Better Late Than Never
Potter had nearly left it too long, lingering to stare him in the eye after being given the gift of Snape's memories, the ones he wanted the boy to see, at any rate. Snape moaned at the effort involved in pulling the phial out of one of his many hidden pockets, drinking half and then using the last of his strength to pour the rest over the wounds. Only practice kept him from screaming as the wounds smoked and his insides repaired themselves from the damage done by Nagini's venom.
One did not serve a madman who regularly fed people to snakes without carrying a potion against snake bites.
By the time Snape was healed enough to move, the sounds of fighting had dimmed, and he knew it would be over one way or another when he emerged. He had a fleeting desire to leave England and everything he had ever loved behind and start over, but he knew that eventually someone would cotton on to the fact that his portrait never appeared in the Headmaster's office. Such magics did not recognize politics, only truth -- Snape had been Headmaster, and had neither died nor been formally dismissed. Yet.
A few spells repaired his clothing and appearance, such as it was, and Snape made his slow and painful way down the low corridor to the base of the tree. He spent a moment staring through the flailing branches at the school, his home, and allowed himself to grieve for the damage done to her, though of course the building would be repaired soon enough.
He would see to it himself, if he had to.
Snape cast a Disillusionment charm on himself and pressed the knot, wanting to accomplish what he could before he was confronted with his latest crimes. He made his careful way up to his old office, the gargoyle moving aside with as much evident pain as Snape himself when given the password. "Allow me," said Snape, and cast a few restorative spells on the creature. It wouldn't be a perfect repair, but it should help, the way movement and purpose were helping with Snape's own aches.
"Thank you," said the gargoyle, surprised and grateful. "Mighty kind."
"You have served this school too well to have your pain ignored," said Snape, making his way up the stairs before the creature could react. He saw the Pensieve left carelessly on the desk, full of his own memories, and he had to suppress a moment of anger that his heart had been left on display for anyone who might wander in here. He looked into the swirl and saw Potter's face float to the top and felt another flash of anger, this time at himself and his own foolish obsessions.
Lily had been his best friend until he'd ruined things, but Harry had never even been that, and he had no one to blame but himself.
Snape went back into his quarters and began his work; there was no telling how long he'd have, and he had a lot to do. First he restored the portraits, putting each back into its frame and leaving Albus for last.
"Am I to assume this means we've won?" asked Albus, as soon as he was settled once again in his chair behind the desk.
"The fighting is over and I've heard little caterwauling, so one assumes so," said Snape. He bared his arm to Albus, where the Mark was nothing more than a pale smudge against his skin now. "Your sacrifice has obviously been made."
"He might yet surprise you," said Albus, looking down on him with a sadness that Snape was all too familiar with.
"I know your theories," said Snape disgustedly. He set about the room, removing the hateful Dark objects he'd had to keep there to keep Voldemort happy, Vanishing them into nothingness rather than risk discovery or misuse. "He never deserved to have to make that choice."
Albus shifted in his chair, conjuring a cup of painted tea. "No one else could make it for him, I'm afraid."
Snape snorted. "As if you hadn't made it from the start, knowing everything you knew about it and letting him grow up anyway, like a calf being fattened for the altar."
"I always had hope," said Albus.
The door creaked, and Snape whirled, wand at the ready. "He always had more faith in people than you did, Professor," said Harry quietly, slipping into the room. "Hello, Headmaster."
"That title belongs to Severus now, my boy," said Albus, giving Harry a twinkling nod. "I am merely a painting of an old man, these days."
"One that won't shut up," said Snape darkly. His heart had nearly stopped when Harry came through the door, alive and relatively well, certainly not the ghost that Snape had half been expecting to come and take him to task for his complicity.
Harry walked forward slowly, not bothering to draw his wand though Snape had never lowered his own. Dirty fingers touched the edge of the Pensieve, tracing the runes. "You really are crap with people, aren't you?"
"Yes, Potter, that's exactly what I wished for you to get from my most painful memories, thank you," said Snape, resisting the urge to snatch the bowl away from him.
Harry laughed and even some of the portraits snickered, which only made Snape's mood more foul. He went back to Vanishing with a vengeance, determined to get rid of every last Dark artefact. "What're you doing?" asked Harry curiously, when Snape opened the cabinet above the one in which the Pensieve normally rested.
"Disposing of the evidence," Snape replied dryly, Vanishing the two small devices he'd taken from the Carrows, purportedly to study their workings in a very personal detention. It was one of the few things he'd managed to do to protect the students in his brief tenure as Headmaster. He surveyed the room, but there was only the desk left now, and he finally turned back toward it.
"Don't," said Harry, moving in front of the Pensieve.
"I wouldn't dream of it," said Snape, though in truth he would want those memories back before he left, if he had any hope of staying out of Azkaban. Instead he walked around the desk and spelled open various drawers, allowing himself the luxury of sitting as he Vanished the last few items, mostly poisons and other illegal potions. "Did you want to watch your mother reject me one more time before I reclaim my memories?"
Harry shook his head and sighed, pushing the bowl toward Snape. "You're really going to cut out and leave us?"
Snape spooled the silvery threads on his wand and put them back, one at a time, delaying the moment when he'd have to make a decision, and give Harry his answer. He felt that painful longing sharpen once more, wishing that he had been someone who would ever have been able to be what Lily needed, in so many ways. The last memory slithered in, of Dumbledore and responsibility, and Snape sat back with a sigh. "I can't imagine what you think to gain from keeping me here," he said, rubbing his temple where the cool sensation lingered.
"I've never put them back," said Harry, cocking his head. "Does it hurt?"
Snape shook his head. "No more than such memories ever do," he replied. He could practically hear Albus smiling behind him. "I suppose you think I ought to stick around?" he asked, both or either of them, really.
"I think you and Harry have more in common than you might like to admit," said Albus.
Snape turned slowly and looked up at the portrait. "Harry will end up with that Weasley girl and half a dozen redheaded brats," he said, wondering what on earth Albus thought he was getting at. "I will end up in prison, or at the very least alone as I have been all my life." The statement was bald, but he was weak from the venom, from the truths he'd finally been forced to admit, and he knew the pain of it showed on his face.
"I wish that was what I wanted," said Harry softly, fingers playing in the now-empty depths of the stone bowl. "I want to want that."
Snape rolled his eyes. "If that isn't what you desire, then what is? Granger? One of the older girls, Chang, perhaps?"
Harry looked up with tired eyes, eyes that were far too old for the young face they resided in, older than Lily's had ever looked. "I want to want girls," said Harry slowly, as though he couldn't quite believe he was admitting this, to Snape of all people, "but I want you."
Snape froze, then the bile rose and anger with it. "I will not be toyed with by you and your kind any longer," he said, rising up with his wand already in his hand.
Harry sighed and looked resigned, quite the opposite reaction Snape had been expecting. "I knew you wouldn't believe me or want me, but I had to try," he said, getting up. "You might want to finish up whatever you have left to do, I think Ron and Hermione will come looking for me soon. Well, as soon as they're done, er, being alone."
Snape stared as Harry came around the desk, laid one hand on his cheek, and leaned in to kiss him. "I was really disappointed you weren't there for me when I thought I was going to die, that you wouldn't even come for the resurrection stone," he said, already moving away, out of Snape's reach. "I'm glad it's because you're alive."
Snape swallowed, then forced himself to say, "I would always come, if you needed me."
Harry turned back and a smile lit up his face, a smile that made Snape ache with how long he'd wanted to see it directed at him.
"I'm quite bad with people," said Snape, though he stood as Harry came back to him, and opened his arms just slightly, just enough.
Harry slipped into them and they closed around him greedily, holding Harry close and pressing a kiss to that messy hair. "I'm sort of dense sometimes," said Harry.
The portraits applauded when they kissed.
Title: Better Late Than Never