less than five feet from the fireplace."
"Yeah," said Ron, opening his eyes and instantly wished he hadn't. Snape sitting there holding hands with Harry was just about as bad as...well, no it wasn't, but it was bad enough. "Anyway, she wants to see both of you, if you're not too...er...busy."
Harry grinned at Ron, then got up from the couch and pulled Snape up as well. "Come on then," he said. "Mustn't keep the headmistress waiting."
Snape's face twisted into something Ron reckoned must be a smile.
Weird, to see Harry touching him like that, he thought, as he got up from his knees to let them come through. Weird to see anybody willingly putting their hands on Snape, for that matter. Of course, once the two of them stepped through the Floo, McGonagall gave Snape a hug, too.
"Good of you to come, Severus - and you too, of course, Harry," McGonagall said. "I was wondering if the two of you could take a quick look a something a bit unexpected."
She ushered the two men across the room until they stood directly in front of the currently napping portrait of the former headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.
"Both of you are familiar with this portrait, are you not?" she asked, waiting until she saw both of them nod. "Then perhaps one of you would be so good as to tell me why there now seems to be parchment and a quill in the portrait, and why Albus seems to be writing something addressed to the two of you. Mr. Weasley mentioned you might know something about it."
Ron watched as Harry and Snape glanced first at him, then at each other, then turned their attention to the painting, then he sat down on McGonagall's desk and just waited. He didn't know what was so odd about Dumbledore writing a letter; after all, if Sir Cadogan could go from painting to painting, surely Dumbledore's portrait could nip out to get some ink.
"...and you say you've asked what he's writing?" Snape was saying to McGonagall.
"I have, Severus, but you know how stubborn he can be when he's set his mind on something."
"I'm at my wit's end," she said. "It may be important, and...."
"Why not just have someone else take a look?" asked Ron, a bit taken aback when all three of the others - even Harry - turned around to frown at him. "What? It's not like the portraits can't move between paintings."
Snape muttered something about 'idiot savants,' which earned him an elbow in the ribs from Harry, but McGonagall smiled.
"That sounds like an excellent idea, Mr. Weasley," she said. "Headmaster Black? Could you do me a small favor."
Harry snorted, and Ron watched as, this time, Snape elbowed Harry into silence.
"Phineas Nigellus Black, I don't have all day," said McGonagall in her most no-nonsense tones, and slowly the portrait beside Dumbledore opened his eyes.
"Ah, Headmistress," he said, sounding as snooty as Malfoy used to. "Is there some service I can perform for you this afternoon?"
"Yes, I'd like you to pop 'round to Albus's painting and see what it is he's writing."
For a minute, it seemed as if old Phineas was going to refuse - something about 'honor amongst portraits' - but then Snape said the word 'turpentine," and that was it for Headmaster Black's honor. Quicker than Ron could say 'Chudley Cannons,' Black had crept into Dumbledore's painting and had slipped the just-started letter out from under the late headmaster's arms.
"Well, go on. Read it, if you would, Phineas."
With a last nervous glance to see if Dumbledore was awake, Black began.
"Dear Harry and Severus,'
Ron heard Snape mutter something and turned his head, only to be glared at until he turned back around.
"I'm sure it's just because 'H' comes before 'S' in the alphabet, Severus," Ron heard Harry whisper.
Black cleared his throat and scowled at Harry. "If I might continue?"
"Dear Harry and Severus - Well done, my boys."
"That's it?" McGonagall asked indignantly. "That's what he's been keeping from me?"
"Might I go back to my own painting now?" Black said.
"That was his great secret?"
"Now you know how I felt for twenty years," Snape said, scowling at the portrait.
"And me," said Harry, absentmindedly rubbing the back of Snape's neck with his thumb.
"Yes, yes," said Black. "Peas in a pod, but I ask again...am I allowed to go back to...."
"What are you wittering on about, Phineas?" asked McGonagall testily.
"Has everyone forgotten...."
It was as bad as being in an Order meeting. They could go on like this for hours. He glanced over at Dumbledore's portrait, and...bloody hell! Had the headmaster just winked at him?
Ron shook his head and grinned.