Chapter Seventeen - Nod
“… Ah, that’s done it. He’s waking up.” Someone gave a sigh of relief.
“Thank goodness. I thought we’d lost him.” McGonagall’s voice echoed slightly. Harry’s head felt like it had been split with an axe. He was very cold. Someone pulled a blanket over him. He jerked away from the burning hand on his cheek. “Poor dear.”
“What did you say happened? He got caught in a Pensieve?”
“Damnedest thing I ever saw. It had black… things swimming in it. One was wrapped around his hand.” Madam Pomfrey cursed under her breath.
“Could you ask Emily to bring Severus up here as soon as he wakes up?”
“Poppy! I thought he wasn’t supposed to get out of bed.”
“I’ll fix him one up here.” Pause.
“Well, if you really think it’s safe. What was that thing?”
“A side effect of Unicorn Blood. It’s technical.” Someone started to sit him up. Harry cried out.
“Don’t touch me!” Two of the unwelcome hands lay him back on the pillow. Hands, everywhere, he didn’t want any more hands.
“Minerva? Could you help me for a moment before you go? Yes, just levitate him… like that. Perfect.” He hovered for several seconds, limp. “That should do, thank you.” When he settled back on the bed, his upper body was propped on a mountain of pillows.
“Is there anything else you need?”
“I was going to find him as soon as I’d talked to Emily.” A cool goblet pressed against his lips. Harry tried to fight but he was too weak. A few sweet drops ran down his throat and his headache eased.
“Thank you.” Harry heard curtains swish. He lay still, head flooded with nightmare memories, while Madam Pomfrey bustled about and extended the curtains around a second bed. It screeched when she summoned it within touching distance of Harry’s. He whimpered.
“Don’t…” He could physically feel the second bed so close. It pinched the warmth from his skin. He tried to crawl away from it. She made a noise and moved it a few inches. The squeal grated on his spine. Harry scurried to the other side of the bed when she sat on the corner.
“Shh, I’m not going to touch you.” He huddled. Those masks with their empty black eyes still watched him, waiting until he was alone. They scared him too much to look. “What did you see?” she asked softly, sadly. “I don’t envy you, where you’ve been.” Poppy sat quietly on his bed for several minutes. Harry tried to wipe the onslaught of images from his reeling mind. Bits and pieces played back like a rapidly flipped television. Running footsteps and the curtain being thrust suddenly back made him jump.
“What - happened?” Sirius panted. Poppy’s weight lifted.
“Leave him be. He’s in no state to be fussed over.”
“I want to - see - my godson!” He took a noisy step forward, and both of them stumbled into the table at the foot of the bed. It shook the skeletal metal frame and Harry whined. Too much motion, too much noise. He needed oblivion. He felt the floor shake as Sirius fell to his knees beside him. “Harry…” a large hand settled on Harry’s head and he yelped.
“For god’s sake, don’t touch him! Didn’t you hear Minerva?”
“She said he’d been hurt.”
“You didn’t let her finish, did you?” Sirius’ silence was answer enough. “He just took a ride through Severus’ Pensieve. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can think of plenty of places I’d sooner visit than that man’s head. And that includes Azkaban, before you say it!”
“Asleep in bed, where he’s been all day. This was pure and total accident, Sirius. You can’t blame anyone.”
“What did he see?”
“Harry is in no position to speak, or do much of anything else.” Harry vaguely realised that he’d never heard Poppy this angry. Not in person, anyway. “If you can’t behave yourself—“
“This young man has just gone through enough to very nearly put him in a coma, Sirius. If Minerva hadn’t found him when she did I don’t want to imagine the state he’d be in.” She paused. Sirius was quiet. “The last thing he needs is excitement.”
“Can I at least stay with him?” Pause.
“For a while. I don’t fancy leaving him by himself. Remember, hands off!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sirius almost sounded timid. Poppy grunted, satisfied.
“I’ll be doing rounds if you need me.” The curtain swished again.
Harry felt the stirring of an air current as Sirius’ hand fluttered over his hair. He whimpered, and it came to rest on one of the multitude of pillows. “Can you hear me, Harry?” He turned his head away from the sound. “I guess that’s a ‘yes’. What happened?”
Harry unexpectedly heard his voice come from a long way off. His tongue felt like taffy. “Death Eaters.”
“What did Snape do?” Huh? No, no, that wasn’t right. He didn’t do anything. The eyes watched him, judged him, dared him to tell their secrets.
“Killed his brother.”
Sirius was quiet. Harry squirmed as the pillow above his head was twisted. He had the vague feeling he’d said something important. Sirius’ mouth opened with a wet sound. “Ah. I’ve heard stories like that. ‘Sacrifice’ for the Dark Lord.” The sneer was clear in his voice, even through Harry’s fog.
“No. No. Saved him.”
“His brother saved him, and Snape killed him.” Frustration plucked his brain. Sirius was wrong. The haze of images finally began to lift.
“He killed… brother… to save him from… Death Eaters.” There. Yes. That was right.
“I don’t follow.”
Harry rolled his head. He managed to crack his eyes enough to see a blurry Sirius crouching beside the bed. A few clumps were loose from his short, neat ponytail. He usually didn’t let his hair get that long. “They…” he wasn’t quite sure what to do. There was a lot to say. Harry grasped the fact that he hadn’t processed it himself. “Mercy killing.” Sirius raised a heavy eyebrow but said nothing. He settled on the other bed in the curtained enclosure. He looked at it; for an instant he froze.
“Is Poppy moving him in here?”
“Don’t know. Maybe.” He thought she’d said something about that. It would be nice to keep an eye on Sev… oh. Images of Eversor sliding unhindered beneath an explosion of roses, and of Severus guiding his cousin’s hand, came back to him. Somehow, Severus and Lucius was worse than the idea of Fred and George together. The twins were practically one person anyway – it was almost a natural extension. It didn’t leave rot in the pit of his stomach. He was lucid enough to fight a gag.
“Absolutely not. You’re too weak.” Harry licked his dry lips. He balled up more when he thought about them doing the same thing Eversor had. He suddenly found he had nothing to say. Sirius sat quietly with him for a long time. Now and then he would try to smooth Harry’s hair or touch his arm; it was greeted with a cry. Poppy came in at one point and seemed pleased with his progress; she muttered something about an empty stomach. The masks had long since faded from his mind, but still he felt those hands. God forbid if someone tried to touch his…
How many times had his Severus relived it? And how many more times would he have to before the vengeful unicorn let him go?
Harry spent his time trying to make sense of everything he’d seen. It simply didn’t mesh that Philia did nothing to stop her adored Nepos’ torment. And why on Earth did Sev submit to his brother’s early attentions? To prevent something worse if he didn’t? It was the only thing that made sense. Given time he may even have submitted to… Harry didn’t want to take that path. He didn’t get further than that: Poppy returned with a large, steaming mug. It had a chip on the bottom, and pictures of big, fat cats around its striped sides. She set it in his hand, careful not to touch him. “Drink that.”
“What is it?” Sirius asked suspiciously.
“Cream of tomato.” Harry took one look at the pinkish, thick liquid and brought up stomach acid all over the bed. He’d done it two or three times before Sirius managed to grab the mug. Poppy waved her wand over the mess. It vanished, but she peeled the covers off him and summoned fresh ones anyway. “Harry, I’m so sorry.” He hid under the white sheet completely.
“I’m not very hungry, thank you,” he said meekly.
“Let me get this out of here. I’ll see if I can find something else.”
“Please don’t?” He couldn’t face anything right now. His stomach heaved, empty, as he remembered a young face smeared with blood and semen.
“Give us some privacy, Poppy.” He heard her leave, and Sirius surreptitiously mutter locking and soundproofing charms. The protective covers were pulled from his head. His godfather looked at him with concern. “Harry, what happened in there?”
Sirius crouched beside the bed again, rocking slightly on his heels. It had been a long time since Harry had seen him this worried – not since he’d visited after the Battle of Hogsmeade, where Wormtail had been captured. Was Wormtail one of the participants at the surprise party? “You’ve already said too much for me to believe that, even if you weren’t acting like some sort of beaten animal.”
“I don’t buy that for an instant.” Half of Sirius’ mouth twitched down in frustration. “Please tell me?”
“Sev wouldn’t want me to.”
Sirius’ eyes narrowed. “Maybe the Aurors need to reevaluate him if you’re that scared.”
Harry hid his face in the mattress. “It’s nothing like that. Leave him alone.”
“Harry,” Sirius touched his shoulder so lightly he barely felt it to wince, “I don’t like seeing you in pain. Whatever you tell me won’t leave this room, no matter what I think about Snape.”
Harry looked up. The indigo gaze was steady. Sirius scratched his blunt nose. Sev wouldn’t be happy if he told Sirius anything, but all things considered this might have been a little easier to handle if he’d said something once or twice. In some roundabout way this was all his fault. And Harry felt like he’d pop if he didn’t let something out. “Promise?” Sirius made a crossing motion over his heart, kissed two fingers, and held them up.
Harry blinked. “Oh, like I’m going to tell you anything now. After what Remus said about you lot?” Sirius smiled.
“I promise I won’t say a word.”
“Not even to Sev?” Sirius gnawed his upper lip.
“Not even to Snape,” he agreed sorely.
Harry watched him intently for any sign of reluctance. His glasses were folded on the table next to him and he put them on. He propped himself up on the pillows and eventually started with Arian Snape’s death.
By the time he finished, Sirius was white as a corpse and Harry could swear he was trying not to shake. “Fuck,” he whispered.
“Yeah.” Harry hadn’t remembered half the details until he’d said them. The wrought iron fence, the drab brown of Perditus’ hair, the rocking thestral he could so easily picture the miniature Severus riding for all he was worth. Odd to give that to a child, thestrals considered bad luck and all. In a family where grandfathers forged Dark Lords, though, and brother raped brother, he supposed it was to be expected. To his quiet disillusion, every detail of the rape, the seduction, and the retribution stood out clearly. Harry used to think he was more discerning than that. Of course, he’d left out a few pieces, like Sev’s semi-willing submission, and the fact that he and Malfoy were cousins. And he probably should have told Sirius about that last part.
Sirius stared blankly at the floor. He’d leaned against the other bed about halfway through. His eyes were wide, and his lips were parted to let air whistle between his doglike teeth. Suddenly, he transformed. Harry watched him curl up with his head on his front paws. His tail was limp. For the first time he noticed tiny touches of grey on Padfoot’s muzzle. Azkaban and years hiding had made him old. Life in general had made Harry old. He certainly wasn’t eighteen.
The curtain tried to open. With a doggy sigh Sirius turned back into himself and undid the locking spell. Harry noticed he left the soundproofing charm active. Poppy stuck her head in. She shot Sirius an annoyed look. “Severus is awake.”
Harry pursed his lips. “Okay.” He watched distantly as Sirius stood up to leave. Sev strode in, Emily Vector close behind with a look of wide-eyed concern. She didn’t take her ashen eyes off either of the other teachers; one hand was in her wand pocket. Sirius paused next to Snape, who barely acknowledged him with a cursory glance. The Animagus, however, gave him a strange look of fear, pity, awe, sympathy, and respect. He clapped a broad hand on one thin shoulder and left in silence. Sev raised an accusatory eyebrow at Harry.
Professor Vector started to pull back the covers on his bed. “I’m perfectly capable of tucking myself in. I’m not an invalid, you know.”
“I was just trying to help, hon.”
“And don’t call me ‘hon’.” Hon? A flare of jealousy surged in Harry’s chest. “Go on. I’m sure you’ve got students to fail.” Vector stood there for a moment, a hand on her hip and annoyance on her face.
“Here’s a pretty how-de-do.” Sev groaned.
“Would you stop quoting those inane songs at me?”
She rolled her eyes. “You used to like The Mikado.” Sev glared. She held up her hands. “Fine, I’m going. I’ll be grading if you need me again.” She cast Harry an apologetic look and slipped out.
“Insane Muggle-born bint,” Snape muttered under his breath. He sat on the edge of his bed and refused to look at Harry.
“Hello to you too.”
“I found your Pensieve.”
“So I hear.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me anything?”
Hollow black eyes considered him. Sev’s drawn, dilapidated face was stern. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean.”
Harry closed his eyes. He felt fingernail gashes under his left sleeve. Poppy must not have found them for whatever odd reason. “Quit lying to me, hon. Why didn’t Philia stop Eversor?”
Snape kicked his slippers off. They were still the expensive black velvet ones Harry had bought. He stretched out on the bed, hands crossed over his concave belly, greasy, stiff locks of hair bent at unlikely angles. “What would she stop him doing?”
“Gee, I don’t know. That whole ‘years of abuse’ thing comes to mind.” Sev opened his mouth to say something, paused, and opened it again.
“Why would she stop him? She never found out what happened when the sickness got to her. Gran wasn’t terribly healthy, you know.”
“Talk to my grandfather.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” Sev glanced over. His hair tangled horribly as he looked back at the white ceiling.
“Eversor said he’d kill her if I told.” He said it matter-of-factly. His impassiveness made a sore lump in Harry’s gut.
“Why didn’t you tell me what the Death Eaters did to him?”
“It was none of your concern.”
“Why didn’t you tell me they finished on you?”
Sev looked at him incredulously. He laughed. Harry started to shout at him when he interrupted. “Your godfather was right in the end after all. Ironic, isn’t it?”
Harry squirmed. Hands, make the hands go away. “That wasn’t you.”
“It’s my Pensieve.”
“That’s doesn’t mean you—“
“I might as well have. Your mind, your body, it’s all the same thing.” He rolled on his other side. “I’m exactly like the rest of them.”
He’d been through the man’s head and he still couldn’t understand him sometimes. “Would you just come off it? I’m sick of this ‘martyr’ thing you’ve got. ‘I’m so horrible, I’m such a nasty man, I’m going to make Harry go away instead of telling him what I promised Albus I would—‘” Sev’s back arched suddenly and he sat up, glaring.
“Don’t bring him into this.”
“Ooh, touchy.” Harry could see the outline of molars through his skin when he clenched them. “Were you in love with him or something?”
Oh, wonderful. That guilty look.
Um… holy shit?
“That was a long time ago,” Sev muttered between his teeth.
Harry drooped. He’d meant it sarcastically to get a rise. This he really wasn’t prepared for. “My god. You complete and utter slag. Is there anyone you won’t shag?” It occurred to him too late that this was almost what Lucius had said outside the clearing. Severus brought his knees to his chest and hid his face. His broken wings shuddered.
“I didn’t ‘shag’ Albus. Stop looking at me like that.”
Harry realised his lip was hanging open. He closed it and made the muscles in his face relax. They’d constricted in disgust, surprise, and spectacle. It was the look mothers got when monkeys started mating in the zoo. “Sorry,” he mumbled. Sev hugged his knees tighter.
“Why did you say that? I’m not a slag. I’ve never been one.” His voice shook. He didn’t sound entirely convinced.
Harry fidgeted. “Something Lucius Malfoy said in the Pensieve.”
“You should know by now not to believe a Malfoy.”
“Does that include you?” He had to look away. That glaze of pain, of old wounds gone over with a file, the quivering mouth and disbelieving stare, it was too much. Yet again he’d ripped Sev’s heart out and thrown it to the beasts; it had been ages since the man had hurt him for the sake of hurting him; he only did so now through a desire not to reveal things he knew would traumatize them both. Hell, yet again he’d protected Harry in his own hallucinogenic way. “Sorry.”
“I’ll have Emily pack your trunk for you.”
“Huh?” He knew Sev was upset, but not this upset.
“You’ll be back in your room by ton—“
“Goddammit! I’m sick of being shuffled around—“
“This is the last time.”
“I’m not just talking about now!” He glared. It had never dawned on him before, but… “I spent seven years being shuttled between the Dursleys, the Burrow, and Hogwarts. The Dursleys hated me and they only tried to keep me so there wouldn’t be a wizard in their precious little family; the Weasleys were the closest thing to a family I’d ever had before you and they weren’t allowed to keep me; and here… what was I supposed to do in summer? Live with Hagrid? Not that I would have objected—”
“What did you say about the Dursleys?”
Harry stopped. Heat slowly rose in his face until he thought it would burst into flame. In his high-mindedness and disgust over the gross incest he’d seen, he didn’t stop to think about Eversor’s reason. If total madness could have a reason. He scowled. “I lived in a closet under the stairs for ten years while they did everything they could short of regular beatings to make sure I didn’t have any magic left. When I was eight they made me get up on the roof by myself and fix all the gutters the wind knocked down because Dudley’s birthday cake bit him back!” Harry hadn’t been allowed any because “ickle Duddykins” said so and it was his birthday.
“But they never touched you.” Harry growled to himself.
“I didn’t say that. I got my share of spankings, plus Dudley’s and some for good measure, and Uncle Vernon nearly killed me once because I punched Dudley at school.” The psychological punishments were still harder to take than the physical. For all their Muggle closed-mindedness, the Dursleys had a talent for knowing when they’d inspired him not to fight back. Maybe that was why he couldn’t always magic out of things.
“Why did you punch him?” Sev asked in a soft, pained voice.
Harry hugged himself. He once again felt the pain in his ribs where he suspected several had cracked. That was Dudley’s doing, before Uncle Vernon finished him off. “Do you know what the Holocaust is?”
“The prison camps, or the end of the world?”
“You could have just said ‘yes’.” He pulled the blankets up around his neck. He rather wanted some of those soft, comfortable hospital wing pajamas instead of his denim robe. Slut. Heat rose again in his face; he hoped Sev wouldn’t notice. “We saw a film about it in class when I was ten. It showed this man who’d been liberated when the war ended. The soldiers who found him had to wrap him in a blanket because they couldn’t find any clothes that didn’t fall off.” He swallowed. That hollow stare had haunted his nightmares for weeks. “All the ribs stuck out on his back, and he didn’t have any muscle left.” He made a ring of his thumb and forefinger. “I could see the bones in his arms. All of them. Even the…” he motioned to his forearm.
“The radius and ulna.”
“I guess.” Sev tried to hide it as he pushed his sleeve back to rub his pitiful wrist. Harry looked at his own lap. There was a small crust of something on his robe; he picked at it. “Dudley and his friends laughed.” Not a little giggle, a wild howl that made the teacher stop the video to yell at them. “They started making jokes when class got out. I was really skinny so they asked where my blanket was,” he swallowed and mustered his dignity, “and I punched him. After school they threw me on the ground and kicked me until I nearly passed out and for some reason I didn’t magic myself out of it. It was the last day before Christmas hols and it was freezing out and I had to walk home like that and when Dudley told Uncle Vernon… let’s just say I didn’t get up to see Father Christmas that year.” There may have been other beatings, but he couldn’t remember in the shadow of that one.
Sev muttered something. It sounded like, “Eversor recursat.” He scooted back against the head of his bed. “How did you get all the pillows?”
“Poppy had to sit me up to give me a potion and it hurts to be touched.” Black eyes flickered his way for a moment.
“Do you still need every pillow in the castle?” With a sigh, Harry yanked three out of the huge pile and threw them at Severus. Calmly, he arranged them so the metal headboard wouldn’t cut into his back and stretched out, arms folded over his chest. “When I was six,” he started, “my brother dropped me off the landing. It was perhaps ten feet, and he’d done it before. I never suffered worse than a sprain. He called it ‘playing’. This time, I didn’t fall. I hovered. Eversor grabbed me and took me outside where he made me take my clothes off.” A harsh, dark smirk convoluted his face. “There was a storm coming in. September wind off the North Sea is bitterly cold. He threw my robe—“
“In the oak tree. I saw.”
“Ah.” He waited for Sev to continue. He just lay there, arms folded, staring at nothing. Clever, Potter, as soon as he finally opens his mouth tell him to shut up.
“What happened to Eversor?”
“You mean, was he punished?” Harry nodded. Snape let his eyes droop. The smirk grew colder. “Oh, yes, he was quite soundly punished. He became The Squib, and I became the only acknowledged son. Not that Perditus treated us any differently. It was all business to him. He was a Hufflepuff, and thought that I should work just as hard at developing my abilities as he had his.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why should I tell you?” Harry felt Dudley’s shoe connect with his sternum again.
“I want to know.”
Severus gave him a scornful, defencive leer. “Haven’t had enough dirty little family secrets for one day, Potter?”
Harry almost walked out of the curtained “room”. “Should I tell you how many family secrets I’ve learned?”
“Oh, please do. You may even have hit on something really juicy.”
Harry told him.
Well, almost everything. Pensieve memories didn’t frown at real people.
Severus said nothing for a very long time. He was still, face calm, hands neatly folded on his abdomen. He didn’t pale, he didn’t flush. He certainly didn’t fidget. His breathing was slow and even. Harry stared at him. As the silence progressed he felt his temper build. “So?” he snapped. “Say something?”
Sev’s lids flickered. He whispered, “’And Cain talked with Abel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.’ I don’t remember where I read that.”
Harry blinked. “It’s from the Muggle Bible.”
“Ah. You’ll have to forgive my lack of familiarity with a doctrine that called for our systematic annihilation.”
Harry gripped his pillow. “I don’t want to talk theology right now. Why the Hell didn’t you tell me anything? You can start with Eversor.”
“Why would famous Harry Potter want anything to do with someone who so willingly gave himself over to his own brother?” If words were knives, then Severus would be dead.
“You didn’t do anything I’d call ‘willing’.” His voice shook with uncertainty. Sev shoved his hands up his sleeves; it made him look like a monk.
“Please don’t lie to me, Harry. You’re not very good at it.”
“Okay, fine. You didn’t put up much of a fight for a while there. It freaked me out. After what little I knew about Eversor, that was the last thing I expected to see. I still would have preferred to hear it from you. It’s a little traumatic to watch the person you love being… by anyone. Especially his brother.”
Their eyes locked. Sev’s were cold and hidden and unreadable and Harry knew that behind them a little boy was begging for his Gran. “Non amas me.”
“Of course I do, you stupid git.” No change in that piercing stare. “Maybe if you actually told me all this stuff you wouldn’t say that.” And maybe, just maybe, Harry wouldn’t have had to learn so clearly what the Death Eaters were capable of. But he wouldn’t say that. “I mean, god, I just went through your head and I’m still talking to you. If that doesn’t prove I give a damn what happens to you I don’t know what will.”
Long black lashes flicked. A black-socked foot flexed and soft, rapid-fire cracks broke on the soundproofed curtains. Sev looked pensive. He slowly opened his mouth with a wet sound from his blood red tongue. “What do you want to know?”
… Neither made a move to touch him, and that was fine. He preferred it that way. The slut was happy to watch his two slags as they kissed, sucked, bit, scratched, explored, teased, tortured, and fucked for the benefit of each other, and the benefit of his sticky right hand. Black eyes glanced at him, once again offering the invitation to join them. He stayed in his chair. It was comfortable. They turned back to their affections. Soft, bright blue curls trembled as a longhaired, badgery head bobbed up and down, up and down, up and down. He could never see their expressions when they cried out. As always, they somehow managed to do everything from behind stark white masks…
Harry fell off the couch. He looked around frantically, sweat flying from his wet hair. In a moment he collapsed on the thick, green rug with a loud sigh of relief. There were no masks; there was no William. He crept into the bedroom where Severus lay thrashing and mewling. Bleeding midnight. For a few minutes he watched Sev. “I’m not loyal to them anymore! What do you want, Moody? To watch me beg?” It crumbled his heart to hear. It would be such an easy thing to kneel beside the bed and stroke Sev’s hair until he calmed down. Better yet, to slink beneath the duvet and hold him until they both fell into deep, fitful sleep.
Harry opened his trunk at the foot of the bed and found a robe and pants. He dropped his sweat-drenched pajamas, skinned the clothes on hastily, pulled on socks and shoes and cloak and hat and scarf and gloves and left. This was starting to become a habit.
In the two weeks or so since Poppy had given the okay to leave Sev alone, Harry had taken to waking up in the middle of the night to wander the grounds. It was nice. He had to deal with too many people in the library. At night it was quiet, secluded, empty, and he could recover from hours spent avoiding human touch. Filch gave him a wide berth ever since he’d mistaken Harry for a student. He’d grabbed his arm and Harry backed up in pain and surprise into a long row of suits of armour that Argus had to reassemble. He was even getting used to the dreams. Sort of. He turned a corner and flinched when he found someone there. “What are you doing up?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Remus shrugged. “The full moon’s tomorrow. I’m a little bit edgy. You?”
“Ah.” Lupin was bundled in his Christmas robe and cloak, and his old, patched hat. “I was going to check on Grendel. Care to join me?”
Harry started to say no, even though that had been his plan as well. A little part of him didn’t mind the idea of some company along. “Sure. Might as well.” Remus walked a few careful inches away. He knew all about painful afflictions, and had been more sympathetic in the last three weeks than most people. Sirius had tried changing into Padfoot around him, which was a nice thought, but Harry couldn’t shake the fact that he was actually human under the fur. Poor Sirius. All he could do was stand back and watch his godson suffer those last effects of the Pensieve. He didn’t quite believe Harry’s explanation that it was fear of Death Eaters; he didn’t press for too much information, though. After what Harry told him he’d even stopped sniping on Snape.
The snow from Christmas had never quite melted and by late February the grounds were covered with a heavy, icy layer that made stealth impossible. Harry liked to think that was why the Death Eaters hadn’t made a hit since August. According to the Aurors who stalked the edge of the grounds, he was barking. The only clouds were the ones that Harry and Remus made. Neither lit his wand; the almost-full moon was bright enough to bring out the mesh of fine scars on Lupin’s bare neck. “Nice night.”
“Yeah.” Harry couldn’t help but admire Remus’ stoicism in the face of the inevitable. “Are you going back to the Shack?”
“Yeah, Poppy thinks it would be for the best. She doesn’t give herself enough credit.” The werewolf smiled softly. His honey-coloured eyes flashed gold-green. He’d spent his December and January transformations in the Shrieking Shack because Sev hadn’t been up to making his Wolfsbane Potion. Poor Remus. Two months had added ten years to his haggard face. The last shots of brown in his short hair were gone. “At least I’ve got Sirius to visit me.”
“What’s up with you two, anyway?” Harry had wondered from time to time, but he’d never asked.
“What do you mean?” Crunch, crunch! Remus hopped the paddock fence and waited for Harry. Harry perched on a fence plank for a moment, swinging his legs.
“I dunno. You two are always together outside class, you lived together after Sirius could get his own place—“
“Are we knocking boots?”
“Erm… yeah.” Harry rubbed his chilly nose. Remus looked more than slightly amused.
“James asked us the same thing. Of course, he said it with a little more panache. ‘Oi! Are you two humpin’ each other’s legs?’ I think he was disappointed when we just looked at him like he had lobsters crawling out of his ears.” Harry jumped off the fence and landed about five feet away.
Lupin shrugged. “Sorry. I’m having trouble kicking that whole ‘girls’ habit. My life would probably be easier if I could.” He whistled sharply. Grendel whinnied stubbornly from his barn. “Why?”
“No reason. Just wishful thinking, I guess.” Lupin raised a surprised, bemused eyebrow. “Not that.” God, no. He had enough trouble with blue curls and white masks to add someone else to the mess. “It’d just be nice to have someone to whinge at.”
“Would a straight guy do?” They trudged across the frozen enclosure towards the barn.
“What’s going on?”
“You mean besides the obvious?” Besides the fact he was eighteen, his forty-year-old other half was falling to bits, and he couldn’t touch anyone without having flashbacks to someone else’s trauma?
“Obvious or otherwise.” Harry hated to admit it, but Remus was starting to fill the Hagrid-shaped hole in his life. Not in every way, but in some. He felt a little guilty for it.
“Where should I start?”
“Wherever you’re comfortable. Lumos!” Moonlight wasn’t enough to groom by. Harry pulled off his gloves and lit the lanterns, filling the barn with a comfortable glow, while Remus fished a couple of carrots out of his robe. Grendel crunched louder than the snow, his long eyelashes fluttering in the growing light. When he’d lit them all Harry immediately went to the thestral and stroked his neck, resting his face in the wiry mane. The contact warmed him where heat couldn’t touch. He smiled at the thought of three-year-old Sev going to town on his own little wooden thestral.
“Hallo, Grendel.” The animal whickered and nuffled him. Remus wandered outside long enough to fetch an armload of brushes and other odd bits. He tossed Harry the large, flat brush; Harry started feeling around under the thick mane for burrs, brush held securely under his arm. Remus started with a wing. “You’re really, really sure you want to hear this? I mean, there aren’t any girls anywhere.”
“That’s fine by me. Cuts pregnancy scares, PMT, and mood swings the size of mountains right out of the picture.” Harry giggled.
“You’ve never lived with Sev.”
“He’s pregnant?” Remus deadpanned. Harry had to sit down in the hay. He wiped his eyes and finally stopped laughing enough to breathe.
“It would explain a lot.” He snorted. “I really don’t want to think about raising anything with Snape genes.” That thought sobered him. Harry pulled himself up and went back to hunting for burrs. “Remember when I was at the Burrow?”
Lupin nodded. “Yup?”
“The whole family was there. I think it ended up with fifteen people. Anyway, Bill’s wedding was a couple of days after and he was there with his fiancé. Really, really great guy named William.”
“Bill and William?”
“Scary, isn’t it?”
“Not really. I knew a straight couple named Ashley and Ashleigh once. But, go on?”
Harry found a small cluster and weeded it out. How did Grendel find these things in the dead of winter? It was oddly relaxing, the smell of hay and horse, the warm lantern light, Lupin’s gentle, easy presence. He shed his cloak while he talked. “I kinda… developed a thing for William. He looks kind of like Sev, and he treated me like a normal human being. You know, not like ‘the boy who lived’ or ‘the hero of Hogsmeade’ or anything like that. Right after their wedding, I ran off to sulk and William followed me to see if I was okay and things… kinda… got out of hand.”
Lupin stopped brushing and gave Harry a serious look. “You had sex with him?”
“I kissed him. If he hadn’t stopped it I would have shagged him rotten right there on the floor.” He sighed. “The worst part is that I did it right after he snuck me some Floo powder so I could get back here.”
“Is that why you kissed him?”
“Because he gave you the Floo powder.”
Harry frowned. He hadn’t considered that. “I don’t think so. Wish it were, though.” Remus made a thoughtful noise.
“I don’t think it’s strange that your eye would wander a bit. You and Severus haven’t been on the best of terms for a while.”
Harry started brushing out the thestral’s mane. Grendel snorted pleasantly, and his eyelids drooped. Sev reacted like that the few times Harry had attacked him with a hairbrush. “We were at that point.” Lupin glanced at him, but said nothing. “I keep having nightmares about him.”
“Severus finding out?”
“Finding him with Sev.”
“That’s… unique.” Lupin mulled it over for a few moments. “You said they look alike?” He separated a few of the more sensitive feathers and Grendel stamped. “Easy, boy. I’m not going to hurt you.” The animal relaxed after a few gentle strokes around his wing joints.
“A little. William’s got blue hair.”
“Cool. Mine was purple once.”
“You’re kidding. Sweet li’l Remus Lupin?” The werewolf blushed, smirking.
“James dared me to do it. We were going to an Incantation concert.”
“Think Weird Sisters.”
“Oh.” Harry cracked a grin at the thought of conservative Professor Lupin with purple hair. Better yet, a purple Mohawk. Aagh! He shook it off and got back on the subject. “Yeah, apart from the hair they look a bit alike. Similar eyes, same nose – William’s is a little smaller, I have to admit – kinda similar personalities when Sev’s not being Snape.”
Harry gave him a pleading look. “Come on, he’s nothing like that. Sev’s had a hard life. He doesn’t show himself very much.”
Lupin started running a tiny comb around the base of Grendel’s huge wing. He looked quite silly, ducking up from underneath a mass of black feathers that wrapped him like a boa. “Severus doesn’t know?”
“Oh, god, no. It’d kill him if he knew I was sh… snogging someone else.” Then again, it would kill Harry to find out Sev was being unfaithful, too, even now. He didn’t have any proof, fortunately. “How much do you know about Professor Vector?”
Remus bunched his lips thoughtfully. “Hmm. She’s a Slytherin, but we all know that. Her parents are Muggles, she likes Gilbert and Sullivan way too much, I think she was a prefect. Really, I don’t know her that well. She was several years behind me and in Slyth, and besides the faculty meetings we don’t talk much. You don’t think she and Snape are…?” Harry nodded and dropped to the ground to check Grendel’s hooves. “What makes you think that?”
“It’s not silly if it’s worrying you.”
“Grendel’s got a shoe loose.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll get a blacksmith up in the morning. What’s going on with Vector and Snape?”
“I don’t know. It’s a stupid thing. She called him ‘hon’.” Harry was shocked when Remus chuckled. “What?”
“Emily Vector calls everyone ‘hon’ at one point or another. Well, she calls Sirius ‘hotstuff’, but that’s just ‘cause she wants to get in his pants. It’s that Slytherin ambition. They can’t resist a Gryffindor.”
“Ah.” Well. That cleared that little matter up. It didn’t solve the William problem, though. “William kissed me back. I don’t think he really wanted to stop me.”
Lupin hmm’ed. “Not the most common behaviour in a newlywed.”
“Y’think?” Harry frowned and started rubbing Grendel’s hooves with a chamois. “It really doesn’t help that I know he wouldn’t have stopped if he wasn’t with Bill specifically.”
“Sounds like you owe Bill a good dose of thanks.”
Harry put his hands on his hips and looked up. All he could see was Grendel, but that was beside the point. “I’m going berserk because I didn’t get to shag someone on the bathroom floor and you’re telling me I should thank the person who kept me from getting lucky.”
“If you’re this upset over a kiss, think how you’d feel if you’d done more than that.” Harry pursed his lips and went back to the thestral’s feet. Dammit. This was the problem with talking to someone who knew him well.
“It still doesn’t change the fact that I can’t get him out of my head.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how many people have you slept with?”
“That’s half your problem there.”
“You’re telling me to go get laid.”
“No, I’m telling you that you need to go easy on yourself. A kiss isn’t the same as hours of screaming sex, and you’re going to notice other people from time to time. Frankly, I admire your resolve. Monogamy is a wonderful idea, but unless you’re a species that mates for life it’s not eas—“
“You shouldn’t be here.” Harry jumped. Irene Uden, possibly the creepiest-looking Auror this side of Mad-Eye Moody, finished hauling the door open. Her magical eye – the only other one he’d ever seen – rolled back, while the real one, sharp and cold like a broken bottle, flicked between him and Remus. Her wand fit too well in her gloved hand. Harry sometimes thought she would have looked like his Mum, what with her long flaming hair and green… um, eye, if she weren’t so dang spooky. Right now her hair was hidden in a heavy white hat. She stood perpetually ready to fight, arms loose at her sides, white cloak flapping in the breeze. “Get inside.”
“Piss off, Irene,” Remus glared.
She never blinked. That was it. And no matter what expression she wore, she always looked suspicious. “We’ve just caught Amos Avery.”
Lupin swore. He gathered up the brushes. Harry tried to help, but his feet were stuck. “Was he wearing his mask?”
“Eh?” That damned eye wouldn’t stop moving.
“Was he wearing his Death Eater mask?”
“Yes.” He shivered. Suddenly his legs worked again and they propelled him towards home. Uden caught him. Her fingers were knobby and hard. “I’ll escort you to the castle.” She let go of his arm when he started hyperventilating. The hands were near, and he knew – he knew – the emotionless white masks were waiting patiently for him in the woods. He wasn’t safe. They could find him in the open. Her mismatched eyes held him with chilly confusion. Lupin came back from hanging up the grooming supplies.
“Harry! Snap out of it.” He clapped loudly; Harry came halfway back to the world.
“Get these lights put out, Remus.”
“Just give me half a fucking minute—“
“I said, ‘get these lights put out’. Now.” He didn’t argue, just extinguished the warm light and made sure Grendel was calm. He picked up their cloaks, ushered Harry out into the hard snow and closed up the stable. “Hurry up, and stay close.” Uden stalked behind them, totally silent save the horrid crunch of her feet. Harry followed close behind Lupin, who kept glancing back soberly with a low growl in his throat. He had his wand drawn. “Arm yourself, Potter.”
“Leave him alone.”
“Arm yourself, Potter.” He found his pocket and grasped the cool wood, but didn’t pull it out. “Potter, arm your wand.”
“Shut up, Irene!” Remus hopped the paddock fence and hovered nearby, restraining himself from helping Harry. Uden muttered something and Harry was tossed over the fence. The jar to his knees woke him up a little more and he managed to get his wand out.
“You killed the Dark Lord?” she sneered, contemptuous.
“Yes, Harry killed the Dark Lord. Do you have a problem with it?” The Auror snorted and urged them on.
“Hurry up. These things move in packs.” She’d always spoken of Death Eaters as less than human. Harry had met Uden more than once on his late-night strolls, and the few times he’d wandered the grounds, lonely, after Sev kicked him out. She loathed Harry. She considered Severus, cleared and clearly against the Death Eaters, no better than the rest; to have anything to do with “one of them” made Harry the enemy. Their feet crunched in a rapid, dizzying pattern, just offset enough from each other to create a nauseating loop of noise. Harry glanced back to see her green eye fixed on him in a crosshair stare. The other rolled rapidly, glancing to all sides. The castle was within easy reach now. “When I say so, run.”
“Because I said so, werewolf.” She waited for an argument; Remus just frowned. “Now!” Lupin sprinted towards the castle. Harry tried to keep pace, but fell back in the snow. Damned lycanthropic abilities. Uden kicked him. “What are you waiting for? A bit on the side?” He started to argue, but she kicked him again, harder, and dropped into the snow. Harry ran faster, somehow keeping his feet on the ice. Remus was waiting for him at the door. Inside, Harry shivered and stomped off his shoes. It struck him that Uden had touched him and it didn’t bother him. That was a kick to the shin, though, not the chest, and it was hard not to listen to Irene Uden.
“What’s her problem?” Remus shook his head. He motioned to the corridor.
“If she said run, we need to get away from the main door.”
“They’re coming?” Harry’s heart rate doubled; all his energy focused behind his eyes in a dizzying, painful lump.
“I don’t know. Come on, we’ll be okay in the Great Hall.”
“Should I go check on Sev?”
“They haven’t stormed the school. He’s fine.” Remus walked quickly down the corridor. His wolflike eyes glittered. It was tricky keeping up with him. “As for Irene, when she tells you to jump, don’t even bother to ask how high. She’s a psychotic cow but she knows what she’s doing.” He chuckled bitterly. “Do what I say, don’t do what I do,” he muttered.
“Do you know her?” Lupin gave a sharp, harsh laugh.
“Let’s just say we were knocking boots.” He wouldn’t say another word on the subject. Remus pushed open the heavy door to the Great Hall. Several house-elves were scrubbing industriously. One ran up to them.
“Good morning, sirs! Is there anything Minky can be getting you?” The little creature beamed, hands clasped, its huge ears twitching helpfully and the tip of its long, curled nose nearly up its own nostril. Remus shook his head sullenly.
“A cocoa would be nice.”
“I is getting you a cocoa, Mister Harry Potter, sir!” Minky ran off. The staff table was in the middle of being cleaned so they sat at the end of the Gryffindor table. It was really only fitting. Harry leaned on his elbow. Remus inspected his fingernails. They always got a little, well, thick this time of month.
“You don’t think they’ll try to get in tonight, do you?”
Lupin glanced up. “I doubt it. This is probably just a scouting party.” His teeth were a bit pointier than usual, too. How had they never noticed these little details the first time Remus was teaching?
“Or a diversion.” Harry longed to have the real Sev back. He’d know what was going on. Like last time. Or maybe not quite like last time.
… He wandered out of the Swinging Pendant, Hogsmeade’s lone jewelry shop. When he and Ron had gone in that morning it was to pick out an engagement ring for Hermione. Ron wanted his opinion – he didn’t trust his own judgment and wanted it to be just right. Looking through the cases, Harry’s eye caught on something unusual behind the counter: several small steel dog tags on a hook. He turned his attention away from them and finally helped Ron select a slim pink gold ring with a tiny heart-shaped sapphire. It cost Ron nearly every Sickle he’d saved but he nearly floated out of the shop with the little velvet box in his pocket.
It was a few hours later, when the sky churned thick black clouds and spat the first warning drops of a storm, that Harry went back alone. He ordered two of the dog tags. “Can I get those engraved?”
“Of course,” the girl behind the counter winked. “Got yourself a girlfriend?”
“You could say that.” She grinned wickedly.
“Lucky gal.” She pushed him a pad of parchment and a quill. “Just write down whatever you want.” He picked up the quill and realised he didn’t have the foggiest what to have done. He couldn’t very well leave them blank, and Sev would gag over anything sappy like “yours” or “forever” or “I’m shagging a teacher, I’m shagging a teacher”. He could always have their names engraved… no, that was just asking for trouble. Initials? Maybe. There weren’t any female students with the initials “SS”, though. Unless you counted Shelley Silverman in Hufflepuff, but Harry didn’t fancy the idea of people thinking his girlfriend was eleven. Finally, he wrote “H+S”. Simple. Elegant. Alphabetical. The girl came back. “Ooh, a short one. You know, if you’d prefer I could do a cutout instead of an engraving.” Hmm, different. Sev would like that.
“Please?” She pulled the parchment off the pad.
“Sure thing. It’ll be about five minutes if you’d like to wait.” Harry fidgeted with the coins in his pocket. For a couple of minutes he looked at watches – his was broken for the fourth year running – but Ron’s was perfectly good if he needed the time. After the longest five minutes in the world the brown-haired girl waved him over to the register. “That’ll be five Galleons, eight Sickles, three Knuts.” He counted out the money and she gave him a small, paper-wrapped parcel. It didn’t even occur to him to open it.
He strolled into the Hogsmeade street, and the sick feeling hit the same moment his scar started to burn. It had ranged from tingling to infected for a month now; burning he could ignore. What did I just do? A harsh hand on the back of his neck broke his train of thought. “Well, well, Mister Potter. What have we here? You haven’t taken to wearing jewelry, have you?”
He gritted his teeth. “No, Professor.” What in Hell was Sev doing here? He’d stayed at the castle. As always. Harry thought he did, anyway.
“Come with me. We need to discuss your detention for Monday.” Severus kept that strong, cold hand on the back of his neck; he steered Harry past many a sympathetic student. Malfoy and his thugs laughed when they passed. Sev snatched the little paper parcel out of his hand. “Perhaps I ought to keep this, too. May I see your receipt?”
Christ, the man didn’t know how to lay off. “Busted,” Draco hissed. He looked supremely disappointed when Harry produced the scrap of parchment. Sev sniffed.
“This may be contraband. I think I’d better inspect it, just to be safe. We wouldn’t want you getting expelled, now, would we?” His breath was hot on Harry’s ear. He fought back an urge to snog the slimeball just to shut him up. Harry felt his cheeks burn when Sev peeled back the first corner of the brown paper. He glanced at that sallow face, not sure what to expect. The paper went back slowly; it looked like dry skin in the spotty rain. Sev stared at his palm for a moment. Suddenly, he crushed the package in his fist. Harry was jerked by the nape again. “I believe we shall discuss this matter in private.” Feet barely fast enough to keep up with Snape’s long, quick strides, Harry was dragged away from Draco and his chortling cronies.
The bruising fingers didn’t let him go until they were in a thick part of the woods outside Hogsmeade. Harry rubbed his neck and glared. “Try to be a little careful, would you? That hurt!” Sev said nothing, only lifted one of the long bead chains and gazed neutrally at the shining steel. In the middle, “H+S” was perfectly cut through the metal in neat, plain letters.
“Dreck,” he spat. “Complete and utter dreck.” Harry’s chest caved in. Sev glowered at him and slipped the chain around his neck, tucking the tag in his robe. He tilted Harry’s chin and kissed him. Gently, he looped the tag’s twin over Harry’s head. “You have half an hour at most,” he whispered in a steady voice. “I have to get back.” He placed one last soft kiss on Harry’s lips and hugged him tightly. Harry returned it, fighting back anxious tears. Long fingers tangled in his hair.
“We were right?”
“Unfortunately.” The Ministry’s forces were gathered in London, awaiting the Dark Lord’s attack on their headquarters. Sev kissed his head and stepped back. From under his cloak he pulled a long, hooded cloak and a stark white mask and put them on. He Disapparated…
“Harry? Still with me?” Remus peered at him with concern. A heavy mug of cocoa sat steaming near his elbow.
“Yeah, I was just thinking.” He picked up the mug and blew on it before taking a slurp. The melting whipped cream left a spot on the end of his nose. He wiped it off. It occurred to him that Madam Pomfrey didn’t find the tag in the aftermath. Sev must have taken it off.
Harry frowned. “Nothing important.”
Latin Lexicon For Latin Lovers
Eversor recursat: The destroyer returns.
Non amas me: You don’t love me.
English For Americans And Other Deviants
PMT: Pre-menstrual tension – PMS.
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