The Last Battlefield
Chapter 27 - The Serpent's Lullaby
It razed him from eye to lip. Severus yelped as it came down again, catching the flat of his forearm as he raised it to block the blow.
"DON'T TOUCH ME! GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME, YOU BASTARD! I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL YOU!"
Two hands wrapped around his throat, digging, squeezing, the thumbs seeking out the rough lump of his trachea. Severus grabbed Harry's wrists. The tendons in his bruised hand slipped against each other. It seized, falling away as the pain shot through his entire arm. Someplace nearby, a door crashed open. Something massive landed against theirs.
"Goddammit, Snape, I'll tear your fucking head off!" Bill screamed through the wood.
"Harry, stop this!" Grinding his nails into Harry's wrist, Severus managed to pry one hand loose. "It. Is. Me!"
"I'll kill you, Eversor," Harry growled. "I'm going to rip your goddamned throat out, and I'm going to enjoy it!"
"Don't you even think about laying a hand on him! Your fucking friends either!"
"You're dreaming! This isn't real! I'm Severus!"
Harry's crushing hand contracted. He went still, like a predator sizing up some wild thing. The door stopped shaking; Severus heard the hasty mutter and the slow pops as a dozen rapid counter-charms ground down their only defences.
"... Sev? ..."
More voices joined the one breaking down the door. Somebody fiddled at the knob.
"Oh, my god." Harry's fingers stroked Severus' face, leaving stinging paths all along his cheek. "You're bleeding."
"If he's hurt, Snape..."
"Never mind that now."
"But you're... I..."
Harry crumpled on top of him. His body shook, verging on convulsions. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." He trailed off in choked, bound sobs.
Severus' fingers tangled with his hair. "Settle down. It isn't your fault."
A pop shook the door. Someone shouted, "Alohomora!" and the thing shuddered. Severus glanced at it. Cradling Harry against his chest, he managed to sit up. The tangled blankets bound his feet and legs. Kicking them free, he rolled the two of them so his legs hung over the edge. He wrenched the blankets loose and threw them around their naked bodies just as a whistle pierced through the door and the last major barrier broke with a crack. Half a dozen voices shouted, "ALOHOMORA!"
The thing nearly flew off its hinges. It slammed into the wall behind it, leaving a dent in the plaster. Severus half-buried his face in Harry's hair as nearly a score of people burst in with their wands raised. Bill took a running step, only to be jerked back by his hair.
"Let go of me! I'm going to rip him to shreds! You heard it!"
"Get back here!" Black wrenched him backwards. His shoulders rose and fell; his eyes were dark in the eerie yellow light of three or four wands. "You don't know what's going on!"
Everyone else was staring at the scene, some in shock, some in horror, one or two in utter sadness. Hermione bit her lip, her brown eyes darting over the pool of colourless oil that had long since soaked into the small yellow rug. A wail rose up from somewhere upstairs. Severus stiffened.
"Um, I'll check on Ruby." Hermione cast them a miserable glance that only asked what had gone so wrong and ran out of the room with tears running down her cheeks.
"What's going on here?" Arthur's voice shook, and his knuckles were white around his wand. "Severus?"
"It's under control." Severus stroked Harry's back. Harry huddled further into himself. "Leave us alone."
"I don't fucking think so!" Bill stabbed his wand at them. "Immobu--"
William grabbed his arm. The spell went wild, leaving a scorched smear across the wallpaper. "Stop it!"
"Harry, mate." Ron took a hesitant step forward, his lip curling back in confusion. "You have another nightmare or something?"
Harry whimpered. Severus nodded.
Black's shoulders slumped. He reached up to rub the bridge of his stubby nose. "Everybody out, please," he said in a soft voice.
"I'm not going anywhere." Grandad lifted his chin. Bill flanked him, his wand still raised.
"Uther, this is between me and my godsons."
"No, this is between Snape and the Aurors." Bill took a sharp step backwards. Black grabbed him by the hair again.
"You get the Aurors involved, and I'll see to it you never have another moment's peace in your life!"
"He's a fucking murderer! And a rapist to boot! Look at the floor! Do you think Harry did that?"
"Leave him alone," Harry whimpered.
"Look, Weasley." Black jerked Bill close to him and wrenched his arm behind his back. "What they do in bed is their own damned business. I can tell you for a fact that Severus is not a rapist, and if he ever became one he'd have himself offed before he finished the job!"
"Bilius, shut up." The green-haired harlot pulled him out of Black's grip and shoved him towards the door. "You heard the same things I did. Go downstairs."
"Leave us alone!"
Severus' shout rang into silence. A few members of the assembled herd shuffled backwards. Harry's fingers dug into Severus' chest. "Leave us alone," Harry whispered. "He hasn't done anything wrong."
"You heard him," came Lupin's soft voice. "Everybody downstairs. Paddy?"
"I'll get this sorted. We'll be there in a few minutes."
"I'm not going anywhere," Severus snarled.
Black's eyes lifted. They fixed his with a blunt stare stuck somewhere between tears and fire. "I'm afraid you haven't got any choice, Severus." He turned to the rest of them. "All of you, get out of here."
Bill crossed his arms. His dressing gown slid open over his chest, baring a black and green Eye of Horus. "I'm not leaving Harry alone with that psychopath."
"I'll be in here the whole time."
"I don't trust you."
A low growl formed in Black's throat. He wrapped his hand in Bill's loose hair and shoved him towards the door. "Get the fuck out of here!"
"Don't talk to me like that!"
"Bill, come with me." William glanced between the two of them. "We can wait in the hall if it'll make you happy."
"I'm not going--"
"Bill, go downstairs this instant!" Molly grabbed him by the arm and jerked him out into the hallway. "And put some clothes on!" She gave the pack a warning glower. "Everybody downstairs. I'm going to put on some tea, and anybody except Harry, Severus, Sirius, or Hermione who hasn't reported for a cup within five minutes is going to find himself blasted all the way to Saint Mungo's."
"You too, Mum. Out."
Nan snorted. She shuffled out with the twins on her heels. They glanced back, looking stricken. One put his arm around the other, and for a moment a hissing whisper passed between them.
One by one, the rest of them filed out. Ron and Lupin were the last to go. Ron glanced up at Black and hurried over to the bed. He put his arms around Harry - the both of them, really, although Severus wrote it off to default. "It'll be all right, mate. Really."
"Please don't touch me," Harry said in a small voice.
"Sorry." Grimacing, Ron pulled back. He hugged himself. "Take care of him, all right?"
Severus grunted. Black put a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Go on, your mum's on the warpath. Don't want any more disasters tonight, do we?"
Ron shrugged. He glanced at them once more and shuffled towards the door. Lupin murmured something to him. Ron only paused. He pulled the door to behind him.
"D'you need anything, Paddy?" Lupin asked. He was wearing the same worn pyjamas he'd loaned Harry at Halloween.
Black shook his head. His voice wavered as he said, "Could you give us a few minutes?"
"Of course. Um, I'll be downstairs. Don't want Molly to put me in hospital."
Black gave him a bitter leer. "Just get out of here."
Lupin blinked a couple of times. "I'll be downstairs if you need me."
When only the three of them remained, Harry's fast breathing and the wet sounds coming from Black's lungs breaking the silence, Black flicked his wand at the oily puddle on the floor. It vanished. A few more flicks and the empty bottle and the ruined sheaths flew into the bin. Severus glanced at the clock. It read half three.
"I'm sorry," Black mumbled. "This... Severus, you could have lost an eye." He squinted. "Are those bruises on your neck?"
Severus said nothing. Harry gave a weak whimper. "It was an accident."
"Yeah, well, accident or not..." Black shook his head. He sat on the edge of the small dresser next to the window. "Get dressed, you two. I won't do anything today."
"You're not taking him away."
"I haven't got any choice, Severus. I'm just down the hall. I heard everything. I mean everything." He shuddered, dragging his fingers through his messy hair. "You haven't any idea how happy I was to be woken up by... by that. And now..." He swallowed, pinching the bridge of his nose again so his face was hidden behind his hand.
"He's trying." Severus laid the bottom of his chin atop Harry's head. "You said that if that happened, you'd forget the whole idea."
"You've got blood pouring down your face and bruises on your throat. He could have killed you."
"It was my fault. I coerced him."
"Did not," Harry whispered. "I made you let me fuck you."
"Harry." Black licked his lips and took a sharp breath. "If this is... this is what happens..." He scrubbed at his eye with the sleeve of his ill-fitting dressing gown. "I can't sit back and watch this anymore. I... I won't do anything today. You can have Christmas." Black screwed up his mouth; two thin, clear trickles ran down his cheeks. "I'm sorry."
"You're not taking him away, Black," Severus growled.
"I have to. Next time, you might end up in hospital yourself. Or worse." Turning his back to them, Black snorted into his sleeve. He tipped his head back. His voice was thick, wet, and choked far down in his chest. "I'm the only one who can do anything about this, and I've made my choice."
"I'll die if you take him away from me."
"No, you won't, Sn--"
Black spun on his heel. He stared at them. "Harry, you didn't say that."
Harry wrapped his hand in the thin steel chain draped around Severus' neck. "I'll die if you take him away from me."
"I'm not taking him away." Black wrapped his arms around himself. "He can visit."
Severus snorted. "To what end? So the Aurors can swarm upon me and take me to Azkaban the moment I arrive to see the piteous young wretch I so cruelly tricked into matrimony?"
Harry cringed against him. "I want my watch."
"Did you bring it?" Severus murmured.
"It's in my pocket."
"Very well." Severus scooted down the bed, still holding both Harry and the blankets. Cool air tickled his legs. He leaned over and stretched out an arm to grope for Harry's robe. His fingers closed over the thin wool; it was starting to pill here and there. "We ought to get you some new ones. You're wearing this to bits."
A smile formed on Harry's mouth, pressed against his shoulder. "Greasy bastard. After the fuss you made about getting new ones?"
"Yes, but I am not prone to the vanity of one of the top Seekers in the country."
"Nope, just your own. Worse than Lockhart, you are."
"Hush." Severus groped in the folded mess of fabric for the watch. The cool weight shifted under his hand; it only took a moment more to find the pocket slit and withdraw it. A few flecks of green had appeared in the crest. He frowned at them. "It needs to be cleaned."
Harry shrugged. He held out his hand. When Severus placed the watch in it, he snatched it inside the blankets. Its soft, steady tick, tick, tick felt like a slow heart beating against the flutter of Severus' own.
"I'm not going," Harry said.
Black leaned against the dressed once more. "What if you hurt him again?"
"I'll just have to make sure I don't, won't I?"
"I don't believe you. I don't think you can control yourself."
Harry paused. He turned his head so the soft, thick cowlicks sticking from the back tickled the joint of Severus' clavicle. "You might be right. I'm still not going."
Silence. Black stood still as death, his arms wrapped around his chest, reddened eyes fixed on the floor. He didn't even seem to be breathing. After the better part of a minute, he took a long breath and licked his lips.
"Get dressed," he murmured. "They'll be expecting us."
The watch still ticked within the crushing confines of Harry's fist. His other arm was wrapped around Severus' waist, his face half-hidden in his maritus' rib cage. Severus rubbed his shoulder, keeping him close. Their robes were wrinkled and still reeked from the hours spent locked in a room with the cloying oil spread out across the floor, but given the situation Severus had decided that vanity was, at that moment, not an acceptable point of argument. Black, shuffling down the steps ahead of them, had dressed as well (if the result could be called "dressed"). His T-shirt pulled taut across his shoulders whenever he glanced back at them, and his ridiculous, fleece-lined Muggle trousers flapped around his lower body. The words 'The Weird Sisters' were printed down one leg.
"You're going to be fine," he said in too calm a voice. "We're going to get this sorted, and we can get back to sleep."
"Don't speak to us, Black."
"Severus, I'm only doing what--"
"Oh, I know this already. Once again, I assure you, it is completely unnecessary. Or do I need to force that into your head with a chisel and mallet?"
"Look, if I thought I had any other choice, I wouldn't do it."
"You have another choice. Leave. Us. Alone."
Black grunted. Shaking his head, he muttered, "I'll move my things into your room. Can kip on the floor."
"We don't want you in there," Harry said into Severus' side.
"I'm still--look, Harry, we'll talk about it later, all right?"
They reached the bottom of the stairs. Black paused. He raked a hand through his hair, taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long rush. "We'll get this sorted, I promise."
"We don't need your promises." Severus shot Black a sidelong glower as he ushered Harry past and towards the sitting room. His stomach jumped, threatening to spill acid all over the floor. His heart throbbed until his chest ached.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
"Shh." Severus pulled him closer as they rounded the corner and stepped into the crowded sitting room.
Fourteen sets of eyes fixed on them. The only ones still absent were Hermione's and Ruby's. Bill trembled, rising up as he squared his shoulders, giving Severus a look not unlike the Dark Lord on the edge of his temper. His pet slut gripped his hand, holding him back. The twins stared at him as though they'd been gutted. Ginny seemed near tears.
"Come in, both of you. All three, sorry." Molly moved from the couch as Black's footsteps stopped behind Severus. "Charlie, Arthur, on the floor."
"All right, Mum." Charlie hauled himself out of the flowered chair and settled between Ron and Lupin. Arthur did the same, although he perched on a piece of brickwork next to the fireplace. Grandad - Uther, it really ought to be - held firm at the far end of the couch, away from the chair. He patted the cushion next to him that Arthur had vacated.
"Come on over here, Harry. You can sit next to me."
Harry shook his head. "I'd rather sit on the end, thanks."
"Well, that's all right. You can have my spot, and," his eye twitched, "Severus can have the chair."
Harry shook his head and tightened his arm around Severus' waist. Bowing his head, he urged Severus into the room. He shivered the whole way to the couch. He tucked his bare feet underneath himself and wrapped both arms around his maritus, laying his cheek over Severus' pounding heart. Bill made a noise; Molly smacked him.
They waited until Black was settled in the chair. Arthur sighed. "Well. You two have got some explaining to do."
"He didn't do anything to me," Harry said. He frowned, glanced up, looked around; after a moment, he laid his head back on Severus' chest.
"Are you all right?" Severus murmured.
Harry nodded. "Thought I heard something, that's all."
"If he didn't do anything," Bill snapped, "why were you screaming for him to get his hands off you?"
"I had a nightmare."
Bill snorted. "Come on, Harry. None of us believes a word of that cack."
"Actually." Ron looked around, his teeth on sheepish edge. "He's had them before. He had one while I was visiting them in hospital a few months ago."
A few heads swiveled to look at him. Arthur's hand flew to his mouth. "Oh, my god," he whispered. "Harry... You haven't..."
"Haven't what?" Uther growled.
Arthur's mouth drew into a thin line. "Harry, have you or have you not taken Unicorn Blood?"
"Of course not!" Severus gaped at him. "Have a look at his hair. D'you see any white?"
"It doesn't always happen, and it can be covered up. You know that. Harry, answer me, right now."
"What's Unicorn Blood got to do with anything?" Nan asked.
Arthur bit his upper lip. "Severus has got Unicorn Blood poisoning."
Ginny made a choking sound. "You what?"
"Bloody Hell," Severus muttered. In a louder voice, he snapped, "I have inactive Unicorn Blood poisoning."
"No such thing!" Charlie said. "I did my N.E.W.T.-level Care of Magical Creatures project on animal-based toxins. You've either got it, or you haven't."
"At that time, perhaps."
"All of you, settle down." Arthur waved a hand. "Harry, I need you to answer my question."
"No," Harry murmured, "I haven't. Saw what Sev went through. You couldn't force me to take it."
Arthur released a little breath. "Thank god. I knew you'd been having nighttime fits while you were here, but I thought it was only..." He shook his head, pulling his glasses off to wipe them on a striped handkerchief.
"How can you have inactive poisoning?" Charlie asked, scowling.
"How did he end up with Unicorn Blood poisoning in the first place, is what I want to know," Bill said.
"Bill, settle down," William muttered.
"Tell him to answer the damn question."
"No. I'm staying out of this." William folded his arms and turned his face to the floor, away from Bill.
"Willful ingestion of Unicorn Blood is a felony punishable by five years in Azkaban, Professor," Percy said. He paused. "Or life, whichever comes first. It's a bit moot."
"You're not sending him to Azkaban." Harry lifted his head just long enough to send a chilly warning glare at Percy.
"Well, Harry, it's really not up to--"
"Percy, be quiet." Arthur slid his glasses back into place. "It was an emergency lifesaving measure. That law isn't applicable."
"Dad! Nobody gives Unicorn Blood as a lifesaving measure!"
"They do if the form is supposedly inert." Severus sighed. "Why am I on trial for this? I thought my impending conviction was for rape."
"It's all connected, though, isn't it?" Black murmured. He didn't look up, his nose pressed between his palms. Lupin patted him on the knee.
Harry stirred against Severus' chest again. He sat halfway up, frowning around. "Who's whispering?"
Nobody spoke up. The twins shrugged. Molly looked confused.
"Are you feeling all right, dear?"
Harry shook his head. "No."
She frowned. "Well. Let's get this mess sorted so you can have some rest."
Harry nodded. "He didn't do anything to me. End of story. Will you all just leave us alone now?"
"I still don't buy this whole 'nightmare' story." Bill scratched the back of his neck. A soft, fussy sound floated through the door. Bill glanced towards it, and went on. "Why's Harry having nightmares like that in the first place?"
"Um, actually, Severus said Harry had gotten caught in a corrupted Pensieve." Ron shrugged and glanced towards the door. A smile flickered across his face. "Can't get her to go back down?"
Hermione walked in, cradling a sleepy, fussy Ruby to her chest. "No. Just when I think I've got her settling down she kicks up a fuss again. I think she wants her daddy."
Ron gave her a sad smile and held out his arms. Hermione handed Ruby over. "Have I missed much?"
Ron shook his head. Severus snorted. Ruby looked around, blinking her crusty eyes. They fixed on him. "Theb."
"Shh." Ron rocked her. "Settle down, jewel."
"How did he get caught in a corrupted Pensieve?" Uther asked. "What corr--"
He broke off, turning his head by sharp degrees. "I think you've got some explaining to do, son."
"Why?" Miss Clearwater asked. She was perched at an odd angle in a small green armchair next to the Christmas tree.
"Unicorn Blood damages Pensieve memories," Molly murmured. "It's fairly complicated. I don't understand it that well myself."
"Oh." Miss Clearwater folded her hands on her swollen belly. "What's that got to do with Harry having nightmares?"
"They get pretty intense," Uther said. "I've heard they sometimes make you see flickers of yourself in the memories, especially bad ones. Might cause a few."
"Yes," Severus hissed, "and sometimes if the Blood has been altered, the entire Pensieve becomes toxic, and one experiences far more than flickers. I shan't go into details save to say the trauma inherent is worth more than a few nightmares."
"I think you had better go into details."
"Fuck off, Uther."
"Shh, jewel." Ron rocked Ruby. "Go to sleep."
"Theb." Ruby whimpered into her father's shoulder, reaching out a pudgy, clumsy hand.
"Want me to take her?" Nan asked.
Ron shook his head. His brow furrowed. "Who's Eversor? Has he got anything to do with this?"
"His brother, dear," Molly murmured. "He's dead now."
Ron nearly dropped Ruby. "Oh, shit. Oh, my god, Harry. That's what you've been having nightmares about?"
Harry said nothing. He remained far, far too still.
"Merlin." Bone white, Ron got to his feet. Ruby whimpered. Ron headed straight for the sofa. Black and Lupin both stared at him.
"How did you know about that?" Lupin asked. "Harry said he hadn't told anyone but me and Sirius about that."
"Um." Ron sat down between Severus and Uther. "Something Harry mentioned last Christmas. It's... it's nothing."
"Theb!" Ruby reached out, straining with both hands. Her fingertips came just short of Severus' robe. She screamed.
"Give her here." Severus leaned against the back of the sofa. He started to untangle his arm from Harry's shoulders. Harry grabbed his hand.
"Don't let go," he whispered.
"Um. Oh, Hell. Here, I suppose." Ron laid Ruby across Severus' chest, holding her until Severus got his arm underneath her. A few scattered gasps rose up.
"Ron! Take her back!" Bill shouted. "You can't give her to him!"
"Yes, I can! She's my daughter, and if she wants Severus, she can have him!"
"No, he's bloody well not!" Ron's shout rang for a long moment. He stood, panting, red in the face and ears, his long, freckled hands curling into claws. "Just shut up, Bill! I know what's going on here, and I can't blame Harry for wanting to kill that son of a bitch. If you'd done to me what Severus' brother did to him, I'd want to kill you, too!"
Bill drew back, arching a ginger eyebrow. "That's enough!"
Severus sat there, clutching Harry and Ruby until Harry squirmed and Ruby squeaked. The world in front of him grew hazy at the edges. Not here, please, not here. Not all of them. Not in front of all of them.
"What did he do, Ron?" Molly asked.
"It's all right," Harry whispered. "You don't have to say anything. I'm so proud of you." He lifted a trembling arm from Severus' waist and draped it across Ruby's back. She mewled, snuggling closer to Severus' chest. Her fingers clutched at his robe; the other tiny hand grabbed a bit of Harry's.
Severus had a sudden, brilliant mental flash of the three of them, clutching each other as though it were their last moment together on Earth. For an instant, nothing mattered, nothing but keeping Harry and Ruby safe, keeping them close, never allowing a speck of harm to come to them at Weasley hands or any other. If it means they shan't take Harry away, say it. Now, you fool! What's more important? Still, his dry tongue wouldn't form the words, and his drier lips wouldn't open to free them.
"Come on, Snape." Bill untangled a strand of hair from his eyelashes. "What's so horrible it's got my own brother turned against me?"
"It hasn't got me turned against you!" Ron snapped. "And I'm not going to make him say it because it's private!"
"Bill, leave him alone," Lupin said, hardly louder than a murmur.
"I will not! You heard Harry."
"I also know what's going on. Ron's right, it's private. If Severus wanted to say it, he'd have said it by now."
"He tried to rape Harry! No telling how many times he's done it before!"
"He didn't try to do anything to me!"
"Oh, no? Then who were you screaming at?"
"Where was his brother, hiding under the bed?"
"Still dead, Mister Weasley," Severus murmured. "Even if he weren't, I'll kill him myself before he could lay a finger on Harry."
"As has been stated, it's--"
"Private, I know. You either tell me what he did, Snape, or I'll make sure you never see Harry or my niece again!"
"Bill!" Molly yelled. The air around Bill flickered. Molly stabbed a finger at him. "Bilius Arthur Weasley, if you Disapparate you'll never set foot in this house again!"
The flicker paused. Bill's eyes locked with Severus'. They narrowed. "Sorry, Mum. Should have done this last year." He flickered once more.
"My brother raped me," Severus snapped. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Dizziness flooded through him; as soon as he realised he had spoken, he let himself sink into the cushions lest he tip forward. He swallowed hard, blinking at his own courage. Or lunacy. Still, he kept talking, anything to keep his Harry for however many or few hours they had.
"He... For more years than I wish to remember. Harry, upon accidental intrusion on my Pensieve, was forced into my place in... similar, somewhat more violent related memories. It's left him somewhat traumatised." He squeezed his eyes shut, hiding his face in Ruby's soft hair, clutching Harry closer.
"Mi angelus," Harry whispered.
A hush fell. Only Ruby's soft sounds, and what sounded very much like Black choking back tears, marred the silence for a long, long moment. Severus glanced up to see Lupin hugging Black from behind, Black clutching at his arms with whitened fingers.
"Jesus," one of the twins breathed.
"Christ," the other echoed.
There were a few uneasy shuffles. From the corner of his eye, Severus caught Molly dabbing at her cheek with a bit of her sleeve.
"It was after your Gran died, wasn't it?" she asked.
"Gran never knew. He threatened to kill her."
"Did I know him at school? He ought to have been about--"
"He was a Squib." Severus shivered. "Never let anybody convince you that a Squib - or a Muggle - is harmless."
"Still doesn't explain why you're so horrible to Harry," Bill said in a cold voice. "Or William."
"Um, Bill." William squeezed Bill's hand. "I... don't think I can listen to this. Can we...?"
"Of course, love." He pulled himself to his feet, and helped William up. Still, he shot Severus a cool look. "You're answering that question before you leave."
"All right. Excuse us." Bill led William towards the doorway. William cast Severus and Harry a soft, sad smile. Severus only glowered, pulling Harry closer.
"Ow," Harry whispered. "Too tight."
Severus relaxed his arm. "Forgive me."
"It's all right." Harry's body shook as he breathed. In a much, much louder voice, he said, "Please don't ask us any more questions."
"Hold on." Uther held up a hand. "Let me make sure I've got this straight. Because this chap here took altered Unicorn Blood, and Harry got caught in his Pensieve, Harry's been having flashbacks to Severus being... well."
"Exactly," Lupin said. He was still hugging Black, his chin resting atop the mongrel's messy dark head. "Harry told me all the memories in the Pensieve eventually started melting together, and there were some that were black threads rather than silver, and they made whoever was in them relive the memory from the subject's point of view. In this case, Severus'."
"And they attacked," Black said under his breath. Lupin hugged him tighter.
"Shouldn't that have only happened to memories he took out after he took the blood?"
Lupin nodded. He bit his lip. Black muttered, "What d'you think the Death Eaters did to make him need the shite in the first place?"
Uther went silent. Ginny made a little whimpering sound. "All of them?"
"All that were left after Voldemort fell."
"Not all," Severus murmured.
Harry lifted his head. He blinked at Severus.
"Igor. Possibly more. I wasn't terribly coherent." Severus felt as though he were floating, that his words were coming out of somebody else's mouth. He rested his face between Harry's and Ruby's heads, letting Harry's rich, earthy scent, tinged with sex and baby oil, mingle in his nose with Ruby's sweet, soft smell. Somewhere, deep within his belly, something came together; he felt complete for the first time he could remember.
Harry shifted. "All right, that time I did hear something." He paused. His fingers twitched against Severus' waist. "Someone's speaking Parseltongue! It's a snake!"
"There's a snake in the house?" Charlie looked from side to side. His eyes sparkled. Charging to his feet, he shouted, "Let's find it! I haven't seen a good, English snake in ages!"
"Um, actually," Lupin said in a soft voice, "it's not English. I think the woman at the shop said it's an American species." He gave them all a chagrined sort of smile. Patting Black on the shoulder, he hurried over to the tree and pulled a small, purple velvet-draped box from behind it. There were holes sewn into the velvet. Severus arched an eyebrow.
"You found one then."
Lupin smiled. "Should you let him open it now?"
"I suppose I can take care of it," Black said under his breath. Lupin gave him a puzzled frown.
"Bring it here," Severus said. He pressed a kiss to the top of Harry's head. "Happy Christmas."
Harry looked up at him. "You got me a snake?"
"A nonvenomous one, yes."
"Oh, wow. I..." Harry trailed off. He wrapped his arm around Severus' neck and crushed their mouths together. Somewhere on the edge of hearing, the twins and Nan whooped, and Charlie shouted something Severus couldn't understand. Harry broke away a second later, his eyes a bit wild but wide and shining. Ruby stirred in their arms, mewling.
"I think she's ready to go to sleep," Ron murmured. He reached over and pried her away from Severus' chest. Severus glared at him; something broke deep within him.
"I hardly think that was necessary."
"Well, I do. Come on, jewel. Let's get you tucked, shall we?"
"Koff." Ruby blinked sleepy eyes at Severus. She reached out for him with a fussy mewl.
"Shh." Severus caught her hand between his thumb and forefinger. "Go to sleep, and perhaps I shall have something for you as well come morning."
Ruby scowled at him. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her free hand. They drooped even as she stared at him. A moment later, she went slack in Ron's arms.
Ron smiled. "See? Told you she only wanted her daddy." He winked at Severus and got to his feet. "I'll get this little girl up to--" He yawned into her shoulder. "--Bed."
Lupin set the tank down on Harry's lap and moved out of the way to let Ron through. Harry stroked the velvet. One of his eyebrows quirked up; he started tugging at the bows holding it on.
"She says it's dark and she's frightened." He shoved the fabric back. A tiny, emerald green snake, no more than a foot and a half long, was stretched out from a branch in the middle of the small tank, reaching for the lid. Harry grinned. "She's beautiful."
"The woman I spoke to said she was a smooth green," Lupin said, watching as Harry opened the top and let the snake curl around his hand. Harry hissed, no more than a whisper; the snake jumped. She stuck her head out and started weaving figure eights through the air. Harry laughed.
"She says I look odd for a snake. Haven't got enough scales. Apparently, I've got an accent as well."
"Bloody Americans," Severus muttered. From the corner of his eye he saw Black watching them with reddened eyes. He kept blinking back moisture.
Harry set the tank on the floor and let the little snake loose to crawl up his arm. She dived into his sleeve, and a few seconds later poked her head out through the collar of his robe. Her tiny tongue flickered in and out. Harry smiled at the floor. It turned bitter. "I'll have to see if they'll let me take her with me."
"I'm not letting you go." Severus caught his hand.
"Go where, dear?" Molly asked.
Harry shook his head. "Nowhere." He stroked the watch in his hand, beneath Severus' hand, with his thumb. A sudden odd frown took his face. "Sev?"
"Can I have one more thing?"
Severus arched an eyebrow. "I thought you'd be happy with your snake."
"I am. She's brilliant. Only, I've thought of something else I want."
"Give me your estate. I want to be head of the household."
"Harry!" Percy snapped. "That's a bit rude!"
Harry pressed the watch fob. The cover flipped open. Harry laid it on Severus' trembling leg and pointed to the blank space - just enough for a single line - below his, Severus', name. "I want my name here."
Severus narrowed his eyes at him. "What are you--?"
And it struck him. Severus felt his scowl melt away, replaced with a wicked, growing smirk. He cupped Harry's chin in his hand. "How very Slytherin of you, Mister Potter."
Harry grinned. He glanced around. "What d'you need?"
"Something that can etch bronze for a start. Witnesses wouldn't go amiss, given the situation."
"What sort of witnesses?" Arthur asked. "What are you up to?"
"Ministry witnesses, ideally. Miss Clearwater, if I could borrow your husband for a few moments?"
Miss Clearwater frowned, shaking her head. "All right."
"Professor, this is highly irregular!" Percy threw up his hands. "I'm not authorised to practise any sort of contractual--"
"That's all very well and good, Mister Weasley," Severus said, sliding his glasses onto his nose and holding the watch up to his eyes. "But I am in need of a witness, not a solicitor. You might agree with me that there is some difference between the two. Has anyone got a pin?"
"Harry, what are you... doing?" Black cocked an eyebrow. "Good lord. You've found a loophole."
"His timing is excellent, wouldn't you say?" Severus glanced up. "And if the Ministry doesn't believe this is legitimate, I believe there are a handful of credible witnesses present. And you, Black."
Black sneered at him. "Very funny, Severus. You realise you'll legally be my godson again."
A long shudder ran through Severus' body. He choked back a throatful of bile and asked in a strangled voice, "A pin? Anyone?"
"Sec." One of the twins reached around and peeled an ornament from the tree. He tapped the wire hook with his wand, muttering, and tossed it towards the couch. "Careful, it's sharp."
Harry caught it. The hook caught him at the same time. He hissed, sticking his finger in his mouth. He looked down as soon as he did, hissing again. The little snake had already darted back down into his collar.
"Oh, bollocks. Accidentally called her a turnip."
Several Weasleys broke down in laughter. Severus turned to him. "You what?"
"Oi, you try being bilingual sometime and keeping everything straight."
"I believe I do," Severus sneered.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Git." He pulled the hook off the ornament and squeezed the tip straight. "Here. And be careful."
"I am always careful, Mister Potter. Mister Weasley?"
"Um, I'm afraid you'll have to explain this to me, Professor." Percy hurried over and perched in the middle of the couch. "You're signing over your entire estate with a watch?"
"Certainly. Registered Magical Object number two-nine-eight-four: Snape family register, contractual declaration of head of household and heir apparent, and binding matrimonial contract between said persons and their legal wives and husbands. I suggest you witness as you've been told." Severus bit his tongue so the tip stuck out the corner of his mouth as he lowered the tip of the wire to the face of the watch. All around he heard movement; half a dozen shadows fell over him. He glanced up to see most of the assembled Weasleys leaning over him. He arched an eyebrow.
"Sorry," a few of them muttered. They backed away enough to give him some light. Severus sighed.
"The things I do for you, Mister Potter," he muttered as he drew the first tiny line of Harry James Potter in the bronze.
By the time the words were complete, his hand was shaking. Sweat made his fingers stick together. He laid down the wire and wiped his palm on his robe. Handing the watch back to Harry, he said, "According to the terms of the contract, you now have full legal rights and responsibilities as the heir to the Snape estate. God knows Grandfather Magnus never had this in mind."
"Too bad for him." Harry looked at the watch, an odd, soft smile on his face. He turned to Severus, holding it out once more. "You understand that this is a binding contract and that, should you sign it, you will be my legal husband."
"Indeed." Severus snatched it from his hand. A light, fluttering sensation built in his rib cage as he picked up the wire once more. He glanced at Harry. "This is your last chance."
"Just sign the damn thing, you greasy bastard."
Severus snorted. "Obnoxious brat."
He hunched over, pushed up his glasses, and set to etching his name beside his maritus'. His fingers slipped at the very end, leaving a fine gash across the metal. He stared at their names for a moment.
Someone started clapping. Another joined him - or her - and another until a roar like rain on a metal roof rolled in Severus' ears. Nan stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled. A wide smile pulled at Severus' face. Harry caught his chin and turned his face towards him.
"Adipate nothe," he whispered and kissed him.
"Obnoxie pusie," Severus whispered back when it broke, his lips still tingling with warmth.
"What's going on? Why's everyone clapping?" Ron stuck his head through the door. "Harry, mate, you finally tell this greasy git where he can stick it?"
Hermione sighed. "Oh, Ron."
"All right." Molly clapped her hands twice. "Everybody back to bed."
"No 'aw, Mum's, Charles Uther Weasley! Back to bed or Father Christmas will do precisely what he promised to do earlier." She gave them all a steady, predatory glare.
"We won't be able to sleep!" one of the twins whinged.
"I don't care! Stay up if you want, it's all the same to me. Just go to your room!"
"We've got six people in there!"
"I could take the sofa if you want," Lupin said.
"Remus, I've told you half a dozen times." Molly stuck her plump hands on her hips. "You're a guest. You're not sleeping on the couch."
"But I like the couch! Really!"
She glowered down her nose and pointed towards the stairs.
Remus sighed. "Yes, Mum."
Molly's cheeks flared pink. Arthur cocked an eyebrow at her. "Are you feeling all right, honey?"
"What? Oh. Yes. Fine." She grinned at him. "Only... Well, it's been an exciting night, hasn't it?"
"I'll say." Uther pushed himself to his feet. He gave Severus a wary look. "I'll see you two in the morning, then? In one piece?"
"Dad!" Arthur snapped.
"Mind your cheek." Uther nodded to Harry (and, if only by default, Severus). "Sleep well. Come on, everyone in the room, back upstairs. Andale!"
"I can't sleep! I'm awake now! Come on, can't we just have a cake or a drink or something? It's traditional!" The protesting twin (Severus was relatively certain it was George) was steered out of the room by his grandfather, two of his brothers on his heels.
"You two coming?" Uther called.
"In a moment, if it's all right." Lupin cast him a tired smile; he stifled a yawn with his wrist. Turning back to Harry and Severus, he smiled wider. "I'm happy for you."
"You've still got that warrant out on you," Arthur pointed out. "They won't let that go without a fight."
"Hmm." Severus closed the watch - his watch, again - and held it in his lap. It felt different, from the position of less responsibility. Lighter, perhaps, or perhaps it was only the fatigue weighing at the backs of his eyes that made both the watch and him feel buoyant. "They'll have proof it was entered into properly this time. It can't harm."
"At least they ought to believe me that I would have signed it anyway," Harry said.
Arthur shook his head. "We can hope, any--"
"Come on, Arthur." Molly tugged on his sleeve. "Don't upset them. It's been an exhausting enough night without giving them nigh--keeping them awake for the rest of it."
Harry huddled a bit closer to Severus. He started a low, soft hiss, spitting in a regular stanza. The snake poked her head out through his sleeve again. She weaved it back and forth as though she were dancing.
"Let's get back to bed, too, Ginny." Nan got up and frowned down at her granddaughter. "Are you feeling all right?"
"What?" Ginny looked up. She'd gone a bit pale, the skin under her eyes a touch too dark. "Oh. Um. Tired."
"Get to bed," Severus said. Ginny gave him a solemn, stark glance and a faint, brittle smile.
"G'night, Professor," she whispered.
"Goodnight. I expect you to sleep well."
Ginny nodded. She got to her ungainly feet in not the gentlest of ways - Severus winced inside as she bent over, twisting her back - and hurried out with Nan just behind.
"Sleep well!" Nan called. "Or not!" she added with a chuckle.
Black snorted. Nobody else said a word.
"Um, yes, well." Percy coughed into his fist. "Penny, dear? Shall we?"
"I suppose. Help me up, would you?" She held out a hand. Percy scurried over and hoisted her out of her chair. Severus smirked to himself. Should be doing that yourself in a few months, old boy.
"What's so funny?" Harry asked. Severus looked down to find Harry staring at him.
"I wouldn't know."
"You were smiling." He glanced at Miss Clearwater. "That much then?" he whispered.
Harry nodded. He laid his head back on Severus' chest. Once more, the soft, measured hiss escaped his lips.
"Will the four of you be all right in here?" Molly asked.
"They'll be fine, dear." Arthur kissed her on the temple. "Come on, back to bed."
"Let me just put the kettle--"
"I'm sure they're all capable of putting the kettle on if they want it."
Severus, Harry, and Black all turned to look at Lupin. Harry's fingers dug into Severus' side. Lupin looked oblivious.
"We'll be fine, Molly, thank you," he said with a pacific smile.
"Well, if you're sure..." She trailed off, looking expectant until Arthur prodded her. "Off to bed, or I'll tell the twins they can open their presents now."
Amazing how fast she could move when inspired, really.
Darting through to lay a kiss on each of their cheeks (flushing again when she got to Lupin), Molly murmured hasty goodnights and fled. Arthur grinned.
"Sort of like Muggle engineering, really. They've had to learn to apply pressure in just the right spot. Well, goodnight."
A minute later when Arthur had left, Lupin fell onto the couch next to Severus with a wry smirk on his face. "Anyone get the feeling Molly fancies me a bit?"
Harry snorted. "She's fancied you since the day, um, since we were at Fortescue's. At least."
Lupin shook his head. "Don't see it myself. Can't say Emily'd be too pleased, either."
"What exactly is up with you two, anyway?"
"Friends with benefits, that's all."
Severus snorted. "Ha!"
Lupin scowled at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Haven't said a word."
"Absolutely nothing." Severus laid his hand (with the watch still clutched in it) in his lap, focusing his attention on the glittering tree. He arched an eyebrow at the mound of presents beneath. "I certainly hope some of those are for me."
Lupin tilted his chin at Harry. "Think you've already got your present." He blinked at Black. "You're awfully quiet, Padfoot."
"Hmm." Black had propped his elbows on the arms of the chair and laid his stubbly chin on his clasped fists. His eyes darted towards Severus. "You're next of kin then."
Severus pulled himself tall. "Indeed."
"Not much I can do unless something happens to you."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "Is that a threat?"
Black shook his head. "No. Only, I was going to say, if you die on us again, I'll bring you back and kill you myself."
"Not really." Black shifted in his seat. "With a few scratches in a bit of metal, you've taken away all authority I've got to do anything to Harry without your approval."
Lupin leaned forward. "Paddy, what are you talking about?"
"He was sending me to Saint Mungo's tomorrow," Harry said. His voice held no inflection, no lilt.
"Oh." Lupin dropped his head. "That's why Severus didn't pitch a fit when everyone started clapping, isn't it?"
"It certainly is not! I've just got my husband back, and I haven't any further obligations towards my fucking family if I decide I don't want them. It's got nothing to do with Saint Mungo's."
Lupin patted his knee. "Right." Before Severus could snap at him, he got up and stretched. "Well, I'm off to bed. Are you coming, Paddy?"
Black shook his head. "Think I'll kip on their floor, actually. You can have my bed."
"You will not!" Severus snapped as Harry snarled, "We already told you, we're fine."
"I want to make sure for myself."
"I really don't think it'll be necessary." Lupin scratched the back of his head. "You realise that Severus will step on you first chance he gets."
Black snorted. "Moony, as much as he weighs, I don't think I'd even notice."
Severus nearly threw a cushion at him. "Just for that, I'm jumping up and down a few times on the way through!"
Lupin laughed. Much to Severus' distaste, he reached down and ruffled his hair. Severus growled.
"I'll thank you to keep your hands off my person, Lupin."
Lupin grinned. "Too late." He ruffled Severus' hair again. Severus swatted at him.
"Only looking." He picked at a few strands of Severus' widow's peak, drawing it between his fingers until the strands fell free. "We've got something in common now, haven't we?"
"Why? Have you taken Unicorn Blood without informing me? We'll all be better off if you have."
Lupin shook his head. He reached up and, with a self-deprecating grimace, plucked at the white patch in his own hair. "Woke up with this the morning after I re-did your Mark. Reckon it was a bit stressful."
"Hmm." Severus glowered up at him. "Are you quite finished?"
"I think so. Tired. Wonder if Charlie's hexed the twins yet?"
"I wouldn't know." Severus snorted. He shifted against the back of the sofa. "Thank you."
Lupin arched an eyebrow. "For?"
Severus shot him a glare. "What were we just discussing?"
"Ah, right." Lupin reached out to stroke Severus' white streak once more; Severus snarled and pulled away. Lupin smiled anyway. "Anytime. Goodnight."
"G'night, Remus," Harry murmured. He yawned into Severus' side.
"Get some rest." Lupin ruffled Harry's hair for a bare instant, then Black's. "You all right, Padfoot?"
"Will be, I suppose."
"I'm down the hall if you need me."
Black grunted. Lupin clapped him on the shoulder and trudged out, yawning into his arm.
"You'd better go before you lose your bed," Harry said with a nasty edge in his voice.
"Just because I can't make you go into hospital anymore doesn't mean I trust you not to hurt Severus again." He snorted. "Speaking of which, there's some Grandpa Claudius' in the kitchen. I think you ought to get your husband sorted."
"That cack isn't coming near me, Black." Severus sneered down at him, lifting his chin.
"He's used it before. You didn't seem to mind so much then."
"Oh, I assure you, I most certainly did mind."
"Can I do it in the morning?" Harry asked.
Severus arched an eyebrow down at him. "You're not coming near me with that fucking tin."
"You'll do it right now, if you know what's good for you." Black's fingers curled into each other, turning his knuckles white.
"Are you threatening me?" Harry turned his head just enough to send Black an arrogant frown. "'Cause, if you are--"
"I'm not threatening you. I'm doing what James would have wanted me to do."
"Be your goddamned godfather."
Severus snorted. "What are you going to do next, spank him and send him to bed without supper?"
"I'm yours too, Severus Snape!" Black stabbed a finger at him. "Legally, and you can either accept that, or you can have that watch annulled again and just see what happens!"
The silence rang down on the room for a long second. Harry's jaw dropped. Severus pulled himself as tall as he could go. "I beg your pardon?" he whispered.
"You heard me. About time you had a proper father."
"I refuse to allow you to play daddy to me, Black."
"Then too fucking bad. Harry, go and get that tin right now. March."
Harry didn't move. Black arched an eyebrow.
"I'll give you until the count of three. One."
Harry pressed closer into Severus' side.
His fingers dug into the scarlet fabric beneath them.
"I'm not moving."
Black's glower fell to a pathetic frown. He sighed. "I gave you a fair chance."
Pushing himself from his chair, he grabbed Harry by the wrist and dragged him up. "You will go and find that salve, and you will get his face sorted, or so help me I will put you over my knee and spank you like the brat you're acting like. Am I clear?"
"Black, let him go this instant!"
"I asked you, 'am I clear?'"
Harry drew back into himself. The snake slithered out of his sleeve and curled herself around his fingers. "Yes, sir," Harry said.
"Then go. I saw it above the sink."
Harry took a jerky step backwards. He dashed out of the sitting room, the snake still wrapped around his left hand.
Severus curled his nails into his palms. "I ought to kill you for that."
"You won't." Black fell into his chair again and rubbed his eyes. When his hand fell away, the skin beneath them was drawn and more lined than Severus remembered it ever being before. Black looked up at him and snorted. "Has it healed?"
"Has what healed?"
"There's nothing wrong with my ear--" Severus' hand flew up. He touched the small sapphire still in his earlobe. With a snarl, he pulled the nut loose and threw both halves at Black. "Get out of my sight."
"No. You're both acting like spoiled brats, and I've had enough of it. Just because you don't want to do something, Severus, doesn't mean you can ignore it, especially when it's Harry we're talking about."
"Don't know what you mean."
"Oh, I think you do." Black leaned back in his chair as though it were a throne. "How did you like having a taste of your own potion?"
"It wasn't even remotely the same."
"I'd call strangling someone in your sleep pretty much the same thing all 'round."
"If you don't trust me, why don't you contact the Ministry right now and have me locked up?"
"Oh, I trust you. More than I do Harry right now anyway. One more nightmare and he could kill you."
"Those were extreme circumstances! I suggest you talk to him about it. He is the one who insisted on pressing forward."
"And what about the next time?"
Severus' lip curled. "There shan't be a next time if that is what it takes to keep him."
"So which one of you'll rape the other first in that case?"
Severus shot to his feet. He pointed a trembling finger at the doorway. "Get out!"
Black got up in silence. He paused for a moment. "You know I'm right."
"Get - out."
"I'll see you upstairs." Without another word, Black turned and walked out. He just missed walking into Harry on the way through the door. Harry pulled away as Black put out a hand to clap him on the shoulder or drag him into a hug. Black's thick fingers quivered for a moment; he let them curl as he lowered his hand and went to bed.
Harry watched him from the doorway. He slunk into the room. His snake had wrapped itself through his messy hair like a ribbon. The noxious tin was clutched in his hand.
"He give you much trouble?" Harry asked in a low voice.
"No more than I'd expect. He's convinced you'll kill me next time. Or worse."
Harry bit back a cold laugh. "He'd like that, wouldn't he? Look down a bit, all right?"
"I told you, Mister Potter--"
"Look, it needs to be done. Have you got any better suggestions?"
"Perhaps some mud or a handful of pond scum--"
"Hush." Harry popped the lid free and scooped up a finger's worth of the pale pink goo. His mouth quirked for a moment. "If it didn't make you go numb, this would have done a treat a while ago," he said as he dabbed it along the stinging lines crossing Severus' face. A sweet smell, like the oil, wafted into his nose.
"Hmm." Severus wrapped his arms around himself, shifting from foot to foot as Harry rubbed at the salve. The stinging turned to a taut numbness.
"First time I ever heard of this stuff," Harry said in a soft voice, "was last Christmas when Nan smeared it all over my face. I think I spent twenty minutes poking at it in the bath."
"You shouldn't do that. You'll leave marks."
"Already had a mark. Close your eyes."
"You've got a scratch on your eyelid. It won't hurt you, will it?"
"Won't help either." Severus closed his eyes anyway, ignoring the pull of thin skin as Harry applied more of the shite. "Gran always said she'd have knocked Grandpa Claudius arse over tit if she ever got her hands on him."
"He died in eighteen ninety-one. I hardly think she would have gotten the desired reaction had she tried."
"Still wouldn't have surprised me if she had."
Harry chuckled. There was a smile in his voice when he said, "Turnip says you remind her of a snake she grew up with at the breeder's. He was a python, threatened to eat her whenever she talked too much."
Severus opened the eye not having salve rubbed around it. "'Turnip'?"
Harry shrugged. "Have to call her something. You couldn't pronounce her real name."
"Yeah. Why not? Already called her one, might as well stick with it."
"Your sense of humour is a murky thing indeed."
A sliver of a grin curled Harry's lip. "No worse than yours, mate."
"My sense of humour is perfectly adequate, Mister Potter." Severus tilted his head back as Harry's fingers dabbed salve on the tender bruises along his throat. Wherever they ran they left a numb trail, but the gentle contact triggered a harsh swallow every time it stroked a fresh sensitive spot.
"Adequate doesn't mean good."
Harry smiled. It was tired and split wide in a yawn. Turnip - ridiculous name, utterly ridiculous - slithered down his cheek and stuck her head in the chasm of his mouth. Harry nearly bit it off. They both drew back. He and the snake stared at each other for a moment. Harry gave a soft hiss and a spit, and Turnip slithered back into the warm, soft nest of his hair.
"What was that about?" Severus asked.
"She wanted to know why my teeth were so flat. Asked if they retracted when I wasn't striking. I don't think she's too clear on the idea of a," he yawned again, "human speaking snake."
"A bit daft, then?"
"Oi! How would you react to a snake speaking English?"
"I think I'd check to see what I'd been brewing that day and make a note to improve the ventillation system."
Harry giggled into the back of his hand. "Prat."
"Not at all. It's happened before."
"Of course." Severus laid his hands on Harry's waist. Harry went tense beneath them; a long moment later, he relaxed. "It's a common hazard of the trade. Gran called it brewer's hallucination."
"Is there another name?"
"Cauldron madness." Severus wrinkled his nose. "Never been fond of that one, brings up all sorts of unpleasant imagery."
"I don't know, I sort of like it. It fits, you know?"
Severus peered at his maritus. "Are you saying I'm mad?"
"I mean, you've married me, what, twice now? Can't be sane if you're going around doing that all the time."
"Ah, so you finally admit that only a lunatic - or I - could tolerate you."
"No, just that I'm almost as much of a handful as you are."
Harry smiled and pecked him on the cheek. He yawned again, showing off his tonsils to full effect.
"If you don't stop that, Potter, I fear I shall have to seal your mouth shut. Not that anybody would miss it."
"I don't know." Harry gave him a wicked smirk. "I think you would. 'Least you always acted like you liked it." His skin flushed pink. Severus blinked at him in surprise.
"I'd have thought after tonight you'd be resigned to the opposite."
Harry shrugged. "Not forever."
Severus couldn't quite suppress a smile.
Harry traced his cheek with a single finger. "I like it when you smile like that."
"Yeah. It's sort of shy. Makes you look less like a Snape."
"I see. And I suppose next you're going to say how much it makes me look like a Potter."
"Maybe one by marriage." Harry leaned up and kissed him. Severus returned it, lifting his bruised hand from Harry's hip and lacing it through soft, black hair. Something tickled. He looked up with one eye to see a tiny, dark snake's tongue darting out at his knuckle. Harry snorted and broke away.
"She says you smell male, too, and she can't figure out which of us is going to lay the eggs."
Severus grinned - just a little. "I must admit, I'm at a loss myself. Perhaps in time a bit of experimentation shall be in order?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Should never have mentioned getting you up the duff, should I?"
"It's certainly worth a good try."
Harry smiled. He freed himself from Severus' grasp and stooped to pick up the small snake tank. "To bed, you."
"Perhaps we ought to stay down here. I'd rather not have to share a room with your blasted dogfather."
"He's yours, too." Harry shook his head. "If we do that, he'll only come looking, and I don't want another row tonight." He rubbed his eye, muttering, "M'exhausted."
"I'm not surprised. Would you mind if I stepped on his face?"
"Have you got your shoes on?"
"You know perfectly well I've only got my slippers with."
"How terribly unchivalrous of you," Severus muttered. "The Gryffindor line is certainly at a fitting end."
"What, trying to get Slytherin pregnant?"
"Indeed." Severus pointed a finger at the doorway. "Upstairs then."
Near the top of the stairs, though, his stomach clenched. Bill was pacing on the landing, his hands clasped behind his back, his hair knotted and stringy around his shoulders. His toy harlot leaned against the wall, his arms crossed, bespectacled eyes turned to the floor. Bill glanced up.
"Harry, could I have a word with you?"
Harry faltered. "Er..."
The warmth in the hand around Severus' drained away. Harry shrugged. "All right," he whispered.
Bill shot Severus a chilly look; he motioned towards his room. "In here? Just the two of us," he added with another sidelong glower at Severus.
Harry nodded. He squeezed Severus' hand and crept towards the open door in silence. Bill waited until he was inside; he cast another look Severus' way. The door closed behind him.
Severus stood on the top step. A quiver started in his rigid body. His fingers twitched to reach forward, close around the knob, break the door down. He took a step forward.
"He'll be all right," the green-haired harlot said.
Severus' neck popped when he turned his head. "Did I address you?"
William shrugged. "Sorry." He scratched his beaky nose - what Harry had ever seen in him was quite beyond Severus. "Um, I told him. That's what Bill wanted to speak with Harry about."
Severus said nothing. The hardness of his wand brushed the inside of his wrist; he bit his tongue, lest he curse William into the next county.
"Um, you're a lucky fellow. A really lucky fellow." William gave Severus a shy, almost apologetic smile. "Harry's a wonderful bloke. If you hadn't already got to him, and I hadn't been with Bill, I'd have snatched him up sharpish."
Acid rose in Severus' oesophagus. He pulled himself rigid and swooped down on the harlot. The top of William's green head didn't even come to Severus' chin. "I suggest," Severus hissed, "that you keep in mind that I had already 'got to him'."
For a moment, William's smile hung there, although his dark eyes were confused. The confusion melted away to gradual shock and horror and finally some flicker of fear. He shuffled away. "Sorry," he whispered, wrapping his arms around himself. "I'll leave you alone."
"A wise decision." Severus leaned against the wall, staring down his nose at William, who only looked away. He seemed very small and fragile, even compared to Harry. Amazing how dangerous the little ones are, isn't it, chap?
Too many tense, silent minutes later, the door opened again. Harry was hunched and hugging himself. Turnip was still curled in his hair; her tank hung from his fist. Bill was clutching him by the shoulder. Severus' fingers twitched, ready to draw his wand should the long, freckled hand refuse to let go. Bill murmured something into Harry's ear Severus couldn't hear; Harry nodded and pulled himself free.
"Are you all right?" Severus asked.
"He's fine, Snape."
"I wasn't asking you."
"I'm fine," Harry muttered. "Just want to get to bed."
Bill looked as though he wanted to drag Harry back into the room. Severus pulled himself tall. The idiot Weasley only waved his hand towards his harlot, though. "Come on, love, time to get a bit of rest."
William all but ran into the room. Bill looked back at him in surprise. He focused a searing glare on Severus. "Snape..."
"Haven't touched him, nor shall I so long as he keeps his hands to himself. Same goes for you."
"Harry, are you sure--?"
"Yes." Harry took two quick steps away from the door. "G'night."
"Hmm. G'night. We're still just in here if you--"
"Come on, Bill," William murmured from inside the room. "I'm tired. They probably are, too."
Bill paused. He took a long breath and let it go in a hissing rush. "All right, love. Goodnight, Harry."
The door closed, leaving Harry and Severus alone.
Harry darted over to Severus and threw his arms around him, burying his face in his chest. He trembled. "God."
"What did he do to you?"
"Nothing. Talked to me, told me he wasn't upset with either of us. Said they've still got room on the couch if I want it." He shuddered. "Why couldn't he have just shouted at me? He just kept talking and talking about how it wasn't my fault and that I must have needed it and I didn't mean anything by it. How the Hell does he know what I meant?"
Severus said nothing. He buried his hand in Harry's hair, stroking it with the side of his thumb. Now and then he felt smooth scales in its place as Turnip slithered through, running a soft, broken hiss.
Harry growled under his breath. "I'd have fucked him into the wall, and I'd have loved it."
"You want to hear something else?" Harry looked up. His hooded eyes burned black within a thin ring of green. "I dreamed about you and him all the fucking time. You have no idea how many times I woke up hard from that. If I couldn't have you, I could at least watch you with someone else. God, I was so jealous of him."
"Harry, settle down."
"No." Harry pressed his face against Severus' chest. His jaw worked, teeth grazing over wool and pressing against tissue spread beneath. "D'you know what it's like to want someone so much you'd rather watch them with someone else than not have them at all?"
"Harry, you need to settle down and go to bed. Right now." Severus shifted against the pressure trickling into his pelvis.
Harry rolled his head from side to slow side. "Answer my question first."
"Is that your answer?"
"No, I'm telling you I shan't answer. You're acting like a lunatic."
Harry's eyes lifted once more. They still burned. A spark of intolerable lust kept dancing behind them. He shifted; something half-rigid brushed against Severus' thigh. "God, what I wouldn't give to be able to fuck you right here, just to show Bill he's wrong."
"Harry, stop this. Go into the toilet, calm yourself, and come to bed." Severus swallowed. He gripped Harry's hair, his shoulder, lest one or the other start something that would likely leave them both in hospital once the impact reared its head. "Please."
"You don't want me anymore then?" Harry's voice quivered. He laid a hand flat against the middle of Severus' chest. His brow furrowed. "Your heart's beating too fast."
"It does that."
"It shouldn't. The doctor said you needed to stay calm."
"Then perhaps upsetting me like this isn't the wisest course of action." Severus tipped his head back against the wall. "I want you but not enough to lose you. If you do not make some conscious effort to control yourself and your temper, I shan't ever touch you again."
Harry flinched. "But..."
"This is for your good as much as mine."
"But you want it." Harry's nails dug into the fabric covering Severus' aching breastbone. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have this so much."
"Harry." Severus took his shoulders and pushed him out at arm's length. "Stop this. You're not ready."
"Does it matter?"
Harry started to open his mouth. Severus stroked the thin, silky skin next to his eye with a fingertip. "You remember when you came into my office to tell me you wouldn't be in for your detention that night?"
Harry frowned. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"I told you I wouldn't fuck you."
"You sucked me off."
"I know, because I couldn't bear to push you away again, but I told myself I wouldn't let you become a senseless vessel for my pleasure."
"Precisely." Severus traced the soft, translucent hairs between Harry's eyebrow and his temple one more time and stepped away. "I shan't let you touch me again until your behaviour indicates that you're capable of doing so."
"Sev, that's ridiculous!" Harry reached out to grab him. Severus took a step back. His breathing quickened; a shock ran through his skin, screaming for contact.
"Get yourself sorted and come to bed. If you wish, I'll take T... your snake."
"You mean I can't even lay a finger on you."
Severus tried to open his mouth to answer. He shook his head instead.
"I'll be in bed." Severus turned and swept into their small, yellow room, trembling as some internal organ not found in textbooks shriveled and disintegrated.
Black had curled up on the yellow rug amidst a mound of pillows and mismatched quilts. He looked up and frowned when Severus came in. "Where's Harry?"
"In the toilet."
"You all right? You look like someone killed your dog."
Severus bared his teeth. "What a brilliant idea, Black. Perhaps if you don't shut your mouth I shall take you up on it!"
Black pushed a bit of hair behind his ear. "What happened?"
"Absolutely nothing. Now, if you'd be so kind as to close your eyes, I'd like to get undressed."
"I already saw everything earlier."
"I thought I'd told you to face the corner."
Black said nothing. He stared at a spot somewhere above the floor. Severus sniffed and swept towards the bed.
"Never knew you swung this way, Black."
"I don't. I just wanted to make sure nothing happened to you."
"You mean Harry, don't you?"
"No," Black whispered. There was a rustling of blankets; when Severus glanced back, Black had vanished beneath the quilts.
Severus sniffed. He unbuttoned his robe with numb fingers and dragged it over his head, leaving it in a sad mound on the floor. His slippers went under the bed, and he crawled into the ruin of sheets, kicking and yanking at them until they more or less looked like bedclothes. When he yanked them up to his ear, the sweet scent of baby oil insinuated itself in his nose.
He didn't know how long it was before the door opened once again. A dim wedge of shadow cut across the floor still lit faint and blue by the window. Black said nothing as Harry tiptoed across the floor. He set down the snake tank, pulled off his robe, and crawled into bed next to Severus. His hand brushed Severus' side; Severus forced himself to flinch away.
"Not until you're ready."
"Go to sleep."
Harry said nothing more. His breathing no more evened than Severus' did, though. Severus' hand lay on the pillow next to his face, inches from Harry's. He clenched it into a fist, grinding it into the thick pocket of down to keep from reaching out and twining Harry's fingers in his. Only Harry's steady hiss, the same he had made earlier, slithered beneath the silence.
Something tickled Severus' knuckle. It slid over his hand, flicking him with a delicate forked tongue. He unclenched his fingers so Turnip could wrap herself around them. Squinting in the darkness, Severus saw her tail still wrapped around Harry's hand like an umbilical cord. Harry spat in the middle of his metred hiss. Turnip bumped the underside of her head against Severus' palm and squeezed her tiny coils tighter around both of them.
"I'm not touching you. Don't push her away, please?"
Severus pursed his mouth. "This is entirely contrary to the point."
"And if I don't do it I'm going to break out in tears, all right?"
Black made a noise. From the corner of his eye, Severus saw him sit halfway up. He ignored the cur.
"It's not as if I'm trying to have sex with you," Harry went on.
"I know this."
"So why can't I just touch you?"
"Because I said so."
"That's not a reason!"
"For now, it is."
"So when can I?"
"In the morning, perhaps?"
"Why not now?"
"Harry, go to sleep." Severus caught one of his fingers stroking the little snake along her smooth back. He jerked it to a stop. "We'll discuss this later."
"I want to discuss it now."
"Is everything all right?" Black asked. Severus shuddered; he felt Harry flinch.
"Fine," Harry said. He licked his lips. The next thing Severus knew, the impossible brat had leaned forward and pressed an impudent kiss to his mouth. "G'night. I s'pose."
It was only when Harry had moved too far away for Severus to return the kiss that he realised he already had.
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