For every absent face in the Great Hall, two strangers looked up. The hospital wing overflowed into the classrooms, the dormitories-- still full of students, even in July-- spilled into the common rooms, and the corridors were more crowded every day with new refugees. They seemed to bring the summer's heat in with them; the castle simmered, ready to boil over with hopeless rage and fear at any disturbance.
My dungeons, at least, were cool and empty; I stayed in them whenever I could. And as summer went on, so did Potter. I would find him waiting for his lessons-- Occlumency, Legilimency, dueling-- half an hour early, then an hour; I would come back from my workroom and find him still in my office, reading, or practicing spellwork, quietly, against the blank back wall of the fireplace.
When I sent him away, he never protested. But he always came back.
He'd stopped protesting, somewhere-- perhaps, I thought, when Albus had died. He took whatever I threw at him, mastered whatever I asked of him. When we dueled, he countered whatever I attacked him with, easily, but he'd stopped pressing the attack home. He should have been besting me every time, or else losing through overconfidence, recklessness. Anything but this stalemate.
The last day of July was heavy with heat, and with the press of distant thunderheads closing in. Potter had no lesson that day, but when I was finally released from Minerva's stifling office-- and what did it matter when we managed to schedule the N.E.W.Ts, or even whether, when there was no Ministry to certify the scores and nowhere for the students to go when they left?-- and back to my cool dungeons, I found him with his feet on my desk, idly spinning his wand in one hand.
He had big hands, I noted-- Seeker's hands, large and square-- and his shoulders had grown broad. He should have been a bigger man, but his short, slight frame had lost all its childhood rawness; it was clear he would never grow to look like his father. He looked nothing like him now, even with his eyes hidden from me.
"Potter," I said, and he looked up. "I believe your friends are waiting to celebrate your birthday upstairs." I looked pointedly at his feet, but he didn't move.
"I know. Why do you think I'm here?"
"I'm sure I have no idea." He didn't even shrug. I crossed the room and pushed his feet off my desk; his trainers squeaked on the floor. "It must be so difficult for you, having to suffer the attentions of your devoted followers, endure their good wishes--"
"And what are they going to wish me?" His voice was low, sullen. "Many happy returns of the day? They don't mean that."
"Every return of the day means one more year I haven't killed Voldemort." He stared up at me, green eyes flashing.
"Potter, " I said, "those who set too much store in Divination--"
"This isn't just about the prophecy!" He sprang to his feet; his face was suddenly far too close to mine. "How much chance do you think any of us have of surviving? We're all on the front lines here-- you. Me. All of us."
He gestured wildly with his empty wand hand, but I began to see what was under the bluster. "And that's your reason for giving up?" I leaned in even closer, spitting the words into his face.
He had already backed up a step before he opened his mouth. "I'm not--"
"Do you think wars are fought only by their survivors, Potter?" I matched him, step for step. "That if you won't enjoy the fruits of your labors, you --"
"You don't get it, do you?" He backed into a bookcase, but now that his back was to the wall, he straightened up, stood his ground. "I'm the one who has to kill Voldemort! I'm-- that's my job. That's what I'm here to do. I--"
"And you think that you can be a weapon in someone else's hand?" A hit: Potter flinched, and the wall behind his eyes began to crack. "Whose hand, Potter? Albus is dead. Minerva won't use you the way you want to be used. Whose hand, Potter? Mine?" I grasped the shelf to either side of his head; Potter squirmed, trapped. His chin was set, his shoulders were straight, but his eyes were darting. "Is that what you want? For me to take every choice away from you, to spare you from having to say the words yourself?"
Potter's glasses were flecked with my spittle. I took a deep breath, and another, and spoke my next words low and even: "You're a coward, Potter."
"Bastard." He grabbed two fistfuls of my robes and hauled me even closer; his eyes were narrowed to slits, and focused tightly on mine. The familiar struggle-- after three years of Occlumency training, our minds fell to grappling almost at once. His defenses were half bluster and half low cunning, but there were cracks-- there. Standing against the common room wall, not laughing with his friends, not touching them. It would be easier if he didn't love them, easier to leave them. He can't afford attachments--
"You're scared too, aren't you?"
No idea what he had seen in my mind. No chance to wonder, once he pulled me down by the fronts of my robe and pressed his mouth to mine. He kissed wetly, clumsily, following every motion of my mouth. For a moment-- only for a moment-- I tried to pull away, and he twisted his fists in my robe and worked a knee between my thighs, almost climbing my body.
I felt the sudden scrape of a nail along my collarbone: his fingers had gone straight through my light summer robe. His hair was coarse with a day's dust and sweat; he leaned into my hand, letting me cradle his head, plunder his mouth.
I knew what he was after, of course. Feeling without attachment; some connection to the world, through his skin, through his tongue and hands. I'd sought the same thing, in the last war, and in this one, though I had always paid for such companionship: it simplified matters greatly.
For all that Potter was thrusting against my thigh, with the readiness and the single-mindedness of youth, there was nothing simple about this. I knew I ought to push the boy away-- to bite his lip and pull his hands out of my robes, leave him to go back to his tower flushed and shaking with anger and humiliation.
But then, if I wanted to humiliate Potter, I had only to let him grind against me another minute or two, and I could send him back with his robes wet, never able to look me in the eye again. I had wanted some way to cut him down so surely, so completely. I had wanted...
I pulled away from his mouth. Potter's eyes were closed; he was panting. His open mouth was impossibly red, his cheeks were flushed; I could see a vein beating fast, just below his ear. The skin there was salty, soft below my tongue, turning rougher as I pressed kisses along the line of his jaw, and soft again down the cord of his neck. I bit there, sucked hard, uncaring about marking him-- or wanting to mark him; I had no reason not to be bold. Potter groaned and writhed against my leg, and I tore his robes open, worked one hand past his shorts and pants, and took hold of him.
He bared his teeth and hissed. I worked him with slow, firm strokes, holding his hips in place against the shelf with my other hand, not letting him thrust, not letting him move, except as I allowed. Below the waist, that is: up above, his eyelids fluttered, his head rolled and fell back, and he worried his full lower lip between his teeth. I leaned down, covering his body with mine-- his prick leapt in my hand-- and bit again on his neck, hard. Potter shuddered and spilled himself over my fingers in four rapid pulses.
Potter slumped against the bookcase, as though only my hand on his prick was holding him up. I stood there, panting into his neck. I was as hard as Potter was-- had been, rather. I thought again of sending him away-- I lifted my head, I batted his hands from my crumpled robes-- but I couldn't help thrusting against the boy's hip as I straightened. Potter opened his eyes.
And then he was pushing me away, with a hand on my shoulder. And spinning me around, and backing me against the bookcase. He dropped to his knees with a graceless and audible thud, and clutched again at my robes. For a moment, he knelt, forehead heavy against my thigh, arms hanging heavy and lax from the twisted cloth in his fists. His breath came fast and deep.
The choice had to be his, of course. For me, what we'd done-- what I'd done to him-- might have been forgivable, but coming in the Boy Who Lived's mouth was beyond the pale. But for Potter-- Potter was eighteen; Potter had left school, or as good as; Potter could do as he damn well pleased. Potter could suck off the whole of the Hogwarts staff at the High Table if he were minded, and get away with it. Does he know, I wondered, how much power he has? And then I realized that of course he knew-- it was fear of taking up that power that had sent him running to hide in my dungeons in the first place.
Potter looked up. His eyes were still wide and dark behind the fringe of black hair, and his mouth was slack with release, still swollen and dark from our kisses, and from his own teeth. He licked his lips, artless and shameless. Then he lifted my robes, twisted them and tucked the trailing end into my belt. Without preamble, he bent his head, took me in, and sucked hard.
Someone had already taught Potter how to do this. He worked me with steady motion and constant, light suction-- artlessly, single-mindedly. He'd done this with boys his own age, I thought, in cupboards and shadowed corners and behind hasty Silencing spells-- he was hasty, all speed and tight, hot pressure, and I responded as if I were eighteen again, blood rushing to my loins so quickly my knees quavered. Potter grabbed my hipbone and pushed me back, holding me firmly and almost painfully against the edge of a shelf. His hand was hot, sweat-damp; his fingers gripped hard enough to bruise. I swallowed back a moan, jammed my knuckles into my mouth. Tasted the boy on them.
My palm was as slick with my own sweat as with Potter's come. After a moment, the tastes blurred on my tongue to a single, heady salt. I shuddered, and bit at the base of my thumb, but couldn't help twisting under Potter's hands, thrusting into his mouth.
Potter pulled off and looked up. His eyes widened, darkened. Looking down at him, I licked the length of my fingers, as slowly as I could (though I wanted to chase down every drop of his taste.) He licked his swollen lips. I drew two fingers into my mouth, sucked them. Potter shuddered and took me in again-- had his mouth got even hotter?-- shallower than before, but he sucked even harder, and worked me mercilessly with his tongue.
Potter's mouth was on my prick, and my own mouth was full of my fingers-- almost, it might have been my own mouth there. Potter matched me in pace and intensity, or I matched him; even the groan I could not hold back was echoed in a low sound and a thrill from Potter's throat. But it was Potter's taste in my mouth, Potter's come on my hand. With a final moan, I spent myself into Potter's throat, shaking and twitching in Potter's grasp.
After a moment, when I was sure my knees would support me, I pulled back from the bookcase and its hard corners. They had probably given me bruises; Potter's fingers on my hipbone certainly had. I covered Potter's hand with my own, and he loosened his grip, but didn't move his hand. The other was still knotted in my robes; he rested his head lightly against my thigh, breathing deep, warm against my skin. The marks I had left on his neck had started to darken.
Potter unknotted my robes and pulled them back into place. He got to one knee, started trying to climb me as though I were furniture; I hauled him up by his wrist. "Thanks," he muttered, and then, with a shy grin, "Been wanting to do that for a long time, now."
"I'm sure you have."
"Oi! What's that supposed to mean?"
He shoved playfully at my shoulder, then let his hand rest there. I picked it up, turned it over in mine, tracing the broad palm, the square knuckles. "Only that you must have found it easier," I said, "desiring someone you could be sure wouldn't reciprocate. Or regret your loss."
His lips narrowed, and for a moment I though he might actually strike me; but I didn't let go his hand, and after a moment he looked away, smiling a little. "Wrong on both counts, wasn't I?"
"I should hope that would be obvious."
He squeezed my hand, and looked back up, his face serious now. "It was... it was easier, too, letting myself want someone I knew I'd never... never care for." He swallowed. "I think I may have been wrong about that, too."
"Potter--" his hand was suddenly heavy in mine-- "Harry." I sighed, and gave his hand one final, deliberate, caress, before letting it fall. "On my eighteenth birthday, I thought I would die for the glory of the Dark Lord before I turned nineteen. And when I was nineteen, I was certain I'd be dead in Dumbledore's service before I ever saw twenty." And when I was twenty, you were born, I thought, but didn't say; the disparity in our ages made me feel like a dirty old man, but it was not the problem here, and for once, I wasn't willing to pull Potter's emotional strings. "I made a great many decisions, did a great many things, that I would never have done, had I thought I would ever have to face the consequences."
Potter was looking at me, speculatively; for once, his thoughts were shielded, his eyes unreadable.
"You're right," he said.
I raised my eyebrows. "Would you mind repeating that, Potter? Or possibly putting it in writing?"
"Oh, shut up and listen. You're right, but you're not being fair. If I have to face up to consequences, so do you." He smoothed the front of my robe, where his hands had torn it. "You don't think I'm going to come out of this alive either, do you?"
I was silent for a long moment. Too long-- Potter nodded. "I thought so. Is that the reason? Why you're-- why you don't--"
Damn the boy. "No," I said, before I could think better of it. "I simply--" He stared at me, expectantly. "Here." I took Potter's wrist again and pulled him up to the door. He started to struggle; I pressed his palm flat against the door, and touched my wand to the back of his hand. "Clavio," I murmured; there was a crackle of magic over the door, limning Potter's hand, as the wards reset to recognize him. Potter flexed his fingers and looked up at me.
"You're keyed to my private quarters, now, as well," I said, holding up a hand to forestall his interruption. "If--" I stressed the word-- "you should choose to visit me there, I don't want to hear you suggest that there's anything more between us than meaningless sex. Is that clear?"
He grinned. "Crystal."
"Good. And now, I believe you have a party to attend, Mr. Potter, if your friends haven't already eaten your cake and left." I reached my wand to the bruise on his neck, but he ducked under my arm, covering the dark patch with a hand.
"I'll take care of that."
Meaning that he'd leave it as an advertisement of what he'd been up to, if not who with, but I let it go.
"I'm sure you will." Potter opened the door. He hesitated, just inside, hoping no doubt for a good-bye kiss, but I made no move to touch him and after a moment he smiled-- more to himself than me-- and crossed the threshold, shaking his head.
I let him get halfway down the corridor before I called after him. "Oh, and Mr. Potter?" He stopped, turned, light glinting on his glasses. "Many happy returns of the day."
He stood a little straighter. "They will be," he said. "I'm sure of it." And walked on.