Holding The Fort

Saturday, 11 April

By Sushi


The watch ticked steadily. It read eight seventeen, but that wasn't what interested him. Snapes. All paired, all joined in joy or hatred, save one. Odd that they should carry their marriage contract in such a rare form (for ten generations of the twelve, anyway). Still, it wasn't as if it were something he'd ever have to worry about. Severus always spent too long looking at it after he'd spent... time... with some unfortunate soul. It really shouldn't have been his to begin with. Had Eversor simply shown some bare trace of magic the watch and the legacy would have gone to him, and Severus might not be a reconstructed shell.

Potter wouldn't be back. They never were. There was a sad tang in the understanding, like lemons. Suck on one and the pain was so horrid it burned the teeth; eventually, though, the acid would be processed, the body would grow used to hurt and overcompensate for having done it in the first place. By the time the harsh fruit was a memory it had turned sweet on the tongue. Harry's tears had done that - they'd started salty but soon turned to honeysuckle sap. Severus mentally pushed aside the unforgotten clean taste of the boy's mouth and picked up the Evening Prophet.

He'd just started squinting at the lead article when a soft rapping broke the silence of his isolated office. He frowned at the door, puzzled. Nobody came to visit him on weekends, especially not holiday weekends. Albus, perhaps, but he was sequestered for the day; he might have less to do had The Ministry not come crawling back like dogs in from the cold. The knock sounded again. "What?" he barked.

The handle jiggled. It was locked today. A voice called thinly through the heavy wood, "Can I come in, sir?"

Oh, bloody Hell! Not sure if he should be more shocked at the voice itself or the fact it still referred to him as "sir", he dropped the paper and, in a moment, had the heavy iron lock thrust back. Owlish glasses peered up at him, perpetually ruffled black hair parting over a scabbed scar. "What in the names of all the gods are you doing here?" Severus hissed.

Potter frowned in confusion. "I--I thought--you... we..."

Snape growled under his breath and dragged the stuttering brat inside. As soon as the door was closed Harry launched and tried to kiss him. Severus shoved him back. "Sit down, Mister Potter!"

The boy's eyes froze wide but he sat. He looked rather bird-like, perched on the edge of a rigid chair worn shiny by nearly twenty years' worth of students.

In truth, Severus would have been pleased to kiss him, pleased to let it deteriorate in a mess of grasping hands and gaping robes and guttural noises. It had been almost seven years, after all, longer than he'd gone in... well. Nearly longer than he'd gone in his whole life when it came right down to it. Want and responsibility - no matter how undeserved - could be very different, though.

He peered down his considerable nose. "Was there something about which you wanted to see me?"

Harry hung his dark head. His hands looked like blind kittens crawling over each other. "I thought there was," he mumbled.

Talk to him, Severus. He has to listen to reason. You do have a good reason, don't you? "Yesterday?"

Harry nodded, and pushed up those idiotic glasses. He really did look far better without them. His mother had been rather a pretty creature, with her large eyes and wide smile; when he took them off Snape could see some of her behind the eerie double of James Potter.

Severus sat uncomfortably behind his desk. He stared at it, mouth twisted in thought. A black-and-white photograph of the Diggle home burned on the parchment in front of him; the inferno looked dim beneath the Dark Mark.

"I thought you might want to see me again." Green eyes peeked up at him hopefully.

"What reason might I have to see you again, Mister Potter?" His Mark throbbed. Snape hid his wince. It was the first time he'd felt it since a few stolen moments of peace drove the ache away. Harry shrugged. He drooped.

"M'sorry. I must not've been very good, then?" Potter's cheeks immediately flared apple red.

Severus stared. His heart's flutter was rather distracting; it was heightened by the uncertainty to whether it was caused by fear, or lust, or compassion, or his own brittle, stubborn determination. He waved a hand. "You were fine. That's not the issue."

Those eyes - green as trees in summer - flickered with a spark of hope. "Then what is?"

Yes, Severus. What is the issue? It can't be your position - you've already done enough to anger the governors, never mind Albus. He took a tentative breath. "I have no interest in a purely physical, ongoing affair with you or anyone else." There. That was as close to the truth as he could bring himself to express.

Potter's eyes narrowed with unspoken threats. "Y'know, I didn't have to come back down here, but I sort of wanted to talk to you."

"As opposed to...?"

Harry stood up, wrapping his arms tight around his chest. "How should I know? It's not like I've ever done this before. It's not as if I enjoyed myself or anything!"

Snape snorted. "You certainly acted as if you did." He was surprised by the intensity of Potter's wide-eyed glower. A bizarre, warm sensation wrapped phantom tendrils through his ribs. No, he can't mean like that. A brief moment of connection, a delicate touch to the face of God before nihilism regained sway; that was all it was. Nobody could ever want Severus Snape for himself.

He mentally shook it off. "If you continue to gawk at me in such a disrespectful manner I may have to deduct points."

"You horrible greasy bastard--"

"Careful, Mister Potter. I understand Slytherin is less than twenty points behind Gryffindor. It would be such a shame if your careless mouth were to shift the balance of power."

"You know what? I don't fucking care."

"Ten points."

"I thought it might have meant something to you. Call me crazy, but I thought we actually shared something. That whole Sparta thing? Was that just a line? You have no idea how wonderful it makes me feel to know I was never more than a cheap shag."

It hurt to open his mouth. "Twenty. Shall we see how Hufflepuff is doing?"

"You heartless son of a bitch!" Harry kicked the desk so hard it knocked Snape's chair. Snape ground his toes into the stone floor and barely swung off course. His right ear stopped less than an inch from knocking the volatile Incendius Solution on top of the Counter-solution; he breathed a shaky sigh of relief. Severus made a mental note to move those to another shelf lest he find himself scattered over half the school.

Snape instead found himself pinned against his chair. Lean arms caged his head, slender legs wedged between his, a red, twisted, slit-eyed face trembling inches from his own.

"Tell me," Potter hissed, "that it was nothing. Go on, I dare you."

He tried. He couldn't. "Fifty." Severus glared back as the boy started to froth at the nose.

Suddenly, overheated hands wound through his filthy hair and squeezed his skull. Nails dug; Severus opened his lips just enough to hiss and, in that instant, Potter kissed him. It was nothing like the affectionate explorations from the night before. It was harsh, vicious, cruel, eviscerating, horrifying in its hatred and thoroughly innocent in its pain. He couldn't help but return it. His long hands found their way to the brat's hips and searched for bone. It was too much, too much, too many lifetimes and too little time.

Years burst from the crumbling dam in his mind: six years tossed from bed to bed, from Lucius, to Rosier, to Rookwood, to Macnair, to Narcissa, to Lucius, to Travers, to Lucius, to Narcissa, to Avery, to Goyle, to Narcissa, to Nott, to Lucius, to more of them than he ever wanted to think about for no other reason than it was his solemn duty as their grateful whore. In nearly twenty years he'd hardly considered any of it sex. It was maintenance. It was obligation. It was training. And it was exactly what he was forcing on Potter - taking his fun and shoving him out to find the next open door.

The tears he tasted didn't turn to honeysuckle. They started bitter and they ran bitter. Their lips slid fervently on the alkaline layer. Severus wrapped his arms around the boy's waist and prayed to that shard of divinity he'd seen the night before that the only person who'd ever come back wouldn't know the sort of life he'd had. He barely noticed when those lips went away and short fingers started stroking his hair. Harry smelled warm and earthy. Muscle cushioned fine ribs before they could cut into his face.

"Shh... I'm sorry, Professor."



You stupid git, don't do this in front of Potter! How on Earth do you expect to face him in class? Classes seemed a very long way off. More than a fortnight - the majority of students had left that morning for Easter holidays. He forced himself to breathe, though, and let a well-worn student robe absorb the last of his weakness. Snape pushed Harry away, undeniably but gently. It was a hard battle between relief and disappointment when he perched on the desk.

Potter's eyes fixed solemnly on Snape. "How many points am I down?"

Severus shook his head. "Five points to Gryffindor."

"Only five?"

Snape looked at him, an eyebrow arched in warning. "Remember what House you're in, Potter. It would be a far, far easier thing to take them away."

Harry rolled his eyes. "So why'd you try to kick me out?"

"I have my reasons." For the love of god, boy, run away. You don't know what you're asking. He pursed his lips and gave Potter a glare that clearly stated the matter was now closed.

Harry scowled and looked around. When he came to the Evening Prophet he froze. "Daedalus Diggle's dead?" His voice was soft, fragile with fresh shock.

Severus nodded. "Tonight around five. Not the most competent wizard to have ever lived, but I've seldom known anyone more determined to everse the Dark Lord." Potter picked up the paper. He appeared to be stroking the picture; his face was contorted with the weight of yet another senseless death.

"He bowed to me once. In a shop. Before I knew I was a wizard." Some distant tinge of longing edged Harry's voice. He read silently.

Severus left him to it. His mind lingered on his particular choice of word - "everse", when it would have been just as simple to say "destroy". His past was catching up to him. It wasn't the time. With Voldemort pushing them ever deeper into an apocalyptic future, it simply wasn't the time.

"He's planning something, isn't he?"

"Yes." Severus felt more than saw Potter's grim glance. For a Quidditch-brained twit, the brat could be eerily perceptive.

"Do you know what?"

"Not yet."


Silence clogged the air between them. An odd bud of guilt grew in his stomach. Potter probably didn't have this in mind when he came to the dungeon tonight.

"Erm... are you going to have to go away again?"

Severus looked up to find an odd wash of fear on Harry's young face. It aged him; he could have easily passed for twenty-five, maybe even older.

"I expect so."

Potter bit his lip. "Are you coming back?" He didn't sound sure he wanted an answer.

"I'll have to, won't I? Someone's got to make sure you stay in one piece." A prickle of blood filled Snape's cheeks as he said it and was gone. "I can't piece everything together from the newspaper."

Potter was very quiet. The room echoed softly with the sound of his breathing. It was a little muffled; he rubbed his nose on his sleeve. "Erm..."

"Yes? You'll have to speak up if you expect an answer."

Harry looked down. "Why'd you leave them?" His vivid eyes tipped up for a moment. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

For the oddest moment Severus thought that, if he could do it without getting into details that would scar the brat for life, he would have spilled the whole twisted story. Whether it was out of misguided desire to have him stay, or need to make him run and run far, Snape wasn't sure. "I'm afraid that's private."

Potter nodded. "Erm... you said you had to piece some things together..."

Snape looked coolly at him. "Do you dare suggest I'm incapable of researching a subject on which I may be the world's foremost authority?"

Potter shook his head vehemently. "I only wanted to know if you needed any help. Since, y'know, I'll probably get dragged into it at some point. All that ancient prophecy crap."

"The Heir of Gryffindor?"

Harry fidgeted.

"You think you are?" asked Severus.

Harry shrugged. "It'd make sense."

The brat had a point. He'd crippled Voldemort once before. Unfortunately, the prophecy stated that the Heir would be proven in conflict. In traditional foggy fashion, it neglected to state what type of conflict, but what could it be but a duel with one of Voldemort's minions? Or, even, Lord Voldemort himself? An obscure, relatively forgotten passage also stated that The Heir would end the Gryffindor line. A ball of lead replaced Severus' larynx - that had always been interpreted to say that he would die along with the Heir of Slytherin.

Stop it, Severus. What's gotten into you? One bout of sex on the office floor and you seem to have developed some sort of overwhelming concern for the little catamite. He flexed his fingers. They were stiff with chill, or nerves, or the uncomfortably lingering desire to just yank their robes off and take unfair advantage of the feeling of skin against skin. An odd thought occurred to him: there were other ways to end a bloodline. He certainly wasn't going to give the world another Snape. Perhaps... A thin smirk threatened his lips. A good prophecy is always vague. He mentally shook it off.

"How, exactly, do you propose I'm to get you down here on a regular enough basis to do any form of in-depth research without alerting, say, Mister Malfoy to our purpose? Detention?" Yes, his own 'baby cousin', Draco Malfoy, perhaps the greatest of his countless failures.

"Sounds good to me. It's not like anyone'd notice you trying to make my life worse than you already do."

"Every day? Over holidays?"

Potter shrugged. "Maybe."

"I certainly hope you can come up with something better than that. It would be a dreadful blow to my reputation if it were found out that I might be willing to cooperate with the likes of you."

"I'll try. Don't see you coming up with anything better, though." He looked a little nervous. Actually, Severus would be pressed to find a better excuse. Part of him hoped Potter would give up on the whole idea, and part of him wondered how many rules the brat could break.

The green eyes flickered to his black ones. "I still hate you."

"I'd fear for your sanity if you didn't." Yes, some small degree of concern could coexist quite happily with vile animosity. As you've proven time and again since his first year, mate.

Yes, just as he would do for any other student. He was a Hogwarts teacher and it was his duty to keep safe any and all students, no matter how vile. Potter simply seemed to have more talent for getting into nasty fixes than the average pupil. And Severus always had one fact to cling to: once Voldemort was dead, the two of them would never have to speak outside of class again.

Severus didn't expect Harry to lean forward and try to taste his mouth again. Barely in time he jerked back and pressed a yellowed index finger to those warm lips. The twinge of loss it sent through him wasn't as unexpected as he'd have liked.

Harry's brow wrinkled. "What did I do?"

"Nothing." He couldn't let it go on. It could put them both in danger, and Snape had invested too much time and effort in keeping the brat whole to stop now. How to keep from hurting him too dangerously, though? Never mind himself. "A week."

Potter sagged. "A whole week?"

Snape nodded slowly. Surely, that was enough time for both of them to get over the disgusting idea of rutting together like rabbits.

"What am I supposed to do until then?"

Severus raised bemused eyebrows. "Surely the great Harry Potter has learned the art of 'swish and flick'?" He almost giggled at the particular shade of scarlet that rushed Potter's face. Gryffindork to the last.

"That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean, Mister Potter?"

"I..." he sighed, mouth fixed. "Forget it."

Snape picked up his watch. It was getting on for a quarter to nine. "You should go. Someone may try to organize a rescue party if word gets out you're alone in the dungeons."

Harry stuck his tongue out. Severus glared; he didn't need that sort of encouragement. "Well? I'd rather not have the whole of Gryffindor performing a raid on my office."

"They didn't yesterday."

"Hmm. Perhaps your friends have come to their senses by now."

Potter looked a little hurt. "They're not here. It's not like they'd notice, anyway," he mumbled.

"I'm certain Mister Weasley would notice if he suddenly became the shadow to something that wasn't there." Severus was taken aback at the way Harry's scowl deepened in response.

"He might if he'd take his eyes off Hermione for five minutes."

They stared at each other. Snape had the strangest urge to ask the brat to stay. "Sod off. I've got better things to do with my life than stare at you."

"Yeah. Same here." Potter slid off the desk. "Why'd I shag you, anyway?"

"Gryffindor bravery."

Harry snorted and laughed sharply into his hand. It was a surprisingly pleasant change from his nobody-loves-me scowl. Snape was having a bit of a time keeping his mouth from twitching himself. Potter tried to lean in surreptitiously, but Severus stopped him with a firm hand to the chest. "Do I need to remind you of how long a week is, Potter?"

"No, sir." Harry lingered a moment, looking at Severus with an odd sort of determination. Once again, he started to tip his head forward. Snape firmly pointed the way out. A minute later, when the door closed and Severus found himself alone, he wished he hadn't.


The staff room was unusually busy for nine o'clock on a Saturday night. In fact, most of the teachers were there, hovering around a game of Trivial Pursuit, Ninth Wizarding Edition. "Severus!" Emily Vector, unlikely mistress of the technical study of Arithmancy, waved him over. "Come on, we're playing blokes against birds."

He sniffed derisively. "I hardly think that silly game should prove me any sort of challenge."

"Well, then, pull up a chair!" Filius beamed. "I must say, I never expected to have such a disadvantage. They're slaughtering us on Sports and Games."

"Well, that's what you get for playing against two of the best Chasers and one of the best Beaters this school has ever seen." Minerva grinned wickedly, and Emily and Rolanda looked smug. "Come on, Severus. It's fun."

He raised an eyebrow at Minerva. "In what lower region of Hell is it considered fun to shout the answers to insipid questions, thus proving to your coworkers the exact limits of your intelligence?"

She rolled her eyes. "You need to relax. Come by my office, I've got something you might like. It's called 'tequila'."

He sneered at her. "Not bloody likely," he growled. After last time, he was never going near that shite again! Most of the staff smiled knowingly - their reputation had grown, it seemed. Sarah - Sprout - sniggered. Emily and Rolanda looked at each other and howled.

"Lick, salt, lick, drink, suck!" they chorused.

Severus glared coolly at them. "Thank you for that graphic glimpse into your sex lives." It surprised him as much as everyone else. Hagrid quickly resembled a large, furry tomato. The rest of them were divided between looks of shock and barely restrained guffaws. Snape took the opportunity to settle into a large, unmovable armchair in the corner and pick up a copy of Warlock Today from the table. It wasn't choice reading material, but it was large enough to hide his face from that lot. He would have left, but even worse than second-rate articles about The World Today was the thought of being alone.

The Battle of the Sexes raged by the fireplace. "What Falmouth Falcons Seeker stated, in 1966, 'Where's the fun in a match where the opposition's Beaters aren't dragged off the pitch on stretchers?'" It was a ridiculously simple question. Anyone who'd followed Quidditch in the sixties knew that. The men looked supremely puzzled. Rolanda snorted. "Come on, don't any of you have a clue?"

"Er... can we have a minute?" Siggy Castrus, the Ancient Runes master, leaned over in silent conference with Flitwick. Hagrid stared at nothing with glazed eyes. Hornsby - Muggle Studies - was muttering frantically under his breath.

Natalie Sinistra smirked. "Give up yet?"

"Give us some time ter think! Yeh don' half give hard ones!" A minute later, Hagrid sighed and said, "We give." A sullen chorus joined him.

"Omar Nicholas," Severus muttered. The women gaped at him.

"Um... yeah." Hooch stuffed the little card back in its box. "Omar Nicholas."

"Since when do you know Quidditch?" Siggy stared, jaw a bit slack.

"Since when do you spend Saturday nights at work? I expect Velda's wondering where you are."

"She's visiting her brother in Surrey for Easter. Why the Hell aren't you over here?"

"Because I'd rather be over here." He looked up and glared. Siggy's dark face flushed darker. "I--" a sudden searing pain through his left forearm silenced him. It felt like muscle being flensed from the inside. He bit his lip to stop a groan. Severus dropped his magazine. "Excuse me." As steadily as he could, he brushed out. He rediscovered himself halfway to the headmaster's office.

Not until he was alone on the slowly revolving staircase did he push back his sleeve. The Dark Mark glowed like phosphorous. Blood blisters the size of Knuts were still forming around it. One burst, and viscous, dark liquid dribbled down his flesh. Searing pain ricocheted until he thought he might pass out. He must have knocked because the door opened.

"My god." Albus yanked him inside and immediately started staunching the blood with a striped lime-and-lavender handkerchief.

"I think I should probably go, Headmaster."

"I understand, old friend." The small endearment no longer razed his heart. That had long since callused over, and the unrequited feelings had twitched and died sometime in his thirtieth year. They left an unusual (if sometimes uneven) friendship, and Severus wasn't sure how he would react should anything ever happen to the old coot.

Albus' face was stern. "Is there anything I need to take care of?"

"You might check on Potter." Snape cursed himself. He'd spoken without thinking - that could be lethal where he was going. "I passed him earlier, and his scar was swollen." Albus only hummed softly and urged him to the fireplace.

"Merlin go with you."

The words hit hollow ears. Severus nodded distantly. He staggered through the green flames and didn't stop to glare at the layer of soot settling on his hearthrug.


Five of them suffered the Cruciatus Curse that night. Severus couldn't help but think that, if this was what Voldemort did to his followers, he didn't want to see what he would do to Potter. He certainly didn't want to see what the Death Eaters would do. A small shudder went through his slight body as he made himself forget again.

Little happened. The Dark Lord screeched about Potter and the Ministry and other obvious things for a while - he really was becoming quite unstable as the years pressed. Snape kept his mouth shut. It had taken too long to convince Voldemort of his fidelity to bollocks it up now. When his turn came for the Curse, he stood stoically until the claws ripping his body and soul to shreds forced him to the ground to writhe and scream. He got the feeling his lasted rather longer than the rest.

By the time he woke up they were gone. He groaned. The place behind his eyes seemed to be swollen with molten lead.

"Easy, Severus. Can't have you throwing up on me. New robe, you know." Soft cotton wiped metallic-tasting spittle from his mouth. He halfway opened his eyes and winced at bright wandlight. At least Lucius had taken their masks off.

He meant to say, "What in bloody fuck are you doing here?" What came out was a long, garbled moan. The Curse must have been on him for a good minute or two. No more, though - any longer and he might as well have said goodbye to his dubious sanity. Lucius scowled down at him and sat primly in the grass. He rested Severus' head in his lap, stroking pounding temples.

"Didn't fancy leaving my baby cousin all alone."

Severus stifled a gag. Lucius knew he hated that name. That superior Malfoy smirk beamed down at him - the bastard wouldn't have said it if Snape wasn't too far-gone to retaliate. "Nee'agetback," he mumbled. With his eyes closed, the gentle pressure on his temples felt awfully nice.

"Not in your condition. Tomorrow's Easter, you don't have to go back to Hogwarts. Come back with me, stay a few days. Draco's there."

Severus tried to shake his head. "Need t' get back," he repeated a little more firmly. He wanted his comfortable bed, and his nightshirt, and his journal so that he could lance some of this Hell. And, though he wouldn't quite acknowledge it, he wanted to check on Potter, the useless brat.

Lucius leaned forward and brushed his lips softly against Severus'. "You don't mean that." One of the slender fingers against his hairline glided smoothly over his pointed cheekbone. He shivered; Lucius must have taken it as pleasure because he did it again. Then again, this was Lucius, so he just as likely knew how much it hurt. "Come back with me. 'Cissa won't mind sharing the bed."

Were he in any whole state he might have broken Malfoy's neck. "No," he said around his thick tongue. His cousin chuckled.

"Who'd've thought that you of all people would take to celibacy?"

Severus tried to sit up. The muscles in his stomach and legs were still jelly under his tingling skin. "Damn you."

"We'll have none of that." Gentle, hateful fingers traced indelicate patterns along the side of his neck. "I wonder..." silver eyes glittered ominously. "Maybe you're not so far gone. There are an awful lot of pretty little boys who must need tutoring."

Snape managed to roll out of Lucius' lap. He lay limp and seething in the coarse, yellow grass. "I... think you're... getting... us... confused again... Lucius."

"Confused again? When have I ever gotten us confused?"

Severus' fingers shook as they left short furrows in the hard earth. Lucius scoffed. "Are you still on about that? Really, Severus, that was, what, twenty years ago? I'd think you would have thanked us by now for giving Eversor his due."

Those silver eyes - so pale Severus didn't doubt the trace of albinism in his wretched genes - were bright and sharp. Snape let his face fall back in the dirt. He didn't have the strength to argue promises broken and atrocities past. Weakly, he tried to push himself up. He failed. "I need... to... get back. Dumbledore... gets... suspicious."

"And I suppose he's got you bound by the balls in order to keep an eye on you."

"Yes." It was as good an answer as any. "Old... letch."

Lucius laughed. "Nice to see you've still got a sense of humour." Much to his alarm, Severus felt arms grab hold of him and hoist. Lucius grunted. "You're getting heavy." No, he really wasn't. If anything, he was down a few precious pounds. But the Malfoys weren't the strongest stock in the world - they had Crabbes and Goyles for that. "You know, if you change your mind, Draco's grown into rather a fetching young lad."

"You're sick, Lucius," he murmured into Malfoy's chest.

"No more than you, baby cousin."

Severus closed his eyes. The warmth and familiarity and pulse of the body against him were stifling. They clogged his senses and threatened to churn the last of dinner from his guts. "Where now?"

"I suppose I'll have to drop you near Hogsmeade if you're so intent on going back."

Snape nodded vaguely. He could curl up in the woods until the weakness faded and he could rely on the support of his bones.

"Are you ready?"

He nodded again. Quite to his surprise, he didn't splinch.


Albus surprised him, sometimes. He was awake and pacing when Snape staggered in at four in the morning. A gentle hug was most welcome after Lucius' cloying presence. "Thank god," Albus muttered into Severus' shoulder.

"You worry too much." Snape allowed himself to be led to a well-loved wingchair anyway. A tiny smile lit his lips when he saw the bowl of cherries next to it. Severus wasn't so cynical he'd pass that up. Cradling the bowl against his hollow stomach, he started stuffing them in his mouth. "Did you check on Potter?"

Albus sat down in the other chair by the fire. His eyes twinkled. "Talking with your mouth full?"

Severus shot him a glare and swallowed. Dumbledore cleared his throat; the twinkle faded. "I ordered him to the hospital wing for the night. He seems to be suffering the same effects you are."

Snape froze. After the last thirty-six hours, he didn't want to hear that sort of affirmation of their similarity. It could create... complications. "Do tell?" he asked as casually as he could.

"When I found him he was in rather a lot of pain. He's stronger than I gave him credit for, and that's saying quite a lot. I actually met him in the corridor. He seemed to be headed towards the dungeons?"

Severus pushed several more cherries into his mouth. His fingers were comically red. "The pain must have confused him. It wasn't pleasant."

Albus made an odd sort of noise. "Severus," he began gently, much to Snape's impending horror, "perhaps you ought to try getting to know him a bit? I know you've got your differences, but you're like two sides of a coin. I think..."

Severus could feel his pallor. "Yes, Headmaster?"

"I think that together you would make a formidable weapon." Whenever Albus looked at him like that, he got the feeling those clever blue eyes were focused somewhere beneath the surface of his skin. "We need all of those we can get."

"Hmm." Another cherry. There weren't many left. Severus sucked the juice from his fingers; the images it brought to mind weren't the most appropriate. "It wouldn't be practical."

"Why not? I can speak with him. All you have to do is arrange the detentions. After start of term, of course. If you can manage it, though, holidays would give you a bit of a head start without classes to worry about."

Snape stared at him. He knew his expression was of thin-lipped disgust, but beneath it he wondered how much Potter had spilled. He wouldn't do that. He couldn't do that. He's in as much danger of expulsion as I am of being sacked. It wasn't the time for either of them to be away from Hogwarts. "For... we... it might complicate matters," he finally finished. He hoped fervently he wasn't too obviously ambiguous.

"I'm not asking you to sleep together, Severus. I only want to take advantage of what we've got. Between Harry's experiences with Voldemort, and your information and mind, I think we'd stand a chance."

"And if I don't?" The softness of his own voice surprised him.

Albus cleared his throat and glanced at the portrait of Dippet snoring above the mantle. "Then I suppose we'll just have to make do without."

Severus looked at the last three cherries in the bowl. He didn't want them anymore. "Let me speak with him. I'll come up with some excuse."

"Fair enough."

"I'll give it one week." He stared into the fire. It beckoned him, either to his rooms or to his immolation. "I can't even afford to waste that, but if it'll make you happy I'll try." It would all be over before classes started again, and he could come back and tell Dumbledore the plan was a dismal failure. The headmaster reached over and patted his hand.

"Thank you, old friend. I know this won't be easy for you." You have no idea, Albus. You have no earthly idea.

"I should get to bed. Our dearest Dark Lord chose to favour me with an Unforgivable Curse and I'd like to try to forget it."

"I'm sorry," Albus murmured gently. "This could have waited until morning."

Severus shook his head. "Better to get it over with. I'll have a talk with the brat tomorrow."

Dumbledore hauled him to his feet. "Perhaps you ought not call him that to his face."

"What about an obnoxious brat? He fits the bill." From the amused warning look Albus wore he knew better than to push.

The ride down the staircase was over much more quickly than the ride up. He realised he wasn't tired. Of course, five hours asleep in the woods, huddled beneath a Death Eater cloak, reliving in his usual fit of nightmares the night his brother died, would do that. The thought to stop by the kitchen for some hot chocolate was rather nice; it quite surprised him to realise he'd completely missed the painting of the bowl of fruit.

The hospital wing was shrouded in sleep. Poppy's office door shook with snores like mountains caving in. Sometimes he wondered if she even had her own rooms. Casting a quick silencing charm on his shoes (though he wondered why), he opened the door to the treatment ward. One of the Ravenclaw Chasers was muttering into her pillow. A first year Slytherin - Tenebrosus Buggle - still had that tree growing from his forehead. (Luckily it was only a remarkably well-tamed bonsai or else Hufflepuff would have lost far more than twenty points.) He scanned the beds, and finally saw Potter towards the middle of the wall between two windows.

A shard of setting moonlight highlighted his swollen forehead. Severus winced at the proliferation of blackish blisters dotting his skin. They were obviously much smaller than they'd been, no doubt thanks to some shrinking charm of Poppy's, but the area around them was still red and swollen and the scar itself still gave a meagre glow. Most bizarre, though, was the look of utter peace he wore beneath the cruel mark.

The boy's lips were puckered slightly and resembled a heart. Not a proper heart, of course, but one of those ghastly misinterpretations Lockhart had plastered about the school. On his face - still thin as ever, but starting to show signs of maturity in his cheekbones and oddly fine jaw - it looked right. Severus stared. He had never given much, any, thought to what Harry Potter looked like when he was sleeping. Given the boy's past, though, it should have been much like his own: haunted, given to fits of thrashing and screams. Or so he'd been told. All he remembered were the nightmares.

Potter stirred. He gave a little mewl and rolled on his side. The blankets shifted with him and left his back exposed. Well. It wouldn't do to let him catch cold, now, would it? Better an obnoxious brat than a snotty obnoxious brat. Hesitantly, Severus loosened the blankets from his grasp and tucked them around his still body. It was warm. Severus hadn't been properly warm in decades. Without really thinking he brushed his lips across the scar. For an instant he thought he saw a sliver of green shine from between short, dense lashes.

His rush back to his safe dungeon suite was pocked with uncomfortable thought. One week. Only a week, and everything will be back to normal. A small corner of his brain had the audacity to be disappointed.

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