Holding The Fort

Wednesday, 15 April

By Sushi


"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty! God, you look a sight." Emily's hat was crooked and her long nose was shiny and seared. She looked like she'd been chasing a Bludger around.

"What on Earth are you doing here?"

"We, my dear Severus," she said, taking his arm and eliciting a weary growl, "are spending the afternoon in Hogsmeade."

"You've been hitting the miniatures again."

Emily sulked. "You know perfectly well I haven't. Can't get miniatures without going down there in the first place."

"Have a marvelous time. Remember, it's Rehydratus Perfecticus, not Dehydratus Perfecticus. Drink the blue one this time."

She rolled her eyes. "You need to get out of the castle. Honestly, do you even remember what sunlight is?"

"Presumably you mean the general dispersion of photons emitted by the central stellar body of a solar system." He folded his arms.

She looked annoyed. "And we wonder why you're single." Expressly without permission she pushed her way into his suite and started digging through drawers.

"Emily--" he pulled a T-shirt from his head with a growl. "Emily, sod off. I have things to do."

"Nope. You're coming with us."

"And who, might I ask--get out of that drawer right now." He covered his eyes with a hand as she rifled through boxers. Another lump of fabric landed on his head and he yanked it free. "Professor Vector, get the fuck out of my clothes and out of my suite before I remove you myself!"

"You're just annoyed there's a woman in your pants."

"Emily..." he warned.

She shook her head and shut the dressing table drawer. "I'll meet you in the staff room."

"No, I can guarantee you won't." Someday, possibly today, Vector was going to cross a line and she wasn't going to be able to come back. "Good day."

"Honeyduke's is giving away a twenty pound box of cherry cordials." Her wide eyes and smirk came short of perfect innocence.

Severus blinked. "Pardon?"

"The ones you like so much, with the maraschinos in the middle. Unfortunately, the drawing's tonight and you have to be there to win. I suppose it'll just have to go to someone else."

Severus bit his inner lip. Normally, there was nothing that could get him to Hogsmeade against his will. This was a very serious matter, though; he would happily drive Slytherin into negative points for twenty pounds of Honeyduke's cherry cordials. Thankfully, he was cursed with a metabolism to shame a hummingbird's. "I'll think about it."

Vector grinned and planted a kiss on his lips that he immediately wiped off. "Half an hour?"

"I said, 'I'll think about it'! Leave me alone, you deranged harpy!"

"Honestly, you try to do something nice for some people..." she pulled the door behind her, mumbling.

Severus fumed. For several seconds he seriously considered not going. If he didn't, though, he'd never hear the end of it. He looked down at the clothes in his anger-paled hands. A twinge hit his throat when he saw the slogan printed over and over: A Risk With Every Mouthful. He left boxers and Slytherin Pride T-shirt on the rumpled duvet and hurried to run a bath.


"... Oh, yeah. Tha's it, girl, righ' there. Harder..." Hagrid dropped his head and groaned. Penny tittered; Filius blushed; Minerva tried valiantly to keep a straight face.

The tip of Rolanda's tongue emerged from the corner of her mouth. She was standing on a chair, one forearm braced across the back of Hagrid's neck, her other fist digging mercilessly into his spine. There was a sudden crunch and Severus winced. "That's got it!" She gave a few more good pokes and hopped down.

"Yeh're a lifesaver." Hagrid's head hit the table and he sighed. "If I were'n' seein' Olympe nex' week I'd ask yer ter marry me."

Rolanda slapped him on the arm. "You wouldn't want to live by my rules, mate. Up by five, six laps of the pitch in the dead of winter, and then the real fun begins. Severus! You look--"

"Take one more step, Hooch, and I'll turn you into a slug before you can blink."

"You're cheerful." She sniffed and went to pour herself a cup of coffee.

Snape gave the room in general a cool warning glance as he sat as far from his colleagues as possible. It left him in that particularly dark corner with the wobbly chair, unfortunately. A tray of roast beef sandwiches - Siggy's, presumably - sat in the middle of the table and he snatched one, hiding behind the morning's paper. At least he could try to get some work done.

Try, indeed, was the key word. A few sentences into the lead story (an exposé on "insidious happenings" at the Ministry of Magic, as reported by Rita Skeeter), he threw down the Prophet in disgust. That place behind his eyes felt like it had inflated. Severus knew full well that this had been coming on for months. Just recently, though, since his Mark had started its rending changes, had it really come to the front of his brain. You shouldn't be this old, Severus. Voldemort's getting to you. If you don't find something to take your mind off him you'll be in the mother of all cock-ups. A second voice, much smaller and easily ignored, said he had something to take his mind off the Dark Lord if he'd just grow the tackle to take it.

A sharp elbow tore him away from the pain. "Let's get out of here. This place is turning into a madhouse. I've had six students stop me in the last ten minutes to beg for homework help!"

He arched an eyebrow at Vector's sullen sulk. "So you want to leave the relative normalcy," he motioned to Madam Hooch pounding Flitwick's back so hard Filius nearly caved in on a table's edge, "of the staff room and take your chances with the lunatics?"

"Have a better idea?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. I'd quite like to spend the day locked in my office," with Harry Potter - stop it, Severus! "I've got far too much to do and far too little holiday in which to do it."

"Well, I don't, and I'm not going with just Rolanda."

"Lovers' spat?"

Emily narrowed her eyes at him and sneered. "Ha, ha, very funny, Snape." He made a noise. Severus knew better than anyone how laughable the idea of Emily and Rolanda together was. First of all, they were decidedly heterosexual (Vector perhaps a little more than Hooch, but not by enough to count). She sighed and, in one of her more annoying habits, dropped her head on his shoulder. "Aren't you going to ask?"

"No. You'll tell me whether I do or not." He gently elbowed her away. She slumped on the table. Emily could certainly be immature for her age.


Snape closed his eyes. "How old are you again?"

"Oh, hush." She shoved her hat further back on the chin-length explosion of ridiculous curls. It didn't suit her. Then again, Emily wasn't going to end up as the Wicked Witches centerfold anytime soon, no matter what her hair did. "Really. Sometimes I think you'll find someone permanent before I do."

"You've been listening to 'H.M.S. Pinafore' again."

She lifted her head to glare. "So?" Vector shoved her chair back. "Come on. The day is short, and I've got a bar tab to fill."

"Three Broomsticks or Hog's Head?"

"Broomsticks. Last time I went to the Hog's Head, Hagrid had to carry me back."

"How did you ever become a teacher?" Severus stood up curtly and followed her out to the Great Hall. Hooch met up with them at the door.

"They needed someone to counterbalance your sunny disposition," Vector muttered under her breath. Snape snorted and kept walking. His dungeons were calling. Nobody talked back to him like that. Vector grabbed his elbow. "Hey, I'm sorry, hon."


"Yes, really." She put a hand on her hip in her I'm-a-little-teapot pose of annoyance. Rolanda glanced back and forth between them.

"Y'know, I could meet you two out there..."

"Or just me." Emily looked at Severus, trying to control the upset twitch of her wide mouth. He was quite thankful for the heavy green curtains that shielded them from the stares of any students left from lunch. Despite her glaring lack of maturity, and her tendency towards depression in the face of musical comedy, and the way she deliberately got under his skin every chance she got, Emily was still one of the closest friends he had - one of the only real friends he'd ever had. The fact that he often wanted to strangle her was quite irrelevant.

"I suppose you want me to get my broom." He folded his arms and stared down his nose.

Vector sniffed. "Well... if you really want to come I suppose we can use someone to pay our tab."

"Your tab, woman? What do you think I am, a millionaire?"

"As much as you spend, by now, yeah. I mean, honestly, when was the last time you bought yourself a robe?" She picked at his sleeve. The elbow was shiny, and the cuff had been inexpertly rewoven some time ago.

"There are far more important things in life than 'haute couture'. Or perhaps you've mistaken me for Gilderoy Lockhart." Emily tried to argue, Rolanda wisely keeping her mouth shut, but the matter was closed.

On the way through to the side door beyond the staff table, Severus tried not to notice Potter glance up at him; he tried not to glance back. He very nearly didn't fail.


Dervish and Banges was close to deserted in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. An old witch with one tooth sticking out from the rest like a localized Densaugeo victim browsed a shelf of heavily discounted books; Severus was pleased to see two of Lockhart's titles. The warlock at the counter leaned on his elbow. Every minute or so he dozed off and caught himself just before his head hit well-worn wood. Snape ignored him. He headed straight for the back of the shop.

Emily and Hooch were probably still giggling over daiquiris and making comments on the "butt" of every poor wizard to walk through the door. Honestly, can Albus hire a single witch with more than one thing on her mind? Before he left them to it he shot a scathing glare that (hopefully) ensured his backside's sanctity.

Really, if Emily weren't so bloody-minded he'd have nothing to do with her. They'd gone a bit of a stretch without speaking when he finally mentioned that "Death Eater" thing in strictest confidence. One day, though, there she was, banging on his office door and being her usual insufferable self. He'd had to answer a few questions, but she'd cunningly found a way to make it seem less like an interrogation and more like a chat. A very socially oriented Slytherin, Emily was.

Severus wondered vaguely how she'd react to the idea of him sleeping with Harry Potter. Not that anyone was ever going to know. Or that it would ever happen again. No matter what pang of loss he'd had at sight of the empty bed. He's a child, Severus, and he's your student. It doesn't matter that he looks, sounds, and on exceedingly rare occasion acts like an adult, he's still a child. He still didn't quite believe it. The brat had gone through enough with Voldemort to make him grow up. Really, he wasn't any more a child than Snape had been at seventeen.

Of course, none of this changed the fact that he loathed the vile little creature. Obnoxious brat. Potter could live to be two hundred and he'd still be an obnoxious brat to Severus Snape.

Part of the back wall was devoted to Potions ingredients. It was dark here, and dusty, and compared to someplace like Slugs and Jiggers in Diagon Alley it was pitiful. He always looked, though. As Gran said, "Sometimes you find exactly what you need where you never thought you'd see it, Nepos. Now hand me that tricarboxylic acid - I swear, if Mundungus Fletcher whinges on about this batch he can damn well make his own hangover cures."

Severus smiled softly to himself as he picked through dusty bottles. She'd been right, really. Once, he'd found some unspun golden orb spider silk here when the apothecary down the way swore there wasn't a drop to be had in Britain. Shame, really, that it didn't work with people, too - he'd long since learned that there were no easy answers where that lot was concerned.

There was nothing new to be found, he decided with mild disappointment. The apothecary - Strange Brews - took its shipments on Wednesday mornings. Everything should be sorted and shelved soon if not already. Snape started to turn on his heel and leave.

For some reason, the small display of reading glasses caught his eye. It had always been there. He'd never had any reason to take active notice of it before, though. For a moment, he stared. They were ugly, mostly half-moon glasses like Dumbledore and Gran wore. One rose-framed pair was exactly like Gran's. He'd never understood how she could be so fond of pink. He didn't even want to picture how absurd he would look with a pair of the things propped on his nose.

Just to dispel any lingering desire to consider the bloody things, he grabbed the least offensive pair - vaguely rectangular half-rimmed things with a narrow black frame, spectacles without spectacle - and shoved them on his nose.

The first thing he noticed was the relief washing through his head.

Being magic, they automatically corrected. Severus glanced in a small mirror. He had to look down to see it properly and the glasses slid down his nose. He pushed them back up; they disagreed. Still, when he surreptitiously glanced at the directions on a tin of Grandpa Claudius' All-Purpose Salve, there was no balloon blown up within his skull. It was an odd sensation, and he realised with carefully concealed surprise that he'd not felt it for at least two solid years. Until Friday he'd attributed it to fatigue. No, old boy, you've just been going blind. Been a bit too regular with the "swish and flick", eh? It might be time to find a nice warlock and settle down, not that anyone would have you.

But, the smaller voice said, that young Potter bloke might if you gave him half a chance. He shoved the voice away again. It didn't know what it was talking about. Snapes didn't get that sort of happiness - not that many of them deserved it. And he certainly wouldn't presume that the lauded, legendary Harry Potter might want to keep on with the Death Eaters' little toy.

Tearing the ill-fitting glasses from his face, Severus marched to the counter. The warlock woke up at a sharp clearing of Snape's throat; he jumped and, drowsily, looked quizzically at the empty counter. He was one of Snape's former students. Severus held up the glasses. "I believe you're looking for these, Mister Wilkins." The man - probably going on thirty by now - blanched.

"Um... yes, Professor. Erm... jus-just those?" His voice rose in pitch as he stuttered.

"Do you see anything else in my hands?"

"No, sir." Quickly, he scribbled up a receipt. "That'll be five Galleons, two Sickles, sir. Please." His hands shook so much the receipt was a clutter of smudged childish scrawls. Severus dropped the money on the counter; it bounced.

"You've no idea how much it pleases me to see you've other skills equal to those in Potions class," he said dryly. Robert Wilkins had consistently left the dungeons with marks high enough to perhaps glance over top of Filius' head. With appropriate effort.

"Y-yes, sir. Thank you, Professor Snape, s-s-sir," he stammered.

"That wasn't a compliment."


Severus swept out, cloak dragging the floor of the dim, cluttered shop, content in his mission that none of his failures should go unpunished.


The box of cordials went to someone else.

Of course, it really had been too much to hope for. While the fiftieth anniversary of Honeyduke's Sweetshop was a major event in the lives of sugar addicts all around, it really was too much to bait him with the promise of sweets and fail to deliver. Emily bought him a five-pound box of the things (with promises of more on payday) in apology, and even Rolanda snuck him some Jelly Slugs, but Snape couldn't get past the fact that he should have spent the day scouring old issues of the Prophet. He walked back, his precious Cleansweep Six trailing like a faithful dog. It was testament to how much he trusted Vector that he'd left it in her drunken care.

The Quidditch pitch was empty. It was also thoroughly out of his way - Severus tried to convince himself that he was baffled he'd even come this way. In the low light of an evening moon he imagined he could see the silvered outlines of the Gryffindor team chasing Quaffles, and being chased in turn by vengeful Bludgers. Their captain shouted positions in his mind. He had to admit the brat knew Quidditch. It had been a very long time since Snape cared seriously about the game; he knew a good player when he saw one, though, and Potter was one of the best. Wronski and Nicholas might have found themselves lacking by comparison.

Supper was long over. Vector and Hooch had eaten in Hogsmeade, but Snape was too busy at Strange Brews. Millicent, the owner, kept trying to argue that Penicillium notatum was the only bacterium from which to extract the active ingredient for a topical Clostridium veneficium treatment. Of course it wasn't - it required elements of both P. notatum and P. chrysogenum, not to mention two magically inclined strains of Streptomyces. I ought to know. I only helped invent the stuff!

Food sounded like quite a good idea, not that he ever ate much. Perhaps Potter wouldn't mind taking his detention in the kitchens. It was an utterly ridiculous thought and he quickly berated himself for it. It was bad enough he had to see the brat. Snape's footsteps echoed in the empty corridor leading to his office. It was dark, and lit only sporadically with sputtering torches that hid the ceiling with omnipresent patches of soot. They reminded him that he'd need to talk to Filch about having some lights installed.

Just before he unlocked the door, Severus checked his watch. It was after eight, a bit later than Potter tended to arrive. It didn't matter, though - he'd show up. He'd not yet failed to make Snape's life a walking piece of Hell whenever he could. When he stepped into his office, though, Severus found a folded scrap of parchment waiting on the floor.

Came by. Three times. No answer. Back tomorrow. H.

The oddest feeling crept into Severus' chest. It was like frost painting a window that suddenly ceased to exist. The frost remained, a delicate cutting lattice of the finest wires, wrapping his lungs and slicing through. He set the note on the desk, and dropped his oh-so-precious sweets under his cloak's nail when he hung it up. Damp dungeon walls sucked the scant heat from his flesh.

He sat down at his desk to read papers Potter had already gone through. The glasses finally came to rest on the end of his nose. For the first time in a great while, he was lonely in his solitude.


He'd missed plenty. Of course, there was no reason for Harry to know that a sudden fluctuation in the price of mossroot fern meant that one of the two major suppliers - Horace Nott, most likely - had turned his attention to things other than his hobby; that the generous donation Lucius made to Saint Mungo's Children's Ward would serve as a suitable excuse for the unusually large Gringott's withdrawal Severus knew he'd made recently; that there was no natural reason for the bat population in Hogsmeade to drop suddenly, whereas the shy creatures would be spooked by something like silent, hidden, airborne scouts.

By the time Severus finished mentally filing everything to be mulled, his stomach was actively angry. It snarled at him, and he resisted an urge to snarl back. The only things that kept him from sitting there in a foul temper were his self-induced outcast state and the new information to tempt his Slytherin brain. That had been the difference between him and Gran: her cleverness far outweighed her cunning. While she could happily spend years poring over a single formula, she'd relied on bursts of intuition and grew snappish if forced to actively ponder the link between apparently unrelated facts. He pushed himself up from the chair, leaning on the desk a moment so the glasses fell off completely; he left them sitting next to that bloody sword.

The house-elves naturally scattered when he came in through that idiotic painting. Severus cheered up a little - he'd spent long enough making sure they stayed out of his sight. House-elves, while useful, were certainly the most sickeningly helpful little beasts ever to evolve and he'd be damned if they were going to take him into their simpering flock. To make things worse, several of them had started wearing clothes. It was disgusting. He'd even overheard rumours that some were being paid. Dobby, Lucius' former elf (wherever he'd gone to), possibly the best house-elf he'd ever had the displeasure of knowing, would never do anything so crude. They ought to take a leaf from his book.

One timid little creature stuck its head out. "I-is there anything S-S-Sissy can be getting you, sir?"

"I don't want to know your name, I want you idiots to leave me alone. And find me some cherries." He didn't really want them, but it would ensure the stupid creatures let him be. The first few times he'd come into the kitchen he'd asked for nothing and they responded with frequent offers. Finally, they'd come to an unspoken agreement: they would bring him ONE thing, and he wouldn't use them as guinea pigs.

Snape didn't think about guinea pigs as he pulled an onion from the enormous supply and diced it. One advantage to being a natural with potions was an inclination for the culinary arts. Should he ever leave Hogwarts, which he very sorely doubted despite the crippling misery his passionless students caused him, he'd have scant trouble getting enough to eat.

The cherries seemed to appear at his right wrist. Their translucent, cheery red always made him feel safe. He popped one into his mouth while summoning a large tomato and banishing a pan to the stove. It heated quickly, a large knob of butter spitting and hissing and generally lamenting its fate. The tomato's suffering was short, as were those of a very small cauliflower, several cloves of garlic, and a knob of ginger. He seemed to use those quite a lot, ginger and garlic. Well, good for potions and good for digestion.

While the early-morning excuse for a chicken curry simmered, he stared at the fire, bright red cherries staining his lips and fingers. He sucked off the colour as best he could. Their sweetness lingered. Details ran over and over in his mind.

Voldemort is planning something. If the prophecy is correct, it'll come to pass within two turns of the full moon. That's... before the beginning of June. Bloody Potter, why did you have to go and summon that sword now of all times? I've barely got time to figure this out as it is! Should have been a prophecy about obnoxious brats who can't even bother to show up when they're supposed to. Stop it, Severus. You need to work. He wrestled to stay on track, but far too frequently his thoughts veered. It left a lump of anger in his chest. There was no reason for him to be thinking about Potter when the fate of the entire world clung to his back.

Suddenly, he heard the picture swing open with a soft squeak. He glanced back sharply. Nobody. Either it was a house-elf, or someone was running about invisible. A fragment of a wish was frantically suffocated. "Who's there?" he barked.

"Se--Professor?" Harry's floating head quickly obscured the wall. He looked a bit surprised, though not especially upset, as he pulled the cloak off. He hung it over his shoulder. Snape couldn't help but think back to one of the unicorns whose blood he'd harvested years before; a long trail of toxic fluid had run down from its neck and dried, sinister and shimmering.

"As far as I'm aware, yes. It's one in the morning, Mister Potter. Ten points from Gryffindor. What in god's name are you doing down here?"

"I got hungry."

"So sleep it off."

Potter fidgeted. "Can't sleep," he mumbled.

Severus raised his eyebrows. It might have been in hope. "Oh? All that Quidditch hasn't worn you out?"

Harry shook his head and sat down. His hair was even messier than usual; Snape resisted a potent urge to fuss it down. "What're you doing here?" Harry asked.

"Some of us are allowed to roam the school without resorting to Invisibility Cloaks." His mouth opened again to tell the brat to get back to his tower lest more points go the wayside. Instead, he was shocked to find his brain gearing up and spitting out, "Would you care for a bit of stew?"

Harry shrugged. He looked a bit baffled. "I suppose so. What kind?"


"Curry stew?" Potter made a face.

"If you'd rather you can go back to your tower right now."

After that, Harry seemed a bit too eager to stay. Snape summoned two large, stoneware bowls of the stuff and absently spooned out a large chunk of meat while Potter poked.

"What's in it?"

"Potions ingredients."

Harry's spoon clattered to the table. "WHAT?"

Severus glared at him. It hid his threatening smile. They're so gullible. "Root ginger, garlic, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seed, capsicums, cloves... do I need to go on?"

"Cumin's edible?" Harry lifted a large floret of cauliflower and stared nervously.

"Perfectly. Do I need to prove it to you?"

"Um... no. I don't think so." Much to his credit, Harry stuffed the saffron-stained vegetable into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment before following it with a larger bite. "Wish I'd had a house-elf when I was growing up. They're bloody well better cooks than Aunt Petunia."

"Thank you."

Potter swallowed. He glanced up suspiciously. "You made this."

"I have some mundane skills. My life isn't all the glamour of potions and risking my neck."


Silence settled over them as they ate. Harry finished the last in the pan, possibly in an effort to impress Severus. It was a bit bland; in his distraction he must not have added enough salt. (The brat's Aunt Petunia must have been truly dismal in the kitchen - no wonder Potter always looked so thin.) Thankfully, he didn't have that sort of problem with potions. Perhaps I ought to start cooking in a cauldron. It was a laughable idea - he'd learned early on from Gran to always keep potions and cooking to separate containers, and it was a waste of a good cauldron to use it three times a year.

"How's your jaw?" Harry's sudden question surprised Severus out of his semi-trance state.

"My jaw?"

"Where I, um, hit you. M'sorry about that."

"It's fine." He'd treated it with bruise salve before they retired and promptly forgotten about it. The rank ointment was odorless once absorbed into the skin.

"Y'sure? Let me look at it."

Snape tried to protest but Potter's warm fingers were on his cold skin before he could get the words out. Potter said appraisingly, "I don't see anything wrong."

"That's because it's fine, just like I said." Severus glared, but couldn't quite pull away from the tender touch. It felt... it felt like the gentle hands that had driven back the chains. Until Potter touched him he hadn't remembered it. The voice, the new one that had been so frantic but so soothing, was Potter's, too. Severus blinked. "What happened last night?"

"What do you mean?" Harry's voice took a nervous upswing in pitch.

"I mean, why did I fall asleep in my chair and wake up in bed?"

"Oh, that." The brat hunched down in his robes. "I woke up and I heard you sort of whimpering, and then you yelled something about not being one of them anymore. Did you mean the Death Eaters?"

Severus couldn't look Harry in the eye. "Yes." That was twice he'd visited the outskirts of Snape's private Hell. It was twice more than anyone but Albus.

"You wouldn't wake up. I thought you might be more comfortable in bed and... um," Potter rubbed his nose, "you looked a little upset when I put you down so I stayed for a while. I hope you don't mind."

"Why should I mind what you do when normal people are asleep? Unless it involves chasing after Lord Voldemort or otherwise putting yourself mindlessly in danger."

Harry smirked. "You almost sound like you worry about me," he teased.

Severus sneered at him. "I've wasted too much time and effort on keeping you in one piece - so you can fulfill whatever it is you're supposed to do, mind - to be happy when you go gallivanting around for your own selfish purposes."

"Sorry. Didn't know you cared." Potter shrank from the edge of the table.

"Well, I do," Severus whispered before he could stop himself. The tiny voice he'd tried so hard to crush giggled cheerfully.


"Don't call me 'Sev'. My name is Severus."

"Severus, then. I thought you hated me." Potter sounded skeptical. His eyes narrowed behind those ridiculous glasses.

"It's possible to hate someone and give a damn about what happens to him. I don't think I shall ever stop hating you, Potter. You've done too much to make my life more complicated than it already was, and I doubt you'll stop until you've rearranged it completely."

"Hateful greasy bastard."

"Miserable obnoxious brat."

"Good thing I hate you too, y'know."

Severus looked at him wearily. "And only a few days ago you said you liked me. All that time on the pitch has made you delirious."

Harry scoffed. "It's not like you'd know anything about Quidditch!" You're wrong there. Not that you'll ever know it. "Anyway, I don't like you."

"Then what did you mean by the words 'I like you'? Have you forgotten how to use English?"

"I like it when you're not being a sorry git! You're... I don't know, interesting, I suppose." Potter glared vitriol. "But that doesn't mean I like you."

"Only enough to sleep with me."

"I didn't sleep with you! I was awa--" Potter clapped a hand over his mouth. All of him not shrouded by clothes turned a rather startling shade of red. "I'd better go," he muttered.

"Oh, woe, how ever will I cope?" Severus meant the words to act like a bullwhip, renting ear and spirit. Much to his distress he almost sounded like he meant them. Because you do, mate. Yet again he told the tiny voice to shut up. Harry's hand dropped from his stunned face.


"That was meant to be sarcastic."

"Didn't sound like it." Potter shoved the wild hair out of his face. It only stood up more. In the unsteady kitchen light his cheeks and chin were dark with eighteen hours' worth of young beard. Possibly within weeks it would reach maturity and he'd begin the final physical descent into adulthood. Green eyes caught him, and Severus realised he'd been staring. Harry blinked. "What?"

"I'm simply pondering how someone like you is supposed to save us all."

Potter snorted. "Maybe you ought to show me. S'not like I asked for it."

"Believe me, Mister Potter, there are a great many things I wish to show you." For the love of god, Severus! Can't you be any more ambiguous? I'm not quite sure you succeeded that time.

"What's an ugly, slimy, greasy, big-nosed git like you supposed to show me?" His voice was low, husky, challenging but not in anger. A bit of the red flush came back to Harry's prickled cheeks. He dropped his head. "Sorry." With his lips twisting in frustration, and his shoulders hunched, Potter looked very small indeed.

Severus bit his tongue before he spoke. "I can show you how to use your brain instead of treating it as a sewage filter. Had you paid attention to any of my lessons in the last seven years you'd know already."

"I've paid attention."

Severus sat back and folded his arms. "Very well. Let's see if you remember this: powdered asphodel root mixed with an infusion of wormwood."

"Draught of Living Death." Potter looked incredulous.

"How much is a standard dose?"

"Um... two ounces."

"I think we can mark that down to a lucky guess." Severus scratched his neck - then yanked his hand away when he realised what a relaxed gesture he'd made in Potter's presence. "Ratio of wormwood infusion to asphodel root powder?"

Potter thought for a minute. His eyes twitched nervously. "Five to one?"

"Six to one. Roughly. The basic formula is two fluid ounces of five-percent infusion of wormwood to ten cubic centimetres of asphodel root powder. How long should it simmer?"

"Um... I don't think it's supposed to."

Severus raised his eyebrows. "Really? Why not?"

Potter put his chin on his fists. "I know this one." He squeezed his eyes shut. "Um... the... asphodel root powder will oxidise, and render the potion ineffective."

"What happens to the person who drinks oxidised Draught of Living Death?"

Potter shrugged.

Severus smirked wryly. "I drank some, once. I spent half the day throwing up, and the other half convinced an unusually large Cornish pixie named Ribbit was lurking in my bag with a Beater's bat." Gran had given him a right bollocking for that stunt: first for taking Draught to start with - especially when she found out it was part of a prank to make Sirius Black, his reluctant Potions partner that first year, think he'd killed Severus - and second for turning his back and not paying attention to what Black did.

Harry stared. His brilliant eyes gleamed. A grin started to twitch on his mouth. "Have you spent most of your life puking or something?"

"My gastronomic condition is none of your concern." Severus fought a shameful smile and the thought that he was actually enjoying himself (and that Potter might be doing the same), and cleared his throat. "From this, what can you tell me about oxidised Draught of Living Death?"

Harry ran a hand through his hair and grinned wickedly. "That Sirius probably took it a few times."

A bit of Harry's grin was mirrored for an instant. "It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest."

Potter glanced down; the glimmer of his eyes was rather fetching. He snorted and shook his head. "I swear, with the way he gets on at me about things like getting library books back on time you'd think he was some perfect little angel the whole time he was here."

Severus laughed out loud at that; he quickly stifled it. The sudden smile on Harry's face made him wonder when the fire behind him had been stoked. "How do you know he wasn't?" he asked with a hint of teasing sarcasm. Harry rolled his eyes.

"Professor Lupin told me. From the way he talked, I'm not sure how Sirius survived to seventh year. I don't think there's a rule he didn't break at least once."

"Such as?" Severus smirked.

Harry exhaled. "Don't know where to begin." He looked up conspiratorially. "I really shouldn't be telling you this, y'know."

"I know. It doesn't seem to have stopped you yet." Severus' stomach filled with feathers at Potter's soft, sweet chuckle.

"Don't tell anyone?"

"Who would I tell? The headmaster? I doubt he'll give many detentions a quarter century after the fact."

Potter flushed a little. "Thanks. God, what did Lupin tell me?" Harry counted on his fingers, a cheerfully pensive look on his face. "Sneaking into the girls' dormitory, camping out in the Forbidden Forest 'cause my dad dared him, putting a Slick Spell on the Slytherin table and casting a Temulentus Hex during dinner so everything slid off, charming dog pheromones all over the Slytherin Quidditch team's robes right before a Care of Magical Creatures exam--"

"The crups practical. I'd forgotten about that." A small smile tilted the corners of Severus' mouth. "I always suspected that was Black's doing. Or Pot--your father's."

"What happened?"

Snape leaned back in his chair. His eyes narrowed pleasantly. "There were three third years on the team that year. Same year as us. Professor Kettleburn had to send them to the hospital wing in order to remove the array of sex-crazed dogs attached to their legs."

"You're joking!" Harry's eyes were huge, glittering wickedly in the firelight. Severus had to pull himself away from the green sparks dancing at him lest he do something terribly inappropriate.

"Not at all. The rest of us were ecstatic - the exam was cancelled and we were able to move on to something interesting. Fwoopers, if I recall. That very likely was the only prank of Black's to have a favourable outcome."

Harry giggled. "You weren't angry about the Quidditch team?"

"Should I have been? It didn't affect me, and we'd already won the cup."

"Heartless greasy bastard, can't even worry about your own team."

"Obstinate obnoxious brat, can't think of anything but sports."

"M'not an obnoxious brat." Harry closed his eyes and raised his eyebrows haughtily. His slightly puckered lips begged to be kissed. A week, Severus. Time moved dreadfully slowly sometimes.

"You must be, if the king of delinquents is worried about what you've been up to." God forbid Black ever find out what his godson had been up to - he'd be back in Azkaban good and proper, and Snape wouldn't even be alive to gloat.

"Sirius doesn't want me to repeat his mistakes, that's all. According to Professor Lupin, I mean. Only, sometimes I think he doesn't want me to have any fun anymore."

"Hmm." Severus pushed some hair behind his ear. It was close to needing a wash. "I must say, I'd prefer it if you didn't try to lure me into the den of any sort of rampaging beast."

Potter hung his head and sulked. "I reckon you're not chaperoning Hagrid's outing to the Isle of Drear, then?" His eyes sparkled mischievously.

"I'd think you've got enough to worry about with Quidditch finals against Slytherin without adding quintapeds to the mess."

Harry shrugged. That smile was still spread across his face; obnoxious brat or not, there was a beauty in him that seemed to forgive all of the atrocities Snape had ever performed. "We'll kick their sorry arses. No offence."

"None taken."

Potter honestly looked surprised. "Really?"

"I can if you'd prefer, but it hardly seems worth the effort."

A light flush crept into Harry's face. His smile softened almost imperceptibly. "Thanks."

"After all, we both know you're only talking from out your bum--"

"Prat!" Harry made a face. Snape chuckled.

Silence fell, but there was nothing uncomfortable about it. Severus didn't analyse, didn't rationalise, didn't listen to the conflicting sides of his brain because, for once, they weren't conflicting. His hand was flat on the table. Gingerly, one of Potter's began creeping towards it; Snape made no move to stop him. For the first time since... well, Friday, he was genuinely enjoying himself. Harry's shy smile kept sending fluttering sensations through his chest--

A noise from beyond the portrait made them jump. Quickly, Severus motioned to the cloak. Potter was already tugging it on. That damned pear giggled. Thankfully, Harry remembered to grab his empty bowl and vanish entirely just before the headmaster stepped in.

"Good evening, Severus. Or, I should say, morning."

"Good morning, Albus. What are you doing here?" Snape coughed into his hand as he felt Potter slide under the table. It covered a slight noise. Not that Dumbledore would be upset to see them together.

"I woke up only to discover I'd developed a strange rumbling in my stomach. I fear the only cure may be some of the treacle tart from dinner. You really ought to have been there. The house-elves outdid themselves."

"I was detained."

Albus nodded distantly. He started rummaging through a large icebox near the door. "Rolanda mentioned you'd gone with them. I'm glad to see you getting out more. It would do you good to find someone to spend time with." Severus felt an odd lump in his chest. It coincided with a head brushing against his knee. The barest curve of his spine took him quite by surprise.

"I've got a great deal of work to do, sir. I don't think I shall," Dumbledore turned around with tart in hand and Severus saw the sharp strain in his eyes, "be able to join them again." Snape scowled. "Is there something you need to tell me, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore studied his tart. "I don't suppose you know what happened to the sword in my office? It went missing yesterday evening and I've found neither blade nor hilt."

For the first time in a very long while, Severus didn't want to answer a direct question from the person who, effectively, had saved his life. If he didn't, though, the consequences could be grave. "I think I overheard Potter say something about it flying up and attempting to skewer him." He dropped his eyes when Albus sagged.

"I was afraid of that. It's begun, Severus. The Heir of Gryffindor has been found, and we don't have much time to determine where or when the conflict will strike."

"Yes, sir." Surreptitiously, he dropped a hand under the table to touch Potter's head. Harry grabbed it instead.

"I don't suppose you know what made him call the sword?"

"I would presume an argument of some sort."

"It must have been a profound argument. I wonder with whom," Albus murmured before shaking his head. "One would think our dear Madam Ravenclaw could have been more precise than 'our island' or 'not two whole moons'." Albus gave a wry, bitter smile. "Have you heard anything suspicious?"

"Nothing, sir. Odd happenstances have occurred recently in both London and Hogsmeade, though."

"Hmm, yes. Have you any idea why the Dark Mark was cast?"

Severus shook his head. "None, sir. It strikes me as too obvious a thing for any self-respecting Death Eater to do."

"And the rest of them?"

Snape smirked. "Quite." He squeezed the small hand under the table - it squeezed back. "I may have more information by the end of the week."

"Let's hope not. I don't relish the idea of you going back into that nest of vipers." Albus paused. "You're absolutely certain it was Harry?"

A small pain, like betrayal, arced between Severus' temples and was gone. "Certain enough."

Albus poked a finger into the treacle tart and absently gnawed the brown goo he scooped up. "Let's hope the prophecy is wrong. I've grown rather attached to the boy."

Severus licked his lips. "Albus, what if the prophecy has merely been misinterpreted?" Small nails had started to dig into Snape's hand when Albus spoke. He gently shook his wrist to loosen them, and laced his fingers with Harry's properly. He'd never hear the end of it, but it would have been cruel not to do something.

"What exactly do you mean, Severus?" Albus peered at him. "You don't think--"

"It's always a possibility, sir. Or he may simply never have children. It has been known to happen."

"I dearly hope you're right." Albus smiled. "Your 'eternal action', perhaps?"

Severus froze imperceptibly; he felt Harry jump. "Sir?"

"Maybe you only had to say that to set things in motion. Bless the Sorting Hat for seeing that cunning brain of yours."

"Sorry?" He knew perfectly well what Dumbledore meant. After days of self-doubt, though, he could use a pleasant stroke to his ego.

Albus raised his eyebrows. He knew Snape's reactions and reasons well. Fortunately, he always gave in. "I've yet to see your particular form of superb lateral thinking in any other House. I suspect that's why you didn't go into, say, Gryffindor." He'd come close, but he'd never told anyone but Gran.

"Why would I want anything to do with that lot?"

Harry smacked him in the shin. Severus kicked him. He coughed just in time to cover up the insolent snort. It was rather difficult to fight the sudden twitch on his mouth.

"Careful, Severus. You never know where a Gryffindor might be lurking." The headmaster glared, but his eyes twinkled. "We're not all out to get you."

"Yes, sir."

"See Poppy tomorrow. You seem to be developing a bit of a cough."

"Yes, Headmaster."

Albus looked at him with more tenderness than Severus was willing to acknowledge. "Get some sleep. We've got a hard road ahead."

"I will. Goodnight, Albus."

"Goodnight, Severus."

Harry waited until the painting had closed before scrambling up next to Snape. He sneezed. "It's a little dusty down there. I don't think the house-elves have cleaned up yet."

"Hmm." Severus picked a small piece of lint off the Invisibility Cloak as it came into view. "I see what you mean." It took him a moment to realise that Potter was still clutching his hand. It took another moment to realise he was clutching back. "What, might I ask, were you planning on doing under the table, Mister Potter?"

Harry blushed. "I thought he was going to sit down." The brat fidgeted. "Y'don't think he's right, do you?"

Snape shook his head. "We can hope not."

Potter sighed. "Oh, well. At least I won't die a virgin." He smiled crookedly at Severus' surprising low laugh. It didn't quite kill the stoic fear in his green eyes. Harry yawned.

"You need to get to bed. Your bed," Snape added quickly.

"I know. Practise starts at seven thirty."

"You can get up that early?"

Harry glared. "For Quidditch, yeah. If it were Potions practise I think I'd sleep all day!"

"That might lead to the temptation to use you as a guinea pig." He realised too late what he'd said and cleared his throat. Potter clapped his free hand over his mouth and giggled.

"I'm not a guinea pig!"

"Five points for talking back."

"Greasy bastard." Potter shook his hand free. Instead of slipping on the cloak, though, he did something quite unexpected: he leaned forward just enough to make his intentions clear, and waited.

Severus opened his mouth a little to remind him that the week wasn't up but nothing came out. It didn't even occur to him that it looked like assent until soft, warm lips pressed against his. A strange knot loosened in the middle of his chest and he felt blood suddenly start to flow through his stilted heart. Harry pulled back, slightly pink, and looked for any signs of anger. Severus couldn't quite make them show. "Get to bed."

He was rewarded with a soft smile; Potter hurried into his cloak. The portrait swung and closed, and Severus was left alone, bittersweet pressure lingering on his lips.


... His clothes landed on him with a fump. "Get out of here."

Severus leaned up on his elbow and squinted. "What?"

"Get dressed and fuck off. After last time I'm not going to deal with your sorry carcass right before I have to go to work."


"Get dressed, get out." Walden dragged a long red bathrobe out of the closet and pulled it on. "Stupid little slut," he muttered.

Severus froze. He stared as Walden tied the belt cord tight around his slender waist. Sharp, pale eyes narrowed at him. He shrank. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Huh, let me think. You didn't do what I told you. Yes, I'd say that qualifies as doing something wrong." Arrogant and affectedly aristocratic, Macnair leered down his nose at the boy he'd praised gutturally, wordlessly minutes before. In the brightly lit, white room Severus could see the annoyed twitch in his cheek, the bored tension forming in his shoulders. "You're never going to make it among our kind if you don't learn to do what you're told." He stormed out.

Sliding on his hip to save his sore behind, Severus pulled on his shorts and his good winter robe, found his shoes and socks under the lump of duvet, and reluctantly stepped into the Floo. "L'Maison du Mal Foi," he said halfheartedly. He barely noticed the whirl, or the sharp pain in his arm when his angled elbow struck a passing hearth.

Narcissa, of all people, was in the sitting room when he sprawled on the hearthrug and didn't bother to move. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

"Nothing, 'Cissa." His arm ached. Simple incomplete hairline fracture of the lower humerus, he thought distantly. Treat using a Bonemender Charm or an Ossic Regenerative Compound. Neither was difficult for him. Bones were easy. Bones were rigid. Soft tissue, mutable and messy, was his failing. He left it.

He heard her mutter from across the room. The soot around him vanished. "Come here, tell me all about it."

"It's nothing." He got up anyway, pushing unsteadily with his good left arm, and curled up on the couch with his face in her lap. "Walden kicked me out."

"Poor baby." Her slender fingers, slightly swollen from needlepoint, stroked his temples. She didn't quite touch his hair; he'd not washed it since the start of Christmas holidays. Right before Walden invited him over for the first time - not for sex, of course, but to see the Medieval cauldrons that had been passed down through his family. It went from there. It always went from there. The sharp sense of gratitude he'd felt for the attention still lingered.

"What're you still doing up?" he muttered into her stomach.

"Oh, nothing important. I wanted to finish this tapestry. My fingers went." They did feel a bit stiff against his skin.

"Did you run out of solution?"

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I can't drink it. I know you meant well, but," she sighed, "it just tastes so horrible. I choke."

"Sorry." His arm ached steadily now. He'd have to patch it up before he went to bed. "I'll try to fix it tomorrow."

She ran a hand down his arm and he winced. "Did you hit your arm?"

He nodded. She smelled nice, like honeysuckle and something a bit like lemons. That was odd. It made his brain foggy. She prodded his swelling elbow. The smell got a little stronger every time he winced.

"Oh, dear. We need to get you to the doctor, sweetie. I don't know how to fix this."

"I do," he said in a dull voice. Reluctantly, he sat up and managed to get his wand out of the pocket in his sleeve. That was his own little idea: a long, slender pocket imbued with a gripping charm. It worked beautifully. He waved it awkwardly with his left hand. "Ossis Regeneratis Humerus Dexter!" Severus' concentration was still there. The pain ebbed and he could feel bone knitting back together. Narcissa raised her delicate white eyebrows.

"Impressive. Going to be a mediwizard now?"

Severus shook his head. "No. You know I'm going to be a researcher." The soft hand suddenly on his back sent trickles of warmth through his nerves. His spine curved like it did for Lucius. It had never done that for Walden, or Evan, or Augustus. Narcissa seemed very close indeed.

"I'm sure you'll be wonderful," she whispered, and kissed him.

Severus was a bit shocked. He'd never kissed a woman like this, certainly not his cousin's wife. It seemed... wrong. She belonged to Lucius. He had the vague, unfamiliar feeling that someone should be coming to save him.

No, that's silly. Why would I need someone to save me from 'Cissa? The shock soon passed and, more out of instinct than anything else, he returned the soft pressure. It felt different to kissing Lucius: smoother, more pliable, younger despite the fact she was four months senior. He felt his eyes close, and a tingle run from the base of his skull to his hips. Severus finally broke away, panting slightly. "Lucius... won't he be... angry?"

Narcissa's milk-white skin had flushed and she was pink all over. It offset the startling white of her hair, her lashes, her eyebrows, the watered-down blue in her eyes. Her lips were blood red. She smiled. "Not if it's you, sweetie."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive." She took his hand from her neck and cupped it gently over her small breast. Her lips marked a line down the side of his throat. "Absolutely," kiss, "completely," kiss, "positive." A hand came to rest on his thigh and it rubbed the crease between leg and body. Severus closed his eyes. Tentatively, curiously, he squeezed and was taken aback at the size of the nipple that pressed into his palm. It was far broader and bolder than the pinhead rises of flesh he'd known. His eyes flew open; his brain was full of soft cotton wonder and analytic haze.

Narcissa didn't move to stop him when he untied the thin silk dressing gown at her waist, or when he pushed it off her shoulders, or when the nightgown's thin blue straps followed. Her skin was perfect, not a mark or a mole save the red skull burned into her left forearm. Lucius' was black, Walden's was even blacker, but 'Cissa's would never be darker than her blood. He ran long fingers over it; it was completely smooth. All of them were completely smooth.

The reddish bumps welling on her pink skin fascinated him far more than they aroused him. Purely out of curiosity he bent down and took one between his lips. She made a soft noise, like water lapping at a shore. It slid into the narrow cavity of his hipbones and he wrapped his arms around her back to keep her close. She made more of the water noises; fingers traced his back just below his hair.

Severus eased the moonlight blue silk down her slender body. The clinical part of him adored the smooth curved lines under his hands. One ran over her back, trying to memorise and contrast every line of flesh and fable. The blades on her back felt like wings forming under her skin. In his mind he saw the fragile white feathers - some white as sunlight, others as ice - getting ready to burst free. He ran a single finger down her spine and the water noises broke in a low gasp. It didn't stop until he found the rough patch.

Never stopping with one nipple or the other (so as not to draw suspicion), he traced it enough to understand that it was approximately an inch across, the shape of a human heart, and raised in a series of tiny crinkles. A pit in the middle was slightly sticky, and she hissed when he "accidentally" brushed it. He didn't have to look to know that it was red as a heart.

He racked his brain for Gran's notes: albinism, increased risk of radiation-induced skin cancer due to lack of melanin. He had no way to be utterly certain of what it was, though - Gran had never gotten to teach him the more refined points of microbiology or diagnosis. She had, however, taught him the more refined points of potions, including several of which the mediwizarding community had never heard.

"I want to see your back," he whispered, and carefully nipped his way around her shoulder. She leaned easily against the back of the couch, long hair brushed around so that it covered her chest, occasionally smiling back at him with half-closed eyes. Severus traced the line of her unborn wings with his tongue and received a gentle moan. The sounds, the soft sounds, were what enticed him; it became rather difficult to concentrate on what he was really doing. He pressed against her, clothed chest to bare back, and the pure force against his pelvis made him rest his teeth against her skin to hold back a sigh.

Even when his eyes dropped to the heart-shaped patch - in the middle of her sacrum, at the bottom of her gently curved spine - he didn't know for sure what it was. It looked very much like the pictures of squamous cell carcinoma he'd seen in Gran's lost library. A pit opened in the middle of his chest: 'Cissa had been mother, sister, friend, and now oddball lover to him, and the sight of the oozing heart on her back scooped out his own.

"You've got a wound of some sort back here, 'Cissa."

"Hmm. Don't worry about it. Just keep doing what you were doing, sweetie." Her voice was a low, gravely purr. It sounded faintly masculine, and did nothing to help his concentration.

"Have you seen a doctor?"

"It's only a bite, Severus. It'll go away." Before he could say anything else she turned around and slid her fingers into the neck of his robe. In the midst of a slow, exploring kiss full of soft tongues and wet sounds, she undid the clasps and managed to get the yards of black cloth over his head. It went shush on the mahogany floor, and the sound was followed by the hiss of the silk that joined it.

She straddled his lap, a few inches away from his slender torso, and moved one long, sallow hand from her back to the patch of white hair where Severus was a bit surprised to see nothing else. He knew all about anatomy and physiology, but it was one thing to read about it and wholly another to look down a plane of stomach and see it.

"What do I do?" He felt like he'd been dropped into a seventh year Muggle Studies exam and told to define the inner and outer workings of British government through the ages.

"Just explore, sweetie. I'll let you know how you're doing." She pressed his hand further, and he jumped at the onslaught of hot liquid and acidic smell. Gingerly, biting his lip, he touched a slick strip of flesh. She gasped and made a soft, "Ohh." His eyes flicked to her face and back down to the patch of white. Gently, he tried it again, this time running his fingertip around the inner rim of the dilated cleft. Narcissa moaned and wriggled against him.

There was more to be found, of course. He followed a textbook diagram in his brain to figure out where things were: outer labia, pliable and covered with coarse hair; inner labia, smooth and flexible and puckered; the clitoris, a hard nub with a small foreskin, was the most familiar thing he found and his hips twitched at the groan she gave when he stroked a circle around it; urethra, which he skimmed over - it was a bit strange for that to be distinct and separate; and vagina, which was even slicker than the rest - slimy - and rather hotter than he'd expected. She whimpered softly when he slid a lone long finger into its depths, curiously stroking the convoluted walls. He drew his fingers back to look and pondered the clear-and-white-marbled goo coating a good portion of his hand.

Studying it intently, he lifted his hand and pressed the tip of his wet finger to his tongue. It was tart, and tasted slightly like the Malfoys' roses smelled. Narcissa moaned loudly when he did, so he stuck the whole finger in his mouth, not quite letting himself taste the foreign substance. Her pupils nearly swallowed her irises. He looked at her, finger still in his mouth, needing approval. It came when she lay back and propped her feet on his shoulders. "Do exactly what you just did, but use your tongue."

"My tongue?" His stomach wouldn't stay still. In fact, unless he was very much mistaken it was trying to crawl out his mouth. The same nervousness froze his eyes wide. He'd sucked Lucius, and two of his other three partners (Evan wasn't keen), but that was all out in the open. This was hidden, secretive, unwilling and unable to ever fully present itself. 'Cissa nodded.

"You'll be fine." She stroked the side of his neck with one soft, pedicured foot. The jumpiness in his stomach increased when he got his first clear look at the swollen, puckered red flesh in its shroud of white lace. For the first time in the six months or so since he'd fled Eversor's twisted affections he truly felt only fifteen. Again, the sensation that someone should be there to save him, all small hands and soft words and impossible silky hair, rushed him. He couldn't remember who it was, though. Out of fear, out of curiosity, out of his undying need to please, he leaned forward and closed his eyes.

The coarse curls scratched his lips. They seemed to be everywhere and he spent the first several seconds keeping them out of his teeth. Acidic white roses filled his sinuses and puckered his tongue. Narcissa put a hand on his shoulder and guided him by moving her hips. It didn't come as a great surprise when she moved him towards her nub of clitoris. Severus used his thumbs to pull the rim of flesh far enough back that he could get a clear reach. With a stiff tongue, he batted it. She hissed. "Gentle, sweetie. It might be a while until you can do that."

"Sorry," he muttered. Thoroughly lost, he made his tongue go as soft as he could and pressed it over the whole area. The tip accidentally hardened and struck the area just below the nub. Muscles jerked; 'Cissa groaned. The hand on his shoulder tightened until he focused there.

As far as he could tell, it was the same theory as loosening a foreskin. He used that, adapting it to a much smaller scale and a radically different layout. The surrounding area was sensitive enough and, with every tiny massage, he felt the mucosal hood twitch a little, pulling back and sliding forward over an exceedingly tiny and sensitive glans. The soft water noises started again. They were mostly steady, broken now and again by a moan or a groan or a low throaty cry. The acid made his molars ache; he didn't stop, though. He couldn't disappoint Narcissa.

Soon, he pressed his tongue to the nub again and she ground against him. Her sharp, panting cry sent a streak of fire shooting down from his solar plexus. "Don't stop, sweetie. Stay right there." He did as he was told. His tongue ached, and several times he nearly drooled. There has to be a better way.

In a moment of inspiration, he went with something familiar: wrapping his lips around the bit of flesh, he suckled it. Narcissa clamped a cushion over her face and screamed. Severus took that as a good sign. A moment later he added a few flicks of his tongue. It was basically the same shape as a penis, domed and pointed with a small prominent strip at the bottom. Thinking like that made it far easier to keep his lips delicately closed. He gave a single harder suck and she yowled. Patches of her skin were red and blotchy when he opened his eyes. Oddly, it did nothing to mar the perfection.

He gave one more long, strong suck and the pillow-muffled shriek didn't stop for a long time. Muscles jerked and writhed, the nub danced and seized, and a gush of tangy liquid nearly shocked him out of his skull. It ran out on the creamy brocade couch and turned it the colour of bleached straw. 'Cissa panted and gulped. Her dilated eyes were wide when she removed the pillow. "Not bad," she said between breaths, "for a first-timer."

Severus smirked. His ego preened like a spoiled cat and sent warm shivers over his cool skin. It did nothing to help the sound-stimulated pressure in his groin. She tried shakily to sit up. He helped her as well as he could and she ended up leaning against his chest. Smiling softly, he kissed the top of her head. 'Cissa reached up and pulled him to her mouth. He froze; not even Lucius would kiss him after his mouth had been... there.


"I wanted to."

"But I just--"

She put a finger to his lips. "I know."

Something fluttered in his chest. It went beyond the normal gratitude, even beyond what he felt with Lucius and supposed was love. It felt more like... worth. Appreciation. Like his efforts had meant more than a means to an end. Part of his brain was lost to thought as he leaned forward and kissed her slowly and reverently.

"Stretch out, sweetie," she whispered.

"Why? What are you going to do?"

"What do you think, silly? I'm going to fuck you senseless."

He stiffened. Frantically, his mind cried out for the small hands. Severus had yet to be inside someone. Unless she was planning some unorthodox piece of transfiguration there was no real alternative. Arms crossed and clutching his shoulders, he shrank. "Are--are you sure you're... you're up to it? After that, I mean..." he trailed off at her crooked smile.

"Women aren't quite like men, sweetie. We recover a little more quickly." She reached to touch his leg and he flinched. "Don't tell me you're scared."

He shook his head, reluctantly nodded. 'Cissa petted his cheek. "Nothing's going to hurt you. It won't be that different from Lucius."

"It will," he choked. A tremor darting through his muscles threatened to take them. A thin crust was drying around his mouth and it pinched. He rubbed it hard with the back of one wrist. Brain running at dire speed, he tried to find some other excuse. "What if you get pregnant?"

"Don't worry, that's all been taken care of." Ah. Childsbane Concoction. It did nothing to ease the terror leaving great furrows in his soul. You're being irrational, Severus. Nothing is going to happen. You'll enjoy it, and you know 'Cissa would never hurt you. She touched his stomach. "You've been... on top before, right?"

"No." It came out in a whisper. He couldn't look her in the eye. Narcissa laid a palm on his chest.

"Stretch out, Severus, sweetie. I'll be gentle." As always, when his lingering sense of self was on the line, he gave in. She worked his green shorts off carefully and settled on his thighs. A few good strokes of her fist and he was ready - physically, anyway.

"Don't leave me, 'Cissa. Ever."

She smiled softly, and a little lopsidedly. "Never ever." She scooted forward and, one hand on his hollow stomach and the other groping behind her, Narcissa held him steady and all he could feel was alien wetness, and itching heat, and a sensation that his spirit was being pulled into impossible promises--

He startled. "Harry!" Snape grasped the duvet to his right and groped frantically even after he knew nobody was there. Silently, he stared at the covers he'd jerked loose in his restless thrashing. One dose and you're addicted. One set of nightmares and you can't even handle them on your own. He suspected he could; he suspected he didn't want to.

The clock read four forty-seven. He'd slept perhaps two and a half hours if he was lucky. It was all the sleep he would find that night. Severus rolled onto his back anyway and stretched one arm across the empty bed. He couldn't quite decide if it helped or not.

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