Harry sat in the shadows of the Hog’s Head beneath his disillusionment charm and watched the crescent moon vanish behind dark clouds. A beautiful night. His gaze dropped down to the cross at Hogsmeade’s heart. Give or take that.
Snape’s corpse dangled from the weathered, carved stone, nude and pale but for the blood-soaked rags of his dark robes and the garland of blood-smeared lilies hanging from his neck.
Still, he deserved it. Harry crushed the ball of ice tightening in his chest. You don’t betray something perfect. You don’t destroy it. You should die before you risk marring it.
The moon slipped out from behind the clouds; its light gleamed off the frosted cobbles, turning the blood trickling down the steps from the cross as black as ink. Harry stared up at the slim shining crescent — alone in the dark save for faint starlight and dark clouds, and felt the sharp teeth of the void begin to gnaw at his heart.
‘Au revoir.’ He tossed the shattered pieces of Snape’s wand into the dark pool spreading beneath the dangling corpse and apparated back into the Chamber of Secrets.
And now to wait for the fallout. He strode over the bridge, discarding the broken time turner into the pool with a soft splash and sparing a single glance for the outline over the door. Voldemort will blame me. Dumbledore will blame Voldemort. I shouldn’t even be a suspect, given I’m sitting in his office at the moment.
Harry hurried back through Myrtle’s bathroom and slipped into Gryffindor tower, abandoning his invisibility on the stairs to the dormitories.
‘Where have you been sneaking about?’ Hermione demanded, stepping ’round the corner from the girls’ dormitory stairs. Dark bags hung under her eyes and she pulled her wand from her pyjamas.
‘Speaking with Professor Dumbledore.’ Harry eyed her nightwear. ‘Are you already going to bed?’
‘Yes.’ She sniffed. ‘I’m tired, so I’m taking an early night. I hope you listened to Professor Dumbledore, Harry.’
‘I did,’ he said, carrying on up the stairs. ‘Good night, Hermione.’
Moonlight shone through the curtains of the dormitory, bleaching the red and gold hangings. Silence hung over the room, but distant cheer drifted up the stairs from the common room below.
How could he ruin something perfect? He sighed and sat down on the end of his bed, staring at his open palms in the bright moonlight. The melancholy seeped into him like winter cold and the emptiness clawed at his heart with sharp, hollow talons. And how could he endure living on after there were no dreams left? It would be hell.
The red and gold closed in on him until his heart began to pound and his breath caught. All the empty space away to the Meadow stretched beyond it, on and on, as far as he could imagine, and all the smothering weight of the castle curled around him.
I can’t stay here. He jumped to his feet, heart racing beneath his ribs and Fleur’s smile swirling through his thoughts. I have to get out. Harry closed the curtains around his bed and charmed them shut, then clambered out the window and took a deep breath. The edge of the Forbidden Forest loomed a short distance away, and Fleur’s warmth and voice called to him from beyond it.
‘Wingardium leviosa,’ he murmured, levitating himself down to the floor by his robes, and dropping onto the grass.
He ran into the pines, leaping over roots and piles of needles, and wrenched the world past him until he stood in the kitchen. ‘Fleur,’ he called, poking his head into the lounge. ‘Fleur?’
A gentle creak came from above his head and she appeared before him. He breathed in a soft wash of marzipan and drank in the sight of the small smile on her lips and her summer sky blue eyes. The pounding of his heart slowed and a quiet sigh escaped his lips.
‘Are you okay?’ Fleur cupped his chin with her fingers. ‘Mon Cœur?’
‘I was lonely,’ he whispered. ‘I killed Snape and dropped his body in Hogsmeade, but all I could think about was how he ruined something perfect.’
She drew him into her arms and leant her cheek against his. ‘I’m here.’
Harry wrapped her up in his embrace and held her tight. ‘I don’t know how he endured it. All these years, with no dreams left at all.’ A tangle of thorns curled around his heart and knotted in his stomach. ‘I can barely think about it.’
‘Don’t think about it,’ she murmured. ‘Our dream is going nowhere.’ She ran her hand up and down his back. ‘What happened with Snape?’
‘I poisoned him with aconite.’ Harry forced himself to think only of the goblet of blackberry wine and nothing else, shoving the emptiness deep down inside. ‘I was going to pin the blame on Malfoy, but I didn’t think it would work, so I mutilated his body, hung a garland of lilies around his neck and tied him to the cross in Hogsmeade. Voldemort will think I’ve killed him for my mother’s sake. Dumbledore will think his spy has been discovered.’
‘Lily,’ Fleur murmured. ‘Well, now he can’t get in the way of our dream, at least.’
‘I think he wanted to die,’ Harry whispered. ‘He wanted to destroy Voldemort too, but mostly, I think he just wanted to escape his self-made hell. He said my mother was perfect.’
‘He got her killed.’ Fleur pressed her lips to Harry’s cheek. ‘He’s the reason everything that happened to you happened.’
‘I know.’ He pulled her tight against him and squeezed his eyes shut to blot out the image of Fleur fading into the dark, or vanishing with a bright, burning ring upon her hand. ‘I owed him oblivion and he was a danger to us. More than almost anyone else, because he better understood what you mean to me. I just — I can’t find it in myself to hate him. Not knowing what I know. I think I’d be the exact same, eventually. How could death be any worse than a world without you?’
‘Gabby told me I’m like the sun to you,’ Fleur whispered. ‘I could see that being true, mon Cœur.’
‘Gabby is right,’ he breathed. ‘You’re all the warmth and the light and everything. The only perfect dream in an empty world. Without you, it’s cold and dead and dark and I couldn’t stand it.’ His heart dashed itself against his ribs and his breathing quickened, stirring up the tangle of thorns knotting in his gut. ‘It would be hell,’ he whispered. ‘To drift through the world enduring all the meaningless little things left in your absence, feeding whatever bits of me survived to the emptiness until I’m all gone.’
‘It’s okay.’ Fleur led him back to the sofa and eased him down beside her, wrapping her arms ’round his head and drawing him down into her lap. ‘You’re going to spend forever in the sunlight, Harry. I’m here now. I’ll be here tomorrow. I’ll always be here. Nothing you can do will lose me. I’m never going to leave.’
He shivered as she ran her fingers through his hair and let the smell of marzipan steady him. ‘I keep thinking about how it would feel.’
‘There’s no need.’ Fleur bent and kissed his forehead, tickling his neck with her cascade of silver hair. ‘It will never happen. You are mine. And I am yours. Always.’