The Last Battlefield
Chapter 10 - Forward Into the Past
Mrs. Norris growled. Severus stared at the fleabag, daring her to take a swipe. Minerva's stroking hand did nothing to distract the animal.
"I shall never understand what possessed you to adopt that beast," Severus muttered, noting the casual way Mrs. Norris stretched her claws. They raked across the headmistress' desk, skimming the surface just enough to leave faint white traces in the varnish.
"She needed somebody after Argus was killed. Poor thing kept roaming the school, crying for him. You remember how he got after she was Petrified. It was exactly the same thing."
"Hmph." Severus folded his arms, leaned back in his chair. He shot a glower Minerva's way; she responded with the sweetest smile he'd ever seen.
"If it makes you feel any better," Minerva said, "I don't believe a whit of what that Skeeter woman wrote. Albus wouldn't have either, but, then, you knew that."
"Albus would have had the cow wishing she'd never been born."
"That's not very nice of you." She blinked. "But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. He always did see you as the son he never had. He was upset enough when Alastor was hounding you through the halls. Well, not Alastor, but you know what I mean."
"I never heard anything about that."
"Oh, they had rows. I walked in on them once. I wouldn't have wanted to be in Barty Junior's shoes then." She scooped Mrs. Norris off the desk and leaned back in her chair, cuddling the growling fur ball. "Albus was livid."
"With you or with Crouch?"
"Both, I think. He apologised later, but let me tell you, I let him cheat at Trivial Pursuit all he wanted for a few weeks after that."
"Oh, is that why you lot went down in the rankings?" Severus arched an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest.
Minerva smirked. Her eyes twinkled very much like Albus' had. "Why, Severus, I didn't know you'd ever bothered to follow our little competition."
"Certainly did. Emily wouldn't shut up about it."
"You ought to have played more. You've got a mind for trivia, and the boys could have used a hand at Sports and Games."
"Why would I know anything about that?"
"Remus tells me you're quite the Quidditch buff."
"Oh, he does, does he?" Severus' eyes narrowed. For a moment he pondered the practicality of coming up with a jar of fleas before the next full moon. "And how would he know this?"
"You kept correcting him when it came up over summer. Sirius is impressed as well, says if you weren't such a... Well, he says you might have had a lot of talent for commentating."
"If you weren't so dead set against it, I mean."
"I've got better things to do with my life than describe the obvious."
Severus growled. "Keep up with a bloody nineteen-year-old to start! If I were watching a match, I wouldn't be able to keep an eye on him, now, would I?"
Minerva chuckled. She scratched Mrs. Norris behind the ears until the cat's eyes closed and it gave him a snaggletoothed grin. "How are you two keeping up then?"
"Well enough, I suppose." Severus frowned, looked around. The painting of Albus, dozing over the fire, opened one sparkling eye and smiled at him. Severus couldn't help but smile, too; it faded as the portrait went back to sleep.
"You liked my housewarming gift?"
Severus snapped his head around, eyes narrowed. Minerva was smiling at him. He arched an eyebrow. "You realise you have the filthiest mind I've ever encountered, don't you?"
"Severus! Really, I'm as pure as the driven snow."
"Hmph." She pulled herself straight and did a very good job at looking offended. "I don't understand where you could get that from a perfectly innocent set of--"
"Satin sheets. Black satin sheets at that."
"I thought you liked black."
He snorted. "The colour isn't the issue."
She blinked at him. A dejected shadow fell across her face. "I'm sorry, Severus. I didn't think. I knew he didn't like anyone touching him, but I suppose I just assumed..." She swallowed. "Has he gotten any better? At all?"
"I'm only asking if he's gotten any better, not if he's a nymphomaniac. You poor dears." Her brows pinched in the middle, and she kneaded the nape of Mrs. Norris' neck between her fingers. "It must be awful for you. After the way you used to look at each other--"
"Might we change the subject?"
Minerva dropped her eyes. She pulled her thin lower lip into her mouth and let it slip free a moment later less its reserved rose lipstick. "Of course. I'm sorry." She paused, scratching the back of a purring Mrs. Norris' head. "How have you been? You gave all of us quite the scare a few weeks ago, you know."
"As I've been told." Severus glanced around. "You wouldn't happen to have any of that paint stripper about, would you?"
She blinked at him. "Oh, you mean the firewhisky. No, finally transfigured it into an empty bottle, thank Merlin. Took long enough."
"I found some brilliant Ouzo on holiday this summer, though. I think it could dissolve steel."
"Hurry up then." Severus beckoned with his fingers until Minerva dropped that excuse for a cat, turned, and pulled a large, square bottle of clear liquid from her icebox. She set it on the desk, fished a bottle of what was probably water from the icebox as well, and had filled two tumblers with it halfway before Severus could stop her.
"It's supposed to be served diluted," she scolded. "Don't look at me like that."
"I don't fucking well care how it's supposed to be served. When I want to get good and drunk, I don't want to have to muck about with social niceties."
"When you want to get good and drunk," she said, pouring one clear liquid into another so they turned milky white, "you generally don't deal with any sort of niceties at all." She handed him one brimming tumbler and raised the other. "Yasas!"
"And your fucking cat, too!" Severus necked back a quarter of the glass. The liberating sharpness of a great deal of alcohol filled his sinuses and lungs while a tingling liquorice flavour spread out over his tongue.
"Slow down!" Minerva said. She'd drained a good half of hers. "It's Muggle, but it's stronger than you think."
"Since when have you gone back to buying Muggle alcohol? I thought you learned that lesson with your tequila cack."
"Since I found out how badly a wizard can bollocks this stuff up. Don't worry, there's enough in a bottle to give you a hangover you won't soon forget."
"Hmm." Severus eyeballed the glass. Its entire contents had gone a translucent white and condensation was collecting on its sides. "I dread to think what's in here."
"I asked. You probably don't want to know."
"Oh?" He started to set the glass down.
"They make the alcohol out of grape skins."
Severus stared at it for a moment. "What do they do with the rest of the grape?"
Minerva shrugged. "Make wine, I suppose. Retsina's got to come from somewhere." She took another drink and smiled at him. "Almost like old times, isn't it?"
"Quite." Without really thinking, Severus took another mouthful of the liquid, albeit a smaller one. "I forbid you to mention this to Harry. Or Lupin. Or especially Black. Last thing I need is it getting about that I'm a raging drunk."
She gave him a secretive smile. "Not a soul." Minerva took another sip. "All right, what is it?"
"You said Ouzo."
"Severus..." She gave him a sharp, steady look. "I've already had Emily in here to tell me you broke Sirius' nose. You came back alone as well. I know you wouldn't do that if there wasn't something on your mind you didn't want Harry to hear."
"What would ever give you that idea?"
"The fact that you know perfectly well you won't tell anyone anything until you're soused. Honestly, I don't see how Harry lives with it. I couldn't."
"And here I thought you were pining over me."
"Hmm. Not that drunk yet." Minerva drained her glass, set it down to refill it. "I'm going to regret this."
"I'd say so. It's the Halloween Feast tonight. How would it look for the headmistress to show up rat-arsed?"
"No worse than it did last Christmas." She took another sip before she could explain herself. "Then, you weren't very interested in eating that night, were you?"
"Not terribly," Severus said softly. A chilly lump formed in his stomach as he thought back to the previous Christmas, the night he'd packed Harry's things away. The smell of his maritus' robes, the shaking of his hands as he denied himself the green and silver stack of presents, the pain in his fingers as he nearly crushed the edge of the trunk all lingered in his mind. Severus swirled his drink before tossing back the last of it and holding out the glass. "Don't bother with the water this time. It'll only take me longer to get chatty if you do."
She gave him a look and filled the tumbler with a careful inch and a half of water before saturating it with Ouzo. "Believe me, if I don't add the water you won't get chatty. You'll just fall over."
"Who ever said this would be a bad thing?"
Her only response was a sad sort of crooked frown.
"How did you pull him anyway?" Minerva asked when they'd both taken a fortifying drink. "I've never been entirely clear on that. Albus wouldn't speak a word, only said nothing untoward ever happened before Harry had finished school. I'll have you know I never believed a word of it."
"And rightly so." Severus had to drain half the glass before he could go on. The first dizzying fingers of intoxication stroked his brain. "Shagged the little sod rotten from the first night."
"Was his idea." He swallowed. "He ought to have been in Slytherin. Can manipulate anyone into anything once he sets his mind to it. Or I could simply be that transparent. Not that I'll admit to anything." He gazed into his glass, into the white liquid. He felt his mouth go stiff and narrow. "If I could live my life over again, giving into his advances, I believe, is one of the few things I wouldn't change."
"You're lucky you weren't sacked."
"And he's lucky he wasn't expelled."
"I know this as well. I wouldn't have allowed that. I'd have resigned and gone back to Lucius first."
"You mean back to the Death Eaters, don't you?"
A knot twisted in Severus' belly. His throat tried to constrict around the words, but the alcohol filtering into his bloodstream let them slip by. "No, I mean back to Lucius and his home. And everything that entailed." He dropped his eyes, not quite drunk enough to keep from cringing.
There was a long silence. Minerva's mouth opened with a moist sound. "Ah, you'll have to forgive me, Severus. I know you used to live with some relative or other, but... I'm sorry, my filthy mind seems to have gotten the better of me."
Severus said nothing. He heard Mrs. Norris padding across the rug, the hitch in Minerva's breathing, the clink of glass and the splash of liquid across the desk as she refilled her half-empty tumbler. When he glanced up, it was empty.
"My god," she murmured.
Severus set his quarter-full glass down, folded his hands in his lap. "I'm sorry. I'll not take up any more of your time." He started to push himself to his feet.
"Severus, sit down! My god, I always knew something had happened to you, but..."
He waited, half crouched. One hand rested on the leather-clad arm of the chair.
Minerva's brow furrowed. "Why didn't you ever tell anyone?"
"I've got my reasons."
"Never did anything without my full knowledge and consent. Up to a certain point, anyway, and that was a unique situation to say the least."
Severus looked at her. Her mouth was hard, her hands folded on the desk, her eyes sharp and dark as obsidian. The first signs of drunkenness showed in the odd tilt she'd taken, but otherwise Minerva looked as determined as he'd ever seen her. Gingerly, he perched on the edge of his seat, ready to bolt. "You shall promise never to repeat a word of this to another soul, living or dead."
"Not even Emily."
Minerva blinked in surprise but nodded. "She doesn't know?"
"Nor will she. I'm only telling you because I'm drunk. And weak."
"You're not weak."
"I'm weaker than you give me credit."
"I find that difficult to believe." Minerva frowned. "Was this what you wanted to speak to me about?"
"In a sense."
"The sense that I can either damn myself or damn Harry, and I'm not terribly keen to do either."
Minerva arched an eyebrow. "Stop talking riddles. Tell me what you mean."
"I mean--" Severus swiped for his glass and drained it. Holding it out for more, he muttered, "Fuck water, give me something that'll help, goddammit!"
Minerva scowled. She tipped in the Ouzo, though, full-strength. Fine translucent currents swirled at the bottom of the quartz-clear liquid. She set the half-empty bottle on her desk with a thump.
Severus shot her a hard glare, grabbed the tumbler in both hands, and threw it back. Fine trickles of alcohol ran from the corners of his mouth and dripped down the front of his robe. The drops soaked through, chilling his skin as it did his mouth. His tongue burned, his throat burned, his stomach had been set on fire, but still he strained to gather every drop of strength from the bottom of the glass. When no more ran, he slammed the empty tumbler on the desk and dragged his arm across his mouth.
With a sharp finger pointed at Minerva, he snarled, "The only reason I'm going to tell you anything is that fucking Sirius Black."
"What's he done?"
"Enough." Severus leaned back, hands in his lap. He squirmed against the chair. His brain was starting to bob in a sea of Greek liquor. He still had to force himself, for Harry's sake and Harry's sake alone, to open his mouth and croak, "I have to take Harry back to the house where I grew up."
Minerva scowled. "I'm sorry, Severus. I don't see the problem."
He snarled. "I do. Do you know why Harry doesn't want anybody to touch him?"
"Something to do with your Pensieve, as I understand it."
"Yes. He lived my life for me from the time my brother first violated me for his own twisted vengeance to the night my beloved brothers-in-arms decided to remind me of the experience, one after the other. Am I being too vague? I could go into far more graphic detail if you'd like."
Minerva blanched. She remained calm, though, staring at him with brittle eyes. "I didn't know you had a brother," she said in an equally brittle voice.
"Where is he now?" she asked after a long moment.
"I killed him."
Minerva blinked. Her pallid skin went ashen. "Why?"
"I couldn't stand by and watch him suffer what he'd done to me. There are some things I don't wish on anybody. One, at least."
"Why did you have to kill him?"
"Because I had no great desire to see him live either." Severus bunched his mouth. You bloody great fool! Where is your head? Get it out of the bottle and back on your shoulders where it belongs. That is the last thing you want to say!
Severus narrowed his eyes. "What other reason have I got to have?"
"I don't know. That's why I asked."
Severus went quiet. He lifted the glass once more, held it to his lips. A lone drop rolled into his mouth. Letting the tumbler slip to the desk, he whispered, "Because if he had survived and they had let him go, I might have developed some modicum of sympathy for him."
"What would that have done?"
Severus paused. "It might have made him human," he finally said. "Eversor was many things, but human wasn't one of them. Ever."
"You sound like you've thought about this."
"What if I have?"
Minerva blinked. A mournful frown pulled at the corners of her mouth and pinched the skin between her brows. "That's what you're afraid of, isn't it?"
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about, Severus Snape. You're afraid to... Forgive isn't the right word."
"Would you be quiet for five seconds and let me think?" She narrowed her eyes before letting them go distant. "Move on, I suppose. See more of life than what's happened to you."
"I've already moved on, thank you very much." Severus sniffed, leaning back in his seat as dizziness trickled around his skull. "I did that many years ago."
"I'm not so sure."
"Oh?" he asked in a bored tone.
She shook her head. "I'm not. But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. What have you done?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Since your brother... did whatever he did." Minerva dropped her eyes a moment, glanced back up at him. She took a moment to focus.
"I believe the word you're looking for is 'molestation'."
"That as well."
He shot her a cold look. Minerva returned it, a steady, serious gaze, only marred a little by the alcohol.
Severus set his jaw, arching an eyebrow and refusing to quite look her in the eye. "I left."
"How did you leave?"
"I took the Floo to my cousin's house and have never gone back."
"Is that all?"
The word "yes" tried to force its way past his lips. It was cut off by some pang of guilt and conscience. "Not precisely." He paused, searching for words. "He and I... I had never known a time when Lucius wasn't as much a part of me as my hands. He would have done anything for me. We were barely related, mind. He was my third cousin."
"But still your cousin."
"Yes." Severus stiffened at the implication.
"So you seduced him."
He narrowed his eyes. "How dare you imply such a thing?" he spat.
"You've just told me he would have done anything for you. It's not a great leap, Severus."
Severus licked his lips. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, closed it again, finally managed to murmur, "I'll go if you wish."
Minerva stiffened. "Have I asked you to go?"
"Why would you have to? I know what you're thinking."
"Then tell me."
Severus swallowed. "You're thinking about how much of a monster I must be. It's bad enough to be a Death Eater, but an incestuous catamite? I should have been locked away."
"Severus, I don't think I've ever been so insulted in my life. Is your opinion of me really so low you think I'd take a twenty-year friendship and chuck it out the window?"
Silence. Severus' mouth twitched. He huddled back in his chair, staring sidelong at the floor, balling his hands together and letting them dig into his abdomen. "This isn't about you," he muttered.
"Oh, I see. So you haven't moved on, then. You've run away." She folded her arms, weaving a bit from side to side. "Wish I hadn't had a drink now. Could give you a proper tongue-lashing." She leaned forward against the desk. "Answer me one question."
"What's going to happen if you don't take Harry... wherever your house is?"
"You've seen the paper. You know what's happened already. Certainly you can extrapolate."
"So you'll be putting his life at risk because you refuse to grow up."
He tensed. "I resent that."
"Only because it's true. You're no older than he is." Her eyes darted over his face, his form. "Maybe even younger."
"And you're still acting like a child. Something unspeakable happened to you, but if you don't come to your senses it's going to kill you and Harry. I don't think you'd mind killing yourself so much, but I'd have thought Harry meant more to you than that."
"I won't stop him."
"No, you'll send him away. Again."
Something turned over in his stomach. "That's low, Minerva."
"It's true. At least last time there was more to it than idiot pride."
"This has nothing to do with pride. I swore years ago that I would never rely on my family again!" He stabbed a sharp finger into his leg. The joint went off to the side, and a slicing pain shot through the bone. With a weak snarl, he shoved his hands into his lap.
"And that, my dear Severus, is pride. It's a house. It can't hurt you."
Severus glowered. He said nothing.
"I'm only doing this because someone's got to. You might as well paint a target on your back right now." Minerva frowned. "Say something. I don't like rowing with you, but you haven't given me much of a choice."
"You haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. Folding her hands on the desk, she crouched forward. "I know well enough that Harry's done more for you than anyone could ever have a right to expect, and it's damned selfish of you to ignore that because you haven't got the bollocks to swallow your pride and do something for him in return."
"I don't see how--"
"Well, I do. He's given up everything for you, Severus. He's lost most of his friends and now all of his freedom. A lot more than that as well. Did you know that I was the one who found him when he got caught in your Pensieve?"
"The moment I touched him, he started screaming for you to help him. He may deny it, but that boy trusts you to take care of him. I am nothing but sympathetic to anything that might have happened to you in the past, but this is now, and now is a very dangerous time." Her hooded eyes glittered, and a point of scarlet had appeared on each of her cheeks.
Severus turned his head away. "I'm perfectly aware of how dangerous the situation is. If you were that concerned, you'd have asked us to stay."
Minerva's hand slid down to the bottom drawer of her desk. Never taking her eyes off Severus, she opened it and hoisted a hefty stack of parchments and envelopes by the ribbon with which they were tied; the bottle of Ouzo clattered when she dropped it in the middle of the blotter. "Since this morning, I have received over two hundred separate demands from parents as to why I have allowed 'the most dangerous wizard in Britain' safe harbour at my school. They also know that you sent half the castle up in a fireball, and now they know about Colin Creevey. Do you really want to be forced to pretend you're not here, Severus?"
Severus gripped the arms of his chair, leaning forward as much as his spinning head would allow. "Why should that matter?"
"Because whatever happens to you happens to Harry, too. Or do you want to shove him out the door again?"
Severus winced. Before he could say anything, Minerva murmured, "No, I didn't think so."
"He could stay here. Nobody wants to hurt him."
"We don't know that."
"He's Harry Potter."
"He's Harry Snape as far as a lot of people are concerned. It was just a novelty until this happened. Some wizards are going to want to save him from you, and some are going to be ready to count him with the enemy."
"But I'm not the enemy!"
"I'm sorry, Severus. To most of the wizarding world, right now, you are. There have already been attacks made on your home. I wouldn't be surprised if the Malfoy estate has gotten the same treatment."
Severus huddled into himself, his mouth pursed and his eyes cast down to the floor. He refused to look in her direction. "If he had any sense at all he'd have left ages ago."
"But he hasn't, and I know for a fact that boy's got more sense in him than half this school put together. However, when he's forced to choose between what's sensible and what's right, he has always chosen what's right. In this case, it just happens to be staying with somebody who needs him."
Severus closed his eyes. He said nothing.
"He'll die for you. You only have to ask."
"Don't ask him."
His nails bit into his palm until the skin threatened to pop. "As I have said--"
"He won't do it. I saw what happened to him the last time you sent him away. For a while, I wondered if he'd gotten into your Unicorn Blood."
"Severus." She leaned across the desk, her eyes starting to cross. "I'm only going to say this once, and I'm going to say it now because if I wait any longer I'm going to be too drunk to do it. You are packing up your things - both your things - and you are taking Harry someplace safe. If your house isn't, you will find someplace else. But you are not going to take everything that boy has done for you and throw it back at him like the selfish brat you are."
"Yes, you shall. This is an order, Severus. Albus would tell you to do the same thing, only I expect you'd have listened to him." Minerva settled back in her chair, mouth pursed, weaving from side to side. "Now get out of here and start packing what you've got. If you need anything else, I'll ask someone to go with you to fetch it."
"You can't tell me what to do."
"I think I just did."
"You're not my employer anymore, Minerva."
"No, but I'm your friend. Go on. Get packing. Take the Floo back to Emily's room. In two minutes, you won't be in any fit state to walk."
"I resent that." Severus shoved himself to his feet. He staggered, caught himself on the edge of Minerva's desk. "So I'm a coward, am I?"
"I never said that."
"You might as well have done." He lurched across the rug to the hearth. Wrenching a handful of Floo powder from a vase on the mantel, Severus shot a cold glare Minerva's way. He threw the powder into the flames with a snap of his wrist. "Emily Vector's quarters."
He landed on the hearthrug. Both his brain and his stomach refused to stop spinning even after his body had crashed to a stop. Severus started to push himself up. Two small hands touched his back, hooked under his arms.
"Where have you been?" Harry whimpered. "Sirius said you'd stormed out. I thought you'd gone to the house."
"No. I Apparated into the forest."
"Don't scare me like that anymore." There was a sniffle. "Half the roof caved in as soon as we got there. Remus and Sirius are still there looking for you. We couldn't even get upstairs..." Harry trailed off, swallowing hard.
Severus squeezed his eyes shut. Pushing himself to a sitting position, he leaned back against the hearth. Harry fitted well into his arms; the boy broke down as soon as his face was buried in Severus' shoulder.
"I thought you were gone," he choked.
"I assure you, I'm very much still here."
"I don't want anything to happen to you."
Severus nuzzled Harry's hair. "Nor I to you." He pressed a small kiss against the top of Harry's head.
Their arms had wrapped around each other. Harry's nails tried to puncture Severus' back through his robe. Severus squeezed him. Before the Ouzo could take full control of his brain, he murmured, "Do you think I'm a coward?"
Harry shook his head. "No. God, Sev, you're the bravest person I've ever met."
Severus' eyes closed. He hugged Harry tighter. "Thank you."
"Only, don't do that anymore! You ran off without a word to anyone. Last thing you mentioned to Sirius was the house. One of these days, you're going to run off, and I won't ever see you again." Harry gulped, buried his face deeper in Severus' shoulder. "I hate you so much sometimes. Only, I don't hate you."
"That made absolutely no sense." Severus stroked the fine, curling hairs at the nape of Harry's neck.
"I hate what you do. You're so goddamned stubborn. And I wouldn't have you any other way, but it's like you don't think anymore. It's like you're so used to the idea you're immortal that you can't face it now you're not."
"I was never immortal."
"Then what the Hell were you?"
A shudder ran through Harry's body. He pulled his knees to his chest. "You don't need to remind me." He sniffled. "And you've been drinking."
"I've been having a chat with Minerva."
"What about me?"
Severus licked his lips. "Your lack of sense. Your ability to get into trouble--"
"I'm serious." Short fingers clenched at the neck of Severus' robes.
"Your fidelity." Severus brushed a bit of black hair out of the corner of Harry's eye. "Your strength. How much better you could have done than me."
"I don't want anyone else."
"That doesn't mean you don't deserve better. Or that I don't deserve worse."
Harry swallowed. "What are you talking about?"
"I haven't treated you very well, have I? I've taken you for granted."
"Let me finish." Severus pressed a kiss to the top of Harry's head. "We haven't got a home anymore, at least not for the time being. It wouldn't be fair to force you to remain locked in a dungeon here with me until we can sort our way through this mess--"
"I don't want you to stay locked in a dungeon."
"Harry, let me finish. There is, however," his dry tongue darted out to moisten his lips, "another possibility."
Harry stiffened. He looked up, his eyes red and his puffy face streaked with tears. Soft, cool fingers skittered down the side of Severus' face. "No. No." Harry's mouth jerked down in a trembling frown. "You can't send me away again!"
"I'm not sending you away. I'm going with you."
"But you just said--"
"I know. And don't ask me again in the morning. I'm too drunk right now to know what I'm saying, and I don't want you to see how much of a coward I really am."
Harry clung tighter. "You're not a coward. And I don't want you to be miserable."
"I'd rather be miserable with you than safe without you."
Harry said nothing, only clung to Severus' robe. His breath was warm, moist, a little bit erratic across Severus' neck.
Severus bent his knees to pull Harry further into his lap. The black hair beneath his cheek was soft as rabbit's fur; it wrapped around the fingers he laced through the mess and reassured him that, despite everything, he was alive. He touched his mouth once again to Harry's head, left it to rest there, hugging the obnoxious brat to his chest. Severus closed his eyes and waited for the Ouzo to make him forget what he'd just done.
There were several advantages to having Emily Vector as a friend, he'd decided. They came in the forms of Painkilling Potion, Rehydratus Perfecticus, and Noxious Nausea Draught all within easy reach of the bed. Severus drained all three bottles - several doses at least, if he was any judge (which he was) - and buried his face in a pillow.
"What was that stuff?" Harry wiggled a hand between Severus' face and the pillow to feel his forehead. "I don't think I've ever heard you moan that much. Not even during sex!"
"Minerva called it Ouzo. I now call it tequila, part two."
"Can't hold your Muggle liquor, what?"
Severus lifted his head, gave Harry the weariest look he could muster, and collapsed into the pillow again. Harry snorted and slid off the bed.
"We're nearly packed, by the way. Sirius loaned you a bit of kit since they couldn't get anything out from the upstairs. He's furious. More about the house than you, I think, but he's not too happy with you for running off like that."
"I refuse to wear the mongrel's clothing. And I thought they were looking for me."
"They gave up, decided to ask Minerva if she'd seen you. She sent them here. And too bad. Otherwise, you'll have to do the washing every two days. Unless you want to go without pants."
"Excuse me? I did hear you say 'pants', did I not?"
"Uh-huh. He said they'd probably be a bit big. I told him I didn't think you'd have to worry about that." Harry smirked. "He turned red. Thought you'd appreciate that anyway."
Severus snorted. "Well done, Potter," he muttered, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Harry chuckled. "Don't worry, you're not the only one. I got some from Remus. Not too sure about wearing someone else's pants. He said he'll do some shopping for us as soon as he can if I get him a bit of money. Are there any wizard shops in Holme?"
"None that I remember. Gran and Perditus always went to Hunstanton. Or Thornham, sometimes."
"Another village, nearer the house. Nearer than Holme, really."
"Hmm." Harry was gnawing his lip and staring into his open trunk when Severus looked up. "Better ask him to find some Muggle clothes as well then."
"You've got to be joking. Why would we need any? I grew up there, and I survived perfectly well without resorting to Muggle clothes."
"Nope, not joking. Only thought it might be better to lie low for a while, avoid the wizarding shops. Remus can exchange some Galleons for pounds while he's out."
"Which still doesn't change the issue of my clothes. I'll look a complete tit!"
"They're not so bad. I think you'd look nice in a good pair of trousers."
Severus snorted. He rolled over with a groan and fell back on the pillow. "No such thing. My god, what was in that bottle?"
"Ouzo, you said."
"Minerva said. I think she was trying to poison me."
Harry slammed the worn trunk's lid. "If she was, she's done a damn sight better than anyone else so far." He stared at nothing, gnawing his lip again. "Remus is watching Fred and Fawkes and Hedwig until we're settled, if that's all right with you."
"When did you talk to that ball of fleas, anyway? When did they even get back?"
"While you were passed out drunk on the floor. Sirius tucked you in."
A curl took Severus' lip. "I certainly hope you're lying."
"He ruffled your hair, too. Was sort of cute."
Severus rubbed his eyes. "Have we got any shampoo?"
"Wow. If that's all it takes to get you to wash your hair, I'm going to let him do it all the time." Harry wilted at the glare he received.
"I'll ask that you not make jokes about that sort of thing, given where we shall possibly be spending the rest of our lives."
Harry dropped his eyes. "Sorry." He shifted from foot to foot, looked around at the room. "They brought your Unicorn Blood and some of your equipment. If there's anything missing we'll find a way to sort it."
"And they fetched your chair. Just in case."
"Excellent. I'll ask Emily to look after it."
Harry blinked. His brow furrowed. "I thought you'd want to take it. You know, so you'll have something familiar."
"I shall have far too many familiar things once we arrive. Unlike some people, I am not completely without apprehension regarding this turn of events."
"Yeah, well." Harry sat down hard at the foot of the bed, arms wrapped around himself. "I'm scared shitless myself. Not that I was going to show it because I already know you're not happy."
Severus almost had his mouth open when a knock sounded at the outer door. He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Get that. Your godfather must have forgotten his chew toy."
"Would you be nice for two minutes?" Harry shot him a glare and trudged towards the door, arms folded around his chest. The knock sounded again, very soft and shy and nothing at all like Sirius Black's ham-fisted pounding. "I'm coming! Hold your bloody horses!" Harry shouted.
"And where are these horses you wish held? America?" Severus pushed himself up, swung his legs off the bed, and stretched. His spine gave a series of small pops. Oh, no, old boy, you're not getting old. You're simply fossilising.
"What?" Harry called. "What's this got to do with Americ--oh, very funny, Sev. They'd be lucky to hear me through the door."
"Which door? The one to the Astronomy Tower?"
"The one I'm going to shove you through if you don't behave, y'greasy bastard."
Severus snorted. He leaned forward, letting his scant weight propel him to his feet. The thick pink and green rug Emily had laid down next to the bed squished between his bare toes. He frowned; it took a moment to dawn on him who might have had such unrestricted access to his shoes in the previous hours. He made a mental note to have a little talk with Harry later about Sirius Black's relative placement to his feet (not including the occurrence of a good kick). More out of the desire to snarl at someone than out of curiosity, he followed Harry towards the anteroom.
Harry got to the door before Severus was even around the bed. It creaked open, and Severus blinked when he heard Harry cry, "Nadja! What are you doing here?"
"Hi. I heard you and Professor Snape were here. I wanted to say hello."
"Good evening, Miss Alabaster," Severus called. He padded his way around the bed. "Harry, close the door."
"I'm already doing it." The sound of a latch confirmed this.
The soft shuff shuff of feet hurried towards the sitting room door. A dark face peeked in. Nadja grinned. "I know Professor Vector lives here, and she's Head of Slytherin. I thought she might know where you were."
Severus arched an eyebrow. The girl had indeed earned her spot in Ravenclaw if tracking down the rooms of the Head of a different House was any indication. "Quite. You are progressing well?"
She nodded. A storm of narrow braids, longer and finer than they'd been the year before, whipped around her head. "I don't like Professor Corbin as much as you. He marks me too high."
Harry snorted. "Say that again?"
"I told him my Hair-Raising Potion wasn't the right colour because I added the bumblebee stings too early, and he gave me a higher mark for it. I told him that was bullshit."
"Miss Alabaster!" Severus bit his lip as Harry howled in the background. "Watch your tongue, girl." Severus padded into the anteroom, his cheeks straining with the effort not to smirk. He perched in one of the leather armchairs. "Some of your professors might take points for that sort of thing."
"Professor Corbin laughed." A scowl creased her face. "He's nice, but he's dull." She glanced up at him. "Why can't you come back and teach again?"
"I'm afraid that's somewhat out of the question at the moment."
"Because everyone's saying you're still a murdering bastard?"
Harry stiffened. Severus pursed his mouth, and a knot formed in his chest. Nadja glanced between them. She crept over to Severus and leaned up to cup a hand around his ear to whisper. "When I was nine I got my dad's wand and hexed my little cousin so he thought real frogs were really Chocolate Frogs. Then I took him to the pond behind my house. He'd eaten four of them before Dad caught me. I couldn't sit down for a long time after that. Just because I did it once doesn't mean I'm going to do it again."
The knot vanished. (There came a small wave of nausea in its place, but Severus supposed that was to be expected.) The corners of his mouth curled up in a smile. "Thank you, Miss Alabaster."
She shrugged, her head drooping. She scuffed a toe across the stone floor. "I've got to go. Nicky's waiting to go to the feast, and his girlfriend doesn't like me very much, I think. I told them I was going to the toilet. That was fifteen minutes ago."
"Ah. I understand."
Nadja dug in her pocket. She pulled out a bilious green lollipop in a clear wrapper. "Rubeus ate all my cherries," she whispered. "All I've got left is Acid Pops."
"Would this be Mister Nattery?"
She nodded. Nadja dropped the Acid Pop in his lap, hoisted herself up by his shoulders to plant a kiss on his cheek, and scurried over to say goodbye to Harry. (She looked rather shocked when he hugged her.) Nadja pulled open the door. She yelped.
Black blinked down at her, his hand raised to knock. "Miss Alabaster, what are you doing here?" he hissed.
"Am I not allowed to see my friends, Black?"
"She's a student." Black narrowed his eyes at Severus. Glancing at Nadja, he said, "Young lady, if you mention to anybody that they're here--"
"I won't, Professor Black." Her head drooped. Nadja stuffed her hands in her pockets and slipped out.
Black watched her, one eyebrow arched, his jaw set. Storming inside, he shut the door a little too hard. "That girl's trouble with a capital T."
"Harry, whatever you may think, any student who would actively seek out somebody she's not even supposed to know is still here--"
"Might even go as far as become an illegal Animagus one of these days so she can see her friends when she's not supposed to?" Harry folded his arms around his chest. His brow was pinched in annoyance. "Come off it, Sirius. She only wanted to see Sev."
"I don't care what she wanted--"
"Black, if she does anything to hinder our situation, I'll deal with her myself. Keep in mind though, should I learn you've been treating her the way you used to treat me, I'll take care of you myself as well." Severus tucked the Acid Pop into his pocket. He settled deeper into the chair, elbows balanced on the arms and fingers laced in front of his face. "Now tell me what you want, and get out of here."
Black gave Severus a sidelong glower. "I wanted to see if you'd sobered up, all right?"
"Because the feast tonight is the best time to get you two out of here. Unless that old house of yours--"
"Hush." Harry plunked down in the chair next to Severus. "I already told him everything."
Severus sniffed. "Indeed you did." Turning his eyes to Black, he snapped, "Get on with it. Unless that old house is what?"
"On the Floo Network." Black arched an eyebrow. When Severus only sat in silence, he put his hands behind his back and set to pacing in his annoying manner. "I take it that's a 'no' then."
"Of course. I had it disconnected when Perditus died."
"It's not as if I were going to use the bloody thing, is it?"
"Fine, all right. You don't have to bite my head off." Black rubbed his chin. A fine layer of stubble left a shadow across his jaw, lighter patches peppering the corners of his mouth. "Minerva's sending a couple of house-elves with you to help you get settled. She says you can keep them as long as you want."
"Which ones?" Harry asked.
"I don't know one of them, but the other one absolutely jumped at the chance. Dobby. Says he's a friend of yours, Harry?"
"Yeah, he is. I know him really well."
"As do I." Severus snorted. He shook his head. "Why don't I just go back to Lucius' house right now?" he muttered under his breath.
"Sorry?" Black glanced at him in a most suspicious way.
"Dobby used to be the Malfoys' elf," Harry said.
Black paused. He turned his head to face his godson. "I'm not sure it's such a good idea for him to--"
"No, Dobby's fine. He hated the Malfoys."
"All of the Malfoys' house-elves hated them," Severus said. "I can't exactly blame them. One was sent to our house to help take care of Eversor and I when we had scarlet fever. Gran told me once that Gaius Malfoy nearly hexed the poor thing to death when it had the gall to contract the illness."
Black's lip curled. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"Because you know more about my family than you've got a right to?"
"If you'd said something like you should have before you got Harry tangled in this mess--"
"How dare you accuse me? My past is my business, and I'll fucking well keep it to myself if I like." Severus' fingers curled into the arms of his chair.
Black froze. His eyes darted sidelong towards Severus. They narrowed. Suddenly, he collapsed into a monstrous black dog. His claws clicked on the floor like deathwatch beetles. A low growl rose in his throat as he stalked towards the chair. Severus plucked his wand from his sleeve.
"Sev, don't," Harry whispered.
"Then tell your fucking godfather to stop."
Black paused. He crouched, dropped his head in a show of submission that only made Severus brace himself. Severus didn't have time to do anything but grip his wand tighter before the goddamned mongrel crushed the air from his lungs.
A thick hand caught him by the chin. "How dare you?" Black growled. "There's not a fucking thing you can keep to yourself as long as I can't hug my godson without feeling like I'm raping him."
"Be quiet, Harry."
Severus and Black both looked at Harry. His face was turned towards the wall, his arms wrapped around himself. "What did you say, young man?" Black asked in brittle tones.
"You're making a big deal out of nothing. I got caught in a Pensieve, that's all. I'll get over it." Harry pushed himself to his feet. "Get off my husband's lap." He marched into the bedroom and slammed the door.
Severus blinked. "Oh, dear." He glowered at Black, who was still straddling his thighs. "Get off my lap this instant, or I'm going to kiss you."
"Ugh!" Black fell backwards. He tripped over the table behind him, sending the cauldron of sweets flying. It crashed into the wall. The sweets soared, a cohesive lump despite a new dent in the cauldron's side. Black caught himself just before he could hit the floor. "That's disgusting!"
"Your godson doesn't seem to think so."
"No accounting for taste," Black muttered.
Severus sniffed. He motioned with his wand. "I trust I shall have no further need of this?"
"Fine." Severus slipped the wand back into its little pocket. He folded his hands in his lap. "I assume that comment was as worrisome to you as it was to me?"
Black nodded. He set to pacing again, kicking both cauldron and sweeties out of the way. (The lump of sugary goodness remained a lump of sugary goodness, thus further cementing Severus' reluctance to ever take sweets from Emily Vector without immediate foreknowledge of their source.) His eyes darted up towards Severus. A veil of fine lines surrounded them. Severus arched an eyebrow.
Black shook his head. "Have you got your things packed?"
"Good." Black scratched his swollen nose. "Um, Remus is staying here. It'll only be Vector and me going with you. I've got an obvious excuse not to be at dinner, and Vector's saying something to the Slytherins about needing to go home for another night. Yesterday I think she came up with some story about her brother being sick. Word should spread pretty quickly."
"What, precisely, are you implying?"
"How dare you insult my House like that? There was a werewolf running loose on school grounds--"
"Severus, shut up. This is neither the time nor the place. We've both got bigger things on our minds."
Severus grunted. He hid behind his laced hands again, staring at a point just above the floor. "So, what's this plan of yours?"
Black shrugged. "Vector's going to take your trunk on the excuse that it's hers and she wants to leave some things at her parents' house in case she has to rush off again. We'll Floo you two into the entrance hall from here--"
"You bloody well won't."
"And why not?"
Severus sniffed. "Because anyone could see us there."
"Well, it's better than trying to put both of you under that Invisibility Cloak."
"Put Harry under it. He's certainly got enough practise skulking the halls unseen."
"What about you?"
Severus glanced up. "Such concern," he drawled. "If I didn't know better, I might think you're worried about me."
Black shot him a glare. "What if I am?"
"I'd say you must have hit your head someplace. I'm sure Poppy can get that sorted for you quickly enough."
"Or maybe I'm just more human than you, Snape. You may be a bitter, selfish bastard, but I'm not quite that fucked-up."
"Bollocks. You've spent a third of your life in Azkaban. If that doesn't qualify you as fucked-up, nothing does."
"Then I'm willing to pretend I can tolerate you in order to make sure my godson is all right. If you gave a flying damn about him, you'd do the same thing for me."
"You're still alive, aren't you?"
The colour drained from Black's skin. Severus cursed under his breath. Wide, dark eyes fixed on him for a long moment before they broke away. Black wrapped his arms around himself and set back to pacing. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."
"Because you wouldn't actually do it."
"Your faith in me is astounding."
"Why shouldn't it be?" Black whirled. His shaking hands curled into claws in front of his chest. He stabbed a finger at the bedroom door. "I am letting you, a confessed murderer, take my godson god knows where for god knows how long." He swallowed, raked the hair back from his face so his stubby ponytail came loose and fell around his ears, then set back to pacing. "I know you're not going to hurt him, but I know what you were and who you are, Severus, and part of me can't stop thinking, but what if he does? I don't think I'm even capable of loving anyone else as much as Harry. You don't understand what it means that I'm," he paused, shrugged, "letting him go."
"Oh, yes," Severus replied in a silken hiss. "Because nobody else in this room has ever sent him away for his own good. Certainly nobody else has done so at a time when his presence might have been beneficial."
Severus stared at Black, who stared at the floor. The shovels that served the cur for hands clenched and unclenched in a coarse pattern. He looked tired. The skin around his eyes was grey and more lined than forty-one years ought to allow. Severus had the sudden overwhelming suspicion that Sirius Black was going to shed tears that night, very much alone.
"I'm sorry about the Shack," Black said.
Black swallowed, shook his head. "The Shrieking Shack. When I told you about Remus. It was a stupid thing for me to do, and I wish I never had done it."
"Where on Earth did this come from?"
"I felt guilty for practically accusing you of trying to kill Harry, all right?" Black dug in his pocket. "Here." He pulled out something so tiny it was lost between his fingers. It fell to the table with a low clatter. A small blue stone glinted in the torchlight, gold glowing soft and warm. He waved at it. "You asked about it. There it is. That is the only part of my life I was able to keep in Azkaban, and I've never let it away from me in twenty years." He shifted. "It's yours."
Severus blinked. He arched an eyebrow at the sapphire. "What do you expect me to do with it?"
"For all I know, powder it and use it for a potion. I don't know any better way I can show you I'm sorry, though."
When Severus didn't move, Black picked the earring up from the table. He grabbed Severus' wrist and crushed the stud into his palm. "Take it."
Severus licked his lips. Black's hand was heavy and hot across his slender one. It made his palm sweat and his skin itch. Part of him tried to wrench his hand away; another part insisted that Black was just as miserable as he. "Tell me one thing."
"What? Why I sent you there in the first place? I thought it would be funny, I didn't think."
Severus shot him a glare. "I was going to ask, where did you get this fucking thing?"
Black shifted his weight and gave a lopsided shrug. "Don't tell anyone, all right? Not even Moony. Especially not Harry."
"Where I'm going, I shan't have much opportunity to tell anybody anything."
Black nodded. He didn't quite look Severus in the eye. "I nicked it from the jeweler's in Hogsmeade fourth year. The bloke at the counter dropped it after Lily had been looking at some things for her mum's birthday. He didn't notice, so I swiped it. Never even told James where I got it."
Severus closed his eyes and snorted. "As if I could have expected anything better."
Black looked as though he wanted to say something rude. He took a deep breath instead. "Yeah. I know. I was a right little bastard at school, wasn't I?"
"Yes, you were."
"I certainly hope so."
"Take care of Harry. Otherwise, I'm going to stab you to death with this thing." He tugged Severus' hand so the earring bounced against their palms. "Believe me, piercing an ear with it was painful enough."
Severus looked up at him, arched an eyebrow. He pulled himself to his feet, using Black's weight as leverage, and let go with the earring clutched in his fist. "Let's get this over with, shall we? I don't expect to get any sleep tonight, but at this rate I definitely won't."
Severus glanced down at Black. He blinked, gave a short, slight nod of his head, and swept towards the bedroom. The earring rattled in his hand.
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