Disclaimers: The Harry Potter universe and all its characters and situations is the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. This is an amateur work of fanfiction produced without expectation of remuneration or profit, and is no way intended to infringe upon existing copyrights.
Summary: A quiet night before tomorrow.
Author's Notes: AnneZo said, post something by Sunday. I said okay. That’s it, really, and I thank her for both the thought and the beta. Rated PG for combat situations. 3,157 words. I’m no novelist
My contact information (because I have been told I do not make it easy for folks to locate me):
“Family night,” was the decree. Harry stumbled tiredly through the camp, listening without listening to the whispers about him. “Family night.” Harry knew what that meant. Indeed, they all knew. The end was coming, probably tomorrow. They’d been in Cornwall for four days, and had taken the derelict manor house a floor at a time. Today they’d found two, possibly three, weaknesses in the structure. Tomorrow, they’d be underground, where “he” was.
Even Harry thought of “him” these days, not “Voldemort,” and not “Riddle,” as Dumbledore still referred to him. Just “him,” a sort of mental shorthand that was all Harry’s brain had room for -- his ultimate goal, and his death, most likely. But that was for tomorrow. For tonight, he had the death of another Death Eater on his conscience, and Watch to stand before he slept. That’s what Family night meant to Harry, and his partner. Watch.
The uneven ground made walking at more than a stroll difficult in the dark before moonrise, but Harry kept the pace, needing the walk, needing to use muscles other than his wand arm’s, needing the mindlessness of the movement. He circled the camp once, twice, before coming to a halt near the largest group of witches and wizards, seven, he counted without noticing, gathered round a cauldron and table.
Hermione was there. Harry hadn’t seen her in a handful of days, he couldn’t count how many, a few. Three rests, maybe more. He heard her say, “I’m going at 10. Sandwiches?” and he watched as his unit flickered away. Going home.
As a unit, they stuck together. Weeks would pass and Harry would see nobody else from Dumbledore’s Army, just his unit. And as the months went along and Voldemort proved himself better at hiding than they had known possible, even Dumbledore had had to realize that units were people, and people needed rest, and so the word would come, every now and again, Family Night, and one by one the unit would slip away to their home, their family, their special place, to wherever it was they went for a few hours to recharge. Those left behind would stand Watch, help in the Hospital Tent, whatever, so there was someone for the others to Apparate back to. A unit wasn’t a place, it was people, and they could only gather where one of their unit was already stationed.
After half an hour, when it was just he and Hermione and Tonks, Harry turned away. Hermione had seen him, but they hadn’t spoken. Harry talked to few people these days, usually just the men he killed. And his partner. It was coming. Perhaps tomorrow, and Harry kept his head and nothing more.
Just outside the Hospital Tent he stopped, waited, and it was only a few seconds when Snape stepped out. They’d been partners since the beginning, in June, that beautiful Summer day when the skies had darkened and the train had derailed and Harry didn’t think of that day any more. He stayed in the present. There were no more classes, of course, although he thought Hogwarts was still there. Most of his unit were people he’d known at school, in what he thought of as the Before. In the early days, Ron had been there with Hermione, but Hermione’s gift was ward-casting, and Ron hated staying behind the action. One day he’d been gone, and Dumbledore wouldn’t tell them where. Your partner was your partner, and it was the talent that chose, not the unit. Hermione got Tonks as a partner, and they hadn’t lost anyone in Camp since. It worked, but Harry could tell she missed Ron. He wondered, briefly, if that was where she was going at 10. If she knew where Ron was, and if more than one unit got Family night at the same time.
Snape was walking easily, and didn’t even seem to notice as Harry’s magic swept over and through him, testing, looking. You had to know if there was a weakness, something to watch for, something to allow for. You fought on, but you had to know.
But tonight there was none, yet Snape had been burned pretty badly down his right side, so Harry took that side as they turned and walked together. The right might still be the weaker. It was best to be prepared.
“Until 10. Family night.”
Snape nodded, and then grunted, too, you never knew if your partner was looking or maybe just hearing, and they made their way towards tonight’s Watch station, which turned out to be a small hollow between two trees. The manor house where Voldemort was holed up was about a mile distant, Harry thought, it was hard to judge because Camp moved itself sometimes, but these trees seemed real. They sat in their usual Watch position, back-to-back, with Harry’s left shoulder against Snape’s right, and watched as the moon rose, as the night settled around them. The Dursleys were gone, killed one night when Harry had been absent long enough for the wards to dissipate, and Harry had heard, had moved on, and hadn’t thought it through. Did he wish he’d spent a few nights there, now and again, just to keep the wards active? He wanted to think about that, so he’d put that away, in a part of his mind that he kept things for thinking about later. And Snape didn’t seem to have any family, never mentioned any, not even a name. So, Family night they took Watch, and sat together, looking away.
It was easy, sometimes, to get wrapped in the silence. Harry didn’t think, he Watched, but in his mind was the face of the man he’d killed today, and his skin, so pale where Harry’d peeled away the robe and found the Dark Mark, so fresh the skin was still blackened and bleeding. It had to still have been hurting, Harry had thought, as he gathered himself for what must come. He’d glanced up, then, and Snape had finished binding the two others they’d found in their search. “None,” Snape’s quiet comment, and Harry’s stronger reply, as he gathered his magic, “here.” And he grasped the arm of the man he’d Stupefied, and his wand hand never wavered as he said the words that killed him. Avada Kedavra, and they never were easy to say, always took him a second to gather the magic, and Snape told him sometimes after, that it’d kill him some day, that hesitation, but Harry didn’t think so. Surely it would someday save a life, even if it wasn’t his own.
Snape fell, he nearly always fell when Harry did it so close to him, but it was necessary, and Harry was on the way across the room before he hit the ground, letting the dead body fall as it would behind him. Snape had had burns today, a Scalding curse had caught him down the right side, and Harry cursed him a bit for not ducking as he helped the other man stand. There was a reason, of course, although Snape didn’t explain. The only time Snape failed to duck a curse was when he was standing between it and Harry. Harry’d thought to mention it to him sometime, that it’d probably get the older man killed some day, but Snape was gasping and shaking, and Harry stayed in the now, with his partner.
“Where?” he’d said. And Snape had answered through the pain, “Here. About three levels down, I think.” And he’d known where there was a door, an entrance, a weakness, before the paid faded. That was their goal, the knowledge, that was why they always tried to be in the front of any battle, and if it was difficult to Stun those they found, check for the Dark Mark and then kill those they needed to, they dealt with it.
But when they’d found that they could do this, together, could track Voldemort through the Dark Mark on Snape’s arm, the war had changed. They were on the attack, now, could trace Voldemort with every Death Eater they killed in this way, and they had tracked him here, and surrounded him, and even with his power, he couldn’t get out of the manor without going through Dumbledore’s Army. And the units had a plan, now, to take the manor a bit at a time, to give Harry Potter and Severus Snape the chance to do what they did, and it was working.
It was easy to tell when their watch had ended. Somewhere else in the Camp, another Watch team appeared; Woods and Brown, by the feel of it, Harry thought as the wards shifted and he felt their power take over in Watch. He didn’t know where in Camp they were, that was part of the warding Hermione had set up, and although they were now on Rest, Harry and Snape kept their wand hands ready as they made their way back into Camp. Watch turnover could be a weakness, even inside Hermione’s wards, and you never knew.
Back in camp they made their way to the cauldron and table for food, deserted now except for Hermione.
“Eat,” she said in greeting. “Tonks made the sandwiches.” Harry smiled, in spite of tomorrow. Hermione was a terrible cook, even her sandwiches were horrible, and the unit juggled duties quietly but desperately to keep her always away from food duty. She didn’t seem to mind.
“What would you like, Harry?” Hermione offered a plate with her usual kindness, not caring that neither man had greeted her with more than a nod. She was used to it. “They sent us quite an assortment today, really it’s almost like a feast!”
Harry looked more closely at the table and saw that someone had indeed tried to brighten it up a bit. There were several plates of sandwiches, depleted now that most of the unit had eaten, and even some tattered-looking bunting around the edges of the table.
Hermione followed his gaze, a bit anxious now, “It’s almost as though they realized how close—" she broke off. “Well. You should both eat.” She hesitated, as if she had more to say, then obviously changed her mind. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” With one last look at Harry, and even a small smile for Snape, she left. When she’d gone to wherever it was she went, Harry picked up a sandwich.
Snape was looking at the moon, still tense, and it was Rest. That was the hard part, letting go long enough for Rest. They both struggled with it, Harry usually more than his partner. Snape seemed able to sleep anywhere, at any time. The one time Harry’d asked him, he’d said it came with age. Harry hadn’t understood, but then even after four months, he wasn’t sure he understood anything about Snape. Except that he was the bravest man Harry had ever known, and that he wouldn’t know what to do any more without that solid presence against his left shoulder.
Still, it was Rest. “Ham,” Harry said. “Chicken. Roast Beef. And something that looks like cheese and weeds.”
Snape grunted, and Harry went to hand him a sandwich, then stopped. He remembered what Hermione had done, so he asked instead, “Which would you like?”
“Potter. When have you known me to be selective about the foods I eat.” It was a question, but also a statement, and Harry smiled again. He hated to smile, these days, it brought him back inside himself, distracted him from the task at hand. Tomorrow was there, and this was probably his last tomorrow. Tomorrow he, Harry, would face Voldemort, and that would be that, but tonight was Family night, and Harry realized suddenly that it was -- he was with the only family he had.
“I thought I should at least know what kind of sandwich my family prefers. Ham, chicken, roast beef, or cheese-and-weeds?” and he was really smiling, now.
Snape snorted back at him, not nearly a laugh but the closest thing they had come to it in many, many days, and took the ham, saying, “Anything but cheese-and-weeds, if you please.”
“No cheese-and-weeds.” Harry pretended to be making a mental note, and took the roast beef for himself.
That actually counted as conversation, between them, and Harry shrugged, “Family night, I always spend it with you, I figure that makes us family.”
Snape looked away as he chewed his ham sandwich, Harry felt his magic sweep through the area, he wasn’t relaxing for Rest, neither of them were, but they were eating, and then they would sleep, and then it would be tomorrow.
“Don’t worry,” he continued, “I won’t tell anyone. Who would I tell? Him?” Snape looked at him over the sandwiches, and he seemed to know, as he always did, what came next. The humor was gone, and tomorrow was there, between them, and Harry cursed himself for bringing it back.
Snape started to answer, and hesitated, which surprised Harry. Snape never hesitated, even with the killing curse. He looked almost tentative, and Snape never looked tentative. It reminded him of the way Hermione had looked, just before she left. Like there was something else to be said, if she knew how. Harry was used to that feeling, but he wasn’t used to that look on Snape. Snape said what he wanted to say, always, always. Suddenly nervous, Harry sent his magic out again, felt the wards, felt the Watch team, felt his partner, there at the table with him.
Snape was speaking again. “You might tell someone. After.”
“About this secret loathing for cheese-and-weeds? Who’d believe me, even if…” Harry cut himself short, because the rest of that sentence was, “even if there were going to be an after,” and Harry never said that out loud. Never. He knew, he thought Snape knew, he knew Dumbledore knew, but they never said it. Any of them.
Harry thought it was why Snape always stepped between him and the curses if he couldn’t deflect them in time, to take the pain himself, and why they sat with Harry’s left shoulder pressed against Snape’s right, even though that impeded the movement of Snape’s wand hand. It kept Harry’s free, and Harry knew, and he thought Snape knew, that way they were prepared always for Voldemort to come, and that it was Harry who had to kill him, and that Snape stayed alive just to keep Harry alive that long.
He knew. And now it was tomorrow. And Snape was talking about after?
“After…?” he whispered. He’d never considered after. Never once, and now it was a possibility. Snape thought there might be an after. Harry couldn’t get his brain around it, around an after, he looked in his head for a life after, and there was nothing there. He’d never thought of anything there. After.
“That’s what Family night is for,” Snape’s voice was quiet, but he wasn’t whispering. He sounded very sure of himself, now, more like the lecturer he used to be. “Family night is for people to realize there is a life outside the war, that there will be someone there for them. After. That’s why – tonight –".
Harry just stared, completely at a loss.
“So. If, after, you still wanted….,” and Snape swallowed and put down the rest of the ham sandwich, and didn’t finish. But Harry got it, all the same.
“You’re so sure,” Snape interrupted. Snape hadn’t interrupted him since they’d used to argue, in the before, but Snape was speaking now, quickly, with a passion Harry’d not seen in months, and the next bit came out in a rush: “You could choose to live.”
“I could--?” Harry hadn’t known it might be up to him. It wasn’t up to him, was it? He couldn’t just choose to live. Could he? He was going to die killing Voldemort, he’d known that since fifth year, when it had all started to go horrible. He’d known. But, to choose to live? To choose?
But here it was, and now that Snape had said it, Harry couldn’t push it away. He could live. He could choose to. And, after, there might be – but then, Snape would have to live, too. Harry thought about that for a while. And he stared at Snape, who waited, and stared back. Waiting for Harry to get there, as he had in the early days, when he’d had to teach Harry about war, and about what it did to you, and how to go on. He’d been there, every day, and now he was saying – offering…Harry didn’t know just what, but his mind cleared, just enough, and he knew one thing.
“You’d have to choose, too.” And now he was angry, somehow, because now there was a possibility for the future, and that meant he had something to lose, and that had been his secret, private weapon that he’d held close in his own heart; that he could fight, and win, and say the curse when he had to, because he had nothing to lose. And that was gone, and Harry felt awake again, awake in a way that he hadn’t been in weeks, and that was dangerous, wasn’t it, because it meant his focus was gone. And so he practically yelled it, almost hating Snape for what he’d done, for waking him up, for showing him a glimpse of After, because it hurt. “You’d have to choose, too. No more stepping in front of curses. You choose too!” And he’d stepped right up to Snape, somehow, and he had his fist in the front of Snape’s robes, and he was shaking him, and Snape actually looked scared, as scared as Harry felt, and they were in someplace new now, partners still but, family? They stood there, glaring at each other, and Snape broke first. Snape never broke first, Harry’d seen him cornered, and injured, in incredible pain, but he’d never seen Snape back down from a confrontation. Never.
But this time he did. He looked down, gathered up the remains of the sandwiches, and, finally, gave in. “All right. I’ll choose. If you will.”
And somehow it seemed they had made a kind of agreement. A sort of plan, for after, if it turned out they had a choice. Harry wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but he knew he was smiling again, and he thought Snape smiled back, a little, but he couldn’t be sure, it might have been the moonlight. Harry felt something he hadn’t felt before as they made their way to the sleeping tent, to rest for tomorrow, but as he thought it through, in the quiet of the camp with their unit quietly Apparating back in around them to rest for tomorrow, he thought it might have been family.