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Fidelitas Vinculum

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Chapter 1

Albus Dumbledore sighed loudly as he pushed the inky black scrying mirror across his only slightly cluttered desk and pinched the bridge of his nose. Trying to stave off a migraine of epic proportions, he downed an entire vial of pain-relieving potion in one go, the cloyingly bitter flavor leaving a slightly rancid taste in his mouth. He then looked up at the two silent men in front of him. Severus Snape sat primly in the desk chair to his left, his pinched scowl, and tightly pressed lips the only indications of his distress, a normal appearance for him, to be sure. To his right, Harry Potter dithered nervously, his hands twitching while sharp teeth nibbled his lower lip as he struggled to contain the nervous energy that practically vibrated through and from him in tidal waves.

He chanced another glance at Severus. The knowing yet somewhat disapproving glare and slight lift of an eyebrow were the only indications that the other man understood. He knew what it cost the Headmaster to make these attempts at scrying, to see glimpses of possible futures. For all of his eye twinkling and warm optimism, Albus Dumbledore was not a man to leave anything to chance. He planned for contingencies the way most first-time brides planned their weddings—with the utmost attention to detail, right down to the smallest of minutiae.

Sighing again, he cleared his throat. Harry sat up straighter and readied himself, he hoped, to finally hear something of import. As he watched the Headmaster cradle his withered and blackened hand, he desperately hoped that the long silence was over. He knew that there was much being kept from him, probably even more than he suspected, and here was an opportunity to glean the smallest nugget of information. He focused his complete attention on the old wizard before him. Snape simply re-crossed his legs; his attention had never wavered since he had first taken his seat on the overstuffed if somewhat threadbare burgundy chair.

Dumbledore nodded slightly to Snape before beginning. "Nothing has changed, Severus," he intoned dully, weariness evident in every syllable.

"Then why is the boy here?" Snape asked sharply. "We both know that his mind is like a sieve. Anything he knows, the Dark Lord will be privy to as well."

Dumbledore nodded slowly as Harry bristled with agitation.

"Precisely," Dumbledore said with a small smile, cutting off what was certain to be an angry retort from the teenager. "Lemon drop?" He offered as he held the dish toward his guests. Snape crossed his arms and glared. Harry took a decent handful with a small smile. He was missing lunch to be here, and if the Dursleys had taught him anything, it was to never turn down food.

Dumbledore looked down and seemed to study his useless hand for long minutes as the discomfort stretched, tight and awkward, between the three men.

"Albus," Snape interrupted with a resigned frustration. "Why did you call us here?"

Dumbledore settled back and regarded both wizards, eyes no longer twinkling, as he weighed each word carefully. He glanced at Snape briefly before turning his full attention to the younger wizard and asking, "Harry, do you know what that device is?" He gestured toward the small, flat mirror on its short stubby legs sitting on the desk and looking, for all intents and purposes, as if it were simply a harmless reflective surface. Harry looked at it carefully, noting that its surface was no longer inky black and rippling. For the first time he felt a frisson of fear roil through him.

"It's a scrying mirror, sir," he replied hesitantly. "We use them in Trelawney's class…"

"Professor Trelawney, Harry," Dumbledore interrupted, voice mild but firm.

"Professor Trelawney," Harry corrected. "We use them to divine portents of the future," he said it snidely with a soft snort of disdain. “It's all hogwash if you ask me.”

"No one did ask you for your opinion, idiot boy," Snape rasped as Dumbledore raised his hand to stave off what would have undoubtedly become an epic rant.

"Quite right," the Headmaster said. "However, as with most other wizarding disciplines, there is a certain amount of natural talent required to perfect this form of divination. As well, I daresay, as a healthy amount of practice and sheer honed skill."

"What did you see, Albus?" Snape asked, a furrow of concern nestling between his black eyes.

Dumbledore sighed. "The same as always; either your death or Harry's – sometimes both."

Snape nodded. "I have been prepared for my own death for a very long time. One does not reside within the Dark Lord’s cloak pocket for long without death becoming a painful, ongoing reality."

Harry swallowed hard. He had known for some time, since uncovering the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries—well, no, even before then – that his own death was a distinct possibility. When dealing with an insane power-mad wizard, death was always on the table, so to speak. But to hear it confirmed as a virtual certainty… And, even if he didn't die, Snape probably would. He hated the Potions Master, no doubt about it, but that didn’t mean the dour, sarcastic, vicious git should die for being a vile human being. He was not a nice man, but he was, ultimately, a good man who had done a lot to protect Harry and the Order through the years.

Albus Dumbledore stared at the two wizards in front of him as the most likely future played out again in his mind, as if he were seeing it once again in the swirling depths of the scrying mirror and not merely in his mind's eye: Harry, scrawny and half-starved but determined, living in a tent and hunting Horcruxes with Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, slogging through misery with small bits of information, sheer determination and dumb, blind luck. Sacrificing himself to Voldemort's killing curse while Severus Snape lay dead in a pool of his own blood in the Shrieking Shack. Harry again doing what the wizarding world expected of him: marrying Ginny Weasley, having three children and the perfect family, slowly coming to realize what a terrible mistake he had made as his life unraveled around him.

For Ginny Weasley, in her own way, was as broken as Harry was. She was in love, not with Harry Potter but with the Boy Who Lived and had been since she was nine years old. Ginny, who felt as though she was constantly competing for the attentions of her parents since birth. She was neither the first child, nor the cleverest, nor the most mischievous. One year younger than Ron, the clumsiest of Arthur and Molly's brood, and two years younger than Fred and George, who had needed near constant monitoring to stave off utter and complete destruction, she had felt pushed to the background, an afterthought, which had made it so easy for the spirit of Tom Riddle to seduce her. Marrying the Man Who Defeated Voldemort would make her the envy of every woman in Britain, the centre of attention, a shining star.

Harry was content to never be part of that society, to live mostly in the Muggle world where they were unknown. And then the children came. For a while, she was content to be carrying the Savior's heirs, but they soon, as children do, demanded all of the attention, and Ginny became more disillusioned and bitter. Of course, Harry tried to get her counseling, to help her, to love her enough but for Ginny Weasley-Potter there would never be enough. So, she began having affairs, a revolving door of men and occasionally women to make her feel special, adored. And Harry slowly sank into depression and despair; all of his life he had yearned for just one person to understand him, the abuse he had suffered, the impotent and helpless rage he felt at all of the senseless deaths, the ache in his soul to just be normal, to be loved for himself. The realization that Ginny didn’t love him, could never love him, couldn’t even see who he was or what he needed, was the final straw.

Albus' last vision of Harry had been of him sitting at his desk in his study at the re-built house in Godric's Hollow contemplating a bottle of The Draught of Death. Harry Potter, the shining light of the wizarding world, dead by his own hand at the ripe old age of thirty-nine. Harry dead, Severus dead. Lupin, Tonks, Fred Weasley, Alastor Moody, and dozens of Hogwarts' children dead or maimed. Families torn asunder, the Ministry in shambles, Wizarding Britain ripe for the rise of another dark lord. But if this, his last, desperate plan worked—a gambit so far-fetched that Riddle would never see it coming…

Dumbledore blinked and the vision was gone, replaced by the tense faces of the two wizards in front of him.

“Is that why we're here then?” Harry asked with a slightly tremulous note in his voice. He cleared his throat before continuing, his voice stronger. “You wanted to prepare us for our deaths?”

Snape said nothing, just stared at Dumbledore waiting, an almost bored expression on his face.

“No, my boy. I thought perhaps it was time to tell you both everything.”

That wiped the bored expression almost instantly from Snape’s mask-like countenance. “No!” he thundered. “Have we not just discussed Potter's inability to shield his mind? Black is dead because the Dark Lord knows how to exploit his link to Potter. Have you lost your fucking mind, Albus?”

Harry gasped softly. Not only was it a first for him to hear the cultured, aristocratic voice of Severus Snape utter that word, but it all finally fell into place. Dumbledore was hiding things from him not because he didn’t trust Harry, not because he wanted to, but because he had to, because Harry’s mind was Voldemort's playground.

The words felt like ground glass in his mouth, but he had to admit the truth before someone else was put in danger because of his link with Voldemort. “Snape's right, sir. I’m pants at Occlumency.” It was a minor wonder, but neither the Headmaster nor Snape himself corrected Harry for his use of the professor's surname.

“Quite true, Harry. Some people just do not have that particular talent, regardless of effort or intentions, much like scrying. However, Severus is a very skilled Occlumens. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Harry nodded, confused. That was never really in doubt, was it? Surely the man would be dead thirty times over if he weren’t.

“Albus, exactly where are you going with this?” Snape’s chilly voice sliced through the air like an icy, January wind. “What, precisely, are you proposing?”

“Why, I thought it was obvious, my boy. 'Propose', what an interesting word choice, to be sure. I am proposing, Severus, that you and Harry bond.” And with that, Albus Dumbledore sat back in his chair, selected a lemon drop, sucked it gently while a small smile played at the corners of his lips, and waited for the explosion. He didn’t have long to wait.

"What!" spluttered Snape, nearly apoplectic with rage. At one time, Harry had thought that any color would look good on Snape's perpetually fish-belly white countenance. Not this color. He wasn’t certain whether to describe it more as reddish purple or puce, but it made the man look as if he were seconds from a massive coronary.

"Sit down, Severus," Dumbledore said mildly as Snape continued to pace. At the admonishment, Snape stared at Dumbledore with something akin to sheer hatred in his eyes before turning and striding towards the door. Harry swallowed nervously; the look of loathing and utter betrayal was a near palpable thing. If looks could kill, Albus Dumbledore would be dead three times over.

"Will you leave Lily's child completely at Voldemort's mercy, Severus? You know what he can do. Will you let Riddle shred the boy's mind until there is nothing left of him?"

Snape paused, his hand on the doorknob. Harry could see the moment when Dumbledore won whatever war the two men now played as Snape’s shoulders slumped minutely. The dark man drew a steadying breath and turned around, striding purposefully, not toward his recently vacated chair, but to an alcove behind and to the left of the Headmaster's desk. Harry heard the clink of crystal, and when Snape turned around, he had a whiskey tumbler filled to the brim with burning red of an aged fire whiskey. A slight hesitation and Snape picked up the bottle and brought it back, plonking it down gracelessly on the edge of the Headmaster's desk. "Proceed," he said tightly before downing half the contents of the tumbler in one go.

Harry swallowed nervously and waited for the Headmaster to continue.

"Harry," Dumbledore began gently, "What do you know of wizarding bonds?"

"Well," Harry stammered, struggling to remember. He had never received a Troll, but History of Magic was not his strong suit. "There's lots of different kinds of bonds between wizards," Harry said carefully.

"Some are intended for protection, others to summon – like, like the Dark Mark, some are to ensure loyalty to clan or community, or to follow through on a promise, like an unbreakable bond… er, vow, which is kind of a bond, really. Why? Are you considering some sort of protection bond, professor?"

Snape snorted. "Idiot boy," he said harshly as he downed another healthy gulp of fire whiskey.

"Severus," Dumbledore interrupted, a warning note clear in his voice.

"No," Snape shouted. "You are not going to sanitize this and offer it up in palatable little witticisms. You want Potter to have the truth; well, here it is boy. What the esteemed Headmaster is proposing is a Fidelitas Vinculum."

At Harry's blank look, Snape sneered. "Another class in which you clearly did not pay attention. Let me educate you, then, Potter. Only one bond is capable of linking our minds to the extent required to allow me to occlude your mind from the Dark Lord's: the Fidelitas Vinculum, the bond of fidelity. It is an ancient and unbreakable marriage bond that forms during consummation and remains so long as both wizards live. It demands absolute fidelity; neither of us would ever be able to take another lover or ever stray from the marriage, period. The bond demands not only fidelity but frequent intimacy. It is a lifetime commitment, and it cannot be diverted, thwarted or in any other way circumvented. There would be no secrets between us, ever. So, Potter, eager to be buggered by the nasty, old dungeon bat?” He snarled as he went to take another drink from the tumbler. Discovering it was empty, he flung it viciously into the fireplace where it shattered, and the lingering residue of alcohol sent a spray of sparks outward before they flashed and died.

"Enough, Severus!" Dumbledore shouted.

"Not nearly enough, you manipulative old bastard!" Snape shouted.

Harry had never seen the Headmaster lose his temper before, but it seemed as if a row of epic proportions was about to play out. "Stop it," he cried, heart thundering, as both men were reaching for their wands. The moment seemed to stretch into a small eternity before Snape eyed him coldly, re-sheathed his wand and strode quickly from the room, slamming the door behind him hard enough to rattle every knick-knack and portrait in the room. A long, silent moment stretched to eternity. Dumbledore sat heavily, laying his wand on his cluttered desk, and sighing a long, gusting sigh as he settled.

"Thank you, Harry," he said gently, "for bringing us both to our senses. I ask so much of you and Severus both; sometimes, I fear, I ask too much." He held up a hand quickly to stifle a retort. "There is more you need to know. What Severus told you is, essentially, correct if a bit blunt. It would allow Severus to Occlude your mind from Riddle. Neither of you would ever be able to betray the other, in any way. It would also allow you to share magical energy if one of you were injured or weakened or simply to put more power into a casting." Dumbledore nodded sagely as Harry's eyes lit up with possibilities. "Yes, Harry, I see you have grasped the ramifications of such a bond. When you face Voldemort, you will have access to double the power you normally have. Perhaps even more. In rare cases the bond produces a synergistic effect, multiplying the magic instead of merely doubling it. At the very least, your casting power will double; at best…" Dumbledore shrugged. "Who knows? It is rumored in the ancient texts that Merlin himself was joined in just such a bond to the wizard Taliesen, which gave him enormous power, eight times greater than an average wizard. But, as I said, who knows for certain? The bond is not used often, due to the enormous commitment and sheer degree of trust involved. But it would augment your abilities and offer you more protection than any other method currently at our disposal."

"Sir, if this bond is so great, why hasn’t Voldemort bonded to one of his Death Eaters? I mean, a power mad wizard passing up a chance to multiply his powers? It just doesn’t make sense."

"Ah, I see you have missed the key component of the Fidelitas Vinculum. Trust, Harry. In order to create the bond, to sustain it, there must be absolute trust. Because both bonded can draw on the energy of the bond, the partners will always be equals."

Harry nodded as understanding came. "And Voldemort can't bear the thought that anyone could be his equal, can he?"

"Right you are, Harry." Dumbledore steepled his fingers and seemed to consider his next words. "There is also a caveat in that only the pure of heart may enter into such a bond. It must be done for only the noblest of purposes. It is pure White Magic of the highest degree imaginable. I do not want to force you into anything, my boy, but I'm afraid I have no choice but to try to persuade you to see the rightness in this course of action. Obviously, I believe this bond is in your best interests, as well as Severus's, or I would not have suggested it. The choice, however, is ultimately yours."

"I need to think about this, sir. This is a huge decision to make. I really need to talk to Ron and Hermione, maybe even Remus."

"Of course, dear boy, of course. But," and Harry noticed that Dumbledore’s voice had become harsher and clipped. "I can give you only until nine o'clock tonight. Your mind is most vulnerable to Riddle during sleep, and events are moving quickly," he murmured as he looked at his slowly decaying hand. “Minerva and I have cast a powerful shielding spell over the castle and grounds that will protect your mind from Riddle for another nine hours. Beyond that….it will weaken and fail. It is taking almost all of our combined energy to hold the spell. You must make a decision soon.” Dumbledore sighed a long, gusting sigh and eyed Harry with a keen gaze that held no twinkle.

Harry turned away slightly from the probing gaze and dark, shrunken flesh of the Headmaster’s hand, not wanting to see the evidence of the Headmaster's mortality. He knew what Dumbledore was implying. The older wizard was dying, and when he passed, Harry would be without a mentor and guide, unless he accepted the bond. Snape would also be privy to everything Dumbledore knew, would never be able to betray him, and would be able to provide the steady counsel he would need. While he may chafe at Snape’s characterization of him as a foolhardy, danger-seeking, reckless Gryffindor, he could admit that the man did have something of a point. On occasion.

Harry turned back to stare into the Headmaster’s periwinkle blue eyes. "Go, Harry. Talk to your friends. Have a decision for me by nine o'clock this evening."

"If I decide to do this, what then?"

"We will talk with Severus and reach some sort of accommodation."

"I don’t think he wants to do this, Headmaster."

"No, Harry, I don’t imagine he does, no more than you do. But Severus is a practical man, and he wants to see Voldemort destroyed more than he wants anything else in this life. He has dedicated the last sixteen years of his life to seeing Voldemort's destruction. He will rant and rave like a madman, but he will not refuse."

"And if I decide not to do this? What then?"

Dumbledore nodded sagely. "To keep Severus, you, and your friends safe, I will Obliviate you and your friends. You will have no memory of this afternoon's discussion. I'm sorry, Harry. It is bad enough that you know Severus is a spy for the Order. At least he can pass that off as a necessary deception to Riddle, play at being a double agent, so to speak. Anything more, however, places his life at extreme risk. Tom knows what a Fidelitas Vinculum bond entails. That Severus would irrevocably bind himself to you, unable to ever betray you, is something Riddle can never know, for it would reveal Severus's true loyalties. He would be dead in less than a fortnight."

Harry nodded and stood up on shaky legs, glancing at the clock next to the portrait of Phineas Nigellus. One forty-five p.m. He had just over seven hours to make a decision that would determine his fate, Snape's, and possibly everyone else's in wizarding Britain.

______

Chapter 2

It was two-thirty when Harry reached the large willow tree next to the Black Lake. He had stopped off briefly in Gryffindor tower to retrieve his scrying mirror and then in the kitchens to grab a sandwich before heading out towards the lake. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, or else there would be little solitude to be had. After casting a quick warming charm and an obscurus spell along with a strong notice me not charm, he settled in to think. He needed a plan. First, he needed more information; for the tenth time he wished Dumbledore had revealed more about exactly what it was he had seen in his scrying mirror. Then he needed input from Ron and Hermione, Hermione especially. Perhaps there was an angle to this he was missing. If so, she would undoubtedly see it. Although, he was holding out little hope on that front. Dumbledore was probably the most brilliant wizard Harry knew, and even though he’d never admit it to the man, Snape was a fucking genius. If neither of them had come up with an alternative to Dumbledore's mad plan, there likely wasn’t an alternative solution. Still, stranger things had happened.

"Dobby!" Harry called, and a moment later a sharp crack of apparition revealed the tiny house-elf with his liquid green tennis ball eyes staring adoringly at Harry.

"Master Harry Potter, sir," the diminutive elf cried out with sheer joy. "What service can Dobby be performing for you, sir?"

"Dobby, can you fetch Ron and Hermione and Apparate them here without anyone else seeing anything? I need to talk to them without anyone else eavesdropping."

"Dobby can be doing that, sir." Dobby then snapped his fingers, and Harry felt the tingle of powerful magic settle around the giant willow tree. Not for the first time, Harry envied the elves their strange, powerful magic.

"Thank you, Dobby. They're in Hogsmeade; they could be anywhere from Honeyduke’s to Zonko's Joke Shop. You may have to grab them on their way back to Hogwarts. Remember, no one can see."

"Yes, Mister Harry Potter, sir. Dobby will be taking care of it." Then, with a muffled crack, the diminutive elf was gone.

With the house-elf's shield around him, Harry felt even more secure as he laid out his simple, unadorned scrying mirror and attempted to blank his mind and will his eyes to un-focus. An hour later, the only solid thing he had gotten was a headache. He had caught brief flashes of murky images: older versions of himself and Ginny screaming at one another, Professor Snape lying in a river of blood, his throat torn out, Dumbledore toppling off the Astronomy Tower, his body wreathed in an eerie green light. Harry was rubbing his eyes tiredly when the crack of apparition caused his head to jerk upward so quickly, he heard his neck pop. Dobby had one arm wrapped around Hermione's right calf and the other around Ron's left knee.

"Oi," Ron shouted as he jerked free and grabbed for his wand. "What gives, Harry?" He shoved his wand back in his trouser pocket when he realized Harry was in front of him and took a few steadying breaths upon realizing there was no danger. "Thought we'd been grabbed by Death Eaters or somethin'," he muttered as he glared at Dobby and flopped down on the ground next to Harry.

"Harry, what's wrong?" Hermione interjected, realizing that Dobby wouldn’t have just snatched them from an alleyway in Hogsmeade had Harry not had immediate need of them.

"Thanks, Dobby," Harry said with a smile. "You can return to Hogwarts now."

"Anything for Mr. Harry Potter, sir," Dobby said with a grin before he vanished.

"Harry, what's wrong?" Hermione repeated, her voice increasing an octave at the look of sheer desperation in Harry’s eyes.

Harry sighed. "Sit down first, 'Mione. I've got something to tell you guys.”

Thirty minutes later both Hermione and Ron sat stunned, eyes bulging and mouths hanging open like beached plimpies.

Hermione broke the silence at last. "Dumbledore can't be serious. Harry’s only sixteen."

"He's serious all right," Harry said, remembering the look of dead calm in the older wizard’s eyes.

Ron shrugged. When Hermione shot him a glare, he became immediately defensive. "What?" he demanded. "Arranged marriages happen in the wizarding world all the time, especially among the pure bloods. Lots of marriages aren’t love matches. Though a Fidelitas Vinculum is really rare."

"How do you know about fidelity bonds, Ron?" Harry asked with a confused crinkle to his forehead. Harry expected Hermione to know about an obscure branch of light bonding magic. That Ron would know was a bit disconcerting.

Ron shrugged. "Mum and Dad have one. They told us kids about it years ago. Supposedly only a dozen or so couples in the entire wizarding world have them. They’re kinda scary, ya' know? Don't know that I could ever trust anybody enough to share my mind with 'em," he said with a small shudder before squinting when he spotted the sandwich wrapper. He gave it a longing look and was about to ask if Harry had another sandwich around when Hermione noticed her boyfriend drooling.

"Focus, Ronald!" Hermione's voice could have cut through concrete blocks.

He stared adoringly at the sandwich wrapper once more before replying, "What? I'm hungry." At Hermione's glare, he shrugged and resumed his prior train of thought. “Look, all I'm sayin' is that marriages in the wizarding world occur for all kinds of reasons that have fuck all to do with love. Most are to maintain bloodlines; lots of 'em are for money or haven't you noticed that most of the kids from poorer families are like nifflers sniffing gold?"

"I'd noticed, but I suppose I hadn't realized that it was so systematic, inured in wizarding tradition and culture. Honestly, I'd put it down to simple laziness and greed," Hermione replied softly.

"Nah," Ron said with a derisive snort. "It's how they're expected to act – preserve the family at all costs. Marriages are often made to fix deficits in the family. It's kind of like a wizarding barter system. Each family brings something different to the table and that trait is bought and sold in most wizarding marriages. Some families are really fertile, some are rich, some have predispositions to certain types of magic, others have charisma and influence in government…you know, that sort of thing. Lots of parents start scheming even before a child is born."

Harry and Hermione both goggled at Ron who shrugged. "It's just the way it is. Mum and Dad aren't like that, though most purebloods are."

"That’s disgusting," Hermione said with heat. "It’s like children are inanimate chattel, like… like sacks of potatoes to be bought and sold," she spluttered in her anger.

Harry could see this devolving into another SPEW type campaign and moved quickly to bring things back on track. "Save that thought, Hermione. Can we solve my problem before we go tackling archaic wizarding institutions, please?"

Hermione nodded and Ron looked grim.

"Look, Harry," Ron sighed, "not many people know this, but the Fidelitas Vinculum bond is what saved my dad's life when Nagini bit him last year in the Department of Mysteries. Mum was able to share her life energy with him until his condition stabilized. This could be a good thing for you, considering how high up you are on You Know Who's hit list, ya know?"

Harry blinked and tried to recall when exactly he’d fallen down the rabbit hole. Ron being practical and Hermione being emotional; was the world truly coming to an end?

"Be that as it may, Ron, Harry's being offered up like a sacrificial lamb. And the wizarding world, you know—those people who just let a madman come to power, who called Harry a lunatic and wanted to lock him up in St. Mungo's when he told them Voldemort was back – are just going to sit back and let a sixteen-year-old boy shoulder the entire burden. And now Dumbledore expects Harry to give up any chance for his own normal life when this is all over? It's unconscionable!"

"I never said it wasn't," Ron retorted. "Makes my skin crawl just thinkin’ about touching Snape. But at least Harry'd be alive, you know as opposed to dead?"

"There was nothing in the prophecy that even hinted that Harry needed to be bonded to survive."

"And nothing that said he would survive, either. But it did say he would have 'a power the Dark Lord knows not', or some such shite. Maybe this is it." Ron was warming to his side of the debate, and Harry could see what made Ron such a devastating chess player and strategist. If Hogwarts had a debate team…

"Ronald, if you'll recall, Dumbledore himself told Harry that that power was love."

"And Dumbledore's been wrong before, like spectacularly wrong. Oi, or have you forgotten Professor Quirrell, also known as old Voldy head? And what about Lockhart? Only thing I learned in Defense that year was not to fuck with a Cornish Pixie. Not to mention that Sirius Black spent twelve years in Azkaban because Dumbledore and everyone else on the Wizengamot thought he'd ratted Harry's parents out to Voldemort – didn't demand a trial or even an interrogation under Veritaserum or anything. So, don't you ever try to tell me Dumbledore is some benign all-knowing god figure."

"Regardless," Hermione argued, "the prophecy did say that 'neither can live while the other survives'. How would this be living, married to a man that you despise and who hates you in turn? We don’t even know that Harry’s gay. This could be the most profound violation of his personhood, Ron. It isn’t like this is a onetime thing. The bond will insist on regular intimacy. How is this a life?"

Harry nodded silently to himself. He had been thinking much the same thing.

"Muggle thinking," Ron snorted derisively. "Almost everyone in the wizarding world is bisexual; you know this – something to do with inflexibility not being compatible with magic. The magical theory is beyond me," Ron said dismissively as he waved his hand.

"But Harry was raised by Muggles," Hermione countered. "It may be difficult for him to abandon beliefs he’s held since childhood. It’s not much of a life, is it, to be forced to be something you're not or don’t want to be."

"At least it is a life. And Harry has a lot better chance of surviving with the bond than without it. Just look at my dad; he'd be dead without the bond. Besides, what has Harry always said he wanted? A home and a family. He can still have that."

"Yes," Hermione replied rudely, "I can see Professor Snape being such a loving and giving father."

"Oi," Ron shouted. "You're just being contrary now. No one said he had to raise kids with the old git. He can work around the Fidelitas Vinculum bond and do like the muggles, get that uhm… in nitro fertilization…"

Hermione burst out laughing and Harry pressed his hands to his mouth to avoid laughing as well, but it was no use.

"What?" Ron demanded.

"Oh Ronald," Hermione chortled. "Nitro is short for nitroglycerine, an explosive. You mean to get a poor woman pregnant, not blow her up. The term you’re looking for is in vitro fertilization."

"Whatever…" Ron muttered. "My point, and I do have one," he said loudly as the other two continued to snicker, “is that Harry can still have children, and a home, and go and shag Snape once a month or whatever and still have his friends, and a job, and everything else he wants out of life. It's not perfect, not by a long shot, but who gets everything they want anyway? I'm selfish, I guess. I want my best friend to live, and I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. Hell, if I knew how to Occlude, I’d probably bond with him myself. So would you, 'Mione, and don't you dare pretend otherwise."

Harry sobered instantly as did Hermione. There was no doubt that Ron had won this debate, hands down. And it touched him in a way he could not explain as a hard lump of emotion pressed at a point suspiciously near his heart. Above everything else, he knew he was loved, and he basked in his friends’ concern for him.

¬¬¬¬¬____

Chapter 3

At eight fifty-three p.m. Harry presented himself at the entrance to the Headmaster's office. He eyed the gargoyle speculatively and nibbled his lip. "I don’t know the password," he said softly, "but Professor Dumbledore is expecting me."

The statue nodded once before leaping out of the way, and Harry rode up the spiral staircase before he could lose his nerve. He found the professor seated at his desk perusing a dusty, old tome that looked as if it would crumble to dust if one breathed on it too hard.

"Professor Dumbledore…" Harry said softly, though how the man could not know he was there he could not fathom; the spiral staircase was by no means silent.

"Harry, my boy," he said happily. "Have you reached a decision?"

"Yes sir," Harry muttered to his shoes. "I want to live, and if the bond will increase my chances of doing that, then I'm willing… sort of."

"Excellent, excellent," the Headmaster said as he inserted a bookmark and rose slowly to his feet. He tucked the book under his arm and approached the fireplace. "After you, Harry," he said as he tossed in a handful of floo powder and stated, "Professor Snape's quarters."

Snape, his hair still quite damp from a recent shower, was barefoot and wearing what looked like an old pair of black, Muggle sweat pants and an even older gray t-shirt when Harry stumbled out of the fireplace behind the Headmaster. Snape had been seated in a comfortable looking arm chair reading a book until his guests appeared. So quickly did he rise and draw his wand, Harry didn’t even have a chance to draw a breath before he was presented with the business end of Snape’s wand.

"Ah… so sorry, Severus. Didn't mean to startle you," Dumbledore murmured with an affable smile. "Harry, my boy, why don’t you go and have a seat on the couch, and we can get started, hm?"

Snape looked suspiciously at the two of them but re-sheathed his wand into a concealed forearm holster under the long-sleeved t-shirt. For a moment Harry felt a modicum of pity for the older man. What kind of life must he lead that, even in his own home, inside of Hogwarts, the most secure place in wizarding Britain, he felt the need to be armed and ready to defend himself at a moment's notice? And then Snape sneered at him and the charitable feeling vanished as quickly as it had come.

"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this unannounced visit, Headmaster?" Snape asked coldly. Harry felt about as welcome as a case of dragon pox, which, he supposed, was Snape’s intent.

Rather than reply, the Headmaster called a house-elf and ordered a full tea tray be served. Harry felt his stomach rumble, as he had missed dinner while considering his options. When it came right down to it, Harry realized that he really didn’t have any options. Winding up here, about to be bonded to Severus Snape, had been as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.

As the Headmaster settled back with a warm cup of chamomile, Harry filled one of the small plates with tiny sandwiches and biscuits.

"Now that you have staved off starvation for a few more minutes," Snape said coolly, "perhaps you could tell me why you are here, in my quarters, unannounced, on my weekend off?"

"Harry has considered his options and decided that the Fidelitas Vinculum is in his best interests." Dumbledore shifted and held up the book Harry had forgotten about. "And I am here to perform the ritual binding."

"How dare you?" Snape demanded so loudly, so explosively, that Harry flinched and unconsciously sidled a little closer to the Headmaster. "You presume my compliance in this farce to preserve your precious Savior, an idiot boy who doesn’t have enough common sense on his own to keep a flobberworm alive?"

"Now, Severus…." Dumbledore began soothingly.

"Don’t you dare try to talk me into this, you crazy old man! You know what has to happen for this bond to form!"

"Harry is sixteen, Severus. Both the wizarding and muggle worlds recognizes him as of age. He can, and has chosen, to consent." Dumbledore said firmly.

"And I'm thirty-six," Snape retorted hotly, "and I refuse. I am not some monster, some paedophile," he spat harshly.

"Severus…" Dumbledore sighed softly. "I forget sometimes, my boy, that your father was a Muggle. Severus," Dumbledore said pleadingly, "you know in the wizarding world a twenty-year age gap is nothing, in the grand scheme of things, given how long we live."

Snape did not look mollified. In fact, an evil little smile curled his lips in a twisted parody of amusement, and Harry flinched. "You marry him then, Albus. You are the most powerful Occlumens in the world; you can protect him far better than I." Snape said silkily, still wearing that parody of a smile.

Harry cringed inside.

"Severus," Dumbledore said sharply. "Stop this now. You really are the only one who can do this. I’m dying, and even if I were not, the side effects of the potion that is currently prolonging my life renders me quite impotent."

Harry flinched again. This was way more information than he ever wanted. Dumbledore had said Snape would rant about bonding with Harry, but this was so far beyond mere ranting as to be …well, Harry didn’t have words for it. "Look, there must have been a misunderstanding. Professor Dumbledore didn't seem to think that this would be such a problem for you. Obviously, that's not the case," Harry said as he faced Snape. Both of the other wizards had quite forgotten he was there, it seemed, if their surprised expressions were anything to go by. "I may be sixteen, but I have some pride. I'm not gonna beg you to do this. If you don't want me, that's fine. I wasn't terribly keen on the idea myself, but I do want to live, and I was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. I'm just not willing to force you into this.” Harry decisively shut the door on his way out and began making his way up to Gryffindor Tower.

"Go after him."

"This is your mess, Albus. You clean it up. I suggest you go Obliviate him before the Dark Lord takes another little stroll through his mind."

"Why are you so resistant to this, Severus? This is Lily's child; he needs your protection."

Snape looked away, appearing to find the dancing flames in the fireplace fascinating.

"You're still in love with her, aren't you?” Dumbledore gasped softly. "After all this time…"

"Always," Severus replied heavily.

"Ah, my poor boy. Life is for the living. Lily is dead. Love her, mourn her, but remember that there is no future in loving a ghost, Severus."

Snape snorted softly. "Now you see why I am such an effective spy, Albus. I have nothing to live for. I do not care whether I live or die."

"Life goes on Severus. If Molly Weasley were to pass away, do you think Arthur should spend the rest of his life alone?"

"It doesn’t matter to me, one way or the other."

"My point," Dumbledore stressed harshly, moving until he was in Snape's direct line of sight, forcing the other wizard to look at him, "is that where there is life there is hope, there is the possibility of love. Move on, my boy. Even if you were dead, Lily would still be with James. Harry is not Lily, but he is just as worthy of love. See him for who he is in his own right. I believe what most frightens you, Severus, is opening yourself to that possibility."

"And what possibility is that Albus?" Snape asked tiredly.

"That Harry could love you back," Dumbledore said before vanishing into the bright green flash of the floo.

Severus Snape ignored the glass of wine on the side table and went straight to the liquor cabinet and viciously yanked out the cork of his cheapest, rotgut fire whiskey. He drank it straight from the bottle and embraced the burn as it turned his esophagus and stomach lining to molten fire. Potter. He snorted. The boy was going to turn him into a miserable drunk, just like his father. He sighed, jiggling the bottle against his thigh as he paced.

There was no way that Dumbledore was right, but really, he couldn’t let Lily's son face the Dark Lord alone. Dumbledore had confided in Severus some of what he had seen in his scrying mirror several weeks ago. Death and destruction were coming, and Severus, sworn to kill Albus Dumbledore when the time was right, was standing at the crossroads of the inevitable collision.

All of that hogwash about love being the power the Dark Lord knew not. What utter rot. But a Fidelitas Vinculum bond…. If they concealed it from everyone, it could certainly provide an edge when it came time for the boy to face Riddle. It might even keep him alive when he finally faced the Dark Lord. And, most importantly, it would increase the chances substantially of the Dark Lord’s complete and utter destruction. That was the one burning thought that kept Severus Snape tied to this world, tied to this parody of a life.

With Riddle's destruction, he might, at last, know peace. Severus Snape was Slytherin to the bone. As with Draco Malfoy, the Sorting Hat had simply brushed his head before shouting 'Slytherin!' For a Slytherin, there was no question that the end justified the means. Ultimately, he would sacrifice his principles, his morals, his soul to see Voldemort die—once and for all. Coming to a decision, he threw his robe on quickly, slipped into his scuffed, black boots, and rushed toward Dumbledore's office.

____

Chapter 4

"I am truly sorry about this." Dumbledore's gaze took in the distraught faces of the Gryffindor golden trio. "I will be as delicate as I can possibly be. Who would like to go first?"

"I will, sir," Harry said as he pasted on a grim smile for his friends' sake and stepped forward, closing his eyes in preparation for an Obliviate that never came.

Harry opened one tightly clenched eye to see a surprised Albus Dumbledore gazing intently at something over Harry’s left shoulder. "Severus?" the old man murmured, clearly confused.

"I'd like to speak with Potter, if you don't mind Headmaster," Snape said primly.

"Of course, Severus. You may use my sitting room," he said, gesturing to a door off to his right. Harry noted briefly that the old man’s eyes were twinkling like mad.

Snape inclined his head and said, "Come along, Potter," before striding purposefully into the sitting room. When Harry had stumbled in behind him, he shut the door with a decisively sharp click.

Harry parked himself with a thud into the nearest armchair and waited for Snape to speak. He was already physically and mentally exhausted. This had been one hell of a day, and he felt as if he had just gotten off the world's longest, steepest roller coaster. Snape continued to stare into the fireplace, his back to Harry, and Harry was growing increasingly impatient and restless the longer this silence stretched.

"Do you still wish to bond?" Snape demanded, turning to face Harry at last.

Harry nodded, not trusting his voice.

"Why?"

Harry snorted softly. "Because Ron's one hell of a good strategist and not a bad debater either. I'm not suggesting he could sell rocks to trolls, but he had some pretty convincing arguments about how this bond could keep me alive."

Interesting, so Weasley had argued in favor of the bonding. "Would it be safe to assume Miss Granger argued the counter point?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, she did. She tried, but she didn’t have as much material to work with. Alive and bonded beats dead and single any day."

Snape snorted softly in true amusement, and Harry found himself grinning back a small, soft smile.

"Very well, then. If you still wish to do this, let's get it over with," Snape sighed.

"Why?" Harry said in a fair imitation of Snape’s previous question.

"What do you mean?"

"Why are you suddenly so willing to bond with me after all of that down in the dungeons? You did everything except accuse me of being a teenage Lolita."

"I suppose that casts me as Humbert Humbert then," Snape said snidely.

"Stop changing the subject. I answered your questions," Harry insisted. "You can answer mine."

"What does it matter, Potter? I'm willing to enter into the Fidelitas Vinculum. That's all the bond requires." Well, it required a bit more than that, but as he considered the Dark Lord's demise a noble act, he was fairly certain the bond would take.

"That may be, but I think I need a little more. I know you don't want me…and that this is against your…" Harry struggled to find the correct wording…against Snape’s what… better judgment? Morals? "principles…" Harry concluded. "And I just wanna know why, and don’t tell me it's not my business, because we both know that's not true. If we're gonna do this, I need to know," Harry seemed to splutter out of steam at that point, and Snape watched coolly as the boy crossed his arms and stubbornly waited for a response.

"As I do not wish to be here all night, fine. At one point in my life, your mother was my dearest friend," Snape said in a tightly clipped voice. "What she would think of me now, I cannot fathom." At Harry's look of surprise, Snape curled his lip into a harsh sneer. "That is all the answer you will receive, Potter. So, do you still wish to do this…yes or no?"

Harry nodded, struck mute with surprise, as he pushed himself off the cushion into an awkward standing position. If that were true, and Harry had no real reason to doubt it, knowing so little about his mother, then the woman who had sacrificed her very life for her son would probably forgive Snape for having sex with him, bonding with him, if it increased Harry's chances of surviving this war.

Snape turned quickly, his robe flaring to dramatic effect as he swept gracefully back into the Headmaster's office to rejoin the others.

"Albus, if you would perform the bonding ritual," Snape said imperiously as his cold gaze raked over the two remaining members of the Gryffindor Golden Trio almost daring them to challenge his statement. But they were looking past him.

"Harry, you sure about this, mate?" Ron asked softly. "S'not too late to back out you know."

Hermione nodded, eyes wide and for once tongue-tied. She dabbed at her eyes as she bit her lip.

"I'm sure," Harry murmured in a deceptively calm voice. "Headmaster, can Ron and Hermione stay? Maybe they can be witnesses?"

"The Fidelitas Vinculum requires no witnesses, but they may remain, for moral support, if there are no objections," the Headmaster said with a small smile.

Without exception every eye in the room turned toward Severus Snape. "Fine," he ground out at last. "Get on with it."

And get on with it the old wizard did, leading them to a doorway and out onto a curved balcony high above the grounds of the castle, the chill wind shocking Harry fully into the moment before Dumbledore cast a warming charm over the tiny group, enough to keep the biting wind from leaching the last warmth from their bones. Later, Harry distinctly remembered very little of the ritual itself. Most of it was in a language or perhaps languages he had never heard spoken before or since.

He nodded and said yes whenever Dumbledore looked at him but beyond that there was little for him to do. Snape did the same. At the end of the ceremony, the Headmaster conjured streamers of magic that twined around Harry's and Snape's left forearms and hands as the two wizards faced each other and pressed their palms together. Harry felt the magic sink into his skin, tendons, muscles, and bones like the comforting warmth of hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day. It was soothing and gentle and just a little bit arousing. He wondered briefly what it must feel like to Snape as the bonding magic passed through the dark mark deep into his flesh.

And when it was over, the one thing he would never forget was the kiss. He supposed it must be universal, a staple of both wizarding and muggle marriages, of times recent and long forgotten. He found himself turning his face upward, trying to compensate for the significant height difference between them, only to find his mouth taken passionately, unmistakably owned. Snape tasted of fire whiskey, biting sarcasm, and a desperate, needy passion. Never one to overthink things too much, Harry met each press of lips and tongue with equal fervor, a longing so strong as to be entirely without precedent or measure. When at last they parted, breath misting as they breathed each other's air, he found his cheeks wet and his eyelashes dusted with snow. Thick, white flakes fell in a steady blanket, whiting out the darkness, covering the world in a falling omen of purity and innocence and new beginnings. Harry smiled to himself and vowed that somehow, someway, he would make this work. He would seize the promise of happiness Severus Snape had pressed silently to his lips. And years later, when he told the story of his and Severus' marriage to their children and grandchildren, he would tell the entire story around the blessing of the snow.

At last he turned to his friend, shrugging in apology. For everyone’s safety, they had all known going into this, that the Headmaster would have to remove all memory of today’s events from both Ron and Hermione. Of the three of them, Harry alone would bear this secret. After all of the good wishes and hugs from his friends, he found himself spinning through the Hogwart's floo system, tumbling out of the fireplace into a guest room in a little used tower of Hogwarts wondering how exactly he has gotten himself into this and what he was going to do now.

___

Chapter 5

Severus Snape sighed as he gave up on the idea of getting a few more hours of sleep and silently rolled over to study his new bond mate's face in the soft glow of the banked firelight. It was not yet true morning; the soft gray light of the false dawn had yet to mist around the heavy curtains of the guest suite in the north tower of Hogwarts. Dumbledore had insisted. Severus had been intent on returning to the comfort and familiarity of his own quarters last night, but at least here there was no chance of discovery by a stray student seeking his aid and counsel, a not infrequent occurrence after the indulgences of a Saturday spent in Hogsmeade. Albus had promised that his Slytherins would be well looked after in his absence.

They had consummated the bond the night before following the ceremony in Dumbledore’s office, and Severus was quietly grateful that between his own minimal experience, the urgency of the bond, and the natural hormones of a near constantly horny teenager that things had gone as well as they had. He snorted softly. Hell, if he were being completely honest, and within the confines of his own mind there was no reason to obfuscate, it had been the most intense sexual experience of his life. He had strong suspicions that that was also true for Potter.

He was uncertain as to exactly how far Potter had taken his relationship with young Miss Weasley, but he was as sure as he could be without the use of Legilimency that Potter had been a virgin last night. He felt the bond pulse in his mind, almost tacitly inviting him to take a sojourn deep into his bonded's most private thoughts. He sighed as he pushed the urge away with difficulty. The molten allure of the bond sang its deceptive siren's song. On the one hand, it offered Severus the opportunity to know everything he had ever wanted to know about Potter's wild escapades, his rule-breaking tendencies, and his darkest innermost thoughts.

For a Slytherin, it was a siren song of knowledge and power. On the other hand, the bond offered his young bond mate just as much free access to his own secret thoughts and darkest desires: his shameful memories of the past, his lust for power, and his longing for love and acceptance – almost depraved in its intensity. If he and Potter were going to co-exist in something resembling a harmonious existence, they were both going to have to establish and adhere to a basic framework of absolute, inviolable rules, and chief among those would have to be an iron clad resistance to traipse straight into one another's minds on a whim.

He continued to study the softened lines of the far too young face of their supposed Savior. In sleep, he could see more of Lily, the softer outlines of her cheeks and chin, her smaller, snug ears, her – dare he say, innocence. And yet, for all of her beauty, intelligence, and kindness, she had never been able to bring herself to forgive him for an angry, humiliated slip of his tongue, ending years of friendship over a single, vicious word he devoutly wished he had never uttered… wished fervently he could take back.

At the time, he had felt himself to be the one violated, the one betrayed. True, she had taken James Potter to task for using his own Levicorpus spell against him and threatening to strip his clothes from his person in front of the entire Hogwart's student body, but she could never forgive Snape what he felt was a humiliated outburst of his justified anger. She was his friend, and yet she maintained a friendship, too, with Potter and Black, and to a lesser extent, with Lupin and Pettigrew—the ones responsible for the near constant torment he endured at their hands. Four against one. And because Potter and Black were from wealthy, pureblood families, they were never punished for their escapades, for their crimes.

Severus had grown up with one foot in the muggle world, one foot in the magical world. In the muggle world, ripping someone’s clothes off was criminal sexual assault, attempting to deliberately lure someone to his death via a vicious, rabid animal was attempted murder. Neither Black nor Potter had ever truly faced the consequences for their actions, and Severus had grown increasingly bitter and resentful of Dumbledore and the entrenched wizarding traditions that prevented the guilty from facing any responsibility for their crimes. Such hatred and resentment had left him easy pickings for the Dark Lord. And not for the first time he wondered just how many of the Death Eaters had been recruited because the wizarding world placed little consequence on what was just, as opposed to what was convenient. Severus had learned that might makes right, and he had learned that lesson well.

He had begged Lily's forgiveness that night – never to receive it. Pretty and popular, she had been unable to truly understand what it was to be bullied, to be humiliated, to hate. Without understanding, without empathy, there could be no forgiveness. She had not survived long enough for him to beg her forgiveness after he had thoughtlessly shared Trelawney's prophecy with the Dark Lord. He warred with himself as to whether he deserved forgiveness or not.

He found himself envying Ronald Weasley such forgiveness. Despite his unwarranted, vicious accusations that Potter was both a liar and a cheat during the year of the Tri Wizard Tournament, Potter had forgiven him. Their friendship stronger for the trial, unbroken. Truth be told, it gave him hope.

"I know you’re awake, Potter," Severus snapped on an irritated sigh.

"Wasn't hiding it," Harry muttered in a sleep roughened voice. "Just… taking stock, I guess. Feels funny," he said as he mentally probed at the bond. "Like an echo in my head."

"Something you should be quite used to, I’ll wager."

"I’m not as empty headed as you seem to think," Harry groused back with an annoyed scowl.

"Mm." Silence stretched for a long minute. "How do you feel, Potter?" Snape asked somewhat civilly. He could feel the sudden, brief flare of Harry's surprise that he cared enough to ask.

"I've got a bit of a headache, kind of a dull throbbing around the bond. Dumbledore said that was normal, right? And I can feel them… the Occlumency shields around my mind. It's strange but kind of a relief too. First good night's sleep I've gotten since Sirius died, knowing that Voldemort can't slip into my head while I'm asleep… Oh, and my arse is kinda sore."

Severus felt himself flush a deep shade of vermillion. "Yes, I suppose it would be," he admitted quietly.

"Not in a bad way," Harry hastened to explain as he felt himself flush too. "I… I liked what we did… uhm… last night, I mean," Harry murmured shyly. "You did too," he added softly a few minutes later when Snape failed to reply.

Severus swallowed and failed to deny it. "Be that as it may, Potter, we have more important matters to discuss at the moment. For this to work, for each of us to have any degree of autonomy or privacy…,"

"Yeah, I remember. I can't probe directly into your mind. It's hard though. It's almost like the bond is some kind of river of light, and if I let go it will just pull me into your thoughts. I can feel it surging like the ebb and flow of a tide."

"I know. It's new, and it will settle with time."

"Will it?" Harry questioned, doubt evident in his voice.

"That's the theory. As I’ve never engaged in a Fidelitas Vinculum Bond, I’ve no actual anecdotal information upon which to rely," Snape said shortly.

Harry nodded as he pushed himself upright against the headboard and pulled an extra pillow into his lap. "Even when I'm not trying to, I can still sense some thoughts and emotions… almost like it's bleeding off from you."

"Overflow of strong thoughts and feelings will always be felt by the other bond mate. There is nothing either of us can do about that. Really, Potter… again?" He asked with a nod toward Harry's covered groin.

"What?"

"Lust is one of those strong emotions that bleed across the bond," Snape said snidely with a little moue of distaste as he surreptitiously pulled an extra pillow over his own lap.

Harry blushed a fetching shade of pink.

"Go back to sleep, Potter. If Dumbledore is correct, we now have all the time in the world."

Harry yawned and settled. Within moments he was once again deeply asleep.

So, like James, and yet not. So, like Lily, and yet not. Severus wondered idly if this was a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike his parents, Potter was potential realized, tempered by hardship, hunger, want, and pain – things neither the pampered and indulged Potter Sr. nor golden girl Lily Evans had ever endured.

As he contemplated the ramifications of six years of the young man's prior actions and what he could sense from the bond, Severus was fairly certain that Harry's capacity to love, trust and forgive far exceeded what either of his parents had been capable of.

He had known since that Halloween night, the night Lily and James Potter perished at Godric's Hollow, that the Dark Lord would return, that Dumbledore would once again call upon him to be turncoat and spy. And he had lived his life preparing for that eventuality, his particularly abysmal treatment of Potter and the rest of his Golden Trio the natural culmination of his need to ingratiate himself into the good graces of his former Dark Master. Notwithstanding his naturally sullen disposition…

Despite that, some part of him knew that a single act of contrition, a few sincere but heartfelt words of apology, and this Potter not only could, but would, forgive him. If he were simply willing to do as Dumbledore asked – to let go, let go of Lily, dead these many years, who had made her choice and chosen another man. To let go of the hatred he felt for James Potter, the need for revenge upon a dead man and his band of bullies, let the dead bury the dead, let the past go.

For lying in this marriage bed was his ultimate chance at redemption – an opportunity for a lifetime of love, happiness, and contentment. For as much as he had loved Lily, he could never have had any of that with her. It was Harry who could forgive, Harry who could love without limit or measure. It would be difficult at times, and they would bicker, for Severus knew he would never be an easy man to love, but he felt the pulse of the bond. For this moment in time, all was right with the world, and the possibilities for the future stretched promising and limitless into exquisite infinity, ready to be grasped, clutched dearly to his shriveled heart.

As dawn broke at last, spilling warm and golden into the dark places, Severus Snape snuggled down into the soft eiderdown, and as sleep prepared to claim him once more, he made one last vow as he looked at the sleeping form of his bond mate – he would let the past go. For one, last chance at love, he would… try.