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Besides getting close to Alex, Harry had been drilling his Quidditch team to the limits of their abilities three practices a week for the last three weeks. Their match with Hufflepuff was approaching on Saturday and even if they didn’t seem like much of a threat, Harry wanted to be sure his team destroyed them. He’d made a vow with himself to win the cup this year and nothing was going to stand in his way of winning, not even his silly curse.

Harry pushed the practices until a quarter to sunset, something that alarmed the Gate Framers when they began attending the practice sessions. After every practice, Harry would stay behind in the locker rooms with the same excuse: I’ve got to write down the plays and mistakes we made before I forget them. Satisfied with this answer, his team would usually leave him to his work. He would scribble down a few things he found worthy of writing but mostly he would chat with the Gate Keepers until sunset. Then he would be escorted back up to the castle and confined to his room.

Harry wouldn’t have to keep this routine if it didn’t take longer than fifteen minutes to get back up to the castle. Sometimes the Gryffindors would like to take a leisure stroll or decide to goof around, all of which took out time that Harry didn’t have to spare. Sighing dejectedly as he’d watch his team walk up to the castle without having to worry about changing into stags at sunset, Harry found himself rather envious. He constantly had to remind himself that he’d chosen this so as to protect Ginny; if he didn’t he was sure to lose it completely.

It was Thursday, two days before their match with Hufflepuff, and Harry had nearly lost track of the time. If Ginny hadn’t shouted his name and pointed at the sinking sun Harry was sure he would have continued flying around shouting instructions to his team until he’d felt his body start to convulse. Nodding a silent thank you to Ginny, Harry lifted a whistle to his lips and blew. The shrill noise got his team’s attention and they flew over to him.

“Alright,” Harry said, glancing at the sunset, “this has been a really good practice. I have all confidence that we’re going to cream Hufflepuff this weekend. Just practice the way you have and everything will be just fine. Good work, everyone. Let’s hit the lockers.”

With lightened hearts, the team made their way into the locker rooms where they changed out of their Quidditch robes. Harry pulled out his parchment and quill to jot down a few plays that occurred today that he’d like to use later while frequently glancing out the window. The sun was sinking fast. Praying his team would leave before he transformed, Harry looked up to see them heading towards the exit, talking excitedly about nonsensical things. As they walked out, the Gate Keepers walked in.

James was about to speak when he stopped in his tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Lily asked but then she saw what he was looking at.

Ginny was still lacing up her shoes, obviously taking her time. She looked up at the five adults. “Could you give us a minute?” she asked, trying to keep her tone light and friendly.

James wasn’t fooled. Lily had used that overly sugary sweet tone with him whenever he was in trouble and he knew his son was in for an argument. Glancing at Remus, he knew his friend had experienced something similar with Tonks.

“We’ll be outside,” Remus said, taking Tonks by the hand. “Come on, honey.”

Tonks looked over at Harry in worry. “I hope he survives,” she muttered softly.

Lily and James shared a glance before following Remus and Tonks’s lead. Sirius was reluctant but he left along with the others. Harry watched them go, eyeing Ginny warily. Setting aside his parchment and quill, he stood up.

“Did you need something?” he asked, trying to keep his voice level.

Ginny looked out at the sun. She had a minute. “Harry, what is going on?” she asked, her voice so full of pain that Harry’s heart nearly split in two. “I’m so confused. You tell me nothing is happening between you and Alex yet I always see you two together. Did I do something wrong?”

“What? No! Of course not!” Harry grabbed her by the shoulders. “Ginny, nothing is going on.”

“How can I believe you?”

Ouch. Stung, Harry dropped his hands. “How can you doubt me?” His voice came out weak, frail, not at all what he wanted it to be.

Ginny tried to keep the tears from forming in her eyes. “I doubt you because of what I’ve been seeing, Harry!”

“You can’t possibly be jealous of Alex?”

Ginny folded her arms. “Of course I am,” she snapped. “You’re always with her, Harry! Every time you have a free moment, you’re with her. In between classes, at meals, during breaks, after school; I’m not an idiot! You’re spending all the time you could be with me with her!”

Harry’s body began to burn. Gritting his teeth, he asked, “Can we continue this in a second?”

Ginny turned on her heel. “I don’t have anything else to discuss!”

Harry used Obscurvirgum and froze her in place. “I do! I’m afraid…I can’t…let you leave yet…Ginny.”

He doubled over in pain as his body forcefully transformed, twisting and bending all his bones, reshaping them into a stag’s skeleton. Harry’s legs wouldn’t support his weight and he fell to the ground, trembling. Gasping, trying with all his might to keep the spell cast on Ginny, Harry forced his eyes open.

Even though she was frozen, Ginny’s eyes were filled with unspoken guilt as she watched Harry struggle to his hooves. Breathing heavily, Harry stumbled forward. The spell on Ginny collapsed but she didn’t turn and run; she grabbed Harry by the neck to steady him. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Harry replied, though even now he felt like his body had been tortured a thousand times by the Cruciatus Curse. Shoving the pain away, he said, “Ginny, I need you to understand…I need you to trust me. I’m not infatuated with Alex in any way.”

Ginny whimpered before hugging him tightly.

Harry pulled his neck out of her embrace to look into her face. Her freckles complimented her gorgeous eyes even though they appeared bloodshot. Her long red hair was tied into a ponytail but a few short strands had broken loose to hang under her chin. Her cheeks flushed, skin slightly pale, and her expression full of so many painful emotions Harry didn’t know which one he should be most concerned about. “Ginny, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she mumbled. But staring into Harry’s large stag eyes caused her defenses crumble. She sniffed and sat down on the bench Harry was standing next to. Leaning her head against his warm side, she sighed heavily. “I’ve been so stressed, Harry. It’s our final year, of course I’m stressed. The classes and homework are difficult and I spend so much time up in Gryffindor Tower and the Library that I hardly get to see you. But Alex does. I see her finish her homework faster than Hermione sometimes. She comes over to help me out but recently I’ve been refusing her help. I thought she was being spiteful, see, since she’s been hanging out with you so much.”

Harry put his head in her lap. “Ginny, I’m sorry. I want to tell you so many things but I can’t.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice strained.

“Dumbledore has forbidden me from saying anything to you. I know it’s horribly stressful having people hide things from you – the old man did it to me my whole fifth year – but I need you to be patient. In time, I’ll explain everything.”

Ginny grumbled. “I already knew you were hiding things from me, Harry. I just wasn’t sure what it was. I’m still not sure. But I suppose it has something to do with Alex, right?” Harry didn’t say anything. His silence was enough to confirm her words. Ginny chuckled bitterly. “I knew it. Did Dumbledore give you the assignment to date her or something?”

“What?! Of course not! You know how passionate he is about love. He won’t ask me to do anything that steps on that.”

Ginny sighed. Standing up, she took Harry’s head gently in her hands and raised it until his eyes were level with hers. “Harry, I want you to swear on your parents’ graves that you are not cheating on me.”

“You know I’m not,” Harry began.

Ginny closed her eyes. “Harry, please, this is for me, okay? I need to throw away all the doubts that have been shoved in my head over the last few weeks. This is the only way I can dispel them. Please.”

Realizing that what he said now would determine whether Ginny stayed with him or not, Harry held a firm gaze and did as she requested. “I swear on my parents, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and Severus’s graves that I am not nor will I ever cheat on you, Ginny.”

She searched his eyes and he physically saw all the tension leave her face. A smile, a genuine, beautiful smile, spread across her features. He hadn’t seen that smile since Valentine’s Day (which seemed like a thousand years ago). Hugging him tightly, she kissed his ear. It twitched uncontrollably. “I love you, Harry,” she laughed, kissing his ear again. “Thanks for easing my mind.”

Harry ignored the desire to lick her face in retaliation. “You’re welcome. Now that I’ve said that, will you not get jealous anymore when you see me with Alex? This is important, Ginny.”

Frowning, she folded her arms. “I don’t like it but it’s obvious now that this is something Dumbledore put you up to. Last time he asked you to do something nobody else knew about, it was for everyone’s benefit. I trusted you keeping secrets from me then and I can trust you keeping secrets from me now.”

Harry nuzzled her cheek against his. “Thanks, Ginny.”

“I suppose I’m going to have to tell Draco to back off wanting to hex you.”

Harry froze. “What?”

Ginny grinned guiltily. “He’s planning to hex you since you’ve been hanging around Alex and she hasn’t told him what you two are doing when you’re together.”

“Great,” Harry grumbled, “just perfect. I can’t tell him anything! How am I to explain?”

“Leave it to me,” Ginny replied, kissing his ear again.

Ignoring the insane twitch, Harry said, “Are you sure you can handle it?”

Ginny nodded. “Don’t worry, Harry. When you get back up to the castle I promise Draco will be sober about the whole thing.”  

And with that, she stood up, kissed his ear one more time, and left. Harry sighed. He felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Ginny wasn’t angry with him. She wasn’t angry with him! Harry felt like leaping around in ecstasy but he managed to control his urge just as the door opened and his Dad and Sirius stepped in.

“How did it go?” James asked.

“Fine,” Harry replied cheerfully.

Both men relaxed. Sirius came over and rubbed Harry’s head. “I’m glad you didn’t have to deal with a break up, Harry.”

Harry shuddered. “Don’t even say such a thing, Sirius. I think I’d die.” James began putting Harry’s parchment and quill away while Sirius sat down beside him. “Where’s mum?”

“She, Remus, and Tonks decided to take Ginny back up to the school,” Sirius answered. “We didn’t want her walking alone. We think the Death Eaters tried to abduct her during the fight at the Burrow because they know she’s your fiancée. We don’t want to give them another chance of kidnapping her from the grounds.”

Harry grimaced. “Good thinking.”

Upon learning this, Harry became restless. By the time James had finished straightening the locker rooms and locked the door closed, Harry was ready to bolt back up to the castle. Terrible ideas were forming in his head of Ginny being hurt or kidnapped or worse, dead. Sirius put a hand on Harry’s back. “Relax, Harry.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Harry muttered, pawing the ground nervously.

“James, hurry up,” Sirius called over his shoulder, “Harry’s about to have a heart attack.”

“Well, they haven’t come back yet!” Harry complained, looking up the trail in hopes of seeing his mother or Remus and Tonks.

“She’s fine, Harry,” James soothed, joining his other side. “Come on.”

Harry would have run at full speed if James and Sirius weren’t on either side of him. They did travel at a faster pace than either liked but Harry wasn’t going to slow down. He had to make sure she was okay. So it was rather annoying when James paused, halting the three of them.

“What’s up?” Sirius asked.

James was looking at the forest. “Nothing…” he said after a moment. “I thought I saw something.”

“It was probably an animal,” Harry said, “come on.”

And once again they plunged into a near run. They reached the castle steps in ten minutes due to Harry’s haste only to find his mum, Remus, and Tonks chatting with Professor Dumbledore just outside the oak front doors. Harry’s pace slowed as did his heartbeat.

“She’s safe,” he sighed.

James and Sirius smiled, silently finding his concern rather touching. “We told you she was,” Sirius said, patting his back.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered.

“Not to worry, son,” James returned with a smile. “It’s only natural to be concerned for the one you love.”

“You three are earlier than expected,” Lily commented before kissing Harry’s head. “I assume you made up, Harry?”

Harry nodded.

“Having a few bumps, Harry?” Dumbledore asked knowingly.

“Just a few, sir,” Harry admitted, sheepish. He didn’t really enjoy having everyone know about his relationship squabbles.

“I am to assume everything has been sorted out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Dumbledore replied with a smile. Taking out his watch, he frowned slightly. “Best to get you inside before dinner, Harry.”

Harry noticed the Headmaster was wearing a traveling cloak. “Going somewhere, sir?”

“As a matter of fact I have a dinner appointment with Aberforth,” Dumbledore admitted. “The poor man is insistent that I tag along to one of these parties that he’s been forced to attend. I assume he’s bragged to some acquaintances and needs me there to prove him right.”

“Oh,” Harry muttered, climbing the steps. “He didn’t seem like the bragging type.”

“He usually isn’t,” said Dumbledore, “But anyone can be provoked given the proper motivation to defend oneself against ridicule. I’m willing to help him out of this mess but I’m afraid a harsh lesson is going to have to be relearned tonight.”

Harry, feeling a little awkward, nodded. “Well, have fun with that.”

“I will do my best,” Dumbledore promised with a smile. “Harry, I do not want you leaving your room under any circumstances tonight.”

Harry paused. “Why? Is there something wrong?”

Dumbledore looked passed him out at the grounds. “Just a feeling,” he muttered. “I don’t like leaving the castle these days. I’m glad I was allowed to come back.” His mystical, far-away voice replaced itself with a stern one. “Promise me, Harry, you will stay in your room no matter what.”

Harry didn’t mind this too much. For some reason he wasn’t feeling very well. He supposed it was just because he’d just barely transformed. Relaxing sounded rather inviting since he felt like his body had been though a mill and his stomach was churning unpleasantly. “I promise, sir.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Good. I expect all of you to look after him.”

“Don’t we always?” Sirius asked, putting an arm around Harry’s neck.

“I’m serious, Sirius, do not let anything bad happen to him while I’m away.”

Sirius’s expression grew grim. “Alright, Albus.”

“And you stay safe yourself,” Lily commanded. “Don’t go trying to do everything on your own just because you’re a powerful wizard. Call the rest of the Order if you run into trouble.”

“Lily,” Dumbledore responded exasperatedly, “I’m perfectly capable of –”

“I didn’t say you weren’t,” Lily interrupted. “Albus, this is a promise you need to make to us. You will call for help if there is trouble.”

Harry tried not to laugh. The all powerful Albus Dumbledore getting chided by his mother? This was an unforgettable sight! Dumbledore’s exasperated eyes locked with Harry’s amused ones. He sighed. “I promise, Lily.”

“Good. Now, Harry, come along,” Lily ordered. 

Harry didn’t dare disobey. His mother’s tone had an edge to it that he didn’t want to cross. Picking up the pace, he leapt up the steps, bade good night to his Headmaster, and went inside. After making sure there weren’t any students lingering in the Entrance Hall, Harry made his way over to the tapestry hiding his secret corridor and went inside. Professor Merrylow was waiting just behind the entrance.

“Sorry,” she said as Harry stumbled back in surprise.

“Professor, do you have a homing device on Sirius?” Harry asked, trying not to feel embarrassed about stumbling over his hooves.

She laughed lightly. “You know, sometimes I think I do! And how many times have we been though this, Harry? When I’m not in the classroom you can call me Elle. I’m going to marry your Godfather after all.”

Harry sighed. “Sorry, it’s a little hard to get used to.”

Just then Sirius came around the tapestry. “Elle?” he asked with both surprise and delight. “What are you doing here?”

Elle placed herself in his arms and kissed him gently. “I had a feeling you’d be here.”

“I think I’m going to puke.”

Sirius rolled his eyes at James who was faking vomiting onto the floor. “At least my love is more mature than what you were doing with Evans back in our seventh year,” Sirius replied hotly.

James glanced at Harry. “We don’t have to go into that, do we?”

Sirius grinned. “We just might if you continue to make fun. I could tell stories that will leave all three of you Potter’s blushing the colors of the Weasleys hair.”

Lily stepped up to Sirius, her eyes flashing dangerously. “I’d like to see you try, Sirius. Just remember who you’re messing with.”

Sirius tried to retain his composure but Harry wasn’t fooled. He was nervous. Attempting to be unconcerned, Sirius shrugged his shoulders, took Elle by the hand, and led her down the corridor. They stopped in front of the door.

“The password changed yesterday,” Harry said.

“What is it?” Tonks asked.

Harry shuffled his hooves. “It’s a little embarrassing,” he muttered, “Honestly, I don’t know what Dumbledore was thinking…”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “It’s not something dumb, is it?”

Harry sighed. Moving forward, he rubbed his nose against the Gryffindor lion’s tail.

“Password?” the lion asked.

“Catch the snitch and you might catch a witch,” Harry muttered.

The marauders had to stifle their laughter with their fists. Lily, Tonks, and Elle appeared a little incensed.

“Honestly,” Lily muttered, stepping inside, “every male thinks Quidditch is a sport that will automatically make women swoon.”

“Funny,” Harry observed as he followed after his mother, “Hermione said the same thing.”

Draco was sitting on the couch, writing out an essay for Professor Slughorn, when Harry stepped inside. He looked up and frowned. “Am I going to assume that the common area isn’t going to be a good place to study tonight?”

Harry shook his head. “You don’t have to move, Draco. I think I’m going to go to bed early.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Potter, it’s not even seven thirty yet.”

“So?” Harry asked, jadedly.

Draco stood up. “Are you ill?”

This caused his parents and the others to look over at him. Harry closed his eyes. He’d been trying to hide it but the truth was that fast paced walk up to the school had made him feel nauseas. He hadn’t wanted his parents to think him weak. A simple stroll up to the castle had never left him feeling like this before. It was practically humiliating to say that he felt sick just from walking around.

“I’m fine,” Harry grumbled, walking over to his room.

“Don’t try to lie to me, Potter,” Draco sneered, stepping in his path. “You’re sick. I can tell.”

“Harry? Are you sick?” his mother prompted.

“I wish you would have kept your mouth shut, Malfoy,” Harry complained.

Draco smirked. “Sorry that I’m concerned, then.” He looked at Harry again, noticing the stag’s legs wobbling ever so slightly. “You need to lie down.”

“Where do you think I’m going?” Harry snapped.

Draco rolled his eyes, moved out of the way, and let Harry pass into his room.

“Let me talk to him,” Lily said.

Harry stumbled onto his bed, breathing heavily. He was so frustrated! He’d been perfectly fine throughout his entire Quidditch practice. He hadn’t even been sick this morning. Why was he so weak all of a sudden? This sickness seemed to have come out of nowhere. It didn’t even seem normal. What was going on? Lily came in and asked that exact question.

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t a clue.”

“Are you sick?”

“Yes,” Harry reluctantly admitted. He was too tired to fight her.

Lily sat down beside him. “Harry, how long have you been sick?”

“I was fine all day,” Harry said, feeling his frustration building.

“You weren’t sick during Quidditch practice?”

“No.”

“How about after you’d transformed?” Lily asked.

Harry paused. Looking back, the slight queasy feeling in his stomach had built up during his rush to get back to the castle but he’d dismissed it as nerves over Ginny’s wellbeing.

“Harry?”

Harry shook himself from his thoughts. “I thought I was feeling this way because I was worried about Ginny.”

“So when did you start feeling sick?”

“When I was heading back up  to the castle.”

Lily’s brow furrowed. “Hmmm…”

“What?” Harry asked, concerned about her discomfort.

She shook her head. “Tell me exactly how you’re feeling.”

“Well, my body aches –though it always does after I transform– and I feel nauseas. Oh, and a terrible headache is beginning to surface.”

Lily nodded to herself. “Right… Harry, I want you to use the Gate Frame to call Severus here.”

Harry blinked. “Why?”

“I need his help.”

Harry grimaced, suddenly remembering. “I left it in my bag down in the locker rooms.”

Lily went over to the door. “James? Can I have Harry’s bag, please?” 

“Sure,” Harry heard his dad say. “Is he alright?”

“He’ll be fine once Severus sees to him.”

“What?!” James cried. “Why do you need him?”

“James,” Lily snapped, “Your son is in need of a Potions Master.”

“So get Slughorn up here,” James retorted.

“No,” Lily replied firmly. “Harry needs immediate attention.”

James continued to grumble but Lily ignored him as she took Harry’s bag and slammed the door shut. “Honestly, he can be such a baby,” Lily sighed, pulling the Gate Frame out of one of the bag’s pockets. She held it out to Harry. “If you please, son?”

“Severus Snape,” Harry said.

The Gate Frame began to glow and through its light the form of Harry’s Potions Professor appeared. Brushing off his robes, Snape looked around until he saw Harry’s weak state on the bed. “Well, well, what have we here? Gotten yourself sick, Potter?”

“He needs a potion, Severus,” said Lily, setting the Gate Frame on the bedside table.

Snape’s expression softened. “Why didn’t you make it, Lily? You’re an expert with potions.”

Lily shook her head. “Harry’s in trouble. I’m afraid in my distress to help him I might miss an ingredient.”

Snape seemed to understand perfectly. “Alright. Do you have a potions kit in here, Potter?”

Harry couldn’t even lift his head at this point. “In the cabinet by the door,” he mumbled.

“Harry, you need to stay awake,” Lily chided, sitting next to him.

“Why? What’s going on?” Harry asked.

“You’ve been hit with the Infirmus Curse,” Snape answered, already setting to work on the potion.

“I’ve been what?” Harry demanded though his voice was feeble.

“The Infirmus Curse,” Snape repeated. “It is an advanced dark spell used during the first wizarding war. It caused its victims to experience a dawdling death.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Harry mumbled. His eyelids were beginning to droop.

“Forgive me for this, Harry,” Lily said and then she slapped him across the face.

“Ouch!” Harry’s eyes opened wide, his cheek stinging terribly.

Snape tried to hide a smile as he continued, “Some have considered the Infirmus Curse to be a merciful way to die since your body simply shuts down instead of being painfully tortured and then murdered by the Unforgivables. You first experience the feelings of nausea, clamminess, and fatigue. Once those pass, you develop a fever. Then your limbs will slowly lose feeling. It takes about an hour for all your limbs to fail and then you have ten minutes before death claims you. They have said in those ten minutes the only thing you can feel is the final beats of your heart.”

“And you say that’s a merciful way to die?” Harry snapped, his body shivering with fever.

Snape shrugged as he continued to work. “I suppose it depends on who you speak to. Most people are terrified of the Unforgivables, Potter. With those, you usually don’t get to say your final goodbyes to family members. At least with the Infirmus you can accomplish this before you pass.”

“But you have the antidote,” Harry pointed out, shivering. His mom pulled his comforter over him. “Shouldn’t that have stopped people from dying from this?”

Snape sighed. “The antidote, Potter, is something I was able to discover while in the services of the Dark Lord. There were several people whom he only wished to torture with the Infirmus so I was set with the task of figuring out an antidote.”

“Wait, you created the antidote?” Harry asked, both surprised and impressed.

“I would think that since you discovered my book in your sixth year that you would realize I have some skills, Potter.”

“I didn’t mean to insult you, sir,” Harry said. “I’m just impressed.”

This caused Snape to pause. He looked over his shoulder. “Are you jesting?” he asked but his tone was not harsh or threatening.

“No, sir,” Harry replied sincerely.

Snape stared at him a moment more before turning around and returning to his work. They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Harry’s legs were beginning to lose feeling.

“What are you feeling now?” Snape asked as he continued to clink vials and glasses around in his haste.

“Can’t feel my legs,” Harry answered.

“Severus,” Lily said, her voice filled with worry.

“He’ll be fine,” Snape muttered.

“Can I assist you?” Lily asked, standing up.

“Forgive me Lily but you haven’t ever made the potion correctly,” Snape pointed out. Lily’s shoulders slumped. Snape noticed this. “The best you can do is make sure Harry stays conscious.”

“Mum, how do you know about the potion if Severus is the only one who knows the antidote?”

Lily remained silent for a moment.

“You can tell him,” Snape said with his back to them.

Lily appeared reluctant.

“Tell me what?” Harry demanded.

Lily sighed. “During the first Wizarding War, my parents happened to be in an area that got attacked by Death Eaters.”

“What? Where?”

“It was your typical shopping center in London,” Lily replied. “I honestly don’t remember the exact street name. Anyway, Severus was among the Death Eaters.” She paused to see her son’s reaction to this.

Harry only nodded and said, “What happened?”

Lily was surprised to find his tone held no hint of anger, no hint of disgust. She looked at Snape whose shoulders seemed to have relaxed. The rush of pride Lily then felt for her son was incredible. Harry had every right to reject Severus, to hate him for being a Death Eater, for hurting muggles, and following Voldemort. And yet here he sat, completely forgiving this man, holding no grudge against him for his sins. How different he is from James, Lily thought silently. Shaking herself from her thoughts, Lily continued to tell the tale.

“The Death Eaters had been ordered by Voldemort to torture and kill the muggles in this area so as to show an example of his power to the rest of the Wizarding World. There were over a hundred casualties along with fifty horribly tortured by the Cruciatus Curse. The Ministry also counted twenty people who seemed to have survived the chaos without injuries. Those twenty people had their memories wiped and were then sent home. Among them were my parents. Although they were able to escape the memory charm because they identified themselves as my parents.

“I was dating your dad at the time and was over at his apartment when a ministry official contacted me with the news that they had been involved. I left James’ flat and found my parents home in bed both suffering from terrible fevers. I tried several potions but nothing worked. When they began to tell me they couldn’t feel their lower limbs, I became desperate. I knew Severus was a Death Eater. I knew the risks of contacting him but I overlooked my welfare and sought him out.”

Snape came over with a goblet full of potion. It was smoking and smelled like a combination of fruits and a landfill. Harry wrinkled his nose. “Sorry to interrupt the story but I don’t want Harry dying at the moment.”

“Is it safe for a stag to drink that?” Harry asked weakly, his nausea returning from the potion’s foul smell.

Snape paused. “I’ve never tried it on an animal before.”

“Harry’s been sick before,” said Lily. “Albus fused the potion inside of a wooden branch.”

Snape looked back and forth. “Looks like you’re devoid of plant life down here.” He eyed the wooden post of Harry’s bed and sighed. “Forgive me for ruining the furniture then.” He gave Lily the smoking goblet, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at the wood.

There was a sound like a gunshot and the post exploded. Chips of wood rained everywhere, showering the three of them. The door burst open. “What in Merlin’s name is going on in here?” James demanded. He surveyed the situation and frowned. “Why are you destroying the furniture, Severus?”

Snape ignored him, instead surveying the floor for the largest piece of wood. “This should do,” he muttered, standing up. He was holding a piece the size of a muggle pencil, the edges slightly sharp.

“Don’t ignore me!” James shouted, stepping over the doorframe.

Snape scoffed before flicking his wand in James’s direction. As if hit with an invisible battering ram, James went flying back into the common room. The force wasn’t enough to send him smacking into the opposite wall but it did cause him to topple over the sofa.

“Why you –!” James bellowed. His face and slightly disoriented robe came into focus as he pulled himself up.

Sirius and Remus were standing on their feet, wands raised.

“You want a death wish, Snivellus?” Sirius spat.

Snape’s lip curled. “As much as I want to fight all three of you, Harry’s dying. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

James jumped over the couch, brandishing his wand. “Oh no you don’t!”

Snape flicked his wand and the door closed right on James’s face, turning the lock. For extra protection in case James decided to try to break down the door, Severus waved his wand one more time and produced a powerful blocking spell.

Lily looked exasperated. “Severus, was that really necessary?”

Snape only shrugged. “He only would delay the process. Now, hand the goblet over, please.”

Lily sighed, shook her head, and did as asked. Muttering quietly, Severus swirled his wand in intricate patterns over the wood he held in his hand. The potion swirled and spiraled as it leapt into the air, performing a series of loops before fusing itself into the wood.

“There you are, Harry,” he said, holding out the twig.

Harry didn’t raise his head.

“Harry?” Lily asked, her face filling with panic. She lifted his head. “Severus, he’s unconscious!”

Snape cursed. “This isn’t good. I blame your husband.”

“Just shut up and do something!” Lily snapped.

“I am,” Snape shouted back.

He took the wood back over to the cabinet top, took a rounded stone and began crushing the stick into powder. As he worked, the door shook several times causing dust to fall; no doubt James was trying to break it down. Picking up a knife, Snape picked up the bowl and headed back over to the bed.

He paused. “Do you trust me?” he asked, looking into Lily’s eyes.

“Completely,” she replied.

Snape took the knife and cut into Harry’s skin over an artery. Creating a deep wound five inches long, he waited for the blood to slow down a bit before taking the powder and sprinkling it over the wound. As expected the powder began to fuse with the blood escaping from it. Taking his wand, Snape made a complicated wave; spinning it around like a baton, making a figure eight, and then an infinity symbol. The wound appeared to suck all the loose blood back into itself before the skin sealed itself closed.

Just as Snape was wiping the sweat from his brow, the door was blown off its hinges. Albus Dumbledore strode into the room with James, Remus, Sirius, Tonks, Elle, and Draco right behind him. Snape ignored them all, instead focusing all his attention on Harry’s condition. His breathing was still very shallow and his eyes remained closed.

“What have you done?!” James demanded, striding over to Harry’s bedside. Anger pulsed behind his eyes.

Before Snape could reply, Lily intervened. “James,” she said, standing up, “he just saved Harry’s life.”

“And you trust that he did that?” James asked, angrily turning on his wife. “Why did you bring him here, Lils? Was there something he could do that I couldn’t?”

Lily closed her eyes. The hidden pain beneath James’s tone grated against her heart. Eyes still closed, she softly replied, “Yes, James. This was something only he could do.”

James looked as if someone had stabbed him. He took a step back, taking his arms off Lily’s shoulders. Disbelief and hurt shouted out to Lily from James’s frown, his furrowed brow, and his beautiful hazel eyes.

“I get it,” James muttered.

“James,” Lily began but he turned away.

“Obviously I’m not needed here,” he muttered, pushing past Sirius and Remus’s stunned shoulders.

“James!” Lily called, “come back! Let me explain!”

The door to the dormitory slammed closed. Lily looked at a loss. Dumbledore placed a hand on her shoulder. “Stay here, Lily.” He then turned to Snape. “It’s time, Severus.”

From Severus’s expression you would have thought Dumbledore had handed him his death sentence. His lower lip quivered. “I don’t think I can do what you ask.”

Dumbledore gazed at him with his famous x-ray stare. The intensity shook Snape to the core. “You can and you must, Severus.” Dumbledore’s words were gentle but Snape acted as if he’d been slapped.

“What’s going on?” Sirius asked, finally coming out of his shock.

“Severus is way overdue,” Dumbledore answered.

“I still don’t understand,” Sirius began but Dumbledore held up a hand.

“Sirius, this does not concern you. This is for Severus and Severus alone. Severus, go.”

Severus sighed. “What about Harry?” he asked, obviously trying to delay his departure.

“You’ve done all you can,” Dumbledore said gently. “I’ll watch over him to make sure he recovers. Should anything else arise while you are gone, I will call you back.”

Severus blanched. “You want me to return?” He asked, flabbergast.

“Of course.”

The Potions Master stood and straightened his shoulders. “How can you ask this of me?” he demanded, his voice breaking.

“My dear man, I only ask it of you because now is the time,” Dumbledore said gently. “We both know it.”

“What’s going on?” Lily asked, looking between the two. “Time for what?”

Snape wouldn’t meet Lily’s eyes. “I will return,” he whispered, his voice cracking. And then he left the room.

Sirius and Remus both shared confused expressions. Lily held concern and had half a mind to follow but Dumbledore caught her eye and shook his head. For once Lily found she couldn’t argue with him; she sat down next to Harry.

“What about James?” she asked, her voice quavering. “He needs me.”

Dumbledore put a hand on her shoulder. “Harry needs you the most at this moment, Lily. Do not worry. James is in good hands.”

“How do you know?” Sirius asked.

Dumbledore didn’t answer. Instead he looked down at Harry, his eyes devoid of any kind of twinkle, his mouth pulled into a frown.

*~*~*~*~

After using a charm to locate footprints, Severus was quickly able to deduce that James had headed outside. Stowing his wand in his robes, Severus took off at a quick pace only to make sure he could easily follow the trail. If not for that, he would have proceeded at a slow, dejected pace. Dumbledore had basically plunged him into his worst nightmares. He had thought that in death he would be able to escape this but it had crept up anyway. Assuming this was similar to James’s experience of begging for forgiveness, Severus would have hoped that he would feel the same relief and joy that James had felt. But how could he feel that way when he was basically going to give up the only thing that kept him living for so long?

The world seemed to be weighing on his heart, trying to squish it to a pile of rubble and dust so thin that it would never be able to be rebuilt. Anger flooded through Severus all of it directed right to Dumbledore. This was all his fault. They had spoken of this before, on several accounts, each time grinding at Severus’s nerves until he would either leave the Headmaster before the discussion was over or simply change the subject without any subtleties. It was his worst fear, his most terrifying nightmare. Albus had just given him over to the wolves. How was he ever going to survive this?

Literally pulling out his hair, Severus stopped in the snow to take several deep breaths. James’s footprints were already fading but their direction was obvious. Scowling, Severus shook his head. “Should have known Potter would go there,” he grumbled. Rubbing his arms a little, Snape turned his direction towards a particular Birch tree standing near the surface of the lake.

He found James standing at the water’s edge. James’s shoulders were slumped, his eyes downcast, his expression as gloomy as the weather swirling around him. The sight was sickening. Severus scowled. “This is a sight I never thought I would ever see,” he said, coming closer. James didn’t even move though his gloominess seemed to mix with a wave of anger.

Severus stepped up next to him, stopping an arm’s length away. Staring out at the lake, he folded his arms and continued. “The famous James Potter, Mr. Confident Over-Achiever, Lady Killer, Quidditch Captain, Magic Astounder, and King of Pranks…down in the dumps.” He scoffed. “Look at yourself, Potter! You are a disgrace to every title you every held. You disgust me.”

James smiled sadly. “Come to gloat, have you?”

Severus didn’t answer.

“You’re doing a great job,” James mumbled.

Glancing at the man he had despised more than any other living soul, Severus tried not to show sympathy. James Potter had taken everything from him. He had every right to stand here and gloat. Though he couldn’t voice it, Lily’s words had thrived Severus’s soul. He’d done something that James couldn’t do. He’d saved her son’s life. So why could he not feel that emotion now? Why couldn’t he bring himself to feel like the victor? He was finally the one looking down on James! He’d dreamed of this day his whole life, getting even, proving himself the superior. Yet he found no happiness with this knowledge.

And then the answer came to him. The revelation nearly caused Severus to stagger. The sudden realization left him temporarily speechless. James misinterpreted his silence.

“You finally have what you want, Snape,” he said, finally looking up. His eyes were red, the hazels containing a thousand unspeakable sorrows. “At least give me the dignity of being alone.” He pushed passed Severus, trudging towards the Forbidden Forest.

“Potter!” Severus shouted, coming out of his stupor.

James didn’t pause.

“Potter!” Severus cried again.

James continued to push his way through the snow.

Severus swore. “Potter, will you be a man and face me?!”

James twisted around on his heel. His wand was raised, his eyes were blazing with inner fire. This expression wrenched Severus into the past, completely forgetting for a moment where he was…


*~*~*~*~


“Hurry!” Lucius snapped. “They’re bound to arrive any second. We have to get out of here quickly.”

“You don’t think we know that, Malfoy?” Avery retorted.

The three Death Eaters were running down an abandoned alleyway in downtown London when there was a loud crack just behind them. They were almost to the corner when another crack resounded from just ahead. They were trapped.

“Every man for himself,” Avery said in a panic before disapparating.

Malfoy looked at Severus. “He always was a coward,” were the only words he managed to say before curses flew at them from either direction.

Malfoy blocked the spell directed at them from ahead so Severus took the one from behind. Twilight had descended upon them so their attackers’ faces were clouded in shadow. Still, from the ferocity of spells and the power behind them, both Death Eaters were able to deduce that they were dealing with members of the Order of the Phoenix.

“I thought you said they wouldn’t be able to find us,” Severus shouted over his shoulder while blocking a stunning spell with a curse.

“I said they would be less likely to deduce our location,” Lucius shouted back. “They still don’t know why we were even here in the first place and the plan is to keep it that way! Now let’s stop talking and kill them!”

Both shouted out the killing curse at the same time. Severus heard the body of Lucius’s opponent slam into a bunch of wooden crates. Temporarily distracted by this victory, Severus turned his attention away from his opponent under the assumption that he had succeeded as well. His observation cost him dearly. In the brief moment he let his guard down, a fiery net encased around him, throwing him to the ground.

“Lucius!” he called out desperately but there was a loud crack.

Severus had been abandoned. Hiss heart raced. Was he going to die? Was this the end? He didn’t know and he was finding himself completely paralyzed with fear. His opponent’s shoes snapped across the cobbled street creating an eerie clacking echo to penetrate Severus’s eardrums. Thinking of the humility he would face by being killed like a caged animal, Severus was severely surprised when the net was dispelled and a pair of hands wrenched him to his feet. Choking from the firm grasp of two very strong hands, Severus found himself staring at a pair of hazel eyes so filled with hatred, pain, sorrow, and anger that his very soul seemed to shake within his body.

It took him a moment to recognize the rest of the man’s face since the eyes had nearly burned him to ashes. It was James Potter.

“How could you?” he seethed, his voice resembling what Severus had always imagined a Grim Reaper’s to sound like. “She was your friend you manky, disgusting, insensitive prat! I’ll kill you!”

Another loud crack rent the air and a pair of softer hands grasped James’s shoulders. “James, let him go!”

Severus’s heart melted from this voice but his fear still held him in a state of shock and astonishment. James tried to thrust the hands away with one of his own. “No, Lily! He allowed it to happen! He could have stopped it!”

“James, let him go!” Lily cried, her voice oddly strained, as if part of her was against her own words.

“They’re dead, Lily!” James shouted. “HE KILLED THEM! Don’t you want revenge?!”

“James,” Lily sobbed, “please, let’s go…please.”

Severus couldn’t stand to hear Lily like this. His fear had finally dispelled solely because his heart was breaking. He had only heard her sound this painful a handful of times. What had caused her to feel this intense sorrow?

James’s eyes still glowed with that radiating hatred. “We should turn him in,” he whispered.

“No,” Lily muttered.

“Lily,” James began to protest.

“No,” Lily cried again, her voice straining, holding back a sob. “Severus couldn’t have done it.”

“Your parents are dead and you still defend him?!” James shouted.

Snape’s eyes widened. How could that be true? Two weeks ago he’d given Mr. and Mrs. Evans the antidote for the Infirmus Curse. They were fine when he left their house. “How can they be dead?” he gasped, looking over James’s shoulder to Lily.

James slammed him against the wall, his fists cutting into Severus’s throat. “Don’t try to pretend you didn’t know, Snape! The Death Eaters killed a whole bunch of muggles in that raid last weekend. You were there!”

Severus made a choking noise. Dread filled him. He knew Voldemort had issued an order to kill all muggles in Hyde Park. Lily’s parents had been there? What on earth were they doing strolling around the middle of London when they knew how dangerous it was for muggles now-a-days?  

Lily cried out as Severus choked for air again. “James, let him go!”

But James didn’t move. “Does it satisfy you?” he whispered angrily. “Getting revenge on Lily for cutting you out of her life? Is that why you did nothing?”

“I – didn’t – know,” Severus choked. “I didn’t know they were there!”

“James, at least let him breathe!”

James slackened his grip a fraction. Severus gasped for air. “How could you not know?” James muttered, his voice dripping with venom. “How?!” he demanded, shaking him.

“I didn’t stay for the executions,” Severus said in a rush. He didn’t know if James was going to start choking him again. “The Dark Lord called me away on another errand.”

James growled in frustration. Lily came forward and grasped James’s hands. Prying them away, she finally freed Severus’ robes. “James,” she whispered, her voice choking as the tears ran down her face, “let’s go.”

James looked at Severus with contempt. He wrapped an arm around Lily’s shoulders protectively but kept his wand pointed right at Severus’s chest. “If you hurt her like this again, Snape, I’ll kill you,” he warned with such conviction and hatred stirring in his eyes that Severus felt like someone had zapped away a piece of his life force.

The two backed away, James’s wand pointed continually in front of him, until they reached the edge of the alley. Turning on the spot, they left Severus standing alone in the alley, his heart breaking from the realization that the one thing that kept it beating was suffering from a torture that he could never heal…

*~*~*~*~

This memory flashed through Severus’ mind in fast forward. It was the look in James’ eyes, the anger, the sorrow, the torture, the hatred. All emotions stabbing into his soul, Severus had half a mind to abandon his attempt of conversation. 

“What do you want from me?!” James bellowed. “Ever since you returned into her life, she’s been distant! She’s been burdened by the fact that your life was a conflagration of despair because she was absent from it! She chose me! I should be happy, I should be content, but you are still there! Like an overbearing shadow! And I’m absolutely terrified that one day you will be the death of my relationship with her! I know we’ve been claimed by death but I’ve seen my fair share of odd things in the afterlife. Anything can happen! And you come rushing in, rescuing my son, saving his life while I sit on the sidelines unable to do anything to help him. Lily put her trust in you! Not me! I feel so helpless. Why? Why did you have to be such a big part of her life? Why?!” his voice broke near the end.

Severus stood stunned, unable to answer James’s burning question. The two of them stared into each other’s eyes. The hatred James held for him was still apparent but the intensity had dimmed. So all those years they were married, Severus had left his mark behind? From James’s tirade he almost got the impression that he may have even started a couple rows between James and Lily. For some reason, this only brought the feeling of guilt.

“I don’t know why the fates decided to have my life mix with Lily’s so much,” Severus found himself admitting. He sounded tired and sorrowful. “Potter, I didn’t come out here to gloat and laugh in your face.”

James eyed him with mistrust but from Severus’s tone he didn’t scoff. Instead, he listened.

Severus continued. “I came out here because this conversation is long overdue. It is something I personally need to take care of in order for me to have peace.” He took a deep, shaky breath. This was harder to deal with in reality. He’d imagined it countless times, yes, but the imaginary anguish was nothing compared to the real thing. “To me, Lily was my sun, my personal life force. The only true happiness I ever felt was when in her presence. I could always find solace in her no matter if I’d just witnessed my parents arguing or being ridiculed at school. She was my one true friend, the only one I ever let see who I really am. I fell in love with her a long time ago. But my choices turned her away from me. I didn’t realize it until it was too late; to my horror and dismay, she’d tied herself with you. I still don’t understand how she fell in love with you and I don’t want to know either.

“But I can’t deny that I stopped loving her after she married you. My heart ached, it bled, from the news; still I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. The union only gave me more reason to hate you. Every time I heard mention of your name tied with hers, I felt like someone was stabbing me. When I learned of her parents deaths I was mortified. And I was devastated that their death had occurred by the hands of those I associated with. I wished that night to be the one holding her, comforting her, but alas that task was already designated to you.

“And then, when her life was threatened by the Dark Lord, I sought out Albus. I begged him to hide her. I cared nothing for you or your son. I just wanted her to be safe. Dumbledore placed you all under the protection of the Fidelius Charm and my heart relaxed. But you foolishly put your faith in the wrong person! And she ended up dying anyway! Imagine my torture, my pain, and my sorrow! It was like someone had ripped out my heart, tortured it a thousand times with the Cruciatus Curse, and tossed it back into my chest.

“When I found out Harry had survived I admit I didn’t really care too much. He wasn’t Lily. But I found myself curious. He had her eyes. Perhaps he’d inherited more of her qualities. And because he was the only remaining thing of Lily I had left, I protected him. I fought against the Dark Lord until the very end. He took from me the only thing I cared about. Harry was the only way to stop him; that was clear. So I helped the boy until the end of my life, even though he had so much of you inside him. I’ll admit he has a large amount of Lily’s qualities but I couldn’t bring myself to ever look past the ways he represented you.”

Severus shook his head. “It took death to make me realize now that he is very different from you. Perhaps that is why I don’t mind helping to preserve his life. And, surprisingly, it also took death for me to recognize” – he paused to take a sharp, painful breath– “that Lily made the better choice.”

James’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”

Severus ignored the ache in his chest. “There is no reason for you to be afraid of me ruining your life with Lily. The happiest I have ever seen her is when she is with you and Harry; not when she was with me. You gave her a wonderful life, Potter, a life I could never have given her. You gave her a son, a son that any witch and wizard would be proud of.”

“What are you saying?” James asked, his voice hushed.

“I am leaving Lily to you. I am discarding the love I have always harbored for her because I know that if I continue to hold on to it that it will destroy the happiness that she has with you, the happiness that is obviously necessary for her eternal welfare. No longer do I want to fester with jealousy towards you, express hatred towards your son, and desire longing for her. Every being has been promised an eternal love in Paradise. I have yet to find mine. Lily is yours and I will not allow my hand to undo this. Take good care of her, Potter… She is a treasure and should be treated as such.”

Severus turned. To say that his heart had broken seemed pretty accurate. He felt as if he’d broken himself away from something he was never going to be able to feel again. He wanted to run now more than ever. But Albus had made him promise to return to the castle. How could he go back knowing that she was there?

“Severus…”

Severus paused. Never before had he ever heard James Potter address him without a hint of malice. He refused to turn around. “Are you going to gloat now?” he asked bitterly.

A hand suddenly rested on his shoulder. “I’m sorry you’ve suffered so much,” James said sincerely, not a hint of mockery in his tone. “I have never experienced what you have so I cannot fully offer you empathy. But… may I be so bold as to ask… if you would remain Lily’s friend? You could come over for dinner once a week if you’d like. We’d both like that.”

Severus whirled around. “I don’t want your pity,” he said.

“I’m not giving any,” James said, a ghost of a grin appearing on his face. “What I am giving is an acquaintance…no… a friendship. It’s yours, if you want it.”

Severus stared at him incredulously. “You’re joking.”

James actually did smile this time. “Out of all people I’m sure you would know if I was joking or not, Severus.” He offered his hand. “Friendship,” he repeated. “That’s all I offer.”

Severus eyed his hand. “I might not be able to face her,” he admitted.

“Healing takes time,” said James. “When you’re ready, come over for dinner. I won’t slam the door in your face.”

Severus looked into his eyes, hesitated for a moment more, and then took his hand. “I never thought this would happen,” he muttered.

James laughed. “Me neither. So, do you need some space for a while?”

Severus sighed. “I wish I could have some but Albus has requested me to return to the castle. I have to make sure your son isn’t dying anymore.”

The two of them began trudging through the snow. “What happened to him anyway?” James asked.

Severus explained about the Infirmus Curse and then stopped. “Where was Harry an hour ago?” he asked.

“He’d just transformed after Quidditch practice. We were heading back up to the castle,” James answered.

Severus’s brow furrowed. “Did you see anyone, Potter? Anyone at all?”

James racked his brains. “I can’t be certain. Harry was in a hurry to get back up to the school.” He thought further, trying to go over everything in his mind. Then he remembered the flashing of a cloak in the woods. It had been so brief…he’d dismissed it for an animal. He told Severus this.

“It might have been one of the Death Eaters,” Severus muttered. “They specialized in the Infirmus Curse. Someone’s obviously attempting to kill Harry again. We’ll have to tell Dumbledore.”

James nodded. “Good idea. Say, how did you know how to cure the curse? I thought there wasn’t an antidote.”

“Voldemort wanted a way of torture that could be cured if he could possibly use the victim further so he gave me the task of inventing an antidote for the Infirmus.”

 James wrinkled his nose. “Voldemort was completely mental. Why did you choose his side anyway?”

“How about I save that tale for another time,” Severus replied. “I’ve already spilled a major part of myself to you already. It’s your turn.”

James chuckled. “Well, gosh, where to start?”

“I didn’t mean for you to tell me now,” Severus grumbled. “We have other things to worry about.”

They had reached the castle steps. James put a hand on Severus’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he said sincerely, “for saving Harry’s life…again.”

Severus smirked. “You’d better step up to the plate, Potter. You don’t want your son to start thinking of me as his hero.”

James took this in with good humor. “You’ll have to do a lot better than that to make him see you as a hero over me.”

“Amazing,” Severus muttered with a small grin. “You’re still as prideful and arrogant as you were when alive.”

“Get used to it because that isn’t going to change,” James replied cheerfully.

“Hmph,” Severus murmured.

The two of them went inside out of the cold just as a flurry of snow began to drift over the grounds, covering the old with a fresh blanket of new. They had made it all the way down the corridor to Harry’s private chambers when Severus froze.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

James put a hand on his shoulder. “You can. Just don’t think about it.”

“Easy for you to say,” Severus muttered.

James stroked the lion’s tail, gave the password, and the two went inside. Dumbledore was standing by the fireplace when they entered. One look at both men told him all he needed to know. Smiling, eyes twinkling, he said, “Finally the boys have become men.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “We were already men, Albus.”

“Not to each other,” Dumbledore replied cheerfully.

“How’s Harry?” James asked.

Dumbledore looked at his door which remained slightly ajar. “He is fine. He’s resting at the moment.”

“I’ll go check on him just to make sure everything is normal,” Severus offered.

Just then, Lily came to the door. Severus swallowed. She eyed him curiously but mostly her attention was on James. She looked nervous, afraid even. “James,” she began, “I’m terribly sorry.”

James came over and took her hands. “It’s alright, Lils. It was just a misunderstanding.”

Lily searched his eyes, looking for reassurance. Finding it, she smiled. “I love you.”

“I know,” James muttered. He didn’t want to kiss her in front of Severus but it was obvious that a kiss was appropriate. Still, he glanced in Severus’s direction.

Severus rolled his eyes. “You don’t need my permission to snog your wife, Potter. Get on with it.”

Grinning at Severus’s cheek, James turned to Lily and enveloped her in a warm kiss. As they did so, Severus oddly felt no twinge of jealousy or sadness. In all honesty, he felt relief, joy even. And something else…freedom?

Yes, the freedom to finally move forward without intervention. Feeling a different kind of happiness than he’d ever experienced before, Severus caught Dumbledore’s eye. The old man smiled warmly. “Time to move forward.”

Severus nodded. “Time to move forward.”

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