Title: Himself His Own Dungeon|
Pairing: Snape/Harry, future Snape/Harry/Voldemort implied
Disclaimer: If I were JKR, this would have been the plot for the epilogue. Or possibly not.
Warnings: fellatio, rimming, anal, infidelity, nappies, rubber ducks, and laundry rooms.
Summary: Snape isn't quite as dead as everyone thinks. Neither is Voldemort.
Author's Notes: Written - ultimately - for ziasudra (with whom I have a cosmic Fest bond, apparently *g*)
Thanks Beyond the Telling of It: to femmequixotic, meri_oddities, and regan_v whose offers to beta so far surpassed beta'ing that I'm almost hesitant to post this story under my own name. This was pure collaboration - and one which saved my story from never being written at all - and I will never be able to thank them enough. I love you guys!
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"
Harry knew that Ginny wasn't happy with how much time he spent at St. Mungo's, but who else cared enough to keep an eye on things? Clearly not the staff at the hospital.
The Healer in charge of the case insisted they were all doing their very best, but when Harry visited St. Mungo's each month, even he could tell that there had been no improvement in the condition of the hospital's most private patient.
Technically, Severus Snape was still alive, but Harry suspected it wouldn't be long before that was no longer true.
Not unless something changed.
The Healer bent over Snape, holding her wand a few inches above his body as she checked his vital signs yet again. She looked up to meet Harry's eyes. Her compassion was beginning to grate on his nerves, although he knew he was being unreasonable.
"His condition continues to deteriorate, Mr. Potter." She spoke slowly, as if he were as young as James. "We told you from the beginning that nutrient spells couldn't keep Professor Snape alive indefinitely."
"It's just the pneumonia," he said. "Now that you've got him over that, he'll put the weight back on soon enough."
"Pneumonia can be . . . a release, in some cases." She was clearly feeling her way, putting her words together carefully. "It might be nature's way of letting us know that it's time to let the professor go."
"Nature's way?" What kind of idiocy was that, coming from someone who was supposed to save lives? "Look. It's your job to keep Snape alive. You're not allowed to decide to just . . . give up on him."
"I'm not 'giving up' on him." She dropped the compassionate facade and her tone sharpened. "We told you from the start that Professor Snape's condition was incurable. The neurological damage caused by the blood loss was severe, as you know. We cannot keep him alive indefinitely. And even if we could, you might want to consider whether he would have wanted that."
"Would have wanted that? Past tense? He's not dead yet, you know." Harry felt his hands clench into fists.
"The man you know is gone, Mr. Potter. He is going to remain in a vegetative state until he dies."
"And what if you're wrong? What if he's not going to die?" Harry couldn't believe she was willing to give up on Snape, just like that. No wonder he wasn't getting any better, if his own Healer had decided she couldn't help him.
Something snapped inside him, and he had a sudden urge to get the hell out of St. Mungo's. And to take Snape with him.
"Since you feel unable to help Professor Snape, I think maybe it's time to remove him from your care." He heard the words come out of his mouth and knew it was the right decision.
The Healer's jaw dropped. "That's impossible. Where would you place him? After all the effort everybody went through to adapt the Fidelius charm to this case, and now . . . Mr Potter, if you put him in a long-term care facility, you know you won't be able to conceal him for long. "
She was right. "I'll take him home with me, in that case. I've watched your staff cast the nutrient and cleaning spells so often that I'm sure I can manage on my own."
The Healer opened her mouth to protest, but Harry cut her off. "I was appointed Professor Snape's guardian by the Ministry, and I'd like you to discharge him. Have him ready to move by tomorrow afternoon, please."
He hoped Ginny would give him a chance to explain why he had to do this.
"Who's coming to stay?" Something thudded to the floor in the kitchen and Harry heard the cat screech loudly. Ginny got up heavily and moved as quickly as she could towards the kitchen, her belly swaying.
"Put that down right now, James Arthur Potter." The cat's yowling suddenly shifted up the register by at least one octave and Harry winced in sympathy.
Ginny reappeared in the doorway, holding a struggling James awkwardly. "Can you please help me with your son for a minute? It's time for his bath."
Harry took James from her and carried him down the hallway towards the bath. He turned the taps on and heard the thump and squeal of the pipes. Fortunately, James rather enjoyed baths. Harry waved a wand to float a layer of thick bubbles on top of the warm water and charmed them into a rainbow of colors. Distracted, James smiled and began to mix the yellow foam with the blue.
"Make sure to shampoo him this evening. It's been a couple of days." Harry looked up to meet Ginny's eyes and took a deep breath, bracing himself to start over again with his explanation.
"I said, Snape is going to come stay with us."
Ginny's nose wrinkled. "Has he recovered, then? You didn't tell me he was getting better."
"No, that's not it." Suddenly Harry wondered whether he'd be able to make her understand. It had all seemed so clear back at the hospital. "I'm . . . not happy with how they've been caring for him at St. Mungo's. He's going to come stay here, so I can keep an eye on him myself."
Ginny looked gobsmacked, but then rallied.
"Keep an eye on him? What do you mean? You don't mean that we're going to take care of him, do you? Tell me you're joking, Harry."
He hadn't thought she would be this unreasonable. "I do mean that we're going to take care of him. I mean, I will take care of him," he added hastily, as Ginny's face got the ugly flush that usually portended a blow up.
"I can't believe you decided this without even talking to me about it. And where will we put him, for heaven's sake?"
"Um. My study?"
"That's going to be this baby's nursery. Mum's coming next week to help me decorate it. And I've got my hands full with James." Ginny's voice became quavery and her eyes filled with tears. She turned on one heel suddenly, and walked away. Harry started to go after her, but a gurgling noise from James made him turn back to the tub. James lobbed a handful of purple foam which landed with a splat to cover Harry's glasses.
Some of it got into Harry's mouth. It tasted terrible.
Ginny was asleep when Harry came into the bedroom. He'd lingered downstairs, the way he always did when they argued lately. Ron told him he was a right prat about it, and he supposed maybe he was, except . . . when had Ron become a relationship expert?
Harry sighed. No, Ron was right. Ginny had been tired all day, Harry knew, and James wore her out more than usual now. He understood what she was going through. If he just made more of an effort to show her that he did, maybe Ginny would show a little more understanding about Snape.
He toed off his shoes, then pulled his t-shirt over his head.
Ginny shifted sleepily against him as he slid into bed behind her; Harry kissed the side of her neck. "Love you," he whispered, and his hand slid over her stomach. The baby kicked.
Harry wrapped himself around his wife and closed his eyes.
The following morning, Ginny agreed to let Harry bring Snape to the house, but when he broached the idea of using his study to house Snape again, Ginny's expression forced him to quickly drop the subject. There was space on their property for a new room off the laundry area, and Harry expanded the house there to create a sickroom for Snape. The walls were smooth and white.
The black locks flowed over the white pillowcase. Clean at last.
Now maybe Harry could get some rest.
Harry blinked. He was in a white room--a familiar room, one he'd seen once before. The walls were smooth and white, and Harry turned, staring up at the glass dome curving above him.
It'd been over seven years since he'd been here.
"Hello?" he asked and the word echoed in the emptiness.
A rasping breath sent him whirling, reaching for a wand that wasn't at his hip.
Snape lay on the floor, curled in on himself, his hair falling lank over his cheek. His black robes were filthy and torn.
They were the same robes St Mungo's had burned the night Harry had brought Snape in.
"Fuck." Harry dropped to his knees beside Snape and rolled him over; blood seeped stickily through his fingers, smearing across the skin of the too-familiar infant clutched in Snape's arms. Harry pulled back, his hand shaking. The child was just as small as he recalled, its skin red and raw. It looked at him, lashless eyes blinking, and Harry swallowed hard as the baby reached for him with a mewling cry.
Harry spent most of the following day with James: reading to him, playing with him, holding him in his arms. Ginny seemed a bit surprised, but she was so grateful to be getting a bit of a reprieve for once that she didn't press the issue.
The next night, the white room was different, but only just. A narrow iron bed sagged against one wall, and Snape lay stretched across on the thin mattress, the baby curled next to his side.
It looked at Harry, eyes dark and curious, and its feet kicked.
Harry sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, avoiding the baby. He smoothed Snape's hair back from his forehead. It was soft and clean. His robe was spotless now, though still ripped in places. Harry slipped a finger through one hole, twisting the black wool around his knuckle.
"It's freezing in here," he said, and the baby huffed and rolled onto its stomach. It lifted its head, stretching, and its hands scrabbled against the mattress ticking.
A thick red and orange blanket that looked rather like Harry's present last Christmas from Molly suddenly dropped over Harry's lap. He picked it up. The wool was soft against his hands. "Right," Harry said, and he looked around the room, a small shiver going up his spine. Just a dream. This was just a dream. Anything could happen in a dream. "Of course."
He spread the blanket over Snape, hesitating just a moment before pulling it over the baby's shoulders. The child blinked up at him. Harry swore it smiled.
Ron handed him a pint. "You all right, mate?"
"Yeah." The head of the ale was thick and heavy. Harry wiped the back of his hand against his mouth. "Just not sleeping well, I reckon."
"Hermione's been keeping me up too." Ron sat down next to him with a sigh. "She can't stay down for more than an hour or two. Says the baby keeps kicking."
"Right. Same here." The lie slid out easily. His nights had been filled with dreams of sitting cross-legged on a white floor, watching Snape sleep in the iron bed. That should be a bit more disconcerting than he found it, Harry supposed, but all he ever seemed to want these days was to be curled in bed, asleep.
Ron clapped Harry's shoulder and lifted his glass. "Better get used to it."
Harry just smiled faintly.
The room became his dream retreat. It was strangely peaceful in here. Quiet.
The walls slowly filled with bookcases and portraits; the bed changed into a heavy four-poster, dark wood with a thick, down-filled duvet. A bedside table appeared, on top of which was some spare change, a yo-yo, a silver thimble, an old copy of the Prophet and a mouth-organ, all of which Harry put away for safe-keeping in the matching chest of drawers
Harry went through three chairs before settling on a worn armchair that was identical to the one in his lounge that James called "Dad's." A copy of Which Broomstick was tucked between the cushions; a brightly coloured rag rug covered the white floor. A door, locked when Harry tried the knob, appeared in one corner.
A small cot held the baby. Harry'd never even set the child in it; he'd just come in one evening and found him sitting in it, fingers curled tight around the edge, peering up at Harry with those unsettling eyes.
Just as he was now.
With a shudder, Harry twisted his bottle of beer between his hands. The baby wouldn't look away.
Harry stood up, moved to the edge of the bed. The mattress shifted beneath his thighs. His back was to the child. Snape was pale, his hair spread out across the white pillow.
"Christ, I wish you'd wake up," Harry said quietly. He pressed his beer against his knee; it was cold against his jeans. "Mad of me, I know."
He sighed and stood up. The baby grunted. Harry wouldn't look at it. Couldn't look at it.
Instead, he pulled the cover higher over Snape's chest. He didn't know why. This was only a dream; it wasn't as if Snape could catch cold.
And then he knew.
It was simple, really. Harry didn't know how he'd managed to miss it before. It was all a matter of will, wasn't it?
He looked back at Snape. Wake up. Wake up.
"Wake up," Harry whispered.
Harry stepped closer to the bed. "Wake up," he said louder, and he held his breath. "Wake up, you bastard--"
Perhaps it was a shadow. Perhaps it was a flutter of eyelids.
Harry wasn't certain.
The baby cried out again, a sharp, harsh wail that echoed through the room.
Harry sat up on the sofa, rubbing at his eyes. He could still hear the echo of the baby's cry.
The fire burned low in the hearth; Ginny had draped a blanket over him before she'd gone upstairs.
Sod this, he thought, and he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and stared into the fire.
He didn't sleep for the rest of the night.
The bed was empty.
Harry turned, his heart pounding. No. He couldn't be gone. The room had changed slightly; a fire burned in a hearth across from the bed, a sofa had appeared in front of it. "Snape?"
The baby watched him over the edge of the cot, skin twisted and raw-red. Harry sank into his chair, face in his hands. Fuck. Just . . . fuck.
"What the hell are you doing, Potter?"
Harry looked up, eyes wide. Snape closed the door in the corner behind him; Harry had a glimpse of a hallway, all dusty wood floors and faded blue walls.
Identical to the hall outside the laundry room.
"You're awake." Harry jumped up, and it was all he could do not to run to him. Instead he shoved his fists in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Observant as always." His robes were neat, fresh. He tugged at the cuff of one sleeve. "You've been watching over me."
Harry could only nod.
"How long has it been?" Snape asked, and there was something about his voice that caught Harry.
He licked his bottom lip. "Seven years. Almost eight now."
There was a moment's silence.
Harry looked away.
Ginny's room in St Mungo's was filled with Weasleys.
Hermione nudged Ron, and he handed the baby back to Harry. "So, did you two ever decide on a name?"
"Albus," Ginny said, leaning back against the pile of pillows. She looked exhausted but happy.
Harry smoothed a fingertip over his new son's mouth, over the tiny bow of his upper lip. "Albus Severus," he said, and all hell broke loose.
"We named him after you," Harry said. The baby watched him from his cot. Perhaps he should name this child as well.
Snape snorted. "Why on earth would you do such a foolish thing?"
With a shrug, Harry leaned against the mantel. The fire was warm against his back. "Seemed fitting, what with you living down next to our laundry room and all."
"I would like to once more reiterate my objection to that," Snape said dryly.
Harry smiled, then glanced over his shoulder at the baby.
It was strange, the desire to touch. He hadn't wanted to have anything to do with the child before, and especially not to touch it. Now, as it lay in its bed, he wanted to hold it. To reach out and pick it up.
With some trepidation, he reached down and touched the baby. His fingers moved gently across the soft cheek. He pulled back quickly, holding one hand in another. A sensation ran through him that he couldn't quite identify.
He looked across the room. Snape was sitting on the sofa . . . and Harry wanted to touch him. How strange that was. It wasn't that he hadn't thought about touching Snape before, he had, but the urge was stronger than it had been. It felt good, almost comforting to think about.
"What is it?" Snape asked.
"Nothing. I just . . . ." Harry tried to look away and found that he couldn't, almost as if something were compelling him to join Snape on the sofa..
"Are you all right?"
"No. No. It's okay. It was just this odd feeling."
"Ah, nothing new then."
Harry laughed. Snape's barb had no teeth. He crossed the room to put his hand on Snape's shoulder. Snape looked up at him, and Harry found himself leaning down and brushing his lips across Snape's.
He pulled back, embarrassed. What the hell was he doing? "Fuck. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Snape said, looking directly at him, his invitation clear.
A hundred reasons existed why this was a very bad idea, but Harry couldn't think of any of them right now. It was a dream, anyway. He leaned down again, and pressed his mouth slowly, softly onto Snape's.
A sense of rightness washed over Harry as he slid his tongue into Snape's mouth. His hand anchored itself in Snape's hair and he pressed down harder. This felt so good, so perfect.
Ginny's face appeared in his mind, and before he could focus on it, she was gone. And then the kiss took over again and he could only concentrate on Snape. The taste of his mouth beneath Harry's, the feel of his lips moving, the clench of his hands in Harry's robe.
Snape's robes parted under Harry's hands. His fingers slid across Snape's thin chest, his hands flattening against Snape's chest. He touched one nipple with the flat of his finger, and then squeezed very gently. Snape moaned. The sound was good and Harry wanted more of it. Pleasing Snape was what he wanted to do now. This connection was what he needed.
"Good?" Harry asked
"I think you know it is."
Harry didn't say anything else. He could tell what Snape wanted. And he would try his best to give it to him. Snape took hold of Harry's arm, pulling him down beside him on the sofa. Leaning over, Harry kissed him slowly, letting his tongue play along Snape's lips and teeth.
He opened his mouth and applied it to Snape's neck. His skin tasted so good, felt so inviting. It was as if Snape had been made for him.
Snape arched and groaned. "Yes."
Slipping off the sofa, Harry knelt before him, his hands busy pushing off Snape's robes and pants. When Snape was naked, Harry leaned forward, pressing his mouth to the inside of Snape's thigh, moving up slowly. He nuzzled Snape's balls, breathing in the heady scent of him. Harry closed his eyes and sighed in pleasure.
He pushed Snape's knees apart farther and leaned down, taking the head into his mouth. Above him, Snape moaned, his mouth open, his head thrown back. Harry moved up and down, listening for Snape's cues. The smell of Snape was making him crazy with want. He reached down and palmed himself through his own trousers, rubbing in time with the movements of his head.
Snape stiffened. Harry's mouth was flooded with the bitter, slick taste of come and Harry swallowed, his own hand moving faster and faster on himself. He groaned as he, too, came. Bending down, he put the side of his face against Snape's thigh to catch his breath.
Snape's hand was in his hair and petted him. "Harry?"
Harry looked up and Snape leaned down to kiss him.
He woke up with a start to see Ginny leaning over him.
"Albus is fussing. Can you get him this time?"
Harry grunted and rolled out of bed. He padded downstairs to pull a bottle of chilled milk out of the refrigerator and cast a quick warming spell. Albus was getting louder, and he hurried upstairs before James woke up to join the party.
Albus settled quickly, sucking greedily on the bottle while Harry rocked him in the dim nursery. He emptied the bottle and Harry shifted him up to lay his head on Harry's left shoulder, patting his back. Albus gave a loud burp and fell back asleep quickly. Harry settled him carefully back in his cot, and tiptoed out of the nursery.
He felt a sudden desire to check in on Snape as well. Harry went downstairs again through the laundry room and opened the door to Snape's room softly, as if too much noise might wake him up. He cast a Lumos and stood there for some time, watching the rise and fall of Snape's chest. The sound of Snape's breathing was soft. Hypnotic.
His feet were getting cold. Harry tore himself away and went back to their bedroom, closing the door quietly behind him. Ginny stirred and rolled over as he climbed into bed.
"That took a while." Her voice was blurred with sleep. "Was Albus all right?"
"Albus?" For a second, Harry wasn't sure why she was asking that. "Oh. Sure. He's gone back to sleep."
"That's good." Ginny rolled settle in on her side, facing away from Harry.
Asleep, her breathing sounded just like Snape's.
The baby splashed silently in the bathwater, eyes fixed on Harry.
It was easier here, Harry thought. Simpler. No midnight feedings, no filthy nappies.
He washed the baby's back, smoothing the flannel across twisted, scarred skin. The baby shivered beneath his palm. A teal duck floated in the multi-coloured foam, its rubber skin changing from polka dots to stripes and back again.
The child's palm slapped against the water; a blob of blue foam landed on Harry's cheek and he laughed. "Careful now," he said, lifting the baby from the water. He wrapped the baby in a towel, holding him close.
Snape was stretched across the bed when Harry came back in the room. He lay the baby in the cot; it reached for the stuffed snake coiled in the corner. Harry felt a twinge of guilt at the stretch of naked, raw skin. He should dress the child. He knew he should.
"Come here, Potter," Snape said, holding out his hand, and Harry smiled at him.
He glanced back as Snape drew him onto the bed. The baby was standing in the cot, the snake's tail in its mouth. Pale green pyjamas now hid the baby's flayed skin.
The baby watched them intently.
The house was now much noisier during the day than it had been before Albus was born. He and Ginny had to keep an even closer eye on James, for one thing, since experience had quickly shown that it was risky to leave him alone in a room with the new baby.
Snape's room, by contrast, was peaceful and quiet. Harry had taken to slipping in there after dinner for an hour or so each evening, to get away from the crying and nappies.
"Harry?" Ginny was standing in the doorway watching him. He wondered how long she'd been standing there. "It's almost time to get James to bed. Can you read to him while I bathe Albus?"
Harry grunted and pulled himself to his feet. Ginny's eyes went past him to where Snape lay silent on the bed, and she watched while Harry spelled Snape's evening potion into him.
"He . . . well, it never changes with him, does it?"
Harry felt inexplicably nettled. "Oh, he's . . . well, maybe not." He couldn't mention the dreams.
Ginny considered Snape for a moment longer and then shivered. "Harry, I'd like to have some time alone."
Harry was puzzled. "Alone with Snape?"
"No. Alone with you." Her tone softened. "Let's go away for a weekend, all right? My mother would be happy to come stay with Albus and James, I'm sure."
Harry looked back at Snape. "And Snape? D'you think she'd take care of him, too."
Ginny pressed her lips together. "I suppose she might. Should I ask her?"
"Mmm." Had Snape stirred just now? Harry twisted to look back at him again, but Snape was still in the same position as before.
The weekend away was . . . less than successful. It was Ginny who suggested they return home early.
Harry slipped into bed with Snape, holding his still body close to him, wishing he was awake in the waking world.
He willed himself into the dream world and was standing in front of Snape's bed. The room was dim, the walls reflecting moonlight from the windows. That was new. Harry stepped up to it, and looked out. The dark was so thick that he couldn't see anything.
Snape made a sound, but it wasn't distress, and he didn't seem like he was awake. Without making a sound, Harry slipped his clothes off, and slid into bed with Snape, pulling him close.
"Harry?" Snape murmured, turning into him, and kissing him.
The rightness of the feeling struck him hard. He'd tried so hard to find this with Ginny last month during their short getaway. He'd just never connected with her. It hurt. But Harry knew that he couldn't bring himself to do what he had to do to fix it.
Harry cringed at his tone. "Yeah. I don't want to talk about it."
"Then don't. Use your mouth for something else."
"And what would you like?"
"I'm sure you can think of something." Snape didn't let him reply, kissing him instead.
Harry took that as an invitation. He rolled on top of Snape and deepened the kiss. Slowly, with as much attention to detail as he could muster, Harry worked his way down Snape's naked body, licking and biting and kissing.
He nudged Snape over onto his belly. Surprisingly, Snape went easily. Starting on Snape's spine, he moved down again. When he reached the small of his back, Harry nuzzled his face into the soft skin there. Merlin, Snape smelled good.
Using the palms of his hands, he pressed Snape's cheeks apart and ran his tongue from the top of the crease to the bottom. Beneath him, Snape wriggled and moaned incoherently.
Harry smiled into his skin, and licked again, eliciting the same response. "Good?"
"If you don't continue, I will hex you into next week."
Harry laughed and bent back to his task. He slid his tongue in. Snape groaned.
After a few more minutes, and much moaning from Snape, Harry slid a finger into him, crooking it just right. Snape's moans took on a slightly different tenor. Harry thought that was probably a good thing.
He worked a second and then a third finger into Snape. The lube was on the table beside the table and Harry reached for it, slicking himself. He rolled Snape onto his back, and pressed his legs up to his chest. As he slid into Snape, he met and held his eyes.
But he couldn't keep the gaze up. He had to close his eyes as he moved. Sweat dripped off his body as his hips pistoned in and out, fucking Snape hard. And Snape met him stroke for stroke, lifting his hips with each thrust.
Harry's whole body tightened as the world spun into bliss. He came seeing stars.
"God, that was amazing," Harry panted. "Fucking amazing."
"It was one of your better efforts, I'll say that for it."
"Was that a compliment?"
Harry closed his eyes and felt more content than he had in weeks. This was right.
He woke with a start a moment or two later. Or maybe it was more time. Turning over, he noticed the baby standing up again in the cot, both hands gripping the rail. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn the baby had been watching them the whole time.
He couldn't bring himself to care.
The door opened and the volume level of Albus' screams went up abruptly.
"Harry. I could use a little help out here, if you wouldn't mind."
"Mmmm." Ginny made that noise that reminded Harry of a tea kettle about to whistle, and he tore his gaze away from Snape's face with an effort. Her robes were getting tight across the middle, he noticed. It was almost time for her to switch to those maternity robes she'd packed away after Albus' birth.
"I'm not sure why you spend hours in here. He doesn't really need you to sit here staring at him, you know." Ginny paused and made a visible effort to rein her annoyance in. Her tone softened. "I know you're doing your best for him, honey. But he's not getting any better."
She couldn't be more wrong, but of course Harry couldn't tell her that. He grunted non-comittally.
"The boys need you more than he does. They're your sons. And I need you, too."
"You've got me," Harry responded, perturbed. Didn't he return home every night, straight after work? It had been weeks and weeks since he'd gone for a beer with Ron, even.
"I've got you here in this room." Ginny's voice rose, even drowning out the sound of Albus screaming in the other room. "He's got you more than I do. Or the boys."
"That's not true." Snape only had him in his dreams, really. Or he had Snape. Ginny had all the waking hours, and Harry was annoyed that she didn't seem to realize it.
"We're going to have three children soon. And those children need their father. Snape doesn't need you. He could be anywhere, and he wouldn't know it." Ginny was breathing hard and her color was rising.
"Snape does need me. If I weren't looking after him, who knows what would happen to him?" Harry felt his own heart rate accelerate. Ginny was being unreasonable. Perhaps it was the pregnancy.
"Harry, he doesn't know where he is. And it doesn't matter. Your duty is to your children and to me." Ginny's voice quavered and she seemed close to tears.
"I am doing my duty to you."
"Not the way I see it. Things just can't go on this way." Ginny took a deep breath and visibly steeled herself. "I don't want to live this way forever, with you spending almost every evening down here with Snape, and not with me and the children. If you haven't returned Snape to St. Mungo's by the time our new baby is born, I don't know how we can continue to live together."
She couldn't be serious. "Ginny, be reasonable."
"I mean it, Harry. You have to decide what matters most to you: Snape or your family."
"But he is my . . . ."
She frowned. "Don't tell me you think that man is . . . Harry, he's not your family. We are . . . and you'll have to choose."
"Don't make me choose. Don't do this."
Ginny's eyes flashed and she made a small choking noise. "It shouldn't even be a choice. I don't see what there is to choose between."
Harry couldn't imagine how to explain it to her. He opened his mouth to try and Albus' screaming reached a new and ominous pitch. The tone that indicated that James was probably assaulting him. Ginny made a frustrated noise before turning to hurry out of the room.
Harry stared after her for a few minutes and then crossed the room to close the door. The noise level dropped sharply. That was better.
On the bed, Snape stirred slightly.
Harry looked at the space on the wall where a photograph of the family used to hang and sighed. Ginny had taken it with her when she moved out - just as she had taken all the toys, all the books, all the kitchen things, and almost all of the furniture. She had left Snape's bed and Harry's favourite armchair, but little else remained in the too-empty house to indicate that a family had ever lived there.
That his family had ever lived there.
Of course, it wasn't as if Harry noticed the loss most of the time; he so rarely noticed anything at all these days apart from Snape . . . and the baby.
And it wasn't as if he didn't spend time with his own children, after all. He saw them on their birthdays, at Christmas, during the annual Victory Day celebrations. He and Ginny both went to King's Cross Station each September when James set off for Hogwarts, and this year, Albus would be joining James. He saw them often. It was just getting to be a little difficult for Harry to remember their schedules, without Ginny there to remind him.
If only he could find a way to wake Snape in the real world, then everything would be all right again. He was sure of that.
He had broached the subject with Snape more than once, but Snape didn't appear very enthusiastic about discussing the issue ("Leave well enough alone, you stupid boy" had been his exact words). It wasn't until Harry was sitting and rocking the baby one day while Snape took a nap that he finally understood.
This life the three of them had built together seemed almost too good to be true. And Snape, well . . . after the life he'd led in the 'real world, was it any wonder that he didn't want to risk losing what he'd found here? Was it any wonder that he couldn't quite trust that things would be this perfect outside of the dream-scape? That must be it.
Harry set the baby back down in his cot, then sat cross-legged on the rug beside the still-sleeping Snape and closed his eyes.
It was so simple.
As simple as it had been a decade earlier.
"Wake up," Harry said, his eyes still closed. "It's time for you to wake up. I need you to wake up. We need you to wake up."
The sound of wings beating against stone. The chill of night.
"It's all right," he said, more urgently this time. "You can wake up. It will be all right. I promise."
And then Harry opened his eyes . . . but there was nothng to see.
The room was empty, as it had been the very first time he'd been there. Nothing but bare walls and floor, and a whiteness so bright and clear it hurt Harry's eyes.
The baby was nowhere to be seen.
Neither was Snape.
"Where are you?" Harry cried out, but his words echoed in the empty room. He heard a noise behind him, an inhalation of air, and he spun around, but there was no one there. All that remained was the door in the corner of the room.
For the very first time, Harry reached out and turned the knob, then, taking a deep breath, he stepped though the doorway and raced down the hallway with the faded blue walls until he reached the door to Snape's room.
What he would have done if Snape had been missing there, too, Harry never discovered, because as soon as he opened the door, there before him lay Snape, his eyes closed, but no longer still as he had been for so many years. He was restless, as if he were just a normal man having an everyday bad dream, and Harry felt real hope for the first time in years.
He sat beside Snape on the bed and took his hand, squeezing it tightly.
"Wake up," he whispered. "Wake up."
And then, all at once, Harry felt Snape's hand tighten around his own. He held his breath and finally - finally - Snape's eyes fluttered open. For a moment, he just smiled up at Harry. For the first time outside of a dream, his eyes were soft and welcoming.
Harry leaned down and kissed him, and it was warm and loving and far better than any dream kiss had ever been or could ever be. He drew back, just the slightest bit so that he could see Snape - really see him - and as he smiled down at him, in that moment that seemed to last forever, Harry felt as if everything was finally right with the world.
And then Snape blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, he looked up at Harry with eyes as red as blood - and when he spoke, his voice sounded nothing at all like Severus' voice.
It sounded like a hiss.
"Hello, Harry," said Tom.