The Last Battlefield
Chapter 8 - Home
Severus clutched his head. He could feel crescent moon pains in his scalp, feel the blood threaten to drip hot and primal down his fingers. For a moment he looked up. No change. It was the same cold granite wall, covered with the thinnest layer of half-frozen condensation. The mattress on which he sat was thin, the bed skeletal beneath. In his bones he still felt its biting pressure from twenty years before.
"Are you ever going to move in there, Snape? Merlin, you're giving me the creeps!"
Severus couldn't find it in himself to respond. He merely sneered at the Auror - he couldn't even tell them apart; they were all the same with their black hoods and their stony, mask-like faces - and went back to clutching his skull.
A sudden jangle of keys from beyond the heavy steel door broke him out of his despondency. Severus stared, tensed to run nowhere, as the door opened. Three black-clad figures hovered there, along with a man in a pinstriped suit - Fudge, the Minister of Magic himself - and, like an owl that had seen better days, Arthur Weasley pushed his way through. He looked around, his lip curling in shock. "My god, Cornelius, he's a human being, not some experiment gone wrong!"
"It's only a safety precaution, Arthur. We're releasing him into Hogwarts custody--"
"You're releasing him into his own custody. After everything Severus has done--you know, if it wasn't for him, you'd be worried about one Hell of a lot more than your position." Arthur's ears had gone red, as had the naked patch on his scalp. With an irritated little shake of his head, he wrenched the keys from one of the Aurors, stormed across the room, and slammed one into the lock. "Are you all right, Severus?"
"Perfectly, Arthur. There's nothing I enjoy more than spending a Saturday afternoon being alternately dosed with Veritaserum and locked in a dank stone cell."
Arthur's eyes, narrowed and burning, darted towards him, then back to the stubborn lock. He fitted another key into it and tried again; the latch slid back with a clink and the door swung open. "Couldn't agree with you more, there. Cornelius, if I ever find out that you've allowed this to happen again--"
"You'll what, Arthur? Tell the press?"
"And a Hell of a lot more. This man is my friend. He is the godfather of my only grandchild, and a better man than you'll ever be." He held out a hand. "Come on, Severus, you'll be staying at Hogwarts tonight."
Severus closed his eyes a moment and pushed himself to his feet. He crept along, only pausing to sneer down his nose at Fudge and the pack of blood-starved hyenas hovering behind him.
Arthur followed. From the depths of his robe he produced first Severus' wand, then his glasses, then his watch ticking in what might have been a soothing manner had the situation not been so numbing. The watch read just after six o'clock; he'd been there more than five hours, half of it in the interrogation chair and half of it in the cell. A nudging at his arm tore him away from the black face with its shining Roman numerals. With a pang of gratitude, he wrapped his cloak around his chilly shoulders.
"They could have at least let you keep it," Arthur growled. He rubbed his own arms against the bitter cold so deep in the Ministry. "We're getting you to Hogwarts and putting you in front of a fire. I am so, so sorry Severus. I had no idea--"
"How is Harry?"
"What?" Arthur looked up. After a moment the stunned look melted from his face. "Ah, he's fine. Fine as can be, anyway. Sirius sent me an owl, got it when I arrived here."
He fished in his pocket and pulled out a sheaf of parchment. He pressed it into Severus' hand. Severus read as they walked.
Just got a message from Sid Naipul that you've gone to fetch Snape. Harry's still at Hogwarts (Sid said he'd told you), so best bring him here. Harry's been asking for him whenever his sleeping draught wears off. He's a little upset - aren't we all? - and he's worried about what that Skeeter woman is going to write so you might want to mention this to Hermione, see if she can get something in the Prophet before the next Witch Weekly comes out. Does Molly know when it runs?
Get that greasy git back here safe, all right? That's twice he's saved me and mine in a month now, and it probably wouldn't say much for a wizard's bond if I let him rot. I'd say more, but he'll find a way to read this and I don't want it to incriminate me.
Snape snorted. "Brilliant. That just makes the day perfect, doesn't it? A love letter from a flea-ridden cur."
"He's been worried sick. Molly broke down in tears when she heard. Can't say I blame her. She's already written a letter to the editor of the Prophet."
Severus considered making a snappish comment about needing yet more publicity, but heavy weight dragged at his bones. It drained away all his energy and enthusiasm for sarcasm. Instead, he simply asked, "How long does it take to get out of here? I want to see Harry."
Arthur patted him on the back. "The main Apparation platform is on the ground floor. We're about five levels down. Lifts don't even go this far. Ah, this way." He grabbed Severus' arm and pulled him into a stairwell.
It was only a few minutes before they Apparated outside the Hogwarts gates. Lupin was waiting for them in one of the school's horseless carriages. He had one of Black's cigarettes hanging, unlit, from the corner of his mouth. Severus paused a moment to scowl. Lupin had always radiated clean-cut wholesomeness; to see him sporting one of the trademarks of Black's hellfire image almost made him chuckle. Instead, he shuddered inside: if this was what had happened to Lupin, he wasn't sure he wanted to see anyone else.
Lupin's gold-flecked eyes caught him. A faint flush rose up in his cheeks; he plucked the thing from his lips and stuffed it into his robe. "It helped Paddy," he muttered.
"So do flea baths." Severus swept into the carriage. Somehow, he felt a little better to see the normally unruffled werewolf sporting the first signs of a nicotine habit. The sun had long since set. He lit his wand (as Lupin had done before they arrived), and a moment later so did Arthur. The inside of the carriage filled with a bright, steady, flame-yellow glow.
Severus sat across from the others; he noted the ashen strain in Arthur's skin, the heavy, dark shadows outlining Lupin's skull. "How is he?"
Lupin glanced out the window at the darkened grounds. "Shaken. Sleeping. Paddy's been with him all day, they're in his quarters. Poppy wanted to put him in the hospital wing, but Minerva and Paddy thought he'd do better someplace a little more like home."
Severus hummed and nodded. Arthur offered, "If he needs to stay someplace else for a few days..."
Lupin shook his head, still looking out the window. "One night ought to be enough. I went to the house today, reinforced the primary wards. I'm going back first thing tomorrow to set up a few more just in case. I know I saw a couple of potion detectors in my books. I just need to find them."
Severus pinched a speck of lint from his robes. "You'll want Latrocinius Periclum's Living Dangerously and Aurora Shaw's Protection Against The Darkest Hour. Chapters nine and fourteen, respectively."
Lupin glanced at him, and gave him a small, weary smile. "Thank you, Severus." He went back to staring out the window. "I spoke to Molly. She says Witch Weekly comes out on Mondays, so Hermione's trying to get an article written for the Sunday Prophet. She's talking to the Cannons tonight. Poor Ron's too upset to be starry-eyed."
"I'd put him over my knee if he wasn't," Arthur muttered. "Is there anything else you need me and Molly to do?"
"I don't think so, Arthur, thank you. We'll let you know how it all works out."
Arthur nodded. "Going to be writing a few letters tonight, I think."
Lupin's mouth twisted in a nastier smile than Severus thought the man capable. "Think I'll join you in that."
In the entrance hall they heard the sounds of students having a raucous supper in the Great Hall. Emily paced in the middle of the room. When she saw them, she flung herself at Severus and very nearly broke his ribs.
"I'm gonna pound those sons of bitches," she growled.
He returned her hug with what little energy he could muster. "I think that could cause me no end of problems. If you do, at least be Slytherin about it."
"Oh, don't worry. I will."
Arthur cleared his throat. "Well, um, I'd best be getting home then. Molly'll be worried."
Severus loosened himself from Emily's grasp. He nodded to Arthur. "Thank you." You have no idea how much I mean that.
Arthur smiled at him. It was tired but warm. "Only wish I could have done more," he said. He nodded at Vector, shook Lupin's hand, and vanished into the enormous hearth.
Emily tagged along all the way to Black's room. "You two can have my room tonight," she said. "I mean, you'll probably be more comfortable there than anywhere."
"Are you planning to sleep in the garden?"
She flushed. "Oh," she said, "I'll find someplace. Might ask Rolanda if she's got room on her couch."
Severus glanced at her and snorted. "You've finally got into Black's pants, then?" he muttered.
"Oh, sweet Jesus, no! I mean," she lowered her voice, "Rolanda would kill me. They're not much of an item, but still."
"You need to get your mind out of the gutter, Severus," Lupin said with a smirk.
"My mind has never been in the gutter in my life, at least not that you'll ever know."
"You're male. Your mind is in the gutter. We all have to deal with it, and it's easier not to deny it."
"Lupin, I don't think your mind could be in the gutter if you dropped it there." Severus was surprised by Emily's sudden titter.
"You lot've got nothing on us," she said too quickly.
"Which is yet another reason I've dedicated my life to debauching my own gender, thank you very much." Severus was oddly pleased to see Remus go pink and hear Emily's loud, vivid laugh echo through the corridors. He wasn't sure they occurred in that order, though.
At Black's door (at least, he assumed it was Black's door), Emily hugged him again, planted a kiss on his cheek (which he wasn't about to return in front of that bloody werewolf), and asked, "Have you eaten?"
"Yes, Ministerial holding cells come with a full kitchen and five-star chef--"
"Oh, hush. Happy Dumpling sound good? Or I can pester the house-elves."
He narrowed his eyes in surprise. "You've been there?"
Emily waved a thumb at Lupin. "This one dragged me along after I wasted a perfectly good Saturday frying your bacon." Her eyes darted towards Lupin and back again almost too quickly to see.
Severus arched an eyebrow but said nothing of it. "Tofu."
"What, no bacon?"
"I want tofu."
"Sirius can't stand the sight of it," Lupin explained.
Her mouth formed a silent, "Oh," and she nodded. "Tofu, then." She frowned. "What is tofu, anyway?"
"I'll explain later." Lupin knocked on the door. Mere seconds later it opened. Black had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Unlike Lupin's, it was lit.
Severus plucked his wand from his sleeve and tapped the end to extinguish it. "Not around Harry," he drawled.
Black's pupils contracted. He plucked the fag from his mouth, though, and pinched the end before stuffing it into his pocket. "He's asleep," he said. "You'll want to see him, I suppose."
"Congratulations, Black, your powers of observation are truly staggering!" Severus swept into the room. Black hung in the doorway a moment, murmuring to Lupin.
The sitting room was, as for every teacher of Gryffindor extraction, decked out in red. Black and white pillows had been tossed about; several of the white ones were littered with short black hairs. He ignored them as best he could, pushing through the middle door and trying not to cringe at the enormous Incantation poster hanging over the bed.
Harry looked very small underneath a heavy set of black and white chessboard-printed covers. He shifted a little but didn't stir.
Sleeping draught. Severus sat on the edge of the bed anyway. While it would have been impossible to keep Harry awake until the draught had worn off, unless it were a strong potion he could rouse his maritus just long enough to see that he was there.
Severus touched his shoulder. "Harry?"
He kneaded the muscle beneath his fingers. "Wake up."
"Look at me."
Slowly, more dazed than conscious, those enthralling green eyes blinked up at him. They were bright against reddened sclera. Harry squinted for a moment; his face broke into a broad, exhausted smile. "Hey, you," he slurred.
Severus smiled back as widely as he could. Before he could say anything, Harry's eyes closed again and his breathing evened. Severus leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. Harry snuggled closer until he'd formed a crescent around Severus' hip.
"James would be rolling in his grave," Black said.
"And he very likely is, but I have far more interest in making his son comfortable than in stopping his momentum."
Black snorted and fell into one of the armchairs in front of the fire. "You would, you bastard."
"Harry is alive. James is not. The decision seems perfectly simple to me."
"Hmm." Black leaned on his fingertips, silhouetted against the fire. His blunt, stubborn profile seemed to flicker in the orange light. He yawned, settled back into place. "How're you doing?"
"Better than you would like, thank you."
"Snape, I'm trying to be civil, here. Right now it's the only thing keeping me from going straight to the Ministry and gutting the place with my bare hands."
"Why on Earth--?"
"You saved my godson's life, again, and they accused you of trying to kill him. Not too happy about that."
"So it seems we finally have something in common. Hell's temperature is dropping as we--"
"We've got a Hell of a lot more in common than you'd ever admit, Snape," Black snarled. "One thing you can't deny is that we both love Harry more than life itself, even if you're a little less innocent about it."
"I'm perfectly innocent about it, Black. It seems your definition of innocence differs from mine. Are you going to be quiet, or have you got something of substance to say?"
Severus glanced back, glaring. "Well?"
"Come over here, Snape. We've got a few things we need to talk about."
"I haven't the faintest--"
"Harry told me what he saw in your Pensieve. I'm... sorry. If I'd..." He trailed off and took a breath. "If I'd had any idea I wouldn't have treated you the way I did in school."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Liar."
"Let me have a little bit of an illusion! When I'd gotten old enough to understand, I would have stopped, okay?" He hunched in his chair, squirming.
"At what birthday should I expect the change?"
"For fuck's... Look, if you hadn't killed him, as soon as Harry told me I would have hunted down that Eversor fuck myself!" Black panted for a moment, his nails digging into the arms of his chair. He rubbed his eyes. "Come and sit down. I want to be able to speak to you properly."
"I'd like to stay with Harry."
"You will do. He'll be ten feet away, nothing's going to happen to him. I'm trying to make amends here. Don't throw it back at me. Please."
Severus gazed down at Harry. He looked calm, peaceful, although that likely was only the sleeping draught. Severus ran his fingers through Harry's hair, setting it in even more disarray than normal. Exhaustion weighed him down; for once, letting Black talk seemed easier than arguing.
Feeling Harry's face just to make sure he hadn't taken a chill, Severus slid to his feet and straightened the covers around Harry's shoulders. His maritus wore Lupin's bald flannel pyjamas; they were tight across the shoulders but nearly reached the knuckles of the hand he'd flung across the bed. Severus stroked his cheek one last time and swept across the room.
Draping his cloak over the back of his chair and sitting with a prim air, he clipped, "I suggest you make your amends quickly. I don't know how long I'll be willing to listen to you blathering on."
"It'll take as long as it takes." Black shifted again. Studying his fingernails, he said, "Harry told me about you and Lucius Malfoy, too. Didn't mention you two were related, though."
"Ah." Severus started to push himself to his feet.
"You're a sick fuck, Snape, but I can't really blame you. If I had a brother who did that to me, I'd take any comfort I could get, too. Only..." His brow creased in a sharp show of pain. "Tell me you weren't still shagging that son of a bitch when you and Harry..."
"I ceased 'shagging that son of a bitch', as you so colourfully put it, before Harry had even been conceived. Harry is and has been since two Aprils ago the only person in whom I have had any vested interest. I would offer to swear it under Veritaserum, but I've had three doses today and I fear any more might make me ill."
Black's eyes flew wide. He snapped his head up and stared at Severus. "Oh, god, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I should have guessed, shouldn't I?"
"Yes, you should have."
Black slumped in his chair. "Bollocks. What happened?"
"The Ministry, in its typically wonderful and paranoid manner, deemed me a threat despite witnesses to the contrary."
"I don't understand how they could do that."
"Were you born that daft, Black, or did your mother try to drown you in the bath?"
Black's dark eyes narrowed. "I'm trying to be nice here. I mean, what made them think you, specifically, would have done it?"
Severus pursed his mouth. Leaning against the back of his chair, he laced his fingers in front of his mouth. "Nothing I haven't done before."
"In theory anyway. My primary involvement was in the creative phase. I administered the substance several times to test subjects - mostly Muggles, mind - but on the actual implementation front I only used it... once, perhaps? Twice? No more than five or six times anyway. Tell me, Black, is that what you wanted to hear? That your godson is sleeping with an unabashed murderer?"
Silence. Black stared. He seemed to have shrunk into his chair.
"I haven't done much worse, if it's any comfort."
"No," Black said in a high-pitched voice. "It's not." He wheezed, the whites of his eyes prominent and glittering. "So you invented..."
"Immolatus Compound, yes. Among others."
The word rang on the stones. It faded into silence. Severus glanced back at the bed; Harry was still sleeping. Turning his attention to the fire, he said, "Why do you think? I wanted to be a potions researcher, and I was given the opportunity."
"Black, what was your childhood like?"
Sirius stared for a moment. Finally, he shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know. Pretty typical, I suppose? Only child, Mum worked for the Ministry, Dad serviced brooms. Spent most of my time buggering about on the pitch."
"And what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Black turned red. Through gritted teeth, he muttered, "A superhero. Like in a comic book. Or a daredevil."
Severus gave him a look. "You were on a first-name basis with the casualty staff at Saint Mungo's, weren't you?"
Severus rolled his eyes. He slumped in his chair and pressed his clasped hands against the bridge of his nose. "While you were fawning over brooms and comic books, I was learning the subtle art of cauldronry and how to hide from my darling brother. I didn't have dear, sweet, doting parents. I had a grandmother who spent half of her life in bed while her innards rotted, a father who couldn't have given a damn about me after my mother died, a brother who threatened to kill my Gran and whose idea of playing included broken bones, and a cousin who would have given me the world on a platter if I'd asked. I know of five people who have known this, Black: Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy, Albus Dumbledore, Harry, and you. Three of those people don't deserve to be on that list, and I think even you can figure out which ones I mean. You'll have to pardon me if my Gran died and I was left with a choice between the Hell I knew and what looked like Heaven by compare."
There was a pause. Black almost looked as though he were thinking. Very, very softly, he asked, "So how does that give you the right to slaughter innocent people?"
Severus stared at him. Black stared back. It wasn't malicious, though, or arrogant; he simply wanted to know. Severus had to look away.
"At the time, it seemed like the sensible thing to do." He winced inside at his own answer, his own stupidity. "As long as I did what the Dark Lord wanted, or what anyone else wanted for that matter, at least I didn't have to see Eversor."
"The one who raped you."
Severus slid to the side of his chair. "Yes."
"Did he kill your grandmother?"
"As far as I am aware, Eversor never killed anybody. That's not to say he was any less of a monster than, say, Lord Voldemort."
"How in Hell can you say that? Voldemort was the most powerful, dangerous wizard--"
"My brother was a Squib, not a wizard. And how dare you tell me what he was or wasn't. I wouldn't tell you that the Dementors weren't so bad."
Black made a low, lippy sound. "Touché," he said under his breath.
"Given the choice between performing atrocities and facing my dear brother again, let's just say that when faced with the greater of two evils, the lesser becomes very attractive indeed."
"How was murdering and scheming the lesser of two evils?"
"It didn't hurt me, did it? I had all but free reign where my potions were concerned, I was doing research just like..." He trailed off. Biting his lip, Severus tried again. "I thought I was doing research just like my Gran. Of course, I might have noticed that she spent her life trying to prevent death rather than encourage it along. I suppose in my desperation to do something right, I didn't notice that I'd completely bollocksed it up."
Severus turned his sharp eyes on Black, who sat, staring, hunched and pensive. "Well?"
Black blinked. "You're one fucked-up son of a bitch, Severus."
"I know this. Are you going to demand that I never again lay a finger on your godson now that you know how much of one I am?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? Would give Harry a reason to never speak to me again."
"As pleasing as that thought is--"
"Save it. God, can't you say anything in short?"
Black rolled his eyes. "Hail the short-tongued legions of Sparta," he muttered. "Yeah, I remember a little bit from Muggle Studies. You don't have to look so shocked."
Severus said nothing. He rubbed his chest where the bit of steel lay warm against his breastbone.
"Heart giving you trouble again?"
Not in the physical sense. "No," he whispered. Taking a short breath, he said, "I trust you shan't mention any of this to anyone?"
"You have my word."
"I'd rather have a pound of your flesh. That sort of thing usually means more than someone's word."
Black snorted. "Fat chance."
"Yes, you do seem to have put on a bit of weight. I daresay Hogwarts agrees with you. You're nearly as chubby now as you were at school."
Black gave him a very rude gesture.
Severus smirked to himself. Black had never in his life been chubby. Stocky, yes. Muscular (as Severus had learned much to his distaste), yes. Squashy mounds of flesh, however, had been Pettigrew's specialty. Severus shoved aside the most amusing mental image of a soft, adipose Black bursting from his robes as he stuffed a mountain of small chocolate cakes into his mouth. Severus glanced back at Harry, who squirmed a little under the chessboard covers.
"He told me what happened today," Black murmured.
"Yeah. Apparently, when the Snitch flew up his robes it triggered a bit of a flashback to the siege. He could have handled it if the Beaters hadn't swarmed in on him. Didn't break down until he got to the changing rooms, though. He's a tough kid."
"Ah." Severus frowned. He'd gotten a second-hand account of the chaos of the siege from Emily while he lay in the hospital wing, plastered with burn salve. Harry had told him a little bit, later on, but had kept most of the details to himself. "He seems to have difficulty with crowds."
"After what he went through, I'm not surprised. I'd be a little leery of crowds myself. Um," Black scratched his nose, "you know he doesn't think it really happened to him, don't you?"
Severus dropped his head to gaze at the rug at his feet. His new shoes reflected the flames in a way he'd not seen since he'd bought the old ones. "I suspected as much. You were right in the end, you know."
"About all the Death Eaters being rapists."
"Don't you start. God, between Harry swearing up and down it didn't happen and you... You're a lot of things, Snape, but you didn't rape him."
"It was my Pensieve."
"Which still doesn't make you accountable for what those... monsters did. Harry ended up in the wrong place. The only people to blame are the goddamned Death Eaters that hurt you in the first place."
"Your support is touching, but--"
"Support, nothing. This is fact, Snape, pure and simple. You know, I don't think Harry's going to get better until he just comes to grips with what happened. It's... whatever it's called, after a shock."
"Yeah. That. I read about it after I got out of Azkaban."
Severus snorted. "You and three other members of the wizarding world."
"The condition is neither showy nor magical. Psychiatric mediwizardry has the attention span of a first year in Binns' class when it comes to anything with a less than magical trigger." He paused, and added, "Perhaps this case might be the exception? Stress induced by a corrupt Pensieve ought to hold their interest for a whole five minutes." The words left a bitter tang in his throat.
"How do you know so much about it?"
"How did she know about it?"
"Presumably by studying it." Severus glanced back as Harry made a noise. "What sleeping draught did you use?"
"Simple Sedation Mixture."
"Hmm. Amateur, but effective, I suppose. How much?"
Black frowned. "Enough. About an ounce. He had his last dose around five."
Severus pulled out his watch. It was coming up on a quarter to seven. Snapping the watch shut, he pulled himself to his feet and went to settle next to Harry again. He stroked his maritus' rabbit-fur-soft hair, letting his fingers comb through. The cool strands slid across the sensitive skin on his hands. "Harry?"
"Mm." Harry's eyes didn't flicker; he didn't budge.
"Are you awake?"
Severus chuckled. He sat there for many, many minutes. There was a unique comfort in simply being close to his maritus, in feeling his cool hair and warm skin and smelling the earthy scent that lingered around him. The scent was tarnished by something stronger that he supposed was Black, but he managed to ignore it enough for a contented smile to tickle his mouth.
Just after the hour, Harry's eyes showed a sliver of white, a sliver of green. He blinked, grimacing at the firelight. "Wha' time'zit?" he slurred.
"Evening. Were it seven in the morning the chat I've been having with your godfather would have resulted in bloodshed by now." Severus' voice was soft and gentle.
Harry tried to sit up. Severus held him back, one hand on his shoulder, the other still stroking his hair. "Lay back. You'll make yourself poorly."
Harry did but wrapped himself around Severus' hip again. Short, weak fingers prodded through the covers in a show of clumsy affection. His sleepy eyes were a little bit crossed. "All right?" he asked.
"I am now."
"Wha'd they do?"
"Nothing you have to hear about right now. If you still wish to know later, I promise I'll tell you."
Harry's brow furrowed. He glanced up at Severus. "Real promise?"
A sharp pang of sadness flashed through Severus. "Yes."
Harry nodded against the pillow. A yawn nearly split his head in two. "When's dinner?"
"I don't know. Mention has been made of the Happy Dumpling."
"I wan' Mushu pork."
Severus cracked a small grin. He stifled it quickly. "No dead bird in false nest?"
Harry glowered at him. "I want the little pancakes."
"Very well, then. You shall have the little pancakes."
"Good." Harry snuggled in closer. "Greasy bastard."
From the corner of his eye, Severus saw Black watching them. He wore a pensive look, almost pained, and he gripped the leather arm of his chair. Slowly, his mouth fell towards a frown, as though he were trying to work out some ridiculous equation. Severus turned his attention back to Harry. He knew perfectly well what was going on in Black's mind, the fine line between monster and man; he'd certainly pondered it more than enough times himself.
Once he'd woken up properly, Harry went back to his more usual self. He kept a bit of space between himself and anyone that came near. When Severus went to the hospital wing to fetch the vial of his potion that he'd asked Poppy to keep "in case", Harry waited in the corridor; during supper in the kitchens he sat at the corner of the small table by the hearth, paying more attention to his little pancakes than to the conversation.
Emily and Lupin had, indeed, visited the Happy Dumpling. Sheng, it seemed, had asked them to tell Severus that if he didn't show his face at the restaurant soon, his absence from their private arena would be called as capitulation. Severus was going to have a few words with Sheng, preferably after once again proving his superior skills over a cauldron.
It was only the five of them - Severus, Harry, Black, Lupin, and Emily - and Rolanda, who walked in while Emily and Lupin were trying to see who could fit the most almond biscuits into his or her mouth. (Rolanda won. Black looked shamefully smug at that.) Minerva had dropped by for a moment but only long enough to nick one of the biscuits and to plant a pinkish kiss on Harry's cheek, then another on Severus'. Harry had pulled his robe on over Lupin's pyjamas. By the time they'd finished eating, strands of hair were stuck to his flushed forehead.
Severus touched the air over the back of his hand. "Do you need to rest?"
Harry shook his head. "I'm fine." He dragged a few loose drops of mushu sauce around his plate with the tines of his fork. He still looked distant. Suddenly, he glanced up. "Oh, god, I've still got to give you back your pyjamas, Remus. I'm sorry, I didn't think."
"What?" Lupin looked up from where he and Rolanda were playing scissors-paper-stone for the last biscuit. "Oh, those! Don't worry about it, I'll do without for a night."
"Don't worry about it." Lupin smiled at Harry.
Harry looked a little sheepish. "Thank you," he mumbled.
Emily touched Severus' hand. "I think Filius was trying to put together a Trivial Pursuit brawl tonight if you'd like to join us. Blokes against birds again."
"Why on Earth would I want to sit around a crowded room full of stuffy academics shouting ridiculous questions at each other?"
"It's fun." She grinned, wrinkling her nose. "Come on, Remus and I are going."
He arched an eyebrow at her. "Since when have you two been on a first-name basis?" They'd been amicable enough through supper, although they'd referred to each other as "Vector" and "Lupin" over the biscuit-fitting contest. (Severus was going to need quite a bit of time to rid himself of the image of three adults - teachers at that - sitting around with shortbread protruding from their distorted mouths.) However, they'd not actually used each other's names.
"Since you needed a babysitter." She poked him in the chest. "Are you two ready to kip in?"
Harry nodded. "Sorry, not really in the mood to be social," he said quietly. Under the table, he gripped Severus' leg with sharp, clawed fingers.
"All right." She pushed back her chair. "Meet you lot in the staff room?" She lifted her eyebrows at the rest of them.
"You're going down, Vector," Black said with a wicked grin.
She flushed crimson. Severus could have sworn her eyes darted towards Lupin again. "We'll see about that, Black."
"You two aren't the only ones who know Quidditch, mate. We still outnumber you lot three to one." Rolanda smirked, her yellow eyes flashing. She picked up the pint of lager she'd had the house-elves bring her from the teachers' stash, drained it, and stretched. "Any more where that came from?"
"It's in the staff room," Black said. He looked at Harry. "You going to be all right?"
Harry nodded. "I think so, thanks."
"You know where we are if you need anything."
"Think anyone'll mind if I bring the boys?" Emily asked.
"'The boys'?" Harry peered at her.
"Three insane canines of the 'small and noisy' variety," Severus supplied.
"They're bichon frises, and they're not noisy. I think they're perfectly dear." Emily stuck a hand on her hip.
"I, on the other hand, have heard them. They're small, they yap, and the last time I saw them they dribbled all over my robes." Severus pushed himself to his feet and grasped Harry's chair to pull it out. A sinking feeling went through his chest along with a small twinge when he was unable to make it budge. Harry looked up at him and smiled anyway.
"You need to start lifting something heavier than a book if you're going to do that," he said.
"Why on Earth would I want to lift anything heavier than a book? That's what I've got you for."
"Prat." Harry pushed his own chair out. He got up and gave the rest of the table a tired smile. "G'night."
A chorus of "Good night!" and "Sleep well!" (and one "Behave!") followed them out of the kitchen. Harry walked at Severus' side, arms around his chest, glancing around at the portraits. Most of the portraits smiled or waved or greeted him; a few looked offended when Harry didn't respond.
Emily, on Severus' other side, watched him with round eyes for a few moments as she went with them to pick up the oversized rodents she called her dogs. When Harry neither acknowledged nor gave any indication he was ignoring her, she frowned a little and turned to Severus.
"You two going to be all right tonight?"
"I think so."
"You don't sound too sure."
"I'm sure enough." He staggered his step just in time to avoid bumping Harry with his arm. "Have you found a place to sleep?"
"Dare I ask where?"
"Um, going to Floo to Oxford, stay with Mum and Dad. They're just up the road from a wizarding pub, easy to get to."
She blinked at him. "What?"
"Since when have you taken to visiting your family during term?"
She shrugged. "It's a special situation."
"Rolanda would rather put you out than let you sleep on her couch."
"I didn't ask her. Thought I heard her say something about you-know-who coming over tonight."
Harry snapped his head around. "Did you just say what I think you said?"
"I was about to say! Bloody Hell, make me think he's a fungus, why don't you? Kill him, he pops back up, kill him again..." He trailed off, grumbling, fixing his attention on the walls.
Severus gave Vector a look. "So what you're telling me is that, in a castle with a full complement of amenable staff, at least a hundred unused rooms of assorted shapes and sizes, and a perfectly serviceable inn just down the road, the best you can do is your parents' house."
She shrugged one shoulder. "And?"
Severus narrowed his eyes at her, his teeth bared in suspicion. "You're a very strange woman, Emily. I'm utterly ashamed the Head of our House has so little resourcefulness that she's forced to stoop so low."
"What? I haven't seen my family since summer. They'll be happy to see me. Mum nearly burst when I talked to her."
"When did you talk to her?"
A sharp red spot appeared on each of her tanned, flat cheeks. "That's none of your business," she mumbled.
Severus blinked at her. Suddenly, his face broke out in a wry grin. "Well, well, well, seems someone's got a secret love life."
"Severus Snape, I haven't got anything of the sort!"
"Oh? Then why have you been making eyes at a certain werewolf since I arrived?"
Her eyes went wide, then narrowed to slits. "Haven't a clue what you mean."
"I think you do. You fancy him."
"Bloody well do not!"
"Then why are you blushing?"
She sputtered. "Because you're taking the piss, that's why!"
Severus chuckled. "And such easy piss it is to take, too."
Emily smacked him on the arm. "I can always let you stay with Sirius, you know. Not as if he's going to be using his room tonight."
Severus shuddered. He made a low noise of disgust. "Thank you for annihilating my libido for good."
Harry's eyes darted over, but he said nothing.
Emily pouted. "You deserve it, spreading rumours about me."
"He did say he'd go a night without his pyjamas." Severus smirked.
"Harry, can I kill him?"
Harry shrugged. "You can try."
"Bah. Probably not even worth the effort, is it?"
"Hasn't been so far." Harry unfolded his arms. His short, hesitant fingers stroked the back of Severus' hand before wriggling across his palm.
"Well, I'll just let you keep him, then. Too much of a pain in the arse for my tastes anyway."
"Not furry enough, either, if I say so myself," Severus said.
She smacked him on the upper arm until he sniggered and pulled away. Harry's mouth jerked as though he were trying to smile, but it came out a grimace. He glanced at Vector with a glint of possessiveness.
At the familiar dungeon door, she dug out her wand. "I tried to tidy a bit before Remus and I fetched dinner, but... oh, just don't look under the bed, okay?"
Severus smirked. "Look under the bed, you said?"
She rolled her eyes. "Severus, I mean it," she said through gritted teeth. She pushed the door open.
The first sight to which they were treated was one of those puffballs trotting across the floor with a brassiere in its mouth. Emily turned scarlet. "D'OYLY!"
The dog dropped its prize and wagged its tail. It panted in canine ecstasy. Emily swooped down on the mutt and cradled it like a baby. "Naughty, naughty boy! What have your brothers gotten into?"
"Uh," Harry pointed. "Looks like your knickers."
Beyond the open bedroom door, the other two puffballs were playing a splendid game of tug-of-war with something red, lacy, and very suspiciously shaped. Emily yelped, dropped D'Oyly on one of the leather armchairs in the sitting room, and raced after the other two. They vanished from sight. Seconds later there came an almighty ripping sound and the mournful wail, "Oh, that cost me twenty Galleons!"
"Shame to spend that much on knickers if nobody else is going to see them," Severus called, smirking.
The top of Emily's frizzy head poked through the doorway and her eyes narrowed. "Good thing you did before it died, then!"
"I'm touched but, really, your sentiments are a bit misdirected. You might have bothered to find someone who fancies women's underthings."
"Or women, I know. Arthur, Arthur, stop. Arthur--oh, Hell." Another bout of tearing and grumbling came from the room. "What's with you three tonight?"
Harry leaned up on his toes and whispered, "Should we leave?"
Severus shook his head. "I consider this revenge for all the times she's rifled through my drawers."
"I wasn't wearing them at the time."
"Oh. Good." Harry looked relieved.
Still smirking, Severus picked up the brassiere sitting at his feet, along with a couple of other articles of an intimate nature. Holding them out between thumb and forefinger, he took them into the bedroom. "You'll be wanting these, I expect."
With a glare, Emily snatched them from his hand and stuffed them into a small rucksack. "Thanks," she snapped.
"Would you care for me to attempt to repair your wasted twenty Galleons? I'm not an expert, but I'm passable."
She shook her head. "No, it's all right. Only... Never mind."
He arched an eyebrow. Folding his arms, he asked, "Yes?"
"Someone in particular you wanted to see that?"
"So I'm right, then?"
"No! It's... It was a lot of money, and I'm upset, that's all." She raked the hair out of her eyes. Her fingers only got caught in the explosion of corkscrews. "Dammit. Why can't I have better hair?"
He sniffed. "You shall have to take that up with your parents."
"Yeah. Might do that," she grumped.
"Do you need any help with packing for the night?"
She shook her head. "No thanks. Let me just finish tidying again and get the boys sorted, and I'll be out of your hair." Her dark brows pinched, and her narrow lower lip stuck out.
"Are you certain you'd not prefer us to stay elsewhere? Our old rooms ought to be vacant--"
"I'm sure. Anyway." She rubbed her nose and punched a pair of socks down at the top of the rucksack. "Thought it might do you - and Harry - some good to get back here. You know, where you lived when you, um, you two first... you know..."
"Ah. Thank you."
"Don't mention it." She yanked the bag's drawstring tight, clamped down the top flap, and hoisted it onto her back. With her foot, she nudged a pile of distinctly feminine items for under-robe use beneath the bed. "William! Arthur! D'Oyly! Time for your walk! Little brats."
The calamitous trio trotted towards her, stumpy tails held high and tongues hanging out in anticipation. She fished three leads from a drawer and attached them to their collars. "Good boys. You didn't eat anything Severus and Harry might need, did you?"
They looked at her. One whimpered.
"I hope that was a no. Well, come on." She tugged at the leads, and the dogs bounced towards the door. It was quite amusing to see a broad, stocky woman nearly six feet tall all but have her arm jerked from its socket by an array of tiny puffballs. "You two sleep well, okay?"
"We shall, thank you. Have fun with your parents," Severus added with a smirk. She glowered at him one last time and was dragged away.
Harry had perched on the edge of one of the leather chairs. As soon as the door closed behind Emily, he leaned back in it. "That was really weird."
Harry looked around. "Different," he said with an apprehensive note.
"Yes, well, given the inhabitants, what did you expect?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I'd sort of hoped it wouldn't have changed that much."
"Would you care to see the rest of it?"
"Have I got a choice?" Harry pushed himself to his feet and padded towards the bedroom. "It's like it isn't home anymore."
Severus caught up behind him. Leaning around, he tapped Harry underneath the chin and brushed his lips across his forehead. Harry barely flinched. "Home is wherever you wish it to be," Severus murmured.
Harry wouldn't meet his gaze. "Well, that idea's fucked then," he mumbled.
"Nothing." Harry stuck his head into the bedroom, glancing around. Where their chairs had stood now sat Emily's fat green sofa. Its matching chair was nowhere to be seen, and the desk was littered with a catastrophe of Arithmancy charts, books, parchments, scrolls, journals, and an assortment of quills and inks in various states of decay. An empty coffee mug sat on one corner. The once bare walls boasted an assortment of photographs, most of them still and Mugglish. The large bed, while no different in the innate sense, now bore an enormous wedding ring quilt on which no two scraps of gaudy fabric seemed to be the same.
Harry drooped. "No, it's not home anymore."
Before Severus could say anything, Harry slunk into the bathroom. Almost immediately came the sound of running water. It stopped a minute later, the noise replaced with a harsh sigh. Severus followed. He found Harry perched on the sink, mouth pressed hard against his clasped hands.
"Was just thinking about the first time we ever did anything in here," Harry said under his breath. "That was the first time you let me wash your hair, too, right after you got out of hospital."
Severus shifted from foot to foot. With the events of the day, he'd forgotten his indiscretions of that morning. However, they returned, interspersed with memories of Harry - much younger and far less distant - bracing himself on the tub with his arms, one leg hooked over the side and the other on Severus' shoulder, his head thrown back and his throat muscles lurching with every desperate breath. He'd let go of the bath within minutes, holding on as Severus filled him with deliberate thrusts, again and again until Harry's shriek rang clear and high against the tiles. Severus turned away just enough to hide the sudden lump in his robe.
"Um, I'll be out in a few minutes," Harry said. "I feel sort of... I don't know, I think I just want a bath after today. Might feel better after that."
Severus pursed his mouth. "Completely understandable."
"I need time to think."
"Again, completely understandable."
Green eyes turned towards Severus. They held an odd sort of sadness, like he had only then comprehended that a full era of their lives had come and gone and any attempts to recapture it could only end in heartbreak. Harry slid from the edge of the sink and started to fumble with the buttons along the back of his neck.
"I'll be out soon," he whispered. Severus had little choice but to leave him to it.
As ever, Severus found it odd that Emily kept no liquor in her quarters. She'd always claimed it was because her father had never allowed it in the house. Sometimes he wondered, though, if it wasn't simply an attempt to somehow distance herself from the giggly, showy, hard-drinking face she presented to most of the world. At the moment, it only made him curse. Harry's reaction had been somewhat less than ideal, and crippling disappointment loved the company of a crippled liver. For a moment, he considered tracking down Minerva; however, there were times when it was better to drink alone.
Instead, he flitted through a shelf of books (much less packed than he'd kept it), found something that didn't look too abysmal, folded his cloak and robe and shirt over the back of a chair, and settled in to read. The book, something called The Haunting of Hill House, seemed the sort of thing that would have held his attention were it not wandering elsewhere. He let it fall to his chest somewhere on page three.
There had been four of them that day: three of the faceless, black-clad minions and Montague. Part of him had wondered why the Sub-Director of Special Task Forces was overseeing his most recent interrogation; then, all things told, he was probably seen as quite the juiciest of special tasks. (He suspected Montague was simply the most senior Auror on duty that day and had been in much the same situation the day Lucius died, it being an otherwise dull Saturday where the Dark Arts went. It filled him with an odd sense of decay to know they couldn't be arsed to bring in proper personnel for the Last Known Locatable Death Eater.) One by one, the faceless had come forward to set the chains and administer the serum.
While Montague watched with glacial eyes, Severus, very much against his will, revealed that he'd had no idea who sent the letter. He'd had nothing to do with its creation, nothing to do with its deployment, nothing to do with the fact that the goddamned photographer picked it up. Yes, he'd suspected, but dismissed it as paranoia; only two groups that he knew of even had the formula, and one of those had been shattered beyond use. His dismissal of paranoia had been enough to lock him up, if not enough to keep him when Arthur Weasley charged in like some mad knight in rusty armour.
The chill of the indomitable stone walls still lingered in his bones. He'd not even realised it until he lay in his old bed, his bed, the weight of the day pressing against his breast and the faint sound of splashing coming from behind the bathroom door. He closed his eyes and wished he were still young and delusional. If so, it would all be a nightmare and he could simply wake up, walk into the bath, and find somebody willing to pay him attention.
He shook it off. Act your age, Severus. Nightmares are real. If you don't understand that by now you're dafter than you thought.
He left the book sitting on the bedside table and hiked the quilt up to his ear. One arm crept across the bottom sheet. It was cold and very, very empty, and the whole bed smelled of Emily and those damned dogs. He thought he caught a trace of something else familiar. He passed it off as bad memory and wishful thinking.
He was just about to pull the covers over his head and try to vanish when the bathroom door creaked open. Harry stuck his damp head out. In a moment, the rest of him emerged as well. Lupin's pyjamas clung to the moisture on his skin. (Some part of Severus' brain recalled that Harry's skin was always beautifully moist, lovely to taste, after he'd bathed. The half-wilted lump in his shorts twitched. He tried to will it down.)
It hadn't been obvious earlier how poorly fitted the pyjamas were. Black's might have been more suitable (if he had any - Severus certainly couldn't remember seeing them in the house washing hamper). These were drawn tight at the shoulders, bunched at the tops of his arms. They still hung too long at the sleeve and ankle and Harry gave the ridiculous impression of both a child wearing his father's robes and of an athlete trying to fit into an academic's world. Fits quite nicely into my world, thank you very much!
Severus snapped at the little voice in the back of his brain. It had gotten him into enough trouble that day.
Never quite looking up from the floor, Harry shuffled towards the bed. He peeled off his glasses and nearly dropped them on the floor, sliding beneath the covers and pulling them up until only his face and the top of his head were visible. He looked distant.
"How're you doing?" he asked in a low voice.
Severus feigned haughtiness but dropped it a moment later for honest misery. "Not terribly well. And you?"
The green eyes that fixed on him for the barest moment were dark, dim. They looked as though they'd had their life peeled away like a boiled skin. Harry shifted again, and the blankets covered most of his face.
"Is there anything you need?" Severus asked.
Harry shook his head, face tilted downwards at nothing. "What did they do?" he asked almost too softly to hear.
"Veritaserum, and I found myself reacquainted with both the interrogation chair and a particular holding cell." Severus reached out and stroked the surface of the quilt as it started trembling.
"They're not going to get away with it," Harry hissed. "I won't let them."
"Harry, it's over. I've no intentions of letting them--"
"Letting them, my arse! They didn't give you a choice. What were they going to say if you didn't go quietly? That you killed that idiot yourself?"
"Even with Skeeter there, they couldn't make it stick."
"They could try. And they could say things I'd rather the whole of the wizarding world didn't have to know."
Harry was quiet for a moment. He blinked. "Oh," he whispered. "So that was one of them then. I wondered what Montague meant by going to the source."
Severus looked away. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault. You were only trying to save yourself. It's Eversor's fault if anyone's."
The faintest twitch of a smile crossed Severus' mouth. It passed. "It's not as if he held me over the cauldron."
"Yeah, he only... yeah."
Some of the cold in Severus' body settled deeper. Forcing himself not to reach out for his maritus, he murmured, "I'm sorry."
Harry shrugged. "Not your fault what someone else does with your potions."
"That's not to what I was referring."
Only Harry's eyes moved. They focused on Severus. "Why are you apologising? I saw something in your Pensieve, not as if it happened or anything."
"Yes, it did."
"No, it didn't. I got scared, that's all. Don't even know why it should have bothered me." He shook his head and shifted to face the door.
"Drop it, okay?"
Severus sagged into the bed. "As you wish."
Harry sighed. "So who do you think did it? And I mean the letter."
"It would have to have been someone at the Ministry, or a Death Eater. As there is only one other Death Eater in the world and Igor couldn't brew that potion if his life depended on it, I expect some Auror someplace is currently grinding his teeth and getting ready to try again. It would explain how our friend knew about the Boneshatterer Hex. Assuming this is the same person."
Harry hunched in on himself. "Fucking bastards."
"So what do we do about it?"
"Attempt to protect ourselves."
"Sev, you're not telling me--"
"The last thing I need is to give the Ministry another reason to lock me up again. If it came to that, I somehow suspect I would be given a lovely new home with Dementors to wait on me hand and foot."
Harry turned just enough to narrow his eyes. "Don't say that."
"It's the truth. Or would you prefer I went back to omitting it?"
"You fucking bastard."
"I take it that's a 'no', then."
"Of course it's a no! But I don't want to hear you talking about going to Azkaban because some goddamned Auror can't get over the fact that you're not one of them."
"Harry, you're forgetting that I was. Some marks don't fade."
"Yes, they do. You left, none of the others did. You're the only reason those fucking Aurors weren't publicly executed to give Voldemort a laugh!"
"It still doesn't change what I did."
The glare pinpointed on him transformed into a sneer. "Think what you want, Severus. Some of us know better."
Harry shifted away from him, onto his side. The threadbare pyjamas strained across his shoulders, puckering and threatening to rip. He lay in silence, only the sharp rise and fall of his back indicating he was awake, he was alive. Severus watched. The desire to slip his arms around his Harry, to pull him close and keep him until it could somehow make amends for his, Severus', sins, was potent enough to make his fingers twitch. One of Harry's hands stole to his face for an instant, and he raked at something with his fingertips. Another tiny piece of Severus died.
After a few minutes, Harry's breathing slowed and evened. He shifted, then shifted again until he came to rest facing Severus' side of the bed. His lips were puckered, if slightly offset, and his eyelids held a strange, wrinkled tension. It didn't ease, but neither did Harry move.
For a very long time, Severus only watched him. Even strained and still, there was a beauty in the man that seemed to forgive all his sins, no matter how blind that forgiveness might be. Images that had danced in his brain that morning tried to show themselves again. Severus snarled to himself; his mind giggled, and cast forth a memory of Harry's face strained with a very different sort of tension. Traitorous as it was, his body reacted with a throb low in his belly.
You daft sod, how on Earth can you think of a thing like that right now? Even if he hadn't spent the past ten hours recovering from a flashback, he wouldn't come near you.
But he's asleep, came the small voice. In this particular instance, what he doesn't know can't hurt him, and it might give you a chance to rest. Merlin knows you need it after today.
He snapped at himself to be quiet. The small voice didn't know what it was talking about; he was perfectly fine without resorting to crass measures. Harry shifted. The quilt slid down, revealing a triangular patch of chest speckled with dark hairs beneath his tucked chin. He smacked his heart-shaped lips once before settling into quiet breathing once again.
"Harry?" Severus whispered.
"Are you awake?"
Again, no answer.
He reached out one long, yellowed finger and stroked the side of Harry's face. Silkiness at the height of his cheekbone became a subtle coarseness in the pliable skin further down his jaw. Severus let the finger run underneath Harry's chin, down his throat, to trace the edges of the pale triangle of skin. The roughness of the crinkled hairs only made the smoothness seem less real. For the first time in many a year he flashed upon the myth of angels. It was a ridiculous concept, a being hovering in flight, sword held high and vengeful, ready to strike down any and all that might dare do harm.
Harry twitched; Severus yanked his hand away. Much to his suffocating surprise, Harry shifted an inch closer. When Severus remembered how to breathe, he reached out hesitant fingers and pushed a bit of Harry's hair away from the corner of his eye. Harry didn't move, but a hint of the tension around his eyes faded.
The angelic image burned again, this time his Harry held aloft on Snitch's wings, the sword of Godric Gryffindor holding back the entire company of Aurors. Severus blinked. A shiver went through his innards. Fighting back a rush of sadness, he whispered, "You're not supposed to defend the likes of me."
Harry didn't respond. Perhaps it was for the best.
The low throb in Severus' belly hadn't abated. A weakness, almost an inevitable apathy, filled him. With a tired sigh, he leaned forward, pressed his mouth against his Harry's, and let one hand creep towards the half-hardness in the middle of his body.
The first touch very nearly scared him. It was barely a brush, a whisper of sensation in absolute silence. He bit his lip to keep from crying out. A long, slow squeeze called the rest of his blood, made him wish it were Harry's hand there, offering forgiveness words couldn't impart. Drawing his hand away and returning it to rest against the coarse black curls littering his pelvis sent shots of warmth through his nerves. It eased some of the chill he'd carried for so long, but couldn't quite thaw the glacier that had begun to form the night he sent Harry running to the Weasleys. He slid his other hand from beneath the pillow, letting his fingertips rest between Harry's cheek and the mattress.
Slowly, gradually, the layered images in his mind built: Harry gazing down at him in perfect adoration as the insistent sensation of Eversor's twisted attentions burned away; Harry beneath him, mouth slack, air rushing fast through his lungs, his green eyes shining in a cacophony of desire and trust; Harry giving him a shy glance just before ducking beneath the duvet to offer a fleeting sliver of paradise. Severus cried out as his nerves crackled in a moment of joy.
Harry's eyes cracked open. Severus froze. Harry's scarred brow furrowed, and he lifted his head. "Sev?" he asked, sounding a bit confused.
The air in Severus' lungs felt like water. It threatened to drown him, to bury him under a sea of fear. The glacier within him shifted, inching towards his heart, his mind, his hard-fought sense of self. He didn't respond. Too late did he realise his eyes were open.
"Sev, are you okay?" Blunt fingertips pushed a piece of hair from his cheek.
His lips felt like dead leaves. "Fine," he said in a strangled voice. A spasm ran down his arm to the hand still clenched in a hard fist, and he choked on a sob.
"What's wrong?" Harry bolted upright. The quilt went with him. Severus huddled in on himself, wishing for death, praying to a godless universe that he might cease to exist. He kept his eyes down, trembling. His guilty hand stayed where it was, like a child's in a sweets jar. Don't hate me. Please, I didn't mean to. Don't hate me.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. A single searing tear pooled on the side of his nose; it threatened to boil his flesh into oblivion.
Severus didn't dare look up. "Please don't go," he begged so softly he barely felt the words leave his tongue.
Harry's mouth opened with a moist sound. "For... me?"
Severus squeezed his eyes shut. He nodded far too quickly.
A sharp rush of breath made him jump. "I want to watch," Harry said. "Please."
Cool air stung Severus' eyes as they fluttered open. He glanced up, only to find Harry gazing at him. His pink lower lip hung loose, and his eyes burned with something akin to starvation. Those brilliant eyes flickered, jumping from Severus' face to his hand to his naked chest to the bed and back. Harry sat on his knees; his short fingers had clawed into his parted thighs, and his body was hunched in a way that made Severus wonder if he was actively trying not to take flight.
With the slightest of nods, Severus rolled onto his back. He paused and asked with eyes averted, "Shall I remove these?" He nudged the waist of his shorts with his wrist.
"Please." Harry's breathing was short and a little bit ragged. His soft, pink tongue darted out to moisten his lips. He swallowed.
With a mechanical nod, Severus held himself flat against his pelvis with one hand, shifting and lifting his hips and finally managing to get the black cotton shorts halfway down his thighs. He slid them off, growing dizzy and a little warm at the flush running across Harry's skin. Harry's fingers twitched as Severus grasped himself with only a twinge of desperate humiliation. He squeezed, kneading rigid, sultry flesh against his palm. A mild gasp caught in his nose; Harry finished it for him.
"My god," Harry whispered. His eyes ran over Severus' body, rapt and reverential. They lingered where his ribs no longer bulged from taut skin, where his hipbones had softened at the edges with the resurgence of flesh, where the process of his jaw no longer stood forth in a peninsula of bone. "I'd forgotten how beautiful you are."
A flush of heat ran up Severus' body to his face. He dropped his eyes, looking away, only to feel a fingertip trace the line of his cheek. It skittered across his mouth, and he strained to kiss it before it disappeared. He peeked up, a little frightened, only to see Harry press the finger to his lips, kiss it, again, again, let it linger against his mouth, his eyes closed and tensed in unspeakable adoration. The finger dropped, grazing his chin and sliding down the front of his throat as he tilted his head back. It took a meandering path down the triangle of exposed chest to the top button straining in its hole.
With slow, controlled grace, Harry brought his other hand to the neck of his ill-fitting pyjamas. The fabric strained, gave a little lurch as the button slid free. Severus couldn't stop a fragile moan. Harry rolled his head against his shoulder just enough to crack his eyes open. The next button came loose. It exposed the patch of black hair that sprouted in short, irregular curls along Harry's chest. Severus realised how much thicker it had grown since the last time he'd seen his maritus through a cloud of passion.
A moment later it struck him that, in his awe, he'd failed to keep his end of the bargain. Quickly, he drew his fist up and down, casting his head back with a moan, his left hand gripping the bottom sheet. A long ripple moved down his spine, lifting his chest, his abdomen, his pelvis. His thighs splayed just enough to expose him; even that tiny action was enough to leave him flushed and panting. He felt a glaze of sweat break out over his body as he shifted his hips in a subtle gesture of hopeful offering.
Harry's pink lower lip snagged between his teeth. He'd lifted his head and gazed at what he'd been offered. He made a soft sound, somewhere between a whimper and a sob, and made his eyes dart further up Severus' long body. They met Severus'; hope burned beneath the green. Longing did too, and terror, and something that made Severus' chest burn with the promise of, if not now, then maybe soon. It wasn't what he wanted, but it was something.
Harry undid the last of the buttons and shed the pyjama top. It fell to the bed behind him. Staring intently at his maritus, he took the finger he'd drawn over Severus' face and slid it into his mouth. His eyes fluttered closed, and he let the softest of moans. Severus did, too, his hand sliding more quickly, squeezing harder.
"My god," he whispered.
The finger slid from Harry's mouth, down the side of his neck where Severus remembered a well-placed kiss could turn his maritus into a mewling, begging cluster of nerves. Harry did nothing to stop a small cry as his fingertip ran along the crease between neck and body. He lifted his other hand and drew both down his chest, rubbing and teasing the sharp pink nipples that swelled and crinkled above careful lines of slender muscle. When they reached his hips they slid into the waist of his pyjamas; Severus groaned at sight of how poorly fitted they'd become.
Severus' left hand worked its way down his body, sliding over naked skin, came to rest with a fingertip pressed against his sore, twitching hole. He cried out, thrusting against it and into his fist. Harry stared. He swallowed hard, squeezed his eyes shut, and let them fly wide as though to prove to himself he'd truly seen what he had.
Still gazing at Severus as though he were the most perfect thing in existence, lower lip open just enough to expose a narrow sliver of small teeth, he rolled back onto the balls of his feet and stood up in the middle of the bed. His eyes were fixed on Severus' stroking finger. Half distracted and half teasing, he drew down one side of his trousers, just enough to expose the crease between thigh and body, the slight curve of his hip, the corner of an unruly thatch of black hair. The elastic band slipped as he did much the same on the other side. It caught on the bulge, dragging his erection down. Harry cried out. His legs trembled, swaying and tensing. He half crouched for a moment before he regained his balance. Beads of moisture broke out on his forehead, his upper lip. Severus couldn't break his eyes from the dark patch of hair on Harry's belly, with its narrow obelisk running up to his navel.
"Let me see you," Severus said. There was hardly space in his lungs to breathe, but he strained; shallow rushes of air ran through his chest. They hitched when Harry slid one hand into the front of his trousers and formed a fist. With his other, he untangled the waistband and pushed it down to mid-thigh. With long, slow motions, he stroked, his breaths desperate and wheezing. Suddenly, he squeezed and gave a loud cry. His body jerked. The useless flannel pyjamas fell in a heap.
Harry dropped his head just enough to gaze at Severus, panting. His hand still worked slowly, his eyes crinkled in worship and need and want and pride. "Te amo," he whispered.
"Te redamo," Severus whispered back in awe.
Harry smiled. "Scio."
Severus felt the heat creep back into his face. He looked away with a twinge of shyness, smiling. The bed rocked when Harry fell to his knees. It thrust Severus sharply into his fist and finger and he cried out, "Oh, god!" The ceiling seemed to be full of stars, and all he could imagine was him and Harry underneath them, tangled in spirit if not in form.
Far, far beyond any veil of control, he yanked his eyes away from the dark ceiling and fixed them on Harry. His hand moved faster, as did Harry's, and the two of them stared at each other, panting and whimpering, their bodies flushed. Harry was close enough for Severus to feel the heat rising from his skin, and the upset of the air as he fisted himself. Severus glanced down and saw a clear drop weeping from the end of Harry's cock. It broke some icy cage deep inside, and he let loose a deafening whimper. He whimpered again, again, each one growing deeper, stronger, turning to groans, moans, desperate high-pitched cries.
"Mi pulcher Severus," Harry murmured. "Mi angelus."
Severus nearly froze. Only his momentum, the demanding yowl of his nerves, kept him moving. Something shivered deep inside of him. It meshed with the writhe of muscles tensing, tensing, and a thin stream of fire rushed suddenly from behind his eyes to his pelvis. The world exploded in a cry.
The fire spread, rushing forth to smash a hole through the glacier in his belly. Its fragments crept through him; he felt one trickle from the corner of his eye as the world slid back into focus. Fighting to keep the rest inside, he watched with a rush of joy as Harry put forth his first burst of catharsis, dropping his head back and all but howling his triumph to the world.
Severus gazed at him in adoration from the first stiffened moment until Harry slumped sideways onto the bed. Ghostly, shining trails dripped down Severus' hip, his thigh, pooled on his belly. Harry's mingled with his; he had the distinct feeling that was how things were meant to be.
Lax fingers stroked his cheek. Severus turned his head only to meet soft lips, slightly dry. They parted a moment, as did his, and his eyes closed as he tasted moisture and life and warmth and something that he would have sworn was contentment.
Fingers lingered on his cheek even after the kiss broke. The two of them were quiet, catching their breath, catching small bursts of air from each other's mouths. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Harry whispered against his lips, "I'm home."
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