"Doctor, the Grangers are leaving now."
"What? Oh, thank you, Poppy," Severus set down the file he was reading on his desk and glanced up at his nurse. Technically, Poppy Pomfrey wasn't just his nurse; she was a member of the Hogwarts Psychiatric staff, but ever since he'd started at the hospital, she'd always been around and seemed to help his patients more than the other doctors.
Severus locked the file in his filing cabinet and followed the nurse out to the entrance hall. Hermione Granger had been a resident patient for almost a year and now as she was just coming up to eighteen, she either had to be sent to an adult ward or released altogether. The girl had suffered a nervous breakdown during her A Levels; as well as the four subjects she was taking she had also been doing correspondence courses that she hadn't told her parents about it. The girl was addicted to studying and it had all become too much.
Mr. and Mrs. Granger were hugging their daughter and crying openly. Their little girl was going home.
Mr. Granger looked up. "Dr. Snape!" he stepped away from Hermione and clasped Severus' hand in a firm grip. "Thank you so much for everything you've done for Hermione. We really appreciate it."
"I was just doing my job," replied Severus but he had to admit if even only to himself that he was damn good at it. The Grangers had taken their daughter to seven other psychiatrists who couldn't help her before turning to Severus. Hermione Granger would never be fully cured of her insatiable thirst for knowledge, but she had more control of it now and was hoping to retake her exams and get into university next year.
When Mrs. Granger had stopped hugging her, Hermione walked over to Severus and smiled at him. It had taken a while before he was able to see that smile and he basked in it now. This was what made his job worth it; to take a damaged youngster and see their smiles again. "Thank you for everything, Doctor," said Hermione as she gave him a brief hug.
"You're very welcome, Miss Granger."
"Ah, Severus, there you are. Can you come to my office, please?" asked Minerva McGonagall once the Grangers had left. "There's someone you need to see."
Severus hid his sigh well. His shift was over, Hermione Granger had been his last patient for today and he just knew that Minerva's news would mean he wouldn't be going straight to bed.
"Good luck," grinned Poppy as Severus followed Minerva down the corridor to her office. She left the door open; knowing that he would have followed. There was a man sitting on the chair opposite Minerva's desk. He had brown hair liberally peppered with a few streaks of grey and he had the pinched look of someone who hadn't been getting much sleep lately. His clothes were clean and well-tailored, if a bit wrinkled.
Minerva pushed the door closed after Severus entered and waved him into the other chair. "Severus, this is Remus Lupin. He's a magistrate at Winchester Crown Court."
"How do you do?" asked Severus, extending his hand. They shook hands and then turned to Minerva.
"As I said Mr. Lupin is a magistrate and he heard a very unusual and disturbing case the other day; he was hoping you might be able to help the boy involved."
"Minerva, you know I don't take on criminal cases. I'm sorry, Mr. Lupin, but the answer is no."
"You haven't even heard what it is yet. Please, Severus. You might be this boy's only hope," said Minerva.
"Okay, tell me. I'm listening." Severus crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair.
Lupin cleared his throat. "The boy's name is Harry Potter. He's seventeen and up until now had never been in any sort of trouble. Quiet, shy, never a bad word to say about anyone. He was arrested last week after blinding six horses with a hoof-pick. He was in the stables and was naked at the time. No one can understand it – not the stable owner, Mr. Weasley, or the boy's guardians."
"Yes, he's lived with his aunt and uncle for years, his parents died when he was a baby, he never really knew them."
"What did the boy say in regard to his actions?"
"Nothing. He didn't say anything. When the police got there and arrested him – he started singing."
"Yes, any time anyone asks him a question, he just starts singing. He won't talk to anyone."
"What does he sing?"
"Is that relevant?"
"It might be."
"Very well, he sings jingles. You know, from television commercials. He's going to be sent to jail if you can't find him a place here. I don't think he belongs in jail, but there's such a public outcry that something has to be done."
"Instead of a jail cell, you want a padded one?" Severus arched an eyebrow at the man, knowing full well that were no padded cells in Hogwarts. There were a few private rooms away from the main ward, but none of them were padded.
"Here's better than jail, surely?" asked Lupin. "Please, you’ve got to help him."
"And if he hasn't talked to anyone else, why do you think he would talk to me, Mr. Lupin?"
"Because of your reputation. You're the best, Dr. Snape. You're this boy's only hope."
Severus sank back in the armchair and took a swig of brandy. He'd never heard of anyone doing such violence to animals, except for sociopaths and they normally had a history that escalated. Nothing so utterly out of the blue like this. What on earth would have caused the young man to attack horses, when from all the people interviewed by the police; it appeared that the boy had always loved horses?
It was a mystery and if there was one thing Minerva knew about him it was that he could never rest until a mystery was solved. Really, he'd accepted the case as soon as Minerva had closed her office door. He couldn't turn it down; he was too curious and wondered if his skills were up to the task. It was the wrong time to wonder if he'd chosen the right career after all. The boy needed his help and Severus was nothing if not dedicated once he'd set his mind to something.
He lifted the thin file off his desk and started reading. For seventeen years of life, it didn't seem that Harry Potter had lived much of it. He worked at a shop during the week and worked weekends at the Weasleys' stables, or at least he had before the incident. His aunt had been a school teacher, but had left to look after him full time. His uncle was a printer who worked long hours and was hardly ever at home. Minerva had placed question marks beside Arthur Weasley, Petunia Dursley and Vernon Dursley's names, but Severus didn't need the hint. He fully intended to talk to all of them as well as Harry Potter.
Harry Potter. It was such a normal name, nothing out of the ordinary and yet the boy had done something so extraordinary, so outrageous that he'd heard people were clamouring to bring back the death penalty just for this case. It had made all the papers, the nationals too and the populace was baying for the boy's blood. What had driven him to such an act? Why would someone do something so cruel?
Severus was determined to find out.
The next morning, Poppy ushered the boy into Severus' office for his first official appointment. Like all the patients at Hogwarts he was dressed in his own clothes, in this case a pair of faded jeans and a navy-blue t-shirt. His trainers were scuffed at the toes and his hair looked as if it hadn't seen a comb before. The boy was short and lean, but from the tightly fitted t-shirt Severus could tell he was well-muscled, probably from all his work at the stables.
Bright green eyes stared defiantly at Severus from behind ugly, round-framed glasses, the cheapest ones available on the NHS. Severus made a note on his chart to delve a bit deeper into the Dursleys' financial situation. "So, Harry. You're seventeen, is that right? And you worked in Lockhart’s?"
"A Mars a day helps you work rest and play," sang Harry, still standing in the middle of the floor.
"Why don't you sit down?" said Severus, waving to the sofa and the chairs dotted about the room.
"Trebor Mints are a minty bit stronger."
"Oh, that's a good one. Do you know any others?"
Harry glared at him but made no move to sit down.
"I see you worked for the Weasleys for almost a year. Did you like it there?"
"Beans means Heinz."
"You left school at sixteen, before taking any exams. Do you ever regret that?"
"A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat."
Severus restrained himself with difficulty, the singing was getting rather irritating and he was getting nowhere fast.
"That will be all for today, Harry."
The boy looked surprised, but he didn't say anything. As he walked to the door, Severus ambushed him, hoping to surprise him into speaking.
"So who forbids television? Your aunt or your uncle?"
But the boy refused to answer and slammed the door shut on his way out.
Severus set his briefcase down on the table in the hall before going back to the doormat to retrieve that day's post. Two bills: gas and telephone and five circulars offering him great rates on credit cards. He ripped them up and put them in the wastepaper basket below the table; he'd put it there for just that purpose, fed up of getting junk mail.
He lifted up the bills and took them with him to the kitchen, setting them down on the worktop while he tried to remember where he'd hidden his chequebook. Not that the fact that it was hidden would deter any burglars who did in fact manage to break in, but Severus felt more secure knowing he'd hidden away his valuables. Maybe he should invest in a safe.
After a frustrating search through every drawer and cupboard, opening jars and boxes for good measure, he finally found it in the salad drawer in the bottom of the fridge. That particular drawer had never seen a vegetable in all the time Severus had owned it. His hours were so erratic that he didn't have much time for cooking or entertaining and he couldn't cook if his life depended on it. Minerva was always scolding him about his unhealthy eating habits; he lived on takeaways, ready-meals and whatever was going at the hospital canteen. The rest of the staff were the same; it wasn't just Severus who found little time to cook.
He wrote out the cheques for the bills and put them in their envelopes before going upstairs to pack a few necessities and get back to the hospital. It had been two weeks since he'd first seen Harry Potter. Two weeks seeing the boy for an hour every day and still Harry hadn't spoken one word to anyone. Oh, he'd sung plenty of jingles, but he still hadn't talked. Poppy had been on the night shift last week and told him that Harry had been having such nightmares and night terrors that he'd been scaring the other patients and he'd been moved to a private room.
Severus knew the nightmares were important, so he was going to spend the night at the hospital and observe the boy sleeping. He gathered up his rucksack which contained his soap bag and a spare change of clothes for the morning and headed back to the hospital.
"How's he been today, Poppy?" asked Severus, glancing at the sleeping boy through the observation window.
"He threw his dinner tray at the nurse and refused to eat any of it. Dr. Black had to sedate him afterwards, he just wouldn't calm down."
"How long ago was that?"
"About six hours ago."
"So it should have worn off by now," said Severus. If the sedatives had still been in his system, it might have prevented him from having any nightmares and although that was their goal eventually; Severus knew the demons of those nightmares had to be faced first.
"Would you like me to get you anything, doctor?"
"A cup of coffee wouldn't go amiss," said Severus with a grin.
"You and your coffee!" she laughed good-naturedly at him and headed off to make some.
Severus turned back to the window and watched Harry sleeping. He was wearing a pair of blue flannelette pyjamas which had pictures of yellow rabbits on them, certainly not something he could imagine a seventeen year old picking out for himself. The aunt perhaps? He'd have to have a talk with the relatives soon. They hadn't been in to visit Harry as far as he knew. Hogwarts wasn't a prison hospital; visitors were allowed and were in fact encouraged. He wondered why the aunt and uncle hadn't been in yet.
The boy on the bed arched his back, kicking at the bedclothes. "Eck! Eck! Eck!" he screamed over and over again, a sound of pure terror. His hands fought the air above him, punching at nothing. "NO!! Don't! He'll see! He'll see! Eck! Eck!" Harry's voice cracked at the end and sweat was beading on his brow as he struggled in his dreams. Severus' heart ached to help the boy in that room, but at the moment he wasn't sure how. Harry needed to talk or he would never get better.
"Eck! Eck!" Harry screamed again before his breathing evened out and he fell into a deeper sleep.
Eck? What did that mean? And who would see? See what? So many more questions that Severus had to find the answers to.
Privet Drive was a normal suburb with lots of square, boxy houses that stood shoulder to shoulder with each other. Number four was easy enough to find; there was no car in the driveway so Severus parked his own Ford Mondeo there and climbed out.
Mrs. Dursley opened the door before he even had a chance to knock. She was a thin, bony woman, who looked quite horse-like herself. "Mrs. Dursley? I'm Severus Snape; I'm treating your nephew at the hospital."
"Oh, please come in, doctor. Thank you so much for coming. I hope it wasn't a bother?"
"No, no bother at all. Anything that might help Harry is always worthwhile." Severus followed her into the hallway and then she ushered him into the living room. There was a brown velvet sofa with two matching armchairs and a glass-topped coffee table in front of an electric fire. She waved Severus into a chair, but didn't take a seat herself.
"If I might ask, Mrs. Dursley, why did you not come to the hospital to see me? You could have visited Harry as well while you were there."
"I wanted to talk to you, doctor, but I don't like hospitals. That's why I asked you to come and see me here. I knew you'd be wanting to talk to us. Vernon thinks it's my fault, I know he does!"
Severus saw the walls were covered in pictures of Harry from the time he was a toddler right up to recently. There was an elaborately silver framed photo of a baby on the mantelpiece. "Is that Harry?"
"No, that's our son Dudley. He died when he was a baby. Cot death." Petunia lifted the photo and clutched it to her chest. "That's why I don't like hospitals."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Petunia shrugged her shoulders. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Dudley died, but then we were given Harry to look after instead."
"What age was Harry when he came to you?"
"Just over a year old."
"And what was he like as a baby? Was he very fretful?"
"No, he was very quiet now you mention it. He never cried much, only if he needed changing."
"Did he ever wet the bed after he was toilet-trained?"
"Who were his friends? What did he like to do for fun?"
"Fun? I'm not sure Harry knows what fun is. He worked all week at the shop and then he worked at the stables at weekends; he never went anywhere else."
"Had he no interests at all?"
"Oh, yes. The horses. Harry loves horses. He's got a collection of toy horses in his room and a beautiful picture Vernon gave him from one of his calendars. Harry could sit and watch Westerns for hours; he would usually pretend to be a cowboy, but sometimes he pretended to be a horse and asked us to close him in the cupboard."
"The cupboard under the stairs; he pretended that was his stable and his clothes were hay bales. He was very imaginative."
"May I see his bedroom?"
"Of course, doctor. This way," Petunia said leading him up the stairs. Harry's bedroom wasn't quite like Severus expected it to be. There were no music posters on the walls, or film posters. The only books on the shelf were books on horses. A magazine had been spread open on the desk with a centrepiece of a herd of mustangs riding across a dusty plain; it looked like it had been waiting to be ripped out and placed with its fellows on the walls. The walls looked like they'd been wallpapered with horses, except for the wall directly opposite Harry's bed.
It held only one picture in a gold frame. A white horse; its head leaning over a fence and looking directly into the eyes of the watcher. The horse had a metal bit in its mouth and there were chains leading down, tethering it to the fence.
"He loves that picture," said Petunia. "He loved all my stories about horses and centaurs; he loved the idea of a horse and man being one. Did you know that when pagans first saw Christian cavalry, they thought it was the one animal? It was only when the men started falling off they realised it was two, a man and a beast. I was a bit relieved that Harry fell in love with this picture to be honest, the other one was a bit too much, even for me."
"The other one?"
"Yes," said Petunia, lifting down the frame and fiddling with it. "It replaced this one, you see? Our Lord just before his crucifixion. A bit too bloody, if you ask me, but Harry seemed to like it." The picture had Jesus wearing a crown of thorns; naked except for a loin cloth, his body covered in bloody scars. To one side, was the hand of Roman soldier wielding a whip.
They heard the front door slam, Petunia jumped and hurriedly hid the picture of the about-to-be-crucified Jesus underneath the magazine on the desk. "Petunia?" came a bellowing voice from the bottom of the stairs. "I can't get the bloody car in! What idiot did you let park on our drive?"
"We're up here, dear. It's Dr. Snape from the hospital."
A few moments later Vernon Dursley stood at the threshold to Harry's room but he didn't come in. "Why are there bars on the windows?" asked Severus. There was a row of twenty white horses along the windowsill.
"He sleepwalks, doesn't he? We didn't want him to climb out the window and break his neck one night."
"If you want to talk to me, you can do it downstairs. This bloody room gives me the shivers. All those horses; feels as if they're staring at you all the time. Have you offered the doctor some tea, Petunia?"
Petunia clasped a hand over her mouth, seemingly horrified that she'd forgotten her hostess duties and hurried away back downstairs. Vernon leant over the banister to make sure the kitchen door was shut.
"I didn't want to say this in front of Petunia, doctor. The boy has a right to his privacy after all, but I think you might need to hear this."
"Go on," urged Severus.
"Well one night, I was very late home from work. After midnight it was. I thought Petunia and the boy would have been long asleep. As I got upstairs, the boy's door was ajar and the light was still on. I meant to go over and tell him it was time he got to sleep, but after what I saw, I just couldn't speak. I was shocked, I don't mind telling you. I'm not a prude, Dr. Snape and I know that boys – well – that they sometimes touch themselves, but this was more than that."
Vernon shuddered. "He was kneeling on the bed, staring straight at that horse poster, his pyjamas down around his thighs; his top completely off."
"It's a perfectly normal pastime for teenage boys, Mr. Dursley."
"But that's the thing, Doctor. He wasn't – he wasn't doing that. At least not in a normal way. He had a rope tied around his head, holding it in his mouth like a horse's bit and he was chanting."
"Yes, like one of those bible verses, you know, So and So begat So and So. Only it wasn't names, it was just weird words. Neckwus begat Fleckwus, something like that. And then – and then –"
"Yes, Mr. Dursley?"
"And then he took a wooden coat hanger and beat himself with it, on the thighs and – and there," Vernon waved in the direction of his groin. "Now you tell me, does that sound normal to you?"
Severus sat through a terrible cup of tea in the tense atmosphere of the Dursleys' living room, the only sound the occasional sip of tea and a loud ticking from the clock above the mantelpiece. There was no television in the house.
"Where does Harry watch television?" asked Severus, setting his cup down on the coffee table. He thought the milk might have been sour and he didn't want to drink any more of the horrible tea.
"He doesn't," said Vernon. "I won't have it in the house. Nothing but rubbish on it anyway."
Petunia flushed and played with the necklace around her throat. "Erm, I let Harry go across to Mrs. Figg's if there's a Western on or something about horses."
"Well isn't that bloody brilliant? Here I am trying to better the boy and you let him watch that drivel behind my back! And you a schoolteacher!"
"There's nothing wrong with Westerns, is there, Doctor?"
"Nothing wrong? Nothing wrong?" boomed Vernon. "It's all this fascination with horses that's got him into this mess in the first place! You were always too soft on him! Not to mention filling his head with bible stories night after night! It's you and your god that's to blame for this, Petunia!"
"This has got nothing to do with God!" shrieked Petunia. "It was you, never taking an interest in him when he was growing up. You were never here!"
"No? Where was I? That's right; I was working my fingers to the bone so that you and the boy could have a roof over your heads and food on the table! That boy wanted for nothing! Nothing!"
"I'd better be getting back," said Severus, standing up and stretching. Both of the Dursleys looked surprised, as if they'd forgotten he was there.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Snape. Please forgive us. It's been a very trying time."
"I understand, Mrs. Dursley. Thank you for the tea."
That night Harry had another nightmare, Severus tried to wake him up, but the boy was too deeply asleep and he had to let him sleep through it. There had been no progress during any of the boy's daily sessions. It was still the jingles and the disconcerting stare. It was as if Harry could see through him; right down to his bones, down to his soul and it was not very comfortable to endure.
In Friday's session, three weeks after he'd first come to the hospital, Harry finally sat down on one of the armchairs, but there was still that stare. It was accusing; but what was it accusing Severus of?
"I spoke to your aunt and uncle yesterday," said Severus, but there was barely a flicker of recognition from the boy.
"The crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate never tasted before."
"Wouldn't you like to know what they said?"
"Nuts, whole hazelnuts. Cadbury's take them and they cover them in chocolate."
"Do you like chocolate, Harry?"
No reply, not even a sung one. "Very well, that will be all for today, Harry."
The boy shot up from his chair and stood facing Severus down. "You can't do that! I know! I know!"
"You know what, Harry?"
"You can't just chuck me out! I heard the others talking downstairs. You get paid to talk to me for an hour every day. My hour isn't up!"
"I get paid whether or not I talk to you. So if you're not going to talk, there's no point in you staying in this office for an hour, is there?"
"You have to talk to me!" The boy sounded desperate.
"Okay, Harry, what shall we talk about?"
"Dunno," he trailed his left toes along the tiled floor. "You're the doctor. Aren't you supposed to ask me questions?"
"Are you going to answer them?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders.
"How about we do something different? Would you like to play a game?"
"What sort of game? Monopoly? I'm not good at chess or anything like that. I'm too stupid."
"Stupid? Who told you that you were stupid?"
"It's not Monopoly; it's a different type of game. I'm going to tap my pen on the desk. When I tap it once, I want you to close your eyes. When I tap it twice, I want you to open them again. Can you do that? You can sit back down if you want."
"Okay," said Harry and sat down on the same chair he'd stood up from. "What does it do? It seems silly."
"It will relax you; make it easier for you to talk to me. Ready?"
Harry nodded. For about fifteen minutes, Severus kept tapping his pen on the desk, until Harry's eyes stayed closed completely. "You're feeling very relaxed, Harry. Nothing can harm you here. Once we're finished, you'll remember everything we've talked about. Now, I want you to think back. Think back to the first time you ever saw a horse. What age are you?"
"And where did you see the horse?"
"On the beach."
Harry tried to wriggle out of his aunt's grasp as she attempted to slather him in sun cream. He didn't like it; it was awful, sticky stuff that smelled funny and made the sand stick to his hands. "I want to build sandcastles!"
"In a minute, Harry. I don't want you burned."
"Stop coddling the boy, Petunia and let him play! You've used up half a bottle of that stuff already!"
"Harry's got delicate skin," said his aunt, rubbing the cream into his arms and chest. "There. All done; now you can go and play. Don't go too near the water."
"The tide's out, woman!"
Harry was glad to escape their arguing and wandered along the sand with his red bucket and spade. He'd wanted a blue one, blue was for boys, but the shop only had red ones left so he had to make do. At least his new swimming trunks were blue and he liked the way they fitted him there, so tight and snug. His feet sank into the wet sand and he giggled to himself, what would happen if the sand sucked him right down inside it? Were there fish under there? There were little bubbling pools in the ripples of sand and he sat down and began to dig with his spade. His uncle had told him wet sand was the best sand to build sandcastles with and since Harry had never been to a beach before nor built a sandcastle, he decided his uncle probably knew what he was talking about.
He dug up the sand and placed it in his bucket with a wet 'plop', intent on his task. There was a loud splashing from behind him. Harry turned round and gasped at the sight before him. A large, black horse with a metal bit in its mouth, white foam dripping from it.
"Doesn't that hurt?" asked Harry.
"It's just to control him, it doesn't hurt," said the horse's rider, patting its neck. "It doesn't hurt at all, does it boy?"
Harry smiled; he was a boy too.
It hurts all the time.
Harry knew the man hadn't spoken the words, but horses didn't talk did they? Or maybe only special people could hear them? Like that story Aunt Petunia told him about a horse that only one special boy could ride; the horse bucked everyone else off.
"He's beautiful," said Harry. "Can I pet him?"
"Of course you can," smiled the man. The horse whinnied a little as Harry approached.
"Just go slowly so that he knows you're not going to hurt him. Horses are very sensitive creatures."
Harry nodded; he didn't want to hurt the horse. He slowly lifted his hand and stroked the horse's muzzle. It was so soft under his hands as he stroked and stroked. There were little puffs of air from the horse's nostrils as he allowed Harry to pet him.
Can't you take it out? Harry asked the horse, referring to the bit.
It doesn't come out. Ever.
Oh, I'm sorry.
"What's your name?" asked the rider.
"Would you like to go for a ride with me, Harry?"
"Oh, can I? Please!" said Harry enthusiastically.
"Of course you can. Prince likes you, don't you boy?" The horse neighed and threw back his head as the rider reached down and yanked Harry up onto the large horse. He placed Harry in front of him and wrapped his arms around Harry's waist, holding him securely. Harry's hands tangled in the horse's soft mane, although he tried to be as gentle as he could. The rider clicked his tongue and the horse trotted along the sand.
Harry's legs and bottom were wet where he'd been sitting in the wet sand, so he tried to shift forward a bit so that he wouldn't get the riders nice clothes all wet. "No, lean back against me, Harry. It's safer for you that way. We don't want you falling off, now do we?"
"No, sir," said Harry, leaning back, his back against the man's chest. He thought he felt the man kiss his head, but it could have been just a bit of wind blowing his hair.
"Do you want to go faster?"
The man did something with his legs and the horse sped up, galloping along the beach, splashing through shallow puddles. Harry laughed and screamed as they rode along the beach. But then it all went wrong.
"How did it go wrong, Harry?"
Harry's eyes shot open. "NO! You can't ask me any more! I'm not doing this any more! It's tricks! It's all tricks!"
"Okay, Harry. We don't have to do any more today but I'd like you to do something for me, a bit of homework if you will."
"What?" Harry asked sullenly.
"I see a lot of patients, Harry and sometimes they want to tell me things, but they don't feel comfortable talking about some things, so they use a tape recorder. They speak into that and then give me the tape; they don't even have to be in the room with me as I listen to it. Do you think you can talk about what went wrong with a tape recorder?"
"Will anyone else hear it?"
"No, anything you tell me is confidential, Harry. No one else will hear it except me, I promise."
"Thank you, Harry."
It was another three days before Severus found Harry's tape sitting on his desk. The boy himself was nowhere in sight, despite it being time for his session. Severus hunted out his headphones and plugged them into the tape recorder.
"This is stupid," said Harry's voice and there was an audible click where he'd turned the tape off before starting again.
"What went wrong? That's what they all want to hear, isn't it? Did that man do something to you? Did he touch you? Did he make you touch him? No, he bloody didn't! That isn't what you want to know, is it? You want to know how I felt on that horse, don't you? Shall I tell you? You won't understand it, no one will."
Another click as the tape was paused. "Was it sexy? That's what you really want to know, isn't it? Was it sexy riding that horse? How could it not be? The horse was sweating, it rubbed off on my legs and I was sliding backwards and forwards, rocking on it. All that power, that strength between my thighs! And the smell; that wonderful, horsy, clean smell as we rode and rode. I was hard and I wanted something but I didn't know what, not then. Faster! Faster! I told the rider and he obliged; we weren't galloping, we were flying until my uncle ruined it!" The tape paused again and Severus wondered if the memory of the ride had made Harry need to masturbate before he could continue.
"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing with my nephew? Get down from there! Uncle Vernon pulled me down from the horse and then he saw I was hard, my swimming trunks didn't hide anything. My aunt was there too and they both started shouting at the man. You pervert! What did you do to my nephew? I started crying, I was upset I wasn't on the horse any more, that I didn't get to finish the ride. What I really wanted was to come, but I didn't know that then. My uncle called the police and they took me to a doctor, not one like you. One who poked and prodded and asked over and over again if that man had done anything to me. He hadn't, but they didn't believe me, they thought he'd threatened me not to tell on him." Another click.
"After that day, I just had to see horses. Anywhere, I'd run up country lanes and look into fields just to see if there were any horses there. I loved the shape of them; all regal and straight. The way their necks arched and sweat gathered in the folds. Their strength, I loved their strength. They're so strong, they could smash us to bits with their hooves if they wanted to, but they never do. They just obey us with chains in their mouths and as a reward for their loyalty we whip them and beat them. I loved the words too, 'saddle', 'stirrups', 'spurs', 'flanks', 'reins', 'chains'. The words make me ... Oh God!" The boy moaned and the tape stopped again.
"Did I wank then? You want to know, don't you? Well, you can just figure it out for yourself if you're so fucking clever!"
The tape clicked and the rest was a blank whir.
"Thank you for coming down, Mr. Weasley."
Arthur Weasley was a tall, balding red-headed man who had the weathered, wrinkled face of someone who worked outdoors a lot.
"I didn't want to. It was Molly insisted I come down and talk to you. That boy should be dead for what he did to my poor horses! I should have killed him that night! I almost did, you know."
"I understand he worked at the stables for almost a year? Did you have any trouble with him beforehand?"
"No, that's the thing. I thought he was a real find. Spent hours with the horses, grooming them, making sure all the stalls were clean. Nymphadora's had a breakdown; I don't think she'll ever get over it. Blames herself, you see. She was the one as introduced him to me when he was looking for a job. She's had a breakdown, but no one's bothered about her, are they? She's not in a cosy room with three square meals a day! That boy deserves to be punished!"
"Mr. Weasley, I understand that in all the time Harry worked for you, he never rode the horses? Does that strike you as unusual?"
"Of course it does, if it was true! Most people want to work in the stables so that they can get free riding lessons. It's one of the perks, but he never took any official lessons, never rode the horses at all, at least not when anyone could see him."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm not sure, but I think he was taking the horses out at night. Some mornings I'd come in, this was real early, mind you, and Nugget – it was usually Nugget – would be sweaty and his stall was too clean for if he'd been in it all night. I think that boy was riding the horses in secret."
"Why would he do that?"
"How the hell should I know? Isn't that your job?"
"And Nypmhadora, who is that?"
"Nymphadora Tonks. She was one of my stable hands."
"Was she Harry's girlfriend?"
"I doubt it, the boy didn't seem to have much time for girls, it was all about the horses with him. I think Nymphadora had a bit of a thing for him though, but he didn't seem to notice. A bit shy around girls, he was."
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley. That's all I need to know for now."
Mr. Weasley made his way to the door and turned back round. "He should be strung up, he should!"
"So, Harry, why don't you tell me a bit about Nymphadora?"
"She liked to be called Tonks, she hated Nymphadora."
Severus couldn't blame the poor girl after being saddled with a name like that. "Were you friends?"
"I listened to your tape."
The boy blushed and put his hands under his thighs.
"How did you meet Tonks?"
"At the shop."
"Lockhart's? What did they sell?"
"Electrical stuff and hardware."
"Harry, you can take your lunch break now." Mr. Lockhart smiled at him, all perfect white teeth. He was a bit odd: he wore bright colours all the time and seemed to think he'd been a famous actor once, but Harry had never heard of him. It was okay working for him though; once he'd shown Harry the stock room and how to use the till, he left him to his own devices most of the time and Harry was usually there on his own.
"Thank you, Mr. Lockhart," said Harry as he finished serving his customer, counting out their change. He went into the stockroom to grab the plastic carrier bag containing his lunch and was out the door in a matter of moments. The stables were half a mile out of town, but Harry could walk fast and he got to spend about fifteen minutes watching the horses before he had to start walking back. He ate some of his lunch on the way, but he was too excited to be hungry so most of it he left in a bin before he got anywhere near the stables.
He paused by the gate and glanced over at the three horses that were in the courtyard. Oh, his favourite one was there. A large chestnut with dark eyes. He was beautiful and Harry's hands itched to stroke him. There was a girl brushing the horse and talking to it. She glanced over and gave Harry a wave. He hurried away, his face flushing at being seen. He would have to try to be more unobtrusive in future.
After his scare at being seen, Harry couldn't stay any longer and made his way back to the shop, kicking at stones along the road. The girl shouldn't have seen him, what must she think of Harry just standing there and staring at the horses?
"Back already, Harry?" asked Mr. Lockhart with a smile as soon as Harry was through the door, the bell tinkling at his entrance. "That works out well. We've just had a delivery that I need to unpack; can you take care of the shop floor?"
"Of course, Mr. Lockhart."
"Good lad, Harry. You're an excellent worker you know."
"Um, thanks," said Harry with a fierce blush. He hated getting compliments, he was never quite sure if people were teasing him or not. Once Mr. Lockhart had ducked back into the stock room; he turned back round to the counter only to come face to face with the girl from the stables. He blushed even harder and tried to avoid her eyes. Glancing down he noticed she was wearing skin-tight jodhpurs and he hurriedly looked up again.
"Hi, I wondered if you had any- oh! It's you, the boy from the stables. You're always watching them at lunchtime."
"N- n- no, that wasn't me," protested Harry.
"It's all right; you're not in any trouble. Were you looking for a job at the stables?"
"Is there one going?"
"There might be. I'd have to ask Mr. Weasley."
"I could only do weekends," Harry blurted out before he could stop himself. What was he thinking? He'd never get the job.
"That's fine; most people want to ride at weekends, that's when we need the most help. Why don't you come over to the stables on Saturday and I'll introduce you to Mr. Weasley? He'll probably be able to find something for you."
"Thank you very much, I'll be there." Harry could barely let himself hope. To be able to work with horses. To brush them; to stroke them; to ride them. No, he couldn't ride them, he couldn't. They'd find out his secret if he rode the horses. He couldn't ride them, but oh, how much he wanted to.
"Oops, almost forgot what I came in for. Do you have any black boot polish?"
Harry turned around and hunted in the shelving behind him before finding a tin and setting it on the counter. "The name's Tonks by the way. My parents christened me Nymphadora, but I hate that." The girl, Tonks, was having trouble getting the money out of her pocket and Harry wasn't surprised, considering how tight her trousers were. Her hair was dyed pink today; last week it had been purple and the week before it had been bright blue.
"There you go," said Tonks, finally managing to get her money out and left it on the counter. "See you Saturday...?"
"Oh, I'm Harry. Harry Potter."
"See you then, Harry." Tonks waved goodbye as she left the shop. Harry took a deep breath and leaned his hands down on the counter. His heart was hammering against his ribs and he felt a little dizzy.
"Pretty girl," said Mr. Lockhart emerging from the stock room. "Is that your girlfriend?"
"No, we're just friends."
Lockhart gave him a grin that seemed to say he didn't believe him.
"Did it bother you, that Mr. Lockhart didn't believe you?"
"No, why should it? I was telling the truth."
"So Tonks was never your girlfriend?"
"The Milky Bar Kid is strong and tough. Only the best is good enough."
"I thought we'd got over all that nonsense, Harry," sighed Severus. "Very well, I'll see you tomorrow."
But Harry didn't leave.
"Do you f-fuck her?" Harry stumbled over the word, as if he hadn't used it much before.
"Are you trying to shock me, Harry? I've heard worse words, believe me."
"Well do you? I bet you do. I bet you fuck her so hard she can't walk."
"The nurse, Pomfrey. Or do you have a wife?"
"I'm not married and Nurse Pomfrey and I are just colleagues."
"You're a bit old not to be married, aren't you?
"I'll ask the questions, Harry."
"That's not fair!" Harry pouted, sucking on his lower lip. It was cracked and chapped, as if he'd been licking or biting it quite frequently.
"But that's the way things are here."
"I hate it here! You can't keep me here! I want to go home!" Harry began to rush around the room; knocking papers off the desk and yanking pictures and certificates down from the walls.
"That's enough, Harry!" Severus stood up as Harry lifted his foot and ground his heel into the glass on one of Severus' favourite pictures, sunset over Crete. It was beyond repair.
"How dare you! Get out, now!" roared Severus. "You have no right to damage my things!"
"And you have no right to go poking about in my mind!" retorted Harry.
"Get back to your room, now!" ordered Severus, physically pushing the boy out of his office and into the corridor. Harry gave him a two-fingered salute before stalking off, back to his room. Severus locked his door and sank back into his armchair.
After that little outburst, he knew he was going to have the dream again tonight.
The dream was always the same. Severus was standing in an ancient temple. It might have been in Greece or it might have been somewhere completely different; the details of the temple itself were never too clear. What was clear was the sea of children in front of him; boys and girls, all dressed in white. They were sacrifices and he was the High Priest required to sacrifice them. He was wearing a mask that covered his face, but beneath it he could feel his face sweating as he held the knife aloft. A cold sweat that trickled down his face and settled in the hollow of his throat.
He knew he'd got the job because of his skill with the knife; that if he hadn't been so good at gutting children, one of his assistants would have become High Priest instead and would have been the one who cut open the children. The two assistant priests dragged another child onto the altar – an altar already slick with blood, the base of it strewn with entrails.
All the children had Harry Potter's face, boys and girls both and his hand shook. His hand never shook. He could feel nausea rise in his throat and the cold sweat was getting worse as he brought his knife to the boy's throat. Neck to groin, that's how he ripped them open. The assistant priests were looking at him strangely; he could feel his mask slipping. Once it fell they would see how sick this was making him and Severus knew he would be the next person on that altar; his entrails the next to be added to the pile on the floor.
His alarm clock beeped him awake before the dream got that far. "Fuck!" gasped Severus, running a hand through sweaty hair. He was shaking after the nightmare and he sat on his bed for ten minutes trying to calm himself before heading for the shower. How he was going to face the boy today after he'd lost his temper with him yesterday was a mystery. Severus should never have shouted at Harry, no matter how many pictures he destroyed. Harry was a very unstable young man and he needed help, not censure.
Severus turned the shower up as hot as he could stand it, almost to the point of pain. The dream was still in his mind over breakfast and he had barely eaten half a bowl of cereal before he had to rush to the sink to throw up. Were Harry's nightmares as bad as that one? Maybe they needed to talk about Harry's dreams today, although the boy had never shown any indication of wanting to talk about them before.
Mrs. Dursley was waiting for him in the hospital car park with a small blue holdall in her hand. Surprised didn't quite cover it.
"Mrs. Dursley, have you come to see Harry?"
She shook her head. "No, I won't stay, Doctor. I just wanted to leave some of Harry's things. Some clean clothes and pyjamas and I brought in his picture, the one of the horse."
"I'm not sure giving him that picture is such a good idea, Mrs. Dursley. Not after what's happened."
"Oh. Oh, I see. How silly of me. Well, can you give him the clothes?"
"Of course. Are you sure you don't want to come in and talk to him?"
"No, I'm sorry. I just can't. Tell him. tell him I hope he gets better soon."
"I will, Mrs. Dursley. Thank you."
The woman hurried off, as if afraid that the longer she stayed, the more inclined she might be to actually go inside the hospital and visit Harry. Harry had never mentioned that his relatives hadn't visited him; he never seemed to compare his situation with the other residents, who seemed to have visitors every day. Severus wondered how it made Harry feel. Maybe it was something else to explore in Harry's next session.
When he got inside the building, there was a commotion from Harry's bedroom. Severus strode into the room where Harry was tucked in one corner and Poppy was bending over him, trying to get him to eat his porridge. She had wrenched the boy's jaws apart and was forcing the spoon inside his mouth. Harry was struggling, trying to avoid it altogether.
"NO! You can't make me!" Tears were streaming down his face as he fought against her.
"I assure you that I can make you eat, Mr. Potter. I can strap down you on the bed and force-feed you through a tube. How would you like that?" Poppy managed to get a spoonful of porridge inside his mouth; Harry spat it out at her, splattering her white uniform with grey.
"Nurse Pomfrey, that will be all," said Severus coldly.
"I said that will be all. I will take care of things from here."
"Of course. Very well," said Poppy as she began to gather up the breakfast things.
"No, leave the tray."
She nodded and hurried out, while Severus turned away from Harry and gave her a nod, to let her know he wasn't really angry with her. Harry was upset with the nurse and if he thought that Severus was also angry or upset with her, it might make him open up more. Two allies united against one foe.
Once Poppy had left, Severus coaxed Harry back into bed. He was still sobbing and looking so ashamed at doing so, but he couldn't stop. Harry was still wearing the bunny pyjamas.
"Did your aunt buy those pyjamas?" asked Severus as he lifted the tray from the floor and set it on the table at the foot of the bed. He lifted up Harry's chart and glanced through it. His temperature and blood pressure were normal over the past few days so he didn't think Harry was ill. Why wouldn't he eat?
"No, she made them," said Harry. "The shops don't have pyjamas like this in my size."
"Pyjamas like what?"
"Children's pyjamas. I'm not a child!"
No, but perhaps his aunt wanted to keep him as one? Was she afraid of losing Harry like she'd lost her son? Severus flipped a few pages back on the chart; Harry hadn't eaten anything since Wednesday and the boy was so thin that he couldn't afford to lose any more weight.
"Why are they doing this?" wailed Harry, whose stomach started grumbling loudly.
"Trying to tempt me," said Harry, pointing at the tray of food. "I can't eat it. I'm not allowed."
Severus had an idea; he removed his diary from his briefcase and scanned back to Wednesday. As he thought: Ash Wednesday. "How long have you been fasting during Lent?"
"Since I was thirteen," said Harry with a fierce blush.
"Why since then? Why not before?"
"Because that was when I became a sinner."
Harry should have been in bed, but he'd heard his aunt and uncle arguing about him so he'd sneaked out of his room and was now sitting halfway down the stairs, holding onto the slats of the banister as he tried to make out what they were saying.
"It's perfectly normal, Petunia! The boy's just growing up!"
"It's not normal! It's a disgusting sin! He's going to go to Hell if he doesn't stop!"
Harry's breath hitched; he didn't even know what it was he was supposed to have done.
"His bedclothes were messy again! That's the third time this week! It's not you who has to do the washing!"
Harry shrank back against the wall and began to bite his nails. He didn't mean to make the bedclothes messy; he tried not drinking anything so late at night and going to the loo straight before bedtime, but still he managed to wet the bed. He didn't know wetting the bed was such a sin. Would he really go to Hell?
"Petunia, he can't help having wet dreams, no one can! It's not a sin! And if you'd let him masturbate like any normal teenager, he wouldn't make the bedclothes so messy! He could take care of it before it got that far!"
"How dare you mention that depravity in this house! I'm trying to save his soul and you're trying to make him sin!"
"You should have let him take that class in school; he needs to know, Petunia."
"No he doesn't! He doesn't need to be exposed to that filth!"
His aunt came marching out of the living room and saw him sitting curled up next to the wall on the stairs. "Were you listening to that, Harry?"
"So now you know. You're a sinner, Harry; do you know what that means?"
"That I'm bad?"
"No, Harry. You're not bad, but sometimes you do bad things. You have to atone, you have to make amends or you'll never be redeemed. Do you want to go to Hell?"
"God sees everything, Harry. He watches you all the time. He knows when you sin. He knows when you even think of committing a sin. Your body is a temple, Harry, and it belongs to God. It's only on loan to you. You have to look after it, not corrupt it with bad thoughts or disgusting deeds."
"I don't understand," said Harry. He felt like he wanted to cry; she seemed so angry with him and Aunt Petunia had never been angry with him before.
"That," snarled Petunia, pointing to Harry's groin. "That thing is the origin of your sin, Harry. You can't give in to it. Don't touch it except for when you're washing and eliminating waste, and don't look at it either. It will try to lead you astray, Harry, and you can't let it tempt you into sin."
"I don't want to go to Hell!" sobbed Harry and in moments his aunt had bounded up the stairs and wrapped her arms around him. "Ssh, Harry. Ssh, it's all right. You won't, not if you don't sin like I told you."
"B - but what if I keep wetting the bed? I don't mean to! I don't!"
"If it happens again, you know what you have to do. Like I showed you in the pictures. They were atoning for their sins, you can atone too. But you must be really, really sorry."
Harry nodded; he'd been fascinated with the pictures of men whipping themselves ever since his aunt had shown them to him. It reminded him of horses and how they would be whipped by their riders. He could have something in common with the horses.
"I don't have a whip," said Harry.
"It doesn't need to be a whip, Harry. Just something that will hurt you. The pain will remind you of your sin and maybe stop you committing it again."
"Thank you, Aunt. I'll try to be good, I promise."
Privet Drive was rapidly becoming like an outpost of Severus' offices. It was clear from talking to Harry that his upbringing had some effect in how he dealt with things now and yet again he needed to speak to Petunia Dursley, for she still refused to see him at the hospital. Some of Severus' colleagues were great proponents of family therapy, seeing everyone at the one session, but Severus wasn't convinced that it would be the ideal situation for Harry. The boy still found it difficult enough to talk to Severus on his own, if there was anyone else there he was bound to clam up entirely.
As well as the awful tea; this time Petunia had laid out a plate of sandwiches and biscuits. He noticed she ate some of the sandwiches but didn't touch the treats. "Have you given them up for Lent?" he asked as introduction.
"Anything with sugar," she amended.
"Did you know that Harry is fasting completely and is refusing any food at the hospital?"
"Yes, he always does. Ever since he was thirteen. I tried to tell him that he didn't need to go to that extreme, but he insisted. It was his decision, Doctor."
Interesting; trying to get in quickly that it was Harry's decision, as if perhaps she had a guilty conscience about it.
"And was it also his decision to practise self-flagellation?"
Petunia pursed her lips and didn't answer.
"You do realise that starving yourself for forty days is very unhealthy? Not to mention the psychological risks."
"Hallucinations, nightmares to name but two. When the body is starved of fuel, the mind likes to play tricks on us."
"He did have lots of nightmares," said Petunia. "But he never could tell us what they were about."
"There's something else I need to talk to you about, Mrs. Dursley. This is delicate. I'm sorry but I need to know in order to better help Harry. How knowledgeable is Harry on sexual matters?"
The woman coughed and spluttered her tea. "What has that got to do with anything?"
"It could help Harry."
"He doesn't know anything about that. He doesn't need to." She set down her cup and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Mrs. Dursley, Harry is seventeen years old and you're telling me you don't think he needs to be aware of sexual matters at all? Did he not receive any sexual education at school?"
"No, I refused to sign the form to allow him to go to that class. It shouldn't be allowed, teaching children about sex! It's wrong!"
"And I presume he never received any at home, either?"
"Of course not! I'm trying to bring him up right."
"What about friends?"
"He didn't have any friends; Harry was always a bit of a loner. He much preferred his own company."
"I see." It was making Severus more and more confused; if Harry hadn't attended his school's sexual education class, had apparently no friends and did not receive any instruction at home; then where did he hear the word fuck and know its definition? Or perhaps he'd heard it and didn't quite know what he was asking when he asked Severus if he'd been fucking Poppy Pomfrey. He also used the word wank on his tape, so obviously Harry was picking things up from somewhere. The stables? That seemed the most likely place.
"Thank you, Mrs. Dursley. I can see myself out."
As Severus went outside, he met Vernon Dursley who'd just got out of his car. "Oh, Dr. Snape. Is everything all right with Harry?"
"Much the same, Mr. Dursley. I've just been talking to your wife; she doesn't seem to think that Harry needed to know anything about sex."
"No. I disagreed, so I told him about masturbation and wet dreams. He thought he was wetting the bed but I explained that it was something else. I'm not quite sure he believed me."
"Thank you, Mr. Dursley. I must be getting back."
Harry was ten minutes late for his appointment and when he did arrive, he hung just outside the door as if afraid to come inside the office he'd trashed so badly the day before. "I'm sorry about your picture," said Harry at long last. "I shouldn't have touched your things."
"No, you shouldn't," agreed Severus. "Come in, Harry." Severus noticed that Harry was wearing a long-sleeved shirt today and warning bells started ringing in his head. He knew there was no way Harry was just going to roll up his sleeves without a fight. Severus went to his drawer and pulled out a syringe and a vial. "Roll up your sleeve."
"I need to give you an injection."
"What is it?"
"Just roll up your sleeve, Harry."
"NO! I don't want any more injections!" He folded his arms across his chest much like his aunt had done earlier that day.
Severus set the syringe back down on his desk. "Let me see your arms, Harry."
"Why?" he wailed.
"Because I'd like to check the damage. You punished yourself, didn't you? For what happened here yesterday? You felt you had to atone for destroying my things?"
Harry gaped at him. "How - how did you know that?" Harry slowly rolled up his left sleeve and Severus saw the few faded scars he'd already seen and newer cuts that had scabbed over.
"What did you use?"
But Harry was quiet again and they had fifteen minutes of singing that afternoon. Harry just refused to answer any of Severus' questions. Some days it felt that they were making progress, at other times he felt like he was talking to a brick wall. "Shall we play the pen game again, Harry?" asked Severus, feeling exasperated.
The boy glanced up and nodded. At least it wasn't another bloody jingle. "Are you going to use it on me?"
"I heard some of the other boys talking. There's a truth drug, isn't there? Where you have to tell the truth even if you don't want to. The drug would make you say everything."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "I don't know where they heard that. It's a very experimental treatment, it hasn't been tested yet."
Was it his imagination or did Harry sound disappointed? There was no such thing as a truth drug, but maybe Harry would be more open to talking if he thought there was? "However, the hospital is in talks with the drug company to see if we want to run a trial here. Would you be interested in taking part in it, Harry?"
"What would I have to do?"
"Just sign a form that you agree to take part in the drug trial for a set amount of time."
"And it would make me talk about things? Even if I couldn't talk about them before?"
"Yes, I'd look to do the trial."
Severus made a fuss of writing it down in his notebook and could tell Harry was watching avidly. "Why don't you sit back down and relax? I'll get my pen." It was barely five minutes before Harry fell into a light trance again. "It's just like before, Harry. These are just memories, they can't hurt you here. You'll remember what we've talked about but you'll feel better about getting things off your chest. Now, think back. How did your meeting go with Mr. Weasley that first day?"
Harry had been too excited to sleep. According to his alarm clock it was almost one in the morning and his uncle still wasn't home yet. His aunt had gone to bed around eleven and the house was in darkness. It was a full moon; he'd opened his curtains so the light could shine on his picture. He was aching again; down there and now that his uncle had told him about his seed coming out; he knew he was being tempted to sin. His aunt had said it would cause him to sin; he didn't want to sin, so he did the only thing he could. He had to atone before he was tempted to do something, although he wasn't entirely sure what.
Harry knelt up on his bed and removed his pyjama top and pulled the bottoms down around his thighs. He searched under his pillow for the rope and lifted up the coat hanger that hung on the footboard. His hands were always sweating before he started and his heart felt too big for his chest. That vile, sinful part of him got harder too as soon as he put the rope in his mouth like the bit the horse in the picture was wearing.
"Prince begat Prance.
And Prance begat Prankus.
And Prankus begat Flankus.
And Flankus begat Spankus.
And Spankus begat Spunkus the Great,
who lived threescore years.
And Leckwus begat Neckwus.
And Neckwus begat Fleckwus,
the King of Spit.
And Fleckwus spoke
out of his chinkle-chankle.
And he said, Behold, I give you Equus,
my only begotten son."*
Severus didn't need to hear any more; he knew what had happened. It was the night Harry's uncle had seen him beating himself with the coat hanger. "Equus, Harry? Who's Equus?"
Harry's eyes opened, but he still looked a little bit unfocused. "Equus. The spirit of horses, their god. He's in all horses."
"I see. And you got to sleep after that?"
"Not straight away, I heard footsteps outside my room. My uncle had seen my ritual; no one was supposed to see. It's private, between me and Equus and I was afraid Equus was angry that I hadn't finished."
"I had to offer it up to him as a sacrifice, you see."
"What, Harry? What did you have to sacrifice?"
"My - my seed. It belonged to him."
Harry could hardly eat his breakfast on the Saturday morning. His stomach felt as if it was filled with coiled snakes and if he tried to eat any more he was bound to throw it back it up again. Aunt Petunia complained that he was being wasteful, but Harry barely heard her. His mind was on the job interview. What if Mr. Weasley didn’t like him? What if the horses didn't? What if he couldn't actually do the job? His aunt had already read him the riot act about working on Sundays but his uncle had spoken up for him and she had reluctantly backed down and allowed him to go to the interview. Harry knew that if he couldn't work the whole weekend, then Mr. Weasley probably wouldn't have much use for him.
Petunia started washing up the breakfast dishes, tutting when she scraped the remainder of Harry's cereal into the bin. Harry lifted the tea towel from the peg and waited to dry the dishes his aunt had washed. They didn't speak a word to each other. Harry knew she was still a bit annoyed with him over the job at the stables, but she had agreed to give him a lift there, as Vernon was away at a conference and hadn't taken the car with him.
Harry normally took the bus to work and he knew his aunt would not make a habit of giving him a lift there. His uncle normally had the car anyway so Harry knew he'd be using the bus quite frequently again. Once the breakfast dishes were dried and put away they made their way to the Weasleys' stables. Again, the whole journey was made in silence. Harry had heard all of his aunt's arguments already and he didn't want to start arguing again, so he said nothing.
The stables were a lot busier on a Saturday morning than they had been during the week. Horses and riders were dotted about the courtyard, along with the staff and riding instructors. All of the staff wore dark green t-shirts with Weasleys' Riding School embroidered in yellow over the breast pocket. There seemed to be a predominant amount of redheads among the staff and Tonks' pink hair stood out among them like a rose in a field of sunflowers.
Some riders were already seated on the horses, some were being helped on or off and the whole place was bustling with energy. Tonks waved when she saw Harry in the car as Petunia drew to a stop outside the gates.
"Do you know that girl?" asked Aunt Petunia, sniffing loudly. Harry guessed his aunt didn't approve of Tonks' dyed hair.
"I met her at the shop. She told me about the job."
"I see. So she's to blame for all this nonsense."
"It's not nonsense," said Harry quietly.
"You were quite happy working at the shop until she came along. I don't want you hanging around with her, Harry. I can tell just by looking at her that she's trouble. Stay away from her or I won't let you take this job."
"Yes, Aunt," sighed Harry. He didn't want to bother trying to explain that if they both worked at the stables then they were bound to run into each other at some point; he could hardly avoid her and Harry didn't think he wanted to. Tonks seemed to like horses too, maybe he'd finally found a friend.
Harry climbed out of the car; his aunt drove off and as he waved goodbye to her, he felt an enormous sense of relief that she was gone. Tonks hurried over to him, after giving the reins of the horse she'd been grooming to a younger, redheaded girl wearing the staff t-shirt. She hooked her arm through Harry's and dragged him across the courtyard.
"Come on, Harry. Mr. Weasley is up at the house. He can't wait to meet you."
As they rounded the corner of the stable block, a tall redheaded man blocked their way. His long hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was wearing an earring in the shape of a fang. His face was sunburned and he stared at both of them with pale blue eyes. His jodhpurs seemed even tighter than Tonks' and Harry felt his eyes drawn to the muscles of the man's thighs. He blushed, his mouth going dry, and he looked down at the ground. "Tonks, where are you going?"
"It's all right, Bill. This is Harry Potter. Your dad's expecting us."
"Oh, right. The new stable boy. Welcome to the madhouse, Harry!" Bill Weasley smiled at him and Harry was so flustered that this handsome man had actually smiled at him that he couldn't formulate a reply. Tonks came to his rescue, dragging him away from the stables and up a dirt track leading to the strangest house Harry had ever seen. It was tall and crooked; it looked like it should have fallen down long ago but still seemed to be standing.
An older redheaded man was weeding in the garden. He stood up when he saw them, removing his gloves and setting them on the low wall that surrounded the garden. "You must be Harry. Good to meet you." Mr. Weasley held out his hand.
"You too, sir," said Harry shaking the man's hand. "I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity."
"Have you ever worked with horses before?"
"No, sir, but I really like horses. I've read a lot about them."
"Well, we have enough riding instructors for the moment, but we could always do with extra hands to muck out the stables, groom the horses and clean the tackle, that sort of thing. Do you think you'd be interested in that?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"It's five pounds an hour and riding lessons twice a week."
"I'd rather not ride, sir."
"It doesn't cost anything extra; it's one of the perks."
"I'd still rather not, sir."
Mr. Weasley shrugged his shoulders. "It's up to you, of course. You don't have to ride if you don't want to. Tonks, why don't you show him the ropes?"
Harry wasn't quite sure what had just happened. Did he just get the job? "This way, Harry," said Tonks, grabbing his arm again and dragging him back towards the stables. The riders had all gone; Harry and Tonks were the only two left. She ushered him into the stable. Most of the stalls were empty, but Harry's favourite chestnut horse was there, munching on some oats.
"Oh, Nugget's here. I can show you how to groom him," said Tonks, lifting down two strange looking brushes from a shelf along the wall. "You stroke him with the brush like this," Tonks opened the stall door and went in. She stroked Nugget from his neck and down towards his back and flank with the brush. "Then you rub the brush along the curry comb to get rid of the hairs." Tonks brushed Nugget a few more times before handing brush and comb to Harry. "Now, you try it."
Harry thought he'd died and gone to Heaven. The stables reeked of horse and Harry couldn't believe that he was actually standing here. He'd never forgotten that first ride and he never thought he'd be able to get so close to a horse ever again. Nugget startled when Harry first lifted his hand.
"Gently, don't spook him," said Tonks.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," said Harry, as he lifted the brush and brought it slowly along Nugget’s neck and began to stroke. He brushed and brushed, feeling soothed as he did so. Nugget had stopped worrying and was staring at Harry with deep, dark eyes. Harry stared into those eyes and was sure Equus was staring back, pleased with Harry's work.
"You're a natural," Tonks smiled at him. "Most people hate the grooming; they just want to ride."
"Why? It's wonderful. So relaxing."
Tonks laughed. "Let's hear that again in six months when you feel your arm's about to fall off after grooming ten horses in a row!"
"Open your eyes, Harry," said Severus, tapping his pen on the desk again. Harry stared around him and Severus noticed the boy's face was streaked with tears, although he hadn't heard any weeping. "Harry? Do you want to tell me how it made you feel to remember that?"
"Sad. I never meant to hurt him! I never meant to hurt any of them! I loved them! I loved them!"
"So why did you?"
"Do the Shake'n'Vac and put the freshness back." Harry's eyes glazed over and Severus knew he wasn't going to get the answer to that question today.
"Very well, Harry. We'll leave it there for today. Have you eaten anything at all today?"
"No. I can't."
"Harry, you do realise that starving yourself is not the answer to anything? In fact, it could be making your problems worse. It can cause hallucinations and nightmares."
"And the Lord spent forty nights and forty days in the desert, fasting and praying."
"Do you think you're God, Harry?"
"No, but I'm bad. I have to atone."
"Being locked up in hospital isn't atonement enough? I want you to eat, Harry. You are not divine, only human, and humans need food to survive. It can be something simple and plain; but please, Harry, you've got to eat."
"Bread and water," Harry said quickly. Severus wasn't surprised to recognise it was the sort of food served in Victorian prisons. Harry seemed determined to punish himself in whatever manner.
"Okay, I'll let the nurses know. That will be all for today, Harry." Harry nodded and shuffled out the door; his head hanging so low it was a wonder it didn't trail along the floor.
Once Harry was gone, Severus sought out Minerva in her office. The woman was up to her neck in paperwork and waved him in with an impatient hand. "Yes, Severus? What is it?"
"I wondered if I might take Harry for longer sessions; an hour just isn't enough to get to the root of this. Sometimes I feel a breakthrough coming on and we have to finish, starting from square one the next day."
"What about your other patients? Harry isn't the only resident who needs help."
"I know, Minerva, but he is the only one who'll get sent to prison if we don't find out why he did what he did."
"True. If you can get someone else to take over your caseload, then yes, you can have as long as you need to with Harry."
"Thank you, Minerva. You're an angel."
She smiled at him. "I think my halo's slipped."
Author's Note: A lot of this part was taken almost exactly from the play but mixed in with some bits of my own.
Two days later, Severus had managed to get Sirius Black and Pomona Sprout to oversee his other patients; they divided the patients up between then and now Severus had plenty of time to spend with Harry. Poppy had told him that Harry was eating bread, but only plain bread, he refused any that had even a bit of butter on it. He was drinking lots too, so at least he wasn't getting dehydrated, but Severus knew it wasn't the best situation.
Severus' office was open and Harry hovered by the threshold. "Come in, Harry."
Harry's clothes looked a bit looser on him these days; he kept having to hitch up his jeans. None of the patients were allowed a belt. "Did you get it?" Harry asked eagerly.
"The truth drug? No, not yet, I'm afraid. I'd like to try and put you into a deeper trance today, Harry. It will help you talk. Do you want to try that?"
"Okay." This time Harry sat down without being prompted. Harry didn't know that his session was going to last as long as Severus deemed it necessary.
"I want you to feel as relaxed as you possibly can, Harry. Rest your hands on your thighs, that's it. Listen to my voice; you're feeling sleepy, but aware. Your eyes are feeling heavy. You can't keep them open for much longer. You want to close them. You want to remember. You want to remember."
Harry's eyes were closed and he was breathing shallowly. "Can you hear me, Harry?"
"Where are you?"
"In the hospital. In your office."
"Very good. Now, I want you to go somewhere else. You're in your bedroom, looking at the picture of Equus. It is of Equus, isn't it?"
"Yes. He's in chains."
"Why is he in chains?"
"For the sins of the world."
"I see," replied Severus. "Does he speak to you?"
"Yes." Harry was getting a little restless now and shifted on the chair.
"Would you like to kneel in front of him, Harry?"
"Yes." Harry stood up from his chair and knelt down on the floor, opening his eyes and staring straight at Severus with worship in his eyes. Only Severus knew it wasn't himself that Harry was seeing.
"What does he say to you?"
"That he'll save me."
"Do you need saving, Harry?"
"How does he save you?"
"Bear me away, two will become one."
"Horse and rider should be one beast?"
"One person. And my chinkle-chankle shall be in thy hand."
"Chinkle-chankle? That's his mouth chain?"
"The stables are his temple? Is that right?"
"You're at the stables now, Harry. Equus called you there, didn't he? He wants you to ride?"
"Yes, but I mustn't tell the others."
"They'd be jealous. He only speaks to me."
"How did you learn to ride the horses? Did you watch the others?"
"Sometimes, when they didn't know I was watching."
"It still must have been difficult; it's not easy riding a horse. Did Equus teach you?"
"No! He showed me nothing! Ride or fall, that's straw law."
"He was born in the straw and this is his law."
"I see. How often did you ride?"
"Every three weeks. People would have noticed."
"You're at the stables now, Harry. You're in his temple. What happens when you ride?"
Harry pushed open the door; the only light came from a sliver of moon behind him. Most of the horses were asleep, but Nugget was standing wide awake in the first stall, as if he knew Harry would come for him tonight. As if Equus had been waiting for him. Harry eased the latch down slowly so as not to wake the other horses. He eased up Nugget's hooves and placed the sacking on them to muffle his footsteps when they got to the courtyard. The chain was next, but Harry never really liked putting it on the horse and always felt as if Equus was staring out through Nugget's eyes and condemning him for it, even as he stretched his neck out to accept it.
He never used a saddle, just a lead and walked Nugget out to the courtyard and then down to the fields surrounding the stable. Nugget was quiet, happy to be led. Harry stopped by the trunk of the tree at the entrance to the field and removed his clothes, folding them in a neat pile. Nettles stung his bare feet, but he could handle the pain. It was another form of atonement after all.
Next to where he folded his clothes, he found the stick for his own mouth. He didn't want it to happen too quickly, worship should take time. Nugget was munching on the grass as Harry stared up at him. Harry caressed the horse, starting with his neck and moving down to his back before rubbing his belly. Nugget stared at him with dark eyes, glinting in the moonlight. His nostrils flared and Harry knew they were both almost ready. He searched his jeans and found the sugar lump he'd stolen from his aunt's kitchen earlier. It had started to crumble and bits of fluff from his pocket were stuck to it, but Nugget didn't seem to mind. Harry offered him the sugar, his last supper. "Take my sins," said Harry. "Eat them for my sake." Nugget ate the sugar and Harry watched, fascinated, as the horse's mouth moved and saliva dripped out.
Harry nuzzled the horse's neck, his arms wrapped around him, knowing it must be soon. He was hard already and he needed to finish the ritual. Nugget always stood still for him as Harry climbed up; it was a little difficult without stirrups or saddle, but Harry managed by holding onto the trunk of the tree for support.
He groaned around the stick in his mouth as his bare skin comes into contact with the horse's coat. Harry clucked his tongue and pushed his thighs against Nugget's flanks to get the horse to move. They trotted along for a little while until Harry could barely tolerate the bouncing and the rubbing against his lower body. He rocked backwards and forwards on the horse, just like that first ride, only this time he knew what to do to complete the ritual, to make Equus happy.
Harry pulled the stick out of his mouth and stored it between the reins before screaming his prayers to the night sky.
"What prayers do you say, Harry?"
"Equus, son of Fleckwus.
Son of Neckwus.
The king rides out on Equus, mightiest of horses. Only I can ride him. His neck comes out of my body. It lifts in the dark.
Equus, Godslave. Now the King commands you. Tonight, we ride against them all... the hosts of Bowler...the hosts of Jodhpur...all those who show you off for their vanity...tie rosettes on your head for their vanity.
Come on, Equus, let's get them.
And Equus the Mighty rose against all. His enemies scatter. His enemies fall. Turn! Trample them! Turn! Trample them! Stiff in the wind. My mane, stiff in the wind! I'm raw, I'm raw. Do you feel my raw? Feel me on you? On you! I want to be inside you. I want to be inside you, and be you. Forever one person. I love you! I'm yours! I'm yours!"
On the floor, Harry's eyes fluttered shut. He moaned and shuddered in ecstasy, his neck flung back, his arms outstretched as he spent himself in his trousers, a wet patch staining the front of his jeans. The memory was obviously too much for him and the climax brought him out of the trance. Harry gaped aghast at Severus and struggled to stand up. He stumbled a little as blood rushed back into his legs; he'd been kneeling for quite some time.
"What did you do to me? You made me sin! You made me sin!" he wailed. "It's only for him! Only for Equus!"
"Harry, no! It was just the memory of the ride that affected you. You didn't sin. Your body just remembered how it felt to be riding Equus again and it responded; you did nothing wrong."
"He'll punish me! He'll punish me!" Harry sank down to the floor again and curled himself into a ball, tucking his knees tight against his chest and wrapping his arms around them. Severus knew what he was about to do was highly inappropriate, but right at that minute, he couldn't have cared less for propriety. There was a troubled and trembling boy lying on his floor in need of some comfort, for after having seen the Dursleys, Severus realised they had damaged this young man more than they realised. He would get no comfort from them.
Petunia had her head full of sin and punishment and had been determined to get Harry to feel guilty about even the simplest of human pleasures. Vernon was hardly ever there and even when he had been he barely used Harry's name. It was the boy this and the boy that as if Harry was a thing, a possession to be fought over rather than nurtured and loved like a person should be. Severus knelt down on the floor and tugged Harry towards his chest. He wrapped his arms around Harry and as if on instinct, Harry's head sought out his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around Severus' neck, trembling and shaking.
Harry sobbed for what seemed like hours, little shuddering breaths that made Severus' own breath hitch in response to the pain he was going through. Severus stroked his back, trying his best to soothe him without words, for he knew of no words that might help right at the moment. Harry just needed to be held, to know that he wasn't alone.
"I - I got your shirt wet," said Harry finally.
"That's all right, Harry. It'll wash."
Harry shifted. "I - I'd like to go back to my room now."
"Of course." Severus stood up and then helped Harry up from the floor. Harry didn't look at him; his eyes were rooted to the floor.
"I can't go like this," said Harry, glancing down at his stained trousers. "They'll see."
Severus popped his head round the doorway and as he hoped, Poppy was sitting at the desk outside his office and going over some charts.
"Poppy, we've had a bit of an accident; can you bring Harry some clean clothes? Underwear too."
"Of course, Doctor," she replied and bustled off.
"Thank you," said Harry when Severus turned back to the room. "Thank you for helping me."
"That's my job, Harry."
Harry turned away and faced the wall but not before Severus saw the fresh tears trickling down his cheeks.
Dr. Snape waited outside the office while Harry changed into his clean clothes. His face was hot with shame as he removed his soiled clothes and rinsed them out in the sink which was on the back wall of the office. The doctor had seen him do that; had heard what he'd done, what he'd wanted to do with the horses and Harry didn't know how he was going to face the man ever again.
He wanted to go home, but where was home? He'd lived with his aunt and uncle for years, but he had never really felt that he belonged there or that he even knew them that well. His uncle was always working and sometimes Harry never saw him from one end of the week to the other and when he was at home, his aunt and uncle seemed to argue about Harry constantly and how he should be brought up.
Harry had never had friends at school; he was bullied because of his glasses and because he was different. He'd never been able to keep up with the gossip of what had been on television the night before and they laughed at him because he couldn't read properly, always stuttering over the words whenever the teachers called on him. At first it was just name-calling and insults, but then they ganged up on him and the beatings had started.
Harry had lost count how many times he'd ended up in hospital with broken bones; his aunt wanted to complain to the school, but his uncle had insisted that it would toughen him up, make Harry stand up for himself. Fighting back had never really been an option, there were too many of them and although Harry sometimes got in a defensive punch or a kick; he always ended up the loser in any fight.
Tears trickled down Harry's cheek as he washed his clothes. It shouldn't hurt so much, should it? That Dr. Snape had said he was only doing his job. Harry thought the doctor liked him, that he was helping him because he wanted to. But Harry was just a job, just like Harry selling toasters in the shop. Was Harry just another toaster in a long line of toasters? Harry sniffled; snot was running down the back of his throat and his chest was aching.
There was a knock on the office door. "Harry? Are you all right?"
Harry wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm fine." He took out his wet clothes and held them in his hands, not sure what to do with them before opening the door.
"The laundry would have taken care of those, Harry," said Dr. Snape.
"I know. I just didn't want them to see."
"You can leave them here; I'll take them to the laundry later."
"Okay," Harry set the clothes down in a pile on the floor, folding everything neatly as his aunt had taught him. "I - I'll see you tomorrow."
Harry almost ran back to his room; he knew he was going to start blubbing again and this time he wanted it to be in the privacy of his own room. It was the first time he was glad he'd been given his own room; before he'd felt singled out, too much of a freak to be allowed on the ward with the other boys.
Harry pushed his door open and ripped off his glasses. He flung himself face down on the bed, muffling his sobs with his pillow. He wept and wept before finally succumbing to an exhausted sleep.
On Easter Sunday, Severus finished his second cup of coffee, put the finishing touches to his notes and glanced at his open office door. There was still no sign of Harry; he was over half an hour late for his appointment. After the breakthrough a few weeks ago, Severus wanted to try and get Harry to talk about what happened the night he'd blinded the horses, but if Harry didn't even feel like coming to his session, talking was probably the last thing on his mind.
Severus sighed and put his notes away. Just as he was about to go into the corridor and search out Harry for himself, he found Poppy rushing towards him in the opposite direction. "Severus! Come quickly! Harry's on the roof!"
Severus and Poppy ran for the lift as if the hounds of hell were after them. "Is anyone with him?"
"Dr. Sprout is trying to talk him down, but he wants to talk to you."
"Come on, come on!" Severus said, tapping his foot as the lift seemed to ascend at a snail's pace. Finally the lift juddered to a halt on the top floor of the hospital and they climbed out. There was a small flight of stairs to the roof of the building and Severus ran up two steps at a time, Poppy closely following on his heels.
The wind buffeted them as soon as they were outside the door and it was a struggle to make their way to the two figures standing close to the edge of the building. There was a low wall encircling the roof. Harry wasn't standing on it yet, much to Severus' relief; Pomona was a few paces behind him. Harry was staring down at the ground so far below him.
"Harry!" Severus called over the roar of the wind. The boy was still in his pyjamas – the bunny ones; he turned on hearing Severus' shout. Silent tears were making silvery tracks on his cheeks and he was shivering, whether from the cold or from fear, Severus didn't know. Severus had seen a few suicidal patients in his time, but he had never seen such a look of despair on anyone's face before. Severus could tell that Harry thought he was in a deep, dark pit and could see no way out of it. No way except one.
"Harry, come away from there. Let's talk about this."
"I don't want to talk! I talk and talk and it doesn't get any better! It doesn't help!" Harry screamed.
"Please, Harry. It just takes time. It will help you. I've got the drug today."
Harry's eyes widened. "The truth drug?"
"Where is it?"
"It's in my pocket. I couldn't leave it lying around."
Severus removed the bottle of pills from his pocket; they were really only a placebo, but Harry didn't need to know that. If he was convinced they would make him tell the truth, then they probably would. He rattled them against the glass and walked towards Harry.
"Don't come any closer!" warned Harry, shuffling towards the end wall.
Severus stopped mid-stride, not wanting to risk Harry jumping. He could hear the wails of sirens from the fire brigade in the distance but if he could manage to talk Harry down, the firemen wouldn't need to stop Harry's fall. Severus hoped it wouldn't come to that. Harry had never shown any signs of being suicidal; he self-harmed but he had never given Severus the impression that he was even considering killing himself.
"Harry, why did you come up here today?"
"You know why!" sobbed Harry.
"No, Harry. I don't. I'm not a mind reader."
"You said it would be private! You lied to me!"
"My tape! You said no one would ever hear it! But they did! They did!"
"Who, Harry? Who heard it?"
"The other boys! They played it and then they laughed at me! Just like all the others!"
Poppy clasped a hand over her mouth. "Oh, Doctor! It's my fault! I forgot to lock your tape recorder away the other night; some of the boys must have stolen it."
Harry glanced from Severus to Poppy and back again. "You didn't give them the tape?"
"Why would I have given them your tape, Harry?"
"I - I thought you did it to make fun of me."
"Harry, come down. We need to talk about this. Please come down, we can talk in my office. You don't want your therapy session up on the roof, do you?"
Harry shook his head and stepped away from the edge. Severus grabbed hold of him, his heart threatening to fly out from his mouth, before Harry could attempt to get back to it. Harry shivered the whole way down in the lift. Once they were both back in his office, Severus wrapped Harry up in a blanket and settled him in an armchair, before making him some hot chocolate.
"What is it?" asked Harry, sniffing his mug.
"It's hot chocolate, it'll warm you up."
"Chocolate?" Harry set the mug down on the floor. "I can't. It's not plain."
"Lent's over, Harry. You can eat what you want now."
"Oh. I didn't realise. Time feels strange in here."
Severus nodded, but he knew that a lot of the strangeness could be put down to the fact that Harry had been starving himself for the best part of two months. Maybe now that they could get some food into him, he might find the nightmares easing up a bit. Severus waited patiently while Harry drank half of the chocolate.
"Did you really think I'd make fun of you, Harry? What gave you that idea?"
"I - I thought you liked me. That you were my friend."
"I do like you, Harry, but we can't really be friends. You're my patient and I'm here to help you. You don't need me to be your friend; you need me to be your doctor."
"I – I wanted a friend," said Harry. "That's why I started talking to the other boys, but they all had friends already. They told me that you and the other staff talk about us and laugh at us behind our backs, at how crazy we are. I thought you'd given them the tape, that you wanted to make fun of me in front of them."
"Harry, I would never do such a thing to any patient. I'll be having a word with those boys. Who were they?"
"No! I can't tell you! That would just make it worse!"
"You said on the roof that others had laughed at you. Were you bullied at school, Harry?"
Harry nodded miserably. "I don't want to feel like this anymore," said Harry. "Can you help me? Please?"
How long had Severus been waiting for just those words?
"I will certainly try my best, Harry."
It was Wednesday before Harry felt like talking. While he wasn't in a therapy session, he was in his room; locked in it actually. The staff didn't want to have to get him down from the roof again and Severus could hardly blame them. Harry was now on a round the clock suicide watch. His room had been searched and anything that might have been considered a danger had been removed. The nurses escorted him to the bathroom and back again; his meals were delivered on plastic plates with plastic cutlery but according to Poppy he had at least started eating properly again.
The aunt had a lot to answer for. Imagine letting a seventeen year old starve himself for the best part of two months!
Severus was already waiting by the door when Harry knocked lightly on it. "Come on in, Harry," said Severus opening the door and standing aside so that Harry could come in. There was a lingering lemon scent from the hospital issue shampoo and Harry's hair was still damp from his shower. Clumps of it stuck up at odd angles like stubble in a field of wheat after the harvest.
There was a small bit of stubble round Harry's chin as well; he hadn't been allowed anywhere near a razor for the past few days. "I'd like to try the truth drug," said Harry, settling down into what Severus had begun to think of as Harry's chair. It was the one nearest the door, sideways on so that Harry could see if anyone else was going to come into the room.
"Are you sure, Harry?"
"Very well." Severus removed the bottle of pills from his pocket and set them on the desk before going to the sink and filling a glass with cold water. He handed Harry the glass and then gave him two of the sugar pills. Harry swallowed them both in quick succession and gulped down a mouthful of water, some of it trickled down his chin. He wiped his hand across his mouth and set the glass down on the floor.
"I don't feel any different," said Harry.
"No, you won't. Not unless you try to lie."
"Oh. I see."
"Can you tell me about that night, Harry? The night you hurt the horses. What were you doing at the stables so late?"
Harry twisted his hands in his lap and began to talk.
"You're doing great there, Harry," said Bill Weasley as Harry finished grooming the last horse of the day. The riding school had closed for the evening and most of the workers were heading home as well. This was the worst part of the job, having to go home after spending all day in the stables. "Dad thinks you're doing really well."
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley," said Harry, grinning from ear to ear. "I love it here."
"I can tell; you're a natural with the horses. The name's Bill, you don't have to call me Mr. Weasley."
Harry blushed and hid his head against the horse's neck. Bill made him feel ... Bill made him feel as if he was galloping through the fields but without a horse or a bit in sight. The horse he'd been brushing neighed and started stamping his hooves, as though Equus could tell what Harry was thinking and disapproved.
"Here, let me finish up. You head on home," said Bill, taking the brush out of Harry's hand. Harry didn't really want to leave but now that Bill had the brush there was no reason for him to stay.
"Okay. See you tomorrow."
"See you," called Bill as Harry made his way to the courtyard. Tonks was waiting for him standing on the fence, they usually took the bus home together; Tonks' stop was just a few before his.
"Hi, Harry. What are you doing tonight?" asked Tonks with a broad grin.
"Nothing. Just going home."
"Do you want to go into Winchester with me? We can go to the cinema, there's a film on I'd like to see but I don't want to go on my own."
"I don't know, my aunt's expecting me back for tea."
"Ring her and let her know you'll be late. Or do you want me to?" Tonks climbed down from the fence.
"No, I'll do it," said Harry. He didn't want Tonks ringing his aunt, she was bound to disapprove if she knew Harry was going anywhere with a girl, especially one she'd already warned him against. He headed back to the stable block; there was a payphone on the wall just outside. His aunt had given him some money for emergencies so he had enough change to ring her. He twisted the cord round his hands as he waited for someone on the other end to pick up. What was he going to say?
"The Dursley residence," said Aunt Petunia at the other end of the phone.
"Hello? Aunt Petunia? It's Harry. I'm going to be late back for tea."
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing. Just something's come up at work."
"I see. How long will you be?"
"I don't know," Harry twirled the cord tightly around his hand.
Aunt Petunia sighed. "Very well, but if you're not back by ten, I'll be giving those Weasleys a piece of my mind."
"Right, 'bye," said Harry hanging up quickly and taking a deep breath. He'd just lied to his aunt. He'd just lied to her and she didn't know he'd lied. Harry had never lied to her before and he felt guilty about it. Tonks was still grinning when he made his way back to her.
The bus to Winchester took less than fifteen minutes; fifteen minutes during which Tonks chattered on about something or other, but Harry hardly heard her. He was too busy looking out the window at the fields passing them by, trying to catch a glimpse of any horses.
When the bus pulled to a halt outside a shop in the high street; Tonks had to yank on his arm to get his attention.
"You were miles away," said Tonks.
"Sorry." Harry followed Tonks out and then she turned down a small alleyway, away from the bustle of the shoppers. Large bins dotted the alley; mangy cats and dogs fought over the scraps of food thrown out by various restaurants and shops. Harry had never been to the cinema before; but he was getting very nervous walking down this alley. He'd thought the Odeon was at the other end of the high street.
"Tonks? Are you sure this is the way?" asked Harry.
"Yep, just a bit further," she replied, grasping hold of his hand and tugging him along with her. Harry's hands started to sweat, but it didn't seem to bother Tonks. She stopped in front of a nondescript black door, almost invisible against the grime of the wall that surrounded it. There was a neon-flashing sign above the door, three Xs. Tonks pushed the door open and dragged Harry inside.
The foyer was small and there wasn't a popcorn or sweet stand in sight; just a middle-aged man sitting behind a small glass booth. "Two please," said Tonks, not even saying the name of any film. Maybe the cinema was only showing one, but Harry hadn't seen any posters outside.
"Are you both over eighteen?" asked the man, jabbing a nicotine-stained finger in Harry's direction.
"Of course we are," replied Tonks before Harry opened his mouth to protest that he wasn't. What sort of cinema was this?
The man grunted and pressed a button, two tickets appeared at the front of the ticket desk. Tonks handed over the money and gave one of the tickets to Harry. There was no film name on the ticket either; just the words 'admit one'.
"What film is it?" asked Harry when Tonks led them to the door behind the ticket desk.
Tonks giggled. "Just wait and see."
The cinema itself was dark except for a few lights down the narrow gangway between the two blocks of seats. Tonks led Harry to the back row and they settled themselves in two empty seats just as the projector whirred into life and the film started. Tonks took Harry's arm and wrapped it round her shoulders when the music started and the lights dimmed, making his breath hitch.
Harry gasped in shock when he saw what was on the screen; a naked woman taking a shower. He'd never seen a naked woman before and the sight was doing strange things to his midriff. His face was burning, his whole body felt hot. Half an hour later he was hard and aching, watching the antics of the people on screen; men and women, women with women and even men with men. Harry had never imagined such things were possible. Did people actually do those things? Beside him, Tonks was breathing heavily and trying to cuddle closer to him as much as the seats would allow, but the armrest got in the way.
All around them in the cinema, a lot of the patrons were moaning almost in time to the actors on the screen. The door behind them opened, Harry glanced around and his erection deflated as suddenly as if he'd been doused in cold water.
"Oh God!" he whispered hoarsely.
"What?" asked Tonks, glancing around too.
"It's my uncle!"
"Harry Potter!" boomed Vernon, causing all the other patrons to turn around and stare at the little drama being played out at the door. "Come out of there at once!"
Harry slunk down in his seat, as if that would make him invisible.
"Do I have to come in there and drag you out? Come here!"
Harry had no choice.
He and Tonks stood up and followed Vernon out into the street. Vernon never said a word until they were back onto the high street.
"How dare you! How dare you go to such a place to watch filth like that!" bellowed Vernon.
"I'm sorry, Uncle." Harry wished the ground would open up and swallow him at any moment now. "I've never been there before, I swear!"
"It was my fault, Mr. Dursley," said Tonks. "Harry didn't know where we were going; I just wanted to surprise him."
"Surprise him? By taking him to a place like that? To see films like that?" Vernon's face was turning purple.
"They don't shock me, Mr. Dursley. I find them funny, I thought Harry would too. What were you doing there?" asked Tonks.
Harry had wondered that himself, but he would never have had the guts to ask his uncle outright.
Vernon spluttered. "How dare you insinuate such things, Missy! For your information, I had an appointment with the manager; he wanted me to price up some posters and fliers. But now I've seen what sort of things they show, I doubt I will be accepting his business! Come along, Harry. We're going. The car's parked down the street."
"I can't!" said Harry.
"What did you say to me?"
"I can't go home yet! I have to take Tonks home, it's proper!"
"Right, I'll give you a lift." Vernon jangled his car keys in his hands.
"We can take the bus," said Harry firmly. He didn't want to spend the next half hour listening to his uncle complaining about Tonks and their outing.
"Take the bloody bus, then! See if I care!" Vernon stalked off down the street as Harry and Tonks made their way to the bus stop. She started giggling again; Harry's face was hot with embarrassment, both at being caught by his uncle and also wondering if Tonks looked like those women under her clothes. He'd never really thought of her as a girl before. She was just Tonks, someone who worked at the stables with him. His eyes kept being drawn to her chest, but he made himself look at her eyes instead.
They waited for over half an hour but the bus didn't come.
"We can walk," suggested Tonks. "It's not that far."
They walked through the countryside in the dark; the cars few and far between. "Oh God, Harry! Did you see your uncle's face? I thought he was going to have a heart attack when he saw you!" Tonks laughed, grabbing Harry's arm and began to drag him through some fields.
"Where are we going?"
"You don't think I want to go home this early, do you?" she smiled him. "I know a place we can be alone."
"What?" Harry squawked.
Tonks turned and put her arms around him. "I like you, Harry. I really like you." Tonks leaned down and kissed him full on the mouth. Harry felt his tummy jolt and he felt something else, lower still, hardening in his jeans. He didn't know how long they stood there, kissing in the field. His head was spinning wildly when they stopped. There were lights up ahead, Tonks made for them and Harry followed her, dread filling the pit of his stomach.
He could see now what the lights had been illuminating. The Weasleys' stable block.
"So that was the first time you'd seen a girl naked? In a film?" asked Severus as Harry continued acting out his tale.
"How did it make you feel? Knowing your uncle saw you there?"
"Guilty at first, then I got annoyed with him."
"Because he'd gone there too! He was doing the same as me. He had a secret too, but made me feel as if I'd been doing something wrong, when he was doing it too!"
"So you didn't believe him about seeing the manager about posters?"
Harry shook his head. "No, that cinema didn't have any posters at all."
"Let's get back to the stables, Harry. Where are you and Tonks now?"
"We were standing outside the gates. Tonks held my hand. She was scratching it, her nails stroking the back of it. I shivered but I didn't know whether I was scared or excited."
"Why would you be scared?"
"Because of him. He was in there; in the stables and she wanted us to go in."
Harry gaped at the brightly-lit stable yard and couldn't believe Tonks would bring him here of all places.
"Can't we go back to your house?" he suggested.
"Sorry, Harry, my mother doesn't like me bringing dates home. She knows I have them, but she doesn't want to know about it."
"We can't go in there," said Harry, appalled to find his voice cracking.
"Of course we can! The Weasleys are all asleep by now, no one will see. No one goes into the stables at this time of night. Come on, Harry. We can't go back to my house and we can't go to your aunt and uncle's, can we? No one's here, Harry. No one will see. We can be alone."
"You - you want us to kiss some more?"
Tonks winked at him. "Yes, Harry. I want to be alone with you because I want to kiss you some more. Among other things."
"Other things?" Harry blushed. She didn't mean - she didn't mean like what had happened in that film? Fucking. That's what the men in the film called it. Sticking his prick inside her?
"What's the matter, Harry? You have done it before, haven't you?" Tonks had started climbing over the fence and gave Harry a long, thoughtful look. "Oh my God! You haven't, have you? This is your first time? Oh, that's so sweet!" She swung her legs down on the other side and hopped down from the fence. Harry climbed over it while she opened the stable door, waving him forward once she'd done so.
Harry's whole body was covered with a cold sweat by the time he reached the doorway. Tonks pulled him inside when it was clear that his feet would not work. She dragged him down to the empty stall on the end of the row and pushed Harry into it in front of her. He threw his hands out in front of him as he overbalanced, almost ending up in the straw. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to be here with Tonks and the shadow of Equus right outside the door.
"Take off your top," suggested Tonks, tugging her own t-shirt over her head.
"The door," said Harry. "Lock the door. Please."
Tonks rolled her eyes at him. "It's only the horses, Harry. No one will see." Despite her words, Tonks closed and latched the stall door. Harry could almost feel the cool breath from the horses' nostrils and the glares from their dark eyes condemning him for the sin he was about to commit.
"I love your eyes, Harry," said Tonks as she threw her t-shirt down in the straw. "You too, Harry. Take your shirt off." Tonks grinned and Harry realised she found this fun. Harry wasn't finding any fun in it at all. "Don't be shy, I'll make it good for you, I promise. I've never been anyone's first before. Go on, take off your clothes." Tonks had moved her hands and was working on her trouser buttons and zip now.
Harry had never been naked except for taking a bath and it had been a long time since he'd been naked in front of anyone; it had been years since Aunt Petunia had last bathed him. He heard her voice in his head. Sinner! Sinner! You'll go to Hell! More to drown out the voice in his head than any desire to be naked in front of Tonks, Harry yanked his shirt off over his head and threw it down on top of Tonks' clothes.
He toed off his trainers then bent down to tug off his socks before pulling off his jeans. Both of them were now down to underwear; Tonks wearing a lacy peach bra and panties set, Harry in white boxer shorts. Tonks locked eyes with his as her hands reached around and undid her bra strap. Pale, rounded flesh, pink nipples standing in little peaks stared back at him and Harry hurriedly raised his eyes to her face. Tonks was still smiling, as if amused he'd been caught staring at her breasts. Tonks pulled down her panties and kicked them aside, waiting patiently for Harry to continue his own disrobing.
Harry closed his eyes as he yanked down his underwear, wanting to get it over with as quickly as possible. When he'd finished, he could barely look at her. "Lie down with me," suggested Tonks, lying back on the straw and stretching her arms out. Harry lay down beside her, his eyes still closed. "You're allowed to look at me, Harry. I'd like you to. Do you want to suck them?"
"My breasts, would you like to suck on them? It feels so good."
"Erm, okay," said Harry, opening his eyes and straddling her waist. He bent down and took one rosy nipple in his mouth. Tonks moaned and arched her hips towards him. It was nothing like being rubbed by a horse. She grabbed Harry's head and yanked him up for a strong kiss. The back of Harry's neck was prickling; as if he was being watched. Noticing he wasn't responding to her kisses, Tonks pulled away. "What's the matter?"
"I can't!" said Harry, rising to his feet and hiding his flaccid penis. He'd wanted to out in the field where she kissed him for the first time, but not here. Not here. He couldn't do it here. Every time Harry looked at Tonks, he was in the way. Harry didn't want this soft, yielding flesh. He wanted strength between his thighs, not softness. He wanted hide, horse-hide, not pale, pink skin. He wanted to lick the sweat from his neck, not Tonks wet kisses. He couldn't do this. He couldn't.
"It's okay, Harry. That happens sometimes. Here, let me help." Tonks knelt up on the straw and began to nuzzle between Harry's legs.
"NO! Don't! He'll see! He'll see!" protested Harry trying to pull away from her, but he only managed to back into the side wall of the stall. Tonks was stronger than she looked and had him pinned by her hands on his hips.
"Ssh," she mumbled round the mouthful of Harry's prick. "It's all right. It's all right."
"Don't! Don't!" begged Harry, tears springing to his eyes. Despite Tonks' best efforts, Harry wasn't getting any harder and he was starting to feel sick. He turned his head away, unable to bear watching her suck him any longer. Dark eyes glared at him over the stall door. Equus. Staring at him. Accusing him with angry, wrathful eyes.
"No! Stop! Stop!" screamed Harry, managing to twist his body away from her. Tonks gave him an odd look. "Don't look at me like that! Don't look at me! Don't look at me!"
His hands scrambled on the wall behind him and he yanked a hoof pick down from its hook. "Get out! Get out!" he screamed at her, waving the hoof pick around. "Just you tell anyone! Just you try!"
"Harry! Put that down! I won't tell anyone, I promise. I'm your friend!"
"Get out! Get out!" He shrieked, tears streaming down his face.
"All right, I'll just get my clothes. Please, Harry, put that down. You could hurt someone." Tonks gathered up her clothes and hurried out of the stable. Once she was gone, Harry emerged from the stall; hoof pick still in hand. He gripped it so hard it was hurting his hand.
He sank to his knees in front of the horses, all awake now and staring at him, stamping their hooves, neighing madly.
"Please! Take me back! I didn't mean it! I won't do it again! Please! Forgive me! Forgive me! I'm yours! Only yours!" Harry let his head fall forward onto the flagstones.
"You are mine! Only mine! The Lord your God is a jealous God! Kiss another and I will see! Lie with another and I will see! I see you, Harry, I see you! I see you! I see you!"
"NO! NO! NO!" screamed Harry and raised the pick.
On the floor in Severus Snape's office, Harry was a sobbing, naked mess on the floor as he relived that awful night. But this time there weren't angry stable owners and policemen asking him question after question as he lay on the cold floor, shivering and covered in blood. This time he felt a soft blanket being wrapped around him and he was cradled against a strong chest. Dr. Snape was stroking his hair.
"I want him out of me! I want him out! Please get him out!" begged Harry, turning around and burrowing his face against the man's shoulder, his glasses digging into his nose.
"We'll get him out, Harry. I promise. He can't hurt you any more. You're going to be fine, Harry. No more bad dreams. No more Equus. Ssh, now. Ssh. Sleep, Harry, sleep."
His eyes felt heavier and heavier as the doctor's voice washed over him. He'd come to trust that voice like he'd trusted no other and he found himself drifting off to sleep in the man's arms, wishing morning would never come.
Severus held Harry in his lap for almost an hour but his thighs had gone to sleep and he knew he needed to move him. He stood up still cradling Harry in his arms and set him down on one of the sofas in his office. Harry mumbled a little in his sleep, but he didn't wake. Severus gently removed Harry's glasses and set them on his desk before running his hands through his hair.
Reliving it had been traumatic for Harry but it had to be done; he had to break him in order to build him back up again. Harry had to be shown that sexual feelings weren't wrong; that he was allowed to kiss and touch whoever he wanted, as long as they wanted it too. The aunt's rants about guilt and religion had done nothing but confuse him.
Afraid of his own burgeoning sexuality, Harry had found a way around the guilt; if he thought of what he had done with the horses as worship rather than sex, he no longer felt the guilt his aunt had instilled in him. It was going to be a long road.
Severus had lied. Equus wasn't going to leave Harry's mind that easily and when he did leave, it would be with Harry's guts in his teeth. He would not go quietly, but he would go. Severus would see to that.
When Harry woke up, he was back in his hospital room and wearing hospital-issue striped pyjamas, not the bunny ones his aunt had made. He didn't remember getting there. Had Dr. Snape carried him back to his room? His face flamed at the thought that the doctor had put these new pyjamas on him. Harry groaned and put his head in his hands as he remembered what had happened in the office earlier that night. He'd told the doctor everything. The doctor had seen everything too, for Harry distinctly remembered removing his clothes, almost as if he had been back at the stables and was re-enacting it.
Harry had never told anyone what had happened that night; he just hadn't been able to talk about it. But Dr. Snape had pulled the truth from him and had seen Harry naked in every sense. Harry hadn't just bared his body to the doctor; he had bared his soul and Harry was afraid the man would run screaming from what he found there. Only he hadn't, had he? Harry remembered being wrapped in a soft blanket and having soothing words whispered in his ear.
The comfort was so different to what had actually happened on that awful night. Still sobbing and covered in the horses' blood when the police arrived, he hadn't been allowed to wash for hours, it was evidence and he had to wait for it to be photographed. There were no soft blankets and words of comfort – only a police doctor watching as Harry scrubbed himself raw in the showers at the police station and then a sleepless night in a small cell. They'd taken all his clothes and his shoes; he went to the courthouse in a white paper jumpsuit.
He hadn't been able to answer any questions during the hearing; unable to tell anyone what had happened in the stable. To talk about it would have made it seem too real. His aunt and uncle had been in the public gallery, but Harry hadn't been able to look at them, afraid of the disgust he would see in their eyes.
There had been question after question; but Harry hadn't heard what they were asking. It was as if his mind had been somewhere else altogether; somewhere where it hadn't happened. He had drowned out the unintelligible questions with the jingles he remembered, for he hadn't been able to remember how to form words. His mouth wouldn't work properly. Equus had been there, inside his head and Harry didn't know how to get him out.
But Dr. Snape had known what to do. Dr. Snape had made Equus go away. Harry had told Dr. Snape everything and the world hadn't ended. Harry was still here and he was still breathing. "Equus?" he whispered in the dark, his heart thundering against his ribs, but there was no reply.
Harry was looking much better the next morning; Poppy had already informed Severus that there had been no nightmares that night. His eyes looked much brighter behind his glasses as he stared around the room, a little bit hesitant today. Severus wasn't really surprised; Harry was probably feeling a bit wrung out after his revelations the night before.
"Do I have to go to jail?" Harry asked at last.
"No, Harry. Don't you remember? The Court sent you here instead of jail. You were ill and we just want to make sure you get better."
"Will I get better?" Harry bit his left thumbnail and shifted from foot to foot.
"With lots more therapy, I've every reason to think that you will."
"So I still have to talk to you? For how long?"
"I don't know, Harry. For as long as you need to. Talking about things helps, doesn't it?"
Harry nodded and sat down in his armchair. "I – I never really had anyone to talk to before. I didn't think anyone would understand about the horses. Or about how I felt."
"Would you like something to drink?" asked Severus.
"No, thanks. I've just had breakfast," replied Harry.
"And did you eat all of it?" Severus knew Harry was still on the thin side for his age and height.
"Yes." Harry folded his arms over his chest and sulked. "She always makes me eat the food."
"Who? Nurse Pomfrey?"
"No the other one, Umbridge. I don't like her. She thinks I'm a child. I'm not! I'm not!"
"I know, Harry. Does your aunt make you feel like that too? That she doesn't want you to grow up?"
"Yes. I hate it. You've seen the silly pyjamas she makes me wear as if I was five or something!"
"Does it upset you that they haven't come to visit you here?"
No reply, Severus hadn't really expected one to that question.
"Okay, Harry. I'd like to talk to you a bit about sex. Up until that film, did you know anything about sex?"
"Only what my uncle told me, about the wet dreams. How it was seed coming out. I didn't know you could do things with girls – or – or boys." Harry blushed and hung his head.
"But the other day, you said you wanted to be inside the horses."
"Not like that!" said Harry quickly. "I meant inside his head, inside his soul. So that I could think what he was thinking."
"So you've never actually desired to have intercourse with a horse?"
"Intercourse?" asked Harry blankly. Severus managed to avoid rolling his eyes. With little or no sexual education to speak of besides a naughty film; the word intercourse probably wasn't in Harry's vocabulary. Petunia Dursleys' repressive upbringing was still affecting Harry. What normal seventeen year old didn't know at least something about sex?
"Fucking," said Severus, trying to keep a straight face.
Harry's eyes widened in realisation. "What? No! Of course not!"
"But you did like how they made you feel when you rode them?"
Harry nodded. "But I never thought of doing that with them."
"Do you know what masturbation is, Harry?"
"Yeah, I know. But I'm not allowed to do that."
"What about that day on the tape? You got excited talking about the horses, didn't you?"
"Yes, but I didn't do it. I didn't touch myself."
"What did you do instead?"
"If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our Club."
"Harry," sighed Severus in exasperation. He didn't think Harry would revert to the jingles again so soon. "Right. Fine, you don't want to answer the question. That will be all for today."
"But we haven't even had an hour yet!" he protested.
"You can stay if you're going to talk to me, but if you're only going to sing those stupid songs, then I don't want you here. It's a waste of my time and yours." Severus knew he was sounding harsh, but it was for Harry's own good. They wouldn't get very far if Harry only answered the questions he wanted to. That wouldn't help him in the long run.
"Let's go for a walk," suggested Severus.
"A bit of fresh air, a change of scenery. I bet you're sick of the sight of this office and your room."
"I like your office," said Harry quietly. "I feel safe here. But we can go for a walk if you want."
Harry had never seen the grounds of Hogwarts Psychiatric Hospital, except for that brief view from the roof, but these days he was trying not to think about that. The grounds were extensive; Hogwarts had been a stately home before the earl, fallen on hard times, had sold the property.
There were other patients out and about as well; some attended by nurses, others wandering about on their own. Dr. Snape strode on ahead, his longer legs meant his strides were much larger than Harry's. Harry had to do a little half-skip just to keep up with him. The doctor was wearing what Harry thought of as his uniform, a crisp white shirt under a black waistcoat and a pair of black trousers. Harry had never seen him wearing a jacket, although that might have been because he usually saw him indoors.
The April sunshine beamed down warming Harry's back through his t-shirt. It was still a little chilly though despite the sun and Harry shivered.
The doctor stopped by the edge of the lake; Harry's momentum carried him forward and he bumped into the back of him. "Sorry," mumbled Harry, just glad that he hadn't managed to push the doctor into the lake.
"That's quite all right, Harry." Dr. Snape sat down on the grass and patted the area beside him in invitation. He rolled his shirt sleeves up to his elbows and rested his arms on his knees. There was a faded patch of skin on Dr. Snape's left arm.
"What's that?" asked Harry, curious now.
"A mistake," said Dr. Snape. "When I was young and foolish, I got a tattoo. I had it removed a few years ago."
"Oh. Didn't you like it anymore?"
"No. Sit down," Dr. Snape patted the grass again. "I'm supposed to be asking the questions, remember?"
Harry sank down beside him, the grass was damp with dew and he got a wet bum. He stared out over the water. Mountains rose on either side of the lake and the sun glinted off it, making him squint. "It's beautiful here."
"It is, isn't it?" agreed Dr. Snape.
"So, what do you think is wrong with me?" Harry asked suddenly.
"You need a label?"
Harry shrugged. "Crazy covers a lot of ground, doesn't it?"
"It does at that. For what it's worth, Harry, I don't think you're insane or that you ever were. You do have some mental problems but they can be worked through. Your upbringing has made you feel guilty about sex and sexual feelings so you've diverted those feelings into worship; in your case, worship of horses. How you feel when you're around horses, that could also be a fetish."
"A fetish? What's that?"
"A fetish is when you feel sexual feelings for something that isn't normally considered sexual. For example, some people like feet and would find shoes very exciting, perhaps even seeking employment in a shoe shop so that they could be near their obsession."
"Like me and the stables!" exclaimed Harry. "So – so other people have fetishes too?"
"They do. It's quite common, but no one knows why some people have a fetish about certain things rather than others. Then there was what you said about Bill Weasley. I think you might be gay, Harry and you're in denial about it."
"Gay?" Harry had never heard the word before.
"Gay. You like boys, or maybe you like both. Boys and girls."
"Do you mean like in the film? Where they – you know – they did stuff to each other?"
"You've never thought of being with a boy, Harry?"
Harry shook his head. Up until Tonks had taken him to see that film he'd never really thought of doing anything with anyone. He just didn't know about it; he'd only ever seen brief kisses in the Westerns he'd watched at Mrs. Figgs' house. But now that he had watched that film and realised what could be done he felt more confused than anything else. He had been shocked that night; his own sexual experience up until then had been having wet dreams or coming over Nugget's back every three weeks when he rode him. To think that there was a world of other possibilities out there astounded him.
"I'm a bit confused," Harry admitted at last.
"Everyone is, Harry. Everyone is."
Severus tipped his chair back and stretched his arms out, clasping his hands behind his head. It was almost eleven and he was still trying to catch up on the mountain of paperwork that littered his desk. He never took notes while he was having a session with a patient, wanting them to feel that all his attention was on them and not on his notebook. It was a lot easier for them to talk if he wasn't writing down everything they said every five minutes.
Minerva rapped her knuckles on his doorframe, saving him from the monotony of notes for a few moments.
"May I come in, Severus?"
"Please," Severus righted his chair and waved her into an armchair.
"I was just wondering how things were going with Harry Potter. I had Remus Lupin on the phone today; he wanted to know how the boy was holding up."
"I'm afraid I can't really discuss it," said Severus. "I promised Harry everything would be confidential. After that fiasco with the stolen tape, he doesn't need everyone else around here knowing his business."
"I'm hardly everyone else, Severus! I'm your boss, I'm not about to broadcast the boy's problems to the world."
"But you were thinking of telling Remus Lupin? A man who is no relation to Harry and in fact has no relationship to him whatsoever. I'm sorry, Minerva, the answer is still no."
"He could get a court order for your notes," said Minerva.
"Then let him get a court order. Otherwise, it is none of his business."
Minerva sighed. "Very well, Severus. You do know if there are any problems, you can come to me?"
"Minerva, I am not having any problems treating Harry. He's opening up a lot more these days."
"That's good. Well, goodnight."
It was one o'clock in the morning before Severus finally finished his paperwork and for some reason instead of going home he found himself heading towards Harry's room. Nurse Umbridge was just coming out of it, an empty syringe in her hand. She looked startled to see him.
"Nurse Umbridge? What's wrong with Harry?"
"Just some nightmares, Doctor. I've given him a sedative."
"I haven't prescribed any sedatives for my patient."
"No, it was Dr. Black; he's on the night-shift tonight."
"I see. Thank you, that will be all."
She bustled off, wrapping a pink cardigan around her waist. Severus pushed open the door to Harry's room as quietly as he could; he didn't want to wake him. Harry was lying curled up on his side, the bedclothes pushed down around his feet. His pyjama trousers had been pulled down around his hips and Severus could see the raised mark where Umbridge had just injected him.
Severus stared at the pale flesh revealed to his gaze and felt his groin stirring. He'd seen Harry completely naked before; but this, the slight swell of his hip above his pyjamas seemed a lot more intimate than if Harry had been totally nude. Severus pulled the bedclothes up to Harry's waist and took a deep breath. He should go home. He shouldn't still be in the hospital watching Harry sleep. He shouldn't want to reach out and push Harry's fringe away from the boy's eyes.
Only he did want to, very much so.
Severus had never felt like this about any of his previous patients. He was just doing a job, but even on the day he told Harry it was his job, Severus knew there was something different about Harry. Even if he hadn't been a psychiatrist, Severus knew he would have wanted to help Harry. Would have wanted to see him smile again. Severus had never felt this strong protectiveness before; this sense of ownership. Usually patients were treated by more than one doctor, depending who was on shift at the time, but ever since Harry had arrived at the hospital, Severus hadn't taken one day off. He didn't want anyone else treating Harry.
Severus had been suspecting this for a while but hadn't dared admit it, even to himself. He was falling for his patient and the hospital guidelines were clear. If feelings started to develop between doctor and patient, Severus was to get Harry assigned to another doctor at once. Only Severus didn't want Harry re-assigned. They had built up a good rapport and it might damage Harry further if he was to be handed over to someone else. Severus would just have to put a lid on his feelings. Harry could never suspect anything and as long as Severus behaved within the bounds of propriety, then they had nothing to worry about. Severus tried to convince himself he was doing what was best for Harry but deep down he knew he was doing it because he wanted to keep seeing Harry.
He sighed and lifted Harry's chart from the foot of the bed, unable to decipher Umbridge's scrawl on the final entry.
Giving one last glance to the sleeping boy on the bed, Severus replaced the chart and headed home.
Harry bent over the toilet bowl once more and brought up the rest of his breakfast, his throat and the muscles in his chest aching with the effort. His head was pounding as if someone kept hitting it with a hammer. He was sweating too; he could feel rivers of it trickling down his back. Harry flushed the toilet and sat back on his haunches; pulling down a couple of sheets of toilet paper to wipe his mouth with. He threw the soiled paper in the toilet.
Nurse Pomfrey was banging on the stall door. "Mr. Potter? Are you all right?"
He couldn't answer her as another violent spasm hit his stomach and he retched over the bowl again. Little was coming up now except for sour spittle, but there was still that horrible sensation in his chest. Harry managed to open the latch while still kneeling on the floor.
Nurse Pomfrey placed a cool hand on his forehead. "I think you're feverish. Let's get you back to bed and I'll get Dr. Snape to examine you. How long have you been throwing up?" The cistern had refilled now, Nurse Pomfrey reached around him and flushed the toilet again.
"About half an hour," said Harry. "It just wouldn't stop." He was feeling a little dizzy when he stood up, Pomfrey had her arms around his waist and steered him back to his bedroom. The nurse was stronger than she looked and had settled Harry back on his bed in a matter of moments. She rummaged in the large storage cupboard that was opposite the foot of Harry's bed and returned with a shallow silver bowl. "Just in case," she said. "I'll get the doctor. You relax, Harry dear."
It was the first time the woman had ever called him by his first name and he'd never been on the receiving end of any term of endearment from her before either. She must really be worried about him and that in turn worried Harry. What was wrong with him? He lay on his bed and stared anxiously at the ceiling until Dr. Snape arrived without the nurse. He had a black medical bag in his hand which he set down on the table at the foot of Harry's bed.
Harry knew he was in a hospital, that the man was a doctor, but since he'd only really been having therapy, he hadn't quite realised that Dr. Snape was a medical doctor too. The medical bag brought it into sharp focus.
"Nurse Pomfrey tells me you haven't been feeling too well this morning. You've been vomiting, I gather. Any other symptoms?"
"I have a headache. I was feeling dizzy too, but I probably just got up from the floor too quickly."
"Shivery? Feverish?" Dr. Snape took out a thermometer from his bag as Harry nodded. "Open your mouth."
Harry stared up at the doctor and did as he was instructed, getting lost in the man's dark gaze. He'd never seen eyes so dark before. Were they black or where they a very dark brown? Dr. Snape was looking at him so intensely that Harry felt himself flushing and wondered if the jolt of heat he suddenly felt would affect the thermometer. Harry held it under his tongue for as long as the doctor deemed it necessary, then Dr. Snape pulled it out and glanced at the reading.
"Your temperature is a little on the high side, you've probably got an infection of some sort. I'd like to do a few blood tests to make sure."
"Blood tests? Do you really need to?" Harry knew his voice was shaking but he couldn't help it.
"Is it the needles, Harry?"
"No, the blood. Ever since - ever since that night..." Harry trailed off, feeling so foolish and young and scared that he wished there was a magic wand that could make him all better. Only there wasn't such a thing no matter how much he might wish it.
"Okay, Harry. We'll leave it for a few days, but if you aren't feeling any better, we need the blood test to see what's wrong with you. For the moment, I want you to stay in bed and get plenty of rest. You'll need plenty of fluids into you as well; the vomiting can make you dehydrated. Do you think you'll be able to keep drinks down?"
"I think so," replied Harry. "But not anything solid. I'm sorry."
"There's no need to apologise for being ill, Harry. Take two of these for your headache I'll come and see you a bit later, see how you're getting on." Dr. Snape handed him two round white pills before he left.
Nurse Pomfrey came in and out frequently during the rest of that day with jugs of iced water and orange juice for him. Harry could manage the water, but even the smell of the juice was making him feel sick. Dr. Snape came in quite often as well and Harry found himself looking forward to every unexpected visit from the man. Harry's heart did a little jig in his chest every time he saw the doctor's face by the door.
Dr. Snape looked quite a severe man, with sharp cheekbones and a rather long nose which on anyone else would have looked ridiculous, but seemed to suit him. Harry found himself wondering what the man did when he wasn't at the hospital looking after crazy people like him.
Nurse Pomfrey didn't bring him any meals which he was glad of; he was sure the smell of food would have had him retching again. She brought him some books and magazines to read from the hospital library so that he wasn't bored, but Harry was feeling too sick to concentrate on reading. He slept on and off for a while with strange dreams haunting his sleep.
That evening, Nurse Umbridge brought in a dinner tray just as Harry was waking up and feeling very groggy. He fumbled for his glasses on the bedside cabinet.
"I'm not to eat anything today," said Harry. "In case I get sick again."
"None of that nonsense, young man. You will eat everything on that tray."
"I don't want to," protested Harry.
"I don't care what you want, you will eat everything on that tray. Do you think I enjoy wasting my time with people like you? I have better things to do than mollycoddle malingerers. You're not sick, just stubborn. Now eat!"
Harry brought a forkful of potatoes to his mouth, feeling his stomach roiling just at the smell. He wondered if he threw up over the horrible woman if she would leave him alone. He'd never liked her and he didn't think she liked him either. She stayed until he'd finished everything on the plate. Harry's head was spinning or was it the room that was spinning? There were two of Umbridge and he fumbled for his glasses before realising they were already on his face.
The two Umbridges were smirking down at him as Harry rolled over to the side of the bed and began vomiting violently over the side of it. The woman's laughter was ringing in his ears as his consciousness faded.
The only empty seat left in the canteen was next to Sirius Black. Severus took his time choosing his dinner, hoping that by the time he had done so Black would have finished and left. No such luck. Severus hovered in the middle of the room, balancing the tray on his hands and made his way over to Black's table.
The salad was browning and curling up around the edges and the sausage rolls seemed to be more pastry than anything. Black nodded a quick greeting but Severus pretended to be engrossed in his meal. They'd both been at medical school together but they had never been friends; Severus found Black too pretentious for his liking. Sirius Black came from a long line of doctors, surgeons mostly and it was rumoured that he was one of the Blacks who owned half of Lancashire as well as having fingers in more businesses than you could shake a stick at.
Severus stabbed his salad leaves with his fork but it looked so unappetising that he couldn't bring it anywhere near his mouth. "I'd appreciate it if you would tell me when you've prescribed medication for any of my patients," said Severus. "I don't like being kept in the dark and that woman's scrawl is so unintelligible that the chart is useless."
"I haven't been prescribing anything except for my own patients," said Black. "And I don't like your accusations."
"I'm not accusing you of anything; I'd just like to know what my patients have been given without my knowledge. Harry Potter is at a delicate stage of his treatment and I don't want you to keep giving him sedatives!"
"Last night, you got that Umbridge woman to give him sedatives because of his nightmares."
"No, I didn't," said Black calmly. "And anyway, Umbridge wasn't on the night-shift. She's on day duty this week."
Severus stared at him. "You didn't prescribe the drugs?"
"No, I only prescribed sedatives for Harry when he first got here; nothing in the past couple of weeks."
"What did that woman give him?" Severus wondered out loud just as his pager beeped, along with nearly everyone else's. He glanced down in alarm. Harry's room.
Harry's bedroom was in chaos when he got there. There were doctors and nurses gathered around Harry's bed. Below it, there was a pool of vomit streaked with blood. Severus pushed his way past a few of his colleagues to find Poppy settling Harry back onto his pillows. The boy's mouth was smeared crimson and he was unconscious.
"What happened?" demanded Severus of no one in particular.
"I don't know," said Poppy. "Look at his nails, Severus."
Severus took Harry's hands in his and stared at the thin white lines marring the nails there. Posion? Where would Harry have got hold of poison? Then he noticed the dinner tray sitting at the foot of Harry's bed; had Harry been feeling better and tried to eat? But Severus and Poppy had both told all the nurses that Harry wasn't to be given anything solid today – Harry had said just the smell of food made him feel sick. "Poppy, did you bring him dinner?"
"No, not me." The same question was asked around all of the staff, but none of them had given Harry the dinner either.
Severus lifted the tray and handed it to Black. "I want that food tested," said Severus.
"Arsenic. Any other poisons you can think of. I think he's been poisoned. Poppy, get a blood test to make sure. Where's Dolores Umbridge? Send her to my office, now! Poppy, get Harry's stomach pumped and stay with him; when he comes back round give him dimercaprol. The rest of you, back to work!"
Severus had to get out of Harry's room before he lost it completely. The boy had been as still and pale as a corpse and the heat of so many people in the small confined space wasn't helping either. Black took the food away to the labs and Severus made his way to his office as the others scattered back to their own patients.
After waiting impatiently for an hour, Minerva arrived to tell him that Dolores Umbridge was nowhere to be found in the hospital and her telephone number was no longer working. They'd sent someone round to her house, but Severus guessed that she would be long gone by now. What on Earth was she doing? Why had she tried to kill Harry? For there was no doubt in Severus' mind that the woman had done just that.
When Sirius Black arrived with the results of the tests done on Harry's food; it was confirmed: the potatoes had been laced with arsenic; no wonder Harry had been coughing up blood as well as vomiting. Had the woman injected him with it as well?
"Severus, this is just mad!" exclaimed Sirius. "Why would she want to poison a patient? Especially that one. Harry's so quiet."
"Maybe she's from one of those animal protection groups or something," suggested Minerva. "And wanted to get back at him for hurting the horses?"
"But that was months ago! Have you called the police?"
"Of course; they should be here soon. I expect they'll want to talk to you and Harry if he's awake."
Severus didn't think Harry was ready to be confronted with another police interview, but due to Harry's state of mind, not to mention his weakened physical state, when the police did finally arrive at the hospital Severus would insist on staying with Harry throughout the interview.
Harry felt as if he'd just thrown up every meal he'd ever eaten. His throat was as sore as if he'd been swallowing shards of glass. Despite the many glasses of water the nurse had given him; there was still a distinct aftertaste of charcoal in his mouth when she led him down to Dr. Snape's office. Harry's legs felt wobbly and he had to cling to her arm or risk falling on the floor. The blood and vomit in his room still hadn't been cleaned up and he guessed the police were going to want to look at it before they could clean it.
There were two detectives and one uniformed policeman in the doctor's office, along with Dr. Snape himself. The doctor rushed out from behind his desk and managed to catch Harry before he slumped to the ground; the dizziness was getting worse but he didn't faint, he just felt so weak for a few moments.
Dr. Snape ushered him to one of the sofas and helped him to lie down on it.
"Dr. Snape, perhaps it's best if you wait outside while we talk to Harry," said the older of the two detectives.
"No, Inspector Johnson. Harry is still not recovered; I'm his doctor, and I’m staying."
"Harry, do you wish the doctor to stay? It's up to you," said Johnson.
"Yes, please." Harry's heart was beating a nervous tattoo against his chest. The last time he had been interviewed by the police he had ended up in a cell. He was glad Dr. Snape was with him.
"Do you have any idea why Dolores Umbridge might have tried to poison you?"
"I don't know, sir," said Harry, twisting his hands in his lap. He just wanted to sleep. "She didn't like me."
"Why?" Johnson scribbled in his little black notebook.
"I don't know. No reason, really."
"Did you ever do anything to upset her? I know sometimes patients can get quite abusive with the staff."
"Harry has never been abusive!" protested Nurse Pomfrey and Harry cringed; he hadn't forgotten spitting food out at the nurse, but maybe she had. "You should be out there trying to catch that awful woman instead of in here asking Harry stupid questions! The boy needs to be back in bed!"
"Well, you'll have to find him another bed for the night, that room can't be used until the forensics team has finished; which will be quite a few hours yet," said Johnson. "Do any of you have any idea where Dolores Umbridge might have gone?"
"No, none," said Dr. Snape. "Her house is empty and the phone has been disconnected. No forwarding address."
"We have her description circulating; hopefully she will be apprehended before long. Thank you, I think that's all for now. You'll be here if we need to talk to you again, Harry?"
"Yes, sir," replied Harry in a subdued voice. He still couldn't get rid of the nagging fear in the bag of his mind that the police had come to take him to prison and were just biding their time, lulling him into a false sense of security. Nurse Pomfrey closed the door after the policemen left and clucked her tongue.
"I'm afraid all the private rooms are full at the moment, Harry. We'll have to put you on the ward for tonight."
"No! Please, can't I just stay here?"
"You can't spend all night sleeping on a sofa, Harry," said Pomfrey.
"It's all right, Poppy. I have some blankets and pillows here. I'll stay with him to make sure he's all right. The ward isn't the best place for Harry right now."
"Severus, I don't know. It's against regulations. If a hospital inspector happened to turn up right now... but if you promise to keep an eye on him, I'll let Minerva know that you aren't to be disturbed. You're not rostered on for tonight, are you?"
"No, so Harry will be my only patient."
"Very well. Goodnight, Harry, Severus," she said as she left. Dr. Snape locked the door and pulled down the Venetian blinds once she'd gone. Severus. That was a strange name, but Harry thought it suited the man.
"I'm sorry you had to sacrifice your evening because of me," said Harry softly as Dr. Snape hunted in his cupboards for the pillows and blankets. He set them down on the sofa that was opposite Harry's and then pushed it towards the one Harry was lying on so that there were only a few inches between them.
"It was no trouble. How are you feeling now? Still feeling sick?"
"No, just a little dizzy and a bit tired."
"Lift your head a moment," said Dr. Snape and when Harry did so, the doctor pushed a pillow beneath his head. Their eyes locked and Harry felt as if he couldn't breathe. Once Dr. Snape had arranged a blanket over Harry, he removed his waistcoat and set it over the back of the other sofa before removing his shoes. Harry had been barefoot and already wearing pyjamas when he got to the office. Dr. Snape lay down on the other sofa, his face only inches from Harry's own. If Harry reached out a hand he could have touched the man's face.
"You get some sleep, Harry. I'll be awake for a little while yet. If you need anything in the night, don't hesitate to wake me, okay?"
"Okay." Harry nodded. "Can - can you leave the light on? I don't want to be in the dark."
Harry snuggled down beneath the blanket, the sofa was quite comfortable and he was so tired that in hardly any time at all he'd fallen asleep.
A/N: Information on arsenic poisoning from here:
Severus watched Harry sleeping for a few minutes before he had to get up from his own sofa and pace the room. He was too tense to sleep. What would have happened if Poppy hadn't gone in to check on Harry? Harry could have died because of that foul Umbridge woman. Severus could have lost him. His heart fell to somewhere near his shoes as he thought of that.
Severus knew it was quite common for doctors or nurses to fall for their patients or vice versa, but he had never imagined that it might happen to him. Considering most of his patients were a lot younger than Harry that made sense. Pomona Sprout had even married one of her ex-patients and they'd just celebrated their tenth anniversary a few months ago. They'd insisted they'd both waited until he was no longer a patient before they'd started seeing each other.
It was a strange, forced kind of intimacy that psychiatrists and patients shared. Severus knew that in the past few months; he had come to know Harry better than anyone else ever had. But was it fair to keep treating him knowing how Severus felt about him? What if Harry discovered it? Would he be scared of him? Harry had never had a proper relationship, neither with a man or a woman. Was Severus projecting his own orientation onto the boy because he wanted him to be gay? A few remarks about Bill Weasley and he'd latched onto them as a drowning man might clutch at a passing log.
Was he being selfish in keeping Harry as his patient? Could Severus do a good enough job of helping Harry come to terms with his problems without his own feelings getting in the way? Severus paced for over an hour, the thoughts swirling round and round in his head but at last he felt himself yawning. He switched off the overhead fluorescent lights, but left on his desk lamp, remembering Harry didn't like the dark.
Just before he made his way over to the other sofa, Harry whimpered and began thrashing about, kicking the blankets off his body. He screamed and arched his back, his arms clawing at some invisible enemy. Severus knelt down between the two couches and stroked Harry's cheek softly.
Vivid green eyes opened and stared at him, confused. "Dr. Snape?"
"You had a nightmare."
Severus had never before seen eyes the shade of Harry's. They were deep, almost jade, but not quite the colour of the precious stone and they were a lot darker than emerald. Harry blinked and Severus saw silent tears trickling down his cheeks. He wiped them away with the pads of his fingers and in the next instant, Harry had flung himself off the sofa and into Severus' arms, wrapping his arms around Severus' neck and snuggling his head on Severus' shoulder. The crying was almost silent, but Harry was making little shuddery breaths as he sobbed.
It felt so right. The weight of Harry felt so right in his arms and Severus didn't want to let him go. Severus stroked the boy's back and shoulders and just comforted him through the aftermath of the nightmare. At long last, Harry stopped crying. He moved his head and stared into Severus' eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"Harry, you can't help having nightmares. And anyway, I wasn't asleep yet."
"Would you like to talk about your dream?"
"They were taking me to jail. I don't want to go to jail! Please don't let them send me away! I want to stay with you!"
Severus' breath hitched on hearing the words. He didn't delude himself that Harry meant the words in any other way than that he wanted to remain Severus' patient, but how his heart cheered to hear even that sentiment from Harry. They'd come a along way since Harry was first referred to him, but Severus knew they would still have a few problems along the way. Harry wasn't going to get better overnight but Severus was determined that he would in fact get better.
Harry was worrying at one of Severus' shirt buttons and staring down at the floor. "Dr. Snape? Can I ask you something?"
"Of course you can, Harry. What is it?"
"Can I – can I share with you?" Harry waved his hand at Severus' sofa, a slightly wider one than the one Harry had been sleeping on. "I – I feel safer when you hold me."
Severus' conscience was screaming at him with plenty of reasons why he should not under any circumstances spend the night holding Harry Potter in his arms, but he ignored it in favour of doing just that. It wasn't as if he was going to seduce the boy; he was just going to hold him and keep him safe. That was all. "Of course you can, Harry." Severus had already said that Harry should wake him if he needed anything. If Harry needed to be held until he fell asleep; then Severus was going to do just that.
Harry stood up so that Severus too could rise from the floor. Severus got settled on the sofa and then held his hands out for Harry to join him. Harry nibbled on his lower lip as he climbed on and draped his arm over Severus' chest. Severus had one arm wrapped around Harry's shoulder and as he turned to face Harry his face brushed against the boy's forehead, almost a kiss. He noticed Harry's blush but didn't comment on it. This was probably the closest intimacy Harry had ever shared with a man.
Severus woke with a throbbing groin and a slight weight on his chest. Somehow, during the night Harry had moved and had managed to drape himself almost completely over Severus like a human blanket. Severus hardly dared breathe, the boy was so close to him. How was he to move Harry without waking him and without Harry finding out that Severus was hard for him? As if Harry needed any more complexes! That was all Harry needed: to find out that his doctor was having lustful thoughts about him.
But even as Severus thought it, he knew it was a lot more than lust, which only made things worse. Daylight was streaming in through the cracks in the blinds, swirling dust motes in lines of sunshine. There was a knock on his office door. Harry jerked awake and Severus was sure he saw alarm in the boy's eyes before he quickly went back to his own sofa. Had Harry noticed Severus' erection?
Severus draped the blanket around his lower half hoping to disguise his condition before going to the door and opening it wide. Poppy stood there grinning, bearing two breakfast trays on a trolley behind her. "I thought you two might be hungry. Harry's room has been cleared for use again, so you can sleep in your own bed tonight, Harry. Isn't that good news, dear?"
Harry was sitting up on the sofa, his arms wrapped around his knees. "Yes, thank you." He seemed very subdued and Severus wondered anew if Harry had felt an erection pressing into him and was now worried about it. What had he been thinking, allowing Harry to spend the night pressed against him?
"Would you like a shower before breakfast, Harry?" asked Severus. Harry nodded so quickly that Severus was surprised his head didn't fly off from his neck. He dashed out of the room and headed for the patients' shower blocks. Severus had his own small shower room attached to his office and he knew he'd be taking advantage of its privacy before Harry returned. "Thank you for the breakfast, Poppy," said Severus, hoping she would take the hint and leave.
"How was Harry last night?"
"He had some nightmares, but other than that he slept well. If you don't mind, Poppy, I was hoping to get a shower myself."
"Oh!" Poppy clasped a hand over her mouth. "Of course, sorry. See you later."
Severus nodded and ushered her out the door before almost running to his shower. He stripped with efficiency born of long practice at having to be ready to face anything in a matter of moments; his pager could go off at any time. Turning on the water at full blast, Severus stepped into the shower enclosure and sighed as the water pelted his skin.
He made no pretence of washing himself first; he was too hard for teasing himself to be enjoyable this morning and he gripped his shaft in his fist. Stroking himself faster and faster; his closed his eyes as he neared his orgasm and he came, pulsing over his hand to a vision of bright green eyes and messy, raven-black hair.
Harry stood in one of the cubicles in the shower room, wondering what had happened earlier that morning. He'd felt Dr. Snape's erection pressing into his stomach and wondered what it meant. Did it mean the doctor liked him the way Harry had liked the horses? Harry had always been hard when he'd been working in the stables so close to his obsession and he'd had to wear his uniform t-shirt over the outside of his trousers so that the others wouldn't notice. Sometimes he thought he saw Bill Weasley staring at him there, but it was always so brief that Harry wasn't entirely sure.
His prick was firming up now as he remembered the doctor pressing against him and the strong arms wrapped around him. Harry hadn't had any nightmares once he'd shared the other sofa with Dr. Snape. The man was so strong that Harry felt safe and protected with him. His eyes were so dark and expressive, quite like horses' eyes. Harry had never touched himself before; he'd only ever come while riding Nugget or having a wet dream but he felt as if he might want to touch himself now. The guilt was still there though, so instead of reaching out to caress his cock he twirled the temperature gauge to cold and stood shivering under the water until his erection went away.
Harry pounded his hands against the tiled wall of the shower until they ached. His aunt would have been so proud of him.
Feeling a lot calmer after his shower, Severus dressed in a fresh set of clothes and set both breakfast trays on the coffee table in his office. Harry was taking a bit of time, so he started on his own toast and coffee while he waited. At least the canteen couldn't do much to sabotage toast and cornflakes, although he had his doubts about the coffee. It looked like coffee; it smelled like coffee; but it tasted more like hot water. Severus preferred his coffee much stronger.
When Harry returned to the office he was dressed in a pair of jeans and a pale blue shirt; it looked like he'd made a detour to his room to get dressed too. Severus waved Harry into the chair on the opposite side of the coffee table and both of them were quiet while they breakfasted.
Harry had never been much of a talker unless he was asked questions first and even then he only answered the questions he wanted to. Severus decided that they should have their first session after breakfast, rather than Harry going back to his room to brood. That was all he seemed to do.
The other staff had told him that even though Harry was now allowed out of his room, he much preferred his own company. Harry was hardly ever seen in the residents' lounge either to watch television or to play games with the other patients. There were no visitors for him and although Poppy said she'd been bringing Harry books and magazines he had no interest in reading them. He was spending quite a bit of time sleeping and Severus knew that Harry could well be suffering from clinical depression.
Once Harry had finished his cereal, he put the spoon down rather sharply and it shot back up and hit him on the hand, making him wince. "Are you all right?" asked Severus.
Harry nodded. "I – I hurt myself in the shower this morning."
"Harry, I'm sorry about this morning. I didn't mean to upset you, but you know males sometimes have erections in the morning, don't you?"
He nodded again. "I know, that didn't upset me."
"Then why did you hurt yourself in the shower?"
Harry blushed bright pink and Severus knew without being told the reasons behind it.
"Harry, it's your body, you're allowed to feel pleasure as well as pain, but I know it will be difficult for you to accept at first. You don't have to punish yourself if you feel aroused. Or is it that you want to punish yourself? Do you feel that you deserve it? Or do you like pain?"
"Like pain? I don't understand."
Now it was Severus' turn to blush. He'd never treated a teenage patient who had been so innocent of sexual matters before, how on Earth was he going to explain that some people liked to be hurt for sexual pleasure? "Remember when we talked about fetishes? Well, just as some people might like shoes, or horses, some people feel sexual pleasure when they are hurt. In fact, some people can only feel sexual desire like this. Does hurting yourself make you excited like when you were with the horses?"
"No, I hurt myself to stop it. I don't want to feel like that. I don't like being hurt, but I don't know what else to do to make them go away."
"Erections?" asked Severus, Harry nodded. "Can you tell me why you never felt guilty about climaxing when you were riding the horses, Harry? Was that so different to touching yourself?"
"Yes, it wasn't me doing it. I wasn't touching myself. It just happened, like a wet dream. It's something I can't control."
Harry shifted on his chair and Severus knew the questions were making him uncomfortable, but unlike in previous sessions, he was still answering them and not resorting to singing jingles again. It was interesting logic to say the least; Harry had convinced himself that it wasn't him who was making him come while riding the horses, but he knew what was likely to happen when he rode and he still did it.
"I have some books here that I'd like you to read," said Severus, standing up and sorting through the pile on his desk. They were sexual education manuals aimed at teenagers and he hoped Harry would find them informative, for his upbringing certainly hadn't prepared him for what his body was going through. "You can look through them now if you want and ask me any questions you might have."
Harry took the proffered books and set most of them down on the seat beside him, holding one in his hand. A Teenage Guide to Growing Up. "Are there pictures?" asked Harry, tracing his finger along the book's spine.
"There are some illustrations, yes, but it's quite tasteful," said Severus.
"Can I take them back to my room?"
"Of course. I'll see you tomorrow for your next session."
Harry nodded and hurried out, the books clutched tight against his chest as if he was afraid Severus was going to take them back from him.
As soon as Harry got back to his room he threw all of the books on his bed, his whole body feeling hot. He lifted the first one and ripped every page out, then did the same to all the rest of them. Once all the pages had been removed; he flung the covers towards the wall where they thudded with a clunk and slid down to land on the floor.
Harry sank down against the wall and rested his head on his knees, sobbing quietly.
Harry didn't turn up for his session for the next two days. He refused to come out of his room at all and Poppy informed Severus that Harry had torn up all the books Severus had given him. Had Severus tried to push too hard? Was Harry not yet ready to see himself as a sexual being? Or was it running deeper than that?
Harry had to yet to talk about the assault on him in the stables; he didn't even seem to realise that he had in fact been assaulted by the young woman. With no other sexual references to base his experience on except for an adult film, Harry probably had no idea about consent. Severus resolved to discuss it with Harry at their next session – if Harry ever ventured out of his room sometime this century to attend it.
It was Friday before Harry hovered hesitantly on Severus' doorstep again; looking very sheepish and apologetic.
"I'm sorry I damaged your books."
"They weren't my books, Harry. I got them for you. They were yours. Come in."
Harry did so but he was still very jittery and looked as if he wanted to escape the hospital altogether.
"Can you tell me why you did that to the books, Harry?" asked Severus once Harry had settled into his armchair. "Did the subject matter upset you?"
Harry either wouldn't or couldn't reply. "Let's forget about that for the moment, I wanted to talk to you about that night, Harry. About what happened in the stables."
Harry's eyes widened. "Please don't make me," Harry whispered. "I know I shouldn't have hurt the horses, I didn't mean to, I didn't!"
"I know, Harry, but that wasn't what I wanted to talk to you about. Why did you never tell anyone that you had been assaulted that night?"
"What? No one hit me!" protested Harry.
"No, it was a different type of assault, Harry. What Tonks did you, that is called sexual assault. You told her no and yet she still tried to engage in sexual acts with you. Can you tell me how it made you feel? Did you want her to do what she did?"
Harry shook his head, a few tears trickling down his cheeks. "I kept saying no, I didn't want her to touch me like that, I was afraid Equus was watching and was going to punish me. I felt sick when she – when she – you know – tried to suck me. I wanted to go home but she was holding me and it was so hard to get away from her. I didn't want it. I didn't want her but she just kept on and on. I said no over and over again but she ignored me! Why did she do that to me? Why? Why?" sobbed Harry. "I said no! I said no!"
Harry wrapped his arms around himself as a way to gain comfort and Severus wondered how much normal comfort he'd ever had growing up. Severus remembered Harry mentioning one hug his aunt had given him – but just one in all of his seventeen years.
"What did I do wrong?" wailed Harry, staring straight at Severus. "I always tried to be good, I did, I did! I must have done something wrong to be punished like that. Equus was punishing me for bringing her there, wasn't he? Because I defiled his temple?"
Severus was out of his chair in an instant and knelt down in front of Harry's. He placed both his hands on Harry's knees. "No, Harry, you did nothing wrong. What Tonks did to you, that was her fault, not yours. You told her no and she ignored you. It wasn't your fault and it had got nothing to do with Equus. Unless you think Tonks was possessed by him or something like that? Do you think that?"
"No," Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes dry. "I'm sorry, I keep wanting to cry all the time. You must think I'm such a baby."
"Harry, what we're doing here, this therapy is very intense and emotional. I'd be more worried about you if you couldn't cry. And you aren't a baby; you're just a confused young man who wants to get better. Have you given any thought to what you'd like to do when you leave here?"
"Leave? You're not sending me away?" gasped a panicked Harry.
"No, of course not. But you will be leaving here sometime, won't you? Have you thought about going back to school or on to university?"
"I – I don't know. I can't go to university. I'm too stupid."
"I know you left school early, Harry, but you could take evening classes for your A Levels if you wanted to go to university."
"How can I got to university when I can't – when I can't –"
"How can I go to university when I can't even read?" he screamed.
Severus found it hard to credit that Harry had grown up not being able to read when he'd been living in the same house as an ex-schoolteacher.
"Didn't your aunt teach you to read, Harry?" he asked softly. Severus still hadn't moved from his position in front of Harry's chair but he had removed his hands from Harry's knees, not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable if he didn’t want the touch for he wasn't sure that Harry would have voiced any objections.
"No, I asked her to, but she said she'd rather read my stories to me."
Did she indeed? More and more Severus was convinced that Petunia Dursley had been trying to make Harry as dependent on her as possible. Not teaching Harry to read was another way to control him and what he had access to. He wouldn't have been able to read the things the aunt found inappropriate. It would have been very difficult for Harry to make his way in the world if he couldn't read properly. Harry could read and write some things, for he'd said he read the cinema ticket that night.
"What about at school? Did no one ever teach you to read and write there?"
"I was at the hospital so much I missed a lot of school and the teachers just assumed I had learned already. If they called on me to read in class, I just pretended I had a sore throat and I wouldn't have to do it."
"You can read some words though?"
"A little, but I'm not very good. I'm not good at writing or sums either." Harry's shoulders slumped and Severus felt his heart ache anew for everything this young man had been through.
"What are you good at?" asked Severus.
"Come on, Harry. Everyone is good at something."
"I like cooking, my aunt taught me how to bake and things like that. Sometimes I made the dinner if my uncle was bringing clients home; everyone always ate everything I cooked and said it was delicious."
"There you are then, cooking is an excellent skill. I can't even boil an egg," laughed Severus. "Have you ever thought about becoming a chef or something like that?"
"Wouldn't I need qualifications though? I wouldn't be able to do exams if I can't read and write, would I?"
"That's a hurdle that can be passed, Harry. Would you like me to teach you some reading and writing skills? I can't help much with the mathematics though, it's not my strong suit. Nurse Pomfrey might be able to help you with that, she's a whizz with numbers. Or we can get a tutor in for you if you'd prefer that."
"I'd rather you did it, Dr. Snape. I don't want a stranger knowing I can barely read. You don't mind teaching me?"
"No, Harry, I don't mind at all. It will be my pleasure."
Harry returned to his room with a lighter step than he'd had for days. He'd been so worried about what Dr. Snape would say about him damaging the books that he'd been terrified of going to his sessions. The doctor hadn't seemed angry with him at all and was even going to teach him to read! Harry could hardly believe it; for so long he'd felt so left out because of inability to read properly and now Dr. Snape was going to teach him.
Once back in his room though, Harry was too het up just to go back to bed so he decided to go for a walk around the grounds instead. He headed for the lake and sat down in the same spot where he and the psychiatrist had been before. He supposed being a doctor meant that he had to be clever and intelligent; Harry felt a bit stupid compared to Dr. Snape.
Compared to say Bill Weasley, Harry had never actually considered Dr. Snape to be handsome, but Harry found himself thinking of the doctor more and more as the days passed. Sometimes he would just pop into his head, especially that night they'd spent together on the sofa. Harry's didn't have any nightmares that night, but as soon as he was back in his own bed, they'd returned. He wondered what the doctor would say if Harry suggested that they both sleep together more often. It certainly seemed to keep his nightmares at bay.
It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was beating down from a cloudless blue sky and birds were singing in the trees from the woods on the other side of the lake. Harry lay down and pillowed his head on his hands, staring up at the sky and wondering if he could really be good enough to become a chef.
He loved cooking; loved taking all the different raw ingredients and creating something totally different with them. Cakes were his favourite to make; he loved the smell of them baking in the oven. Maybe he could bake a cake for Dr. Snape as a thank you for helping him? He'd have to ask Nurse Pomfrey – she was the one who usually brought his meals; maybe she would know if Harry was allowed to use the hospital kitchens.
Harry was brought out of his thoughts when someone stood in front of him and blocked out the light. He pushed himself back up so that he was sitting and not lying down.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you," said the boy standing there. He had dark hair and was a little chubby round the cheeks. "I'm Neville. Neville Longbottom. I was just visiting my parents. Are you visiting someone too?"
Harry blushed and shook his head. "No, I'm a patient."
"Oh. But you look – you look so normal! Oh dear, that was terribly rude of me, I'm so sorry!"
"That's okay, Neville. I'm Harry. Harry Potter." Harry waited for a reaction, most people seemed to have heard of him through the papers after his hearing, but Neville didn't seem to notice anything strange about the name. An older woman began waving frantically at Neville from across the lake.
"There's Gran, I've got to go. It was nice meeting you, Harry."
"You too, Neville," replied Harry and waved as the other boy was dragged away by his grandmother.
Severus took the next Saturday off, the only day off he'd taken since he'd started treating Harry. As had become usual for the past couple of days he woke up to sticky sheets and barely-remembered dreams of clear green eyes and messy hair. It was starting to get a bit ridiculous; he couldn't even remember having this many wet dreams when he'd been a teenager himself.
After his shower and breakfast he put the sheets into the wash and headed out on his shopping expedition. He'd cancelled Harry's therapy sessions for today when Harry hinted that he didn't really want to talk to anyone else except him and hadn't Severus almost burst with possessive pride when the boy had said that?
Not having taught anyone to read before, Severus did some guesswork and started browsing round the children's departments in the bookshops. He made sure to get lots of books with pictures and those aimed at early readers. There were wall charts and activity books, so he got plenty of those as well. Flash cards, alphabet stencils, pencils, paper, rubbers, paperclips and binders all made their way into his basket, which was getting fuller by the minute. He hadn't realised there would be so much stuff aimed at helping people to read and write but with all these tools at his disposal; he felt a lot more confident in helping Harry. It wouldn't hurt either for Harry to see him as someone other than his doctor, but Severus didn't get his hopes up too much. Harry would probably not be interested in him like that at all.
"Is that everything, sir?" asked the young woman at the till. Severus had been distracted by three very large, stuffed penguins sitting on a shelf behind her. They were each wearing a red and white candy-striped waistcoat and a red bow-tie. Severus had no idea what a penguin was doing in a bookshop, but he could hardly tear his eyes away from it. He was sure Harry would love the cuddly toy.
"Is the penguin from a book?" he asked after setting his basket down.
"Yes, sir. It's a series of five books about a penguin called Pip."
"Could I have those books and one of the penguins as well?"
"Certainly, sir." She rang a bell on the desk to summon another colleague who went in search of all the 'Pip' books and then she struggled to get the penguin down from the shelf. Once she'd set it on the desk, it obscured her face because it was so large. Severus couldn't stop smiling, anticipating the look on Harry's face when he saw the penguin.
Once Severus paid for his purchases and received them all wrapped and boxed, he headed back to his car and then home. Harry's first reading and writing lesson would be in the morning and he wanted to make sure he had some semblance of a lesson plan in order before starting. Poppy had already agreed to help Harry with his maths and Severus didn't doubt that if Harry showed some progress, he would be able to re-take his exams at a sixth form college or even take some adult education classes. He would have to look into that.
Dr. Snape wasn't in his office when Harry arrived for his first reading lesson on Sunday morning, but Nurse Pomfrey opened the door and let Harry wait for him inside. This room had become more familiar to him than his own bedroom at Privet Drive. While he waited for the doctor, Harry wandered around the space and glanced at all the certificates lining the wall. Dr. Snape was certainly well-qualified and his face flushed with shame when he remembered the day he'd damaged the doctor's pictures. He shouldn't have done that; Dr. Snape was doing his best to help him. Harry hoped he wouldn't do anything like that again, he felt a lot calmer now than he had been then and wondered sometimes if his food had been drugged. Dr. Snape assured him over and again that it hadn't, especially after that scare with Umbridge adulterating his food. Dr. Snape said it was just Harry coming to terms with things and coping better.
On hearing some noise at the door, Harry turned around from perusing the doctor's medical degree and burst out giggling. He saw the black trousers and shoes that he knew belonged to Dr. Snape but his top half was hidden by an enormous cuddly penguin he was holding in both arms. There was a box by his feet and he was trying to toe it into the room.
Harry hurried over and picked up the box but almost dropped it again; it was heavier than it looked. "What's the penguin for?" asked Harry as he set the box of books and things down on the doctor's desk. His arms ached just from carrying it that short distance.
Dr. Snape set the penguin down on the armchair Harry normally occupied and smiled at Harry. "This is Pip. Apparently he has lots of adventures and we are going to read about some of them during our lessons."
"So he's a visual aid?"
"Yes and no," replied Dr. Snape. "I got the penguin for you, Harry. I thought you might like it."
"A present? You got me a present?"
The doctor nodded. Harry flung his arms around the man's neck and glanced up at his face, grinning. "Thank you so much! Thank you!"
Dr. Snape tilted Harry's face up and then traced a finger along his lips, making Harry shiver. "That's the first time I've ever seen you smile, Harry."
"It's the first time I've felt like it since I've been here."
Dr. Snape brought over two chairs to sit side by side at his desk and then waved Harry over into one of them. Harry had a strange, jumpy feeling low down in his belly when he sat down so close to the older man. It was a little bit like how he felt when he knew he was going to ride Nugget, but not quite like that.
"How about we start with you writing down your name," suggested Dr. Snape, handing Harry a pencil and a crisp, white sheet of blank paper.
"Okay, Doctor," said Harry as he took the proffered items.
"Maybe it might be best if you called me Severus for these lessons, as I am not acting as your doctor."
"Oh. All right," agreed Harry. In truth he had almost blurted out the man's given name a few times during some of their therapy sessions but now he had express permission to use it. "Severus." The name rolled off his tongue and he smiled at him before settling down to his task.
Harry took the pencil in his hand; it felt awkward and unwieldy and if the truth were known, no one had ever showed him how to hold a pen or a pencil in his life. His uncle had never been there when Harry had struggled through his homework; in fact his Aunt Petunia had done most of it so that the school wouldn't wonder at Harry's lack of abilities. It was a wonder no one had guessed the truth for such a long time.
Harry's face was beaded with sweat as he tried to spell and write his name on the piece of paper. All that white was mocking him, daring him to mar it with his horrible attempts at writing. Harry pushed the paper away with an angry shove. "I can't!" he protested. "I can't!"
"Ssh, Harry. It's all right. Do you know how to spell your name?"
Harry shook his head, angry, frustrated tears slipping out. He wanted to tear his eyes out so he wouldn't keep bursting into tears all the time. It was all he seemed to do lately.
"I'll write it down and then you can copy me, all right?" Severus held the pencil a lot more gracefully than Harry thought he could ever achieve and wrote some markings on the paper. Once finished, he showed the finished word to Harry.
Harry It didn't make sense to him, all he saw were little lines and squiggles. "That's my name?"
"Yes. Look at the word and then repeat it back to me."
Harry stared at the paper for a few minutes. "Harry."
"Right, now I'd like you to try and write it yourself." Severus handed him back a pencil and Harry sought to replicate what Severus had written. The pencil kept slipping out of his grasp and he ended up with odd lines shooting across the page.
"Here, let me," Severus leaned over him and guided his hand on the pencil. The man was so close to him that Harry could smell his shampoo or soap and he was breathing heavily right next to Harry's ear. Harry's whole body was hot when he felt Severus' shoulder bump his and he had to bite his lip to stop himself from crying out. He was hard; sitting so close, smelling the man next to him was making him hard. Harry knew that if he turned his head; he would get lost in that dark gaze, so he resolutely refused to look and stared blankly at the paper in front of him.
Harry tried to pull his chair closer in to the desk, hoping Severus wouldn't notice his erection. It wasn't normal, was it? To get hard like this just because Severus had touched him on his hand and was sitting so close to him? Harry had been unused to casual touches growing up, maybe he was just over-reacting? He hoped Severus wouldn't stop giving him lessons if he discovered it. For Harry wanted to learn more than anything.
He took a few deep breaths to calm himself; there was no way he could hurt himself right here in the doctor's office, Harry knew Severus wouldn't stand for it. Eventually his erection faded and he concentrated on what Severus was telling him.
For the next two hours, Harry stencilled out the letters from the alphabet over and over again on fresh sheets of paper, while Severus sang him a song to help him remember it. His hand was cramping from so much extended use of pencils but Harry eagerly absorbed everything in that first lesson. What he was really looking forward to was being able to read books, but Severus seemed to think it would be a while before he got to that stage. He could read his name now, and Severus', although Harry's handwriting still left a bit to be desired.
"I think we'll leave it there for today, Harry. Your hand must be sore after all that writing."
"A little," Harry admitted. "But I enjoyed it. Thank you for doing this for me, I really appreciate it."
"You're very welcome, Harry. Do you feel up to a therapy session after that or would you prefer to wait until tomorrow?"
"I think tomorrow would be better if that's all right. I'm feeling a bit tired." That wasn't the only thing Harry was feeling, but he didn't feel like admitting that right at the moment.
"That's fine, Harry," replied Severus as he tidied up the stuff they'd been working on. "Don't forget your penguin."
Harry turned round from the door and blushed; he had indeed forgotten the toy. He lifted the large penguin into his arms and headed back to his room. It was big enough to cover past his waist and his groin as he made his way back. Harry didn't want to run into any of the other boys who would be sure to tease him if he saw his rapidly returning erection. His lips tingled as he remembered Severus stroking his finger along them; just the thought of it almost sent Harry stumbling but he did manage to return to his room in one piece.
He set the penguin down on the bed and sat down beside it, stroking its fur. No one had ever given him a stuffed toy before; he'd never had any teddy bears or things like that growing up. His aunt was convinced that their fur harboured germs and she didn't want Harry to get sick. Harry tried to tell himself that she had only been doing what she thought was best for him, but sometimes he wished her best didn't hurt him quite so much.
Harry pushed the chair under his door as there was no lock on the inside, the staff didn't want the patients to be able to lock themselves in just in case they tried to kill themselves. It was a few hours yet before dinner, so Harry didn't think anyone would be coming by to disturb him. He closed the blind on the observation window and then settled himself comfortably on the bed, his back pressed against the pillows and the headboard.
He could almost reach the penguin with his feet if he stretched a bit. Harry sighed to himself. Dr. Snape – Severus – had given him a present. Harry felt elated at that thought. His prick was beginning to press uncomfortably against his jeans and he wondered if he would really be able to do this.
He remembered the doctor's words, that it was his body, he was allowed to feel pleasure. Harry felt quite giddy after the past couple of hours and he wasn't feeling in the mood to hurt himself, but he knew he would have to do something to take care of his erection soon. Severus didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with touching himself, but Harry was unsure how to do it.
Riding Nugget, it had been the friction of rubbing against something that did it; Harry had never used his hands. He unbuttoned the top button of his jeans and then pushed the zip all the way down. Already his trousers were getting a little damp as was his underwear. His cock peeked out from the slit in his boxer shorts, standing up straight with teardrops of clear fluid leaking from the tip.
Harry reached out a tentative hand and swiped at it, shuddering a little as he did so. His toes were curling in his socks and he had to stifle a moan. He made a fist and gripped his shaft, rubbing up and down. His aunt's voice was still in his head, but she was being drowned out by Severus and that was the voice Harry chose to listen to. It was his body and he wanted to come so badly.
His hips began thrusting of their own accord and Harry lost himself in the sensations as he massaged his cock; feeling it tremble and twitch in his hand. He brought his other hand to his mouth and trailed his fingers along his lips, imagining that Severus was stroking them again. Dark eyes bored into his own and all too soon, Harry felt it, the deep coiling in the pit of his belly and the ache in his cock and balls. Starlight bloomed behind his eyelids and he was arching up into his hand, moaning as he spurted jets of white heat over his hand and belly, staining his shirt.
His limbs felt more like water or rubber than flesh and bone and he was panting harshly as the aftershocks tore through him. In his thrashing about, he'd managed to knock poor Pip off the bed. Harry lay on his back for a few moments, just staring at the ceiling; he knew he would have to change his shirt soon, but he was feeling too languid to move. His eyelids closed and he drifted off to the deepest sleep he'd ever had.
Over the next few months, learning to read opened up a whole new world to Harry. For a while, he was still only reading children’s books with pictures but he could read them himself and flushed with pride whenever Severus complimented him on how well he was doing. His handwriting was getting better too; even when they weren't having a lesson, Harry would practice for hours in his room trying to make his untidy scrawl a bit more recognisable. Severus had beautiful, flowing handwriting but Harry knew it would be a while before he could do proper joined-up writing himself.
Harry spent an inordinate amount of time during their lessons admiring those long, graceful fingers and remembering every brief touch he'd ever received from them. Did Severus touch himself the way Harry did? Harry had started masturbating quite frequently these days and the more he did it, the more the guilt his aunt had instilled in him lessened. It made him feel relaxed and he liked to go to sleep afterwards – sleep that was unhindered by any nightmares. Harry wondered if he should tell Severus the cure he'd discovered for his nightmares, but just thinking about having that conversation with the doctor made him blush furiously.
By July he'd progressed well in his reading and Severus had given him some books that were aimed at older children; there were just a few words he didn't know but when he'd finished The Railway Children, he felt as if he could fly. It was the first novel he'd ever read and his days of reading about Pip the Penguin's adventures seemed a long time ago. Sometimes he slept with Pip cuddled up in his arms, pretending that it was like the night when he'd slept in Severus' arms. In his thoughts, the events of that night had changed somewhat; in his mind they'd both ended up kissing each other and Severus had stroked him until he came, whispering in his ear and holding him softly all the while. It was one of Harry's favourite fantasies and he wondered sometimes if he ought to tell the man about them. Or about the other sorts of dreams he was having, for those were nothing like nightmares.
The week before his birthday Harry was practicing writing out the sentences Severus had given him on their last lesson for his homework, when Nurse Pomfrey popped her head into Harry's room and smiled at him. Ever since the scare when Nurse Umbridge had tried to kill him, Pomfrey had been a lot friendlier towards him but so far Harry hadn't got up the nerve to ask her if he could use the kitchens.
"There's a visitor for you, Harry."
"Oh," said Harry in surprise, settling his book and pencil down on his bed. A few moments later, Neville Longbottom entered the room and sat down in the chair next to Harry's bed. "Hello, Neville."
"Hi, Harry. I hope you don't mind, but Gran said it was okay to visit you for a bit while she talks to the doctors about Mum and Dad."
Harry didn't mind at all; Neville was the first visitor he'd ever had in the hospital. Sometimes it hurt that his aunt and uncle never came; it was as if they were pretending he didn't exist. He knew how much stock his aunt put in the neighbours' opinion of her and after Harry's crime had been plastered all over the newspapers he could understand why she wouldn't come and see him but it didn't make it any easier to bear.
"It seems a good hospital," said Neville. "Do you like it here?"
"It's all right," said Harry. "My doctor is really nice, Dr. Snape."
"My Gran wants to see if we can take my parents home for a bit, it's my birthday next week, but I don't think the doctors will let her. They're - they're not like you, Harry. They don't even know us anymore. It's like visiting strangers. I never really knew them at all; they've been in here since I was a baby."
"Oh, Neville, I'm sorry. I didn't know my parents either; they died when I was one. So that's why you live with your Gran?"
"Yeah, I've lived with her for years but I'm going to university in Southampton in October and it's a bit far to commute every day."
"What are you going to study?"
"Horticulture," said Neville but Harry had no idea what that was and didn't want to reveal his ignorance in front of the other boy. It was strange talking to someone who might become a friend; Harry had never really had one before.
"I'd like to be a chef," said Harry. "Dr. Snape is helping me study. He's very clever."
Neville grinned. "Do you realise you blush every time Dr. Snape is mentioned?"
"Um, do I?" asked Harry, this time feeling his face heat up.
"Yes, you do," laughed Neville. "You fancy him, don't you?"
"I've lived a very sheltered life, Neville. What does fancying someone mean exactly?"
Neville seemed very surprised. "You mean you really don't know?"
Harry shook his head.
"Well, to fancy someone means you like them and want them to notice you. That you might like a kiss from them, things like that. Would you like him to kiss you?"
"Oh, God, yes," Harry almost moaned. How many times had he imagined that? Both of them sitting so close during their reading lessons, Harry looking up, him looking down and their eyes meeting before Severus bends down to sweep his lips across Harry's. "I keep staring at his lips all the time, and his hands. He has beautiful hands," sighed Harry.
Neville grinned his broadest smile yet. "Then I think it's safe to say you have a crush on him, that you do in fact fancy him."
"It – it doesn't bother you? That – that I like a man?"
"No, why should it? Oh, I get it. You were brought up religious?"
"Sort of," replied Harry. "My aunt would think it's a sin. She wouldn't even let me take the classes at school."
"Well, it's not your aunt who's going to be kissing him, is it? If you feel it's right, Harry, then that's what you have to concentrate on, not what your aunt or anyone else thinks. If it's not hurting anyone else, then it's none of their business, is it?"
"Are you sure you're not going to study psychiatry?" Harry threw one of his pillows at Neville and it quickly descended into a pillow fight of epic proportions. Nurse Pomfrey had to come in and tell them to keep the noise down, but Harry couldn't stop giggling for quite some time.
Severus waited for Harry to come to his next therapy session, re-reading some of his notes. When Harry did arrive, he was looking flushed, and happy.,.
The smile was wonderful to see and Severus couldn't help but smile back. He didn't even need to wave Harry into a chair; Harry sat down in his normal armchair and grinned up at him.
"You seem very happy today, Harry."
"I am. I had my first visitor and we got into a pillow fight. Nurse Pomfrey had to tell us off for making so much noise, but she was smiling when she did it."
Severus stifled a grin; Poppy was an old softy really. "Who was your visitor?"
"Neville Longbottom, I met him a while ago by the lake. His parents are in the adult ward. I'm eighteen next week; does that mean I'll have to go to the adult ward too? Will you not be able to treat me anymore?"
"I've had a word with Professor McGonagall, Harry and while normally I don't treat patients aged eighteen or above, she agreed with me that it would be in your best interests if you were to stay on the adolescent ward and I continue to treat you. If that is all right with you?"
"Brilliant!" said Harry.
The Harry today seemed so much more confident than the scared young man Severus had first seen. It was like watching a flower bloom and Harry had certainly blossomed. He'd been eating properly ever since Easter and he had filled out quite a bit in the chest, but Severus didn't think he would grow much taller. But more than the healthy glow that surrounded him now, Harry seemed so much more at ease with himself. Severus didn't think it would be long before Harry no longer needed to be in the hospital at all. He had come so far in these past few months. Severus wasn't sure what he was going to do when that day arrived; he knew he was going to miss Harry terribly.
"Dr. Snape, I wondered if I might ask you something?" Harry shifted in his chair.
"That depends on what it is."
"Um – is it normal for me to be having dreams – erm… dreams about you?"
"Nightmares?" Severus hadn't received any reports from the night staff that Harry had been having any trouble sleeping lately.
Harry blushed scarlet. "Er, no. They're good dreams. Very good dreams."
"Oh. Oh!" exclaimed Severus, and it was his own turn to blush. Harry had been having those sorts of dreams about him? "Since we have been spending a lot of time together, I would say, yes, it is perfectly normal. It doesn't have to mean anything other than that."
"But it can mean something else, can't it? That I like you?"
"Harry, it is not really something we can discuss if we are doctor and patient." Oh, but how much Severus wanted to cross that invisible line dividing him from Harry. Wanted to cross it and swoop the boy up in his arms and kiss him breathless until they both forgot the world around them.
"Oh. There are rules aren't there, about doctors and patients dating? Does that mean I can ask you about it when I am no longer your patient?"
"Harry, if you still have any questions concerning this, then yes, once you are no longer my patient I will do my best to answer you."
Before they even had a chance to start the therapy session, someone knocked on the office door.
"Come in," called Severus. A few seconds later, Inspector Johnson appeared.
"Dr. Snape, Mr. Potter, good you're both here," he said. "We've apprehended Dolores Umbridge."
Severus saw Harry's face pale when he'd registered the detective's words and Harry began gnawing on his bottom lip. Harry began to breathe heavily and his hands fluttered at the arms of the chair; he hadn't yet gone into a fully fledged panic attack but Severus guessed it would only be a matter of time before he did. Not only did Harry have to contend with the capture of the woman who'd almost killed him; Harry still wasn't very comfortable in the presence of the police.
"Harry, why don't you go back to your room while I talk to Inspector Johnson?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry and almost ran out of his room in his haste to leave.
Johnson watched him go with an arched eyebrow.
"Wouldn't he have wanted to know about this too?" asked the detective, sitting down before he was invited. Severus bristled a little at that.
"I can tell him later," said Severus. "Where did you find her?"
"At a hospital in Leeds; she was caught by another nurse trying to do it again. She'd been working there under an assumed name with forged qualifications and references. Her hair had been dyed, so despite her photos being sent to all the other hospitals no one recognised her when she turned up. She's being held on five counts of murder and three of attempted murder."
"So she'd done this before? Harry wasn't her only victim? Will Harry have to testify at the trial?" asked Severus, worried on Harry's behalf. How would being back in a courtroom affect Harry, even if he wasn't in the dock himself?
"I can't really say at this stage, but if the other two victims agree to testify, Harry might not be needed. It'll really be up to the lawyers who they want to call as witnesses."
"I think Harry would prefer it if he wasn't called upon," said Severus. "And as his doctor, I would have to agree that it wouldn't be in Harry's best interest to go to back to a courtroom this soon."
"Well, I can't promise anything, Doc, but I'll see what I can do to keep Harry out of it."
"Thank you, Inspector. That's all I can ask.
After the detective took his leave, Severus made his way to Harry's room. He wasn't surprised by what he found there; he hoped it was just a bump in the road to Harry's recovery and not a complete reverse. Harry was sitting on his bed, scrunched up as small as he could be with his arms wrapped around his knees and rocking backwards and forwards against the headboard.
"Harry? Are you all right?"
Harry glanced up with tear-filled eyes. "Is he gone?" Harry sniffled.
"Yes, he's gone now."
"I won't have to see her, will I? They won't make me go back to court, will they?"
"I don't know, Harry. Inspector Johnson said he would try and keep you out of it. There were other victims, Harry. She murdered five people and there were two who were as lucky as you. If they testify, they might not need you."
"I don't want to go back there, Dr. Snape! I don't!"
Severus wanted to do everything in his power to be able to promise Harry that, but the truth was it wasn't up to him and he didn't want to make a promise he couldn't keep.
"Harry, let's take one thing at a time, all right? The trial won't be for quite some time yet. These things don't happen overnight."
Harry's tears dried. "But - but they brought me to the court the very next day!"
"That was a competency hearing, Harry, not a trial. It was why you were sent to the hospital, the magistrate didn't think you were of a sound enough mind to be tried or taken to jail."
"Oh." Harry sounded so lost, so unlike the confident young man who had bounded into his office earlier that day. It was just a setback, or so Severus hoped. Severus sat down on the chair next to Harry's bed; they may as well have their session here rather than make Harry trek all the way back to the office.
"How do you feel when you think you might have go back to court, Harry?"
"That they'll send me to jail. That they discover they made a mistake in sending me here and I should have been in jail all along."
"Harry, even if you are called upon to testify at that woman's trial, you would be a witness. They don't send witnesses to jail, unless they were in contempt of court or something like that."
"I know, I still feel scared though. I can't help it."
"Would you like something to help you sleep tonight?" asked Severus. Harry hadn't had any nightmares for a while, but it wouldn't take a genius to know that they would probably be back tonight.
"If you don't mind," said Harry. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep otherwise."
"Okay. I'll prescribe some sleeping pills for you after dinner."
"Thank you," said Harry, lurching forwards and wrapping his arms around Severus' neck, pressing his chest hard against Severus' own. Severus could feel Harry's rapid heartbeat pounding against his and it would have been so easy to lean down and kiss him, but mindful of where they were and that the blinds were open, Severus removed Harry's hands as gently as he could and settled Harry back on the bed.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that, should I?"
"It's all right, Harry. It was just a hug."
"I like hugging you," said Harry guilelessly. "You feel so strong. I feel safe with you."
No matter how much he wanted it to continue, they couldn't have this conversation. Not while Severus was still Harry's doctor and not when Harry was still feeling so fragile after the policeman's visit.
"Harry, we've talked about this. We can't do anything, or even discuss it."
Harry nodded his head. "I just – I just wanted you to know how I felt."
For Harry's eighteenth birthday, Severus had arranged to take Harry out of the hospital for the day. Harry hadn't known that patients were sometimes allowed out, although normally on trips patients were accompanied by their families. There was no visit from his aunt and uncle, but he did receive a birthday card and a gift voucher for a clothes shop from them. It indicated how little they really knew of him, for Harry hated shopping for clothes.
Harry's parents' solicitors had also sent him a copy of his parents' will. Most of their estate would go to him and Harry wondered how Aunt Petunia would react knowing how little of her sister's money she would actually get. They'd never said anything to his face, but sometimes Harry wondered if the only reason his relatives had taken him in was because they were hoping to get their hands on some of the Potter money.
Harry had heard rumours while he was growing up; it was from taunts in the playground that he found out his parents were rich. It was one of the many reasons the other children teased and bullied him. Harry had never seen a penny of their money. As the letters from the solicitor indicated, there had been a trust fund set up which his aunt and uncle administered until he was eighteen. After that, he would be able to access his trust fund, but he wouldn't receive the bulk of his inheritance until he was twenty one.
Harry sighed and put their letters and cards away; he didn't know why he was feeling so miserable today. Neville's card cheered him up; it had a penguin on a surf board. It was much more personal than the one from his aunt and uncle – a generic "Harry Birthday, Nephew" with a picture of a sailing boat on it. Harry had never been interested in boats.
He went through his meagre collection of clothes wondering what he should wear on their outing; Severus hadn't told him where they were going, just that it was to be a surprise. Harry decided on jeans, as the only proper trousers he had with him at the hospital were his old school uniform ones and they were a bit short in the leg now, although Harry didn't feel he'd grown that much. Not sure how formal to be, he wore a cotton shirt in jade green rather than a t-shirt today. He could always roll the sleeves up if he got too hot.
He'd already had his shower and his breakfast this morning so all Harry had to do was wait until Severus came to collect him. He sat down on the bed and wiped his sweaty hands on the thighs of his jeans, hoping it wouldn't mark the material. This was the first time Harry would get to see Severus outside of his role of doctor or tutor and although the word hadn't been mentioned, Harry couldn't help thinking that their outing seemed very akin to a date.
When Severus knocked on his door and came in a few minutes after ten, Harry was very surprised to discover the doctor was going for a more casual look today as well. Dressed in a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt which left both arms bare, Harry couldn't help staring at the pale skin revealed. He had never seen Severus in anything so casual before and he had to admit it looked really good on him. Severus had tied his shoulder-length hair back in a pony tail, accentuating his cheekbones and making Harry wonder how long it would be before he was allowed to touch and stroke that face. Harry blushed and hoped Severus hadn't noticed.
Glad he had already pleasured himself in the shower earlier that morning; Harry stood up and smiled at him.
"Ready for our outing, Harry?"
"Ready," he replied, feeling as if his heart wanted to fly right out through his chest.
Harry could barely contain his excitement as they made their way to Severus' car. Severus opened the door for him and once Harry was inside Severus helped him on with his seat belt. Harry held his breath as the man's hands lightly brushed against him until the metal buckle was clicked into place. Severus smiled at him and patted Harry's hands, which were folded in his lap. Harry just wanted to melt into the seat.
"Where are we going?" asked Harry once they'd reached the motorway. He'd never been on that many day trips; the only one he could remember was that time at the beach when he was six. His uncle was usually too busy at work and his aunt never seemed to be comfortable taking Harry anywhere on his own.
"It's a surprise," Severus repeated, his eyes still on the road ahead. Harry settled back into his seat and gazed out at the passing scenery. The suburbs of Winchester soon gave way to fields and woodland and Harry wondered if he might see any horses. He still liked horses, but the thought of them didn't make him feel so strange anymore. It was Severus who gave him clammy hands and made his heart beat faster in his chest. Every so often, he risked a glance at the side of Severus' face and smiled to himself when he did so.
Harry didn't know how long they had been driving for before Severus pulled up into the car park of Marwell Zoo. A zoo. A day trip for children. He was eighteen, not eight! Harry couldn't believe the crushing disappointment in his chest. Why was Severus bringing him to a zoo of all places? Did he think of Harry as a little child? Much to his horror, Harry felt tears springing to his eyes, just like the child he was so determined not to be. He turned his head away, but Severus had already seen the tears.
"Harry, what's wrong?" asked Severus.
"You – you brought me to a zoo! I'm not a child!" protested Harry, his voice cracking.
The leather of Severus' chair creaked as he scooted forward and turned Harry around to face him. "Harry, I didn't bring you here because I think you're a child. Here, this is your present," said Severus, handing Harry an envelope.
It was postmarked Marwell Zoo. Not quite understanding what was going on, Harry opened the envelope and emptied the contents onto his lap. Out fell a photograph of a black and white penguin and an adoption certificate. Severus had adopted a penguin for him and Harry felt so awful and foolish that he cried even more.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! It's a wonderful present," sobbed Harry, trying desperately to wipe his eyes underneath his glasses. Severus plucked Harry's glasses from his nose and set them down on the dashboard.
"Ssh, Harry, it's all right," said Severus as he leaned over and kissed the tears away from each eye. Harry thought he might faint when Severus continued to kiss and lick all over his face. Across his cheekbones, along the bridge of his nose. Harry's pulse was thundering in his ears and although he knew deep down this was definitely crossing a line, he didn't want it to stop. All the blood in his body seemed to pool in Harry's groin and he reached up and gripped Severus' shoulders, not wanting him to go. He could feel the muscles flex beneath his fingers and he briefly wondered what Severus would look like bare-chested.
When Severus' tongue wandered down along Harry's collar and around his neck; Harry bucked in the seat and almost screamed. He'd never felt this hard before in his life! He stifled a moan. Severus' lips moved, pressing little open-mouth kisses all along his neck and up his throat to the underside of his chin. "You taste wonderful," said Severus on a sigh, bringing his head up and pressing his lips down hard against Harry's own.
Harry couldn't stop the moan this time; he arched up, his hands clawing at Severus' shoulders. Severus' kisses were nothing like those he'd shared with Tonks. The girls' kisses had been soft and wet; in contrast, Severus' kisses were firm and his lips were dry. It was Harry's mouth which was filling up with saliva; he swallowed as best he could while being kissed. Severus' hands moved to cup his face and Harry felt so cherished when he did so. For endless minutes they kissed and kissed, putting all the passion into it that they couldn't yet share. Harry was finding it difficult to breathe, but who needed air when he could survive on Severus' kisses?
Severus pulled away. "We should stop," he breathed against Harry's lips.
"Yes," Harry whispered, but neither of them made any move to shift away from each other. Severus caressed Harry's cheek and Harry arched into the touch. It was Harry who dived for Severus' mouth this time, clamping onto Severus' lips as if his life depended on it. Severus licked his tongue across Harry's lips. A jolt of desire sent sparks shooting to his groin after their tongues touched for the very first time. It felt so big, so hot and wet in his mouth and Harry started sucking on it like a lollipop, feeling heat coiling low down in his belly. Harry so much wanted to continue, his hormones were going haywire but he couldn't let Severus do this.
Reluctantly Harry pulled his mouth away and pushed at Severus' shoulders.
"We can't!" Harry almost whimpered, but oh, how he wanted to. Wanted to be kissed and touched and anything else Severus wanted to do to him.
Severus looked down at Harry, his eyes glazed and glittering. "Harry, I'm sorry. I never meant for things to get this far."
"It's okay," said Harry, after taking a deep, shaky breath. "It's not that I don't want to, I do, but I want to wait. I don't want you to get into trouble for doing things with a patient."
"That's a very mature attitude, Harry," said Severus wonderingly. He'd moved back over to his own seat and Harry's body was gradually calming down. He still felt a bit as if he'd just finished a race.
"Well, I am supposed to be an adult now," grinned Harry, his earlier tears seeming so long ago now.
"How about we go and visit your adopted penguin?"
"I think that's a great idea, Severus. I'd love to."
Harry didn't remember ever having been to a zoo before and he was glad to discover that he and Severus weren't the only two adults who were unaccompanied by children. They spent a couple of hours wandering around the zoo looking at the other animals before they got to the penguins.
It was a pretty zoo, with wandering paths lined with trees and the animal enclosures seemed quite large. The penguins were in a large pool, with little next boxes on the banks of the pool. A sloped path led down to underneath the pool, where glass walls allowed visitors to see the penguins as they flew through the water. It was so crowded they couldn't see much; it seemed the penguin enclosure was one of the most popular attractions at the zoo.
Making their way back up to the main part of the pool, they saw one of the keepers with a bucket of fish in his hand. As soon as he rattled the lock on the gate, all the penguins waddled over, as if they knew it would soon be feeding time. The penguins arched their heads as the keeper threw fish at them and swallowed it whole; even though their beaks didn't seem large enough for that.
Once the feeding had finished, a lot of the penguins stretched their wings and began flapping them wildly, but they didn't fly anywhere. Now that feeding time had finished, a lot of the other visitors dispersed, but Severus and Harry stayed for a little while longer, glad of the opportunity to see them without a crowd of schoolchildren in the way.
"Excuse me," Harry said shyly to the keeper. "Why do they do that?" Harry pointed to the penguins flapping their wings.
"It helps them to digest their food," said the keeper, smiling at both of them.
"Oh, look, Severus, that penguin's beak is broken," said Harry softly. The penguin he'd seen had only got the bottom half of a beak. "Did he have an accident?"
"No, he was born like that," said the keeper. "We call him Arfur, 'cos he only has half a beak. Arfur Beak."
"Oh, that's sad," said Harry softly.
"He's all right, he can still eat and everything; he just can't feed any of his children, Mum has to do that for the chicks." The keeper hefted his bucket. "I'd best be getting off. See you."
"Bye," said Harry and Severus. Once the keeper was gone, Severus led Harry back down to the underwater viewing area. Due to the previous crowds, they hadn't been able to see the penguins never mind anything else, but now Harry could see that next to one of the glass windows, was a plaque with the names of the people who'd adopted the penguins. At the very bottom was his own name picked out in gold lettering and next to that was the name of the penguin Severus had adopted for him, Arfur Beak.
"No one else had ever adopted him," said Severus. "I guess they didn't want a damaged one."
Harry felt his heart swell fit to burst, that Severus knew him so well. Severus couldn't have picked a better penguin to adopt. It was the damaged one Harry was drawn to, feeling so damaged himself sometimes. "Thank you, Severus. It was the best birthday I've ever had."
Severus glanced at his watch. "How about we have some lunch and then I have another surprise for you."
"Another surprise?" grinned Harry. "You're spoiling me, you know."
"You deserve it," said Severus, leaning over and kissing Harry's cheek. Harry was sure he could feel that patch of skin burning where Severus had touched it. After a light lunch of chicken sandwiches and chocolate cake, Severus insisted they have cake because it was Harry's birthday, Severus pushed another envelope across the table to Harry.
Harry couldn't stop smiling; he could even read what was in it now. There were some colourful brochures and an application form for the Southampton School of Cookery. Harry read through all the details, but only one stuck in his mind. No formal qualifications are required. What is preferred is enthusiasm for the subject. Well, Harry certainly had that, he could train to be a chef without needing to do lots of other exams that he wasn't interested in.
"Severus, I don't know how to thank you. How did you find out about this?"
"From Neville Longbottom actually. The cookery school is a new department attached to the university; he sent me the details with instructions to give them to you on your birthday. He also said you have a room in Southampton if you need it. The school has a practical entry requirement rather than an exam. All you have to do is cook them a meal and if they decide you have any talent in that area, you're in."
Harry could barely take it in. "But it's in Southampton, what about the hospital? They don't do day releases like that, do they?"
Severus smiled. "That was another surprise, Harry. As of next week, you are no longer a patient at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall signed your release papers this morning."
Harry jolted awake just as the train pulled into the station. It hadn't been a long journey, but he hadn't had much sleep the night before, the argument between him and his aunt continuing to fester in his mind long after he had gone to bed. Harry thought she would have been pleased that he had been released from the hospital and had gained a place at the cookery school. He couldn't have been further from the truth. Aunt Petunia had been livid; accusing him of abandoning her and if he continued with this madness she would call the hospital and get him sent back there. It was Vernon who had been the peacemaker, trying to convince her that they wouldn't have let Harry out if they didn't think he was ready.
Harry had packed his bag that same night and telephoned Neville, who had been more than happy for Harry to stay with him in Southampton, despite Harry's course not starting until the end of September. So now here he was, ready to start out on his own. He just wished he felt more excited about it and not so upset that his aunt had been so against him moving out. Harry dreaded to think what would have happened if he'd even mentioned the fact that he was gay and was about to start a relationship with his ex-psychiatrist. It was a conversation he didn't want to have with them, so he hadn't told them anything about it.
His uncle had driven him to the train station and given him a hundred pounds. "I have money," Harry had said, already in possession of the bank books and cards the solicitors had sent him while he'd been in the hospital.
"I know. It's just until you get settled. You can ring or visit us anytime."
"Thanks," but even as he'd said it, Harry knew he wouldn't be going for a visit to that house for a very long time.
Harry sighed as he picked up his bag, shaking his head to clear it of the memories. His aunt wasn't going to ruin this for him; he wouldn't allow it. Stepping onto the platform, he saw Neville waiting for him with a beaming smile on his face.
"Harry!" he shouted, waving over the crowd of departing passengers.
Harry grinned back and made his way over to his friend; it was good to feel so welcomed. "Just the one bag?" asked Neville as he took the holdall out of Harry's hand.
"Er, yes," replied Harry. "I don't have much stuff."
"Well, maybe Luna and I can take you shopping before you start at college."
Harry noticed his friend blushing. "Who's Luna?" Harry asked innocently.
"Um, just a friend," said Neville glancing down at his feet so that he almost walked into a pillar. "Well, all right, she's our other roommate, but I'd like to be more than friends. Not that she'd ever notice me like that. Talking of our love lives, or lack thereof, how's Dr. Snape?" Neville grinned.
"It's Severus and he's great!" said Harry. "He's coming to visit me at the weekend, is that all right?"
"Of course it is. It's your house too, Harry. We all share the rent; you can invite whoever you like. I'm going back to Gran's for the weekend and Luna's going to visit her dad, so you'll have the place to yourselves."
While they chatted away, Harry felt as if he'd known Neville all his life. It was good to be able to talk to someone about his feelings for Severus. Everything between them still felt so new and fragile and Harry didn't want to do anything that might jeopardise his and Severus' burgeoning relationship. Harry wasn't sure that he was ready for everything yet, but he knew that he wanted things to go further than just heated kisses, nice though those were.
As they got into Neville's car and Harry put his seat belt on, he couldn't help smiling in reminiscence as he remembered Severus helping him on with his seat belt. When Neville came in after putting Harry's bag in the boot, he punched Harry playfully on the arm. "Hey, no daydreaming about eligible doctors, you'll have to be navigator. Look out for signs for Ocean Village. I still don't know the way yet and I've been living there three weeks!" Neville chuckled as he put the car into gear and headed out of the station.
Harry was so glad Severus had given him those reading lessons; he could almost imagine how embarrassed he would have been at not being able to read even the most simple road signs. "Left at the roundabout," said Harry, just spotting a sign for Ocean Village.
"You'll love the house, Harry. It's on three levels with a balcony from the living room overlooking the marina. There are a couple of cinemas and restaurants in the complex too. We also have use of a gym and a pool as well; it's all included in the rent, how cool is that?"
"Great," said Harry although he'd never been to a gym or a swimming pool in his life, unless you counted those awful PE classes at school. Never very good at any sport, Harry was always picked last for the teams and sometimes if there was an uneven number of pupils that day; he was excused the lesson altogether. School had been a nightmare and Harry hoped college was going to be a lot different.
On the Monday after his birthday, Severus had driven him down to the school so that he could do his audition; that's what the college had called it. Harry had made a three course meal in the set time and then had another two hour wait for the verdict from his examiners. At long last, a woman came out with a clipboard and a folder full of lists of Harry's equipment and books that he would need for his first term. He had made it and he and Severus had a celebratory snog in the car park, despite Harry not having officially left the hospital's care yet.
Neville drove along the marina front before stopping in front of a three-storey townhouse in red brick with wood-framed windows. Yachts bobbed in the water in front of them and the marina was filled with tourists walking along in shorts and t-shirts, admiring the boats and taking advantage of the August sunshine. The front door of the house was painted as red as Neville's car; with two hanging baskets of flowers on either side of the porch.
Neville tossed the car key to Harry so that he could open the boot and retrieve his bag. By the time Harry had done that, Neville had opened the door and was calling for Luna from the hallway. Harry hesitantly stepped over the threshold and glanced around him; he'd never been in any other houses besides his aunt's and Mrs. Figg's. The walls were painted cream and posters of films were hanging everywhere.
A blonde head hung down over the banisters. "You must be, Harry. Come on up," said Luna, or who Harry guessed must be Luna. Harry went up the stairs, seeing more film posters as he did so, feeling so excited that he could actually read the titles now. Casablanca, The Thirty Nine Steps, Vertigo caught his eye as he made his way to the first floor living room.
"Wow!" Harry exclaimed. As soon as you entered the doorway you were greeted with a large set of double doors leading out onto the balcony and the view of the marina below was breathtaking. Luna was standing by the breakfast bar which divided the living room from the open plan kitchen, cutting up bread for sandwiches.
"Thought you might be hungry after the train," she said, her smile as welcoming as Neville's had been earlier that morning. "Neville, why don't you show Harry his room so he can put his things away?"
Neville flushed scarlet and took hold of Harry's bag once again before heading up another flight of stairs. "I hope it's all right," said Neville, pushing open the door and setting Harry's bag down on the bed. The room wasn't enormous, but it was big enough for a double bed and a wardrobe. Instead of a bedside table there was a stool with a lamp sitting on it and a framed picture of a pink tulip on the wall. The quilt cover and curtains hanging on the window were all covered in pink tulips as well. It was quite feminine, but Harry didn't care. It was his in a way that the bedroom at Privet Drive and his room at the hospital had never been.
"It's brilliant, Neville. Thank you."
Harry spent the rest of the week settling in and getting to know Neville and Luna better. Luna was quite witty in a strange way and Harry found himself getting used to smiling and laughing in the presence of his new roommates. Each night Harry cooked dinner for all three of them, leaving Neville and Luna companionably doing the dishes afterwards and Harry reckoned it was only a matter of time before the two of them were an item – they seemed to get on so well.
Luna knew all of the trendiest shops and she spent a few days dragging Neville and Harry around shop after shop to help them both update their wardrobes. Harry hadn't known there was so much choice and he found himself wondering which selections Severus would like. Luna relented and let them browse the underwear departments on their own. If anything did happen between him and Severus at the weekend, the last thing Harry wanted was to be wearing his old and faded undies!
Luna and Neville left the house for their own visits on Saturday morning and Harry had worked himself into a nervous wreck by lunchtime. Not having Luna or Neville to bounce his thoughts off, they took an anxious turn. What if Severus didn't come? What if he hadn't meant it when he said he wanted them to be together? What if he thought Harry was much too young for him? What if he thought Harry was too mentally unstable to be in any type of relationship with him?
Harry was panicking; he knew he was panicking but he just couldn't seem able to stop it. His heart was hammering a mad tune on his ribs and he felt as if he couldn't get enough air. His throat was closing up and his tongue felt as if it had swelled to twice its normal size in his mouth; he could feel it pushing against his teeth, which were clenched together.
The doorbell rang and Harry almost tumbled down the stairs in his haste to answer it; he didn't want Severus to think there was no one home and go away again. Harry brushed down his new trousers and ran his fingers through his hair before opening the door. He was still breathing rapidly when he saw Severus standing there. The world around him tilted alarmingly before Harry felt strong arms around him as he passed out.
"Welcome back, Harry," Severus smiled at him when Harry came round again. Severus caressed his cheek and pushed Harry's fringe away from his eyes. Harry was lying flat on his back on the sofa in the living room. Severus must have carried him upstairs, how Harry wished he'd been awake for that! Harry struggled upright, feeling very foolish that he'd fainted as soon as he'd seen Severus standing in the doorway.
"I'm sorry," said Harry, making room so that Severus could sit down beside him; Severus had been kneeling on the floor in front of the sofa.
"I must say I've never had anyone swoon into my arms before," said Severus with a soft smile. "It was quite flattering actually. You don't need to apologise." Severus shifted closer on the sofa and draped one arm around Harry's shoulder and gently pulled Harry's body towards his. Harry followed like an iron filing attracted to a magnet; he had no desire to be apart from Severus longer than necessary.
For a few moments neither of them spoke a word. Severus stroked Harry's back, just trailing the tips of his fingers up and down on the outside of his t-shirt. Harry had never been used to many touches growing up, his relatives had never been that demonstrative with him and he arched into the caress now, never wanting it to end. He stared up at Severus as the touches changed; Severus stroking small circles all around his back. Harry was breathing heavily and he felt his prick grow hard in his trousers.
God, it felt so good! The touches were firm without hurting him; it made him feel so safe and secure. Severus pushed Harry round, so that Harry was facing away from him and he began to knead at Harry's neck and shoulders. "You're so tense. Relax, Harry," urged Severus in a hoarse voice. Harry shivered with desire; it was as if hearing his name in that tone had connected his cock directly with his ears and he gasped out a moan. "I've missed you," Severus whispered.
He heard Severus shifting on the sofa cushions behind him and then suddenly he was tugged back to lean between Severus' legs and against his chest. "Severus," moaned Harry, lowering his head as the man continued to work magic with his fingers. Harry had never felt so relaxed and aroused at the same time before. Severus' hands continued to massage his shoulders but soon they were moving round to the front of his t-shirt and softly stroking Harry's chest.
Severus lowered his head and began sucking on Harry's neck, just where it joined the shoulder, making Harry almost jump from the sofa. "OH! Oh God!"
"You like that?" asked Severus, pinching Harry's left nipple through his t-shirt. Harry's cock jerked and throbbed at the sensation.
"Yes. Please!" Harry pulled away in order to turn round and face Severus. Severus' face was flushed and he was breathing as rapidly as Harry was. Glancing down, Harry quickly saw that Severus' trousers were tented with the evidence of his desire too. Harry pushed Severus so that he was lying down on the sofa and then Harry pounced on top of him; he had been teased too long and couldn't wait to feel Severus' mouth on his. He mashed their mouths together in a frenzied kiss, nipping and biting; moaning and groaning and loving every minute of it.
Severus' arms went around his back and tugged Harry flush against him; each of them moaning into the kiss when their cloth-covered erections touched. Harry didn't know quite what he wanted, he just knew that he wanted more and he wanted it now. Severus pulled his mouth away and managed to hold Harry at arm's length.
"Harry, we've got to slow down if you don't want things to go any further."
Slow down? Now, when Harry was almost about to come in his trousers? Harry whimpered and his hips rutted against Severus almost of their own volition. "What if I want things to go further?" he managed to get out.
Severus' hands gripped Harry's hips, staring deeply into his eyes. "How far do you want this to go, Harry?"
Harry blushed, never having considered that they might be talking about things like this. He just wanted to get carried away and not worry about how or what. "I – I want us both to come," he said hoarsely, feeling his whole body filled with heat. He wouldn't have been surprised if steam started coming out of his ears.
"I think we can manage that," smiled Severus, sitting up so that Harry was now sitting in his lap. Severus ripped off Harry’s t-shirt off and threw it on the floor. Harry moaned as Severus arched his neck to lick a trail from Harry's chest to his stomach. Harry felt his whole body quivering with unsuppressed need and his trousers were getting decidedly uncomfortable.
Severus popped the button and pulled down the zip with his teeth. Harry sighed in relief as his erection was finally freed to the air. Severus toppled them both down on the sofa, Harry underneath him as he kissed Harry passionately again, thrusting his still-clad hips against Harry's now naked ones. Severus began licking a trail down Harry's chest and tugging Harry's trousers off as he went until Harry was completely naked. It was quite erotic, lying there naked on the sofa with Severus still fully dressed and staring at him as hungrily as if Harry was a particularly tasty dessert.
Severus knelt down by the side of the sofa and kissed Harry deeply, mapping out Harry's mouth with his tongue. Harry was writhing on the sofa, he just couldn't keep still, his hips jerking as the need seemed to seep into every nerve. Severus began kissing his neck and down his chest again, getting closer and closer to his groin with every kiss. Harry gasped, but not with arousal this time, it was fear.
Don't worry, Harry. I'll make it good for you.
I see you, Harry. I see you.
When Severus reached his belly button, Harry couldn't help it. He jerked upright on the sofa with a strangled, "No!" and pushed Severus' shoulders away from him. Harry tucked his knees up under his chin, hiding his already wilting erection as the memories from that awful night closed in on him again.
Severus had stopped as soon as he had said no, something Harry was immensely relieved about, but then Harry felt guilty about getting Severus all worked up and now he wasn't able to do anything about it. "I'm sorry," Harry mumbled to his knees. "I thought... I thought I was ready for this."
Severus sat down beside Harry on the sofa but made no move to touch him quite yet. "Harry, it's all right. There's no rush. We were probably going a bit too fast for you anyway."
"I wanted to," said Harry. "I didn't mean to lead you on."
"Harry, you didn't. If I ever do anything that you are uncomfortable with, I want you to tell me. I will never do anything that you don't want. I don't care how far we've gone, if you say stop, I will stop; I promise."
"I feel so silly," said Harry, his voice wobbling with unshed tears. Everything was a blur through his glasses.
"Would you like a hug?" asked Severus softly.
Harry nodded and then dived straight for Severus' lap and wrapping his arms around his neck, sobbing on his shoulder. Severus just held him and let him cry; Harry was still naked but Severus didn't take advantage, he just hugged Harry tightly and Harry relished the comfort of just being in the man's arms. The sweat on Harry's body was cooling now and he shivered a little.
"I'd better get dressed now," said Harry to Severus' shoulder, but he was reluctant to leave Severus' embrace just yet. He gave Severus one last squeeze before hunting on the floor for his underwear and trousers. As Harry bent down to pick up his t-shirt, he got light-headed again and swayed on his feet.
"Harry!" Severus exclaimed and wrapped his arms tight around Harry again. "Are you all right?"
"I'm just a little dizzy," Harry admitted. "I'm okay."
"Here, why don't you have a nap on the sofa and I'll take you out for lunch afterwards?"
Harry nodded; he was feeling rather tired and a sleep might do him good. Once Severus had him settled on the sofa, he pulled down the patchwork quilt that had been hanging over the back of it. Harry smiled and grasped his hand.
"Remember that night we slept on the sofa at the hospital?"
"I do, Harry."
"Severus..." Harry felt even more foolish and insecure that he had to even ask this, but he had to know. "Severus, do you still want this? Want me?" Or was Harry still too weird, too damaged for anyone to love him?
Severus leaned down and kissed his forehead.
"Harry, of course I do. I love you."
Harry’s heart thudded against his ribcage, it was the first time Severus had ever said it. Did he mean it? Did he really love Harry?
"Even if – even if we – even I still freak out a bit about sex?" Harry was beyond blushing by now.
"Harry, there is more to life than sex. And although I won't deny that I desire you, I have no wish to rush you into anything that is going to make you uncomfortable. I'm not going anywhere, Harry. You're stuck with me as long as you'll have me, I'm afraid."
Harry smiled. "Forever, then?"
"Hmm, it looks like it, doesn't it?"
After lunch Harry and Severus went for a stroll around the marina. Harry was feeling much better after his nap and wondered at how comfortable he must have been in Severus' presence to fall asleep in front of him. Sometimes he did still wonder if his aunt had been right and that he wasn't ready to be out of the hospital yet. But he couldn't imagine that Severus would have agreed to Harry being released unless he thought Harry could cope. Unless Severus wanted Harry out of the hospital so that they would no longer be doctor and patient. Had Severus released him early because he wanted to pursue Harry romantically? No, Severus wouldn't be as unprofessional as that, would he?
They chatted as they walked, nothing too deep and after about an hour and a half of walking, the calves of Harry's legs were beginning to ache. He hadn't had much exercise while he'd been in the hospital and he wasn't as fit as he used to be. An elderly couple stood up from one of the benches along the harbour front. "Do you want to sit down?" asked Harry, hoping they'd be able to get to the bench before some other tourist claimed it.
"Are you okay?" asked Severus with some concern, placing his hand on the small of Harry's back and guiding him towards the wooden bench in front of a row of bright, white yachts. As they sat down on the bench, the sun glinted off the boats' hulls making Harry squint against the glare. "My legs are just a bit sore," said Harry. "Not used to all this walking."
They sat in companionable silence for a while, watching as boats sailed in and out of the marina and tourists walked up and down along the front of the harbour. At last Harry could bear it no longer. He had to know, one way or the other. He took a deep breath.
"Severus, you don't think it was too soon for me to leave the hospital, do you?" Harry had been excited and relieved at first when he'd first heard the news, but now he wondered if he was really ready to be back out in the world. He'd had a panic attack when Severus turned up and then that fiasco when they'd been on the sofa and Harry had panicked again about sex. He'd thought he was ready for sex, but obviously not. Maybe he wasn't ready to be out on his own yet either.
"Do you think it was too soon, Harry?"
"I don't know. I didn't know I was going to panic today. I was just so nervous."
"What were you nervous about?"
"Is that Dr. Snape asking?"
"No, just Severus today."
"I thought you might not turn up. That you decided I wouldn't be worth the trouble. That you wouldn't want to be saddled with a strange freak like me."
"Oh, Harry, did you really think that?" Severus moved closer to him on the bench and unobtrusively caressed Harry's hand. "You're not a freak, Harry and you are worth any amount of trouble to be with. It's just nerves about something new, Harry. It doesn't mean you need to be back in the hospital. A lot of people have panic attacks and they don't all need residential treatment."
Harry blinked back tears; he didn't want to start bawling out here in public. He swallowed harshly and dredged up a smile for Severus. "How about we head to the shops and buy some things for dinner? I'll cook."
Severus had never been much of a cook, but he helped Harry chop the vegetables for the stir-fry Harry was going to cook and prepare the salad leaves. They worked side by side, occasionally their eyes would meet and they couldn't help smiling at each other. Severus lived to see Harry's smiles; it had been a long time before he had been able to coax a smile from the young man and Severus cherished each and every one.
Harry seemed a lot happier and a lot more at ease now than he had been earlier that day, Severus guessed their talk had put his mind at rest somewhat. Severus knew they were going to have to tread softly with the physical aspects for a while. Not only was there Harry's upbringing to contend with, there was also the assault he'd suffered. Severus should have realised Harry would have been uncomfortable with him having his mouth anywhere near Harry's groin; it had probably reminded Harry of what Tonks had done that night. He'd made sure to stop as soon as Harry had voiced his objections and the fact that Harry could in fact voice objections at all reminded Severus of how far Harry had come in his recovery.
The stir fry didn't take long at all and as it was such a balmy evening they ate out on the balcony overlooking the marina. When Harry had finished dishing up their dinner and returned from putting the pans to soak in the sink, Severus stood up and pulled Harry's chair out for him. Harry raised an eyebrow at the gesture, but he was smiling.
"What a gentleman," chuckled Harry. "Does that mean you're going to be on your best behaviour tonight?"
"It does indeed. No guarantee about tomorrow, though," smirked Severus and Harry laughed again.
Harry poured them both glasses of sparkling grape juice and Severus helped himself to some bread. The small patio table was just big enough to hold everything; Harry certainly wasn't skimpy with his portion sizes. It was good to see him eating with much more of an appetite than he'd shown in the hospital.
"So, how are you settling in with your new roommates?"
"Neville and Luna have been great," said Harry. "They're really friendly. I used to think I'd never have any friends." Harry sighed and took a sip of his juice and Severus could have kicked himself. He hadn't meant to remind Harry of less happier times.
"The house is in a good position; I suppose the rent might be quite expensive?"
"It's not so bad when divided by three," said Harry. "It does feel a bit like you're in a holiday resort sometimes though, with so many people about."
"It will probably be quieter in the winter."
"Yeah," said Harry. "Tuck in."
Severus lifted a forkful of vegetables and chicken to his mouth and did just that. The chicken all but melted on his tongue and the vegetables were cooked but still crunchy. "Mmm, that's the best thing I've ever tasted. Delicious!"
"You really think so? You're not just saying that?"
While Harry had been talking, Severus had already dived in for more. "Do I look like someone who isn't enjoying his meal?"
"No," said Harry, smiling. "I'm glad you like it. There's ice-cream and strawberries for dessert. I didn't think we'd want anything too heavy in this heat."
Severus nodded and both of them continued their meal until the plates were clean. Once they'd both finished, Harry stood up and began to clear the table. Severus reached out and placed his hand on Harry's wrist. "No, you cooked, I'll do the dishes. You're going to be spoiled for the rest of the night."
"Oh, promises, promises," grinned Harry as he sat back down and stuck his tongue out. It was just too tempting; Severus leaned across the table and claimed Harry's mouth in a fervent kiss; dishes and dessert forgotten for the moment. Harry didn't shy away from the kiss, he was kissing back just as passionately and had his fingers tangled in Severus' hair. Severus guessed Harry would be fine as long as he knew things weren't going any further. Severus showed him with lips and tongue how good kisses could be and he was gratified when Harry moaned into his mouth and his grip tightened on Severus' hair.
"Dessert," said Severus once he'd pulled away from those breath-stealing kisses. Harry's eyes had a glazed, dazed look and his lips were plump and wet from all the attention. Severus trailed a finger along them, watching Harry's eyes widen and darken with desire as he did so. When Severus finally took the dishes over to the sink, he wasn't at all surprised when Harry headed off to the bathroom and he could hazard a guess as to what he might be doing in there. He smiled to himself; if Harry was masturbating then Severus knew he was getting better and his aunt's prejudices about sex were no longer an issue.
He knew Harry wasn't really ready for a physical relationship with anyone yet, but Severus was prepared to wait. Harry was worth waiting for.
"Neville, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure, Harry, what is it?" Neville closed his textbook and leaned his elbow on it. It was two weeks before Christmas and every week for the past few months, Severus had come to visit Harry every weekend. He would arrive on Saturday morning and leave on Sunday evening, spending the night on the sofa in the living room. He had never once suggested that he share Harry's room.
Harry glanced quickly at Luna, who was watching television. She sat up and giggled. "Okay, I'll leave you two to your boy talk. Don't forget we're going to my dad's for dinner later, Neville."
"No, Luna, I haven't," said Neville as Luna paused by the dining table and pecked his lips. Neville and Luna had finally admitted their feelings and had been an item for quite some time now.
"Is something wrong, Harry?" asked Neville.
"Um ... I'm not sure. I wondered - I wondered if I could talk to you about sex?"
Much to his relief, Neville didn't laugh and he didn't blush either. It was Harry who felt as if his face was burning up.
"What about it?" asked Neville.
"I'm still a virgin," admitted Harry. "And I don't really know what I'm doing. What if I'm hopeless at it and Severus decides I'm not worth the effort?"
"Harry, how long have you been seeing Severus now? Almost six months, isn't it? Do you really think he'd be with you that long without sex if he didn't think you were worth the trouble? Anybody can see he's in love with you and of course no one knows what they're doing the first time. But he'll be able to teach you, won't he? Harry, if you don't feel you're ready yet, you shouldn't rush into things."
"That's the thing, I do feel ready, but I'm just afraid I'll make a fool of myself."
"It's just nerves," said Neville sagely. "I was a nervous wreck the first few times as well, but it gets better after that. It's meant to be enjoyable, Harry. I've never been with a man, but if you both love each other and let nature take its course, then it's bound to be good, isn't it?"
"I hope so," said Harry.
It started to snow as soon as Severus got out of his car. It was just a light dusting of flakes – nothing too heavy – and it melted before it even hit the ground. Harry opened the door even before Severus got a chance to ring the doorbell; he must have heard the car pull up. Harry ran out onto the path and wrapped his arms around Severus in a tight hug. "I missed you," said Harry breathlessly.
"It's barely been a week," said Severus, smiling as he kissed Harry's mouth. Severus had done something he hadn't done in years; he'd claimed two weeks' leave over Christmas and Minerva had been only too happy to send him on his way. He wasn't so sure she would have been if she'd known that Severus was going to be spending that time with one of his ex-patients, but Severus hadn't felt the need to enlighten her. They were doing nothing wrong and he did not want a lecture from his boss on how inappropriate their relationship might look to other people.
"Did you miss me too?" asked Harry breathlessly, standing on tiptoes to reach Severus to kiss him.
"You know I did, Harry," said Severus, caressing Harry's cheek. His chest tightened as he thought of every moment spent without him, but now they had two whole weeks together and Severus could hardly wait.
"I've got a present for you," said Harry as he tugged Severus' hand and dragged him upstairs. When they reached the living room; Neville and Luna greeted him warmly and Severus was glad Harry had found such accepting friends. They didn't seem at all bothered that Harry was in a relationship with a man or that he was older than Harry. It was a lot different to Severus' own coming out and he vowed that he would do all in his power to ensure that Harry would never have to suffer the pain and rejection Severus had. Severus' father had thrown him out once he discovered his son's orientation and they hadn't spoken in almost twenty years.
"Have a seat, Dr. Snape," said Luna, pointing to an armchair. She was wearing a floor-length, purple velvet dress and a pair of dark red earrings in the shape of radishes. Her neck was adorned with various pendants hanging on thick, black string and her blonde hair was piled high in a bun.
"Are you going to a fancy dress party?" Severus enquired politely and from Neville's flushed face he realised he had guessed wrong. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
"No offence taken, Severus," said Luna. "My taste in fashion is quite eccentric, but it's me."
Severus hoped Harry would hurry back from upstairs. It was the first time he'd felt uncomfortable in the presence of Harry's friends; he'd been visiting Harry so often that it was difficult to avoid them. Severus sat down and the three of them engaged in small talk until Harry returned to the living room. He had seemed so excited that Severus wondered what the present was and why it couldn't wait until Christmas, which was only two days away. Severus' gifts and his luggage were still in the boot of his car; Harry had admitted that he was very inquisitive and that he would try and sneak a peek at any presents and Severus wanted them to remain a surprise.
Harry came bounding down the stairs two at a time and sat down on the arm of Severus' chair, draping his arm across Severus' shoulders. Severus knew that if Harry's friends hadn't been there; Harry would have been sitting in his lap. Severus liked it too; the weight of Harry just felt so right in his arms. "I hope you like it," said Harry shyly, handing Severus a slim white envelope with no address on the front. The envelope wasn't sealed, so Severus just undid the flap and removed the contents.
Inside were two plane tickets and hotel accommodation for Venice.
"That's why I couldn't wait until Christmas to give it to you," said Harry. "The only places left were on flights leaving tonight."
"Harry, this is very thoughtful, but it's much too generous a gift. You can't afford this."
Luna and Neville exchanged glances and made themselves scarce. Once they were gone, Harry sank onto Severus' lap. "It's all right, Severus. My parents left me money, I get it when I'm twenty-one but I have access to a trust fund until then. This is a drop in the ocean."
"Well, it was my father who had the money really, Mum just married into it. You've heard of Potter Publishing?"
"The magazine publishers? They have lots of different titles, don't they?"
"Yes, I never knew much about it until my birthday when the solicitors sent me the details. The kids at school used to tease me because I always wore such dowdy clothes and they knew my family was rich. My aunt and uncle got money from the trust for my upkeep, but my aunt never believed in fashion, so not a lot of it was spent on clothes. I'm not really into fashion that much myself, as long as it's comfortable and clean, I'm happy." Harry snuggled close to Severus' neck and sniffed lightly. "I love the way you smell."
Severus laughed. “Harry Potter, wash your mouth out."
"You're an eighteen year old gay boy and you're telling me you're not interested in fashion?"
Harry giggled and kissed Severus on the side of the neck. "So you see, I can afford to take you to Venice for Christmas. Please say yes."
"Harry, I would love to go to Venice with you."
Harry had never been on a plane before; in fact he'd never even been to an airport before. Heathrow had seemed like a city in itself with packed roads almost grinding to a halt around it as people made their way to the terminals. Severus had known where he was going and drove them straight to a long-term car park.
After check-in, it was one queue after another. They had to queue so that their hand luggage could be x-rayed; then they had to queue up again to go through a metal detector; then another queue into the departure lounge. There were no seats to be had and Harry's feet were aching by the time their flight was called. They hadn't even had time to grab a snack or a drink before they were being ushered onto the plane.
The stewardess by the door smiled at both of them before pointing them to their seats, about halfway down the aisle and right over the wings. Severus gallantly offered Harry the window seat; Harry wasn't so sure he wanted to look out of it, but he accepted it all the same. Severus sat next to him and an elderly woman claimed the aisle seat next to Severus. Harry put on his seat belt and watched the hustle and bustle around them as people put their luggage away and got settled in their seats. He'd never seen so many people in one place before.
It was half an hour after they'd first boarded that the engines started; Harry hadn't expected them to be so noisy and he almost jumped out of his seat when they first roared into life.
When the plane finally took off after what seemed an eternity of preparation; Harry gripped the armrest between his and Severus' seat for dear life and closed his eyes. He was thrust back against his seat and tried not to scream or panic at how fast they were going. It felt as if all his innards had shot up into his throat and then straight back down to settle leadenly in his abdomen.
Severus placed his hand over Harry's and squeezed. "It's not a long flight, Harry."
"Good," Harry muttered, not saying too much more in case he threw up; he was feeling rather sick. "Can I lean on your shoulder?" Maybe if he was sleeping, he wouldn't feel as ill.
Severus nodded and bunched up his jacket so that Harry could use it for a pillow. Harry snuggled up to him, the armrest digging into his hip a little, but he managed to shift about a bit so that he avoided it. As he drifted off to sleep; Harry felt Severus' fingers carding through his hair. He could get very used to that.
Harry had been ill twice on the plane and once on the taxi ride to the hotel. He was still looking rather pale when they got out and Severus wasn't at all surprised when Harry headed to the nearest men's room as soon as they entered the hotel, leaving Severus to sort out their room.
The floors were polished marble inlaid with geometric patterns and a bank of dark wooden desks lined one end of the reception area. Sofas and armchairs were dotted about the foyer; most of them were afforded some degree of privacy by the potted plants that separated them from each other.
When the receptionist gave Severus two keys to the one room he glanced at the man in surprise.
"There must be some mistake. We booked separate rooms."
"No, no mistake, Signore. This is what has been booking."
"But it's only one room, a double room," said Severus again. He didn't want what little trust he'd built up with Harry to be ruined by Harry thinking Severus was trying to take advantage of them being on holiday together. When Harry returned, looking less pale than he had been, Severus hurried to explain.
"Harry, I think there's been some sort of mix-up with the booking. They've only booked us one room."
"It isn't a mistake, Severus," said Harry. "I booked the room myself. I want us to share."
"Are you sure about this, Harry?" Severus didn't want Harry to feel under any pressure; Severus could quite easily arrange for another room if that's what Harry would prefer.
"I'm sure, Severus. I've been thinking about it for a while. I want to share with you."
"Very well," said Severus as he accepted the two keys from the receptionist and they took their luggage to the nearest lift. Once they were deposited on the third floor and found their room; Harry stood up on tiptoes to whisper in Severus' ear. "I don't just want to share the room with you. I want to share everything with you."
Severus' hand shook so much that he dropped the key.
They didn't make it to the bed, not then. Severus brought in their luggage and kicked the door closed with his foot before he pulled Harry against him and then pinned him up against the wall. Harry's breath caught in his throat as Severus nipped and licked his way all along Harry's neck before claiming his mouth in heated kisses. Harry moaned and arched against him; his cock had hardened as soon as Severus had started kissing him. He could feel Severus' erection pressing into his stomach as Harry's was pressing against Severus' thigh.
Severus' tongue trailed along his lips; Harry opened his mouth a bit further so that he could suckle on it. This time it was Severus who moaned and pressed even harder against Harry. Harry had never felt anything like it. They were both frenzied, kissing and biting, grinding their bodies against each other's and Harry never wanted it to end.
"Please!" gasped Harry once Severus had removed his mouth and was sucking hard on Harry's neck. Severus' hands fumbled between them to undo Harry's trousers and then his own, but he didn't pull them down. Severus lifted Harry's legs up and wrapped them around his waist; his hands on Harry's arse holding him up. Their naked cocks pressed against each other and Harry shrieked his pleasure to the room.
"Thrust against me," suggested Severus.
Harry leaned his head on Severus' shoulder. "I'll come if I do that," he groaned. Harry could feel how close he was already. His cock and his balls were throbbing with desire and he knew it wouldn't take long at all before he was spilling himself.
"That's the idea," said Severus, smiling down at him. "It won't be the only time you'll come tonight."
Oh God! Harry wrapped his arms around Severus' neck and hung on as they lunged against each other, as if they were trying to crawl inside each other's skin. Harry's heart was beating so fast he wouldn't have been surprised if Severus could hear it. He thrust and rubbed his cock against Severus'; feeling the tension coiling like a snake in his belly. Any minute now he was going to snap in half. Almost as if Severus could sense it; he whispered in Harry's ear.
"Come for me, Harry. Come for me now."
The voice was too much; Harry's hips arched up and he spurted white heat over Severus, feeling pulse after pulse leaving his cock and making him feel completely drained. A few moments later, Severus was screaming his own release and Harry's cock twitched a bit more when it felt the sticky seed covering him. Severus stumbled, but managed to carry Harry over to the bed before his legs gave out completely.
Severus smiled down at him, before kissing Harry soundly once again.
"Are you okay?" asked Severus.
Okay? Harry grinned up at him. "No, I'm not okay. I'm bloody brilliant!"
"That good, eh?" queried Severus with a smirk of his lips. Severus was kneeling down by the end of the bed; Harry was lying back with his legs dangling over the edge of it. The come drying on his skin was starting to get itchy and he tried to pull himself upright, but Severus' hands were on his thighs, keeping him on the bed. "Going somewhere?"
"I just wanted to get cleaned up a bit," said Harry, leaning over and kissing Severus briefly on the lips.
"I'm a bit messy too," said Severus. "Would you care to join me in the shower?"
Harry's prick perked up at the invitation. "Is it too soon to say yes?"
"I don't think so," said Severus as he stood up and allowed Harry to do so as well. Just as Harry headed for the door that he guessed led to the bathroom; Severus scooped him up in his arms, making Harry squeal in surprise, and carried Harry into the bathroom. The whole room was tiled in white marble streaked with grey; even the bath panels were of marble. Glittering golden taps abounded on both sinks and the bath and to one side of the room was a large double shower with plenty of room for two people.
Severus set Harry down on the floor before gathering up some of the white fluffy towels and hanging them over the top of the shower door. Harry just stared around the room at all the luxurious fittings; he had no idea when he'd booked the hotel it would be as posh as this. Hidden spotlights illuminated the room in a soft yellow glow, reminding him somewhat of candle-light rather than electrical light, it didn't seem as harsh as the lights Harry was used to. The hotel bathroom was as far away from the functional hospital bathroom as you could get.
Severus fiddled with the knobs on the shower wall, trying to get it to the right flow and temperature. He stuck his hand under the shower and nodded, before turning back to Harry and gazing hungrily at him. When Severus began to unbutton his shirt, Harry licked his lips. He'd never seen Severus' chest before and he was dying to see what the man looked like beneath his clothes.
Severus winked at him and began the slowest strip-tease, one button at a time. Harry almost whimpered as patch after patch of pale skin was revealed to his gaze. Severus was a lot hairier on the chest than Harry was and he wondered if he would ever get that much hair. As Severus' hands moved to his lower shirt buttons, Harry could see that his hair was getting thicker too, blazing a trail towards his groin and Harry's eyes wandered further down to Severus' open jeans and the thickening cock amid its nest of dark curls.
"Like what you see?" grinned Severus.
Harry nodded; he was speechless with desire, his own prick aching and jutting out at the front of his open jeans.
"You know, it's quite common for people who have a shower to undress first."
Harry blushed; he'd been so intent on watching Severus' undress that he hadn't even started with his own disrobing. He yanked his jumper off over his head and threw it on the floor before attacking his shirt buttons as if they'd offended him. Severus had already finished undressing by the time Harry had his jeans and underwear pulled down to his ankles; then he was hopping from foot to foot to remove his shoes and socks. Harry hoped he hadn't looked too ungainly at that display, but from Severus' heated looks, he guessed Severus had enjoyed the show as Harry's bits wobbled from side to side as he moved.
Severus opened the shower door and held it open so that Harry could walk in first. Harry wondered if he did that so that he could get a good view of Harry's arse. He felt a jolt of desire so strong at that thought that he had to clutch at the tiled wall for support. Warm water pounded down, cascading over his head and neck before trickling down his body. Harry felt Severus behind him, wrapping his arms around Harry's chest and nuzzling his ear before he pulled back a little and Harry whined with disappointment at the loss of touch.
He wasn't disappointed for long; Severus' hands returned, but this time they were slicked up with soap and he washed Harry with slow, even strokes. Harry wished they'd decided on a bath rather than a shower; his legs were getting wobbly and he wondered how long he would be able to stand as Severus washed and caressed every inch of him.
Once Harry's hair was washed and rinsed, Harry turned around so that he could return the favour and wash Severus, but Severus pushed Harry against the wall of the shower and kissed Harry desperately. "No, if you touch me I'll be lost. I want to be inside you the next time I come."
"Oh God!" moaned Harry. "Yes, I want that. I want you."
"Are you sure about this, Harry? Really sure?"
Harry was nervous, how could he not be? But he wanted this; he wanted to be joined with Severus in the most intimate way possible. It was time; that's all Harry knew. He'd waited and so had Severus; he'd never tried to pressure Harry, not even when their kisses became heated. Not once did he try to force the issue and Harry loved him even more for that. They'd spent time getting to know each other outside of being doctor and patient and Harry knew he was finally ready to take the next step.
"I love you, Severus. I want to do this with you."
"Oh, Harry," moaned Severus as he leant down and pressed a passionate kiss to Harry's mouth. Harry's bones felt as if they were melting and he was surprised he was still standing. "Bed," said Severus once he'd pulled his mouth away; Harry felt the reluctance as Severus did so. It was as if kissing Harry was addictive and he smiled up at the taller man. His lover. After tonight there would be no doubt that's what they were.
Severus wrapped a towel around Harry; one around himself and then he gathered up the rest and placed them all on the bed. When Harry followed him back into the bedroom; Severus was hunting round his luggage and then snapped the lid shut in frustration.
"Severus? What is it?" asked Harry as he sat down on the side of the bed. His cock was tenting the towel and he tried hard to ignore it for the moment and concentrate on what was bothering Severus.
"Harry, I had no idea you had this planned. I didn't come prepared. I don't want to put you at risk."
"Um," said Harry as he hunted around his own luggage. "I - um - I brought condoms. Just in case." Harry held out the box and wasn't prepared for Severus' next move. Severus dived across the floor and toppled Harry to the ground; the packet flying out of Harry's hand to land underneath the bed. "Thank God one of us is an optimist." Severus chuckled and proceeded to kiss Harry breathless.
They kissed and rubbed at each other for a few minutes before Harry felt the tell-tale tingles in his groin. "Wait! Wait!" he panted as he pulled away from Severus' kiss. "I don't want to come yet. I want you to be inside me when I come."
Severus' eyes darkened with desire; he bounced off Harry and retrieved the box of condoms before setting them on the bedside cabinet and helping Harry up and onto the bed. "Did you bring any lubrication?" Severus asked as he joined Harry on the bed and began nibbling his neck.
"What's it for?"
Severus leaned up on one elbow and glanced down at Harry. "I guess the books I gave you didn't mention that, then?"
"No, there wasn't really a lot about men being together really."
"Women have natural lubrication in their bodies, when they are aroused and want to make love; everything is very slick and allows penetration to happen more easily. Anal sex is different; we need an outside lubricant to make sure it is as easy as possible and doesn't hurt so much. Good job I brought some with me then, isn't it?" Severus climbed down and after rummaging through his luggage he brought over a toothpaste-sized tube. He knelt down on the bed and wrapped the tube in his hands. "Just warming it up."
"I thought you said you didn't come prepared?" smiled Harry.
"Well, lubricant can be used in other ways, Harry. When you're alone for example." Severus grinned and kissed him.
"Will it hurt a lot?" asked Harry.
"I'll try to be as gentle as possible, Harry, but I can't guarantee it won't hurt a bit. The trick is to relax and let your body adjust to it."
Harry nodded and spread his legs. "Okay, I'm ready."
Severus leaned over him. "You're not ready yet, my dearest Harry, but you soon will be. Turn over."
Harry obeyed and the next half-hour found him almost sinking into the mattress with bliss. Severus licked and bit every bit of Harry's body that he could reach, starting with his neck and working his way downwards and then kissing his way back up from Harry's toes. Harry's cock was leaking onto the bedclothes beneath him and Harry was finding it difficult not to thrust into that pressure. "Please! Please!" Harry begged, gripping the pillows so tight his knuckles were in danger of bursting out through his skin.
On the second pass along Harry's arse, Severus didn't move from there and back up to his neck. No, he spent his time nipping and sucking on the skin of Harry's buttocks and he mewled as the sensations almost overwhelmed him; he hadn't known his skin was so sensitive there and he felt himself twitching back there, aching and empty. Harry felt Severus pull his buttocks apart and there was no doubt he was staring at the secret place revealed; Harry flushed and groaned; hiding his blushing face in the pillows.
He yelped with surprise when he felt Severus' tongue fluttering wetly against his entrance. None of the books he'd read had ever mentioned that! God, it was so good! Severus' tongue teased and licked all around him before it darted inside. It was too new, too intense. "Fuck!" Harry screamed as his climax overtook him so unexpectedly. His whole groin was throbbing as Harry spilled pulse after pulse onto the bedclothes beneath him. He was arching back onto Severus' tongue and thrusting against the towels, not sure which sensation he was enjoying more.
"Sorry," Harry mumbled when his tremors finally subsided.
"It's all right, Harry. You'll be more relaxed now as well." Severus removed his tongue and then proceeded to prepare Harry with slick fingers; they slid in so easily that Harry never even had time to panic that they might not fit. Severus licking and kissing him there had stretched him somewhat and although he was still feeling a bit nervous, Harry didn't feel scared at all.
It was only when the third finger went in that Harry felt any twinges of pain at all. He remembered what Severus said about relaxing and took a few deep breaths as Severus eased his fingers in. Severus pushed his fingers in and out of Harry's arse and then as he pushed in again; he hit something inside Harry that had him almost arching off the bed in ecstasy. "Oh fuck! What was that? Do that again!" begged Harry, arching his head and glancing at Severus over his shoulder.
The desire Harry saw on Severus' face was nothing short of electrifying. Harry felt his heart speed up and his hips began to meet Severus' thrust for thrust, impaling himself on those fingers. "That was your prostate, Harry. Fun, isn't it?"
Fun didn't even begin to describe it. Harry had no words for the pleasure coursing through his veins in waves. His cock was hard again and Harry wanted to feel Severus' cock pressing inside him, splitting him open. Claiming Harry as his own. "Now! Ohpleasegodnow!" gabbled Harry. "In me! I want you in me!"
Severus leaned up and kissed Harry's neck as he removed his fingers. Harry turned over so that Severus' kisses fell on his mouth instead. Neither of them mentioned any other position, Harry knew he needed to do this face to face and Severus just nodded. He leaned over and tore open a condom packet with his teeth, the roughness of the gesture making Harry's head swim. Severus was so masterful!
Harry watched with hungry eyes as Severus unrolled the condom and placed it over his cock. Soon that cock was going to be inside him. Severus was going to be inside him and Harry could hardly wait. His hips shifted restlessly on the bed as he waited for Severus to finish rubbing the lubricant over the condom and then he pulled Harry's legs apart. Harry had been used to pleasuring himself for quite some time now, but being with someone else made the sensations seem so much more. There was more heavy breathing; more kissing and more caresses that made him ache with want.
"Ready?" asked Severus as he knelt underneath Harry and brought Harry's arse towards him.
"Yes," gasped Harry; feeling that he might die if Severus didn't do something soon.
Severus pulled Harry closer and closer to him and then Harry felt Severus' cock pressing against him. He closed his eyes and arched his hips. As Severus slowly filled him; Harry panted through the pain; it did hurt, but not as much as he'd been expecting, but it wasn't entirely pleasurable either. Tears leaked out before he could help it and he hoped Severus wouldn't see them and stop. The pain wasn't just centred on his arse, but at the base of his spine and in his abdomen too. Severus was just so big and Harry wondered that he'd ever stretch that far at all. His erection had wilted somewhat and Harry whimpered.
"Bear down around me," said Severus in a harsh whisper.
Harry tried; he did, but the pain didn't seem to be diminishing at all. Severus took hold of Harry's cock and stroked him back to full hardness which negated the pain a little, but not completely. "Stroke yourself," said Severus. "Make yourself come for me." Severus leaned down and kissed Harry soundly, distracting Harry from the burning in his arse. Severus' kisses had always aroused him and now was no exception. Harry had never imagined it would feel like this. It hurt, yes, but he felt so connected to Severus. They belonged to each other now.
At last Severus was fully sheathed inside him; Harry could feel Severus' balls slapping against his arse as Severus moved in and out of him. Soon they were rocking together in a rhythm as old as time itself and Harry moaned and gasped as Severus made love to him. It was only pleasure Harry was feeling now and he wanted them both to come. He frantically rubbed his cock; it was taking a bit longer than he expected after he'd already come twice earlier that night, but the desire was still there.
Severus' thrusts were becoming more and more erratic; he had grabbed Harry's hips and was pounding into him so hard that the headboard was banging against the wall. Suddenly; Severus stiffened and came; Harry could feel the pulses of his cock inside him as Severus climaxed but he couldn't feel the results of it. Harry was disappointed that he hadn't come while Severus had been inside him, but knew there would be lots more opportunities. He felt so close, so on edge but hadn't quite reached his climax. Once Severus realised Harry hadn't come yet; he pushed his hand between their bodies and stroked Harry to one of the strongest orgasms he'd ever had. Harry's toes curled in the towels and bedspread as he spurted jets of pearly white over Severus' hand and onto his own abdomen and chest. "Ah! Fuck! AH! SEV'RUS! SEV'RUS!!" Harry shrieked as rope after rope left him and the world dwindled to white.
Harry groaned as he came round and his green eyes were glazed with confusion. "I fainted again?" he asked.
Severus couldn't help the smile as he held out the glass of water for Harry. "It's very flattering actually. Did I hurt you?"
"It hurt a bit at first, but then it went away." Harry sipped the water, and then he glanced down at his sticky body and grimaced. "Looks like we'll need another wash. Can I have a bath this time? I don't think my legs will be able to hold me up."
"On one condition."
"Oh? What's that?"
"You can have a bath, but only if we share it."
Harry's smile was blinding. "My dear Dr. Snape, I never intended anything else."