Disclaimer: Characters and places in this story, which appear in the Harry Potter novels, belong to JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I don't make, or intend to make money out of them. They just wouldn't leave me alone.
Thank you: My Beloved Cindy Lou, Accompaniment from Trent and Ozzy. Unending Gratitude to Betas Kyohaku Celestiale Vespertina, Maruchina, Bettyblue, and Olivia Lupin - I couldn't have done it without you.
Author's Notes: Random lyrics shamelessly stolen from Nine Inch Nails' "Pretty Hate Machine." References to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappachini's Daughter." Influenced more than I realized by two lovely fics, Accio Snape's "Something to Live For" and Cybele's "Le Lien des Beaux RÍves."
Archiving: Please ask.
2 AM, Day 6
Harry awoke to Severus' body curled around his and hands gently touching him again. He tried to control his breathing, fighting with himself to not respond or let Severus know what kind of effect he was having on him. This is so stupid. When did I become such a coward? Just because I'm scared to death... I can't just lie here. What am I going to do? While his mind struggled with modesty, embarrassment, and pride, his body made the decision itself; he rolled onto his back and tentatively slid his hands up Severus' chest to his shoulders and opened his eyes.
The darkness of the room and the hour hid nothing of the fire in those deep, obsidian eyes. The moment seemed like it would last forever, but it finally ended when Severus' soft lips gently came down against his own. He's kissing me! So sweet. Wonderful... he thought before the moment was over. Severus held his gaze for a long moment before Harry's hands again moved of their own accord from Severus' shoulders to the back of his neck, gently pulling him down again.
The next kiss was less tentative but no less gentle, and Harry did his best to relax and enjoy it. Severus' lips were warm and smooth, and Harry couldn't believe how wonderful something so simple felt, until his lips were suddenly met with a gently wet tongue probing between them, and he opened his mouth in a quiet sigh to Severus'. The amazingly sweet kiss slowly turned into something passionate, as the rest of his body asserted itself through the fog clouding his brain from the first kiss.
His body seemed to burst into flame; he could feel every millimeter where Severus' body pressed into his, and desire like nothing he'd ever felt swept through him. He wanted it all, everything, now, and the strength of his hunger overwhelmed him. Tears leaked down his cheeks as he moaned into Severus' mouth, clutching him closer, too transported to notice.
Again Severus pulled away, and when Harry opened his eyes he was met with a concerned expression as Severus gently dipped his fingertips into Harry's tears. So much emotion filled him that he thought his chest would burst, but instead to his dismay, Harry found his eyes overflowing again. "I'm sorry," he whispered, shakily. "I just... I didn't mean to... I'm just scared."
Severus' brow furrowed with concern. "Scared of what? Not of something happening to one of us?"
"No! Of..." Harry looked away from the intent gaze and took a deep breath, cheeks burning. "I don't know what I'm doing. At all. With anything," he admitted quietly. "It was true, what I said. No one's ever... kissed me before. I don't know what to do."
Severus smiled at him and answered in a velvety voice, "You're doing everything right so far. We don't have to do anything you don't want to do. Any time you want to stop, I promise it's all right with me. Even if you just want to pause for a minute." His fingertips gently traced and wiped away the moist tracks on the young man's face until Harry lifted his lips to meet Severus' again, pulling him closer.
Their kisses went on and on, one melting into the other; soft kisses, tongues gently tasting each other's mouths. Every time the kisses started to grow more fervent, Severus pulled back, slowed down, and dropped tiny, soft kisses onto Harry's face. He was relieved that the other man didn't seem to want to go any further than he wanted to, but was torn between losing himself in the cloying sweetness and wanting more.
His hands grew more bold, feeling the shape of Severus' back and arms, drifting down to his waist, but not further before he got embarrassed. On their way back up, Harry suddenly found his wayward hands clumsily unbuttoning Severus' pajama top.
Severus held still until he finished, then shrugged off the shirt and rolled onto his back, pulling Harry up on top of him. The shock of warm bare skin against his own made Harry gasp, and the erection pushing next to his own made him moan; even through two layers of flannel, the intimate contact took his breath away. Severus smirked seductively up at him as his hands stroked Harry's back, and asked, "Shall I stop?"
Harry smirked back as he leaned forward and nipped at Severus' neck. His skin tasted wonderful, so he licked and sucked his way up to an earlobe. When he gently sucked it into his mouth, Severus gasped and pushed his hips up into Harry, breaking the younger man's concentration. Instinctively, Harry pushed back into him and they both moaned at the friction. Severus pulled him down by the neck for a deep kiss, more passionate than the previous ones, as if he wanted to taste every bit of Harry's mouth, sliding his tongue along Harry's, pulsing into his mouth with the same slow thrusting rhythm as their hips.
Harry's head reeled for a moment, dizzy. Oh yes! I've so wanted this. Wanted you. So close, he thought desperately as their bodies ground into each other, feelings crashing through him like a locomotive on a collision course. Too fast!
"Wait. Stop," Harry panted, suddenly pushing himself away to lay next to Severus, breathing hard with his eyes shut.
"What's wrong?" Harry could hear the sudden concern in Severus' voice, and the other man's accelerated breathing as well.
"Nothing. I just-- I'm too close. I don't want it to be over yet," he admitted, blushing deeply.
Something like the evil chuckle Harry remembered from class, but softer and infinitely more arousing, was breathed into his neck as Severus bent over him. "It won't be over until you want it to be, I promise," he whispered as he licked and sucked at Harry's neck.
Harry moved his head to the side to give Severus better access, and moaned at the sensations flooding through him. Severus' hands began to lightly wander over his chest and arms, barely grazing the skin with his fingertips, making Harry shiver and sigh uncontrollably. "I thought," he gasped, "You said. We could stop. Any time."
Severus immediately pulled away from Harry, who finally opened his eyes, searching Severus' expression.
"Of course. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you," the older man apologized with effort, moving away from him to the edge of the bed.
Harry took a deep breath, trying to slow down his madly beating heart. "Wait," he pleaded, reaching out to grab Severus by the wrist. "I didn't mean... I just wanted to catch my breath. It's just... really overwhelming. I feel-- Gods, I don't know! I feel like everything in me is moving a billion miles a second. Like I can't take much more before I completely come apart."
The corner of Severus' mouth quirked up as he turned back to Harry. "That's how you're supposed to feel," he said in a voice like Harry had never heard before. Smokey. Seductive. "I'm thrilled to hear that's how I made you feel. You make me feel the same way." His words seemed to reach into Harry and twist his insides around; he could feel the pulse in his body quicken again, and he couldn't stop the slight whimper that escaped his lips.
"Please," he heard himself ask, not entirely certain what he was asking. Severus moved closer, pushing the blankets fully off of the bed, looking at him in the moonlight. At his body. Harry wondered how visible the blush covering his face and creeping down his chest was, and why he felt both horribly nervous and very pleased that Severus would want to look at him.
He reached up to touch the man leaning over him, trailing his own fingers across the other's skin, feeling the few scattered dark hairs on his chest, accenting the alabaster paleness of Severus' skin. His hands wandered up the smooth chest, lightly skimming over a nipple that made Severus suck in a shallow breath, which Harry noted for later. He continued up the long neck to the angular face, fingers tangling in the inky, silky hair, eyes locked on the black ones above him. "You're so beautiful," Harry whispered as he pulled him closer for a kiss.
Severus groaned as he kissed him, returning his body to its former position on top of Harry's, grinding their erections together. His hands stroked a path from Harry's collarbone, down his slim chest, to his nipple, which he teased and pinched lightly, making him gasp and arch. As his tongue twined around Harry's, he shifted his hands down the young man's stomach to the waistband of his boxers. And waited.
Harry was barely conscious of the kisses stopping, lost in the fire Severus' hand was stoking in his body. The hand disappeared, only to reappear on his thigh, tickling sensitive flesh and then sliding slowly up over flannel. It paused as it rested alongside his cock; Harry's pelvis arched uncontrollably as his malachite green eyes locked onto Severus' obsidian ones. "Oh please," he moaned. "Yes," as the strong hand closed around his cock.
Severus' hand stroked him slowly through the flannel as he dropped light kisses on Harry's forehead, temple, and neck. Harry's hands clutched into his arms, grasping for some stability as he moaned and writhed in the other man's hands. "Oh god, please, take them off," he gasped in desperation.
Fiery eyes held his as cool hands slid to his waist, pushing the fabric down as Harry compliantly lifted his hips off the bed. Then those cool, smooth fingers were on his flesh, exploring every inch of his hardness, stroking up and down. Finally Severus encircled him completely, firmly, and began to stroke his cock in earnest. Harry's entire body was so focused, so tense, he knew he couldn't hold out for very long. He twined his arms around Severus, pulling him close for a deeper kiss, desperate and hungry.
On each exhale a keening sound escaped from deep in his throat, faster and faster as his eyes unfocused. He felt himself hovering on the edge of something terrifyingly exquisite, Severus' body covering his own, tenderly kissing his cheek, hands moving faster and faster until Harry's body could take no more. Severus pulled the young man firmly into his arms as he convulsed and wordlessly howled his release, blind to everything but his orgasm.
Harry's brain returned to his body to find his head pillowed on Severus' chest, held tight. His toes tingled, his eyelids tingled; it felt like every cell in his body had climaxed and was still vibrating with afterglow. He sighed and smiled against Severus' chest, deeply content and immensely satisfied.
"Back with me?" Severus' hand played in his hair and Harry snuggled closer.
"Mmmm," he mumbled, letting his hand trail lightly down the other man's chest. Severus sighed and covered Harry's hand with his own, trapping it before it could go any lower. He pulled the young man up and kissed him gently.
"You're so beautiful when you come. So beautiful all the time," he murmured against Harry's mouth, covering it with tiny kisses.
"I've never felt anything like that. Ever," Harry mumbled, tears filling his eyes.
Severus pulled back slightly with surprise. "Ever? Not even... by yourself?"
Harry shook his head against Severus' chest and sighed. "Not like that. I've done it a few times, but... It's not easy to do without thinking of anyone. I tried every now and then, but it was too hard. Once I thought of Malfoy, after he was... gone. I thought it couldn't hurt. But I felt so terrible afterwards... Why do you think I spent so much time practicing Quidditch and studying? I couldn't do anything about it and I was afraid of what would happen if I went to sleep frustrated," he explained simply.
Severus squeezed him even tighter. "That's all behind you now. You're free to be as lustful as anyone else. No one can hurt you or anyone you desire."
Harry nodded. A moment later he dozed off in Severus' arms, safe and satiated.
10 AM, Day 6
Harry awoke late the next morning, naked and sticky and inordinately pleased with himself. Also alone; Severus had apparently already gotten up. He smiled at the pillows. He grinned at the stone walls. He beamed at the bedroom.
I had sex! Finally! It finally happened! He stretched his arms over his head and untangled his legs from the sheets.
He called Severus' name, but there was no answer so he got out of bed and bounced into the shower. He smiled at the toilet and bathtub, and the mirror winked back at him when he grinned at it. Thirty minutes later he noticed he was getting a cramp in his jaw from grinning so hard, but he just couldn't stop. I'm not going to be able to leave this room. Ever. He contemplated for a moment what a tragedy it would be if he could never leave Severus' bedroom. His grin got bigger.
Everyone will know the moment they see me and this dorky grin. And if they don't know, I'll shout it at them, scream it from the parapets, take out a notice in the paper. "Boy Who Lived Finally Gets Laid." Well, maybe not by strict definitions, but that certainly was enough to qualify as a good beginning.
Even though I didn't really get to do anything to him. I hope he didn't mind very much. Gosh, I guess I just kind of fell asleep on him, didn't I? I hope he isn't angry. I'll make it up to him next time.
I sure hope there's a next time. Where did he go? Why did he leave me? I hope he doesn't think this was a mistake. Gods, please, please don't let him think that. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't.
Who am I trying to convince here, Severus-in-my-head or myself?
Maybe it was a mistake. What if I've ruined everything? Whatever it is that's been going on between us. I've told him so much, he's seen so much inside my head. What if he doesn't feel about me the way I feel about him?
How do I feel about him?
Fuck. I think I love him. I'm not sure I know what love is, but... Friendship. Plus lust. And maybe something more, I can't quite put my finger on. But. What if one of us wants more than the other? How will we avoid hurting each other in the end?
Does it have to end?
I hate being so awkward, so unsure of what to do. So humiliated... He was even my first kiss. He didn't seem surprised, but I wonder what he thinks now, in the light of day. About the purity. And I don't like feeling like he's the one in control, that he's less scared, more sure... I don't know.
My head is spinning and my body is still hungry... I feel so utterly powerless and vulnerable. It's terrifying.
And I can still feel his hands everywhere on my skin.
11 AM, Day 6
Severus was in the library again. Working. Yes, working, he reminded himself, wrenching his unruly thoughts back from last night and onto the books in front of him.
Lucius definitely thought this up. Narcissa's family was Italian, from somewhere in the southern half, I seem to recall... Which means the cure, if there is one, probably comes from plants native to that area. Assuming I'm on the right track at all. Too bad none of these herbals are arranged geographically...
Every time I get in bed with him, I completely lose control. I just can't stop from touching him. He's too young, too fragile right now. I don't want to hurt him. But gods! I want to prove to him that he's not broken, not poisonous. He's beautiful. Pure.
And his skin is addictive. And the noises he makes. And the way he responds...
I hope last night wasn't a mistake. I hope he doesn't regret it.
I hope he doesn't regret that it was me. I just can't accept that he really wants me that way. Me, of all people.
This is moving too fast. It's not even been a week and I think I'm... in love. Love. Me. With Harry Potter no less. Of all the unexpected things in the universe, that's the last one I'd have thought possible.
Focus! This isn't helping anything. Read.
I hope he doesn't feel hurt that I left him in bed. I was just so twitchy. I know he's exhausted, and by all rights I should be, too. But he was sleeping so soundly, I didn't want to wake him. And for once, I don't think he was dreaming of anything at all. I hope not, anyway.
He deserves so much. To be whole and happy and at peace. And to be loved. So much more than I could ever give him...
But. If no one else wants him... And if he seems to want me, for whatever reason... Who am I to push him away? I may not deserve him, but I'll try.
I want to try more than anything I've ever wanted.
11 AM, Day 6
Harry stumbled into the library. One glance and Severus took in the conflicted expression on his face; eyes filled with fear but mouth twitching, threatening to break into a grin.
"Sleep well?" Severus asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
Harry nodded and stretched his arms over his head, ginning hugely, and turning slightly pink. "I did. I'm sorry you, uh, didn't," he said somewhat questioningly.
Snape took his meaning. "I was satisfied."
Harry grinned again and looked at his feet. "Well, I hope you'll be more satisfied the next time. If there is a next time," he added quickly when Severus failed to respond.
"Harry... we should talk about this. And we should finish with the curse. But one thing at a time. I suggest business first, if that's all right with you?" he asked gently yet resolutely.
Harry nodded quickly, to cover his disappointment at Snape's businesslike tone.
"I've gathered that this curse was conceived by Lucius Malfoy. Which may or may not have had an effect on it's power once he was killed. If it did, that would explain why things got worse afterwards. If not... well, no matter unless it complicates things further." He took a deep breath.
"I know this is going to sound like a highly fanciful shot in the dark, at best, but I've learned over the years that following one's intuition is most valuable in counteracting the Dark Arts; the unconscious mind reveals patterns the conscious mind cannot see."
"An old story reminded me of your curse... Narcissa Malfoy's family was Italian. So was the story, about a toxic garden and the young girl who tended it. Some sources seem to indicate a hint of underlying truth in the tale, that an extract of a highly deadly flower may both be deadly and an antidote. Combat one poison with another."
"I remember Lucius once mentioning something in passing, as we discussed potions, about a 'fiori della morte,' a 'flower of death' found in the highest mountains near where Narcissa's family was from... Only those who had been raised in the area could be around the flower at all without dying from its vapors, and no one could touch it and live."
He smiled wryly, and continued. "Lucius liked to mix subtlety and poetry into his curses, natural beauty and evilness mixed in equal parts. To make them truly an art... He told me about the flower long before he knew I was a spy, but near the time Voldemort must have cursed you. I'm sure he thought I would appreciate the twisted beauty of such a curse and the only possible antidote."
"However, having had this idea, I don't know how to test it except by doing it. I have a colleague at a school in Italy who I contacted earlier this morning, and she is owling me some of the flower extract. And one of the books I found from the medieval times has a potion recipe that mentioned both the flower and nightmares in an opening poem. It's all quite tentative though."
Snape hesitated a few moments before adding, "It is, however, a conjecture based on facts. I believe it's quite likely to be the solution we are seeking. But it's also quite dangerous. I can't find any way to counteract the fumes of the flower."
Harry thought about it for a while, staring into the fireplace. "It seems to fit all of the things we know," he said slowly. "It seems almost too easy that you're the one helping me with this and that it's a potion that's the cure. But I suppose it's worth trying. I'm willing to take the risk." Fiori della morte'... And for once, I actually feel like I might have something to live for, with Severus. I hate it when life is ironic.
1 PM, Day 6
Around lunchtime the owl came, a small brown one carrying a letter and a dragon hide pouch sealed with several bindings spells to prevent the flower fumes from killing anything. Harry read the poem in the book, consulting the dictionary several times to help with the Latin words he didn't know. His word-for-word translation was vague, but he saw the link that Snape had mentioned.
It seemed that the potion was relatively simple, if you discounted the fact that one ingredient was deadly to everyone except the afflicted. Harry really hoped he was the one afflicted, or he was about to be afflicted with something far worse. I wonder if I should get my affairs in order. Oh wait, I don't have any to begin with. And it's not like I haven't been contemplating death daily for years. Why is this any different? Aren't I meant to be brave?
But not now, said a tiny voice in his head. Now you want to live. Before you didn't care; you were alone. Now there's Severus.
Snape appeared as if invoked by this thought and asked if he was ready to help in the Potions classroom. Harry went slowly, trailing behind, feet feeling leaden.
Snape had prepared the rest of the potion; all that was left was the essence of the fiori della morte. Although they doubted it would work, Harry would cast a spell that effectively surrounded him with a protective bubble, so that he would not breathe the perfume, and wear dragon hide gloves. Snape had to leave the room entirely from the moment the spells were taken off the package until the potion was consumed and the equipment cleaned. His colleague's letter had been quite clear about that. He enchanted the heavy door to have a window in it so he could watch.
Snape tidied up the worktable, leaving out only the package, cauldron, spoon, and a goblet. They went over the instructions again; Harry would remove the spells, unwrap the vial, let the vapor in it waft over the contents of the cauldron where they would condense and rain into the potion, stir precisely three times clockwise, draw an arcane symbol onto the surface of the liquid, pour the contents into the goblet, perform the clean-up spell, drink the liquid in one gulp, and cast the clean-up spell again. So that Snape could rush in as quickly as possible if anything should go wrong was left unspoken.
Harry would have chafed at the fourth reiteration of the simple details but he was so nervous he felt like he was going to be sick. Everything was ready. Snape was not walking away from the table, Harry noticed, breaking his stare at the shimmering dragon hide parcel. He cleared his throat and was embarrassed at how wavery his voice was as he said, "We didn't talk about... last night yet."
Snape's eyes burned into his. "We'll do it after you drink the potion."
Harry swallowed loudly, "I wanted to say--"
Snape shook his head decisively, interrupting, "No. Later. After you finish. We. Will. Talk."
Harry nodded. He watched his hand reach out, in slow motion, to Snape's, and hold his briefly. The other man's face was an emotionless mask, but a muscle in his jaw twitched. He squeezed Harry's hand gently, took a deep breath, slowly let go and stepped away.
The echo of the door closing seemed to thunder in Harry's ears as he turned to the worktable.
Harry cast the protection spell and put on the gloves. Don't think; just do it. He took up the package and disabled the spells.
Nothing happened. He unwrapped the parcel, revealing a small vial of brilliant magenta gas. Still, nothing. He removed the stopper, at arms length over the cauldron. Nothing. He realized he wasn't breathing and took a tentative breath. Nothing.
Carefully, but as quickly as he could, he followed every syllable of Snape's instructions. Wafted. Stirred. Drew the symbol. Poured. Cleaned up. He paused to contemplate the goblet before him of potion so lethal none but the accursed could be in the same room with it, even with its residue on a spoon.
Could be that the particles aren't really moving through the air fast enough to have inhaled it yet. Maybe the protection spell is working. Or it could be slower acting than they thought. It could only really work when you come into contact with it.
He glanced up at the window, to see if Snape was still there. The man looked more relieved than Harry had ever seen him look, with the possible exception of a few moments during the war. He gave Harry a brief smile and nodded at him, clearly wanting him to drink the potion.
So he did.
He cast the cleaning charm again, took off the gloves and protection spell on himself. Snape came into the room. Harry's world tilted and swooped and blurred around him. Snape's voice echoed nonsense in his head, and he felt his body fall to the ground as if he were watching it happen from miles away, before everything faded slowly to blackness.
2 PM, Day 6
Snape walked into the classroom after Harry cast the final clean-up charm. "That went well. You prepared the potion flawlessly, from what I saw." He turned to Harry in time to see him sway slightly, with a far-away look in his eyes, before he slowly sank to the ground.
Snape caught hold of him. And did not think. If he did not think, he would not panic, so he very, very carefully did not think at all.
After a few moments, he realized Harry's chest was still rising and falling with breath. He was unconscious then, not dead. Harry twitched. Coughed.
Still unconscious, he gasped and coughed again, a horrible sound expelling all the air from his lungs, suddenly and explosively. A grey mist seeped out of his mouth, briefly formed the vague shape of a skull, and dissipated.
After a moment, Snape carefully picked him up and carried him to bed.
6 PM, Day 6
Harry awoke with what felt like the worst hangover of his entire life. His heartbeat pounding in his ears was too loud to bear. His breath was the howl of a windstorm. He couldn't even imagine moving. His lungs felt like he'd inhaled not only smoke, but ashes. At least he wasn't in the infirmary. This bed smelled different. Familiar.
He fell back to sleep.
10 PM, Day 6
Severus woke up in his chair by the fireplace, to Harry leaning over him, kissing him gently. He sat there and blinked for a moment. Nice dream...
"Not a dream," whispered Harry before kissing him again.
Severus wrapped his arms around the young man and drew him onto his lap. "I presume you're feeling better?" The head on his shoulder nodded. "Did you sleep well?" Another nod.
"What happened?" asked Harry quietly, after a few minutes had passed.
Severus answered him slowly, carefully keeping any emotion out of his voice, "You brewed the potion perfectly; that you're alive proves that. And that it was the correct antidote. You collapsed just after I came in, coughed a few times. Exhaled some smoky air." He paused to consider whether he should tell Harry about the rest. Then again, what point was there in keeping it from him? "The smoke you exhaled briefly formed a vague Dark Mark before it dissipated. You were still unconscious, so I carried you to bed. It's been about eight hours since you drank the potion."
There was a long pause before Harry spoke. "So you were right then. About the curse and the origin and cure." His brow wrinkled a bit as he thought. "It seemed quite easy for you."
Severus pushed him off his lap a bit, to look him in the eye. "It was not easy. It was sheer guesswork. Something which makes me highly uncomfortable. But it was the only logical solution based on what we saw in your dreams and your response to the dreams."
Harry seemed to be getting angry about something, but Severus could only tell that from his body language; he wasn't saying a word. Suddenly Harry's stomach growled loudly, breaking the tension somewhat.
"I have some dinner for you in the kitchen," Severus said pushing Harry up. "And then you should probably try to get some more sleep." He paused. "I'm sure you won't have nightmares like that anymore."
Harry turned to look at him, confusion clouding his expression, before it swiftly disappeared and was replaced by resignation. "Yes. I'll just take the food back to my rooms then, shall I?" he asked quietly.
Severus had not expected it to be so simple. "We'll talk tomorrow," he said as he handed the tray of food to Harry. The young man evaded his eyes, nodding affirmative as he opened the door and left.
Severus' rooms had not felt so empty ever before. He poured himself a glass of port and collapsed into the chair by the fire. It was over.
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