Holding The Fort

Sunday, 12 April

By Sushi


It never failed to amaze him how hypocritical the wizarding world could be. Despite a potion for dreamless sleep, Severus was awake before nine. He found dyed eggs set out for the last breakfast stragglers, and lilies on the tables. The staff room was similarly decked out; the first thing he saw upon entering was a slew of rabbits crowded around a very wide-eyed and stiff-spined Filius. One kept trying to bite his wand. "Nice bunny. No, no, that's not a carrot. Erm, don't suppose you could give me a bit of a hand here, Severus?"

With a sigh and a muttered incantation, Snape turned them all back into bottles. Minerva could whinge later. He left.

He'd read part of the Muggle Bible years ago. It had been, of all places, stuffed in a far corner of the Malfoy library. He'd gotten about ten pages into the thing before throwing it down in disgust. How could that hackneyed, choppy, contrived bit of rubbish be the basis for an entire religion? Several, actually, if he understood the system as well as he thought.

Over time he'd gone back for bits and pieces, and became more cynical with every word. He'd sloshed through the last chapter - "Revelation" or some such nonsense - and choked when he found out what the sinister "four horsemen" really were. While he secretly thrilled to call Potter "War", Pettigrew "Famine", Lupin "Pestilence", and Black "Death", he never again called them by the collective name in his journal. It was bad enough that wizards used expletives such as "god" and "Christ" (a side-effect of intermarriage with Muggles). The fact that he and his kind had been condemned to death by that... that book and they still celebrated two of its "holy" days never failed to make his guts churn.

The world felt particularly cruel this Easter morning. He took some small pleasure in glaring a first year girl into tears for singing something about "Little Bunny Frou Frou". Beyond that, though, he was more than content to lock himself in his office and rummage through back issues of the Prophet.

He waited until ten. No Potter. It didn't really surprise him - Poppy wouldn't be too happy about letting her patient go terribly early. Honestly, Harry spent more time in the hospital wing than he did in lessons. Between Quidditch, raving lunatics escaped from Azkaban, and Voldemort, it was a wonder the brat had any time to study at all.

A month of old Prophets sat in a pyramid by Snape's left wrist. A headache had started to pulse the moment he opened the first one. Halfway through, his stomach growled. Severus threw down the scroll, stormed up, activated the Floo, stuck his head in, shouted at some house-elves, and a few minutes later quietly sipped his tea.

He waited until eleven. The teapot was empty, and he'd just stuck the last sugar cube in his mouth to let it slowly dissolve on his tongue when there was a knock on the door. He jumped. Potter?

The first knock was rapidly followed by three more, then another steady set of four. It was only Minerva. Severus quickly berated himself for what could, in other circumstances, be construed as eagerness. "What do you want?" he barked.

"Nothing. I thought you might like the paper, though."

Not disappointed, indeed, the furthest thing from it, he yanked open the door. She had a circlet of tiny eggs on her hat; they had apparently been painted by an insane toddler with gross astigmatism. Severus' eye twitched as he stared at them. "You really are completely mad, you know."

"Hmph. Happy Easter to you, too."

"Please. As if I'd have anything to do with a hol--"

"I heard it last year, Severus. That's quite enough for one decade." She smirked softly in response to his weary glower.

"Just hand it over. I'm trying to work."

She slapped the extra-thick scroll into his palm. The Sunday Prophet was three times as large as normal, and laden with things (such as advertisements) that he supposed might be important should someone suddenly need to line the cat box. "What's so important it's got you working today? Not marking, I hope."

He looked at her silently, face neutral. It would only upset her if he said anything; despite being a filthy-minded loon, she was quite a dear friend and he'd rather not subject her to some of the more sinister things he did behind closed doors.

"Ah." She smiled sadly. Wonderful thing about Minerva, she did things like think. And keep her gob shut. "If you need some company, I'll be in the staff room. Trivial Pursuit Championship of the World today."

"And you'd leave all that behind for me. How touching."

"Touching, my hind end. I've got ten Galleons riding on this thing! You're better than an encyclopaedia."

He forced a small smile. It was the least he could do, he supposed.

She frowned crookedly. "Poor dear, you've got circles under your eyes."


"Albus told me."

"Ah." Well. Had the headmaster told anyone else he'd be upset. McGonagall needed to be kept up on some details, though, in case of emergency. He wondered vaguely how much she'd learned, and instinctively knew that it covered little more than his abrupt departure the night before. She leaned up to peck him on the cheek. Snape growled under his breath but it was all show.

Minerva patted his hand. "Go on, get to work. Just don't forget to eat."

"When have I ever forgotten to eat?"

She gave him a cool look but said nothing. Perhaps his robes were getting a bit loose. Lately, he just couldn't seem to find the time. Minerva wandered off.

He unrolled the Prophet at his desk and was immediately deluged with glossy, gaudy parchments. With a sigh of annoyance he stacked them up and dropped them next to the desk. He'd get a house-elf to take them out later.

The front page held a colour photo of the Diggle home. The flames had finally died down, but the Mark was still visible.

... No leads as yet to the identities of the assailants. However, the Dark Mark was spotted once again late last night over London. Its appearance has yet to be connected with any disturbance and may have been a prank...

"What in Hell were they doing?" He mulled it over while squinting through the rest of the paper.

Twelve o'clock came and went, as did a house-elf with a tray of sandwiches and coffee. He'd eaten two of the things before he realised they were egg salad. Severus loathed egg salad. He shoved the tray away and wondered vaguely (while he put extra sugar in his coffee) if Chester - Hornsby - had gotten his roast chicken with cheese by mistake. Maybe, for once, a few Muggle Studies papers might come back without bits of egg stuck to them. It wasn't important, though. Bloody stupid reporters. Where in London?

One arrived. Severus rolled up the newspaper and turned back to older issues. It was taking far too long to read, but if he went faster his skull might disintegrate. Some part of him wondered where Potter was.

Emily stopped by to beg him to join the Trivial Pursuit Championship. Sibyll had opted to make an appearance, leaving it six to five, women to men, and the men were threatening mutiny. Not that Sibyll would be any use - her entire strategy consisted of predicting her opponents' horrific demise and murmuring, "I knew you'd miss that one." Chances were, the day wouldn't be over without Minerva throwing a hex. Severus rolled his eyes and grudgingly agreed to join them if - if - she actually made a significant positive impact for her team. He might as well have said "no".

Two passed with no word from Potter or Emily. A small rush of worry was squelched by the fact that it was Potter. He truly did detest the whelp. It was a sad coincidence that he'd broken celibacy with and seemed to have developed some small modicum of concern for the Quidditch-happy wretch. His timing could have been better. It didn't help that he really wouldn't have minded carrying on like they had. Not that Potter's interest would hold. He fought the thought that fear was his real reason to drive the boy away.

Three o'clock, and the floor around him was littered with painfully-combed scrolls. Severus leaned on his desk, arms crossed, face hidden in their protective frame. The tension in his shoulders was nauseating. It ran out his eyes, and through his neck, and down the tiny muscles of his spine and threatened to crush the lot. While that would mean no more internal battles about Voldemort, Gryffindors, or much of anything else, he was left with the rather annoying feeling that his continued existence was necessary to the well being of The World Around Him. With a stifled grunt, he pushed himself up and grabbed a scroll from sometime in February.

Four set in and, with it, proper worry. Poppy shouldn't have kept him this long. Perhaps I ought to... go soak my head in sulfuric acid for even considering such a thing. He would be much better off if Potter didn't turn up; given the choice between getting some proper work done, and fending off the advances of a randy teenager, he'd much rather fe--work. Severus rubbed his pounding eyes. Come to think of it, he'd been holding those scrolls far too close to be good for him. You're getting old, Severus. First you can't even properly molest your students, now you're going blind. That was only supposed to come from self-molestation. A sharp rap at the door pulled him from his angst and his chair.

Needless to say, he was more than a little disap--relieved to hear Emily's annoying knock. She grinned when he opened the door. "Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah, you guys lo-ost."

"I think you'll find that my absence, by default, bars me from winning or losing. What happened? Did Sibyll decide to stay in her tower?"

"Stunning Spell."

"How long?"

"About fifteen minutes. She tried to answer a question, nearly lost us a piece of pie. Minerva wanted to turn her into a cockroach."

"It would certainly be an improvement. I pity the poor roaches." He was vaguely pleased when she snorted.

"Sibyll's not that bad. You just have to be gentle."

"Hmm, yes. Rather like one needs to be gentle with certain 'special cases' at Saint Mungo's."

Vector snorted again. "You're cruel."

"There are two Slytherins teaching at this school. One of us has to uphold the honour of the House."

Emily stuck out her tongue. Severus gave a small snarl of surprise when she grabbed him in a hug. Her forehead nearly squashed his nose. "Let go of me, you insane woman!" he shouted. "What's with you people today?"

"What?" Emily let go and looked suitably sarcastically hurt.

"Between Minerva planting her lips all over my person, and you attempting to place me in a manual body bind, I may be forced to lock myself away from the entire female population permanently."

She shrugged. "Hey, gay man on staff, completely non-thr--" Emily paused, "completely non-threatening in that way. We've got to have somebody to love on."

"'Love on'?" He raised a suspicious eyebrow.

"Hug, smooch, cuddle, y'know, love on."

"Go pester Filius."

"I tried. I think I scared him."

"I'm not surprised! It must have been like being attacked by a redwood!" Emily, former Beater that she was, wasn't terribly far from six feet even. She'd kept up playing enough to retain a fair bit of stockiness as well. She folded her arms in an incongruously graceful way and raised her eyebrows coolly. A hint of a smile still lingered on her face.

"We've got to find you a boyfriend."

Snape gaped at her. "Where on Earth did that come from?"

Vector shrugged apologetically. "If you won't let us hang all over you, it's time to try plan 'B'." Severus snarled sharply and shut the door. Emily's muffled voice floated through. "So does that mean I can set you up with someone?"

"NO! Leave me alone you deranged trollop!"

"Okay. I'll talk to my brother. He's a little strange, but I think you'll--"


"I'm only trying to help! Jesus H. Christ, miserable..." she left muttering.

Severus leaned against the door. All he wanted to do was work out what was going on with Voldemort and kill the egotistical sod so he could possibly get on with his excuse for a life. Before he could try to get back to work another knock shook the wood at his back. For the love of god! "Who is it this time?"

"The Easter Bunny."

Severus groaned and put his head in his hands. He didn't need Potter yet. He wanted to be alone. Especially after last night. At least, that was what he told himself. If he listened to the little voice in his head he'd have to admit that he didn't terribly mind a bit of Harry's company.

When the door opened he was met with the singularly underwhelming sight of that obnoxious brat munching what once was a small chocolate rabbit. Now it looked more like a small chocolate French aristocrat, circa 1789. "How charming."

Potter pulled a box from his pocket and held it out. "Brought you one." Wondering what it had been injected with, Severus took the lepine abomination with a look of suspicion. His first instinct was to tear into it and hope it didn't melt too much before he finished.

"Ron and Hermione sent them," Potter explained with his mouth full. "Got the owl this morning."

"Quite." Snape looked at the purple package. It read, 'Cadbury's'. "What is this? Muggle sweets?"

Harry nodded and took another bite. His lips were brown. They were likely sweet as well. Oh. Bugger. No, stop that, Severus!

"S'almost as good as Honeyduke's," Potter garbled around too much chocolate. He looked up hopefully. "So can I come in?"

Severus frowned but stepped aside. "What are you doing here?"

"What do you think?" He stuffed another large chunk of rabbit in his mouth. It was oddly fascinating, the way he did it: a particular portion of the short neck, then the forepaws, finally a section of the chest. It was both abandoned and clinical. Severus rather expected him to eat the tail last. He waved a hand at the litter of Prophets he'd already gone through.

"You can start with those. Write down everything even potentially relevant you find, and keep your mouth shut."


"Do you want me to take points?"

"If it's anything like yesterday, fine by me." Harry licked the chocolate off his lips. It didn't help the fact that the last person to kiss Snape had been Lucius; he was more tempted than he'd have liked to correct that.

"I can assure you, nothing will be like yesterday." He settled down with another back issue. "Or the day before."

"Why not?"

"I told you to keep your mouth shut, Potter. Or has that rabbit taken up both your brain cells?"

"Why are you such an insufferable prick?"

"You didn't seem to think my prick was insufferable on Friday." Severus smirked at the vivid pink Harry turned.

"You greasy bastard."

"Obnoxious brat. You came down here to work, I presume. So work." He thrust a quill and parchment at Potter and settled in over the paper.

Much to his annoyance, Harry sucked chocolate off his fingers and dived straight into the pile of circulars on the floor. At least as long as he leaned against the desk, the brat was out of sight. Absently, Severus unwrapped and bit the ears off his own rabbit as he turned back to the useful portion of the paper.

For a good hour or more he read impatiently, eyes burning and neck throbbing. It might be time to allow Rolanda to give him a backrub again. Dammit. He'd almost succeeded in breaking her of that disconcerting habit. Non-threatening, my arse. He found yet another trace of chocolate on his hand and sucked it off. Bloody stuff, always got everywhere - he dreaded to think if any was on his face. A stifled snort from the floor broke his thready concentration. "Be quiet," he said.

"Sorry." A moment later there was another snort, this one followed by a low chuckle.

"Put down the comics. Five points from Gryffindor."

"Sor-ry." Silence once again blessedly filled the room. The less he heard of the little cretin, the less tempted he would be to have him come back. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what had compelled the brat to return in the first place.

Yes, you can. Despite what you may have experienced, a person's first sexual encounter is supposed to be a pleasant thing, which forms a particular emotional bond; the strength of this depends heavily on his sense of self worth. Seeing that Potter's view of himself has been less than sterling, if you're not careful you'll be stuck with the twit - this would be a bad thing, Severus. Don't forget that. Deep in his devious Slytherin brain, the wheels still turned. Severus could break down and analyse a person after five minutes if he needed to and, nearly consistently, he'd be right. He'd avoided really doing so with Potter because... well, because it might have made him face up to the fact that Harry wasn't nearly so offensive as his idiot father. And because he'd be mercilessly plunged into his own past again. Damned scars.

"Um... Pro--Severus?"

Snape's spine went stiffer at the invited familiarity. "What?" he snapped.

"Um, wasn't there a Death Eater named Mulciber?"

"Quernus Mulciber?"

"I suppose." The boy sounded positively unnerved. Mulciber had been pardoned not long after Igor. Severus leaned over. In Harry's hands was a small flier for Mulciber Antiques. It was closing.

"Odd." He reached down and took the parchment. "That shop's been in his family for three generations."

"Maybe he's tired of it?"

Severus shook his head. He leaned back in his chair to squint at the too-small words. "No, the dunce never shuts up about it. He'd sooner eat his young than close." It was also rather close to the Ministry of Magic. The strange proximity chewed at his brain.

"Is it any help?" He hadn't even noticed Potter get up, much less lean against the back of his chair.

"Hmm. Possibly. I know Quernus hasn't been in the best financial situation of late." He'd gone on for two months about some damned plates he'd spent a fortune on. It was perfectly feasible that he'd been forced to close. Severus thought, looking over the tasteful black-and-sepia-print flier. Harry's presence was warm behind him, and comforting, like a shield to guard where he couldn't. It acted as a catalyst in his brain.

Two happenings in two days, both very close together. They might have been unrelated, but Severus knew better than to completely dismiss them. His "associates" were normally more careful than that. But... why would Death Eater activity start in London suddenly when everyone knew Voldemort wanted Hogwarts? Or does he? There was too little information to work with as yet, and any more would be slow in coming. It was, however, feasible that Voldemort would strike the nerve center of British wizardry, thus giving him an outlet to the rest of Europe--

The sudden pressure of small hands on his shoulders broke his chain of thought. Harry Potter was rubbing them. Severus jerked away.

"Stop it. You're tense."

"I'm not tense. Ten points from Gryffindor."

"Oh, no, Snape's taken points from Gryffindor. How shall we ever bear it?" Those insolent hands took him again and pulled him back hard. They pressed into muscle more like stone than flesh; it relaxed. Severus tried to order him, but between "stop that this instant" and "stop and just see how many points you can lose" his vocal cords got confused and all they could do was issue a weak, garbled groan.

Potter giggled. "You don't get to relax much, do you?"

"Would you if you had the Dark Lord breathing down your neck?" The fingers hesitated for an instant.

"I do my best."

Snape tilted his head back to look at the brat, frowning. The fringe fell away from Potter's forehead as he looked down; the scar no longer glowed, but the area around it was still red, and the purple ghosts of blood blisters marred his smooth skin. Poppy must have done something - Severus' blisters were still engorged. At least they'd stopped bursting.

Potter looked down at him - an odd sensation - with an expression that may have shrouded a smile. "I dreamed about you last night."

"Wonderful. You've no idea how much it pleases me to assist the nocturnal emissions of an oversexed student." Ah, I see he's inherited his mother's temper.

"It wasn't anything like that! I dreamed you came up to the hospital wing to visit me. You, um," his cheeks darkened, "you tucked me in. And... and you... um, you k-issed my scar." His face turned plum red and he looked away. "I'm sorry. That was really stupid of me."

No, it was stupid of me. "Hmm. I wouldn't expect anything less." The fingers on his neck ground deeper. Severus' head lolled on his chest. Knots he didn't know could exist shrieked and loosened. Their blinding, pinching pain was replaced with nothingness. Oblivion had never been such a beautiful thing. "Ten points to Gryffindor."

"I'd hope so." The soft underside of a chin settled on top of his head. It was nice, almost like he used to do with Gran. Warmth spread through him and he almost remembered what it felt like to be loved--

Severus' eyes flew wide. He jerked away. "GET OUT!"

"What did I do?" Potter sounded thoroughly confused. He backed up, shoulders hunched in surprise, as Snape came towards him.

"You are a student. I am your teacher. You have no right to treat me in such an intimate manner."

"At least I wasn't sticking my nob up your arse!" Potter stiffened. His fists were clenched. It would be such an easy thing to grab him by the scruff of the neck and toss him out like an insolent pup. He couldn't do it. Thanks to some ingrained need for affection he couldn't physically throw the urchin out.

Severus tried to straighten himself. His muscles revolted. They tensed, curved, pulled at his spine and left it bent like a serpent. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! Not now! You do not need to act like some wanton tart towards Potter or anyone else! He turned away, hugging himself. "Get out. Please."


"Because I said so."

"That's not an answer."

"Yes, it is, you foolish boy." And if you stay I don't know if I can stop myself from doing things we both know I can never allow again. Why, why, why did you have to come back? Severus couldn't make out what the brat said as he fought to hold up walls built over the best part of twenty years.

"I said, 'should I come back tomorrow', Professor?"

Snape closed his eyes. No, no, no matter how much I want it you shouldn't come back. Slowly, he nodded. A little more self-loathing crept into his blood.

"Fine. Um, I don't know what time I'll be here. Quidditch practise every day this week. I made the team stay for holidays so I have to be there. I'm captain, you know."

"I know that, you daft child. Everybody knows that. Harry Potter, World-Famous Quidditch God. I expect isolated tribes of Pygmies know you're captain." Blood kept getting stuck in his brain. It made him dizzy.

"Y'don't have to be nasty about it. We can't all be intellectual arseheads."

Severus didn't say another word as the door creaked. It echoed when it banged shut. He clutched his face in one hand. A little voice told him to go find Emily, or Minerva, or Rolanda, or any of the other "unthreatened" female staff so they could "love on" him. It wouldn't be the same.


They ate in the Great Hall with the rest of those staying for break. The male teachers kept shooting Snape annoyed glances, and the women kept beaming. Severus kept his head down. He didn't want to see Potter. He especially didn't want to see Potter repeatedly glancing at him. Don't you know I have to regret everything, you obnoxious brat? Go find a nice boy. Go find someone who won't turn your life into a prison as well. The fervent mental begging did nothing to stop those green eyes flickering towards him. He refused to read them.

Severus stared at his lamb. He recalled something about that crucified fellow in the Muggle Bible, Jesus or Jeshua or whatever his name was, being called "the lamb of God". It suddenly felt like another unforgivable sin to eat it. Cannibalism was one atrocity he'd never committed; he didn't appreciate being thrust into tearing guilt he'd not yet earned.

Wrinkling his nose, Snape turned his plate so the meat was as far away as possible. It didn't help. It had tainted everything: the corn, the pudding, the small red potatoes in their peeling skins, the soggy lump of greens he hated now as much as he had thirty years ago. Something turned over in his gut.

His chair's squeal echoed. From all five tables, heads jerked up, and he felt them follow him out. He didn't have to look to know that Harry was among them.

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