The cave is dark. Harry looks around, and his breath catches in his throat.
It was here. And it wasn't so long ago. Only half a year ago, in fact...
Others had died since then. Hedgwig is dead. Charity Burbage had disappeared, nobody will say it, but Harry knows she's dead, too. And Moody...
How many more, Harry thinks? How many more, until the war is done? How many more, until the world goes back to normal, the 'normal' that Harry doesn't really remember?
It's been only half a year, but so much had happened since then, that the horror of that night is already beginning to fade, becoming something that “just happened”. Harry doesn't want it to fade. He wants to remember.
He hears a sound of a rock, tumbling down the cliff. Then another. Then, a sound of footsteps. Harry ducks, and hides in the cleft of the rocks, the wand drawn, squeezing himself into the tiny niche as much as he can... He swears inwardly. What was he thinking, coming back here?
The footsteps are soft, cautious, almost feline. Harry holds his breath.
“There's a Muggle proverb,” a quiet, silky voice echoes through the cave. “As a dog that returns to his vomit, so is a fool who repeats his folly.” Harry bites into his lip hard, making no sound. “Couldn't stay away from your vomit, Potter? Or...” the voice pauses, and then continues, mockingly and contemptuously, “Dumbledore's vomit, as may be the case?”
The familiar wave of pure, unadulterated rage wells up again, and, all caution forgotten, Harry leaps out of his hiding place, his wand pointing at Snape.
Snape is ready for him of course. They stand, facing each other, wands pointing at each other.
Harry stares at him without blinking. Snape glares back. Or maybe glares isn't exactly the right word. The man's eyes look darker than ever, and his gaze appears to be vacant... and lifeless. If this were someone else, Harry might have pitied him.
“Don't you dare!” Harry spits out the words. “He trusted you. You betrayed him...Don't you fucking dare say his name!” Harry's hand, with the wand clutched in it, begins to shake.
Snape sneers at him, baring his crooked teeth. “What should I call him, then? You-Know-Who?”
Snape blocks the spell, lazily, absent-mindedly, barely moving his lips, and stares at Harry with cold, cruel amusement. “Want to torture me, Potter?” he taunts. “Why on earth would a noble Gryffindor do such a thing?”
“Because you killed him!” Harry shouts. “You - you traitorous, lying git, you killed him!”
Snape inclines his head slightly. “We both killed him, Potter,” he says unkindly. “I imagine you feeding the green slop from the basin to him didn't do much for his immune system.”
Harry's breath catches in his throat. “How do you know that?”
Snape's left eyebrow is lifted in irony.
And suddenly, the night is here again. The memory of it is no longer fuzzy or unclear.
Harry is bringing the cup to Dumbledore's lips.
The man is weeping... begging... screaming... and Harry is forcing the poison into him, sip by sip.
Snape's gaze fixes on Harry's face. Harry realizes that Snape knows what exactly he's thinking.
“That's not the same,” Harry says. “He asked me to do it...”
For some reason, Snape looks almost puzzled. “And that makes it acceptable?”
“Yes!” Harry snaps. “It does!”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Potter,” Snape says dryly, appearing uninterested in arguing the point.
“You don't even know that it was lethal,” Harry says, for some reason driven to defend himself. “He could have survived...”
“He couldn't have,” Snape says flatly. “Nobody could have survived after drinking that.”
“And how do you know that?” Harry demands. His wand digs into his palm.
Snape's eyes go vacant and dull again, and his brow furrows.
“I know that, because I brewed that poison twenty years ago,” Snape says evenly, in a cold, dead voice. “Who knew it'd come in so handy one day?”
The wave of rage is back, flooding him, obliterating everything else in its wake. Harry's lips move quickly. “Avada...”
Snape is faster. His lips barely move. Harry's wand flies out of his hand, and lands somewhere twenty feet behind him.
“No Unforgivables from you, Potter,” Snape says, and the words, for some reason, come out almost bitter. “Don't taint your precious Gryffindor soul by such dark magic.” The bitterness vanishes from Snape's voice, and it becomes expressionless and tired again. “Go pick up your wand, and get out of my sight. And quit loitering where you don't belong.”
~ * ~
He watches while the boy crawls on the floor of the cave, trying to find his wand.
Stupid, stupid child, Snape thinks. So weak, so predictable, so transparent, so effortlessly manipulated, so easily deceived, so... human.
Maybe that's why Dumbledore took such a liking to him. Both Dumbledore and Snape had lost their souls a long time ago, not the way Tom Riddle had lost his, but lost nonetheless... but the children they watch over, haven't. They are angry, spiteful, stupid, ungrateful, infuriating, clumsy, unskilled, undisciplined... but they are still human. And whole.
The boy locates his wand and walks out of the cave, without looking back. The boy's back is turned to Snape, as a clear challenge – go ahead, treacherous git, kill me, see if I care. Snape watches. For as long as Harry walks, until the moment he Disapparates with a loud crack, Snape doesn't take his eyes off him.
May the war's end come quickly, Snape thinks. May the children, those who live, and those who don't, manage to keep their souls intact. Let them be wholly stupid, reckless, ungrateful, clumsy, and arrogant... for as long as they also remain wholly human.
May they never become like their elders, the mangled, embittered, cynical servants of the Light, who are crumbling under the weight of their deeds and misdeeds, and who are now simply counting the days until the Light sees fit to dismiss its servants in peace.