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one.
Harry had no idea how long he'd been back with the Dursleys. He wasn't able to stay awake for more than an hour at a stretch, so his sense of time was off. He didn't want to ever go back to Hogwarts, so he hadn't bothered with his customary calendar. He tacked sheets to his window to block out the sunlight, and threw his alarm clock against the wall. He couldn't even muster any satisfaction when it shattered.

Mostly, Harry was tired. Every once in a while, he woke in a cold sweat and hurled himself to the loo, retching. He never remembered his dreams, and he didn't care to. Harry didn't care about anything anymore, except sleeping. The Dursleys, thankfully, were leaving him alone, so Harry was able to get plenty of sleep.

It was therefore an unpleasant surprise when his bedroom door slammed open one afternoon. Harry pulled the sheets over his head and rolled over, his back to the door. He heard his Uncle Vernon's heavy footsteps, and then Harry's sheet was yanked away. He blinked up at his uncle, who was glaring down at him.

"You've a visitor," he said flatly. "I think he's from that school of yours. Are you going to bother getting up?"

"No," Harry said. "Tell him to go away." He snatched the sheet back from his uncle and burrowed back into bed.

"That's the first sensible thing you've said in your life, boy." Uncle Vernon slammed the door behind him, and Harry drifted back to sleep.

It was a particularly unpleasant surprise when the door slammed back open a short while later.

"Go away," Harry mumbled, not bothering to see who it was. It probably wasn't Uncle Vernon, who would have been wheezing from multiple trips upstairs. This intruder made no sound, which also ruled out Dudley. Maybe it was Aunt Petunia. Harry thought about looking, but he was much too tired to care. Instead he pretended to be asleep, hoping the person would leave him alone.

"Believe me, Mr. Potter, nothing would give me greater pleasure." That voice. Harry jerked upright, fumbling for his glasses.

"Snape?" He said uncertainly. Why would Snape be in his room? It certainly sounded like Snape, but Harry couldn't see anything. He heard a snort.

"Manners, Potter," snapped the sound-alike. "Now if you'd kindly stop feeling sorry for yourself and get dressed, we can be going. As I'm sure even your Muggle-addled brain must grasp, my presence here is distasteful to all involved."

Harry squinted into the darkness, confused. He still couldn't tell if it was really Snape, although there was a great bat shape by the door. Where were they going? Snape hated him.

"Snape?" The sound-alike sighed heavily, and Harry thought it must be the real Snape. No one else could sound quite so put-upon and bored and irritated all at once without ever saying any words.

"Do try to pay attention, Potter. I've been sent to collect you, and am under orders not to leave this house without you. I assume the headmaster would prefer you come willingly, but I assure you, I prefer you to... struggle." Harry heard the cruelty in Snape's tone, but he couldn't quite make sense of the words. His brain felt foggy, and his head had started throbbing. Where were they going? Why had Snape been sent?

"Snape?"

"Mr. Potter!" Snape thundered, and Harry's head exploded. When it was finished exploding, Harry opened his eyes and looked around. This was the most light Harry had seen since... well, he wasn't sure. Since he'd been back with the Dursleys, anyway. His Potions professor was standing over his bed, his wand out and glowing. He looked exactly the way Harry remembered him: hair still long and greasy, nose still much too big, robes still black and starched, and lips still peeled back from yellow teeth in rage. The sheets had been ripped away from Harry's window, and daylight was pouring into his room. Harry squinted into the light, and then looked back at Snape.

"Where are we going?" Harry managed not to say the professor's name again. Snape took a deep breath and lowered his wand. His gaze swept coldly over Harry, who must've looked as if he hadn't got out of bed in weeks, and then over the bare bedroom. Harry followed his gaze and noticed a pile of moldy toast in front of the door. Aunt Petunia must have been shoving it through the cat flap, but Harry couldn't remember her doing it. He frowned, trying to think of the last time he'd eaten anything, and then looked up at Snape, who was studying him cynically.

"Do you care?"

Harry thought about it. "No," he said honestly. "Not really."

"Shall I force you?"

Harry thought about that, too. Now that he was sitting up and looking around, the prospect of actually standing and dressing and packing was overwhelming. He was tired, and his whole body felt weak and heavy. He didn't know where to start. But he wasn't sure he wanted to give Snape the satisfaction of forcing him to do anything, either. He lifted his chin.

"I... no. Sir. I'll come with you. I just... could you... er." Snape's eyebrow went up, and Harry faltered. "I haven't unpacked much, I don't think, but there's a spell. I can't..."

"Be bothered to stop sulking long enough to pack properly? Under any other circumstances, Potter, I would take great pleasure in watching you squirm. However, as time is of the essence..." With another great sigh, he flicked his wand, and Harry's clothes and school supplies flew into his trunk. Harry noticed that unlike Tonks, Snape had mastered the part of the spell that folded everything neatly. "Where is your owl?"

"Hedwig?" Harry looked around, but he didn't see any sign of his bird. Snape's lips thinned, and Harry tried to remember where he'd sent her. "I, uh, I guess she's at the Burrow. With Ron."

"I see. Is there anything else here you care to take with you?"

"My broom." At that, Snape opened his left hand and Harry's Firebolt flew into it. Snape raised an eyebrow in question. Harry looked around and shook his head. He didn't care if he never saw anything from this place again. "That's all."

"Very well." He flicked his wand several more times. Harry wasn't really paying attention, but he noticed his trunk disappear, and he felt a tickle behind his ears. "Come along." Harry tried to stand up, but couldn't quite bring himself to do so. Snape got as far as the door before he realized Harry hadn't moved. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder, greasy hair hanging in his face.

"Shall I force you?" Snape asked again, softly, and there was something in the tone that made Harry look up. Harry was tired and the thought of going anywhere was overwhelming and confusing and his brain felt heavy and he didn't know why. He didn't know where they were going, and he couldn't remember why he had agreed to go anywhere with Snape in the first place, because Snape hated him and he hated Snape and he was much too tired to deal with any of this.

Harry's eyes got wider and wider, and his breathing got faster and faster. His heart was slamming erratically in his chest and the thought of standing up was making him want to vomit. He was dizzy, so he tried focusing on Snape, who turned around, eyes narrowed. It seemed to work, and once the floor stopped spinning, Harry closed his own eyes and tried to get a handle on his breathing. After that was done, he opened his eyes and looked numbly up at Snape.

"I think you'd better."

Snape's mouth twisted and the last thing Harry heard was, "Imperio!"

two.
Harry blinked and looked around, confused. He knew Snape had hit him with the Imperius Curse, but he couldn't remember anything after that. He was currently standing in what he had to assume was Snape's bedroom, because Snape was there, on a bed. There was nothing apart from that to distinguish the room or its inhabitant; it had bare white walls, a bare wooden floor, a bed, a chest of drawers, a bedside table, and an old leather wingback. There were no photographs, no knickknacks, no books. This room could be anywhere, and he had no idea how he'd got there.

As for Snape, he hadn't yet acknowledged Harry's presence, which was fine with Harry, as it gave him time to stare. His Potions professor was sitting in the far corner of the bed, his back propped up against the wall, reading. Snape had tied his hair back and was dressed as a Muggle, sort of -- black flannel pyjama bottoms and a faded black t-shirt. Harry's gaze caught on the man's feet, bare and pale, the skin blue-veined and translucent. His forearms, elegantly muscled, were equally pale, and his long, slender neck... Harry swallowed audibly and tried to remember why in the world he was there.

"Something I can help you with, Mr. Potter?" Snape inquired politely, not looking up from his book.

"I can't sleep," he said, not sure where the words were coming from. Had he been trying to sleep? He barely recognized his own voice.

"And this concerns me how?" Snape looked up from his book and fixed Harry with a cool stare.

"I... I don't... Please," Harry whispered brokenly. Snape stared at him for a long time and then closed his book, placed it on the bedside table, and slid off the bed. Harry, suddenly aware he was wearing only his red pyjama bottoms, began to tremble. Snape closed the distance between them, and Harry could feel the man's body heat. He resisted the urge to lean into it, and instead focused on Snape's eyes. They were glinting dangerously, and Harry felt hypnotized, as if they were the only thing keeping him upright. He held on for dear life, swaying slightly, hardly daring to breathe.

"Please what, Mr. Potter?" Snape's silky tones slid down Harry's back and he shivered violently. "Are you cold?"

Harry shook his head. He tried to speak, but his voice wasn't cooperating. Or maybe it was, and he just couldn't hear it over the sound of his heart slamming in his ribcage. He didn't understand what was happening, but he knew he hadn't felt this alive in years. And he hadn't felt anything at all recently. He tried again.

"Please save me," he whispered. Snape took two steps back at that, and began circling Harry, unmistakably predatory eyes burning over every inch of Harry's skin. Harry stared at the floor as Snape circled, trying desperately not to move. His body was quivering with equal parts anticipation and dread over what might happen next. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides and his breathing was shallow. It occurred to him that he was hard -- when had that happened? -- and that there was no way Snape would fail to notice.

"Why would I want to do that?" Snape's low purr came from somewhere behind him, and Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. Instead he curled his hands into fists, the tension singing through his body. He wanted to scream, to laugh, to cry.

"You always save me," he said, suddenly worried that Snape might send him away before he figured out what was going on. Where would he go? He felt Snape's heat behind him and gasped when he felt cotton brush lightly against his back.

"And what exactly--" Harry gasped as Snape's breath ghosted over his ear. "--am I saving you from tonight?" Harry shuddered violently, trying not to moan as he dropped his head back against Snape's shoulder. Harry's hands clutched behind him, his fingers digging into Snape's thighs, fisting in the fabric of his pyjamas.

"Ah! I just..." He struggled for coherency as Snape's teeth nipped at his neck. "I want to feel something," he managed finally. "Anything."

Snape abruptly stepped back and Harry almost collapsed at the loss of support. But then Snape was in front of him, all around him, his right fist in Harry's hair pulling his head back; his left encircling Harry's wrist, twisting the arm painfully into the small of his back; his erection digging into Harry's stomach; his teeth deep in the muscle of Harry's bare shoulder. Harry let out a harsh yelp, not quite a scream, his senses abruptly overwhelmed. He twisted in Snape's arms, trying to get away, trying to get closer, trying to get more, but Snape's entire body seemed made of iron.

By the time Harry realized they were moving, he was pinned against the wall. Snape had let go of his arm only to capture both of Harry's wrists in a painful grip and slam his arms above his head. He brought his other hand to Harry's throat and squeezed slightly, smirking, eyes darker than Harry had ever seen them. A jolt of electricity tore down Harry's spine.

"Anything, Mr. Potter?" he whispered, leaning in to bite down -- hard -- on Harry's earlobe. Harry whimpered. "I'm afraid your options are rather limited when dealing with me." His hand closed again on Harry's throat, and Harry went still as he tried to conserve his breath. But he hadn't been breathing very deeply, and it wasn't long before he started seeing small flashes of light behind his eyelids. His head was pounding harshly and the skin on his face felt stretched and thin. He was full of needles. Panic started to overtake him and he thrashed mindlessly against Snape, trying to dislodge the hand on his throat.

Just as the pain threatened to overcome him, Snape let go, and Harry opened his mouth in shattering relief to suck in a lungful of air. In that moment, Snape closed his mouth over Harry's and slammed their bodies together, shoving a thigh between Harry's legs and trapping him against the wall. Harry, lightheaded and giddy from the sudden rush of oxygen, tried to kiss back, but he didn't know how; Snape was too demanding, his lips hard and punishing against Harry's. The pressure built in his balls as he ground himself against Snape's leg, and then he was groaning as all the nerves in his body shattered into darkness.

When he drifted back to consciousness sometime later, he was sagged against Snape, who hadn't moved. Harry's arms were around the other man's shoulders, his head dropped onto Snape's chest. He was still straddling Snape's thigh, and he was a little cold. His pants were clammy.

He felt Snape's warm hands close on his shoulders and push him back firmly, and then Snape was walking to the leather wingback in the corner of the room. Harry stood stock-still, suddenly very embarrassed and more than a little nervous. Snape dropped gracefully into the chair, looking unruffled and uninterested, and raised an eyebrow.

"Something else I can help you with, Mr. Potter?"

Harry's gut clenched and he looked at Snape uncertainly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

"I... er ... I guess not."

Snape crossed his legs and leaned back into the chair. "Then I suggest you go to bed."

Harry's throat closed and he felt a crushing weight descend on his chest. He closed his eyes against the pain.

three.
Harry blinked and looked around, confused. He knew Snape had hit him with the Imperius Curse, but he couldn't remember anything after that. But Snape had clearly not made him play in traffic, which saved Harry the trouble of caring. He knew he was sitting on a comfortable, overstuffed blue sofa. He couldn't tell where he was, because the only other thing he could see was Snape, who was looming in front of him, arms crossed. Harry looked at him tiredly.

"Something I can help you with, Mr. Potter?"

Harry's eyes narrowed. He'd heard that before, and recently. Could you dream under the Imperius? How long had it been? Why couldn't he remember? He had so many questions, but he wasn't sure he wanted to ask Snape any of them. He tried for something safe.

"Where are we, sir?"

The eyebrow went up. "I thought you didn't care."

Harry yawned, stretching. "Fine. Where's my bedroom? I'm tired."

Snape stepped aside and bowed mockingly. "One floor up, second door on the left. Sweet dreams." His robes snapped as he turned, and Harry closed his eyes. Maybe he could just rest out here for a little while, until he wasn't quite so tired.

***

At some point, Harry came to the realization that he was in an actual bed, and no longer on the sofa. He couldn't remember how he'd got there, or how long he'd been there, but the bed was very comfortable, and he was very tired, so he rolled over and went back to sleep.

***

The door to his room slammed open, jarring Harry awake. It was still dark, but somehow the air changed, and Harry knew it was Snape. He sat up and rubbed his eyes as Snape launched into a speech, sounding very far away. Harry had to work to hear him.

"Mr. Potter. As much pleasure as it gives me to think of you starving to death in darkness, isolation, and despair, there are others who seem to be laboring under the laughable impression that you are destined for greater things. I must therefore insist that you join me for meals, starting tomorrow. They are at eight, noon, and six. You will be on time, you will be presentable, or you will be sorry." He paused for questions, heard none, and slammed back out of the room.

Harry blinked, yawned, and lay back down, trying to think. He wasn't sure what to think about. He couldn't think about Sirius. He couldn't think about Dumbledore. He didn't want to think about Ron or Hermione or Neville or any of his friends. He'd let everyone down, and Voldemort was going to kill him, and Harry wished he would bloody well get on with it. He wanted to die, preferably before anyone else did. Maybe Snape would kill him.

Snape. Someone else Harry wasn't sure he should think about. How long had he been under the Imperius? Harry felt like there was something he should know, should remember, but he couldn't quite touch it. What happened? What were they doing in this house? Where was this house? Was anyone else here? How long would they stay? Were the Death Eaters after them? The questions were endless, and Harry had trouble concentrating long enough to list them; answering them was almost unthinkable.

Harry remembered that once he had hated Snape, but now Harry hated only himself. He still felt twinges of dislike in Snape's general direction, and he certainly didn't trust the man, but it was nothing Harry couldn't ignore for a while. That decided, he set the alarm for the first time in recent memory.

four.
The alarm went off for a good five minutes before Harry was awake and aware enough to turn it off. It took him longer than that to remember why he'd bothered setting it in the first place. He needed to be "presentable," whatever that meant, and downstairs for breakfast in 15 minutes. He fumbled for his glasses and took his first real look around.

The bedroom wasn't large, but it was much nicer than the one he'd had at the Dursleys'. It was decorated in dark blues and reds, and the furniture all matched. The bed was bigger than his four-poster at Hogwarts, and he saw that his trunk was at its foot. His broom hung on the wall opposite the bed, along with a few pictures of himself, Hermione and Ron that he recognized from third year. There was a small closet, where his robes were hanging, and a small chest of drawers where he figured he would probably find the rest of his clothes. His books were arranged categorically on a bookshelf, and a fully stocked writing desk was in the corner opposite his bed. Acres of green countryside were visible out the window. It felt rather homey, really, and Harry stared at everything, wondering who had taken the trouble to try to make him comfortable.

He was still staring when Snape opened the door. Harry gave a start and looked over at the clock, which informed him he was 10 minutes late. Snape's eyebrows went up and Harry looked at the floor. The air in the room was suddenly much thicker.

"Mr. Potter," Snape said silkily. "Do you remember the conversation we had yesterday?"

Harry nodded numbly.

"Well?"

Harry looked up, but didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure why he couldn't get out of bed. He felt paralyzed and useless and scared, and he had a splitting headache. He didn't know what Snape's definition of "presentable" was, and he didn't know where the shower was, and he was having serious doubts that he would actually be able to make it through a meal. He wasn't hungry, anyway, and now that he was thinking about food, he was getting a bit nauseated.

"I... I don't know, sir. I planned to come to breakfast. I set my alarm and everything. I just... I don't think I can." He wondered if Snape would imperio him to the shower, and a quick jolt of amusement and something else washed over him, and then he was in a tailspin. The floor started to shift underneath him and his breath came fast and shallow. He tried to focus on Snape -- it had worked last time -- but he couldn't see him.

"Potter!"

Harry opened his eyes -- oh. Snape was only a few inches away, shaking him. Harry dragged a hand through his hair. It was a mess.

"What happened?" he asked.

Snape straightened, but didn't back up, leaving Harry at eye-level with his crotch. Harry swallowed and looked away, cheeks flaming.

"I believe you were having an hysterical fit at the thought of my company at mealtimes," Snape said.

"Uh... oh. Okay." The next words were out before he could stop them. "You know I never have any idea what you're talking about, right?"

"I could hardly have failed to notice that fact, Potter," Snape said dryly. "Look at me." Harry looked up, but he couldn't quite make his eyes focus on Snape's. There was just a blurry black blob in front of him. His breathing started to pick up again, and then he heard a resounding crack! as Snape's hand connected with his cheek.

Harry sat frozen for a second, and then hurled himself at Snape with a feral cry. Snape grunted in surprise as his back crashed against the doorjamb. Harry went for his wand but couldn't find it, so he settled for beating his fists into Snape's chest. He wasn't sure how long it lasted, and then...

He's going to murder me. Harry stepped back, staring at the Potions master in wide-eyed horror. He'd hit Snape. A lot. And Snape was just standing there, glaring and twitching and snarling, and Harry was absolutely sure the next words he heard were going to be avada kedavra. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily, and waited for death.

"Well, Potter, now that you are vertical, and -- I assume -- quite finished assaulting me, kindly take a shower. You reek of teenage boy. The bathroom is across the hall." Harry, surprised to be alive, opened his eyes and found himself staring at Snape's wand. "Go!"

Harry went.

He stood in the shower for a long time. He didn't remember the last time he'd taken one, and it actually felt quite good. He turned the water on as hot as he could stand it, and thought about Snape. He was rapidly losing the ability to think about anything else -- when he was awake, anyway, which thankfully wasn't very often.

What had just happened? Was Snape trying to provoke him? Why hadn't Snape fought back? Again, there were too many questions, and Harry got lost trying to list them all. He really needed Hermione for this sort of thing. He had no idea what Snape was up to.

The water started to get cold as he thought about it, and he shook his head, trying to focus. He washed his hair as quickly as he could -- when had it got so long? -- and stepped out of the shower. He reached for his glasses, which were on top of a set of unfamiliar robes. He put them on and opened the door.

"Congratulations, Mr. Potter, I cannot smell you from here."

Harry walked automatically towards the sound of Snape's voice, which was coming from the foot of the stairs. Harry looked downstairs doubtfully, suddenly noticing the trembling in his legs. This was the longest he could remember being out of bed for ...

"How long?"

"Excuse me?"

"How long have I been..."

"Sulking? Moping? Pouting? Utterly useless, even as a Muggle?" Snape paused, but Harry didn't say anything. "Three weeks."

Harry reeled. Three weeks? He wasn't sure if he had been expecting a longer time, or a shorter one.

"Oh," he said weakly, and started down the stairs. He made it about half way before his legs gave out. Snape's levitation spell caught him before he fell, and he was floated safely to the kitchen table. Harry, trying to look around, realized that the downstairs of this house was laid out exactly like the downstairs of the Dursleys', although the decor was strangely bland, like the houses in those Muggle decorating magazines Aunt Petunia got, the ones that looked like no one actually lived there. Something tugged at the corner of his memory, but Harry found himself seated at the kitchen table before he could think too much about it.

Harry looked at Snape but decided he wasn't ready to talk to the man, and judging by the unpleasant sneer on Snape's face, that was fine with him. There was plain toast and a glass of something thick and clumpy and green on the table. Snape sat down across from Harry, and surprised him by not having anything nasty to say about falling down the stairs.

"Eat, Potter. Eat slowly, but eat."

Harry picked up his toast and eyed the green stuff. He looked at Snape and tried to raise an eyebrow. Snape smirked, but said, "That will go down best if you drink it all at once."

Harry shrugged and reached for the glass, which shattered suddenly in his hand. Green stuff spattered all over his robes. Harry looked up, startled and confused, and saw that Snape had his wand out and his lips were thin with anger. His robes were conveniently free of green stuff.

"The proper response, Potter, when someone hands you a potion to drink, is not to drink it!"

Harry opened and closed his mouth a few times. "But Dumbledore's been telling me to trust you for years," he objected.

"And you offer unquestioning obedience to Professor Dumbledore in all things, of course." Harry glared at him, but Snape didn't elaborate, and he didn't seem to expect Harry to answer. With a few waves of his wand, Snape had cleaned up the mess and summoned another glass of clumpy green potion. "Drink."

Harry eyed him suspiciously. "Really?"

"Potter," Snape snarled. "Ask me what it is!"

"Oh." He looked at the potion and shrugged. "I don't care," he said truthfully. It didn't seem important.

Snape gritted his teeth, looking murderous. "Of all the stupid, selfish..." he growled. "You don't care? While it is a regrettably safe assumption that I am not attempting to kill you, Potter, there are plenty of people who are. There are even more people, however, who are seemingly waiting around for you defeat the Dark Lord in glorious battle, preferably on Hogwarts grounds so Gryffindor can win the House Cup."

"What?" Harry gaped. He had no clue what Snape was talking about.

"Eat your toast."

Harry took a small bite and remembered, a little, why he didn't like Professor Snape.

***

Breakfast passed in silence after that. Harry managed to eat half his piece of toast before feeling too ill to continue, and he drank his green potion without ever bothering to find out what it was. It tasted terrible, but he felt quite a bit better after he'd finished it. Snape glared at Harry the entire time, but said nothing more until they were finished.

"After meals, you will clean up."

"I will?"

"You will. I, after all, am cooking. It's how these things are done."

"Yeah, I bet you slaved away over my piece of plain toast."

Both the eyebrows went up this time. "Careful, Potter."

"Is this a Muggle house? Sir?"

"You are still an underage wizard, Potter, and this is still summer. You are not to do magic, and you will find few things in this house to tempt you otherwise. There is, obviously, no such restriction on me."

"That's not fair. What if you try to kill me?"

"I shall succeed and retire to the south of France. Do you have homework?"

five.
The next week found Snape taking an unholy amount of glee in managing every second of Harry's time. He assigned him very straightforward tasks (wash the dishes, read this chapter, skin these seven shrivelfigs), allotted him some time, and left him to it. At first, Harry couldn't finish anything Snape told him to do. He couldn't concentrate on anything for very long, and Snape started giving him a list of tasks so that Harry could jump from one to the other when he had trouble concentrating. It took longer, but he got more accomplished by the end of the day.

Harry wasn't any closer to figuring out what was going on with Snape, although he hadn't tried all that hard. He just knew it was weird. His suspicions about the house had proved mostly correct -- it was almost an exact replica of the Dursleys', although where his cupboard should have been, there were stairs to a basement, which Snape had converted into a potions laboratory. The laboratory was the only room in the house aside from Harry's bedroom that showed any sign of being occupied. Harry had stuck his head into every room in the house, and not one looked as if Snape slept there. Maybe Snape just didn't sleep.

Harry wasn't sleeping, either. Once Snape had forbidden him to sleep all the time, he found it impossible to sleep at all. He was restless and jittery, and if Snape accidentally left him a few minutes to himself, he paced around the house like a caged animal. He wasn't allowed to leave, or write letters, so he'd been through every drawer in the place, poked around in every nook and cranny, and he still wasn't able to find out anything about who normally lived here, or even where they were. He watched Snape as carefully as he could, which was hard when he spent all his time in Snape's presence trying not to look at him, but Snape gave nothing away. Harry started to wonder if maybe he should try asking.

***

"It was an Unforgivable," Harry said, glaring at Snape across the kitchen table. Snape sipped his tea and stared back. "Will they send you to Azkaban?"

"You're not that lucky, Potter," Snape said, snorting. "Besides, you submitted."

"To coming with you! Not to the Imperius!" Harry felt anger stirring deep within his belly, and remembered that he used to be angry all the time.

"Spare me, Potter. My intentions were clear."

"I don't remember," Harry said, eliciting a frown from Snape. "The curse, I mean. I don't remember what I did, what you made me do. I... it seems like I was under for a long time."

Snape sipped his tea silently, his swallows loud in the silent room.

"Are you casting aspersions on my character, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked quietly. This conversation suddenly seemed like a very bad idea.

"Er. No."

"Good. I should hate to think you would do such a thing after all I've done for you."

***

Snape was drugging him. That was the only explanation. He poured potion after potion down Harry's throat, lips thinned in anger: Harry hadn't asked about any of them. There were green clumpy potions and purple bubbly potions and red slimy potions and potions that tasted suspiciously like water. Harry was sometimes able to go for hours without thinking of Sirius, without passing out, without descending into any kind of depressed or panicked state, without losing time. He didn't collapse on the stairs or in the shower and he didn't dream of death and pain and torment. Snape had to be drugging him.

"Drink."

"What is it?" Harry eyed the clumpy green potion suspiciously, as if he hadn't been drinking it three times a day for the past ten days. This earned him The Eyebrow, as Harry had taken to calling it.

"Why the sudden caution, Potter?"

"You're drugging me."

"Very astute. Drink."

Harry drank.

six.
A few more days of this, and Harry was actually starting to feel okay around Snape. He still wasn't quite comfortable, but Snape mostly left him alone when he wasn't micromanaging. But Harry's curiosity about what was going on was starting to get the better of him, and although he didn't think it was possible to get a straight answer out of Snape, he decided to have a go one morning at breakfast.

"Did you sleep well, Professor?" This earned him The Eyebrow. Then nothing. Harry rolled his eyes and went back to his porridge. "Nevermind," he muttered. And then, before he could stop himself, "Did you sleep at all?"

"Forgive me if I fail to see how my sleeping habits are any concern of yours."

"D'you ever talk like a normal person? Couldn't you just say, 'Why?' or, 'What's it to you, Potter?'" Harry's Snape imitation was passable, and he was rewarded with a brand-new facial expression: The Smirk. Harry added it to his mental list, which so far included The Eyebrow, The Sneer, and The Glare.

"I could, yes, if these 'normal people' of which you speak weren't all a bunch of ignorant half-wits with the vocabularies of three-year-olds."

Harry rolled his eyes again. "My sleeping habits seem to be a pretty big concern of yours. I thought I'd..." Harry stopped, blushing. That hadn't been what he'd wanted to say. But when he dared to look at Snape, the man's face was strangely blank.

"I am drugging you."

Harry blinked, a little surprised. "Yeah, I know."

Snape stood up and walked to the living room, motioning for Harry to follow. Harry trailed after him, breakfast forgotten, and curled himself at the end of the blue sofa. Snape settled into a burgundy leather wingback which Harry thought was terribly uncomfortable.

"Shall I stop?" Snape's face was still blank, but the question took Harry by surprise. He blinked.

"I... tell me what you're giving me. And I don't need to know the histories of every ingredient in every potion, and how delicate and subtle everything is. Sir." Harry grinned weakly, trying to show that he'd been joking. Mostly. Snape narrowed his eyes, but answered the question.

"A restorative, for nutrition and hydration. An incredibly powerful sleeping draught. A strength potion. A calming draught. A focusing draught. A muscle relaxant. An analgesic -- a pain-killer, Potter."

"Wow. That's a lot." He had the feeling Snape had left something off the list, but he wasn't sure. He'd need to keep better track.

"Yes. You'll have to stop taking them at some point, but I don't advise doing it all at once. Once you are back on a suitable diet, you may stop taking the restorative and the strength potion. I've been decreasing the potency of those each day. The same is true of the analgesic. I think you will be finished with that soon -- perhaps tomorrow." Snape sent a hard look his way, and Harry was suddenly uncomfortable. He really didn't like being the sole focus of the man's attention. "It is ultimately up to you, but it is imperative that you inform me of any decisions you make, so I may adjust the rest of the potions accordingly."

Harry wasn't sure what to make of this information. Did he really need all that stuff? He looked uncertainly at Snape.

"Er. What do you think?"

"Is the famous Harry Potter actually asking for my opinion?"

"You know I don't know anything about potions," Harry grumbled. "And I can't very well ask Hermione." He still wasn't allowed to send owls, and he wasn't sure he'd want to, anyway -- what would he say? But he thought the option might be nice.

"I think not, Potter. Besides, even Miss Granger--"

"Hold on." He furrowed his brow as something Snape had said earlier clicked into place. "Did you say, earlier... Do you spend your days making potions? For me?"

"Hardly, Mr. Potter," Snape snapped.

"But you said you've been decreasing the potency of that one! And that you'd have to adjust all the other ones if I decided to change one of them!"

Snape sighed, and for a minute Harry didn't think he was going to answer.

"Mr. Potter, your use of pronouns is overwhelming. Please stop until you can assign them proper antecedents. Moreover, diluting a restorative is hardly something that requires brewing a new batch, as any reasonably competent first-year should know, let alone an incompetent sixth-year such as yourself. Adjusting the rest of the mix is slightly more delicate, but the changes themselves are relatively simple."

Harry blinked. He'd actually caught most of that.

"Now," Snape continued. "You can either stop taking the sleeping draught, and continue with the calming and focusing draughts, or the other way round. Do you understand the effects?"

Harry chewed on his bottom lip, considering.

"If I stop taking the sleeping draught, I won't be able to sleep. Or I'll have nightmares. So I'll have to take more of the others to be functional during the day. But if take stop taking those, then I won't be functional, and I don't see what that's got to do with anything. I'm confused. Sorry, sir."

"You are fortunate I cannot deduct points, Potter. You will eventually be expected to function without the use of potions at all." Snape's tone hadn't changed, but something about his expression gave Harry the idea that Snape found this distasteful. "Getting through the day without will be very difficult for a while, and you will need your sleep. If you're not getting any sleep, the days will be harder. If--"

"I want to stop taking all of them."

"And just when I thought we were communicating," he muttered. "No, Potter, that is not an option."

"Then I need to think about it, sir."

Snape's eyes narrowed, but he eventually nodded his consent. Harry decided to try taking advantage of the professor's relatively talkative mood, and leaned a little closer to Snape's chair.

"Sir, can you tell me what's going on? Where are we? Why are we here? How long do we have to stay?"

Snape shot him a considering look. Harry tried not to fidget.

"You will be safer if your knowledge is limited." Harry's mouth opened in outrage and he was half off the sofa before Snape snapped, "Do not interrupt, Potter!"

Harry's jaw clamped shut, and he sank stiffly back to the sofa. Snape sighed.

"I realize that the previous limitation of your knowledge is one of the contributing factors to our current situation, and that in combination with your unfortunate blend of hubris and recklessness it produces an infinite capacity for mischief, but it cannot be helped. You will have to trust me. I will tell you what I can." He paused, and seemed to be waiting for Harry to catch up. Harry nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.

"As you know, the dementors of Azkaban are no longer under the control of the Ministry of Magic. They have joined the Dark Lord, allowing the Death Eaters held in Azkaban to escape. As you can probably guess, none of these people can be counted among the members of your fan club."

"Yeah, I know all that," Harry cut in irritably.

"Mr. Potter, as someone who asks so many questions, tell me something: Has it occurred to you to try listening to the answers?"

Harry sighed and mumbled an apology. He was a little worried about where this conversation was going, and wanted it to get there soon.

"Sources close to the Dark Lord--"

"You, sir?"

Snape went very still, and Harry cursed himself. He hadn't meant to say that out loud.

"Excuse me?" His voice was pitched low and dangerous, and Harry's skin started to prickle.

"I... Sorry, sir, for interrupting. I was just wondering if you were the one to find out. I mean, I know... Dumbledore said..." Harry gave up. Snape was just staring at him, his eyes glittering in a way that made Harry very nervous.

"Did he," he murmured. "And I assume your fan club has been told?" Harry nodded slowly, a little unsure about what was happening. Surely Snape couldn't think that Harry wouldn't know of his work for the Order? Something seemed to shift behind Snape's eyes, and he got up, went to the liquor cabinet, and poured himself a glass of scotch. Harry tried not to remark that it was well before noon. When Snape sat back down, he seemed back to normal.

"Excellent. Now. I believe we were discussing your situation. The Dark Lord is active again, and he has assigned no fewer than four Death Eaters the task of hunting you down and killing you. He has tired of games."

"But... they can't. Only Vol--"

"Do not say the Dark Lord's name!" Snape snapped. "I've warned you before, Potter. But yes, I know about the prophecy. The Dark Lord does not, hence the orders."

"Oh. Do you know who V-- who the Dark Lord sent?"

Snape leaned back in the chair, looking oddly smug. He swirled the scotch in his glass.

"Me."

Harry felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. He swallowed audibly. Snape took another drink.

"You."

"Mm."

Harry couldn't do anything but stare, and Snape's eyes flashed.

"Potter, if you're about to ask me when and how I plan to kill you, so help me--"

"No! I... it's just a surprise, that's all. What did you tell him? How are you going to get out of it? Did he send anyone else?"

"As we are speaking of your life, Potter, you could try to do me the courtesy of paying at least some attention. I believe I already mentioned that he sent no less than four people after you. Several weeks ago, the Dark Lord issued orders to hunt you down and kill you. Bellatrix Lestrange, in particular, was eager to get her hands on you; she mentioned wanting to familiarize you with the finer details of the Cruciatus Curse. As if such existed."

Harry closed his eyes, and her mad laughter rang in his ears.

"In addition to myself, he has assigned Avery to assist the Lestranges in their task. The three of them have been working together, and I on my own. They had been doing rather better, in a manner of speaking. It was really only a matter of time before Lestrange tracked you to your relatives'. She was planning to murder your aunt, bringing the wards down and allowing her to get to you.

"She had Rodolphus watching the house, but he is... easily distracted. I extracted you with a minimum of fuss, and here we are. You are missing. The circumstances of your disappearance are suspicious and unknown, and the entire Wizarding world -- myself included -- is looking for you. I cannot tell you where we are. Your disappearance has caused confusion and dissension among the ranks of both sides, and each is using that confusion to their own ends. We shall wait here for the dust to settle."

"Um... then what? What happens when we get back to Hogwarts?"

Snape took another sip of his drink. "What makes you think we're going back to Hogwarts?"

Harry felt himself turn green. "Oh. But... we can't just stay here! I have to kill him, so I'll have to show up sometime. Won't my reappearance stir things back up again? Are you just going to go back to Vol-- to the Dark Lord and say, 'Sorry, mate, couldn't find him'?"

"Yes, that is precisely what I will say," Snape snapped. "No one else will be able to find you, either, so it's not as if the failure will be mine alone. I will be punished, of course, but there may be mitigating factors." He shook his head, and Harry got the impression he hadn't quite meant to say that. "Regardless, Potter, my fate at the Dark Lord's hands does not concern you."

"He'll kill you." The notion bothered Harry, and he wasn't sure if it was because he didn't want anyone else to die because of him, or because of some other reason. He squirmed in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable under Snape's intense stare.

"At which point your chances of passing Potions increase a thousand-fold. Now. Speaking of potions. Have you made a decision?"

Harry wasn't ready to move on, but Snape was obviously done discussing his plans. Harry tried to make his eyes flash at Snape.

"I want to stop taking all of them. Sir."

Snape sighed, obviously exasperated.

"I've already told you that is not an option."

"Just to see what it's like! Isn't that what I should be doing? Don't you tell us to test everything, sir? I don't know what anything does or how it effects me. I just want to try a day or two without any potions at all and see what happens, and then we can decide."

Snape was silent, considering. Finally he nodded and said, "Very well. No potions. Two days."

"Thank you, sir."

seven.
Harry woke up screaming. He'd dreamt of red eyes and green lightning and the ghosts of his murdered friends and family had whispered recriminations in his ears. Your fault. All your fault. They screamed at him until their throats bled and then there were a million hands on him, all over him. He flew at the first body he could find, snarling and biting and scratching. He wasn't sure when he realized the screams he was hearing were his own, and that the body underneath him was Snape, bloody and bruised but not fighting. Harry looked down, eyes widening in horror, and then gave a broken sob and collapsed.

Harry wasn't sure what happened next. He started talking, first about the dream, and then about Sirius. Then Snape's arms were around him, and he was still talking and sobbing and he was sure he didn't make any sense, but he needed to be rid of all the dreams and the death and the doubts that had been inside him for so long. Somehow it was okay that it was Snape because it wasn't like the man could possibly hate him any more than he already did.

When Harry woke up again, he was back in his bedroom, and Snape was there. Harry wasn't sure if it was weird or comforting for Snape to be watching him like that. Snape had transfigured Harry's desk chair into an overstuffed lounge chair, and was, well, lounging. He was wearing Muggle pyjamas -- black flannel bottoms and a faded black t-shirt. His hair was tied back. He looked almost human. Harry felt his mouth drop open, but he was too shocked to do anything about it.

"Professor?" He tried to say. It came out sounding like, "Rawwwugh." Then he coughed, and Snape was pressing a glass of water to his lips and ordering him to drink. The Dark Mark on his left forearm leered at Harry, and he closed his eyes against the sight.

"The unfortunate side effects of hours of screaming and crying, I'm afraid," Snape commented dryly. Harry finished the glass of water and looked at Snape, who put the glass down and crossed his arms. Now that he was no longer in shadow, Harry realized the left side of his face looked like someone had used it for a punch-bag. The eye was nearly swollen shut, and there was a nasty cut on his mouth.

"Oh, god. Professor. Are you all right? I think-- I attacked you."

"Very observant, Potter. These unprovoked assaults of yours are becoming quite a habit. Fortunately -- or perhaps unfortunately -- for you, I shall live. I will be in quite a bit of trouble the day I can't fend off a crazed teenager." He paused. "And you?"

"I've been better. Are you sure you're all right? That's a-- I'm really sorry."

"I assure you, Potter, I'm fine. The cuts and bruises are superficial, easily charmed away. I left them to make a point."

"Oh." Harry stared, waiting. Snape just stared back. "Well? Are you going to tell me what that point is?"

"No. Integro." The swelling went down, and the cuts closed up. They didn't quite heal all the way, but he looked much better. Snape sat back down and crossed his ankles.

"Big surprise," Harry muttered under his breath.

And then he remembered that he was sitting in his bedroom with Snape, and they were both in their pyjamas. He looked at Snape's feet, blue veins showing through thin skin. Harry got the strangest feeling he'd seen them before, which couldn't be right. He wondered if the rest of Snape's skin... No. No, he didn't wonder anything of the sort. He didn't even like Snape. He should definitely go back to sleep. He rolled over.

"Oh, no, Potter. It's time to get up. Past time."

"What? But... I'm so tired."

"Indeed. But as I recall, you insisted on this little experiment, and I am therefore bound to ensure you see it through. Get up."

Harry couldn't help noticing that Snape himself hadn't moved. And that Snape was barefoot. Why did he keep looking at Snape's feet? He pushed himself to the edge of the bed, stood, and then promptly sat back down, head swimming.

"Perhaps not so fast, Potter."

Harry tried again, more slowly. He wobbled on his feet a bit, and then steadied. He looked around bleakly. He really was tired, and he didn't see why he should have to go to breakfast anyway. He wasn't hungry. The night had left him exhausted and drained, and everything seemed pointless. He sat back down.

"Well, Potter?" Snape inquired mildly.

"I can't."

"I see. Petrificus totalus." Harry's body went rigid. Snape stood and stretched, and Harry thought it was probably a good thing he wasn't able to make any noise. He probably would have had a choking fit. Snape levitated Harry across the hall into the bathroom, stashed him in a corner, and started the shower. He turned around and, eyes on Harry's, muttered something under his breath that Harry didn't catch. Harry felt a rush of cool air, and realized he was naked. His eyes widened in horror and a blush raced over his body. Snape, eyes never leaving Harry's, floated him into the shower, ended the petrificus, closed his eyes deliberately, and turned his back. Harry was mortified.

"Pervert."

"Do try to be a little more precise with your insults, Potter, else our time together is going to be frightfully dull. I believe the word you want is 'pederast.'"

Harry glared at Snape's back and jerked the shower curtain shut. He heard the door open and close, and Snape was gone.

Harry stared at the shower wall, fury and embarrassment slowly melting away into confusion. Snape had been careful -- very careful -- to keep his eyes to himself, which at least helped with the embarrassment. But the whole situation had been more than a little strange. What had that spell been? Why did Harry know what Snape's feet looked like? Was Snape going to try to kill him when they returned to Hogwarts? Were Ron and Hermione worried about him? He frowned. He had no idea what a pederast was.

Some distant part of him recognized his state of mind as being exactly what it was before Snape had started drugging him -- everything felt heavy and far away, and he couldn't concentrate on anything. He tried to think about that, about maybe asking Snape for help, but the door cracked open and he jumped, startled.

"Potter, you've been in here for almost an hour. Dare I ask what's taking so long?"

"Shut up."

There was a brief pause in which Harry remembered who was talking to and winced.

"Five more minutes, and I shall be forced to come in and get you." The door closed. Harry turned the water off, dried himself, and pulled his pyjama bottoms back on. He didn't feel like wearing robes today. He went to his room, pulled on a clean t-shirt, and then went downstairs for breakfast.

He slammed himself into a chair and glared at Snape, who was sitting across the table. He lifted a single black brow.

"What's a pederast?"

Snape's lips twitched as Harry's eyes widened. Of all the questions he could have asked, that had been the last one he'd meant to. Snape accio'd a dictionary from -- where? -- and slid it across the table. Harry read aloud, valiantly fighting the blush that crawled across his face.

"'Pederast. A man who has sexual relations with a boy.'" He looked up at Snape, who was looking back, eyebrow raised, faintly amused.

"Are you?" Harry almost clamped his hand over his mouth. He needed to just stop talking. Snape's eyebrow climbed a little higher.

"Having sexual relations with a boy? Unless they've changed the meaning on me, Potter, this hardly qualifies." He gestured languidly at the breakfast table, and Harry felt his face heat up.

"I'm not a boy!" Harry felt his mouth drop open, and this time he went ahead and clapped a hand over it. His face was on fire. Where had that come from? And why was Snape smirking? "I... That's not what I meant."

"I'm aware of what you meant," Snape said, mercifully ignoring Harry's gaffe. His voice was mild, but his eyes were flashing, and Harry noticed the vein at his temple start to throb. "You tell me. Am I?"

Harry tore his eyes from Snape and stared at a particularly shiny spot on the kitchen table. He swallowed his embarrassment -- he could not believe he was actually having this conversation with Snape, of all people -- and tried to think about it honestly. He thought about Snape, barefoot in his room. He thought about the point he'd made to keep his eyes on Harry's when he'd undressed him, and how Snape had even closed his eyes before he turned around, just in case. He thought about how he'd held Harry in the night, soothing his screams and letting Harry exhaust himself. He thought about how he'd begged Snape not to go, not to leave, and he hadn't. What Harry tried very hard not to think about was Snape having sexual relations with anyone. Particularly him.

"No," he said in a small voice. He took a deep breath and looked up. "I'm sorry, sir. You've never... I never should have..." He closed his eyes and sighed. "I apologize." He hoped Snape would realize he meant it. He opened his eyes to see that Snape's black gaze had hardened. The vein at his temple was still throbbing. Harry looked down, confused. He'd thought Snape wanted an apology. Now he wasn't sure what to say.

"Is there anything you'd like to ask me, Potter?"

Harry's head snapped back up in surprise. Since when did Snape invite questions? Harry thought about it. There were about a million things he wanted to ask, but he got the impression Snape wanted to hear a very specific question. Harry went back to staring at the shiny spot on the table, trying to force his mind to focus. It was useless. He couldn't even think of all the things he wanted to know, and he was sure he wasn't going to be able to guess what Snape wanted to hear. He was worried about what Snape might say if he got it wrong, and he had no idea what Snape was playing at and he was much too tired to try to figure any of it out. He went with the best answer he had.

"No," he said quietly.

"No," Snape repeated flatly.

"'Course there are things I want to ask you," he snapped, frustrated. "But there's no point. You're not going to answer any of my questions." He risked a quick glance at Snape, but the man hadn't moved. He desperately wanted out of this conversation. "I'm cold, sir," he mumbled, trying to change the subject. Snape was silent for a few long moments, and then he accio'd a jumper, finished his porridge, and said nothing further.

***

Harry broke one glass and two bowls trying to wash the dishes. He didn't finish any of the reading Snape told him to do, and he cut his fingers less than five minutes into skinning shrivelfigs. He got colder and colder, and ever more exhausted. Snape seemed farther away, and after lunch, Harry told him to bugger off, collapsed on the couch, and fell asleep.

eight.
When he woke up, he was in Snape's bedroom. He knew it was Snape's bedroom because he'd been there before, although he couldn't remember when. It was familiar, and new, and Harry still had no idea where Snape's bedroom even was, let alone how he'd managed to get there.

Snape was in his pyjamas, sitting in the wingback, staring coldly at Harry. There was no sign of a book near him, and Harry wondered absurdly if that's what Snape did in his room -- sat and stared at the wall. He tried to look at anything except Snape, but there was nothing else to look at, and Harry felt his eyes creeping towards the Potions master.

"Something I can help you with, Mr. Potter?" Snape's voice was etched in ice, and Harry shivered.

"I-- I don't know, sir."

"Then I suggest you figure it out."

Harry stared into Snape's eyes for what felt like an eternity, finally tearing his gaze away in a sudden bout of self-loathing. He hated this. He hated that he couldn't concentrate and he hated that he didn't know what was going on and he hated that he didn't even care. He hated Snape and he hated himself and he hated that Snape was so nonchalant about everything while Harry was being eaten alive. He looked back up.

"I hate you," he spat, surprised by the vehemence of his own voice. The conversation didn't seem real; it was as if he were watching it from a distance instead of participating. He felt his lips curl when Snape raised that damned eyebrow.

"I assure you, Mr. Potter, the feeling is entirely mutual."

"Then why are you helping me?"

At that, Snape stood and started advancing slowly on Harry, eyes hot and flashing. It was all Harry could do not to shrink into himself as Snape closed the distance between them. He'd been growing, but Snape still towered over him, and even in his pyjamas, the man was intimidating.

"What makes you think I'm helping you?" Snape's voice was low and dangerous, and Harry felt something clench in his belly. "What makes you think I'm not helping myself?" He reached out and trailed a single long finger down Harry's bare sternum. Harry exhaled sharply as his consciousness collided abruptly with his body. He went from feeling afloat to feeling hyperaware of everything: the air currents in the room; Snape's steady heartbeat and his own thready pulse; the creaking of the floorboards under his weight; even the crackle of the light bulb above them.

"You hate me," he said. "You have to hate me." Snape's hatred was the one thing he could count on. "I'm balls at Potions and I think you're ugly and greasy and I looked in your Penseive and would you stop looking at me like that?"

"How would you like me to look at you?" Harry shivered as Snape's silken voice washed over him. Every muscle in Harry's body was tensed and quivering; he was now fighting desperately not to lean into Snape. The man was radiating heat and something else Harry didn't want to think about.

"I don't want you to look at me at all!"

Snape smirked and leaned in close to whisper intimately in Harry's ear. "Then perhaps you ought to consider not showing up in my bedchamber half-naked with a tent in your trousers."

"I don't--" But he did. He flushed crimson and closed his eyes. He felt Snape pull away and circle behind him. "Oh, God," he said, as realization crashed down. "We've done this before."

"It was rather better last time," Snape confirmed, hot breath ghosting over Harry's ear. "You talked less."

"I should never talk again," Harry muttered. His mouth always got him into trouble with Snape. He had no idea what it was going to get him now. He wasn't sure he cared. Not as long as Snape kept nipping at his earlobe like that.

"Tell me why you're here, Potter, and then we can see about impeding your speech." Harry dropped his head back on Snape's shoulder with a low moan as a long-fingered hand came up to caress his throat. He was supposed to think? He could barely hear his thoughts over the slamming of his heart in his chest.

"I-- I don't know."

The hand stopped, and Harry almost collapsed when Snape drew away from him. Harry whimpered and opened his eyes. Snape had circled back around and was standing in front of him, arms crossed, eyes glinting dangerously.

"Figure it out, Potter, or go back to your own room."

The words hit Harry like a bucket of ice water. "But I don't even know where your room is!" He protested, trying to stall. He wasn't sure he could say what Snape wanted to hear, but he didn't want to leave.

"Fascinating." So much for stalling. Snape stared at him for several long seconds as Harry tried to gain some control over himself and his thoughts. He looked miserably at Snape, who went and sat back down in the wingback.

"I can't do this," he whispered. "I can't-- I feel-- I don't... I don't understand. I don't like you, but this--" He gestured vaguely between them and willed Snape to understand. "At least it's something, yeah? I don't think I have to like you."

"No, you don't, but you do have to be a little more specific about what you expect to get out of our -- association. Should you want something from me, Mr. Potter, you'd best learn to ask."

Harry looked at him dubiously, waiting for the part where Snape said, so I can laugh at you.

"You'll say no."

"Perhaps," Snape said, and then snorted as Harry shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot. "What of your vaunted Gryffindor courage? You've faced down the Dark Lord, Potter, and you're afraid I'll say 'no'?"

"No," Harry snapped, glaring at him. "But you've faced down V-- the Dark Lord a lot more than I have. You're a lot more... something," he finished lamely. Snape looked like he might laugh, if he weren't Snape. Instead he pinched the bridge of his nose and looked at the ceiling.

"If you find me so intimidating, what are you doing here?"

"I already told you!" Harry yelled, bringing Snape's eyes back to his own. "I'm sick of not feeling anything, of feeling numb and dead and hollow! When I cut my fingers earlier, skinning shrivelfigs, I didn't even notice! I don't know what's wrong with me, but you-- you make me angry, and it's something and at least I feel it when you touch me and I don't care what you do to me. But you can't ask me to tell you what I want, because I DON'T KNOW!"

Harry drew in a ragged breath and looked at the floor. He was shaking, hands clenched into fists and blood singing with the adrenaline that came from conflict and desire and tension. He was sure he'd never been harder in his life.

"Progress at last," Snape said dryly. "Strip." It was his classroom voice, all honeyed steel, capable of sending first-years flying from the dungeons in terror, and Harry was fumbling with his pyjama bottoms before he even registered what was happening. Once it did register, he hesitated and looked up.

"Or?" He asked softly. Snape crossed his legs and fixed Harry with a flinty stare. Finally he shrugged.

"It makes no difference to me, Potter. You can obey, or you can leave. The choice is yours."

Harry took a deep breath, gathered as much resolve as he could manage, took another look at Snape, and bolted for the door.

Wrenching it open and hurling himself out of the bedroom, Harry realized he was in the upstairs hallway. He didn't stop to be confused. Instead he ran to his own room, slammed the door, fell to his knees, shoved both hands in his trousers, threw his head back, and jerked desperately on his prick. He came almost instantly, harder than he ever had in his life. Unsettled but drained, he collapsed to the floor and fell into an exhausted sleep.

nine.
"Mr. Potter."

Harry woke with a start. He was on the floor of his room, hands in his pants. Snape was rapping on the door.

"I'm awake!" He called, desperate for Snape to stay out of his room. Why was he -- oh. Oh! He climbed to his feet slowly, stiff after a night on the floor. He was glad there was no one there to see him blush. Snape knocked on his door again, and Harry's stomach clenched. He wasn't sure he could face him after what had happened last night.

"I'm awake!" He called again, louder.

"So you've said," came the reply. "Breakfast is in 15 minutes. I thought to spare you a repeat of yesterday's performance."

Harry eyed the bed, wondering if he could just hide underneath it. Or at the very least, under the covers. Between the shower incident, when Snape hadn't looked at him, and the bedroom incident, when he most certainly had, Harry didn't know what to think. And now he knew there were two bedroom incidents, but he still couldn't remember the first one very well, and he didn't understand why. What he really wanted to do was stay in his room and think, or maybe just sleep some more. He certainly wasn't hungry. The only thing that got him up was the thought of what Snape might do if he had to come in after him.

Harry changed into a different pair of flannel trousers and pulled on a t-shirt. He hadn't been feeling much like a wizard lately, and didn't bother with robes. Once he was as dressed as he felt like getting, he opened the door cautiously and peeked outside. There was no sign of Snape, so he darted across the hall to the bathroom to relieve himself and brush his teeth. He didn't bother combing his hair; it never made any difference.

It was with no small amount of trepidation that he padded downstairs to breakfast. Snape was already at the table, sipping tea and eating porridge. Harry blushed furiously, sat down, and stared at his food in revulsion. His stomach churned angrily.

"I-- I'm not hungry, sir," he said weakly. He was sure he'd vomit if he tried to eat. Snape rose silently to get him a glass of water. Harry drank it quickly, no less grateful for the water than the distraction it provided. Snape sat back down and Harry stared at the table while Snape stared at him. He didn't last two minutes.

"I'm sorry!" He blurted. He looked up at Snape, who had raised an eyebrow. Harry was suddenly uncertain; maybe Snape hadn't felt the tension.

"For?"

"For... last night. For leaving like that." It was almost true. "I just-- it was-- I--"

"Spare me your adolescent histrionics, Potter. I know why you left. And as I said last night, it makes no difference to me. The choice is yours."

"Oh," he said, oddly relieved. He just wanted things to go back to normal, whatever that was. He tried to say so, but instead he asked, "Will I get another chance?"

"Which part of, 'the choice is yours' is unclear to you?"

"Oh," he said again. Something about that didn't seem right, but he couldn't put his finger on what. "All right. Can I have the potions back, please?"

***

"Well. That didn't work." Harry drank his clumpy green potion gratefully and looked at Snape. He was worried about how spectacularly he'd fallen apart without the potions. Snape had made him go the second day without, but had given him a sleeping draught before bed. He felt much better now, although the second day had passed in a haze.

"Did the organ that passes for your brain happen to absorb anything during your little experiment?"

"Er, that I should do what you say?" Harry winced inwardly at his choice of words. That's what he got for trying to be clever with Snape.

"Precisely," Snape said, apparently ignoring the double meaning. "Once you're off the restoratives, I'll start reducing the daytime regimen. The calming draught first, then the focusing draught. I think it's best if you continue to sleep for now. I'm not sure my face could go another round."

Harry nodded, grateful to have someone else making the decision. He really didn't feel up to it right now, and he didn't remember enough of the previous two days to be able to tell which potions would have helped most. What he did remember... he shook his head. It felt like a dream, although he knew it hadn't been. He knew he'd have to deal with it soon, but he needed time to think, and to think, he apparently needed potions.

ten.
The next several days passed uneventfully. Harry stopped drinking the clumpy green potion -- it turned out to be the restorative -- and started eating full meals. Snape was a passable cook, and Harry was gaining back the weight he'd lost during his three weeks of starvation; he no longer looked like a skeleton. Harry still did all the cleaning up, and Snape started being a little less maniacal about managing Harry's time. He gave him to-do lists at each meal, and Harry was increasingly able to get everything done. That became something of a problem; when Harry didn't have a list in front of him, he wandered aimlessly and was apt to wake up in a corner somewhere, confused, as Snape berated him. After the second time that happened, Snape made sure Harry was never without an extensive list of chores to do. And if some of them were ridiculous, well, at least Harry was doing something.

He'd finished all his summer prep, and he was spending a little bit of time helping Snape in the potions lab. Ingredients arrived by owl once a week, and Harry was in charge of putting them away and doing what other minor prep work Snape trusted him with, which wasn't much. Snape did finally allow him to go outside and work in the garden, and Harry was grateful for the physical labor and the chance to get lost in his thoughts. He found they alternated between Snape, the charms that kept the garden hidden from what looked like a quaint Muggle village, and Snape. He felt better than he had in weeks, which still wasn't very good, but at least it was progress, and he was coming to the grudging realization that he had Snape to thank for it.

As for the Snape Issue, as he had taken to thinking of it, he still didn't know what to make of it. He'd examined the upstairs hallway and discovered the blank wall at the far end was actually a glamour that concealed Snape's bedroom door. And now that he knew that, he spent a great deal of time staring at that door, and thinking about that door, and wondering about that door, and if he thought of anything else it wasn't for very long. He wished he had someone to talk to, but there was only Snape, and that was out of the question. But between his curiosity and his hormones, he didn't expect to last a week before tiring of the numbness and knocking on Snape's door again.

***

Harry was taking motherwort clippings in the garden when he heard the back door open. He looked up and tried not to stare. He'd never seen Snape outside before, and the sunlight didn't do anything for his complexion. Snape definitely looked better in the dark.

"Potter. I'm afraid I must run some errands. I assume you will prove up to the challenge of making yourself a sandwich without doing yourself grievous bodily harm. I am expecting a delivery today. If it arrives while I am out, do try to restrain yourself."

"What kind of delivery?" Harry asked, knowing he was more likely to get an answer to that question than to the one he really wanted to ask, which was, What kind of errands? Or, better yet, Can I come with you?

Snape glared down the length of his prominent nose. "That is not your business, Potter," he said. Harry rolled his eyes. It was probably potions ingredients. They showed up once a week. "Do you require anything from outside?"

Harry looked up, surprised. "Er, some chocolate frogs would be nice," he said. The meals Snape had been cooking were all scrupulously healthy, and Harry hadn't had chocolate in a month. He'd probably die of shock if Snape got him any, though, so he tried to think of something else. "And maybe a calendar? I don't even know what day it is."

Snape nodded slowly.

"I imagine that could be arranged. The calendar, at any rate. I shall be back this afternoon. Do endeavor to stay out of trouble while I am away. That means you don't leave the grounds, read my mail, or blow anything up. Is that clear?"

"Yeah, yeah. Go. Sir." Snape shot him a suspiciously half-hearted glare before wrapping his robes around his chest and Disapparating with a soft pop.

***

A grey barn owl swooped up to Harry 15 minutes later, three miniaturized bundles tied to her legs. Harry let her inside the house and gave her a treat, rubbing her head for a few minutes and thinking about Hedwig. He missed her. He also missed his friends, who were still painful to think about. He'd treated them horribly last year, and though he knew he needed to come to terms with what had happened, he didn't think he was ready yet. He was lonely, but he wanted to be left alone. Snape seemed to understand that, and Harry was beginning to suspect he had far more in common with the Potions master than he'd previously thought. It had been a shock when Snape hinted he might not go back to Hogwarts, but right now, Harry wasn't sure he really wanted to. He wondered how much longer summer holidays would last.

The owl flew off with a satisfied hoot, and Harry eyed the packages she'd left. They'd returned to actual size as soon as he'd untied them, and they were sitting on the kitchen table. Two of them obviously contained potions ingredients, so he carried them carefully to the basement. He thought about unpacking them but decided against it. Maybe he'd come back to it after he finished the rest of his chores. The third package looked to be a bundle of mail, and included the last week's editions of the Daily Prophet. He pulled them out, planning to set them aside for later, when he noticed a small picture of himself blinking up tiredly from the corner.

BOY WHO LIVED STILL MISSING

It is Day 21 of the Harry Potter Watch. The Boy Who Lived disappeared without a trace on 24 June. He vanished from the home of his Muggle relatives, who were found obliviated. The Dark Mark was visible above his home for hours, although no casualties have been reported. The Ministry for Magic believes Mr Potter is still alive and has asked the entire Wizarding community to be alert for any clues to his whereabouts, as the young wizard is believed to be vital in the fight against You-Know-Who. Please contact Percy Weasley at the Ministry, Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or the editor of the Daily Prophet with any information.

Harry wasn't sure what day it was, but that paper must have been at least a week old. He flipped quickly through the rest of the stack in growing panic. They all carried the same short message on the front page: He was missing. Snape had mentioned it, but somehow seeing it in print made it much more real. And Snape hadn't said anything about the Dark Mark. His friends probably thought he was dead by now.

He skimmed through the rest of the news. Aurors had thwarted a Death Eater attack on some Muggle-borns in London. No one was injured, but neither had any Death Eaters been caught. Harry, feeling ill, folded up the papers. There was nothing he could do about it from here, anyway. He was about to go back out to the garden when he noticed the Hogwarts seal peering out from the stack of letters. He flipped through the envelopes, curious. Only two carried return labels, and they were both from Professor Dumbledore. He opened the first one without thinking, suddenly desperate for news. It was a letter for Professor Snape, dated two weeks prior to the paper he'd read.


Severus,
I regret to disturb your much-needed holiday, but Harry Potter has disappeared. The usual channels have proved ineffective. Your assistance in this matter is required immediately.

Sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore

Harry's breath left him in a rush and as his body went numb. A cold sweat broke out over his body and he stumbled into the toilet, heaving, the letter dropping unnoticed to the floor. Snape had betrayed him. Snape was going to kill him. Snape had lied to him. Snape. Snape... Snape had his wand. Harry had to find it.

He lurched back to the kitchen, where the stack of mail caught his eye again. He tore hysterically into the pile, ripping all the letters into pieces and throwing them on the floor. Panic shot through him, hot and white, and he knew that now he really had to find his wand.

He ran upstairs and threw himself against the wall where he knew Snape's door was. The wards took him by surprise, and he let out a scream of pure rage when he bounced off them. He beat his fists against the wall until they were bloody, and he became aware of power gathering around him, flowing off him; he was thrown to the floor when the wards exploded beneath his fury. He tore the door open and ran into the room, pulling out all the drawers and emptying them on the floor. He ripped the mattress off the bed and almost tore the cupboard door off its hinges in his haste to open it. When he emptied everything he could find, he stood in the middle of the room and looked around desperately. There was no sign of his wand. His panic left him as suddenly as it had overtaken him, and he collapsed brokenly on a pile of Snape's clothes, sobbing.

eleven.
Harry drifted into consciousness slowly, feeling disoriented and inexplicably nervous. He could smell Snape all around him, and the familiar scent of cloves and bergamot and ash and a million other things he could never identify was both comforting and nauseating. Then he felt Snape's presence, felt malice and menace radiating from somewhere nearby. He opened his eyes and saw Snape standing in the doorway, white with rage.

"Learn anything interesting?" Snape's voice was low whisper that made the hairs on the back of Harry's neck stand on end. Harry sat up and leaned against the chair, rubbing at his eyes. He didn't need a mirror to know how bloodshot and swollen they were.

"Would you just kill me and have done with it?" He said bitterly. He couldn't even muster any anger over Snape's betrayal. He must have been expecting it, and Harry was overcome by a bizarre, disassociated calm. He wanted everything to be over.

"It is unwise to tempt me, boy." Snape's lips curled and he took a step closer. Harry's lips mirrored the expression.

"Whatever."

"Indeed." There was a flash of movement, and something landed at Harry's feet. He looked down. His wand! He reached for it, and then jerked his hand back, suspicious. He looked up at Snape, who was so irate he was shaking. He rolled his eyes.

"Oh, come off it. I didn't read your bloody mail."

"You are a poor liar, Mr. Potter. There is a letter addressed to me lying open on the kitchen floor and the rest of my mail has been shredded. Did it not occur to you that those letters might hold important information about your life? Or has your adolescent snit fit finally reached the point where your disregard for your own life now equals the disregard you clearly hold for everything else? Although, of course, this is entirely my fault for thinking you had some modicum of sense or responsibility. But I see now what a tremendous oversight it was on my part to fail to add 'do not destroy personal correspondence,' 'do not breach wards,' or 'do not rifle through personal possessions' to the list of forbidden activities." Snape's voice had started in that deadly whisper but had risen throughout his speech, and Harry's anger rose with it, blossoming in his belly and threatening to overshadow everything else he was feeling. He shot to his feet, snarling, wand forgotten.

"No, the oversight on your part was kidnapping me! You LIED to me! No one knows where I am! My friends all think I'm DEAD!"

"Oh, spare me, Potter. You have no concern for what your friends think. Tell me, how many of their letters did you burn, unopened, while you were sulking with the Muggles?"

The shot hit Harry like a punch in the stomach and he charged towards Snape, giddy with anger.

"I was NOT SULKING! I was DEPRESSED! MY GODFATHER IS DEAD AND I KILLED HIM!!" Harry stopped short, shocked, but then the words started pouring out of him again as if he were helpless to stop them. "I thought, and I should have known better, I thought you came to HELP me, to take me away from the Dursleys. And I was feeling better, I was feeling... something, but you're just like everyone else. You're just USING me to get whatever it is you want and you LIED to me and you said..." Harry stammered to a halt, much of his anger spent, and looked uncertainly at Snape. Some of the man's anger had gone out of him, but Harry could tell he was still furious. Snape took another step and closed the distance between them. Harry had to crane his neck back to keep his eyes on Snape's, and he could feel the other man's breath on his face, but he refused to back away.

"Do you have a brain in your head, boy?" Snape sneered, making it obvious what he thought the answer was. "Do you not understand the concept of 'in hiding'? I told you of your disappearance. I told you the entire Wizarding world has been looking for you. Where was the lie in this? At which point did you become confused as to my meaning? Because I thought it was rather clear."

"At the point where you said Dumbledore knew what was going on! But he sent you a letter that said I disappeared! That said YOU had to help look for me!" Harry watched, fascinated and a little concerned, as Snape's expression shifted from irate to amazed.

"Potter," he choked. "I do hope this is an ill-advised prank on your part."

Harry opened his mouth and then closed it again, drawing his brows together in confusion.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin. Downstairs. Now." Snape turned on his heel and disappeared in an impressive swirl of robes that sent Harry straight back to his first year at Hogwarts. Harry blinked after him, confusion draining away his anger, and finally trudged downstairs. Snape was sitting in his uncomfortable wingback, a glass of scotch in his right hand and a glass of something else in his left. Harry eyed the scotch.

"Can I have some?"

"Scotch?" Snape snorted. "No. You have proved yourself to be utterly incapable of using what few brain cells you have left, so I do not think it wise to kill off any more. You can, however, have this." He handed the other glass to Harry, who eyed it suspiciously. "Sit."

Harry wanted to tell him sod off, but he realized it would probably be much wiser to do whatever Snape said just now, especially considering he'd left his wand upstairs. He sank tiredly into the couch and sniffed at the potion Snape gave him.

"What is it?"

"A balancing potion, Potter. Your mood swings are in danger of bringing down the house, and both of us with it. Drink it, and while you're doing so, I want you to listen very carefully." Snape's tone was cold and condescending, and Harry's lip curled. As if Snape didn't have mood swings. A retort sprang to his lips, but Snape's next words stopped him short. "Your treatment at the hands of the Wizarding world has been barely shy of criminal. You have been told since age 11 that the fate of the world rests on your rather narrow shoulders, and our esteemed headmaster has been laboring under the misapprehension that allowing you to flaunt the rules at every turn will somehow prepare you for your heroic destiny. Instead it has imbued you with an incomprehensible tendency to do the first thing that enters that fool head of yours without thought or regard for the consequences or implications of your actions. This will change, Potter, and soon. You are no longer dealing with the headmaster. You are dealing with me, and me alone." Snape's voice crackled with menace, and Harry heard the threat in the words. He swallowed nervously as the reality of his isolation and utter dependency on Snape came crashing down. Deciding he could use a little balance just then, he quaffed the potion.

"Now," Snape continued. "About your most recent fanciful notions. Do you remember anything at all of what I told you about your situation?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer.

"Stop. Please forget I asked. Clearly you do not. Yes, you have disappeared. I can hardly credit your charge of kidnapping, however, as you came willingly -- Imperius Curse aside. Tell me why you are here."

Harry looked at him suspiciously, wondering if this was another question he wasn't supposed to answer. Snape waited silently, swirling his scotch.

"Death Eaters are trying to kill me."

"Death Eaters are always trying to kill you, Potter. Try again." Snape took a sip of his drink, and Harry got the impression he was keeping a mental tally of points to take away from Gryffindor whenever they got back to Hogwarts. It was probably in the thousands by now.

"The Lestranges found the house. They had plans in place. It would have worked. Except-- hold off. It wouldn't have worked! Vol-- the Dark Lord has to do it himself." Snape's eyebrows lifted, silently urging Harry to continue. "Oh. But he doesn't know that, and we don't want him to find out. Right. So, you brought me here. We're hiding, stirring up trouble by not being around, and then waiting for it to settle out." He frowned, and narrowed his eyes at Snape. "But I don't see why no one on our side knows where I am. It's suspicious. Sir."

Snape's eyebrows climbed to his hairline.

"Is it really possible that you -- orphaned by betrayal -- believe every member of Dumbledore's precious Order to be trustworthy?"

Harry blinked and wilted into the couch.

"Oh. I thought Dumbledore hand-picked everyone."

Snape snorted contemptuously. "Our illustrious headmaster sometimes trusts... unwisely," he said darkly, pushing his hair out of his face. His lips curled briefly, and then his voice returned to its normal clipped tones. "There is a spy in the Order, Potter. Possibly more than one."

Harry felt, for the third time that day, that he'd been punched in the stomach. He wasn't sure he could take many more surprises. "W-- Who?"

"Potter," he growled. "If we knew who the spy was, do you think there would still be a spy?"

"But aren't you a double-agent?" He thought Snape knew who Voldemort's recruits were. "And can't Dumbledore just read everyone's mind and check?"

Snape rolled his eyes, and finished the last of his drink. "This is no game, boy," he growled. "There is no word for what I am, and you're a fool if you think Dumbledore isn't dipping into everyone's mind every chance he gets. He doesn't know."

Harry hugged his knees to his chest, feeling exhausted and despondent and not balanced in the least. He was tired of arguing with Snape, and he didn't want to think about Dumbledore poking around in his friends' heads. "I'm sorry I ripped up your mail, sir. I really didn't read it, though."

"The headmaster's letter carrying undeniable proof of my treachery appeared to you in a vision, then? Perhaps in your tea leaves?"

Harry ground his teeth. Couldn't Snape just accept his apology? "Any of your other mail. I didn't read anything else."

"Very thoughtful, Potter. You have my thanks."

Harry took a deep breath. He wasn't sure how much more of Snape's sarcasm he could take. "What now?"

"Have you finished all your summer assignments?"

"You know I have, sir."

"Good. Go upstairs and get your wand. Put my room back in order while you're up there. After you have something to eat, we will begin training."

"Training? I thought... the Decree--"

"Potter, what did I just finish telling you?"

Harry sighed, feeling small, and thought for a few seconds. "That I'm only dealing with you. I know, sir. But you just got done telling me a lot of things, and I need to think about them." He still wasn't sure everything was adding up.

Snape's eyes glinted with something that might have been approval coming from anyone other than Snape. "Do try not to hurt yourself in the process."

Harry managed a half-hearted glare and stood to go get his wand.

"Potter." Snape's voice stopped him as he reached the stairs. "Bellatrix Lestrange killed your godfather. You would do well to remember that." Harry stiffened, and then looked over his shoulder at Snape, but the professor was already in the kitchen. Harry nodded slowly, squared his shoulders, and started up the stairs.

twelve.
"I was wondering how long you were going to stand out there."

Snape's sleeping draught may have served to keep Harry's nightmares at bay, but the man himself was quite adept at preventing any semblance of rest. That night was no different: Harry was plagued with fuzzy, half-remembered images of Snape's fist in his hair, Snape's hand on his throat, Snape's tongue in his mouth, Snape's body against his own, and before Harry was aware of what he was doing, he was standing in front of Snape's door at half-four in the morning trying to list all the reasons he shouldn't open it.

His brain had other ideas, and was refusing to focus on anything other than the knot in his stomach and the lump in his throat and the sweat on his palms and the fact that he wouldn't have any of those things if he went back to his own room. He knew those things meant he was nervous, and he hated being nervous and he hated Snape for making him nervous and he hated himself for letting Snape make him nervous. But being nervous was better than being nothing, and at some point during the argument his brain was having with itself, his body had pushed the door open and Harry had stepped through.

Snape wasn't sleeping, although Harry hadn't even considered that possibility until he was already inside the room. Instead Snape was reading on his bed, and he didn't bother to look up. Harry stared, wide-eyed and dry-mouthed; he'd been living with Snape for a month now and had seen him in his pyjamas before, but he'd started to associate the sight of that pale skin with... other things. He swallowed.

"I-- how did you know I was there?"

Snape snorted. "Give me some credit for knowing what goes on in this house, Potter. You're hardly stealthy." He licked his index finger and turned the page. Harry gulped and tried not to think about how that tongue tasted. Like bergamot and smoke, his brain supplied helpfully. Which is weird because he doesn't smoke. Maybe--

"I couldn't sleep!" Harry blurted. "And you sa-- do you ever sleep?"

Snape glanced up irritably. "We have had this conversation, Potter. My sleeping habits do not concern you, and if you are in need of another sleeping draught, you know where to find them." He went back to his book. Harry's skin started to itch with irritation. He ground his teeth and wondered if it was possible to get addicted to arguing.

"That's not what I want," he snapped.

"Oh?" Snape inquired, sounding bored. He turned another page. Harry narrowed his eyes; nobody could read that fast. He took another step into the room, called on the spirit of Godric Gryffindor for courage, and put his life on the line.

"I want you."

Harry had never felt silence before, but the room was suddenly so thick with it that Harry thought he might choke. Snape didn't move, but Harry could tell he had stopped pretending to read. Harry himself was trying not to breathe, not that he thought he'd be able to if he tried. A bead of sweat trickled maddeningly between his shoulder blades and he shook with the effort of holding still. Finally, Snape sighed, closed the book, and looked up.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," he said, sounding tired. Something deep inside Harry shattered.

"So? You're a teacher," he snapped. "Teach me."

"Teach you. Teach you what, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked acidly, and Harry felt his veins begin to hum with anger.

"How am I supposed to know? You won't tell me anything!" He yelled, increasingly fed up with Snape's evasions, the way he answered questions with sarcasm and more questions but never with actual answers.

Snape's eyes flashed and he slid slowly off the bed. Harry took an involuntary step backwards as Snape got closer, and then another and another as Snape advanced on him. He grunted in surprise when he stumbled into the wall; rooms were always so much smaller when Snape was in them.

"What would you like me to tell you, Mr. Potter? Hm? What do you wish to learn?" Snape's hands closed over Harry's shoulders and pinned him roughly to the wall. He sounded angry, and Harry stared into those fathomless eyes and wondered what Snape could possibly be getting out of any of this. He was sure Snape didn't do anything for free. And then Snape bent his head and licked Harry's bottom lip, and coherent thought rushed out with Harry's breath as he exhaled sharply.

"Shall I teach you to use that mouth for something other than insolence?" The low, rumbling words went straight to Harry's cock, and he tried to press his body into Snape's as Snape sucked on his lower lip. Then Snape bit down, and Harry tasted blood.

"Ow!" He shouted, twisting his shoulders to dislodge Snape's grip, and then shoved the other man backwards with all his strength. Snape stumbled back, probably due more to surprise than to being pushed.

Harry wiped the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand and glared balefully at Snape, who was looking entirely too smug. Harry imagined he was planning his speech about how Harry couldn't follow directions, how he spent all his time whinging about not being able to feel anything but couldn't handle it when he finally did, how he was always running away when he was supposed to be brave.

"I don't think so, Snape," he snarled, pulling his t-shirt over his head and throwing it in the corner. "This is what you wanted, isn't it?" He yelled, stripping his trousers off and almost falling over in the process. He braced one hand on the wall, and stepped out of his pants, leaving them in a puddle on the floor. "There! I've stripped! This is what you told me to do and I've done it, and you-- you can't--"

He stammered to a halt and stood rigidly in the middle of the room, suddenly horribly aware he'd gone too far. Snape was watching impassively, and Harry's muscles spasmed as the impulse to run warred with the impulse to just let go and hope Snape caught him. If only he could be sure Snape would. He straightened his glasses. He looked at the bed, trying to see the name of the book Snape was reading, trying to do anything except think about the fact that he was standing there starkers in front of his potions professor. It was useless. He flushed crimson and waited for Snape to say something scathing about how ugly he was.

"Embarrassed, Potter?"

Harry fixed his eyes on his feet and nodded miserably. He felt the air change and realized Snape had circled behind him, and he didn't have time to tense further before warm hands closed on his shoulders. He was pulled slowly backwards into something that might have been an embrace, except Harry was sure Snape had never embraced anyone in his life. He exhaled slowly as the hands slid down his arms. The right caught his wrist and pulled his arm across his stomach, the left snaked across his chest, and then... nothing. Snape just stood there, Harry held rigidly in his arms.

"Relax, Potter," Snape said into his hair. "I don't bite."

Harry let out a bark of hysterical laughter.

"Yes, you do," he said, but he relaxed slowly into the warmth behind him. "God," he breathed, letting his head fall back into Snape's chest. "I have no idea what I'm doing."

Snape didn't say anything, and Harry lost track of the time they stood like that. Some part of his brain was still screaming at him to run far, far away: He didn't trust Snape, and the things he said didn't add up, and he thought he could feel the Dark Mark burning his chest. But he could count the times he had been touched with anything that resembled kindness, and he was so tired of being cold and numb all the time, that he told the voice to bugger off. He closed his eyes, and let himself melt into the body behind him. It didn't feel like affection, but he'd take what he could get.

thirteen.
"No, Mr. Potter, I will not allow you to sit in your room and sulk."

"I never said anything about sulking! I want to think! And I can't-- when you're--" Harry broke off, frustrated, and dragged a hand through his mess of hair. "I need to be in my room."

Snape snorted. "Potter, do you expect me to believe you intend to spend the rest of the day sitting idly in your room, staring out the window, thinking? You'd sooner manage a treatise on the mystical properties of tindertwigs."

Harry had never even heard of tindertwigs, which, he supposed, was Snape's point. He clenched his jaw. "What's so hard to believe about it?" He asked irritably. He was upset that he'd fallen asleep standing up in Snape's arms, of all places, and now Snape was back to being a git. They'd been arguing all morning.

"Spend the day in the garden if you must, Potter, but I expect you to get some work done. And before you ask, no, you are not excused from Occlumency lessons this evening."

Harry scowled. He wasn't looking forward to taking up Occlumency again, though he could no longer deny its importance. His scar had been quiet this summer, but when he'd tried to explain that to Snape, the professor had launched into a lecture about wasted opportunities and false senses of security and something about windows. Harry had said he didn't think Voldemort would try the same trick twice, and Snape had pointed out how brilliantly it had worked last time, and Harry had smashed his teacup, and now they were back where they'd started.

"Do I get a Pensieve?"

"Certainly," Snape said stiffly. "I shall be sure to treat it with the same respect you showed mine."

Harry paled and studied his fingernails as the silence stretched between them. "I--" He took a deep breath and met Snape's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't-- I shouldn't have. And... I haven't told anyone."

"Very kind of you."

Harry's temper flared but he reined it in; he'd deserved that. He looked away. "Right, then. Nevermind." He heard Snape suck in his breath. "About the Pensieve!" he said quickly, glancing back at Snape. "Not the apology. I meant that. But I don't need a-- I mean, I don't think I could embarrass myself in front of you more than la-- I already have."

"You're a resourceful young man, Potter," Snape said dryly. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Harry's head snapped up and he stared at Snape, baffled. He couldn't tell if Snape was serious or joking, and both options were equally appalling. Snape, as usual, wasn't giving anything away.

"I-- you-- whatever," he said, shaking his head. "I'm going outside."

Harry went out to the garden and threw himself down on a patch of grass. There was some work to be done, but not enough to keep him busy for the rest of the day. The air around the perimeter of the garden shimmered and crackled with the charm that kept the neighbors' noses elsewhere. Harry basked in the feel of the magic humming around him; he might not be looking forward to Occlumency lessons, but he was definitely looking forward to being able to do magic again. His hand drifted to the waistband of his trousers, where his wand was. He felt a lot better now that he had it back -- a little safer, a little more comfortable, a little less dependent on Snape. He laced his fingers behind his head and settled in to watch the clouds drift past.

It was a gorgeous day, warm but not hot, and as he stared into the brilliant blue sky he suddenly missed his old life so much it hurt. He yearned to be at the Burrow with Ron and Hermione, racing around on broomsticks, laughing at the twins' latest pranks and worrying about school. Instead he was so deep in hiding that even he didn't know where he was, and he was with his second- or maybe third-least favorite person in the world after Voldemort and Malfoy, and he was laughing at things that might not even be jokes. And, more than anything else, he was worrying about Snape.

Harry ran through the list of inconsistencies. It nagged at him that the Dark Mark had been sent up over his house. Clearly someone wanted the rest of the world to think he was dead, but who? And if the Daily Prophet was saying he was still alive, it hadn't worked. Maybe the Lestranges sent it up so they wouldn't look so bad for missing their chance to kill Harry. Or maybe they wanted to give the impression that they took Harry, to throw off the Order.

The Order was another problem. He listed the Order members he knew, trying to figure out which of them might be a spy. The Weasleys. Remus. Tonks. Kingsley. Moody. McGonagall. Old Mrs. Figg. It didn't seem possible that any of them had turned. But if there was a spy in the Order, he supposed it made sense that Dumbledore wouldn't want anyone to know where Harry was. But it didn't make sense that Dumbledore himself didn't know. Unless he did know, and he'd just written Snape that letter to throw off the spy. Or to throw off the Ministry; Harry wasn't sure where they fit into everything else. He rubbed absently at his scar. This was giving him a headache. He didn't know how Snape dealt with it all the time. Maybe it explained his unpleasantness.

And what was Snape doing? If Dumbledore and Voldemort had both given him orders to look for Harry, how was he explaining his absence? And wouldn't a spy in the Order blow Snape's cover? Maybe Snape was in hiding, too.

None of which even touched the question Harry really wanted to ask, which was what had been happening in Snape's bedroom. He thought lines had been crossed somewhere, but he wasn't sure when or where or why, or who started it. He sometimes suspected he might be using Snape -- they didn't like each other, after all, and he doubted Snape wanted him -- but the idea that Snape would let himself be used was laughable. On the other hand, hadn't Snape made an offer? Harry could stay if he was willing to obey orders. He wondered what kind of orders, and if "strip" was always going to be the first one. He groaned as the memory of that whipcrack voice telling him to strip sent desire spiking through his belly and straight to his cock. This was exactly why he'd wanted to stay in his room. He couldn't very well wank in the garden, charmed or otherwise. He eyed the shed speculatively and stood up.

He was halfway there when he heard a series of crashes come from the house. His wand was in his hand before he realized he had drawn it, and he inched slowly towards the door, adrenaline coursing through his veins. Another series of crashes, louder than the first, and then Snape was flying out the door, robes spread behind him like bat wings. Harry bit down hard on his tongue to still the stupefy he'd been about to cast.

"Hand!" Snape bellowed, charging straight towards Harry at a dead run. Harry wasn't sure what he meant, and he stumbled backwards, wide-eyed, as Snape launched himself through the air. There was a deafening roar and a blinding flash of light in the background, and then Snape was on top of Harry, sending both of them sprawling in the grass. Snape grabbed Harry's wrist and pressed something into his hand, and Harry felt the nauseating jerk of a portkey behind his navel. He wrapped an arm around Snape as their bodies left the ground and the wind howled around them.

fourteen.
Harry grunted as he crashed to the ground and fourteen stone of potions master landed on top of him. He shoved at Snape's shoulder, which succeeded in sending both of them tumbling down a rather steep hill. He skidded to a halt, rolled over, and was sick.

"Is that your usual reaction to portkeys, Potter?" Snape asked. He'd come to a stop a few feet away, and was already brushing himself off.

"Shut it, Snape," Harry muttered, and vomited again. "The last portkey--" He broke off. Now probably wasn't the time to talk about it, and Snape had heard it all already. He stood up shakily, pleased to see he'd been able to hold onto his wand, and that it was still intact.

He'd been hoping to land in Dumbledore's office, or maybe Twelve Grimmauld Place -- somewhere familiar. Instead, they seemed to be somewhere in the countryside. Harry saw hills, and trees, and a river he'd come only a few feet shy of rolling into, but nothing that he could call familiar. Except, of course, Snape, who had transfigured something into a cup and was examining the river water. He sniffed at it and then handed the cup to Harry.

"I believe it's safe to drink."

Harry was too shaken to do anything except drink it, but he felt marginally better for it. He handed the cup back to Snape, who transfigured it back into a rock and dropped it.

"What happened?"

"I should think that much would be obvious, Potter, even to one with your marked lack of observational skills." He laid his wand across his left palm and murmured an incantation. There was a brief shimmer of gold light, and then the wand began to hover about an inch above his hand. It rotated in a circle and then seemed to point back up the hill. "We were found," Snape said, and then started in the direction his wand was pointing.

"Who found us?" Harry called to the retreating back. Snape threw an irritated glance over his shoulder.

"Forgive me for not stopping to get their names, Potter. Do you plan to stand there all day?"

Harry made a face and hurried up the hill. "But-- did you see them? Did they see you? Were they Death Eaters?"

"Presumably."

"Well, don't you know all the Death Eaters?"

"Potter," Snape said icily, "I am not the Dark Lord's confidante. We do not scheme over butterbeers. I am not privy to his plans, I am not friends with all his followers, and I would greatly appreciate a little silence from you while I try to get us out of this mess."

They'd reached the top of the hill, and the wand seemed to be pointing them towards a grove of trees in the distance.

"Why? There's no one here. How'd they find us?"

Snape wheeled on him suddenly, and Harry stopped in his tracks at the anger blazing from the man's eyes. "Let me think, Mr. Potter. Understand, this is pure speculation, but I would hazard a guess that the vulgar display of magic you unleashed while breaking down the wards to my bedroom so you could have your little temper tantrum probably had something to do with it."

Harry's jaw dropped. "Oh."

"Quite." Snape whirled back around and stormed towards the grove of trees.

"Sorry," Harry mumbled. This was his fault. Again.

"Apologize later, Potter," Snape threw over his shoulder. "Walk, now."

Harry jogged after him, feeling slightly ill. "Er, what happened to the house?"

"Destroyed."

Harry stopped dead as the bottom dropped out of his stomach. Snape got several meters away before he finally stopped and turned. Harry could hear the sigh from where he was.

"But... my cloak," Harry stammered. Everything he cared about had been in that house. "My broom. I--"

"Potter," Snape snarled, striding back towards him. "Would you please, just this once, do as you're told and shut your mouth? I know it must pain you greatly to think about having to follow the rules once you return to Hogwarts, but I should think the fact that our lives are in danger might lend you a little focus."

"I don't care about making trouble, you bastard! It was all I had left from my father!"

"Your father passed along plenty, boy, including irresponsibility and arrogance. The cloak is not important. Now--"

"TAKE IT BACK!" Harry yelled. "You don't know anything! I just--"

"Silencio!" Snape hissed, and Harry felt like a sock had been shoved in his mouth. "I refuse to have this argument with you, Potter. When we reach our destination, you may call me all the names you like. Until then, you will be quiet and you will do exactly as I say. Do you understand?" Snape's eyes were threatening to burn a hole through Harry's head, and he finally nodded sullenly. Snape lifted the charm. "Good. Now be silent, and follow me. Keep your wand at the ready, and if you even think about turning it on me, I shall hex you into next week."

Harry bit down on his tongue to keep from saying anything, and trudged miserably after Snape until they reached the grove. Once there, Snape's wand glowed blue for a few seconds and then dropped into his hand. He muttered a string of Latin under his breath, and then the air shimmered as a rickety wooden door materialized in front of him.

"Potter, come put your hand next to mine." Harry moved to stand next to Snape, who had placed his hand flat against the center of the door. Harry did the same, and the door pulsed three times and then flashed out of existence; there was only darkness on the other side.

"Er. What's--"

"Quiet, Potter," Snape warned, as he grabbed Harry's upper arm and pulled him through the door. The air was thick and heavy around him, and Harry felt like he was swimming. It was over quickly, and he and Snape emerged in a small, dark room. Harry couldn't see anything at all, but Snape seemed to know what was happening. Letting go of Harry's arm, he took a few steps and then hauled open a creaky door. Light spilled into the room, and Harry saw that it was just an empty wooden shed, a few feet square. Snape stepped outside and gestured for Harry to follow.

Once Harry crossed the threshold, the shed sparkled briefly and then disappeared, leaving them standing in the middle of a dense, dark forest. Snape looked around and then slid his wand back into his sleeve with a satisfied grunt.

"Follow me, Potter," Snape ordered. "You can put your wand away." He started walking, the trees and shrubs bending out of his way and then closing up behind him. Harry hurried to keep up, not sure whether the forest was friendly.

After about 15 minutes, Harry was starting to breathe heavily. The terrain was difficult; the trees didn't seem to be giving him as wide a berth as they were giving Snape. They were also climbing a rather steep hill, and Snape's long legs were carrying him much too fast for Harry to comfortably keep up.

"Sir," Harry panted, "could you slow down a little, please?" He hadn't been getting much exercise at the house, and he hadn't yet recovered all his strength. Snape slowed a bit, but didn't acknowledge Harry in any other way. Harry tried again. "Where are we?"

"Where do you think we are, Potter?"

"How am I supposed to know?" Harry asked, irritated. "I can't see anything!"

"Are you blind?" Snape asked, sounding curious.

"No," Harry snapped, and Snape stopped with a sigh. He turned around and looked at Harry the same way he'd looked at essence of slug last week.

"Potter, I thought I had instructed you to try thinking once in a while. Is the weather the same? The time of day? We're in a forest. Do you recognize any of the trees, the shrubs, the flowers? Do they grow near Hogwarts? Near your home? It's rained here recently -- the ground is still soft; has it rained at the house?" He tapped Harry's forehead. "Use your brain, Potter. You might enjoy it for a change." He turned and started walking away, and Harry stared after him, a little shocked. He'd never really thought about it before.

"Oh," he said weakly. He started looking at the trees. "I, um... I never..."

Snape whirled on him again, and Harry stumbled backwards in surprise.

"Let me guess. You've never bothered to observe your surroundings. You have no idea what that flower is--" He jabbed his finger at a group of small orange petals spread like a web under one of trees. "--or where it might grow, let alone what it's used for. Imagine my surprise. This is going to be impossible." He turned away again and stormed off, moving faster than ever. Harry glared and rushed after him, determined not to ask him to slow down again.

fifteen.
They walked for hours, and every step Harry took was more painful than the last. He found himself actually wanting to talk to Snape, which would at least give him something to focus on other than the pain shooting up his legs, but the longer the silence went on, the harder it was to break. His resentment festered and faded and he straggled along behind Snape's rigid back, trying not to lose sight of it in the growing darkness. Snape was moving fast, driving both of them as if Voldemort were at their heels; which, for all Harry knew, he was. Harry occupied himself by imagining asking Snape, "Are we there yet?" every three minutes until Snape hexed him, and then he hexed Snape back. It was an oddly satisfying daydream.

Harry shivered and wondered for the thousandth time where they were going. The air was thick and heavy with magic, and a small part of Harry was holding out hope that they were in the Forbidden Forest. Any minute, he thought, the trees would thin and he'd see Hagrid's hut and he could go in and sit by the fire. The evening air had a definite chill to it, and Harry had only been wearing a t-shirt when they left; it had long ago been soaked through with sweat. His muscles couldn't decide if they were hot or cold. The wet shirt wasn't helping, and Harry considered taking it off and throwing it at Snape's head. Snape would turn around and yell at him, and then Harry wouldn't have to ask if they could stop and rest for a bit because they'd be busy screaming at each other.

Harry was so caught up in imagining Snape yelling at him that he forgot to pay attention to his footing, and a particularly squirmy tree root caught him by surprise. It lashed out at his ankle, tripping him, and the back of his head crashed into the base of a tree trunk. Pain shot through his body and then concentrated in his skull, which seemed split in two. His vision blurred and he stared up at the tree, absurdly trying to remember if ones like it grew near Hogwarts. Snape's sneer swam into focus, and Harry closed his eyes.

"Idiot," Snape growled, pressing something soft to Harry's head. "If I wanted your neck snapped, Potter, I should like to do it myself. You ought to have said something."

Harry groaned, and hoped it sounded angry. He was too tired to even think about moving, and now that he was on the ground, he never wanted to get up again.

"I'm sure you'd've listened," he mumbled, unable to inject the necessary bitterness into his voice. He heard a heavy sigh.

"Are you able to move?" Snape sounded irritated. Harry groaned again, and wondered dimly why he'd want to do a thing like that. His bones felt cold. There was warmth emanating from somewhere and he curled towards it. The warmth shifted slightly, and Harry realized it was probably Snape. He paused, decided he didn't care, inched closer, and tried to go to sleep. "No you don't, Potter," Snape said in his ear.

"Why not?" Harry tried to ask, but it sounded incoherent even to his own ears. He squirmed closer to the warmth and tried to sleep again.

"Potter!" Snape snapped, shaking his shoulder. Harry opened his eyes and looked blearily at Snape, who looked absolutely livid. Harry smiled sleepily, unable to care about Snape's problem, not that he'd any idea what it was.

Snape sighed again, heavily enough to blow some of Harry's fringe off his forehead. "You cannot sleep until the bleeding stops, Potter. It isn't safe."

"Why not?" Harry asked again, hoping Snape would launch into a boring lecture that would put him straight to sleep. Instead, Snape sat down, his back to the offending tree trunk, and started jostling Harry around. Harry gave a weak sound of protest, but quieted when he found himself settled between Snape's legs. He lay his head back onto Snape's shoulder, and Snape quickly wrapped his robes around both of them before returning the pressure to Harry's head.

"As much as I would love to detail the finer points of mediwizardry, I fear attempting to teach you anything in your current state would be an even more futile endeavor than usual."

It took Harry a while to remember that he'd asked Snape a question, and longer to remember what that question was. By the time he'd figured out what Snape was talking about, he'd decided he was so happy to finally be warm that he didn't care how insulting Snape was.

"Okay," he said around a yawn. He closed his eyes and inhaled, breathing in the scent of blood and sweat and Snape. He thought about trying to pinpoint what it was Snape smelled like, but decided quickly it was useless; Snape smelled like Snape, like a million potions ingredients and spices and smoke. He breathed in again and snuggled into the warmth, too tired to pay much attention to his aching head. It was all right if he didn't move, and he was certain it'd be better in the morning.

"Potter."

Harry groaned. "Don't you ever stop talking?"

"Eyes open, Potter, or I shall be forced to resort to... drastic measures."

Harry opened one eye and looked sideways at Snape's chin. "Going to hit me in the head?"

"Very tempting," Snape murmured. "But as I am trying to keep you awake, not knock you unconscious, I rather thought..."

Harry's other eye snapped open as he felt Snape's free hand glide down his chest, over his stomach, and under his t-shirt. He froze, torn between wanting to pull away and wanting to melt back into Snape. Long fingers trailed teasingly up his chest, and he sucked in a breath as they circled his nipple. A jolt of electricity shot through him and he arched into the touch, suddenly aware of Snape's chest against his back, Snape's thighs against his own. His mind made up in favor of melting, he closed his eyes and moved restlessly against Snape, moaning softly.

He was entirely unprepared when Snape's fingers closed on one of his nipples and twisted sharply. He yelped in pain and lurched forwards, trying to break out of Snape's hold. But Snape suddenly kicked their legs out straight in front of them, and then crossed his over Harry's thighs. His other arm snapped across Harry's chest like an iron band, and Harry was trapped.

Snape twisted Harry's nipple a little bit farther and Harry, unwilling to make another sound, bit down on his tongue.

"Awake?"

Harry gritted his teeth. "Aren't you supposed to be keeping pressure on my head?" Once he said it, he realized there was still pressure on his head. Snape must have charmed the cloth he was using so both hands would be free to torment Harry. "I hate you," Harry snarled.

Snape let go of his nipple and Harry cried out sharply as the blood rushed in painfully. "A shame," Snape said dryly, "when I'm so very fond of you." He slid his hand from Harry's shirt and wrapped both arms around Harry's torso, pulling him closer. Harry was still uncomfortably aware of all the places their bodies touched.

"I don't understand you at all," Harry muttered under his breath.

"You are full of shocking revelations."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because, Potter, as I have said before, there are those in the Wizarding world who seem to think you have more value alive than dead. Allowing you to bleed to death in a forest would hardly be looked upon kindly."

"'Kindly,'" Harry spat out bitterly. "You don't have the first idea about kindness."

"And you do?" Harry winced slightly as Snape's arms tightened around his chest. "Tell me, then. What would have been the kind thing to do? Let you die? Let you bring yourself off against my leg?"

Harry went crimson with shame and rage. "No," he growled, struggling uselessly against Snape's hold. "The KIND thing to do would've been to slow down or look back or ask after me or stop to rest. Then we wouldn't be here."

Snape snorted. "Oh, spare me the recriminations. We wouldn't be here if you'd been paying attention to where you were going. We wouldn't be here if I hadn't been so foolish as to leave you alone with my mail. We wouldn't be here if your blasted godfather had stayed home. There are a million circumstances we cannot change, Potter, and they have brought us here. I suggest you learn to deal with it."

"LEAVE SIRIUS OUT OF IT!" Harry yelled, twisting in Snape's arms. "And let me go!"

"If you insist," Snape said casually, unhooking his legs from Harry's and opening his arms. Harry shot forward angrily and then fell immediately to his knees, vision swimming. The sudden movements started his head throbbing painfully, and he saw the ground spinning closer. He threw his arms out to catch himself, but Snape's arms caught him instead. He felt himself hauled back against Snape's chest, and then Snape's robes were once again around them both.

"Go to sleep, Potter," Snape said in his ear. "The bleeding has stopped."

"I hate you," Harry whispered fiercely. "I hate you." He repeated it until, for the second night running, he fell asleep against Snape's unmoving form.

sixteen.
Harry didn't know if he felt better in the morning. He was cold and stiff from sleeping on the ground. His head ached, although it wasn't nearly so painful as it had been the night before. He'd had yet another ridiculous argument with Snape that he could barely remember. He was starving. It was almost enough to make him miss the Dursleys.

Standing and stretching, he watched Snape get to his feet.

"Er," Harry said. "Good morning."

Snape raised an eyebrow. Harry rolled his eyes, and tried again. "Where are we going? How far is it? I'm hungry."

Snape snorted. "Another hour should do it. Perhaps two."

***

"Oh!" Forty-five minutes later, Harry stopped in his tracks. They'd reached the top of a hill and had almost literally stumbled over the ruins of a small castle. The remains of a square tower filled the northwest side of the hill. It had once been at least four storeys tall, but it no longer had any roof. One of the walls was completely gone, and Harry could see the bare outline of the stairs inside.

Looking around, Harry realized that this must be where they'd been headed all along. There really wasn't any place else to go; the north side of the hill dropped off into a steep cliff, almost 100 meters high. When he went to investigate, Harry saw a body of water at the bottom, mist clinging to its surface. The other side of the water was too far away to see, and Harry didn't know if it was a lake or a river, or even the ocean. The north and west sides of the hill were lined with a low, crumbling wall; in places it was almost one storey high, but in others it was low enough to climb over. Harry, suddenly invigorated, had the urge to clamber over every inch of the place. He'd never seen anything like it. He looked around for Snape, eyes bright with excitement.

Snape was leaning, arms crossed, against one of the taller portions of the outer wall. He was watching Harry with something like amusement on his face.

"Can I... Where... Is this... Are we..." Harry trailed off, flushing.

"Eloquent as always, Potter." Snape tossed his hair out of his face and smirked. "Let me see if I can do any better. Yes, this is our destination. We are in Scotland, but that is all I can tell you about our location. You are welcome to explore the ruins if you wish, but you must eat first."

A stab of disappointment shot through Harry at not being able to explore right away, but his stomach growled at the thought of food. He looked around doubtfully. "Eat what, sir?"

Snape's smirk got wider and he pushed himself off the wall and made his way to the tower. Harry followed without being told. When he climbed over the low wall, he felt a tingle run over his body. He looked around and quickly realized that he was inside the tower -- the intact tower.

"Oh, wow," he breathed, looking around. They had passed into a large stone foyer that narrowed into a long hallway lined with torches. The foyer itself was also lit with torches, and the walls were covered with portraits that were neither Muggle nor Wizarding; their eyes moved, but they were otherwise still. To the right was a wide stone staircase; to the left was a large set of wooden doors.

Snape gave him about 30 seconds to look around, and then strode down the long hallway, robes swirling behind him. Harry trailed after him, examining the portraits, which were examining him back. A few of them looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't figure out where he had seen their subjects before. None of them had names.

The hallway opened into a large formal dining hall. A dusty wooden table -- easily large enough for twenty -- with bench seats occupied the center of the room, and Snape looked around, frowning.

"Is this place yours?" Harry asked. He couldn't think why else they would be there. Snape continued pacing around the dining room as if looking for something.

"How long have we had the pleasure of one another's acquaintance?"

Harry frowned, nonplussed. "Er, five years. What's that--"

"Mr. Potter, we are in a comfortable, well-appointed, unplottable, magically hidden castle which is remarkably difficult to get to and which is utterly devoid of those slavering beasts commonly referred to as students. So you tell me: In those five years, exactly which behavioral pattern of mine have you witnessed that would lead to the conclusion that were I to own such a place, I would ever leave?"

"Your love of Quidditch?" Harry ventured, biting back a grin. Snape swiveled his head around and looked over his shoulder at Harry. Harry rolled his eyes. "You could've just said, 'no.'"

Snape snorted and headed back down the long hallway toward the stairs. Harry followed, a little exasperated. "Wait," he called. "I have questions!" Snape gave no sign that he'd heard. Sighing, Harry reached out a hand, grabbed Snape's elbow, and pulled. "Wait," he said again.

Snape whirled so fast that Harry stumbled backwards, and would have lost his footing if not for his grip on Snape's arm.

"Take your hand off me," he growled. Harry looked up in surprise to see flashing eyes and flaring nostrils; Snape was furious. He dropped his hand slowly, confused, and took another step backwards.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I don't-- I mean... you touch me."

"Yes," Snape said, placing the palm of his hand against Harry's chest and pushing him into the stone wall. "I touch you. You do not touch me."

Harry struggled against Snape's hand, and his strange reluctance to use his own hands to free himself rendered his efforts useless. He was pinned to the wall like a bug. Frustrated and confused, he stilled, his shoulders sagging and eyelids fluttering shut. He felt strangely off-balance, caught between the cold stones leaking ice into his blood, and Snape's hand, which felt like it might set his t-shirt on fire. His cock was straining uncomfortably against his jeans, and he wondered when he'd got hard.

"I have questions," he whispered. He was barely able to hear himself over the pounding of his heart.

"Have you considered asking them?"

Harry's eyes snapped open to see Snape, watching him with a contemptuous sneer. "I was trying!" he said angrily. He felt his own lips twist into a sneer. "I hate you."

Snape lifted a black brow and looked pointedly at the tent in Harry's trousers. "All evidence to the contrary," he said softly, taking a step closer.

Harry dug his fingertips into the stone wall behind him and looked warily at Snape. "Don't," he said, suddenly bone-tired. The past two days had been exhausting, physically and emotionally, and he desperately wanted to sit down, eat, and figure out what was happening. What he did not want to do was play games with Snape, especially when he had no idea what the rules were. He stared into Snape's dark eyes, and hoped the man was as much of a mind-reader as he seemed to be.

Snape raised his eyebrows slightly and gave Harry a long, inscrutable look. His eyes were glittering strangely, and Harry pushed himself back against the wall, worried about what Snape might do. But Snape just stood there staring, and then finally dropped his hand, spun on his heel, and stalked up the stairs. Harry took a deep, relieved breath, tried to collect himself, and then headed upstairs.

***

He found Snape in the library, a huge circular room -- easily bigger than the dining room downstairs -- at least three storeys high, the walls completely covered by books. There was a large desk in the center of the room, piled with parchments and books and vials, and there were several old leather reading chairs clustered around smaller tables throughout the room. Snape strode to the desk and sat down gracefully, motioning Harry to sit in one of the chairs on the other side. He dug through one of the bottom drawers and produced a bottle of scotch and two glasses. Harry's eyes widened as Snape poured drinks for both of them, and he took the glass hesitantly. Snape narrowed his eyes.

"Sip, don't gulp," he warned, proceeding to drain his glass in two long pulls before pouring some more. Harry sipped cautiously and then coughed as the smoky liquid burned its way down his throat. He wrinkled his nose and tried again. It tasted like wood. He fixed his eyes on Snape, eyes brimming with a thousand unasked questions. "Out with it, Potter," Snape snapped. "What?"

"Er. I don't know where to start. You're just going to yell at me."

"Probably."

Harry chewed his bottom lip, unsure which question to ask first. "Did the house blow up? I didn't see what happened."

"Nor did I, but that is my assumption."

"Did you see who it was?"

"No."

"Did they see you?"

"I don't know."

"Oh. That's bad, isn't it?"

Snape ran a long finger down his cheek but didn't say anything.

"Because if it was Death Eaters, then they'll know you've been with me this whole time." Harry paused, thinking. "Except... they must have known already, yeah? Why else would they show up? So, if it was Death Eaters, your cover is blown. And it must have been, because if it was Aurors or the Order, they wouldn't have blown up the house. Right?"

"Unless they don't trust me."

"Oh," Harry said, unsurprised by the idea of the Order not trusting Snape. "But even if they didn't trust you, they wouldn't blow up the house. I mean, what if I had been in it?"

"Do you really think they would attack the house without first having placed it under surveillance?"

"But why would they do that?" It still didn't make sense for the Order to blow up the house.

"Perhaps they weren't the only ones watching."

"What? You lost me." Harry took another sip of his drink and almost kept his nose from wrinkling. He was starting to feel warm and a little light-headed. His stomach growled. Snape looked at him and sighed.

"Understand, this is pure conjecture. I present the following scenario only to make the point that nothing is simple. Let us say the Order discovered your location. They realized you were with me, and safe, and decided not to act. But the spy in the Order reported to the Dark Lord, who sent Death Eaters to watch the house. When Dumbledore discovered that, he sent Order members to put on a show for the watching Death Eaters. If it looked like they were trying to kill me and save you, it may have preserved my status with the Dark Lord."

"Er, wow," he said, his head spinning. "Do you think that's what happened?"

"I've no idea. It's possible; why blow up the house while you were outside if they were trying to kill you?"

"Could you be giving them too much credit? Maybe they didn't know I was outside. The garden was enchanted, right?"

"True," he said, staring moodily into his drink.

"Er... look, sir, I know you think--" Harry ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. Snape didn't look up from his drink. He tried again. "Is there any chance my-- things are intact? I mean, mostly it's stuff I don't care about, but there were some things... my photo album, and my... some other stuff." He didn't want to risk another fight over his parents. Snape continued staring at his drink while it swirled in his glass. "Sir?" Harry prompted.

Snape finally stirred, swallowing the rest of his drink and slamming the glass on the table. Harry watched curiously as Snape stood and pulled a small black box from somewhere in his robes. He looked uncomfortably from the box to Harry several times before sighing and tossing the box to Harry. Harry automatically snatched it out of the air and stared at it, frowning. It was just a solid black box, sort of heavy, definitely not made of wood. He looked questioningly up at Snape, but the man wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Er, thanks," Harry said. "What is it?"

Snape poured himself another drink and sat down stiffly. "Your possessions."

Harry's jaw dropped. "My-- I don't understand." He peered at the box again.

Snape sighed, and finally looked at Harry. "Miniaturized, consolidated, and transfigured. You've only to remove the charms."

Harry stared at Snape, unable to speak. A joyous grin threatened to break out over his face, and he took another drink to try to cover it.

"Spare me, Potter," Snape snapped angrily. Harry bit his bottom lip. "I thought the house might come under attack, so I took several precautionary measures. I set the spells on my laboratory first."

Harry realized Snape was embarrassed to have been caught doing something that might be construed as nice. He beamed at him across the desk. "Thank you, sir," he said sincerely.

Snape glared at him. "You can thank me," he said warningly, "by not using that infernal cloak whilst at school."

Harry looked at him innocently. "Of course, sir."

"Potter," Snape growled.

Harry laughed and held up his hands. "All right! But, really, sir. Thank you." He looked at Snape seriously for a minute and then moved on. "So. What is this place? And what was the house we were in? Why was it just like the Dursleys'?"

"This is an Order safehouse," Snape said, seizing on the first question. "It belongs to, well, you. Or it will next week, at any rate."

Harry's jaw dropped again. "What?"

"You are, I presume, heir to the Black family holdings. This is one of them. You'll inherit when you come of age. Which, I believe, is one week from today."

Harry blinked, but decided not to dwell on Snape's strange awareness of his birthday. "But how... I mean, Sirius' parents died after the war."

"It is my understanding that this place was given to Black by one of his other relatives after he left his home."

"Why d'you know about it, then?"

"I am a member of the Order of the Phoenix, Potter," Snape said stiffly.

"I know, but this place seems-- personal."

Snape snorted. "Black could never be bothered to go through the trouble required to get here."

"Oh," Harry said, frowning. Something wasn't adding up. This seemed like a perfect place for Sirius to have come after he'd escaped Hogwarts.

"Back to the house," Snape said, changing the subject before Harry could say anything further. "There are, in my view, two possible suspects for you to consider. The first is the traitor, who would have been able to discover your whereabouts, kill us both, and return triumphantly to the Dark Lord. Regardless of his success or failure, he would have had nothing to lose, as neither master would have known anything about it."

Harry nodded. That made sense, sort of.

Snape looked at him strangely. "The alternative you should consider is me."

"You?" Harry repeated blankly.

"Me. I could have blown up the house while you were outside, saving your life and your possessions in order to gain your trust."

Harry snorted and drained his drink. He felt strangely giddy. "I don't think so," he said. "You've saved my life loads of times without earning my trust."

"Yes, but once it became clear how little you value your life in comparison to that of your broom, I might have altered my approach."

Harry laughed, enjoying himself for once. "Whatever. Is there food? I thought we were going to eat."

seventeen.
Snape made them a huge breakfast out of the surprisingly large store of fresh ingredients found in the kitchen. When Harry had remarked on it, Snape had arched an eyebrow and reminded Harry about magic.

While eating, they'd gone over increasingly convoluted theories about what had happened to the house. Harry's favorite was that Dumbledore had realized how awful it was for Harry to be living with Snape and had attacked the house in an effort to kill Snape and make amends. Snape was not amused, but Harry'd had a glass of scotch on a very empty stomach and found almost everything amusing -- especially Snape, whose scowl looked suspiciously half-hearted.

Harry was not amused, however, when Snape told him to go to bed.

"It's not even noon!" Harry protested. "I'm not tired."

"I assure you, Potter, you will be."

"What? Why?" Harry's eyes narrowed suspiciously and he eyed his decimated breakfast. "Did you drug the kippers?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Snape snapped. Harry tried not to giggle. "It did not escape my notice that your sleep last night was not particularly sound, nor was there very much of it."

"Whose fault was that?" Harry grumbled, although Snape was right: His sleep hadn't been very restful.

"Next time I shall allow you to freeze to death," Snape said. "In addition to your lack of sleep, alcohol is a depressant, and you've just consumed an ungodly amount of food. The bedrooms are on the top floor. Pick one, and go to bed."

"Come with me," Harry said, and then actually clapped his hands over his mouth and stared at Snape in wide-eyed horror. Snape's eyebrows lifted sardonically, and the silence stretched heavily between them.

Harry wasn't sure what to do. He hadn't meant to say it, but once he had, he didn't want to take it back. He was, again, somehow, achingly hard; he felt as if Snape had been teasing him for days, and he hadn't had a moment to himself to deal with the problem. He lowered his hands, which had started shaking with adrenaline, and looked at Snape as levelly as he could manage.

"Please," he said quietly.

Harry hadn't thought it was possible for black eyes to become blacker, but Snape's did. Other than that, there was no change. Harry's heart was pounding so hard he thought it might break his ribcage. He felt out of control. Finally Snape's lips twisted into a slight sneer.

"You have no idea what you're asking for."

"Not this again," Harry said, exasperated. "Haven't we done this already? No, I don't know what I'm asking for. And I don't care. Your plan worked. You blew up the house and saved my broom and now I trust you."

The sneer grew more pronounced. "More fool you," Snape said in a low voice. They stared at each other for several more long seconds, and then Snape stood abruptly, the wooden legs of his chair scraping harshly over the stone floor. Harry's world tilted crazily on its axis.

"Thank you for your exceedingly generous offer, Mr. Potter," Snape said formally, with a slight bow. "But I'm afraid I shall have to decline. I've work to do." He spun on his heel and strode quickly from the room, robes billowing behind him. Harry groaned in frustration and slumped in his chair. Maybe he was tired after all.

Even so, he sat in the dining room, staring blankly out the window at the forest, trying to figure out what was going on with Snape. All he did anymore was think about Snape, and he felt like it was eating him alive. Snape was infuriatingly nonchalant about the whole thing, except, it seemed, when Harry touched him, which didn't make any sense. Snape was turning his world inside-out, and Harry didn't think the man had any idea he was doing it. He thought about trying to talk to Snape about it, but conversations with Snape never worked very well, unless they were arguing. He and Snape were really good at arguing.

Sighing, he finally trudged upstairs, leaving the dirty dishes for Snape to deal with. The upstairs hallways were also lit with torches, and Harry didn't wonder that Snape liked this place. Four storeys up, and he felt like he was in a dungeon. Intent on claiming the largest bedroom for himself, he walked to the end of the longest hallway, pushed open a big wooden door, and gasped.

Harry wasn't sure he'd ever be used to magical places being so much bigger on the inside than they looked on the outside; this castle seemed to be no exception. The library should have taken up most of the top floor, but there were at least five bedrooms up there, and the one he was looking at was huge -- easily twice as big as his dormitory at school. The room was dominated by the biggest bed Harry had ever seen in his life, a wrought-iron monstrosity with the Black family crest in the headboard. It was draped in black and purple curtains, and Harry had the insane urge to jump on it.

The rest of the room was equally oversized. There were two sets of bedroom furniture, some pieces with purposes Harry couldn't begin to fathom. Oddly shaped trunks and tables were scattered about the room, and the stone floor was covered with lush oriental rugs in black and purple and green. A fireplace covered one entire wall. Harry wandered around, entranced, opening cupboards and drawers, but everything was empty. He was crawling around underneath a desk, looking for hidden drawers, when Snape's voice cut across the room.

"Snooping, Potter?"

Harry sat up quickly and cracked his head against the desk. Cursing under his breath, he sat back on his heels and looked at Snape, who was leaning against the doorjamb on the other side of the room, arms crossed. Harry rubbed his head and realized he desperately needed a shower; his hair was caked with blood and grime. He wrinkled his nose.

"Go away, Snape," he said, although he would have tumbled over with shock if Snape had actually left.

"I told you to get some rest." Snape's voice was oddly flat.

"And I told you I wasn't tired," Harry shot back, annoyed, and then he remembered what he'd asked Snape to do. Maybe Snape had changed his mind. Harry tried to be nicer. "Er, sorry, sir. I was going to, but..." He trailed off and gestured vaguely at the room. "I was curious," he said, shrugging.

"And, of course, when the great Harry Potter is curious, nothing stands in his way."

His resolve to be nice forgotten, Harry shot to his feet. "What d'you care? You said this place was mine! And there's nothing here anyway." He paused, and glared at Snape. "I thought you were here about my offer," he said sullenly.

"I am."

Harry felt his eyebrows shoot to hairline, and his cock jerked instantly to attention. "Oh! Good! I mean... I... er... um... What should I do?"

"You should listen very carefully."

Harry's shoulders slumped in disappointment. His erection stayed where it was. "Is this another lecture about how I don't know what I want? Because I--"

"Potter, the definition of 'listen' and the definition of 'talk' are very different. Almost completely so, in fact. Come here."

Harry looked at Snape warily. The man hadn't moved from his position in the doorframe, and Harry felt much more comfortable with most of the room between them. "I'm fine here, thanks very much."

Snape made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. "Potter, not thirty minutes ago you invited me to share your bed."

"That was thirty minutes ago," Harry said defensively. "And the bed's over here."

"Do you see how this is a problem?"

"No," Harry said, frowning. Snape didn't say anything, so Harry tried to explain. "Sometimes I don't like you, and sometimes-- well, I never like you. But I like what you do to me. So if you're not going to do anything to me, I think I should stay here."

"Think on your own time, Potter, and get over here."

Harry glared at Snape, but realized the man wasn't going to say anything else until Harry moved. He walked reluctantly to the other side of the room, his erection making his steps awkward, and dropped into the chair nearest the door. He pushed his hair out of his face, crossed his arms, and looked at his feet.

"Are you prepared to listen?" Snape asked tersely. Harry nodded, eyes still fixed on his trainers. "First. As I mentioned, this is a safehouse used by, and known to, the Order of the Phoenix. That organization has been compromised. Our position has been compromised. We cannot stay here long. I doubt we can afford to stay the night."

At that, Harry looked up, surprised and disappointed. He'd hoped to stay the rest of the summer. He frowned at Snape. "What's that got to do with my offer?"

Snape looked at him for a few seconds and finally said in a low voice, "Were I inclined to accept, Potter, I could not do so. There isn't time."

"Time?" Harry repeated, confused. Wanking only ever took a few minutes. "How long would it take?"

Snape lifted his eyebrows and didn't say anything. Harry's erection throbbed. "Oh," he said faintly. "Well... are you inclined to accept?"

Harry held his breath, and Snape's eyebrows climbed a little further. "As I've said on numerous occasions, the nature of our association makes no difference to me."

"I don't believe you. You've been odd lately. Er, more odd than normal."

Snape lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug. "Believe what you like. The second thing I came here to tell you is this: I am not a teenager, but that was not always the case. Do not mistake lack of sympathy for lack of understanding."

Harry gaped at his professor and tried to figure out what he hadn't said; Snape tended to leave the important bits out of his sentences. When it hit him, Harry snorted and shook his head disbelievingly. "Are you trying to tell me you know what-- this is like for me? You can't."

It was Snape's turn to snort. "Are you really so arrogant and self-centered as to believe you are the only adolescent on the planet to have a mind so fogged by hormones and depression and fear that you don't know which way is up? You think no one your age has ever lost a loved one, gone to war, questioned his sexuality?"

Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Well... no, but--"

"You're different?" Snape said contemptuously. "You're not, I assure you."

Harry rubbed absently at his scar and stared at Snape. He'd never been like everybody else -- not in the Muggle world, and not in the Wizarding world. He wanted it desperately, and an odd sense of relief washed over him at Snape's harsh words. But at the same time, they carried an even odder sense of disappointment. He didn't really want to be like everyone else; he wanted to be special. But he wanted to be Harry special, not Boy-Who-Lived special.

"Out with it, Potter," Snape said. He'd been watching Harry carefully.

Harry didn't say anything for a long time. Despite all the other things he'd said to Snape over the past few weeks, he didn't think he could say that. When he finally did say something, it was, "I think I'll get some rest." He felt dazed, and his voice seemed far away.

"An excellent idea," Snape said dryly. "Although you might also consider a shower."

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Okay."

Snape watched him for a few seconds longer and then turned to leave with a promise to wake Harry when it was time to go.

eighteen.
After a long soak and a short wank in one of the most elaborate magical bathtubs he'd been in -- it shaped itself to his body, and provided him with soapy water, more shampoo than he knew what to do with, and strategically placed jets of water that eased the aches out of his muscles -- Harry realized that he had no idea how to remove the charms from the black box that supposedly contained his possessions. He didn't know what they looked like miniaturized and consolidated, so he couldn't transfigure them, and all the finite incantatems in the world didn't do a thing. Shrugging, he made a mental note to ask Snape about it later, padded across the bedroom starkers, and climbed into the giant bed. He fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He woke up in a dream, and Snape was all around him. A whisper of wool against his flesh; the scent of spices and smoke; strong, sure fingers digging into his muscles and sliding over his skin; that voice a low rumble in his ear. Harry opened his eyes but couldn't see, opened his mouth but couldn't speak, tried to move but failed utterly. All he could do was feel, and nothing had ever felt better.

He came to the gradual realization that Snape was giving him instructions, not just whispering nonsense. It was something about extending his senses; Snape touched him and talked to him until Harry could feel every nerve ending in his body, every drop of blood rushing through his veins, every whisper of air across his skin, every crackle of magic that hummed through the air around him.

"Once you're completely aware of yourself," Snape whispered, "physically and magically, extend yourself further. Feel where your body connects with the bed, and push."

Harry drew his magic around him like a blanket and then pushed. His consciousness seemed to seep through the sheets into the bed, and he felt the crush of silk underneath his feet, the press of bodies on top of him. At Snape's urging, he pushed farther, and felt the cold stone floor, the leather chairs, the silk rugs, the wooden furniture, the entire bedroom. He wasn't in the bedroom; he was the bedroom.

"Find the door," Snape said. "Feel the door, and go."

Harry went. He felt himself flying apart, all the awareness he'd gained spinning away from him. He reached for it, pulled it back to himself, and realized he was standing up.

"Lumos," Snape said from much farther away than he was supposed to be. The chandelier hummed softly to life, throwing orange light across the room. Harry was standing at the doorway, so shocked he didn't remember he wasn't wearing any clothes. Snape was standing by the bed, watching Harry with a smirk.

"What-- did I just--"

"Congratulations, Mr. Potter. You just Apparated. Do it again."

Harry closed his eyes, and tried again. It was harder with Snape watching, and easier once he realized what he was doing. He drew in his magic and pushed out again, reaching for the essence of the room. It took him a while, but once he had it, he stepped to the window. He felt that same sensation of his awareness flying apart and gathering back together, and when he opened his eyes, he was on the other side of the room.

He stared at Snape, wide-eyed, and then beamed. "That's brilliant! No wonder people Apparate everywhere," he said, thinking of the Weasleys Apparating from room to room. "What's so hard about that?" He asked Snape. Everyone had told him Apparating was difficult and dangerous.

"That's hardly the approved instructional technique," Snape said dryly.

"Oh," said Harry, coloring, suddenly very aware of his nudity. Then he grinned, and Apparated to the bathroom. It was all of two meters away.

"I've created a monster," Snape muttered. Harry, still grinning, and entirely too pleased to stay embarrassed for long, wrapped a towel around himself and dug through his clothes for the box that was his possessions.

"You said I'd only to remove the charms, but I don't know how, sir," he said, walking towards Snape and handing him the box. "Could you get me some clean clothes?"

Snape drew his wand, tapped the box three times, and muttered a string of Latin under his breath. Harry Apparated from one side of the room to the other. It got easier every time.

"Potter," Snape said with a sigh, "Do stop. You're wasting your energy, and you'll need it later. Get dressed."

Harry Apparated to the neat pile of his possessions and knelt to dig clean clothes out of his trunk. Remembering how cold he'd got the night before, he grabbed last year's Weasley jumper, bundled up all his clothes, and Apparated to the bathroom to get dressed. When he came out, Snape looked at him distastefully, and then re-cast the string of charms to turn Harry's belongings back into the small black box.

"Sit," Snape ordered, pointing at the chair nearest the door.

Harry sat, and looked questioningly at Snape. "Why'd you teach me to Apparate?"

"We have pursuers to evade, Potter. You need to be able to get from one place to another rather quickly. Apparating short distances, as you see, is easy enough. Long distances, on the other hand, are rather more difficult. The easiest way to begin will be to bind your own awareness to mine, and to follow me. Do you think you'll be able to manage?"

Harry thought about how he'd been everywhere at once, and nodded slowly. "I think so, sir."

Snape raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Mm. We shall see."

"What?" Harry demanded. "Why wouldn't I? I did well enough just now, didn't I?"

"As I said, long distances are rather more difficult, and it's going to take quite a bit of focus to bind your awareness to mine."

"I can focus," Harry said, incensed.

"Yes, but on what?"

Harry didn't think he'd have any problem whatsoever focusing on Snape, but he kept that thought to himself. Instead he asked how Apparition worked. He was soon sorry.

"Space, Mr. Potter, is a convenient fiction fabricated for the continued sanity of Muggles and mediocre wizards. All space is the same. Apparition is the awareness of that fact, and the ability to move within it."

"Oh," said Harry, understanding the words but completely unable to wrap his mind around the concept.

"Quite," Snape said. "So you can see how studying Apparition theory in a Ministry classroom might impede one's progress."

Harry nodded, surprised anyone at all managed to learn Apparition from books. "Thank you for teaching me, sir," he said earnestly. He was quite pleased with himself.

Snape brushed his hair out of his face and shot Harry a dark look. "Make me sorry I taught you, Potter, and you'll be sorry as well."

"Yes, sir."

"Get your things. It's time to go."

nineteen.
Packing was easy; he shoved his black box into his pocket, tucked his wand in his waistband, and was ready to go. Snape prepared a quick meal of sandwiches, which they ate in the library while Snape grabbed books off the shelves.

"Are you just taking those?" Harry asked. "Shouldn't you ask me first?"

Snape didn't even turn around. "This place is not yours for a week yet, Potter. I'll do as I please."

"You'd do as you pleased anyway," Harry muttered.

"Very astute."

"Is there anything in here about Quidditch?" Harry asked. It was actually sort of fun to tease Snape, and he wondered how much he could get away with. Snape ignored him. "Or sex?"

Snape froze, his hand on the spine of an obnoxious purple book. He turned his head and stared over his shoulder through the dark curtain of hair that hung in his face.

"Sex," he said flatly.

Harry nodded, biting his bottom lip and trying not to smile. He hadn't meant it, really, but he didn't think it was a bad idea. Hermione always said you could learn about anything from books.

"You are aware of the type of wizards the Blacks were?"

Harry's amusement fled and he pressed his lips into a thin line. "The same kind you are."

"Quite. And you know what kind of library this is?"

Harry hadn't really looked around, but Snape seemed to be implying the books were mostly about the Dark Arts. He nodded.

"And you want books about sex."

Harry nodded again. Snape turned around slowly, his mouth twisting into a cruel parody of a smile. Harry started to feel uneasy, and a knot of tension coiled between his shoulder blades. Snape lifted his chin towards a shelf nearly opposite the door. "By all means, Potter. Enlighten yourself." He turned back to what he was doing.

Harry looked uneasily between Snape and the shelf he'd indicated. "I'm not totally ignorant, you know," he grumbled at Snape's back. He was stuck somewhere between being pleased at his ability to even have the conversation, and being confused as to when it became all right to talk to Snape about sex. At least it was easier when Snape wasn't looking at him.

"I'd imagine not," Snape said casually, pulling down the purple book and leafing quickly through its pages. "But a few late-night titters over illicit pornographic materials do not exactly render one knowledgeable."

Harry colored, thinking of last year when Dean had returned from Christmas hols with a stack of Muggle magazines. "How did you--"

Snape slammed the book shut and put it back on the shelf. "I am head of Slytherin House, Potter, and 15-year-old boys are the same the world over."

Harry glared at Snape, irritated at his insistence on being right about everything, all the time. "I could've shagged every girl in Gryffindor," he said.

"Which would be of precisely no use whatsoever."

"I'd know about sex."

"Would you?" Snape sounded doubtful, and more than a little bored. He reached up to pull another book from the shelf.

Harry huffed, his sandwich forgotten, and stood up. "I don't know why I bother talking to you," he said under his breath.

"I've been wondering that myself," Snape said, adding the book to the pile he meant to take along, which was hovering behind him. He turned with a sigh. "Nevertheless, I'm afraid you've lost your chance, Potter. It's time to go."

Harry rolled his eyes and grabbed the rest of his sandwich. "Whatever," he said, stuck somewhere between relieved and disappointed at the change of subject. "I don't understand why we can't just Apparate," Harry complained. He really wanted to Apparate.

"Which part of the concept of anti-Apparition wards eludes you?" It was possible to Apparate inside the castle, but not in or out, and Snape said it wasn't possible in the forest, either.

"Wards in the forest? I don't think so."

"Very well," Snape said, with a malicious glint in his eyes that made Harry nervous. "I concede your point. There are no wards in the forest. See how far you get trying to Apparate."

"Er, never mind then," Harry muttered. It was never a good idea to do anything Snape agreed to with so little argument.

***

"After you," Snape said, gesturing at the forest. They'd left the castle just after noon and were standing at the treeline.

"I don't know where we're going," Harry said, unsure what game Snape was playing this time.

"As if that's ever stopped you doing anything before. Walk."

Harry took a step and was almost crushed by the weight of -- something. It felt like several lead blankets had just been dropped on his head. The pressure was staggering. It took most of his willpower to move his legs and get back out of the forest, where Snape was smirking at him.

"What the bloody hell was that?"

"Language, Potter. That is why it is not possible to Apparate in the forest."

"Why wasn't it like that before?"

"I was keeping it at bay."

"You were keeping -- how?"

"Magic."

"Oh, very helpful."

"I live to serve."

"Yeah? Then why don't we go back inside and--"

"What in Merlin's name--"

There was an owl circling the clearing -- a very familiar owl. Happiness washed over Harry and he beamed at Hedwig and watched her come in for a landing -- on Snape's arm.

Harry pouted. There wasn't another word for it; he was pouting. "Hedwig!"

Hedwig hooted at Snape and extended her leg. She completely ignored Harry. He stepped closer. "Hedwig," he said. "I'm sorry I sent you away, but I just-- I couldn't take care of you very well. If you want to stay with me now, though, I'm feeling much--"

"Potter," Snape interrupted, untying the letter and giving Hedwig a perfunctory pat on the head. "She can't hear you."

"What d'you mean, she can't hear me? Why not? Hedwig?"

Snape rolled his eyes. "You are under the Fidelius Charm, Potter. She can't perceive you."

Harry's mouth dropped open. "I'm WHAT?"

"Surely you've heard of it. The Fidelius Charm."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "Who's my Secret-Keeper?" He had a feeling he knew the answer.

"I am."

Harry chewed on that for a good minute. Snape watched, his expression unreadable.

"Have I mentioned today how much I hate you?"

"Several times."

"Good. Wouldn't want you to forget."

"There is very little chance of that happening. May I read my mail now?"

"You know what? I give up." Harry threw up his hands and then flopped to the ground. He lay there spread-eagled and closed his eyes. "This is ridiculous and confusing and I'm done. Have your way with me."

"Don't be dramatic."

Harry opened his eyes and squinted up at the dark pillar that was Snape. "I cannot believe you are telling me not to be dramatic."

Snape scanned the letter and said absently, "Life is full of surprises, Potter."

Harry rolled his eyes and muttered, "Life with you is full of surprises."

Snape's eyes snapped from the parchment to Harry's. There was a moment of unbearable weight and silence -- even the forest went still. It stretched and then was gone as quickly as it came.

"Quite. Go inside. We're staying here."

Snape turned on his heel and was gone. Harry groaned and threw his arm over his eyes.

twenty.
"I want you to pretend you're someone else," Harry said, walking into the library and sprawling in the chair across from Snape's desk. He'd lain on the ground outside for several hours trying to think, but hadn't got very far, so he'd gone inside to look for Snape. He'd found him in the library, drinking, writing, and shooting glares at Hedwig. She was glaring back.

Snape looked up from whatever he was writing. "Someone else. Who--"

"I don't know," Harry cut in. "Someone I like."

Snape sighed, tossed the quill down on the desk, and leaned back in his chair. "What are you on about, Potter?"

This was the part he'd been practicing. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I'm confused. I -- freaked out. You're always after me about thinking things through, and I'm trying, but... I need someone to talk to before I go mad, and I can't talk to you, so I want you to pretend to be someone else."

"Someone you like."

"Yeah."

Snape gave him that look, the extremely bland one which somehow said he was very stupid. "Just talk, Potter."

"But--"

"Talk."

Harry ran his hands through his hair and glared at Snape. "Fine. Tell me about the Fidelius. I thought I'd have to agree, or take part, or something. It doesn't seem like something you can just cast on someone."

Snape raised an eyebrow and swirled the scotch in his glass. "You've not studied it in Charms?"

"No."

"Are you more diligent in Charms than you are in Potions?"

"Snape. You're being someone I like, remember? People I like don't make snide comments about paying attention in Charms."

"You don't like Miss Granger?"

"Shit," Harry said, looking away. Snape looked like he was trying not to smirk, but he wasn't doing a particularly good job. "All right, all right. Yes, I pay attention in Charms, and I definitely would have paid attention if we'd studied this, considering it got my parents killed."

Snape shook his head slightly and rummaged through the drawer where he kept the scotch. He poured another glass and floated it to Harry, who wrinkled his nose but grabbed it out of the air anyway. "Pettigrew got your parents killed, Potter, not the Fidelius."

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"Yes."

Harry sniffed at his drink and waited, but Snape didn't elaborate. "Well? The answer?"

"Do try to pay attention, Potter. That was the answer."

"Oh, right. So I do have to agree, or help."

"Yes."

"Then why don't I remem--" Harry stopped short as realization dawned. He felt ill. "You son of a bitch. The Imperius."

"Tsk, Mr. Potter. I'm someone you like, remember, not someone at whom you hurl expletives."

Harry clenched his teeth. He was trying very hard to control himself, but Snape was making it difficult. "People I LIKE do NOT put me under the Imperius and FORCE ME INTO SECRECY CHARMS!"

"That's a relief."

"You are an utter--"

"Shall I take it off?"

"Er--" That wasn't at all what he'd expected Snape to say. He sat back in his chair.

"Think, Potter, assuming you're able. It's only the Fidelius allowing us to stay. If I remove it, we'll have to run for quite some time. It will be significantly more dangerous."

Harry stared at Snape, who picked up his quill and went back to writing, leaving Harry somewhere between grateful he wasn't squirming under that black gaze and annoyed that Snape was ignoring him. He shoved his hair out of his eyes and sighed; nothing was simple.

He took a small sip of his drink. This time it tasted like burnt wood rather than just regular wood. He wasn't sure that was any better.

"You could've just asked me," he said, somewhat surprised to realize that was what was bothering him most at the moment.

Snape barely glanced up. "I'm asking now."

"Right." That was...odd. Harry stared into his drink, considering, and then took a deep breath and swallowed it all down. He spent the next few moments gagging and coughing and trying to ignore Snape's exasperated look. "I don't know how you can drink this stuff," he muttered.

"It is an acquired taste, Potter, and you do not acquire it by pouring it down your throat and vomiting it back up again."

"Right," Harry said again, his insides burning. "Right. Take it off."

Snape shot him a long, inscrutable look, and then sighed, drew his wand, and lifted the charm. Harry felt lighter somehow, as if he were climbing outside into the fresh air after a long car trip. He took a deep breath and almost sucked in a lungful of owl feathers as Hedwig flew at him, flapping and hooting happily. He laughed and settled her on his shoulder, where she nuzzled him lovingly. "I missed you, too," he told her.

"Touching," Snape said. It was obvious he was angry, but Harry didn't care. He grinned, and Snape's glare hardened. "We'll be on our way when I finish this letter. I assume you are still packed."

"We're not going anywhere," Harry said. "You can put it back on."

Snape's knuckles went white around his glass and Harry held up his hand. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't think you'd do it. Don't be angry. That was a pretty good five minutes, when you were someone I liked."

"This is not a game," Snape growled.

"I know," Harry said, trying to be contrite. Unfortunately, the alcohol wasn't helping, and he felt more giddy than anything else.

"I am not someone you like."

"You really don't have to remind me. Now are you going to put the charm back on or not?"

"You intend to stand there while I cast a powerful spell on you about which you know absolutely nothing."

Harry frowned. "Er, yeah."

Snape slammed his glass on the desk and stood up. "You are a fool," he snarled. "Stand up."

Harry stood up a little too quickly and swayed back and forth for a bit. Perhaps next time he'd sip, assuming Snape ever gave him scotch again. Or perhaps he'd just turn it down. It was making him want to say things he really shouldn't.

Like: "You're such a prat. D'you want me to trust you or not?"

"Emphatically not."

"But you want to be my Secret-Keeper."

"Not particularly."

Harry growled in frustration. "Fine, whatever. We'll go on the run, then. At least I might get to talk to someone who makes sense. I'll be outside." He stormed out of the castle, Hedwig in his wake.

He spent fifteen minutes pacing around outside, muttering under his breath, and upsetting Hedwig. He was too angry to pay much attention to her, or to take in any of the scenery. Snape was impossible, and Harry was tired of trying to figure him out. He'd actually been looking forward to staying in the castle and doing magic again, and Snape had to go and bollocks it all up by being difficult. He was just about to storm back inside and tell the man exactly what he thought, when Snape's dark form appeared in the doorway.

"Stop being melodramatic, Potter, and come inside."

"I thought we were running."

"I thought you wanted me to cast the charm."

"That was before you turned into such a prat."

"I was unaware I ever stopped being a prat."

"Oh." That was a good point. "Well, yeah."

"Come inside."

"I don't want to."

"Potter." That was the classroom voice, heavy with warning, and Harry knew there was no use fighting. Snape would just make him go if he didn't go on his own.

"Fine." He brushed past Snape and went straight to his room, where he threw himself across the bed.

Snape wasn't far behind him, and he had Harry stand in the middle of the room while he prepared the spell. Harry thought 'preparing the spell' looked an awful lot like 'glaring at Harry,' but what did he know? Snape made him say a few sentences in Latin which he didn't understand, and then Snape said some sentences in Latin which he also didn't understand, and then Harry was surrounded by a shimmering blue light.

"Name your Secret-Keeper," Snape told him, and then glared murderously when Harry hesitated.

Harry waited another second, and then said, "Severus Snape." He watched as the blue light around him coalesced into something like a shield, and then flowed off him and towards Snape. Snape glowed briefly when the light touched him, and then his body seemed to absorb it all.

"That's it?" Harry said.

Snape nodded curtly.

"Okay. Your turn."

Snape gave him a blank look. "I do beg your pardon."

"Your turn. I'm going to be your Secret-Keeper."

"You most certainly are not."

"Why not? I thought they knew I was with you. It'll be safer if we're both hidden, yeah?"

"Unlike you, Potter, I am able to stay hidden without the use of the Fidelius."

"Liar. If I've been under the Fidelius all this time, the attack at the other house was aimed at you." Harry jabbed a finger in Snape's direction. "And if they find you, they find me. So let's have the Latin. Otherwise I'm going to start asking loads of questions."

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" Snape asked softly.

"I know you're up to something. And I'll keep trying to figure it out, but-- I mean, you're sort of trying to help me, and it's sort of working. I'm still alive, and mostly functional. So if you're using me for something dodgy, whatever. At least you're honest about it and not like-- other people."

Snape shot him a long, considering look. "You're drunk."

"You gave me the scotch, Snape. Now give me the Latin."

Snape gave him the Latin.

twenty-one.
"Wow," Harry said. "This is-- odd."

He could feel Snape's presence hovering at the edge of his consciousness. It was strangely comforting.

"Go hide," he said. "I'll see if I can find you." He thought he probably could.

"We are not going to play magical hide-and-seek, Potter."

"But--"

"No. We need to have a discussion. Go to the library, and I shall meet you there shortly."

Harry didn't like the sound of that. "A discussion about what?"

"About the many terribly painful ways full-grown wizards have of getting their charges to shut their mouths and do as they're told. Go."

Harry rolled his eyes but trudged to the library and sprawled in what he was starting to think of as his chair. He focused on Snape, trying to pinpoint his presence, but quickly realized he probably would have lost the magical game of hide-and-seek. Snape was here, but that was all he could tell.

And then Snape was in the library. He sat down at the desk and stared at Harry just long enough to make him squirm.

"So," Harry said into the silence. "What's this discussion about, then?"

Snape kept staring. Harry kept squirming. "Sna-- er, Professor?"

"Ask your questions."

"My... what?"

"Is this really that difficult a concept to grasp, Potter? Ask your questions."

"Oh, right. Questions." He had so many that he wasn't sure where to start. "Er. What'd the letter say?"

"It was a newspaper clipping, announcing you've been found."

"WHAT?" Harry jerked to his feet and looked around wildly, as if the person who'd found him was there in the room.

Snape sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh, do sit down, Potter. It's another of Dumbledore's tricks. You've not been found."

"Oh, right," Harry said, sitting down and feeling sheepish. "Good, then. Who sent it to you?"

"Dumbledore, along with a note saying there was no longer any need to look for you."

"So... they're not looking for me any more?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course they're still looking for you. But the owl post is not particularly secure, and might be monitored." He paused, and then shrugged slightly and continued. "I'm also expected to report my communications to the Dark Lord, particularly those which concern you."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Snape frowned, as if the question confused him. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Oh, I don't know, because they're about ME, and maybe you shouldn't be telling Vol-- the Dark Lord where I am!"

Snape gave him that blank you're-an-idiot look. "Potter, if I had told the Dark Lord where you were, you'd be dead by now. My handing over my letters -- few of which contain useable information -- serves only to bolster the Dark Lord's confidence in me."

"But then won't he think you don't ever have useable information?"

"I said 'few,' not 'none,' and I really think it's best if we leave the espionage to me."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine. What's it like?"

"What is what like?"

"Being a Death Eater." It sounded stupid, but Harry wanted to know. He didn't understand why anyone would become a Death Eater if all they did was stand around and get crucio'd by Voldemort. Torturing Muggles couldn't be that exciting.

"Ah," Snape said. He stared at the wall behind Harry's head for a long time, and then rummaged in the scotch drawer and poured himself a glass. He didn't offer Harry any. "What do you want me to say, Potter?"

Harry frowned. "I don't know. I just-- why'd you follow him? He's a nutter."

Snape stared into his glass, swirling the amber liquid absently. "He wasn't always. Or perhaps he used to be better at hiding it."

"So, 'let's get together and murder all the Muggles' sounded like a good idea twenty years ago?" Harry winced inwardly, hoping he hadn't just gone too far. He really was very interested.

The eyebrows went up, but Snape didn't seem particularly angry. "It's not about murdering Muggles, Potter. I could not possibly care less about Muggles."

"But you don't like them," Harry pointed out. "When you came to get me, you kept making comments about Muggles being useless."

"Muggles are useless."

"They're not!"

"Yes, of course. Muggles are wonderful. Can we please return to the subject at hand?"

"This is the subject at hand," Harry insisted. "Vol-- er, the Dark Lord wants to kill me. I think I should know why anyone ever listened to him in the first place."

Snape tilted his head to the side and studied Harry for a few moments, and then held up his hand. "Accio... The Rise and Fall of You-Know-Who." He slid it over the desk to Harry. "That should suffice. Try not to let it go to your head. Now, do you have any questions which are actually relevant to your current situation?"

Harry flipped through the book, frowning. "I don't want to read a book." It looked boring.

"Shocking."

"Can't you just tell me?"

"Perhaps later," Snape said, draining his drink. "Leave it."

"All right," Harry said reluctantly, putting the book on the floor next to his chair. Then he said the next thing that came to mind. "You drink a lot."

"Potter..." Snape sounded pained.

"No, I mean--" He sighed and tried to come up with the right words. "You're a spy, right? I thought it was a bad idea for spies to get drunk."

"I drink. I do not get drunk." He poured himself another glass.

"Er... okay."

"I drink precisely so that I do not get drunk. Drinking is a rather social activity, Potter, and it's one many Death Eaters are rather fond of. I cannot turn down drinks on such occasions, nor can I afford to lose control. I therefore have a very high alcohol tolerance, and the only way to maintain it is to continue drinking. Now, are these really the questions you wish to be asking? Fascinating as my drinking habits no doubt are, they have very little to do with your current situation."

Harry tried to imagine Snape drinking at Death Eater parties with Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange, and failed. "What do you do at Death Eater parties?"

Snape slammed his glass down on the desk, splattering scotch over a few of the papers. "We play Pin the Tail on the Donkey and gang-rape Muggles. Move on, Potter."

Harry felt his eyes widen. "Really?"

Snape stood up. "We're finished."

"No! I'm sorry! Please-- I'll move on. I'm just curious."

"Terminally so, no doubt," Snape muttered, but sat back down.

"Can't you just tell me what's going on? Maybe start at the beginning? And-- you know, maybe you could tell me what you're using me for. You've helped me, so maybe I could help you, and then you wouldn't have to be sneaking about all the time."

Snape picked his glass back up and stared at it for a while, and then stared at Harry, and then back at his drink. Finally he sighed and raised his eyes to Harry's. "You're not going to like this."

Harry tensed in the chair and narrowed his eyes. "Tell me."

"Do you trust me, Potter?"

Harry frowned and thought about it. "Well, I did say you could be my Secret-Keeper. If you were just going to turn me over to the Dark Lord, you'd've done it by now."

"But...?"

"But-- I don't know," Harry said. Snape had a dangerous glint in his eyes, and Harry wasn't sure how far he could go with this. "I just don't think you do anything for free, but I can't figure out what you want."

"No?" Snape sounded faintly astonished, as if Harry really ought to have figured it out by now. Harry shook his head, and when Snape spoke again, his voice was as dry as Harry'd ever heard it. "You see no benefit whatsoever to my having the Boy Who Lived under my thumb."

"I'm not under your thumb!" Harry protested, but he knew it was a lie. He was utterly isolated and dependent on Snape, especially now, and he was all too aware of that fact.

Snape's eyebrows went up, challenging the lie, but he didn't say anything. Harry shifted in his seat, angry. "So that's what this is about, then?" he said. "Control?"

"Control. Power. Everything's about power, boy."

"Stop calling me boy."

"Stop acting like one."

"I'm not--" Harry broke off with a sigh. "Aren't I supposed to be really powerful, though? More powerful than you?"

Snape raised his eyebrows again. "That is rather the point, Potter, yes."

"Controlling my power?" He frowned. "Don't you think telling me sort of ruins your plan?"

Snape's lips twitched, and he looked faintly amused. "I rather think I'll have the upper hand for quite some time."

Harry couldn't quite believe they were having this conversation. He felt slightly ill, and glared at Snape. "I really don't like you. Let's talk about something else."

"You're asking the questions, Potter. You've no one but yourself to blame if you don't like the answers. I've said as much before."

Harry leaned forward in his seat, feeling reckless, and sneered. "And you're just going to answer any question I come up with?"

"Within reason, yes. As best I can, at any rate."

"Have you ever killed anyone?"

Snape's eyes went dead, and a shiver ran down Harry's spine. "Would you like a body count, Potter?" he said, and Harry shivered again. "Or are you asking what it feels like to kill another human being, to hold life in your hands and break it, to watch a person's eyes cloud over and there's that brief moment--"

"Stop!" Harry said. "God, just-- stop." Harry tucked his legs up under himself and wrapped his arms around them. He thought he might be sick. Snape sipped his scotch, that dead look still in his eyes. "All right," Harry said, desperately searching for a new topic. "So the Dark Lord sent the Lestranges to kill me. Why did Dumbledore send you to save me? Why not someone else? Someone less--" He gestured vaguely at Snape. "You know."

"This is the part you're not going to like."

"THIS is the part I'm not going to like?" Harry couldn't believe it. "I don't like any of this, Snape."

"Mm." Snape sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. "Dumbledore didn't send me. He's no idea where you are."

"Oh, god." Harry hugged himself tighter. He was alone with a murderer in the middle of nowhere with no hope of anyone finding him. "I knew it. I knew it, you bastard! I said--"

"Would you like an explanation, or do you intend to sit there and worry until you vomit?"

"There's nothing you can say! You're-- bugger." He ran his hands through his hair. Maybe-- "Tell me."

"I told Dumbledore that the Dark Lord had sent Death Eaters after you, but the headmaster was confident his protections could withstand any attack. I was... less confident, and watched the Lestranges get closer. I warned him once again, and he again ignored my warning. When it became clear you were in danger, I took matters into my own hands."

"And kidnapped me."

"Yes."

"Dumbledore is going to kill you."

"Probably."

"And so is Vold-- the Dark Lord."

"Almost certainly."

Harry stared at his feet. "You're in a lot of trouble, aren't you?"

"Your concern is touching, Potter, but I can handle myself."

Harry didn't know what to think. If Snape had really risked his life for him, did the other things matter? He wasn't sure, and it was making his head spin. "I don't-- I can't talk to you right now," he said. He stood up, grabbed the book, and bolted.

twenty-two.
Harry got to his room and tossed the book on the floor. He suddenly wasn't interested in why Snape or anyone else had ever followed Voldemort. He wasn't sure what he was interested in anymore. He collapsed into one of the armchairs and stared at the bed, at the giant iron Black family crest. He hadn't even asked about this place, and nothing Snape had said about it added up in the slightest.

He sighed and pushed his hair out of his face. It was just long enough to get in the way of everything, but not long enough to tie back. He wondered what Snape would do if he asked about a haircut. Slit his throat with the scissors, most likely.

Or not. He just didn't know what to think about Snape anymore. Things had been so simple earlier. He'd known the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and it was all pretty clear-cut. But Snape had as good as admitted to being a murderer and a kidnapper and he was definitely a Death Eater and he'd even mentioned rape, although Harry was pretty sure he was being sarcastic. Not that that meant anything. But he'd risked his life time and again to save Harry, and he'd brewed him potions to make him feel better, and Harry just wasn't sure what to make of any of it.

As he was going over it for the thousandth time, Hedwig flew back in the window. Snape had said she'd be able to see them until Harry sent her away, but after that, she wouldn't be able to find them again. Harry had asked if she could stay another day and Snape had surprised him by relenting without much of a fight.

Harry watched as she settled herself on the windowsill and hooted contentedly. Maybe he could send her off with a letter, something to let Ron and Hermione know he was okay. Or... tension coiled through him as he realized he could get away from Snape. He could write a letter to Dumbledore and tell him where they were, and then Dumbledore would send someone to get him. He dug through his trunk for parchment and sat down to write.

***

"Here," Harry snapped. He slammed his letter down on Snape's desk and then sat in his chair, scowling, while Snape read. It didn't take him long to finish, and he looked up at Harry with tight expression on his face.

"Were you fool enough to send this letter?"

"What if I was?"

"Then you'd best leave me instructions as to what to engrave on your tombstone."

Harry crossed his arms. "I didn't send it." His voice sounded petulant even to his own ears.

"Incendio," Snape said, sending it up in flames. "Why not?"

He didn't know why he hadn't sent it. True, he didn't really want to get Snape in more trouble than he was already in, but he could have re-written it so it was less obvious. He just didn't fancy going back to Grimmauld Place just yet, and it seemed like Snape was more likely to give him useful information than Dumbledore was. He just needed to be careful what he asked for. "It's not your charming company, that's for sure," he muttered.

"I've no doubt of that," Snape said.

"I just-- right now--" Harry felt like every word was being ripped out of him. He hated this. "Right now I think I'm better off with you. At least I know where I stand."

But then he looked up at Snape and all the breath went out of his lungs in a rush. Snape's eyes were burning strangely, full of something Harry couldn't even begin to identify, but he was suddenly reminded of the other reason he didn't particularly want to go back to Grimmauld Place just yet.

"Do you?" Snape murmured.

Harry swallowed. He was half-hard already, and Snape really needed to stop looking at him like that. "Probably not," he acknowledged, his voice thick in his throat.

Then Snape looked away, and the moment was gone. "You should go to bed, Potter. It's been a long day. We'll work out your training schedule in the morning."

Harry slumped in his chair. "Oh, right. Training."

***

The next morning, Harry stared at the piece of paper, aghast, and then looked up to meet Snape's flat stare. "You have got to be kidding me."

"On the contrary."

"This is-- this is horrible! You're way worse than Hermione!"

An eyebrow lifted. Harry considered trying to singe them off his face and seeing how well Snape communicated without them.

"And this is somehow surprising?"

"It's summer hols!" He waved the piece of paper at Snape. "I should be relaxing, not working myself to death!" Snape's training schedule occupied every second of every day, from early morning well into the night. Harry was sure even Hermione would think it was excessive. "This is--"

"Very well, give it back."

"Er, what?" He hadn't expected Snape to give in that easily-- or at all, for that matter.

Snape held his hand out over the desk and gestured impatiently. "Give me your schedule. I'll tear it up, you can relax, and the Dark Lord can kill us all."

Harry rolled his eyes and sat back in the chair. "You should relax. It's not that dire."

"No?"

There was a flash of movement so fast it barely registered with Harry, and then Snape's wand was out, pointed right between Harry's eyes. The world slowed down, but not enough for Harry to do anything other than widen his eyes as Snape said, "crucio."

Pain tore through his body and then stopped almost instantly, leaving Harry panting on the floor, more stunned than aching. He heard Snape's chair scraping over the floor, heard Snape's boots on the wood, watched as they marched into his field of vision. And yet it wasn't really until Snape threw Harry's chair halfway across the room that Harry realized he was in trouble. He pushed himself to his hands and knees and had started to get up when he felt Snape's knee in the small of his back, shoving him painfully to the floor.

He tried to struggle, but even had he been at full strength it probably would have been useless -- Snape was heavier, stronger, probably faster, and definitely meaner. He grabbed a fistful of Harry's hair and wrenched his head back, jabbed his wand into Harry's throat.

Harry thrashed about uselessly, and Snape pulled harder on his hair, leaned over to snarl in his ear. "Not dire? Make no mistake, boy -- Voldemort will kill you, and I will watch." Pain flared briefly in Harry's scar when Snape said Voldemort's name, as if it had called some of the Dark Lord's power. "You have survived your encounters thus far due only to dumb luck -- and do allow me to emphasize the word 'dumb.' If you intend to roll over and die, say the word. I'll kill you now and save everyone else the trouble."

Harry lay shaking on the floor, confused, frightened, and angry. He didn't think Snape would kill him, but maybe he was wrong. He wondered what else he'd been wrong about.

"Well?" Snape bore down further on his back, and Harry yelped in pain.

"Get off me," Harry snarled.

"Answer me," Snape said, shaking him. "Do you intend to roll over and die?"

"No!"

"No, what?"

"No, sir," Harry spat.

"No, sir, what?" Snape pushed the tip of his wand into Harry's throat, digging into the tender skin.

"No, sir," Harry said through clenched teeth, his body beginning to hum with anger and adrenaline. "I don't intend to roll over and die."

Snape shook him again, hard. "Then fight!"

"I--"

"FIGHT!"

A scream tore out of Harry's throat as he tried to rear up and shake Snape off him; Snape only pressed harder on his back. Harry wrenched one of his arms around and grabbed as much of Snape's robe as he could, but he didn't have the leverage to dislodge him. Harry screamed in frustration, struggling uselessly under Snape's weight.

"Are you trying to break your back?" Snape growled in his ear.

"No," Harry panted, still struggling. "I'm trying to get you off me!" He kicked his legs upwards, but they weren't long enough to reach Snape, and they glanced off without doing any damage. He screamed again, increasingly frustrated, and realized his magic was swirling around him. He reached for it, tried to use it to shove Snape away, but he couldn't get it to focus properly.

Snape's cruel laughter rang out in the room. "Is that the best you can do? Come on, Potter, fight!"

Harry tried again, but it was no use. He could feel the magic there, but couldn't get it to do what he needed it to do. Snape could kill him any time he wanted, and so could Voldemort. The struggle left him and he slumped to the ground as well as he could with Snape still holding him by the hair.

Snape waited a few beats and then shoved him away and stood up. "You disgust me," he spat, turned on his heel, and was gone.

Groaning, Harry pushed himself onto his back and lay sprawled on the floor. He was furious and frightened and hurting, and he thought he might well try to kill Snape the next time he saw him. Which, he now realized, would only get him killed, but maybe Snape was right and he should just die and save everyone else the trouble.

A cold dread settled in his stomach and spiraled through his body at the thought. He didn't want to die. A month ago, he hadn't really cared, but now...now he had to find Snape. He scrambled up and ran unsteadily through the castle, throwing open doors and tripping over his feet. He finally found him in one of the upper-storey bedrooms, sitting in an enormous leather chair and staring out the window. Harry lurched into the room and skidded to a halt, out of breath. Snape turned his head slowly, and Harry shivered, reminded suddenly of Nagini.

He stood there shaking; he had no idea what to say. Even from across the room, it was obvious that Snape was still furious. His knuckles were white on the arms of his chair, and that vein in his temple was throbbing. There seemed to be a wall of ice between them, and Harry didn't know how to get past it. He fidgeted and shook and finally cursed under his breath and ran across the room. Snape stiffened in his chair, but Harry threw himself to his knees, wrapped his arms around Snape's legs, and buried his face in the pocket where Snape's knee met the chair.

He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that. He felt hysterical and out-of-control and ill, and he knew he was shaking but he was absolutely determined not to cry. He clung harder to Snape's legs and eventually felt long fingers carding through his hair, gently massaging his scalp where it was sore. It felt good, and Harry nuzzled closer, breathing deeply and trying to calm down.

It seemed to take a long time, but most of the panic left Harry, smoothed away by Snape's fingers. He felt he ought to say something, but they'd probably just start fighting again, and what was the point in that? Unsurprisingly, Snape had other ideas, and tugged gently on Harry's hair, urging him to look up.

Harry swallowed uneasily. There wasn't quite so much rage on Snape's face as there had been when he'd got to the room, but it was still there. His eyes were cold and brittle, and it was clear that he had no intention of making this easy.

Taking a deep breath, Harry spat out his sentence, determined to say it before Snape started insulting him. "I don't want to die."

"Pity," Snape said. "It's all too likely considering your recent behavior."

Harry nodded miserably. "I know. I'm sorry. I just-- " His shoulders drooped and he searched for some sign of feeling in Snape's eyes. "Are you going to-- I mean-- will you help me, sir?"

"I'm not the one you should be asking."

He frowned. "Sir?"

"I am not the one who feels it necessary to relax."

"I didn't mean it, really."

Snape's hand clenched in his hair, and Harry winced. "Don't lie to me, boy. Don't tell me you didn't imagine how nice it would be, how pleasant, here in this idyllic setting under the protection of a mutual Fidelius." Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd heard so much utter contempt in Snape's voice; it was positively dripping with it. "We could spend our days flying and playing Exploding Snap and very occasionally we might go over a new and interesting spell, and of course our nights will be spent making passionate love."

"Shut up!" he shouted, trying to twist away. "You don't know anything!"

Snape held fast to his hair, not letting him move. "I know you meant it. You want to relax."

Harry stopped fighting and glared up at Snape. "Well, what if I did?" he snapped. "I'm not allowed to want to relax? Doesn't mean I won't do the work. Just that I'd rather be doing something else."

"Well," Snape said, his mild tone a sharp contrast to the daggers in his eyes, "I'm sure half-hearted measures will do wonders for your life expectancy."

Frustration tore a growl from the back of Harry's throat. "Can't you just-- what do you want from me?" He dug his fingers into Snape's legs as a far-away memory tugged at his brain. "D'you -- in the Shrieking Shack, you said I should be thanking you on bended knee for saving my neck. Is that what you want? Because my knees are bent, Snape. Thank you for saving my neck. Now would you please do it again?"

Snape's expression didn't change, but Harry colored, wondering where that had come from. He groaned and dropped his head back against Snape's leg. "Fuck," he said. "I don't want to die." Snape's hand unfisted from his hair and resumed its soothing strokes, and Harry looked back up. He was enormously relieved to see that Snape's expression had softened somewhat. "Is it too late?"

Snape slid his hand from Harry's hair and down the side of his face, stopping under his jaw. Harry shivered as Snape's fingers rested briefly on the pulse point and then stroked his neck lightly. "You seem to be alive," Snape murmured. "Presumably it is a bit early to write you off as dead."

Harry inched forwards and rested his head on Snape's thigh, giving him better access to his neck. It felt good, just being touched, and he felt his cock start to harden as Snape's thumb rubbed lightly over the sore spot on his neck. "Are you hurt?"

"Not really," Harry said, closing his eyes. He was a bit sore, but Quidditch practice usually left him in worse shape. And any soreness he felt was rapidly diminishing under the magic of Snape's fingers, rubbing the base of his skull and eliciting a slow, deep arousal that Harry knew was going to be with him for quite some time. He shifted a little closer and realized his hands were moving on Snape's legs, rubbing in slow circles.

Snape gradually increased the pressure, and Harry thought he might be going a bit mad. The slow, languid strokes of Snape's hand had stopped being relaxing; instead they were sending tremors through his body, and his skin felt like it might vibrate right off his body.

He unwound one of his hands from Snape's legs and tried to stroke himself through his jeans, and it was that exact moment Snape chose to stop. He slid a hand to Harry's upper arm and tugged gently. "Up," he said, and Harry couldn't quite stop the frustrated moan from leaving his lips. He was just glad he hadn't screamed. He glared half-heartedly up at Snape, whose eyes were gleaming with a wicked humor Harry hadn't seen before.

"You're doing this on purpose!" he said, indignant.

An eyebrow inched up. "Doing what?" Snape's tone was bland and his face was utterly expressionless.

"You're a bloody tease," Harry grumbled, so put-out he shoved away from Snape and stood up.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Potter." He stood and straightened his robes. "I'm going to prepare lunch. You have your schedule?" Harry nodded sullenly. "Good. We'll begin as soon as we're finished eating." He paused and looked pointedly at the tent in Harry's trousers. "It might be wise to take care of that before we begin training. "

And with that he swept out of the room, leaving Harry growling and looking around for something to throw at his back.

twenty-three.
Harry glared after Snape until long after the sound of his footsteps had disappeared down the corridor. When he was sure Snape had made it downstairs, he unzipped his jeans and dropped to his knees, easing his hand inside his boxers to palm his aching erection.

Stroking himself, he thought about Snape. He didn't want to, but he didn't bother trying not to, either -- somewhere along the way, Snape had invaded his sexual subconscious and was stubbornly refusing to leave. Harry had tried everything he could think of, other fantasies with other people, men and women, but in the end, it was always Snape. Snape's long calloused fingers pulling his cock, each stroke precisely timed and exactly even; Snape's dark hair trailing teasingly over his flesh; Snape's thin lips and crooked teeth marking Harry as his own; Snape's dark eyes watching him intently, burning through him; Snape's smell, indistinct but wholly Snape, surrounding him, drowning him; Snape's voice, low and rasping, whispering in his ear...

"Potter," and Harry's eyes flew open and he came helplessly all over his hands, eyes locked on Snape's. There was no relaxing afterglow with Snape standing there watching him, and Harry just knelt there frozen, his softening prick in his hand. It was too surreal to be embarrassing.

"You should have gone to your own room," Snape said in a dangerous voice, and then his tongue was in Harry's mouth and Harry wasn't at all sure how it got there. It was hot and hard and demanding and the smoke Harry remembered was scotch, rich and cool on his tongue, and the next time he was aware of something other than Snape's mouth, he was flat on his back and Snape had him surrounded.

Snape's weight felt good on top of him, it felt solid and real in a situation that was obviously not happening, and Harry tried to wrap his arms around Snape and hold on. "My room, Potter," Snape said, biting Harry's earlobe and nudging his legs apart with one of his thighs. "My rules." And he captured Harry's wrists, pinned them to the floor, and set about the task of driving Harry insane.

He was all teeth and nails, bites and scrapes, and Harry'd had no idea that could feel so good. He bit down on his own lip and thrashed on the floor, trying not to cry out even though he knew it was stupid and impossible. This whole thing was stupid and impossible and Snape seemed intent on tasting every inch of him, was licking and sucking at the hollows between his ribs, and Harry arched into it, wishing his t-shirt would just go away instead of riding up around his neck.

As if he'd heard the thought -- and for all Harry knew, he had -- Snape tugged the shirt up over his head. Harry's glasses went flying, but Snape summoned them back, settled them back on Harry's face and leaned in to breathe heavily over his ear. "Glasses on, Potter, and keep your eyes open." He nipped his way down Harry's jaw and then drew back and looked down, waiting for Harry to make eye contact. He tried, but Snape's eyes were too intense, too terrifying, and Harry couldn't hold them for more than a second before he had to look away. Snape finally growled and gripped Harry's chin, his fingers cruel, forcing him to look. "Tell me what's going to happen next," he said, moving his lower body and sliding one leg between Harry's.

Harry tried to shake his head. "I don't-- I don't--"

"Know? Care?" Snape's hand slid to his hair and he leaned in for another kiss, pulling away every time Harry tried to kiss him back. Harry arched upwards, rubbing his chest against Snape's, the wool of his robes strangely hot and cool on Harry's fevered skin. Snape was talking, he knew, but it was barely registering; he could hardly hear it over the pounding of his heart and the blood screaming through his body.

"Potter," Snape said, his voice so low it made Harry vibrate. He pulled away again, leaving Harry lost and bereft and cold on the rug. "Look at me," and stood up to shuck his robes more quickly than Harry would have thought possible.

"Oh, god," Harry said, and repeated it in his head over and over and over again. Snape was long and lean and Harry kept trying not to look at his prick but it was huge and it was right there, and then Snape wrapped his hand around it and ordered him to watch or be sent away. Harry felt torn in two; he didn't want to look and he couldn't look away. He reached for his own cock but Snape's glare stilled his hand, and he lay on the floor and shivered while Snape stroked himself.

"Tell me," Snape said, and Harry wondered what he was supposed to say, what Snape had said while Harry wasn't paying attention. "Tell me what's next."

"Ohgod," Harry said, his hips moving of their own accord, even without something to thrust against. "I don't--"

"You don't care, do you?" Snape reached down and tangled his hand in the hair at the nape of Harry's neck, pulled him to his knees and then dragged him up his body. His other hand slid inside Harry's boxers, dug into his arse, and Harry pushed himself as close to Snape as he could get, like maybe he could climb him or get inside of him or anything except all this distance, all this sweat and skin between them. He was vaguely aware that they were moving, but Snape's mouth was crushing his again, biting at his lips, and then Harry felt his legs hit the bed. Snape shoved him backwards and he flopped down on the bed, an unexpected smile at his lips.

Snape tugged Harry's jeans and boxers off and then he was there again, all around Harry and everywhere at once, solid and slick and warm. Harry'd had no idea that all that skin against him would feel so good, and he knew all it would take was for Snape to touch him one more time, to wrap his fingers round Harry's cock and squeeze, just once, and that's exactly what Snape did, and Harry made a little mewling noise and came all over both of them.

He might have blacked out for a second, but he wasn't sure, and when he drifted back to awareness of himself, he didn't think he would ever be able to move again. Snape didn't have that problem; he was sliding against Harry, their stomachs slick with come. Snape pulled away slightly and dragged his fingers through the mess, brought his hand up to tap Harry's lips. Harry licked hesitantly; it was bitter and salty and he wrinkled his nose and turned his head away. Or he tried to, but Snape didn't allow it -- he flattened his hand against Harry's mouth, smearing come all over it, and then kissed Harry through his fingers, his tongue forcing come into Harry's mouth and then licking it back out again.

Harry's cock, limp against his thigh, gave an interested twitch and Snape ground down against him, his own prick still rock-hard and leaking against Harry's body. He wasn't sure what to do; every time he'd reached for it, Snape had batted his hands away and growled, and it was still there and Snape was still all over him and Harry thought he might die.

"You're a slut, Potter," Snape said, biting his ear, still thrusting slightly against his hips.

Harry shook his head frantically. "No--" Surely Snape knew he didn't do this all the time.

"No?" Snape sat up, straddled Harry's thighs, and frowned. "What a shame." Long fingers rubbed circles over Harry's quivering stomach. "It's a quality I find I rather enjoy." He inched upwards, bringing his cock into contact with Harry's balls. Harry moaned and couldn't stop himself from grinding back. He wasn't hard again, but he was getting there.

"O-- okay," Harry whispered, helpless under Snape's hands. It didn't matter anyway; Snape would think what he wanted to think.

"'Okay'? Which is it, Potter? Are you a slut or aren't you?" He took Harry's cock in his hand and stroked it back to hardness, and oh god, Harry was still oversensitive and he arched off the bed, out of control.

"No," he gasped, his hands fisting in the sheets. "Yes! I don't-- whatever. Whatever you want," and the rest of the sentence was as long as you never stop touching me but thank god he didn't say it out loud.

"Ah," Snape said, eyes gleaming, leaning down to lick at Harry's lips. "He can be taught." And then he slid down Harry's body and swallowed his cock whole. His hands clamped down hard on Harry's hips to keep him still, and Harry felt like the world was going to spin right off its axis. The sensation was so huge it bordered on pain, Snape's tongue swirling and pressing against him, and when Snape pulled away to order, "eyes open, Potter," and kept his eyes on Harry's as he swallowed his cock again, Harry almost came down his throat. One more thrust and he might have, if Snape hadn't reached around and twisted his balls to the side, choking back the orgasm and drawing a strangled yelp from Harry's throat.

"I believe it's my turn," he said, and moved down, hooked Harry's legs over his shoulders. He lapped at Harry's balls and then moved down to the skin behind them. Harry felt his eyes roll back in his head and he really tried to keep them open, but there was no way it was going to happen and Snape could go hang if he thought it was. Except that hanging would mean he wasn't doing the thing he was doing with his tongue, the thing Harry couldn't believe anyone would ever do, especially not Snape. Harry's breath was coming in strangled gasps as Snape swirled his tongue inside him, and when he stopped, Harry wasn't sure if his cry was one of loss or relief.

He risked a look at Snape, who was staring back like he wanted to eat Harry alive. Harry shuddered and tried to look away but couldn't, so he watched as Snape held out his hand and a jar flew into it from somewhere. He lay on the bed, shaking to pieces, as Snape dipped two fingers into it and then smeared the stuff all over his cock.

"Oh, god," Harry said, so close to coming he could taste it. He bit down on his lip, grabbed handfuls of the sheets, anything to keep his hands off his prick.

Snape was still standing there stroking himself, watching Harry hungrily. He raised an eyebrow and said, "ask me" in his classroom voice which Harry was never going to be able to hear again without getting hard.

"I-- what?"

"Ask me to fuck you," he said, sliding into the bed and leaning over for another kiss, deep and desperate.

"God," Harry gasped when he could breathe again. "I don't--"

"Ask," Snape said, dragging one finger down Harry's cock and then twisting his balls again. "Ask or you're not coming."

Harry wasn't confident Snape could actually stop him, not considering how close he was, but he didn't want to take the chance. "Please," he whispered, "please."

"Please, what?"

He shook his head wildly. He couldn't say it; he couldn't. But then Snape twisted a little harder, and Harry found he could say anything Snape wanted. "Fuck me!" he said, arching off the bed, "ohgod, please, just-- just fuck me!"

Snape kissed him again, his tongue savage in Harry's mouth, and let go. Harry sighed in relief and then Snape pulled away, said "turn over" in a whisper that started Harry shaking all over again. He struggled over onto his stomach and pressed his hips to the bed, grateful for the friction on his cock. But Snape was having none of that -- he dragged Harry's hips up, dragged him backwards so he was on his hands and knees. Harry felt fingers -- oh, god, one of Snape's fingers was inside him, spreading him open and the sensation was almost enough to make him cry. He choked on his breath and dropped his head down on his arms, leaving his arse in the air.

He thought he heard Snape make an appreciative nose, but then he slid another finger inside Harry and Harry could only hear his own breathing, his own blood racing through his body. Snape's fingers fucked him for a little while, and then they went away and Harry squirmed. They were replaced quickly by something much larger, and god, Snape was about to fuck him. A shudder ran through his body as Snape pressed inside, slid past the tight ring of muscle.

"God," Harry gasped. It hurt. Oh, fuck, it hurt. Snape stilled and then carefully leaned forwards to wrap his arms around Harry's torso, pulling him back against his chest.

"Sssshhh," he said, licking the side of Harry's neck. Harry shivered and leaned back against him, grabbed Snape's forearms and dug his nails in. "Relax, Potter," Snape whispered. His voice was like sandpaper, and Harry felt a tremor run through the arms wrapped tight around him.

"Oh," he breathed, dropping his head back against Snape's shoulder, exposing his throat to Snape's wandering lips. Snape shuddered again and Harry realized the man was almost as out of control as he was. He felt a smile tug at his lips and he relaxed, going limp in Snape's arms. It helped; the burn in his arse was subsiding, but it was definitely still there, and Harry didn't see how Snape was ever going to get all the way inside him. "Fuck," he said again, unable to say anything else.

"Indeed," Snape breathed, lips and tongue still licking salt from Harry's neck. Snape's hips jerked, driving him in further, but he stopped when Harry hissed again. "I can't--" he said, and Harry felt another, more violent, tremor shake the body behind him.

Harry shook his head frantically, and his glasses flew off again. "Don't," he said, not sure what he was talking about.

Snape untangled his right arm and slid his palm down Harry's stomach, reaching for his neglected cock. It had gone slightly soft when Snape pushed inside him, but it only took a few seconds for him to be fully hard again. A few more strokes, and it was just like he'd imagined -- only better -- Snape fisting him, his hand moving precisely with perfect pressure, and then Harry was bucking and whining, caught between Snape's cock and Snape's hand.

Snape slid in deeper as he stroked him, opening him wider, impaling him. Harry wiggled backwards, gasping, helped along by the jerky motions Snape's hips were making, as if he couldn't quite stop them. Snape was sucking hard on a spot just below his ear, his fist flying over Harry's cock, and then it was all Harry could do to hold on as Snape wrung another orgasm from his tired body. He felt himself falling apart, his arse clenching desperately around Snape's cock as he came again, almost dry this time.

Snape held him through the last waves of his orgasm, his teeth digging into Harry's shoulder. When Harry pushed back against him, he realized Snape was all the way inside. He flexed his arse and gasped as Snape's teeth dug further into his neck. Snape shuddered, and then let go, bent his head to press a quick kiss to Harry's lips.

"All right?" he asked, sounding more than a little strained. Harry smiled sleepily and nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Snape kissed him again, more deeply, and then pushed him back down on the bed, pressed his face to the mattress so Harry's arse was in the air, exposed.

His fingers dug into Harry's hips, holding him steady as he pulled out and then pushed back in slowly. Harry exhaled, feeling strange. It didn't hurt anymore; he just felt full and open and vulnerable. Snape pulled out again, almost all the way, and Harry whimpered.

"Potter," Snape said, sounding strangled. "I-- fuck." He slammed back in -- hard -- with a low groan. Harry bit his lip.

"'Sokay," he mumbled. And it was, and Snape's fingers clenched and he thrust again, harder, faster, again and again until he'd fucked them both halfway across the bed and Harry had to brace his hands against the headboard.

And then Harry wasn't sure what he did; he changed his angle or pressed down on Harry's back, but Snape's cock brushed something inside him that sent waves of electricity rolling over him. He cried out and tensed and Snape drove in harder, brushed it again. Harry was pretty sure he didn't have another orgasm in him, but whatever Snape was doing felt really good, so he braced himself harder against the headboard and shoved backwards, meeting Snape thrust for thrust.

He had no idea how long it lasted. Harry's world contracted to the pleasure setting his nerves on fire, Snape's fingers on his hips, the little sounds they were making -- Snape's low grunts and Harry's own breathy moans, Snape's balls slapping against his arse, the harsh panting of their labored breathing. And then suddenly Snape let out a long, low groan, hips jerking wildly against Harry, fingers clenching hard enough to bruise.

They held utterly still for a few long moments, and then Harry let out a few cautious breaths and tried not to whimper as Snape eased out of him. Once he was all the way out, whatever strength Harry had left fled, and he collapsed in a sweaty, messy heap of limbs. Snape stretched out on the bed, still breathing heavily, and Harry curled up next to him, pressed his back to Snape's side, and promptly fell asleep.

twenty-four.
Harry opened his eyes and saw the Dark Mark in front of him. He tensed, remembered, and spent a good long time trying to wrap his mind around the concept of being in bed with Severus Snape. He was curled on his side, using Snape's left arm for a pillow, and the rest of Snape was spooned around him, unmoving. He felt warm and impossibly comforting, and as Harry stared at the Dark Mark and felt safe, he realized that sleeping with Snape was probably the very worst idea in the history of bad ideas.

He kept trying to look away from the Mark, but couldn't do it. It was horrifying and fascinating, and Harry reached out to trace the grotesque skull with his fingertips. It was warm to the touch, warmer than the pale skin around it, and Harry shuddered.

"You know," said a dry voice in his ear, "your fascination with that thing is rather morbid."

Harry tensed, and before he could stop himself, said, "Well, I'm not the one that liked it so much I got it tattooed on my forearm."

Snape snorted and ran a hand down Harry's side to rest lightly on his hip. Harry tried not to shiver at the touch, but it didn't quite work. It felt maddeningly good.

"Well done, Potter," Snape said, "you've found me out. I joined the Death Eaters for their superior aesthetic sensibilities."

"I don't even know what that means," Harry said. He couldn't decide if he was grateful they were arguing, because at least they were good at it, or upset that nothing seemed to have changed. "You never did tell me why you joined."

"No," Snape said, his thumb rubbing over Harry's jutting hipbone. "Nor do I intend to."

Harry bit his lip and tried to hold still. He was still exhausted, and he didn't think there was a single place he wasn't sore. But he was hyperaware of all the places his body was touching Snape's -- and that was most of them -- and Snape's thumb moving in those little circles was getting very distracting. He shook his head slightly, trying to clear it.

"You said you'd watch," he said, still staring at the Mark.

"Watch?"

Harry reached for the Mark again and closed his hand over it, felt the faint pulse of malevolent magic running through it. "Watch him kill me."

"Ah," Snape said, his thumb stilling. "Yes."

"Did you mean it?" Then, when Snape didn't say anything, "What'd you mean?"

Snape's hand, warm and heavy, closed over his hip, as if he was afraid Harry might bolt. "I meant that I have every intention of being on the winning side of this war."

Harry's stomach tightened, and he marveled at the way Snape's idea of morals could make him sick. "And you don't care which side wins." His voice was flat.

"Don't be an idiot. I'm a pureblood."

Harry moved his hand and frowned at the Mark. He had the sudden urge to try to scratch it off Snape's body, and covered it again. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Have I or have I not instructed you to attempt thinking every now and again? Figure it out."

But if being a pureblood didn't mean he was on Voldemort's side, Harry had no idea what it meant. Snape sighed heavily. "It means," he said slowly, too close to Harry's ear, "that were I to remain on the sidelines, no harm would come to me regardless of the outcome. Therefore, when you look at the extent of my involvement, it is relatively easy to come to the conclusion that I do in fact have some stake in which side wins."

"But not enough of one to help me if I get in trouble."

Snape's thumb went back to those maddening circles over Harry's hipbone, and Snape was quiet. Then he said, quite conversationally, "I do believe that's the most asinine thing anyone has ever said to me. Congratulations."

Harry sighed. He supposed it was stupid; Snape had stepped in to keep him away from the Lestranges, after all. "Whatever," he muttered, not sure he was ever going to be able to reconcile the feelings he got from Snape -- sick to his stomach, mostly, until very recently, when Snape had added bone-meltingly good to the mix.

Snape heaved a sigh and then pulled his arm out from under Harry's head. "You'd best wake up," he said, propping himself up on his elbow and pushing at Harry's hip until Harry was on his back, trying very hard to look anywhere except Snape's face. "Face facts." He grabbed Harry's chin and wrenched it around so Harry had no choice but to meet his eyes, cool and unreadable.

Harry flushed and then paled as he looked at Snape and the crushing reality of where he was and what he'd been doing -- and with Snape, of all people -- hit him. "Oh, fuck," he said.

"That, Mr. Potter, is putting it mildly."

"What, no lectures about my language?" Harry snapped, unaccountably upset by Snape's calling him 'Mister Potter.'

But Snape just arched an eyebrow. "Would you like one?"

"No. Sir." Harry ground his teeth and Snape kept that mild look on his face, eyebrow faintly raised, like Harry was a vaguely interesting ingredient he might consider trying out some day. "Could you let go of my chin?"

"Are you going to bury your head in the sand?"

"Fuck you."

Snape's eyebrows arched a little higher and he shifted his leg slightly, sliding it over one of Harry's and bringing his growing erection into contact with Harry's hip. "We talked about this, Potter," he said. "You've only to ask." He let go of Harry's chin and trailed his fingers down his sternum, brought his hand to rest in the hollow of Harry's stomach, messy with sweat and dried come. Harry concentrated on his breathing, his muscles quivering under Snape's touch.

"Oh," Harry said. "That's-- would it kill you to be nice for a few minutes?"

Snape raked his nails over the skin. "Nice?" he hissed, his voice mocking. "Do you like me, Potter?"

Harry inhaled sharply and shook his head, his body twisting. "No," he said, putting a very simple word to complicated feelings. He didn't like Snape, but he was starting to wish he did, and that was dangerous. If he started wanting to like Snape, he wasn't sure he could keep himself from doing it.

The nails dug in a little deeper, and Harry writhed beneath them. "Are you under some impression that I like you?"

"No."

"Then why should I bother being nice?"

Harry shook his head again. "Don't," he said, feeling slightly dazed. Snape felt good next to him, felt good inside him, and his fingernails felt good raking Harry's skin, and Harry wasn't sure when this had all got so complicated. But he didn't stand a chance -- against what, he wasn't sure -- if Snape started being nice. "Don't," he said again. "Don't be nice."

Snape's lips quirked, and his nails stilled on Harry's stomach. "There was never any danger of that, Potter."

Harry nodded and said, "Fuck." This was completely overwhelming. Why hadn't he thought this would be completely overwhelming?

"Something wrong?" He sounded more bored than concerned, but Harry groped for words anyway.

"Is this even legal?"

"As if rules concern you," Snape sneered. "But to answer your question, there is not one single circumstance in this entire situation that comes remotely near anything that even vaguely resembles legality, Potter."

Harry bit back a grin. "That's a no?"

"That's a no."

He nodded, thinking. "So I could have you sacked."

Snape's eyes took on a calculating look that made Harry very nervous, although he managed not to look away. "You could try," he said, and his voice had taken on that tone that went straight to Harry's cock, which, to Harry's great amazement and slight embarrassment, gave an interested twitch.

"Why wouldn't it work?" Harry asked. He didn't actually want to get Snape sacked, but he thought he probably could, and didn't see why Snape was arguing about it. "Wouldn't they give us veritaserum?"

"Almost certainly," Snape said, sliding his hand down and grasping Harry's hardening cock, leaning over to run his tongue along Harry's swollen lips. "And you'll tell them how prettily, how wantonly, you begged for me to fuck you." He plunged his tongue into Harry's mouth, working his cock with ruthless efficiency, and it wasn't long before Harry was thrusting into Snape's hands, moaning into his mouth, clawing at his back, and coming all over again.

Harry drifted pleasantly for roughly three seconds, and then opened his eyes to see Snape staring coldly down at him. "I think we both have more than enough blackmail fodder to dispense with the games."

Harry blinked and tried to catch his breath. Was this about blackmail? "Er. Yeah. All right. I wasn't threatening you, just-- thinking out loud."

"Well, do try not to injure yourself."

Yawning, Harry stretched and rolled his eyes, refusing to rise to the bait. "What now?" He could feel Snape's erection digging into his thigh, and wondered if he should offer to do something about it. For all Snape had said he wasn't nice, Harry'd just had a lot of orgasms. At least he thought he had; he wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep.

"Now we have a discussion."

Harry wrinkled his nose. Their discussions never turned out well. "Great," he muttered.

"You may feel free to consider it a lecture, then," Snape said, and Harry just wrinkled his nose further. Those were worse. Snape, unsurprisingly, kept talking. "If, at any point, the new circumstances in which we find ourselves become too much for you, for any reason, you are free to call them off. Do you understand?"

Harry nodded. He knew he probably should call it off, knew that this thing with Snape was dangerous and stupid, but he didn't want to. It felt good, and he wanted it.

"The same goes for myself," Snape said, and Harry gave him a confused look. "Although, unlike you, I know perfectly well which circumstances I find intolerable. And the second you start acting like a besotted adolescent--"

"Oh, shut up," Harry said, and leaned up to press his mouth to Snape's and stop him talking. He was sick of hearing him talk. "I am not besotted."

Snape gave him a narrow-eyed, suspicious look, but finally nodded curtly. "Good." He slid out of bed and Harry almost ruined the entire thing by pouting, but managed to stop himself in time. "Now," he said, casting a cleansing charm on himself and shrugging into his robes, "I believe we're already several hours behind in your training schedule."

"Right," Harry said, taking inventory of his sore muscles and wincing. "Training." He saw Snape's eyes flash from across the room and sat up quickly. "I wasn't complaining! Just-- repeating. I'm getting up."

And that turned out to be the most awkward part. Snape had got dressed without embarrassment, although Harry had enough for both of them and hadn't been able to watch. But Snape didn't have that problem, and he leaned against the doorjamb, arms over his chest, staring intently as Harry stumbled around the room starkers and tried to find his clothes.

Snape ended up having to summon his glasses from wherever they'd ended up, and they were smeared with substances Harry didn't even want to know about. He pushed them up his nose, caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror, and did a double-take. He barely recognized himself; he was covered with scratches and bite-marks and bruises and his hair looked like something Hedwig could happily make her home in for years to come. He stared, open-mouthed, taken aback by the evidence of what he'd been doing. Part of him felt good, and part of him felt embarrassed, but he didn't really have time to think about it because Snape was suddenly standing behind him. Harry started and their eyes met in the mirror.

"Quite a sight," Snape murmured, giving Harry that predatory look again. Harry swallowed and flushed as Snape deliberately raked his eyes over Harry's body and then reached out a hand and trailed a finger over some of the nastier looking bruises. Harry suppressed a shiver and closed his eyes, unable to handle it.

"Don't," Snape said, low voice rasping right in Harry's ear. "Look."

Harry dragged his eyes open and watched as Snape slowly mapped every mark on him. Harry knew how he got some of them -- remembered Snape sucking on the skin of his inner thighs, remembered hard hands at his hips, teeth on his shoulder -- and some of them were unexpected. He went red and looked away.

Snape put his hand on Harry's head and forced him to look back. "Look," he said again, his own eyes drinking in the sight hungrily. He stared for a long while, and then asked, "Shall I heal them?"

Harry stared a little longer and then shook his head slowly. "No. They're mine." He wasn't sure what feeling it was that made him say that, but they were his, and he was reluctant to give them up.

Snape's eyes ignited and he spun Harry around and kissed him hungrily. By the time he finally pushed Harry away, they were both breathing heavily, and Harry was half-hard again. Snape eyed his erection and made a face that was half smirk, half sneer. "Teenagers," he muttered.

Harry bit on his lower lip, but didn't quite manage to hold back the grin. Snape shook his head slightly and turned to leave, telling Harry he'd be in the library. He stopped when he got to the door and turned back.

"Oh, and Potter?"

"Yeah?"

"That--" He looked pointedly at Harry's cock. "--belongs to me now. Don't touch it."

Harry hardened further at the words and started to nod, but-- "What if I want out?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Then you may touch it all you like. Do you?"

"Er, no."

"Then don't."

Harry nodded and Snape swept out of the room in his usual swirl of robes. Turning back to the mirror, Harry looked at himself a little longer, ran his hands over some of the scratches on his arms -- those he was pretty sure he gave himself -- and then shrugged into his clothes. He didn't bother fixing his hair and as he went down the corridor to the library, his steps were strangely light, and he couldn't quite keep the grin off his face.

twenty-five.
When Harry walked into the library, he was doing a spectacularly bad job of keeping a straight face. Snape was sitting at his desk, sipping scotch, and Harry couldn't help the smiling shyly at him. He felt good. Snape scowled back from across the room, and Harry walked over and hovered uncertainly near the desk.

Snape's scowl darkened. "You smell like a brothel," he said in tones of deep disgust.

Harry grinned. "Well, yeah." The grin faded somewhat in the face of Snape's unrelenting glare, but eventually Snape sighed, rolled his eyes, and shoved a book in Harry's direction.

"Read. Start on page 217."

"All right." Harry grabbed the book. "What am I reading about?"

"Occlumency. Lessons begin tonight, as you probably don't recall."

"I recall!" Harry snapped, but he was unable to inject much venom into his voice. He looked around for a chair to sit in, not wanting to be too close to Snape, and finally curled up in an overstuffed burgundy armchair in the back corner and tried to read.

He failed. He jumped every time Snape moved. He got distracted every time he moved; every time a muscle twinged or his clothes rubbed up against his chafed skin, he thought about what had happened. Images kept flashing through his mind -- Snape standing over him, stroking himself, Snape's dark head moving between his legs, Snape's arms wrapped tight around him -- and he was getting hard just thinking about it, which was distracting him more because it was a bit painful, sore as he was. He shifted in his seat and finally just slammed the book shut.

Snape glanced up from whatever he was doing -- writing, it looked like. "Finished?"

"No," he said, standing and walking over to stand beside Snape's chair. It felt strange to be looking down at him, but Snape just raised an eyebrow, waiting. "Can I say something to you without getting accused of being a besotted adolescent?"

Snape leaned back in his chair. "That depends on what it is you have to say."

"You're distracting me," Harry said. "Your-- hands. I keep-- remembering."

"Remembering what?" Snape sounded politely inquiring, but his eyes were hooded and unreadable.

Harry ignored the question. "Can I-- we-- do something else? Physical, maybe?" He glanced up at Snape and held up his hand to stop the outburst that was obviously coming. "Not that, although--" Another shy grin. "I wouldn't say no. I just meant--" He dug in his back jeans pocket for his schedule and pointed. "It says dueling's next. Could we do that instead, and then maybe I'll be able to concentrate on reading?"

Snape leaned back a little further and looked at Harry speculatively. "Say I make this concession to your overactive hormones and complete inability to focus. What's in it for me?"

"I don't know," Harry said, a little taken aback. "Er, you'll get to thrash me?"

Snape raised his eyebrows. "Oh?" Something in his look said he wasn't talking about dueling.

Harry flushed. "The duel," he said quickly. "We both know you're going to thrash me."

"I see," Snape said, one long finger stroking his cheek thoughtfully. "Hm. Then perhaps you could clear something up for me."

"Sir?"

"If we both know the outcome of the dueling lesson -- and, for once, I can find no fault in your reasoning -- how exactly do I benefit from doing something I'm going to do anyway?"

Harry sighed. "I don't know," he said. "I was hoping you'd just enjoy it, and want to get to it quickly."

"Potter, we both know I can thrash you any time I like. Think of something else."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "What do you want?"

Snape snorted and stood up, crossed his arms over his chest, and glared down his nose. "You ought to know better than to accept terms before you've heard them."

"I haven't accepted any terms!" Harry said in frustration. "We're negotiating! I make an offer, you tell me to sod off and make your own offer. That's how it works."

Snape took a step closer, and Harry bit the inside of his cheek to stand his ground. "No, Mr. Potter, that is not how it works. You want something from me, you make an offer. You continue making offers until I accept."

Harry thought about it, and finally just groaned and walked over to his chair. "I can't," he said, suddenly feeling miserable. He sat down and dropped his head into his hands. "I don't have anything you can't just take," he mumbled. It was not a particularly nice feeling. "Just tell me what you want."

There was a moment of silence, and then: "One... favor to be named later."

Harry's head shot up. "You just said I shouldn't accept terms before I've heard them."

"Quite."

"You're a bastard, you know that? How the bloody hell am I supposed to learn anything if you keep telling me not to do things and then forcing me to do them?"

"I am not forcing you to do anything, Potter. Choices have consequences, some unforeseen. That is what you're learning."

"Fine," Harry snapped, resigned and disgusted and angry. "One favor to be named later. Can we please hex each other now?"

"Certainly," Snape said smugly. "Downstairs."

Despite being tired, distracted and out-of-practice, Harry thought he did reasonably well. Snape surprised him by actually showing him some spells, both defensive and offensive, and he surprised Snape (so Snape claimed) by quickly getting the hang of them. But he ran into trouble when it came time to use the new spells in a practice duel. He spent almost 45 minutes failing to get through Snape's defenses, getting angrier and more frustrated as it became apparent Snape was only toying with him.

"C'mon, Snape," he snarled, after blocking what looked to be a particularly nasty stinging hex. "Stop playing!"

It took Snape all of five seconds to tear through his shields and disarm him. Shortly after that, Harry was curled in the corner, screaming and crying and bleeding, as Snape hit him with hex after hex after hex and refused to stop. Harry didn't know how long Snape fired hexes at him, only that it hurt, and that if he didn't stand a chance against Snape, he was never going to be able to kill Voldemort. He screamed "STOP!" again -- was it the twentieth time? The thirtieth? -- and finally, Snape put his wand away.

Harry collapsed on the ground, shaking, and listened to Snape's footsteps get closer. Too sore to do anything else, he watched as Snape stepped over him, one foot on either side, and bent over to grab his shirtfront. He yanked Harry up, and Harry just lay there like a ragdoll, held off the ground by Snape's fists in his t-shirt.

"What are you trying to prove, Potter?" Snape snarled, spittle flying in Harry's face.

"Nothing," he snapped.

Snape shook him. "I have warned you not to lie to me, boy," he said, his voice a dangerous purr Harry knew meant bad things were on the horizon.

Harry didn't care. "Are you going to crucio me for lying to you?"

Snape's lips stretched into a very nasty grin. "You have no idea what I'm going to do you."

"You're going to decide it's not worth it!" Harry said. He wrenched his arms up and clutched at Snape's shoulders. "You enjoy this, don't you? You said you'd help me, but you're not! You're just hurting me! And when you get bored, you're going to decide I'm not going to be able to kill him, and you're going to HAND ME OVER!"

"What an absolutely brilliant idea, Potter," Snape said, smooth voice dripping venom. "Perhaps you ought to think about that in the future, and modify your behavior accordingly. It seems like an exceedingly bad idea, for example, to make me angry."

Harry bared his teeth and jammed his hands into Snape's greasy hair, grabbing fistfuls and pulling. He tried to smash Snape's big nose with his forehead, but Snape jerked them both upright and slammed Harry against the wall. "Calm yourself, Potter," Snape snarled, letting go of Harry's shirt to grab his wrists and pin them above his head. Harry tried to kick him, but Snape moved out the way easily and stepped closer, bringing his body flush against Harry's.

Harry cursed them both as his body formed to Snape's, remembering and responding without his permission. Snape's hands on his wrists, Snape's thigh between his own, Snape's breath on his neck -- it was all making him hard, and he ground against Snape's leg without thinking.

"What do you think you're doing?" Snape growled in his ear, but he pressed closer instead of moving away, and his tone was the same one he'd used in the bedroom.

Harry tilted his head back, looking for skin, and scraped his teeth along Snape's jaw. He didn't like Snape -- sometimes he hated him -- but he felt so good against him. "I want --" he whispered, but he couldn't say it, so he bit lightly along Snape's jawline and kept thrusting against his leg.

"What?" Snape asked, and started licking trails up Harry's neck. Harry moaned and dropped his head back to give Snape better access, and wrapped one his legs around Snape's own, trying to bring him closer. "Tell me," Snape said, and it made Harry shudder.

Harry bit his bottom lip and twisted. He'd said it once, he thought, so he could say it again. "Fuck me," he whispered, his voice breaking. "Please."

Snape pulled back to kiss him, and Harry wrapped his arms around his neck to hold him there. This Snape he could stand, all angles and edges and honesty and need. Harry wanted to keep him this way as long as he could, no matter how stupid he was going to feel later or how dangerous the game would turn out to be. "Say it again," Snape said, pulling back to tear what was left of Harry's tattered shirt off his body.

"Fuck me!" Harry gasped out as Snape's hands clutched at his bare torso, now covered with welts and burns from the duel.

Snape sneered down at him, eyes glittering, and then shoved Harry's jeans down his hips. Harry steadied himself on Snape's shoulders as he kicked them away, and then Snape was hiking his robes up. He picked Harry up, his hands digging into Harry's arse, and whispered a spell. Harry gasped in surprise as he felt his insides slicken, and then several ragged groans tore out of him as Snape entered him in one long stroke.

It didn't hurt as much as last time; in fact, it barely hurt at all, and Harry squirmed on Snape's cock, trying to get him to hit the spot he had this morning. Snape was having none of it. Another whispered spell and Harry's hands were stuck to the wall, and there was something supporting him other than Snape, leaving Snape to pull away just enough to make sure no part of him was rubbing against Harry's cock.

Harry growled in frustration, but Snape just fucked into him mercilessly, not touching his prostate, not touching his cock. He felt oddly disconnected from his body; he was just fingertips on flagstone, pressure in his balls, and he barely noticed when Snape groaned low in his throat and bit down on Harry's neck, spilling himself inside him.

Snape held still for a few short seconds and then pulled out, set Harry on the ground, and straightened his robes. Harry stood shaking, Snape's come dripping down his legs, and reached for his cock. His hand hadn't got halfway there before Snape slapped it away and pushed him back against the wall. "Don't you dare," he snarled. "You wanted me to fuck you, I fucked you. But it wasn't really what you wanted, was it?"

Harry shook his head, whimpering, and tried again to press his lower body into Snape's. It didn't work; Snape moved out of the way, his fingers digging cruelly into Harry's shoulders.

"And you won't get it," he said. "Not this way. I'll not be your oblivion."

Harry twisted and snarled and swore, but it became obvious Snape had every intention of just waiting him out. And Snape, he knew, was patient when he needed to be. The fight drained out of him slowly, and he was left limp and shaking in Snape's arms. Snape pulled him a little closer, long hands trailing soothingly over Harry's back, and Harry clutched at Snape's shoulders and held on.

When he was calm again, he pulled back, sniffling, and risked a look at Snape's face. He looked tired, as if fighting with Harry had finally taken something out of him, but otherwise inscrutable. Harry looked back down and mumbled, "Sorry," to Snape's chest.

Snape tipped his chin up with two fingers. "For which of your myriad offenses are you apologizing this time?"

Harry sighed. "I know you were trying to teach me," he said. He thought it might even have worked; he did know more spells than he had that morning. "I shouldn't have baited you. Or--"

"Or tried to use me."

Harry tensed. "You're using me."

"And doing a much better job of it, I might add."

Harry started to snap back, but instead he just sucked in his breath and dropped his head against Snape's shoulder. "At least you're honest," he muttered, almost amused. "Impossible, but honest."

Snape snorted and then pulled back. "Now," he said, "if we're quite finished here, it's time for Occlumency."

Harry sagged but didn't object when Snape sent him back to his room for clothes.

***

Occlumency was just as horrible as Harry remembered. Snape gave him no quarter, just broke into his mind time and time again, and it seemed to Harry he was deliberately going after his most terrible memories. Harry repelled him a few times, but it was never soon enough, and by the end of the lesson he was almost as angry as he'd been during the dueling lesson. His scar hurt and his knees hurt and he was so tired he thought he might well sleep for days.

As soon as lessons were done he told Snape he was going to bed. To his surprise, Snape didn't even insist he eat supper; he just nodded curtly and poured himself a glass of scotch. Harry trudged to his room and drew a hot bath that he eased into gratefully. He was a mess, and he knew it. He sat and soaked and thought about Snape and didn't come to any conclusions he hadn't already come to -- mainly, it was stupid, but it felt good and it was his and he didn't want to give it up.

He got out of the tub, wrapped a towel around himself, and padded to Snape's room. Snape was in his Muggle pyjamas, reading, on his bed. When he noticed Harry hovering in the doorway, he looked up and raised an eyebrow.

"Can I help you?"

"I want to sleep with you," Harry said to his feet.

There was a very long silence in which Harry was utterly sure he was going to be accused of being besotted. He held his breath. But instead, Snape sighed, turned back the covers, and raised an eyebrow. Harry stared.

"Well?" Snape said.

Harry walked over and climbed into the bed, leaving his towel on the floor, but then he wasn't sure what to do. He sat on one side of the bed and stared at his hands.

"For the love of Merlin, boy," Snape sighed. "Come here." He held up one arm and Harry slid underneath and curled up, his head on Snape's chest. He fell asleep to the steady thud of Snape's heartbeat.

twenty-six.
It was still dark when Harry woke to the slow, sensual slide of skin on skin. Snape was already inside him, pushing all the way in and holding still for long moments before pulling slowly out again. Moaning softly, Harry pressed his back to Snape's chest, wanting him to know he was awake. Snape made a noise low in his throat and wrapped his arms around Harry's chest, threw one leg over Harry's own. He pulled Harry closer, pushed himself deeper, his mouth ghosting over Harry's neck. Harry clutched at Snape's arms and clenched around Snape's cock, wanting him to keep him there, deep inside. He felt dazed and dreamy and oddly close to Snape in a way he hadn't before, and he shuddered and trembled in Snape's arms.

Snape held him tighter but never altered his pace, didn't slow down or speed up, the subtle pressure building until Harry thought he might go insane. A strangled sob tore from his throat when Snape finally slid a hand down to Harry's cock, sliding lightly along the shaft in time with his own strokes. Harry felt ragged and torn, caught between never wanting it to end, and wanting desperately for Snape to make him come. Snape's arms clenched around him and he tried to push closer, feeling full and empty, vulnerable and safe, everything all at once.

"God," he gasped, arching and straining closer. "Snape, I-- I can't--"

He realized he was crying and went red with shame, not understanding, but Snape only tugged him closer, his hot mouth trailing over Harry's neck, licking up salt and sweat and tears. He felt Snape shudder behind him, and he was lost, gasping and arching and writhing as Snape increased the pressure on his cock. His orgasm, when it came, felt ripped out of him, explosive and so powerful he couldn't cry out, could only tremble and shake wordlessly, tears streaming down his face.

Snape followed him a short time later, his own orgasm as powerful and silent as Harry's had been. His arms squeezed Harry so tightly that he was worried his ribs might crack, but he grabbed at Snape's arms and held on anyway. Harry waited for Snape to push him away, but they lay still and shaking for long minutes, their harsh breaths mingling loudly in the darkness. He whimpered as he felt Snape softening and falling out of him, but still Snape didn't move, and Harry finally curled himself as close as he could get and drifted back to sleep.

When he woke up in the morning, the first thing he noticed was that Snape's side of the bed was cold and empty. Feeling strangely bereft, Harry yawned and stretched, leading him to his second observation of the morning: All the injuries Snape had handed him during the dueling lesson had been healed. Harry smiled to himself as he saw that Snape had left him the bite-marks and bruises.

"Something amusing, Mr. Potter?"

The smile slid from his face at the sound of the cold voice, and he looked around for Snape, who was sitting in the giant armchair by the window. He was sneering at Harry, eyes glittering in a way Harry could only call malicious.

Harry wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly cold, and he tried to glare back at Snape. "I know you're not going to call me Harry," he said, his voice not as nearly as sharp as he wanted it to be. "But could you not call me Mister Potter when I'm --" He broke off, unsure how to finish the sentence in the face of Snape's foul mood. "When your--"

"When my what? When my come is dripping from your arse?" Snape's lip curled. "Certainly, Harry. Happy to oblige."

Harry winced and looked away. "Can we not?" he whispered. He didn't think he could handle this. "How can you be so-- after-- we--"

Snape cursed viciously and stormed out of the room, leaving Harry blinking and confused.

He sat in bed for several minutes, staring blankly out the window. Maybe Snape was insane. He shoved his hand through his hair and sighed. Maybe they were both insane. He climbed out of bed and trudged back to his own room to get dressed, and then padded cautiously downstairs. When he got to the dining room, Snape had put breakfast on the table for him and disappeared. He sighed in relief and ate quickly and gratefully, his stomach reminding him he'd skipped dinner.

There was no sign of Snape in the library, either, and Harry dug out his schedule. There was more studying in the morning, so he grabbed the book he'd been reading on Occlumency and settled in. It was much easier without Snape around, and he thought he might actually understand a little better what he needed to do. Snape hadn't turned up when he finished the chapter, so he decided to read ahead -- the book went into Legilimency a bit, and Harry thought it might be useful, dealing with Snape.

He read until lunchtime, when Snape appeared in the doorway to the library. Harry watched cautiously as he walked rigidly to the desk, sat down, and then stared at Harry for what seemed like several minutes.

"Have you done the reading?" he finally asked, his tone strangely formal.

"Yes, sir," Harry said slowly. "The next chapter, too."

"Legilimency?" Snape asked, raising an eyebrow. Harry nodded, and Snape said, "How very--" He bit back whatever he was going to say with some effort, and instead asked if Harry was hungry.

Harry just stared at him. He knew his mouth was open, but he couldn't help it. Snape shifted in his chair, waiting, and finally snapped, "Have I grown a second head?"

Harry bit back a grin. "I think so, sir," he said. "And yeah, I'm hungry."

They ate in mostly companionable silence.

***

The afternoon lessons -- more dueling and Defense -- passed without incident. He did fairly well, and Snape was cool and distant and somewhat professorial, and Harry was beginning to wonder what was wrong with him. Whatever it was, he hoped it would stay wrong so he could actually learn. Even Occlumency, after dinner, wasn't that bad, and by the end of the day, Harry was feeling much better than he had in quite some time. It felt good to be doing magic and actually accomplishing something, to be working for a goal, even if that goal was killing someone.

He wasn't tired enough to sleep after Occlumency, so he grabbed his book and settled into the chair across from Snape's desk. Snape shot him a long look but didn't say anything, and he read quietly while Snape scribbled letters and sipped scotch. It was strangely comfortable until he started yawning and Snape started glaring.

"If you're going to make that kind of racket, Potter," Snape grumbled, "go to bed."

Harry closed his book and looked at Snape. "Er. Where?"

Snape set his quill down carefully and gave Harry an inscrutable look. "We've had this discussion. Wherever you like."

Harry swallowed around the lump that sprang to his throat. "I just-- this morning, you were--" He pulled his knees to his chest and stared at the floor. "I didn't know if you'd want me to come back."

"It's not up to me, Potter," Snape said, some of the old harshness back in his voice.

"Well, it can't be up to me, either!" Harry snapped. "I don't want to feel like it doesn't matter, or like I'm making you do something you don't want to."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "It doesn't matter, Potter, so allow me to address the more salient point." His voice was dry, and there was something that looked like humor glinting in his dark eyes. "You are, by now, relatively well-acquainted with my...temperament." He paused and Harry frowned, not sure where this was going. He didn't feel at all acquainted with Snape's temperament, except inasmuch as it was completely unpredictable. He somehow didn't think that was the answer Snape was looking for.

"Er, okay," he said.

"Do you really believe you could make me do something I was disinclined to do?"

Harry thought about it. "Not unless you thought it could get you something else. Or you could use it for something."

An eyebrow arched. "Then you'd hardly be making me, would you? Although... that was a remarkably Slytherin thing to say, Mr. Potter."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I have been living with you. Some of it was bound to rub off."

Snape snorted. "Indeed."

"Right," Harry said, deliberately yawning to hide his grin. It had sounded to him like Snape did want him, even if he'd never come out and say so. "I'm to bed, then. G'night."

He went back to his room for a bath, during which he thought about the situation and once again, came to the exact same conclusions. He also surprised himself by not wanking, knowing that somehow Snape would figure it out if he did. He climbed out, still hard, and stood in the middle of the big bedroom in his towel and looked around. It seemed almost too big, too cold and empty, and he didn't particularly want to sleep there. He shoved the few belongings he'd unpacked back into his trunk, and then levitated it down the hall to Snape's room.

He hesitated a few moments when he realized Snape was actually in his room, sitting in the giant armchair, but took a deep breath and floated his trunk to the foot of the bed. Snape shut his book and watched, eyes hooded. Harry did his best to ignore him as he unpacked a few things, trying to make the room more Harry-friendly.

"You've decided, then," Snape said, his deep voice startling Harry. It didn't sound like a question.

"Er," Harry said, spinning around. He wiped his palms on his towel and conjured up a glare. "Yeah. Unless you're going to be a prat every morning."

Snape sighed heavily and opened his mouth.

"Don't!" Harry cut him off before he could say anything. Snape's mouth snapped shut and he raised an eyebrow in inquiry, his eyes gleaming with a sort of amused tolerance.

"If you apologize, I will hex you," Harry said. He didn't actually believe an apology was forthcoming any time soon, but he didn't want to take the chance. It had been hard enough disliking Snape all day, despite the way he'd woken up.

Snape's lips twitched. "I wasn't planning on it," he said dryly.

"Good," Harry said, squaring his shoulders. "But-- just because I don't want you to be nice, I don't think you have to be mean."

"I shall take that under advisement. Are you quite finished lecturing me on my behavior?" He still sounded mildly amused.

"You're so weird," Harry muttered under his breath. He stared at Snape a while longer and then nodded. "Yeah, I'm done."

"Good," Snape said, and Harry sucked in his breath as Snape's eyes burned their way down his body. "Take off the towel."

twenty-seven.
"Potter, wake up. Now."

Harry groaned and stretched, rubbing his eyes. He had no idea why Snape was waking him up so early -- it wasn't even light out -- but even asleep, he could tell when Snape's tone brooked no argument.

"Remove the Fidelius," Snape ordered.

Harry sat bolt-upright in bed and summoned his glasses. "What? Why?" And then, as an afterthought, "Lumos."

Snape was standing next to the bed, bone-pale and chiseled, his right hand clamped over his left forearm.

"Oh," Harry said weakly, not able to say much else.

"Quite. Take it off."

Harry groped on the bedside table for his wand, his stomach in knots. "I don't-- is that a good idea?"

Snape bared his teeth. "No, you imbecile, it is certainly a much wiser idea to go to the Dark Lord wrapped up in your magic."

Harry shoved the hair out of his eyes. "But he couldn't see you. Can't you just-- ignore it?"

"For once in your useless life, boy, would you please endeavor to defy my expectations and not succumb to the rampant idiocy in your genes? Take. Off. The charm."

Harry grit his teeth and muttered under his breath, "We're back to that, then." The last several days had been almost pleasant; Snape's insults had been slightly less scathing and occasionally directed at something other than Harry. He'd remained slightly cool and distant during training and anything but during sex, and Harry had started to feel pretty good about -- things. "Tell me how," he said.

The incantation was simple, and once it was done, Harry felt strangely lonely. He'd got used to being aware of Snape's presence and didn't quite feel right without it tickling the back of his awareness. He slid out of bed and pulled on a pair of jeans, trying to stay out of Snape's way as he tore around the room, shrugging into a black hooded cloak Harry didn't want to think about, and shoving various vials and bits of parchment into his pockets.

And then they were standing there, awkward in the pre-dawn gloom, and Snape was holding a mask in one hand and a book in the other and Harry was trying to breathe around the lump in his throat and the hole in his stomach.

"Here," Snape said, thrusting the book at Harry. "If I have not returned in one weeks' time, follow the instructions in the book."

"Er, okay," Harry said, taking the book with a frown. "What instructions?"

Snape exhaled through his teeth. "If a Secret-Keeper dies, Potter, his secret dies with him."

All the breath went out of Harry's lungs, and the book fell to the floor. "Oh." He took a step backwards, away from the book, away from Snape.

"Not immediately," Snape said sharply. "You will have some time to remove the charm, although it is difficult and the cost is-- high. One week, you understand?"

"Can't you take it off before you go?"

Snape pushed his hair out of his face. "Were I to do that, our sport would be coming here for you. I-- I ought to have prepared you for this."

"Yeah," Harry said, recognizing his cue to get angry. He couldn't quite do it.

"The house shall provide for you in my absence. Do not neglect your studies. Do not blow anything up."

"Yeah," Harry said again. He felt very far away from everything.

"Potter," Snape said, and there was a strange undertone in his voice Harry hadn't heard before. He looked up to meet Snape's eyes, and they were bright and blank and Harry couldn't even begin to read them. But then it didn't matter, because Snape's fingers were digging into his shoulders, pulling Harry hard against his body, and Snape's tongue was in his mouth, hungry and possessive and demanding. Harry kissed him back desperately, clutching at his back, forgetting for a few precious seconds what was going on.

Snape pulled away too soon, and Harry stared into his dark eyes, startled and lost. "Don't die," he said. Don't betray me. "Please."

"You're not that lucky," Snape said with a smile that wasn't anything like a smile. Then he turned and was gone, and by the time Harry went to the window to watch him walk away, there was no sign of him. Harry climbed back in the bed, curled himself around Snape's pillow, and tried to not be sick.

***

The first day Snape was gone, Harry found a picture window on the top storey charmed to show all four sides of the castle. He dragged up a pile of blankets and pillows from the nearest bedroom and made a nest for himself. He sat down, pulled his knees to his chest, and stared, wondering when exactly he'd gone quite so absolutely barking mad. His Secret-Keeper had just gone running to Voldemort, and what had Harry done? Kissed him -- kissed him -- and told him not to die.

"Brilliant," he muttered, dropping his head to his knees. He was besotted. Snape was going to kill him.

***

The second day Snape was gone, Harry resolved to stop moping and get unbesotted. There were things he wanted to know which Snape refused to tell him, although never in quite so many words. Before he left, Harry was too busy training during the day to ask any questions about their larger situation, and Snape had no qualms whatsoever about keeping Harry up most of the night. Sometimes he wrung orgasm after orgasm after orgasm out of Harry, until he was sobbing and helpless and out-of-control. Other nights he didn't let Harry come at all, just tortured and tormented him with teeth and tongue and lips and hands. It had the same effect -- Harry, sobbing and helpless and out-of-control. Snape seemed to like him that way. And although they didn't again achieve the shattering intimacy of that first hazy night, the sex left Harry feeling relaxed and rejuvenated rather than exhausted.

Despite the lack of sleep, he'd been learning quickly, easily picking up the things Snape was teaching him. Several times he even caught Snape looking at him with something that might have been approval, although of course he never said as much. He felt better than he had in a very long time, like he was taking control of his own life rather than letting other people control it for him.

With Snape gone, however, Harry realized that wasn't the case at all; Snape was pulling all the strings. And besotted or not, he still wasn't sure he trusted the man not to get bored and hand him over to Voldemort. Harry just hoped he'd wait long enough for Harry to get some information.

That in mind, he padded to the library and sat down at Snape's desk. He got out a piece of parchment and a quill and wrote down every question he could think of, from, Who sent the Dark Mark up above my house? to, Who is Snape writing all those letters to? That done, he started going through the desk, looking for answers.

He ran into difficulty right away. He really ought to have expected Snape's desk to be a death trap, but somehow, he hadn't. It was huge, for one thing -- drawers opened into drawers opened into drawers, most of them protected by magical locks or traps or puzzles. Harry alternated between hoping the desk wouldn't kill him, and hoping it would, because that would really make Snape angry. Five minutes into his search, and he'd been nearly set on fire, hit by several varieties of stinging hex, and he thought he might have got a sudden and very severe case of the wizarding flu. He stumbled up to the bedroom, where he knew Snape kept several bottles of antidotes, and picked the one he thought would work. Fortunately, it seemed to, and he went back to the library and braved the desk again.

He didn't find much. There were drawers he couldn't open, drawers he didn't even dare try to open, and drawers he probably didn't even find, but he did discover how Snape had been keeping in touch with the outside world. One of the drawers seemed to have some kind of portal, and when Harry opened it, it contained the day's Daily Prophet. The last weeks' worth were in another drawer, and Harry pored over them anxiously, looking for clues.

Snape had been right -- six days ago, there had been a front-page article with a picture of Harry, smiling and waving, with the headline 'BOY WHO LIVED ESCAPES DEATH EATER PRISON!' The Harry in the picture didn't look at all like he'd been in a Death Eater prison, but the article went on to talk about how he'd only been kidnapped for morale reasons, and he'd been kept alive for ritual reasons, but he was so brilliant that he'd escaped unscathed and gone to the Ministry of Magic straight away. Harry thought it was one of the more ridiculous things he'd read.

Aside from that, Harry didn't find anything interesting in the papers. There hadn't been any Death Eater attacks, a fact for which Harry was absurdly grateful, considering he knew perfectly well they were up to something. He did find a few of Snape's letters -- in code, of course, so they didn't do him any good -- in one of the drawers. Several hexes had flown at him when he opened it, but he'd been ready and had managed to dodge them. The books behind the desk were not so lucky, and after some nail-biting, he'd decided not to worry about it. Snape was going to know he'd been in the desk anyway, so he might as well get in as much trouble as he could and get it over with. He just hoped they hadn't been particularly valuable books.

***

The third day Snape was gone, Harry turned sixteen. He also lost his resolve to stop moping. The place was huge without Snape, and Harry was forced to admit he missed the man's company, such as it was. He couldn't sleep in the bed, which he thought was ridiculous considering he had spent all of five days sleeping with Snape and most of his life sleeping without him; even so, he could barely stand to be in that bedroom, in their bedroom, as it had somehow become. He napped, when he could, in the nest he'd built in front of the picture window.

On top of all that, he was starting to get worried. The book Snape had given him lay where he'd dropped it, and he had no intention of picking it up until he had to. But he hadn't thought Snape was going to be gone so long, and the more time that passed, the more concerned he got. He wasn't even sure which possibility worried him more -- Snape getting killed, or Snape betraying him.

He eventually dragged all his books upstairs so he could read and keep watch. He didn't get much reading done, though; for the most part, he stared out the window, hoping to see Snape's lanky form emerge from the forest. He didn't think he could remember a lonelier birthday.

***

The fourth day Snape was gone, Harry was a wreck. The top story in the morning's Prophet was about a massive Death Eater attack near Godric's Hollow the night before, almost certainly a jab at Harry. Two wizards and five Muggles were dead and four more had been tortured senseless. Harry didn't recognize any of the names, but Snape must have been there. Snape must have helped, and he was supposed to be stopping the attacks. Unless Snape was really on Voldemort's side, or was dead -- and Harry didn't like either possibility. He was furious and frightened and he wanted Snape to come back and answer his questions.

And then Snape was back, just like that. Slightly before midnight, Harry walked by the library and noticed the lights were on, saw a flash of black in his peripheral vision. He turned his head, and there was Snape, standing in the middle of the room as if he'd been there all along. Harry stopped dead and stared, his heart pounding and his head spinning. Snape's level gaze was holding his with mild interest but nothing more, and Harry had no idea what to do. He couldn't imagine himself just saying, 'hello.'

He took a hesitant step inside the room, a million emotions warring within him -- and that's when he noticed the blood. Snape's cloak was covered in it, and there were streaks of red on the mask he held in his hand. Worry spiked sharply through his gut -- what if it was Snape's? -- but Snape looked fine, didn't look hurt at all, and a wave of nausea and despair washed over Harry.

"Have a good time?" he heard himself say.

"What do you think?" Snape asked, his gaze hardening and then sweeping coldly over the room, taking in the mess. "I see you did."

Harry bit down on his tongue to keep himself from wincing, and took a step forward. "Yeah, well, I had to do something while you were out torturing Muggles, didn't I?"

Snape smiled his not-smile and said, "I see you got the message, then."

Harry did wince that time, but took another step closer, his fists clenching at his sides. "Yeah, thanks for that. 'Happy Birthday, Harry, I tortured some Muggles for you.' Did you like it?"

Snape's lips curled into a sneer and he started advancing on Harry, who'd got close enough to smell the blood, sharp and sickly-sweet. "As you well know, Potter, it is not possible to cast the Cruciatus unless one enjoys it."

Harry retreated, backing away and trying not to gag, as Snape closed the distance between them. "Bet you love it, don't you? God, you make me sick!"

Harry stopped short as his back hit a bookshelf; he hadn't realized he was so close to a wall. Snape tossed the hideous white mask to the floor and put his hands on either side of Harry's head. "Do I?" he murmured, leaning in close.

Harry closed his eyes to block out the cruel lines of Snape's face, but that turned out to be a mistake. He flattened himself against the bookshelf as best he could, but to his utter mortification, he was starting to get hard. He tried to will it down, but four days was a long time at sixteen and his body was ignoring him, was remembering and responding to Snape's presence and passion and heat. Snape could probably tell and he leaned in a little closer, their bodies just barely touching.

"Get away from me," Harry said, and it sounded a lot more like a plea than an order.

Snape ignored him. "You devastate me, Potter," he said, voice heavy with sarcasm and hot in Harry's ear. "I was so hoping for a rather more... enthusiastic homecoming."

"Yeah, I bet," Harry snarled, opening his eyes to glare at Snape. "You and all your Death Eater friends."

Snape pulled back slightly and raised an eyebrow. "What was that?" His voice was very soft, and very dangerous. Harry shuddered.

"You heard me," he spat. He had no idea where the words were coming from; they were just spilling out of his mouth, and he couldn't get them to stop. "They're probably here now, waiting! You told them-- told them what a slut I am and brought them here to watch, a little fun and games before you hand me over to Voldemort to die!"

Snape's hands closed over his shoulders and slammed him into the wall. "I told you not to say the Dark Lord's name!"

"Voldemort!" Harry spat in his face. "Voldemort, Voldemort, Volde--"

Snape's hand closed over his throat, and he leaned into growl in Harry's ear. "You're rather obsessed, aren't you? It's as if you want me to turn you over. Going through my possessions, deliberately making me angry, dreaming up patently absurd scenarios, and now, calling his attention here. The Fidelius cannot hide that which does not wish to be hidden, Potter. But I don't imagine you did anything useful while I was away, such as read about the charm protecting your worthless hide."

By the time Snape stopped talking, Harry was starting to panic. Little flashes of light were going off behind his eyes, and the skin on his face felt stretched and thin. He struggled against Snape, who tightened his grip on Harry's throat briefly and then let go. Harry gasped, sucking in air, and Snape moved closer, one thigh sliding between Harry's, his chest pressing Harry to the wall.

"You are a slut, Potter," he said, lips moving over Harry's ear, hips twisting against Harry's in a way that left little doubt as to whether he'd noticed Harry's erection. "I can smell it all over you."

"Amazing you can smell anything over all that blood," Harry said, but he was still panting, and his voice was weaker than he wanted it to be.

"Yes," Snape said, dragging his teeth down Harry's earlobe. Harry shivered and clutched at the shelves behind him. "But your scenario failed to take into account one of my key character traits."

"You're insane? I think it took it into account just fine."

Snape grabbed Harry's hands and pinned them above his head. Then he pulled away slightly and stared down at Harry, eyes on fire, as if he was making sure he had Harry's attention. "I don't share," he growled.

And then one of them moved and they were kissing, all tongues and teeth. Snape's hands were everywhere, bruising and clawing and clutching, and Harry fisted his own hands in Snape's hair and tried to hold on. He might hate Snape at the moment, but he couldn't deny he'd missed this. He moaned into Snape's mouth and then bit down on Snape's tongue when it swept inside, but Snape didn't seem to care. His hands were kneading Harry's arse, and Harry wondered when his jeans had come off.

Snarling and aching, he tore at every piece of Snape he could find. He wanted to tear the goddamn cloak off, wanted to tear his hair out, wanted to tear his skin off and climb inside. He dug his nails into Snape's back, smiling fiercely when Snape hissed. And then Snape grabbed one of his arms and twisted it into the small of his back, twisted Harry around and shoved him face-first into the wall. Slick fingers slid down his cleft and he bucked, breathing through his teeth.

"Just do it, Snape," he growled over his shoulder. "Inside me."

Snape let go of his arm and Harry braced against the bookcase, shaking. He felt Snape's cock prodding his entrance and pushed back against it until he couldn't take anymore.

"Fuck," he said, and Snape's hands closed over his, white-knuckled, grinding them into the shelves.

"Idiot," Snape growled in his ear. "I should fuck you senseless." But he held still, body tense with strain.

Harry dropped his head to the shelf in front of him, waiting for the pain to subside, breathing heavily and trying to relax. Finally he took a deep breath and nodded slightly. "All right, then," he said shakily. "Fuck me senseless."

Snape pulled out and pushed back in with a low groan that sounded torn from his throat. He almost lifted Harry off the ground as he drove into him, and Harry grabbed the edges of the shelves and hung on for dear life. Snape changed angles slightly, looking for the prostate, and Harry almost shouted in relief when he found it. It was almost too much sensation -- Snape, savage inside him, the bursts of pleasure erupting over his body, teeth on his neck, splinters in his fingers -- and all Snape had to do to make Harry come was wrap his hand around his cock and squeeze.

Snape didn't let up for a second, kept fucking Harry as he came in three long pulses, shaking and trembling. Harry slumped against the shelves and clenched his arse around Snape, who wrapped one arm around his stomach and pulled him closer. Surprisingly, he didn't last much longer once Harry came, his thrusts speeding up almost immediately. He sunk his teeth into Harry's shoulder muscle and shuddered, only a soft, ragged groan escaping his throat.

Harry lasted about two seconds before collapsing on the floor, and he pulled Snape down on top of him. There was a strange look in Snape's eyes, but Harry didn't want to deal with it, didn't want to think about it, and so he closed his eyes and slept.

twenty-eight.
Harry woke up in the giant bedroom, the one he'd first claimed before he'd moved his trunk to Snape's room. He'd been unceremoniously dumped on the bed, on top of the covers, naked and smeared with blood, although he hadn't any idea whose it was. He was pretty sure he and Snape had both broken skin the night before, and there'd been all that blood on Snape's cloak. He grimaced, decided to try not to think about it, and got out of bed to shower.

That accomplished, he padded to the other bedroom in his towel for clothes, unsure if he wanted to run into Snape. He needed to get it over with, he knew, but he had no idea what to expect. But Snape wasn't in the bedroom, and Harry dressed in peace before heading to the library.

Snape was at his desk, scotch in one hand and quill in the other. He didn't look up when Harry walked in, but Harry could tell immediately that Snape was in a particularly bad mood. He sighed and sat down in his usual chair on the other side of the desk.

"Er, g'morning," he said. Snape kept writing. Harry's stomach felt fluttery, and he drew his knees up to his chest. As usual when he was dealing with Snape, new questions pushed all the old ones out of the way, and the next thing out of Harry's mouth was, "Why'd you put me in the other room?"

"I make you sick," Snape drawled, still not looking up. "We wouldn't want that."

"Oh. I didn't mean it."

"You really ought to leave the lying to those of us who can pull it off," he said, voice utterly without inflection. His quill scratched across the parchment, and Harry ran his hands through his hair.

"All right," Harry said, frustrated. "I meant it. But I didn't mean it. You know?"

"No. I am not a mind-reader, Mr. Potter."

"Er," Harry said, his mind boggling for a second. "Actually, you are. But--"

"But that assumes one has a mind to read, which you do not."

"Would you look at me?"

Snape tossed his quill down with a sigh and sat back in his chair, fixing Harry with a stare as flat as his voice. "Yes?"

Harry's stomach lurched. "You're really angry, aren't you?"

An eyebrow arched, and Snape swirled the scotch in his glass. "Whatever gave you that impression?"

"Well, could you yell at me or something and get it over with? I can't talk to you when you're like this."

"All evidence to the contrary."

Harry clenched his jaw and exhaled sharply. "All right. What do you want me to say?"

"What makes you think I want you to say anything? You're the one who insisted on this little chat."

"Right," Harry muttered. "Okay. Look, maybe you do make me sick, but--"

"But what?" Snape leaned back further and crossed his legs. "Yes, do let's hear the rationale for sharing a bed with someone who makes you sick. No doubt it's brilliant."

Harry looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. "It feels good," he said in a very small voice.

"So does casting the Cruciatus." Harry's head snapped back down, but Snape's bland expression hadn't altered. "Just because something feels good, Potter, does not make it healthy."

"Healthy?" Harry blinked, not sure he'd heard correctly. "Like you know anything about what's healthy."

"Perhaps not," Snape acknowledged, knocking back his scotch. "But I do know a great deal about what is unhealthy, Potter, and this--" He waved his glass between them. "--rather defines the term."

Harry felt his jaw drop in astonishment as he looked at Snape. "Er, okay. Who the bloody hell are you, and where's Snape? Did you grow a conscience in your time with Vold-- with the Dark Lord?"

"Hardly."

"Are you--" Harry was surprised to find he could hardly force the words out. "Are you calling it off?" He held his breath.

"No, but I am suggesting you do so."

Harry frowned. "But-- I don't want to."

"Foolish boy," Snape muttered with a sigh. He reached into the drawer, which Harry had discovered was actually much bigger than Uncle Vernon's liquor cabinet, and brought out another bottle of scotch.

Harry was still frowning. "Don't you-- I mean, I thought you--" He stammered to a halt, blushing. He didn't think he was the only one walking around half-hard all the time, but he couldn't quite get it to come out.

"Are you attempting to ask if I enjoy the sex?"

Harry narrowed his eyes. "You are reading my mind!"

"I'm reading your face, boy."

"Oh," Harry said, and waited. Snape stared at him. "Well? Do you?"

"Obviously," Snape said, as if it were the stupidest question in the world, and Harry felt his ears turn red. He stared at his feet and tried not to smile.

"Right, then," he said. "I don't want to call it off."

"But I make you sick," Snape said, all mock-concern and politeness.

"No," he said, shaking his head and trying to think of a way to explain. "It's not you, really," he started. "It's the things you do--"

Snape's lip curled contemptuously. "You know nothing of the things I do, Potter."

"I'm not an idiot!" Harry snapped, sitting forward in his chair again. "You showed up dripping with BLOOD! It was--"

"Human blood?" Snape's mild inquiry took Harry completely by surprise, and his mouth snapped shut. "Well?" Snape pressed. "What sort of blood was it, Potter? You spent so much time examining it, after all. Animal blood, perhaps? Plenty of magical rites, not all of them Dark, require an animal sacrifice. Or perhaps it was human blood. Whose? Did it belong to one of my Death Eater friends who perhaps ascertained I knew your whereabouts and was planning to inform the Dark Lord?"

Harry went pale. "Oh. What happened?"

"You tell me, Potter. You are so very sure of yourself."

Harry sighed, pushing his hair out of his face. "I just thought--"

"No!" Snape spat, slamming the glass of scotch on the desk and making Harry jump. "You most certainly did not think. You did the same thing you always do. You took one fact, on its own and out of context, jumped to the most outrageous, egregious conclusion your puerile brain could manage, and started hurling accusations. There was nothing resembling thinking going on!"

Harry had been trying not to lose his temper, but it wasn't working very well, and he dug his fingertips into the arms of the chair. "Tell me again how it's outrageous to see a Death Eater covered in blood and assume he's been out murdering people!" He reached forwards, grabbed the Prophet from the day before, and pointed. "I can read, you know."

"Oh, really?" Snape sneered, and grabbed a different copy of the Prophet. "Read this, then." He shoved it across the desk, and Harry saw it was the issue with the story about him escaping a Death Eater prison. "Or this one." Another paper flew at Harry, and he skimmed the top story, which was about what a wonderful person Lucius Malfoy was, and what a shame it was that he'd ever been sent to Azkaban.

Harry sighed and sat back in his chair. He was sick of not knowing what was going on, and he hated that every time he thought he figured something out, Snape just told him he was stupid. It didn't help that Snape was right most of the time. "So... there wasn't an attack?"

"There was," Snape said. "That is not the point."

That was it. Harry shot to his feet and shouted, "THEN WHAT'S THE POINT? Why can't you just GIVE ME A STRAIGHT ANSWER?"

Snape picked up his glass very slowly, took another sip of his scotch, set the glass back down, and arched an eyebrow. Then he stared, and stared some more. "Sit."

"I don't want--"

"Sit!"

Harry growled, but sat down.

"I have said it before, but as you never deign to pay attention to anything I say, I suppose I shall have to repeat myself. I am loath to do so, but I will attempt to use small words so you may have some hope of grasping what I say. You have no subtlety, Potter. I do not give you straight answers because they do not exist. Lies are built on truth, and truth on lies. The world and everyone in it cannot be divided into Hogwarts houses, good and evil, light and dark. Those are concepts for children and fools, and you can ill afford to be either. Shades of gray, boy, and until you force that concept through your thick skull, you'll be nothing more than a puppet on a string."

Some part of Harry knew that Snape was making sense, but a much larger part wasn't in any mood to listen to his lectures. He just wanted Snape to shut up. "All right, all right. I get the point."

"I very sincerely doubt it. You are a rash, reckless, impulsive fool, Potter, who--" Snape stopped mid-sentence. Harry looked around, trying to figure out if he'd seen something. It wasn't like Snape to stop in the middle of an insult like that.

"Who what?" he asked, slightly concerned despite himself. Snape's eyes had taken on a calculating gleam, and it was making Harry very nervous. "Professor?"

Snape just kept staring at him. Harry looked over his shoulder again. "Snape?" When Snape still didn't say anything, Harry thought about trying 'Severus,' but couldn't even bring himself to open his mouth. Sex or no, he didn't think they were on a first-name basis. He sat there nervously and tried not to fidget. It didn't work very well.

After what seemed like five minutes, Snape finally seemed to snap out of it. He snorted and quaffed the scotch, looking rather pleased with himself. He sat back in his chair and eyed Harry with considerably less animosity than he had earlier.

"Tell me how you occupied yourself while I was gone. Other than with the usual gross invasion of my privacy, that is."

Harry frowned at the change of subject, and then flushed as he realized he'd have to tell Snape he hadn't done much of anything. He shifted a little in his chair. "Er, about that."

Snape sighed and steepled his fingers in front of him, eyebrows raised.

"I'm sorry, all right? I just-- you don't tell me anything. Can I-- what are you going to do? Can I make it up to you?"

"Certainly," Snape said. "What are you offering?"

Harry frowned. He had no idea. "Er... a favor to be named later?"

Snape's eyebrows climbed a little higher. "A favor to be named later," he repeated. "For rifling through my belongings and doing--" He glanced back at the bookshelf. "--several hundred galleons' worth of property damage, not to mention wasting fifty doses of a rare and valuable healing potion."

"Fifty doses?"

"You need five drops to counteract the wizarding flu, Potter, which you would have known had you ever bothered to pay attention in my class."

"Oh," he said, thinking. He'd asked about the last favor several times, but Snape hadn't shown any inclination to actually call him on it. "Er, a really big favor to be named later?" Snape's eyes took on a malicious gleam, and Harry bit his bottom lip. "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"

"Very much so," Snape said with a smirk and obvious relish. "Accepted. Now go get your study materials."

Harry was halfway out the door when he realized something and turned back. "Hey, wait a minute. Aren't these books mine now? Why should I owe you favors for destroying them?"

Snape shot him a disgusted look. "Are you really so ignorant of the Wizarding world?"

"Well, being raised by Muggles does have that effect. Sir."

Snape rolled his eyes, stood, and walked to the western wall of the library, where there was a small, square piece of marble inlaid into the wall. He took out his wand, muttered something Harry couldn't hear, and then pressed his hand to the piece of marble. All the books disappeared.

Harry felt his mouth drop open. "Where'd they go?"

"They didn't go anywhere. They're mine, Potter, and stay in my Gringott's vault. Personal libraries simply access the books of the wizard they're keyed to."

"Brilliant!" Harry said, smiling. "Except... they were here when we got here. Why's Sir-- this library keyed to you?"

Snape stiffened slightly, and said, "I have been here recently."

Harry was dying to ask why, but he didn't want to press his luck. And besides, Snape had started to look at him with that speculative look again, and it was making Harry nervous. "What?"

"Come here."

Harry walked over slowly, but Snape simply took his hand and pressed it to the piece of marble. It was cold, and then hot, and then the wall around it was filled with books. Snape smirked. "Your library, Mr. Potter."

Harry felt a strange fluttering in his stomach as he looked at the books -- at his books. He reached out a cautious hand to grab one, a beat-up brown leather-bound volume called, "Wizards, Warlocks, Warthogs and Wine." He opened it carefully and saw "James Potter" scrawled in childish handwriting on the inside cover. His chest constricted almost painfully and he ran his fingers lightly over the name, biting down hard on his bottom lip. He wasn't sure if he wanted to cry or laugh or hug Snape. He risked a quick look at the professor, but he was just standing there, watching Harry impassively. Harry couldn't help it; he smiled. "Thank you, sir," he said quietly.

Snape harrumphed softly and left the room, leaving Harry with his books until lunchtime.

***

"I know you think I don't listen to you," Harry told Snape at lunch. "But I do. And I was wondering-- can I ask you something?"

Snape raised an eyebrow.

"Can we shuffle the training schedule a bit?"

Snape speared a piece of broccoli and didn't say anything.

"I just think it would help if I could have some time to myself every day, to think. Clear my head. Without you around to distract me. I feel better, now." And he did. The hours alone with his parents' books had settled him down, whereas hours alone with Snape tended to scare him, infuriate him, or make him very, very horny. Occasionally all three at once.

Snape bit the head off the broccoli and chewed carefully.

Harry wilted a little in his chair. "You're going to want more favors for this, aren't you?"

The eyebrow arched, and Harry sagged a little further. "Fine. More favors to be named later."

Snape's eyes hardened, and Harry stabbed his own piece of broccoli. "I don't see what the point of that is anyway," Harry grumbled. "I really don't have anything you can't just take. Why bother with the favors?"

Snape sighed, and Harry realized he'd just agreed to terms he knew nothing about without Snape ever having said a word. He pushed his plate aside and dropped his head on the table with a loud thump.

"I'm not learning anything, am I?"

Snape closed his eyes and shook his head.

twenty-nine.
They went back to the library after lunch, where Snape surprised Harry by letting him have some say in his new training schedule. Snape thought Harry should concentrate on offensive spells and counter-curses, on ways for him to tap into his power and focus it, make it do what he needed it to do. There was a good deal less concentration on theory and Occlumency and defense, although Snape did agree to the occasional Legilmency lesson. Harry also got a block of time to himself each afternoon, although he had to make up for it by working a little later into the night.

Then Snape surprised him again.

"I cannot answer questions you don't ask, Potter," he said, and handed Harry his big list of questions. He'd scrawled all over it in red ink, as if it were an exam he'd marked, but instead of scathing commentary on Harry's abysmal performance, he'd written answers.

Of course, some of them were non-answers: In response to, "Who is Snape writing all those letters to?" he'd written, "associates." Some of them had big red question marks next to them, and some of them had instructions for Harry to ask him in person.

Harry looked from Snape to the parchment and back for several minutes.

Snape leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow. "You seem shocked, Potter." He sounded amused.

"Er. Well. Yes, sir."

"Have I not told you on multiple occasions that I would answer your questions as best I could?"

"Yeah," Harry said, drawing out the word. He hadn't thought Snape actually meant it.

"Some of those are ridiculous, some you really ought to have figured out on your own, and others are none of your business. But I meant what I said, Potter. You're clearly completely incapable of logical reasoning or deducing plausible conclusions from known facts, so if you need more facts with which to work, you're to ask. Perhaps next time I leave I won't come back to find you quite so hysterical."

Harry didn't even know what to say to that speech. It was such a bizarre mixture of insults and offers that he just stared at Snape with his mouth open. Snape stared back with a bemused expression on his face that didn't help Harry at all. Finally he shook himself, and looked back at the parchment.

"Right," he said. "So, can we talk about it now?"

"That is why I gave it to you."

"Right," Harry said again. "Okay."

Two hours and only three arguments later, Harry thought he had a reasonable idea of what had been going on. Snape had kidnapped Harry to keep him away from the other Death Eaters who'd been sent to kill him. He'd sent up the Dark Mark to make the Lestranges look bad -- Harry didn't quite understand that part, but Snape said only Death Eaters could actually conjure the Mark, and that he was better at lying than Bellatrix Lestrange, who was just insane, and that if a Death Eater had obviously been at Harry's house, the Lestranges would be in trouble. Harry didn't see why Snape wouldn't be in trouble, too, but Snape just told him to figure it out.

From there, they'd gone to the strange replica of the Dursleys' house. The Order had originally wanted to connect the house to the Dursleys' so they could keep better track of what was happening, sort of a magical simulation, but Dumbledore had changed his mind after they'd transfigured the house. Harry was relieved by that; he didn't fancy being followed, and he certainly didn't fancy having the Order watch him every second he was in his house.

That house was destroyed by Death Eaters, which Snape had only just found out when he was summoned. Snape had been right -- when Harry had destroyed the wards, he'd sent up a magical flare that overrode the Fidelius and attracted the attention of the Death Eaters. Snape didn't think they realized he was there, and judging by his status as still alive, Harry thought he was probably right, and they'd only been after Harry.

As for Snape, he was walking a fine line with both Voldemort and Dumbledore. Voldemort had bought the story about Harry having been found, and was getting impatient for Snape to kill him. Snape delayed him by saying that the Order knew it had been compromised, and as Snape's loathing for Harry was common knowledge, Snape was being kept away from him. That had satisfied Voldemort, but Snape didn't expect it to hold much longer. As for Dumbledore, he seemed to think Snape knew more than he was saying, and was getting increasingly difficult to ignore.

Harry frowned. "Are you going to tell them?"

"You'll need to be a bit more specific if you don't want me rummaging about in your head attempting to extract some modicum of coherency."

"Dumbledore and Vol-- the Dark Lord. Are you going to tell them where I am?"

Snape looked at the ceiling and sighed. "I'll tell Dumbledore if you wish. That's your decision."

Harry needed to think about that. There were probably seventeen complicated scenarios that could play out if Dumbledore were told, and Harry wanted to come up with at least two of them before he asked Snape. "And the Dark Lord?"

"That's my decision," Snape said, tipping his head back down to meet Harry's eyes.

Harry nodded, and was surprised to find himself unconcerned. Between the time to himself in the morning, and the actual answers out of Snape, he was feeling more comfortable with the situation than he had -- well, ever. "You would have done it already," he said. "If you were going to."

Snape lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. "Perhaps. It's true I don't particularly enjoy wasting my time."

"I know you don't want him to win. But you might just be waiting to see if I can beat him, and if you don't think I can, then you'll turn me over."

"Perhaps," Snape said again, drawing a finger down his cheek as if considering.

"I don't think so, though. But you're not going to tell me."

The eyebrows went up. "Is there a reason I should?"

Harry shrugged, still feeling strangely disconnected, like he was listening to other people have the conversation, rather than participating in it himself. "We are talking about my life," he said. "I'd like to know."

"If I intend to betray you."

"Yeah."

"No. Now tell me why that question is meaningless."

Harry's stomach flip-flopped when Snape said 'no,' and he tried to suppress his smile. Snape narrowed his eyes, and Harry quickly bit his lip and tried to think. "Because I should know the answer? I should just trust you. You save me a lot."

Snape sighed, closed his eyes, and rubbed at the bridge of his nose.

"Er, or not," Harry said, and tried again. "Because you wouldn't tell me if you were going to?"

"Slightly closer to the mark."

"But why not? You like to watch me squirm."

Some of the now-familiar heat crept into Snape's eyes. "There are more enjoyable ways to make you squirm."

Like that tone of voice. Harry squirmed. "No, I mean-- if you told me, I couldn't do anything about it, could I? I don't know where we are, and I can't Apparate very far, so I couldn't run. I don't have any way to communicate with anyone else. I can't kill you."

"Yet."

Harry sat back, hard, in the chair. "What?"

Snape fixed Harry with a somewhat incredulous stare. "Potter, has it not occurred to you that I am attempting to train you to kill the Dark Lord? And that -- well, assuming you retain anything I teach you, which I concede would be only slightly shy of miraculous, at some point during this process, you will be able to kill me as well?"

It really hadn't. Harry's stomach flip-flopped again. "But... I wouldn't kill you," he said. Even when he'd hated Snape, which he didn't think he did anymore, he hadn't wanted to kill him. He wasn't even that happy about having to kill Voldemort.

"No, I don't expect you would," Snape said, and there was an undercurrent in his tone that made Harry immediately suspicious.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That, Potter, is one of those questions you shouldn't be asking."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "Well, I am."

"It means," he said, his voice dripping with disdain, "that you are young, sentimental, and foolish, and that I am currently the only person standing between you and the Dark Lord, not to mention the man who's fucking you." He paused, eyes gleaming. "And you're besotted. I could probably hand you to the Dark Lord tomorrow, and you'd wonder what you'd done wrong."

"Oh, god," Harry said. He closed his eyes and dropped his head over the back of the chair, feeling like he'd been punched in the stomach. He took a few seconds to breathe, and then opened his eyes and studied the ceiling. "You know, every time I start thinking I might be able to like you a little bit, you ruin it by talking."

"Yes," Snape said. "Then I believe my work here is done. Dueling?"

"God, yes."

During the dueling lesson, Harry broke through Snape's shields for the first time, and Snape paid Harry what passed for a compliment. Harry found that if he ignored the last five minutes of their conversation in the library, it had been a pretty good day.

Unfortunately, that was easier said than done, and he couldn't get Snape's last comments out of his mind. After his shower he decided he wasn't sleeping with Snape, and went upstairs to the picture window to clear his head and, hopefully, sleep. But that, too, was easier said than done, and at three in the morning he was awake, exhausted, and more confused than ever. He sighed and trudged downstairs to find Snape.

Instead he found a piece of parchment on the bed, and recognized Snape's scrawl.

    Summoned. -S.

Harry's stomach tightened and he sent the parchment up in flames. He didn't understand why Snape hadn't even bothered to find Harry and tell him he was leaving, especially when he'd barely been back a day. He started to wonder if Snape would have bothered saying anything last time if not for the Fidelius, which Harry had forgotten to re-cast. Snape hadn't brought it up, either, although Harry supposed if the attack at the other house really had been aimed at him, Snape was probably safe enough without the charm.

He ran his hands through his hair, dropped into Snape's giant armchair, and dug his fingernails into the palms of his hands. He kept hearing the things Snape had said --"no," he'd said, when Harry asked if he intended to betray him. "I could turn you over tomorrow," he'd said, and it was tomorrow, and Snape was with Voldemort.

On the other hand, he'd been almost nice. He didn't have to show Harry his library. He didn't have to spend several hours answering Harry's questions, even if he did go out of his way to make Harry feel stupid for asking them. And if he were just going to turn Harry over, why bother training him? It was obvious to both of them that Harry was learning very quickly. It didn't make any sense for Snape to be spending so much of his time and energy on Harry if he were going to betray him. He'd saved Harry too many times.

Feeling slightly better, Harry grabbed his invisibility cloak and Snape's pillow and went to the library to sleep. Snape said he traveled by Portkey when he was summoned, and Harry wanted to be there when he came back. He hoped it wasn't going to be another four days.

***

Almost exactly twenty-four hours later, Harry was asleep in one of the chairs in the back of the library. He woke to the sound of boot-heels clicking over the library floor, and opened his eyes just in time to see Snape turn the corner in an impressive swirl of robes. Harry tucked his cloak around him and followed; it wasn't often he got to watch Snape without Snape watching him back.

Snape seemed in a hurry, and as he tore around the castle, he only seemed more hurried. He checked their bedroom first, and then the big bedroom, and then the upstairs room with the picture window. And then he was practically running through the castle, throwing open doors and turning on lights. He seemed...worried. Which probably meant he was going to be very angry when he found out Harry had been following him around in his cloak. Harry sighed.

"POTTER!" Snape bellowed, bursting into the library again.

Harry stood in the doorway, took a deep breath, and pulled off the cloak. "Ye--"

He didn't even make it through one word before he was against the wall with Snape's wand at his throat. He blinked up at Snape, who didn't look very good. He was much paler than normal, and his lank hair was plastered to his face with sweat. There was a smear of blood at the corner of his mouth, and this time, Harry thought it was probably his.

"Er, hi," he said.

Snape put his wand away, but he still had Harry more or less pinned to the wall. "Your cloak?"

Harry nodded, a little breathless.

"That, Mr. Potter, bears a striking resemblance to sense." And then his mouth was on Harry's, hot and hard and demanding, and it was making Harry dizzy. He opened his mouth and tried to kiss Snape back, tried to keep up, but Snape had never kissed him slowly, and Harry had never got the hang of it. He felt like his tongue was just in the way; it kept running into Snape's and Snape was growling low in his throat and then he bit lightly at Harry's bottom lip and pulled away, wild-eyed and breathless.

Harry tried not to grin and failed. "Missed you, too, sir."

"Shut up, Potter," Snape snapped. Then he collapsed on the floor.

thirty.
Harry stared at him for longer than he probably should have, but it was so utterly unexpected that he couldn't do anything else. He was so shocked he forgot to be worried, and then it hit him that Snape had collapsed and he sprang into action, casting mobilicorpus and taking Snape to the bedroom.

Once he got there, however, he was at something of a loss. Snape hovered in the air at wandpoint as Harry tried to figure out what he should do. He moved Snape so he was only an inch or two above the bed, took a deep breath, and reached for his power the way he'd been practicing. He channeled as much of it as he could into the spell, and then bit his lip and put his wand down.

Snape continued to hover, and Harry managed to wandlessly lift him far enough off the bed to get his clothes off. He tried to be efficient and methodical about it -- it wasn't like he'd never seen Snape naked -- but the whole situation somehow seemed illicit, and he very much doubted Snape would approve. He flushed, and his hands shook, but he eventually got Snape's clothes off and settled him on the bed.

He turned up the light to get a better look, and gasped. Snape looked like he'd been badly beaten; most of his body was covered with bruises, ugly multi-colored splotches marring the pale skin. Harry trailed a finger down his ribs to see if any were broken, but none of them seemed to be, and Harry realized that nothing was swollen. Something else had happened, but Harry had no idea what, or what to do about it.

"Professor?" he said softly. "Snape?" He touched Snape's shoulder lightly, trying for a place with no bruises.

One eye opened, focused on Harry, and narrowed menacingly. "Go away." At least his voice sounded all right.

Harry ignored him. "What can I do? You're hurt."

"Thank Merlin you're here to tell me these things, Potter. I certainly hadn't noticed."

"Tell me what to do."

"Go. Away."

"No. Tell me what happened."

Snape threw an arm over his eyes and muttered, "Now you ask." Harry climbed up on the bed and sat cross-legged next to him, waiting.

"Snape," he said, when it was obvious Snape wasn't going to say anything. "What happened? You look like you've been beaten, but there's no swelling. And I don't think anything's broken."

"Just blood vessels. One of the less attractive side-effects of spending -- time -- being tortured."

"Shite," Harry muttered, reaching out to trace one of the nastier bruises on Snape's ribs. He pulled away quickly when Snape's jaw clenched, although he didn't make a sound. "Looks like a lot of time. Er, was it the Dark Lord?"

"Among others."

"Why?" Harry said, terrified he already knew the answer.

"The spy informed him I know where you are, and he wanted to be sure I didn't. Legilimency is ever so much more effective when your victim is in agony."

"Oh, god," Harry said with all the breath he had left. "Can you-- did it--" He didn't dare ask the questions he wanted to.

Snape, however, seemed to know what they were. "Yes, a secret can be shared involuntarily. No, I don't believe it was. Now may I ask you a question?"

"Er, yeah," Harry answered automatically, staring at the bruises on Snape's chest, but not really seeing much of anything.

Snape moved his arm and looked at Harry sideways out of one eye. "Do you intend to molest me?"

"Er..." Harry frowned and shook himself when the question sunk in. "Wait, what?"

"Why, pray tell, am I naked?"

"Oh," Harry said, going red. "I, er, didn't know what was wrong with you. And I didn't know what else to do."

"And your first impulse was to strip me. I see. In that case, assuming you are still amenable to instruction, would you kindly either fetch a blanket or the yellow bottle on the second-highest shelf, third from the right?" He paused, and Harry slid off the bed. "I would not hex you were you to bring both."

Harry rolled his eyes, summoned a blanket from the room across the hall and carefully settled it over Snape, and then went to find the bottle he'd asked for. Snape had turned the next room over into his potions laboratory; he spent most of his time there while Harry was studying on his own. Harry felt a bit odd going in there without Snape, but it was easy enough to find the bottle he wanted.

"All right," Harry said, clambering back onto the bed and trying not to jostle Snape too much. He'd thrown his arm back over his eyes and wasn't moving.

"Were you paying even the slightest bit of attention when we went over the proper application of salves in third-year?"

Harry frowned. He didn't remember anything about salves. "Er."

A sigh. "I thought not. Very well. A generous amount, and then rub your hands together until they're warm."

Harry looked from the bottle to Snape and back a few times. He hadn't expected Snape to actually let him do anything. The arm moved and Snape raised an eyebrow. "Problems, Potter? You seemed so very eager to play nursemaid."

"Well, yeah," Harry said, opening the bottle and pouring what he felt was a 'generous amount' over his hands. "I just didn't think you'd let me."

"It doesn't work half as well when one applies it to oneself," he said, putting his arm back over his eyes. Harry dimmed the lights, in case that was why. "I believe you know the rest of that sentence."

Harry grinned and rubbed his hands together, waiting for the salve to warm up. "Yeah," he said, and affected his Snape impression. "Which you would know had you ever paid-- no... had you ever bothered to pay attention in my class." He paused. "Or deigned. If I deigned to pay attention."

"See, Mr. Potter? You are capable of retaining information."

"Yeah," Harry said, still grinning. "I'm thinking about trying it more often."

"Careful. I am an injured man, and I fear my heart could not sustain many more such shocks."

Harry laughed despite himself. His brain was having some trouble with the concept; Snape, it insisted, wasn't funny. But Snape wasn't sexy, either, and it didn't stop Harry from walking around half-hard. "All right, this is warm now." The warmth was spreading up his arms, tingling and soothing even though he wasn't hurt.

"I'm sure the blanket will be very appreciative."

"Oh." He'd forgotten to move the blanket, and now his hands were covered in salve. "Er...wingardium leviosa," he said, focusing on the blanket. It twitched. "Wingardium leviosa!" The blanket lurched into the air and off Snape, and then collapsed on the floor. Snape moved his arm and eyed the pile, and then Harry.

"Wandless?"

Harry nodded, and then Snape nodded and covered his eyes again. "Long strokes along the lines of my body. Start with light pressure, and build up. Slow circles in certain areas: inside of the wrists and elbows, behind the knees, underneath the collar bone, the hip-bones."

Harry felt very strange, staring at Snape laid out on the bed before him. It was still weird to think of Snape as a normal person, with parts like armpits. Harry'd looked at him, but never really looked at him, and Snape rarely let Harry touch him. He'd never explored Snape's body the way Snape had explored his. He was annoyed to find himself dry-mouthed and half-hard, considering the man had just been tortured on his account. "Where should I start?" he asked, trying to be businesslike.

"One end or the other," Snape said. "Your choice."

Harry nodded, even though Snape couldn't see him, and moved to kneel on the bed by his feet. Snape shifted as Harry started rubbing the salve into his skin, running his hands up and down his calves, rubbing away the bruises. The salve smelled good, slightly like mint, not at all gross or medicinal, and Harry quickly found himself lost in Snape's skin, wanting to learn everything he could about every inch of it.

Snape obliged silently when Harry moved between his legs and nudged them apart. He picked up one leg and draped it over his shoulder, giving him access to the back of Snape's knee and thigh. It was intoxicatingly intimate, and reminded Harry of that first hazy morning. He rubbed his cheek against Snape's calf and then pressed a kiss to the inside of his knee.

"I like you like this," he said quietly, half-hoping Snape wouldn't hear it.

"Stands to reason," Snape murmured. "I am drugged out of my mind."

"Oh," Harry said. "This stuff is drugged?"

"Yes, but that's not what I was referring to."

"Oh," Harry said again. He thought he ought to apologize, but he didn't know what to say. "I should drug you more often, then."

"You'll need to work on your sadistic streak, but I imagine that could be arranged." He sucked in his breath as Harry worked his way up his inner thigh. His cock was lying limp against his leg, and Harry tried to keep his eyes away from it.

"You're not-- are you worried about that?" Snape made a vaguely inquisitive noise. "About me-- killing you. Or torturing you. I don't-- are you-- just because you don't--"

"Potter, stop babbling and say what you intend to say."

Harry rested his head against the calf on his shoulder, closed his eyes, and tried to force the words out. "Are you-- you're not sleeping with me just so I won't kill you later? That's what it sounded like, before."

"For fuck's sake, Potter," Snape said. Harry's eyes snapped wide open; it wasn't like Snape to swear when they weren't having sex, or at least talking about having sex. "Are you sleeping with me so I won't kill you sooner?"

"Like that would stop you," Harry muttered. But it was hard to distrust Snape with Voldemort's wrath written so plainly on his body. He dropped the entire issue and went back to sucking on the back of Snape's knee, tasted salt and mint, the subtle tang of blood. "Is this-- am I doing this right?"

"I believe a properly trained mediwizard would use slightly less tongue to apply the salve, but really, do you think I would hesitate to tell you if you were doing it wrong?"

"It's not going to kill me if I ingest some of it?"

"Perhaps you ought to have asked before you did so."

"Perhaps," Harry said agreeably, and turned his head to lick Snape's ankle, tracing the bones with his tongue. He poured more salve over his hands and rubbed, and then worked his way up the back of Snape's leg. The other one was almost bruise-free already. "This stuff really works," Harry said.

"Spare me the inane commentary, Potter. Of course it works."

Harry bit back a grin and leaned forwards, sliding his hands down the back of Snape's leg to his buttocks. He hadn't gone so far up the other leg, but he turned his head and noticed he wasn't the only one half-hard. He lowered Snape's leg back to the bed, eyed his rising cock, and wondered what to do next.

"Hip-bones, Potter," Snape said after a few moments of silence. His right hand grabbed Harry's and rubbed at the hollows underneath. "Circles."

Harry swallowed thickly and poured some more salve on his hands. The position he was in wasn't a good one, and he wondered where he should go. He didn't want to lean over Snape, but maybe -- he straddled Snape's right thigh, the first one he'd worked on, so he could get at Snape's hips. "All right?"

Snape nodded, and his cock twitched, but he didn't say anything. By that point, Harry was so hard he hurt, and as he rubbed the salve into Snape's skin, he ground himself into Snape's leg. The first time he caught himself, he tried to stop. The second time, he swore under his breath and clambered off Snape to sit in the middle of the bed.

"Is there a problem, Mr. Potter?"

"No," Harry muttered. "Yes. I don't know. I'm sorry. You're hurt, and it's because of me, and I'm supposed to be helping, and I'm--" He stammered to a halt.

"Rutting against my leg?" He moved his arm slightly and looked at Harry with one eye. "I had actually noticed that." He gestured vaguely at his groin with his other hand. "I didn't notice myself complaining, however."

"Well, you are drugged out of your mind."

"So I am," Snape said, closing his eyes again. "Now, more salve, if you please."

"Right. Sorry." Harry rose to his knees and leaned over Snape, rubbing the salve into his chest, watching the bruises fade. Snape's cock twitched again as Harry rubbed over his nipples, and Harry couldn't resist another pass. He tried to rub underneath the collarbone, but the angle was awkward, and Harry saw Snape wince as he stumbled and put too much pressure on the body beneath him. "Sorry," he muttered again.

"Stop apologizing. I'm rolling over."

"But your chest--"

"Will hold for the time being." With some effort, he pushed himself over onto his stomach. His back, if possible, looked even worse than his chest had, and Harry realized the pressure of laying on it had probably been very painful.

"Sorry," he muttered again.

"Apologize one more time, and you will be."

Harry didn't think that seemed like much of a threat just then, but he shut up and went to work on Snape's back. Again, he lost himself in the slide of his hands over Snape's skin, in watching the bruises fade away to nothing, in tracing the bones and veins and scars that marked him. He took a deep breath and climbed over Snape, straddling the small of his back. Harry tried to keep most of the weight on his own legs rather than on Snape, but he needed a better position to get at the man's shoulders. "All right?"

"I'm flesh and bone, boy, not porcelain. You weigh five stone."

Harry let a little more of his weight rest on Snape and slid his hands up to Snape's shoulders. "I do not," he said.

"My mistake. Four stone."

Harry rolled his eyes. He'd been putting on weight and wasn't even close to as thin and weak as he'd been when Snape kidnapped him. He wasn't quite in Quidditch shape, but he wasn't too far off. He rubbed the salve into Snape's shoulders and up his neck, into the hairline. When the bruises had mostly faded, he leaned over and carefully pressed his chest to Snape's back, his face in the crook of his neck. His hips slid below Snape's, and he sucked in his breath as his cock came into contact with the curve of Snape's arse. He'd thrust slightly before he could help himself.

"Planning to fuck me, Mr. Potter?"

Harry started, went red, and moved to climb off Snape, but Snape twisted and whipped his arm around and a hand closed over Harry's ankle, holding him there.

"Your conscience was refreshing an hour ago. Now it's irritating."

Harry blinked and sat up. "You want me to..."

"I'm not wholly averse to the idea," he said. "Although not tonight. Get more salve and lie back down."

"Can I--"

"Yes."

"You don't know what I was about to say!"

"You want to take your shirt off."

Harry yanked his t-shirt over his head and threw it to the floor. "How'd you know?"

"Mind-reader, Mr. Potter."

Harry glared at the back of Snape's head, straightened his glasses, and poured more salve over his hands. "You weren't joking about being drugged out of your mind, were you?"

"I never joke."

Harry laughed and draped himself over Snape's back, running his hands up and down the length of Snape's outstretched arms, sucking at his neck, and trying not to come in his pants. It didn't work very well. The salve on his bare chest felt amazing, warm and cool and tingly, and it spiraled through the rest of his body, straight for his cock. He bucked his hips against Snape, feeling clumsy and a little bit guilty, but Snape started to stir beneath him, pushing back against Harry. Harry ground himself against the curve of Snape's arse and thought he heard Snape purring, but that was insane. The thought of it drove him over the edge anyway and he came, gasping into Snape's hair and clutching at his shoulders.

"God," he breathed, when he could do so again. Snape made an indistinct but agreeable noise, and Harry slid off him as soon as he was able. "I should finish your chest."

Snape pushed himself up and turned over, and Harry was glad to see it looked like he had a much easier time of it than he had before. He threw his arm over his eyes again, and Harry studied him. His chest looked a lot better; there were only a few bruises left, in places Harry hadn't got very well. He opened the bottle of salve, but Snape stopped him.

"Not that jar, Mr. Potter."

Harry froze, confused. "What?"

Snape's other arm reached for the bedside table, groping for the jar of lubricant that lived there. He handed it to Harry, who finally noticed that Snape was hard, his cock full and heavy and leaking on his stomach.

"Oh," Harry said, caught somewhere between eager and terrified. He didn't really know what he was doing, and although he could probably figure it out, Snape didn't have much patience for trial and error. But then he looked at Snape's cock again and realized the erection was for him, for Harry. "No," he said.

The arm moved slowly and Snape raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"No," Harry said again, setting the lubricant to the side.

"Get out."

Harry sighed and slid off the bed. Snape's arm settled back over his eyes but he didn't move otherwise, and Harry shucked his jeans and pants before climbing back up. He stretched out next to Snape, propped his head on one elbow, and put one hand hesitantly on Snape's chest. "Please," he said. "I want --"

The arm shifted, and one eye opened. "You want what?"

"I don't know," he said honestly. "But I want to figure it out." He slid his hand down a little farther, splayed his fingers across Snape's stomach, and noticed Snape's jaw clench. He leaned over to press his lips softly to the spot just under Snape's ear. "Please," he whispered, moving closer to lick at Snape's earlobe.

Snape lay still for long moments, and then slowly relaxed into the bed. "Drugged out of my mind," he muttered, eyes falling shut and arm moving back into place. Harry realized that was as much permission as he was going to get, so he smiled and sat up again. He settled himself over Snape's thighs and got more salve, intent on getting rid of the few remaining bruises, which were mostly up by Snape's shoulders and on his arms.

He sighed softly as he leaned over Snape -- the salve really did feel very good, and Harry was still amazed by how good it felt every time Snape's skin rubbed against his own. Snape's cock was like a brand pressing into his stomach, but Snape didn't move, didn't thrust up against him, and Harry wondered how much control the man had, and what it might take to make him lose it. He grinned and quickly rubbed salve into the remaining bruises, brushing Snape's cock as often as he could.

When Snape was as healed as he was going to get, Harry moved down his body, kissing and licking and biting. He swirled his tongue around Snape's nipples, which hardened slightly, and he then bit down lightly. He looked up at Snape to gauge his reaction, but there wasn't one. Unless -- Harry noticed his jaw looked more clenched than usual, but that was it. Harry licked a little farther down, dipped his tongue into Snape's belly button briefly, and then sat back up. He nudged at Snape's legs with one of his own, and there was a short pause before Snape moved, opening his legs enough for Harry to kneel between them.

He stared at Snape's cock, slightly intimidated, and wondered how it had ever fit inside him, how it would ever fit again. He grabbed the jar of lubricant and dabbed a little onto his hand, took a deep breath, and wrapped his hand around the shaft. He looked up at Snape's face, but there wasn't any difference. Just as Harry was about to be disappointed, he noticed the hand that wasn't covering Snape's eyes was fisted in the sheets, and Snape himself was tense with strain. Harry stroked lightly, still at a slight loss. It wasn't like wanking himself at all -- that he could feel, there was feedback, and he knew what he liked. But with Snape there wasn't any of that, just hot hard flesh in his hand, and he could only hope he was doing it right. He rubbed his thumb over the tip, tightened his fist, and kept going.

It seemed to be working. Snape's body grew more and more rigid, the tendons in his neck standing out sharply, his fist white-knuckled in the bedclothes. But other than that, he didn't move, and Harry felt something strange wriggle in his chest as he recognized the iron control Snape was exercising over his body, just because Harry'd asked him to. He slid down onto his stomach, his fist still moving over Snape's cock, and buried his head between Snape's legs. Snape opened them a little further and Harry licked gently at the skin behind his balls. He heard Snape suck in his breath, and looked up.

"Are you going to be mean to me in the morning?" He moved to lap at the base of Snape's cock, his hand slowing. He wasn't sure where that question had come from, but Snape answered quickly enough.

"Aren't I always?"

"Not right now," Harry murmured, and dragged his tongue up the length of the shaft.

"It's usually wise not to provoke someone whose teeth are millimeters away from one's prick."

Harry closed his mouth over the prick in question and sucked him in gently. It tasted strange, but not bad, like sweat and sex and Snape, except stronger. Or maybe that was the lubricant. Harry didn't know.

"By the way, if I feel those teeth, Potter, your little experiment is over."

Harry sucked a little harder, smiling to himself, and then let go. "A little reaction from you would be helpful, you know. So I know if I'm doing it right."

"My reaction would be to flip you over and split you in two."

"God," Harry said, and sucked in as much of Snape as his mouth could take. He was hard again, and his hips moved restlessly over the bed, looking for friction. He moved one hand to cup Snape's balls as he slid his mouth over Snape's cock, sucking clumsily. Finally he just couldn't take it anymore; he felt empty and restless, and he wanted Snape inside him.

"Okay," he said, resting his forehead against Snape's stomach. "You can, if you want. Split me in two." He opened his mouth and licked at the closest piece of skin he could find.

"I think not," Snape said. "Split yourself in two."

Harry sucked in his breath and sat up, fumbling for the lubricant even as he said, "I don't -- I'm not sure what to do."

"Figure it out," Snape said. "That was the point of this, was it not?" He sounded almost infuriatingly calm, and if not for his fist in the bedclothes and his leaking cock, Harry might have thought he wasn't interested at all. It made Harry want to stick his tongue out, but instead he opened the jar and dipped in two fingers. He stretched out on the bed, pressed his chest to Snape's side and threw one leg over Snape's. He reached his arm back to fumble for his backside, sliding a slick finger up and down his cleft and around his arsehole.

"Feels better when you do it," Harry mumbled, and moved to suck on Snape's neck, thrusting gently against his thigh. One of his fingers slipped inside, and he groaned in dissatisfaction. The angle was wrong, and his fingers weren't big enough. Harry thrust again, his finger sliding in to the second knuckle. "Want you to do it," he said petulantly.

"I'm not overly interested in what you want."

"Okay, then what about what you want?" He pulled his hand away from his arse and wrapped it around Snape's cock, stroking lightly. "Don't you want to-- to fuck me?" Snape moved his arm and looked at Harry, his eyes somehow taking all the breath from Harry's lungs.

"No," Snape said, eyes on fire even in the dim lighting. "I want you to fuck yourself."

"God," Harry said again, thrusting harder against Snape's thigh and then sitting up. "All right. Let me--" He looked around for the jar of lubricant and smeared a lot more than was probably necessary over Snape's cock. He clambered on to Snape's stomach and tried to position himself, but it was difficult with no help, and Snape wasn't moving. He pressed his chest to Snape's and slid downwards until he felt Snape's cock prodding him, and he squirmed until he thought it was where he wanted it. He pressed backwards gently, and sucked in his breath as Snape's cock pressed against him and then slid away.

He growled in frustration, and Snape shifted, moving both his arms above his head to grab the bars of the headboard. He opened his eyes and smirked. "Not going quite the way you'd hoped?"

"You could help me," he said, trying to re-position himself.

"I could."

But he didn't, and by the time Harry managed to get Snape inside him, he was almost sobbing in frustration. Snape looked like he was about to break the bars off the bed, but he hadn't moved, and Harry sighed in relief as he sat slowly on Snape's cock. "Finally," Harry said, arching backwards and shoving his sweaty hair out of his eyes. He looked down at Snape and pushed his hair off his face, too, and leaned over to lick at his neck, waiting for the burn to subside. There wasn't much of one, this time, and Harry thought that was because he'd wanted it so badly. He bounced his hips lightly and licked more sweat off Snape's neck. "'s good," he mumbled, sliding himself off Snape's cock, and then back on.

And it was, for a while, but he couldn't get quite enough leverage, and the angle seemed a bit off, and he quickly got frustrated again. "Please," he panted into Snape's ear. "Please, Snape, I-- god. I can't--"

Snape moved one hand from the headboard and grabbed a fistful of Harry's hair, pulling his head down so Snape could whisper against his ear. "Beg."

"I am!" Harry said, writhing on Snape's cock. "Please, I'm begging, I swear, I just-- god, Snape, I-- I don't-- please..."

Snape bent his legs and moved his hands, digging his fingers into Harry's hips. "Hold on," he snarled, and Harry leaned forward to brace himself against the headboard. Snape clutched at his hips and dragged him almost all the way off his cock. Harry whimpered at the loss, but it quickly turned into a shout when Snape slammed him back down and thrust upwards at the same time.

"Yeah," Harry breathed. "Better."

And then he didn't think he breathed at all as Snape pounded into him so hard he saw stars, adjusting his hips slightly until Harry cried out when he brushed that spot inside him. There was so much sensation he could barely process it all; Snape savage inside him, his cock sliding between their sweat-slick stomachs, his nipples rubbing against Snape's chest hair, his breath wet against Snape's neck; the pleasure was overwhelming, and he had no idea when he came or when Snape came, only that he never wanted it to end.

***

To Harry's very great surprise, Snape was still in the bed in the morning, spooned up behind him. Snape was usually up long before he was, tinkering in the potions lab. Harry thought he was probably awake, as he had yet to see the man sleep, and he reached out to trace the Dark Mark. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about seeing it when he woke up, but he was very fond of waking up in bed with another person.

He covered the Mark with his hand, still wanting to scratch it off Snape's arm. He scraped his nails over it lightly and heard Snape's indrawn breath. "Morning."

"Very astute." A rough hand trailed lightly down his side, and Harry pushed backwards into the warmth behind him.

"Mm," Harry said around a yawn. "How do you feel?"

"I am no longer drugged out of my mind, if that's what you're asking."

Harry sighed. "No, I was asking how you feel." He pulled away slightly and turned on his back so he could look up at Snape, who propped himself up on one elbow and splayed his right hand over Harry's stomach. "You look better."

"Yes, I'm sure I'm the very picture of health and happiness."

Harry rolled his eyes and didn't stick out his tongue. "Yeah." He reached up and pushed some of Snape's hair out of his face. It was getting long; it was already well past his shoulders. Harry liked it, except when it got in his mouth when they were trying to kiss. "Thanks," he said, and then wished he hadn't as the Snape's eyes turned from flat to flinty.

"For?"

Harry realized too late that Snape probably didn't want to be thanked for getting tortured. "Er. Never mind," he mumbled. Snape raised an eyebrow, and Harry knew he wasn't going to last three seconds. "Bugger," he muttered under his breath. Then, louder, "For not telling the Dark Lord where I am."

"Ah." Snape's hand trailed lightly up Harry's chest and stroked at his neck. Harry tipped his head back slightly to give him better access, and then gasped when Snape's hand closed over his throat. Snape leaned down to whisper in Harry's ear. "Get over yourself, Potter. Ample as your charms --" He shifted his hips, bringing his erection hard against Harry's thigh. " -- may be, I assure you, my unwillingness to reveal your whereabouts is not personal."

Harry opened his mouth to try to get more air, and Snape leaned over to lick at his lips. Harry felt a shooting pain behind his eyes, and he started to struggle; Snape let go as soon as he did. "I knew you'd be a bastard in the morning," Harry said around lungfuls of air.

"And you're apparently an idiot in the morning, so we're even."

"All right," Harry said, grinding his teeth and shoving Snape away from him to sit up. "That's it. Fuck you. I don't have to listen to this."

He got out of bed and dragged his jeans up over his hips. Snape watched impassively, his head still propped on one hand. "I know it wasn't personal, okay? I know that if you told him, he would kill me, and then he'd win, and you don't want him to win, and it doesn't have anything to do with me, and you can draw that line. Fine. I know this is all some big weird game to you, with your strategies and your tactics and your manipulative shite. But it's MY LIFE, and it IS personal, and FUCK YOU!"

Snape raised his eyebrows and slid off the bed without saying a word. His chest heaving, Harry backed away, thinking maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to lose his temper and yell at Snape, even if he was a bastard all the time. But -- no. Harry dug his nails into his palms and stopped backing up, determined to stand his ground. Some of his resolve fled when Snape picked up Harry's wand off the floor, and Harry really didn't like the look in his eyes, but he didn't move when Snape got within striking distance.

And then Snape offered Harry his wand, lips quirked and eyes gleaming. "Welcome back, Mr. Potter."

thirty-one.
The next few weeks were a blur, passing in a strange haze of magic, sex, and shouting matches. The harder they fought, the harder they fucked, and somehow the combination worked. Harry spent a great deal of time feeling so good he couldn't remember why this had ever been a bad idea.

Snape was becoming more willing to talk to Harry about what was going on in the outside world, and they spent a lot of time dissecting Prophet articles and letters Snape got from his various associates and informants. Harry didn't think he'd ever be patient enough to think the way Snape did; if he tried, he could usually come up with a theory or two, but never twenty-seven of them that still managed to fit all the facts. Not that he ever had all the facts, and that was another problem. All the circular thinking and unknowns and what-ifs gave him a headache. But he could usually ask the right questions, and Snape seemed to think that was a good place to start.

Most of their time during the discussions was spent trying to identify leaks in the Order and the Ministry, and trying to figure out what Voldemort was up to. Snape was summoned twice more, but both times he came back in less than a day, never any worse for wear. Voldemort, he reported, was researching some obscure ritual, and it was making Snape very nervous. Unfortunately, no one had been able to figure out what it was or what it did. Snape actually seemed disgruntled about not being on the research team.

But if there was some improvement in the strategy and planning sessions, or whatever they were, there was vast improvement in dueling. Harry was getting noticeably stronger every day -- sometimes very much stronger -- and the look in Snape's eyes occasionally bordered on respect, or at least approval. The Dark Arts training, and Defense against same, was going very, very well.

On the other hand, Harry's success seemed to inspire Snape to new heights of viciousness. It was as if he spent most of his time thinking of new and nastier ways to make Harry angry while they were dueling. Harry became used to the itch of irritation under his skin, the anger churning inside him, aching for release. It wasn't until he'd channeled it and used it to decimate Snape's shields with very little effort that he realized what Snape was doing.

He dropped his wand, heard it clatter to the floor.

"Problems, Mr. Potter?" Snape got to his feet and brushed his robes off.

"You -- you've been -- you don't mean a word you say, do you? Ever." Harry felt strangely gleeful. This new Snape made sense. Harry had always had trouble reconciling the things Snape did with the some of the nastier things he said, and it was a lot easier if he just threw out one half of the problem. He wanted to laugh.

The eyebrow arched. "On the contrary, Potter. I mean every word of what I say."

Harry felt the corner of his mouth turning up, and he tried to stop the smile. He didn't do a particularly good job. "I don't -- how am I supposed to take you seriously?"

The other eyebrow went up and Harry barely had time to swear under his breath before his shirt caught on fire. He screamed and dove for his wand. He doused himself before the fire did much damage, and blasted through Snape's shields again, angry at the dirty trick. Snape flew backwards into the wall, and Harry advanced, glaring.

Snape got to his feet. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Potter?"

Harry blinked. That wasn't what he'd been expecting. "Er. Dueling?"

"Really." Snape's voice was flat. "Because it seems to me that you are playing."

Harry lowered his wand, confused. "No..."

"No? Potter, you took out my shields. You are aware, are you not, that it takes a small amount of time to re-cast them?"

"Yeah..." Harry drew the word out, still not sure where Snape was going with this tirade. He looked furious.

"And your brilliant wartime stratagem, when you have an enemy helpless at your feet, is to glare at him?"

"Oh. Well. No."

"Then, Mr. Potter, I repeat: What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Harry frowned. "But you're not my enemy."

Snape set him on fire.

"FUCK!" he yelled, dousing himself again. "Stop doing that!" His clothes were ruined -- at this rate, he was going to run out by the end of the week -- and his torso was covered in painful blisters. Snape would heal him later, he knew, but in the meantime, he hurt.

"You'd prefer the Cruciatus?" Snape asked smoothly, raising his wand.

"No," Harry snapped. "I'd prefer you stop being an arse." He peeled his shirt off carefully, grimacing. "I get it, okay? But I'm getting stronger, and we both know it. If I kill you, I want it to be on purpose, not because of some freak accident."

"Very noble," Snape sneered.

"I mean it," Harry said stubbornly. "I don't want to kill you."

Snape put his wand away and ran a long finger down his cheek. "I suppose we could put a gaes on you," he said.

Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "What's that?"

"A restriction on your magic. Normally, you should do everything in your power to avoid them. But I believe -- hm. Come along." He headed for the library in a swirl of robes, muttering under his breath about arithmantic constraints and force vertices. Harry glared after him, still hurting, and eventually followed.

It took Snape an entire day to come up with the ritual, but there was a way to make one wizard immune to the magic of another. "Okay," Harry said absently, not looking up from his father's copy of The Lives of Seekers. He heard Snape snarl, and the book went flying out of his hands. "Hey!"

"Do you really want me to be immune to anything you could do to me?"

"Oh," Harry said. He didn't actually care, but he also knew Snape would probably set him on fire for saying so. "No?"

Snape narrowed his eyes. "I hadn't thought it possible, but it seems you really are more foolish than I'd believed."

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He gave it another two weeks before it was long enough to tie back, and then maybe it wouldn't be so annoying. "Do you want me to kill you? You talk about it enough."

"If it becomes necessary, yes." Snape's voice was etched in ice.

"Er. Why would it become necessary?"

"Need I remind you, Mr. Potter, that I am a Death Eater?"

Harry tried not to roll his eyes. "You are not."

"Yes, I am. Perhaps not a loyal one, but a Death Eater all the same." Harry hadn't thought it possible for Snape's voice to get colder, but it did. "We have no idea what ritual the Dark Lord is getting ready to perform. The true extent of the Mark has yet to be tested; he might be able to use it to compel me to do things I would not do otherwise. Your blind faith in me is touching but entirely misplaced. You do not want to leave yourself without any protection whatsoever."

Harry looked thoughtfully at Snape for a few seconds. "You know, all your little speeches about how I shouldn't trust you? Lately they just make me trust you more."

Snape's lip curled. "You're a fool," he said again, and poured himself a drink.

"One for me, too, please," Harry said with a sigh. Snape nodded, poured, and floated him the glass. "Right. So what are the options for this spell?"

They eventually worked out a way for Snape to turn the gaes on and off. Snape still wasn't thrilled with that solution, but it seemed to be the only one available. The only other limitation they found would have given the control to Harry, but he didn't trust himself to turn it on when it needed to be on, and Snape insisted that full immunity at all times was out of the question. Harry supposed it wouldn't be very useful to duel with someone who was immune to everything you did, so he conceded the point.

Another day, one spell, two potions, and one ritual coupling later, and Harry felt a lot better about using his full power against Snape. Snape left the gaes off most of the time, but he did trigger it if he got hurt, or if Harry seemed exceptionally angry. Harry had to admit it helped, knowing he wouldn't accidentally kill Snape, and he continued to improve at an almost alarming rate. Snape's only rule was that Harry couldn't cast the Killing Curse, because the gaes wouldn't block it. But as Harry had no intention of trying, he didn't mind.

Snape's standing with Dumbledore, however, seemed to be plummeting almost daily. He was getting more and more cagey, and they weren't any closer to figuring out who the spy in the Order was.

"Do you tell Dumbledore everything you find out?" Harry was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the library, newspaper and parchment strewn all over the floor around him.

"For the most part."

"So, that's a no," Harry said. He was getting better at interpreting. "Maybe you should tell him you've got me. Look at this --" He waved Dumbledore's latest missive at Snape, who was sitting in a nearby armchair with a book. "This is useless. He's not telling you anything anymore."

"And you think he will if he knows I've kidnapped you?" Snape didn't look up, but his tone spoke volumes.

Harry frowned, and then grinned. "Well. Or you could tell him you found me. I really was in a Death Eater prison and you rescued me."

Snape glared over the top of the book. "Potter."

"I know," Harry said with a sigh. "I just think we should tell him. You didn't do anything wrong. The Lestranges almost had me, and you saved me, and there's a spy, and you did what you needed to do. I'm -- better, now. And if it's all right with me, it should be all right with Dumbledore."

Snape closed the book and set it aside. "He'll want to see you."

"Oh." Harry hadn't thought about that. He hadn't seen anyone except Snape in months. And somehow he still felt more connected to the world, to his life, than he had all those other summers at the Dursleys. He tilted his head and looked at Snape, a slight smile on his face. "That's -- odd," he said. The eyebrow went up. "I don't think you're keeping things from me. And you're keeping everything from me."

"My, my, Potter. That verged on profound." He pursed his lips. "Or utterly nonsensical. I'm unsure."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I just -- it's the opposite of what he does, isn't it? I don't know if I want to see him. I'm still angry. About -- before. With Sirius. And DON'T say anything, I know I shouldn't have run off. But he didn't help things any."

Snape, miraculously, didn't say anything. Harry took a deep breath and steered his mind back towards the question of telling Dumbledore. "Right. What else should I be thinking about?"

"Occlumency. Yours still leaves something to be desired."

Harry frowned. It did, but they hadn't really been working on it. "What's that got to do with Dumbledore?"

"Unless you'd like him apprised of our sleeping arrangements, Potter, it needs to be rather better."

"Oh. I guess that wouldn't be good, would it?"

"Not remotely."

Harry ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "But -- why not? What business is it of his who I sleep with? You didn't force me."

Snape stared at his hands, flexing them. "You are probably the only one who would say so."

Meaning Snape wouldn't say so, either. "Er." Harry didn't know what to say to that, but his whole being seemed to be rebelling against the idea. "But -- you didn't."

"Perhaps not," Snape said at last, turning to look at Harry. "But I don't recall giving you much of a choice in the matter, either."

"Oh," Harry said, still at something of a loss. These attacks of almost-conscience were unsettling. "But I wanted. I still want." He burned with it, and sometimes he thought it might devour him whole. He stood up, pushed the fringe out of his eyes, and walked over to Snape's chair. "I don't -- are you -- is this something you're worried about?"

Snape snorted and looked up, crossing his legs at the knee. "I've been called worse things in my life than rapist, Potter." Harry winced, and Snape's lips twisted. "Some of them by you, if I recall. But you should be aware that this --" He waved a hand between them. " -- is going to change once we're no longer quite so cozily ensconced."

Slowly, Harry moved closer and put his knee on the chair next to Snape's thigh. Snape raised an eyebrow but shifted over, uncrossing his legs, giving Harry room to straddle him on the chair. Harry lowered himself carefully, not sure if he was more pleased by his own daring or by Snape's indulgence. He put his hands on Snape's shoulders and let his eyes roam over the familiar lines of Snape's face, the thin lips, the hooked nose. He resisted the urge to grin at Snape's eyebrows, slightly raised, and instead forced himself to meet Snape's eyes, which burned into his with an intensity he still found unnerving.

"I know," he said softly. He couldn't imagine what his friends would say if they found out. It wouldn't be pleasant.

Snape's hands moved to rest lightly on his hips, his thumbs pressing into Harry's hip-bones. "Term starts in two weeks," he said.

Harry dropped his head to Snape's shoulder, suddenly unsure of how he felt. He knew he'd have to go out in the real world eventually, but two weeks was very soon. He was just starting to get comfortable with himself again, and he didn't know how well he'd handle going back to Hogwarts, even though he did miss his friends.

One of Snape's hands trailed up Harry's back, tangled in his hair, and tugged gently. Harry resisted for a few seconds, but eventually lifted his head to meet Snape's inquisitive look. "What's going to happen?" he asked.

Snape moved his hands to the small of Harry's back, sliding under the t-shirt to rest on his skin. Desire curled in Harry's belly, and he shifted closer. "I don't know," Snape said. "There are several options, all either distasteful or unlikely."

His fingers ran up and down Harry's spine, and Harry wondered how on earth he was supposed to think. He wrapped his arm around Snape's neck and leaned in to nuzzle at his jaw. "Like what?"

Snape's breath huffed over his ear. "You could stay here while I return to Hogwarts. I'd come back whenever possible, but you'd spend most of your time alone."

Harry's arms clenched a little tighter around Snape. He didn't like that idea; he didn't do so well alone for days at a time. He nipped at Snape's jaw. "What else?"

"We could both return to Hogwarts," Snape said, and grazed his teeth over Harry's earlobe. "I could hide you in the dungeons."

Harry rocked forwards, grinding his awakening erection against Snape's lap. "Keep me tied to the bed?"

Snape tugged Harry's shirt up and over his head, tossing it on the floor. "Tempting," he murmured, thumbs grazing Harry's nipples.

Harry clutched at Snape's shoulders and arched his back, straining into Snape's touch. "What else?" He gasped out.

Fingernails skittered down his back. "You could kill the Dark Lord. Then you could do anything you wanted."

"Okay," Harry breathed, twisting in Snape's arms. "Think I can?"

"You've power enough," Snape said, fingers at the button on Harry's jeans. "But not focus."

Harry gasped and lifted his hips to give Snape better access. "What else?"

"I may be able to convince the headmaster to give me several weeks' leave to pursue this ritual the Dark Lord is researching." Snape opened the zip, releasing some of the pressure on Harry's cock.

"That sounds good," Harry said, inching closer. He didn't know why Snape didn't just magic his clothes away. "We could stay here, then?"

"Mm," Snape said, lips and tongue working their way down Harry's neck. His right hand slid inside Harry's pants to cup his arse. "I would have to do some work."

"Right," Harry breathed, twisting Snape's hair around his hands and grinding against his lap. "Work. Yeah."

Snape wrapped his left arm around Harry and fisted his hand in the hair at the nape of his neck. The heavy fabric of his robes was scratching and tickling Harry's skin as Snape pulled him closer, his right hand curling under his arse and teasing at the skin behind his balls. It pulled his pants tight against his cock, and Harry moaned and shifted his hips, trying to get a better angle.

Harry tossed his glasses on the floor and leaned in to kiss Snape, the almost desperate movement of their mouths going straight to Harry's cock. He groaned and sucked on Snape's tongue, his hips pumping furiously as Snape's long fingers pressed against him. Snape pulled away from the kiss long enough to whisper in his ear, "Five seconds, Potter."

"Oh, god," Harry panted, as Snape flexed his hand, pulling Harry's pants tighter. Harry moved his hips faster as the pressure built in his balls, on the brink of panic that five seconds wasn't long enough. But then Snape's fingers pressed slightly at his hole, and Harry bit down on Snape's tongue, coming with a strangled cry.

"God," he said again, when he could breathe. He untangled one of his arms and brushed his sweaty hair out of his eyes, and then went limp in Snape's arms. Snape's cool hands trailed up and down his back, and Harry was in very real danger of falling asleep. He turned his head to lick at a drop of sweat making its way down Snape's neck. "What about you?"

"Later," Snape said, voice dark and full of promise. Harry shivered.

"Okay," he said. "Did we decide what we're going to do?"

"I shall speak to the headmaster, but I very much doubt he will grant my request."

"Oh," Harry said, unable to muster much disappointment right that second. "Guess you're tying me to the bed, then."

He felt one of Snape's arms twitch; fingernails scraped against his backbone. But Snape only said, "later," in that same dark tone, and Harry fell asleep after all.

He woke up alone in the bed, a piece of parchment where Snape was supposed to be. He'd been summoned again, and was also planning to speak to Dumbledore. Harry sighed unhappily, shucked his jeans, and went back to sleep.

***

The next time he woke up, it was in a blind, pain-fueled panic. His scar was on fire, the pain instantly, ominously recognizable. Heart hammering, he rolled out of bed and pulled on his jeans and his invisibility cloak, and silently made his way to the window. He checked quickly, saw no-one, and Apparated to just outside the front door. It was open slightly, and Harry heard low voices coming from just inside.

He gripped his wand tightly, made sure his cloak was secure around him, peeked inside, and stopped breathing.

It wasn't happening. It couldn't possibly be happening, Harry thought, and for a few seconds he honestly didn't understand what he was seeing. He blinked and shook his head, thinking he might see something else, or wake up. But that was Snape, as if Harry would ever fail to recognize him, and as Harry's vision swam, he dropped to his knees in front of Voldemort.

thirty-two.
Harry felt something dark and ugly coil in the center of himself as he watched. It felt like a living thing about to explode out of him, and he had to close his eyes and breathe deeply to rein it in even a little bit. He had to think. That was what Snape was always telling him, and he couldn't afford to just fly off the handle. Maybe it wasn't what it looked like.

He opened his eyes to see that Snape had shifted to one knee, and his arms were resting on the other one as he talked to Voldemort, who was standing at the foot of the stairs. Snape nodded, and Voldemort reached his long white fingers forwards to touch Snape's face. Harry shuddered but couldn't see Snape's reaction; they both had one side to Harry, and most of Snape's face was obscured by his long hair. It was suddenly very important for Harry to get close enough to hear what they were saying.

Harry threw a silencing charm at the door so he could slip through without it creaking, and he crept forwards slowly. His heart seemed to pounding in a rhythm that repeated maybemaybemaybe. Maybe it wasn't what it looked like. He moved a bit to the side, so he was approaching Voldemort's back, and could see Snape's face. The closer he got, the more his scar hurt, and he only hoped Voldemort couldn't sense his presence. Fortunately, he didn't have to go very far before he was close enough to make out their words.

"I don't know, Severus," Voldemort said, the cold voice settling like ice in Harry's veins. "You should have told me."

Snape bowed his head slightly. "Forgive me, my Lord," he said. Harry seethed. "I thought it best to be sure. With the spy, I didn't know who could be trusted."

"Hm..." Voldemort tapped his cheek thoughtfully. "Lucius thinks it's you, you know."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Indeed, my Lord? Well, I believe it's Lucius, making yet another clumsy attempt at keeping his options open." He made the last phrase sound slightly less appealing than eating Hippogriff manure. "I have delivered Potter, after all."

Harry's heart stuttered in his chest. Snape sounded fine. He didn't sound like he was under veritaserum, and Harry thought he knew Snape well enough that he'd be able to tell if he were under the Imperius. He didn't look like he'd been tortured. Harry's fist tightened around his wand and he bit his tongue. Maybe. Maybe.

"Have you? You are sure he's here?"

"Yes, my Lord," Snape said shortly.

"Why did you not bring him to me?"

The eyebrow arched slightly. Harry could tell it would have arched much higher if Snape had been talking to him instead of Voldemort. "My Lord, I thought the spy might try to intervene. I did not want to risk it."

Voldemort seemed unconvinced. "How long did you say you've had the boy, Severus?"

"All along, my Lord. I took him from the Muggles."

"And Dumbledore?"

"Is a doddering old fool who's got no idea where the brat is."

"I could deliver him the corpse of Harry Potter," Voldemort mused, a smile evident in his words.

Snape smiled back, rather nastily. "You could indeed, my Lord."

Harry saw the back of Voldemort's head move. "All right, Severus. Bring him to me."

Snape hesitated, his face blank. "He is sleeping, my Lord. It would probably be wiser for you to simply kill him as he does so."

"Oh?"

"Yes, my Lord. While the fool does trust me--"

"Ah, yes. There is that. I was under the impression the boy loathed you, Severus."

Snape smirked. "He did, my Lord, but it's really quite remarkable how readily teenagers confuse sex with... other things."

Harry closed his eyes. The black ugly thing inside him was waking up and wanted out, and Harry was shaking with the effort of keeping it under control.

He heard Voldemort let out a short bark of laughter. "You've been buggering the boy? Severus, really, you ought to have told me...but perhaps you were enjoying yourself overmuch, hm?"

Harry opened his eyes and saw a grimace of disgust pass over Snape's face. "Hardly, my Lord. I prefer my partners to have some idea what they're doing." He snorted. "Although I suppose he was rather... enthusiastic."

It was Voldemort's turn to snort. "The Boy Who Lived, whoring for a Death Eater. You could have kept me entertained all summer, Severus. I'm really quite disappointed."

Snape bent his head. "I apologize, my Lord."

"Mm," Voldemort said. "In any case, your punishment can wait. I've a boy to kill. You were explaining why I should kill him in his sleep."

Snape nodded. "He's powerful, my Lord, as I'm sure you're aware. He also tends to believe the rules of the universe do not apply to him, and has stumbled upon enough dumb luck in his life to reinforce that belief. It seems wise not to grant him the opportunity to do it again."

Voldemort was quiet for a while, and then he gave a brief nod. "Rise, then, and lead the way."

Snape stood smoothly and nodded towards the stairs. "Of course, my Lord. This way."

Voldemort nodded. Snape started up the stairs. Harry saw red.

It was a bit like being under water -- everything seemed slow and murky and muffled. Harry was very vaguely aware of the thing inside him clawing its way out of his chest and engulfing them all. He was screaming, and Snape yelled something, and Voldemort dove back down the stairs, reaching for his wand. The castle was shaking around them, portraits crashing to the floor, and Harry thought he was floating again. There was red light above him, blue light below him, and he took the black thing inside him, all the rage and grief and pain, and threw it all at Voldemort. A loud explosion, the smell of smoke, a flash of green, and then Harry crashed to the ground and everything went black.

***

The first thing he thought when he woke up was that Snape must have set him on fire again. Every inch of his skin was throbbing painfully, and he was very hot. And there was a smell -- oh. He rolled to his side and emptied his stomach, eyes firmly shut.

Someone pressed a glass of water to his lips and he drank gratefully before he stopped to wonder who it was and pushed it away. If it was him, Harry didn't want to know about it. He didn't even want to think about his name. He curled into the fetal position on the ground -- he was outside, he noticed -- and shook. He felt like one raw, exposed nerve ending, and he had a gaping hole inside him, jagged and black.

"Potter."

"Don't you say one fucking word to me," Harry whispered.

Silence. Maybe, Harry thought. But no. Again, "Potter."

Harry shivered and imagined himself flying at -- him, closing his hands around that long neck and squeezing all his life away. "Why aren't you dead?"

"The spell was centered on Voldemort."

"Oh," Harry said, his voice dull. Strange to hear him say the name. "Is he dead, then?" Not that he particularly cared.

"...Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"You would be if he were not."

"Sorry," Harry muttered.

Another brief silence. "For?"

"For not dying."

A sigh. "Potter, what makes you think I wanted you dead?"

Pain be damned, Harry thought, and launched himself at the voice with a hoarse yell. His hands closed around Snape's throat and he tackled him to the ground. Snape didn't resist, and Harry sat on his chest, watching as his face went white and then red. "I heard you," he snarled. "I heard you and the-- and Voldemort talking. I heard every fucking word you said. Severus," he hissed. He shook him, and a hysterical laugh tore out of his throat. "I stood there, you know? I stood there and listened and thought about it like you said. And look where that fucking got me." Snape's face was purple, and his eyes were bulging slightly out of his face. He opened his mouth and Harry squeezed tighter, felt Snape's pulse beneath his hands. Snape's legs started to jerk, and then Harry felt a wave of magic slam into him. He crashed to the ground a short distance away, and yelled as the pain tore through him.

He curled up in a ball and glared as Snape got to his feet and rubbed at his throat. Harry couldn't quite place the look on his face. He was wary, and angry, and something else. Harry didn't care. He turned his head and closed his eyes.

"Yes," Snape said, his voice rough. "Look where it got you. You are alive, are you not?"

Harry put his hands over his ears and curled up further. "No," he said. "You're not doing this. You're not going to do something awful and then tell me there are fifty-seven very good reasons that you did it and really, Potter, why didn't you figure that out. You're not. You betrayed me. You brought him here and told him where I was and said-- god, you said--" He was mortified to hear his voice break.

"Ah, yes," Snape said. Harry could hear the sneer. "I disparaged your performance in the bedroom. A capital crime, surely."

"Don't," Harry whispered. The hole inside him was growing, and Harry could feel it starting to pulse.

"Why not? Oh, I'm sorry, Potter, did I hurt your feelings? Damage your fragile self-image? My apologies." Harry couldn't remember Snape ever sounding less sincere. He wrapped his arms around himself, as his hands clearly weren't doing any good over his ears.

"Why?" Harry asked, hating that his voice sounded so broken, hating Snape for doing this to him, reducing him to this.

"Why what? Why did I betray you?"

Harry's body jerked.

"Oh, yes," Snape went on, his voice like nails. "I betrayed you."

Harry's stomach turned, and he retched, convulsing in pain. He didn't know why every piece of him hurt.

Snape was still snarling at him. "After all, you heard me. I brought him here, told him where you were, called you nasty names, urged him to kill you. So you tell me, Potter. Why'd I do it? You are so very, very good at this sort of thing."

"I don't know," Harry mumbled, and then he stretched out slowly and turned over to look at Snape, standing above him with his arms folded. He looked positively murderous. Harry curled his lip. And then he knew.

"You had nothing to lose," he said slowly, realization dawning. "If he'd killed me, you'd be his right hand." He stood up, ignoring the pain, and advanced on Snape, who backed away. He was sneering, but Harry could see the wariness in his eyes. "If I killed him, you could do this." He gestured vaguely at Snape. "You could do the same fucking thing you've done all along, make me doubt it and second-guess myself and everything I know. Make me think you knew I'd win all along, that you had some kind of plan to save me."

Snape's sneer grew more pronounced. "My, I have been rubbing off on you."

Harry stared at Snape and felt a strange numbness seeping through his limbs. "There was never any plan, was there? You don't care about anything except yourself."

"As far as I'm aware, Potter, I've never claimed otherwise."

The strange numbness had settled over Harry like a blanket. He felt very calm, although the thing inside him was burning, devouring him whole. Harry thought he might just let it.

"Well, not this time, Snape. You're not getting away with it." His voice didn't sound anything like his voice. Harry reached for the darkness.

Snape must have seen it, must have heard it, must have realized it. His eyes narrowed and he started to shake his head. "Potter, don't do anything you'll regret."

Harry raised his wand. "I won't."

Snape stumbled backwards. "We should discuss this, Potter."

But Harry only had two words to say to Snape. "Avada kedavra."

thirty-three.
Green light erupted from Harry's wand and hit Snape square in the chest, where it shimmered and then was absorbed. Snape closed his eyes and pitched backwards, still sneering. It seemed to take him an age to fall.

Harry watched calmly, and the thought entered his mind that Snape would be proud of him. He shook his head slightly but stopped when it made him sick to his stomach. He wasn't going to think about Snape. He wasn't. He pocketed his wand and looked around slowly. The glamour was still hiding the castle, so he couldn't tell what kind of shape it was in, although there was the distinct scent of smoke in the air. He thought about going to check, but he hurt too much.

He had no idea what spell he'd cast to kill Voldemort, but he didn't think it had been the Killing Curse; maybe it had done something to him. Every piece of him, inside and out, felt on fire, and if it wasn't the Cruciatus, it was getting there. He looked down and realized his clothes were in shreds and his entire body was crawling with thin black lines. His skin was broken in places, oozing black goo. He rubbed some of it between his fingers; it was thick, sticky, and slightly acidic. He clenched his teeth and bent to wipe his hand on the ground.

"Snape?" he said, grimacing as he stood up again. "Snape, I think there's something wrong with me." He was getting dizzy.

He braced for the inevitable comment about there being an infinite number of things wrong with him, and looked at the prone form with some surprise when it didn't come. "Snape?" Feeling weaker by the second, he made his way over to where Snape lay on the ground.

"Professor?" He knelt and shook Snape's shoulder. "Snape, wake up. I-- I'm sick."

Harry's head was spinning so badly he could barely keep himself upright. He leaned on Snape's chest a little harder. "Please, Snape, I'm sorry. I didn't mean --"

His stomach churned and he lurched away from Snape, dry-heaving into the grass. He wondered how the hell he was going to get out of this. He didn't know where they were, he couldn't Apparate in his condition, he didn't know where the Portkey was, and his Secret-Keeper was -- was --

His body shook and he heard a strangled gurgle that he distantly realized came from his own throat. "No," he said, his voice hoarse. "Snape, you bastard, wake up!" He rolled back over and clutched at Snape's robes. "Please," he said again, but he was crying more than he was talking, and he was beating his fists against Snape's chest, and Snape wasn't moving even a little bit.

***

Voices came floating towards him, from somewhere very far away. He wanted to listen to what they were saying -- he knew they were talking about him -- but he couldn't stay awake long enough. And they weren't -- they were the wrong voices. Maybe he didn't want to listen.

What could have done something like this?

It's going to take him some time to-- recover.

Harry, dear, you're going to be just fine.

We don't know how to fix it. Severus would--

He opened his eyes slowly. It was dark, and everything was blurry, but he was sure he was in the Hogwarts infirmary. His head hurt, but he wanted to see -- he moved one hand to look at it. The lines were still there, crawling just below the surface of his skin. They were faded, and he didn't hurt all over anymore; although, once he thought about it, he realized he couldn't feel most of his body.

Drugged out of my mind.

"Harry." It was Dumbledore.

"No," Harry said, twisting, trying to wrap his arms around his head. "I can't." His Occlumency wasn't good enough. "Go away."

"Ssshh, Harry, it's all right."

"It's not," Harry whispered, curling up tighter. Dumbledore reached out and covered Harry's hands with one of his own. Harry shook it off; it was too smooth, not thin enough. "It's not. Go away."

The curtains around his bed rustled as Dumbledore left.

***

"Hello, Harry."

Hermione this time. Harry'd sent away Remus, Tonks, and Mrs. Weasley. He wondered if he'd sent away anyone else and just couldn't remember.

"Harry, are you... are you all right?"

He wanted to laugh. He wasn't sure he could remember being less all right. He opened and closed his mouth. Hermione wrung her hands and looked nervous.

"Why don't you want to talk to Professor Dumbledore?" she asked.

Harry shook his head. "I can't," he whispered.

"I'm worried about you, Harry. We all are."

Not everyone, he thought. Not-- "What happened?" His throat was dry and scratchy, and he started coughing. She summoned him a glass of water and helped him drink; he still didn't have quite enough control over his body to do it himself.

"I was hoping you could tell me."

He shook his head. "No. Not to me. To-- to-- I've been-- gone. Away. How did I get here? What about-- about the war?"

"Oh," she said, and sat down heavily in the chair next to the bed. "Obviously I don't have all the details, but-- well, Voldemort did some kind of ritual two weeks ago, something to bind himself to the Death Eaters. His magic, or his life, both-- I'm not sure. I don't think they wanted to, but I guess he didn't give them much choice. Surprised them with it." She paused. "He would have been unbeatable, Harry. Any time you might have killed him, a Death Eater would have died instead."

Harry curled his hands into fists. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear it anymore.

Face facts, Potter.

"Professor Sn--"

"No. Don't say-- don't." So much for facing facts. He could do it later.

Hermione swallowed and shifted in the chair, looking very uncomfortable. "All right. The magic only works at short distances, so you had a chance if you were facing him alone. But the spy... we don't know who it is, yet. Voldemort was getting close to realizing that S-- who your Secret-Keeper was."

Harry froze in shock. "Who my-- what?"

Hermione shot him a very funny look. "Your Secret-Keeper," she said again, slowly. "Voldemort was very close to finding out who it was. So Prof-- he had to act right away. He had to come forward and say it was him. He took Voldemort to you, where the fight would be isolated and he couldn't use the ritual."

"Why didn't he die, then?" Harry snapped. "When I killed Voldemort."

"I'm not sure," she said with a shrug. "Something about a gaes."

Harry felt his lip curling. "That figures," he muttered. "Bastard."

"Harry?"

"What's wrong with me?"

"We don't know, Harry. That's why you need to talk to the headmaster and tell him what happened. So we can start figuring it out and work on-- on getting you better."

"No," Harry said. He couldn't talk to the headmaster, not until his Occlumency was better. He groped for something else to ask.

"How did Sn-- how did he know I'd win?" His voice was very quiet.

She shrugged and glanced around the room before looking back at Harry. "He just said you would."

"And you just-- believed him?"

"Why wouldn't we? He'd been helping you, hadn't he?"

"No," Harry said through his teeth. "No. No, no, no." The black thing inside him was back, coiled tight in the pit of his stomach. "He didn't help me at all."

"He did," she said with a frown. He could tell she thought he was being unreasonable. "Most of the Death Eaters were waiting for Voldemort to summon them. Voldemort didn't entirely trust-- him, didn't want to be alone with you with no help. He-- I don't know what he did, Harry, but he stopped it. Didn't let them get there."

"No," Harry said again. "He didn't. He-- he kidnapped me."

"Well, yes," she said, sounding slightly abashed. She recovered quickly. "But then he told us."

"When?"

She frowned thoughtfully. "Er, a month ago? I'm not sure. There was some kind of attack, and he told us after that."

"No." Harry shook his head. "He betrayed me."

She stood up and looked down at him, the look in her eyes somewhere between confusion, pity and irritation. "I guess I see how you might think that..." she started slowly.

"HE BETRAYED ME!"

The lights flickered in the room, and a hint of fear crawled into her eyes. She looked at him for a long time, and then sighed, suddenly sounding very tired. "I don't know, Harry. Maybe you should just talk to him about it."

"HE--" Harry felt like he'd just run into a wall. He stopped short, almost biting his tongue off in the process. "What? Talk to--"

Her eyes narrowed. "Yes, talk to him. He said you wouldn't want to, but I really think you should. You can't just keep hiding in here. I'm sorry, Harry, but it's just not healthy. You could be dying. You have to let us help."

It was like Apparating, Harry thought nonsensically. The words made sense on their own, as words, but strung together they were incomprehensible. "What? He said-- when did you talk to him?"

"Really, Harry, haven't you been listening?"

"Potter never listens to anyone," an all-too-familiar voice drawled from the corner. "Miss Granger, do excuse us for a few moments. Mr. Potter and I require-- privacy."

thirty-four.
Hermione looked nervously over her shoulder at the corner where the voice had come from. "Sir, I don't know if Harry wants--"

"Granger, I don't give a damn what he wants. Out."

She looked back at Harry, eyes wide and surprised. Harry was sitting stock-still, something small and terrifying wriggling through his chest. Somehow he nodded at her, and she fled as if her legs couldn't carry her fast enough.

Harry swallowed and squinted towards the voice but couldn't really see anything. He had no idea where his glasses were. And then a shadow unfurled from the corner, and there was Snape. Harry watched, frozen and frightened, as Snape crossed the room, stopped next to the bed, and folded his arms over his chest. He was very much alive, staring down his nose at Harry with no expression whatsoever.

It was like resisting the Imperius, Harry thought, split down the middle and caught somewhere between wanting to throw himself at Snape and wanting to kill him all over again and get it right this time. But his body had its own idea, and the next thing he knew, he was pitching clumsily over the side of the bed. Snape caught him before he hit the floor, and Harry had a brief moment of pure, shattering relief as he was hauled up hard against Snape's familiar form. He smelled like -- like --

"For Merlin's sake, Potter," Snape snapped, clearly irritated. He slid one arm under Harry's knees and picked him up, cradling him close to his chest. For one crazy second, Harry thought Snape might hold him like that, and he tried to wrap his arms around Snape's neck but they wouldn't quite cooperate. But Snape set him back in the bed and stepped away; Harry tried not to whimper.

His mouth worked soundlessly for a long time as they stared at one another, and then Snape crossed his arms again and raised a challenging eyebrow, and Harry managed to get the word "how" out of his mouth.

The eyebrow climbed a little higher, and Harry's internal scaled tipped a little towards trying to kill Snape again.

"The gaes?" Harry asked, voice still not quite his own. "But you said it wouldn't work on the-- on the--" He couldn't say it. He didn't know how he'd ever said it.

"The Killing Curse," Snape supplied, his voice glacial. "I did. And you, as usual, took my word for it rather than bothering to verify it on your own."

Harry took a deep breath. He felt too fragile to argue with Snape, and he was scared of the thing inside him, coiled tight and quiet but eating away at his control. "You should be careful what you say to me right now, Snape."

"Perhaps," Snape said. He sat down in the chair recently vacated by Hermione and stretched his long legs out in front of him, the gesture maddeningly casual. "I'm careful what I say to everyone, Potter. All the time." He paused, his sharp gaze roaming over Harry's body, eyes bright in the semi-darkness. "How do you feel?"

Harry really didn't know. He felt like he was on the edge of something dangerous and dark, about to fall in, so full of conflicting emotions he wanted to scream. Or make Snape scream. He couldn't breathe. "I -- I can't -- I don't know how you can ask me that," he said in a low voice. "I don't know how any of this can be happening."

"I cannot answer questions you don't ask, Potter," Snape said, familiar words in familiar tones, and Harry was falling apart. He didn't know how he was supposed to believe anything Snape said.

"No. You're a fucking liar," he said through his teeth, suddenly chattering. "I can't believe you. And I don't care what you told them, what you did. You're a traitor."

Snape rolled his eyes. "I refuse to have this argument with you, Potter. You heard what Granger said. If you wish to continue believing I betrayed you, so be it." He got up to leave.

"Sit. Down." The lights flickered in the room and everything seemed smaller for a second, darker, and Harry felt his magic churning dangerously through the room and everything in it.

Snape sat down.

"You did betray me," Harry said, voice wavering. "You could have -- you should have told me."

Snape snorted and ran a hand through his hair. Harry's mind caught on those hands, on what they felt like on his skin, what those long fingers felt like inside him. He bit down on his tongue, hoping the small, sharp pain would help him focus.

"Had I told you the plan," Snape said, as if Harry were four years old, "you never would have been able to summon the force necessary to kill him. It called for hatred, boy, and pure, cold rage. We all would have died."

"I've plenty of hatred, now," Harry snarled.

"I'm aware of that," Snape said softly.

"It was all a game, wasn't it? God," he choked, feeling like he was going to be sick. "The things I did, let you do to me. I thought -- and it was just to make it hurt more. Just to make sure I'd be angry enough when you -- when he -- fuck." Harry was shaking, about to explode with whatever ugliness was inside him, and he was vaguely aware of the lights in the room flickering again.

"Calm yourself, Potter," Snape snapped in his classroom voice, and Harry was so accustomed to obeying it that he tried for a few seconds, breathed around the hole in himself, made the thing inside him stop moving.

"All right," he spat. "What if I'd listened to you? What if I hadn't trusted you, and we'd never-- I didn't--"

Snape's jaw clenched and he closed his eyes, rubbed the bridge of his nose for a while. "No," he said quietly. "You didn't." His voice was so soft Harry had to strain to hear him.

It almost sounded like-- "Are you sorry?" Harry asked him. If Snape were sorry, if there was just one sign he actually cared...

Snape dropped his hand and arched an eyebrow. His eyes were clear. "For doing what needed to be done to rid the world of Voldemort? Hardly."

"No matter what it did to me."

"Nor anyone else."

Harry swallowed and looked at his feet. "But you made me a--" He couldn't say it.

Snape, as he should have expected, had no such qualms. "A murderer?" Harry tried not to retch. "Yes. Welcome to the hallowed ranks, Mr. Potter. As you're clearly so torn up about it, I'd think you'd be relieved to find me alive." He paused, and Harry could hear the smirk in his next words. "But don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."

Harry clenched his jaw, closed his eyes, and counted to twenty. "What does that mean?"

"It means that I haven't told any of your sycophantic hangers-on that you cast what really ought to have been an extremely successful Killing Curse. Gaes aside, it knocked me out for several hours. But I don't suppose you did anything sensible such as check for a pulse?"

Harry sighed.

"I thought not. Really, Potter, you could save yourself--"

"Stop," Harry said. Snape shot him a bemused look, but stopped talking. "The spell that killed Voldemort. What was it?"

"I've absolutely no idea."

Harry sagged against the pillows, and Snape sighed. "Talk, Potter. Miss Granger was right. You've been here over a week, and your refusal to speak to anyone is not helping."

"Like you care."

"Not at all. Which is all the more reason not to bother lying."

Harry frowned. That was an odd thing to say. But it wasn't like Snape was going to be disappointed. "There's something inside me," he said. "It's -- alive, I think, or wants to be. Something dark. I feel like I'm on fire. Or would, I think, if I weren't drugged out of -- if I weren't drugged."

Snape's gaze sharpened and there was a sudden tension in his posture as he stood up, turned up the lights, and leaned over Harry. He ran his hands over Harry's face, down his neck and arms, his touch cool and impersonal. It made Harry want to scream.

Snape sat back down, leaned back in the chair, steepled his fingers, and studied Harry for what seemed a very long time. Finally he said, "Your semi-intelligible groping for appropriate descriptors actually managed to hit upon the proper term. Something dark. Everything dark, in fact."

Harry fisted his hands in the bedsheets. "I don't know what that means."

"Have you any desire to be the next Dark Lord?"

Harry gaped, blinked, and then retched over the side of the bed.

"I shall consider that a no."

"What -- how -- god." Harry didn't even know what he wanted to ask. He just wanted it to stop. "Make it stop."

Snape's jaw clenched again. "It doesn't stop, Potter. It just -- lessens."

Harry's eyes narrowed. "You sound like you know."

"Of course I know," Snape snapped. "I do have some experience with these things."

"You're not covered with it," Harry said. "It's all over me. Every inch. And it-- before, it was oozing out of me, like blood."

Snape's eyes sharpened again, and he pursed his lips. "It's a matter of control, Potter. I assume-- and really, this is pure conjecture, as I haven't seen it carried to this extent before; we should consult the headmaster -- I assume that if you stay away from the Dark Arts and learn to master your rage it will fade with time. But it will never leave you completely."

His rage wanted to punch Snape in the face. "You did this to me," he snarled.

Snape inclined his head. "Yes."

He ground his teeth. "Why? Was it the plan all along? To kidnap me and isolate me and make me-- make me-- I don't know. Not hate you? So you could turn me into some monster? Is that why you -- god."

Snape sighed again and shifted in his chair. The next words came slowly. "You are extremely powerful, Potter, but you're also a rash, reckless, impulsive fool. You are ruled by your emotions. I turned that to our advantage, and I will make no apologies for doing so."

Harry opened his mouth to retort but snapped it shut again as something tugged at a corner of his brain. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to listen to what Snape was telling him. You're a rash, reckless, impulsive fool, Potter -- and suddenly Harry knew, with perfect clarity, what had happened that day in the library, when Snape had stopped mid-insult. That's when he'd decided. The strange pause, and he'd just used the same words, and Snape was always careful about his words, and Harry could only assume Snape wanted him to figure this out. Some of the tightness in his chest eased; by then, they'd already started sleeping together. So maybe it hadn't been the plan all along.

Unless. He groaned and dropped his head back on the pillow. "There's a problem with this, Snape," he said.

"With what?"

"I know what you're trying to say," he said, still looking at the ceiling. "Although why you can't just bloody say it is a mystery. But how am I supposed to believe you? How can I know it wasn't really the plan all along, and you got your bright idea just so I'd think you got your bright idea?" He finally did look at Snape, whose eyebrow was arched slightly as he listened. "It was obvious," he said. "You're not obvious. Ever."

Snape snorted. "Unless I need to be. And with you, Potter, it rarely pays to be otherwise."

"And with you it's all about what pays, isn't it?" He dug his fingernails into his thighs to keep from digging them into Snape's face.

Snape lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. "I am what I am. You knew that all along. Or would, had you listened to a word I said."

"Don't you try to blame this on me," Harry yelled. "Don't say this is MY fault because YOU warned me!"

"It's no one's fault, Potter," Snape said irritably. "But the fact remains, I did warn you."

"So what was the point if you didn't let me listen? Just to make you feel better about the whole thing? I can't even-- I can't relate to you. I feel like I'm talking to an alien."

"Speak with a lot of aliens, do you?"

"Snape. Shut up."

"Are we finished, then? Term begins tomorrow, and I have classes to prepare for."

Harry almost laughed. Snape couldn't just leave and prepare for classes like everything was normal, like nothing had happened and they were just going to go back to their regular lives. "No! I -- I'm having you sacked."

Snape's eyes narrowed. "On what grounds?" His voice was soft and dangerous, and Harry clenched his jaw, refusing to be intimidated.

"For-- for raping me."

"Ah." Snape's face cleared and he leaned back in the chair, crossing his legs at the knee. "I see."

Harry stared. "That's it? You see? You're not going to--"

"To what? If you're intent on dragging our sex life through the media, Potter, far be it from me to stop you. Tell me, do you intend to share my opinion of your performance? 'Boy-Who-Lived Horrid In Bed' would make quite the headline."

Harry growled in frustration. "STOP!" he yelled. "I just--" He broke off with another growl. "There really aren't words for how much I hate you."

"Oh, there are. You've said them. We're beyond that now."

That stopped him short. "What's beyond hate?"

"Indifference," Snape said pleasantly, and stood up.

Harry exhaled sharply. He'd forgotten how much talking to Snape could feel like getting repeatedly gut-punched.

"Shall I call the headmaster and commence with the unpleasantness?"

Harry shook his head frantically, knowing that if Snape walked out that door, it was over. Whatever 'it' was. And it couldn't be over until Harry knew, one way or another. He curled his fists into the sheets and closed his eyes, willing himself to calm down, trying to gather up all the things he knew about Snape into one place so he could ask the right questions.

"Please," he said, eyes still closed. "I just -- I need to understand."

A rustle of robes. "What is there to understand? I used you, Potter, and Voldemort is dead, and you're once again a hero, and I'm once again a traitor. Congratulations on a game well played."

Harry tried to ignore the bitterness in Snape's voice. Or, better yet, he just needed to ignore everything remotely personal Snape said. He kept his eyes shut. "Why did --"

"Potter."

Harry took another deep breath and opened his eyes. Snape was back in the chair, legs crossed, watching. "Yeah?"

"Why are you trying so hard?"

Harry felt the anger start to crawl across his skin, but he reined it in. There hadn't been any cruelty in Snape's tone; he was actually asking. "I don't--" Harry bit off the rest of the sentence as Snape's eyes shuttered. "Wait. Let me -- try to explain."

Snape sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Don't bother," he said. "It doesn't matter. This is madness."

"It's not," Harry insisted, although he knew Snape was right. It was. "It's not. I just-- I thought."

"Doubtful."

"Stop. I need to know if--" He broke off to think about what he needed to say. If he just asked Snape if he cared, Snape would sneer and say no and that would be that. "I'm trying because, because it's been a while. Since there was anyone else." It had been a bit strange to talk to Hermione. He was too used to just Snape.

"I kept you isolated on purpose, Potter," Snape snapped. "For just that reason."

"I know," Harry said. "That wasn't-- that's not what I meant."

"Say what you mean to, then. I've not got all day."

But Harry didn't know what he meant. He didn't know how he felt. He didn't like Snape, and he didn't trust Snape, but--"You know me," he said finally, meaning it. Snape knew him better than anyone, now, and understood him. And he was scared of the thing inside him, but there was no way to deal with it on his own. He needed help, and he knew Snape could help him. He tried to look at Snape, but couldn't do it, and stared at his feet instead. "I think, with everything -- I need that. Need -- something." He swallowed. "You."

He glanced up at Snape, who snorted. "You've no idea what you need."

"But you do," Harry said quietly, looking at his feet again. "You always do."

"Yes," Snape snapped. "And I am last on the list. You've said it yourself. I turned you into a monster."

"So fix it."

"I'm not--"

"Nice?" Harry cut in with a harsh laugh. "Believe me, Snape, I know --"

"Interested," Snape snarled, cutting into Harry's sentence and startling him with the sheer vehemence in the word. "I am not interested. In you, in taking care of you, in whatever arrangement you believe you are proposing, in any of it. I am not interested. I did what needed to be done, and now it's over, and I want you out of my life. Believe me, boy, we are very well quit of one another."

Harry's vision went blurry around the edges and he gripped the rails on the bed. He could feel the ugliness building inside him, black under his skin. He bit his tongue until he tasted blood and his vision cleared, and he turned to look at Snape. He was breathing heavily, jaw clenched, hands white-knuckled on the arms of his chair. Not so indifferent, then.

Careful, Harry thought. Careful. "All right," he said, his voice dull and thick and far away. "On one condition."

Snape's hands tightened further, and for a second, Harry thought he was going to argue. But then his lip curled and he spat out, "Name it, then. Whatever you want, Potter. Name your price and I shall pay it. Just let me go."

Harry nodded slowly and swallowed. "What do you want?"

Snape blinked and frowned in quick succession before his face blanked and the eyebrow went up. "I believe you are the one making demands. I've named my request."

"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "All those favors to be named later. It's later. If we're to be quit of each other, I shouldn't owe you. So what do you want?"

Snape stiffened in his chair, his jaw clenching. Harry felt like he was going to throw up, but he kept his eyes on Snape's. He had no idea how long the staring match lasted, but then Snape swore under his breath and shook his head. "No," he said. "No favors. You're absolved. You owe me nothing." He stood. "Have a nice life, Mr. Potter."

Harry tasted glass in his mouth, sharp and overwhelming, and he reached for the thing inside him. It engulfed him and erupted in a single word: "Legilimens."

Snape hit the ground as Harry slammed into his mind, but he was able to throw Harry out almost instantly. Even so, it was too late, too late. Harry knew. And then Snape was at his throat, white and shaking with rage, hands fisted in Harry's hospital gown. "You stay out of my head, Potter," he growled. "You stay out of my head and stay out of my life or so help me--"

Harry just nodded quickly, wide-eyed and shocked. He felt like laughing. "Yeah," he said, lips twisting into a grin before he could stop them. "I got what I needed."

Snape shoved him back against the pillows with a low growl and stalked back towards the door.

"You could have just asked," Harry said quietly, and Snape froze, his back to Harry. Harry tried not to smile. Only Snape would try to manipulate forgiveness out of someone.

Snape turned his head slowly, one eye fixing Harry through the curtain of dark hair. All amusement fled as Harry met the flat stare and nodded. "Of course," he breathed. "It's yours." He didn't dare say the word, knowing somehow that if he tried to say, "I forgive you," Snape would throw it in his face. But no one wanted forgiveness if they didn't care -- especially not Snape. It wasn't much, but it was enough.

There was nothing for a long minute, just silence and strain, and then Snape turned all the way around, that unreadable mask still in place. Harry held his gaze and nodded again. "And-- I am, too," he said. Another smile threatened to break over his face, but he caught it in time.

Snape stared at him for what seemed like days, and somehow it wasn't as unnerving as it used to be. Finally Snape's eyes closed, and a look of sheer exhaustion settled onto his features. "Madness," he whispered, so quietly Harry barely heard him. Harry waited, not breathing, as Snape stood there. He finally opened his eyes and looked at Harry, eyes on fire. Then he nodded, once, and swept out of the room.

Harry felt the blackness inside him fade, a shadow in the background, and he smiled.

FIN.