Author's Note: "Marching Off To War" is required reading to understand most of this.
Disclaimer: Nope, still not mine. Wylie is, Sara is, the twisted concept is, but the rest belongs to Jo. All hail J.K.! (Before you ask, I have a kitten and a Hogwarts sweatshirt. Other than that I’m broke.)
Warning to all: Yep, more slash. Once again, it’s Sevvie/Harry. This is the first sequel to “Marching Off To War”. This one isn’t even remotely as graphic, but the first story is required reading to get a lot of it. Keep an eye out for the nifty literary devices I learned in high school! Continued in “Civil War”. What? You think I’m going to give those two a break?
He woke Harry up before he left. Admittedly, it wasn’t very pleasant to have the covers yanked off in that freezing room and be packed back to Gryffindor tower by Floo at five in the morning, but that was how it had to be. He didn’t do it unkindly. It was just the way things were.
Harry had spent a long time just looking at his face, holding Severus tight while he fitfully slept. Now and then he would cry out. He also talked in his sleep. “I’m not one of them, anymore. Can’t you see that? For god’s sake, Moody, I’m not one of them.”
“Shhh, Sev. Moody’s not here.” He brushed a piece of that long, greasy hair out of his face. Severus stirred but didn’t wake. In the last couple of months he’d come to understand a lot more about his worst enemy than he’d wanted.
“Oi, wake up!” A Ron-shaped silhouette obscured the brilliant white sun. “How can you sleep today?”
Harry pushed himself up on his elbows. The lake threw off blinding displays of light. “I wasn’t asleep.” He brushed some grass out of his hair. “Where’ve you been?”
Ron plopped down next to him. “Hermione wanted to have a ‘serious talk’. She wants to know what’ll happen between us now that we’re leaving Hogwarts.” There was something wistful in the way he said “Hogwarts”.
“Still going to ask her?”
“Oh, Hell, yeah.” Ron held up a palm and Harry halfheartedly slapped it. “Wedding night, here I come!” He grinned, ginger hair falling in his face. Harry’s somber mood slipped another notch. “You’re perky today. Don’t tell me you miss Snape’s detention.”
Okay, I won’t tell you I miss Snape’s detention. “Why would I do that?”
“Well, you’ve been there almost every night for two months. We started to think you’d forgotten about us.”
“It’s not my fault he hates me.” Harry scratched his chest. He felt the hard dog tag hidden under his robe. It bore a simple cutout: “H+S”. In a fit of what Severus called “dreck” he’d had two made on the final Hogsmeade weekend. He knew for a fact that he wasn’t the only one wearing the little piece of steel that morning.
Ron snorted. “As much time as he spends with you I’d think he’s in love with you.”
“Snape is not in love with me.” Neither of them had ever said anything of the sort.
“Calm down. I was kidding.” Ron shook his head. “You haven’t been able to take a joke for ages. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Harry snapped.
“You-Know-Who’s dead, Harry. You killed him.” Yes. A month ago. Great epic battle, wands waving here and there, the sword of Godric Gryffindor thrust into Voldemort’s heart, blah blah blah blah blah. Harry was sick of it. To make matters worse, not a single Death Eater had been killed or caught since and now the survivors wanted revenge. And that, Ron, is why I’m pissed off. You try sending Hermione to spy on a bunch of psychopaths who want you dead and see how you feel.
“For Christ’s sake, can’t everyone just shut up about that already?” Harry pushed himself to his feet and stalked off towards the castle, hands shoved deep in his pockets. He heard Ron scurry to his feet and run after him.
“Harry—“ Ron grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around. Harry glared up at him. “Harry, what – is – bothering – you? If it’s not You-Know-Who—“
Ron frowned. “If it’s not him, then what the Hell is going on? It’s not me and Herm, is it?” Harry turned and stalked towards the castle again. “Harry!” Ron jogged alongside him. “I’m sorry I’ve been spending more time with her than you, okay? We’re all still friends, right? For god’s sake, Harry, answer me!”
“I’ll be in the tower if you need me,” he sneered, leaving Ron standing in the sunlight, as stunned as if Harry had yelled, “Stupefy!”
By the light of his wand, Harry watched the way the smooth surfaces of his dog tag reflected everything. His bed’s curtains were drawn, making a safe little cocoon. He shed no tears. He said nothing. The few times Neville or Dean or Seamus had come in he listened to them move about and let them leave. You’d better get back soon, Sev, and safe, or I’m going to have to kick your scrawny arse. A burst of light danced across his face and was gone.
Severus sat at his desk, the Daily Prophet in his hands and those new reading glasses propped on the end of his long nose. He was onto something, Harry knew, because his lips were moving with the words. He raised a long finger. “Harry, come look at this.” He pointed to a paragraph. Harry read silently, Severus’ hand resting lightly on his back. “Do you see it too?”
Harry nodded. “Why would Macnair resign if he didn’t know something was going to happen at the Ministry?”
“Exactly. But every single thing we know points towards Hogwarts being Voldemort’s primary target.”
“A diversionary attack?”
“I wouldn’t put it past them. But which one’s the diversion?” His silky voice was anxious and reedy. Severus pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Harry stroked the back of his neck. “Mm. Stop and you’ll be scrubbing cauldrons for a week.” Poor Sev had been working too hard lately. Between teaching seven years’ worth of students who would rather be out playing Quidditch, trying desperately every night to deduce what Voldemort and the Death Eaters were planning, and dreading the next time his Dark Mark would burn, he had barely tried to sleep in weeks. Harry helped as much as he could by getting detention every night, but he was starting to run out of rules to break.
“You need to get some sleep.”
“I’m fine. And you said that last night.”
“And I’ll say it every night until you listen to me, you stubborn git.” He wrapped his arms around his teacher’s shoulders, resting his mouth against the angular crook of his neck. Harry read the paper again and again from this vantage. He couldn’t find any more new information. He sighed heavily, lips twisted in annoyance.
“Bloody Hell, it’s late.” Snape snapped his pocket watch shut and set it back on the desk. “You have to be up for class. Hell, we both do.” He’d been too tired tonight to even be properly sarcastic.
“What time is it?”
“After two. We can pick this up again tomorrow. Sod off.” Severus rolled the paper up and dropped it in his desk with the others. Harry felt a little guilty. After all, he was one of the reasons the circles under Professor Snape’s eyes were nearly as black and hollow as the eyes themselves. He kissed the top of that greasy black head.
“Can I come to bed with you?”
Severus sighed. “Potter—“
“You sleep better when you’re not alone. You know that.”
“And what am I supposed to do in the morning, carry your books for you on the way to class?” His sharp hands curled against the desktop in a warning that Harry would have found terrifying not that long ago.
“Well, you know, I’ve got that new poodle skirt I’m dying to wear- ow! Quit it!” Harry laughed as Severus swatted him on the arse again. He still looked exhausted, but at least his mouth was trying to form some sort of outraged smile. Snape stood up wearily, put his hands on Harry’s chest, and pushed him back towards the door.
“You,” kiss, “get,” kiss, “to bed,” kiss. “Alone.” With his back pressed against Severus’ office door like that first day it was hard not to turn on the charm that so easily left him the next morning with bleary eyes and difficulty sitting. A look at Sev’s tired face and his scrawny body stooped with exhaustion, though, held it off. Harry rubbed a shadowed cheek with the side of his hand.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come? I can always Floo back to the common room—“
“No.” He pulled Harry into a short, tight hug. Harry could feel Severus’ heart fluttering in his thin chest. “Fuck off.” Harry nodded reluctantly. He placed a tender kiss on Severus’ narrow lips.
“Harry? Are you in there?” Ron’s voice broke Harry’s train of thought. Before he could respond, the curtains were yanked open. “It’s almost time for dinner.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.” He picked the dog tag off his robe and started stuffing it inside.
“Ooh, can I see?” He sat down on the bed, grinning madly.
“It’s nothing, Ron, really.”
“Harry’s got a girlfriend, Harry’s got a girlfriend.” The singsong voice that usually would have made him smile only made him bristle.
“I do not have a girlfriend!” The dog tag fell out of his robe and dangled on its long bead chain. Ron snatched it and looked.
“Why didn’t you tell me, Harry? This is so cool! Who is she? Susan Bones?”
Harry yanked the necklace away from Ron’s hands. “It’s not Susan Bones. I don’t have a girlfriend!”
“Sara MacKerby, the Hufflepuff Chaser.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend, Ron!”
Ron rolled his eyes. “What’s happened to you?”
“Nothing.” The word was ice.
“Quit lying to me, Harry. I think I know you better than that by now. It’s the first day after finals, you’re in here instead of on the pitch, and you’ve obviously got a thing for someone whose name starts with ‘S’. Did she dump you?”
“Ron! No! If I did have a girlfriend you’d be the first person to know.” His eyes pleaded with Ron. He longed to tell him, but he knew how Ron would react to the news that Harry was boffing Snape. “Just… lay off. Please?”
Ron frowned. “Come on, we’d better get to dinner.” He stood up and stretched and wandered to the door. “You are coming, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, just give me a minute.” He made sure his necklace was well hidden and rolled off the bed. He had a sudden flashback to Sev unceremoniously rolling him onto the floor that morning. It took all of his brittle strength not to break down and tell the whole unlikely story to Ron.
“… And I heard that he’s really a Death Eater, and he’s on the run from the Ministry.” Snape’s abrupt absence from the school that day had resulted in a flurry of rumours, some feasible, most outrageous.
“Bollocks.” A fifth year named Wylie Burton pointed his fork at Seamus. “Big, fat, stinky, greasy donkey bollocks. Dumbledore caught him boinking a student and sacked him.” Harry winced inwardly.
“Then who was he boinking?” Wylie suddenly became very interested in his mash. “See? Anyway, who’d want to do Snape? Well, other than Malfoy.” The little group of Gryffindors around Seamus snickered wickedly.
Harry picked at his roast chicken. He’d not had much of an appetite since Sev told him yesterday that he had to go away for another spy mission. He tried to promise that it would be the last one, but they both knew better. Harry kept his eyes down; looking up would tempt him towards the empty place at the staff table. “Oh, good grief. Did you just hear that?”
“What?” He looked up at Hermione, confused.
“The Hufflepuffs have started a betting pool on where Snape is. Someone just put five Galleons on turning into a werewolf. Don’t any of them pay attention in Astronomy?”
“The full moon was last week.” She peered at him. “You don’t look so good, Harry.”
“What? Oh, I’m just tired.”
She sat up. “I’m not surprised, considering how late Snape’s kept you in detention. What’s he been making you do all this time?”
He scraped a crude valley in his potatoes with the tines of his fork. “Not much, just helping him out with stuff.”
“Do you know where he went?” Neville stuffed another forkful of broccoli into his mouth.
“Why would he tell me where he’s going?” Why does he have to keep doing it when the Aurors should have taken over by now?
Neville swallowed. “I just thought you might have heard something, or read something someplace…” the chubby boy trailed off.
Harry plucked his napkin from his lap and dropped it next to his plate. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. You’ve got broccoli in your teeth, Neville.” Neville immediately rubbed at his teeth with his napkin. Harry climbed over the bench.
“Hold up, I need to go too.” Ron hopped up and tagged along behind. Out in the hall he leaned over and whispered, “You know where he is, don’t you?”
“Why would I know where Snape runs off to?”
“You didn’t tell Neville ‘no’.” Ron was right, unfortunately. It wasn’t much, but Harry usually gave Longbottom a straight answer. “Come on, where is he?”
“I can’t tell you,” Harry finally said in exasperation.
“Oh, okay. That happened with Dad sometimes when You-Know-Who was still around. Mum wouldn’t tell us anything about where he’d gone. She’d just get these big circles under her eyes and—“ he stopped. In a moment Ron shook his head. “No, that’s absurd. I think I’m the one who needs sleep now.”
“What?” This did not sound promising.
“For some reason I just had the weird thought that ‘S’ is Severus.” He snorted. “Pretty daft, huh?”
Harry snorted too, a bit sadly. “Yeah. Daft.” He pushed open the bathroom door.
“I mean, how stupid would anyone have to be to do Snape?” Shut up, Ron, just shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about. “The guy’s probably the Oldest Living Virgin.” Ron locked himself in one of the stalls. Harry took the opportunity to dig his nails into his palms in order to stay quiet. He turned on a tap and began to splash his red face with cold water. His chin was unusually rough; Harry remembered that he’d forgotten to shave that morning. Sev would have a fit if he saw me like this. Of course, then he’d drag me off and… ahem. No, no, it was too painful to think about that. Harry stoppered the basin and let it fill with icy water. Glasses on the shelf, he dunked his face. Bubbles trailed from his mouth in a silent scream.
The door flew open with a bang. “Oh. Look. Potter’s committing suicide. I guess this is our light entertainment for the evening.” Half a second late, heavy chuckles followed the voice. Harry jerked his head out of the basin and glared.
“Get bent, Malfoy.”
Draco sniffed. “Why don’t you? Then you can tell me all about it.” He smirked in a way that made Harry wonder if he knew.
“At least I don’t need an escort to hold my wank for me,” he muttered.
“What was that?”
“Just insulting your sexuality.” He grabbed a couple of rough paper towels and dried his face off. Oh, dear. Crabbe and Goyle at three o’clock.
“Would you like me to show you some of the finer points of liking girls sometime, Potter?” A toilet flushed. Ron’s stall door flew open. The numbers were suddenly a bit more even. Malfoy frowned and disappeared into a different stall. Ron kept a close eye on the remaining two Slytherins while he stuck his hands under the tap. Harry retrieved his glasses. His hand went for his wand pocket, just in case.
“So, Malfoy, how’s your dad? I heard they redecorated a cell just for him.” Lucius Malfoy had been one of the very small handful of Death Eaters captured at the final battle with Voldemort. Ron smirked as Crabbe and Goyle started on him.
“Come on, Ron. Let’s get back to dinner.”
“But they’re so cute when they’re trying to comprehend English!” Harry grabbed Ron’s wrist and dragged him out before there could be any bloodshed.
“That was really dumb.”
“Oh, and that ‘just insulting your sexuality’ comment wasn’t?” Harry screwed his mouth shut. “You sound just like Herm.”
“Shut up, Ron.”
“Really, Harry, what’s stuck up your arse today?”
“Absolutely nothing.” He let go of Ron and walked as quickly as he could back to the Great Hall. He sat down hard and stabbed his cold chicken with a butter knife.
“What’s wrong with you?” He raised an eyebrow at Hermione. “Where’s Ron?”
“He’s coming.” Harry looked at the mess of untouched food in front of him. He felt ill. “I’m going to go lay down. I’ll see you later, Hermione.” She opened her mouth but didn’t say anything. He left the knife sticking in the chicken and passed Ron on the way out.
“I’m going to get some rest, get rid of this headache,” he lied. “I’ll see you in a while.” The door crashed shut behind him.
Harry wandered the corridors for a long time. He told himself the staircases were playing tricks on him, or that it was the scenic route. Eventually, though, he found himself in the dungeon, outside Snape’s office. He lay a hand on the heavy doorknob. He could unlock the door, go in, curl up for a while in that big leather chair. No one would be the wiser—
“Professor Snape’s not here.” Harry cringed. Filch was so close he could feel cold breath on his neck. “’Course, if you’re that eager for detention, you can start polishin’ up the suits of armour.” Why, tonight of all nights, do I have to run into every twit in the school?
“Sorry. Must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.” Stupid, stupid. Get back to the dorm, Harry. You’re making a tit of yourself. Sev, you’d better make this up to me when you get back. He skulked out of the dungeon.
He wasn’t half-bad when he actually washed his hair. Sev looked somewhat like a distinguished vulture. Right now he wore a look that told Harry he had no interest in being compared to the bird on Neville’s grandmother’s hat. “Oh, come on. I never said you looked like a stuffed vulture.” God, that man had the art of ominous eyebrow raising down to nothing.
“You’re down fifteen points. Would you care to make it more?”
Harry threw a pillow at him. It bounced off his shoulder. Severus fixed him with another scathing glare. Suddenly, he grabbed the duvet and yanked. Harry, along with most of the neatly made bed, came crashing to the floor. He yelped, more in surprise and indignity than in pain. “What was that for?”
“It’s your turn to make the bed.” Snape primly sat down in one of the two large armchairs in front of the fire and picked up a book. Harry stuck his tongue out. He hadn’t seen Sev this happy in weeks. He haphazardly threw the duvet and sheets back on Severus’ bed and hopped up. Harry folded his hands on the back of the chair, nose buried in that dense, wiry hair. It wasn’t soft or flexible, but it was smooth. Really, it suited him.
“Something very dull and dry which you most certainly couldn’t comprehend.” He turned a page. Harry read over his shoulder for a few lines.
“Ugh, no kidding.” He reached for the book. “Gimme.”
“No.” He held the book out of Harry’s reach. Snape moved it rapidly from side to side and up and down to avoid the hands grasping for it. He pretended to read the whole time.
“I’ll tell everyone you wear Bott’s Beans shorts.”
“They’d believe you?”
“I’ll tell everyone what they say.”
“You’ve never complained.”
“Se-ev, just give me the smegging book! I’ve barely seen you in a week!” Snape dropped the book on the floor and kicked it under the bed. “Oh, you insufferable wanker…”
“My dear Mister Potter, while insufferable I may be, you must by now agree that I am not, by any means, a wanker.” He looked over his shoulder, lips curled up in a devilish smirk. Harry’s guts turned to jelly. Suddenly the smirk faded. His black eyes went wide. “My god. Your housekeeping abilities have sunk almost as low as your potion-making abilities.”
“Oi!” He really was in top form tonight. Poor Sev had just gotten out of the hospital wing that day, thanks to a Hogsmeade resident trying to take out a few Death Eaters of his own. The rest must have done him some good. “It’s not like it’s worth doing a decent job right now. It’ll just get messed up again.”
Sev pouted. Professor Severus Snape honest-to-god stuck out his lower lip and pouted. He didn’t do a very good job at it but something in Harry’s stomach fluttered anyway. “I’m going to cancel detention. You hate me.”
“No shit. You tried to curse me! It’s a good thing your aim sucks, you slimy git.” He nipped that jutting lower lip. One hand made lazy trails in Sev’s thick hair. “If Voldemort’s dead and there’s no research to help with, why am I wasting my time with you?”
“Ten more points, Potter.” Sev kissed him. Harry savoured the softness of his tongue, the warmth of his mouth, the indefinable closeness that surged through him every time the cheeky bastard did that—
“Harry, wake up.” Someone was shaking him. “Come on, it’s almost noon.”
“Hmm. Sev?” Harry fumbled for his glasses. It took him a moment to realise he was wearing them.
“Sev? What the Hell is—oh. Fuck.” Ron stared at him, shoulders slouched. His lower lip hung loose. “Oh, fuck, I was right.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry started to sit up. Ron jerked away from him.
“You sick, sick individual. You’re actually banging that greasy prick.” The freckled face beneath that ginger hair blotched white and crimson. Ron looked like he didn’t know which question to ask next.
“Ron, it’s not what you think.”
“Oh? So you just habitually roll over in the morning and ask for Snape for no good reason?”
Ron swallowed hard. “Y’know, I don’t have any problems with you being gay—“
“I’m not gay.”
“You’re doing Snape! Y’know what? You’re right, you’re not gay. You’re insane. You could have at least found someone… god, what couldn’t you have improved on? Malfoy would be better. At least he knows how to wash his hair.”
Harry’s lip trembled in anger, in hurt. “What would I want with that annoying little arsehole?”
“A damn good shagging’s my guess.”
“Get out.” Harry threw his pillow at Ron as hard as he could. He climbed out of bed and forced his friend (friend?) towards the door. “I will shag whom I want, when I want, where I want. If that includes Severus Snape, then I will shag Severus Snape. I don’t need you or anybody else telling me where I can stick my nob.”
“Just keep it away from me.” The door slammed behind Ron. Harry shook. A scream grew and died in his throat. He jerked the door open.
“Ron, get back here!”
“Fuck you, Potter.” His disembodied voice floated up the stairs. Harry suddenly felt very, very alone.
His hair was still wet when Harry ran down the stairs, dragging his Firebolt. For more than an hour he’d let the hot shower sear his huddled body, refusing to cry, refusing to do anything to acknowledge either Ron or Severus. A few hours on the pitch or just in the air might clear his mind a bit. “Harry!”
He gritted his teeth. “What do you want, Hermione?”
“We need to talk.” He scowled and started to open the portrait hole. “Ron told me what happened.”
“Goody. Has he finished telling the school yet?”
“I told him he’s being a prat.” Harry glanced back at her. She raised her eyebrows in a very matter-of-fact way. The common room was deserted, apart from them. Everyone else seemed to be taking advantage of the sultry day.
With a heavy sigh he sat down opposite her. “Talk.”
“You wanted to talk, so talk.”
“Fine. How did it start?”
“Ron woke me up and went apesh—“
“With Snape, I mean.”
“Oh. That.” Harry absently checked the twigs on his Firebolt for damage.
“Did he seduce you?” Harry glared.
“No! God, you think Snape could seduce me?” It’s not as if he’d need to.
“He didn’t ra—?“
“Don’t even think it, Hermione.” Harry looked at her with heavy, hot eyes. “He made damn sure that didn’t happen.”
“So what did happen?”
“Are you sure nobody else is here?” Harry was torn between wanting to run and wanting to finally confide in someone. With Sev gone, reality was setting in fast. I’m sleeping with my least favourite teacher. I loathe him, I despise him, I hate him, and I’m going to be a nervous wreck until he’s back. I might as well make her a nervous wreck, too.
“Positive.” She gave him her let-me-prove-it-go-on-let-me look. He sulked.
“Fine.” Harry took a breath. It seemed like a long time ago that he’d been so scared of Voldemort that he was willing to talk to a Death Eater. He’d wanted to tell someone all of this for so long. Not even Sev knew some of it.
The door groaned ominously as it swung open. Harry nearly bolted and ran. Snape was glaring, daring whomever stood there to come in. “Can I talk to you, sir?”
“Oh. Potter. Come in, get it over with. If this is about your grade on my last test—” He waved a stained hand at one of the godforsaken chairs in front of the desk.
“My scar hurts, sir.” He’d woken up keening in the middle of the night. Sirius had told him to go straight to Professor Dumbledore if his scar hurt, but he hadn’t told him what to do if he woke up with it swollen and oozing. He’d panicked. It took until after classes were over with the next day but he finally plucked up the courage to see the only other person at Hogwarts who’d been scarred by the Dark Lord.
He kept glaring at Harry. It almost looked like he was thinking. Snape opened his mouth to say something, but he hesitated. “You need to see Professor Dumbledore, not me.” His teacher glanced at the busy desk. Harry shivered. He was so cold, so cold. The voluminous student robes did nothing to keep the chilly dungeon air from pinching his otherwise bare legs. Harry huddled in on himself and felt the weight of Voldemort’s power settle on his back.
“Please, Professor, I’d rather talk to you.” The whisper shocked him. He hadn’t meant to do anything but turn and run. “I’m sorry,” he hurried. “Just tell me if you want me to go.” Those empty black eyes, as empty as Sirius’ had been the first time Harry saw him, fixed on him, tried to dissect his soul. They blinked. Suddenly, Harry heard something he’d read long ago in one of Dudley’s untouched books.
“’When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state and trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries and look upon myself and curse my fate.’” The bitterness in that silky voice was all too real. Harry knew there was more to the poem but he couldn’t remember any of it. He couldn’t quite convince himself he’d just heard it.
Snape shook his greasy head. “Nothing. I think I can spare you a minute, Potter.” Harry nodded, still not quite sure if he was dreaming. He perched himself on the awful wooden chair. Those horrible black eyes still drilled into him. “You haven’t been sleeping, have you?” Oh, god, don’t let him give me a sleeping draught. His nightmares lately had been exquisite. The last thing he wanted was something that would keep him from waking up.
“No, sir, not very well.” Harry looked around at the dim, cluttered office. Dead things floated gently in jars, hundreds of them, each passing silent judgment with whitened eyes. “I don’t want to see Madam Pomfrey about it because she’d just give me a sleeping potion.” He looked at Snape again. Harry felt much younger than his seventeen years.
“I wasn’t going to suggest one.”
“Oh.” Professor Snape’s cold words were oddly calming. Harry felt for the first time since he’d knocked that this might be the right thing to do. Do Death Eaters have the same dreams as me?
Neither of them said anything for a long time. Harry’s weak resolve faded. He had to say something. “Professor, I—“
“Life isn’t easy when everyone thinks you’re their saviour, is it?” The words had him halfway out of his chair; the pain in held him there. Harry felt his muscles quicken, ready to run.
“I—I never said I was anyone’s saviour, sir.” He forced a note of insolence. Snape wouldn’t believe him any other way.
The professor’s face was blank. “Sit back down.” He sat before he could stop himself. Harry’s scar hurt. He pushed a fall of hair away from it. It stung as a few pulled free of crusted ooze. There was too much pain, there was too much balanced precariously on his shoulders. All he wanted to do was be normal. The weight of unwanted responsibility toppled and Harry felt his face burn with humiliating tears.
He hid his face in his knees, trying not to cry. A moment later something brushed his cheek. He glanced up, and saw a worn, stained, but apparently fresh handkerchief dangling in front of his face. “Here.” He paused. If he tried to take it, would Snape snatch it back and laugh? Salty snot ran over his lips. It was either the handkerchief or his robe. He took it and blew his nose. “Keep it.” Harry could hear his teacher’s lip curl in disgust.
“Thank you, sir,” he managed between sobs. Stupid, stupid Harry! Don’t do this in front of Snape! “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a stupid little prat.” He held his breath. Stop it now, Harry. Do you want the whole of Slytherin to know you’re a sobbing nancy boy? Suddenly, he felt cold fingers touch his shoulder. He flinched. Snape was going to throw him out and leave him sobbing in the hall.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Professor Snape sounded… sad. Vulnerable, even. It scared Harry as much as anything else; he didn’t dare jerk away again. He waited for the sharp bite of bone on bone, the inevitable falling sensation as he was thrust into the corridor. Neither came. There was something more than kindness in that cool touch. It almost felt like acceptance. Wincing inside even as he did it, Harry wrapped both of his hands around that rough, sallow one. He lay his cheek against Snape’s wrist. Snape stiffened, but he didn’t pull away.
Harry licked his lips. “Everyone thinks I’m brave, and powerful, and that I’m going to save the world. They don’t understand that I’m scared. Not even Ron and Hermione really understand. I mean, god, I’m seventeen. I don’t want to have to save the world again on my own.” Harry became very aware that either Snape was trembling like a leaf or he was. It was too late to stop, though. “There’s so much I want to do, but I’m scared that I’ll die before I can do it.” Even as he said it he could only think of a few things, and only one was really important. He felt a cold hand lightly stroke his hair. The shaking slowed.
“What kind of things do you want to do?” That razor voice cut deep into him, but somehow lanced rather than injured. He looked up. Snape was fuzzy around the edges from his tears.
“Huh?” Oh, smooth, Potter. I is clever. I say big word.
“What do you want to do?” Snape didn’t look any different. Then Harry saw something living flicker in those dead eyes.
“You actually want to know?” At least he had stopped crying. It dawned on him that Snape might just be trying to get information to use against him. Better stick with the ones that aren’t too bad. Snape shrugged a little. His filthy hair fell in his face.
“I’m willing to listen.” Harry just stared at him for a second.
“I don’t know.” He looked down at his hands and the sticky square of cotton they held. “Just the usual stuff, I guess. Play Quidditch for England. Finish the really, really big ice cream Florean Fortescue’s sells. You know, the one that’s meant for, like, ten people.” Why was he telling this to Snape?
Snape snorted. Harry waited for the scathing remark. “I finished it once when I was your age.”
Where did that come from? “Really?”
“Then I threw up.” Where in HELL did that come from? Despite his shock, Harry found himself wanting to trust the man. There was no discernible reason for him to tell Harry he’d thrown up on ice cream. If that got around the school he’d never live it down.
“Ew. Maybe I won’t do that one, then.” Unconsciously, he leaned his head against Snape. His belly was concave and taut, like it had been pulled back by a portkey and never released. By the time he realised it, Harry was comfortable. He still clutched one calloused yellow hand; the other lay on his head. This was the comfort he’d craved for so long. This was what his friends hadn’t been able to give him. “I’d also kinda like to… you know…”
“You know. Have… sex.” Why did you say that, you idiot? This is Professor Snape! Every Slytherin in the school is going to know you’re a virgin. He buried his face in those slim black robes. Heat rose in his cheeks. He couldn’t stop talking, though. “I just don’t want to die without… I don’t want to be that alone.” Alone, as he’d always been, from that first kiss with Cho to the impromptu late-night petting session in the common room with Ginny when they were supposed to be studying. They’d treated it more like some forbidden religious experience than making out. When I’ve got my tongue down someone’s throat, I don’t want to be treated with reverence. He felt that hand ruffle his hair again. Its coolness leeched some of the flush from his skin.
“You won’t be.”
Harry snorted at the irony. Even Snape probably managed to get lucky sometimes. “Yeah. Right. Everyone I’ve ever liked can’t get past the fact that I’m ‘the boy who lived’.” His stomach turned at the name. “It’s like I’m supposed to be some innocent little angel for the rest of my life.” You never treated me like one, though, did you, Snape? You’d rather I choke than give me any slack. It struck him that the very thing that made him hate Snape so much was what made him so comfortable here and now. “I think you’re the only wizard who hasn’t kept me on a pedestal.”
“A bit venomous, are we?” Oh, god, you stupid moron. He never changed. You just got sappy. Harry wrenched himself free from those cold hands. He wiped the fog from his glasses a little too roughly.
“How would you feel if people decided they knew everything about you just by looking at a scar?” Harry removed himself from the horrible, painful chair and hugged himself against the dungeon’s chill.
“Potter?” He glanced back, waiting for the order to get out. Snape stood stone still, his face even harder than normal, left arm outstretched and balled into a fist. He slid his sleeve up to reveal the Dark Mark. It was at once hideous and revitalising. The flesh around it had swollen, just like his scar, and tiny spots of shiny ooze had dried on the Mark itself. It was so horrible, and so pure. Ugly black scabs dotted the Mark. It looked like Snape had taken a cracked fingernail and tried to scrape it out. My god. Are we really that much alike?
“Can I ask you something, sir? It’s kind of personal.” He had to know. If they were the same, he couldn’t let it hang.
“That depends on what it is.”
“Why did you follow Voldemort?” Snape was silent for a moment. He licked his thin, dry lips. Harry was taken aback at how alive his tongue looked next to his sallow skin.
“I suppose I thought there was a lot he could teach me.”
“Yes.” His face was stony. His eyes regarded Harry as someone who was worthy to hear this. Harry suspected no one else could say quite the same thing. Snape lowered his sleeve.
It just felt like the right thing to do, to wrap his arms around his hated teacher, to rest his head against that hook-like collarbone. His stomach churned. As Harry clutched his enemy, he heard his own voice. “God, I hate you.”
He hated Snape more when those long, skinny arms clutched him tight. He hated him with every particle of his being when that sharp cheekbone dug into the top of his head. An odd sort of contentedness fell over him. “The feeling is more than mutual.” Harry didn’t know if he could take much more. His heart was about to break out of his chest. Firm lips pressed against his head and didn’t move. “You’re going to make England a marvelous Seeker someday," Snape muttered into his hair. Something broke inside.
Harry shook softly as tears of pure venom spilled down his cheeks and soaked into worn black teacher’s robes. All of his hatred for this man was made matter. He wasn’t “the boy who lived”. He wasn’t the Heir of Gryffindor. He was just Harry Potter, son of the detestable James Potter, and nothing would ever change that fact in Snape’s mind. He couldn’t say exactly why he did it, but Harry lifted his head and pressed his lips against Snape’s.
Snape jerked back. Harry lifted one trembling hand to apologise, but his fingers brushed a sickly cheek instead. Snape tried to push him away. Their fingers tangled together. Harry couldn’t quite breathe. This was right.
“Please, sir?” He needed this acceptance, this converse similarity. There was no middle ground here. Carefully, he pushed Snape’s sleeve up to his elbow again. The Mark represented everything that had made his life a living Hell from the time he was a year old. The scabs were a desire to eradicate that darkness. He pressed his lips to each one, savouring their rough edges. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Snape’s eyes come alive with shifting lenses of tears. They dribbled down his face and left dark spots on his faded robe.
“Potter, stop this. We could both get in serious trouble.” He looked at the ugly scabs. They seemed infected.
“Did you try to scratch it off?” ‘Claw’ might be a better term. Snape nodded, face contorted. Harry kissed his wrist below the Mark. A thin hand ran over his hair again. Harry leaned up on his toes and once again tasted those bitter lips.
“Potter…” There was no bite there. Harry kissed him once more, and this time Snape returned the soft pressure. He couldn’t help but press his tongue between his teacher’s thin lips and seek out that living red flesh. He thrilled when it caressed him. Ruined hands slid down his back to rest just above his hips. The kiss broke. Snape was breathing heavily. Harry was hot. His head rang. “Did you come in here just to seduce me?”
Harry looked up from his Firebolt. He’d almost forgotten that he was recounting the story to Hermione. It wasn’t a pure telling. He knew it was corrupted with things he didn’t understand until later. Did I go down there just to seduce my teacher? “No.” He was sure about that, at least.
Hermione shook her head. “You’ve gotten yourself into one bollocks of a mess, Harry.”
“Gee, thanks for the support.”
“I’m not criticising you. Okay, maybe I am. I don’t think what you did was wrong, per se, but… Jesus Christ, Harry, you’ve fallen in love with Snape!”
“I have not!” He jumped to his feet. “Didn’t you hear me tell you about a billion times that I hate the slimy son of a bitch?” There was a Quidditch pitch waiting for him out there. He just needed to get to it.
“Harry, stop.” She sighed. “Maybe you’ve fallen in hate with him. I don’t know. I can just base this on what I’ve felt. If it had just started after we’d graduated—“
“Then we’d all be dead now because everyone decided at the last minute that Voldemort’s stand was going to be at the Ministry of Magic and Sev was the only one who didn’t fall for it.” He looked at her with hard eyes, mouth rigid. “He only managed that because I was there every night to keep him from working himself to death.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck. He wanted his Severus. Hermione didn’t say anything. “If you could hear him screaming in his sleep… He hates me just as much as I hate him, but I couldn’t leave him even if I wanted to.” He could still feel that scrawny body writhe and wrack in his arms.
“Where is he now?”
“I can’t tell you. He made me promise.”
Hermione scowled. “The way Ron was talking you were just shagging Snape for the Hell of it. This is a little more than I expected to find out.” Harry stared grimly at the portrait hole. He started walking.
“Ron can go shag himself.”
“No, no, and no.” She jumped up and blocked the way out of the tower. “You are not going to let your friendship die because he’s being a prat. If I have to, I’ll… I’ll let a troll in here to corner him in the bathroom.” Her face was a puckered mask of rage. She looked like a balloon. Harry started giggling. “What’s so funny?”
“A troll in the bathroom? Please, that’s so first year.”
She sulked. “I was scared.” He hugged her.
“Can you at least do something a little more original? I really don’t want to get troll bogeys on my wand again.” She snickered. Hermione forced herself to compose.
“I do want to know what you meant when you said that nobody but Snape had ever treated you like an equal.” She looked hurt, but did her best to hide it.
Harry sat down on the arm of a nearby chair. He brushed the tips of his broom’s twigs with an absent palm. “He never gave a damn about me. Ron’s always been a little awed over everything, and you’ve always been there with Dumbledore, trying to protect me. Sev just… didn’t care.” Even Harry had to admit to himself that Snape took it a little far on most occasions.
“That’s an interesting basis for a relationship. It almost sounds like he treated you like an inferior.”
He gave her a look. “I never said it was normal.” He found a splintering twig. He would need to dig out his broomstick servicing kit that evening.
“Has he ever told you he loves you?”
Harry cringed. “No.” Really, two months wasn’t long enough to get to that point, anyway. Why would anyone ever tell me they love me? “Usually he just calls me an obnoxious brat.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just about sex?”
Anger with Hermione just for suggesting it flared. He remembered the tenderness in Severus’ face when he used his catastrophic wit against Harry. He remembered all the times they’d forgone a quick shag in order to work or talk or argue until they were hoarse. He thought of how tired Sev looked, and how much older than his thirty-nine years. His temper was replaced by a peaceful sort of longing. “I’m sure.” He listened to the silence in the tower. Harry felt as old as Severus looked. “Could you tell Ron for me? He’ll listen to you.”
“He might listen to me. I mean, think about how you’d feel if you suddenly found out that he was sleeping with Snape.”
“Oi! Mine!” She halfway smiled.
“You know what I mean, Harry.” A pit developed in his stomach. He understood perfectly well. This was the hateful, greasy Potions teacher, after all. It must have been a big enough shock to suddenly find out that Harry apparently fancied blokes. A bloke, you mean, not just anyone. The ugly git. Harry’s lips twitched. For an ugly git he can be awfully cute sometimes.
“Talk to him ton—?“ the portrait hole swung open. A ginger head poked in. “Oh. Hi, Ron.” Ron sneered at him.
“Ravenclaw and Slytherin are having a match. Want to go, Herm?” He stressed Hermione’s name.
“Harry? Want to come?” Harry took one look at Ron and shook his head.
“I need to take care of my Firebolt. See you guys at dinner?”
“Definitely.” Ron just glared. “Going to be okay?”
“I’m fine.” He would have dearly loved to go to the match if only to watch Draco get plowed by the Ravenclaw Seeker. Draco hadn’t exactly been on top form lately. Pushing Ron didn’t strike him as a bright idea, though. He headed up the stairs, Firebolt carefully slung over his shoulder.
“Don’t tell me you were talking to him.”
“Whatever happened between you doesn’t make him any less my friend.” The portrait closed, leaving Harry alone in the tower. He wondered how on Earth he would manage to fill the rest of the afternoon with one twig.
Harry walked into the Great Hall for dinner. He’d kept to himself the last three days, mostly thinking about Sev or reading, not eager to be around people. Ron still wasn’t talking to him, and he ignored the rest of the seventh year boys as much as he could. As the doors closed behind him an odd hush fell over the half-empty hall. Whispers replaced the normal dull roar. Even a couple of the teachers seemed to look at him oddly. Harry ignored it and walked over to the Gryffindor table. There was an empty place by Neville. Neville saw him and quickly put his wadded cloak there. “Sorry, Harry. Saving this spot for Seamus.”
“Then why is Seamus on the other side of the table?”
Neville turned pink. “I meant Dean.” Harry couldn’t see Dean anywhere. He grumbled softly and managed to get a spot at the far, far end next to Parvati and Lavender. They tittered uncomfortably.
“Um…” mumbled Parvati. She leaned in conspiratorially. “What’s he like?”
“What’s who like?” Oh, god, Ron. You utter, utter bastard.
“Greasy, sarcastic, evil, and sadistic. You know that as well as I do. Remember? Potions?” Several of his fellow Gryffindors were staring. A few tried to hide nervous or spiteful laughter.
“Oh. Well, Lavender and I heard that you know him a little better than that.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The whispers all around him grew more sibilant. Harry felt like he’d been accused of releasing another basilisk.
“I told you,” Wylie said matter-of-factly. “I wonder who they’ll get to teach Potions next year.”
“Uh, could someone please tell me what’s going on here?” Blood pounded in Harry’s ears. “It does seem to, y’know, involve me.” He looked at Ginny. She turned the same red as her hair and looked away. Sev, I think we’re in trouble here.
“You did seem to work pretty hard to get detention.” Harry glared as Ron and Hermione sat down across the table, a couple of places down. Ron looked infuriatingly satisfied; Hermione looked terrified.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Weasley?” Harry stood up and leaned over the table.
“You know exactly what I mean. Slut.”
Harry clambered over the table and landed a fist in the side of Ron’s face. They toppled backwards off the bench. Ron crunched as he hit the floor. Screams and shouts broke out all around them. He swung again and again. His view of the world suddenly included spider webs. Harry managed to get his hands around his best friend’s throat and squeezed. Freckled hands hooked in his nose and mouth and tried to push him away. He heard Hermione’s horrified wheezing, felt her try to get her own arms around him to pull him off. A mist of blood covered everything. He wasn’t sure whose it was, and he didn’t care.
Suddenly, two huge hands jerked him up. Harry thrashed. “Put me down! I’m going to tear you apart, Weasley!”
“Go ahead and try it. Maybe you’ll get detention again.” Harry gave a strangled cry and nearly broke free. Hermione and a large Hufflepuff Beater had Ron’s arms in desperate holds. His nose poured blood. He struggled just as much as Harry.
“Tha’s enough!” Hagrid trapped Harry’s arms behind him. “Both of ye!” Ron hissed. Blood trickled down his chin. Harry growled. “I’m warnin’ ye.” Harry had never heard Hagrid sound so dangerous. Hogwarts, his sanctuary for the last seven years, was suddenly his prison.
Hermione stared at him with an injured look. Her face was splattered with Ron’s blood. He seethed. First Ron, now her. Who’s going to hate me next? He felt himself being picked up and carried out of the Great Hall.
“I’m disappointed in ye, Harry,” Hagrid growled. “Never thought I’d see ye try ter kill yer best friend, ‘specially over a rumour.”
“What rumour? Will someone tell me what’s going on?” He knew, he knew too well, but he had to hear it.
“’Bout you an’ Professor Snape. I don’ believe it for an instant.”
“Ron did.” Of course he did, you idiot. You all but gave him the colour commentary. “Where in Hell are you taking me?”
“I’m about ready ter throw ye in the lake ter cool ye off.”
“Very funny.” He screwed up his mouth and tried to ignore the pain in his face and chest as Hagrid carried him like a child. He barely noticed when they stopped outside the statue guarding Dumbledore’s office.
“Butterbeer.” It slid aside. Hagrid took Harry up to the inner door and knocked.
McGonagall opened the door. “For god’s sake, Potter, did you get the name of that dragon?” Hagrid dropped him and he barely landed on his feet.
“Yeah, Ronald Weasley.” He wiped a string of blood from his stinging lower lip.
“Harry went an’ picked a fight at dinner. I guess Dumbledore isn’ back yet.”
“He should be soon. I know he’ll want to hear about this. I’m disappointed, Potter.” Professor McGonagall’s mouth was pinched.
“Who isn’t?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Sit.” Hagrid gently guided Harry into a chair in front of Dumbledore’s desk. McGonagall tapped his glasses with her wand. “Reparo occularis.” The world came back into focus, mercifully free of cobwebs. “What happened?”
“I already told you. Weasley did it.”
“Who threw the first punch, Hagrid?”
“Harry.” Harry glared at Hagrid.
“That bastard called me a slut in front of the entire house.” McGonagall sighed heavily.
“This is totally unlike you, Harry. Unfortunately,” she looked at the door, “your punishment will have to wait. Hagrid, can you take him to my office? I’m sorry to do this after you came all this way.”
“Not yer fault, Professor.” Harry strained his ears. He thought he heard someone on the stairs.
“Come on, Professor, just a little bit more.”
“Keep hold of him, Filch! And get your blasted cat out from under his feet.”
“Don’t talk about her like that! Come over here, my sweet.”
“Oh, no. Hurry up, Argus. No, no. Wake up, old friend. You’re going to be fine. Argus, run and get Poppy as soon as we’ve got him inside.”
“Go by Floo.” McGonagall’s voice was urgent. Hagrid threw a pinch of powder into the fireplace. He motioned to it with his head, eyes on Harry. Harry gripped his chair. Hagrid started to move to pick him up. The door flew open. Dumbledore and Filch staggered in, supporting a limp body in tattered black robes. Something shiny and metallic hung from his neck.
“Sev!” Harry jumped out of his chair. McGonagall grabbed his shoulders. “Don’t touch me!”
Severus lifted his nutant head slightly at the sound of Harry’s voice. His legs didn’t work right, his face a mass of bruises and blood. Red trails had dried around his mouth and nose and ears. The white of one remarkable eye had filled with blood, reminding Harry of a lunar eclipse. “Harry, go with Hagrid, now,” his Head of House hissed in his ear. Hagrid dragged him back by the robe so Snape could be wrestled into the chair. When Filch tried to drop him he caught himself on one arm of the chair. Severus whimpered. He lurched at Harry, unable to really move under his own power, and collapsed against him. Harry caught his mangled, emaciated form.
“I’m here, Sev.” The sudden weight sent Harry to his knees. He took the brunt of impact. It was so hard, cradling that fragile, familiar body when every tiny touch made him twitch. Severus’ arms tried to wrap around him but they were too weak to do anything but dangle. Harry glared at Dumbledore. “What happened?”
“There was an accident. I can’t tell you anything more.” The look on the headmaster’s face was a grim mixture of tenderness, fear, and defeat. His eyes didn’t twinkle. At any other time it would have been horrifying.
“Yes, you can.” He looked down into his lover’s mangled face. “I’ve got you, Sev. I’m not going anywhere.” A pitiful, thready whine came from Snape’s throat. He tried to focus his eyes on Harry. They slipped and crossed. “Dammit, someone get Madam Pomfrey! I am not going to let him die.” Filch ran for the door. Harry stroked that thick hair, matted with blood and filth. “Stay awake, you greasy prick. If you die on me I’ll kick your arse. You know I can.” Those reddened eyes closed. “Goddammit, Severus! Wake up!” Snape rolled his head vaguely. In a moment those remarkable eyes fluttered halfway open and fixed on Harry’s. Weak fingers flapped against his student robes; he twined them gently. They were cold. So, so lethally cold. Harry was vaguely aware that everyone was watching them. He also had the strangest feeling he was bawling like a child. He didn’t care. He just knew his Severus was home.
Severus aimed his wand at Harry. “Crucio!” It went wide, hitting one of the Death Eaters. He only held it for an instant, but it was enough. Harry put his weight behind the sword of Godric Gryffindor. It slid under Voldemort’s ribcage and through his reptilian heart. The Dark Lord screeched. The splintered wand slid from his skeletal hand. Harry fell to his knees but struggled to get up. Salazar Slytherin’s dagger was in his lung. As long as it remained there he might be okay. Voldemort swiped at it, knocking the hilt. Harry felt air seep out of his chest. It made a bubbling sound. Blood was filling his lung. It was hard to breathe. He didn’t have much time. As long as the sword was in his heart, Voldemort was vulnerable. Harry pulled his wand.
“Avada Ke—“ Voldemort yanked the dagger from his chest. Harry gasped and fell into the froth of mud and gore. He heard someone call his name, possibly Dumbledore, probably not Sev. Behind him someone shrieked as the Cruciatus Curse hit him. It went on and on, the curse building in its wrath. Sev. They’re killing him. Blood gurgled from his chest with every breath. Weakly, Harry fumbled in the mud for his wand. Voldemort tried to free the sword. It seemed to be stuck. His blackish blood poured over the hilt. With the last of his strength and what he hoped was enough breath to finish the curse Harry pointed his wand and rasped, “Avada Kedavra!”
Green light filled the world. He knew it so well, a sickening childhood glow. Somewhere, Voldemort found the fleeting immortality to hiss in Parseltongue. “At least you’re coming with me, Heir of Gryffindor.” Harry heard a heavy PLOP next to him. The downpour pressed him into the muck—
Harry sat up with a yelp. It was dark. All around him lay bodies, motionless. He searched them, squinting, looking for anyone he knew. Air rushed madly through his agonised chest. Ron, Neville, Justin… he bit his lip, trying to hold back the tears. Oh, no. No, no, no… Sev lay there, utterly still, not far away. He wasn’t asleep – he wasn’t moving. I’m the only one left. Someone, anyone, take me instead…
“Potter!” Madam Pomfrey’s warm hands pressed him back in the bed. “You shouldn’t be sitting up, dear. We’re still trying to mend your lung.”
“I’m the only one left.” He clung to her, fingers digging into her flesh. She loosened them gently. “They’re all dead. It’s all my fault.” He hugged his knees and rocked. Sev was so, so still.
“Nonono! Harry, you saved everyone. You-Know-Who is dead!”
“Dead?” he echoed vaguely. They’re all dead? They’re not all dead?
“Properly so this time!” Something cool and sweet was held to his dry lips and he drank. The awful burning in his chest eased. “Your timing was impeccable, I might add. Professor Snape over there was just about… but you don’t want to hear about that right now. Don’t move a muscle.”
They were alive? His Ron, his Hermione, his Sev? Harry stared at Snape’s still form in the dark. Madam Pomfrey came back before it could really set in. She held a bitter drink to his lips. Just before he lost consciousness he saw those black eyes open and fix on him. Sev smiled.
Harry stirred. His butt ached. His back ached. His head was the definition of “ache”. Even his elbow ached for some odd reason. It dawned on him that the elbow in question was propped on the narrow back of a rather less-than-comfortable wooden chair. He moved it and his pounding head collided with hard oak. “Uungh…” In the distance he could hear voices.
“He’s survived the night, Headmaster. I can’t say anything about the rest of the day, though.”
“Is Potter still—?”
“I’ve been afraid to send him away after what happened. I never thought I’d have to resort to Unicorn Blood potion for anyone. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him when the students leave.”
“Harry won’t be leaving. I’ve already spoken with Black.”
“Oh, god. It really is that bad, then.”
“They refuse to believe Voldemort is gone for good. They’re more dangerous than they were when he was alive.”
“Does Harry know?”
“No.” A pause.
“What’s going to happen with—?”
“I don’t know, Poppy. The governors are divided. It’s such a complex situation on so many levels.”
“What do you think?”
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t repeat this to anyone, Poppy, but Severus told me everything a month ago.”
“Albus! How could you let it go on?”
“Those two are the only thing that prevented Voldemort from taking Hogwarts. How can I punish them for that?” A groan. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a headache potion handy? It’s been a long night.”
“Of course I do. What do you mean, they’re the only thing that prevented him from taking Hogwarts? That’s absurd.” A door closed and the voices were too muffled to hear.
Harry opened his crusty eyes. The white walls of the hospital wing were blinding in the sunlight. He blinked painfully. This is worse than the time Dean snuck that vodka into the dorm. Harry looked around. Oh. It did happen. Snape lay, foetal, in one of the polished white beds. His long, dark lashes disappeared in the vicious bruises around his eyes. A rumpled white sheet covered his body like a shroud, rising and falling with every laboured, softly wheezing breath. His hair was still matted, but the crust of blood on his skin was gone. He looked thinner. Snape twitched and gave a small whimper.
“Sev, shh, I’ve got you.” Harry fell to his knees next to the bed and petted the mess of blood-crusted hair. “You’re just dreaming. It’s not real.”
“They want… kill Harry…” His voice was barely intelligible.
“I’m right here, Sev. I’m alive. See?” He pushed enough of the sheet back to take a thin hand in both of his. Harry pressed it to his lips, fighting tears of anger. I’ll kill them all. If it’s the last thing I do I swear I’ll kill them all.
“I’m right here, Sev.”
“You really got yourself into a mess this time, didn’t you? Greasy sod.” Harry either sobbed or laughed when the corners of his thin mouth twitched. He jerked and cried out.
“Can’t let them…” He squirmed under the sheet. Harry quickly pulled the blue blanket up from the foot of the bed and tucked it around him. The weight might calm him. Harry was too afraid of hurting him more to hold his broken form.
“They won’t. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“… Love him so much.”
“Sev?” No answer. “Sev, say something.” Soft wheezing; an almost silent whimper. “Was that about me?” Severus was lost again in his private Hell. It would be a while before he found his way out. Harry stared at his tortured face, grim and silent. You’d never let yourself say that if you were lucid, would you? Nobody had ever told Harry that they loved him. Sirius said that his parents did, but that was different. This was solid; this was breathing; this was now. “You’re such a fucking prick,” he whispered, laying his head in the curve of Snape’s abdomen, “but I love you too.”
Harry leaned against the wall just outside the front door of the castle, watching the entire student body lug their trunks out for another summer or forever. His was still neatly at the foot of his bed in Gryffindor tower. Dumbledore tried to tell him the night before that it was too dangerous for him to leave; Harry beat him to it, saying he wasn’t about to leave before Severus was well. The day was unseasonably hot and he wished there were a robe equivalent to shorts.
Most of the crowd ignored him, or gave him odd sidelong looks. A few people said goodbye, one or two offered a handshake or a hug. For the person whom everyone idolised a month ago he felt awfully outcast. He thought about going back up to the hospital wing, but Sev, who was sitting up now with the aid of many pillows, had yelled at him. “You can either let me have a minute’s peace, Potter, or you can spend your summer cleaning out my classroom.” Harry wasn’t keen, either, but he went.
“Hello, Hermione.” Ron was there, ignoring the fact that his fiancée was talking to Harry Snape (I mean Potter!).
“Well, I guess this is goodbye for a while.” Her voice was husky. She kept blinking. He nodded, trying to keep his mouth from trembling. “The wedding’s going to be in July. Are you still coming?” Harry shook his head.
“I don’t think so. I’m sorry. It doesn’t look like I’ll be allowed to leave the school grounds for a while.” It tore him apart to think that he would miss the event that Ron and Hermione had been squabbling about since they were sixth years. Then again, I won’t exactly be best man now either, will I?
“Not allowed to leave? How come?”
“I’m not just staying a few extra days ‘cause of Sev.” He licked his lips. “Professor Dumbledore doesn’t want me to leave because of the Death Eaters who got away.” He lowered his voice. “They only sent him back to scare me.”
“Oh, Harry…” she wrapped her arms around him. Ron gave an indignant grunt but didn’t stop her. “I wish we could stay to keep you company. Can they actually make you do that?”
“Until I’m eighteen, yeah. Sirius gave permission.” He needed to have a long talk with his godfather sometime.
“Come on, Herm. We’ll miss the carriage.”
“We’ve got tons of time. Just hold your horses.” She gave Harry an extra squeeze and let go. Some of him went with her. “Stay in touch. Otherwise I’ll have to send you a box of troll bogeys.” He laughed. Hermione wiped her eyes on her sleeve and took the handle of her wheeled trunk. “A bit bright out, isn’t it?” She smiled at him, sadly. “Goodbye, Harry.”
“G’bye.” Ron didn’t say a word as they walked away. Harry rubbed his eyes hard. I won’t break down in public, I won’t break down in public, I won’t break down in—
“Hello, Potter.” He cringed at that sharp voice. “Or is it Snape yet? I’m sorry, I really don’t know when the wedding is.”
“Get out of here, Malfoy, before I break your face.” Draco smirked.
“At least we know why you were insulting my sexuality now, eh? I offered to teach you about liking girls.” Harry’s fists clenched.
“Shut up, Malfoy.” He wondered how many hexes he could get off before Crabbe and Goyle jumped him.
“How did you like your present, by the way?”
Harry frowned. “What present?”
“Oh, just breaking the good news to a few people. Weasley and Granger were talking about it in the Arithmancy room. Do you suppose they didn’t want anyone to hear? They really should have made sure the door was latched if they’d wanted privacy.” Harry stared in disbelief.
“You…” His breath rattled. Harry clutched his wand, readying it. He wanted to tear Malfoy into little chunks and feed them to Fluffy. With a quick hand he grabbed Draco’s collar and slammed him against the wall. His other poised the wand at his throat. “If your thugs touch me, Malfoy, I’ll kill you,” he hissed. “You know I can do it.” He saw fear in those silvery eyes. A stray piece of white-blonde hair quivered.
“Leave him alone,” Malfoy croaked. Harry heard Crabbe and Goyle shuffle backwards. Several people had stopped to stare. Someone yelled for Hagrid.
“Why what?” Draco squirmed with as much dignity as he could.
“You know what I mean.” His wand tip pressed into Malfoy’s tender neck.
“You really want to know?”
“You ought to already. It’s not like you’ve got a father either.” Something inside Harry cracked. He’d ruined any chance of ever making up with Ron because of Malfoy. Severus had lost the respect of his students because of Malfoy. He gripped that collar harder, lifting Draco off the ground.
“Harry!” For the second time in less than a week, Hagrid yanked him away from murder. Draco dropped but kept his balance.
“He did it.” Harry glared at Malfoy through slit eyes. Malfoy adjusted his collar and tried to regain composure.
“I haven’t the faintest clue what he’s talking about, Hagrid.”
“Shut yer mouth, Malfoy. Do ye need ter see Madam Pomfrey?”
“That old quack? Please.”
“Eh. Get ter the train.” Hagrid dragged Harry inside. The crowd of students stared. He looked back to see Malfoy watching him. His eyes were cold and dangerous.
Hagrid guided Harry to the Great Hall. It was empty, save Peeves screeching through the rafters. He started laughing hysterically when he saw Harry. “Ooh, it’s the Missus!”
“Shut up, Peeves, or I’ll send the Baron after you!” Harry wasn’t in the mood to deal with Peeves. And, in an indirect way, he did have some control over the Slytherin ghost now. The poltergeist must have bought it. He made loud kissing noises and shot through the wall.
Hagrid closed the doors quietly. “Sit down, Harry. I’d offer ye a cup o’ tea, but it’s all back at the hut.” At least Hagrid still liked him.
Harry sat in what he realised used to be Cho’s seat. He stacked his fists on the table and rest his chin. “I hate him.”
“Malfoy’s a bad apple. Then, ye knew that.” Hagrid sat down across the table from him. Out of one of his seemingly endless pockets he pulled a rock cake and offered it to Harry. Harry shook his head. “Must say ye gave me a bit o’ a surprise, what with Professor Snape an’ all. The way ye looked at Cho Chang for so long I pegged ye for fancyin’ girls.”
“Yeah, you and me both.”
“Ye’ve picked a difficult road. An’ I don’t jus’ mean that ye’re both…” Hagrid tapped his index fingers together. Harry raised a surprised eyebrow at him. Hagrid looked embarrassed. “The Death Eaters’ll be after both of ye.”
Harry chewed his inner lip. “I’ll kill them before they can hurt him again.”
“If ye can! Yer only one man, an’ there’re plenty o’ those monsters left out there. Severus isn’t as young as he used to be, neither.”
“He’s not even forty.”
“Harry,” Hagrid looked disapproving, “ye probably know better’n anyone he’s a lot older than that.” Harry fidgeted. He knew Severus wasn’t young. He just didn’t want to think about how old he really was inside. “Do ye know what ye’re goin’ ter do?”
“Stay at Hogwarts.”
“I meant both of ye. A teacher can’t be caught havin’ a fling with a student an’ expect ter get off with nothin’.”
Harry started. “He’s been sacked?” What have I done? He’s not safe out there. They can find him. They can kill him.
Hagrid shook his huge head. “Tha’s not what I meant at all. The school governors haven’ decided anythin’ yet. Dumbledore’s puttin’ up a fight in his favour, too. It’d be a right trick ter find another Potions teacher as good as Snape. Or as loyal.”
Harry’s breathing slowed again. His heart still pounded but not to the point of pain. “What do you mean, then?”
Hagrid’s eyes turned distant for a moment. “I suppose I mean are ye goin’ ter go with him if he is sacked.”
“If he’ll let me.”
“Why wouldn’ he let ye?”
Harry shook his head. He looked down at his hands. “I dunno. If he thinks I’ll get hurt…”
“Ye love him?” Harry was thrown off guard.
“What kind of question is that?”
“A pretty direct one. Do – ye – love – Professor – Snape?”
Harry chewed his lip. Slowly, he nodded. “But don’t tell him I said that.”
Hagrid rolled his eyes. “I guess I shouldn’ expect ye two ter have any normal kind o’ communication.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Jus’ that I heard the way ye were insultin’ him when Dumbledore brought him back an’ I’ve never heard more feelin’ in anythin’ nice.”
Harry opened his mouth to say something when the door opened. Professor McGonagall peeked in. “I wondered where you went, Hagrid. We’re ready to leave.”
“Jus’ one second, Professor.” She nodded. The door closed. “Ye goin’ ter be okay by yerself?” Harry shrugged.
“I may go back to the hospital wing. Sev doesn’t sleep very well by himself.” Hagrid blushed behind his heavy beard.
“I’ll see ye later then, Harry.” The door closed behind him with a click. Harry sat in silence. All he could think about was Ron.
Severus stared at the chessboard on the bed, one hand raised over the pieces, the other laid thoughtfully on his chin. His eye was still red, but most of the bruises were beginning to fade. His damp hair fell dark and thick past his shoulders. “Oh, come on, Sev. You’ve had five minutes!”
“I don’t expect you to see the subtle beauty in strategy, Harry. There’s an elegance in laying out your forces, orchestrating their sacrifice, and finally,” he moved his bishop in a graceful sweep of his hand, “striking.” The bishop dragged a thrashing, screaming pawn off the board and broke its back over his knee before taking its place. “I believe that’s check.”
“Great. I swear, Snape, when you get out of here I’m kicking your Witherin arse on the pitch.” Those arched eyebrows arched higher.
“You couldn’t kick my Witherin arse with a full team of Gryffindorks.” That was a bit out of character. He doesn’t have a chance and he knows it. Harry grinned wickedly and moved his queen so badly Sev hid his face and groaned. Several of Harry’s chessmen had similar reactions.
“Shut up,” he glared at them. “You weren’t going to win anyway.” His remaining knight raised his sword and swore. Severus took the opportunity to checkmate the white king.
“Fancy another?” That smirk was infuriating. Harry’s stomach went fluttery at the sight of it.
“No! You’ve beaten me three times today.” The only other person who ever did that was Ron. The fluttering was replaced by a nauseated void. Silently, Harry picked up his chessmen and laid them in their box.
“If my skill at chess is that depressing I could always humiliate you at cards.” Harry had told Severus all about Ron a few days before. For some ironic reason it gave him a craving for chess.
He shook his head. “I’m don’t want to play anything right now.”
“You need sleep.”
“I’m not tired.”
“You’ve been in here every night, and I know you don’t sleep in the daytime.”
“I’m not tired!”
“Then go clean my office. You will be after that.” Harry blew him a raspberry. He pushed the chessboard onto the floor and settled against him. Sev winced. Harry shifted a little. It was still hard to tell when one of his repaired ribs would start hurting. Those arms wrapped around him and kept him safe. Ever since he got back, Sev had held him a little tighter, a little closer, as if he were afraid that if he let go Harry would disappear. Harry lay his head in the crook of his neck, in that cool, wiry hair. He fell asleep listening to Severus breathe.
Harry’s eyes fluttered open to find Sev gazing down at him in wonder. He had never seen that expression on Snape’s face before. Wonder didn’t seem to have a place in that cynical, calculating mind. He cuddled closer to the warm body under the duvet. “G’morning.” The clock next to the bed read three.
Severus touched his face. His fingers were cool. “How do you do it?” he whispered.
“When you sleep, you look so peaceful.” Some of the wonder had been replaced by a touch of sadness.
“It just happens, Sev.” He sat up to kiss those thin, pale lips. One hand felt the smooth ridges of his ribcage. So thin, such a delicate body for such a devastating brain. Sev kissed him back, warm and slow and solemn. There was reverence there, too, but not reverence for “the boy who lived”. Rather, it was bittersweet fascination with sleep that wasn’t wracked with screams. It was reverence for someone who could fill him with wonder even in sleep. That mouth moved down the side of his neck in a teasing line. Harry moaned softly and held on. Sev kissed his way down Harry’s body, leaving tiny moist places that cooled deliciously. Harry stroked his hair. When those black eyes met his they were wide and clear, and he could almost believe they’d once been seventeen.
Author’s note: When I started this sequel to “Marching Off To War”, I intended it to be nothing more than Harry’s point of view, and a bit of what happens when a scandal gets loose. About halfway through I realised how much more story there is here. (Thanks to Salami1287 for suggesting the idea. *grin*) (Certain details, such as the use of Unicorn Blood, will come back to haunt everyone later.) I know, I know, no nookie on the office floor this time. What can I say? I’m weird. If you want more, post it on the reviews. It may take me a little while (I’ve been staying up until 6am to work on it, and I’m working on the Fanfic Novel From Hell, so I’m in about the same state at poor Severus right now). However, I will get it done.
And please don’t be mad at me about Ron? How would you feel if you suddenly found out your best friend was boinking the greasy Potions Master (and wouldn’t share *eg*)?
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