That night, he dreamed of Lucius again.
Lucius was holding a whip in his hand, Severus knew that without needing to look.
The dream-story was following the familiar script: Severus was on all fours, trousers and underwear pooled around his ankles, the hem of his shirt rolled up, arse lifted in the air. There was a crowd gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Severus knew every single face in that crowd, and they knew him, too.
He opened his mouth to scream, but only a moan emerged, wanton and pleading. Someone laughed. It didn't matter. When the first lash fell, there was no pain. Then again, in Severus' dreams, there was never any pain, just the twisting, mind-numbing shame that made the dream-world around him seem fuzzy and unclear.
“Lucius,” he whispered.
The dream-picture shifted quickly, without any cause or reason. He was lifted to his feet, but it wasn't Lucius' hands that were gripping Severus' forearms, and it wasn't Lucius' fingers that closed around Severus' cock, giving it one single impatient-disgusted squeeze.
He woke up with a throbbing erection and a throbbing headache to match it.
Severus rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed.
The house was dark. The sun had already set; it was Saturday evening. He'd slept through the day after working on the latest spell until the wee hours, then received an owl from Lucius, inviting him to Naricssa's birthday party. Severus burned the invitation without reading it to the end.
He had been quite happy to put the Malfoys out of his mind altogether, but Lucius seemed to be unable to take a hint.
Seven years since the war; four years since Severus had seen any of the Malfoys, and still, the dreams remained. They had become less frequent over the last year—which Severus was quite grateful for—but didn't seem to want to go away completely.
It was raining; the small gushes of November wind swayed the tree branches, making them knock against the window. Severus got up, showered, got dressed. He walked down the stairs, entered the kitchen, stared at the dinner leftovers from yesterday, sitting on an otherwise empty shelf in the refrigerator. The sight of Chinese food made him queasy; his stomach continued to insist it was morning, time for toast and coffee.
The sleepless nights were about to pay off: he'd managed to complete the work on the counter-curse; he was certain that he'd get at least two weeks of uninterrupted rest before the next contract from St. Mungo's. However, his internal clock didn't like this sort of mistreatment; Severus found it intensely painful to break away from the beloved routine of waking up at six in the morning and going to bed at ten. Must be payback for the years of working for Dumbledore and Voldemort, Severus thought morosely, especially the last few years.
At times, his former life seemed like a dream, all of it: the towers of Hogwarts, the hooded figures, the white masks, the flashes of green, the frozen pond with the sword implanted in its depths, the final strike of the serpent... At first, once everything was over, well-meaning people flocked to him, telling him they'd never forget his role in the war. He ignored them, wishing they'd do exactly that—forget. He himself didn't want to remember any of it—remembering made him sick; there wasn't a single memory that hadn't been tainted.
He took great pains to banish all those reminders of the past. The former colleagues and the former students, the press and the ministry officials—he turned them all away. The Order of Merlin, First Class, had stayed in the cupboard, buried underneath the dusty piles of old parchments and notes. He never read the newspapers. He burned letters without reading: Slughorn's, Minerva's, Kingsley's, Weasleys', Potter's. Eventually, everyone stopped trying—except for Lucius. Then again, it wasn't surprising: Lucius simply couldn't fathom how anyone could possibly not want to be graced by the benevolent offer of friendship with the Malfoy family. The typical Malfoy arrogance. A trait Severus used to find attractive... once, a long time ago.
The thought of Lucius made him wince. Severus muttered a quiet obscenity under his breath, disgruntled that after all this time, something so mundane still had the power to throw him off-balance. He flushed with embarrassment, remembering the dream. It left him twitchy, tense, wanting.
There were places he could go, and he'd explored many of them—but doing that brought more frustration than relief. Watching something that was a mere shadow of what was twisting his mind, watching people get off on that “shadow” made him jealous in an angry sort of way. Still, from time to time, he went to those Muggle BDSM clubs. When he did, he rarely played. Not that he had many offers: some tops seemed put off by his demeanor; the few who did play with him were disappointed after trying him out. He didn't need to be told why—he never made a sound and he barely even flinched; this sort of reaction couldn't be very satisfying to any top. Severus made no effort to change his ways, the playwasn't what he needed. He needed something more than that, even if he couldn’t quite put into words what that was.
An evening of frustration and irritation in a crowd, or an evening of being home alone, just as tense and frustrated—those were his choices for the night. For a while Severus paced the living room, then came back to the kitchen and opened the fridge again. Staring at the leftovers of the Chinese food sealed the deal. If nothing else, he'd buy a decent meal atClaiborne.
* * * * *
Claiborne was one of those well-kept secrets, a “by invitation only” BDSM club on the outskirts of London. Custom built premises—a two-storey building—included a restaurant and a lounge (alcohol was served, but anyone who had even a single drink obtained a red stamp on the back of his hand to indicate they wouldn't be playing that night). Several play areas with creative get ups: crosses and benches, chains and harnesses, chairs and cages—all of that made Severus smile at best. It seemed odd how people went out of their way to play at fear and captivity.
He Apparated into a deserted corner of the Claiborne parking lot, taking care not to be seen. The rain had stopped, and the wind, too. The hoods and windshields of the cars were wet and shiny. The puddles on the ground were reflecting the blue neon lights from the club's windows. For a brief moment those puddles seemed much deeper than they really were—each was the perfectly still surface of the pond in the Forest of Dean, with the sword of Gryffindor in every single one of them.
Severus blinked. The illusion vanished. He shook his head and hastened his pace.
The door monitor, Alice—piercings all over her face, red knee-high boots and blue skin-tight latex dress—gave Severus a friendly smile and motioned for him to enter. He did and looked around the lounge. There were a few familiar faces: one of the tops Severus had played with before recognized him, gave him a quick nod and turned away.
Severus hadn't bothered changing into proper Muggle clothes before coming out—he still had his old-fashioned black robe on, but nobody cared, as usual. In a room of people dressed in leather, latex, lace, religious outfits and various uniforms, he looked rather inconspicuous.
Some people in the lounge were eating, but the smell of food was making him ill. He wondered why he even bothered coming out; each time here was an exercise in frustration. Still, he walked through the doors into the first play area—a large hall, where some people were already scening. A small crowd gathered around each party, but kept a respectable distance.
The music was as usual—the mix of Gregorian chants cranked up so loud that one could hardly hear anything more than a few feet away.
Severus cast a look around. A young blonde girl, blindfolded, tied to a throne-like chair, was squirming and writhing in her bonds; her partner, a gracefully aged man, was tugging on her nipple-clamps.
Another scene: a man, chained with arms lifted up above him, was being tickled and teased by two women; they themselves seemed more amused than aroused.
Severus turned his head and saw something in the very end of the room—a whipping post with a girl chained to it. A slender dark-haired man behind her was lashing her with a riding crop. Like many men in the lounge, he was wearing black leather trousers and a leather shirt, but despite that, he didn't quite seem to fit—Severus didn't exactly know why. There seemed to be something familiar about the man's physique and posture. For a moment, Severus thought that he was seeing Potter, with a wand, rather than crop, in his hand. Severus blinked, but the illusion didn't vanish. Still, the odds of Potter being here were... slim to none.
Or were they? For that matter, where was Potter? True, Severus didn't read the papers, but he recalled some talk about Potter distancing himself from the wizarding world or leaving altogether—Severus didn't remember which. The thought of Potter leaving the wizarding world behind was laughable—why would he? Then again, if his proclivities ran in this direction, maybe he would; it was easier to find a partner in the Muggle world and not be made a laughingstock by all the papers.
Severus cringed. It seemed to be the epitome of injustice: the only Muggle club he felt more or less okay about attending now had Potter in it, too. And it really was Potter, Severus had no doubt of that now, having caught a glimpse of the side of his glasses.
Severus came closer, still watching. The girl's fists were tightly clenched. Quickly, Potter delivered one more lash to her backside. She shuddered. Her right fist opened and a white napkin fell to the floor, indicating the end of the scene. Potter leaned in, grabbed her hair, forcing her head back, and planted a quick kiss to her cheek. Then, he unchained her. The girl turned around, her head bowed. Potter did not reach for her. She knelt down and kissed his boots, and Potter ran the tip of the crop along her spine.
Severus turned around and began to walk away.
He was halfway across the room when he felt a hand, gripping his elbow.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Potter's voice cut through the monotony of the Gregorian chants.
“Obviously, not nearly as much as you,” Severus made a move to shake Potter's hand off. “Sod off, Potter.”
“I want to know who sent you!”
Severus extracted himself from Potter's grip and spun around to face him. Potter's face was sweat-drenched, reddened, angry. His lips were twisted into a menacing grimace.
Severus sized him up and sneered. “You must be confusing me with some errand-boy, whose only reason for living is keeping track of you and your escapades. I assure you, this isn't the case. More to the point, Potter, nobody is looking for you. In fact, I highly doubt that anybody cares. Your days of fame are long over. I suggest you make peace with that. I also suggest that you find another place to play; this is my club.”
Potter listened to his tirade without so much as flinching. “Your club? Funny thing, Snape, I don't see your name anywhere.”
Severus scowled. “I've been coming here longer than you have.”
“So nothing. If you don't get the fuck out, I'll make your life hell, and you know it.”
Potter smirked. “You're already halfway there. I doubt I'll ever have an erection again after seeing you in this context.”
“Rubbish. I bet you were having erectile difficulties all along and finally found someone to blame.”
To Severus' surprise, Potter's smirk became friendlier, softer.
“Same old Snape. Maybe we should talk? Decide on which nights I will come in, and on which nights you will? I imagine you don't want to run into me again any more than I into you.”
Severus considered it. For a moment, he thought of giving up Claiborne altogether, but then, Potter's offer made sense. Perhaps they could reach an arrangement of some sort. Or perhaps he could simply drive Potter out of here; either would do.
The lounge was far from crowded. They took a private booth, Potter ordered a whiskey. Severus did the same; he doubted he'd play tonight, or any time soon. Potter sipped his drink and stared at Severus thoughtfully. Potter's riding crop rested on the table between them.
“You know, I've always suspected you were a perv of some sort, a closet sadist,” Potter mused. “I sort of imagined you wanted to whoop my arse all along.” Potter rested his glass on the dark wooden tabletop and then added, more mildly: “But I see I was wrong. You're a bottom, aren't you?”
“You've got a very vivid imagination, Potter.”
“I could ask around. I bet you've played. I also bet you've driven your tops batty and nobody wants to play with you again.”
Severus found the corner of his mouth quirking slightly. “Ultimately, it doesn't matter what I am, Potter. There's no caste system here; everyone's equal. If you deem yourself superior just because someone uses you to get their kinks stroked, I can only pity you.”
“Can you?” Potter quipped. “Do you even know the meaning of pity?”
“I don't. It was just a figure of speech.”
Potter laughed at that, throwing his head back and slapping the table with his hand. The whiskey glasses on the tabletop made a plaintive jingle. Potter seemed bad at that—laughing—almost as if he hadn’t done so in a very long time and wasn't used to it anymore.
“Anyway,” Potter said, having calmed down, “what shall we do? I usually come out on the first and third Saturday of the month. How about you?”
“I never know when I'm about to come out,” Severus said dryly. “But I'm not here often. Several times a year, not more often than that.”
“Odd,” Potter mused. “Spontaneous Snape: who could have guessed? So, what do you want to do?”
Severus frowned. He realized quickly that any deal would require him to be consistent with his attendances, and he didn't want that. All in all, he just wanted Potter to be gone, but he had a feeling that Potter wasn't about to give up on the niche he'd found.
“I will avoid the club on those Saturdays,” Severus muttered finally.
Potter seemed surprised. “Just like that?”
“Are you complaining?”
“Well, no, I guess I just expected you to put up more of a fight. You know, say something like—Potter, those are mySaturdays!” Potter did a passable imitation of Severus' tone, and Severus bristled at the mockery.
“Potter, if I valued those Saturdays so much, I would have killed you and disposed of the body,” Severus said simply. “I assure you, nobody would notice.”
Potter snickered. “And you still wonder why tops don't want to play with you. Assuming that you treat other tops the way you treat me. Which you probably do.”
“You can't make assumptions from assumptions, Potter. That's not good logic.”
“But I'm right, am I not?” Potter challenged him.
So he was, and Severus wondered how Potter managed to figure him out so quickly. He even considered doing a quick Legilimency scan to find out just what was going on in Potter's mind, but remembered the Occlumency lessons and shuddered. No, nothing could force him to make contact with Potter's brain again—not even curiosity.
Potter intercepted his gaze and smiled. “I've learned to read people quite well in the last few years. Not in everything, but in things like this,” Potter made an indeterminate gesture to point to the entrance to the play area. “You know what they say—you lose one of your senses, the others sharpen to compensate. Maybe there's some truth to that.”
“And which of your senses have you lost? Not the common sense. You never had that in the first place.”
Potter seemed taken aback by his question for a moment, but regrouped quickly. “Well, in a way, leaving the wizarding world felt like losing a sense,” he replied with shocking candor.
“Why did you?” Severus surprised himself by asking.
Potter, in turn, seemed surprised by Severus' curiosity.
“It just felt right.”
“Doesn't matter. I'm here now.” Potter studied his face. “So are you. And all alone. Why are you alone, anyway?”
Severus smirked at Potter's quick change of subject, but let it go. “You've said it yourself. Who could possibly want to play with me?”
“That's not what I said. I'm guessing people don't want to play with you because you don't give them what they want. You could, you know. Give your tops what they wanted. Because you know people; you know what they want. You just don't care to make the effort to please them.”
“I suppose I don't have enough interest in other people to make the effort,” Severus said.
Potter's smirk matched his. “So you're saying, you're a wanker?” Potter asked, seeming to enjoy the verbal sparring.
Severus didn't see the need to disappoint him. “Everyone is a wanker, Potter,” he said maliciously. “Everyone here wanks, the only difference is—whether they use their own hand or someone else's to please themselves. If you think that lovely lass back there was entranced with you, rather than the things you were doing to her—you're more fool than I gave you credit for. Nobody here cares about your personality, your rich inner world, or even your looks. Everyone's primary interest is themselves.”
Potter considered that for a moment. “Maybe. Still, sometimes there's give and take. You find someone who can give you what you need, and you give something back.” Potter's eyes sparked with amusement. “Let me guess, you think you're so bloody unique that nobody could possibly give you what you need. You think that everyone here is a player, and you alone are after the real thing.”
Irked by how quickly Potter summed up his thoughts, while managing to mock them at the same time, Severus stood up. “Good night, Potter. I'll make every effort not to run into you again. See to it that you do the same.”
Potter stood up as well. “You know what, Snape? If you ever want to get what you need without having to give anything back, come out on one of those Saturdays I'm in. I'll play with you for old time's sake.”
“You've got to be joking.”
“Why? It's not like I care who's on the other end of my riding crop. And it's not like you care who you play with, either. As you've said, nobody here cares about who the other person is.”
Severus sneered at him. “I thought you said you've developed a permanent erectile dysfunction just from seeing me.”
Potter's eyes sparked with malicious amusement. “What does that matter? I said I'd play with you, not that I'd stick my prick in your arse.” Potter picked up his crop and stalked off without looking back.
* * * * *
Severus returned to his home at Spinner's End hungry, exhausted, and even more wound up than he was when he'd left. He swore under his breath when he realized he'd forgotten to eat at Claiborne. He didn't want to go back there, and the leftovers in the fridge still didn't look appealing. He stared at the clock: just past midnight. Too late to place a firecall, if one wanted to be polite. Which Severus didn't.
He firecalled the Manor and Lucius' sleepy face stared at him from the hearth a moment later. Lucius was snugly wrapped in an enormous gaudy dressing gown, but all in all, he looked more pleasantly surprised than annoyed by the firecall.
“Severus! It's been a long time.”
“So it has. Breakfast tomorrow?”
“All right. Just say where and when.”
Severus named the time and the place. When the firecall ended, he walked to the shower, stripped, and allowed the scalding-hot water to run over him. His eyes were tightly shut, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he could still see the disjointed images—Muggle girl, writhing helplessly, bound to a chair; Potter, with the crop in his hand; a Muggle man, chained, throwing his head back in a moan; Lucius, much younger than he was now, a whip in his hands, staring at Severus with true terror.
His cock was aching, demanding release, but he didn't know what exactly it was that aroused him. Perhaps, it was everything put together. He stroked himself quickly, impatiently, eager to get this over with and go back to bed. A wanker, Potter had said. Severus came with a quiet gasp, thinking: “truer words have never been spoken”.
Eaton's Eats, a small cafe in Knockturn Alley, was the kind of place that would be empty even on the busiest day of the year. Severus wondered privately how Anna Eaton, the hostess, made any money at all. He was the only customer, and yet, she made him wait for his coffee and the barely warm, unevenly buttered toast. She was slow in giving change, and Severus ended up tipping her generously simply because he couldn't be bothered waiting for her to count off the sickles and the knuts.
He took his coffee and the toast out to the sitting area outside where the wooden chairs and the wobbly table were still damp from the recent rain. He cast a drying spell before sitting down and lifted the mug with coffee to his lips. It had the strong smell of hazelnut which made his stomach churn. Severus shook his head and set the mug back on the table, resolving to simply wait for Lucius to arrive.
Lucius showed a few minutes later, stared at Severus and sat down as well.
“Odd choice of a meeting place,” Lucius observed.
“At least here, we can talk uninterrupted,” Severus pointed out. “Nobody comes here.”
Lucius wrinkled his nose at the smell of coffee. “No great surprise. But, Severus! It is good to see you. Narcissa misses you, and Draco does as well.”
Severus gave an impatient shrug. “Tell them I said hello. I want some information. Maybe you can help.”
“It sounds important,” Lucius mused noncommittally.
“I want to know about Potter. Where is he? When was his last contact with the wizarding world? Did he really leave, and if so, why?”
“You're asking me?” Lucius' eyebrows arched upwards.
“You've got connections. Make some inquiries.”
“No particular reason. I'm just curious.”
Lucius gave Severus a thoughtful look. “And you're confident that I'll burst into action and use my connections—which were not easy to establish after the war's end, I must add!—just to satisfy your idle curiosity?”
Severus smiled. “I know that you will. Thank you for that.”
“Your arrogance never ceases to amaze me,” Lucius muttered under his breath. “Very well. I will see what I can find out. Why the sudden interest?”
“I think I saw him in Muggle London. It surprised me. I wonder what he's doing out there.”
Lucius eyed Severus with something like sympathy. “It must be difficult,” he mused. “To see someone you've spent years watching over go out and squander his entire life this way. A pity. Then again, someone who is Muggle-raised can never appreciate the heritage...” Severus gave him a brief glare and Lucius stammered. “Of course, I didn't mean you.”
“Of course,” Severus said indifferently. “But you should stop now, before you say something else.”
Lucius nodded and stared at the two slices of toast on the napkin, resting on the table. “You aren't going to eat that, are you?”
“No. Feel free to take the crumbs to the Manor with you.”
Lucius laughed out loud. “Ah, witty as ever. Why not come along with me? We'll have a proper breakfast. Narcissa will be delighted to see you.”
Severus shook his head. “I've lost my attachment to that place a while ago.”
He saw Lucius stiffen at those words. “I thought you'd be more inclined to forgiveness, given the... ah, extreme circumstances of those days.”
Not happy about any reminder of those days, or the “extreme circumstances”, Severus stood up and stared at him. “I'm a very forgiving man, Lucius. You're still alive, aren't you?”
For a second, Lucius seemed taken aback by Severus' words. Then he laughed out loud. Severus turned around and walked away, leaving behind the untouched coffee and toast.
“I'll send you an owl once I've got some information,” Lucius shouted after him.
Severus didn't reply.
* * * * *
Lucius was true to his word—an owl arrived only two days later, bringing information about Potter. Lucius had done a thorough investigation; in fact, he did everything short of actually questioning Granger and Weasley. Not that there was any need.
Potter's disappearance from the wizarding world had gone unnoticed by just about everyone, not just Severus. Potter simply chose to fade into obscurity shortly after the war. He wasn't heard from or seen, and eventually people simply forgot about him. Severus himself certainly didn't give Potter a second thought after everything was over. Potter tried seeing him twice—once, in June of 1998, and one more time—a year later. Both times, Severus simply ignored his requests. Potter chose not to insist.
Potter's last contact with the wizarding world was some three and a half years ago. (Severus didn't know how Lucius obtained that confidential information, but he didn't care). Potter checked himself into St. Mungo's and requested a full physical examination. He was tested for magical maladies and illnesses, curses, or any signs of poisoning. Nothing was wrong with him; Potter was given a clean bill of health. Then, he was never heard from again.
Severus didn't know what to make of that. He didn't know what to make of Potter's initial reaction to him, either—it seemed like Potter really didn't want to be “found”. Then again, Severus reasoned, perhaps Potter had trouble coming to terms with his own proclivities, and perhaps that's what St. Mungo's tests had been all about. When Potter discovered that nothing was medically wrong with him, he chose to depart into the world where he could pursue his interests unhindered, simply because nobody knew him in the Muggle world and he was certain not to make the tabloid headlines. It made sense, and yet... somehow that didn't seem like enough of a reason to leave everything behind.
Severus burned Lucius' letter and sighed. Once again, he was thinking about Potter entirely too much.
He considered calling St. Mungo's to request another assignment, anything—just to give himself something to do and take his mind off Potter and Claiborne. Yet, Severus realized quickly that he'd already lost that battle.
Potter was someone who knew him; but not only that. Potter was angry with him, loathed him. The anger and the loathing were something real, bringing with them a longing that he didn't know the words for.
Falling asleep that night, Severus was certain of one thing.
He wanted Potter to play with him.
* * * * *
A week and a half went by. Severus requested another assignment from St. Mungo's, and was given a rather routine one—a minor adjustment to an old healing spell, a delicate job, but an easy task. He completed the order quickly, and was without work once again. He spent his free time thinking about Claiborne and Potter.
When Saturday came, he could barely wait until the evening. He dressed as usual, wearing his robe atop of the Muggle trousers and shirt; the robe alone counted as “fetishwear”, which suited him just fine.
Alice, all smiles and piercings, greeted him again and waved him in. He crossed the lounge and walked straight to the play area. One by one, he went through all the public play rooms, looking for Potter, but Potter was nowhere to be found.
Odd, Severus thought, that Potter would extend the invitation only to not show up. Severus stuck to the first play area, the one closest to the entrance from the lounge. Instead of watching the scenes, he found himself watching the door.
A young woman whose outfit was so tight it looked like she'd been dipped in latex approached him and tried to strike up a conversation. Severus turned away and she walked away in a huff.
A few times he'd stand up and get ready to leave, but each time he sat back down and continued to wait. He was well-aware that there was no bloody date, that nobody stood him up, but the irritation continued to mount.
Hours passed and the crowd began to thin. Not willing to be the absolutely last one out, Severus finally got up and headed towards the exit. The wounded dignity of having been played (by Potter!) was just a bit too much.
He barely noticed Alice's hand on his elbow as he was about to walk out the door. “It's raining out there,” she said. “I've got a spare umbrella.”
“I don't need it. But thanks.”
She didn't stop him.
He stepped outside. It wasn't just raining—it was pouring. The water under his feet was ankle deep, and he could barely see a few feet ahead.
Severus began to make his way towards the discreet corner of the parking lot that he used to Apparate home from. Then again, the wall of rain was such that he doubted anyone would notice if he just vanished into thin air.
A car honked behind him. Severus hastened his pace. The car honked again and moved, driving up so close it almost touched him. He stepped aside. The front door on the passenger side opened.
Severus looked inside. Potter, at the wheel, didn't even turn to look at him.
“Get in,” Potter said.
Severus hesitated, once again, not certain what to make of it all.
“I won't offer twice,” Potter warned.
Severus got into the car.
“Fasten your seat-belt. I trust you know how to do that.”
“Such concern for my life. How unusual.”
“The Muggle police ticket the driver if the passenger isn't buckled in.”
Potter drove out the parking lot and headed down the road towards London. The rain wasn't letting up. The windshield wipers worked furiously, but Severus could barely see the taillights of the cars ahead—it was just the water all around.
Potter made no effort to strike up a conversation. He seemed quite content just driving in silence.
“Why?” Severus asked. He didn't elaborate, and he had a feeling he wouldn't need to.
“Just wanted to see how long you'd wait around for me,” Potter said simply.
Severus bit his lip. Potter was being a first-class prat, and the decision to play with him was beginning to seem like a really bad idea.
“Stop the car,” Severus demanded.
“Don't be stupid.”
“I said, stop the car.”
“I won't. If you're so eager to part company, feel free to just Disapparate from your seat and land on your arse in Spinner's End. Otherwise, you can wait until I get home.”
The conversation ended there. The rest of the drive to Potter's place was silent.
Potter lived, it turned out, in a one-storey detached house in Surrey.
It stopped raining by the time they got there, and Severus got a good look at Potter's home. It seemed seemed well-kept and newly painted. Severus didn't know what the real estate market was like in that particular corner of the Muggle world, but suspected that the home had cost Potter plenty.
Potter parked the car in the driveway near the house. Severus got out and slammed the door shut behind himself. Potter got out next and gave no reaction to Severus' obvious displeasure.
“Now you can go home,” Potter informed him and walked towards the house without looking back. Severus watched him enter the house and close the door behind himself.
Severus took a deep breath and looked around. Quiet neighborhood, one and two-storey houses, fenced yards. The asphalt under his feet glistened with the recent rain.
He knew he had to Apparate home and forget Potter. In fact, it was the only reasonable thing to do. Yet, reason didn't seem to enter his decisions lately.
He didn't know why he'd even want to chase after someone who'd all but slammed the door in his face.
Slammed—but... Severus realized he hadn’t heard the click of the lock. He muttered a quiet obscenity under his breath and walked towards Potter's house.
The door was unlocked, of course. Severus entered the dimly lit hallway that connected with a large sitting room. The sitting room barely had any furniture in it—a large couch and a coffee table, an armchair near the fireplace—and that was all. No bookshelves, no cupboards with trinkets, not even a television set.
Standing in front of the fireplace, Potter was taking his jacket off. He was wearing just regular Muggle clothes: black trousers and shirt, nothing extraordinary. In fact, there was not a hint of anything that betrayed the wizarding world in Potter's home, or his appearance. The old lightning-bolt scar on his forehead was the only reminder of the past; Potter hadn't bothered to do anything to conceal that.
Potter turned around. He didn't seem surprised to see Severus standing in front of him, drenched to the bone and glaring back at him.
“So you're here,” Potter summed things up. “Undress.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“That's not good etiquette,” Severus pointed out. “What about discussion? Limits and safewords?”
The corner of Potter's mouth twitched slightly. “No. With you, there will be no discussion. And there will be no safewords. If you don't like something, you can leave any time. I won't hold you back.”
Severus stared down at the wet tracks he'd left on Potter's floor. He felt cold, miserable, irritated. And for the life of him, he no longer knew why he even wanted to play with Potter in the first place. But, somehow, walking out didn't seem like an option. Maybe because the door was so wide open for him to do just that.
“I told you to undress,” Potter said coolly. “Is there a problem?”
Severus shook his head. He could never quite get used to how quickly people in this subculture went from hello to playing; Potter seemed to be no exception. Then again, Severus supposed any talk would really be redundant at this point.
“No problem at all, Potter.”
Even when he began to disrobe, Severus still could scarcely believe he was doing it. Stripping to play in the club was an insignificant matter all in all. Disrobing in front of Potter, in a private setting, was immeasurably more humiliating.
Severus took off his wet robe, folded it and let it rest on the seat of the couch. He kicked off his boots next, along with the socks. It irked him that he'd been so absorbed by the thoughts of Potter he never even bothered with a drying spell.
“I don't need a long sensual strip-tease from you, Snape. Just take your clothes off and bend over the couch.” With those words, Potter circled around him and left the living room, heading down the hallway into the depths of the house.
Left alone, Severus continued to stand still.
The hardwood floor felt cold under his rain-drenched feet. Potter's house smelled of tea, fresh linens and hardwood varnish. Somehow it didn't fit, didn't have the feel of Potter's real home. Then again, Severus wasn't the one to talk. He wasn't at home even in his own skin.
Speaking of skin... Severus unbuttoned his shirt, folded it, placed it atop of the robe on the couch. He removed his trousers and underwear, folded them, too. There was a strange feel to those actions: as if he was inventing a ritual of some sort, a ritual that Potter wasn't a part of.
Severus let out a displeased grunt. He'd thought that disrobing in front of Potter was the peak of humiliation. Turned out, there was something that felt even more degrading: undressing on his own, while waiting for Potter, who, incidentally, couldn't care less.
His face was flushed, and not only that. He was hard, painfully and sickeningly so, and the longer he waited, the more aroused he became.
Eventually, Potter returned. Severus' cock was already at full attention, but when he saw what looked like a small tube of Muggle hand cream in Potter's hand, Severus could barely keep himself from shivering.
“I thought I told you to bend over,” Potter observed.
Potter's voice was cold, indifferent. For the life of him, Severus couldn't remember anything—anything at all—being more humiliating and thrilling at the same time. He never deemed himself particularly mentally stable; but only one word seemed fitting enough to sum this up: insanity. He could feel his mind unraveling with every breath he took.
Potter's warm hand rested on the small of his back and nudged him to step forward. Severus bent over the couch and shut his eyes.
He was painfully aware of everything then: Potter opening the tube and lubing up his fingers, the scratch of the couch fabric against his own belly and aching cock, and then, Potter's hand on his buttocks, spreading them apart.
Severus sucked in a furious breath when two of Potter's fingers at the same time stabbed into his anus without any preliminaries.
It hurt and burned like fucking hell. He didn't know how he managed to keep silent, to keep still. He felt Potter's fingers withdrawing. Then, Potter began to finger-fuck him, hard and fast.
Severus parted his legs even wider to keep his balance. Potter's fingers created a burning pressure that seemed to go all the way up to the base of Severus' spine. He was running short on oxygen, only breathing in tiny, inaudible sobs each time Potter drove into him. His cock felt monstrous. When Potter's fingers curled and delivered a harsh poke against his prostate, he came without feeling any pleasure from it, nothing more than relief from frustration.
Once Potter was done with him, Severus straightened out. He cast a quick glance at Potter and noticed that the once white hand cream on Potter's fingers had turned pink. It made him more than slightly nauseated to realize that he'd just come from Potter finger-fucking his arsehole raw and bloody.
Without saying a word, Potter walked away from him, heading into the kitchen. Severus heard the water running; Potter was washing his hands.
Severus took a deep breath and stared at his damp clothes, folded neatly on the couch. His first instinct was to get dressed and run, preferably Obliviating Potter before doing so. He pulled his wand out and found his hand shaking. He realized that he couldn’t trust himself to cast anything but an Unforgivable in his current state.
Severus stared at his clothes again. The thought of getting dressed and getting the fuck out of Potter's place crossed his mind again; but he shook his head, no. Something got hideously twisted inside his mind while Potter was fucking him; he needed to face Potter before leaving.
Naked as he was, Severus walked into the kitchen. The kitchen set up, he saw, was just as minimalistic as the sitting room: a small table with two chairs, the kitchen counter with coffee maker and a microwave oven. The kitchen window, enormous and uncurtained, was facing Potter's fenced backyard.
Potter was sitting on the wide windowsill, smoking a Muggle cigarette, the rest of the pack sitting nearby. He lifted his head to give Severus a brief glance, but said nothing. It didn't look like he was affected by anything that had passed between them.
Silently, Severus sat down next to Potter, his bare back pressing against the glass. He knew he was leaving traces of hand cream mixed with blood on Potter's windowsill, but he didn't care. Uninvited, he reached for Potter's cigarette and took it out of his hands. Potter let him.
For a while they smoked in silence, passing the cigarette between each other, shaking the ashes right onto the floor. When the cigarette was down to the filter, Potter extinguished it on the window sill.
“You should go now,” Potter said.
Severus stood up. Without asking he reached for Potter's cigarette pack. Potter watched him extract two cigarettes from the pack, but said nothing.
When Severus left the kitchen and walked back to the sitting room, Potter didn't follow him. Severus pulled out his wand, cast a drying spell on his clothes and began to get dressed. He felt calm, slightly lightheaded, and overall oddly indifferent to what had just happened. He didn't even want to Obliviate Potter anymore.
Severus tucked his wand away and placed two cigarettes in the pocket of his robe before heading out. He was already in the doorway when he heard Potter's voice behind him.
Severus stopped, but didn't look around.
“You can come back in two weeks,” Potter said.
Severus walked out of the house and closed the door behind himself. Once outside, he lifted his eyes. The night sky was starless and moonless, the clouds bearing nothing but the whitish reflection of the city's lights.
Severus let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Potter's parting words continued to ring in his ears. He wasn't entirely certain it was a bad thing.
After coming back from Potter's, Severus slept through the rest of the night, the morning and part of the afternoon. He woke up well-rested and surprisingly relaxed. Nothing hurt; whatever injury Potter had caused by the vigorous finger-fucking must have been superficial.
He got dressed, had gone out for lunch in a neighborhood diner, and roamed the streets in the drizzling rain.
He was surprised that he was able to think about Potter without twitching. He felt oddly free—as if the longing and wanting he'd been feeling for months and years had been satisfied once and for all. Maybe that was all it took to restore one's peace of mind—giving in to one's insanity completely and fully just one time. He wondered.
He was still mildly curious about Potter and Potter's reasons for leaving the wizarding world. Not that Severus cared about Potter's fate one way or another, but it was a puzzle and Severus didn't like unsolved puzzles.
On an impulse he Apparated to Hogsmeade. There was no rain there, just the sunshine and the crisp frosty air that was invigorating. He began to walk towards Hogwarts and couldn't contain a wistful smile at seeing the old towers looming ahead.
It had been a long time since his last visit here. Quite belatedly, he realized that he hadn’t even bothered to check if Minerva was still the headmistress; he'd been so out of touch with everyone that he didn't know anything about anything anymore.
He shrugged and hastened his pace.
The ancient gates opened to admit him; and for some reason he felt awed by that. Wherever he'd been, whatever changes took place, the school still knew him.
School children, Slytherin and Ravenclaw scarves around their necks, were running around the school grounds. They didn't stop and didn't pay attention to him, absorbed in their own play.
He made his way towards the Headmistresses' office without being approached by anyone. The Gargoyle slid to the side to admit him, and, a moment later, he found himself in the office he had sworn to never set foot in again.
Minerva McGonagall looked much the same as always, except her hair had gone blindingly white and there were even more wrinkles fanning out from the corners of her eyes. She lifted her head and stared at him with a delighted shock that made him feel like an errant school-boy who'd been on the run for too long.
“Good to see you,” she said. “I wondered if you'd ever return.”
“Hadn't been planning on it,” he said dryly, looking around. Dumbledore's portrait was on the wall, of course, in its usual spot, and the old Headmaster gave Severus a knowing look. Severus scowled. There was a heart-wrenching facade of innocence to all of this: the office, the old colleagues, the old world that still remembered him. He could swear he still heard the echoes of old conversations that had taken place here years ago; all the talk about destiny and sacrifices, love and duty—he wasn't certain he understood that language anymore, although he was quite certain he didn't miss it.
“Well, I'm so glad you changed your mind,” Minerva said, seeming untroubled by his sulky demeanor. “Tea?”
“Do you smoke?” Without waiting for a response, Severus reached into the pocket of his robe and produced the two cigarettes he'd taken from Potter the night before.
Cautiously, she took one of them.
“Looks like you're drifting toward the Muggle world,” she hazarded a guess.
He shook his head. “Drifting would imply movement. I'm quite stationary. I work from home for St. Mungo's and limit my contact with people—wizards or Muggles—to absolute minimum.”
She lifted her wand and lit Severus' cigarette, then her own. For a while they smoked together. The whitish puffs they exhaled hung in the air between them, each—for just a few seconds—looking like Dumbledore's beard. Severus smirked, picturing the office filled with Dumbledore's beards floor to ceiling—and no actual Dumbledore.
“I'm going to retire soon enough,” Minerva said in between the puffs. “Another year or two, I reckon. You should come back as headmaster.”
Severus nearly choked from laughter, imagining the look on her face if she ever found out what he had been doing as recently as last night and with whom. One thing was certain; she wouldn't have been so quick to extend the invitation to rejoin Hogwarts.
“What's so funny?” Minerva demanded, giving him an affronted scowl.
“Nothing. I actually have a question. It's about Potter. Have you heard from him lately?”
“Harry,” she whispered, looking oddly troubled by the question.
“Harry,” Severus agreed, finding it easy to make the distinction in his own mind. Harry was a part of this past-world, swords and dragons and all. Potter was someone out there, in the Muggle world, frequenting BDSM clubs and fucking strangers by night.
“I haven't heard from him in a while,” she said. “He taught DADA here, the year after the war. Did you know that?”
Severus shook his head.
“I offered the position to you first, but you never replied to my letter. Then I offered it to him. He accepted. He taught for a year, did quite well, actually. But then, he resigned.”
“Did he say why?”
“I thought so, too. But he wouldn't discuss it.” Minerva Evanesco'ed the remnants of her and Severus' cigarettes with a quick flick of her wand. “Are you looking for him? Why?”
“No, I'm not looking for him. I just wondered.” He cast a quick glance at Dumbledore's portrait and let out a small sigh. “Would you mind if I spoke to Albus?”
“No, of course not. I'll give you some privacy.” She walked out of the office without saying another word.
Still in his chair, Severus stared at the portrait of the former Headmaster.
“Severus,” Dumbledore spoke first. “It's good to see you.”
“Hm,” Severus muttered. “You know why Potter left, don't you?”
“I do,” Dumbledore agreed.
“Why did he?”
“That's not my story to tell.” Severus could have sworn he saw the familiar twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes. He shook his head irritably. Paint and canvas had no business twinkling that way, as far as he was concerned.
“Yet, I'm certain you were a part of it somehow,” Severus muttered.
“You give me too much credit,” Dumbledore said softly. “No, I assure you, Harry made his own choice. Perhaps, it was a drastic one to make—but I'm proud of him for choosing the way he did.”
Severus leaned back in his chair, eyeing the image of the old headmaster thoughtfully. “I'm sure you are. You tend to be very proud of people who choose self-destruction for the greater good. Tell me, was it the case this time, too?”
Dumbledore's face was unreadable and he didn't answer. Severus shrugged, stood up and walked out of the office.
Minerva was waiting for him in the hallway.
“You should consider what I said, Severus. The school misses you.”
“The school doesn't know me,” he said softly.
She looked at him, likely surprised by his mild tone. “Perhaps not. But it misses you just the same.”
All in all, the visit to Hogwarts did him no good. He likely shouldn't have ventured into that old world, Severus mused, the world where his madness had sprung from.
The madness wasn't gone, it merely changed form: he was now dreaming about Potter, wanking to the memory of Potter finger-fucking him. He wanted more of that—not fucking, specifically, but something—anything, that would take him out of himself, bring him to the brink of destruction, maybe push him over the edge one day. He wondered what was there, beyond that edge.
Not surprisingly, two weeks later, he was at the doorstep of Potter's home again.
It was early evening. Potter's car was parked in the drive; the lights were on in the house, their deceptive warmth outpouring from the windows, casting a mild glow on the doorstep. For a fleeting moment he had the terrible, overpowering urge to turn around and simply walk away, not just from Potter, but—from everything. Then again, he'd all but done that in the last five years, and that brought no relief.
The door wasn't locked, and Severus walked in. He took off his robe and hung it up properly this time, leaving his wand behind.
Potter was waiting for him in the sitting room, sprawled on the couch, a small Muggle notebook computer in his lap. He was wearing blue jeans and a red print tee shirt. To look at him, one could never guess that this was one of the most powerful wizards alive.
“What are you doing with that?” Severus asked, nodding to the notebook.
“Just work. I test computer games,” Potter replied without looking up. “I'll be done in a few minutes. You can fix yourself a drink while you wait.”
Severus scoffed at him, but walked into the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards. There was Muggle whiskey and gin and a bottle of red wine. Potter's refrigerator had vodka, juice and ice cubes.
“Do you entertain often?” Severus asked. “Or do you indulge your alcoholism properly, all by yourself?”
“No talking,” Potter replied.
Severus fixed himself a drink—a glass of cranberry juice with a splash of vodka. He sipped it slowly, lifting it to the light, watching the facets of the ice cubes collide and part. The sound of Potter typing was soothing, mundane... ordinary. Severus found himself surprised to realize that he really didn't know how other people lived their lives. Maybe every single person in the world was the same, wherever they lived, just working by day and crawling out by night to search for others just like them.
“Done,” Potter announced a few minutes later. “Snape! Come here.”
Severus let the glass with the unfinished drink rest on the small kitchen table. He walked back into the sitting room. Potter had slid the notebook computer to the floor by the wall and was sitting up now, eyeing Severus thoughtfully.
“What do you want?” Potter asked.
Severus balked at the question. He hadn't expected talk this time. He hadn't expected to be asked to put what he wanted into words, either.
“Let me rephrase that. Did I give you what you needed last time?”
It was tempting to say no, but—dissembling seemed pointless. He was here, after all, and he wanted more.
“Yes,” Severus conceded with just a touch of reluctance. “You did.”
“Then I will make you a deal. If I give you what you need this time, next time, you'll give me what I need. Do you accept?”
“What is it that you need?”
Potter's grin turned wicked. “Does it really matter?”
Severus thought about it for a long minute. It really didn't matter, he realized; right now he was willing to promise nearly anything for the chance to feel the same gripping, debilitating intensity just once more in his lifetime.
“You've got a deal,” Severus said.
“Good boy.” With those words, Potter jumped off the couch. He headed down the hallway somewhere, presumably to his bedroom, while Severus waited, pondering if he should make a fuss about the odd term of endearment.
Potter didn't take long this time. He returned, carrying a forked tawse in his hand, brown heavy leather and wooden handle.
“Undress,” Potter ordered.
He found his hands refusing to move. For some reason, it was more difficult to undress the second time around; maybe because this time, Potter was staring at him, or maybe because Potter ceased being a complete stranger.
Potter gave him a cool smile.
“Feel free to make it as slow and as humiliating for yourself as you like. I've got all night, and I doubt anyone's waiting for you at home.”
“Fuck you, Potter.”
“Not tonight, I'm afraid.”
He didn't know how he made it through all the buttons on his shirt, or unbuckled the belt on his trousers. With every item of clothing he took off and threw onto the floor, he was nearing that maddening, glorious edge of self-annihilation. He doubted the tawse would be necessary; he was already fully hard, standing naked in front of Potter.
“Stretch out your hands, palms up.”
Severus couldn't help but balk at the order. The idea of allowing any sort of punishment to be inflicted on his hands wasn't just repugnant, it was terrifying. He still didn't know Potter well enough. For all Severus knew, Potter could be crazy enough to seriously injure him. True, there were healing spells, but no hundred percent guarantee that the stirring rod, the ladle, the paring knife and the wand would feel exactly the same way in his hands after an injury.
“Scared?” Potter taunted him lazily. “Feel free to get dressed and go home, Snape.”
Potter's words pushed him even closer to the edge of insanity. Severus moved quickly, not giving himself the time to think, or even to feel. The shameful incongruity of standing naked in front of Potter, extending hands to him for a whipping, was nearly too much to bear; the humiliation of wanting it was almost more painful than the first lash that fell on his palms. He stood still and watched in benumbed fascination as welts sprang to life with every stroke of the tawse.
He barely noticed when Potter ceased the whipping. He was still staring at his own palms.
“Get down on your knees. Touch yourself,” Potter's voice sounded distant and faint. “Come for me.”
Severus obeyed, but wanking turned out to be an excruciatingly torturous affair. His cock was aching for touch, but his abused palms and fingers stung and throbbed unmercifully whenever he tightened his grip on it. He managed, somehow, wincing against the pain every time his engorged member slid back and forth in his injured hand.
When he came, it felt more than just release and more than just pleasure. He was dizzy, lightheaded, frail. There were no thoughts left, just the sensation of falling somewhere.
He was vaguely aware of himself trying to catch his breath, swaying as he rose to his feet, beginning to get dressed. His fingers were raw, slippery and he barely managed to get his trousers and underwear on, before sinking onto Potter' couch, leaning back and shutting his eyes. A minute, he only needed a minute of rest.
He wasn't sure how much time actually passed when he felt Potter take hold of his arms to slide them into the sleeves of his shirt. He had no strength to protest or argue and simply allowed Potter to dress him, button up his shirt, put his boots and socks on for him, place the wand in his pocket. Through all of this, Potter was thorough and gave the impression of a skilled toymaker, putting a taken apart toy back together, careful to make sure that all the bolts and screws went into all of their proper places.
Then, Severus felt the sensation pf being pulled up to his feet and being guided to the door. There was an odd quality to all of this, as if the “play” was continuing well past the whipping and the orgasm, carrying over into a whole new territory.
Once outside, they were greeted with the cold autumn wind and a drizzle of rain. Potter proceeded to lock the door of the house, fumbling awkwardly: he was holding some sort of bundle under his arm.
Severus reached for his wand and missed it in his pocket. Potter noticed, turned around and stayed his hand.
“Don't. I'll drive you home.”
“I'll Apparate,” the words came out slurred, barely recognizable.
“Excellent choice,” Potter approved instantly. “Do I get to see you after you splinch yourself?”
Severus sighed. He could see Potter's point: Apparating in this half-delirious state wasn't the best of ideas. And if Potter wanted to be his personal chauffeur, Severus wasn't about to argue.
“You realize it's a four hour drive?” he said just as they'd stopped in front of Potter's car.
Potter didn't reply. He opened the door on the passenger side and gave Severus a nudge to get in. Severus did and leaned back in the seat, shutting his eyes. The car door slammed shut.
Severus breathed in and out, slowly. He was tired. He was chilly everywhere but his fingers and palms; they were still aflame and throbbing, making him feel like he was holding a handful of smoldering embers and couldn't let go of them even to save his life.
A few moments later, Potter climbed into the driver's seat. He reached over to Severus' side to buckle the seat-belt around him, and then a thin blanket was placed over Severus' legs.
“The car takes a little while to warm up,” Potter explained, while lifting Severus' hands one by one to place them atop the blanket. “Hold this.” Something damp and cold was placed in Severus' hands. “Ice-pack, wrapped in a towel,” Potter explained. “It'll make the swelling go down.”
It felt unreal, all of this, as if one of those dream-images from Severus' nights had taken shape and invaded his reality.
Potter reached under Severus' seat and adjusted it to recline as far back as it would go. Severus was practically lying on his back now and he barely felt it when the car began to move.
“You can go to sleep,” Potter said. “Like you said, it's a four hour drive.”
“You know, you could have just Apparated me home.”
“I don't use magic. I thought you'd have noticed that by now.”
Severus turned his head away from Potter and opened his eyes. He saw the houses of Potter's neighborhood: roofs, doors, and windows with light shining in them—all a blur. The car window was fogged and the silvery serpentine trickles of rain ran along the glass.
Severus woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his door.
It took him a split second to realize that he was back home at Spinner's End.
Last night Potter had deposited him on the couch, covered him up with that blasted blanket of his and even left the ice-pack and the towel behind before retreating.
Severus opened his eyes and blinked when he stared at the clock: it was two in the afternoon. He flexed his fingers, looked at his own hands and winced. The swelling had gone down quite a bit, but the welts were still here, and they still hurt. Severus reached for his wand and cast a quick healing spell, removing the evidence of yesterday's misconduct from his skin.
He still couldn't quite believe what he'd done last night, or rather who had done that to him. Now that the marks were gone without a trace, he'd have been tempted to discount the entire thing as a really bizarre hallucination.... if not for Potter's blanket and the ice-pack. Severus Evanesco'ed those with another flick of his wand.
The knocking on the door got louder and a great deal more irritating. He muttered a quiet obscenity, got off the couch and walked to the door.
“Who's there?” he demanded.
“It's me,” Minerva's rather terse response followed.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to open the door, of course, why else would I be knocking?”
Severus bit his lip and felt heat rising to his face. For a brief insane moment he imagined she somehow knew everything about him and Potter, and was here to... to what? He shook his head, dismissing the ridiculous thought and opened the door.
“It's cold,” she complained walking in. The dark-grey wool of her winter coat was peppered with tiny snowflakes. “Cold and miserable. And I'm missing work because of you.”
“Because of me,” he repeated. “I don't recall inviting you. Feel free to go away. In fact, I insist.”
“Charming.” She strode into the sitting room without taking her coat off. Severus followed her and sat down as well, still vaguely bothered by the fact that for the first time in the past seven years he'd allowed someone to enter his house.Second time, actually, his mind supplied the correction quite obligingly. True enough; first time was last night, when he'd permitted Potter to guide him into the house and help him onto the couch. And perhaps Potter was the one to blame for Severus' carefully constructed boundaries beginning to disintegrate in such a spectacular manner.
“My question still stands,” Severus muttered. “What do you want? I'm not coming back to Hogwarts. Is there anything else?”
“After your visit I kept thinking about Harry,” Minerva said, seeming untroubled by his rudeness. “You know, he used to live at Grimmauld Place back then."
“Have you looked there?” Minerva asked.
“I'm not looking for Potter,” Severus wondered what it would actually take for her to believe him.
“Well, I went there last night. I wondered—maybe there was some clue left behind...” she looked somewhat embarrassed admitting it.
“So you broke into Potter's old home and snooped,” Severus concluded. “Find anything interesting?”
“No? Such un-Gryffindor behavior, going against your own ethics—and all for naught? Pity.”
“It gets better,” Minerva said tersely, clearly irked. “I couldn't get in.”
“You couldn't get in?” He was surprised, and that was putting it mildly. Minerva, along with Flitwick and himself was one of the top experts in wards and protective spells—either erecting them or dismantling them.
“The wards were too powerful. I couldn't even begin to make a dent in them. It—it was like trying to break through—I don't know. Through something that Dumbledore himself would have put in place.”
“Dumbledore,” Severus mused. “Have you asked him about that?”
“Yes. He said that the only person who could answer that question was Harry.” Her voice shook slightly as she spoke. “I miss him.”
“Dumbledore or Harry?” Severus didn't know whose name he spoke with more loathing.
“Harry. He's been away from home for too long. So have you. Don't argue.” Her smile was unhappy and bitter. “If you do find him, tell him I said that.”
“I'm not looking for him.”
He wondered if someone else had actually looked for Potter. He suspected that nobody had, and he also wondered whether somewhere deep down, Potter wanted to be found. After all, he hadn't gone somewhere to Japan or the States or India, he still lived in Surrey, presumably worked somewhere in London. Maybe he hadn’t gone away because he was hoping that someone would come after him, find him, shout at him, bring him home.
Then again, Severus supposed that the same accusation could be made of him. He hadn't gone away either. He was still living on the outskirts of his former life, never re-entering it, but not quite cutting it off altogether. Was he also hoping that someone would ask him to come back?
It was a pathetic kind of existence for both of them—Severus and Potter both; simply because in this world, nobody looked for anyone for any length of time. Whenever someone was gone, people accepted it, moved on and eventually, forgot.
Minerva stood up. “Come to Hogwarts for Christmas, Severus. You can tell tall tales about the war and the spying, and the Gryffindor children will listen to you with their mouths wide open.”
Severus smirked. “Gryffindor, that old thing is still around? I'd have imagined that House would be disbanded now that the war is over and nobody needs a herd of self-sacrificial sheep as cannon fodder.”
“Do you need to be so mean-spirited all the time?”
“I do. Do you still want me to come over for Christmas and tell stories?”
“More than ever.” She grinned at him; her expression softened. He thought that for a brief moment she looked younger and happier.
“You're coming over then? For Christmas?” she checked.
Severus winced, realizing that somehow he'd managed to commit himself to the most hideous affair imaginable.
“I will give it some serious thought,” he said solemnly.
He walked her to the door to see her out. As she began to descend the sleet-covered steps of the porch, she seemed unbearably fragile to him. He watched her with concern, resisting the urge to run after her, take hold of her elbow to support her. But she managed quite well on her own, Disapparating shortly with a loud crack; the moment was lost. It was just as well. Severus doubted she'd have appreciated the sentiment.
* * * * *
Minerva's visit left him unsettled.
Potter was clearly hiding something, possibly something important. He must have hired a team of specialists to create the kinds of wards Minerva had described, and he'd been rather evasive when asked about his reasons for leaving the wizarding world.
Severus cringed at the thought that, while knowing next to nothing about Potter, he'd given Potter the ammunition to publicly humiliate him, even destroy him, if he put his mind to it. Severus had known from the very start, of course, that playing with Potter wasn't a safe thing, and yet, it was the un-safeness of the proceedings that had enthralled him.
Yet, now, after having played twice, he knew he didn't want this to continue hanging over his head. The mind-boggling degradation of those sessions was almost too much; and the humiliation of having wanted them was definitely too much.
The safest thing to do was to Obliviate Potter, gently removing all memories of those encounters from his mind. That thought wasn't a pleasant one. Severus still didn't like Potter, but the idea of using Potter that way was even less appealing.
Yet, the decision was already made. Severus cringed, then reasoned that the encounters didn't mean much to Potter, and therefore, he wouldn't care about those memories going missing. The strong suspicion that Potter was playing some sort of underhanded game sealed the deal.
All those rationalizations aside, Severus had a vague premonition that he was making a mistake of some sort, but he pushed the unease aside.
He buttoned up his robe, took his wand and headed out to Apparate to Potter's place.
Potter didn't make him wait. He opened the door immediately and motioned for Severus to walk in.
“Come in, make yourself comfortable. Get a drink, if you like. I've got work to finish, so I'll be a few more minutes.”
Severus nodded, walked into the kitchen and fixed himself the same drink as last time—cranberry juice with vodka. He made a mental note to wash the glass and put it back in its place after Obliviating Potter.
He entered the living room, sat down in the armchair by the fireplace. Potter was half-lying on the couch, his back leaning against the arm-rest, the notebook resting on his bended knees. He was typing away, seemingly absorbed in his work. He was dressed exactly the same way as the last time Severus had seen him: the same blue jeans, the same red print tee shirt... and the same old glasses he'd worn back at Hogwarts.
Potter noticed Severus studying him but said nothing, only continued to type. Severus took a sip of his drink, wondering whether this was what life was like for coupled people: just watching each other work and being near each other. He banished that thought quickly, getting sentimental just before Obliviating Potter wasn't a good idea.
Potter shut his notebook and placed it on the floor before sitting up. He stared at Severus and gave him a tiny smile.
“So you're here.”
“So I am,” Severus agreed, staring into his drink. “You said you wanted me to give you something that you need. What would that be?”
Potter nodded, seeming to appreciate the direct approach.
“Simply put, I want a scene where I'll be in control, and you'll do everything I say.”
Severus gave him an unfriendly smile.
“So that's your thing then, Potter? Giving up your magical heritage left you feeling out of control in your own life, and that's how you compensate?”
Potter didn't take the bait, just shrugged indifferently. “Maybe. Or maybe that's none of your business. Will you do it?”
“I'll consider it and get back to you,” Severus said. A part of him wanted to give it a go—yet another way to lose himself for a while, yet another step towards that point of no return, where there would be no more him.
“All right,” Potter agreed peacefully. “Maybe we'll come to some sort of mutually satisfactory arrangement, although I doubt it.”
“Why is that?” Severus inquired, curious in spite of himself.
“We need different things. I need, as you have pointed out, to be in control. You are turned on by humiliation. Our needs don't fit naturally, it'd require some effort to make them fit. It's not impossible, just... difficult. Frankly, I imagine we'll play for a while and then go our separate ways.”
Severus stared at him thoughtfully, trying to understand something. Eventually, he posed a question that he likely wouldn't have under normal circumstances.
“Potter, you seem to know a great deal about my needs. How is that possible? And don't try to tell me that you got all that from just watching me the first day we met.”
Potter didn't even bat an eye. “You're right, I didn't,” he admitted freely. “It just so happens that I know more things about you than I have any business knowing.”
“I gathered that. My question is—how?” Severus asked, finding tension beginning to build. He had a feeling that he wasn't going to like Potter's answer.
“As you may remember, for a while there during my school years there was this connection between my mind and Voldemort's,” Potter replied calmly. Severus found it difficult to breathe as he heard Potter say that. “I saw different things through Voldemort's eyes. One night, I saw the image of you, surrounded by the rest of the Death Eaters. They were... laughing. I saw you on the floor, on all fours. Lucius was whipping you. I saw that you seemed to—enjoy it, after a fashion. I didn't hear anything that had been said though—it was just that, images.” Potter shrugged slightly. “I didn't know what to make of it back then.”
“And you do now?” Severus quipped bitterly. He felt heat rising to his cheeks, he couldn't believe that Potter had seenthat, of all things.
“Not fully, no. I mean—if I were to make a guess, as a teen you probably wanked after every humiliating experience just to relieve the tension and get your mind off things. Then, you started associating humiliation with arousal; fantasizing about humiliation; nothing unusual there, really, stories like that are ten a penny. But then—there must have been a breaking point. That thing with Voldemort and Lucius, whatever the fuck that was. And so, here you are.”
“I imagine it was very satisfying for you to have been a witness to something like that,” Severus muttered. It seemed that the task of modifying Potter's memories was going to be more time-consuming than he had anticipated. He wondered idly whether he could just erase all of himself from Potter's mind, and if Potter would notice. “I can only wonder why you hadn't used it against me.”
Potter looked at him, surprised. “I guess I didn't think of that. I'll admit, for a while there I really did hate you, but I.. just wanted to kill you, to be honest. Humiliation as means of revenge—it just never occurred to me to do that.”
“You've never humiliated an opponent?” Severus queried, smirking.
“I have, sure, in the heat of the moment. But never in a planned way. It's just not my thing.” Potter shifted on the couch, reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one, tossed the rest of the pack to Severus and pulled out an ashtray from under the couch to set it between them. “Tell me what happened there. With Voldemort and Lucius. I want to understand.”
“All right,” Severus agreed mildly, feeling oddly free to tell, knowing that Potter wouldn’t remember any of it tomorrow. “He—Voldemort—was very unhappy with me not showing up right after he'd incarnated again. He suspected me of being loyal to Dumbledore. He attacked my mind—and he was not just a strong Legilimens, he was the strongest one I've ever known. When he burst into your mind like that, there was no way of shutting him out, no way of hiding something from him. It was as if your head was being cut open. The only way to hide something was to distract him with something else, something... undeniably true, but so shocking that he would believe that was the only thing you were hiding from him. So yes, I managed to hide my true loyalties, but at a cost of everything else. All my personal secrets, all my sexual deviancies, everything I had—I gave it all up in a heartbeat. My only hope was that it would be enough.” Severus whispered, leaned forward and shook the ashes off his cigarette into the ashtray.
“And it turned out to be enough,” Potter said. Severus nodded absently. “And he used it against you.”
“Yes. Just like I knew he would. He revealed all of my perversions to all those gathered. He ordered Lucius to whip me in front of everyone.” Severus swallowed; his mouth was dry and the cigarette smoke burned his throat.
“And then what?” Potter asked mildly. He still didn't look like he was gloating, or laughing. If anything, it seemed as if he was genuinely trying to understand.
“I felt like I was going mad,” Severus confessed. “It was unthinkable. He'd never done that to anyone before. Killed yes, punished with Cruciatus, but—something vulgar like that... He wanted to see me yield. I... managed to convince myself that I was dreaming, that it wasn't real. Then—it really felt like one of my dreams. I yielded. I gave myself up. I got hard when Lucius whipped me. I came when Voldemort touched me. In front of everyone.” He laughed out loud and extinguished his cigarette into the tray. “So that's what it was all about.”
“Hmm.” Potter murmured and followed his suit. Two cigarette butts rested side by side in the ashtray. “That was very creative of you. Not many people would have been able to—well, prioritize like that.”
“Creative. Prioritize,” Severus laughed out loud. “You've got a strange way of looking at things, Potter.”
“Well, that's what it came down to, no?” Potter said. “You've found a way to win in a no-win situation. Undoubtedly, you ended up even more messed up in the end—but you did win.”
Severus shrugged, not quite knowing what to say to that. Potter was neither mocking him nor patronizing him, and he didn't know what to make of that.
“You surprised me, you know,” Potter added, still quiet. “I never thought we could just... talk like normal people. I'd like us to keep doing that.”
Severus bowed his head. It was rather ironic that he and Potter actually managed to have ceased hostilities and just talk at long last, with Severus disclosing everything Potter had inquired about. Then again, had he not been certain of his decision to Obliviate Potter, Severus would not have disclosed a fraction of what he had.
For a while they were both silent. Severus finished his drink and set the glass on the floor. Potter was lying on the couch, his eyes shut. Severus reached into his pocket and cast a nonverbal Somonus. Potter's eyelids fluttered and his breathing evened out, became deeper.
Severus watched him. Even though they didn't have much of a connection, there was just the smallest twinge of regret that came with the realization that, come tomorrow, they'd be perfect strangers once more. There was also the mild displeasure at the fact that he'd used Potter as a personal confessional before wiping his memory. Yet none of that was enough to change Severus' plans.
His wand in his hand, he made the attempt at contact with Potter's mind.
It should have been laughably easy; Severus highly doubted that while living in the Muggle world, Potter had the drive to master Occlumency. The powerful mental shield that he encountered was nothing less than a shock.
It felt—like a stone wall, impenetrable and unbreechable. He didn't know anyone, save Voldemort himself, and maybe not even him, who would be able to erect a mental block like that and keep it while asleep. For a while, he pondered whether he should attempt to dismantle that boundary, or retreat quietly while he still could.
The wall in Potter's mind, it seemed, sensed his hesitation, coming alive a mere second later. It expanded and moved, slamming into him with a force that felt entirely and fully physical. Severus howled with agony at the sensation of his head being split open, coming apart at the seams. He was still gripping his wand, but it was useless to him now, there was no chance of defending himself, no possibility of even thinking a spell, let alone uttering one.
On the couch in front of him, Potter opened his eyes.
Everything after Potter came awake happened instantly: though Severus had trouble discerning what that everything was. There was the sound of crushing glass, the force of Potter's fist connecting with his mouth and then, nose. He barely felt the impact: the mental retaliation from Potter's Occlumency left him caught in a web of agony, making him unable to move, or feel anything but his mind being literally torn apart. A moment later, his wand was ripped out of his hand and tossed away
Potter said nothing, and asked nothing. He grabbed Severus by the shoulders and shoved him across the room, into the hallway, and out the door. Severus' robe that he'd hung on the coat hook was thrown on the ground at his feet. The door slammed shut behind him and the click of the lock followed momentarily.
He collapsed on Potter's doorstep, hands at his temples, trying to contain the agony that was still storming through his mind. Slowly, the pain began to ebb, fading into a mild ache that he could live with. Severus lifted his hand to his nose. Blood trickled down his fingers, copious drops landing on his shirt.
He muttered a quiet obscenity, picked up his robe and... realized, belatedly, that he no longer had the wand.
He pulled himself up to his feet, banged on the door of Potter's home. Quite predictably, no answer came. Severus banged again, yelling for Potter to open, then tried to kick the door open. It wouldn't budge.
Given the well-earned beating he'd just received, the chances of him being able to reclaim his wand were slim to none, but he no longer cared. He stared around, picked up a sizable rock from the ground, aimed it at Potter's window and threw.
The rock never made contact with the glass; some invisible force repelled it, and Severus barely managed to duck out of its way. He picked up the rock again and slammed it against the doorknob to no avail once more. So much for not using magic, Potter, Severus thought in disgust.
He spat on the ground and aimed the rock at Potter's car. That, at least, wasn't warded in any way, and the windshield cracked with a satisfying sound. He spent several minutes mutilating Potter's vehicle, breaking the windows and the side mirrors, bending and twisting the windshield wipers, smashing the stereo.
He fully expected the car alarm to go off any moment and attract Potter's attention, but it never did. Perhaps Potter never bothered installing one, or perhaps it took more than broken windows to set it off.
When Severus dropped the rock to the ground, the asphalt under his feet was covered with crushed glass. The neighbourhood was completely silent, only a dog in a house nearby was barking hysterically, and—nothing more.
Severus sighed. The rage began to fade and it was time to weigh his options.
Wandless, and without any Muggle currency, he had no way to signal the Knight Bus, nor take Muggle transport. Of course, he could wait at Potter's doorstep, because Potter would need to go out... eventually. Or he could bloody walk all the way to Muggle London by foot until he got to Charring Cross Road. It was a ten hour walk, but then again, he had all night ahead of him. He searched his pockets again, just to see if he could turn up any Muggle currency at all. None was found, but he did pull out the pack of Potter's cigarettes; he'd automatically placed it in his pocket while talking to Potter. Severus huffed, stuck his head through the broken window into Potter's car and opened the glove compartment to rummage through it. Eventually, he found a lighter, pocketed it, turned around and began walking back to London.
* * * * *
It was just past ten in the morning when Severus finally entered Diagon Alley via the Leaky Cauldron. Once he arrived at Ollivanders, Severus pushed his way unceremoniously through the crowd of idle onlookers and approached the counter. Ollivander took a good look at him, but had the decency not to inquire about Severus' swollen lips or disfigured nose.
“Another wand?” he asked in such a matter-of-fact way as if Severus had a habit of buying a new wand at least once a week.
Severus nodded sullenly, trying his best not to take his aggravation out on the elderly vendor. However, the frustration only continued to grow after Severus tried wand after wand and was dissatisfied with the results. They all worked for him, some better than others, but none felt quite right.
“You shouldn't be too picky,” Ollivander suggested at long last, after an hour of deliberations. “It will take time for you and the new wand to grow accustomed to each other.”
Severus twitched. He didn't want to become accustomed to any new wand, he bloody wanted his old wand back, the wand that was now in Potter’s hands. It was not just frustrating, it was infuriating; he hadn't been disarmed often in his life, and he'd never lost his wand before. The knowledge that he'd lost his wand to Potter was just the final straw that threatened to break the camel's back.
“Fine,” Severus muttered, grabbing a wand off the counter, ebony, unicorn hair, Ollivander had said. “If I don't splinch myself lethally trying to Apparate home with it, I'll send you the payment by the end of the week.”
Ollivander frowned, clearly not appreciating the attitude.
“And if you do splinch yourself lethally?” he inquired, unamused.
“Then you can have the wand back.”
* * * * *
All his grouching aside, Severus Apparated back to Spinner's End without incident. His home greeted him with the familiar smell of potions, the squeaking of the floors under his feet, and the soothing dimness of the sitting room.
He dropped onto the couch, pointed the wand at his face and cast the healing spells. Once that was over and done with, he stretched out and shut his eyes.
Exhausted by the all-night walk from Surrey to London, he allowed himself to begin to drift. Just as he was about to fall asleep, he thought of another place, another sitting room. The mental image of himself and Potter, facing each other, talking and smoking together, brought a twinge of regret with it. It had been good to have that, even for just a few minutes, and it felt stupid beyond all reason to have lost that in an unsuccessful attempt to regain a small measure of peace of mind.
Yet, Severus wasn't inclined to indulge in regrets. He fell asleep quickly, for some reason half-wishing he hadn'tEvanesco'ed Potter's blanket.
A few days passed since his fight with Potter. Severus spent long hours practicing with the new wand and thanking his lucky stars that no new assignments came from St. Mungo's in meantime. The new wand was reasonably well-suited to him, although he still longed for the former one. He knew he had to go back and make an attempt to reclaim it, but he found himself putting that confrontation off. He decided to make the visit in a few weeks, once Potter had a chance to cool off after discovering his car vandalized, and not a bloody moment before Severus was certain of his full control of the new wand. More to the point, it hurt to think of seeing Potter again, and Severus wasn't certain what to make of that.
Minerva owled him with a quick reminder of Christmas at Hogwarts (still a good four weeks away), she was assuming he was going to be present. The thought of Hogwarts made him slightly ill, much like the thought of Claiborne, in fact, much like the thought of any place where he'd crossed paths with Potter. Severus' world that had began to expand after he'd encountered Potter at Claiborne now shrunk back to the size of his house at Spinner's End. That shrinking felt like an imprisonment of sorts, and his meals felt like self-imposed prison rations, toast and tea and soup, and even that he could barely stomach.
He was still picking at the unappetizing mess of noodles and chunks of chicken in his bowl when the knock on the door interrupted his unhappy ruminations. At first he thought that it was Minerva again, but realized his error quickly: her knocking hadn't been nearly as polite.
Severus got up and walked to the door. Someone knocked again, just three quiet raps and silence again.
“It's me,” Potter's voice informed him before he had a chance to ask. “Come on, Snape. I've got your wand.”
He was almost inclined to suggest that Potter leave the wand at the doorstep, but refusing to face Potter after wrecking his car rankled of cowardice and Severus swung the door open, his new wand drawn and pointed at Potter's chest.
Potter seemed unimpressed by his posturing. He thrust the old wand in Severus' hands like he was eager to dispose of it.
“I'm surprised you hadn't broken it or burned it out of spite,” Severus said.
Potter gave him a slightly shocked look. “I wouldn't have done that, no matter how angry I was with you.”
“Oh,” Severus muttered, in spite of himself, mollified by Potter's statement. An awkward pause ensued, Potter seeming impatient and twitchy and not in a talking mood. “I've got your lighter,” Severus said, reaching into his pocket to produce the aforementioned item. Potter snatched it out of his hand and threw it across the street. Severus let out a derisive snort. “I take it repairing the vehicle will be expensive?”
“I never cared about that car,” Potter said in a shockingly normal voice. “Got it cheap, used it well. Always reckoned I'd just drive it into the ground, then get a new one. Do you have any more questions for me or can I go now?”
“You can go,” Severus said. “Unless you have questions for me.”
“I suppose I do. Why did you feel the need to try and get into my head?”
“I wasn't trying to—as you put it—get into your head!” Severus snapped. “I don't care about your secrets, or whatever you think is so bloody important to hide from everyone. I wanted to Oblivate you of the memory of our recent encounters.”
Potter gave him a crooked, unhappy smile. “I see. I'm not sure whether that makes it better or worse.”
Come to think of it, Severus himself wasn't sure either.
“You know what's funny?” Potter mused. “Just when I thought for the first time in—well, forever—that something was going to change between us, you proved me wrong.” Potter gave him a questioning look. “You know what else, Snape? I've played with a lot of people before you. Some were whiny, some were plain stupid, some couldn't even handle the idea of playing. But not one of them ever managed to actually make me feel dirty after we were done with each other. It must be a talent or something.”
“Or something,” Severus muttered, not inclined to apologize or argue. “Do you want me to pay for the car?”
Potter's smile faded. “Fuck the car. Do you always do that? Find a way to destroy any hope for connection before it even has a chance to form?”
Severus stared back at him, inclined to point out there had never been any hope... but held back his tongue for some reason even he didn't understand.
“I suppose I do,” Severus made that admission more to himself than Potter.
Potter's face acquired an unreadable expression. “Then there's nothing to talk about,” he said.
“No,” Severus agreed.
A long pause ensued. Stupid and meaningless that it should end this way, Severus thought. He wondered if he should say something else, try to hold Potter back, but decided against it. It seemed like they had passed a point of no return, that line after crossing which no explanations or words would make a difference.
“I should go,” Potter said at long last. “I've got a train to catch.”
He turned around and began to walk away. Severus stood in silence and watched him head down the cobbled road without looking back. When Potter was gone, Severus stared down at the two wands resting side by side in his hands. He placed the new wand in his pocket and gave the old trusted wand a go. For a brief second he feared that the wand's loyalty might have changed, and was relieved to find no difference. His old wand was pliant in his hand, it fit, it obeyed him as always. Potter's magic seemed to have made no claim on it.
Severus walked across the street, staring down under his feet, until his eyes found the lighter Potter had thrown away. He picked it up absently and flicked it, then returned to the porch. He pulled out the now nearly empty pack of Potter's cigarettes he'd ended up keeping and pulled out one of them.
Sitting down on the doorstep of his home, he lit the cigarette and took a drag, marveling how easily the bad habit had grown on him and wondering if, years and decades from now, that'd be the only thing reminding him of Potter.
He lifted the wand up in his hand and stared at it again, not believing that it was just given back to him, with no strings attached, with no payment of any kind exacted for it.
His only trusted companion was back with him, ready for more misadventures. Severus found himself smiling. He knew exactly what he wanted to do next.
Minerva hadn't exaggerated when she said that the wards on Grimmauld Place were impossible to breach. The invisible wall of protective charms had the same impenetrable quality as the Occlumency block on Potter's mind, and Severus was inclined to guess the same authorship here as well, except... he didn't know who had the ability to erect such wards and blocks. Had Dumbledore been still alive, Severus would have been tempted to blame him, but that wasn't an option. Also, Dumbledore's style had been different. The wards on Grimmauld Place (as well as the Occlumency block on Potter's mind) had no finesse, just the raw power, and plenty of it.
His wand in his hand, he made an attempt to deal with the obstacle. He had no illusions about being able to break through something like that, but he had a feeling he might be able to bypass the wards, create a gap in them for a second or two—just long enough to get in. It wasn't any spells or charms, just the pure application of magical energy, cleverness against strength, trickery against brute force.
As he continued to feel his way along the invisible wall, he had a stroke of luck, finding a spot where one layer of the wards was superimposed upon the other. He pried between the layers, felt something give and made a quick dash for the barely perceptible opening.... finding himself on the other side of the invisible wall a mere moment later. The two layers reconnected almost instantly, catching the tail of Severus' robe; it disintegrated momentarily. A small chill ran down Severus' spine, as he realized that, had he moved any slower, it would have been him.
Now that the immediate task of breaking in was accomplished, Severus' common sense finally caught up with him. It occurred to him that even if he did manage to get in, there was no guarantee that he'd be able to get out. He did not think that the hearth in the old house was still connected to the Floo network. More to the point, he realized, nobody would notice if he just disappeared. He supposed, in a crunch, he could send a Patronus to Minerva, but seeing that she hadn't been able to breach the wards earlier, he doubted that would prove useful.
He let out a long, tired sigh, suddenly realizing that he really had no logical reason to be doing this in the first place. Potter's life and Potter's secrets were not his concern... and yet, he felt driven to pursue and investigate, if only to get his own questions answered. Either way, he was in, and he might as well make the best of it.
The old house was the same as Severus remembered it: dim, musty and unwelcoming. The last of the daylight was barely entering the darkened living room, but the stained-glass windows were aglow with the evening sun.
The aged floor boards squeaked under his feet and Walburga's portrait snored quietly on the wall. Severus walked softly, taking care not to bump into the hideous umbrella stand and made his way upstairs.
He began by searching the bedrooms, one by one, looking for something—anything, a diary, a notebook, a newspaper clipping. There was nothing; just old books and Muggle magazines, trinkets, and—finally, he spotted an old letter on one of the bedside tables. He picked it up. The envelope had already been ripped open. Severus pulled out the parchment and read the familiar-since-Hogwarts careful writing of Hermione Granger:
You didn't come for Christmas and New Year's, and you've been so quiet lately. We're worried, we want to see you, won't you come over? Come on, Harry! Ron is worried, too. So are Arthur and Molly. If something is wrong, you can tell us.
Severus set the letter aside, wondering if it had ever received a reply.
“It's not good to be reading another's letter, Master Snape,” a squeaky voice sounded behind his back. Severus spun around, coming face to face with the Blacks' ancient house elf. “Kreacher sees everything,” the elf informed him solemnly. “Kreacher doesn't like what he sees.”
“Hello,” Severus said softly, sitting down on the edge of Potter's bed to be on the same eye-level with the elf. “I didn't know you were here. I didn't realize anyone was here.”
“Kreacher is always here,” the elf replied in a surprisingly brittle voice. “Kreacher might be going mad from loneliness, but Kreacher is here.”
“Are you... stuck here?” Severus checked.
“Kreacher isn't stuck!” the quick indignant reply followed. “Kreacher can leave any time. Kreacher can go to Hogwarts, be with other elves. Kreacher chooses to stay.”
“Why?” Severus whispered, bothered in spite of himself by that admission.
“Kreacher waits for his Master to come home.”
“Potter never set you free before leaving?” Severus clarified.
“Kreacher refused! Kreacher will not be a homeless elf.”
“You know,” Severus said very cautiously, “I don't think... Harry Potter is coming back.”
“Master Snape thinks wrong. Everybody comes back home.”
“Sometimes one finds a new home and forgets the old one,” Severus pointed out, not certain why he was arguing with the house elf, or what exactly he was attempting to achieve.
“There's no new or old,” Kreacher said. The aged wrinkled face scrunched up to express frustration. “There's just home, and waiting.” Kreacher's eyes burrowed into Severus, studying him. “Master Snape doesn't belong here. Kreacher will get him out, and Master Snape shouldn’t come back.” The elf turned around and motioned for Severus to follow him.
Severus let out a deep sigh, but stood up. He wasn't thrilled about his investigation being cut short, but he wasn't inclined to get into a confrontation with the elf, either. More to the point, given the wards around Grimmauld, the elf might have been his only option for being able to leave the house in one piece.
Severus followed Kreacher down the squeaky staircase to the dimly lit hallway. They stopped at the bottom of the stairs and studied each other in tense silence.
“Kreacher,” Severus said softly. “Do you know why Harry Potter left the wizarding world?”
“Kreacher knows everything. Kreacher will not tell his Master's secrets.”
“Can you at least give me a hint...”
“Kreacher will not tell.”
“I'll give you a hint!” Walburga, now fully awake, screeched from her portrait. “There was no place for someone like him in our world! He was becoming an abomination!”
“What do you mean?” Severus turned to the portrait.
Walburga flashed him a vindictive smile. “You see, he had a choice...” Walburga wasn't given an opportunity to finish. Kreacher's withered finger pointed at the portrait, silencing it.
“No more questions,” he informed Severus. “Time to leave.”
Kreacher's hand took a hold of Severus' elbow and the familiar sensation of Apparation followed. A moment later Severus was outside Grimmauld Place, alone; Kreacher must have pushed him out right through the wards.
He muttered a quiet obscenity and shook his head. He didn't know what to make of Walburga's words or Kreacher's behavior. The longer Severus searched, the more questions he turned up, but he seemed to be no closer to discovering the truth now than he was half a month ago.
“Oh. It's you.”
The door to Potter's house was wide open, but Potter was blocking the doorway, appearing more than a little incredulous about Severus' presence. Severus, who had Apparated to Potter's doorstep right after Kreacher had ejected him from Grimmauld, wasn't faring much better where understanding his own actions was concerned. He only knew he was drawn to Potter, as if they had unfinished business of some sort. And more to the point, the inability to wipe himself from Potter's memory turned out to have another unpleasant side effect—he now couldn't get Potter out of his head either.
“What do you want?” Potter demanded with undisguised suspicion.
“I want to come in,” Severus said mildly, feeling much like a beaten dog scratching at the door.
For a brief moment, Potter hesitated, then stepped aside. Severus entered the dimly lit hallway and stopped. Potter stalked off into the sitting room without extending an invitation of any kind. Severus shut the door behind himself, locked it and took a deep breath. He was here; he had been allowed in. He hadn't expected that.
The house was quiet, as usual. No music, no television—nothing. Somewhere in the sitting room, Potter was waiting for Severus to make up his mind, make the first move.
He wanted to speak with Potter, perhaps tell him about Kreacher and Walburga's portrait, ask him how much it was going to cost to fix the car, or ask him about Granger's letter back at Grimmauld. Wanted to—but didn't know how.
Then again, they had managed to get by without speaking much the first two times. Maybe that was the way to go.
Severus shook his head ruefully and proceeded to undress. Robe, shirt, trousers, underwear and socks all came down, he left it in a pile on the floor along with his wand.
When he emerged into the sitting room stark naked, Potter gave him a long, calculating look.
“That's quite a risk you took there. What if I had company?”
Severus stalled. He hadn't considered that possibility.
“Do you have company?”
“I don't,” the corner of Potter's mouth twitched slightly. “So you're here and you're naked. What do you want?”
“I believe I owe you a session,” Severus said softly. “To do with me as you please.”
Potter stared at him then waved him off. “You don't owe me anything,” he said with a tired sigh.
“Should I get dressed and go home then?” Severus offered, beginning to feel more than mildly ridiculous about standing naked in front of Potter. Perhaps stripping hadn't been the best of ideas, after all.
Potter continued to stare at him. “I didn’t say that,” Potter said at long last. “But I still don't know what to do with you.”
“If you're still angry, you could...”
“I don't like to play when I'm angry,” Potter said quietly.
“You didn't seem to have a problem with that before.”
Potter shook his head. “For the record I wasn't angry with you, Snape. Well, not until you tried to Obliviate me. And for the love of—sit down.”
Severus lowered himself onto the couch. He felt more naked now than ever before when they just played. Naked and playwas normal, naked and talking was—unsettling.
“I suppose I owe you an apology, after all,” Potter mused, not quite looking at Severus. “I'm guessing that I'm as much to blame as you are, if not more. If you believe that I was angry with you in our playtimes, then... well—I did what you wanted, but I didn't give you what you needed.”
“Which is what?” Severus privately found it rather ironic that it was Potter who ended up apologizing after his own car had been vandalized.
“The chance to fall apart and be put back together afterward.”
Something about those words struck a chord with him quite powerfully and it took Severus a long time to rally and give a response.
“Nobody can do that for another person, Potter.”
“Not all the king's horses and not the king's men?” Potter teased back, but not in a flippant way.
“Certainly not when the king is dead.” The words fell off Severus' tongue before he had a chance to rethink them.
“But his men and horses are still around, aren't they?” Potter asked softly. “Just doing their own thing now.”
“Are we?” Severus murmured. He wasn't so certain of that. For all he knew, he and Potter both were still following someone else's scripts and directives, most days not even realizing it.
Potter was watching him intently. “You tell me. What do you want?”
“Be rid of you,” Severus said bitterly. “Wipe myself from your memory. Walk away, knowing that you won't remember me. Though it seems I can't have that.”
Potter didn't seem upset by his statement, just mildly surprised. “Why does it matter that I remember you? If you want to walk away, just do it. I won't hold you back.”
“It's—not enough.” Severus cast a quick glance back into the hallway where his clothes rested in a messy pile. “I don't believe I... want to be known that way.”
“Were you always planning to Obliviate me once we stopped playing?” Potter demanded.
“Not exactly—I don't know. I suppose the thought had always been there, in the back of my mind.”
Potter sighed again. “Hm. I suppose I should have expected something like that.” There was still no anger in Potter's voice, Severus was startled to realize. “So what do we do now? I mean, you could walk away and pretend I don't exist. I'll even leave Claiborne to you if you like.” Potter watched him, as if trying to gauge his reaction. “Or...”
“Or, if pretending I don't exist won't work for you, we could try again,” Potter said. “Do things differently this time around. See if we can give each other what we need. See if we can... fit. Even if only for a short while.” Potter paused, as if to allow his words to sink in. “Being known doesn't have to be a bad thing.”
Severus found himself smiling. “What's in it for you, Potter? I mean—why would you want to play with a madman who will trash your car and attack you while you're sleeping?”
Potter chuckled at that. “I like living dangerously. So what do you say?”
Severus shrugged his shoulders. “I'm naked on your couch. That should be an indication of some degree of willingness. What do you want me to do?”
Potter reached out for him; Potter's fingers brushed against his bare shoulder. “Lie on your back. Head in my lap. Close your eyes.”
“And no talking.”
Potter nudged him to stretch out, and Severus followed his direction to lie on his back. The soles of his feet were pressing against the armrest of the couch. The back of his head was resting on Potter's bony knees.
He shut his eyes, and a moment later felt Potter's hand, stroking his cheek in a surprisingly gentle way. He sighed, expecting a slap or a scratch, but nothing of the sort followed. Potter was simply stroking him, as if trying to soothe away some tension that only he could perceive.
Soon, he could feel Potter's fingers on the side of his neck. He was aware of Potter's breathing and his own, and of the blood in the carotid artery beating against Potter's fingertips at the site of contact. The familiar thrill of the unknown was back; Severus threw his head back even further to fully expose his throat. Potter's fingers moved again, following that invitation, and traced the line of his trachea, barely applying any pressure. Severus held his breath, half-expecting to be held down and choked. Nothing like that happened; Potter stroked his throat a few more times in a silent insinuation of what could be, and then simply petted his head, fingers carding through his hair. Severus nearly gasped; the contact of Potter's fingernails with his scalp sent a shiver down his spine.
He wasn't certain how much time passed. Potter simply continued to stroke his head, gently, soothingly, slowly. With every touch of Potter's palm, Severus found himself aching for more than just that. More touch, more—of anything; his entire body was starved for contact, which Potter was in no hurry to provide. He just continued the caresses, lifting up strands of Severus' hair in his palm, sorting through them, then releasing them, over and over again.
Severus bit down on his lower lip, wondering how much of this careless torment he could endure. He was hard, he ached. The 'skin hunger' was driving him mad. When Potter's finger traced along his earlobe, Severus let out a sharp hiss of a breath, opened his eyes, drew his knees up and brought himself into a sitting position. Potter did nothing to hold him back.
He was almost ready to sob out loud—from frustration and need, from his own inability to talk—to ask for more, or demand for more. Severus shifted his position, scooting to Potter's side and then, straddling his lap. Potter made no protest when Severus took hold of his shoulders and pinned him to the back of the couch.
There was no surprise on Potter's face. For the briefest of moments Severus wondered if he should—but then simply leaned in to kiss Potter, still holding him firmly in place. Potter made no protest, just kissed back, then ran his hands over Severus' back, his thumbs tracing the length of Severus' spine. That absent-minded, careless stroking was driving him to the point of madness; he assaulted Potter's throat next, kissing-biting-sucking, doubtlessly leaving sizable bruises.
He half-wondered if he should have clarified before jumping into something like this—after all, many if not most people who were at peace with the idea of casual play drew the line on actual sex. Yet, Potter didn't seem to mind, if the hardness in his trousers rubbing against Severus' bare thighs was any indication.
Moving almost automatically, Severus slid down to the floor to get down on his knees before Potter. Potter made no move of any kind, but allowed his trousers to be undone.
The moment that was done, and Potter's sizable cock was out in the open, Severus sucked it in without any hesitations. He didn't have the energy for teasing or taunting; all he wanted was to suck and make Potter come.
Then, Potter's hand was on top of Severus' head again. Severus fully expected Potter to seize control of the situation, grab his hair and fuck his face, but Potter didn't. He simply stroked Severus' head, over and over again, as if petting a dog.
Potter wasn't thrusting or moving, allowing Severus to do all the work. Potter's cock was filling all of Severus' mouth, stretching his lips, cockhead pressing against the back of his throat. Severus sucked eagerly, forcefully, moving his head back and forth, using Potter's cock to fuck his own mouth. When Potter came, Severus finally withdrew and lifted his head to look up. Potter's face was flushed; his eyes, half-shut in pleasure. Absently, Potter lifted his hand from Severus' head and traced his lips, smearing a dribble of his own come on Severus' mouth.
Severus groaned quietly. He himself was still hard, painfully so, but Potter made no move to reach for him and return the favor. Somehow, Severus found it not surprising. He wasn't certain if he really wanted that, either, somehow, despite his frustration, just——sucking Potter off was satisfying in itself.
Without saying anything, Severus rose to his feet and walked back into the hallway to get dressed. Potter didn't follow him.
When Severus was fully dressed and ready to leave, Potter called for him.
“Snape. Come here.”
Severus re-entered the living room. Potter had already made himself decent; his trousers were done up and tee-shirt tucked in.
“What?” Severus asked.
“When you come back, bring a disinfecting ointment and a healing potion,” Potter said. “Something to cure superficial wounds.”
“I thought you don't use magic,” Severus pointed out.
“I don't,” Potter agreed. “But there's no reason why you shouldn't.”
Severus gave him a curious look. “Just what are you planning to do to me?”
Potter smiled. “I don't want to spoil the surprise.” He stood up and placed his hands on Severus' shoulders. His fingers ran down the back of Severus' neck tenderly, fleetingly. “Are you all right?”
Not certain what startled him more, the touch of Potter's hand or the question asked, Severus barely managed to give a small nod in response.
“Good. Go home then.” He gave Severus' shoulder a gentle squeeze. His lips brushed against Severus' cheek in a quick kiss.
Severus nodded again, turned around and headed toward the door.
* * * * *
It was already fully dark outside. Severus took a deep breath; the cold December air scorched his throat, singed away the lingering taste of Potter's come. All gone in matter of seconds, just the cold freshness of winter, and the faintest glimmer of loss and loneliness that came with that.
Even as he was about to Apparate back home, Severus knew: he really didn't want to leave. He wondered privately what spending an evening at Potter's place would have been like: watching Potter work, having dinner together, possibly falling asleep on Potter's couch.
Severus cast a quick look at Potter's house. There was light in his curtained windows, a warm golden glow. For a brief moment, in the dark of the night it seemed as if Potter's house was the only inhabited place on the face of the earth.
If December was cold in London that year, in Scotland it was positively freezing. Severus wrapped his robe tighter around himself and continued to walk across the snow-filled Hogwarts grounds toward the familiar aged towers. He didn't mind the chill, or the angry winter sun that brought no warmth with it.
Something had changed, he knew that—not just in his life, but in him. He didn't know how, but he was breathing easier now and walking faster. For the first time in years, he wasn't just noticing the smallest things around him—he was glorying in them: the sparkle of frost on tree-branches, and the footprints in the fresh now. He was remembering the taste of Potter's lips and the touch of his hand; he was missing that, he wanted more of that—and for the first time in years it felt good to miss and want something. He wondered if next time around he could worm his way into Potter's bed and manage to spend the night, and wondering made him smile.
He was surprised to see a familiar silhouette near one of the trees: the same dark grey coat as last time. She lifted her hand to her face and cast around a furtive glance much like a school girl who didn't want to be caught doing something forbidden.
“Bad habits are contagious, I see,” Severus drawled, approaching Minerva. “Now you've taken up smoking.”
She gave him a chagrined smile. He smirked as he pictured Minerva buying cigarettes in a Muggle smoke shop, the image nearly made him laugh. He took the cigarette from her fingers; they were ice-cold.
“You should go back inside,” he murmured, giving her hands a gentle squeeze. “You're freezing.”
She stared at him as if he had sprouted a pair of horns and a tail, but took his arm when he offered it to her and followed him to the castle.
“Are you hungry?” Minerva asked.
“I could eat, though let's not go into your office. Would the elves feed us in the kitchen?”
She continued to study him with mild alarm. “Severus, are you... is everything all right?”
“You seem different.”
“Because I'm not biting your head off? Give me time, it's only been a few minutes.”
* * * * *
They ended up sitting across one of the empty tables from each other in the deserted Great Hall. One of the school elves brought breakfast, a large tray loaded with enough food to provide weekly sustenance for a small Auror unit. Severus found himself smiling again and again, as the familiar excessive luxury brought a wave of nostalgia with it, and this time the memories of the year spent here, at Hogwarts, didn't bother him; they were just that—memories.
The elf departed quickly and Severus' eyes followed him to the door.
“You know, Potter's elf, Kreacher?” he said softly. “He's still at Grimmauld.”
Minerva gave him a shocked stare. “You... you were able to get in? How?”
“I snuck in through the wards,” he said. It felt good to brag, and the awed look on Minerva's face was all the reward he needed at this point. “It's empty. The elf is still there though, waiting for him to return.”
“Does he know where Harry went?” Minerva whispered.
“No. I doubt anyone does. But then again, has anyone really tried to find him?”
Minerva shrugged. “I have, and so has Kingsley, and—a few others. Do you think he's in trouble?”
“I don't know, what makes you think he might be?”
“Dumbledore is terribly tight-lipped about the whole thing,” Minerva said with obvious displeasure. “He knows something, but he isn't telling.”
“So nothing has changed,” Severus mused.
For a while they sat in comfortable silence. Severus ate, opting for toast with blueberry jam, rather than more exotic offerings. Minerva watched him quietly.
“Did you find anything else at Grimmauld?” Minerva asked finally.
He thought of the letter from Granger, but somehow, it didn't feel right to tell.
“No,” he said. “Tell me, have you tried speaking to his friends? Granger and Weasley? They must have known something about his plans.”
“I spoke to them. They don't know anything.”
“Then they're lying. I have difficulty believing he didn't confide in them.”
Minerva shrugged. “Maybe you should talk to them, then. Even if... they don't tell you anything, you'd be able to tell if they're hiding something.” She let out a deep sigh. “Or maybe we should just—let Harry be. He's an adult, he can make his own choices. Severus, why the sudden interest in Harry? Are you looking for him, after all?”
“Hmm. No, I'm not looking for him,” he muttered, opting for a half-truth once more and not really liking doing so anymore. “I just—don't like unsolved mysteries. Potter's hasty departure from the wizarding world certainly fits the bill. He must have spoken to someone other than Dumbledore before he left.”
“I don't know of anyone,” Minerva mused. “Only—that...”
“He was trying to see you. He sent you letters. He said you didn't reply. Then—he came to see Dumbledore. Spoke to his portrait and left.”
Severus winced, remembering Potter's letters that he'd burned without opening. It could have been him, rather than Dumbledore, that Potter had confided in about his plans, and he found himself regretting not having allowed that to happen.
“I suppose I... hadn't considered the possibility that he wanted to discuss something truly important,” Severus said dryly.
“Would it have made a difference?” Minerva wondered mildly.
“No,” Severus replied candidly. “Not back then. I really—didn't want to see him. I didn't want to see anybody.”
“But that's changing, isn't it?” Minerva prodded. “You're coming back to us, I hope.”
It seemed pointless to deny it. He really was coming back, bit by bit, reconnecting with his old life step by step, finding himself shocked to discover that the old connections were still fitting together.
“If the DADA position comes up, I'll likely take it.”
“I don't understand why you're resisting the idea of succeeding me as Headmaster. The power, the prestige...”
“And sharing the office with Dumbledore's portrait. Do you suppose I could just banish it to the dungeons?”
“Severus!” Minerva exclaimed, indignant. “What a terrible idea to entertain.”
“I was bloody joking.”
From the doubtful look on her face he could see she didn't quite believe him.
Later that evening, when Severus showed up at Potter's doorstep with two packages of Indian food, Potter gave him a strange look.
“What's that?” He stared at the packages in Severus' hands dubiously and made no move to step aside.
“Food.” He pushed his way past Potter into the hallway and then, kitchen, and set the packages on the table. Potter followed him, a confused expression on his face. “Have you eaten already?” Severus asked. “Do you eat Indian?”
“I haven't and I do—but... why?”
Severus let out an impatient sigh and began to unload the styrofoam containers onto the kitchen table. “Potter, it's just something to do, other than play. Share a meal. Sometimes people who like each other do that, you know.”
Potter stared at him in a really odd way. “You—like me?”
“Well, like might be too strong a word,” Severus conceded. “Are you going to eat with me?”
“All right,” Potter said, getting the plates and cutlery out of the pantry to set the table. “I still don't understand why you're suddenly acting social.”
“Potter, set your mind at ease,” Severus muttered, becoming more and more irritated by the second. “I'm not trying to poison you, pump you with aphrodisiacs or feed you Veritaserum. More to the point, the Occlumency block you've got in your brain will hold up against Veritaserum—you must know that.”
Potter nodded absently. “Okay, then. Well—thanks, er, for feeding me. That's nice of you.”
For a while they ate together in silence. Potter still seemed ill-at-ease, as if he didn't quite know how to be social or what to make of all this.
“Sorry,” Potter said finally with a faint smile. “I don't mean to be a prat, I just don't do this often. Have dinner with someone. Actually, I haven't in a few years.”
Severus stared at him. “No? Never took you for the solitary type. So what do you do with yourself these days?”
Potter gave him another odd look. “Why does it matter?”
“I'm just trying to get to know you. You realize that I don't know anything about you?”
Potter shrugged. “You probably know more about me than any other person alive. Except, maybe Ron and Hermione.”
“That was a long time ago, and in a world that you're no longer a part of,” Severus pointed out. “What do you do here? How do you spend your days?”
Potter shrugged again. “I work from home, testing computer games. I usually work in the afternoons and evenings. In the mornings I exercise and go to school part-time, take courses in computer graphics. That's kind of it.”
Severus lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “I never thought you'd be studying if you didn't absolutely have to.”
“I actually enjoy it,” Potter said softly. “My teachers tell me I'm really good at it.”
“What are you planning to do later?”
Potter smiled from ear to ear. “I want to design my own computer games. Dragons and wizards and all that. Want to see what I've got?”
Potter jumped up and ran off to the sitting room to return a moment later with his notebook computer. Severus stared at the image on the screen—a large Hungarian Horntail exhaling fire and staring menacingly at the viewer. Potter gave Severus a quick glance.
“What do you think?”
“The likeness is quite remarkable. What's the quest in the game?”
“To get the prize without getting killed or injuring the dragon,” Potter whispered. Severus followed his gaze; Potter was staring at his creation in a way as though he wanted to find himself on the other side of the computer screen, in the world with castles and dragons and impossible quests.
“You miss it, don't you,” Severus mused.
Potter bowed his head and gave no response. Severus watched him squeeze his eyes shut as if trying to seize control of his runaway emotions.
“It doesn't matter.” Potter replied finally, slammed the notebook shut and carried it off back to the sitting room. When he returned, his face once again held the neutral expression that Severus had began to hate.
“Did you—did something happen?” Severus tried again. “Did you have a falling out with your friends, or did you do anything...”
Potter let out an exasperated sigh. “No. My friends were absolutely wonderful. No, I didn't do anything illegal. Look—I really am not going to discuss this with you.”
“But you wanted to, once,” Severus continued to push. “I know you tried to see me just before you left the wizarding world.”
“And you wouldn't give me the time of day,” Potter said. There was no accusation in his voice, but Severus couldn't help but feel a pang of regret.
“Do you ever see anyone from the wizarding world?” Severus asked.
“No. Just you. I've tried very hard to make a clean break with all of that.”
“Do you still have your wand?”
Potter stood up abruptly, pushing his plate aside. “I'm not answering that. In fact, no more questions. If you want to play, we'll play. Otherwise, you should leave.”
Severus inclined his head. “All right, Potter. No more questions. We can just play.”
* * * * *
Potter cleared the table, putting the leftovers away and doing the dishes. Severus got himself a drink, making a mental note to himself to replace Potter's vodka one of these days. He then went to the sitting room and took his usual spot in the armchair by the fireplace. When Potter was done tidying up in the kitchen, he stretched out on the couch with the laptop to finish his work.
Severus found himself half-wishing that Potter would just keep on working. He enjoyed watching Potter at work, and, oddly enough, he couldn't imagine himself doing that with anyone else—just sharing the silence without any expectations or any demands for more than just that.
Potter's monotone typing was soothing, and Severus allowed himself to drift off to the sound of that mechanical lullaby. He wasn't certain how long he slept, but he was woken by the touch of Potter's hand on his cheek.
“Tired?” Potter whispered, perching himself on the arm-rest of the chair.
“A bit,” Severus conceded. “What time is it?”
“Almost midnight. Sorry, I lost track of time. Did you still want to play tonight? We could do it another time.”
“Tonight is fine,” Severus said, making a move to get up. He reached into his pocket and produced the vial with the healing potion and the jar with the disinfecting ointment—the things that Potter had requested him to bring.
“Oh,” Potter smiled. “You didn't forget. Come on then.”
Potter jumped to his feet and led the way across the sitting room. No longer sleepy in the slightest, Severus followed him, excited both by the promise of having something utterly insane done to him once more and—by the prospect of finally seeing Potter's bedroom.
The bedroom turned out to be large. The enormous window had the curtains drawn. A small bed, covered by a thick blue duvet, a tiny bedside table nearby, and a closet with the door tightly shut; nothing else—just plenty of empty floor space. Severus stared, noted the pair of the eyebolts in the floor, a shoulder-width away from each other, and a single eyebolt in the ceiling, with a rope hanging from it.
Potter noticed his reaction and smiled. “I'll restrain you tonight. Do you want a safeword for this?” Severus shook his head. “I didn't think so.”
Potter reached for him, taking his face in his hands and closing in for a kiss. Potter's lips still tasted like lassi, rosewater and cardamom with the touch of the cloying, intoxicating sweetness. Severus threw his head back, allowing himself to be kissed and his mouth to be plundered any way Potter liked.
A moment later, Potter began to undress him, opening his robe first, then proceeding to work his way down the line of buttons on Severus' shirt. It felt strange and almost too intimate—to be just kissed and undressed.
Potter was going slowly, taking his time to tease and seduce compliance, and Severus barely noticed it when all of his clothes, along with the wand, made it to Potter's bed. Potter knelt down to unlace his boots, and Severus watched him, mesmerized by the sight of the black-haired head bowed down at his feet.
Once barefoot, Severus was nudged to the spot where the two eye-bolts were protruding from the wooden floor boards. Potter used rope to secure Severus' ankles to the eye-bolts, making sure that the bonds were snug, but not overly tight. Severus lifted his arms above his head to allow his wrists to be secured by the rope hanging from the ceiling.
Potter was good at tying knots, Severus realized as he gave the ropes a tentative tug; it didn't give.
“How's this?” Potter asked. “Not too tight? Wouldn't want to cut the circulation off.”
“Should be fine for a while.”
“Struggle for me.”
Severus complied, applying as much force to the ropes at his ankles and wrists as he could manage. He was strung up securely, arms above his head, legs wide apart, his genitals exposed. All he could do was buck and twitch when Potter ran his fingers down his chest and belly, to stop half-an inch away from his already hard cock.
“More,” Severus whispered, trying his best to lean forward as much as possible, just to gain contact with Potter's hand.
Potter gave him a wicked smile. “You really think I tied you up just to wank you?”
“I'd have no objections to that—ah.”
Potter's fingernails ran across the sensitive head of Severus' cock fleetingly. “Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you.”
Potter circled around him, gave his buttocks a loud slap and walked away towards the closet. Turning his head as much as he could, Severus watched Potter extract something—though he couldn't tell what.
When Potter returned, Severus saw him holding a thick black scarf and a knife, long blade thin and razor-sharp. Severus felt a trickle of sweat run down his back. For a brief second, he couldn't remember what madness possessed him to come to Potter's place, allow himself to be strung up so he couldn't move a hair, and wait to be cut up with a knife.
“Going to blindfold you now,” Potter informed him, circled around him and tied the scarf around his eyes. While doing so, he never let the knife out of his hand, and Severus could feel the handle of it brushing against the back of his head.
“Feel free to scream,” Potter said. “Though it is in your best interests not to flinch or twitch... much.”
Severus opened his mouth and shut it again, never making a sound.
He let out a long gasp when the tip of the knife touched his back, running along his spine. It felt like barely a scratch at first, and he held his breath, thinking that Potter wouldn't do much more than that.
Severus realized his error when the blade changed angle. There was no pain at first, just the sensation of skin parting. Stinging came later, sharp and harsh. He could feel warm droplets running down his back, but couldn't tell whether it was sweat or blood.
He inhaled and held his breath as the cutting continued, finding a kind of rhythm and pattern in what was going on: skin parting, stinging following a few moments later; but by the time Severus was aware of the cut, Potter's knife was already making new incisions elsewhere.
Severus shook his head, rubbed it against the side of his arm in an attempt to slide the blindfold off and—see. See how much damage was done, see how deep Potter was cutting, see the expression on Potter's face.
Once again it occurred to him that, their almost-friendly conversations aside, he didn't know Potter at all. Potter could have lied to him all along, Potter really could be a serial killer in the making, and at any moment, those cuts and incisions could become deeper, or turn into stabs.
It might have felt good to scream, but he couldn't. There was a hypnotic quality to the near-silence of the room, punctuated only by Potter's breathing and his own and the sound of droplets of—either blood or sweat—falling onto the floor.
His entire body was aflame with that horrible stinging, more and more lines being drawn across his abdomen and sides. He had the distinct feeling Potter wasn't going to stop until Severus was gone. And then, he found himself not caring one way or another.
Die or live, it didn't matter much; a wild thought ran through his head. At least he'd played his fill.
Severus didn't know how much time he spent in that half-delirious state, surrendered to his own destruction, not anticipating anything and not reacting to anything.
He didn't flinch when Potter's hand, slick and warm, ran across his back, irritating the fresh cuts.
The knife resumed its journey, tracing Severus' thighs, stopping just short of touching his genitals.
“No more,” Severus heard his own voice, sounding oddly normal and indifferent.
Potter stopped; no more cuts were made.
Severus found his knees buckling and he hung limp in the restraints, sobbing silently into the sweat-drenched blindfold.
He heard Potter fumble with something and had no energy to guess what exactly. Then, he felt Potter's hands on his back again, applying the disinfecting ointment. Severus flinched and let out a strangled growl, it had been a long time since he had to use it and he'd forgotten how much that particular preparation burned when it came in contact with the injured flesh. Potter didn't seem deterred by his twitching and simply continued to work the ointment into the cuts on Severus' back and sides, chest and abdomen and thighs.
A few minutes later the vial with the healing potion was brought to Severus lips and he drank obediently.
Potter untied his ankles first, then the wrists. Severus stumbled once, but managed to regain his balance—just barely. His legs were sore, his arms hung uselessly at his sides.
When Potter removed his blindfold, Severus bowed his head and stared at the small puddle of blood on the floor, then studied his own chest and abdomen: they were bloodied as well, but the cuts had already began to heal.
“All over,” Potter whispered quietly, coming up to him and drawing him into a loose embrace. Severus leaned into him, pressing his bare chest against Potter's tee-shirt. “You okay?”
Potter's hand ran through his hair. “Come on. Let's lie down.”
Severus followed Potter to the bed and pushed his own clothes off to the floor before collapsing to lie on his side. Potter stretched out next to him and drew him into a loose embrace. Severus shut his eyes and rested his head on Potter's shoulder.
“That was incredible,” Potter whispered as his lips brushed against the top of Severus' head. “Thank you for letting me do that.”
“You've never done that before? You seemed to know what you were doing.”
“I've played with knives before, but—I've never gone this far with anyone. I—don't feel comfortable inflicting that much damage without being able to heal it right away. Mind you, I didn't do anything life-threatening to you, either... but itlooked rather extreme.”
“It felt rather extreme, too,” Severus confessed. “At one point, I wasn't entirely certain you'd stop at all.”
He felt Potter tense next to him. “That's not a good thing, you know. Not trusting someone you play with. Especially when the play is that edgy.”
“I know,” Severus conceded. “Yet there's a certain thrill in the uncertainty.”
“There's a pleasure that comes with trust, too,” Potter argued. “A different kind—but... just as intense. Believing that, no matter how harsh the play is, you'll always come back in one piece.”
“I suppose that'll come in time.” He buried his face in Potter's neck and inhaled. Potter smelled of sweat, cardamom and Severus' own blood; it was intoxicating.
Potter's fingers traced the freshly-healed cuts on Severus back. “They're healing quite well, your potion works wonders. There shouldn't be any scarring at all.”
“Ah. Then you'll have to do that again, I'm afraid.” Severus answered with a tired yawn. “We'll play harder next time.”
Potter's hand froze between Severus' shoulder blades. “You're completely crazy, you know.”
Severus couldn't argue with that. Then again, he supposed that madness had its own rewards: he was in Potter's bed, after all. Potter continued to hold him, stroking his back in a tentative way, as if trying to make sure that everything was healing properly. Severus shut his eyes and allowed himself to drift under Potter's cautious touches. He'd never indulged in or needed that sort of thing before—being soothed after play, but then again, nobody had ever managed to make him feel this way, either.
“It's getting quite late,” Potter whispered in his ear. “Two in the morning.”
“Yes. You should go.”
“I don't want to. I want to spend the night.” He imagined waking up in Potter's bed, Potter's head nestled in the crook of his arm, and smiled.
“I, uh,” Potter stammered over his words. “I don't think that's a good idea.”
“It's an excellent idea,” Severus said lazily. “Best I ever had all my life.”
He could feel Potter tension mounting. A moment later, Potter's hand abandoned his back. “You should go,” he repeated, firmly this time. “Come back again when you like.”
“Okay.” The pleasant lassitude and afterglow now gone completely, Severus sat up in the bed abruptly, wincing as his still sore back protested the exertion. “Why? I thought you wanted to...?”
Potter's hand touched his elbow.
“Look, Snape, the play is great. It's the best I've ever had. I'd like us to keep doing that. And I'd like us to keep talking. But—that's all I want. Nothing more.”
Potter's words felt much like another cut of the knife, something parting and separating at the contact, but no sting yet, just the anticipation of it.
“Nothing more,” Severus echoed absently in agreement, staring at the pile of clothes on the floor by the bed. “All right. Give me a few minutes.”
Potter jumped off the bed and walked out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind himself. Severus took a deep breath and began to get dressed, grateful that he wasn't doing so in front of Potter. The humiliation of being whipped, or finger-fucked, or toyed seemed to pale in comparison with the seemingly mundane embarrassment of being wrong, of mistaking Potter's actions for something more than just play.
When Severus emerged into the sitting room, fully dressed, Potter was sitting on the couch, a mobile phone in his hand.
“I'll pay for a cab to take you home,” Potter offered. “Or it can take you to a hotel room in London, if you don't feel up to...”
“I'll Apparate,” Severus cut him off. “Save your money.”
“Are you sure?”
Severus shrugged. “Potter, don't flatter yourself. Your effect on me was transitory. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
“All right. You too.”
Severus walked out of Potter's house. The door slammed shut behind him.
The dark street greeted him with the wave of December cold and a flurry of snowflakes that felt like tiny knife-points pressing against his flushed face.
He took a deep breath and exhaled a puff of vapour into freezing air. Walking away, he resisted the urge to turn around and look back.
He woke up the following afternoon with a pounding headache and a generally nasty feeling that usually came with doing something remarkably stupid. Severus took a deep breath and remembered last night's play. He winced at the recollections, the knife, the sobbing into the blindfold, hugging in Potter's bed, then—those words, nothing more.
Their parting had a sense of finality to it, but the worst part was that he still wanted Potter, and wanted that more—that he was told he couldn't have. Then again, that seemed to be the usual pattern of his life: slamming a door shut into someone's face, then scratching at it, begging to be let back inside.
He smirked unhappily and proceeded to get dressed. When he made it out to the porch, he saw a pile of post at his doorstep; he'd ignored a great many letters in the past few weeks. A few of them were from St. Mungo's, offers of new contracts. Severus set them aside, he didn't want to take new assignments until he absolutely needed to. He opened the letter from Minerva; it was a note with an address in it, Granger and Weasley's. Or, to be more exact, Weasley and Weasley's, those two did get married after all, some three years ago.
Severus nodded absently and walked out of the door without delay.
* * * * *
Weasley and Granger's place turned out to be a red-brick two-storey semidetached house in a Muggle neighbourhood. Severus walked through the iron-woven gate and towards the porch. He knocked on the door and heard Granger's voice a moment later.
“Ron! Wake Harry up and come down for lunch! I'll get the door!”
Severus took a step back. Even though he hadn't expected Potter to be truthful with him, it still was a shock that Potter was not only visiting Granger and Weasley, but sleeping over at their place. He considered simply Apparating away right from the doorstep and avoiding Potter, but Granger had already opened the door and stared at him with her mouth gaping wide open.
“Uh. Professor Snape.”
“Miss Gran...—Mrs. Weasely.”
“Hello,” she stepped aside. “Well, come on in, quickly now, or the cats will run out.”
“The cats?” He stared at the two small animals, one black, one calico, both trotting towards the door.
“Please, quickly!” She pleaded with him, and he stepped inside. She slammed the door shut. “Thank you,” she breathed out. “They're very feisty. Have you ever tried chasing two cats in a Muggle neighbourhood?”
“Can't say that I have. You realize, you could set up house wards to keep the cats in, but allow the humans through?”
Granger—he still couldn't bring himself to think of her as Weasley—flushed. “I... hadn't thought of that,” she admitted with obvious embarrassment. “But... yes, of course! Thank you.”
“Glad to be of service,” he said dryly. He stared around, noting his surroundings. The sitting room looked well-lived in, books scattered on the floor, couch with a quilted blanket on it. A half-shredded scratching post for the cats and a fully decorated Christmas tree completed the picture. There was a cozy and warm feel to the place that made him smile wistfully, as he thought, this is how other people live, people who have someone. Apparently, this was where Potter spent much of his time, as well. Maybe that's why his own place looked so threadbare and un-lived in, the cozy warmth of his friends' place was likely more than enough for him.
“Sorry, it's a bit messy,” Granger apologized and gave him an uncertain look. “Um... so, would you like to come in and have lunch with us? I baked a pie.”
“How domestic.” He smirked, imagining the look on Potter's face when he came down to lunch and saw him at Weasley and Granger's table. The chance to rub Potter's face in his own lies was sufficient motivation to stay. “Yes, I'd like that. Can I do anything to help?”
“No, no, come in, make yourself comfortable. You don't have to take your shoes off, the floor is filthy.”
He followed her into the spacious eat-in kitchen and sat down at the table. Granger was taking the dishes and the cups out of the cupboard, setting the table and smiling at him. He couldn't help but notice that she'd changed over the past few years. Her figure had grown fuller, her face was a bit rounder, and her hair, even messier than usual.
“So, Professor, what brings you here?” she asked.
He opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of footsteps interrupted him. He turned around and saw Ron Weasley entering the kitchen. A small red-headed child, no older than five years old, was holding his hand.
Weasley stared at Severus much like Granger had a few minutes ago. When Weasely finally found his voice, all he could say was “wow.”
“Ron, don't be rude,” Granger scolded him.
“I meant it in the nicest way possible,” Weasley protested. “Hello, Professor.”
Severus nodded absently, his eyes glued to the boy by Weasley's side. The enormous blue eyes stared back at Severus, studying him in turn.
“That's... Harry?” Severus whispered, finding his face flushing slightly as he realized his error.
“Harry, meet Professor Snape,” Granger said.
The child freed his fingers from his father's grip and walked up to Severus. Severus stared at the small hand offered to him in a handshake, then took it, giving it a small squeeze.
“My name is Harry Weasley,” the child said. “Are you the nasty professor Mum and Dad tell me about?”
“Oh dear god,” Granger whispered, turning away. Severus noticed the tips of her ears growing pink.
“I am,” Severus confirmed solemnly, enjoying her discomfort. “What else do Mum and Dad tell you about me?”
“They say you scared them all the time. They also say you can fly!” Harry announced.
“Oh. Well, that's true enough, I suppose.”
“You don't look very scary to me,” Harry observed, sounding a bit disappointed. He jumped up and perched up on the chair next to Severus. “You can still fly though, right?”
Satisfied by that, the boy continued to talk. “They also say you scared Harry all the time, their friend that I'm named after, but then he went away somewhere and didn't tell anyone where he went. Do you know where he went?”
Severus saw that Granger and Weasley both were staring at him, as if they'd forgotten how to breathe, waiting for him to respond. He lifted his head to meet Granger's eyes.
“Potter really didn't tell you where he was going?”
“No,” Granger whispered. Her ovenmitt-clad hands, a freshly baked pie in them, shook slightly. “He just left.”
The pie made its way to the table and Weasley began to slice it, giving Severus the first piece.
“Is that why you're here? You're looking for Harry?” Weasley asked point-blank.
“Not exactly. I want to find out what happened, what made him leave. Did he say anything?”
“No,” Weasley muttered. “Didn't say where he was going, didn't say why. Just asked us not to look for him, that's all.”
“Did you ever look for him?” Severus asked.
“No,” Granger murmured quietly, staring into her plate. “He said—if we did find him, he'd just go away again, and he didn't want to keep moving over and over again. So... we didn't look. Well, not much.”
“That was probably wise,” Severus conceded. “Do you know if Potter contacted any wardsmiths before he left?”
“No. I mean, I don't know,” Granger replied, “though I doubt that he did. He pretty much kept to himself back then. Wardsmiths... why do you ask?”
“I tried entering Grimmauld Place the other day. The wards on it were very powerful. They wouldn't let me in.” He decided to skip the part about having been able to enter, and Kreacher still waiting for Potter in the deserted house.
“That's odd,” Granger mused. “Ron and I went there … after Harry had said he was leaving, and... well, the wards were good, but not all that strong. Between the two of us, we were able to slip in.”
“Hmm,” Severus mused. “Did you see anything?”
Granger shook her head. “Not really. Just my letter to Harry. And Kreacher... he was there, just... waiting for Harry. He made us leave.”
They finished the meal in silence. Weasley didn't ask any questions, and Granger seemed to run out of words. Harry poked his pie with a fork and gave Severus an apprising stare.
“Mum says you and other Harry fought all the time,” he said finally. “Is that true?”
“Hm. I suppose. In a manner of speaking.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. “I understand. Our two new cats were like that at first, they fought all the time. We had to keep them in separate rooms for a month. Now they're best friends. They even sleep together.”
Severus paused, ensuring that his face didn't change expression when he spoke again. Across the table from him, Weasley was doing his best not to snicker.
“That's... clever thinking,” Severus answered evenly. “I wouldn't have thought that keeping them apart might help.”
“It's okay,” the child said magnanimously. “You'll understand when you have cats of your own.” He ran off to the sitting room, leaving the half-finished pie on the plate. Weasley followed him, giving the company an apologetic shrug.
Granger cleared the dishes away. She offered tea, which Severus declined. He watched her for a while, and noticed that her shoulders were shaking when she was putting the leftovers away, but when she turned around to face him, her eyes were dry.
“You saw him, didn't you?” she demanded in a hushed whisper. Severus didn't answer. “At least tell me if he's all right. Please?”
He kept silent while she sobbed, covering her eyes with her arm. He waited for her to calm herself, then spoke again. “I need to ask you something else. Did you notice anything unusual about Potter at all? Just before he left?”
“Uh. I'm not sure,” Granger said. “Maybe. There was this one time... at the end of his teaching DADA at Hogwarts. He told me that—he demonstrated the Patronus charm to the students, and he couldn't... couldn't conjure a corporeal Patronus.”
“His Patronus got weaker?” Severus clarified.
“Well, yes. He attributed it to being tired. He resigned shortly, said he was going to get plenty of rest. Then... he went to St. Mungo's to check himself out a few months later. Everything was normal, he said, he was fine. He even showed me his results, all perfectly... average.”
“Average,” Severus mused, remembering the very copy of the medical chart that Lucius somehow had managed to get for him. Severus frowned, he was quite certain that at least one of those test results shouldn't have been average. “All right, thank you, Granger. This was very helpful.”
She walked him to the door and lingered in the hallway for a moment.
“Sir—if you do see him, tell him we miss him. Tell him about Harry. All right?”
“If I see him,” Severus echoed. “Granger, tell me something else.” Wide-eyed, she stared at him with hope. “Where's the nearest liquor shop?”
* * * * *
Severus ended up waiting a few days before heading out to Potter's place. Even if nothing came of this one meeting, at least it'd make the Christmas Eve memorable.
It began to snow again in the evening, the same dry, icy mockery of the snow as the past few days. After Apparating to Potter's yard, Severus stared at the driveway. It was still empty; Potter had never bothered getting a new car, or repairing the old one. Then again, Potter didn't seem to be bothered with anything; at this time, his was the only house in the neighbourhood not decorated with Christmas lights of some kind.
Severus walked onto the porch and tried the door. It was unlocked.
The house was dimly lit, no Christmas décor of any kind even inside. It had the same uninhabited feel to it as always. Somehow, Severus wasn't surprised.
Without announcing himself, Severus made his way to the kitchen, where Potter was sitting at the table, a cigarette in his hand, nose glued to his laptop computer. A half-finished drink was resting in front of the laptop, and an ashtray, brimming with cigarette butts.
Potter lifted his head and stared at him. His lips twitched slightly, almost making a smile.
“Didn't know if you were coming,” Potter whispered, sounding as if even now he was not completely certain whether Severus was really here.
Severus leaned down to kiss him. Potter's breath smelled of alcohol and cigarette smoke, his hands felt too cold on the back of Severus' neck, and none of that mattered, because Severus allowed himself one full minute of perfection, just kissing his fill, without thinking of what would come next. Potter didn't seem to mind, clinging to him, stroking his back, as if he still didn't quite believe that Severus was real.
“Brought you a Christmas present,” Severus whispered into his ear.
“No way! Show me.”
Severus reached into his pocket and took out a small package. He flicked his wand to enlarge it and presented it to Potter. Potter opened it and took out two bottles of alcohol.
“Vodka and—absinthe? Cool. Thank you. That's... Uh, I didn't get you anything.”
“Wasn't expecting you to. After all, you didn't know if I was coming back.”
“It's not even that. I just—kind of forgot it was Christmas already,” Potter explained with a sheepish grin. “You know, I just kept working and lost track of time.”
“Ah, what a lovely way to spend the holidays,” Severus drawled. “Let's see.”
Potter extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray and turned the laptop around to present it to Severus.
“Still working on that dragon image,” Potter said. The Hungarian Horntail on the computer screen exhaled fire and sparks. “I don't know. The proportions are all correct, but it just doesn't—feel right.” The note of longing in Potter's voice was impossible to ignore.
“It never will,” Severus assured him, resting his hand on Potter's shoulder. “You can spend the next ten years perfecting the graphics, but it'll never be real.”
“Stop,” Potter demanded, shrugging his hand off. “I don't want to talk about it.”
“I think you do. I bet that's why you never left England or London. You stayed close enough to the life you used to know. I imagine you were privately hoping that someone would just bump into you one day, work out your reasons for leaving and convince you to return.”
Potter shook his head wearily. “You can't make assumptions from assumptions, Snape. That's not good logic.”
“But I'm right, am I not?” Severus asked mildly.
Potter's lips twisted into an unhappy smile. “Are you saying you worked out my reasons for leaving?”
“Of course,” Severus said.
Potter, arms crossed over his chest, leaned back in his chair and gave Severus a defensive, slightly dubious look.
“Someone mentioned that you couldn't generate a fully corporeal Patronus when you taught DADA. That's unusual for you isn't it? Your test results from Mungo's were all average, but your raw magical potential, Potter, shouldn't have beenaverage. It should have been very high. If I didn't know any better, I'd be inclined to think you're losing your magic.”
Potter bit his lip defiantly. His hand clenched into a fist.
“But we both know that's not true, don't we?” Severus probed, pulling up a chair to sit down next to him.
“Yes,” Potter whispered in agreement. “I'm not losing it. I'm giving it up.”
“How did you guess?” Potter demanded.
“The wards on Grimmauld. Your Occlumency shields. Unusually powerful. But I imagine their power has grown with time just like yours has. When Granger and Weasley went to Grimmauld Place, looking for you, they were able to get in fairly easily. McGonagall tried to get through those wards a few weeks ago, and couldn't.”
“Oh,” Potter muttered. “So you were snooping around.”
“Of course I was. I don't like unsolved mysteries. I admit to being puzzled, though. If those Occlumency shields and wards on Grimmauld are any indication, you're one of the most powerful wizards alive. Probably the most powerful—and yet... you don't even carry a wand. You don't use magic. Why is that?”
“I can't,” Potter said. “My wand doesn't work for me anymore.”
“Then you should get another wand.”
“It'd be no use.” Potter sighed tiredly. “Okay. I'll explain, but you really can't repeat it to any living soul.” When Severus gave a curt nod, Potter continued. “It started when I was teaching DADA at Hogwarts. I noticed I was having trouble with some spells. Nothing really major, they just were not coming out as powerful as they used to. My Patronus charm came out...”
“Yes. Weaker than usual. It was actually quite embarrassing.”
“Hm. Then what did you do?”
“I checked myself out in St. Mungo's. I was fine, physically and mentally. Fine, average in every way.”
Severus nodded, but didn't interrupt.
“I tried resting, practicing more. It was like... I don't know. Like something was out of tune. I made a guess, and Dumbledore confirmed it. Once you become the Master of the Elder Wand... you're kind of stuck with it.”
“I beg your pardon?” Severus asked.
“It's not that it's just powerful. It links to the wizard that has mastery over it. It imparts to him—or her—the power of all the wizards it had defeated. But there's a cost attached to that—you can no longer use any other wand. Once you Master the wand, it masters you in turn. And it's a jealous master, it doesn't let you fool around with other wands.” Harry smiled bitterly.
“Why not just use the Elder Wand?”
“I don't think that's right. For any one person to have this much power. There's something seriously creepy about it. And they say, power corrupts.”
“By they, I suppose you mean Dumbledore.”
“Yes. I believe him. He... did great things, but... I don't know. In the end, he had more regrets than he knew what to do with.”
“That doesn't mean it'll happen to you,” Severus pointed out.
“I don't know that. I'm prone to making mistakes, bad ones. And... making mistakes when you have all the power in the world at your fingertips is just... not a good thing.”
“There were other options,” Severus continued to argue. “You could have let someone else have the Elder Wand.”
“There aren't that many people I trust implicitly with something like this. Actually, there are only two—Ron and Hermione. Yes, I could have let one of them disarm me, could have let one of them be the Master of the wand... but I wouldn't wish this sort of thing for either of them. Because something like this would be impossible to keep quiet indefinitely. Eventually people would find out. There'd be attempts on their lives, because one power-hungry idiot or another would want the Elder Wand for himself.” Harry shook his head. “I considered just trying to destroy it—the Elder Wand, but I didn't know what the repercussions of destroying a Deathly Hallow would be. And—I wasn't entirely certain that, once the Elder Wand was gone, I'd regain control of my old wand.”
“So you've chosen to leave the wizarding world altogether.”
“Yes. Left the Elder Wand in Dumbledore's tomb. Kreacher knew what was going on, but he wouldn't tell anyone. Walburga knew, too. She overheard some things and worked it all out. Kept taunting me all the time. I suppose it irked her terribly that someone would just give up magic, voluntarily become a Squib. Anyway, it didn't matter, because I was leaving. I put the wards around Grimmauld. Didn't want anyone going there and finding out. Then, I... well, taught myself how to create Occlumency shields and put them up on my own mind. While I still could.”
“Why didn't you tell anyone why you were leaving? All right, I can understand why you wouldn't tell the general public, but your best friends?”
“Because it was hard,” Potter admitted freely. “Leaving was so hard, that I could barely find the strength to do it. Even though I was sure I was doing the right thing, I just couldn't have handled it—if Ron and Hermione decided to try and make me stay.”
“Still,” Severus mused, “it doesn't seem in character for you to just cut them off like that.”
“It's completely in character for me,” Harry said tiredly. “You know, back then, after I viewed your memories, I didn't tell them where I was going, either. Because I knew they'd try to convince me to stay... or want to come with me.”
Severus nodded thoughtfully. “Potter, now perhaps is as good a time as any to ask—why were you trying to see me back then?”
Potter shrugged. “I wanted your advice. I suppose, in spite of everything, I trusted your judgment in such things. I would have listened to your advice back then. But you didn't want to talk, so... I had to make up my own mind. And I did.” Harry cast a look around to survey his kitchen. “It took me a bit of time to get used to all this. I put up the wards around the house, just in case. But as time went on, the wand grew more and more out of tune with me. It felt like—trying to use outdated drivers to run a new printer.” Potter smirked. “It just doesn't work. Eventually I couldn't even cast the most basic household spells. I still have my old wand somewhere, but it's useless to me now. Doesn't do anything anymore.”
“I see,” Severus whispered.
“It's okay now,” Potter said softly, and it appeared he spoke more to himself than Severus. “I got used to it, mostly. Except...”
“Except you still spend your free time drawing dragons and wizards.”
Harry bowed his head. “I suppose it's rather stupid. Trying to make a clean break with all that—and... continue to draw dragons. And not just that.”
“You mean playing with me. You feel it was a mistake.”
Harry didn't look up. “I really enjoyed it. More than I enjoyed anything in the last six years. I just—don't think it's a good idea for me to continue doing that. I thought I could just play, you know, no commitments, no expectations, but it's too difficult. Because when you're around, I keep wanting more. Every time you leave, I want to follow you home. I keep wondering what your life is like back there. What you do. How you live. Who you talk to every day. Is McGonagall's hair all white, and is Hogwarts all snowed in by now.” Harry lifted his head to stare at Severus. “Please don't answer.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
Severus didn't move. “Maybe it's time you've reevaluated your decision,” he said mildly. “You realize it's based on a faulty assumption.”
“What do you mean?”
“You've assumed that you have the makings of someone who can be corrupted by power to the extent of causing a catastrophe of some sort. I don't think that's the case.”
“And what do you base it on? I wasn't exactly nice to you when we played.”
“You were, in your own odd way,” Severus said with a wry smirk. “But the point is, for the longest time you had the power to destroy me, simply by revealing certain things about me to others. And you didn't.”
Potter smiled as well. “I don't think that means anything.”
“On the contrary, it means everything. You didn't do it—not as a matter of personal choice, but simply because it doesn't occur to you to think in those terms. And that's the difference between you and me, and that's the difference between you and Dumbledore. You're oblivious to the power you have over others, simply because you don't seek to use it to another's disadvantage.”
Harry gave him an odd, suspicious glance. “You're just saying that to be nice.”
“You must be confusing me with someone else,” Severus said dryly. “And you must know by now, I have no problem telling you to go and kill yourself to save the world,” Severus pointed out. “I've done it before, when I thought it was necessary. By the same token, right now, your generous act of self-destruction isn't necessary.”
“I wouldn't call it self-destruction,” Potter argued. “I'm comfortable here. It's not a bad life.”
“It's not bad,” Severus conceded. “But you don't belong here. And you are destroying yourself. Because the longer you deny something that is a part of you, the harder it is to come back to it. All things denied take a toll on you and exact a vengeance on you. If you wait too long to reclaim your magic and the Elder Wand, the shock might be too severe for you to be able to do so in a healthy way. And I assure you, one day you will have to return. Because something will happen. One day, someone will find you to tell you that your friends, Ron and Hermione are in trouble, or that Hogwarts is in danger, and on that day you will rush to the rescue, because you won't be able to sit around, play with your laptop computer and do nothing to help. Your only real choice is whether you do it when you decide, or when the decision is forced on you.”
“Ron and Hermione,” Harry whispered quietly, and it seemed that it was the only thing from Severus' speech that actually registered with him. “Are they all right? Did you see them?”
“How are they?” Harry asked quietly.
“They are well. They're married, to each other. They've got a house, two cats and a son. He's five years old, I think. They named him after you.”
“M-me?” Harry muttered. “Bloody hell. I didn't think... I wish I hadn't asked.”
“But you did ask,” Severus pointed out. “Because you wanted someone to tell you. I think you do want to come back.”
Harry bowed his head. “Maybe you're right,” he conceded finally. “It still doesn't mean I should go back. It's... dangerous. To have this much power. To be able to do almost anything. Even Dumbledore thought it wasn't a good idea... What if I make mistakes and screw up?”
“What if you do?” Severus challenged him. “Then you will fix things the best you can, pay your debts and keep going. And all in all, it will be no worse than mistakes made in a state of powerlessness. You can trust me on that.”
For a while they were both silent. Harry smoked another cigarette while Severus watched him and waited for him to make up his mind one way or another. Harry finished his drink and let the glass rest on the table.
“I wonder,” Harry muttered. “Is Hogwarts all snowed in?”
“Yes,” Severus said. “Why do you ask?”
“Because getting to Dumbledore's tomb through mountains and mountains of snow is going to be a bitch.”
Severus Apparated them to Hogsmeade. In silence, they walked together towards the Hogwarts gates. It was still snowing heavily, and the ancient castle was glowing through the veil of white flakes. Severus wondered what type of celebration was happening behind its walls.
* * * * *
Dumbledore's tomb was barely visible, white marble peeking through the snow. Severus lifted his wand and cast a spell to clear the path to it. Harry watched the snow parting before them and his eyes shone with excitement.
“It still feels like the first time I'd seen magic done,” Harry confessed sheepishly. “Maybe because it's been so long...”
Severus nodded absently and began to examine the wards on the tomb. The net of protective spells was tied directly to Hogwarts herself, and Severus doubted he could break through without setting off every alarm in the castle. He didn't think Minerva would be cross with them, but still, he would have liked to avoid making a spectacle on Christmas Eve if it could be helped.
Potter noticed his hesitation and took Severus' hand, getting him to lower his wand. Without saying a word, he began to walk towards the tomb. Severus watched him and it seemed somehow incongruous that this slender twenty-four year old youth in a Muggle rain jacket and worn-out running shoes was about to claim the power that would have no rival to it.
Potter approached the tomb and lifted his hand to touch the marble surface. Severus stared at him, wondering what was going through Potter's head and whether he was actually about to attempt taking the tomb apart with his bare hands.
Potter didn't move, but simply continued to stand still, his open palm resting against the polished marble. Severus watched the stone give a crack, first small, then turning deeper, longer, spreading through the wall of the tomb.
For a brief second Severus thought that the entire thing might collapse, burying Potter under the ruins.
He made a move to run and push Potter out of the way, but Potter anticipated his reaction and lifted his hand to warn him off. Severus froze in his steps and watched a gap forming in the wall of the tomb. Potter stretched out his hand. A moment later, the Elder Wand itself flew out of the tomb and rested in Potter's palm. Potter closed his fingers around the wand, turned around and began to walk toward Severus.
The marble structure trembled, slabs of stone shifting, about to collapse. As an afterthought, Potter waved his hand and the dislodged marble pieces re-aligned themselves, cracks sealing seamlessly to restore the tomb to its original state. A mere moment later, it looked pristine and untouched.
More than slightly shaken by the display of power he'd just witnessed, Severus took a step back. Potter tucked the wand away and approached to stand face-to-face with Severus.
“So here we are,” Potter said softly.
Severus nodded, finding himself at a loss for words. He was certain that he'd witnessed something intensely private, almost sacred, and didn't know how to speak of it, or even how to think of it. Potter looked just as shaken up as Severus felt, but managed to rally himself and gave Severus a small smile.
“How are you feeling?” Severus asked, eyeing him with concern.
Potter bowed his head. “Kind of overwhelmed, to be honest. It feels like... too much. Almost hurts. I think I need to go home.”
“Shall we walk to Hogsmeade?” Severus offered. “If you need to be alone...”
Potter opened his arms and scooped him up into a tight embrace. Severus leaned into him, enjoying the security of Potter's hands and for the moment believing that Potter wasn't about to let him go.
“I don't need to be alone,” Potter whispered into his ear. “I tried that already. Come with me?”
Potter's grip on him tightened even further. Severus shut his eyes and felt the familiar sensation of Apparition.
A second later, Severus opened his eyes to find himself—and Potter—back in Potter's sitting room. Potter had taken them out of Hogwarts grounds, slipping through the intricate network of anti-Apparition wards without being slowed down in the slightest.
Potter's house was dark, save for the faint glow of streetlights pouring through the windows, leaving pale streaks on the hardwood floors. Severus stared at Potter; his face was barely visible in the darkness of the room.
“What now?” Severus asked, gently freeing himself from Potter's grip.
“Not much,” Potter replied, letting go of him. “Just take care of all the loose ends. Finish my work, send it off to my employer, disconnect my cell phone, sell the house... and move on. I reckon I'll be done with everything by the New Year's.” Potter let out a deep breath. “Will you stay?”
Severus smirked. “Of course I'll stay. I've been trying to woo you and worm my way into your bed for the past month. You can be certain I'm not leaving now.”
Quiet laughter answered him. “All right. You can sit down, drink your absinthe—or vodka, smoke and watch me work. Brilliant way to spend Christmas Eve, no?”
Severus bowed his head. Two months ago, he would have scoffed at such a prospect... but truth be told, he now couldn't imagine anything more welcome.
“All right, well.” Potter headed towards the wall and reached for the light switch to flick it. No light came on. “Hmmm. Gotta change the bulb. Weird, I just replaced it two weeks ago.” Potter headed to the kitchen, flicked the switch there—nothing again. “Gah. The breakers.”
Severus came up to the living room window and drew the curtains back. Potter's neighbourhood was pitch black, save for the street lights that were beginning to flicker with Potter's every move.
“It's not the breakers,” Severus advised him. “The entire block has no electricity.”
“Bloody hell. What are the odds of a power outage on Christmas Eve?”
“Apparently, higher than we realized.”
“Well, that means no wireless. I still got battery power left on my laptop, so I can do some work, even if I can't email it yet. We'll be okay, we can light a candle or something.”
“Or something,” Severus echoed, feeling amused in spite of himself. He followed Potter into the kitchen, where Potter was already opening the laptop.
“I... I don't get it,” Potter muttered, disgruntled. “It doesn't work. The battery couldn't have run out so quickly. It goes into standby mode to conserve power.” He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone and stared at it. “The cell is dead, too!”
“Is it?” Severus asked with undisguised amusement.
“Look, this isn't funny. I mean, the project is due in four days, and...”
“You won't finish it.” Severus walked up to Potter to stand behind him. “Electricity won't work with you around. Battery powered electronic devices won't work, either. Now that you've got the Elder Wand, there's too much ambient magic in the environment, and it is too powerful. I believe that's your time to go.”
Potter sighed wearily. “I don't feel good about leaving things unfinished,” he said softly. “I mean, that's my job! The project is due in four days and...”
Severus placed his hands on Potter's shoulders.
“And nothing. Potter, I understand your desire to—leave properly, fulfilling all your obligations, but look at it rationally. These are not life and death matters. Nothing terrible will happen if you simply don't finish one assignment and leave. Someone else will step in and take your job, someone else will take care of these things. Someone who belongs in this world, the way you don't, not anymore.”
“I...” Potter stammered. “I don't know.”
“This isn't your world anymore,” Severus insisted. “It's time to let it go.”
Potter groaned. “I should have thought of that, should have finished work before heading out to get the Elder Wand... Why didn't you tell me it would happen?” he complained half-heartedly.
“I didn't think of that,” Severus admitted. “Frankly, I had no idea that the Elder Wand would bring that much ambient magic with it and wreak this much havoc...”
“Speaking of—Would you look at that—now the street lights are going out!” Potter exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “Gah. Everything is falling apart.”
Severus chuckled. “I believe it is our cue to make a graceful exit out of here. Unless, of course, you'd like to stay and deprive your entire neighbourhood of electricity on Christmas Eve.”
Harry sighed in resignation. “Well, no, I don't want to do that,” he conceded. “I guess you're right, it is my time to leave.” Harry gave Severus a quizzical look. “I suppose your house is out of the question? It's in a Muggle neighbourhood as well... so where to?”
Severus inclined his head, giving the question some serious thought.
“How about Hogwarts?” he offered. He remembered Minerva's invitation and was fairly certain it was still open, even though he hadn't followed up on it lately. He was also quite certain that she wouldn't mind him bringing Potter along.
“Now?” Harry asked dubiously.
Severus smiled. “No time like the present.”
Harry Apparated them to the gates of the castle and they walked through them again for the second time that evening. The snowstorm had ceased and the white stretches of benighted snow lay still, reflecting the glow of the castle.
The castle hallways were deserted, save for the portraits, who got all excited upon seeing Harry and Severus together. Harry pressed a finger to his lips in a conspiratorial way, and portraits nodded agreeably, presumably indicating that they would let him surprise the Headmistress.
They walked into Minerva's office together, and she lifted her head to stare at them both with her mouth gaping wide open.
“Harry!” she cried out, leaping from her seat with surprising vigor, and rushed to hug him. Severus stepped aside, allowing her to smother Potter all she wanted. Potter was enduring the barrage of questions, hugs, accusations and exclamations the best he could, and definitely better than Severus would have managed.
Severus lifted his eyes to stare at Dumbledore's portrait and found the former Headmaster studying him in turn.
“You were wrong,” Severus said, his tone sharper than he'd intended. “There was no need for this.”
“I had applied no pressure on Harry one way or another,” Dumbledore countered, not raising his voice a single bit. “Harry made his own choice, and I supported him.”
“And will you support him now, in his choice to return?” Severus challenged. Dumbledore's mild demeanor galled him as usual; it gave the impression of him being blasé about Potter's decisions and the reasons for them.
“Of course I will.”
Severus was about to let out a spiteful retort when he felt Potter's hand on his; Potter had managed to extract himself from Minerva's grip by then.
“It's okay,” Harry said, and lifted his eyes and gave Dumbledore a quick smile. “It was my decision to leave and it was my decision to return. You can't blame him for my choices. And anyway, he's just a portrait now, nothing more.”
“Quite correct,” Dumbledore agreed peacefully. “A mere portrait I am, quite opinionated—but quite fallible, just the same. It's about time someone remembered that.”
“Will someone explain to me what's going on?” Minerva demanded.
“I will, but it's a bit of a long story. Maybe tomorrow?” Harry said.
“All right, but I expect you in my office first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Harry blurted out and grinned. “I already feel like a student again.” Still grinning, he turned to Severus. “Does she have the same effect on you, too?”
“Sometimes. I've learned to tune her out, for the most part,” Severus said.
McGonagall shot him an annoyed glance. “I will thank you not to speak of me in the third person while I am here, both of you.” Her tone softened when she added, “shall we proceed to the Great Hall? The festivities have already began...”
Harry laughed. “So what are you doing here, skipping out on the party? Come on!”
* * * * *
The Great Hall was a glow of silver and blue that evening. The Christmas tree, enormous and pure white, was decorated with glowing silver strands woven in between its branches.
When Minerva ushered them inside, the orchestra that had been playing a familiar old tune fell silent. Flitwick stared at Severus and Harry, his eyes wide in disbelief, the conductor baton frozen in his hand. All eyes in the room followed the direction of Flitwick's gaze and hushed whispers were heard throughout the crowd of students and teachers alike.
Potter might have been gone from the wizarding world for a long time, but he clearly wasn't forgotten. Neither was Severus—he found that he was drawing just as many curious looks. Certainly it wasn't helping matters that Harry was holding onto his hand in a rather obvious way.
A moment later, Severus' former colleagues, Potter's former teachers, were upon both of them, greeting, asking questions, trying to hug Potter, pulling them in different directions. Potter smiled and laughed, looking slightly overwhelmed.
Severus himself felt overwhelmed as well. He didn't think he'd be forgotten altogether, but it was a surprise to be remembered this fondly. Throughout all of this, Harry never left his side, and Harry's hand never left his. It was clear that he was eager to make a “we're together statement”, and Severus didn't mind in the slightest.
He felt Potter's grip on his fingers tighten, sensed his tension. Severus followed the direction of Potter's gaze and saw Granger and Weasley, the child in Weasley's arms, braving their way through the crowd that had no intention of parting to admit them. But Granger was determined, elbowing her way through, until she was standing in front of them, her eyes glowing with excitement.
She stared at Severus and her lips trembled slightly.
“How did you know to come?”
She grinned, blinking away stray tears. “I just had a feeling you'd bring him home. And, no offence, Professor, you've always had a flair for the dramatic, so I reckoned it'd be tonight.”
“A lucky coincidence,” Severus said dryly, extracting his hand from Harry's grip.
“Bring me home, huh?” Harry teased. “What am I, a stray cat?” He seemed like he was doing his best to keep his tone light, but his voice was shaking.
“You're worse,” Little Harry declared from Weasley's arms. “Cats are easier to catch.”
Harry lifted his eyes to look at him.
“You must be my namesake. Nice to meet you... Harry.” The child gave him a solemn nod. Slowly, Weasley let him down to the floor and extended his hand to Potter.
“Good to have you back, mate. Though you owe us one hell of a good explanation for running off like that.” Weasley's tone was friendly enough, but there was genuine hurt in his voice, and Potter must have heard it, too.
“I know,” Potter conceded. “I'll tell you everything, I promise. First thing tomorrow morning. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry.”
Granger shook her head furiously. “Harry, it's all right, really. We aren't angry, well—it's just good to have you back, that's all, and...” her words got caught up in a sob, and without further delay, she threw herself at Potter, hugging him, kissing him.
Severus stepped aside. Weasley took his spot and did his best to hug Potter and Granger both at the same time, and his arms seemed just big enough to do the trick.
For a while, Severus watched that awkward embrace for three, feeling oddly relieved that he didn't have anyone who'd want to smother him quite so enthusiastically. The merry commotion of the crowd around him was more than enough, in fact, it was getting to be just a bit too much.
Slowly, Severus made his way out of the Hall and into the darkened hallway, glad to leave the noise and the bustle behind him. He came up to the large window at the end of the hallway and perched himself up to sit on the windowsill, his cheek pressing against the glass. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the pristine whiteness of the freshly fallen snow and the faint shining of Hogsmeade lights in the distance. He briefly recalled the glow in the windows of Potter's Muggle home, and himself, standing outside, wanting to be let in—in there, where the light and warmth were.
It was over now, he realized with no small measure of relief, and not just because of Potter. No matter how his relationship with Potter worked out, Severus wouldn't be alone, out in the cold, not anymore. He wanted more from life, he wanted to return to the people, to connect with a life he'd never given a chance, but that had been waiting for him here all these years.
He heard the sound of footsteps and turned his head to see Potter approach.
“You slipped away,” Potter whispered, coming up to him and taking hold of his shoulders. “The crowd got to you?”
“Just a bit. I saw your reunion with your friends went well.”
“Yes. They're going to yell at me later, I just know it.” Potter shivered noticeably. “I have a feeling Kreacher is going to yell at me, too.”
“You can handle being yelled at,” Sverus retorted with a smirk. “You've had plenty of practice with that.”
Potter snickered. “Oh, so that's what all that berating was all about when you taught me. Just preparing me for real life, huh?”
Severus nodded solemnly. “That—and I didn't like you.”
“I notice the past tense,” Harry quipped. “Do you like me now?”
Severus gave him a long, thoughtful look. “You could say that, I suppose.”
“Like me enough not to yell at me now when I tell you something?”
“That depends on what that something is.”
“Hmm. Not very promising. Well, anyway, McGonagall offered me the DADA job—the current instructor is eager to leave...”
Severus let out a dry bark of a laugh. “Voldemort is gone, but the position is still cursed?”
“Hah. Something like that. Or maybe she's driving them away, because nobody is good enough.”
“You've accepted, I take it?” Severus asked, feeling more than mildly irked that the position had been offered to Potter, rather than him.
“Not exactly. I mean—I'm not sure I'm up to teaching full-time. I just came back. I said—I could split the position with you. If you're willing that is. I'll take the younger students, you can take the fifth, sixth and seventh years...”
Severus nodded absently. “That might actually work. I'd be able to continue my research.”
Harry grinned from ear to ear. “Good, that's good. And—the reduced workload will be good for me. It'll give me time to readjust, and maybe I can coach Quidditch, or start a duelling club...” Harry's eyes sparked with mischief. “More to the point, it'll leave us with plenty of time for other stuff.”
“Other—stuff,” Severus echoed, and nearly jumped when Potter's hand slipped down his back and groped his backside. “Oh, that.”
“Yes—that. You still want to—you know? Keep doing what we've been doing? Play?”
Severus stopped to consider. Truth be told, over the last week or so he'd forgotten about play altogether. He said so out loud.
“Do you think that... you're over it? You don't want to do that at all anymore? Ever?” Harry didn't seem troubled by the prospect, just curious.
“I doubt that,” Severus mused. “I might not want to be chained and hurt right this moment, but it is my experience that this sort of thing never goes away completely. The interest in play will ebb and flow, but I suspect that the urges will be there for a while.”
Harry nodded, leaning in. His lips brushed against Severus' cheek.
Severus turned his head slightly to capture Harry's mouth in a kiss. Harry returned the kiss eagerly, latching on to Severus' lips with all the hunger and thirst of someone who'd been denying himself for too long.
“Let's get out of here,” Harry whispered quietly, upon pulling out of the kiss. “McGonagall said we can take your old rooms in the Dungeons—you don't mind, do you?”
Severus stared at him. “We, Potter? You've told her we'd be sharing quarters?”
Potter shrugged. “I told her nothing. She just made that assumption after we showed up in her office, holding hands. She's cool, you know. She didn't pry or anything, just told me the new password and that was all.”
“The new password,” Severus mused. “What is it?
Harry's grin grew wider. “Home.”
* * * * *
His old rooms in the dungeons were dark, save for the flickering of the hearth, the light casting long shadows across the floor. Nothing here had changed, and it was clear that nobody had occupied Severus' rooms in the years that Severus spent away from Hogwarts. He wondered whether noone had been interested in his old quarters, or whether McGonagall had kept them untouched, expecting Severus to return. Seven years, he thought absently, surveying the familiar surroundings, seven years felt like a lifetime wasted in self-imposed isolation, away from everything that could possibly matter.
Not willing to waste another moment of precious time, Severus attacked Potter at once, taking his robe off, pulling off his sweater, then teeshirt, then going for the buckle on the belt of Potter's trousers. Slightly taken aback by Severus' aggression, Potter laughed.
“Easy now.” His trousers and underwear dangling at his ankles, his cock fully erect already, Potter let out a mock sigh. “Snape—Severus. What's the hurry?”
“No time.” There was an almost painful urgency in his voice, and Potter seemed to catch on, somehow.
Severus let out a strangled moan when Potter grabbed a fistful of his hair, forcing his head back so his throat was exposed for a kiss. Potter kissed and licked and bit and sucked, leaving love-marks all over Severus' throat, and undressing him at the same time.
They collapsed on the floor in front of the hearth together, wrestled for a long blissful minute, with Potter coming out on top—not that Severus had made any serious effort to prevent that. He was lying on top of the pile of clothes—his and Potter's, his face buried in Potter's sweater. He inhaled deeply, loving that barely noticeable scent that he didn't think he could confuse with anything else at this point. Potter's hand rested on his backside and gave his arse several sharp slaps.
“Legs apart, lift your butt.” Severus was slow in obeying, for the most part because he was hoping that his hesitation would earn him another round of smacks. But Potter simply settled behind him and leaned over him. “Come now, don't tease,” Potter whispered, pressing his lips to Severus' back, leaving a trail of kisses along his spine all the way down to the small of his back. “I'm so hard, it's unreal. If you tease me—I might just come all over your back, what good would that be?”
Severus found himself almost laughing. He allowed Potter to take hold of his waist, guide him into position on all fours. When Potter's fingers reached his anus, they were slick with lubricant. Severus parted his legs wider, nearly shaking with the anticipation.
Potter didn't waste much time trying to stretch him and drove into him a moment later. It burned; Potter's cock inside him felt enormous; Severus pushed back as hard as he could manage until Potter was fully sheathed within him.
Potter gasped and began to move, thrusting hard, his hands gripping Severus' hips hard enough to leave bruises. It still burned, and the ache of the penetration was such that it shot all the way up to his kidneys with every thrust, but as long as Potter continued to hit that perfect knot of pleasure inside him, Severus didn't mind in the slightest.
Sweaty and exhausted, sticky with the release, they collapsed in front of the hearth afterwards. Severus felt achy, worn out, still sore from the vigorous fucking, but let out a deep contented sigh when Harry drew him into an embrace.
“Brilliant,” Harry murmured. His dry lips pressed against Severus' flushed cheek. “You know, we should have started with this.”
“Hm.” Severus couldn't really argue with that. “Yes. I have no idea why we didn't.”
Harry's grip on him tightened. “I feel like I've wasted so much time, it's insane.”
“Likewise,” Severus murmured. “But no more.”
“No more,” Harry echoed quietly. It sounded very much like a promise.
For a while, the silence in the room was punctuated only by their breathing and the quiet crackling of the hearth.
“I just thought of something,” Harry spoke up suddenly. “We'll need to say something about how we met in the Muggle world—and where, and... well, I don't really want to tell McGonagall about Claiborne.”
Severus chuckled, amused in spite of himself.
“I don't think we need to go into any great detail. When people ask, we shall simply say that you followed me home, and I decided to keep you.”