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We were eight weeks into the siege, and the potion workload had become more than I could possibly brew on my own: photograph potions, medical potions, fertility potions for the gardens and contraceptives for the humans whether they wanted them or not, Invisibility Draught and Night-Sight Elixir and Veritaserum-- up to three dozen cauldrons simmering in the classroom round the clock, tended by anyone I could trust with a stirring rod and supervised by three eighth-years in round-the-clock shifts.

If the Order lost this war, it would not be through the negligence of its potion-makers.

Not that I wasn't tempted to tarry in bed in the morning. But it was just as pleasant to be waiting, arms folded in my sleeves and eyes fixed meaningfully on the clock, when Padma Patil arrived to relieve Finch-Fletchley.

She looked, revoltingly, about as well-laid as I felt; Finch-Fletchley raised his eyebrows, but I had already had occasion that week to remind him that the laboratory was no place for lewd speculation, and he contented himself with saying "Morning, Padma. Say hello to Neville for me" on his way out the door. He still managed to imbue "Neville" with a degree of lewd speculation the word should simply not be capable of sustaining.

I did my best to look away from Patil's bitten lips and heavy eyes while I set up for a new batch of Sanguination Draught. She did the same for me.

When I returned to my chambers, Potter was dozing, sprawled diagonally over the entire bed with the sheets tangled around his ankles. There were marks on his neck from my teeth, marks on his hand from his own, where he'd bitten it to stifle his cries, until I'd torn it from his mouth.

"Potter. Why are you still here?"

He smiled into the pillow-- I could only see the corners of it, at his eyes-- and stretched. "Thought we might have another go, before breakfast." He rolled over and blinked myopically at me, the sleepy grin still in place and his prick at half-mast. "You want to?"

"I'm not eighteen, Potter," I muttered, but I was already stripping my robe over my head.

Potter propped himself up on his elbows, watching me undress, one leg hanging off the bed. "What, you mean there aren't any potions for that?"

"Just for that--" I pulled Potter to the edge of the bed by his ankles; he fell onto his back with a short exhalation-- "I'm tempted to take one." I knelt on the rug, between his spread knees. "Only I don't have six hours free to fuck you today."

Potter lift his head, eyes wide, but he only grinned wider and said "Better hurry up, then."

"Don't tell me what to do, Potter." I closed my lips around him, sucked gently, pulled off slowly. "Not unless you're willing to beg."

He wasnt, and he didnt, not for much longer than I'd expected him to hold out. Not until I'd left a trail of small, sharp bites along the inside of each thigh; until I'd fucked him on my fingers, shallowly, never quite touching the gland no matter how he writhed; until I'd held him in my mouth for long minutes, sucking him far too gently, working him far too slow to satisfy.

He didn't beg, but he moaned. He bore down on my fingers, chasing after the touch I withheld. He tried to thrust into my mouth, until I pulled away, and choked out groans and bitten-off words from deep in his throat. This teasing wasn't enough for me, either-- if anything, I was harder than he was, now-- but I wasn't going to give him what he wanted until--

"God, please!"

I gave him one last, slow lick. "Please, what?"

He looked up, eyes narrow and dark. "Please, I'm begging, you win. Just make me come, Snape."

His body tightened around my fingers when I withdrew them, and he swore in protest. "Turn over," I said, standing and scrambling in the wreck of the bedclothes for the vial we'd left there. He rolled onto his hands and knees, and I slicked myself-- shuddering at my own touch; I was closer than I'd realized-- and grabbed the boy's hip and pulled him onto me.

He was still slick inside from before, still ready; I was in him in one slow thrust. I held there, catching my breath, holding him still, and then I fucked him, as fast and hard and deep as I ever had. Potter gasped, swore-- and I hit the right angle, and he dropped his head on his folded arms and mewled, screwing his eyes shut tight.

My knees hit the bed. Potter had got his legs wrapped around mine, heels pressed to my thighs; he used the leverage to drive us together harder. I clutched at the hollows of his hips, holding on like a drowning man, not even trying to stave off my orgasm; and when it took me, a few hard thrusts later, I nearly blacked out with the force of it, collapsing over the boy's back, flattening us both against the bed.

Potter writhed beneath me, and around me. He reached for his own prick; I let go the ridge of his hipbone and curled my fingers over his, and as if that touch were all it took, he shuddered and came into our intertwined hands.

Potter's back was salty and sweat-damp against my cheek. His breathing slowed-- I could feel him growing still, hear his heartbeats slowing. He was warm... and I was going to fall asleep if I lay here any longer, draped over Potter, basking on him like a lizard on a rock.

I sat up. Potter let out a disappointed noise and burrowed deeper into the mattress-- into the bare mattress; the sheet had come loose, and seemed to be rolled into a lump under Potter's chest. I found my wand and righted it; Potter just spread out with the unrolling cloth, limbs splayed over the whole bed. I shook my head-- it swam; I needed breakfast-- and stumbled into the bathroom.

By the time I'd dressed again, he'd found his glasses, and was sitting up and stretching. I hadn't thought he could look more dissolute, but the glasses-- adorned with a thumbprint in something I hoped was only lubricant-- accomplished it handily.

Potter scratched his neck and yawned. "Have we missed breakfast yet?"

I thought about the stir we would make, walking into the Great Hall together. If I looked even a tenth as well-fucked as Potter-- and from my assistants' sidelong glances I suspected I must... No. Best to save that for some day when I needed to create a stir.

"I haven't. And you might not, if you're reasonably quick with your ablutions."

Potter threw me an obscene gesture, but I heard the bathroom door slam as I left my rooms.

~*~

Six days since I'd first let Potter into my rooms, into my bed. Less than a week, in which time I'd had more sex than I'd had for the last... well, years; it would be too depressing to count any more precisely.

It couldn't make me forget the war, not when the long siege had sent Potter into my bed in the first place. And it couldn't make everything seem right with the world-- there was a great deal wrong with any world in which Severus Snape could bugger the Boy Who Lived twice before breakfast. But for a short while, it could make me not care, could let me climb the dungeon stairs, out into the heat that hung like a pall over the castle, and look around me without grimacing.

The great windows of the entrance hall were overgrown with stone, their traceries swollen into heavy stone bars; the small panes winked from deep within walls grown thicker by a tall man's height. In the narrow gallery beneath them, murder holes had opened; they yawned into the broad archway that now spanned the doorway. The granite blocks had bloated like tumors; only in the pockmarks and striations marring the stone could I see any trace of the fluted doorposts, the carved tympanum.

Until Albus died, Hogwarts had molded itself to our needs-- and in retrospect, to his will. But ever since, it had followed its own agenda: layering stone over stone, hardening its shell against the battle to come. It had opened long-disused rooms and corridors as the refugees had streamed in by the hundreds-- but sluggishly, almost grudgingly. New trapdoors gaped in the dusty floors. Half the staircases had moved into defensible positions and stayed there, even if they led to nowhere; the others moved according to no schedule I could discern. Hot water had dropped from the castle's priorities months ago.

At least there was food. Rations were shorter than they had been, and except for what Longbottom was coaxing out of the greenhouses-- and the lawns, and probably the bloody window-boxes soon-- it was tasteless from long storage under preservation spells, but we weren't starving. Yet, I thought, shouldering through the press of bodies in the Great Hall. No matter how much magical help he gave them, Longbottom's gardens wouldn't feed this crowd through the winter.

If we didn't just hex each other into oblivion before then. Starting with the imbeciles blocking the stairs to the dais. I ducked between two retired Aurors shouting deafly at each other, avoiding the old men's windmilling arms, only for a young child to strike my knee with a piece of jam-smeared toast. The brat began to wail; its mother pulled it away, sloshing tea over me in the process, and glared at me as though I'd somehow provoked her offspring. I wondered if it was too early to resort to cannibalism. As soon as I reached the high table, I seized my plate and fled to the staffroom.

Minerva looked up from the table. "Severus, close the door, I can't hear myself-- oh, that's better."

Her own plate was empty; she was drinking her tea, slowly, no doubt savoring the silence of the empty staff room as long as she could. Or near-silence; we'd had warning of the Hogsmeade offensive, enough warning for its folk to bring their livestock with them when they fled to the castle, and the small inner courtyard outside the staffroom was full of poultry. The windows, open wide to catch any hint of a breeze, let in only their clucking and cackling.

I sat down and Minerva smiled up at me, though it didn't lessen the worn, drawn look of her face.

"Severus. You look pleased with yourself."

"Oh?" I speared a lump of egg on my fork and lifted it toward the window in an only half-mocking salute.

"Mmm. In fact, you've got--" one bony finger pointed to the corner of my mouth; I froze, fork hovering halfway to my lips-- "canary feathers." Her smiled widened. "All over your chops, in fact."

She smiled into her teacup; I swore under my breath and applied myself to my breakfast. "Oh, all right, don't tell me; you know I'll find out soon enough, whatever it is you're doing." She waited until my mouth was full before adding, "Or whom."

As if to underscore her words, she took out Potter's damnable map and unrolled it over the table between us. I stared. She looked up, and her mouth twisted with bitten-off laughter. "Oh, come now, Severus, that would be cheating." She set her empty teacup down on a corner of the map. "It would take all the fun out of it. No, no, I'll work it out the old-fashioned way. Now." She scanned the map. "Ah, it looks like Poppy is still busy with them. Well. When she's done, we've two more new students to be Sorted today; flew in with their parents on a terribly illegal carpet that Arthur has persuaded them to donate to the war effort..."

And she laid out the day's tasks, as though she were only the Headmistress of Hogwarts and I were only her deputy, and there were no war being waged around us. There were still long-delayed exams to schedule, errant children to discipline, and first-years to sort, piecemeal, as they trickled in.

And then there was the army encamped just below Hogsmeade, out of the line-of-sight of the castle towers, out of range of our rag-tag artillery. Numerous, well-armed, Voldemort's forces had dug into a shallow hillslope from which they had repelled our every assault.

Not that there had been many. The last had made their strength quite clear to us-- and claimed more lives than that knowledge had been worth. Perhaps, if we had emptied the castle, sent all we had against them, we might have won the field. But even that was uncertain; and we were not yet that desperate.

So we sent no more sorties. We huddled in the castle, saving our strength, waiting to strike until we found allies willing to risk lives to break our siege, or found some way to tip the balance on our own. There were projects underway, of course-- Moody's constant drills, Shacklebolt's Greek fire, the Weasley twins' constant tinkering with the artillery...

"But all that," Minerva said, "Can wait for the Order meeting."

I turned my empty teacup over in my hands. There were other strategies that the Order had refused to sanction. "Have you given any more thought to--"

"No, Severus." Minerva's eyes were kind-- kinder and softer than I wanted to see-- but there was steel in her voice.

"You know it's possible. You know it would--"

"No. Not unless there is some way of shielding you, and Draco Malfoy as well. Arthur and Remus agree with me on this. We're not ready to sacrifice you for such a-- such an incomplete victory."

If the siege had taught me one thing, it was to pick my battles; I didn't pursue the argument. "Speaking of Mr. Malfoy, has Granger decrypted his latest?"

"I haven't seen her yet this morning." Minerva scanned the map. "She's in her room. Old Gryffindor broom tower. Ron Weasley's not present, so I assume she's working."

"Thank you for that image," I said, and rose. "I suppose someone should check on her." I was halfway to the door when Minerva stopped me. "Severus--"

"Minerva," I grated, "Don't. I've heard your reasons. I don't need to hear them again."

She looked at me over the tops of her spectacles. "I was going to say, you have jam on your robes."

~*~

I hadn't been inside the old Gryffindor broom tower since we'd moved the school brooms to a separate outbuilding, ten summers ago, but I vaguely remembered four or five stacked tiers of broom racks lining the walls, with perhaps six feet of empty floor in the middle. Hardly enough space to sneeze in, let alone try to cohabit with a comrade-in-arms at the height of summer, but leave it to Granger and Weasley to make the experiment.

The castle was riddled with such spaces-- disused closets, hidden alcoves, the dead-ends of cut-off corridors-- and since the start of summer, they were nearly all inhabited. For the eighth-years, there was really nowhere else to go-- their dormitory rooms were slowly filling up with the new cohort of first-years, and the war had turned every empty office, classroom, guestroom and storeroom into living space or workspace. Minerva had left the eighth-years to their own devices, asking only that they inform their heads of house of their new living arrangements. Though she didn't bother to pass on that information, leaving me to walk in on a Hufflepuff ménage above the oubliette, and Longbottom nesting in a corner of the potting shed with both Patil twins.

Potter was sleeping in my bed every night now, but as far as I knew, he still kept his trunk in his dormitory. I wondered, as I passed the Fat Lady's portrait, what he told the two new Gryffindor first-years about where and how he spent his nights.

The broom tower door was around a corner from the Gryffindors' common room, on the fifth floor; by the time I reached it, my robes were stuck to my back with sweat. I opened the door at Granger's brusque "Come in," and landed flat on my back almost before I knew I was falling.

There was a stone barrel-vault above me, and an uneven plank floor-- still ringing hollowly-- beneath.

"Professor!"

And there was Granger, abashedly offering me a hand up. "I'm so sorry, I thought you were Dennis."

I got to my feet without Granger's assistance, dusted myself off. The room was the size and shape of a small railway carriage-- long and narrow, curved walls and ceiling arching over a bed, a long worktable, a pile of cushions between two odd, low gables--

"You've moved the floor." Or rather she'd laid the floor, had clearly dismantled the broom racks to get the planks, and dropped them into the curve of the tower's wall. I looked behind me, where the open door gaped sideways, at waist-height, its end flush with a wall grooved by centuries of feet. I peered out; the corridor seemed to fall away below me.

"Professor?" The younger Creevey came pelting down the hall from above, or behind, or somewhere. "Is Hermione still there? She sent me to get this." He held out a battered library copy of Ashwood's Compleate Runick Compendium.

"Here, I've got it, Dennis." Granger came up beside me; Creevey had to stoop to hand her the book. "Thanks awfully. Do you mind if I close this now?" This last, to me. "It's giving me vertigo, looking out at the hall like that." She waved her wand, and the door fell shut.

"Last night's message is almost ready, Professor. I just need to check something; I'm not sure I've got the right readings for all of these."

She sat back down, flipping through the book and checking passages against a scroll of much-corrected parchment. On her worktable, an abacus clicked quietly to itself; her compass and dividers spun, forgotten, on their points. Glass panes etched with grids and drawn with glowing, looping tracks overlaid a half-dozen nearly identical photographs-- the Dark Mark, hovering over Voldemort's camp. The photographs buzzed with darting motes of light, as though swarms of fireflies had come together to pay homage to the Dark Lord.

One of those dancing sparks, lost among its fellows, would be tracing and retracing a series of runes on the sky, runes that Granger had spent all night-- or so it seemed from the burned-down candles-- putting through a series of arithmantic transformations, and so decrypting its message. It was a good code, easier to use than to break; Granger and Vector had devised it, and I had taught it to Malfoy, in the last hour before Narcissa's carriage had come to take him away from Hogwarts.

Before Voldemort's army had reached Hogsmeade, we had had to read the Prophet to see Malfoy's rare dispatches, hanging over the wreckage of some village or street. When the Prophet finally shut down, after the Ministry attack, we'd relied on the cameras of a few operatives on broomsticks; Leonard Lovegood, in particular, had a knack for finding and photographing the latest carnage. But within a matter of weeks, the Dark Lord had dug in at our doorstep, and his Mark-- cast by Malfoy as often as notnow glowered down at us every night.

And as often as not, Granger had the plaintext to the Order by half-past midnight. "Miss Granger, is there a reason, besides your--" I looked around the skewed tower room-- "experiments with selective gravity, that last night's dispatch is not yet deciphered?"

Granger didn't look up from the Ashwood. "For one thing, it's a longer message than usual, and some of these runes are standing for runic values, not for alphanumeric characters, and I'm having a difficult time figuring out which is which. And secondly, it took me ages to find the index mote tonight." She waved vaguely at the nearest glass-topped photograph, where a dry quill was tracing the movement of a single gleaming point, following one firefly in the swarm.

Granger looked up at me; dark circles underscored her eyes. "I usually-- I mean, I used to ask Ginny to help, if I didn't see it right away. She had a good Quidditch eye; she could always find it." The youngest Weasley was three weeks dead, killed in the last sortie; Granger was biting her lip, as if to keep it steady.

"Miss Granger," I said, with as little inflection as I could, "is there no one else in this castle with a good Quidditch eye?"

"Ron tried, too, but-- well, he's never been much of a Seeker, he couldn't find it either--"

"And why," I interrupted, "did you not enlist Potter's help?"

Granger narrowed her eyes at me. "I didn't want to disturb him." And as though the title had any meaning these days, "Professor."

So the Granger chit thought I was taking advantage of the Boy Who Lived. Lovely. I stepped close enough to force her to look up at me. "Granger, get this through your shaggy head: no other work being done in this castle takes priority over your cryptography. If you require the assistance of any person in Hogwarts, witch, wizard, Muggle or Squib, you are to ask for it. If you require Potter's help, you will ask for it-- regardless of where Potter is, or what--" I spat out the plosive, and she flinched-- "he is doing."

I kept staring, and Granger finally blinked first. "Is that understood, Miss Granger?"

"Yes, sir." Granger still looked belligerent. And I'd just guaranteed that she would send Dennis Creevey to knock on my door every night for a week.

Score one point for Granger.

Not that I was about to acknowledge it to her. I smiled, instead. "Good. Now. Tell me what you can about last night's communiqué."

"Yes. Right." She unrolled another sheet of parchment and set a quill to copying out what she'd decrypted. "Aloysius Bulstrode and Imogen Pitt have taken the Mark; Draco thinks Pitt is sincere and Bulstrode is just an opportunist. That fire in Glasgow last week wasn't Death Eater work; Pettigrew raised the Mark and took credit, that's all. Dolohov and Harding still haven't returned from the forbidden forest; the Dark Lord is assuming the centaurs have them. He's told all his people to hex any centaurs they see on sight. I suppose he's finally figured out that they're never going to ally with humans, especially not--"

"You need not editorialize, Miss Granger."

She didn't respond to the rebuke, but she got straight back to the point. "And I'm still not certain of this last part. He says that the Dark Lord is set to begin something at the new moon for the blood, or with the blood. Of the blood."

"Which," I asked through gritted teeth," is it?"

Granger gave a small, frustrated sigh. "The rune is in two declensions, but neither of them is objective; I can't see what they're supposed to be doing. The Dark Lord, at the new moon, will commence with the blood of the blood. For the blood of the blood. Commence what?"

"Sangui Sanguinis," I said. The words left a taste of bile in my mouth.

"Well, the runes are hardly Latin, but-- oh. That's a spell?" She reached for a battered Goshawk concordance.

"You won't find it there, Miss Granger." I grabbed a scrap of parchment and quill from her desk and started to jot down a list of references: Dee and Alwick, the De Rerum Similium Magica... "What do you know about sympathetic magics, Miss Granger?"

"I know some are simple enough for Muggles to work."

"Then you know nothing."

"But I've read about it! What about Voudoun practices--not just the hostile magics, but love charms and--"

"Those rites," I interrupted, "may permit Muggles to exploit magic. But they no more work magic than the builders of a dam create the water."

"I don't understand," Granger said. I drew up the other chair, sat down, stretched my legs out in front of me. "Professor?"

"Hush. Allow me to savor your admission of ignorance."

Granger tightened her lips to a thin, white line-- Minerva's expression; Granger didn't have the gravitas to make it look anything but peevish. I let her wait a few moments longer before I asked, "What is the difference between us and Muggles?"

Granger blinked. "We have magic," she ventured.

"No," I said. "We work magic. There is a difference."

Granger furrowed her brow. "I suppose... it's like with Potions, isn't it?" I held my tongue and waited. "I mean," she continued, "a lot of powerful potions are based on very simple ingredients. You can work strong magic with eye of newt and toe of frog, but newts and frogs aren't themselves magical creatures."

"Precisely." Granger brightened, but she didn't preen, as she would have in the classroom. "Potions are a means of extracting and refining latent magics from non-magical materials, rendering them useful to our art. But there are other ways to do that, and other arts."

And I didn't have time to tutor Granger in magical theory, even if I'd wanted to. I added a few notes to the reference list, instead, and shoved it across the table. "Focus the theoretical part of your reading-- start with the Tractatus; it has the best index-- on the limitations of distance. Those are the limits the Dark Lord hopes to circumvent with the Sangui Sanguinis."

"Using blood." Granger's bushy eyebrows drew together. "Harry's blood?"

"Unlikely." I rolled up Granger's fresh copy of the plaintext of last night's message and tucked it into my sleeve. "Potters blood flows in the Dark Lords veins; he wont want to take that risk. I will expect you to be quicker with the next dispatch, Miss Granger."

She followed me to the door and opened it for me, flipping it up like an awning. This time, I managed to keep my feet, barely, though only by draping myself over the doorframe, clinging with my hands and groping with one foot for the corridor floor. It was marginally more dignified than falling flat on my arse, I supposed.

Granger at least had enough sense of self-preservation to say nothing until I was through the door, but once I was on my feet she leaned out at a vertiginous angle. "But if it's not Harry's blood, then what--" She turned very pale. "No. Then who. Whose blood?"

"Right question, Miss Granger," I answered, and rounded the corner without looking back.

~*~

Sympathetic magics. Small surprise that the Dark Lord should turn to them now. Wand magics, the magics we taught and used at Hogwarts, trade distance for control: with a wand, a wizard can shape magic finely, force it to follow his will, but to bend a wand-spell's line of influence from line-of-sight needs precise knowledge of its goal, and intense, focused power. Even then, spells can be blocked perhaps with a wand the Dark Lord might boil Potter's blood in his veins across a mile of clear and level ground, but even he could not target such a spell through stone walls, across a mile of trees and earth and living bodies.

But if had captured any of Potter's blood kin, he might work his will on Potter's blood from halfway around the world. It was the distance of the kinship, not the physical distance between them, that would limit the spell.

And the will of the victim, of course. Potter's surviving kin didn't care much for the boy, I knew, but none of them would willingly give up their lives to destroy him. And just as well, for a willing sacrifice-- as Potter had more cause than most to know-- might command magics of tremendous power.

The power, for instance, to take out every Death Eater with one simple spell, I thought, and rubbed at the Mark through my sleeve.

Minerva had said no, had said it again just this morning. And when I had brought it up before the full Order, weeks ago, Arthur Weasley had said no, and Lupin and even Moody had backed him up. And there it had rested, for however willing I was, I could not do the spell myself. Even Potter had vehemently argued against it, and that long before our uneasy detente had given way to... whatever it was we had now.

Potter still thought he could win this war without any sacrifice but his own. He still brooded over each death, taking necessary losses as his own personal failures.

The boy needed some useful occupation, besides warming my bed. Moody had argued for keeping him in reserve, not risking him before our final offensive, and Potter's Gryffindor protectors had needed little persuasion. And to a point, Moody was right-- we could not count on a second chance at defeating the Dark Lord, not this time. But Potters age-mates all had their tasks-- Longbottom growing the castles provisions, and Weasley guarding them; their classmates working long and wearying hours as sentries and paramedics and scouts. Mere training and study, however hard I pushed him, however hard he pushed himself, weren]t sufficient, not when students younger than he had died on the ramparts or in the fields above Hogsmeade Cemetery.

And now I was brooding. Potter must be rubbing off on me, I thought, and then snorted; Potter had done just that, more times than I could-- no, I had counted. I'd kept running tallies of our respective orgasms, and complained bitterly when he'd got too far ahead of me; his youth might have let him come three times to my once, but I didn't let him, not always-- I had held his wrists in my hand, held his hips away from the sheets, and made him wait until I had had my fill of his body, of his sweet mouth, until I was ready to join him.

I had never pretended to be an unselfish lover. Potter had never complained.

And he had never evinced any doubt of his welcome in my bed. I wondered what he had seen in my mind, to make him so much more certain than I was.

He'd come to my rooms the night of his birthday, or early the next morning-- only hours after he sucked me dry in my own office, after I set the wards to readmit him and sent him upstairs to his birthday festivities, not expecting to see him again until his friends were quite through with him. The party couldn't possibly have been over when I woke, feeling eyes on me in the dark.

"Lumos," I muttered, before my hand had quite closed around my wand.

Potter blinked owlishly at me from the foot of the bed. He smiled slowly, drunkenly. "You said I could come back," he said, and crawled onto the bed; he swayed a bit when he let go of the bedpost.

"I didn't say I would nurse your hangover in the morning, Potter." I kindled a low light in the bathroom. "The Sobering Solution is the green bottle on the second shelf; drink at least a pint of water with it." I prodded him with my foot, and he slid off the bed and stumbled away. "And you smell like a brewery, Potter!" I added. "I suggest you do something about that, as well."

When he came back to bed, shedding clothes all the way and leaving them where they fell, his body still smelled of sour sweat. But his mouth, when he leaned over me and kissed me, tasted only of clear water.

He pulled back, just long enough to slide under the bedclothes, and kissed me again. I meant to protest that I'd been sound asleep before he burst in, that he couldn't simply come in and molest me whenever he wanted, but I couldn't work up any outrage-- the kiss was slow, undemanding, just the shallow, languid press of mouth to open mouth, and I couldn't think of any good reason to end it just yet. Further down-- it felt like miles away-- Potter was stroking my side, lazily rubbing his just-stirring prick against my thigh.

Someone's yawn broke the kiss-- Potter's, I think, though he drew an immediate yawn from me in reply. Potter gave another slow smile. "Mmm. This is nice." And by the time I'd dredged up a properly acid reply to that inanity, he'd fallen to sleep, his head resting heavily against my shoulder. Awkwardly, for Potter lay against my right arm, I took his glasses off and laid them on the nightstand.

I woke, suddenly, not quite aware of having fallen asleep again. Morning light fell from the small barred windows high in the wall. Potter was draped over my body, a warm blanket of limbs. I lay there for a while, inhaling the scent of his hair and his skin, and wondering just how ethically dodgy it would be to shake him awake and peremptorily demand sex. I had decided it was nothing I couldn't live with, and was carefully considering what I should ask for-- did I want his mouth again? Or to spread him out under me and fuck him? Or-- I stirred, and suddenly his prick was nestled against the crease of my thigh, wide awake and thick and hot-- it had been a long time since I'd had a proper buggering...

Potter stirred and blinked and stretched-- I watched, only mildly disappointed that I'd lost my chance to wake him-- and then shifted a bit, bringing our erections into contact. "Continue, Mr. Potter," I said, in a much lazier voice than I'd intended. Potter smiled and then brought his mouth down on my collarbone, and thrust his hips a little harder, and I wrapped an arm around his back to keep him in place.

It was slow and sleepy at first, and then Potter stretched again and sat up, straddled my thighs and took hold of both our pricks in one square, sweaty hand. His eyes fell closed as he stroked, firmly and steadily.

"What have you done, Potter?" Potter opened his eyes and blinked; he obviously hadn't caught a word. "I know someone's taught you to suck cock," I continued, as though he'd been paying attention, "but what else?" I trailed one hand down his spine, let my fingertips come to rest between his buttocks. "Have you...?"

"Just the one time," Potter said, already blushing, "and I don't think we were doing it right."

I raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't ask. "I see," I sighed. "I suppose I shall have to wait to get fucked, then, until I've taught you how to do it properly."

"Promise?" Potter gasped, and quickened our pace. "Soon?"

I rolled us over and held his shoulders down. "Tonight." And then it was fast and sloppy and really very good.

I did teach him, that night. I laid him on his side, one leg drawn up, and I stretched out behind him, over him, my chest to his back. I took his right hand in mine, and slicked his fingers one by one. And I drew our hands back and stroked him, slowly, lightly, with his own broom-roughened fingertips-- touching, circling, but not letting him penetrate himself.

I spoke in his ear, my breath ruffling his hair. "What am I doing, Potter?"

"You're-- oh god." He spread his legs wide, opening himself to the touch.

"Tell me." I slowed his hand, made a deliberate, steady
circuit.

"You're-- fuck-- you're getting me slick. Getting me ready."

"In detail, Potter." I licked his earlobe. "Tell me how it feels."

"Oh god. You're rubbing my-- god-- rubbing my arsehole with my fingers. You're-- fuck-- going in circles. Tiny little circles, god, it makes me want to open myself up, wide as I can, just to let you touch more of me." He shut his eyes tight.

I nipped at his neck, sucked there for a moment. I didn't release his hand, or stay its slow circling. "And what am I going to do next, Mr. Potter?"

"Put your fingers inside me." It was more a command than an answer.

"Close, Potter." I guided his index finger into place and pressed, letting only the first joint slip inside. Potter caught his breath, held it. "And now?" I said.

"You're fucking me with my own-- god-- my own fingers."

"How many fingers, Potter?"

"Just one. Fuck."

"Tell me." I thrust lazily against his thigh. "Tell me what you feel."

"I-- it's so slow, you just go so slow, and every time-- nnngh-- every time you push inside, I can feel it stretching me. Opening me. I want more."

I didn't give him more, not yet; I concentrated on the back of his neck, laying down a trail of kisses and bites all along the margins of his hair, but I let him fuck himself faster and deeper with the one finger I allowed him. "Have you done this before?" I murmured. "With your fingers?"

"Yeah."

"Before your ill-advised round of sodomy?"

He shook his head, unsteadily. "No. After. I didn't-- I was on top, when we tried it. I wanted to find out-- god-- what I was doing wrong."

"Mm. Such diligence. I hope you managed to learn something from your mistakes." And I slid my own finger in, covering his own and driving it deeper. "Did you ever--" I worked our fingers in small circles, spiraling in, and waited for Potter's small gasp before I pressed-- "find this?"

Potter whimpered, clenched, shook his head. "No."

"Feel." I pressed down again, stroked his fingertip over the gland, and then withdrew our hands and slid two of Potter's own fingers inside him. "Stroke yourself," I whispered. "Let me watch you."

Potter whimpered again when I pulled away to get a good view. He was spread out on his stomach, arm between his legs, his fingers disappearing over and over again into his grasping arsehole. He bit his lip, and rubbed his swollen prick against the sheets on every stroke.

"Stop that." I stayed his hand, pulled it away. "You're not going to come until you have this--" I closed his hand over my own prick-- "inside you."

"Oh, fuck." He tightened his fingers around me. "Now?"

I pulled out of his grasp before he could undo me. "Not yet. I want you begging for this, Potter."

He rolled onto his back. "Then do it yourself. With your hands." He seized my wrist, traced my fingers with his. His hand was warm, the fingers still slick with lube and the palm damp with sweat. "I've been watching your hands all year. Thinking about them, about your fingers. I want them inside me."

I had to choke down a whimper of my own at that. "Turn over," I said, almost levelly.

"No. I want to watch you do it."

He did. His eyes behind his glasses went even darker as he looked down his body to where my fingers sunk into him. They narrowed to slits, fluttering closed, then opened wide with a start. Once, he looked up and caught my eye. I dropped my gaze quickly, down to his prick lying heavy against his belly, to my own hands and the stretch of blood-dark flesh around them; his body grasped me hungrily, clasped me, strained up to follow my touch, and it inflamed me, but I flinched from seeing that same hunger in his eyes.

But I fucked him face to face, all the same.

He dug his heels into my back, and his teeth into his lip, and he shuddered and spasmed around my prick. I tried to thrust shallowly, to work into him by small degrees, but he opened to every thrust and arched up after every withdrawal, as though my flesh were a lifeline he could climb, if he only held on hard enough. When I was in him at last, balls-deep and panting with the heat of him, he looked up at me again.

I closed my eyes to shut out the wonder and the still-raw need in his face. And I did my best to fuck them out of him, or at least to transmute that need into something purely animal, to make him crave what I knew I could give him.

~*~

And in the days since then, maybe I had. Potter touched me with an affection I tried to tell myself was meaningless -- a hand on my back when he passed through my workroom, the touch of his lips, just before his head fell to my chest, before he slept. A thumb trailing over my mouth after I'd sucked him off-- and sometimes, in company, he would catch his hand just before it could alight on my arm, as if he had forgotten we weren't alone. But since that night, his eyes, when not black and dazed with lust, had shown me nothing but the slightly amused tolerance he'd favored me with all year.

And I was the one acting like an infatuated adolescent, I thought, noticing at last how slowly my footsteps were dragging. I shook my head irritably and quickened my pace.

The staircase I'd taken up to Gryffindor had moved, and the nearest one likely to take me back to the ground floor was two corridors out of my way. I'd shaken off my absurd reverie by the time I turned the corner to the landing.

I was prepared for the sudden intensity of Hogwarts's now-ubiquitous noise: people talking, shouting, crying, and today-- I winced-- screeching at the top of their lungs. The badger bobbing gently in midair, however, was a surprise. I frowned at it; the badger turned upside down, exposing a tag and a pink heart on its rump; and the screech sounded again. I took the first flight in three steps and looked down over the landing rail.

Halfway up a dead-end stair was a young girl, perhaps nine years old, red-faced, standing bent over with her hands on her knees and crying. "Give it back," she sobbed. "My brother gave it to me. It's mine."

"We haven't done anything to it." Two of my former students lounged against the banister of my own stair, two floors below. One twirled his wand and spun the badger right side up.

"Come and take it, if it's yours," said the other. The child narrowed her eyes at him, but she hauled herself up another step, and another. "We aren't stopping you." He spread his empty hands.

Empty-- I looked back at the girl. She was reaching for her toy, leaning out over the cut-off edge of the staircase and jabbing at the levitating badger with a slender oak wand.

I drew my own wand and pelted down the stairs. "Stebbins! Summerby! What do you think you're doing?"

The former Hufflepuffs turned, guiltily. "Professor Snape," Stebbins began, as I shouldered past him. "It's all right. That's Finch-Fletchley's kid sist--"

The girl screamed as she fell. She kept screaming even after my spell caught her, nine feet from the floor. The badger fell, forgotten. A man and a woman ran up from the Hufflepuff staircase and stumbled to a halt below the girl, shouting "Jessica!" Muggle clothing, family resemblance-- these would be the parents, then.

Without moving eyes or wand from the girl, I hissed "Stay right where you are" at Stebbins and Summerby. Then, "Mrs. Finch-Fletchley," I called. "Is this your daughter?"

She snatched up the badger and clutched it to her chest. "What have you done to her?"

I lowered the girl to the floor, slowly, making sure she touched it-- knees, hands-- before ending the levitation spell. "Saved her life." I Summoned the wand from the girl's-- Jessica's-- hand; she whimpered, and clung to her mother's legs like a child half her age. "Your daughter fell from the staircase. Now I assure you I will have words with those who incited her to climb it, but if you cannot keep a closer eye on the child, I will--"

"Yes?" Mr. Finch-Fletchley interrupted. "What will you do? Restrict our movements still more? We've already been told we can't leave this castle, we can't see our son, for God's sake, unless he deigns to come and visit us down in that... we sent him to school to live in a cellar for seven years, and according to him there's one House that has it still worse--"

"If you are referring to my House, Mr. Finch-Fletchley, I have always found the Slytherin dungeons-- where I maintain my own quarters-- to be most hospitable." Finch-Fletchley blinked, taken aback, and I pressed on. "Neither the staff nor the governing board of Hogwarts, nor for that matter the wizarding world at large, is responsible for your predicament, Mr. Finch-Fletchley." Muggle relations of wizards had been among the earliest targets-- Voldemort making examples of Mudbloods and blood traitors. Most Muggleborns had convinced their families to flee-- the Grangers were in France with the Clearwaters and the Atwoods-- but the Finch-Fletchleys had kept to their comfortable house until the Death Eaters were literally at their door. Their son had brought them out through an illicit and absurdly risky Floo connection; Minerva and I had given him a sound tongue-lashing for it, Sprout being five months dead and the headship of Hufflepuff being empty.

"However," I continued, "we are responsible for your safety. And so I will ask you once to keep yourselves and your family to the dormitory and the Great Hall, unless escorted by your son or another wizard. I would rather require this of you with rules than with spells, but if you ignore the rules we have set, you will leave me no other choice. Do I make myself clear?"

Finch-Fletchley hauled his daughter to her feet and held her shoulders protectively. "Perfectly clear." He caught his wife's eye. "Come along, Catherine. Let's go back to our dungeon-- oh, my mistake, the dungeon is your domain, isn't it?"

Catherine Finch-Fletchley, still holding the stuffed badger, shot me a look of distaste that took in my robes, the castle, the miscreants behind me, and probably the whole of British wizardom. "If you should see my son Justin, I wonder if you might tell him I'd like to speak to him. When he has time, of course." The Finch-Fletchleys shepherded their daughter back down the Hufflepuff stairs.

I turned back to Stebbins and Summerby. "You are lucky that Professor Sprout is no longer alive to see you drag her House's reputation into the muck."

Summerby looked at his shoes, but Stebbins, unfortunately, wanted to draw this out. "We weren't hurting her!" he protested. "We were just trying to see if she had any magic in her. I gave her my wand, and told her to have a go with it, and she wouldn't-- she acted all high-and-mighty about it-- and so we just gave her a little incentive. You know."

"What do I know, Stebbins?" I tossed his wand between my hands. "I know that Muggle children don't bounce when you drop them." Summerby looked up as though this were news. "And I know that if that unfortunate child had been a witch, you might have goaded her into wreaking damage with this wand that we can ill-afford to sustain. Though I suppose she might only have killed the two of you, instead." I tossed Stebbins his wand. "Go and report to Longbottom, since you seem to be at loose ends, and tell him you'll be working for him for as long as he can find a use for you."

They shared a look of dismay-- every herbalist in the castle was already working for Longbottom, but one didn't need a Herbology NEWT to shovel sheep manure-- but neither tried to talk me out of it. Ah, Hufflepuffs. The only House with any respect for authority. Idiots like these notwithstanding, I had always rather liked Hufflepuffs. According to the rumor mill, so had Potter.

I put that thought aside immediately. "And fifty points from Hufflepuff," I added.

Summerby sputtered. "But we're-- are you allowed to take points from alumni?"

"Your next head of house can take it up with me," I said, and stalked into the Great Hall.

Filius was standing next to the tea-urns-- the house-elves had stopped providing food to anyplace but the Hall, the hospital, and the crèche, and then only at mealtimes; in between, there was tea-- watching the points draining away from Hufflepuff House's hourglass. "Severus, who did you just take points from?"

"Stebbins and Summerby," I said pleasantly.

"But they left school two years ago," he squeaked. "Are you allowed to do that?"

I waved my saucer at the hourglasses. "So it would seem."

"Remarkable," said Flitwick. "I shall have to remember that, next time Leonard Lovegood sets the common room carpet on fire."

~*~

Patil had put three elderly witches from Nottingham to work in the Potions classroom, and as they had the day's slate of healing potions well in hand, I spent the next few hours teaching Patil how to reduce and clarify Veritaserum. Longbottom came to see her at noon; he was nauseatingly sweet to her, but he brought lunch for everyone in the lab, so I forgave him.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we'd bottled the serum, and Millicent Bulstrode had taken over from Patil in the lab. I hadn't felt how stifling the laboratory had become until I came out into the cool of the corridor. I stood for a moment, feeling the sweat cool on my skin and letting the lingering potion fumes roll off my robes in a draught that, I realized, couldn't be natural. I followed the breeze to my office. A charmed wind rolled out of the cold fireplace, carrying motes of dust and splinters of dry grass. Potter was throwing Shield Charms into the wind. He held his wand left-handed, and cast with his empty right hand. Light rippled over his bare arm and crackled from the ends of his fingers.

He glanced over his shoulder and flashed me a cheerfully lewd, vanishingly brief grin. "Dennis Creevey brought you a message; it's on the desk," he said, and turned back to his spellwork. Against all odds, Potter had developed some sense of the appropriate: the day he'd kissed me in this room had been the only time he'd moved to touch me outside of my private chambers.

I had expected something else of him-- avoidance and awkward coldness, or adolescent clinging, neither would have surprised me. After Potter had left my bed that first morning, I had drifted between my office and laboratory: working, as always, but distracted as I had not been in years. Fragments of the night, the morning, and the day before kept intruding on my thoughts-- sudden, sharp memories of Potter on his knees, of the heat of his skin under my hands, sleek and unjustly flawless, except where my teeth had marked him.

I had promised to fuck him that night. I wondered if Potter was thinking of that promise, too. Was his prick stirring at the thought? Was he blushing, all over his pale perfect skin?

Or was he coming to his senses, and wondering how he could have asked for such a thing from his ugly, desperate Potions master? If he were-- if he did not come back-- I swore I'd make him wish he'd never asked. I'd find the boy and remind him of our assignation, even in front of his friends. Let him explain to Granger and Weasley why he'd been late to his own birthday party...

I imagined a thousand cutting things I could say to him, watched him flush and stammer in my mind's eye, until at midday I heard his tread in my office. He was silent-- reading this time, then, not spellwork. I was suddenly conscious of the swelter of my workroom, close with the reek of eight cauldrons: aware, as I had not been all summer long, of how the heat prickled on my skin, of the drag of my steam-heavy robes against my body; aware with a spy's heightened senses of every sound, even the faint scraping of parchment on parchment from the next room. Every noise conjured up a different image: chair legs stuttered over the flags, and I saw Potter laying down his book in distraction and spreading his legs to ease his heavy cock; but the next moment brought a flutter of pages and Potter arranging himself to look studious, ready to look up with contrite green eyes and explain how he'd realized what a terrible mistake last night had been.

Well, I'd give him no chance to say any such thing, not without making him think twice. The moment it was safe to remove my last cauldron from the flame, I waved the fire out and stormed into my office, dropped to my knees in front of the threadbare armchair Potter had claimed, and had his robes half open before he even looked up from his book.

"Snape?" He watched me lay his robes open and yank down his zip, eyes going wide, and then he laid the book spine-upwards over the chair arm and lifted his hips so I could pull his pants out of my way.

I picked up the book and made a mental note of the page number, then closed it gently and set it on the floor. "Treat your own books as you will, Mr. Potter, but I will not have anything of mine treated so carelessly." I breathed over his prick. "I'm sure you wouldn't want me to be careless with anything of yours." And I scraped my teeth, lightly, all down the length of him, and felt him swell.

"No," said Potter, and then-- though I hadn't taken it as a cue to stop-- "I mean. I don't want to be careless about-- oh god. About. Things."

"Good," I said, and took him into my mouth. I suppose I was careful with him; I was certainly more artful than he had been with me. But I was no more gentle: I sucked him hard; I used my nails on his thighs, my knuckles hard against the hollow behind his balls, my teeth, just sharp enough to make him shudder, whenever he tried to thrust. Finally he wrapped his ankles around the chair legs, holding himself still so hard his legs trembled with the effort.

I ran my hands up his thighs and over his abdomen, feeling the muscles quiver beneath them, tracing and retracing circles over his skin, working him slowly and steadily with my lips and tongue until at last his hips began to thrust again, despite his efforts. I pulled off and looked up at him until he opened his eyes. And then I took him in again, and pressed his hips hard into the chair, held him there, until all at once he relaxed under my hands, and I had only to suck once, hard, to make him spill hot and bitter into my mouth.

"What about you?" he finally gasped, as I tucked him back into his shorts.

I stood up, making sure Potter saw me adjust myself, taking just a moment to palm the length of my erection through my robes. "I'll save it," I said, leaning over and hissing into Potter's ear, "for tonight."

Potter dropped his head back and looked at me upside-down. "I was right after all, years ago. You are trying to kill me."

"And you still haven't developed any instinct for self-preservation, have you, Potter?" I leaned down and breathed into his ear, "You were on page one-hundred eighty-five," and I left him there and returned to my workroom. Even despite the erection, which seemed to take hours to subside, I found my concentration much improved. Potter, on the other hand, banged distractedly around my office for another hour before I finally heard the door shut behind him.

But the night, and the morning that followed, had been all it took for us to become accustomed to this new thing between us, and it had not intruded on our days since; Potter was content to leave it in the bedroom, and I would have it no other way. Still, it changed the quality of the silence between us, as I read the note Creevey had brought: Severus-- Hermione and I are researching reflective and isolative defenses against the Sangui S., but I would appreciate it if you would check for any record of sympathetic or absorptive counters to it; as I recall, your own collection in these subjects is somewhat broader than the library's. Thank you, Remus Lupin.

Or, translated, You still haven't donated your Dark Arts books to the cause, and until you do I'll keep assigning you research that would bore a competent fifth-year.

I scowled, pulled down a handful of volumes I had no intention of letting out of my rooms (and had rather heavily charmed against just that eventuality) and began to read up on the Sangui Sanguinis.

It was bleak reading. After a time, I realized that, while the wind still blew, the crackle of magic against it had gone silent. Potter was straddling the low chair in front of my desk, cocking his head to read the lettering on the spine of Matthias Alwick His Fourteen Curses.

"Potter. How many living blood relatives do you have?"

"Just my Aunt Petunia and my cousin." Potter said, wary. "Has there been another attack?"

"In a way." I laid the book on the desk so Potter could read the entry. "According to Draco, the Dark Lord is preparing to cast this at the new moon."

"Sangui Sanguinis," Potter murmured, and then read silently, growing steadily paler as he did.

It was a nasty spell: an excruciatingly slow blood-boiling curse, applied to the intended target's proxy for as long as the caster could sustain it. When the proxy finally died-- which might take hours, if the caster had some skill with Cruciatus and similar spells-- the pent-up magic would be released, massively amplified, in a single burst through the target's blood.

Potter, at least, and anyone within fifty feet of him would be killed instantly. Those touched by the miasma he went up in would not be so lucky.

Potter's voice was almost steady when he spoke again. "It's probably my aunt. She's-- Dudley's on holiday with his school friends. Aunt Petunia made sure he went. I warned them that it was dangerous for them to stay, that everyone knew where they lived, but my uncle--" Potter shrugged, hiding a little behind his slouched shoulders. "They stayed."

Lily's sister. I scanned the pages, upside down. The strength of the magic's discharge was dependent on the degree and nature of the kinship bond, and the time and strength of the initial curse; the equations were tortuous, but some zealous seventeenth-century follower of Alwick's had done the arithmancy and laid the results out in a neat table in the margin. "Well," I said. "If the Dark Lord gets bored as quickly as he usually does, we could sequester you in the sheepfold and the blast might not even touch the greenhouses. The miasma is another story, though."

Potter stared at the tables, as though he had the arithmancy to glean anything from them but what I'd told him. He set his jaw and looked up at me. "Mr. Weasley's not going to approve another sortie. But you know it's the only way."

And there it was, almost on cue. The boy still refused to learn the concept of strategic losses. I realized I was rubbing my left arm, and I stifled a sigh. "Mr. Potter, you know how impossible a rescue mission would be. The encampment's defenses are--"

"No, no. I meant-- If we have to send me away anyway." Potter's eyes were round and impossibly earnest. "I'm a good flier. I could go high, stay out of sight, go into a dive when-- when I feel it's about to happen." And he rubbed at his own scar. "I'd know, through him. I could."

"And if you left your mind that open," I said quietly, "the Dark Lord would know precisely where you were." And if Potter didn't, he'd have no warning, the spell would hit him at three thousand feet, and his remains would contaminate not just the castle but the whole countryside. "Potter, Lupin and Granger will be searching even now for some solution that doesn't involve vaporizing you."

He looked at me levelly. "That means you don't know of one."

Albus-- or Minerva, or Lupin, or any of his Gryffindor friends would have told him Not yet. "No," I said.

"Right." Potter stood up, his hands clenching the chair arms hard. "I... I'll see you at the meeting."

"Potter!" His shoulders tightened, and I remembered the feel of them under my hands. I dug my nails into the calfskin cover of the book. "If you're about to hare off one of your typical ill-considered--"

The charm-wind gusted, whirling through Potter's robes and hair. "I'm going to talk to Ron, all right? I'm not-- I'm not the one who can't fucking wait for permission to kill myself." He looked at my left sleeve with a disgust he'd never yet shown to the naked flesh and stalked out. The wind rushed after him, whistling through the swinging door and dying with a last eddy as it slammed shut. A stray scrap of parchment fell slowly through the suddenly heavy air.

~*~

I told myself I'd chosen to take Potter back into my tutelage. I'd been telling myself so since the start of the war, since the evening Albus had appeared in my fire.

Black had been dead less than a day, and I had still been sober, though not for lack of trying. "Headmaster," I said, and watched him brush Floo powder onto my hearthrug. "Can I do something for you?"

Dumbledore nodded at the half-empty Old Ogden's bottle on the end table. "You might offer an old man a drink, Severus." I summoned a second glass, and refilled my own as well. For a moment the headmaster paused with the glass almost to his lips, but then he drank, sparing me any nonsense about absent friends. Black was dead, as he should not have been, but that didn't make the man any less of a shit, and I would think as ill of the dead as I damned well pleased.

And though he circled round to it by way of inquiries about the Slytherins, the OWL and NEWT examinations, the plans of the leaving seventh-years, and two full tumblers of Old Ogden's that seemed to have no more effect on him than they had on me, it was Black's death the headmaster had come to discuss.

"I spoke with Harry, early this morning," he said at last, and turned his empty glass in his hands. "He is not taking it well."

"Hardly a surprise." I looked into my own glass, but I could feel Albus's cool blue stare.

"No, I suppose not," said Albus. "But unfortunate. I fear that I may never fully regain his trust."

I said nothing. Neither did Albus. When I couldn't bear the silence any more, I picked up the bottle and refilled my glass. Albus shook his head. "No, no more for me. I am a foolish old man, Severus. And as always, it will be the young who pay, for old men's follies." He looked up; the lines around his eyes were graven deeper than I had ever seen them. "I only hope I have not failed Harry as badly as I failed your generation, Severus-- you, and James and Lily, and Sirius--"

I slammed his glass against the arm of my chair. "This was not your failure alone!" Spilled firewhisky ran down my hand. "It was yours, and mine, and Potter's, and Black's. Even you, Albus, can't screw up that badly without help." I forced myself to breathe slowly. "You can't come to me for absolution, Headmaster. To any of us; we're all guilty. We all failed this time."

My hand was cold with evaporation. The old man's eyes were still on me, and I was too weary to play games with him; I looked up.

"Why did you allow Harry to discontinue the Occlumency lessons?"

"Allow him?" I snorted. "I threw him out and forbade him to come back."

Albus's face did not change. "Explain yourself."

"He looked into the Pensieve." Forced to put it into words, I couldn't but be aware how petty it sounded, how slight a reason for rage. That awareness would only have made me angrier, had Albus's eyes not had me pinned like an insect; but to give way to the impotent fury I could feel pressing at me would have been to lay my mind bare.

I could stand to be reproached for what I said or did, but not for my thoughts.

After a long silence Albus looked away, and after another silence he chuckled: It rang false, forced, and when he looked up there was a determined twinkle in his eye. "Well," he said. "That is one of young Harry's more unfortunate habits."

It took a minute for it to sink in. "Habit?" I uncurled my fingers from my glass, one by one, before I could throw it into the fire, or at Albus's twinkling eye. "When you suggested that I use the Pensieve, you never mentioned that Potter had the slightest idea what one was." And you thought you could tell him without telling him, I thought, and didn't even try to Occlude the thought. Aloud, I said, "Headmaster, this conversation is at an end."

"Severus--"

"I said get out," I snarled, and Albus rose. In the doorway, he paused and looked back. "Severus. I am aware that a truce might be too much to ask just now, but I would like you to consider just how alike you and Harry are in certain ways." And having had the last word, he closed the door behind him.

I could think of one way, at least, that Potter and I were alike: Albus's well-meaning manipulation hadn't done either of us any good in years. I commenced to get drunk in earnest.

But when Potter came to my door in September and asked me to resume his training, I accepted his apology. I made him repeat it, of course, made him tell me ten good reasons his actions had been inexcusable, made him scrub out a sinkful of cauldrons and the classroom floor for good measure. And then I assigned him a stack of reading and a regimen of concentration exercises and told him to come back in a week.

I told myself that if I hadn't been satisfied with his contrition, if Potter hadn't convinced me he understood every way that he'd wronged me, I'd have gone straight up to Albus's office and told him to train the boy himself. And as months passed, and Potter proved himself a better pupil with each lesson, I convinced myself, or nearly-- near enough, at least, that when Albus died, there was no question but that I should continue Potter's lessons.

And when Potter came to my bed, I had given in with hardly any struggle at all. I liked to think that somewhere, Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore and James Potter were looking on, livid and scandalized, but I knew that even their collective blessing would probably not have stopped me from reaching out and seizing what was offered.

~*~

If we could find no way to shield Potter by the new moon, then we would simply have to kill him. And Potter would undoubtedly make a complete cock-up of any simple mercy killing-- like as not, he'd head up another sortie in the dead of night, spending lives we could ill afford to lose...

I rubbed my left arm. Any magic that could shield Draco, and myself, from sympathetic attack upon the Dark Mark might be adaptable to shield Potter as well. I summoned four tall stacks of books to my desk and began searching.

By the time the clock chimed for the Order meeting, my search had only served to rule out whole classes of magic. Wards were out of the question. Shield charms would be no use. Traps and sinks were more promising, but fraught with far too many new risks.

If Potter were still under his relatives' roof, his mother's protection might still have power to shield him, but I could see no way to exploit that protection, short of a rescue mission even more suicidally foolish than the last sortie.

I rolled up what notes I had and tucked the scroll into my sleeve, and headed upstairs.

I took the narrow north staircase up to a long-disused walk the castle had reopened atop the inner curtain. In the midday sun, the roofless bare stone was shockingly hot, but mercifully deserted-- though even here, I could hear the din of crockery in the Great Hall, voices in the corridors, livestock in the courtyards.

And livestock in the outer bailey, as well; from the sound of it, they were moving the sheep again. I leaned down through a narrow crenel. Aberforth Dumbledore and his dogs were driving the last stragglers of their motley flock into a wide hurdled enclosure; behind them, Stebbins and Summerby levitated sheep dung into a wheelbarrow. Behind them paced Neville Longbottom, methodically laying down Reauxo charms on the close-cropped grass. The new growth was lush, but yellowish and pale; the grass had already been eaten and regrown too many times for one summer. As long as there was any grass at all, Aberforth's charms would keep the ewes milk flowing-- I was heartily sick of sheep's milk and mutton, though grateful to have it-- but before winter, the lawns would have been grazed completely bare.

Come winter, of course, if the siege had not broken, wed have to slaughter the whole flock anyway, save only a few for breeding stock. Aberforth could make every ewe throw triplets come spring, if he were still alive, but Longbottom could not coax winter fodder enough for the flock from these few acres of ground.

Aberforth fitted the last hurdle into place, leaving the sheep and the goats and the solitary alpaca penned on all sides, by two rough fences and the two curtain walls. The outer curtain had fallen into disrepair centuries ago, had been mined for building stone and finally leveled in the Dumbledores' own schooldays. But the castle had remembered, and at the start of the siege, the last long-buried stones had begun to thrust up through the earth. Not far-- only enough to guide our own efforts with wands and spades-- and the new wall was a sorry thing, only a dike and an earthen mound crowned with a wooden pale. It looked very low and flimsy, with the short midday shadows huddled close against it. The sun picked out bits of paint on the palings: the bright primary colors of the razed Quidditch stands, and here and there a white plank scavenged from the wreckage of Hagrid's house. Outside the wall, new grass had sprouted on the leveled Quidditch pitch and in the ashes of Hagrid's garden.

Ron Weasley, on sentry duty, hovered on his broom, just above the sharp palings; Potter flew alongside, facing opposite him. They looped and turned in a perfectly executed surveillance pattern, keeping the whole north slope of the grounds under the cover of their two wands. On the other side of the castle, another sentry would be flying over the Boar Gate, where the pale looped down to meet it and tap into the wards it anchored-- assuming, that is, that Potter hadn't relieved him.

Even if he hadn't, I would have to have words with the boy after the meeting; he had no business taking on so sensitive a duty just to work off his own frustration. I would have to talk to Lupin about assigning Potter some tasks outside his training regimen. Perhaps he could drill some of the younger students in defensive spells, although that would require Moody's cooperation. Moody had pressed to double the sentry roster after the last sortie, I remembered, and watching Potter and Weasley fly their careful protective loops above sheep and shepherds and Longbottom and his helpers, I resolved to suggest it again. And to be certain to credit the idea to Moody, of course.

In his last years, Albus had been much more the general than the headmaster; by the end, Minerva had been headmistress in all but name, and her assumption of that office had been one of the smoothest in Hogwarts's history.

But there had been no clear successor to Albus's unofficial position-- the Order by this time had had no clear membership, much less any defined officers or chain of command.

Arthur Weasley had been one most senior survivors of the Ministry, and the most popular who wasn't incapacitated, under suspicion, or in France. Alastor Moody had had no institutional claim to authority, but had simply begun giving orders. Remus Lupin had mediated between them, and so turned them from rivals into two-thirds of an uneasy triumvirate, with himself as the now-indispensable third.

And people wondered why we were losing the war.

It would have been easy, I thought, as I did before every meeting, to press Weasley back into the rank and file and set up Moody in sole authority, but I knew that if Moody were ever given sufficient power, his first action would be to have me killed, and anyone else he even suspected of too great an interest in dark magics.

And galling as it was to side with the Gryffindors for self-preservation, it was worse to know that, of all the Order's too-large upper echelon, only Lupin the werewolf and Weasley the inveterate tinkerer understood that no amount of legal or moral censure would ever keep wizards from the Dark-- indeed, banning such studies outright, rather than channeling and containing them, was what allowed Dark Lords to arise in the first place.

The younger generation seemed to be learning that lesson-- Granger and Potter, at least, understood it. Perhaps, if we survived this war, we might not have to fight it again in their lifetime.

Far below, Longbottom cast one last charm and followed the Hufflepuffs and their barrow to the north postern; Potter flew after him, exchanging words I could not hear with Weasley. I watched them disappear through the postern-gate with my wand in my hand.

Near the base of the north tower, the walkway became a roofed gallery; the shade was so black and so sudden that I did not see Lupin emerge from the Gryffindor side-corridor until he fell into step beside me.

"Severus."

"Lupin."

Lupin eyed me sidelong, but I was damned if I was going to spare him from having to ask. We rounded the wall of the tower, and the flashing arrowloops gave way to deep-set windows. "Was there anything promising in your books?" he asked at last.

"If we tapped into the foundation stones, we might have a sink sufficient to neutralize the blast, but it would still kill Potter. Otherwise-- Lily's protection might obtain, if he were under her relations' roof, but as things are..." I shook my head. "I don't suppose you've had any luck with wards."

"No," said Lupin. "It's not a line-of-sight curse; it can't simply be blocked." He took a deep breath as though about to explain.

I cut him off. "Do remember who you're talking to, Lupin."

He smiled feebly. "Of course, Severus." He walked on in silence for a moment, but just short of the north tower door he steered me into an alcove. "I had hoped there might be some sympathetic counter Hermione and I couldn't find, but frankly I can't imagine what such a thing might be."

"I can," I said, "and believe me, it's nothing we'd want to deal in. And nothing we could do, in any case." If the cousin could be found, we might fool the spell into releasing the pent-up magic through him, but it would take Potter's blood and Potter's hair, and Potter himself to perform the lengthy spells; either we'd be overrun through every fireplace Flooing him out, or Potter would be tracked to Ibiza or Bermuda and taken on the streets of some Muggle resort town. "Even a spell-sink would only affect the magic's release, not its pathway."

Lupin slowly nodded, and his eyes shut for a moment. They were unreadable when they opened. "If the Sangui Sanguinis is performed on Lily's kin, it will reach Harry," he said, "for as long as he remains Lily's son."

I swallowed. Hope tasted sour, like bile. "He'll never agree."

"He has to," Lupin said. He ran his hand up and down the thickened, swollen stones of the wall; I could hear them scrape roughly at his skin and drag at his cuff. "He has no choice."

~*~

Sybill Trelawney had been dead since the bombing of Hogsmeade Station, and her rooms-- spacious, and easily defended if you pulled up the ladders-- now housed Order HQ. In a sense, of course, the whole castle was Headquarters-- Colin Creevey and Leonard Lovegood labored all day in a darkroom carved from my dungeons; the Astronomy tower smoked and clattered day and night with the Weasley twins' experiments in explosives and artillery, my own classroom fumed with a hundred different potions-- but the old Divination classroom was where the triumvirate held court.

Most of the chintz armchairs and musty poufs had gone downstairs to the refugee dormitories, and the apparatus of Trelawney's trade, the crystal balls and teapots and such, had long since been moved to a cupboard in Firenze's classroom, but there remained, in the sound-deadening carpets and funereal curtains, some air of showmanship and chicanery that no number of maps and surveillance photographs and Foe-Glasses could dispel.

Or perhaps, I thought as I clambered through the trap after Lupin, it was just the odor of cannabis that lingered.

Moody barked without turning his head. "Draw your wands, or get out of the way. It's almost time for the Portkey."

We dared not send owls, nor connect to the Floo. Our only communication with the exiles and allies on the Continent was by Portkey. Even that was patchy-- we had tightened the anti-Apparation wards until they shut out all Portkeys as well, except for the return journeys of keys made within the Hogwarts walls. Even half of those failed to cross the wards intact; except at direst need, we sent nothing except a few scrolls of code.

I drew my wand and took my place next to Shacklebolt. "Lupin, get back," Moody growled "You're in Weasley's line of fire." If a Portkey had been captured, we'd have no way of knowing until it appeared. I aimed at the empty air above Arthur Weasley's desk and waited. On Weasley's ridiculous clock, two hands slid from a spot labeled 'LATE' to jostle three more at 'MEETING,' and a moment later the trap swung open to disgorge the twins. The 'MEETING' LABEL, like Ron Weasley's 'SENTRY' label, was hand-written on a parchment scrap stuck to the clock's frame, covering up some more sedate inscription from peacetime.

Charlie Weasley's hand still pointed to 'ABROAD.' Weasley had not removed Percy or Ginny's hands from the clock; they still pointed to 'MORTAL PERIL,' though their faces, mercifully, had vanished.

The air before the clock lensed and shimmered silver: the wards had caught the Portkey. The mirage twisted, with a noise like rubbing wet glass, and I was certain that the day's key would never make it through the wards. But then it did: with a sudden explosive pop, a red pencil-case appeared in the air, fell, bounced, and rolled under Weasley's desk.

I lowered my wand. Shacklebolt let out a held breath. Bill Weasley retrieved the pencil case and took out the small scroll it held-- Moody covered him with drawn wand until he had snapped it shut again. Lupin sat down at the long table, and without any actual call to order the rest of us took our seats. And Harry Potter swung up through the trapdoor and sat down beside Granger, without meeting anyone else's eyes. She gave him a look of dreadful compassion.

Arthur Weasley shuffled a stack of parchment scraps. "Bill," he started; he glanced up at the clock before he looked down the table at him. "What's the news from France?"

Bill rolled the scroll between his palms. "Diggory and Broussard have been in talks; they're expecting to have a proposal to put to the Liaison Office by the tenth."

There'd been no hiding the Ministry bombing from the Muggles. The few Obliviators who hadn't been blown sky-high had joined the rout back to Hogwarts; no one had stayed at the scene to devise a suitable cover story. Muggles had been killed, dozens of them, and all of London had seen the smoke, and the gloating Mark.

The French Ministère de Sorcierie had sent Aurors, though too late to do much good; at least one of them had already been caught and made an example of by the Death Eaters. But meanwhile, half a dozen Muggle factions, from Ireland and Palestine and Merlin knew where else, had claimed responsibility for the blast, and the Muggle press from across the world had ringed the site with their cameras. The whole of the wizarding world was watching, worried less about Voldemort-- Dark Lords, after all, come and go with distressing regularity-- than for the final collapse of their secrecy.

The Ministère had had the sense to contact the Special Liaison to Her Majesty's Sorcerers-- a wizened Muggle, brother to witches, who'd reported to ten Prime Ministers in his long career-- and arrange some delays in the Muggle authorities' investigation of the bombing, until a few key witnesses could be found and Obliviated. But that clumsy obstruction had not gone unnoticed. Two months later, the Muggle press had not wearied of the matter, and the Muggle government, much beset by journalists, would gladly have sacrificed us all if it would have brought an end to the debacle.

The contempt in which reasonable men, Muggle as well as wizard, held the conspiracy theorist has redounded to the good fortune of many a conspirator. And so far, it had kept us hidden-- kept us alive, perhaps; of the half-dozen Muggles in their government who knew of us, who had had to work with that imbecile Fudge, I was certain most of them would have been more than willing to bombard Hogwarts and its besiegers both into a smoking crater, if they could do so without the notice and alarm of the Muggle populace.

But with the press clamoring daily for a name to pin the bombing on, the populace was still notably alarmed; and every day that saw the perpetrators of that bombing still entrenched in a remote Scottish hillside must surely make the risks of an air strike seem less and less, when compared to the risks of inaction.

If the wizarding world could not break Voldemort's siege, there was little doubt that the Muggles would eventually break it for us.

For weeks, Amos Diggory, Helena Granger, and Andromeda Tonks-- whose first action on reaching Paris had been to form themselves into some committee with an unutterably long name-- had been meeting with Ministèr officials and prominent European wizards, trying to organize a force to come to our rescue. In the first part of that, they had been successful: Aurors and Hit Wizards from six nations were mustering in Calais. Now, they had only to convince the Muggle government to greet our rescuers as liberators, not as invaders.

And with each day the talks dragged on, Voldemort's army dug in deeper, and the Dark Lord's power grew stronger and more malignant.

Bill Weasley read out the details of the Committee and the Ministèr's newest proposal-- little new, and nothing so useful as a date, or the number of trained wizards they might mobilize. "That's all there is," he said, rolling up the scroll apologetically and handing it down the table.

Arthur took it from him and added it to his stack of parchments. "Well. No news is good news, I suppose."

Moody rolled his eye and leaned forward on his elbows. "Granger. What about Malfoy's dispatch?"

Granger read out the plaintext, this time without interjecting any commentary. When she was through, Molly Weasley turned to Lupin. "I don't think I know the Sangui Sanguinis."

Lupin described it, simply but thoroughly. One by one, heads turned to Potter; by the time Lupin stammered to a halt, no one in the room was still looking at him.

No one but Potter, that is; the boy looked up, and I braced myself for pleading or adolescent rage, but Potter was subdued-- calm, even. "Aunt Petunia's a casualty. I understand. I know we can't mount a rescue mission."

Lupin shook his head gravely. "It's more than that, Harry."

"How do you mean?" A line had appeared between Potter's brows.

"I don't think we can hope to save Lily's sister. But saving you... barring an artillery strike on the encampment--" the Weasley twins shook their heads in unison; their war engines still had not nearly enough range-- "I only know of one spell that could protect you, if Voldemort performs the spell."

Granger reached for Potter's hand. He let her catch it. "This is going to be really bad, isn't it?" Potter looked past Lupin to me; his eyes were wide. If he even still remembered the words he'd thrown at me, he was repenting them now.

It was odd, to be looked to for reassurance. I gave a small nod. Potter returned it and looked down, at Granger's knuckles turning white around his own. "Tell me."

"It's a spell of repudiation," Granger began. "You-- the spell doesn't just work on blood, Harry. It works on kinship."

"There's a way to sever your magic from Lily's," said Lupin. "The Sangui Sanguinis will have no effect on you. But neither will Lily's protection."

"That only applied when I was living under my relatives' roof." Potter had begun to look hopeful. "I mean, we know Voldemort can touch me now."

There was silence at that, though not even the Weasleys still jumped at the Dark Lord's name.

"So, what do we do?" asked Potter. "To... sever my magic?"

Granger was staring at her and Potter's hands. Lupin-- to his credit, I suppose-- looked Potter in the eye. "You must repudiate your kinship with Lily," he said. "You must swear that you are no longer any son of hers."

Granger flinched, but Potter was completely still. His eyes moved first, darting quickly from Lupin to me to Granger and back. "I can't just-- I." He swallowed. "I'd have to mean it, wouldn't I?"

Lupin nodded. Potter shut his eyes. At the end of the table, Molly Weasley pursed her lips tightly, but they still trembled; Arthur patted her arm and she took hold of his hand without looking away from the tableau of Potter and Granger.

Potter let out his long-held breath in three harsh bursts. When he opened his eyes, they were quite dry. "What do I need to do?"

"It's not a complex spell," Lupin said. "There's no reason it can't wait until closer to the new moon."

"There's a book," Granger murmured. "It describes the whole thing. I'll show you, after the meeting."

"All right." Potter nodded, slowly and absently. He looked around the table as though only now becoming aware of the rest of the Order. "What's next?"

Arthur shuffled his parchment scraps apologetically. "Well, there's-- Molly, my dear, is there anything in the quartermaster's report that needs everyone's attention?"

"Nothing's changed since yesterday, except that we've eaten another day's rations." Molly was still watching Potter. Potter was still sitting very still, and breathing too regularly to be natural.

"I would like to bring back to the table an idea that Mr. Moody proposed last week," I said. Moody's magical eye swung round at once, and the flesh one followed. "Extending the defensive drills to the first- and second-year students. I think it's an excellent notion."

I waited for Potter to volunteer for drill duty, but I should have known better than to expect him to make my life easier. Potter stared at the Weasley clock for the rest of the meeting; if he noticed Moodys live eye on him, he gave no sign.

At meeting's end, Granger, still clinging to him like a limpet, steered him to the trapdoor while the rest of us were still shuffling parchment and peering into the dregs of our tea. She muttered something about spellbooks.

Potter broke away and stopped, feet on the ladder, hands on the ledge, and caught my eye, just for a moment, before looking past me to Lupin. "Remus?"

"Go with Hermione, Harry." Over years of delivering bad news, Lupin had perfected the voice for it. The few times hed ever tried the world-weary, insufferably gentle tone on me, I'd nearly spat in his face. To Potter, though, it seemed to convey that there was truly nothing else to be done; the boys whole body slumped, snapping the rope ladder tight against the stones. Potter hung his head and began to descend.

Really, this was intolerable. "Potter, you are not marching to the gallows." Granger shot me a poisonous glare as I shouldered past her to look down onto Potter's bowed head, but Lupin turned and stared, levelly and openly. Potter stopped, his shoulders tensing. "And even if you were, I can't imagine you'd make such a dramatic show of resignation. But it's all very well to play the martyr when--"

Potter looked up, eyes flaring. "You're loving this, aren't you, Snape? What's next? Have you found some way to make me renounce my father, too? Do you really think that's going to make a difference?"

"Harry--" Granger began, but he spoke over her: "You know you're still going to see them when you look at me." He said it to me, but then he leaned back on his braced feet and raked his gaze across the room. "If it would change that, don't you think I'd have gone looking for this spell?"

He half-slid down the ladder; his trainers struck the stones with a muffled slap. Granger sidled past me with a sour "Excuse me" and followed. Lupin was still watching my face. "That was really uncalled for, Severus," he said, pleasantly, as if remarking on the weather.

~*~

Potter was free to storm off in adolescent pique, but it took me the better part of an hour to extricate myself from Trelawney's aerie. Shacklebolt and the Weasley twins wanted to talk about incendiary potions, and Minerva about the Hufflepuffs I'd disciplined, and finally Moody cornered me and demanded to know what I was playing at-- "You said last week that no number of snot-nosed children flinging hexes would save us if the castle is breached. Change your mind, did you?"

"Not at all. But giving them some defense training might at least enable them to save themselves."

Molly Weasley was suddenly at my elbow. "It's sobering, isn't it, seeing everyone you know crowded into the castle like this? There really are so few of us."

There was no arguing with that. Even the tight-packed crowd that evening in the Great Hall at looked tragically small, when one considered that more than half of British wizardom was supping at five long tables.

Potter was not there when the meal started, nor when I finished my supper and fled the din for my dungeons. It was hours-- long enough for me to teach Bulstrode how to distill the Wolfsbane base solution from the infusion of aconite before I heard him slam my office door.

"It's wrong. It's unfair." He dropped a tottering stack of spellbooks on my desk.

I shut the workroom door behind me and threw the bolt. "Potter, I would think your life experience to date would have taught you that--"

"Not to me." He sat down heavily next to the books-- the pile leaned precariously-- and kicked my desk with his heels. "To her. Lily."

My surprise must have shown; Potter looked up and smiled bitterly. "I suppose I should get used to calling her that, shouldn't I?"

"It might be best." I moved the books to the floor, in two stacks.

"It's just-- this--" and he tapped his scar-- "that wasn't me. I was just a baby. Lily's the one who beat Voldemort. Lily died beating Voldemort, and all my life no one's ever given her credit for it, and now I have to-- I have to--"

"Now you have to vanquish the Dark Lord. As she failed to."

Potter stood up so quickly I nearly flinched. "You bastard." He wrapped his fist in the front of my robe, as if to fight me, but he pressed so close I could feel him growing hard against my leg. "You complete bastard. I don't know why I even come down here; I already know what you're going to say."

"The truth?" I closed my hand over his wrist, but I didn't pull his hand away. "If you want anything else, don't ask me. I'm not going to hold your hand, Potter."

Potter's hand twisted below mine, pulling my robe tight against my body and my body tight against his. "Suppose it's a good thing that's not what I come down here for, then." He thrust against my hip, just once, and spread his other hand across the back of my neck. "Isn't it?" And he claimed my mouth before I could answer.

The kiss grew rougher as it went on, all Potter's anger seeking a physical outlet. He held my head and pressed hard kisses into my mouth, our teeth clacking together, his tongue twisting and stabbing, trying to beat mine back by main force. I backed him against the desk, and he twisted in my grasp and suddenly unbalanced me; the desktop caught me in the backs of the thighs, and I fell across it, half balanced on its edge with Potter looming over me.

He was breathing hard. His hand still clutched a fistful of my robe. "Make up your mind, Potter," I hissed: "Fight or fuck."

"Fuck," Potter breathed, and I wasn't sure it wasn't a simple expletive until he reached into my robe and got his fist around my prick. His hand was hot, damp with sweat, skidding and dragging almost painfully against my skin. He jerked me quick and hard, without finesse, and I rose into his hand so quickly my head spun. I hiked my robe up to my waist, and spread my legs to let him touch me with both hands.

His too-quick, too-tight grip almost burned; burned, and made me gasp, when he licked his fingers and pressed them into me. The short, blind jabs of his searching fingers were all wrong-- too shallow, too dry, nothing like the right angle, but by now I was as impatient as he was; greater finesse would have been wasted.

Without uttering a spell-- and how he could keep such effortless control over his power, and so little over his rage was a mystery to me-- Potter reached out and caught a vial of lubricant, summoned from my bedroom. When his fingers came back slick and cool, I groaned my appreciation and pushed back; but when he pulled away and took his prick in hand, I reached out and caught his wrist. "No." He struggled a little against my grip, but I held on, and after a moment he let go of himself; his prick slid wetly against my thigh.

"I want to--" He thrust against me again and hissed through his teeth.
Potter pressed closer, trying to turn his slick hand to grasp mine. "I need-- fuck, anything, just--"

I wrapped his fingers around his prick and he groaned, thrusting blindly into his fist. "Precisely. I'm not giving it up until you're in a state to do the job properly."

He splayed his other hand across the front of my robe and let his head fall against my encircling arm. "Just do it. Do it, come on, I want-- I need--" His hips followed every motion of our joined hands, even as I jerked him faster, gripped him tighter. His teeth were bared, his eyes tight shut. "Fuck, I-- it's--" he struck my chest with the flat of his hand, useless flailing he must have felt more than I. Another blow, and another, and there was the rhythm he needed; he arched his back, muscles rigid and face locked in a wide grimace, and came all over my robe and his own pounding hand.

He collapsed against me all at once, his weight bearing me back onto the desk, and clutched tightly at my robes. It took a long time for his breath to slow; under my hand, I could feel the muscles of his back shuddering one by one into lassitude. His own robes dragged against my prick, an almost unbearable tease. When I tried to close his fingers around me, he finally raised his head from my shoulder and met my eyes.

"Hey." His face softened and I thought he was going to kiss me-- I parted my lips and leaned up to meet him-- but instead he pressed his forehead to my cheek, briefly and lightly; my kiss fell on his tangled hair. He stood up between my knees. "So. Where was I?"

I swallowed; my mouth was suddenly very dry and empty. "If you can't be bothered to keep track, Potter--"

He reached for the lubricant and slicked his fingers, each hand in turn. "Wait, it's all coming back to me now." He slid his hand along my prick, around and up and off-- I swore and tried to arch up into his warm fist. "Take off your robe first. You never let me see you like this--" he was back between my knees before I'd even untangled the robe from my arms and dropped it-- "all spread out and wanting."

"If I'd known you'd look at me like that," I murmured, as Potter lifted my leg over his shoulder. His gaze was greedy; the slow and lazy dip of his lashes across his eyes was as frank and as arousing as the bare parting of his lips, the almost-hidden flicker of his wet, red tongue.

"I like to look at you." He pressed a kiss against my knee and slid his fingers into me-- slowly, this time, so slowly that by the time I felt the heel of his hand against me, my shoulders and hands were pressed hard against the desk, scrambling for the leverage to fuck myself on his fingers, to make him give me more.

He didn't, yet, even when I swore, called him names, demanded he touch my prick; and he knocked my hands away when I reached for it myself. I could feel it leaking against my belly, so hard every twist of my hips jarred, every abortive thrust after Potter's fingers set me throbbing. Even inside, he would not touch me where I was neediest; after each too-light brush of the gland, he withdrew again and teased me with merciless shallow strokes, in and out no further than the square edges of his knucklebones. The smooth pad of his thumb pressed, now behind my balls, now along the ring where his fingers slowly twisted into me. He watched my face, and he watched his fingers in me, and he swallowed watching my prick twitch and swell. He licked his lips, unknowing, more than once, before he finally took me in hand.

I couldn't last, and I didn't: he speared me with another finger, stretching me-- I spasmed open around his fingers, and he pulled hard at my prick and slid in deeper, just deep enough to touch, just there-- he gripped me tighter and my whole body surged up into his two hands, spilling my release over my chest and my chin and into the hollow of my throat.

Potter, I saw, when I opened my eyes again, had managed to weather both climaxes without getting a drop of come on his robe. It was terribly unfair, and I said so.

"Teflon wizard," he said, incomprehensibly. He blinked at some private notion, and his grin dimmed a shade, but he didn't explain. He picked up my robe and wiped his hands on it; I glared up at him, and he shrugged. "Wasn't like it wasn't already covered in--"

"Yes, point taken." I levered myself up onto my elbows; Potter offered me a hand up, and I took it; it seemed the less undignified course. He pulled my wand out of my wadded robe and offered it to me. "Bed, Potter."

Potter was eighteen; he was half-hard again when he slid naked into my bed. For my part, my prick was spent, but my skin and my hands had not nearly had their fill of Potter's warm, pliant body. It was a rare pleasure to kiss him without urgency, to play with his prick as much as I liked without Potter biting his lips to hold himself back, or spurting without warning over my hand.

But after a while-- after long minutes spent sucking a glowering purple bruise into being above my collarbone-- Potter twisted in my arms, coming to rest alongside me; I caught him around the waist, but his prick slipped out of my grasp. I reached for him again and he stayed my hand. "Not yet. I-- I've been thinking."

"If you're still set on topping me," I said, "you could."

Potter shook his head. "Rather do the job properly, when I'm awake enough to pay attention."

"Wise decision," I agreed, though to my surprise I felt a twinge of disappointment.

Potter flashed a small smile. "But, no, it's not about that." He propped himself up on one arm. "Listen, that spell, the one you keep wanting to do." He ran his fingers down the inside of my left arm, over the Mark. He had never touched me there, not so deliberately, and the caress made me shudder, though I tried not to show it.

"Potter, if you intend to persuade me what a wretched idea it is, you're late to the party as usual. You heard me concede to--"

"But it would work." I stared at him. "I talked to Remus about it; he explained it all, the theory."

"Of course it would work," I said, drawing out the last word with heavy disdain. "That's never been the issue. It's all a matter of Minerva's sentimentality and Moody's strategic notions--"

"And they're both right," Potter interrupted. "It would be pointless to take Voldemort's top henchmen out if you can't touch Voldemort himself; he'd have the Death Eaters replaced before the day was out. But, about that. I was thinking-- what about my scar?"

Of course. I was a fool not to have seen it. Surely, it was mortification that made me suddenly cold. I reached up and lifted Potter's hair from his forehead. "Use your scar to channel the power. Attack the Dark Lord at a distance."

"There'd have to be more than that. I mean, that army's not going anywhere. But--" he rolled on top of me, draped a leg between mine and held my shoulders tightly. "Snape. Severus. I haven't asked you for anything. But will you promise me not to work that spell unless I... That we do this together? Together, or not at all?"

I looked up into his face. He had taken off his glasses, and without them his eyes seemed too big for his face, impossibly wide and bright. His scar was livid, the skin around it red, fragile and thin.

"We'd need help," I said at last. "You can't cast the proper hexes on me if I'm hexing you."

He nodded. "And even with them all gone, Voldemort and all the Death Eaters, his army's still better armed than we are. But a lot of them don't want to be out there. We'd--" he cocked his head and smiled bashfully-- smiled!-- "they-- the Order-- would have pretty decent odds, though."

I pulled him close so I wouldn't have to see that smile. "Potter-- Harry--"

"Just not yet, all right," he whispered into my hair, and maybe it had been less a smile than a nervous grimace. "Not until there's no choice. I don't want--" He shivered, and clutched at me with unsteady hands. "I keep finding reasons to not die yet."

I had no answer to that, except one useless truth: "You're not alone in that," I said. "Harry."