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Awake My Soul

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‘The most beautiful stories always start with wreckage.’
- Jack London

-

‘They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching —
But can't you hear the Wild? — it's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.’
- Robert William Service

-

“For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself.”
- Henry David Thoreau

-

“You seem very young to die,” she says, taking his folded shirt.

Bare chested, Harry grimaces. He bends to start on his shoes.

There is a pause.

“It’s just… forgive me. Almost all of the people in your position end up dead.”

Harry toes off both shoes. “I know what to expect.” Voice clipped, he passes over his shoes and socks.

“Trousers too, please. You can keep your underpants on until the Gathering. Are… are you alright? In yourself, I mean? I can never understand why people apply to come here.”

“I’ve been through this during the application process,” Harry snaps, unzipping his fly and stepping out of his trousers. “The Order were thorough enough. I have complied all the way through; I’ve put out a press release stating that I’m going on a year’s sabbatical somewhere far away. Nobody will look for me. I’m all set.”

“All set to die. Listen, this is just me asking. Why are you here?” She passes the pile of his folded clothes back to him. “If you’re sure, throw it all into the fire pit.”

Harry starts to cradle his clothes in his arms - then his eyes shutter and he tosses the bundle straight into the fire. He turns, and does not look back. “I’m tired,” he says softly. “And I shouldn’t have come back.”

“Come back? From where?”

“Nowhere,” Harry mutters. “When does the Sacrifice begin?”

-

The world is black and grey, these days.

Colour, it seems, is for other people - happier people. People who can move into the sunlight and be warmed. People who can smile. Colour is not for people like Harry; those who feel like they are watching even a bright summer day from behind glass.

He is not sure how he got to this point.

Sleeping in the bath, the water gone cold, he suddenly feels as though he is floating - his feet do not touch the bottom. The bath becomes a mile deep, and all below him is black water and nothingness. He hurtles up - gasping, eyes bulging. As he tries to quieten his racing heart, he sees water all over the floor.

It is morning. He has to go to work. He is late. (No matter how many times he sleeps, wakes, sleeps, he always wakes to the same truths.)

‘Ronald Bilius Weasley’ reads the headstone. The cemetery is cramped and grey. The sky is grey. Even the grass is grey. The stone is new marble, and Harry is all alone. There is room on the stone for Hermione’s name, one day. Harry leaves the Deluminator and the lily, and walks on.

-

When he stands before a room of Aurors and his magic fails him -

When he wakes in the middle of the night and feels like his heart has stopped beating, and thumps at his chest in terror, and swears he can feel his magic bleeding out through his fingers like tar -

When he looks into the eyes of his few remaining friends, and sees only concern, and fear -

Standing on a cliff top (some days he has no idea where he is) he screams at the grey and black sky. It is raining, far off in the distance. He tries to lie down on the bald chalk ground to wait for the rain to come. The ground is grey, and it prickles.

He does not realise that he has been floating twenty feet from the dusty ground, until the cradle of the wind lets him go, and he falls.

-

The corridor that they lead him down seems endless.

The floor is icy under his bare feet. The air is heavy with incenses.

The sack over his head smells musty. He breathes in and out through his nose - then, when the stink becomes too bad, through his mouth, until the sack is moist with his breath. He feels like a caged bull, about to be released. Ready to run.

He realises that they are no longer in a corridor, that they are in a larger room, when all the footsteps around him start to echo. He is manhandled, a grip on each of his biceps, into a kneeling position.

There is silence. Harry can hear the beating of his heart in his ears; can feel it in his throat.

It is time.

“Welcome, Bretheren, to tonight’s celebration of the Eye of Horus. We welcome Death into our Gathering again tonight, with our Sacrifice, and all the benefits that it will bring. We offer thanks to our Sacrificial Offering, for his generous gift of his life -”

Harry’s breath is coming too fast, like the snorting of a bull. (Or a stag.)

“We have spent the day in contemplation, and now our Sacrifice comes. Let those who are prepared step forward.”

Panic steals over his shoulder and grips at his throat. He convulses. He lifts a hand to try and pull the sack away from his face, but his hand is seized in thin fingers -

“Brothers, he fades - hold him down.”

The hand forces Harry’s back onto a wooden tabletop, and he struggles despite himself - a stag in a hunter’s trap. His left hand is held down by a strong grip, then his right, and both ankles -

“No, stop,” he begins.

Pain like liquid fire sears into his abdomen, then blossoms out, like a rose.

A red rose.

He has been stabbed.

He grits his teeth. Then the pain bursts through in a wail.

Suddenly, his right hand is released, as though it were searing hot. The palm is turned over.

Harry has no time to wonder why - he is stabbed again. He struggles to lift his hands to protect himself.

It happens again.

Tears leak out of his eyes. He feels the blood beginning to trickle down his skin. He is stabbed again. Lights flash inside his vision.

Again, his right hand is lifted, turned. Fingers squeeze his flesh; stroke the silvery old scars left by Umbridge’s quill. Then: “I claim him! I am claiming him!” cries a deep voice.

A deathly hush descends.

“Now?” another voice demands. “You are claiming him now? It’s almost too late!”

“A Brother may make a claim at any point during the Sacrificial Gathering - I have every right!”

“You should have claimed him before - he is dying!” The voice is an angry hiss.

(In his mind’s eye, Harry can see his stag patronus writhing and whimpering on the ground, its breathing slowing. He groans.)

All of a sudden the cord around his neck, which seals the sack over his head, is undone. The sack is pulled up and a face - which Harry cannot see, because his vision is full of searing red light - comes very close to his. Breath puffs across his face. “Open your eyes. Look at me.”

Harry cracks open his eyes. In response, the man utters a vicious swearword. “I claim him. He is mine - help me.”

The effect is instantaneous - Harry is released. All his bonds are cut, and the sack is dropped back over his face. He is hauled upright by strong arms - but his abdomen lurches and he screams - and collapses.

He tries to regain his footing, but he is slipping in something wet.

“He’s dying, Brother! It is too late!”

Harry tries to cling on. The man’s nails are harsh as they dig into his shoulders, but it is nothing compared to the ice and fire that are tearing through his belly. “Help me!” he gasps.

As he is clutched close, the whirl and crack of Apparition knocks him back, and he vomits. His mouth fills with the taste of copper.

Then, darkness.

-

“There is nothing that can be done, it is too late! You should have called me as soon as -”

“I did call you immediately! You are supposed to be a fucking expert!”

“I’m sorry, but - ouch! You’re hurting me!”

“You will heal him, do I make myself clear?”

“Ah, don’t! Oww, please - he’s too far gone.”

“Are you not the once-great Validarchi? The most accomplished magical surgeon in Europe?”

“I was struck off, you know that!”

“Then no-one will notice if you do not make a return to your solitude.”

“I have repaired all his wounds, and you have given him blood replenishing potion - but it is not enough! His magical levels are too depleted, you have to understand - ow! Let go of me!”

“What will solve this?”

“There is nothing that will solve it - he’s dying!”

“There is always something! I came to you because of your unorthodox methods - heal him!”

“Unless you can find me a willing person who wishes to perform the darkest, bloodiest soul bond with him, and tie their magical essence to him forever, then -”

“Do it.”

“What - on you?”

“Do it now.”

“You’ll be bonded to him for life!”

“Get on with it!”

“I’m not sure the spell is strong enough - he’s nearly gone.”

“Use this.”

“What is… No. The Elder Wand? How did you get this?”

“This is Harry Potter. Do it!”

-

Hairs tickle his nose. Harry sniffs.

He shifts, stretching out his cramping legs. He burrows his face into his pillow - more hairs prickle at his eyes and lips. He tries to open his eyes, but he cannot see, he can only feel -

It is then that he notices the arm around him, and realises that he is naked.

He twists in the sheets - and a stab of pain shoots up from his abdomen.

He clutches at his taut belly - stuck onto his stomach, over the muscles and hair, is a wide surgical dressing. Wincing, he allows his fingers to lightly trace over it: feeling where it ends, how much of his skin is covered. He finds another higher up his abdomen.

Then his fingers brush against the bare torso of the man beside him. It should have felt strange to be lying beside all that muscle and hair and skin, but something inside Harry breathes in the scent of a man lying so close, and lets out a long-awaited breath of… relief.

Peace floods through him.

He feels the man shift, and cough, and the arm around him tighten. He falls back into sleep.

-

When he wakes again, it is dark, and he is being fed water through a straw. He sucks thirstily, and a thumb wipes his lips dry when the straw is finally withdrawn. His head is guided onto a shoulder, and a large hand smooths down his side. His eyes drift closed.

-

In his dreams, he is being made love to.

He is flying, but he does not have a broom.

He is chasing a deer.

He is the deer.

He is standing on the cliff top and watching the stars tumble down all around him, while the wild sea crashes against the rocks below.

-

This time, when he wakes, something is different. He opens his eyes slowly, like a newborn.

His heart misses a beat.

The man that he has been lying against looks like a sleeping Severus Snape.

A long strand of black hair has fallen across an angular cheek.

Harry instantly tenses. No. Snape is dead.

Holding his breath, Harry reaches up. His hand caresses the man’s jaw, dusted with dark stubble. A pulse buffets against his fingertips at Snape’s neck - Harry’s eyes dart to the left side, where he had seen the snake’s fangs tearing at the flesh -

There is a long, silvery scar winding its way over the skin. There are also knots of other scars, as though the wound had been messy - which it had been, Harry remembers. His fingertips drift lightly, of their own accord, over the scarred skin.

Squinting, he leans closer -

“Found something interesting?” They are pressed so tightly together that the deep voice rumbles through into Harry’s chest.

Harry’s fingers fly back. Snape is looking down at him with hawkish languor. Those black eyes still glitter in the way that Harry remembers.

“You can’t be him,” Harry chokes out.

Snape merely sneers at him. Harry’s fingers creep up again, tracing a sharp jaw, a cheekbone dusted with stubble, those thin lips -

“Are you really Potter?” Snape hisses. “I have my doubts, although you are certainly as stupid as he was.”

“Why would I not be?” Harry frowns.

“You seem to be the correct age for Potter,” Snape adds, his expression searching. “He would be almost thirty by now.”

“You seem to be the correct age for Snape, too,” Harry replies. “And you have the scar from…”

Snape’s lip curls. “Ah yes. From our last… association.”

“You can’t be Snape,” Harry protests. “He died. Snape died. Are you going to try to hurt me?”

“You seem to have been doing a good job of putting yourself in danger.”

“You mean the ritual? I thought I’d been stabbed,” Harry sits up - and the tight pain stares up his abdomen again. “Oh.” He looks down at the dressings. “I was.”

Unnerved, he blinks at Snape, who lies sprawled against the pillows, naked from the waist down himself. His chest is covered by dark hairs, under which there were a number of tattoos.

His left arm is still under the covers. Harry pulls the sheet back - the Dark Mark looks up at him from Snape’s forearm.

“I’d have thought that would have faded,” he murmurs.

Snape snorts. “No. Go back to sleep. You’re dreaming, Potter.”

-

Magic hums like electricity around the cramped bedroom. Snape stands in the centre of a crystal grid - seven purple crystals hover, pulsating with magic. He holds burning sage and intones over a bowl of ice, then feeds the seven frozen cubes to Potter, one by one.

-

Harry wakes to his head being cradled. He has been lifted up, and a drink - warm this time, sweet with honey and herbs - pressed to his lips until it overflows and dribbles down his chin.

“Pitiful Head Auror,” Snape sneers, but his voice sounds as though it is underwater. “Were all the Ministry Balls, and keynote speeches, and financial rewards, and awards, and accolades, and fancy restaurants, and rounds of applause too… trying for you, Potter?”

Harry goes under again.

-

Snape stands in the centre of the room. He looks at the young man who lies sprawled across his narrow bed, the sheets doing precious little to hide his nudity. The light is sparse; it is late, or early.

He fingers the wand that he has relieved from the box of personal possessions - Harry Potter’s wand. It feels strange to hold a real wand again - power thrums up his arm, through his fingers. The Elder Wand.

He holds a candle in his other hand. By the ochre light, Potter’s skin glows.

Now that the boy - young man - is able to wake, Snape finds himself ill at ease in his own bedroom. Memories assault him - and yet, he is still strangely drawn to Potter. He is grown now, and toned - there is lean muscle on his smaller frame and little fat. There is dark hair.

Potter is beautiful. (Snape cannot fail to notice, and it sickens him.) The young man’s jaw is sharp - lined with stubble now - and his hair has recently been cut. Those startling almond-shaped eyes have matured into his face, and the green still has the power to pierce Snape to the core with a single blink.

He studies Potter’s lips - those are not Lily’s, nor James’. They are too full.

They look bruised. They are all Potter’s - Harry’s.

He has tried to avoid all mention of Potter for ten years. It has been a mistake. This new Potter takes him completely by surprise. (Grown and beautiful, like a mystical creature.)

Snape is as at a loss as though a unicorn, or a wild deer, had strayed injured into his house and demanded care.

The young man stirs. Lying almost on his front, over a pillow to protect his abdomen, his mouth turns down in an unhappy bow.

He shifts again. He needs his bond mate.

Snape sets the candle and wand down on the wooden floor, and begins to undress, his eyes always on Potter. He removes his robes - strung with charms for protection - and his coat, and waistcoat. He strips to his underwear, then pauses.

He retreats to the doorway, and brings forth a large vase of cut flowers, which he places on the floor beside the bed. Lilies.

Then he removes his underwear and slides in beside Potter. For a moment, Potter winces - then he inhales, and instantly twines himself around Snape like a vine. They both sleep.

-

Harry wakes with a jolt. His sudden jerk also awakens Snape, who growls in irritation beside him.

“What happened?” Harry rasps out. “Snape?”

“You offered yourself on the Altar of Anubis like a fool, and were consequently stabbed with a poisoned blade anointed with ‘Eye of Horus’,” Snape sneers. “You are lucky that it was I who created the ‘Eye of Horus’ potion - otherwise, had I needed to waste time identifying its poisons, you would surely have died.”

“It is you! How did you cure me?” Harry whispers.

Snape’s mouth twists. “Look into my eyes,” he sneers.

Harry does - and is pulled in.

He sees himself, through Snape’s eyes, as lying on the thin bed, trembling and sweating and convulsing. His abdomen is a mess of raw, weeping wounds. Snape and another, smaller man stand over him, engaged in some sort of fight - Snape has a wand at the man’s neck, and his face is contorted in a snarl.

“Unless you can find me a willing person who wishes to perform the Darkest, bloodiest soul bond with him,” the man chokes out, “and tie their magical essence to him forever, then -”

“Do it.” Snape’s voice is deadly. He does not remove the wand from the man’s windpipe.

“What - on you?” The man’s eyes are very wide.

“Do it now - whatever it takes.”

“You’ll be bonded to him for life!”

“Get on with it!” Snape shakes him.

“I’m not sure the spell is strong enough - he’s nearly gone.”

“Use this.” Snape picks up something from beside Harry on the bed, and thrusts it at him.

“What is… no. The Elder Wand? How did you get this?”

“This is Harry Potter. Do it!”

The memory spins on - the room is very dark now; Harry can just make Snape out by the dim lights of tall black candles.

“Take me, body and soul,” Snape repeats, his voice a growl, his palms up and open, his eyes blazing. “As your protector, nurturer, lover, equal, bondmate and willing supplicant.”

“Twine your hands together,” hisses the man.

Snape seizes Harry’s limp hand. “Doesn’t he need to speak?” he snarls.

“He can’t speak, he’s unconscious! This isn’t about words, it’s a blood bond!” the man smirks.

“Then why did you make me say all that shite?” Snape snarls.

The man gives him a nasty grin - then stabs a jagged copper-coloured blade through both their hands. Snape cries out. Harry merely whimpers.

The memory moves on. It is raining rose petals out of the darkness above. The floor of the room is already covered in them. Snape is slumped against the bed, his hand still joined to Harry’s. Blood drips down their wrists. Snape’s breathing is laboured. The candles are all out.

“It is done.”

Snape looks at Harry, scowling. “He is still asleep.”

“He is bonded to you now - he will recover if you care for him.”

Snape stands. “What must I do?”

“In order to tell you that, I will need something in return.” Snape whips around, eyes flashing. The little man is fairly vibrating with dark glee. “I know who you are, Severus Snape.”

Snape’s cold black eyes become glassy. “I see,” he says, and the corners of his mouth turn down. He takes the Elder Wand from his pocket.

Harry is thrown out of the memory. He flounders for a moment, then sits up, retching. “What did you do?” he whispers.

Snape smiles nastily.

-

Harry wakes slowly. He is being held, and he is warm. He’s arching into a man’s embrace and there is long hair in his mouth, and a nose in his neck. The man is almost on top of him and Harry’s abdomen spikes - he gasps.

The body withdraws slightly. “Pain?”

The deep murmur reverberates through Harry’s collarbones again. He nods.

Snape props himself up on an elbow and produces a bottle of something turquoise and unctuous, which he offers to Harry.

Harry drinks it, his head at an awkward angle. He flops down into the pillows again with a sigh. Everything is hazy; a storm thunders around inside his head. His belly hurts.

Snape stays propped up on his elbow, inches away, looking down at Harry and scowling. His eyes are like two black beetles in his face and he barely blinks. Mesmerised, terrified, Harry gawps up at him.

“You’re alive,” he whispers. “I had no idea.”

Snape snorts. “At some point, you and I need to have a conversation about how much trouble you are in.”

Harry blinks. His eyes are drawn to the dark hair covering Snape’s chest. It is thicker than Harry had imagined. He tries to concentrate - to force words out. “Trouble?” His throat aches.

“What were you thinking?”

Harry wants to slide his fingers through Snape’s chest hair. “About what?”

Snape’s other hand closes over his throat, squeezing the delicate structures in his neck until Harry gags. “About gifting yourself to a group like that? Do you realise how lucky you are to have survived? Or were you hoping for an agonising death?”

Harry flounders, gurgling. He is so weak. Stars pop in front of his eyes. “No!”

“No, what? No, you didn’t want to die?” Snape’s clasping hand releases him. “What a way to go about it.”

“You’re very cross with me, aren’t you,” Harry gasps. Despite his confusion, he cannot seem to stop his eyes from drifting closed.

“Incandescent,” he hears Snape spit.

Harry curls towards him. “Going to take points?” he mumbles into Snape’s chest.

“I’m going to take it out of your miserable hide,” Snape snaps. His hand smoothes over Harry’s bare hip.

“That sounds nice. You’ll have to tell me how you survived ten years ago,” Harry mutters. Then he falls asleep.

-

When he next wakes, he is alone.

It is awful. Painful.

He flounders around in the bed in the dim light, but Snape is nowhere to be found. He tries to call out, but his throat is too dry. Rolling onto his right side, he finds a small candle burning on the bedside table, and a bottle of purple potion - which he grasps and uncorks, pouring the contents into his mouth so fast that it dribbles down his chin and chest.

Gurgling, he settles back into bed, but rest is impossible. His skin itches, as though it had been burnt all over and is healing badly. As though it is about to burst into flame.

Suddenly, a shard of ethereal light appears in the doorway. At first, Harry thinks it is a ghost, but then the apparition steps into the room on spindly legs, and he recognises the doe.

She scrutinises him.

“Please!” He holds out one hand, which trembles, and the doe darts across the room to his bedside. He tries to pet it, eyes wide, but his fingers go straight through. Then, to his surprise, it clambers up onto the bed with him. Despite not being able to touch it, as soon as the silvery body settles alongside Harry’s, he feels strangely warm. He fancies he can feel the form of the body in the bed beside him. He falls asleep.

When he wakes, Snape is there, his solid weight and presence and strength immeasurably comforting, and the doe is gone.

-

The next time he wakes, he is cooler. There is a breeze coming from somewhere, and the sound of birdsong, and of leaves fluttering outside.

“Are we in a forest?” Harry murmurs. His head is so heavy.

Snape grunts. “Yes.” He guides Harry’s head onto his collarbone; hair fills Harry’s nose and he burrows his face into the warm skin. “In a derelict slate house left to me by Albus.”

“It’s not the Forbidden Forest?” Harry winces.

Snape snorts. “No.”

“Do we have to make love again to save me?” Harry smiles, his eyes drifting closed.

He feels Snape start beneath him. “Again?” Snape asks. “We have never… done that.”

“Haven’t we?” Harry mumbles. “I’m sure we have.” He inhales deeply. “You smell so good.” Snape snorts again. “Am I still naked?”

“Yes,” Snape snaps.

“Are you naked?”

“Not quite. If you are awake enough, I need to give you a bath. Using daily cleaning charms has started to scour your skin.”

Harry frowns as Snape edges out from under him and tries to cling on, but Snape extricates himself firmly. Harry lies on his back and squints at the ceiling, feeling strangely bereft as Snape pads out of the room. He hears the creak of floorboards, the sound of running water, and Snape’s soft murmuring. There are footsteps back and forth, and the clink of glass bottles.

“Can you stand?” Snape’s blurry figure reappears in the doorway.

Harry inches himself up, the sheets pooling around his groin. He pauses. Snape waves a hand dismissively. “I’ve already seen it, Potter.”

Harry slowly edges his legs towards the side of the mattress. “Have you seen my glasses?”

“You do not need to see to sit in a bath, Potter.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Three weeks. It has been a delight, I assure you.”

Harry has to be helped across the room.

The tub is a large copper bath. The water swirls softly, dappled with multicoloured light: lilac, turquoise, like an opal. There are crystals sitting at the bottom, and an array of different jewel-coloured glass bottles lined up on a small table to the side. Steam curls up into the air.

Snape takes out a wand - the Elder Wand. Harry freezes as Snape advances on him, brandishing it - but Snape merely taps softly at the dressings on Harry’s stomach. A chill suffuses Harry’s skin. “You must not get these wet yet,” Snape says, by way of explanation. “Now, in you go.”

Eyes on the wand, Harry edges to the bath. He eases himself into the hot water with a groan.

Snape sits on a chair to the side, his chest still bare. He drapes a towel across his lap and watches Harry coolly.

Harry lays his weary head against the edge of the bathtub. Some of the gemstones clatter against his feet. He fishes one out. “Quartz?”

“For healing,” Snape says, uncorking one of the bottles and pouring a few drops into the water. “To increase the potency of the bath. It is also for your state of mind. What little of that you have left.”

Harry drops the stone back into the water. It clatters to the bottom. “Really now - have you seen my glasses?”

“Of course,” Snape sneers. “You may have them later.”

“And my wand?”

“Ah yes,” Snape’s voice is deadly. “What on earth have you been thinking, using the Elder Wand?”

“My other one stopped working,” Harry grits out. “I had no choice. I was Head Auror - I could hardly stop doing magic.”

“The Head Auror, who wantonly gave his body up for sacrifice. It makes perfect sense.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve chosen to die,” Harry replies, eyes flashing.

“It is the first time in which it serves no logical purpose,” Snape sneers.

Harry splashes at the water, his brow furrowed and fist clenched. “You probably wouldn’t care anyway. I’ve always been nothing but weak to you.”

“Were you planning on dying?” Snape spits out. “Have I inconvenienced you, Potter? It is obviously frustrating to be held to account for your immature actions.”

“I was desperate,” Harry grits out.

“So you were effectively hoping to end your life, that is what you are saying. Despite all that has been done for you. All those that died for you.”

“You were not there, Snape,” Harry growls. “It was all… It was…”

“It must have been terrible,” Snape’s lips curl in a twisted smile.

“Why did you save me then, if you think I’m so useless?” Harry shouts, bashing his fists into the water. A sharp pain sears across his stomach. “Why didn’t you leave me to die? What the fuck were you doing there with those people in the first place?”

“You think you’ve been saved, do you?” Snape sneers. “You think this is better than death? You may not come to think so; you have been bonded to me, body and soul. You are mine! That ought to fill you with terror -”

“You would never hurt me,” Harry shakes his head, but his smile does not reach his eyes.

“What makes you think that?”

Harry looks up, because there is something deadly in Snape’s voice. Snape is glowering at him from beneath his black eyebrows, eyes hard.

“Should I be afraid of you?” Harry tries to look him squarely in the face, but he can’t see far enough to make out Snape’s expression.

“You should wonder what I am going to do to you.” Snape’s voice is hard. “You have surrendered your life, and I have claimed it. You belong to me.”

“Is it going to be really dirty?” Harry closes his eyes.

There is a silence.

“What would you class as ‘really dirty’?” Snape’s voice is soft.

Harry shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve never even had sex, so…”

Snape barks out a harsh laugh. “You expect me to believe that.”

“Believe whatever you want. It’s the truth.”

“It’s time you got out of that bath.”

Snape has risen - Harry’s eyes spring open. “You’re offended that I’m a virgin?”

“I’m offended that you are a liar,” Snape sneers. “Out.”

Harry staggers out of the bath; he is abruptly handed a towel, which he wraps around himself. Once Harry is dry, Snape whips the towel from his fingers, and all but marches him back to bed. “Why are you so angry?” Harry asks, slipping back under the sheets.

“You expect me to believe that this body has never -” Snape cuts himself off abruptly. “Here,” he snarls, and something lands on Harry’s knees.

He reaches down. His glasses. He puts them on, but Snape has left the room.

-

It seems always to be raining. Harry risks the smallest, sideways glance out of the window, but the slice of sky that he can see is grey and sullen. The trees huddle together, forlorn in the mist. He can hear birds, sometimes. Although he cannot identify one call from another, he wonders what the birds look like, and whether they are grey too.

-

“How do you support yourself?” Harry asks, as Snape sulks in the corner with a newspaper (Harry cannot see whether it is wizarding or muggle). “Did Dumbledore leave you money, or do you have a job?”

“I work in Tesco.” Snape does not look up.

“Really?”

Snape sneers. “Of course not, Potter! I have a small business, which has been sadly neglected of late.”

“What do you do? Potions?”

“Amongst other things. Now that you are able to last a few hours without expiring, I must start to take commissions again. Especially now that I am feeding two.”

“I can help,” Harry offers, sitting up a little in the bed. It might be nice to have something to do.

Snape shoots him a black look. “You are the last thing my business needs.”

Harry bristles. “Why? Is it illegal? It’s you who keeps asking what I’m going to do!”

“Well this is one thing that you will not be doing!” Snape spits. “Keep your snotty little Auror nose where it belongs. Ah, you are no longer an Auror - I forget.”

“Why were you at the Gathering?” Harry demands. “Are you a member?”

Snape scowls. “Honorary member. The Ritual Sacrifice was explained to me as an increase in power. I had no wand after my ‘death’, and could not risk registering for one, so I was invited to try the benefits.”

“After being a Death Eater, you thought going along to an underground cult meeting was the best idea?”

“After being Head Auror, you thought that offering up your body to an underground cult was the best idea?”

Harry deflates. “I came across them through work. People were going missing. Then I realised that people weren’t being abducted into it - they were offering. Applying. At the time, I thought I could save one person, but that wasn’t the real reason. If I’d wanted to, I could have had the Gatherings shut down altogether. But I didn’t.”

“You wanted to die.” Snape’s words hang heavy in the air between them.

Harry cannot look at Snape. “It’s… hard to explain.”

Snape says nothing.

-

“Here,” Snape snaps.

Harry, who had been dozing, awakes with a start.

Snape shoves a bowl of food into Harry’s hands and curls Harry’s fingers around it, as though he does not trust Harry to hold it himself. “Do not drop it. It was handmade for you by myself.”

“Thank you,” Harry whispers, gazing down into the steaming bowl. Precisely diced pieces of vegetables float gently in the broth.

Snape scowls as he watches Harry eat. “Do you feel improved?”

Harry looks down at himself. “It’s very tasty.”

Snape’s scowl deepens. “I have made that for you. As we are bonded, it should have…” He stands. For a moment, he glowers at the kitchen. He stalks over to the oven and pulls it open almost violently, producing a beautiful soft round loaf and dropping it on the counter.

He turns back to Harry, eyes his half-eaten broth, then breaks off the end of the hot, floury loaf and presents it to Harry. Harry takes it, watching the steam rising, and settles the bowl across his knees. Carefully, he begins to break off pieces of the bread and dip them in.

Snape watches him as though he is doing magic.

Finally, the bowl is empty.

“And now?” Snape murmurs.

“I, um, feel full. Is that good?”

Snape’s mouth twists. “No. Give me the bowl back.”

“I don’t understand what I did wrong,” Harry protests, as it is snatched from his fingers.

Snape shakes his head. He drops the bowl so loudly into the sink that Harry winces.

-

In the morning, Harry is left alone for the first time.

He pads about the cottage peeking out of the windows. Whenever the curtains are pulled back, the sun cuts a slice across the floor.

Harry always steps back.

He is achingly tired, standing in the shadows with his back slightly hunched - yet still unable to rest. Cracking his knuckles and coiling his fingers into fists, his face pinched and colourless, his hair sticking up in every direction.

When Snape returns home with a parcel of cheese for lunch, he finds Harry sitting up in bed, staring at the wall.

“Keeping your mind occupied, I see,” Snape drawls, from the doorway. Harry says nothing, but watches as Snape unwraps and slices the cheese, sandwiches it between yesterday’s bread, and places it on a plate.

“What can I do?” Harry snaps. “You’ve taken my wand.”

“I need it for my work,” Snape hands him the plate. His face is set like stone.

“What am I supposed to do, sit and wait for you?”

Snape stares at him. Then he draws the Elder Wand from his pocket and sets it pointedly on the table. From a hanging basket by his workbench, he draws an orb made of glittering black stone. Then he fills a small bowl with water, and brings them both to Harry, setting them unceremoniously upon Harry’s lap. Harry adjusts his legs, frowning, as Snape kneels beside the bed.

Snape looks at the bowl, and raises both palms.

In an instant, the orb rises from the quilt and begins to spin in mid air. As Harry watches, the water in the bowl does the same, rising on Snape’s silent command and forming into a ball of rippling water. The orb and the water float at the same height above the bed, spinning and swirling. Until Snape lowers his hand, and the ball sinks back onto the quilt, and the water back into the bowl.

“You will probably find controlling just one too challenging,” Snape smirks.

Harry blinks. “It is like meditation?”

“Magical meditation is a little different, Potter, than just sitting with one’s eyes shut.”

“I can see that. How do I do it?”

“Work it out for yourself.” Snape goes back to making his own sandwich, then picks up the Elder Wand and leaves soon after without a word.

Harry sits, staring at the bowl of water and the orb for hours, before he tries to make them float.

Nothing happens. For some reason, this makes him angry.

By the time Snape returns, Harry has thrown the bowl (and, consequently, the water) all the way across the room.

-

The next day, Snape leaves him with a freshly filled bowl.

Harry ignores it all morning, lying under the quilt and trying inexplicably not to cry.

Finally, however, his frustration wins out and he sits up. Leaving the bowl for the moment, he tries the orb.

Despite repeated trying and much cursing, it stubbornly refuses to levitate. Nursing the start of a headache, he crawls out of bed, still clutching the orb, and leans against the windowsill.

He does not notice the sun until he realises that his skin is warm.

Then he looks out of the window, and realises that the leaves on the trees are green.

On an indrawn breath, he presses one palm longingly against the glass. Green. Green!

The orb forgotten on the windowsill, he rushes to the other window - as if to satisfy himself that the leaves on the other side of the house are green too. On this side of the house, he can see a segment of the sky above the trees - a soft, creamy blue.

He glances at the door, then shudders - and opens the window instead, fingers reaching out -

He snatches a leaf from the tree outside and gathers it in, before holding it up to his face, eyes wide.

Green again. Beautiful.

When Snape returns this time, there are leaves dotted all over his quilt. He regards Harry strangely, but he says nothing.

-

Several days pass. Harry has started to pace about the cabin while he holds the orb, glowering at it. All the windows are open, but the door has remained firmly closed.

Until -

There comes a scratching at the door - and a strange sound, like a cat caught between a cough and a ‘meow’.

Harry stares at the door for a long time before he opens it. Just a crack.

He peers out.

A fox is sitting on the stoop. It looks up at him. The burnt-orange of its fur is almost blinding.

“Um… hello?” Harry does not smile. He opens the door a little more, expecting the fox to bolt, but it does not. It simply looks at him, and Harry looks back - then he notices that the fur around its back legs and tail is frayed and thin, and matted with dirt and blood. “Are you injured?”

The fox takes a step closer - it has to pull its useless hind leg behind it. Harry crouches - and a hoot sounds, from behind the fox in a nearby tree. He startles - but the fox turns its head, barking out a high-pitched squeal. To his surprise, Harry can see woodland creatures shuffling back into the undergrowth - there’s the owl, and there’s a deer, and squirrels, and a badger, and an assortment of birds. They all hide, but he can still see their eyes and faces twitching in the undergrowth, watching.

He reaches out to stroke the fox, expecting to be bitten. It is then that he realises.

The fox is trembling.

He also realises that the woods around them are deathly silent.

His hand seems to move towards the fox in slow motion.

At his touch, at fingers sinking in to its battered fur, the fox shudders. The broken leg twitches - time stops - and then the fur on its back half flourishes back to life, as though awakened by a strong breeze, ruffled and thick and burnt orange.

Harry, eyes huge, withdraws his hand and stares at it.

The fox licks his knee.

Harry sits, stunned, with his heart hammering in his chest and with the fox at his side, as the animals start to emerge from the bushes.

-

The first time one of them dies, Harry nearly has a heart attack.

He is about four in, sitting in the doorway cross-legged - after the fox, the owl, and then a nightingale, and then a badger.

The raven that hops up to him has dull eyes. To his surprise, the raven lies down at his feet, its chest fluttering. It lies down as though it will never get up again.

The owl looks down at it sagely. The fox backs away.

Harry has a feeling that this one will be different, but he can’t say why. Until he touches the bird.

The raven lets out a last throaty ‘caw’, its wings twitch, and then its breath dissipates into the air. The bird moves no more and Harry stays frozen in horror. “Shit,” he whispers, scrambling back. “Er… shit! Was that supposed to happen?”

As he looks down at the raven, however, he sees grey in its feathers, and one leg badly healed from an old injury. He sees its tension melt away into the stillest sleep, and then he realises. The animals have come to him to accept their fate.

No wonder the fox had been scared.

-

By the time Snape returns, the owl is perched on the porch. Snape eyes it mistrustfully.

Then he steps through the door and sees the fox curled around Harry’s feet. “What have you done now?”

“I, er, I think I’ve got another weird skill.”

“What wouldn’t surprise me - what can you do this time? Enchant mythical beasts with your incredible singing voice?”

“I touched the animals and they either healed or they… they died,” Harry whispers. He hugs his legs up to his chest. Something in there feels strangely cold.

To his infinite surprise, Snape nods, face grim. “Master of Death. I should have known. You did at one point possess each of the Hallows. Thank your lucky stars it is only animals. Imagine having that with humans. I am surprised that you did not experience this earlier - perhaps all your pent-up issues were keeping it at bay.”

“Do you think my touch will do it to humans?” Harry gasps, horrified.

“If you ever decide to rejoin society, perhaps you will find out,” Snape snaps. He dumps a bag of something beside Harry. “Cook yourself a meal. I am not hungry.”

-

“Is that staying, then?” Snape asks, as he shuts the door that night. The fox blinks at Harry.

“It can stay,” Harry smiles. “I think it likes me.”

“It’s not sleeping in the bed,” Snape grumbles, then shuts the door. “If it’s got any diseases, you’d better catch them first.”

Harry wakes the following morning to find Snape snoring in his ear and the fox snoring around his feet.

-

After Snape has departed for his work, Harry decides to try going outside again.

When he opens the door, the fox darts out and scurries off like a blur of burnt gold into the bushes. “Thanks for your support, then,” Harry grumbles.

He puts one foot over the threshold - and a burst of birdsong drives him back inside.

Then he imagines Snape, sitting in his chair and regarding Harry with contempt.

He shoves the black orb into his pocket, and steps through the doorway.

Once in the wood, beyond the clearing around Snape’s slate house, he gets lost without thinking. There are so many leaves, so many greens, and the reds of berries, and the whites and pinks of blossoms. The smells too: dirt and perfume and new life budding and old life withering. He realises, eventually, that he is not wearing any shoes. Flies zip past his ears; squirrels rocket past overhead. He walks through patches of shivering snowdrops. Buds of rhododendron in all colours are just cracking open like eggs. It must be spring. He looks for daffodils, but finds only dead ones. The sky peeking through the trees is egg-shell blue.

After padding between the trees for hours, Harry lies down in a small clearing drenched in bright sunlight. The warmth seems to suffuse into his bones, and he sighs, and listens to the forest twitch and bustle around him.

When he wakes, a low mist shrouds the ground. The wet grass all around him has blossomed into a carpet of shimmering turquoise flowers. The setting sun casts long beams of light, like shooting spells, down onto the forest floor. Golden shimmers of light overtake the flowers; they tremble, and a ripple of gold shudders through them, before the petals are dyed a deep blue once more.

The dying sky is turning pink.

Harry sits up.

There, standing at the edge of the clearing, cast in silhouette, a great stag is watching him.

The light at its back burns gold. All the flowers around Harry turn magenta, then blue again, and the light sparkles. Harry tries to catch it in his fist. The flowers fade once more into a deepest blue.

Fireflies dance across the ground.

The stag still watches him.

“Am I the Master of Death?” Harry whispers. “What do you need from me?”

The stag bows its great head. Its golden eyes are wary. Its fur is streaked in grey and gold; its antlers are white. Harry tries to stand, and the stag watches the way that he stumbles, and shivers, and clutches at himself.

It turns, and walks slowly away, head held high.

“Wait!” Harry calls. “What did I do wrong?”

Confused, Harry starts to follow, but is stopped by a delicate silver doe darting in between the trees, twinkling like moonshine.

The doe canters straight up to him, says: “Where the fuck are you, Potter?”

Then tries to head-butt him.

Harry realises that it is starting to get dark, and he has no idea how to get back.

-

Snape is kneeling on the porch of the cottage when Harry stumbles into the clearing, following the doe, which immediately dissolves into thin air. Snape has placed the Elder Wand in a circle of what looks like salt, and is muttering over it as blood drips from the fingers of his left hand.

“Are you alright?” Harry walks straight over to him.

Snape’s head whips up. He instantly slaps his right palm over his left - but not before Harry has seen the gash.

“Location magic,” he groans. “I’m so sorry. I just… I went for a walk.”

Snape is looking at him with wide eyes, too incensed to speak. He is silent and rigid - Harry all but drags him inside and wraps a bandage around his hand.

When Harry looks up from the bandage, Snape is still staring at him, unblinking. It is quite terrifying. Harry looks around. Sitting on the counter is a burnt loaf of bread. Harry looks in the sink; the ruins of a meal lie smashed there, tomato and herbs and dumplings. Harry opens a pot and finds more sauce, going cold, and an open pot of already-cold potatoes.

Glancing back at Snape, Harry picks up a heavy pan and sets it on the stove. He pours in a small pool of oil and lights the gas, then tips in the potatoes and crushes them with a fork. He tosses in a handful of bay leaves and some thyme from Snape’s window box. The potatoes sizzle and brown, and Harry pours the tomato sauce over them, watching it bubble. Finally, he fishes out two bowls and ladles the potato and tomato mixture in, before crumbling over each the last of Snape’s market cheese.

He puts the bowl and a fork before Snape, who stares into the bowl and watches the cheese melt. After what seems like an eternity, he picks up the fork. Slowly, he begins to eat. After only four mouthfuls, he freezes.

Harry does too, his fork halfway to his mouth. “What?”

Snape looks down at his cut hand. The bandage is still bloody. He continues to eat. Harry swallows, then watches him with caution. “What’s wrong?”

Snape says nothing. He simply eats until the bowl is empty, then sets down his fork and un-bandages his hand. The cut is gone. Harry’s eyes widen. “How did that happen?”

“It is the bond. I told you,” Snape gazes down at his own hand; his fingers caress the clean, smooth skin. Then he raises his head. “So why does my cooking not do this for you?”

“Should it?” Harry ventures. “I mean -”

“Yes,” Snape interrupts, his expression sour. “I shall just have to make further attempts.”

-

Harry sits on a stool in the bathroom. Despite the lingering soreness in his belly, he is without the tightness in his neck that he has had for the past God-knows-how-many years, and the constant headache. Snape keeps giving him water, and potions.

His eyes are not sore; his skin is not flaking off. His hair is not full of grease. His hands no longer shake. He is just… quiet. Well-nourished, rested, and at peace even with his nudity. His mind, too, is quiet.

He takes his glasses off so that the world will be soft around the edges.

The only thing he isn’t sure about is whether to try having a shave. His cheeks are unusually prickly. Snape has a goatee, as he did during Harry’s first few years of school. Before he was Headmaster and became even more gaunt and haunted-looking.

Harry doesn’t think a goatee would suit him.

“I’m not his fucking secretary!” he hears Snape yell.

Harry wraps a towel around his waist, shoves his glasses back on, and sticks his head around the bathroom door. “Eh? What’s going on?”

Snape opens the front door wordlessly. Outside, a small gaggle of birds hop from foot to foot. There’s also a squirrel, and a vole.

Snape glares at Harry as though this is his fault. “Oh,” Harry says.

“I’m going to make you all into stew,” Snape sneers at the animals, then slams the door.

“It’s lucky they don’t understand you,” Harry says. “I’ll go out later. Can I have the Elder Wand back for a bit?”

Snape pauses. “For what purpose?”

“I need a shave.”

Snape’s glare darkens, but he reaches into his pocket and produces the wand. Harry senses a reluctance as it is handed over. “I’ll give it back,” he mutters, then wonders why he said that. It is his wand, after all.

Snape goes back to the sink, where he has a board laid out with ingredients in various stages of preparation. He works in silence as Harry stands there, feeling a bit lost, behind him.

“What are you going to shave - your balls, I suppose,” Snape grumbles at his ingredients.

Harry blinks. “Why do you say that?”

“Isn’t that what most homosexuals do?” Snape plucks the petals from a small white flower with a pair of tweezers.

“I’m not homosexual,” Harry bristles. When he looks up, he realises that Snape is staring at him. “What?” Snape says nothing. “Do I come across as gay? I’m really not.”

Snape snorts. “I believe you.” He turns away, as though dismissing Harry altogether. He puts down the beheaded flower, and starts to chop up purple roots with rhythmic motions.

“How dare you!” Harry shouts at Snape’s back, his hands balling into fists. Snape, to Harry's frustration, does not turn around. “I said, how fucking dare you!”

The rhythmic chopping continues. “It appears that we have some internalised homophobia.” Harry can almost hear the smirk.

“There’s nothing gay about me, do you hear?” Harry growls.

“I suppose you did grow up with Petunia and Vernon. They were never likely to instil tolerance in anyone.” Snape pauses; puts his knife down. “Do you suppose that Dudley is also gay? Think how that would make Petunia feel.”

“I’m not gay!” Harry shrieks. The fox darts out from under the kitchen table - Harry had not seen it there - and out of the open window.

Snape goes back to his chopping. “Of course you’re not.”

Harry slams his fist down on the kitchen table. “I can’t believe you!”

“Went to all those gay bars for research purposes, did you?”

“How did you know that?”

“Before you were accepted to throw your life away, the Order gave you a mental health interview, did they not? I obtained a copy of the transcript.”

“It was just a social thing!” Harry grits out, well aware that he is standing in Snape’s kitchen in just a towel.

“I’m surprised that I did not find a hoard of butt plugs in your possessions,” Snape adds, as he chops.

Breathing hard, Harry brandishes the Elder Wand. “Shut your mouth, Snape.”

“No wonder you’ve been restless recently - you’re used to sleeping with a mouth full of spunk, I’d imagine. Or an arse full.”

A black ball of crackling fire bursts from the tip of the Elder Wand. It screams towards Snape - who turns, knife in hand - but Harry’s curse crashes into an invisible shield and dissipates. There is a flash of purple light. Snape smirks. “Dearly bonded,” he drawls, “you cannot hurt me.”

Harry, eyes flashing, hurls the wand at him. Snape tries to catch it, but fails, and it clatters to the floor. “Still not learned to master your temper.” Snape’s lips twitch. Harry lets out a cry of anger and hurls himself at Snape, his stomach wrenching.

He wants to fight but he is still too weak.

They wrestle - Snape drops the knife and shoves him up against the wall. “Stop fighting me,” he snarls.

“I fucking hate you!” Harry howls.

“Nevertheless, we are bonded. At some point, you and I will have to have intercourse. Imagine my delight. If anything will make you gay, that will.”

“What about you?” Harry snaps. “If you’re gagging to fuck me, what does that make you?”

“I enjoy your use of the word ‘gagging’,” Snape sneers. “It gives me ideas. I have never hidden my own disposition, unlike some. Although, I must confess, I have never shaved my balls. You can show me.”

“I can’t believe I’ve spent the last twelve years missing you!” Harry snarls. “You’re the biggest shit I’ve ever met.”

“It’s all anal talk with you, isn’t it Potter,” Snape leers. He opens his mouth and licks Harry’s ear - his breath is hot and his tongue is wet. Harry groans; his hands fist up in the front of Snape’s brewing robe. “If your fixation becomes too much, we can do some anal stretching after work in the evenings.”

“I hate you,” Harry says, through gritted teeth.

“Is the Head Auror not allowed to like a cock in the arse?” Snape bites his ear. “I know that Wizarding Society is not very progressive, however I would have thought that your doting public would allow The Chosen One anything -”

“It’s nobody’s business what I choose to do.”

“Quite. Where did this self-repression come from? You were never so conformist in school.”

“I know,” Harry says. He sighs, and slumps against Snape. “Why don’t you just drop it. Please?”

“Because,” Snape whispers into his ear, “I’d like an explanation as to why you grab my arse every night, and why I constantly wake to find my dick in your clammy fist.”

Harry flushes scarlet. “I don’t. Do I?”

“Would you care to explain it?”

Harry drops his head onto Snape’s shoulder, out of breath. “It’s you.”

“You mean the bond?”

“Maybe - no. It’s… When I went to all those drug busts, all those underground potions rings, all those… bars… It was you that I was s-searching f-for.”

“Why were you searching for me?”

“For - for - fuck you!” Harry snarls, into Snape’s neck. He’s rock hard now, and it is jammed against Snape’s thigh, and sure as hell Snape knows it. “For a man - for you - fuck, get off me!”

“Poor sick little boy,” Snape sneers. “Need a man to help you with that?”

Harry shoves - and Snape lets himself be shoved away, eyes glinting. Harry limps out of the cottage and sits on the porch with his head in his hands.

Mercifully, Snape does not follow him out.

-

Later that night, Snape shoves a bowl of greasy stew in front of him, his teeth bared in a sneer. The pain in Harry’s belly is the same afterwards.

Snape throws the empty bowl out of the window when Harry tells him.

-

“What is this business that you won’t let me be part of?”

Snape eyes him with suspicion. “Potions.”

“For what?”

“For whatever people need them for.”

“In my old job, would I have been coming after you for doing this?”

“You wouldn’t come after me, Potter.”

“I… Is that innuendo?”

Snape sits back in his chair and glares at Harry. “Up to you.”

Harry sighs. “This is fucking ridiculous.”

Snape stands and goes back to his cauldron. “How have you managed to keep running from your childhood experiences for the past twelve years? Has nobody sat you down and forced you to confront yourself?”

“Who would do that?” Harry sneers. “A father figure? A Godfather? A wise old mentor? Tell me someone who isn’t dead, Snape!”

“Your little trio -”

“One third died, and the other… she is too upset to speak to me any more.”

“What happened, did you cause Weasley’s death?”

“No,” Harry hisses. “But I was there. I can’t talk about it.”

“There seem to be many things that you are unable to talk about.”

Harry gets up and storms out.

-

Harry lies on his back, his legs bent and thighs parted. His arms sprawl above his head, fingers behind his neck.

He has been asleep, and is still almost-dozing now. Lassitude melts his muscles. He is warm.

He knows that he is naked, and he comes to realise that Snape is standing close by, looking at him, and that the bed sheet is crumpled up at the bottom of the bed. He cannot bring himself to care.

Not when he opens his eyes, and realises that Snape is also naked.

Snape stands by his bedside, in the altogether, a pestle and mortar in his hands, grinding up something. His eyes travel slowly over Harry’s body as he works - and Harry lies there, waking up in stages, and lets him look.

When he decides to fumble under his pillow for his glasses, he notices Snape’s arms first; the Dark Mark tattoo is only one of many that adorn Snape’s arms and torso. Snakes, over his biceps and collarbones. All manner of dark pictures. (There’s a headstone with tiny writing that Harry cannot read, and he makes a mental note to look next time Snape is close to him.) There’s skulls, and patterns that Harry squints at, and constellations, and some magical creatures that Harry doesn’t recognise. There’s a doe.

Snape is also a lot more hairy than Harry. Dark hairs cover his chest, and there is a trail of black hair licking down his belly towards his groin, where his cock hangs, long and quiet, from a nest of black curls. His waist is trim and his body covered in lean muscle, like a boxer’s. There are several scars on his belly: thin and silvery, as though from old surgeries.

What surprises Harry the most are the piercings. There are only two, but they are in places which make Harry wonder whether Snape marched around Hogwarts for years with them just sitting there, bold as you please.

“When did you get those?” he asks.

Snape looks down at himself. “To what are you referring?”

“Those rings in… I wouldn’t have thought…”

“Wouldn’t have thought, what?” Snape’s voice is low and dangerous.

“Wouldn’t have thought you were the type,” Harry finishes weakly.

Snape looks down at himself again. “Because they jar so much with my forty tattoos,” he sneers.

“How old were you?” Harry persists.

“Early twenties,” Snape snaps. “I just never saw the need to get rid of them afterwards.”

Harry keeps looking. The ring through Snape’s right nipple is small, and golden. The nipple itself is pale brown, and surrounded by dark hair. Then his eyes drift lower… He can only just see the other ring - larger, but hidden by Snape’s foreskin. Still, the silver metal flashes. Harry shivers.

Harry parts his legs a little wider and stretches. He knows his own abdomen would have looked good - his muscles are well defined, his body sculpted - if it were not for the dressings covering the skin. He looks down. None of the wounds are bleeding today; the dressings are snow white. His own chest is not hairless, but there is less. There is hair under his arms, and a treasure trail like Snape’s, leading down to his cock, which rests sleepily against his thigh. There is the faint scar on his chest from the locket, and a few other burns from curses that he has collected over the years.

Snape’s eyes linger over them. “Your body was clearly an asset to your job,” he murmurs.

“Your body clearly tells me that you’ve been a bad boy,” Harry grins. Snape gives him a withering look. “Why do you say that?” Harry adds. “I suppose being an Auror is… was… fairly physical.”

“It appears so,” Snape nods. “You must spend a great deal of time on yourself.”

Harry looks at his arms; flexes his biceps. He will never be bulky, nor tall, but he is lean like Snape, and strong. He shrugs, and says nothing.

“I imagine that your body has been… appreciated by many men,” Snape adds, still grinding lazily.

Harry looks down at himself again, frowning. “No. I told you.”

Snape snorts; raises an eyebrow. “I find that hard to believe.”

“Why?”

One corner of Snape’s mouth quirks slowly upwards. “I thought that you were grown up.”

“I am,” Harry says. “But I’ve never had sex.”

Snape stops grinding. His black eyes glitter strangely. “What about women?”

“Ginny and I… It was never the right time. We were on and off for the first half of my twenties, then I was working all the time, and then… And then I started to wonder whether it was a woman that I ought to be with, at all.”

Snape starts grinding again. “I see. And did you never think to explore this… wonder of yours?”

“I didn’t know how to,” Harry says, voice small.

“I see.” Snape glares at him. “Do you think that your frustration in this contributed to your decision to sacrifice yourself?”

Harry blinks. “I… maybe, I don’t… I think there were a lot of things.”

“And one day, we will discuss them,” Snape says sourly.

“You seem to be very interested in my mental state,” Harry yawns, closing his eyes. Until -

“You seem to be forgetting that I was living a quiet, peaceful existence, until I ended up saddled with a young man determined to throw away his life!” Snape throws the mortar and pestle on the floor and Harry freezes, eyes flying open. Snape storms over to the bed and clambers atop Harry, sitting on his stomach and making him wince and cry out. “You are an impossible, reckless, selfish little shit,” Snape says, his hands on Harry’s biceps, “and you need a man to fuck your tight little body like a rag doll until you come to your senses!”

Harry gasps. “You?”

Snape sneers, and nods. “When you are sufficiently recovered.” Harry leans up for a kiss, but Snape stays just out of reach. “Behave yourself.”

“You just said you were going to fuck me like a rag doll!” Harry groans.

“I’m going to bugger you until you can’t sit down - until you can’t fucking stand,” Snape snarls. “Until all you can do is bend over for me with your legs spread.”

Harry tries to spread his legs further now, but Snape is sat over his hips. He is hot all over; Snape’s words send jolts of arousal coursing down to his cock. “Please. That’s what’s wrong with my life, please.”

“What do you think is wrong with your life?”

“I needed you to fuck with me, please Snape.”

“Do you know what to do with another man’s cock?” Snape sneers. Harry shakes his head, closing his eyes in shame. “Pretty young Auror, dissatisfied with his perfect life, thinks taking a cock up his arse will solve all his problems; help him to find himself -”

“Fuck you!” Harry snarls, struggling under Snape’s grasp.

“You. Just. Wait,” Snape growls, into Harry’s face. “You’re not going to be able to breathe, I’m going to be buggering you so hard.”

He is close enough now that Harry can kiss him, and he lurches up, trying to force his mouth against Snape’s thin lips. Snape snarls and pulls back before their mouthes can connect. His cock has started to harden and Harry tries to reach for it, but Snape climbs off him, face twisted. Harry’s own erection bobs, full and straining against his stomach - it catches Snape’s eye, and he pauses, sneering. “No other man has made that squirt for you, Potter?”

Harry’s cock twitches, so he grabs it in his fist, eyes squeezing shut. “God. Not yet.”

Snape smirks. “Maybe you are homosexual, after all.”

“You’d know,” Harry grits out, pumping his cock.

“Doing that is pointless,” Snape snorts. “We are bonded.”

“Why does that mean I can’t wank?” Harry scowls.

“Because you won’t be able to reach orgasm alone,” Snape sneers. “We have a full physical and soul bond, surely you understand what that means?”

“I can’t come?” Harry whispers.

“I can sense your emotions from far away; I can feel when you are hungry, weary, in pain; I can regenerate your magic and bring you back from the brink of death; I can soothe your physical aches with the touch of my skin against yours - and in return, you are unable to be unfaithful to me, even by yourself.”

“So you can make me come?” Harry grins.

Snape sneers. “Trust you to gloss over all the truly incredible things about this bond we share.”

“You’re hard too,” Harry points out, nodding at the erection which bobs against Snape’s stomach. “Can… can you only come if I touch you?”

Snape bows his head in assent. Harry blinks for a few seconds, then reaches out for him - but Snape steps back. “Later. When you are recovered.”

“I’m recovered enough to get a stiffy,” Harry points out. “So you can do all those things for me, what can I do for you?”

When Snape shakes his head, there is a strange gleam in his eye. “Do not worry, Potter. I have been adequately compensated.”

“What does that mean?”

“We will find out.” There is a hungry gleam in Snape’s eyes that Harry does not much like. “The notes I have are sadly limited, but I believe there is a small ritual which we must perform - which cements the bond. Therefore you will keep your hands to yourself until you are cured.”

Harry sits up. It hurts, and he winces - and Snape is suddenly right there, kneeling by the bed, helping him sit. Harry buries his face in Snape’s chest hair. “What about if I accidentally rub off against you in the night?”

“You can’t.” Snape’s voice rumbles though his chest.

“What if I use your hand in your sleep to jerk me off?”

Snape snorts. “It won’t work.”

“What if I have a dream about you screwing me and it makes me come?”

“It won’t.”

Harry looks up. “What if I break your resolve and get myself fucked?”

Snape’s dark eyes are piercing. “Then you will regret it. The bond needs strengthening - you have been very unwell.”

Harry smiles. “You didn’t say that I couldn’t break your resolve. Only that I shouldn’t want to.”

Snape glares at him. “I am made of flesh and blood. Behave yourself.”

Harry is about to reach for the water, but Snape hands it to him. He laughs drily. “Bet you never thought you’d be turning me down for sex.”

“No,” Snape interrupts his fumbling. “The thought is horrifying. If anyone had ever told me that I would be the one responsible for Harry Potter’s sexual awakening, I would have laughed at them until I was sick.”

“It doesn’t upset you that you’re going to be my lover?” Harry asks. “You have… always been so many things to me.”

“I am your lover already,” Snape says. “Just because we do not yet have physical sex makes no difference. I have saved your life twice in the last four weeks; my blood runs inside you. It is inevitable that our bodies should desire to be intertwined.”

“I think I’ve wanted to be close to you since I was seventeen,” Harry whispers. “I can smell you on me now, when you aren’t here.” Snape wrinkles his nose. “No, it’s… I can’t describe it. I can’t help it. I want you.”

He shivers at the way Snape’s eyes burn.

-

The next evening, when Harry returns to the clearing from wandering in the forest, he finds that Snape has returned early. The dying light is filtering through the trees.

Hands shoved into his pockets, he walks over with interest to where Snape has set a fire burning in a small pit ringed with rocks. As the flames lick and spit, Snape does not stoke them, instead focussed on preparing a fish. Harry sits in silence on a tree stump and watches Snape’s long, thin fingers smear a paste of capers and lemon inside the fish, before wrapping it in paper and foil and tying the parcel with string. Sat to the side of the fire, in a tin can, he spies a creamy potato salad, rich with herbs, just keeping warm.

Snape lays the fish across the embers at the side of the fire. He kicks coal and ashes over the fish to surround it in a warm cocoon. Then he looks up at Harry.

“Good evening.”

A shiver travels up Harry’s spine. He holds Snape’s gaze. One corner of his mouth quirks up. His hands are still in his pockets.

Something ignites between them, across the fire.

For the first time in thirty years, Harry feels… sexy. His hands rise from his pockets and he undoes his shirt, his eyes never leaving the snare of Snape’s dark, smouldering gaze. He can feel his chest rising and falling, and his skin is hot -

“Your eyes, in the firelight,” Snape growls suddenly. “They glow.”

Eyes flashing, Harry bites his lip to stop himself from grinning. “You want me.”

Snape wets his bottom lip. His eyes burn. “All this bravado, Potter. You’ll be screaming when I start fucking you really hard every night.”

Harry squirms, and parts his legs. “Have at it, old man.”

Snape smirks. “Soon.”

-

That night, Harry lies on Snape’s chest, deep in slumber. The curtains are open, and the moon is like a lantern, casting a path of light across the floor.

Harry was rock hard as soon as Snape came to bed, but Snape ignored it. He has an arm around Harry now, and his eyes are on the young man’s mouth.

He frowns, studying it.

“How did you come by this?” Snape murmurs. One could not just press an insipid kiss to that mouth - one would have to suck kisses out of it, rich and heady as honey.

Snape’s eyes follow the outline of it, trying to decide which lip is fuller. They are both soft now - Potter is well nourished, warm and relaxed, and his skin glows. Snape wishes to see him open his eyes, to be skewered by all that green, but he can wait.

 

Then he makes a fatal error.

Riddled with curiosity, he brushes his mouth across those lips - and is instantly infected. He freezes.

Then it begins. A flood of memories, not his own.

Potter’s.

He realises, to his horror, that the kiss must have fully activated the bond, but he is too busy gasping under the weight of thirty years of memories.

Potter seems to be experiencing it too - his eyes open on a wince and a cry, and he convulses.

-

Snape does not know how long it lasts.

He sees everything, as though in a Pensieve, in a whirl only just fast enough to comprehend, like hurtling through a galaxy.

Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, and the beatings and starving and loneliness. All through school, the deaths and lonelinesses (again) and anger. So much anger.

Potter’s death at seventeen. Albus and the train station. Thoughts of getting on the train.

His own almost-demise through Potter’s eyes and the panic, the loss - the loss takes him by surprise. Potter in the ruin of his old dungeon rooms, weeping.

Potter at eighteen, donning his too-large red Auror robes for the first time, his eyes bright with uncertainty. Training classes, Potter’s head bent low over his paperwork. The anxious stares of others.

Potter’s fears - some nights he dreamed he had taken the Dark Mark; that his arm had been cut off; that his head was imploding from the pain.

Potter in Albus’ Pensieve, watching Snape’s memories, a bottle of vodka beside his foot. Potter arguing with the Weasley girl. Running, lifting, training, downing bottle after bottle of nutrient potion while sweat dripped from his brow.

Darkness. The chant, ‘What if I’m made of stone?’ over and over. ‘I should be feeling more.’

Separation. No more red hair in Harry’s memories. Blustering pride, hiding - loneliness, once more. Potter lost in Snape’s memories, reaching out to Snape, drunk and wobbling on unsteady legs. Bursting with anger, even on his day of promotion to Head Auror. Potter’s dead eyes in the mirror as he donned the deepest blood red robes, perfectly tailored to fit his trim twenty-eight-year-old body.

The first time his magic failed him during a training session. The eyes of a hundred new recruits on him, on each other. Humiliation. Shame.

Impotent in all ways; the spells that stutter and fail; the nights alone with his cock tight in his fist until - nothing.

The night that he realised that he was going to get the Elder Wand from Albus’ tomb, and the night that he did it.

Sitting in bars alone, holding the wand, Master of Death but with head down, blushing and drunk and then staggering home to smoke muggle drugs and collapse on the cold bed - sometimes not even making it to the bed. Endless nightmares - waking up alone, screaming, cold snake-like eyes everywhere - and a searing pain in his forehead.

Watching Ronald Weasley wave goodbye tersely of an evening, while Potter is still sat at a desk, red eyed and up to his ears in paperwork. Sitting in a mediwitch’s office, the Elder Wand in his pocket, clutching his left arm, feeling the ghost-pain of a Dark Mark that he never took, demanding analgesics strong enough to knock out a small horse.

Grimmauld Place, so cold and dank in the middle of the night, haunted by memories. Potter, haunting the halls himself with a candle, eyes blank, face wet with tears. Wondering whether he ought to have come back from the Forbidden Forest ten years ago. Images of boarding a train. Pictures of Lily. Pictures of Lupin and Black, and Albus. Pictures of - Snape himself.

The first time he used the Elder Wand during an interrogation, and the terrifying rush of power that filled him up like a storm. Pacing the Headmistress’ office at Hogwarts, face red and angry, trying to beg Snape’s portrait to speak to him. Clutching the vial of Snape’s memories under his desk at work.

Dressed as a muggle in bars, eyes painfully bright, watching young men dance and rub against each other, but always leaving alone. Men inviting him to dance, to kiss, for sex - always refusing because they were not tall enough, not dark enough, not cruel enough -

Hurling the Elder Wand into the River Thames, screaming drunk, trembling - and the creeping horror that clutched at him the following morning when the wand was just lying on his pillow, right next to his head, when he awoke.

Wearing a leather harness about his chest in Sirius Black’s old bedroom, looking in the mirror, imagining dancing for men in a club. Sending the harness up in flames. Gripping his cock, fierce and sweaty, teeth bared - but unable to come, never able to come -

Working out in the middle of the night; sit-ups until five in the morning.

The cool, almost-relief when the file containing the Sacrificial Order was placed upon his desk; when he read it, and thought that he could take the place of just one person, and what a relief that would be, a relief -

-

When it is all over, Snape finds himself lying on the floor. Potter is only half on the bed, still panting - still in the grip of it. Their fingers are tangled. Snape tries to sit up - his boxer shorts are soaking wet, and his hair is plastered to his head. He tries to remove his hand from Potter’s, but the brief separation of their fingers causes Potter to issue the most ear-splitting scream that Snape has heard in years - the air between their hands catches alight. He seizes Potter again, ears ringing, both of them drenched in sweat, fingers burned, and Potter buries his face in Snape’s chest and moans brokenly instead.

At some point during the hours which follow, Snape thinks to check the time. He is shocked to discover the date - three days have passed. Three days, in which Potter’s entire life and memories have been laid out for Snape in their entirety.

He supposes that the same must be happening for Potter.

Three days, in which Snape has learnt the truth about the young man. Has learnt that this young man is not a duplicate of James Potter; is not a waste of the life that Lily would have lived; is not cruel and cowardly and lazy and sarcastic -

It lasts, for Potter, for two more days. A day per decade, Snape wonders.

Finally, Potter gasps as though he has never had breath in his lungs, and releases Snape’s hand. The air between them does not ignite, but Snape feels a loss. As Potter pants in his arms, he drags them both to the bathroom and turns on the taps. Forcing Potter to drink - Potter gulps water down as though he is dying - he heaves Potter into the tub and holds his weak body so that his head is above the water.

Potter cries quietly, leans his messy head on Snape’s shoulder and clings to him, and Snape realises that Potter has seen everything in turn. All his own memories from his childhood: his cruel father; his mother’s death; his isolation in school; his taking of the Dark Mark. Has seen him betray Lily, then crawl in the dirt at Albus’ feet and beg for mercy. Has seen him murder Albus and rule Hogwarts with an iron fist. Has seen him crawl out of the mess of mud and blood and phoenix tears and brew antivenin with blood seeping from his neck -

It should be torture, knowing that Potter has seen it all. He should be crippled with resentment - but strangely, he is not. Potter’s grasp on his shoulder is only one of relief; the look in his eyes only of comprehension and sympathy. There is no mockery here, no humiliation to be had. This is his bonded partner, with whom he shares his soul.

This is his beautiful, courageous, earnest, virginal bonded partner.

Head swimming, he reaches down for another kiss. Potter flows up into him instantly, as though Snape’s mouth tastes like mead, and Snape cannot stop kissing that red mouth. Potter twines his fingers into Snape’s wet hair, and kisses and kisses and kisses him.

He wants sex, but has no idea how to ask for it. Potter, however, seems to know what he wants, because he straddles Snape’s lap in the tub. They are both too exhausted however, and as he grips Potter’s cock in his fist, and Potter gasps, and then they are licking each other’s faces… They both fall asleep in the bathtub, before Snape wakes and drags Potter, still soaking wet, back to the bed.

-

Harry’s mouth is as dry as parchment. There is a weight on top of him, but it feels warm and solid. He has never had anyone sleep on top of him before, and he strokes the muscular back and bum with the flat of his palms and smiles, eyes still closed. A mouth seeks out his and he turns into it, still smiling, and allows this man with thick stubble on his face to take kiss after kiss, and to tighten his arms around Harry.

Snape.

Harry opens his eyes. Snape still has his eyes closed. His tongue is in Harry’s mouth. Snape seems to sense that he is being watched - his eyes snap open.

Their mouths separate.

“What happened?” Harry chokes out.

“The bond,” Snape says gruffly. He rolls off Harry - but only to his side. Their skin still touches. “It activated when I… kissed you.”

“So we don’t need to do a ritual?” Harry whispers. “We’re properly bonded now?”

“So it would seem,” Snape murmurs. He closes his eyes.

Harry lies still and watches him. “Did you see everything of mine? I think I saw all of you.”

Snape nods slowly, his eyes still closed.

“Then you know me now,” Harry whispers. “And I know you - I can’t be wrong about you ever again. I’ve seen -”

“Don’t say it,” Snape snaps.

“I wasn’t going to be unkind -”

“Just drop it, Potter,” Snape sneers.

“Hey,” Harry hisses, “you were the one who kissed me.”

The corners of Snape’s mouth turn down. “It was necessary.”

“Bullshit,” says Harry, and Snape turns on him with a snarl - which Harry stops with his mouth.

It is a harsh kiss - more of a shove than a kiss. All teeth and saliva, no softness. Harry’s fingers pull at the hairs on Snape’s chest until Snape winces and snarls, “Little bitch” into Harry’s neck. “Why are you tormenting me?”

“I’m not!” Harry gasps.

“I can never be free of you,” Snape says. Then he licks a wet stripe along Harry’s shoulder.

“You could have let me die,” Harry gasps out. He laces his fingers into Snape’s greasy hair.

“I’m sure Lily would have been delighted with me,” Snape snorts.

“Still protecting her son, thirty years later?” Harry murmurs.

“He seems to keep needing my protection.” Snape gently bites at the juncture between Harry’s neck and shoulder.

“You’ve seen all I am, and you still - you still…” Harry squares his shoulders. “Is it still all about her? Do you still h-hate me?”

Snape looks up at him sharply. “Is it so easy for you to lie down with your former enemy without any thought to your integrity?”

Harry snorts. “You’re not my former enemy. You were my protector. You are the bravest man I’ve ever met, and now we’re bonded. Is it so hard to admit that I’m nothing like my father?”

Snape growls and says nothing.

Harry strokes his back, as though soothing a Hippogriff. “If we can just be kind to each other -”

“Do you think of me as a ‘kind’ man?” Snape sneers, thin lips curling back over his teeth. He recoils from Harry’s seeking palm and sits up.

“But you understand me now, and I understand you. Why are you fighting it?”

“I am not fighting it,” Snape growls. “I hold you every night, do I not? I bonded my body to you to keep you alive, despite your reckless disregard for your own life -”

“You’ve seen what it was like, and you still say that?” Harry shouts.

“I saw nothing so unbearable that you could not have carried on with your job, had you been competent,” Snape sneers.

Harry’s mouth drops open. “What?”

Snape swears viciously, and untangles himself from the bedding and Harry. “Give me space,” he spits, then goes to storm out of the room. Harry feels his loss instantly - and even Snape, too, pauses in the doorway. “What have you done to me?” He leans against the doorframe; scrubs his palms across his narrow face.

Harry twists unhappily in the sheets. “Come back.”

“Fuck off.” Snape does not turn around.

“I feel like… I was handmade for you,” Harry whispers.

Snape snorts. “I imagine that your mother and father would have seen things differently.”

“They’re not here,” Harry says, approaching Snape cautiously. “You’re the man that I’m supposed to be with.” He slips his arms around Snape from behind. Snape allows the caress for a moment, then steps free of him, sighing.

“What on earth is the Head Auror going to do with himself now? Despite all I have seen, you still chose the worst way to deal with your problems.”

“I… I know,” Harry whispers. “And I have no idea.”

-

Later, after Harry has slept, and eaten, Snape comes in and kneels beside the bed. Pushing the covers back, he starts to tend to Harry’s dressings in silence, removing them and smearing the wounds with red paste.

“Am I improving?” Harry asks softly, eyes closed.

“The curse is almost all out,” Snape’s voice is low. He cuts gauze and tape and re-dresses Harry’s wounds. As his fingers smooth the tape over Harry’s abdomen, Harry shivers and watches him from beneath his dark lashes.

“Come to bed?” Harry murmurs, laying his fingers over Snape’s. “You’re tired.”

-

In the middle of the night, Harry is awoken by the urge to make love.

It is not a need which has ever pulled him from sleep before, and he tosses and turns before he realises what the feeling (of hot magic thrumming, just under the surface of his skin) means.

As it skitters down his veins, sparking him to life everywhere, he slides his hands all over the firm, hairy skin of the body which is half on top of him. He starts to kiss Snape’s shoulder, all that his face can reach. Snape stirs.

“I feel like I’m in heat,” Harry whispers to him. “Does that happen to people?”

For a moment, he isn’t sure whether Snape is awake.

“Not usually.” Snape’s voice is gruff. He raises his head.

“And I feel really slick… down there,” Harry growls. “Is that normal for a bloke?”

“Decidedly not.” Harry can feel Snape’s smirk against his collarbone.

Then he feels fingers probing at him - and grimaces.

“It appears that my… compensation is working.” Snape’s voice is like molten velvet.

“Your… what?”

“I desired that you be ready for me whenever I wanted you,” Snape growls, grabbing Harry’s arse with both his large hands.

Harry groans as his erection is shoved against Snape’s thigh. “Fucking hell. Mmm, fucking… I just want to ride your hard cock,” Harry grins - then shrinks back and buries his face in Snape’s shoulder with a groan of embarrassment. “Sorry, I’ve never… done dirty talk before.”

Snape merely snorts. “Fucking homosexual.”

Harry grins into Snape’s skin. “I know. It’s perfect. In… in the bath?”

-

“You are so erotic,” Snape snarls, licking the flat pad of his tongue up the back of Harry’s neck.

Harry groans, on his knees, and holds onto the bath taps, as Snape slides inside him. Snape's front moulds to Harry’s back, all wet hair and slick skin. Then Snape licks him again, down the side of his neck; the tip of his tongue runs along Harry’s shoulder before sucking a hot kiss into the skin.

Hands slide into his hair, ruffling it up the wrong way, up from the base of his neck towards the crown of his head. His hair is wet; he feels it stick up. Snape’s cock is thick inside him, and his eyes close. Panting, he pushes back until he can feel Snape’s pubic hair against his crack and Snape is fully seated inside of him.

Harry groans, eyes closed. Snape’s clawing fingers massage his scalp, and Snape says into his ear: “You are like a wild creature that I have captured and tamed for myself.” He pushes into Harry and holds himself inside. “Breathe with me,” he growls. “Breathe in when I do, and out, good…”

Eyes closed, Harry lets his lungs expand as Snape’s do, pushing them harder together. The moment of mutually held breath is like flying. Snape pushes inside him, and holds himself there as they keep hold of their breath - then Harry twists his neck and they start to kiss. As they exhale into each other’s mouths, Snape pulls out. Harry feels empty, and claws him back.

In, out. In, out.

“Switch,” Snape snaps. “Breathe out when I push into you.”

Harry prefers this. He feels as if he is floating away on each exhale.

They crawl out of the bath and make puddles all over the bathroom floor.

“You have… so much… sexual energy,” Snape snarls. Harry, on his back with his legs in the air, groans and screws his eyes shut.

-

Snape lies on his back. He is looking at the ceiling.

Outside the window, he can see the moon slowly arching through the sky.

Between his legs, the Head Auror, Master of Death, Boy Who Lived… is sucking his cock.

Snape smirks, and lets his arms fold above his head, and makes himself comfortable, so that he can enjoy the devoted swipes of Potter’s tongue.

Hands snake up his body, over his thighs, stomach, abdomen and pectorals, stroking the hair, before returning to cupping his balls and holding his cock up. Licks around the piercing there; flicks it with his tongue.

Potter’s mouth is inexperienced, but slobbery and keen. Snape’s cock is too big for his mouth; sometimes Snape holds the back of his head and encourages it deeper.

-

Harry is lying on Snape’s chest. Snape is still panting.

They have been fucking standing up, Snape’s hands under Harry’s thighs, holding him up. Harry’s fingers clung to Snape’s neck and shoulders as Snape pounded up into him.

Sometimes Harry wrapped his legs around Snape’s waist. Sometimes he let Snape take his weight.

At some point, they had fallen onto the bed, Snape atop Harry, Harry’s legs in the air as Snape shoved into him over and over.

Snape groans, eyes closed, and Harry chuckles into his neck. “Tired?”

“You wore me out,” Snape growls, his hands kneading Harry’s arse cheeks. Harry starts licking his neck, his spent cock pressing into Snape’s stomach. Some of Snape’s come trickles down the inside of his thigh. “Athletic young Auror who hardly breaks a sweat -”

“I’m sweating,” Harry grins. “I’m bitten and sweaty, and my muscles are sore, and my arsehole has had a workout -”

Snape chuckles darkly. “My back is scratched to shit. You fuck like a little bitch, Potter - it’s like trying to screw a thestral.”

“You love it,” Harry growls. “You love to hold me down and teach me a good hard lesson.”

“You respond much better to this kind of instruction,” Snape murmurs, his lip curling and his hands still squeezing Harry’s bum.

“When will you be ready for another round?” Harry mouths at his shoulder.

Snape snorts. “At fifty? You think a lot of my stamina, Potter.”

“Your stamina is fine,” Harry smirks. “I need you, please. I’m not ready for it to be over,” he whispers into Snape’s ear.

“If you let me up, I brewed something,” Snape turns his head and bites Harry’s earlobe softly. “Are you gagging for more so soon?”

“If you’d prefer that I went for a walk…”

Snape hauls Harry back on top of him. “Get back up here.”

-

They are having sex again. (Harry’s world has narrowed to the scent of Snape’s skin, the coarse slide of Snape’s hair, the sharp snap of his teeth.)

There is sweat in Harry’s eyes and hair, in his mouth, and up his nose. His lips and chin always seem to be sore from kissing Snape’s rough face.

This time, they are having sex, but not moving. Snape is sat up, and Harry has straddled his lap and sunk down onto his cock, but then they just sit there, breathing into each other’s necks. Harry looks at the headstone tattooed on Snape’s shoulder and feels Snape’s large hands occasionally mapping his spine, fingers spread. “I thought it’d say ‘Lily’,” he murmurs, tracing a finger over the picture. “But it’s your mum.”

“You can read, then,” Snape sneers.

Harry smiles into Snape’s neck. “Cock,” he murmurs.

“Homosexual,” Snape growls back.

“Yes,” Harry sighs, his lazy smile widening. “Finally.”

“Took you long enough,” Snape bites Harry’s ear. “Are all these positive affirmations making you feel better?” Snape smirks.

“I’ve spent thirty years hiding from myself,” Harry murmurs. “If I want to talk about cock then I will. If I want to put one in my mouth then I will. If I want one stretching my arsehole and driving me mad, then I will.”

Snape shifts a little inside him and Harry gasps and grits his teeth. Snape runs a hand down Harry’s side - the other slides up into his hair. He puts his mouth beside Harry’s ear, his breath hot and damp and, with a snarl that sears directly into Harry’s brain, snarls: “You set me on fire, boy.”

Harry clings to him with his arms and legs. “In, come on, harder,” he growls. Snape kisses him, and starts to move, finally. Harry gasps.

“Is this… making love?’ Snape demands. Sweat drips from his brow, from his nose.

Harry looks up at him, blinks. “I don’t know. I… I think so.” He licks Snape’s nose. “It feels like it to… to me.”

Snape lowers his mouth and sucks another kiss out of Harry’s.

They end up falling off the bed and fucking halfway across the floor by the time Snape comes.

-

“You should have come for me at nineteen,” Harry mumbles into Snape’s neck. “You wouldn’t even have had to say anything. I’d have just come with you.”

Snape slips a hand up the back of Harry’s thigh. “It would probably have saved you a lot of hassle later on. You wouldn’t have been allowed any of this sacrifice nonsense. But you wouldn't have been Head Auror, either.”

Harry snorts. “Who cares.”

Snape glowers at him. “Those of us who have spent years protecting you. You will not waste your life, even after this. I expect you to find something to do, something worthy of you.”

Harry smiles sleepily. “Being your lover isn’t enough for me to do?”

“No,” Snape glowers.

Harry falls asleep smiling.

-

The next morning, Snape goes back to work. Harry potters about the cottage, tidying and brushing his fingers softly over Snape’s instruments. After lunch, he climbs a tree.

Perched on the juncture between trunk and branch, he pulls the black orb from his pocket. He looks down at their little house, and smiles shyly.

The orb hovers up out of his palm before he realises. “Hey,” he grins. “About time!”

Far below, there is a ‘crack’ of Apparition. Snape stumbles into the clearing, and Harry beams. “Hey!” he calls down. “I can levitate the orb now! Must be all the sex!”

He scrambles down - then freezes at the sight of Snape, who is leaning against the door and gasping. A deep, dark wound is spreading out, like a blossoming flower, over his chest.

Harry lurches across the clearing. “NO!”

Snape slumps down onto his knees. “Get me the dittany,” he rasps out.

Instead, Harry rushes towards him, palms open. “Let me heal you!”

“NO!” Snape screeches. “STAY BACK!” Black magic crackles from his fingers.

“Why?” Harry chokes, stumbling to a halt.

“Because those hands of yours might kill me,” Snape howls. “You have no control over it - you are just a conduit!”

“It’s not your time to die!” Harry shouts.

“What if it is?” Snape shouts back. “Get me the fucking dittany, you worthless runt!”

“Let me fucking touch you!” Harry screams. “We’re bonded!”

“And you are the Master of Death, which I’m sure overrides a stupid soul bond!” Snape recoils. “Get the fuck away!”

Harry tries to lunge forward, but Snape shrieks at him - a horrible sound which makes Harry recoil.

The next hours pass in a blur of hot water and chanting and blood, so much blood. Snape has been shot by something; Harry watches him perform amateur surgery and dig out three bullets made of pure gold. When he asks Snape about it, Snape only shakes his head, his face deathly pale. Harry makes bread for Snape with trembling hands, trying to heal him that way, but Snape is too sick to eat.

-

It is midnight. Snape is quiet now, lying still in the bed - but not cured. Still not cured. A dark web of spidery blue veins grows out across Snape’s skin from the three bullet holes. Harry cannot bear to think about what they mean, nor to watch them spread with each passing hour. Every new concoction that Snape directs him to brew only seems to speed up the curse. Books litter the floor, and the bed quilt; partially diced and discarded ingredients are scattered everywhere. The room smells rank. Snape still will not tell him why he was shot.

Unable to sleep, unable to touch him, unable to help, Harry wanders restlessly through a dark field. Behind him, a shimmering trail of flowers follow like the trail of an insect, gilded in gold. His path across the dark field is clear; every flower that his bare feet touch sparkles.

He returns to the cottage terrified of what he might find inside, but Snape’s chest still rises and falls, if shallowly.

“You are afraid of dying, aren’t you,” Harry whispers. He knows Snape is awake. Three days have passed; Snape now sleeps all day, and lies awake all night in pain. Harry, forbidden from touching him, tries to sleep in the chair. It is impossible. He cannot even think straight; he swears that the leaves on the trees have started to fade to grey once more.

“We cannot all have your insight,” Snape sneers, rolling over to face him. His face is ashen. Even his lips are fading to blue.

Harry’s heart constricts. He wants so badly to intertwine their fingers, to stroke Snape’s lank hair. “There are far worse things than death,” he whispers.

“Albus Dumbledore told you that, did he?” Snape sneers. The lines in his face seem carved deeper; a sheen of sweat glistens on his forehead. “I’m sure that he was abundantly confident of what was waiting for him on the other side.”

“And you aren’t?”

Snape’s gaze lowers. “I have killed,” he says gruffly. “I am under no illusions as to what I deserve.”

“Doesn’t our bond continue after death, then?” Harry asks.

Snape’s head snaps up. “What?”

“I thought we had a soul bond. Wherever I go, you go, right?” Snape stares at him. “Or does death put a stop to all that?”

Snape scowls - his usual response, Harry has come to realise, when he does not know the answer.

-

The night drags on. When Snape starts to sob, Harry cannot help, cannot bear it - and so he goes outside.

Sitting in the clearing is the fox. It has found Snape’s black orb, and is pawing at it. Beside it lies a badger - the shallow undulation of its chest is eerily familiar.

“Not now, please,” Harry mutters, but he moves forward regardless.

As he approaches, the orb begins to glow red. The fox recoils, hissing at it. Frowning, Harry bends and picks it up. It feels warm.

He looks at the badger.

When his hand smoothes down the beast’s back, it is as though he soothes out its last breath. The badger stretches out, and closes its eyes, and the night turns still.

The orb becomes cold once again.

“Shit,” Harry whispers. He picks up the badger and carries it away, then returns to find the fox trying to bury the orb in the clearing. “No! No, I need that - give it back!” The fox snaps at him, but he snatches the dirty orb away and hurries inside.

“I’ve worked out how I can know whether something is going to die when I touch it!” he cries, bursting through the door.

Snape sneers at him as Harry holds the cold orb aloft in triumph.

Then his eyes narrow as the orb turns red.

Harry cries out and drops it. “NO!”

“What does that mean?” Snape snaps, peering first at the orb, then at Harry’s horrified expression.

“I - nothing. Nothing! It… it’s nothing,” Harry gasps, his eyes filling with tears. He lifts his shaking hands to cover his face.

Snape sits up. “Right,” he says curtly, face pinched. “Come over here then.”

“No,” Harry shakes his head, over and over. “No, I’m wrong, it’s stupid - it turning red like that doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t -”

“I can either waste away here, or… or you can stop hovering in the doorway like a blubbering banshee, and do your job.”

“We don’t even know if it works on people.”

Snape nods, grimly. “I am sure you will find out.”

“NO! No, stay away - stop it! Get back in bed!” Snape leans over and vomits a dark pool of blood onto the wooden floor. “Oh my God! Severus!”

Snape, wiping his mouth, sneers at him. “It knows. Help me.”

“I won’t - I can’t!” The orb burns brighter. Snape falls out of bed, and Harry darts over, sobbing. Snape seizes him - their mouths hover, centimetres apart, their breath mingling. “I… I can’t… Severus, it’s going to kill you -”

Snape kisses him. Harry grabs him and kisses back with all he has, moaning into Snape’s mouth in terror. Snape winces; his arms shudder and his hands shake. Then he falls back against the pillows and pulls Harry to lean against him, kissing and kissing.

Harry sits back, eyes wide. “Nothing happened,” he begins, breathless, mouth wet. “I’m wrong - I thought… Oh, thank God I was wrong -”

Then Snape convulses.

Horrified, Harry realises. “NO!”

But Snape’s mouth is dark blue, and his eyes roll back in his head. Harry seizes him by the shoulders, cradling Snape’s head, which flops onto his shoulder. Snape’s teeth clatter like marbles. “No,” Harry gasps. “Please!”

The room turns cold.

A frost breaks out across the window pane.

Harry thinks first of Dementors, and fumbles the Elder Wand from his pocket.

The ivy around the window turns from green to auburn, then withers and desiccates before his eyes.

The dead leaves fall from the ivy, and new ones bud and uncurl instantly, fresh and green. White flowers bloom all around the window. The door opens - a carpet of grass spills out across the floorboards, and up through the grass burst snowdrops, their tiny flowers dangling like bells.

The tall golden Stag has to bend and turn its head to fit its great antlers through the door.

Upon sight of it, Harry’s skin turns cold. “STAY BACK!” He points his wand.

The Stag opens its mouth. “Harry Potter.”

Harry tightens his arm around Snape. “Who are you?”

“I am Death,” says the Stag. “I have come to meet you.” The snowdrops wither into the ground, and a carpet of daffodils spring up to take their place. The questing ivy breaks through the glass of the windows and begins snaking up the walls. “I have tried to meet you twice before.”

“Sorry that didn’t work out,” Harry scowls.

“I am here for him.” The Stag nods its great head at Snape. “He, too, has evaded me before.”

“You can’t have him!” Harry snaps.

“You felt it yourself. It is his time.”

“I’ve just found him again!” Harry howls. “You can’t!”

“Harry,” says the Stag, as the daffodils give way to bluebells, “you, of all people, should understand. You have my Gift, as one who has owned all the Hallows. You, yourself, have accepted the inevitability of what is to come.”

“I won’t let you!” Tears start to stream down Harry’s cheeks.

“I am looking forward to when you and I meet again, Harry,” the Stag says, softly. “You and I will do this work together, when your time has come. You will join me then, and share the burden that you were born to do. You will understand me. I am weary; you will be my Apprentice.”

“You want me to work with you? You’ve taken away everyone that I’ve ever loved!” Harry cries.

The Stag’s face falls. “I am ten thousand years of cycles of deaths, Harry. I cannot give one more favour than another.”

“Well I won’t work with you if you take him now!” Harry snarls. “I’ll learn how to control it - and you will never find me - I have the Cloak! I’ll never resign myself to dying, I’ll live for a thousand years!”

The Stag looks at him. Its eyes burn cold. “I cannot witness another thousand years of deaths.”

“Well get fucked!” Harry screams. “Who cares what you want! I have never loved anyone like this, and I’ve just bonded with him, and you're taking him away, like you did all the others! I never knew my parents because of you!”

The Stag is silent. Its mouth works, its star-black eyes narrow. “Name your terms.”

Blinking through the tears, Harry gasps. “What?”

“Say he lives today. I cannot have this every time I come for you again, Harry - I have done you the courtesy of seeing to him personally.”

“I… I… He lives until I die,” Harry chokes out. “You know how long wizards can live for -”

The Stag swallows. “The oldest wizard was over six hundred years old.”

“They had the Philosopher’s Stone, though, right?” Harry snaps.

“And you are Harry Potter. I am leaving nothing to chance.”

“How old was Albus Dumbledore when he died?” Harry asks.

“One hundred and fifty.”

“Do the same for me, then. A hundred and fifty - that’s a hundred and twenty years’ time.”

“And him? He is twenty years your senior.”

Harry tightens his grip on Snape again. “He’ll be a hundred and seventy when he dies, then. And I want him with me, after that. You don’t have to give him any special p-powers. He’d just be there. I don’t… I can’t work without him.”

Death is silent. All around them, Autumn drips dying leaves across the floor.

“One hundred years, to the day. He will live until the moment that you take your last breath, and after that you will come with me willingly, and you will shoulder this burden with me, supported by your Consort.”

Harry squares his shoulders. Snow starts to fall, inside the cottage. “D-done.”

The Stag bows. “Very well. Until then, Harry Potter.”

The Stag melts away into white light, leaving him trembling in the darkness, with the orb glowing red and Snape slumped against his side.

Much later, after Harry has given up all hope, Snape gasps.

-

Harry is sat on a rock, next to a small lake bordered by trees. He had found it purely by accident - he had been looking for the fox. He can find no animals, however; even the trees are bare. Death has frightened everything away. Even now, the geese gliding across the surface of the water steer clear.

Leaves and grass whistle behind him.

“There you are.”

Harry jumps and turns. Snape is a slim pillar of black - standing in a red patch of dancing poppies.

Harry frowns. He is sure that they were not there before. “How did you find me?”

“There is a path of these poppies, leading straight to you,” Snape sneers.

Harry sighs. The world seems to shift around him; things live and die in seconds at his touch. He is too scared to try to pick a flower anymore, if even the press of the sole of his foot can change the ground beneath it.

Snape waits. He is staring at Harry with his arms crossed. His fingers tap irate rhythms on his elbows.

Harry uncrosses his legs. He wants to reach out, but Snape looks so untouchable. “You’re looking better. I left you sleeping.” Snape says nothing. “How do you feel?”

“What happened? I thought the outcome was clear,” Snape snaps.

“Hah,” Harry says darkly. “Well apparently I couldn’t have predicted Death showing up in person like that.”

Snape’s eyes widen. “What?”

“Yeah,” Harry snorts. “Bastard.”

“Why, if it was my time, am I still here?” Snape demands.

“Because I didn’t want you to go,” Harry snaps. “It’s too much - Death wants me to take over his job, yet he takes away everyone that I love. I’m not having it happen to you, too.”

“Death wants you to… what?”

“We came to an agreement. You and I, one hundred years. Then I’ll go and… do whatever Death wants. Sounds like he wants to retire.”

“Only you,” Snape says, scowling, “would do this. I thought I was dead.”

Harry scowls back. “What did you expect me to do? I’m in love with you.”

Snape splutters. Then he takes a seat beside Harry. Three ducks glide across the lake. Harry turns to look at Snape, who watches them.

“What happens to me after one hundred years?” Snape’s voice is the quietest that Harry has ever heard it. “You sound… as though you will be otherwise occupied.”

“What do you want to happen?” Harry asks, clutching his knees against his chest.

“I…” Snape trails off. Then his face turns sour. “I suppose that it did not occur to you.”

“You would think that,” Harry snaps.

Snape’s head whips around. “Meaning what, exactly? Is it unreasonable of me to concern myself?” His lip curls. “One hundred years of bliss - and then an eternity of nothing, not even sight of you! I am to be discarded. While you busy yourself with your new purpose, I am to spend eternity longing for a glance, a crumb thrown my way -”

Harry kisses him. They fall back onto the grass; Harry clambers atop Snape, straddling his hips. “You’re coming with me,” he gasps out. “Death called you my ‘Consort’.” He sits up. “Does this mean you love me, too?”

Snape’s hands steady his hips. “You are the most frustrating, arrogant brat that I have ever had the misfortune to fall foul of -”

Harry grins. “It’s ok. Maybe after a hundred years, you’ll be able to say it aloud.”

“You’ll be lucky,” Snape says, and kisses him again.

-

That evening, Harry is sitting on the back porch, when the fox comes back.

It is followed by - Harry’s heart leaps into his mouth - a stag.

At first, his hand reaches for his wand - he has left it inside - but then he realises that the stag is limping, and all too real. He remembers the golden eyes and the grey fur and the white antlers.

It is not Death returned to break his side of the bargain. Harry stands.

“Hello again,” he whispers.

The stag flinches, watching him approach with narrowed eyes.

As last time, it seems to be waiting for him. Measuring him.

Suddenly, Harry understands. He pulls the glowing red orb from his pocket. “It is a yes,” he says, holding the orb up. “I know the answer now. This would be the end. Now you can make that choice; it’s up to you. I think that… You wanted it to feel like it was your choice? If I touch you, you will die. You don’t need to be afraid, you know.”

The stag blinks hard, then looks away. It looks up, and all around, as though taking in one last look at the quivering trees and the lush grass and the clouds floating across the sky. Harry suddenly remembers Snape’s near-death in the Shrieking Shack, and how Snape had wished to die by falling into the green of his eyes.

He thinks that, one day, he will not need the orb. He imagines the glittering black stone cracking clean in two, and having the knowledge within himself. It will happen. He knows this.

The stag watches a jumble of leaves flutter across the forest floor. Then it turns, and regards Harry with a strong jaw: with grace, with dignity. Harry puts the orb back into his pocket.

He watches the stag as it steps forward. Its knees are trembling.

“I only have one hundred years to get used to this,” Harry murmurs, his heart heavy in his chest at the stag’s unwavering pride and strength. Louder, he says: “You can come here, it’s ok. You’re going home. I’ve got you.”

Then he holds out his hand.