Disclaimer: Harry Potter, etc. J.K Rowling, Warner Brothers, and probably a million other people; no profit is being made from this fan production, no disrespect is intended to the original creators. I'm only having fun with them. I promise not to damage them. Much.

Summary: Harry feels lost after Voldemort's demise, and seeks a comfort that Draco doesn't want him to have.

Notes: *peeks up* This is the first *long* bit of fiction my co-writer and I have put together for the Harry Potter Fandom. Expect the other three parts to be released as soon as we're done reading over it ^^;

Other stories can be found: http://www.rpgplug.co.uk/Asylum/potter/hp.html


Precious Illusions

Part II

By Kat Reitz and Tzigane

       

"There you are!" Ron hollered as Harry came through the portrait hole. "You've had all of us worried sick, you have!" He sounded most remarkably like his mother for some reason.

"I don't know why you were worried, Ron," Hermione sighed, closing the book she'd been reading. "After all, I did tell you that I saw Harry downstairs, around lunchtime..." She still had at least a hundred questions mulling about in her mind, though, things she didn't dare ask.

"Sorry. It's just that we're both getting Dreamless Sleep Draught and... erm... well, it's just easier that way," Harry said weakly. "I need to talk to you about that, Ron..." He wasn't sure the redhead would ever understand, though!

Ron's eyebrows drew together in concern, and a little unease. "Okay. If you want to talk, Harry..." He looked towards their dorm room -- it would be empty except for them with Seamus and Dean gone.

Silently, he went up the stairs, Ron just behind him, trying to think of what to say. His heart was frantic in his chest, but there was nothing for it. He'd just have to *tell* him...

"Harry, if something's wrong... please tell me. I'm worried about you," Ron said, just before they both entered their quiet dorm room, and he closed the door behind them both. Harry had been *missing* so often in the past two days, down in the dungeons... Thinking of *that* made him shiver.

"It's sort of complicated. I've already talked about it with Sirius," he admitted, "earlier today..." He didn't mention having talked with Hermione, and he really thought that was for the best. "I don't want you to hate me, really."

"Harry, why would I hate you?" Ron looked and *felt* worried. He hadn't hated Harry when he'd been accused of being the Slytherin Heir, when he spoke Parseltongue, when he... no, he'd *never* been able to hate Harry, or want to!

"Because things are so complicated now..." He trailed off, frowning. "Well, they seem more complicated than before. Maybe they aren't. You and I, we haven't talked about All Hallow's Eve, Ron. I know you were waiting for me to want to talk about it..."

Ron shifted a bit nervously, nodding as he moved to sit beside Harry on his large bed. "If you want to talk, Harry, I'll listen. You know I will." Because they were best friends, and it was hard to be a good best friend when the other half of the equation was bottling himself up.

"Some of the things that happened that night were... Ron, they were awful. They were so awful I can't talk about them, I can't *think* about them, and I can't sleep because of them. The Death Eaters were... They had tortured Muggles. They had tortured Professor Snape, and they were still torturing him when I got there..." Tortured him, raped him, *hurt* him, and it made Harry just as sick to think about it in the present as it had for him to see it then. "It was so awful, Ron. I can't ever tell you how awful... I can't burden you that way..."

"Harry..." Ron's expression, worried, fell even more so as he leaned close and hugged his friend. It explained a little. So Snape had been hurt -- which explained his comparative mellowness in class, yet... Yet why was he following Harry? And why was he even... Ron felt more confused than he'd been when it had all started. "Can I do anything to help you?" It was easier to gloss over any collateral comments that meant pity for Snape, and simply deal with his best friend.

"Yeah," Harry said slowly. "You can. Only...only it's harder than you think. I know you hate Professor Snape, but..." A slight roll of Harry's shoulders seemed helpless. "He knows what I saw. He knows what I did. And he *understands*, and I... He's dark enough to *handle* it. He can't sleep, either, and he's been very..." Supportive would sound just stupid. "Well, very reassuring, I guess. Because he knows, and because I don't have to tell him all of those horrible things... It doesn't mean we're not best friends, you and me," he hurried to say. "Only I can't bear to tell you something so horrible. I can't."

Ron pulled back a little, looking searchingly at Harry's eyes. "But he... He doesn't *care*, Harry. Have you talked with the headmaster, about the nightmares...?"

"He knows," Harry said, though it wasn't a *precise* sort of answer. "He knows about the Professor's, too, Ron. It's really awful..."

"I can't imagine *him* having nightmares." Or sleeping, or eating, or anything else that didn't involve looming threateningly and making sharp, cold comments. Ron patted Harry's shoulder for a moment, sighing. "What do... I mean, Harry, what did you *do* all day today? You shouldn't stay down there all the time -- there's snow outside, and it's just beautiful."

"Slept," Harry replied. "Ate a bit. Once we were awake, had talked a bit, and had eaten, I came back. There's still a little light out, we could go and toss a few snowballs..." he offered, a bit conciliatory. "Are you upset with me? Because of the Professor, I mean."

"I can't really be," Ron sighed, "though I know if it were *me*, I'd go mad before I could spill my soul out to him. I'd expect him to eat it!" For a moment, the Weasley boy tried to smile as if he'd been entirely joking -- but he hadn't been fully joking, and the shiver in his spine gave that away. "Hermione and I told Hagrid that we'd visit him tonight -- he's got the fairy lights up, and he says he has a present for you... It's Christmas eve, after all."

That gave him a bit of a surprise. He hadn't even thought about how late it was! "Oh! Great! I've got his present right here, and yours, too, so...." So, he'd set everything out tonight before going back down to the dungeons. "Um, you know I'm going to be spending some time with Snape now. A lot, for a while, so... so we can talk about what happened. It's better, talking about it," he hurried to say.

Ron looked *stricken* for a moment, lips drawn tight. "Don't tell me you're going to spend Christmas eve with that bu-- him!"

Harry's brow knit as he took a deep breath. "Tell me this. Who else has he got to spend Christmas with?" He'd never thought about it that way before, himself, but now it seemed somehow important. "I'll be back in time for opening presents in the morning, Ron..."

"It's not the *same*," Ron sighed quietly. "You're spending all your time pent up with a git you used to *hate*, Harry. You haven't slept here in the dorm for two nights in a row."

"'s because I can't," Harry explained, looking at him helplessly. "I can't hate him after what I saw. And I can't sleep without being *drugged*."

"Can't you take whatever *here*, Harry?" Ron frowned. It was strange -- that he felt as if the Potions Master was stealing Harry away from them.

"Yeah," Harry admitted, "but then who'd make sure he took his? How could I let anybody else suffer through what I'm suffering? He's not nearly as bad one on one as he is in class."

"But, *Harry*..." But, but, he couldn't come up with much to say -- because his friend was deathly determined, and had a reply for everything. It was frustrating, and probably only going to get worse. "Harry, he's a grown man and he can take a sleeping potion on his own! Professor Snape doesn't need to be *watched*."

"It'd be nice if that was true," Harry agreed, "but I think maybe he feels like he deserves to suffer, so he doesn't do what he should because of it."

His friend was looking at him as if the scar in the middle of his forehead had sprouted eyes. "I can't believe that. I just... can't. This is the man who on the last day of class nearly broke my fingers because I made a joke!"

The other boy grimaced slightly, shamefaced as he looked down. Maybe Snape had been right... it *would* cost him his friends, if things went like this with all of them. "Ron..."

"Harry, it isn't like Halloween happened between now and that class a week ago! How'd you stumble across this... revelation you'd had about *Snape*, of all people?"

"When he took me to the infirmary the other night," Harry said softly. "He was just so sad and so *defeated*, and I knew then that he was having as much of a problem as I was. How could I let that go?"

"I still can't think of him that way," Ron sighed quietly, shaking his head. He gave Harry's shoulder another pat, warmer than the last one. "But I'm sorry for questioning you. If you're sure you're safe around him, well... But don't think we won't keep trying to drag you places, and on adventures. Because if you spend too much time around a person like that, you'll end up depressed."

"Thanks, Ron." The sheer amazing gratefulness that flooded from Harry was almost palpable, and his smile was brilliant. "I really appreciate it."

"If it makes you happy, Harry..." Ron shrugged, shaking his head as he stood up. "Can we go now? To see Hagrid? He's probably made enough fudge that you can share it with Snape..." There was a clearly *wicked* glint in his eyes when he suggested it.

At that, the green-eyed boy couldn't *help* but laugh. "I wouldn't even give that to Malfoy," he said, pausing for a moment. "Well, then again..." Then again, Malfoy had seen him kissing the Potions master with an undeniable *drive* behind his actions. A little of that fudge to seal his jaw up...

Ron grinned, ducking under his bed to pick up a small box. "Hermione's still down there, I'd bet. She wouldn't let me give Crookshanks to Fang for Christmas."

"It was worth a try," Harry told him dryly. "But Crookshanks is way too useful to feed Fang, and I'm pretty sure Fang would run at the sight of such a frightening cat!"

"Crookshanks ate my breakfast when we snuck u--" Ron stopped himself short as they headed down the stairs to the commons room. He looked over his shoulder at Harry, cheeks suddenly red. "Never mind!"

"Never mind, huh?" Harry asked, unable to help the grin that spread over his lips. "Hmmmm. Snuck where, I wonder?"

"Nowhere!" Faked innocence simply didn't work on Ron's face, as he flushed the same tint as his hair, and rushed the rest of the steps to the common room. "Hermione! Let's go see Hagrid!"

"That's an idea, maybe I should just ask Hermione..."

"Ask me what?" the girl said, looking up at them.

"Nothing!" Ron's bottom lip found itself bitten as he moved towards the door out of the common room. "Let's go, so we won't get in trouble for coming back after dark."

Harry grinned and shrugged. "Yeah, let's go on. I guess Sirius left after I saw him earlier..."

"He wasn't very happy," Hermione told him quietly, nodding as they started out. "But... he did mention that he might meet us sometime in Glastonbury. This is going to be such fun, Harry..."

"Especially getting to laugh at the people who *won't* know what they're doing." The Weasley's wouldn't be *nearly* as bad off as some of the others!

Draco, in particular, would probably slip up a great deal, along with the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws that would be with McGonagall. "Professor McGonagall told us that we'll stop in Diagon Alley, first, to get a little pocket money and change it into Muggle money," Hermione said happily as they slipped out of the picture portal.

Harry groaned. He remembered having to help Ron's father count money at the World Quidditch Cup! "We're going to have to teach them how to use that..."

"You think our chaperons have much experience with muggles?" Ron asked, eyes glinting with an *idea* for a moment. If they didn't, well, then Hermione and Harry had a *definite* upper hand over everyone!

"Oh, probably more than the average *student*," Hermione decided, "but likely not as much as Harry and me!"

"I doubt either one of them spends much time amongst muggles," Harry agreed, especially since he was almost certain that Professor Snape preferred to be *alone*, period.

"So they probably wouldn't shout into the telephone, but wouldn't know what to do with a computer," Hermione smiled in a very superior sort of manner. "Which means we have to try to go a few places, *at least*, Harry, to just stun everyone."

"What's a computer?" Ron asked blankly. "Sounds just as aggravating as a fellytone."

"It's worse," Harry told him cheerfully. "You can blow up lots of little alien ships and things with it on the screen, like..." What would be a good analogy? "It's kind of like...."

"A television, but..." Hermione stopped, frowned thoughtfully for a moment as they started down stairs. "Never mind. It's like a typewriter, but with a big flat vertical screen, and you can play games on it."

"Typrewriter?"

"You'll have to see it to believe it," Harry told him finally as they began to pull on gloves and cloaks, almost to the first landing now. "It's different!"

"I suppose we'll get to go by *car*?" Ron asked in excitement, as he wound his scarf around his neck. "I hope..."

"Dunno," Harry said. "Maybe, but I'd guess we'll go by train instead. Easier, with as many of us as there are."

"And who knows if McGonagall or Snape know how to drive!" Hermione laughed.

"There's not so many," Ron mused, counting people off on his fingers. "Hermione, you, me, Fred, George, Malfoy, Evans, Blaise, and Tobias. And the professors... Yeah, I guess that is too many people to put in a car."

"Any average car," Harry agreed dryly, thinking of the magically expanding car of Ron's father. "Besides, we're going to Glastonbury, so it'll be faster to take a train, I'd imagine."

"I just want to see professor McGonagall in Muggle clothes." Hermione led the way out of the castle, and then down the slightly sloped hill through crisp air to Hagrid's hut. "I hope the headmaster doesn't give either professor ideas on how to dress like a muggle."

The memory of the old wizard who'd worn a flannel nightgown to the World Cup made Harry grin. He *wouldn't* let Severus embarrass himself like that, he decided. "I'd imagine they'll do a credible job, wouldn't you?"

"Dunno," Ron chuckled. "I want to see what Snape thinks are Muggle clothes!"

"He'll probably wear his robes," Hermione chuckled, shooting a glance -- questioning? -- over to Harry when she didn't think Ron could see it. "I can't see him wearing *modern* muggle clothes, no more than I could see Professor McGonagall wearing them!"

Ron grinned as they knocked on the door to Hagrid's hut. "But I can't *wait* to see what they come up with!"

"Come in!" The bellow that greeted them was a cheerful one, and from the glow that crept out of the windows of the hut, it was just as cheerful inside as it was crisply cold outside.

They pushed open the door to be greeted by Fang, who promptly slobbered on Harry and shed against Hermione's robes, but they were all quite glad to see him and greeted him with stroking hands and laughter before moving further inside.

"Merry Christmas, Hagrid!" Harry greeted.

The half-giant was already standing up when Harry and the other two made their way into the large, one roomed hut. "Merry Christmas! I was half tempted ter come and get you three myself!"

"Sorry, Hagrid," Hermione apologized. "We had to fetch Harry and it took a bit, but we're here now! Happy Christmas to you," she offered with a distinctly dimpled smile, holding out a muggle-wrapped package to him.

"I've been cookin' again," he smiled with equal apology, taking the gift, and the package Ron hurriedly gave him. "Got to tend ter the hippogriffs tonight -- there's a wee-one bein' born, tonight of all nights! So I ha'n't got much time..." He turned away then, to rummage quickly through a closet on the other side of the room.

"It's all right, Hagrid," Harry told him. "Bet it's got to be fascinating, to see a thing like that..."

"I wouldn' think o' draggin' you three out ter the pens wi' me, but it *is* a sight," Hagrid grinned, coming back with three large boxes in his arms. "Hermione, this is fer you..." He handed her the middle one, then pressed the top one into Ron's hands, and then gave Harry the last one. "There. Don' open those 'til tomorrow -- and I wan' ter know that you liked it or not 'fore you go on your trip."

"We promise, Hagrid," Ron agreed, grinning back at him. Hagrid's gifts were sometimes very strange, and he wasn't much of a cook, but they loved him dearly.

"And read up on hippogriffs again while you're gone," the giant warned happily, "'cause when you get back, we're goin' ter be working wi' the young one." He did always seem to be at his best when working with dangerous creatures.

It was no wonder the Slytherins were all scared half to death of Care of Magical Creatures, even if they wouldn't admit it!

"As soon as we get back from the trip," Hermione agreed. "We'll have to check books out of the library!"

"Some that don't bite," Ron said nervously, as he hugged the gift close to his chest. Hagrid seemed ready to bustle them right out, though, and he'd been half-hoping for Hagrid to *not* be busy so he could have Harry out and away from the dungeons for as long as possible. Things never seemed to work out properly, though. "Thank you again, Hagrid."

"Merry Christmas," Harry said again as they headed for the door.

"We'll see you when we get back!" Hermione promised, and that was that.

       

Despite the fact that the floor they sat on was covered with half-dried bits of paint and a great deal of drywall dust, Sirius was happy. The *heat* was working, which was cause enough for celebration, the last stones had been added, with vents, to the fireplace, and the bedroom that would be Harry's was half-finished. Their own wasn't close yet, but.... well, for the moment, with the entire house to themselves, bedrooms didn't matter.

He handed Lupin the cup of tea he'd wanted, and then just after it, a gift.

"I picked it up in Hogsmeade after I talked with Harry this morning. It's not really a Christmas gift, but I thought you might, uhh... enjoy it."

Curious gaze lifted up to him, the werewolf's mouth cocked in a half smile. "You really shouldn't have, Sirius. Shouldn't we wait until morning, then?"

"Actually, it's more sort of a night-time gift," Sirius murmured, shifting a bit to lean towards his companion. "You know. That sort of gift."

"Ohhhh," Lupin said in understanding, cheeks coloring quite prettily. "*THAT* sort of gift. How lovely. And you had time to shop for that when you went to see Harry?" he teased, tugging lightly at the bow that held the present shut.

"Well, he was..." Sirius swallowed. "He was down in the dungeons with Snape, and I couldn't stand to hang around."

That brought the other man's brows to rise and he looked at Sirius with no small amount of surprise, fingers halting in their slow opening of his present. "What was he doing with Severus?" he asked, quite shocked at the notion. Harry hadn't been very fond of Snape, and the man had accused him of all sorts of things before now, so...?

"Sleeping in his bedroom." Sirius's voice sounded small, *unhappy*, and nervous all at once. With a touch of growl that showed Lupin just how unhappy that fact made him.

The sight of Remus staring at him with his mouth open in shock would ordinarily have been *quite* amusing. "Y-you mean, you mean, Harry, with Severus, and, and, THEY'RE HAVING SEX!?" he yelled. "And you didn't bring him HOME!?"

Sirius's eyes went *wide* suddenly, and from the way his mouth opened, and no words came out, it seemed that idea had never crossed his mind. "Harry said they were sleeping... just..." Oh, he was an *idiot*!! "That Dumbledore gave them a sleeping potion..."

"Ohhh!" That seemed to calm Lupin quite a bit. "Well, if Dumbledore gave them a sleeping draught, then..."

"His friends say that he's spent the past few nights down in the dungeons with Snape. Most of today, too, because when I left, no one but me had seen him since the night before. They left the Yule ball early, together, too..." He was studying his hands now, sheepish and intent on the lines of them. "Everything seems to *point* at... but, Harry says he's just keeping him company... and now I'm confused." Dark eyes lifted to look at Remus, expression one of a kicked puppy.

It was *adorable*. It left the werewolf utterly helpless in the line of them, and he smiled back at Sirius, hopelessly infatuated all over again. "Well, if Harry says he's just keeping him company, then he must just be keeping him company," he said. "We trust Harry, and besides, Severus really isn't so bad as all that, Sirius... Really."

"He's a git," Sirius sighed stubbornly. "Mean, heartless, cruel. I don't care *what* happened to him when Voldemort got his hands on his too-many-times turned coat, it's no reason for Harry to waste his time pitying the man."

Lupin paused, the box-top about to come off of his gift. "Well, what did Harry *say* to you, Sirius?" he asked, settling it back down for the moment.

"He said... a lot," Sirius said unhappily, shifting to rest a hand on Lupin's knee. Even that gesture, slight, small as it was, made him feel better. "We argued -- and he defended Snape and whatever his motives might have been all the way. He said he needed Snape because he understood." And after what Lupin had unwittingly jumped upon first, Sirius felt like an idiot for not having noticed the possibility.

"Well," Remus said softly, "if Harry says that's what he needs, then that must be what he needs..." He pulled the top off of his present and gave a faint smile, one that was full of a great deal of amusement. "Oh, *my*, Sirius."

"But it's *Snape*..." Sirius was still scowling and *caught* on that idea before it set in that his gift had been opened -- then he grinned for his companion. "You like it?"

"Oh, *my*, YES," Remus assured, leaning across to kiss his lips lightly. "You really need to forgive Severus. Just because he tried to get you killed..."

Sirius, never one to take affection lightly, slunk nearer and pressed against his lover. "He's planning something, and I don't trust him a whit, Remus. I trust Harry and why Harry's doing what he is, but *Severus*..." The dark haired man shivered as he nuzzled against his lover. "Severus always had a taste for pain and pity."

"I wonder about that..." It was hard to think when Sirius was doing that thing he did to Remus's ear. "Oh, that's nice. But I think perhaps that was entirely Lucius, you know.... and you know how easy Severus used to be to convince of a thing. So curious all the time..."

So curious and *prying* that he'd nearly let Sirius kill him... The other man's face flushed a little, and he licked the lobe of Remus's ear. Maybe if he could press the bounds of Remus's control, he could stop the conversation entirely. "So? There's curious, and then there's *sick*."

"You *did* watch them, and more than once, Sirius," the werewolf reminded him gently. "And sometimes, you do things you don't want to do just because you hope someone will love you..." He knew all about that. He'd spent most of his life as an outcast looking in on others until James and Sirius and Peter... It made him sigh.

"You've just implied Severus and love in the same sentence," Sirius scowled, kissing his lover's cheek. "Which makes my stomach disagreeable. I know it's childish, I'll admit it now and save you the breath, but I've never seen him demonstrate a redeemable quality that he didn't twist assbackwards in the process."

"Trust Harry," Remus told him, mouth shifting into a wry smile. "Everything will work out all right. He's not exactly an *ordinary* teenager. Besides, I love you, anyway... even if you *are* being childish. It's one of your adoring redeemable qualities. And on that note... want to try out my present?" he nearly purred.

"If I didn't want to try it, do you think I would've bought it?" Sirius arched one eyebrow at him, straining for seriousness -- but it ended up waggling a bit too much to work properly. A peck on those wryly smiling lips, and he started standing up with Remus's long body in his arms. "If the neighbors complain, we'll know we need to soundproof better. No other way to test it, you know..." And he put *soundly* out of his mind, for the moment, anything concerning Hogwarts.

"That," Remus agreed as Sirius led him easily towards the couch, "sounds like a *wonderful* way to find out."

       

Dumbledore was making him wear the hat that had come out of the cracker. Much to Professor Flitwick's amusement, who kept giggling about the only thing needed was a shrinking spell...

Snape shot the charms teacher a deathly cold glare before he swept the Napoleon hat off, tossing it carelessly back towards the headmaster. "I rather think not."

"Oh, really, Severus," Dumbledore said cheerfully, abandoning his own wizard hat for the thing. "It's quite charming, I think."

That gained him laughter from most of the students gathered around the table, as did the sight of a little white mouse running down into Malfoy's robes and gaining them the sight of the pale-haired Slytherin jerking up to shake the little thing out of them.

"Best Christmas yet," Ron chuckled.

"There's probably more," Hermione grinned, offering a crack to open with Ron. "I don't know why boys are so scared of mice..."

"Or who charmed these mice to run up into clothing," Snape groused at Flitwick, as he stopped a small little mouse from dashing up the arm of his sleeve.

"Rodents and food go hand in hand," Fred cheered. "Malfoy, can we have yours when it's done running about in your shorts?"

The Slytherin, hand now clenched loosely about the mouse, tilted his chin up in a little jerk. He seemed to pause momentarily, words on his lips, and then he appeared to think better of it, turning and heading for the doors with the mouse still in hand.

"What are you going to do with it?" George called. "Give it free reign again?"

That got several giggles and a handful of blushes, but Malfoy only tossed back a single caustic phrase over his shoulder. "I intend to feed it to my *snake*," he announced, and moved out of the Great Hall.

That seemed to take with him the younger Slytherins who were there -- and the head of their house had no real choice but to stop the mass exodus with a sharp shake of his head. "Let him leave." There was half-truth in Draco's words -- his pet snake probably *did* need to be fed. "Thirty points from Gryffindor." Bad enough that the Slytherin house was badly demoralized to start with, but after the events of Halloween... and the arrests that followed, so many of the younger children were there for the holiday, their families in the turmoil of sorting themselves out.

The 'victorious' house, as it was called sneeringly, didn't need to make their situation worse, and neither did McGonagall need to turn a blind eye to antics. He and she were going to have to talk the next evening about how they were going to manage the trip...

He just hoped that it went well.

"Oh, come now, Professor Snape," McGonagall said firmly. "It's *Christmas*. Surely taking points on Christmas shouldn't be done..."

"Even snakes deserve Christmas dinner," Blaise Zabini pointed out firmly from down the table, frowning at the now-quiet Gryffindors. "Just because they're snakes doesn't make them less hungry!"

"I was unaware that manners were things to be put aside on Christmas. I know I expect it of *my* house..." He dragged his eyes, sharp as ice-picks, over the gathered Gryffindors. "Catch, Weasley." And rather promptly, he tossed the mouse that he'd plucked out of his own sleeve at the neck of George's robes.

It slipped quickly down.

"UWAHHHH!!!" George declared as the thing ran straight down his chest and to his crotch. "PERVERTED MOUSE!"

That brought uproarious laughter from the Slytherins, and giggles from Fred. Harry had to admit that it was at least moderately amusing. He had thought watching Malfoy was entertaining, but watching George was better. George, at least, wasn't likely to storm off to feed the mouse to something else!

"Oh! Fred, help me get the bugger out!!" He hopped to his feet, squirming the entire time, and turned his back to the entirety of the table for Fred to help him.

"Manners, Weasleys, are most useful on the eve of a holiday season that doesn't feel very celebratory," Severus warned crisply, before giving the students of his house an almost conspiratorial smile, a tight, bare thing.

"Dear me," Dumbledore said laughingly, "perhaps next year I should find something else to put in the crackers!"

By the time Fred and George had the mouse out of George's boxers, even Hermione was giggling. There was just *something* about watching the twins jump around with both sets of hands stuffed down George's pants... and the Slytherins were *delighted* with their Head of House!

The slight smile on the edge of Snape's lips, that faded very slowly and left once the poor abused mouse was let free -- on Hermione's insistence -- out towards the exit of the great hall.

"The Weasley twins could have been Slytherins, if they had a bit more *wit* behind their jokes," Snape told his students in a conspiratorial tone. "That was how our house was *before*."

"I think we're going to see a rise of enchantment jokes," McGonagall mourned. "I should take points from Slytherin, Professor Snape, for *encouraging* them."

"Oh, no, no," Dumbledore disagreed. "Seeing Severus encourage them is *quite* nice. I approve," he decided, clapping his hands together. That brought about a rain of candied rose petals and sugared violets, floating about the table and delighting the students still there.

Harry quite agreed. It was *good* to see Snape enjoying himself and encouraging the Slytherins to mischief. The lot of them had been unusually quiet since Halloween, and no small wonder; he knew that many of their parents were locked away in Azkaban, and the ones who weren't were certainly suffering backlash from the fact that so many others *were*.

"It's not as much fun when they don't put up a fight in the rivalry," Ron decided, plucking a candied petal from atop Harry's head to munch on. "You should try one of these!"

They reminded Harry of Dobby and the sugared violets and whipped cream that had fallen with a splatter upon his Aunt Petunia's kitchen floor. With a laugh, he plucked it loose and ate it, bottle-jade gaze going temporarily to Professor Snape.

Snape was responding to little questions from the youngest of Slytherins -- not particularly much in the way of answers, but enough to encourage them a little. He hadn't been attending the school when the house *hadn't* been so corrupt, but if he could, he'd return it to a pre-Riddle/Voldemort form.

If he himself wasn't corrupted, first. Harry's eyes on him was palpable, and for a moment, he glanced to Potter. The connection between them was almost palpable, hanging in the air with a definite lingering need. They'd spoken the night before, shared no more kisses, and then parted to quietly go to bed separately.

It had been the hardest thing Harry had done in almost two months.

He had *wanted* to kiss Snape. He had *wanted* to do more than that. By some miracle, they had both resisted.

Miracles were things best not tempted, Snape knew -- once one happened, he tried to never put himself in that situation, if at all possible. Yet it meant avoiding Harry, or pretending and reigning himself in. He hated to make decisions of that sort. Usually, when it came to people, they decided things for him, and left. Harry, though...

No, he wasn't used to being a deterrent. To *having* to deter. Saying 'no' to that sort of thing just... had never been an issue before. Yet, he needed to be with, talk with Harry...

Or simply return to his day-in, day-out routine of nothing really at all important.

Severus broke the gaze first, looking guilty for a moment before he picked up a candied petal and began to rather methodically crush it with his fingers.

"You're supposed to eat them, Professor," Harry said wryly from across the table. "Not squish them into bits!"

/You're supposed to be my student; I'm not supposed to want to toss you down on top of the table and undress you!/ "Do what you want with them, Potter -- I'm simply killing time."

"They're very good," the Gryffindor tempted with a grin, despite the odd looks he was getting from a few other students. "You should at least try one..."

Severus gave him a half-frustrated, half completely unamused look, and lifted his thumb and forefinger to his mouth, tasting the crumbled flower like he would an herb in Potions class.

"And?" Harry asked, curious about his reaction.

"And it tasted like sugared *rose petal*," Blaise assured him with a sigh, shaking her -- his? You could never tell with Blaise! Too pretty by far... -- head. "What else would it taste like, Potter?"

"And I believe that the headmaster will probably be eating any that are left on the table when we've all left." That deferred attention, at least for the moment, to someone *other* than him.

"Oh, my, yes," Dumbledore agreed cheerfully. "I'm quite fond of them, after all. And now, I suspect that the fifth years and up will all want to pack for their trips..."

Rather a signal -- Severus rose smoothly, dusting his slightly sticky fingers off on his robe. "Professor McGonagall, perhaps we can talk for a moment...?"

"Of course, Severus," she agreed smoothly, a gleam in her eye. "In the Blue Parlour, perhaps?"

"Yes." Neutral ground -- he certainly didn't *particularly* want her in his Dungeons. He moved out from behind the table, waiting for her. And trying, almost desperately, to not even look at Harry.

That worked pretty well, for his Slytherins gathered around him almost protectively, giving squinted glares at anyone who dared to look at him in any way other than a friendly one. It didn't matter that he would have to meet Minerva alone; for now, they were a protective force gathered around him.

"Blaise, make sure Draco packs," Severus told the only other Slytherin going on the trip. Implied in the words were a 'make sure he's all right'. And the head of their house would no doubt see to it himself later that evening.

But once out of the great hall, his students went on to their Dorms, and he turned to head to the Blue Parlour.

Minerva was there when he arrived, settled quietly in a chair before the fire and waiting for him. "Do come in, Severus. There's a cup of tea for you," she said coolly, watching as he came closer.

His own expressions were tightly reigned, erring towards flat and a little sour, as he sat down in the other chair. The tea was declined with heavy suspicion in his eyes, waving it off. "We need to discuss how we are going to manage this trip, Minerva."

"An excellent idea," she agreed. "You seem to have managed to gain even more of them than I, despite the fact that I have three houses. Would you rather split them up differently? The rooms are going to be awfully small, Severus, only two or three persons per room..."

"So?" His tone seemed distinctly unhappy to be reminded of *that*. Sharing a room with Harry, perhaps he could manage, but if it were to be any of the Weasleys... "I would rather keep an eye on the students most likely to start trouble than the ones that err towards caution."

"Then you should keep an eye to your own students, in that case, *particularly* Draco Malfoy," Minerva said dryly. "I don't cherish ending up with *that* lot of trouble, Severus, though I know you're quite fond of him. Potter is often trouble waiting to happen, but it's never *malicious* trouble!"

"You don't trust me with your precious Gryffindors." It wasn't a question at all, as he brushed at his chin with absent knuckles, the other arm folded over his lean chest. "I knew it."

"I didn't say I don't *trust* you, Severus. If I didn't, I'd not have agreed to go with you on this trip. I do, however, worry about them, just as I worry about your children. Half of the other fifth years aren't even sure if Blaise is a girl or a boy! And I'm sure none of the boys will want to share a room with Draco, and we only have so many." She sighed. "We had ought to figure out the rooming assignments, then."

"How many rooms are there?" he asked after a moment. "I do not look forward to the prospect of having to share a room."

"Four," McGonagall replied. "I thought, that being the case, that one could go to the Weasley boys, one to Evans, Tobias and Potter, one for me, Hermione and Blaise, and that perhaps you would be willing to take Malfoy. I don't think he'll get on well with Evans or Tobias," she said, "they're both muggleborn."

And even if Draco didn't hold that against them, then they would surely hold prior treatment against *him*. "Three Weasley boys in one room" -- God help the cleaning staff, he had to think -- "You, Granger and Blaise" -- because if Blaise was so a-sexual, it didn't really matter much if Blaise was female or otherwise -- "Evans, Tobias..." He fell into thought for a moment, musing over that. "You're aware that I've been working one on one with Potter in light of... the events. Perhaps it would be best if he were to room with Malfoy and I."

"If you think that best," McGonagall agreed, "and if you think Malfoy won't hold it against him."

/Malfoy already holds things against him./ "I can't see what there is to hold against him," Severus murmured, expression falling thoughtful again. "Past the usual."

"You know your children best," Minerva agreed. /And maybe that will give you some comfort as well, Severus./ "About that thirty points..."

"I will not take back what I said." He lifted his eyes, dark deeply shuttered in things, to look at her. "Those two need to learn tact, Minerva. I'm trying to keep Malfoy from falling onto the same path as his father did, and it's idiotic sods like that who could *drive* Draco to that side."

"They *truly* didn't say anything that should have been considered harmful, Severus!" she objected. "You even put a mouse in *George's* shorts, and he didn't stomp off. He freed the little thing, which is just what he asked Malfoy if he was going to do. I understand not wanting our children to follow that path, but one *must* be equal in these things..."

"The two Weasley boys are good-natured children," Severus admitted, voice falling soft and barely inflected at all. "Draco Malfoy is not. And his current *lack* of a family at all has left his nature worse than before. If Arthur Weasley had died, and the twins had fallen into a depression, would you be so *quick* to question if I took points away from Draco for a cruel joke played on *them*?"

The Animagus sighed, looking into the fire. "I understand, Severus," she said simply. "But you so often favor him that it is perhaps difficult to think that you might be doing it for a purpose now."

"I've always had a purpose behind it, Minerva, and you know *damn* well what I was doing," he hissed at her.

"Yes, allowing him to get away with anything and everything under the sun," she said dryly, not allowing that vicious sound to bother her. "That cannot be good for him any more than it would be good for any of the other children!"

"Pretend you're as dense as half your house, Minerva -- that's fine," he scowled, shoulders hunching minutely as he re-crossed his arms over his chest. No, everything was cut and dry to her, wasn't it? Simple black and white, good or bad... he was foolish to expect much else, he knew. "I was doing what was required of me. *Now* I'm trying to steer him towards something better."

A deep sigh came from the woman. "Well, we'll see, then. Hopefully, this trip will go well..."

/I doubt it will./ He closed his eyes for a moment in misery -- no, nothing worked out properly, or even close. Malfoy, his old lover's *son*, had an affection for him, and then there was *Harry*, and the nightmares, worse than ever, and barely bearable, even with a potion to mute them out. "I hope it will, too. Have you packed already?"

"Have you ever known me to be less than prepared?" she asked almost cheerfully. "Teaching the children to live as muggles should be most amusing!"

"I'm sure of it." Bland, not truly too interested in carrying on further conversation, he inclined his head a little to her, and stood from the chair. There were a few books he could probably read to *refresh* himself, because he hadn't had experience with muggles since before Harry was born.

"Good day, Severus. I hope you sleep well this evening," she said automatically. "Are you sure you don't want some tea?"

"I brewed sleeping draught that I can take without a drink interfering with its effectiveness, so, no, thank you." He looked over his shoulder at her as he grasped the handle of the door. "If you see Albus before tomorrow, tell him he doesn't need to drug my food or Potter's any longer."

"If you don't see him first," Minerva agreed, and that was that.

~~~~

Packing had been a simple affair until he realized that he needed to pack like a muggle. At least, muggle clothes, which for him was a bit of a stretch. A few white shirts that he wore under his robes, and three pairs of crisp wool trousers. So, he'd look like an outdated muggle -- at least it was better than some wizards' attempts to pass themselves off.

There was just a matter of how to secrete away his potions into the suitcase, even in their hidden compartment, so that they wouldn't *clink*.

"Professor? Are you in?"

That was Potter's voice, not quite timid, but neither was it demanding.

He paused, mid-way through folding up a shirt, and called out, "Come in!" before he realized that he was only wearing his slightly worn grey nightshirt as he stood there packing. It wouldn't have even entered his mind at all, however, before the events of the day before.

"Hi," Harry greeted, taking in the sight of him. He was quite unable to stop the grin that snuck onto his mouth, because there was just something utterly *striking* about a wizard in a knee-length grey nightshirt, he decided. It was just a shame it didn't have something cute on it. He was tempted -- oh, he was tempted! But he rather thought that Severus would be *very* unhappy with him if he tried it. "Almost finished packing?"

"Almost," he said in an agreeable enough tone. He closed it, twisted the locks, then opened it again to reveal that clothes and toiletries were gone, replaced with bottles. There was a simple matter of stuffing a shirt in there, and then the rattling would stop when he lifted it. "I would guess that you've finished, as well?"

"Mmmm," Harry answered by way of agreement. "A bit of a Reducio helps sometimes when it comes to my cousin's old hand-me-downs," he said wryly. "I'd almost prefer wearing school uniforms and robes."

"Don't you have any muggle clothes of your own...?" He had turned away again, shifting a few bottles carefully, before laying his outer-robes atop them carefully. Then Severus set about sealing the suitcase. Anything to do other than concentrate fully on Harry's presence.

"I've never exactly noticed them selling such things at Diagon Alley," Harry said almost apologetically. "So I'm afraid not. That's the most interesting case I've ever seen," he decided. After all, the thing had clothes one moment and bottles the next. What more could one ask for?

"A simplified version of Moody's chest." Storage for the paranoid, the auror had called it, before he'd left to *return* to retirement after he'd been imprisoned. "I would have assumed that your muggle family would've bought you clothing to wear while you stayed with them."

"No," Harry said simply. "They don't like me. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, they *hate* me, especially that I'm a wizard."

"You won't have to ever see them again, will you, now that Sirius can hold legal custody of you?" He slid the suitcase half-under his bed, moving towards the cabinet he kept potions in. Lingering at the edge of his bedroom, Harry could see that the cot from two nights earlier was still set up -- why?

"No," Harry agreed, and then grinned. "I guess that means that I can get muggle clothing if I want. I wouldn't have to explain where I got the money or anything!"

"You, Harry, could probably do anything you wish to do," Severus agreed, digging carefully through unlabeled shelves. If he stopped *moving* and doing things, then he'd get comfortable, and getting comfortable meant he'd do things that, no matter what Dumbledore had said to him, weren't *proper* in the very least... "Are you here for sleeping draught, or...?"

"Just to see you, I think," the boy said solemnly. "I think I'd like to try sleeping through a night without it and see how that works."

"It won't work so well, you'll see, but..." Severus stepped out of the cabinet with the bottle in hand, though he set it aside on his dresser without touching it himself. "But you'll learn your mind doesn't sort things as well when you *don't* dream. There isn't a meeting place between the two."

"Mind some company for a while, then? Until we're tired?" Harry asked him tentatively. He didn't really want to go back to his dorm room; he was half afraid he'd wake everyone else up screaming if he did.

"You know you don't have to even bother to ask, Harry." Severus's voice fell a bit more unshuttered, tired and mildly amused. He was a proper doormat, now that Potter had worked his way past his few remaining and admittedly broken defenses. Smoothly, he perched on the edge of the bed. "What do you want to talk about?"

"About what made you decide you liked potions best and wanted to do something with them," Harry decided. "Would that be all right?"

"Perfectly." He gestured, vaguely, for Harry to sit down, too. "But first, tell me why you like Quidditch so much."

That was an easy answer. "Because it's like being free," he answered shortly, slipping onto the bed. "You get on the broom and the whole world drops away and it's just you and this wild feeling that you're *flying*, it's like magic, or like the magic you dream of when you're a muggle child..."

"Because it's like being free." That phrase, in particular, was echoed on purpose. "Because no one can quite compare to you in the game, at least at this school, can they, Harry? I'm sure it wouldn't be half so much 'fun' for you if you weren't naturally good at it."

"And that's why you like potions, too," Harry said, not so much a question as a statement. "Because you're the best at it."

"Yes." It wasn't egotism, not really, because he was *right* when he said he was the best. He was the best available, and would have been hired to a high up ministry position long ago if it hadn't been for his shadowed past. "It was natural to me, weighing ingredients against each other. Simple things when mixed together can do almost *anything*."

"Brew glory, bottle fame. Even stopper death," Harry murmured.

"Not that any of you take it seriously," Severus murmured in a dour sort of voice. "Every class for me is what it would be like for you to watch a Quidditch game played by an unorganized group running abut on the ground *below* the pitch while waving their brooms up in the air."

At that, the green-eyed boy laughed. The imagery was fantastically amusing. "Potions, like Quidditch, isn't for everybody," he disagreed. "It's hard to concentrate on something you don't like, or something you're afraid of. Like Neville. If he wasn't so scared of you and of screwing up, he probably wouldn't screw up half as much."

"Unless he happened to see his shadow," Severus returned, shifting a little to lean back on the palms of his hands. "He's not meant for practical lab work."

"It's sort of understandable, I guess, with his parents and everything..."

Severus nodded, shrugging a bit listlessly as he looked over at Harry. No, the day before hadn't been a hallucination, though it might as well have been. Every bit of Harry looked as tempting as it had then... But he had to be grateful that Harry's demonstration of lust, or simply perhaps the fumes having gotten to him, had faded. Better for Harry that way. "It makes sense, yet given a *choice* in the matter, I prefer to not show favoritism in my classes."

"Except for Malfoy," Harry teased, leaning close to him. "I'm really sorry if he's going to be pissed off with you about me," he whispered, eyes dropping slightly. "I know he's your favorite."

A tease, that's all it was, and Harry simply didn't *know* the implications of his words... /Then don't tell him, you fool./ Severus's gaze followed those low-lying lids, fixed on half-hidden green orbs. "He's like a son to me."

"Was he really upset? Not that I think it would change anything about how I feel or what I want," Harry hurried to say, "but... I don't want you hurt because of me. Or because of him..."

Feel, and want, two words that Severus mused had caused at least half the trouble that happened in the world on a daily basis. Or at least, in his life in the past few days. He wanted, but he still didn't have a damn idea what Harry felt... Veritaserum tempted him, just a drop of what he'd brewed, and Harry would be spilling himself as helplessly as he had done. Then, at least, he'd *know*. /But what's been done has already been done./ "It's too late to think of things like that now, Harry. Now I have to deal with the aftermath of how he's acting over this. This... this, that I don't even know what it is. I rather hope it's more than a game to you."

"I wouldn't play that kind of game," Harry said most seriously. "It would be hateful, and... and I couldn't do that to you."

/It's already a game, but you don't know that. Dumbledore doesn't care, but the governors would have my head if they had wind of this./ "You couldn't?" he asked in a carefully arch tone of voice. "Yet... what are we doing?"

"Learning," Harry declared, looking at him seriously. "Learning should always happen before everything else, even," he admitted, "if you're really impatient for everything else..." Everything else being the need to kiss Snape again, actually.

Snape shifted again, sitting up straighter to fold his hands together. "I wonder what you want to... learn."

"Everything. Everything about you. I want to kiss you again," Harry confessed. "I don't want to go back up to my dorm room."

/He's an innocent. He doesn't know what he's asking. He's a foolish boy, Severus, don't listen to him... It's a *game*, because he's only a child and it can't be anything else for him!/ That was discrediting to them both, he knew, but those miserable thoughts kept him in reign. "Then don't go back tonight."

The relief on Harry's face was almost visible. "Good. Severus?" It felt like such an *odd* word slipping from his lips. "Can I kiss you again?" he whispered.

But to hear his name said and not hold a note of disdain, or pity, or one of the hundred other things he was used to getting... Odd, but certainly worth savoring. Severus drew a slight smile to the edge of his mouth, and for a moment it touched at his eyes. "You'd have to be closer than you are right now to do that."

"I can do that," Harry assured a little breathlessly, and he shifted, and his mouth found Snape's with the same lingering, heated touch he'd felt before, too good, almost, to believe.

There had to be a catch to it, Severus thought a little miserably as his hands rose of their own will, almost touching Harry. Almost, just hovering over shoulders that he wanted to clutch at, to jerk closer and perhaps twist beneath him. Lip to lip was such a warm press, and this time Severus didn't hesitate on drawing it out, a teasing slip of tongue against Harry's bottom lip, small sucklings there.

The boy gave a little gasp of pleasure, his mouth opening easily to that kiss. It felt *good*, delicious, and he dropped his head back, putting a hand lightly on Severus's shoulder. "Mmmm!"

A question that had slipped into Severus's mind many times over the years entered again -- was it really wrong if it felt so good? They were both enjoying it... /Don't think that./ The touch on his shoulder, a warm hand felt through the fabric of his nightshirt, stirred Severus to grasp Harry's shoulder, dragging him closer to press body against body as his tongue languidly mimicked things that he'd like very much to do to other parts of Harry's body.

The boy pulled back only slightly to adjust his seating, legs sliding around Severus's hips to give him more access to the dark-haired potions master. Mouths parted, but it was only so that Harry could kiss his sharp cheek, the line of his jaw, nudge at his throat. /Tastes good,/ Harry thought dazedly, shuddering. The older man tasted vaguely of some sweet-spicy smell that echoed against his tongue, and he didn't want to *stop*.

Probably some bit of potion-ingredients that he, being only a student, would never recognize, but it was pleasant, and Severus was simply putty under his hands. "Harry..." A quiet, shaken-sounding moan, as Snape tilted his head back, hands scrabbling at the boy's backside for a moment.

"Yes..." It was as much a question as an affirmation, and he tentatively sucked just a bit at the pounding pulse he found just beneath the black-haired man's jawline.

Throbbing wildly beneath hot skin, almost out of control -- certainly as shattered as Severus's control felt. Harry had honed in on a soft spot for him, one that would've made him go weak at the knees if he'd been standing up. As it was, his nightshirt did nothing to hide his reaction any more than his moaning voice did.

The next thing Harry knew, he'd been flipped onto the bed, onto his back, and Severus was over him, wild-eyed and drawing in rough breaths.

Startled, he looked up, green eyes wide, lips parted on panting breaths. "P... Severus..."

No reply for a moment, and thin lips closed tightly before Severus slid down a little, to kiss at what he could get to of Harry's neck. Damn robes, damn their confining nature, and damn their layers. In the past he'd thanked them for helping him, but no, not in that moment when he wanted skin to skin, to press himself again, and into Harry's beautiful lean form --

/Control yourself, you stupid fool!/

Control? Control was so hard, when he had what he wanted laid out on a platter for him. Soft skin, a smooth cheek, warm damp lips, all his to kiss, to feel, and there wasn't any way of controlling himself. He couldn't, not when Potter was arching up to him, sending fumbling fingers to fly down the closures of his robe, the buttons of the shirt he wore underneath.

"Severus..." It was his name again, on those lips, and they were full of *want* and *need*...

Want of him. Need of his touch. Concepts almost foreign, certainly foreign to have *truth* in their noises. "Tell me... Harry, tell me what you will allow." /Give me a line to not cross, or there won't be anything left to cross when I'm finished./

"Anything," the boy told him, cupping his face between sweating palms, tenderly stroking the sallow cheeks and tucking equally damp strands of hair back behind Snape's ears with an almost delicate touch. "Everything," he whispered, reaching up to kiss him again.

Thoughts of 'anything' flashed through his mind, making him shake for a moment before soft lips caught his again. He'd simply make sure Harry was sated as quickly as possible, to keep himself from going overboard and hurting the boy. As it was, Harry's kisses inflamed and soothed him at the same time, leaving him level-headed enough to finish opening Harry's robes. "We will see."

"All right..." It was a shaky answer, at best, and the straining erection hidden by the warmth of that winter robe seemed almost a surprise to them both. Harry dropped his head back against the mattress, tongue darting out to moisten his lips, and he arched, wanting more of Snape, wanting him pressed close and tight, warm... Everything.

Undressed. They both needed to get undressed, and then... Both to better hide away any evidence of what they were doing, and to have better sensation. It would feel less like the dirty thing it was if they didn't fumble through clothing to do it. "Shhh... hold still and let me undress us both."

Harry obeyed, breath catching a little as Severus stripped him with infinitely dexterous hands, stripping away robes and shirt and trousers and underwear, dropping them all by the bed and leaving him bare. He watched as the black haired man leaned up, tugged off the grey nightshirt and revealed himself. There were scars -- no small few, actually, from knives, he knew, and others from burns. He couldn't help the way his fingers moved to caress tenderly over one, drawing a shudder.

Numb sensation that flared for a moment, reminder that the wound had only 'healed' and scarred because of the magical seal put over it. Otherwise... /Don't think. Be./ Carefully, he knelt on the bed, looking down at Harry. One pale knee settled between the boy's thighs, and Severus stayed still except for the one hand that roamed lightly over Harry's beautiful torso. If he dove in without pause, then he didn't give Harry a chance to decide if it was anything other than mildly curious. "Well, Harry. This is what you've gotten for yourself -- one pale, thin potions teacher. Change your mind now, or not at all."

He could almost see the way that Harry's chin notched upward, green eyes becoming determined. "Not at all," he said huskily, though he was more than a little nervous.

If it was stubbornness alone that animated Harry... Severus shifted them both farther up on the bed, comfortably, before he laid down against and half atop Harry, hands roaming slowly. "Tell me if something... bothers you," Snape half-demanded between languid kisses pressed against smooth warm-colored skin at the juncture of Harry's neck and shoulder.

That brought a little sound of pleasure, one that Harry couldn't help giving. It *felt* good, surprisingly so, the slightly rough feel of Severus's jaw brushing against tender skin making him shiver. "God, that feels..."

"Good?" Quiet tones in Snape's voice, usually used in intense anger only, felt husky and unfamiliar for Harry. Teeth nipped gently at the winging edge of his collarbone, while two long-fingered hands, delicate in motion, rubbed gently over his nipples.

"Yes..." It was barely a hiss of sound, and he pulled his legs together around Severus's, the intensity of that touch upon his chest rocketing between them. "Mmmm...!"

Those hands didn't stall out there, no. They kept moving, tracking over the muscles of his stomach, the points of his hips, and then finally, one brushed teasingly over Harry's hard cock. Severus slid down a little more to take the small bud of one nipple between his lips. It was hard to keep reminding himself, if not to be careful, to go *slowly*.

"Oh, fuck," Harry whispered, the unfamiliar word slipping loose from his lips as if it had been made for them. It was going to be a miracle if he didn't come the moment the touch intensified!!

Most thought had already ground to a halt before that, so there was no comment on Harry's utterance. Fingers, long and adjusted to touching things with skill, curled over his length, while Severus lifted his head to ask, "You've done anything like this before?"

"Huh-uh," Harry answered thinly, tongue darting out to moisten lips gone dry even as he wrapped his arms about Severus's neck, tugging at him, wanting his kisses again. "No."

Untainted, and his to teach... amazing, and Snape nursed quietly at the large possibility that it would all backfire on him in time. But there was nothing to lose any longer, no greater goal to preserve himself for, to let himself be ruined by. Just a boy, an extraordinary boy who wanted him to do what he was doing, touch and make him feel pleasure unknown. "Then enjoy this." The arms around his neck were insistent, pulling him and keeping him mouth against mouth with Harry.

The boy shifted beneath him and legs drew up around his own, tangling with them, feet pressed to the calves as fingers twined deeply into his hair. That kiss kept on, and Harry was giving little hitched sounds that were *definitely* pleasure, and it felt so good!

Better than even the best moments with the Death Eaters had been, better than any of Lucius's odd affections. Harry seemed to not want to *stop* kissing, and as long as he could, Severus *would* indulge in the small pleasure of it. Just like the press of Harry's legs twining around his own, and the feel of the younger man's cock in his hand as he gently stroked at it. Something safe and pleasurable to feel in periphery.

"Feels so..." Harry whispered against his lips, shuddering. God, he was going to explode in Severus's hand, it was going to be so *embarrassing*...

And then a knock fell firmly upon the door.

"Go away!" His voice came out in a hoarse snarl, head turned a little away from Harry's sweet mouth. "Understand? Whoever it is out there, I don't want to be disturbed!!"

"Well, *really*, Severus," Professor McGonagall said outside the door. "Surely you can halt whatever it is for a moment! I've brought you tea from Dumbledore, and he says that if you don't drink it, he'll come down and drink it WITH you."

Whatever spark that had been in Snape's eyes died as he detached himself from his entanglement with Harry, giving Harry an apologetic glance before he pulled the sheets from the end of the bed up over him. "Stay still," was the barely audible whisper as Severus moved to pull his night-shirt back on.

"I want to be left *alone*, damn you," he railed at the closed door, buying himself time to try to make himself not look like he'd just been making out like a teenager.

It didn't help much.

"Really, Severus, it isn't *my* fault!" McGonagall said sternly. "Don't you do as you're told? Well, so do I, now open the door and drink your tea!"

"Minerva, I'm staring at a bottle of dreamless sleep draught that's sitting on my desk," Snape sighed, standing *near* the door but not yet opening it. He needed a few more moments for the heat to leave his face. "I'll drink that. The tea dilutes it and ruins the potency."

"Well, I promised to *deliver* it, and so I shall!" she said stridently. "Open the door and take the tea! Goodness, Severus!"

He yanked the door open, just a crack so that she couldn't see past him. "Give me the tray, then, and leave me to my privacy."

"Oh, my. Well, you could have said that you weren't properly dressed," she said blankly and handed it over.

"Why do you think it took me so long to open the door for you?" he scowled, taking the tray and half-closing the door so he could set it aside, before stepping back into the partly opened doorway. "Now, is that all, Minerva?"

"Yes, quite," she agreed, peeking inside. Nothing unusual...just bottles, a fire, and rumpled sheets.

Until the sheets moved minutely. Severus *heard* the slight shift, dark eyes widening slightly. /No, no, no, no *Harry*, don't move!!/ "Then, good night," he told her coolly.

"Good night, Severus," Minerva murmured as the door slammed in her face. "Well," she said to it. "That was certainly rude!"

Severus stood in front of the closed door for a long time, before he moved to pick up his wand and charm it shut with a few particularly vicious spells. "Are you all right, Harry?" Hopefully not scared entirely to death.

Harry considered his now sadly deflated erection. "Er, yes. I think," he decided. "A bit frightened for a moment, there. It's never nice when you think you've been caught by a professor," he said dryly.

"No, it isn't," was the darkly rueful agreement. With some hesitance, Severus pulled his nightshirt off again, before moving towards the bed. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you that for ten years prior to this I perhaps had one or two visitors a *year*. Now my rooms see more traffic than Diagon Alley." And from the scowl in his voice, he wasn't pleased with that fact.

"I'd invite you up to mine..." Harry teased. "...but Ron's still there, and with the twins, you just never know."

"I would rather not find myself outnumbered and unclothed again," he remarked, pulling back the sheets enough to slip in beside Harry. Without another body to press against, to trade heat with, the bedroom he used was far too cold to *not* wear clothing in.

Silently, Harry shifted, pressing close against him. It was obvious to both of them that their excitement had faded quite a bit with the fear of getting caught, but he slid his arms around the thin professor, laying his head upon the man's shoulder. "Will it be all right to sleep like this?"

"Yes." It probably wasn't any more wise than what they'd been doing before Minerva had interrupted them, yet Harry *understood* that it was needed. Harry understood a great deal more than Severus would've credited him with the prior year. Slowly, he looped his arms around Harry, settling them both comfortably. "Can you sleep like this...? If you need the draught..."

"No," Harry denied automatically. "Let's... Let's try it this way, first. Before we bother with that..."

Nothing to risk, again, other than perhaps nodding off during a long train ride. "Try to not unsettle me too much when you do get up for it," Severus sighed softly, tone stretched for deadpan as he closed his eyes, relaxing noticeably against Harry.

"I'll only scream if you do," Harry jokingly promised, settling himself comfortably.

"I think I can abide with that." For a few more moments, his fingers stroked over the bare skin of Harry's shoulder; for a few more moments, he was consciously aware of how thick Harry's hair was, the way the boy tucked himself neatly beneath his chin; for a few more moments, he was aware that their legs tangled again, more for comfort than stimulation this time.

And after those few moments, he drifted into a restless sleep.

       

It wasn't quite normal to wake up to warmth and flesh pressed to flesh, but for some reason, it didn't occur to Harry that perhaps it wasn't quite what he was accustomed to. Indeed, it only occurred to him to snuggle a bit more deeply against the shoulder he was nuzzled against, and to close his eyes once more, instead.

"It's seven a.m., Harry Potter," a soft voice murmured right against his ear. To go with it, thin fingers threaded lazily through his hair, while the other hand rested low on his waist. Severus couldn't remember the last time he'd slept so comforted, or the last time that he'd been so able to relax with another person laying beside him. "Which means it's time to get up."

"Hn-nn," Harry denied, pleased to be just where he was for the moment.

"Uppity brat." The hand at his waist tapped a little, as if thinking over whether Harry needed a full-out slap to get him awake. Given his own preference, Severus would've stayed abed, 'resting' until perhaps dinner, or as long as he could've wrangled. He'd had a chance to *dream* the previous night, and though no distinct impressions lingered in his mind, his head felt clearer than it had in the weeks since Halloween.

"'M not uppity. 'M downity. In beddity, even," Harry informed him incoherently.

It seemed that Mr. Potter was not a morning person, particularly not when he had gotten a full night's sleep.

Quietly amusing, though. The smart-assed edge that *was* so much a part of Harry was one of the many things Snape knew he appreciated in the boy. "We had better get up *ourselves*, before someone decides that I need to be woken up," he murmured into Harry's hair as he turned his head a little.

The boy gave a long sigh, finally peeking out from beneath dark lashes. "We have to catch a train, don't we?"

"Hogwarts Express takes us as far as it can go, and that loads at nine." He didn't make a motion to move, yet -- Harry's lack of a horrified reaction was as heartening as waking up with him still nestled deep in his arms. "So perhaps we should get up."

"Yep," Harry agreed. He made no move to shift out of bed, however.

It wasn't awkward, just very simply *comfortable* for him. Not a thought rose to his mind yet, other than the knowledge that they had a trip to go on, and that he couldn't scrape together the moral outrage that he should've had with himself for sleeping with a student. Even in the most literal sense of the word. Sirius must've felt that sort of relief -- the knowledge that his life was at an ultimate low-point, and that there was no real way to make it worse by trying to reach for something better. "Did you sleep well?"

"I haven't slept like that in weeks," Harry answered him quietly. "It's probably half of the reason I don't want to get out of bed right now." He paused. "You're the other half."

"A close second, I believe my pride can deal with..." He let his eyes, aided only by the guttering fire-light, drag over Harry's still relaxed face. Beautiful, his for the moment. /I think... that I'm an utter fool./ "If you slept well, then I must have, also."

"No screaming," Harry agreed softly, fingers moving to lightly touch the tip of his chin. "Not even a little."

"Then you have better served to sedate me than that draught." Vaguely amused, but not quite smiling, Severus looked at Harry through half-closed lashes. "You've spent so much of your time making me angry. I wonder why."

A little shrug answered, warm, sleepy. "You always seemed to see Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. It's never really seemed to matter that I'm Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived With Muggles That Hated Him or Harry Potter, the Boy Who Never Heard Of Magic Before He Turned Eleven... I guess it made me feel a bit better to make you angry. Then, at least, I felt like I'd done something to deserve it."

"My family is... *old* magic. It was, at the time, incomprehensible to me that you knew nothing. That you did nothing consciously, yet gained more credit than any of the dozens of people who had worked behind the scenes for years." The tone of voice was as good as admitting to stubborn blindness, jealousy, and idiocy, though Severus was careful to say nothing so exact. "You have lived. But you're also the Boy Who Has Nightmares."

"That, too," Harry agreed quietly, palm pressed to Severus's chest. He could feel the man's heartbeat beneath it, and it felt somehow *perfect*, reassuringly wonderful. "Except when I sleep with you."

"Which would just make you Harry." He let the hand at Harry's waist linger, rub gently, though he did start to sit up. "I regret that I must call you by your last name when there are others around." But he didn't want Harry to catch any more trouble from his 'companions' than he already was.

"That's all right," Harry sighed, rolling onto his back and stretching slowly. "I understand."

That was Severus's cue to make a still slightly sleepy, tired attempt to get up fully out of bed. Sitting up, a task in itself, and the joints of his upper back cracked loudly when he twisted a little. An unpleased, incoherent murmur followed *that* noise, and he shifted a bit self-consciously to the edge of the bed. At least the room was no better lit in the morning than it was in the night.

Fingers caressed down his back, Harry having shifted silently to rest just behind him. "Mmm, Dumbledore's right. You need feeding," he decided teasingly. "Think I've got a chocolate frog in my trouser pocket... wherever those are."

"I prefer to not eat that sort of thing," Severus shivered, though the shiver was probably more from the way that Harry's curious fingers traced down his spine.

"Hmmmm, if you don't like chocolate frogs, what *do* you like?" Harry asked, lightly pressing against the knobs of his spine.

Another shiver, slighter but definitely a reaction to the touch. Severus exhaled quietly, before replying, "I've no idea. Fruit, sometimes. Apples, I suppose." But was he ever pursued around the school by someone with apples? No, of course not. It was tea, or sandwiches, or both.

"Oh. Well, I'll start leaving apples out to tempt you, then," Harry said, sitting up, himself, and wrapping his arms about his knees. "Guess I should get dressed and get ready to go."

"Yes -- use my shower, so you'll save time," Severus instructed quietly, turning a little to look over his shoulder at Harry in the firelight. "And... as I don't know when this opportunity will present itself again..." He hesitated, clearly a trip over his own words before they left his lips, and a pause in his mind to re-write them. "Thank you."

"What for?" Harry asked, a little surprised as he looked at Severus. "For us both getting some sleep?"

"Understanding." It was that simple -- perhaps not even caring, but to be *understood*, or to at least have Harry attempt to understand him, was worth thanking Harry for. Dark eyes seemed relaxed as they met glittering green, comfortable and lazy. "Now, get up and shower, or I'll make you."

The way that Harry smiled at him said it all. "I needed it, too." He shifted, moving from the bed, a distinct lack of self-consciousness concerning his own nudity shown as he moved for the bathroom. "You're welcome. And thank *you*."

Not that Harry Potter had anything to be self-conscious about. Still small of stature -- though that was changing as he grew older -- with the muscles on his lean body dense from Quidditch. Severus openly let himself appreciate that form as it walked into *his* bathroom.

It was, he decided, one hell of a terribly pleasant morning, and he laid back down for a short while, waiting. Almost fifteen minutes later, Harry walked back out, still damp, and smiled at him. "Your turn. I'm going to get dressed and go upstairs to change and get to the train station. See you there?"

"Of course, Mr. Potter." There was something faintly amused to that voice, the tones silken just for Harry, as Severus took to his feet and moved past Harry to go about his own morning routine.

Fingers brushed lightly against his shoulder for a moment, tracing around to his back before he moved past. "See you, then, Professor," he laughed softly, and then began to get dressed.

Oh, yes. This field trip was going to be both heaven and hell to deal with.

       

Severus had arrived early to the car of the Hogwarts Express that the Gryffindors were to meet in. Miraculously, despite the long shower he'd taken in a vague attempt to seem *less* 'greasy' to the blighters. Harry, Ms. Granger, and three Weasleys, all under his immediate care - life couldn't become any more... exceptional.

There was pleasure to be found in reading them the official Riot Act, however, giving a brief-over of the whys of the trip, and a vague idea of plans. The express would take them to the station, and from there they would go to Diagon Alley, to exchange money and if need be, purchase muggle clothing that was passable. Then, three hours after that, they would re-group and head into London proper to catch a Muggle train to Glastonbury.

Muggles. A week of being surrounded by Muggles. Dumbledore had stressed firmly that half of garnering muggle trust was to dress like them. To blend in. People who stuck out too much were dubbed 'trouble', and the less their field trip looked like 'trouble', the better for them.

He wasn't sure how well he'd pass. It had been years since he'd been very far off of Hogwarts properly for anything other than detestable business, and too long since he'd walked among Muggles. Severus hoped the grey trousers, and a white button down shirt he wore would... pass. The jacket Dumbledore had given him to wear made him suspicious, though -- the black leather struck him as something that Sirius wore and had probably left at the school years before. It had hung a bit wide at the shoulders before Dumbledore had chuckled himself half to death and re-sized it properly.

Harry thought that it was utterly and *completely* delicious.

"So, I guess we're all rooming together then," Fred -- or was it George? -- said.

"Yeah, must be!" Ron said with a nod. "After all, there's just the four rooms..."

"You three Weasleys will be together, yes," Severus scowled at them, "and if I hear any midnight explosions, I will take points from your house. Ms. Granger, you will be rooming with Blaise and Professor McGonagall. Ha -- Potter, you will be rooming with myself and Mr. Malfoy." And the two other boys would room together, and Severus really could care less. Only that his nerves would probably be shot after a week of sleeping in the same room as the two rival students.

"Hey! Why isn't Harry staying with us?" George -- he was almost certain that it was George, anyway -- protested. "Is there only room for three people in each room? That seems odd!"

Those damn twins needed to wear the sweaters with their initials sewn onto it that their mother kept sending them. "Because each room is fitted with a full size bed, and a twin. Now stop whining, or I'll make an effort to get you hit by a muggle train in London."

"So, what are we going to see in Glastonbury, Professor?" Hermione asked, honestly curious. And trying to avert tragedy. There were lots of fascinating things *to* see, of course, but she wondered what the professors would consider interesting to wizards!

/I've no bloody idea./ No, he was the chaperon, he couldn't say that and get away with it... Dark eyes flitted around the inside of the cab as the Hogwarts express jerked itself into motion. "We're going to visit the Tor, see the Ley Lines, and then we're going to waste five or six days looking at muggle junk and doing what they do."

Harry and Hermione *both* looked at one another, then, and turned back to Snape with identical smirks upon their faces. "I'm sure we'll think of something to do like muggles," Harry said, not even trying to keep a straight expression.

"Yes," Hermione smiled. "Something."

Severus fixed them both with withering glares, and for good measure cast it over the Weasley boys. "Understand that I have no qualms about locking you in a closet for a few hours if you manage to cross me, Gryffindors," he threatened icily.

"Locked in a closet?" Fred repeated, looking over at George.

"I wouldn't say it's the first time it's happened..." George grinned back at his brother.

"Though it's been a while since we came out of it!" Fred agreed, smirking right back.

"You two aren't out of the closet!" Ron cried. "You've been stuck there for years! You'll be comfortable when he shoves you in!"

/Or shoves in you,/ Harry thought, and immediately turned brick red.

"Something wrong, Harry?" Hermione asked, softly, tilting her head a little at him.

"Nothing," Harry denied quickly, green eyes gone wide. "Just a thought, that's all."

"A thought? Probably not something worth sharing," Severus murmured, giving him an odd, unreadable look, as he twisted a little to pull out his wand from his pocket. "The headmaster told me to check your suitcases for confiscable items before we left, but I can do it as well now."

At that, Fred and George both turned a little pale and began to wheedle, but Harry's flush didn't fade by much. There wasn't anything truly *naughty* in his trunk; well, nothing that was likely to get him in trouble, anyway, but there *was* that little tube of stuff that he'd snitched from Dudley during the summer, and he was pretty sure that what it was for would be altogether *too* obvious...

"Yours first, Potter," Severus said, rising smoothly from his seat. He knew full well that Harry's would be the safest, and perhaps while he handled that one, and Granger's, the Weasleys would get rid of most of their disallowed item. He hoped. "Just open the trunk."

Obediently enough, Harry did, looking at Severus with green eyes that were impossibly bright as Ron, Fred and George worked quickly and silently behind Severus's back.

Severus searched it by hand, first, ruffling through clothing quickly, feeling at the bottom carefully. A case for Harry's glasses, toothbrush, toothpaste tube, another tube... That was pulled up to better light, and Snape gave an amused snort before dropping it carelessly atop Harry's shirts. "Well, no magic on your trunk, nor is there anything *truly* threatening. Close it up, Potter."

Harry nearly went limp with relief, and he gave Severus an extraordinarily sheepish smile as he obeyed. Beside him, Hermione already had her trunk open, and was waiting calmly for Snape to check it.

Severus seemed to be all right with everything in her case, until he pulled out a flat... sheath of... /Oh, dammit. Think./ "Plastic -- what is this?"

"A compact disc," Hermione said almost primly. "It's muggle music, of a sort."

A 'sort', indeed, something that looked vaguely like pink and blue ribs of some sort with the logo nine inch nails spread across it. To be frank, it was a bit worrisome. Nine inch nails? It would take magic to drive something like that home!

One eyebrow raised a bit coldly, and he looked at it a moment more before dropping it back into her case without a word more. There was nothing to play it on there in the train, and if there was anything in the hotel, professor McGonagall would be the one who had to cope with it. Easily, he closed her case, too, before moving to Ron. "Open that."

"Sure thing," the youngest of the redheads agreed blandly, opening up his trunk. Pigwidgeon flew out of a compartment and began hooting as he flew wildly around Severus's head.

Startled, Severus jerked back, and only after a moment did he register that it was an owl -- an tiny owl zipping madly around his head. He had a sudden urge to curl up on the seat opposite the children and go to sleep, no, better, drug himself to sleep until the trip was over. Or to just tie them all up, which was a far more pleasing thought, as he watched the owl zip around his head once more, mentally timing it before he shot a hand up and caught it. "Haven't you a cage for it? Pets, Mr. Weasley, were *NOT* supposed to come."

"Pig!" Ron growled. "You weren't *supposed* to be in my trunk! How'd you get there!?"

The little owl hooted wildly in answer.

Snape cupped it in both hands, trying to soothe down the tiny thing's ruffled feathers and *calm* it. He gave Ron a withering glare. "I should send you back to Hogwarts, with your hyperactive Owl! How would a *muggle* explain owning a tiny uncaged owl?"

"Er, it's really..." Ron seemed stumped.

"It's really a small remote-controlled toy he's testing out for his father's toy company?" Harry suggested with a little grin.

Now Harry got the chill, miserable-looking glare, before Snape looked away, shaking his head. "That was a mess of words that probably mean nothing at all." He was still petting at the excited owl as he moved loomingly to George and Fred's trunks. "Open them."

"Are you sure..."

"...professor?" they asked together, smiling at him ever so sweetly.

"Uh-oh," Hermione whispered. Harry could feel the hair standing up on the back of his neck.

"Yes, you stupid children -- open them," Snape said irritably.

"All right, sir..."

"...but you did ask," they told him, and then they opened it up.

Harry had never seen Severus startle so badly in all his time at Hogwarts. Not that Severus, who usually startled others, was startled himself often. But he jerked back in a protective reaction, nearly tripping over the seat behind him when the spring-loaded snake from the trunk launched itself at him. Pig got free of hands that suddenly froze, and for a moment the owl's chipper hooting hid startled gasps of breath.

/Fred and George are gonna get it,/ Harry decided, his own eyes huge in his head as the two of them hid grins with great difficulty, Ron caught in the middle of a sudden coughing fit.

"Are you all right, Professor?" Hermione asked, honestly concerned.

"Dump it out onto the floor, now," he hissed in a barely audible voice, as slender fingers picked the snake up and clutched it tightly. Sallow-colored hands went white-knuckled as Severus controlled the urge to wrap his fingers around the necks of both boys. "The entire trunk. *NOW*."

"Aw, professor..."

"...it was just a joke!"

"No. Empty it out now." It was the tone of voice that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had heard many times when Neville had almost killed someone with some potion or another, or that time the acid-mix had gotten splashed onto Snape's cloak. Severus was just simply *angry*, and without the pacing and quiet raging room that his potions classroom gave him, he felt confined and futile.

The twins promptly up-ended the lot, and out spilled all sorts of things; not just clothing, but also candies and no small number of fake wands, among with toiletries, shoes and even a hat or two.

Severus looked over the contents strewn on the floor -- would it really have been so hard for them to follow the rules, just *once*? He was regretting having let Dumbledore talk him into the trip. He was still *tired*, strained at the edges, and to have pure and simple idiocy added in with everything else... "Ron Weasley, capture your Owl or I will do it for you." Then he knelt on the floor, wand in hand, sorting through the mess and separating allowed from disallowed things.

"C'mere, Pig!" Ron said desperately, trying to catch the thing as the twins sulked while watching Snape go through their things. Harry glanced at Hermione, Hermione looked back, and they both seemed to decide that it would be better for them if they didn't laugh, no matter the temptation. They both liked their skin right where it was -- on them instead of stripped off by Severus's tongue, Harry thought with a great deal of private amusement.

When both things had been separated into two neat piles, Severus tapped the one with the gags. Something was murmured under his breath, too soft for them to hear for fear they might try to mimic it, and that pile disappeared. Then he stood again, glaring at the boys. "Is your trunk enchanted at all?"

"Oh, no, sir..."

"...we wouldn't DREAM of doing a thing..."

"...like that!"

/Lying,/ Snape noted to himself, directing the wand at the base of the trunk. "Confess now to it, and I'll take less points away."

"Well, it was just a *little* enchantment..."

"...just to make the trunk big enough to hold everything..."

"...on the inside without changing..."

"...the outward appearance..."

Harry HATED it when the twins did that. It gave him a headache.

"Expansion spells -- a Weasley favorite." The wand came to bear, and Severus removed the expanding charm out of pure spite. "Re-pack your things."

"This is going to take forever," Fred sighed. At least, he thought it was Fred.

"Nah. Just 'til the end of the train ride," George answered morosely.

"Good. Twenty points from Gryffindor for that stunt you pulled." And after watching them for a moment more, he dragged his eyes to look at Harry and Hermione, while Ron was frantically trying to calm his hyperactive owl.

"You'll be purchasing a cage for that when we reach Diagon Alley, Weasley."

Ron paled, just a little. Cages could be *expensive*...

Quietly, Hermione got out her wand and murmured a little spell she'd picked up a week ago in the school library. That gained Ron a tiny little cage just perfect for sticking Pig in and getting him out of the way.

Ron seemed overjoyed by the sudden materialization of a cage, and stuck Pig into it quickly.

"Quick thinking, Granger," was the scantly praising words as he moved to sit down in the seat again. His own suitcase was opened, the part that was nothing but potions, and started to vaguely look over them.

Harry wanted to ask him if he needed any help, or at least to know what he was doing. The curiosity was overwhelming, but he managed not to ask, somehow, instead peering out of the window of the train compartment at the countryside sneaking by.

Unlike the other teachers, Snape was a presence that brought silence with him, at least where those particular Gryffindors were concerned. He preferred it that way, the cab quiet except for Fred and George's grumblings, and Pig's occasional hyper hoot. Between the familiar potions bottles he touched, while mentally running over ingredients lists, and the sound of the train's wheels going over the tracks...

The Gryffindors soon found their chaperon asleep in his seat, head slumped down to his chest.

"Well, that's a relief," Ron sighed quietly, shaking his head. "It's going to be a sorry sort of field trip, I'm afraid."

"I don't think it'll be *that* bad," Harry denied.

"Just wait. *You've* got to sleep in the same room with him!"

Harry sincerely hoped it would also be in the same bed, but somehow, he doubted it. Had Severus said Malfoy would be with them? He almost groaned aloud at the thought.

"Harry's already been doing that, Ron," Hermione pointed out blandly, frowning at him. That much had been *clearly* obvious when he'd come up from the dungeons with freshly washed hair, and slightly rumpled robes.

"He's not going to let us play our jokes, though," Fred sighed, stuffing his underwear back into the trunk.

"Neither would McGonagall," Harry pointed out. "The difference is that *she'd* have searched you before we left Hogwarts, before we got on the train, and *after*. She *knows* you. I think S..nape has more experience with Slytherins. They might be *sneaky*, but I get the feeling they don't often directly disobey *him*."

"I can't see why they'd want to obey him," Ron sighed, glaring at the dozing man. "He looks like he's going to keel over. The Headmaster shouldn't have sent him -- I don't particularly feel very safe with him guarding us."

"He's not a *guard*, he's a chaperon," Hermione pointed out primly. "He's supposed to keep us out of *trouble*, and he's got an excellent start, what with going through the twins' things, don't you think?"

"*I* think," Harry agreed. "Besides. He's tired. It'll get better."

"Tired." George swallowed a chuckle, smirking at his brother for a moment. "He nodded off in potions last week -- woke up when our cauldron, er, went off. Gave this funny noise, and then nearly dumped what was left of the potion on our heads. It was priceless."

Harry was suddenly *very* glad he wasn't in the same year as George and Fred! "No wonder. I'd have probably done the same," he said wryly.

"And given you a detention for frightening me to boot," Hermione laughed.

"Oh, Filch had us polishing the plates," Fred commented rather cheerily as he folded a t-shirt and put it back in its place. Then he half stood up, digging a hand into his pocket. "George, do you think I should...?"

"Yeah!" George whispered. "Go for it!!!"

"What're you doing?" Ron asked curiously, looking at them. "If you do something to get expelled, Mum's going to be really hacked off..."

"You remember that pervy mouse?" Fred chuckled, pulling it out of his pocket, and his wand with it. The mouse seemed to be sleeping, and when Fred whispered 'Enervate!' it twitched to life, wriggling wildly. "This is it."

"Ohhhhh!!!!" That was Ron *and* Hermione, and even Harry's eyes had become utterly huge at the sight of it.

"You aren't *serious*?" Harry whispered.

"Aren't we?" George grinned.

"We are," Fred confirmed softly, as he stalked towards the sleeping man. He reached his fingers to pull Severus's collar away from his neck a little, shivering before he dropped the mouse into the slight space he'd made. "Ugh, he's still slimy even when he's dressed like a muggle...

"He's..." Harry almost protested that he WASN'T slimy. "...going to know you did that," he whispered instead as the black-haired man shifted, shuddered in his sleep. Damn.

"Maybe he'll think it just got away from our trunk," George grinned, settling a bit nervously back to packing, as Fred joined him again, shooting nervous glances over to the professor.

Severus, in his light doze, was aware of voices, familiar but not quite, and a sickening feeling like claws scrabbling down over his body. A dream, or something worse? Claws circled over his hollow stomach, the little mouse confused as the neatly tucked in shirt and tight belt prevented him from traveling further. Snape gave another shudder, tightly controlled even in sleep, and silent.

"This isn't funny," Harry decided in a low voice, shifting forward. He reached for one of the buttons to try and let the mouse out, despite the soft protestations of the Weasley twins.

Snape twitched away a little when Harry's fingers connected with one small button on his shirt, and the confused mouse scampered to avoid Harry's nearness by slipping around to the back of Severus's shirt.

"Harry... what're you doing?" George complained softly. "It is, too, funny!"

"No, it's not," Hermione spoke up in a tense voice. "You're going to get us all in trouble!"

Carefully, Harry worked his arm into the white shirt. /Please, please, PLEASE, don't let Severus wake up,/ he prayed silently.

The mouse dove at the first chance he had, though, slipping into the space between fabric and skin that came at the small of Snape's narrow back, squirming and clawing there. Severus gave a whimper that strangled in his throat, one side of bottom lip strangely tight bitten between his teeth. "You're... dead, 's not... possible..."

"Shit," Harry hissed quietly, expression tightening. "The lot of you get out. *Now*."

"Get out...?" George started to his feet, eyes a little wide as he jerked his brother up. "But, why?"

"Just come on," Hermione encouraged, not liking the look on Harry's face. She grabbed Ron's hand and pulled, both of them heading out of the compartment.

"Hurry."

"All... all right," George hesitated, before he jerked his brother out of the cab right on Hermione's heels. The door was closing when Severus gave another strangled shudder, choking deep in his chest.

"Wake up, Severus," Harry said urgently, shaking him with a gentle touch. "Come on, wake up. Wake up..."

It wasn't working properly, and he jerked again, trying to avoid the claws of that much confused mouse that was creeping over his skin hurriedly. "No, no, no, *no*..." He was afraid to open his eyes, afraid to rouse from the last of the sleep, for fear that it was real as it felt...

"It's *ME*, Severus, open your eyes, the twins' mouse got loose. Come on, wake up," the boy encouraged, rapidly undressing the man. God only knows what would happen if they got caught at it. "Wake up, Sev. Come on, come on..."

He'd gotten the jacket off, Severus's shirt opened, his trousers unbuckled, and *that* was when Snape seemed to shudder back to consciousness, eyes flaring wide. From the heavy, frightened breaths he drew in, he was close enough to hyperventilating, still unsure of what to do to get *rid* of the sickening feel of fur against his skin, claws...

But the mouse, given half a moment and light to run to, dashed its way from squirming over Severus's back and buttocks to sidling up over the muscles of his chest, where Severus knocked it away with a frightened hand.

"The mouse got free," Harry said, knowing it was a weak lie. "I got rid of the others so I could try to get it out. Are you okay?"

Silent and unmoving for the moment, Severus simply looked at Harry with dark eyes flared wide for a moment before he closed them, shaking his head. He didn't dare speak -- he didn't trust his voice to not yell, or to not break. The disgusted, disgusting feeling he hadn't had in at least a week or two was *back* viciously. Pinprick claws had felt like a favorite game of Lucius', the random brushes...

He looked like he was going to throw up, as he started to jerk his clothes back together. "Go... join your... *friends*, Harry," he hissed softly, standing up to tuck his shirt back in with hands that shook like leaves in the wind. Escaped -- no, mice of that sort didn't escape, and he hadn't seen it in his search. It had been planted on him while he'd dozed off, and *Harry* had let it happen. "I hope you've enjoyed your laugh."

Harry paled, a shattered little breath shivering from him. "You honestly think I'd do what you're accusing me of?" he said, brows coming together. "I tried to stop them. And then I tried to get it loose. All right?" It *had* gotten loose... right from Fred's hand, it had. "Is that what you want to hear? So you can yell at me, and then yell at them, and then go back to that stupid points game so early in the trip?"

He was being questioned, and he didn't have an answer. None at all, only that he felt sick, and shaken, and had a sudden, desperate urge to go to his dungeons and *hide*. It was at least safe there, free from disturbances... He didn't have the energy to argue, nor the energy to agree -- barely enough drive to re-buckle his belt and pick up the jacket he'd been wearing. "They should *not*... be allowed to get... get away with harassing a faculty member..." There was nothing behind the voice that spoke that -- nothing more than air, no force or conviction.

Arms found their way around his waist, holding him tightly. He prayed to god (any particular god who might be listening, anyway!) that no one would look into the compartment! "I know. And you can give them hell for the rest of the trip, if you want, but Severus, you're not up to giving them hell *now*, and... and I don't want you to be angry with me, too. And I know you are..."

He could feel Severus drawing in hard breaths, still shaking furiously, as Harry pressed against his lean frame. "And... why can I not 'give them hell' *now*?"

"Because you're shaking so badly that they'd *know* they managed to get to you, and I know you'd hate that."

A raw, wolfish noise left the professor. Harry was *right*, and it was damning for him that a boy knew more about him than he himself did. /I must be falling apart. This is what it feels like to have no ground under your feet./ So easily shaken and unsettled, because there was nothing to grip to the in the first place. "Where did you send them?"

"Just out. I told them to get out," Harry said, gently pushing him into back against the seat cushions and *looking* at him. He was white as a sheet, every bit of sallow color drained out of him, and those beetle-black eyes were full of shadows. "I was afraid I'd have to strip you."

A little bought time, then, enough to regather himself. "I wasn't sure if it was a dream or..." If everything *else* had been a dream, and if he was still in Voldemort's keeping. Some days, it was so hard to tell, and that shook him as badly as anything else.

"Everything's all right," Harry assured him just as the door to the compartment flew open, revealing a pale-faced McGonagall.

"Severus!? Hermione came to fetch me," she said, and behind her were several faces -- Ron's, Hermione's... Malfoy's, bitterness written on it at first sight of Harry kneeling before Snape.

Thank Merlin he hadn't given in to the fleeting urge to kiss Harry for the comfort gained from the touch -- otherwise, an odd situation would only have gotten worse. He shoved down that lingering sick-feeling, shook his head slightly. "I'm fine, Minerva. I dozed off and a mouse decided to go down my shirt while I slept."

"Really," she said dryly, turning around to look behind her. "And I suspect Fred and George Weasley know nothing about this at all?"

"Not a thing," Fred and George said together.

"Twenty-five points from Gryffindor, and detention when we get back to Hogwarts! And another for outright fibbing," she decided as they both opened their mouths to protest.

It saved him the trouble of having to do it himself. The look on his still pale face was approving, and they got a momentary cold glance from him, before he looked away. His hands, still shaking horribly, knotted together low and out of sight in his lap, twisted to still their motion. It was just a matter of not thinking, of not being anything other than sitting on the god forsaken train, watching a bunch of idiotic children, with the very great Harry Potter kneeling at his feet, close enough to kiss and closer still to do worse things to.

Even not thinking was failing him miserably. He stood up smoothly again, stomach lurching with the effort of motion; it was only luck that he backed away from Harry's nearby form. "I think, Minerva, that I'm going to take a walk." Out of sight, to the back of the train, and watch the scenery shoot by from outside.

"Of course, Severus," she agreed. "You lot," that meant Fred and George, "will come and stay with *me*. I trust the rest of you can stay out of trouble?"

"Yes, ma'am," Hermione agreed, looking at Snape worriedly.

"I doubt they will," Draco muttered under his breath.

"Yes, *ma'am*," Ron agreed whole-heartedly, glancing at Snape as he swept past them out of the cab, not looking at any of them as he paced towards the emptiness at the back of the train. Pig started to hoot again as he set the little cage down on his seat.

"Come along!" McGonagall told the rest of them sharply. "You, too, Mr. Malfoy. I want all of you where I can see you. I trust, Ms. Granger, that you'll keep the rest of them *out* of trouble."

"Yes, ma'am," she agreed again.

"Harry, are you all right?" Ron asked, pacing to his friend who was still kneeling where he'd been. "What happened -- I mean, we know what happened, by why'd you send us out?"

Harry sighed deeply and stood, making certain that everyone was gone from view and, he was sure, from hearing. "He has nightmares, and they're pretty bad. Like mine. The mouse was causing one. I didn't want any of you to see that..."

"But, Harry, it was *just* a mouse," Ron uttered, incredulously. "I can't see how a mouse could give you a nightmare when you can't even see it."

"You can feel it," Harry murmured. "That's more than enough."

"Harry, maybe..." Hermione looked over her shoulder, towards the closed door. "Maybe you should go... make sure he hasn't fallen off the train. He looked green."

He nodded and rose. "I thought I'd give him a minute. He doesn't..." Harry shrugged. "You know how he is." Snape didn't like to be seen as anything but cool and composed! And there he'd been, having a quiet break with reality with *students* around him, and then Harry had needed to half-undress him before he'd even woken up from it. Which was a great deal away from cool and composed.

"No," Ron said with a strange look on his face. "Not really, we don't."

"You're right," Harry agreed with a sigh, and slipped out of the compartment.

The steady rock of the train itself was sort of like being on a boat; land legs weren't much good, and Harry was grateful for his flying abilities. They'd given him a better sense of balance than he would have ordinarily had, and he slipped towards the back, steadily looking for Severus.

No signs of him in any of the other cars, as he passed towards the back of the train -- in the last car, there was a small door at the back, with a barred window, and he could see a black-haired head past it.

He pushed open the door and stepped out onto the tiny walkway that stretched across the back of the thing, his hand brushing the small of the professor's back. "Severus," he said over the noise of the train, wind rushing around them. "Come back inside."

The other man didn't seem to acknowledge him for the moment, but finally shook his head a little. "Not yet." Words that nearly drowned under the rattle of the train. "I need a few moments more." So he could finish pulling himself together, finish shoving down things that rose up inside of him.

"All right," Harry agreed, and remained there quietly beside him.

He let his eyes focus and un-focus on the scenery that flew past, swallowing down fear for a third time since he'd gotten out there. "This trip is going to be hell," he sighed, shifting his fingers on the thin-barred railing in front of him.

"It'll get better or I'll kill them," Harry told him dryly. "Well, maybe not kill them. Maybe just hex them a little, or torture them with muggle devices. Would that be all right? Severus..." He slowed down, the wind whipping in hair that was already wild. "I'm sorry. I didn't move fast enough. I should have been..."

"You shouldn't have to do anything," Severus told him a bit listlessly, turning to look at Harry finally. "Nothing. I don't know what I've done to deserve you caring a whit about me, but don't say that you *should* do anything for me."

"Why?" Harry asked him. "I *do* care about you -- I don't know why, except that it's true. And caring about someone means that there are things you *should* do for them, and protecting them from fear or pain or anything like that is one of those things."

/I'm older than you. You're the one to be protected, the student.../ "None of it's real anymore. It's all events that live on in my mind -- and you can't protect me from myself."

"Maybe not," Harry agreed softly. "But I can protect you from pranks and... and idiocy." He didn't think the twins were idiots, but he wished they'd think before acting. He wished they saw what he saw in Snape.

Then again, maybe he didn't. He wasn't inclined to share.

"Perhaps." Severus sounded wholly doubtful of it, but he turned a little more, sliding a hand onto Harry's shoulder. He still had an unsteady touch, but it wasn't half so violent as it had been. "When we get to the hotel, Harry -- you're sharing the double bed with me."

"All right," Harry agreed solemnly. Now wasn't the time to point out that Malfoy would probably have kittens if they did that, so he refrained. He simply moved one of his own hands to gently touch Severus's, and let it go.

Brief, but damningly calming for his nerves. Yes, Draco would be very displeased, but... If he didn't take *some* greedy comfort, he'd crack over the course of the trip. He'd just have to talk with Draco as soon as time permitted for him. "We'll go back in now," Severus said, in a noticeably calmer voice than before.

"All right," Harry agreed again, and they did go back in, but instead of going to the compartment of before, Harry led them into one that was quieter, more private. "Let's stay here," he invited solemnly. "For a while."

"Yes." There was no need to forewarn Harry to not expect much of anything when his skin still felt like it was trying to crawl off of his bones. The boy didn't seem to have any urge about him, other than to just *be* and for comfort. /Understanding. That's what he gives me./ He let himself be led, mentally figuring out how much time they had before the train reached its destination.

"You can even get some sleep if you want it," the Gryffindor offered quietly.

"I'd rather not dream again," Severus murmured, sitting down close beside Harry. A moment's agitated hesitation, and he slid his arms around the boy's body, shifting close. "I want just this."

Fingers shifted upward, clasping carefully over Severus's. "Let me pull the shade?" he asked, nodding at the roll that would close off view of the inner compartment. "We can even lock it, if you want, and lay down to be... closer..."

"Yes." To ask that of the boy, well, it was weak, sickly so, but Severus would make no claims to internal strengths that he lacked. His grasp loosened to let Harry move away for a moment to pull the shade and lock the door lightly. As soon as Harry came back, however, Severus was stretching out, pulling Harry close against him again.

They moved together until they were comfortably ensconced, Harry's legs tangled up in his to prevent either of them from falling off of the seat. His wild-haired head came to rest upon Severus's shoulder, and they lay together quietly for some time.

Not sleeping, and not even dozing, for Severus. He was busy quietly filing things away in his mind, new things, comfortable things.

Muggle clothing let him feel closer to Harry than robes did, and the boy's lithe arms slid between the leather jacket and the white shirt he wore, spreading and heightening warmth between them. He'd never taken so much pleasure in simply *laying* with another wizard. Lucius had never tolerated anything of the sort; the blond man had only laid with him in exhausted moments *after*, and only then until he'd composed himself enough to push away from Severus's dirty body.

So Snape wasn't sure what the sensation was rippling through his mind as he let fingers lazily curl through Harry's hair, only that it was good for them both.

"That feels nice," Harry said faintly, quite enjoying himself. Touch had been something he'd never gotten before coming to Hogwarts, and he still didn't get enough of it. He wasn't sure there was enough of it in the world.

"You don't mind indulging me in this?" Severus's voice, utterly calm and silkenly relaxed, drifted to his ears.

"Hm, no," Harry said, sighing with the pleasure of being held. "'s pleasurable. I like being touched, just like this."

"I enjoy it, also." Harry had admitted it first, making his own agreement so much simpler. Slow-moving, tender fingers didn't still in their stroking. "No one has ever let me do this."

"Really?" Harry whispered. "Me, either. Well. Not the touching part. You're... one of very few people who've touched me..." Sirius, who'd hugged him, Hermione and Ron, Hagrid...

"I would think that the... instinct behind this was a great deal different from the ones that make you hug your godfather." Though he was probably joking himself to think such a thing. Harry was a boy, with hormones, and Snape knew he was an easy target... /Don't think./ Thinking, after all, only made things that were clean seem dirty, harmless turn hurtful. His voice, when he went on again, was drier, unthinking, "But if it isn't, don't tell me. I'd prefer for my pride to remain breathing."

"Definitely different," Harry chuckled, leaning up and kissing him on the cheek.

"Don't start anything we haven't time for," the older man warned a bit tersely. "We only have two hours before we arrive at Kings Cross." But saying that didn't seem to do much for what he'd just said -- two hours, after all, was a great deal of time.

"I won't start anything," Harry promised. "But if you can sleep, I'll hold you, and I'll wake you if you dream."

"I'd rather not sleep." Snape would've much rather spent his time staring at the ceiling, or at the top of Harry's head, then he would've sleeping. "We slept well enough last night."

"Ohhh," Harry said. "Then I guess that means we need to keep ourselves occupied." He was almost mischievous when he continued, "It's a shame I didn't bring my exploding snap game..."

"It's a shame you own one at all." Severus turned his head a little, but he was looking at Harry clearly now. "Do you have any ideas that don't require movement?"

"Hmm. There's always kissing," Harry suggested shyly. "I'm very fond of kissing."

Severus let the edges of his lips twitch a little, as he looked at Harry steadily. "And you truly think that doing that for any lengthy of time won't lead to other things?"

"You said ideas that don't require movement. I can do a lot from right here, I think," Harry said, face flushed slightly with heat. It made the scar stand out slightly on his forehead, pale and a little puckered.

"Let me spell the door," the older wizard decided, pulling his wand out of the jacket to gesture at the door with it. It would, the moment someone tried to open it, start shrieking -- giving he and Harry more than enough warning.

It was strange to be doing things like that, taking the same precautions he'd done what felt an eternity ago, to hide a more permissible affair. This was something that he himself barely understood, though, which meant that no one else could grasp it properly.

The soft warmth of those lips met his again, took his lower lip to suckle for a moment, and Harry's arms tightened about him just a bit. Just enough. Just enough to stir him from his willingness to sink down into lethargic apathy towards the sensations, to react to the boy who *sparked* within him. Strange how puerile needs and the immediate drove from his mind thoughts of Lucius and Him, let him move without too much mind-weight, if only for a moment. Soft mouth against his was demanding, asking him to open his own mouth so they could spar without words.

There was a definite tremor in the body against his own, and Harry *was* reacting. He couldn't help himself, and it was embarrassing to him in no small amount. It felt *good*, good to be held, better to be kissed, utterly wonderful to be clung to so tightly. There was no way he could resist reacting, not the way it felt.

Hour and a half, no, an hour for safety's sake, and there were spells to handle anything that might happen... Merlin, but he *needed*, wanted... Severus started to sit, up, still kissing hungrily at Harry's mouth, the boy still held close to him. He let his mouth move from soft damp lips to the bone of Harry's cheek, pressing his glasses a bit askew on his face before he started to tug at the ridiculous muggle pull-over Harry was wearing.

"Here," Harry whispered. "I'll help you..." He squirmed, managing to get his arms out of the thing since it was still a little loose, leaving only the t shirt that he had on beneath it.

Hands smoothed over top of it, and then slid up under it, over Harry's chest and all of that smooth skin, while he kissed at the cords of slender muscles at Harry's neck. The way they'd ended up when he'd sat up, Harry was all but curled up in his lap, and through slacks the potions master's erection was more than obvious.

"That's nice," Harry whispered vaguely, shifting against him. It was more than nice, and he gave a little hissed moan as Severus nibbled on his neck. There was just something utterly *delicious* about that...

"Shhh." A soft coaxing, barely made at all, as Severus started to at least push that shirt up out of his way. A break in contact, and soon he was kissing against the boy's pectorals, tracing his way languidly to a nipple.

It was beyond new, it was mind-bending, and Harry could only keep his eyes tightly clenched behind his glasses, a hand pressed against his forehead as he whimpered. The *need* rising in him was thick, and he could feel the blood pulsing in his veins, between his legs. It was erotic and sweet and all he could do was shudder with it, hope for more, and caress across the nape of Severus's neck with fingers that shook.

Severus was trusting for a noise of 'no' -- and drawing from his own first experiences as to what could scare Harry utterly, and avoiding it. Biting, nails, anything other than simple pleasure given quickly to satisfy the boy in his arms. Thin lips closed for a moment over one pale-colored thrust of flesh, and Harry felt a hand steady his back while Severus started to unbutton the hand-me-down jeans with his free hand.

"Oh, God," Harry whispered shakily. "Oh, God, Severus, I don't... I don't know what to do, that feels so..." Felt so weird to be saying *Severus*. Felt so weird to have hands other than his own tugging at his jeans. Felt so utterly delicious that his brain was shutting down...

"Just let me," his professor husked out against the now slightly damp nipple. "Let me do this." /Give back to you, when you've been giving, and giving to me./ He slipped back a bit from Harry, so that the boy was seated where Severus had been, and Severus was half-kneeling beside Harry, still leaned up for the moment and sucking gently at his chest. Careful fingers stole inside of loose jeans, parted fabric, and closed around a half-confined erection.

"Ohhhhh, fuck," Harry hissed, unable to keep the word back. It felt so *good*, too good, and he thought he'd come just from that. "Oh, God..."

Eyes half-closed, Severus shifted downwards, kissing in a slightly curved line from that point on Harry's chest, to where he'd parted fabric and molded a heated erection upright. For a moment, he simply let his hand stroke the shaft, edging fabric away as he contemplated what to do next. It was almost natural for him, though, the motion to lean forwards, lips parting a little to let his tongue lick the very tip.

"Ssss..." His name stalled on Harry's lips, Seeker's hands going to clutch lightly at too-soft black hair, cupping Severus's head lightly. "Oh, God, I don't think I can stand it, it's too much, don't stop!"

Not that Severus ever heard his name associated to anything in the *heated* moments of sex, unless it was to taunt him. Better for the receiver to just enjoy, and not think about the undesirable that was doing it... and now he was thinking again, miserable again, yet still driven to give the boy some enjoyment for his trouble. Dark eyes closed entirely as Severus opened his mouth more, took in the head of Harry's cock to suck gently at it.

"Sev..." It was a soft whine, and Harry could feel his entire body softening, going limp with the wonder of it. "Oh, Sev. Severus. Severus, Severus, Sss....sss...." It stalled again, his entire mind shutting down. He gave a little sound, a *sob*, and shuddered beneath that touch. /Can't think. Can't.../

Mindless, mindless actions, little mental notes reminding him to keep his lips over his teeth, to take as much of Harry in as possible, sensitive points. A scrape of tongue along the vein on the underside, a twist of soft suction, and his fingers stroking over the sac of soft skin just beneath the cock he was sucking. Harry was gentle, making noises... fuck, fuck if anyone could hear the noises, it was too bad. He could always pass it off that he'd been hideously torturing the boy, which was sadly far more believable than what he was doing.

"Please," Harry whimpered. "Please, please, please, Sev, oh, God, oh, God...!" He was so close! Nothing had ever felt like this before, not his hand, not even the attempt he'd made once to do this to himself (he'd been limber enough, but it had made his back ache). "God!"

Begging -- Harry Potter, Harry, was begging him for surcease, for pleasure... Oh, the world was a twisted place, and Lily and James were no doubt tossing in their graves. He squirmed the tip of his tongue against the slit at the head of the cock in his mouth, then took a dragging suck before he simply took Harry *in*, entirely until he couldn't breath because the soft skin of Harry's stomach was pressed against his nose.

"'m...going...OH!" That was all the warning he got, all the warning Harry could *think* to give, and he came hard, shooting down Severus's throat with a shudder.

A moment of natural choking, and then sense kicked in, and Severus swallowed, and swallowed again, until the last bursts left Harry's body. Languidly, swallowing and licking the edges of his mouth, Severus lifted his head to look at Harry to see if there was anything at all to read from the young face.

There was so much... satiation, a little shame, happiness, *adoration*. His own tongue darted out, licking at his upper lip, and he shifted, tugging at Severus, wanting suddenly to kiss him, even if it was a little gross to think about. He wasn't sure he was ready to do that, but oh, he would, he would if Severus wanted it...

Severus swallowed again, to clear more of that flavor off of his lips, and didn't look away as he tucked Harry's cock back into his pants, re-buttoned the jeans by touch alone. "You're unhurt...?"

"Wow," Harry whispered, looking at him with green eyes that were huge behind his glasses. "Yeah. Yes. Thank you. Yes. Oh. *Wow*..."

Of course it was 'wow' -- Severus knew he certainly had enough experience doing that, from over the years, and when compounded with the fact that it was the first time Harry had ever had that done for him... well. /It could've been Hagrid's dog doing that, and he'd still look adoring./ Eyes still half-closed, Severus stood a little, leaned to brush a light kiss against Harry's mouth before quickly pulling back. He was still as hard as steel himself, but given a few moments with his own mind, it was a situation that would be quickly put down.

"Would you like..." Oh, it was shyly spoken, and tenderly, too. "Would you like me to... For you?" he asked, unable to quite get the proper phrase out. "I want to," he hurried to say, "I want to, because that... Oh, wow..."

"It's an acquired skill and ... taste," he drawled, reminiscent of the way Sirius had mentioned Snape's strange 'tastes'. "One I doubt you have, Harry, but thank you for the offer." He only wished he knew where the sudden will power had come from, where it had been missing before.

"I could learn," Harry offered quickly, looking up at him with an expression gone almost sad. He desperately wanted to please Severus as he'd been pleased, so very much. "I could, if you... I guess you wouldn't want it, then, since I don't know what I'm doing..." And oh, that made him wince slightly, bite the inside of his mouth. Dammit!

Severus's slight expression flickered to faintly amused, patient as he leaned down to kiss him again, deeper this time. Tongue slid against tongue as Severus steered the kiss with fingers at Harry's chin, sharing the flavor of semen with the boy. Then he pulled back, slowly, to ask, "Do you like that taste?"

"It's... different," Harry said with a wry little twist of his mouth. "But if I don't try it, I won't learn, and I won't learn to like it. It's not worse than asparagus, Severus..." Especially not the way his Aunt Petunia had made the stuff.

"You're too bloody stubborn for your own good," Severus sighed, fingers shifting to stroke Harry's cheek lightly. "Carry... on, if you want to, Harry. I won't force it of you."

"If you'd force me," Harry murmured, hands shifting slowly down to press at the erection present against those grey slacks, "then I wouldn't be here with you this way."

"You're smarter than I ever was in these matters." That was so quietly said that Harry couldn't be sure he'd heard it at all. The soft inhalation that followed those words, startled, as more notable, the way hands clenched tightly at Snape's sides for a moment.

"No," Harry denied gently, leaning up to kiss him once more, press his cheek against the Professor's. "I think I've just been forced into enough by now that I have a bad habit of resisting anything I don't want to do. If there's anything you don't want me to do, please tell me. Please. It would destroy me to hurt you..." And it would, it *would*, especially after everything he'd seen Halloween!

That mouth that had just made his nerves sing had been leaking blood and other fluids, and had probably been used on Voldemort, and anyone else who wanted a shot at Severus in revenge... "Then simply don't hurt me." There was no 'simply' to it, but he didn't have a summarized list in his mind of what was bad and what was all right. "We'll see as we go. I would just rather not think that you are... being coerced in any way to do this."

"No," Harry promised him, shifting down to kneel between Severus's knees, hands tenderly releasing desperately hard flesh. "No, I don't think so." His mouth shifted into a little smile. "I want to too much for this to be coercion."

Snape swallowed again, hands moving from his sides to Harry's hair. "I still find it hard to believe." Not that he didn't believe -- just that he was intensely aware that the situation was absurd. Perhaps Dumbledore didn't care about the matter, but if the ministry got word of it, it didn't matter. He, a Death Eater, the slimy potions master of Hogwarts, Head of the Slytherin household, would have *obviously* done something, something undetectable (of course) to make Harry Potter, Golden Harry Potter, beholden to him.

Bony, pale fingers threaded slowly through unruly black hair, coaxing Harry without words. He simply had to be careful with the boy. Bad sensation so young could ruin it for years, break the tenuous trust that allowed what was happening to go on. "It will only take a moment of effort."

The way pink tongue darted out and moistened Harry's lips was a captivating slip of motion, and then the tip of him was enveloped in warmth and wetness, a tentative sort of suckle that seemed as erotic as anything Lucius had ever done to him and then some. One of the boy's hands moved up, clasping at his shaft lightly beneath the touch of those lips, and the other moved to touch his hip tenderly, lightly.

Perhaps it was the innocence and intent behind the motions that made it all the sweeter than anything else. "Perfect, Harry," the lean man sighed, closing his eyes to simply sway towards Harry's tender mouth. He didn't dare thrust.

It was clumsy, at best, completely awkward at worst, but Harry was nothing if not persistent. He worked at that tip, gently tugging his hand up and down the shaft behind it, and every so often, he moved so that he held more of it in his mouth, only drawing back to continue giving attention to the sensitive apex.

It wasn't going to take long at all, no -- perhaps *lack* of pain was as arousing as pain itself for him. Or frustration had driven him so close already... teasing, probing and learning tongue against him, drew the shivering hitch that Harry heard leave Snape's chest. A soft pulse of something musky left the tip that Harry suckled on. "Harry, I.... 'm close."

He didn't stop; even though that had tasted just a bit odd, he couldn't bring himself to stop, even though his jaw hurt, even though he was nervous, even though half a dozen things. He just kept on, lips and tongue tender and sweet and ever so careful. And soon Severus shifted closer, half-trying to get a little more contact, half restraining himself completely. The touch of fingers in Harry's hair grew more erratic, finally starting to push Harry backwards a little. "Almost... don't want to..." Choke the boy with it.

Harry wouldn't give in, though, his whole being concentrated on sucking until Severus was finished, and there was simply no question of stopping. Thin fingers pushed at him, but he didn't give in; he only tugged lightly at the shaft in his own hand, and prayed that he could please the black-haired man as much as he had been pleased.

A pulse, one, and then another, and Harry could feel it along the shaft that he held, almost in warning. Severus's outcry, ragged and choked, came with the thin hands clutching at him in sudden desperation for stability, moving to his shoulders to grasp tighter as he stiffened with it.

He couldn't swallow the flood that came and so it spilled out of his mouth, and down his throat. It choked him, but... he was *SO* pleased with himself! So pleased! With care, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and cleaned up the spill, kissing away the last of the sticky white seed from the softening shaft before gently tucking Severus away properly again. "That wasn't so bad," he whispered, looking up hopefully. "I could get used to that."

"Harry..." Snape had been waiting the entire time for Harry to stop and perhaps start laughing at him, or to *bite*, or *something* other than seem so pleased at what he'd done. They'd done. Without hesitating long, Severus pulled Harry up and close, kissing at friction reddened lips gently. "No... not so bad at all."

The way that Harry went slightly limp seemed to be mostly relief. "Think you can nap a while now?" he asked, tilting his head to the side. "Because I'm kind of sleepy, myself." He paused, bit his lip, wrapped his arms tightly about Severus's neck. "I really, really like you," he whispered in the man's ear. "I think maybe I even l...love you." It tripped out of his mouth, and it made him shudder to say it. He wasn't sure he'd ever said it to anyone before now!

"I think you're young and too free with your emotions," Severus muttered, shifting them both to be comfortable on the seat. It wasn't chiding, though -- only quiet, a little sad. "You haven't lived enough to know such a thing." And he himself had lived comparatively a long time, and knew nothing of it. "Sleep, Harry."

"I don't know," Harry said thoughtfully, face tucked against the other man's throat. "I know enough to know what not having love is.... I'm not sure about having it..."

/Neither am I./ Severus only nodded though, arms looped loosely around Harry's back. "Don't say such things unless you're sure." Of course Harry felt such a thing -- he'd just had the only sexual experience of his life. But there was a difference between sex, and lust, and being able to stand a person in day to day life. When he taught classes again, things would change, Severus knew. It would all go away, melt like the snow did when spring set in.

"Hmmmm." Harry smiled a little against his throat. "I won't," he promised. "But... I *still* like you."

"I'll grant you that -- perhaps when I'm not teaching..." No, he didn't want to think about teaching. Then he was reminded that he, a professor, had just committed sex-acts with a student. An exceptional student, but a student none the less. Wizarding society, as open as it could be, frowned mercilessly on such a thing.

"When you're not teaching?" Harry asked him almost gently.

"I'm easier to stand the company of," Severus finished, though that wasn't quite what had been about to leave his lips before Harry's prompting. No, if he didn't teach, there was nothing for him. Period.

"You'd be okay when you were teaching if you weren't so vicious," Harry told him, grinning. "Poor Neville...."

"Which could be solved if you weren't all so dense about it," he sighed, tapping fingers against the back of Harry's neck. "I can't *teach* a delicate touch."

"I won't ever look at Potions the same way again," Harry promised a little sleepily.

"Sleep," Snape coaxed softly. For the moment... he could enjoy it. Harry was solely his, in that moment. "I'll wake you up when the train stops."

       

"So, how do you count muggle money?" Ron asked curiously, peering at the stuff. It was all weird, not at all like wizard money, and he frowned at it.

"Here, Harry and I will count it *for* you," Hermione sighed, shaking her head. "Best not to let you count it on your own. It's confusing, learning new money right at first."

"It's all pounds and pences, and shillings... though some it's probably been changed since I last used any," their chaperon half-growled, tucking a small *pile* of 50 notes into his wallet. "We'll wait until the twins have changed their money -- then you have two hours left before we all meet back at the exit of the Alley."

"What all do we need to get, do you think?" Harry asked him, looking up with a smile. He could think of half a dozen things that they probably *needed*, but he didn't want to get *too* much, either!

"Clothing that won't make you stick out. Anything you might've forgotten back at Hogwarts -- and nothing that you can't fit into your trunk," Snape said absently, shoving his wallet back into his back pocket. "I have a few things to get, myself." A few shielding things, that he could get down Knockturn Alley.

"Sure thing, Professor!" Hermione said agreeably before prodding Ron towards Muggles, Inc, a shop Harry couldn't remember ever noticing on previous trips to the Alley. "Come on, we'll have you ready in no time!"

Harry lingered, looking at him. "We'll meet you in just a bit," he said, not quite a question.

Severus simply gave Harry a nod, crisp though his eyes were perhaps a bit less shuttered, just for Harry. Then it was gone, and Snape was ushering the twins disdainfully out of Gringotts before he turned pointedly in the direction of Knockturn Alley.

/He can't mean to go there!/ Harry thought in shock, but he already was, and there was nothing for it but to go into Muggles, Inc. with Ron and Hermione, both twins tagging along.

"Dark fellow, Snape," Fred said.

"Wish we could go down Knockturn Alley," George agreed.

"You'd be eaten alive there," Ron scowled at his brothers. "There's no joke things down there! And we all know he's not allowed into places *here*..."

"Does anyone want to help me find a CD player?" Hermione spoke up quickly, over top of Ron.

"What do you mean, not allowed into places here?" That was the first Harry had ever heard of that, and it made him frown, a dark, sharp sort of frown.

"Well, he's a known Death Eater..."

"...even if he betrayed them to come to the good side..."

"....and people are kind of funny about that sort of thing," the twins finished together.

"Black-balled, or listed, or something. Twice-over, really, because the people on Knockturn Alley don't want him there, either, but to them money is money," Ron said, looking at all the things around them in the store. "Speaking of that, do we pay with regular money, here, or muggle money?"

"Regular money," Hermione said, looking at Harry's stricken expression even as he tried to hide it from the others. "Here, go and look for jeans, all of you. Over there," she pointed firmly.

Once they had gone, all of her attention was granted to Harry. "You had to know that he was," she began tentatively.

"I..." Harry paused. "I guess I hadn't thought about it."

Hermione looked doubtful of that, but... well, it probably hadn't crossed Harry's mind. "He's betrayed both the light and the dark at times, so... Well, it only goes to reason. He didn't tell you...?" Then again, why would he have, if he thought it pretty much common knowledge.

"He didn't mention it, but I didn't *ask*, either," Harry murmured in reply.

"I... would suspect that it applies to everything," Hermione said, looking over to the Weasleys looking at jeans for a moment. "What..." she bit her lip a moment, something she'd done a lot more before her teeth had been re-sized. "I mean, does it change anything?"

"No," Harry told her quietly, smiling. "It doesn't change anything. It just worries me a little more. He's really..." He shrugged. "He's really pretty great when he's not being an ass. I feel so..."

"Feel so...?" Hermione prompted, her own voice sounding a little worried.

"Worried," Harry admitted glumly.

His friend smiled at him, eyebrows drawn together a little. "But... why?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know." Well, more truthful was that he didn't know what to say to Hermione. "He's so alone. He's in so much pain. I don't want him to be."

The girl before him looked a bit nervous at what Harry was saying, but nodded to his words. "Then just... do what you've been doing? It's... a bit strange, you being his friend, but... if it works..."

"Seems to be helping. I guess it seems a little weird, huh? After so many years of hating one another..."

"It's strange to watch," Hermione confided softly. "It was... almost a relief when the two of you disappeared to talk until we reached the station."

Harry grimaced, heading for the electronics section with her -- the small shop certainly had more space in it than it seemed to have when one was outside! "Yeah. I should have stopped the twins before it got that far..."

"What... I don't really understand what was going on," the girl sighed, stopping in front of a shelf of gadgets that were familiar to she and Harry. "A nightmare?"

"Sort of," Harry agreed. "Yeah. Well. You know what happened. I didn't want anyone else to know if they didn't have to... It would really..."

"Of course," she said quickly, cutting Harry off gently. "Of course. He's a teacher, our teacher, for two and a half more years, after all... That sort of thing can't be common knowledge."

"And it would hurt him if it was," Harry said worriedly.

"Then it won't be," Hermione assured him quietly. "But... it'll be strange once the holiday is over for the Head of the Slytherin House to be around a Gryffindor so much..."

"Maybe people will just become accustomed to it," Harry suggested.

That gained Harry a brilliant smile from Hermione. "He'll probably take every chance to teach you potions things."

"He's just that way," the green-eyed boy agreed with a laugh, shaking his head. "So, let's find you that player, shall we?"

"I plan on playing it *loud*," Hermione smiled, as Ron came back from the denim section with wide eyes.

"Those things cost more than robes!!"

"If they're *that* expensive here, maybe we had ought to pick some up when we get to Glastonbury," Hermione suggested. "Because I've *definitely* paid less for jeans than for robes!"

"But my trousers are rising up towards my knees..." Ron hedged.

"Just pull them down," George teased, sneaking up behind his younger brother to tug down on Ron's pants a little.

"We'll have to go somewhere and get you some slacks or something," Harry hedged. "I'll bet you'd need a special shop for tall people or something, anyway..." It was his best guess. He'd never shopped for muggle clothes before. He supposed he probably ought to get some jeans, himself, but... Well, what he had would do, if they could shop later!

"Well, just let me get this, and some batteries, and then we can... uhm, find something to do for almost two hours?"

"We can get something to *eat*," Ron sighed, stomach announcing his hunger. "I'm starving!"

It was just a shame that they couldn't go down Knockturn Alley, Harry thought grimly.

Well, they *could*... they'd just get royally chewed out by Severus if they were caught.

"Ice cream?" Fred suggested wickedly.

"Ice cream," George agreed in a fair *purr*.

"Do you get the feeling that we're in danger?" Harry asked Hermione dryly.

"I feel that way around them *all* the time," she agreed.

"I live with them!" Ron moaned as Hermione led the way to the register, and picked up a plastic wrapped package of batteries. Clothes were over-priced in Muggles Inc, but electronics were overrated according to the shop's owner, and thusly *under* priced.

"Great," she nearly purred, smirking to herself. "This will drive Blaise crazy, probably. I can't believe I'm rooming with a Slytherin..."

"She's a she? I thought Blaise was a he?" Fred asked.

"Well, *I* haven't checked under the robes. I wouldn't make any guarantees on it," George replied demurely.

"And you're not the only one with a Slytherin! Poor Harry's got to stay with *two*," Ron sighed.

"Well, he'll manage," Hermione defended.

"But, it's *Sn--" George stopped short when Fred elbowed him sharply.

"That just means lots of opportunity to play tricks. Mind, my problem would be the sleeping situation. Because either you're sleeping with Malfoy, Harry, in the double bed, or you're in the single and Snape's sleeping with Malfoy. Which makes me queeze a little," Fred said sheepishly.

Harry heaved a sigh. "Either way, it'll be fine. He's not that bad, really, and... Fred, I can't let you do what you two did with the mouse again. Please," he said politely, though there was a certain amount of steel in his tone.

"As long as the creep doesn't try to make you share the double with him." George grinned, winking at Harry. "No more mice."

Harry smiled weakly. He really hoped Malfoy could keep his mouth shut... "Well, anyway, let's go have ice cream, all right? Or something, before the Slytherins decide to come over..." They already *had*, but the two of them were quietly discussing something on the other side of the store. God knew what Malfoy and Blaise were talking about...

"I'm done, we can go," Hermione smiled at them, as she put her change into a little pouch.

"Great!" Ron cheered. "'Cause I'm hoping to get something with *huge* amounts of chocolate..."

"And cherries," Fred said.

"And maybe, if we're lucky, even more cherries," George agreed.

"And if we're all lucky," Hermione said, rolling her eyes a little as they passed the Slytherins on the way out of the store, "they won't get sick on the next train-ride."

"Maybe it'll keep them out of trouble," Harry murmured, very aware of the narrow-eyed mercury gaze that rested upon him.

"Don't be late to the meeting place, Potter," Draco sneered, seemingly without effort, as Harry and his friends passed them by entirely. But those eyes looked wounded and *sharp* on him.

"No need to worry about me, Malfoy," he answered in just the same tone. "I'm sure we'll be on time."

"I'm sure you will." And he sounded like he hoped Harry wouldn't.

"Come on, Harry -- the sooner we get there, the sooner we can eat ice cream!" Ron coaxed, grabbing Harry's sleeve to jerk him away from the two Slytherins.

With one last look back, they left, heading for the ice cream parlor across the street from Knockturn Alley. At least that way, Harry thought, they could keep an eye out for Severus coming back.

It was just as they got into a short line to order ice-cream that he saw Snape from the corner of his eyes -- walking, backwards, out of a shop, snarling an unrepeatable profanity at the shop-keeper, who was standing in the doorway as if to block it.

"Wow. That doesn't look good," Fred said, gesturing out the window.

Harry turned to give the action his full attention, and he felt his jaw clench up tightly. There was Malfoy, walking into Knockturn Alley as if he belonged there (which he *did*, the little jerk!) and saying something that seemed to soothe the man.

Hesitance, and then the shop-keeper stepped back in to let a frustrated looking Severus into the shop.

"See, blackballed," Ron grinned.

"But he's not *on* Voldemort's side any more! He's on *our* side, Dumbledore's, *ours*," Harry protested, brows drawn sharply together. /Dammit!/ It only made him angrier that Malfoy had obviously managed to get him what he needed -- namely, into that shop.

"Still doesn't change what he did before," Ron pointed out. "just because he's... questionably good now, Harry, doesn't mean that it's erased what he did before."

"It should mean more than it obviously does," Harry disagreed quietly.

"Well, that was a shop on Knockturn Alley, which means even the... well, that kind of people think he's just too much."

"It does figure that Malfoy could be a free ticket into that short of shop," Fred shrugged.

"He probably knows just as much about the Alley and Dark Arts as his father," George agreed.

"He should probably be in Azkaban for safe-keeping..." Ron started, turning to place his ice-cream order just seconds before when Hermione planned on elbowing him.

"He's a *jerk*, not a criminal," she disagreed, tempted to elbow him after all, even if he *was* in a bad position for it. "And he's a jerk who's got both parents in jail. That's got to be pretty terrible, hasn't it?"

"But if he's so much like *them*..." Ron scowled, before ordering a double chocolate chunk cone with cherries.

"Well, it's none of our business," Fred shrugged, looking at Harry's intensely frowning face. "Something wrong, Harry?"

"Huh? Oh. Nothing," he denied, though he had to admit that he was distinctly perturbed and -- to be utterly truthful -- *jealous*.

Now where had that come from?

Perhaps from stolen, unbelievably enjoyable moments in a back car of the train. To see Draco doing something for Snape that Harry certainly couldn't have... Well, or at least, Harry didn't try.

"Doesn't seem like nothing, to me," George declared. "Ice cream, Harry -- you need ice cream!"

"Ice cream makes the world go 'round," Fred agreed, shoving a vanilla cone into Harry's hand. "Eat up. Wouldn't want you to waste away or anything!"

Hermione ordered her strawberry coated in chocolate, and nodded in agreement. "Here, let's sit outside, Harry..."

"Okay," he agreed with a sigh, and they headed for the small patio full of old-fashioned wrought iron tables that sat along the front of the store. At least that way, he could keep more of an eye on Severus coming out -- *especially* since it looked like Malfoy had gone into the store with him!

From what he could see of the store, it looked like a place for Dark charms and wards -- odd bits of things cluttered the dingy windows, garments, the odd enchanted weapon. But what could Snape have wanted from that place?

"Harry, you half-look like you want to go down Knockturn Alley," Ron scowled, prodding him for his attention. "And you haven't heard a word I said to you."

"I haven't? Sorry," he apologized, still only paying half-attention. "Just, Malfoy went in, too..."

"You'd almost think you were crushing," George chuckled.

"Ew," Fred announced, wrinkling his nose.

"What's it matter, really, if Malfoy went in? We all know that Malfoy's his favorite student, and well, if they want to go shopping together..." Ron smirked, flipped one wrist limply.

Hermione *did* elbow him that time, and he ended up with a nose full of ice cream.

"Was that really *necessary*?" he demanded, once he'd gotten all of the chocolate out of his nose.

"Yes," Hermione told him firmly with a frown. "It *was*."

"George and I go shopping all the time, Ron, and it doesn't mean..." Fred looked over to his twin with a wink. "Well, maybe it does!"

"Oh, it DEFINITELY does," George agreed, smirking.

"Gerroff, the two of you!" Ron growled. "It's not funny!"

Maybe it wasn't, Harry thought, looking uncertain now as he went back to watching Knockturn Alley and eating his ice cream with a frown. If they'd just come back *out*...

"You're critical, Ron, when you shouldn't be," Hermione scowled. Not that Harry paid much attention, because no more than a few seconds later Draco and Snape did leave the shop.

Severus looked down-trodden, glaring over his shoulder at the shop, and saying something to Draco.

The blond frowned sharply and turned as if to go back in, but Snape's hand on his elbow stopped him. For a moment, they seemed to toss heated words back and forth, and then Draco broke free and headed deeper into Knockturn Alley.

"Lover's quarrels are hell," Fred sighed.

Severus took a careful look around -- cautious, certainly, yet it was strange -- eyes alighting on Harry for a moment before he followed after Draco, and around a sharp turn in the Alley.

"Can't you just imagine that?" George chuckled. "The opportunity's certainly there."

"And Malfoy *definitely* sucks up to him enough," Fred agreed.

"And probably sucks him, too," George grinned.

"It's just gross to think about. I'll never manage to finish my ice cream..." Ron moaned.

Hermione shot a glance over to Harry, to find the boy looking just *stricken* in his seat.

"I can't imagine doing *that*, myself," Fred mused idly. "It's probably as skinny as he is... It's not fun if you can't wr--"

"FRED!!" Ron growled at his brother, looking sickly at his half-eaten cone. "Gross! You sick prick!"

"Well," Harry said with a dark frown, "so much for ice cream."

"Oh, come on," George sighed. "Really. Have a sense of humor about it, Ron. You, too, Harry. It's not the end of the world!"

Hermione just kept looking at Harry, though, worry written on her face. "Well, maybe he just doesn't think it's any funnier than the mouse stunt you pulled earlier!"

"Next thing you know, you'll be saying *HE'S* in love with old Snape," Fred chuckled.

"You're both just *mean*," Hermione decided, frowning at the twins. "It isn't as if Professor Snape is anything other than a bit of an ass in his classes."

"He's a slimy git, though," George said thoughtfully. "He could use a good shampoo. Hey, maybe he cleans up nice..."

Ron groaned pitifully at the mere *thought*. "Oh, Merlin, kill me now so that I can escape this conversation....!"

"Well, he *is* nice outside of class," Harry protested faintly, still watching for the two to come back. "And I think he actually bathes fanatically. Maybe it's the air in the dungeons or something."

"Bad shampoo," Fred agreed soothingly.

"If it's the air in the dungeons, maybe he should get out more often," Ron shuddered, staring at what was left of his ice-cream. "Can't we talk about something that we don't have to look at for a week?"

"Why, are you afraid you're going to keep getting images of Malfoy sucking him off?" George teased his brother.

"AGH!!!"

"That," Hermione said, "is just *cruel*."

"Oh, what is?" Fred grinned, taking that idea and *running* with it. "Malfoy kneeling between Snape's legs, with his face right out of sight because he's- "

"That's *enough*," Harry snapped in a more than slightly strained voice -- at the very moment that Snape and Malfoy could be seen rounding the corner again. Severus seemed to be scowling, but he was carrying a leather pouch in one hand, clutched tightly. Malfoy, it seemed, was at least partially pleased, and probably with himself, knowing the smug bastard. "I don't want to hear any more!"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Potter, sir," George agreed, whistling slightly and wriggling his eyebrows at Fred.

"Wow, we're in a mood, aren't we, Harry?" Fred teased gently. "Oh, and hey -- here's the couple in question..."

"Haven't choked on your ice cream yet?" Malfoy asked with no small amount of outright pissiness. "That's a shame."

"Sod off, Malfoy," Ron growled.

"The five of you haven't managed to cause any trouble while I trusted you to tend to yourselves, have you?" Severus asked in a cold, arch tone of voice as he folded his arms over his chest.

"I don't think so, Professor Snape," Hermione smiled a bit uneasily.

/Well,/ Harry thought, /aside from the urge to *kill* Malfoy.../ Green eyes met grey, and sparks flew violently between them.

/I can get him what he *needs*, Potter. What can you do for him?/ that mercury gaze seemed to say.

Not anything so tangible, Harry knew. And Snape himself seemed on edge with both boys there. "Thank you for your... assistance, Draco," Snape told him, a bare whisper behind the sound of the twin's chatter. "Go meet Professor McGonagall."

The slump in those slim shoulders seemed visible only to Harry, but the boy's chin jerked up almost simultaneously, and he turned to storm off, still dressed in robes.

"Would you like some ice cream?" Harry volunteered to share.

"No." Snape looked drained, as he pulled a wrought-iron chair from another table, and perched himself at the edge of the little group he was supposed to supervise. The pouch in his hands, however, was being clutched at restlessly.

Ron, grateful that there would be no more sex talk, went back to eating his ice cream.

"So, professor, will we get a chance to shop at muggle places? The clothing here is outrageously expensive in comparison," Hermione said.

"Yes. We'll be arriving there around six this evening, so you'll have a few hours before you're expected back at the Hotel." Sharp-black eyes scanned over them all, noting Hermione's purchase, the other's general restlessness. "Curfew is ten thirty."

"Wow, that's nicely late!" Fred said cheerfully. "What's on tap for tomorrow, Prof?"

"The Tor, and ley lines -- something that hopefully you can comprehend. Glastonbury is a powerful place for Wizards to be because so many of the ley lines cross through there." He shifted the pouch in his hands, and a thin sound reached Harry's ears -- metal slithering against metal.

The curiosity was going to just *kill* him.

"Cool," George decided, slurping up the last of his ice cream. "Sounds like quite a day."

"I'm sure it'll be marvelous. I've seen everything from a muggle perspective before, of course," Hermione said, "but it'll be so different to see it from a Wizarding one!"

"It's a change from what you're used to, of course," Snape told her. "And we all must be careful while we're there -- because the ley-lines can make unexpected attack easier."

"Why?" Harry asked, curious now. "Do they somehow hide the presence of attackers, or...?"

"It's the power, Potter," Snape sighed in an almost disappointed voice -- yet it felt partly feigned, at least to Harry. "You don't expect the ley lines to be picky about whom they lend added strength to the magic of, hmn?"

"No," Harry admitted, frowning. "But I'd think that maybe it would be more like an overload of magic in the air that might help hide them, sort of. If that makes any sense," he hurried to say.

"Makes sense to me, how about you, George?"

"Definitely, Fred."

"To a degree," Snape admitted, fingers darting out to tap the pale puckered mark that was Harry's scar from Voldemort. "But marks made by Him would become amplified in sensation once on a ley line -- if He were still alive, of course."

"Oh," Harry said, flushing slightly, unable to help the tiny smile that crossed his lips.

It worried Hermione. A *lot*. "Then it's just as well that we don't have to worry about *that*," she murmured.

Fred raised eyebrows sharply at his twin, and almost swallowed the words he'd been about to say -- because the slimy git of a potions master had just *touched* Harry, and the Boy-Who-Lived had blushed like an excited virgin. Not an observation to share with *Ron*, of course... "Professor, what did you buy?" That was all innocence, false as it was, and Fred hedge it by pointing out Hermione's purchase. "'Mione bought a 'See-dee player', and batty-ees. Or something."

"It's just a charm," Snape said in a closed sort of voice.

"Neat!" George declared happily. "Can we see?"

Severus seemed tightly displeased with the suggestion, yet carefully opened the pouch, to pour onto his hand what looked like liquid metal. Tiny, thin links, and they pooled together so it was hard to tell what it was formed into -- but there was clearly a thread-like chain to it, and a single ring of the same substance. "It has a shielding charm cast over it." And had cost him a small fortune.

He wondered, momentarily, if that small fortune had been all it had cost, for Draco had held it out to him silently when he'd found the boy, and the proprietor of the shop had been casting the boy sloe-eyed looks even as Severus paid for it. He'd have to find out, but that would be for later.

"It's actually quite lovely," Harry decided, a finger tracing over it.

"And it *feels* good," Fred agreed, touching it as well.

"It isn't supposed to be *either*," Severus told them both a little irritably. He took his coat off, set it on his lap with the pouch itself, and started to unbutton the right cuff of his shirt to push the sleeve up. Starting half-way down his forearm, and curling its way up was a scarred mess. Scratches that Harry had paid little attention to in the firelight of the dungeons seemed more than simply hideous in the daylight. Fingernails had done that, probably Severus's own over the years that he'd had the mark on his skin, laid down over the colorless scar the Dark Mark itself had left. Chill metal slid over it easily -- it was a shield for that arm, then, with the ring for him to slide a finger into to keep the metal from riding up, and the thin chain threaded up over his shoulder and around his neck to hold it up.

The charm, as it settled in, made his arm feel numb, but it moved without hindrance as he slid the sleeve down again, buttoning it neatly. The only betrayal that he wore it at all was the ring and a spark of metal over the back of one pale hand.

The Death Eaters wouldn't be able to find him as long as he wore it.

"Well, it's both, anyway," Harry informed him. "Have some ice cream," he offered again good-naturedly.

"If you don't, he might stuff it down your throat anyway," Hermione said with no small amount of amusement.

"Professor McGonagall hasn't come by and drugged it, has she?" Severus asked in a bland tone of voice, lifting one eyebrow slowly. "You've already eaten half of it, Potter -- really, don't bother me with it."

"Fred and I share ice cream all the time," George snickered, straining to at least make his eyes innocent.

"I don't want the rest," the green-eyed boy said. "It'd be a shame to waste it."

"Harry, if he doesn't *want* it, don't *push* it on him," Ron growled.

"Listen to the Weasley -- you're acting suspicious, Harry." And his paranoia was at a high point at that moment. Instead of taking the offered cone he slid his jacket back on, and pocketed the pouch that the ward had been within. "I've no taste for such things."

With a gusty sigh, Harry took the cone and promptly put it in Severus's hand. "*Eat* the ice cream," he nearly ordered, scowling, and it put the whole table into silence. "It's not going to hurt you and no one's drugged it and it won't kill you to eat a little. Really! It's a field trip, Professor! *Everyone* is supposed to enjoy themselves, and everyone *does* include you!"

The silence only deepened when Snape gave Harry a *look* -- one that wasn't anger, but was a twisted sort of amusement and disbelief -- and a bit of a high-minded sneer twitched at his lips as he blandly took a taste of the half eaten cone Harry had shoved into his fingers. "Whoever gives you these notions, Potter, should keep them to themselves."

"That would be me," he said firmly, turning to look at the other four, who all had expressions as if to ask him if he'd lost his mind. "What?"

"Erm, nothing," Hermione said.

"Except that you just...

"...forced Professor Snape..."

"...to eat ice cream..."

"...you great big freak," the twins finished together, grinning at him.

"I doubt anyone could force me to do anything," the potions master growled, licking a bit of vanilla from his bottom lip. "I just don't feel like arguing with an uppity brat right now."

Ron appeared to be in obvious shock, as he blurted out, "That must be the first time in YEARS then!"

"My patience is worn," the potions master countered, glaring flatly at them all. His nerves were jangling wildly at him in warning, though -- Harry was acting too damnably familiar for sanity and safety's sake! The boy really didn't know what he was getting himself into, obviously. "Keep wearing on my patience, and I'll put all of you insufferable creatures into body binds, and cart you to the train that way."

Well, that sounded more like Snape, and it put the rest of them at ease, at any rate. Harry shrugged and went back to talking with the twins. Now that Snape was *eating* something, he was much happier. "Well? Dumbledore wanted someone to be sure he *did* eat, since he hasn't been, and a little ice cream never hurt anybody," he announced.

"Potter, stop that nonsense," Snape bit out as soon as he'd swallowed. That was *easier* to garner anger over -- he didn't need his problems being talked about, even if they were obvious.

"Oh, that's all right, then," Fred said, relaxing.

"That makes sense," George agreed.

"Not that it didn't make sense before, mind you," Fred replied.

"Only it makes better sense *now*," George finished.

That Snape looked *angry* seemed to back up the truth of Harry's words -- that he was watching over the chaperon as much as Severus was watching them. And it was made all the more legitimate simply by mentioning Dumbledore's name.

"Nothing makes sense with you two around," Ron sighed, looking at Hermione as if *she* would make things make sense for him.

"It's all right, Ron," she sighed. "I'll explain later."

Severus knew his hands were tied tightly in the matter -- if he made a fuss, it would only draw more attention to it than simple agreement did. And *that* drew more than enough attention. So he stayed quiet, finishing off the cone Harry had forced on him, and trying to not think. He was, it seemed, a follower at the heart of the matter, when someone with enough will told him to do something.

Not particularly a pleasing thought to have.

"We should start to walk to the train station now," he decided, after he'd looked at his pocket watch.

"Will the others make it on time, do you think?" Hermione asked.

"Ha. As if Malfoy would miss the opportunity to make somebody miserable for a whole week," Ron snorted.

"They'll manage. If I remember correctly, they went back to the station early to make sure that everyone's trunks got onto the muggle train safely." Severus stood up smoothly, waiting for the five students to join him. One hand slid into his pocket, and he pulled out their train tickets. "You'll get these just before we go on the train. Don't use any magic, and don't make trouble."

"Yes, Professor," came the chorus of Gryffindor voices.

"I've full permission to paralyze you, or deal with you as I see fit in punishment for misbehavior. But I'll leave you alone as long as you don't act like monkeys, and that would be better for all of us," he went on, giving them a suitable glare.

"Yes, Professor," came another chorus, this one accompanied by full-fledged grins.

"I'll shrink you and have you flown back to the school by owl," he warned in a final snarl, before he started to lead the way towards the way out of Diagon Alley.

"Yes, Professor." God, they were like little *ducklings*, wandering along behind him and quacking out answers! It was enough to drive a mad man sane!

No answer at *all* would've been better than what he was getting!

Ron waited until he was beside Harry, then he snagged the other boy, dragging him a few feet away from Snape as they moved in their group out of the portal and into the muggle world. Snape had to pause for a moment to carefully close it behind them, moving the bricks back in place.

"What's your issue?" he whispered into Harry's ear, drawing a green-eyed look of startlement.

"Issue?" Harry blinked those eyes behind his glasses, almost owlishly as they started forwards again. "I haven't got your meaning, Ron."

"You just made *Snape* sit down with us and *forced* him to eat ice cream. That's not exactly *normal*," the redhead informed him a little grimly. "If he'd gone in to buy it, nobody would have sold it to him. There're probably rumors all over Diagon Alley by now about him and you, for whatever reason!"

Harry glared at his friend in an almost disappointed way. "What sort of rumors? That I tried to save a *teacher* at our school a bit of embarrassment?"

Ron's mouth pursed slightly. "Look, he's a slimy git, but if you're going to make nice with him, I *don't* mind. Just be careful. That's all. I'm warning you for your own good!"

"I don't see what there is to be careful about," Harry muttered stubbornly. "He's a good person -- he's just *tired*, Ron. And he doesn't deserve the way he gets treated."

His best friend's face softened. "You always believe the best of everybody, don't you?" he asked rhetorically. "Okay. Just be careful." It was a reiteration that he couldn't help but give.

"There isn't anything to be careful of." Harry was *tired* of people telling him to be careful around Snape -- because the man had never done anything to him other than rough up his pride on a regular basis. Never lifted a hand to him, never hit him, never did anything with truly malicious intent. "If you see something to be *careful* of that I don't, tell me, Ron."

"Not *Snape*, you prat. You'd deck me if I meant *that*!" he snorted. They were almost to the train, catching up with the others. "I mean everybody else. 'Cause there are people out to get him as much as there are people out to get you, y'know."

"And people who won't let him go about his business without bothering him, so he barely ever leaves Hogwarts to be a danger to himself, never mind me." Harry had been feeling just *defensive*, and a little of that defensiveness deflated when Ron called him a prat for jumping to the conclusion that he thought Snape was a danger to him. "I know, Ron. It's got to be bad when he's trying to shield off an entire limb."

"Yeah, well. We'll just keep an eye open. It'll be all right," he promised, clapping Harry on the shoulder as they came to a stop at the train.

"Get on, you slow brats," Severus said irritably, passing tickets to the five students, before moving to follow them into the train. "We're in the cab across from McGonagall, our trunks are already there. Hurry up..."

"Yes, Professor," came the duck-like chorus once again, and he was *terribly* tempted to thrash them all where they stood.

"Merlin, just get up the steps," Snape growled, watching each of them give their ticket over, then step on. He all but shoved his into the hands of the ticket taker, anxious to get seated and away from the press of muggles behind them.

It was done easily enough, and once they were all settled into their compartment again, it was back to thumb-twiddling and waiting for the trip to Glastonbury to be over. He could only hope that it would be *soon*.

       

Severus set his trunk at the far side of the full-sized bed, brows drawn together as Harry slipped into the bedroom, and then Draco behind him, closing the door. "Think we can manage to room together for this trip?" Severus asked both of them after a moment of looking at the boys.

One silvery blond brow raised as Draco looked at both of them. "I suppose," he drawled, chin tilted upward. He looked positively bored, but that only hid anger, Severus was fairly certain.

"If Malfoy can keep from being a twit, I should think it'll be easy," Harry sighed.

"And if you can keep your mouth closed," Draco returned just as boredly as he'd said his first words.

"Draco..." Severus wasn't sure what to do, now, other than that he was expected to make a decision that... well, no matter what he chose it wouldn't settle out properly. Harry and Draco sharing the double bed would kill each other. He and Harry probably just wasn't wise, but even *less* wise would be he and Draco. /I should just sleep in the bathroom.../ "You can have the twin bed to yourself."

Those grey eyes frosted over with a sudden intense pain that was promptly shuttered behind lashes that darted down to hide everything in them. "Really. How spectacularly fucking sweet of you."

"Harry can have the double," he went on, expression an unwavering one. "And I'll buy a sleeping bag and take the floor."

"Don't be a total prat," Harry said shortly. "I'm sure we can get a cot or something. You *need* the bed, Professor." And that was no joke, especially considering the kind of day they'd had. Severus needed warmth, and he *really* needed arms around him, but obviously Malfoy was going to be an ass about things.

Severus seemed ready to disagree with Harry, but... He just kept looking at Draco, frowning. "Harry, can I have a moment to speak with Draco?" If he didn't, then he *would* be sleeping on the floor, because the issue wasn't going to go unresolved any longer, to let lay simmering between the three of them.

"I'll go find the bathroom," Harry agreed. He figured he could also check on the twins while he was at it. "If you need me, I'll be with the Weasleys."

"After all, where else would he be?" Draco drawled.

It didn't get a returning comment, and Severus was thankful of that, remaining silent until Harry had left.

"I didn't have a chance earlier to thank you for talking that shopkeeper into letting me purchase that shield," Severus started. "But there are things that need to be settled now, Draco."

"I don't want to settle anything," Draco said shortly, moving past him to stare out the window into gathering dusk. "If I wanted to settle anything, I'd slit my wrists and get it over with. Nothing much more permanently settled than that, is there?" he asked bitterly.

"I don't understand why, Draco," Snape said in a quiet voice as he followed the boy as a slight distance, stopping a little behind him near the window. "And I don't know what you want from me."

"The impossible," Draco replied flatly. "But then, I've always been very *fond* of the impossible. Just sleep with Potter, for God's sake. I'll keep my mouth shut, if that's what you want. But don't stay on the bloody fucking *floor* out of some misguided sense of leaving *me* happy." /Because you can't. You won't.../

"You're very much your father's son, Draco," Severus sighed tensely, closing his eyes tightly for a moment. He could *feel* the headache swarming across his forehead, spanning from temple to temple. "That's why I can't."

A bitter little laugh escaped him. "Fuck you," he whispered. "Fuck you, fuck Potter, fuck all of you." He didn't want to be his father's son. He had *never* wanted to be his father's son, but that was all he *could* be, it seemed. It was certainly all anyone ever saw in him.

"I'm not worth your anger, Draco, or your time," Snape assured him a bit blandly, and undoubtedly very tiredly. Draco felt a hand on his shoulder, familiar and usually assuring. "Or your curse words."

"And you think I'm just a child, and my father's *child* at that, and too *stupid* to know what I think or what I want!" he flared in return, turning sharply. "For years..." Oh, God, no, he couldn't say that. He couldn't. "I've always been very *sure* of what I want. And what I *need*. And I can deal with not getting it, but would you leave me the fuck alone about it!? I don't *want* to talk about it, there's nothing to *settle*, you're fucking goddamned Harry *Potter*!" He gave a little laugh, one that edged on hysteria.

"You never gave me any... sign, Draco, that such a thing had even crossed your mind until it was too late!" Not that he would've, or that he'd change his mind from how it was settled now. He had trouble looking at Draco and not thinking of Lucius, Lucius his lover, companion, friend, abuser, user, enemy. "I simply don't think of you that way. You're a son to me, not someone I want to--" He cut himself off sharply, saving them both the humiliation of anything he might've said past it.

"Stop it." It was a broken, *hurt* little sound. "Please stop it. Please. Don't say it." /Don't say it because it hurts me. Don't say it because I love you. Don't ever say it again, because one father is more than enough, and I don't ever want that from you./

"If I don't know what I'm *doing*, I don't know what to *stop*," Severus bit out, fingers digging into Draco's shoulder in an attempt to keep his vaguely hysterical attention. "Calm down, Draco. I'm sorry... I never had any idea you thought of me that way, and I'm sorry you do."

"Not as sorry as I am," Draco replied bitterly, turning on him, quickly, flinging his arms around him and lifting his face, lifting his mouth, pressing it desperately to the potion master's in a flagrant act of desperation.

Nothing -- nothing more than slack-jawed lips, and arms coming around him in startlement. No reaction to him, no fire -- and Severus broke it after a moment, to just hold the young Slytherin. "I *am* sorry."

"I hate you!" Draco lied, shuddering, pained. "I hate you, I hate you, don't *touch* me!"

"You don't hate me," Snape said, though he did let Draco go. When someone said they didn't want to be touched, he knew better than anyone to not force the issue. "It just isn't meant to be."

"I do hate you," he whispered in misery, "and if I don't, then I wish I did, goddamn you." Being free was enough, and he hurried past the man, heading for the door.

/You should hate me, Draco,/ Severus mused miserably for a moment once the door had slammed, before he sat on the edge of the foreign-feeling bed. He hated going places, hated worse that the hotel was so vulnerable to attack -- despite the anti-apparation spells he and Minerva had already cast within the rooms. Hated that one of his better students was tormenting themselves over him.

The sound of the door opening again shortly after Draco had slammed it caught his attention. "Hey," Harry said, slipping into the room. "You don't look so good."

"Is this a revelation, or a new observation?" He hadn't meant for his voice to come up so bitter, and in such a snap as it had, but he regretted it immediately. He didn't dare push too hard at Harry, for fear that sense would come back to the Boy-Who-Lived, and that a slight push would send him running.

"New observation," Harry replied lightly, moving to sit down next to him. "You look kind of like somebody who's just been kicked in the balls."

Severus snorted, looking down at his hands, tangled together of their own volition in his lap. "Draco is... very much his father's son, as much as it pains me to see that."

"You're afraid he'll go bad," Harry said softly.

"I am now." Now that it was a solid thing in Draco's mind, and not just a passing shock from seeing something he shouldn't have seen.

"Because of you and me?" Harry asked him gently. "That'd be a pretty stupid reason."

"Wouldn't it?" But he didn't seem convinced. Lack of love had made *him* willing to do a great deal that was classified as stupid... "It's impossible to explain."

"All right." It was really as simple as that. "If you think you want to give it a shot, though..."

That seemed to snap him out of staring down at his hands, drawing his gaze up to look sharply at Harry. "What're you blithering on about?"

"If you want to try and explain it, I'll listen," Harry told him almost gently.

He let his eyes drift away after getting that reasonable clarification, though he was restlessly fingers the ring that was looked over the index finger of his right hand, keeping the shield neatly in place. "Apparently he... Draco has wanted me for years. Which is just bloody absurd -- I've known him since he was just a babe, scuffing up the imported rugs in his father's house."

"Ohhh." Harry took a deep breath and let it out again. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" He decided to not startle this time, or make any quick motions -- but what could harry be sorry for? For Draco knowing, or for his *own* choice?

"If you've known him all his life, then it probably hurts you," Harry returned reasonably. "I mean, it goes to figure that it would, anyway. It must be hurting him, too, even if he is a snobbish little git."

"No more a snobbish git than I am a greasy one," was the tiredly sighed reply. The headache was throbbing along nicely, oh yes, and it just seemed to get *worse* the more he talked or dared to think. "I just don't know where he got the idea that it would... even be possible."

"'cause you favor him so much in class and in everything else, I'd guess," Harry said softly. "I mean, you know. You do. Everybody suspects... YOU know."

"...because his father had me by the throat." And worse, that fact made it impossible for him to even think of anything of that sort with anyone who had the last name 'Malfoy'. And those eyes, they were Lucius's eyes, drilling into him every time Draco looked at him like *that*.

"Did he know that?" Harry asked.

"If he'd *known* then I'd be dead right now, because Lucius would've guessed me *sooner* for playing him," the potions master murmured, shoulder hunching tensely for a moment. It seemed *elementary* to him, the rules of hiding things, the rules of doing the forbidden, yet now those rules were unraveling because of Harry, and he couldn't *quite* justify his actions to anyone any longer.

"I'm sorry," Harry apologized to him again quietly. "It's hurting you. I wish it didn't. I still think he's a snobby brat who just doesn't know how to take no for an answer, though."

"Why should he? No one ever *has* told him no." His fault as much as anyone else's, he supposed, because he'd aided such behavior over the years. "Go, Harry -- your friends will probably wonder what's become of you. It's dinner time, after all."

"Will you be all right? Up here by yourself?" Harry asked him. "I can bring you something back up..."

"I'm a grown man, Mr. Potter, as old as your parents would've been. I rather think I can fend for myself for a few hours in a quiet hotel room." Severus's drawl wasn't particularly sharp, though it was snide as he turned a little and started to his feet in the hopes that it would get Harry moving before he did something rash. Under the excuse of taking his coat off to hang it up, he crossed to the other side of the room and the little coat-rack. "This is a vacation -- which means that you're supposed to be enjoying yourself."

"You, too," Harry noted dryly, standing up and heading for the door. "I'll still get you something while we're out." Even if it was just fish and chips or something.

"I plan on reading -- something very boring, very enjoyable. You should try it once in a while, Mr. Potter." Severus moved away from his coat, crossed the room again. Harry could hear the soft sound of metal sliding against metal for just a moment, then it was gone.

"See you when I get back," Harry said softly, and then he, too, was gone, leaving Severus entirely alone.

It was quiet in that room, even if the lighting bothered him. He was used to firelight, candles, not the too-bright lights the muggles used. He turned the lamp on in the far corner after a moment of remembering how, then tilted its shade so that the light had to bounce off the wall before spreading around the room. That was closer to the comforting yellow glow of firelight that he was used to.

From his suitcase he plucked a heavy tome on potions creation through history, and moved to sit on the room's only chair that could be called 'comfortable'. Within minutes, he was sucked into the reading. So much so that he dismissed the tingle of sensation, however brief, he felt at his forearm.

       

"Mr. Malfoy? Mr. Potter! We seem to have quite lost Mr. Malfoy. Is he still upstairs?" McGonagall asked sharply. "Do fetch him and Professor Snape, please!"

"The Professor's not hungry, Professor," Harry explained. "And I don't think Malfoy's feeling very well." Well, that, and he didn't know where Malfoy *was*.

"Harry, come on -- we're going to go to the pub down the street!" Hermione called happily to him.

"We'll bring back food for them both, then," Professor McGonagall decided a bit snappily, ushering Harry towards the door. It was just *frustrating* when things didn't go as they should. "Unless Professor Snape is entering some competition that requires him to slip under a door, of course. And Mr. Malfoy, too."

"Huh?" Ron blinked.

"Idiot," Blaise muttered. "If you'd open your eyes, you'd know what she means." Then, the Slytherin swept ahead, just behind McGonagall.

"What's Zabini on about, anyway?" Fred sighed.

"Always something with Blaise," George agreed.

"Usually." Harry followed them, hoping that the topic at the table would be better than it had been at lunch that day. "Can we just enjoy ourselves?"

"*I* agree," Hermione said. "No more serious topics for today!"

"Have I ever brought up a serious topic?" Fred asked his twin.

"Never!" George agreed, nodding his head. "Evans, Tobias, have I *ever* brought up a serious topic?"

"Oh, not likely," Evans sighed, looking very much a stalwart Hufflepuff as he waited for Harry's knot to catch up to he and Tobias.

"I'm not even sure you're *capable* of thinking about a serious topic," Tobias agreed with a firm nod.

"And I *know* they're not," Ron chuckled. "Mum'd agree to that, then, wouldn't she?"

"And probably thank God if her bathroom wasn't blown up in the meanwhile," Hermione agreed.

"Oh, 'fess up that some day we'll be blowing up the bathroom of you two lovebirds," Fred grinned, leaning across Harry to punch Ron in the arm.

"Hey!" Ron groaned, face turning almost mauve, he flushed so hard. "Don't make me smack you here and now!" For all that Ron was nearly two years younger, he was still *taller* than both of the twins.

"Heh, Fred, how'd our little brother end up such a prude?" George damned, with a wicked grin on his lips. "He *is*, isn't he, Harry?"

Both dark brows rose, Harry pausing and looking sheepish. "Erm..."

"Rock and a hard place, eh, Harry?" Fred chuckled.

"Oh, just agree -- after all, Ron's been turning funny colours all day!"

George got his arm lightly dented by his brother this time, Ron pulling back to frown, "Well, you've been going on about *gross* things all day!"

"Just *lo~ove*!" Fred protested. "What's so wrong with that?"

The jingle of the door to the pub opening sounded, and they all slipped in behind McGonagall, Blaise and the others.

"Maybe that it's all been *gross*?" Ron asked pointedly.

"What, so now Hermione's gross?" Evans chuckled back to them.

"Oh, you boys!" she huffed, hands alighting on her hips. "You *are* a prude, Ron, and a bit of a prat, have been all day."

"Children!" McGonagall said shortly. "Come place your orders, quickly!"

"But we just got in here!" Ron sighed, trudging towards the large table she's snagged for them.

"The waiter is going to read the menu, then you'll order," she instructed.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Polite young critters you've got there, ma'am," the waiter said before reeling off the specials and the rest of the menu faultlessly. He reminded Harry a little of Remus, and that made him smile. He missed Sirius and Remus already...

/But Severus needs me./ And that was a warm thought, too, one that made him smile, though he was sure that if he *voiced* it around anyone, it would turn chilly without any warning at all. Still, Severus did need him, all the more tangibly now that they'd admitted to it at least in touch. And he couldn't think of going back to the way things were and *stopping*. It had certainly lifted him from his own listless state.

"Harry? Harry, what do you want?" Hermione was prodding him at his hip beneath the table.

"Ummm, the special, I think," he replied, smiling at her. "And I guess two more of the same for Professor Snape and Malfoy, for when we leave?" He looked to Professor McGonagall who nodded, smiled, and gave the waiter several more bits of direction.

"Makes me wonder what they're doing in the hotel room," Fred whispered over Ron to get to Harry. Which made it less than a whisper. "George and I are sharing a double bed -- it's great. Mother hasn't let us do that in years."

Harry could just imagine why.

"No," he denied in an equal whisper. "Malfoy went out for a bit. He was feeling pretty nasty and thought some fresh air might make him feel better." It was a lie, but it was a better thing for them to think than what they were.

"Still, they're sharing the double, I bet," George grinned right beside his brother. "I feel really sorry for you!"

"And I feel sorry for Ron!" Hermione broke in.

"All of that moaning and wri~ithing," Tobias muttered with a grin.

"What, both rooms?" George smirked. "Oh, really, Tobias, that's presumptuous, to think that Fred and I would..."

Evans only snorted.

"*Anyway*," Ron said sternly, "it's gross to talk about, and especially when we're about to eat, so can we *can* it?"

"Can *what*, Mr. Weasley?" Professor McGonagall asked, looking up from her conversation with Blaise.

"Er..." Ron panicked. "Nothing much, Professor. George and Fred were just teasing me about my mauve sweater for this year!"

"And they have their initials on theirs -- really, boys, that's a silly thing to tease over," the professor sighed. "Well, have any of you seen anything interesting yet?"

"Eclectic light!" Fred said.

"And the way the doors lock!" George agreed. "Muggles have so many ways of getting around things! But they could be unlocked, couldn't they?"

Blaise just looked skeptical. "That's *electric* light, you twit, and so can most any door!"

"Are you part muggle?" Hermione asked after a cautious pause.

"No," Blaise said. "But I *do* pay attention in Muggle Studies, and it's not really all that hard, is it?"

"Some of it is," Hermione smiled. "You'll see, I guess. It's different from a text-book than it is in reality."

"I think that's the first time she's ever admitted to *that*," Ron grimaced a little.

"And probably the last," George chuckled.

Blaise gave a wry smile, shaking back silken strands of hair from golden eyes. "I figure I'll do better than the twins, at any rate," was the reply, accompanied by a firm nod.

"Nothing so far has given us much trouble," Fred scowled, making a quiet tsking noise. "Has it, Harry?"

"Er, well... we really haven't hit anything hard yet, you know?" Harry asked with a sheepish expression.

"What do you mean?" George asked a bit nervously.

"Just, well, you know." Harry shrugged. "We won't be driving cars or anything, and you know how to do *that*, sort of, but..." He grinned. "There's street lights and do-not-walk signs and that kind of thing..."

"And television, and video games," Hermione grinned. "Professor McGonagall, can we go find some games after dinner?"

"You're got *real* polite kids here, ma'am," the waiter sighed, as he set glasses of coke down in front of each and every one of them.

"Thank you," she said most primly and then *smiled* at her students. "So long as you don't stray far, you may certainly find a game to play. We will be returning to our rooms within the hour, however, so keep that in mind.

"Yes, ma'am!" came that obedient chorus once again.

"Wonder if we can sneak out," George whispered.

"And no sneaking out, Messrs. Weasley," McGonagall said sternly.

"It's just not *safe*," Hermione scolded, picking up her glass to take a sip. She'd almost forgotten what soda tasted like, between the drinks at Hogwarts, and her dentist parents! "Harry, are you good at any arcade games?"

"Never played them much," he admitted. "Dudley had *tons* of them, but I'm afraid I never got to touch them."

"Well, then, we can learn to play now, eh?" Ron said with a grin. "It'll be fun, doing it together!"

"And I can best you," Hermione decided a bit happily. Hopefully dinner would arrive soon, so they could wolf it down, and then go play games.

"That good at it, are you?" Fred asked her, curiosity piqued.

"Good enough," was the sly reply. "I think there's a pinball game over in the corner, so let's go try it!"

"You're on," Harry agreed, and that was that.

       

By the time they got back to their rooms, they were all more than a little sleepy. Hermione was definitely smug -- she'd beaten the lot of them, even Evans and Tobias, who were at least familiar with the games. "Good night," Harry said, boxed suppers in his hands.

"Don't mind the sound of squeaking box-springs," Fred teased gently, as he watched Harry head towards the door of the room that he'd be sharing with Malfoy and Severus.

"If it gets too bad for you, you can always crawl into bed with Ron," George added.

Harry only groaned slightly, shaking his head at them, before he slipped into the room he was to share with the two Slytherins. The light remained weak there because the lamp was pointed at the wall, and Severus had obviously become utterly engrossed in what he was reading. "You know," he said conversationally, "you could at least look up."

"Hmn? Should I bother -- you seem to know that you're in the room, do you really need further acknowledgment, Mr. Potter?" He did look up slowly after he scanned to the end of the chapter, and tucked a book-mark between two of the thin pages.

"Might be nice..." Harry teased a little, putting one of the little boxes into his lap. "Something for you to eat. I've even got something for Malfoy. I see he's not back yet..."

"Hopefully he'll come back soon," Severus murmured, sitting up a little as he set the book aside. "I suspect he's found a crystal shop and is busying himself there. Did you and the other students have a pleasant time?"

"Mmm, we played pinball and something called air hockey," Harry laughed, shaking his head. "I've never played anything like that before. It was a lot of fun, even if Hermione *did* beat all of us. Even Evans and Tobias, come to think of it. She's pretty good," he decided, looking at Severus warmly. "You going to eat that?"

"Why, do you want it?" The potions master swung his legs off the edge of the bed, holding the plastic box up to Harry without even waiting for an answer. Partly, he knew, to just piss the boy off.

"Hey, I'm a growing boy," Harry laughed. "But I already ate enough for *three* growing boys, so perhaps you had ought to eat it. You might not be *growing*, but you could stand to gain a good stone or so."

"And what brought you to *that* conclusion?" The tone of Severus's voice was arch, but not particularly cutting as he opened the container, and found plastic silverware shoved atop the little pile of fish and french-fries. "Ugh, the delights of muggle food."

"Probably the bruises you've got where you're so thin you haven't got any padding between bones and skin," Harry said lightly. "Besides, later on, I'd like to know *I'm* not going to share them. Self-protection," he said lightly, smiling.

"Pray tell me what sort 'later on' would make my bony frame leave you bruised?" He stabbed a chip with the fork, and started to eat with mechanical efficiency.

"If you don't know *that*, I'm not telling you," Harry decided with a visible smile.

The edges of his lips threatened to twist into a small smile, but the expression evened out to one that was simply knowing. He knew well enough, though why ever Harry wanted such a thing from him was still beyond his grasp. "You're going to be my downfall, Harry."

"Maybe," the green-eyed boy agreed. "I really hope not, though. I really hope things will just keep getting better."

"Have you given a thought to life beyond Hogwarts? It does exist, you know..." But not for him. And he tried valiantly to not think of that as he started to eat the fish, having already wolfed down the fries.

"I was thinking about working as an Auror," Harry said hesitantly. "I mean, Sirius seems to really enjoy it, and I like being in the thick of things. Sitting behind a desk would drive me crazy... What do you think?"

An Auror... Harry could see the Potions master tense, but simply nod to Harry's suggestion. "You'd probably make a fine one." Better than most of those who served as them.

"I don't know," Harry admitted. "Maybe I'm too interested in truth as opposed to appearance for that." Especially since he believed Severus wasn't nearly bad enough to be what everyone else thought he was.

"But it's all about putting down evil in the end, isn't it?" Severus took another bite, looking at Harry with a pointed gaze.

"Mmm, yeah," Harry agreed. "But I think it's more important to be *sure* that's what you're doing and not to be indiscriminate about it, the way that Crouch was... Moody, too," he said seriously. "That lack of discrimination is just as evil as anything else."

"Then you would make the sort of Auror that the Ministry needs." He finished the fish with surprising speed, too, and then set the fork down in the container, closing it. "Not that they'd hire you if you're known to be a friend of mine."

"They'll have to get over that," Harry decided firmly -- and if *anyone* could make that sort of difference, it was Harry Potter. "You're not even remotely evil, Severus. Occasionally a hateful ass, but anyone can be."

"I like to think I've brought it to an art-form," the professor mused, setting the container down on the bed as he got to his feet. "I'll be in the shower -- if Draco returns, please make sure he eats?"

"I'll try," Harry agreed, moving to pick up the box and toss it in a small wastebasket. "If he'll listen."

"He won't, but it's the effort that matters," Harry was told lightly. Severus lingered near him, fingers at the top buttons of his own shirt for a moment before he stopped himself. No, if he undressed with Harry there, well... Draco could return any moment, and he didn't want the boy leaving just when he got back. Better to change in the bathroom.

"Ah..." Harry hedged, biting his lip. "Did you get settled...? About the sleeping arrangements?"

"I've been told rather firmly that he won't be any happier if I slept on the floor, so I might as well sleep with you." Severus moved to his suitcase to take out a pair of pajamas, which Albus had told him were much more acceptable than a night shirt.

"Ohhh," Harry said, no small amount relieved. "That's good, then. I wasn't happy with the notion of you on the floor, either."

"To be truthful, it wasn't the best of choices I could've suggested, and I was hoping he didn't plan on insisting on it. But I do expect you to behave." Pajamas in hand, he was only waiting for Harry to agree before he'd turn and wash up for the night.

"I'll be an angel," Harry promised him seriously, and he really *would* try to be good. The temptation would be there, but he'd resisted temptation before. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...

Considering what they'd done that morning in the train. Or maybe it just made things worse, because now he knew what it could feel like. There was such a difference between that and the things he'd seen done in the hall in which the Death Eaters had been.

"An angel?" Snape snorted delicately, shaking his head as he opened the door into the hallway. "I think not."

"Maybe the fallen kind," Harry said as the potions master shut the door behind him. /Might as well change while he's out. Then I can get a bath in the morning.../

From what he'd seen so far, though, Severus would bathe *again* then. Which was all right, because as lean-bodied as he was, he kept the bed more than warm enough for two people.

The bathroom wasn't so hard to find, but it was... well, there was a *line*, and he suddenly wished he'd thought to wash before the students had come back from dinner because he was standing behind the Weasley boys.

"Hello, Professor," Fred greeted.

"Time for a bath, huh?" George asked, glancing up to the man's slightly oily hair. It didn't seem so oily up close -- just very, very soft and fine, close to his head.

"Obviously," the professor muttered in a glancing voice, tucking his pajamas under his arm. It was going to be a long wait indeed, even if the two brats kept silent for the rest of it. "Planning on taking a great deal of time?"

"Oh, no, sir," Fred said.

"We figured we'd go at once and hurry up the process," George agreed.

"'Cause it's not like one of us doesn't know just what the other's got," Fred finished.

He closed his eyes for a moment, looking thoroughly disgusted before he wiped that expression away with a thought. "I'm proud that the two of you managed to work that out."

"We were pretty proud, too," George grinned wickedly. "We'll let you go first, Professor, if you'd rather. Hermione ought to be almost done, and Ron went back to the room to fetch his toothbrush, so..."

"I'll wait." Because he didn't want to know that they were lingering outside the door, *waiting*.

"Your choice, Professor," Fred said cheerfully as Hermione came out dressed in nightgown and house robe, flushed from the heat of the bath and smiling.

"Good night, Professor. I hope you enjoyed your dinner," she said cheerfully, and headed for her room.

A faint inclination of his head in acknowledgment, and he half-glared at the twins. "Well, get going."

"If you're sure," George said with a grin, and slipped inside after Fred.

/They're probably going to leave me with nothing but cold water,/ he thought briefly, as he heard Ron coming down the hall behind him.

"Ohhh, *no*," the younger Weasley groaned. "So much for any hot water tonight. You let them go in *together*?" He sighed. "Mum makes 'em go separate..." And he didn't even want to *think* about why!

"Any particular reason?" If it was imperative, well, no-one had told *him* about it.

Ron's face turned crimson. "I don't wanna *think* about it," he muttered. "In fact, I think I won't think about it..."

"Oh, they fuck?" the words rolled calmly off his tongue, and his lips twitched into a bit of a sneer as he said it.

Ron nearly fell over, the word alone bad enough, but coming from SNAPE!?!? "Eeeek!" he whimpered, closing his eyes tightly. "Not gonna think about it! No!"

"Really, a teen-aged boy who doesn't think of such things? I'm surprised... thought I'd expect nothing more than such incompetence from a Weasley," he mused idly.

"NOT when it's my brothers," Ron muttered. "They're... they're *BROTHERS*," he pointed out to Snape. "It's just not the sort of thing one *wants* to contemplate." He sighed. "At least I brought earplugs..."

"So they do that all night?" For a flicker more, wicked amusement tugged at his mouth, before fading again. "Professor McGonagall is right next door -- perhaps you should share the earplugs." He, Harry and Malfoy were on the other side of the hall, and he was suddenly grateful for that.

"I'm going to die if you keep talking about it," Ron muttered, suddenly looking at Snape *very* differently. He was almost -- *almost* -- FUNNY.

"One less Gryffindor in my potions class, then, taking up space and wasting ingredients. Try a pillow over your head -- or a muffling spell. They work wonders." Dark eyebrows were still raised a little in slight amusement, and the conversation was suddenly punctuated by a *loud* moan from within the bathroom.

"Oh, God," Ron groaned, stuffing his fingers in his ears.

/"That's nice, George. Do that again..."/

"Those sin jokes they made in class all those years suddenly make a great deal more sense."

Stuffing fingers into his ears, Ron learned all over again, just didn't *work*.

/"Oh, *yes*, Fred!"/

"I'm going back to my room," Ron decided, taking himself off quickly.

That would've been more amusing, the potions master decided, if Ron had've been ahead of him in line. Still, there was probably only another ten minutes or so to wait.

It turned out to be almost fifteen, but it was worth the wait just to see the expressions on the faces of the twins when they came out -- smug, altogether pleased with themselves, and no small amount shocked that he'd remained outside the door the whole time.

"Incest within the Gryffindor house -- rather interesting," he commented in a dead-pan voice before slipping into the bathroom the moment they were out.

"Incest is best," George agreed.

"Keeping it in the family," Fred said cheerfully. "Are you going to tell anyone?" he asked then, a little uncertainly.

"It's none of my business what you do in your free-time, Weasleys." He shrugged slowly, and to see Snape giving that awkward motion his shoulders, it *felt* like approval from the man. "But do try to be more subtle. Your innuendo is too thick."

"Will try," George grinned, definitely relieved. "Hey, no wonder Potter thinks you're neat. You're not so bad, out of class, are you?"

"I suppose not." He moved into the bathroom, and didn't wait for further reply before he closed the door and spelled it locked. How strange -- he half thought he had to be doing something wrong for them to think that suddenly.

Well. They *were* an odd lot, those Weasleys...

Showering was a brisk affair, and a bit hard to do with the thin metal shield on his arm. But he didn't dare take it *off*. So he had to pat it dry with a towel when he was done, soaking the moisture out of the links before he dried the rest of himself and slid on the pajamas. Washing in mostly cold water had left him too awake for his tastes, especially since he was going to be crawling into bed with Harry very shortly.

Finished, he headed back out of the bathroom, noting that no one new had come along to get in behind him, and moved back to the room he was sharing with the two boys.

He hoped, no matter how tense it would make things, that Draco had come back while he was gone. Otherwise he'd have to go out and search for him, because the matter couldn't be let go for so long. It was with a cautious hand on the door, though, that he opened it.

It was quiet inside; almost deathly so, save for a soft wheeze of breath rattling in lungs that meant Draco was back again and that he'd spent too long out in the wet night wandering. He'd always had problems with his breathing -- as a child, Narcissa had often feared he would die from illness, but he'd fought on, and Severus had more than once been required to come out and dose him with something strong to keep him from drowning in his own lungs. Merlin help him, he loved the boy like a son, worried about him, and it still wasn't enough.

Harry looked up at him from the chair in the corner and nodded his head towards the twin bed, then the box of food which obviously hadn't been touched.

Silently, Severus moved to his suitcase, and opened the case to the potions half, quickly rifling through the multi-colored vials, few of them labeled. A slight difference of shade, thickness told him more than what a label could.

A vial of syrup the color of the soda that afternoon was plucked free at last, and the Potions master moved to the twin bed. "Draco."

The boy didn't even turn over, and blond lashes remained limpidly pressed to pale cheeks, though his lips trembled slightly in response to the sound of his name.

"Sit up a little and drink this, Draco," Severus sighed, leaning nearer to Draco. "I don't plan on letting you die."

That head shook almost defiantly; he *wasn't* going to move.

"Be dramatic, then," Snape sighed in an irritated voice, sliding a hand behind Draco's head to *force* it to lift so that the potion could be poured between his lips. "I won't let you suffocate on your own spittle because you feel like being ass-stubborn."

There was a little sound of protest, but Draco allowed him that touch, allowed Severus to dose him with the stuff before he pulled loose, burying himself in the bed again with eyes still tightly shut, one palm above the covers clutched so tightly that his nails must surely be cutting into it.

/Idiot,/ Harry thought with a sigh. "He wouldn't eat anything, either," he murmured.

"Draco." Severus set the half-empty vial aside once he'd put the stopper back in place, and then turned Draco firmly so that he had to face the head of his House. "Draco Malfoy -- what sort of third-rate melodrama do you think you're putting on here? There's no *sense* to it!"

"I'm not *hungry*," the boy told him, still not opening his eyes. "I ate while I was out." Oh, and that was a lie, but he wasn't going to look at either of them and he wasn't going to eat anything they brought him and he didn't want to *think* about them, either!

"Then take a nutrient potion," Severus decided. "Just to help you remain in decent health." He knew Draco was lying, but there was no sense in making a scene of it.

There came a roll of slim shoulders in response, but still, he didn't look at the black-haired man. "May I go back to sleep now? I don't want to listen to the two of you later."

"There's nothing to listen to," Snape bit out irritably as he crossed back to his suitcase and started looking for the proper vial.

"You'll forgive me if I don't believe you," Draco replied bitterly.

"You're an idiot," Harry told him firmly. "You ought to eat something and you ought not to go out if it's going to make you sick. You're just worrying him."

"Fuck you, Potter," Malfoy said, the sound of it tired. "What do you know."

"You certainly aren't accomplishing anything by what you're doing, Draco," Snape said firmly, coming back with a deep purple liquid. He perched on the edge of the bed for a moment, ready to force the issue if need be.

"I feel better, so what's not accomplished?" he was asked as Draco sit up, opening his eyes and looking down at his own hands before reaching out for the potion.

"Walking through the damp and missing out on a decent dinner made you feel better?" Bony fingers opened the bottle for the boy, pressed it carefully into Malfoy's hand.

It was taken from him, swallowed, and handed back so that Malfoy could lay down again. He wasn't wheezing any more, and that was good, but neither did it seem that he was going to answer; until, finally, there came one word, tiny, miserable, only heard by Severus himself. "Yes."

"Wallowing in misery may seem to help, but it never really does any good for you." As if he had any right to say that, but he knew the words were true even if he didn't adhere to them himself. The vial was recapped, and he took a moment to idly brush a bit of hair off of Draco's face. His bangs were looking scrappy. "Try to enjoy yourself tomorrow."

Draco knew that he couldn't, though. Not as bad as things were now, and it seemed as if nothing would ever be right again. /I wish I hated you. I wish.../

"It's almost eleven," Harry said quietly. "We should go to bed. Professor McGonagall wants to start out around eight. I've set the alarm for seven..."

"Yes." Draco felt Severus shift off the bed, heard him move quietly across the room to the double bed. "Get the light?"

The sound of a steady click made Draco ball up tighter in his bed, especially when he heard the sheets of the one opposite his rustle. Carefully, he opened up his palm, peered down at the little obsidian stone he'd bought clutched in it, and sighed. It had to get better. It just had to.

If it didn't, he didn't know what he would do.

Severus was half-afraid to say a thing to Harry as they shifted nearer in the darkness, finding a comfortable position together. Harry fit well into his arms, though, pressed comfortably against the length of his body. And the boy's presence was as good a ward against nightmares as he'd ever had, far better than slipping towards madness after too many nights without dreams. "Good night, Harry," was his barely breathed whisper as he settled down finally, head turned towards the boy in his arms.

"Good night," Harry whispered back, and then all was quiet.


Return to Archive | next | previous