The Last Battlefield
Chapter 2 - Bonds
Severus moaned. The sound didn't reach his ears, but that was the least of his worries. At some point, his brain had been scooped out and replaced with cotton wool. He tried to lift an arm, only to find that the bones had been filled with iron and the whole limb left sitting on a powerful magnet. He managed to open his eyes, wincing at the bright, unfamiliar sunlight.
He squinted to make out a familiar figure standing in front of a window with stark blue curtains. Harry gripped the sill with his back to Severus, staring out the window. His shoulders were tense and taut, and he hunched like a wolf stalking its prey.
"Harry?" Severus called, though it came out in a weak and garbled groan.
Harry's head whipped around. His eyes were wide and wild and so heavily ringed he looked like a panda. In less time than Severus could comprehend, he was kneeling by the bed, one of Severus' hands between his own, pressing it against his forehead. "Don't you ever do that to me again, you greasy bastard," he hissed, husky and hoarse. "Don't you ever, ever do that again."
"Do what precisely?" The words were clearer in Severus' cotton-filled head than in his ringing ears. He smacked his mouth; some of the cotton seemed to have fallen out of place.
"Stay still." Harry picked up a metal goblet and held it to Severus' lips. Cool water touched them, and he opened his mouth to drain the cup. Much to his annoyance, Harry wouldn't let him have more than enough to wet down the cotton.
"I wasn't finished," he tried to snap as Harry took the goblet away.
"If you want some more later, sister said you could have it once you'd been awake for a while." Tender, broom-callused fingers stroked the back of Severus' hand, the inside of his wrist. Harry sniffled. "God. My god, Severus, I thought I'd lost you." He wiped his sodden eyes on his sleeve and snorted. "God. I'm not ready for that, you goddamned greasy bastard."
"What on Earth are you going on about, Potter?" Some of the garbled sounds must have been clear enough to make out (or he was simply getting that predictable) because Harry kissed his hand and giggled.
"The doctor said you probably wouldn't remember any of it," he said.
"Remember what? Are you going to--?"
Harry put a finger over his mouth. "Don't strain yourself. You've... Oh, god, Sev, your heart stopped again." He bit one pink lip, the muscles in his face tightening and his chin quivering. A moment later he took an enormous breath. His voice only cracked a little when he said, "At least we know that crap's working."
Severus arched an eyebrow. Or twitched it. There didn't seem to be much difference at the moment.
Harry's mouth curled in a bitter sneer. "They put you on some new potion, kept you alive until they could get hold of Poppy."
"What's she got to do with anything?"
Harry apparently didn't understand him, because he simply stroked Severus' arm and murmured, "Stay still, I need to get sister in here. My god, Sev, why didn't you tell me this was going to happen?"
"How on Earth should I have known?" The low, pained moan rang in his head. He tried to sit up but could barely flex his fingers to try to keep Harry from going away again. His eyes fell shut, and he whimpered.
"I need to ring sister." Cool hands brushed his forehead, traced his hairline and the finer hair at his temples. Harry's lips just touched his. "I promise I'll be right here."
There was a quick squeeze of his hand and then only chilly air against his knuckles. Severus shuddered from his guts outward. Deep in the cavity of his chest he felt his heart throbbing - half a beat too fast - as the blood sluiced through.
When he awoke (much to his surprise - he hadn't even realised he'd been asleep), a strange witch in nurse's robes was standing over him like a plump monolith. She was poking him with her wand and rubbing one thick hand over his shoulder in a way that would have been soothing had it not been so annoying. He cringed, glancing around to find Harry. Harry was by the open window again, staring out.
"And just what do you think you're doing, Mister Potter?" he tried to ask. The witch shushed him.
"Easy now, settle down. You're a scrapper, aren't you?"
Severus snarled. Harry chuckled under his breath. "Stubborn bastard, more like."
"That's no way to talk about your... friend." Sister's voice took a sharp, cool turn on the last word.
"Try living with him and see what you say." Severus could hear the smile in Harry's voice.
"Can't be any worse than my niece. She'll bite your head off before you can step through the door."
Severus bared his teeth; they ached with the temptation to bite the woman out of sheer spite. However, he couldn't muster the energy to move, and her fingers remained well out of the reach of his mouth. He took a deep breath, feeling his heart thud against his sternum, and relaxed into the thin, sweltering pillows. "What am I doing here?" he asked in a thick, slow voice.
The nurse frowned down at him; her splotchy brow wrinkled beneath a handful of tight red curls. Severus shuddered to himself. It's like waking up in Weasley Hell.
"You've had a spot of heart trouble, dear." She smoothed the blankets over his legs; he kicked. (Well, twitched.) She smoothed the blankets again, giving him a very no-nonsense sort of smile.
"What, precisely, do you mean by a spot of heart trouble? Cardiac infraction? Arterial blockage? Aortic dissection?" He spoke slowly, enunciating every tiny sound.
The nurse gave him a mildly irritated look. "Trauma-induced cardiac arrest. Only we couldn't figure out how you'd gone through that much trauma without a mark on you until we talked to the Hogwarts mediwitch."
Severus' brow furrowed. The cotton in his head tried to process the information, but tiny stops kept catching him mid-thought. Why in Hell would they have to talk to Poppy about my--oh. Oh, bugger. "Bugger," he said.
The nurse tapped him in the middle of the chest. "You have been a very naughty and a very, very lucky fellow. Imagine the doctor'll be wanting to speak with you when you're strong enough."
"When can he come home?" Harry asked, still gazing out the window. He seemed to be looking for something.
"That's up to the doctor. I reckon he'll want to do a transfer--"
"I've already spoken to him about it," Harry said with a cruel edge in his voice. "It's not necessary."
"I know, but it--"
"Is sorted." He glanced back, ringed eyes at once hard and brittle. "Can I have a few minutes with my husband?"
Her eyes fluttered. "I suppose." She hovered there for another moment while she prodded Severus a few more times with her wand. "Call button there if you need anything." She motioned to the table and bustled away. A few flaming curls at the nape of her neck had escaped from her white hat.
The door closed, and Harry made his way back to the bed. Gingerly, he sat at the foot of it, stroking Severus' leg with a single finger. "We," he said, eyes fixed on Severus', "have a few things to talk about."
"Such as?" The words flowed with little pain; sister must have done something while she poked and jabbed.
Harry pulled his watch out and opened it. A trace of a smile flitted over his mouth, but his eyes were hooded. "You could have mentioned sooner this thing's a legally binding contract."
Severus shrugged as well as he could. There was long tube running from a heavy glass flask to the crook of his right elbow; the papery tape keeping it in place itched something ruthless, and the spot where the clear liquid soaked into his skin burned like nettle rash. "Does that mean you wish to break it?"
Harry shot him a weary look. "If I did, d'you think I'd have stayed awake for three days while you tried to decide if you wanted to live or not?"
"And why," Severus paused to take a deep, shaky breath, "have you been awake for three days?"
"I've been busy." Harry leaned forward to fuss the blankets folded at Severus' chest. "Didn't exactly want to wake up and find you... either." His scowl, the darkened hollows in his face, made him look very close to Severus' age.
Severus dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry."
Harry glowered up at him, but snorted. "You'd better be." He glanced back at the window again. The scowl deepened.
"What is so fascinating that you would ignore me on my deathbed, Mister Potter?"
"Don't even joke about that, Sev." Harry's mouth grew taut. Severus drew back into the pillows in surprise. Harry shuddered. "Sorry, sorry. I'm--" He swallowed. "It's been a rough few days." His fingers smoothed the blankets again, stroking, stroking, stroking.
Severus summoned his fleeting strength and dragged his left arm up to cover Harry's hand with his. Harry started but didn't draw back.
"Would it help at all if I said I'm not quite ready to face the afterlife on my own?"
Harry's eyes flickered up from the floor. His fingers tightened around Severus'. "A little, yeah."
"So I suppose I'll just have to poison you in your sleep--"
Harry smacked his leg with no real force. "Prat." His voice was low and sweet and a little bit mournful. He sighed and looked as though he were about to curl up on Severus' legs and sob when a gargantuan grey owl tore in through the window. It all but threw a scroll onto the bed and swept out the way it came.
Harry bolted upright, scrabbling for the scroll and unrolling it as quickly as he could. His eyes closed, and he mouthed, "Thank you, Hermione."
Severus sniffed. "Running off with Miss Granger, are we?"
Harry glanced at him. "Not quite. Advance copy of the Evening Prophet."
"Aren't we special?"
"Yeah. We are." Harry's eyes ran over the words, narrowing now in anger, now in a wicked satisfaction Severus himself would have been proud of. "Hope you don't mind me breaking the news."
"What on Earth are you on about?"
"This." Harry thrust the paper in Severus' face. It took a moment for Severus to make out the blurry headline, and another for his brain to comprehend it, but it was unmistakable.
Severus leaned forward, frowning, squinting. "What in god's name have you been doing, Mister Potter?"
"Can you read?"
"Of course I can't read. Haven't got my bloody glasses, have I?"
"Settle down, Sev. You're going to hurt yourself." Harry put a hand on the middle of Severus' chest, pushing him back into the pillows. Clearing his throat and adjusting his glasses, he read:
"'The Ministry of Magic has a good deal of explaining to do after a medical crisis nearly robs the world of our greatest living saviour, as reported by Hermione Granger-Weasley.
"'Severus Snape, former Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was taken to Saint Mungo's on Sunday, the twenty-sixth of September, after an apparent heart attack was ignored by those sworn to protect the wizarding world.'" Harry paused, glanced up, and continued reading.
"'During a supposedly routine inspection of the estate of the late Lucius Malfoy (now in the possession of Mister Snape, Malfoy's only known living relative), Snape suffered critical heart failure and was rushed to hospital by house-elves and his legal husband, Harry Potter, while a team of fifty or more Aurors looked on. When asked for aid, the Aurors refused. One was reported to have stated, "Good riddance. One less Death Eater in the world."
"'Severus Snape, accused of being a follower of Lord Voldemort and held for several weeks without trial in the summer of 1979, in fact spent two decades working as a spy against the Dark Lord. All charges against him were dropped, although he has yet to receive any formal recognition for his actions, including those directly responsible for Voldemort's final downfall. Harry Potter, known widely as The Boy Who Lived and The Hero of Hogsmeade, said this:
"'"The fact of the matter is that if Severus hadn't been there we'd all be wearing the Dark Mark right now. All I did was cast some stupid spell. He's the one who spent months working himself to death to figure out what Voldemort and the Death Eaters were doing; he's the one who risked his life to warn us that Voldemort was less than an hour away from killing us all; he's the one who kept going back into the bloody field even after Voldemort was dead in order to take down the rest of the Death Eaters. They damn near killed him when they figured out who'd tipped us off, but he would have gladly died in order to keep that lot from gaining power. He turned the tide for us when the siege on Hogwarts happened, and he has never, ever been anything but a good, decent, sarcastic greasy bastard whom I love with all my heart."'"
Harry paused for a moment. He glanced up with a guilty grimace, took a shallow breath, and continued. "'Although Potter, among others, was offered the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his deeds that day, he declined upon learning that Snape had not been presented the same or any other honour.
"'"He's the one who did all the work, and what does the Ministry do? Bugger all. They're trying to pretend he was just another Death Eater who only deserves to be sent to Azkaban or left to die. I will not see him lumped with those monsters. Severus Snape is the reason any of us is able to call ourselves free. The Ministry of Magic, especially Minister Fudge and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, owes him one Hell of an apology."'"
Severus stared at Harry. He couldn't quite remember how to move, or breathe, or do anything but lay there in horror. His stomach squirmed at the thought of what the Aurors would do to him after the article reached the world. Harry gave him a look torn between apology and determination and continued.
"'Snape is currently in a private, protected room at Saint Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. His husband, who at this time has not slept in days in order to be with him every possible moment, asks that any well-wishers please make a donation to the hospital's little-known Philia Westin Research Fund for Magical Mental Disorders in lieu of gifts.'"
Harry looked at him. His Gryffindor bravery was shrouded in a veil of meekness. "Well?" he whispered, his voice a little unsteady.
Severus blinked. He forced himself to hold back the urge to throttle Harry. Instead, he asked, "Were you ever going to mention the Order of Merlin to me?"
Harry shook his head. "Didn't want to upset you."
"So you announce it to the whole world because...?"
"I wanted to make a point." He fingered the parchment. "There's a note on here. From Hermione, I mean. She says it's being printed in every wizarding paper in Europe and any more worldwide that'll take it. Um, apparently it's going out in about eighty countries tomorrow, in about a hundred papers. Might be a record."
Severus groaned. He sank into the bed and wished for Harry's damned Invisibility Cloak. "So the entire world shall know that I have a time bomb in my chest. Brilliant, Potter. Why don't you offer up an hour-to-hour update?"
"I wanted to put the Ministry on the spot, okay? They've treated you like utter shite--"
Harry stiffened for a moment. He gritted his teeth. "They've treated you like utter shite, and them leaving you to die was too much for me to take," he finished under his breath. "God. Even speaking like you now, you greasy bastard."
Severus blinked. Some part of him wanted to storm out of the room, leave everything behind, hide in some dark corner of the world where not even the Aurors could find him. Another part, though, swelled with adoration. "So," he murmured, "I shall take this to mean that you've pulled rank on Minister Fudge."
"Potter, neither you nor your frizzy-headed friend would allow you to be called either The Boy Who Lived or The Hero of Hogsmeade unless there were some deliberate purpose. You are taking your unenviable status as the figurehead for All That Is Good In The World and directly challenging the British ruling body for the sake of the only locatable, surviving symbol of ultimate evil."
"Sev! You're not--"
"Let me finish. Or have you forgotten my penchant for lecturing?" He arched a cold eyebrow. Harry hung his head, hands in his lap, trainers dangling above the floor.
Severus harrumphed, satisfied. "Cornelius Fudge is still trying to repair his reputation after his heartfelt denial of the Dark Lord's return. I, as one of only two known, free, living beings to bear the Dark Mark, am naturally a target for his political machinations. However, your reputation has never permanently wavered, whether you have wanted it to or not."
Harry peeked up at him. "So what you're saying is I've just gotten myself into more trouble than I'm worth."
"Not necessarily. However, I wish to make certain you've ascertained the impact of your actions."
Harry squinched an eye at him. "I'm waiting for the other shoe."
"The fact that you are more trouble than you're worth is quite irrelevant--"
"Prat." Harry smirked, brow furrowed and eyes sad. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed them on the hem of his claret robe. "Where would I be without you to insult me?"
"Probably on a pitch somewhere, surrounded by adoring gypsies, tramps, and thieves."
"I'd rather just have a greasy bastard if it's all the same to you."
Severus smiled half a tired smile. He shoved aside images of Aurors again coming for him in his sleep. Clearing his dry throat, he asked, "So, how did you learn I'd tricked you so heinously into becoming an honest man?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"You're probably right."
Harry blew him a raspberry. "Just for that, I'm telling you. Remember that Bauble bloke from Diagon Alley?"
Severus groaned. "Don't tell me he's here as well."
"He'd translocated a watch spring through his hand, had to have it removed. Saw me telling the doctor in the casualty waiting room that I was family. You have no idea how pleased I was to have it announced in the middle of a crowded waiting room that I'm legally Harry Potter-Snape." He snorted and waved the parchment. "Didn't want to show you, but it hit two days ago while you were unconscious. Ron's a little upset with you, by the way. Sirius, too." He frowned over the page. "Surprised the editors didn't change my name here."
Severus made a noise. His chest was starting to tighten, and his eyes to close. "Regretting your decision?"
"No. Someone's got to make sure you don't drop dead."
The last thing Severus saw before exhaustion took him was Harry trying not to grin.
"You're bloody well not!" Severus folded his arms as well as he could around the stiff tube taped to his arm, and snarled. After two days, the fucking potion seeping through his skin still felt like a giant nettle rash.
"Mister Snape, I assure you, it's only a precaution." The doctor held up his hands. They spoke in harsh whispers on Snape's repeated insistence; Harry was curled up in an armchair, sleeping for all he was worth.
"I believe Mister Potter has already spoken with you about this. Where's my blasted potion?" He flung out an arm and groped on the table by his bed. "There is absolutely no need for me to be sequestered in that... that padded Hellhole!" His hand closed around the little phial, and he clutched it, scowling as hard as he'd ever scowled in his life.
"I understand, but I assure you, it's only a precaution. If you were to have--"
"I HAVEN'T HAD A BLOODY ATTACK IN A MONTH!" Severus roared. Harry snorted and looked around, squinting.
"What?" he slurred. "Sev? Oh, no, where's the syringe?" He started to untangle himself and fell out of the chair.
Severus groaned. "Go back to sleep, Potter. There's nothing to see here."
The doctor blinked. Severus finally got a clear look at his badge. 'Michaelmas Westing, D.M.' it read. Severus snorted. "Played any brewer's games lately, doctor?"
Doctor Westing arched a tawny eyebrow. "That's my father." He cleared his throat. "But enough about that. There is no effective treatment for Unicorn Blood poisoning this late in your exposure. Honestly, I don't know how you're even functioning--"
"I told you, it's the potion." Harry rubbed sleep from the corners of his eyes and yawned. "It's antivenin."
Doctor Westing folded his arms, Severus' chart pressed against his chest. "As interesting a concept as that is, not even Philia Westin managed to create a long-term treatment for Unicorn Blood poisoning."
Severus held up the bottle, waving it between two fingers. "I beg to differ."
"Placeboes don't contain altered presynaptic binding protein."
The doctor frowned. "Come again?"
Severus sighed, wriggling back against his pillows. "Did you learn nothing during your training? Or did you simply go to Gladrags and purchase that hideous robe? If you'd like to run an analysis, I'm sure I can spare a few drops."
"I can make more." He didn't take his eyes off the doctor. For good measure, he arched a deliberate eyebrow. "Well?"
Westing shook his head. "Sorry, I know you were a Potions professor, but I have a hard time believing that--"
"I was personally trained by Philia Westin."
The doctor scoffed. "You couldn't have been. You'd have been a child when she died."
"I was a prodigy."
"He was," Harry piped up. "And she did. I'll vouch for him under truth serum if you want. I've seen the evidence."
Severus smirked. "Are you going to doubt the famous Harry Potter?"
"Hmm." Doctor Westing pulled a quill out of his pocket and flipped it between his fingers. The lower half of his pudgy face was distorted in a vehement frown. After a few moments he opened the chart and scribbled something. "I'll send a technician in to fetch some. Until then, I'll put a hold on your transfer, but if you start showing symptoms--"
"I promise you, Mister Potter and I can take care of ourselves in that respect."
"I'm not sure--"
"Then order a phial of Westin's Serum sent up. Do you honestly believe the man who vanquished the Dark Lord is going to have difficulties with a simple Petrifaction Charm?"
Harry hunched and flushed. "You don't have to bring it up, you know," he muttered through his teeth.
Severus sniffed. "I shall bring up whatever I wish, Mister Potter. If you weren't such an obnoxious brat, I don't feel it would even be an issue."
"At least I didn't go running around the whole country in a stupid mask."
"You wouldn't have lasted five minutes in one of those masks. I'm surprised you didn't wet yourself as soon as Voldemort Apparated."
"'Least I've got enough sense to duck a Cruciatus Curse."
"Yes, but not a dagger aimed at your heart." Severus' lips twitched in merciless glee. So did Harry's, although the doctor seemed a bit perturbed.
"Er, yes. I'll just have sister bring that in, then?" He scribbled something else down, eyes darting between them and the page. "Would the two of you like me to send in a counsellor? We've got some brilliant ones on staff."
"Eh?" Harry peered at him. "Why?"
"Right." Doctor Westing backed towards the door. "I'll just send a message down to pharmacology. Ring if you need anything." He nodded too quickly at each of them and left just as the door flew open. Ron ducked in past Westing; he paused to watch the white robe scurry away. Ruby was asleep in the yellow harness on his chest and a chess set was tucked beneath his arm.
"'Lo, Harry. Holding up?"
"Well as can be expected, I reckon."
"That's good. Oi, you!" Ron pointed at Severus, plunking the chess set down on the bed. "Where d'you get off duping my best friend into a contract like that?" His eyes narrowed as he tugged Ruby from her carrier and handed her over.
"As if he would have understood the meaning of the words," Severus snapped, taking Ruby in the crook of his left arm and tipping her against his chest. She stirred, yawned, and looked around at the white walls, blinking in a bleary daze. "Good afternoon, Miss Weasley."
"Yeah, you'd better be nice to her." Ron unfolded the chessboard with a flourish. "You know, I'm not even sure that thing's legal. I mean, he signed it without even being told what it was."
He shoved the black chessmen onto the bed; Severus recalled seeing them last on the Granger/Weasley kitchen table. (His and Ron's chessmen tended to be left wherever they'd last been pitted, thanks to Harry and Hermione and their lack of understanding of the beauty of seven-hour chess tournaments. There was little difficulty in retrieving them if necessary; Harry had insisted on an open Floo connection, equivalent to a Muggle set of keys, between their homes. It allowed access for any of them when the other couple wasn't home.)
"He was neither told to sign it, nor did he ask if it were binding." Severus started placing his men with a clumsy right hand. The tube taped to his arm did him no favours. "Had he asked, I would certainly have told him so."
"Oh, right. I'm going to believe you." Ron shooed Severus' hand away and set up the black pieces along with his own white ones. "Harry, how the Hell did you end up with this git in the first place anyway?"
"Erm, shagged him?"
Ron's hand faltered and sent chess pieces sprawling. Ruby gurgled. Severus chuckled under his breath and gave her a finger to hold. "Your father once again displays the dexterity that made his potions such a joy to flee."
"Shut up," Ron muttered, ears a vivid scarlet.
Harry watched from his yellow armchair, chin balanced in his hand, leaning on the chair's arm, hair a disgrace and eyes wide in blank anticipation. He yawned, putting his fingers over his mouth, and settled back into place. The black circles under his eyes had diminished very little since Severus had started to regain his strength. Before Ron had even finished setting up the board, Harry's head had tipped forward, jerked, and been gripped once more in a pale hand.
Severus sighed. "Mister Potter, if you're going to insist on staying awake for days at a stretch, you could at least take a potion. I know of a suitable array that would have you hovering three inches above the ground without the use of levitation."
"Never taught us those," Ron muttered.
"I hardly believe Professor Dumbledore would have wished me to instruct the entire school on the fine art of sleep deprivation."
Ron glanced up at him, his long nose wrinkled in disbelief. "You've never written any of the essays you assigned, have you?"
"On the contrary, many of those were from my personal study."
Ron shuddered. He moved one of his middle pawns. "Who was your professor?"
"My grandmother. Pawn to b-six."
The piece gave him a salute and trotted into place. Ron made a little snorting sound. "'Least Nan only ever tries to blow up the twins."
"An admirable woman. I wish her the best of luck in her endeavour. Are you going to move?"
"Yeah. Let me look at the board at least."
"Weasley, you're just as hopeless at chess as you are at Potions. How you ever managed to beat Minerva's little game is beyond me."
"Ruby, jewel, make sure you don't grow up like him, okay?" Ron made his second move, placing a knight in front of one of his stationary pawns. "How're the Cannons doing, Harry? I heard about the Falcons match last week. Nice going."
"Thanks." Harry shot Severus a look. "Some people don't agree."
"When you can honestly claim that Omar Nicholas has declared you a better Seeker than he ever was, then I shall admire the Falcons' defeat."
"Bloody Hell, Sev, you won't be happy until he says it to my face in front of you!"
"A minor stipulation. Bishop to e-six."
Ron and Harry chattered about Quidditch while Severus, to nobody's surprise (not even his own), received a minor thrashing. Every now and then he interjected his own observations on the sport, which surprised Ron and made Harry smile. His smile had grown somewhat tense over the previous days. It was still enough to make Severus' heart skip a beat (or perhaps that was only his medication).
"Honestly, I don't think the Vultures stand a chance," Harry said, shaking his head. "Not since Krum took that header into the goal last year. I mean, he's a stunning coach, but without a decent Seeker--" Harry yawned and groaned.
"You're talking out your arse, mate." Ron squinted at the board for a second time - their matches always, always, always turned into rematches, re-rematches, re-re-rematches, usually until Harry or Hermione threatened to Banish the board across the room. Ruby had picked up Severus' king and was slurping in sleepy-eyed contentment. "Vultures absolutely demolished the Bats yesterday."
"Yeah, and Ivie Dimitrov is an even worse Seeker than that bloke the Vultures have got." Harry popped his neck. "Nice enough, but all he's got going for him is eye candy, and a few good Bludgers'll take care of that. Only got in 'cause his brother's Chaser for Bulgaria and the Bats wanted someone with a name."
Severus flicked an eyebrow and glanced at Harry. His mouth turned down at the corners; a small, cold core formed in his chest. "'Eye candy', Potter?"
Harry shrugged. "S'true. Helen was always on about him, too. Said all the time that if she wasn't married she'd have been in his pants already."
"And what about you?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, from what I've heard he only fancies women. A lot of women."
"Well, I don't see it," Ron said as one of his pawns pummelled one of Severus'. "'Course, it's not really my area." He tickled Ruby under the chin. "What do you think, jewel? Is Ivie Dimitrov eye candy?"
Ruby pulled the king out of her mouth, stuck out her tongue, and reached up to thrust the piece into Severus' nostril. It shook its slobbery head and gave a little shriek when it saw its destination.
"Ruby!" Ron made a noise between a gag and a laugh. He moved to pull her hand down. "What is it with you and that greasy git's nose?"
"Miss Weasley obviously prefers men with large noses."
Harry nearly choked. Hand over his mouth, giggling, he managed, "'Least she's got good taste."
"Ugh! That's... We've got to get you some new glasses, mate." Ron moved his rook one space too far, and had taken his hand away before he looked at what he'd done. "Wait! That wasn't what I--"
"Were this a potion, you would be fleeing bits of the ceiling right now." Severus didn't even try to bite back his grin as his queen swooped in and mangled the rook. "Well, well, well, it seems we may be approaching check."
"Not on your sodding life, Snape!"
The game ended in five moves, leaving them tied one to one, and they were halfway into a third when Severus looked over at his maritus. Harry's hollow eyes were closed behind his glasses, and his head lay against the back of the chair. He'd tucked his legs underneath himself, shoes kicked to the floor. His upper body rose and fell in a steady rhythm. He looked as peaceful as he ever had; it was broken for an instant by a sudden furrow in his brow, but the upset faded and he went back to the quiescence of which Severus never tired.
Without a word, Severus nodded to a blanket folded on the end of the bed then motioned his head towards Harry. Ron slid off the corner of the bed where he'd perched himself and picked up the blanket. He tiptoed over to Harry and tucked the blanket around his shoulders. Without being told, he also pulled off those damnable glasses and left them on the bedside table. He pushed a bit of scruffy black hair off Harry's forehead in an unexpectedly fatherly gesture.
"He wouldn't even leave the room to eat, you know," he said in a hushed voice. "We almost had to bribe him to have a sandwich."
"All of us who came up here to keep him company."
Severus scowled. He was still gazing at Harry's heart-shaped lips. "Are you implying," he hissed, without the venom he wanted to muster, "that this room was a train station during my convalescence?"
"Yeah. We - I mean, me and Herm and Mum and Sirius and Professor Lupin - we didn't want to leave him alone. Mum was afraid that if you... y'know... he'd just go right after you. I think she was right, y'know." Ron tucked the blanket further around Harry's shoulders and returned to the chessboard.
Severus watched him with a frown. He shivered at the thought of Harry following him so blindly into death. Ron gave him an odd look; Severus cleared his throat and covered with, "Sirius Black was in my room."
Ron shrugged. "A couple of times. He stayed overnight with Harry once, left in a right state. Kept going on about y--you and how much of an arsehole he'd been when you two were in school."
Severus snorted. In the previous few months, ever since Harry's holiday in a corrupted Pensieve, Black had been anything from tolerable to cloying. Severus had tried not to think about how much Harry had told him. Never thought I'd miss Black being a bastard.
"Dare I even ask what other events took place while I was beyond my own control?" he asked.
"If I tell you something, don't mention it to Harry?"
"Oh, for god's sake. What happened? Did Remus Lupin declare his undying love for me?"
Ron scowled. "That's not called for. No, what I mean is, when Herm and I talked to Harry about that bloody watch of his, we--" He shrugged. "You know Harry, he's practically Muggle-born sometimes. He hasn't grown up with wizard law, not like me and you. He actually thought that Bill and William--" Severus hid his shudder at William's mention, "--were married married. I mean, they're registered with the Ministry, but he had no idea you two are the only really married men in the whole of Britain. He couldn't figure out why the Prophet kept going on about you two like it was the biggest thing since Y--Voldemort fell. I wish I'd had a camera just to show you the look on his face. About two seconds of being totally gobsmacked, then lit up like a Christmas tree."
"Hmm. Fancy that." Severus pursed his mouth. He hoped it masked the warm burst of joy in his chest. He shifted Ruby closer to his shoulder; she made a squeaking sound and pulled the king out of her mouth. Glancing around, she looked up at Sev and smacked her lips.
Severus looked down at her. "Has your father been starving you again, Miss Weasley?"
"Are you ever going to let up on that? I forgot her bottle once." Ron ducked to the floor and came up a moment later with a bottle of milk.
"No, I don't believe I shall." Severus took it and managed to get it in her mouth without the use of his right arm. Ruby clutched the bottle in both hands and slurped away at the charm-warmed liquid.
"Oh, come on. It's not as if there's not a cornershop right in Godric's Hollow." Ron glared.
"I still don't know why you didn't think to use the Floo."
"Because you scooped her up and said she needed a walk and made poor Harry go down the shops with you for twenty minutes. I mean, how much did you buy? She couldn't eat that much in a month!"
"Only a prophylactic measure against the next time you leave my goddaughter to starve."
"She's Harry's goddaughter. You know that, don't you? You just happen to be married to him, Professor."
Severus blinked. A moment later he sniffed and settled into the pillows with a grunt. "What have you got to say about this, Miss Weasley? Are you content with Mister Potter, or shall I continue to protect you from your family?"
Ruby, still slurping, grabbed his blue hospital robe in one pudgy hand. Severus smirked.
Ron snorted. "She doesn't even know what you're saying."
"Miss Weasley, are you going to accept these slights to your intelligence?"
Ruby continued slurping.
Severus sighed. "Oh, well. You are a Weasley, after all."
Ron gave him a nodding sneer. "Ha, ha. Are you going to move?"
"I believe it was your move."
"I just went. Remember? My pawn took yours?"
"That was two moves ago. I moved my knight."
"Bollocks." Ron gave him a weary look. "You probably moved it while I was tucking Harry in. How many pieces are out of pl--?"
A sharp whimper cut him off. He and Severus both looked at Harry. Harry's brow had furrowed again; the blanket twitched around him. "No," he moaned, "not again, please. No... no, please, get it out of me..." He jerked, tossing his head. Before Ron could even get to his feet, Harry cried out.
"What the Hell?" Ron darted over and shook him. "Harry, mate, wake up."
Harry flinched. "Don't touch me! Eversor, stop it!"
"What the Hell are you on about? Harry!" Ron shook him again, harder. Harry yelped. Ron did, too, an instant later when Harry's hand clamped around his wrist and twisted. "Ow! Stop it!"
"Harry!" Severus snapped.
Harry's eyes flew open. He sat bolt upright, panting, sweating, huddling into himself. He glanced at his fingers were still wrapped around Ron, and let go with a start. Ron moved to take his shoulder, and Harry jerked backwards. "Don't touch me! Where is he?"
"Still dead, Mister Potter." Severus tried to swallow the ice that grew in his throat when Harry looked straight at him and grimaced. "I won't hurt you. I would never hurt you like that."
Ron looked back. "What's going on here?"
"Nothing," Harry rasped. He was white, white as marble, hugging himself and still staring at Severus. He looked lost, frightened, worn; he looked far too old for nineteen. "Only a nightmare."
"Somebody I knew many years ago, Mister Weasley," Severus said.
"I'd like to keep that information between Harry and myself, if it's all the same to you."
Something flashed across Ron's face; it vanished before Severus could be sure what it was, although some hint of profound confusion lingered in his eyes. A short flash of anger burned in Severus' stomach. Who haven't you told about my private affairs, Mister Potter?
"Harry, has this got to do with why you don't like anyone to touch you anymore?" Ron asked. "Only, I know you've been a basket case since this sorry git threw you out, but..." His brown eyes darted between them, a worried frown distorting his freckles.
Harry glanced at Severus. "Sort of," he mumbled. "It's not his fault."
"Harry had the most unfortunate experience of viewing the contents of a particularly toxic Pensieve. I would elaborate, but, really, it's none of your damned business."
The corner of Ron's mouth twitched as if he wanted to say something, but he only frowned and returned to the bed in silence as Harry settled back into the chair. Harry stared at them, looking for all the world like he wanted nothing more than to ignore the incident.
Without argument, Ron moved his pawn. Severus swiftly countered with his bishop. When he looked up from the board, Ron was watching him, a lopsided scowl creasing the skin around his eyes.
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