restoration - noun
an act of restoring or the condition of being restored; a bringing back to a former position, dignity, etc.; a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition; the restitution of something taken away or lost; something that is restored, as by renovation
The voices come from out of the dark, from underwater.
“--back again so soon?”
“Yes ma’am.” Always these two, though why they should want to intrude on his peace so often he doesn’t know.
“You know I don’t mind your being here, dear, but it’s hardly healthy for you to visit so often. It’s not as if--”
“Not as if what?” The second voice cuts across the first, cold and angry. Their bickering doesn’t matter to Severus, but it’s tiresome to listen to. “Not as if he doesn’t deserve the consideration? After what he did for us? After what he’s given up?”
“It’s not as if he’s aware of your presence,” the first voice snipes back coolly, before relenting into gentle cajoling. “You’re still young, you should be out, celebrating with your friends, enjoying life. You shouldn’t be wasting your time here.”
“How can you say that? It’s not a waste!” The anger in the second voice hasn’t abated, if anything it’s gained a frantic edge. “When he wakes up--”
“When he wakes up? Oh, my dear,” there is palpable sorrow in the first voice now and it unsettles Severus more than the anger ever has. Why won’t they go away and let him rest? “I thought I had explained it very clearly to you, the chances that he will wake up are--”
“He’s not dead,” the anger has drained away and left behind a wild sort of desperation. “You said he wasn’t dead!”
“I’m afraid not dead isn’t quite the same as alive,” the sorrowful voice responds gently. “However much we wish it weren’t so.”
“I’ll keep visiting until he wakes up to throw me out of the room himself.” The voice is firm, resolute, and Severus wants to sigh at the implication of further disturbances.
The voices are receding now, fading into the distance once more, but he knows they will be back. He doesn’t want them, but they always come back. No one ever seems to take what he wants into account.
“Severus.” This voice is even less welcome than the others. There is no gradual emergence from the ether, no muddled, echoing phrases, only the familiar and insistent notes of Albus Dumbledore’s disappointment, as clear as if the man himself is speaking directly into his ear.
“Severus, come, my boy. It’s far past time to leave this place.”
The wretched old man has been trying to convince him of that for...well, he isn’t quite sure how long it has been, but he is still certain that he has no interest in anything outside of this dark, limitless space. There is nothing here. No heat or cold, no hunger, nor pain or discomfort. There are no books, no magic, but no anger, no sadness. No loneliness.
There is nothing; there is peace.
He never wants to leave.
“Severus, don’t you think you’ve been sulking long enough?” Despite himself, annoyance floods into the nothingness.
Sulking! As if he still has any right to dictate how Severus does or does not feel! It was one thing when there were no choices, when Severus had nothing to his name but the blood on his hands and a desperate need for atonement, when there was nothing to do but swallow down the anger until it burned a bitter hole into his stomach, but now? What hasn’t he given up for the fucking cause? Hasn’t he earned the right to “sulk,” if he chooses to?
He had earned his peace, had died bloody for it, and he didn’t need Albus fucking Dumbledore’s approval to revel in it! He considers, with no small amount of irritation, that he has earned the right to tell the bastard so, too. It’s this desire, he supposes, that hurtles him fully into the afterlife, delivering him between one moment and the next as the thought forms, leaving him scowling down at the beaming expression of his former employer.
“Ah, there you are. I was beginning to think you were going to be stubborn.” Dumbledore’s tone is mild, the words laced with a dry amusement that suggests he knows exactly how Severus feels about the observation.
The desire to say it anyway rises in him like a tide, his lips pulling back in a snarl before their surroundings suddenly intrude on his awareness. They are in his sitting room, Severus realizes abruptly, surrounded by the gloom of his father’s house in Spinner’s End. Perhaps there are some shackles that are impossible to escape, he thinks wearily, even in death. If he is here, of all places, there must be some truth to the Muggle mythos of Hell. In which case, it might not even be Albus Dumbledore settled in front of the cheery fire in his shabby wingback chair, but some devil whose sole purpose is to torment him for the rest of eternity.
Certainly his father had always been full of dire predictions that he would end up suffering damnation, but the idea that anything after death could hold even an iota of the wretchedness of living has always been laughable. Severus hadn’t ever stopped to consider that dying might just mean more of the same. Dumbledore waited patiently in front of him, blue eyes twinkling, and Severus feels the weight of the same old despair and anger, the same old exhaustion, settle over his shoulders as if it hadn’t ever left. Maybe it hadn’t.
“Perhaps death has mellowed me,” he hisses at last, the words acid. One last bitter defeat, he thinks, eyes closing. Except there was always one more hidden just round the corner, it seemed, even when there should have been nothing left for him at all. Still, there is no reason to give him the satisfaction of his victory, is there?
“Ah.” Dumbledore coughs and Severus’ eyes snap back open, stomach swooping in dread-- strange that he can still feel those physical sensations as a disembodied spirit. He knows that sound, has heard it for more than twenty years, always preceding a ‘just one more thing, I’m afraid,’ that inevitably ruins his day or, in certain particularly unpleasant circumstances, week.
“What?” He fights the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose in irritation, knowing the action will only encourage his burgeoning headache.
“Well,” Albus combs his fingers thoughtfully through the ends of his beard and Severus is sure that he can feel his blood pressure rising. “Strictly speaking, of course, you aren’t dead.”
“What.” He repeats the word helplessly, his inflection flat, as horror begins to well up in him.
“My dear boy--”
“Don’t you my dear boy me, Albus! What have you done?” Horror gives way against a wave of anger.
“The problem with being dead, Severus,” Albus says gravely, “is that you can no longer live.”
“That was rather the appeal!” Severus knows that he has made any number of transgressions in his lifetime, but he has never managed to figure out which one was awful enough that he deserved Albus Dumbledore as punishment.
“Severus,” he ventures delicately, “You never had the opportunity to live, how can you know that there is nothing left for you in life?”
“Living!” What opportunity was there, in being forced to relive the same injustices over and over? How many had believed in him, had looked at him and seen anything other than a vile Death Eater? Even Minerva had eagerly believed the worst. “Haven’t I suffered through enough, Albus? Haven’t I sacrificed enough?”
“Life isn’t torment, Severus, that’s entirely my point!” He sounds frustrated in a way that Severus has never before been privy to, but he can’t bring himself to care about Albus’ frustrations when he’s still busily interfering in Severus’ life.
“And how is it that you’re the one who gets to choose for me?” He lifts his hands to his face and mutters the words into them, bitter about being forced to have this conversation.
"Might you consider, Severus, that it isn't what you deserve that's in question, but what I owe? Consider it a gift." His voice is pleading now and Severus grimaces in distaste.
"I don't want it." Albus’ idea of a gift has never aligned with Severus’.
"Come now, it isn't as bad as all that. The choice is entirely yours, I have only afforded you the time to make it. You're not precisely alive either, if you hadn't noticed." He’s shifted his strategy, moving into carefully cajoling, his tone wheedling. Albus Dumbledore, master manipulator.
Severus lifts his face from the cup of his hands, trying to suss out what’s being said underneath Dumbledore’s machinations. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, there is the matter of the snake, isn't there? Surely you don't imagine you escaped the creature unscathed. "
Severus’ hand goes to his throat as he recalls the sensation of teeth ripping, tearing into his flesh, the hot spill of blood down his chest. He doesn’t think of eyes the color of spring and pity, doesn’t think of how he begged the boy not to look away. “Nagini.”
“Just so,” Dumbledore agrees, solemn.
“And I’m not dead?” The idea is a puzzling one. What is there, if not the afterlife?
“But you’re not alive.” The penny drops, as the saying goes. He suddenly knows exactly what Albus has done. Dread coils in the pit of his stomach.
“The King's Sleep. You’ve condemned me to some sort of eternal half life!” He looks down at his hands, truly looks at them for the first time since waking, if one can call it that. The light of the fire shines faintly through what should be solid flesh.
“Of course not, Severus. There’s no need for dramatics.” Albus sounds weary now, but Severus finds he has very little sympathy for him.
“Dramatics!” Anger steals his breath for a moment, and before he can regain it, Albus speaks again.
“I interceded to give you the time to make a choice, nothing more.” Infuriating. Albus has always been infuriating, but never more so than when he says things as if he has the last and only word on the matter.
“A choice?” He sneers at the idea. What sort of choice can be made, when the issue is forced?
“That’s right, a choice. I want you to learn what living means, dear boy.” Albus says gently and Severus breaks in before he can continue, hands fisting at his sides.
“You’re so adamant that I don’t!”
“When you know what living is,” he says, serene, as if Severus hadn’t spoken, “I’ll come back and you may have your choice. Return or go forward.”
“And just how am I supposed to accomplish this pilgrimage of knowledge, being neither dead nor alive?” he asks snidely.
“The same way you begin any journey,” he says, showing no sign of being perturbed by Severus’ distemper. “With a guide.”
The creaking groan of the front door suddenly intrudes between them, cutting off any chance of protest on Severus’ part.
Dumbledore smiles. “Ah, there’s yours now.”
Harry Potter steps into the dusty, shadowed threshold of Severus Snape’s rundown Spinner’s End home with no small amount of trepidation. The light of late afternoon shines around him through the doorway and weakly illuminates the house’s neglected interior. For a moment he imagines he sees Snape standing there, in front of the cold fireplace and just beyond the reach of the light with an angry sneer curling his lips, at home among the cramped, seemingly endless rows of books that dominate the room. And then Hermione jostles him from behind and the illusion vanishes; his chest aches.
“What is it? Is something wrong?” He can feel her trying to peer in, over the top of his shoulder.
“No, just....imagining things, I suppose.” He steps further inside, shuffling out of the way so that she can come in behind him. The door creaks closed sullenly and snuffs out the light coming in behind them. Harry can’t help a soft huff of laughter. “This place is just like him, isn’t it?”
“It lacks a certain cheer,” Hermione agrees and pulls out her wand, flicking a deft ’Incendio!’ at the hearth. The room dances with light and shadows as the charm erupts into flame.
Harry grins. “Come on, ‘Mione. Look at all these books, are you saying you wouldn’t love to live here?”
“There is more to life than books, Harry Potter,” she says primly, before relenting with a teasing smile. “You taught me that.”
“Well, someone had to,” Harry laughs, absent gaze traveling over the rows of book spines. “You’d have walked into the Restricted Section of the library and never come out again, if not for me and Ron.”
Hermione huffs a laugh and shakes her head. “Maybe,” She concedes, following Harry’s gaze around the cramped sitting room before grimacing. “This is awful.”
The house had two stories from the outside, but you couldn’t guess it from the room around them, which seems to consist of four walls covered in reading material, a ratty sofa, a dilapidated writing desk in the corner and not much else. Hermione lifts her wand again. “Revelio!”
The books rustle and rattle ominously on their shelves, but nothing else happens. Hermione sighs. “Well, it was worth a try.” She looks to Harry, whose gaze is still fixed to the shelves, meandering over titles wholly unfamiliar to him. “You’re going to have your work cut out for you if you want to find anything here, particularly the kitchen.”
Tearing his gaze away from the walls, Harry looks at her and smiles, the expression edged with sadness. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“After breaking into Gringotts, a musty old house doesn’t seem like much of a challenge.” He laughs.
“It’s hardly breaking in when I own it. The real challenge was getting through all that red tape so it didn’t end up going to auction.”
“Just think of how long it took when we were using magic and imagine what Muggles must have to put up with.” Hermione muses, reaching out to trail a finger over the spine of a book a little absently. “You own it now, though.”
He groans softly at the thought, reaching up to rub a finger under the pinching nose piece of his glasses and then quirks a smile as a thought occurs to him. “Can you imagine what Snape would have to say about that?”
“He wouldn’t thank you, that’s for certain.”
“No, but I couldn’t let them sell it off to someone who would just throw his things out and tear down the house. He’s a hero, Hermione. Doesn’t he deserve a home to return to?” He gives her a pleading look. No one seems to understand his desire, his need, to do this.
“Of course he does, Harry,” she says gently, “but you have to know… Everything I’ve read about the King's Sleep-- no one has ever woken from it. There is a room in the Department of Mysteries, you know. Living corpses centuries old--”
“He’s not a corpse! He’s not dead!” Why was it such a difficult concept to grasp? Every witch or wizard he’d spoken to about Snape seemed to have him all but buried in the ground.
“Maybe not, but he’s not alive either!” She snaps with impatience. “Are you really expecting to find different answers here, when you couldn’t find them at Hogwarts or Grimmauld Place?”
“It can’t hurt anything to look,” he insists, stubborn.
Hermione sighs. “I suppose you’re right.” She glances around the room again and gives him a tired smile. “Well, if anyone could manage it, Harry, it would be you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks wryly, fully aware of the insinuation. Hermione laughs.
“Just what I said. Come on, you won’t get anything done tonight. If we hurry we can meet Ron for dinner.”
“Are you sure he wants to?” Harry frowns at the mention of Ron, who was taking his and Ginny’s break-up rather harder than either of them.
“Of course he does,” she says firmly. “He isn’t angry with you, Harry, he just doesn’t understand. He’s disappointed, I think, that now you have even less reason to be constantly in each other’s pockets. He is trying, you know. He doesn’t want to let you down again.”
“Sorry, I know. To be fair, some days I’m not sure I understand either,” he said tiredly. “Let’s get dinner.”
Albus Dumbledore had taken away his quiet, peaceful ether and had replaced it with Potter. How was it that even in a state of discorporation he could not escape the blasted boy? The Boy Who Lived to be a Nuisance was what he should have been called. His first day in the purgatory of Between, as he’d taken to calling his not-alive-or-dead state, had been full of revelations.
And now he has the Savior of the Wizarding World as a landlord, not to mention some sort of “spiritual guide.” Though how he is meant to be guided anywhere by Potter when the brat apparently can’t even see him is quite the mystery. He thought that he could be seen at first, Potter had looked at him so directly, but a full minute of shouting abuses at the boy hadn’t garnered any reaction. The vilest insults Severus could think of brought not so much as a flinch or even the slightest narrowing of eyes.
When Potter had left without any sort of acknowledgement, it had become quite clear that he was invisible. Severus hadn’t had too long to fret over it, however, more concerned with the way the world around him had gone strange and grey, for a moment it had seemed as though he was standing on the edge of something inconceivably large and then everything narrowed and sharpened once more and he was blinking at Potter, once again entering Severus’ house as if he owned it. Which he did.
That he is alone when he returns is a small mercy. The way he paces around the sitting room, fingertips dragging over the edges of book spines, grates on Severus’ nerves. And his habit of talking to himself, endlessly muttering under his breath, is utterly obnoxious. The afterlife, Severus thinks, had better be a paradise, if this is what he has to put up with to get there. And Albus Dumbledore isn’t going to be allowed within a thousand kilometres of that paradise, if he has any say in the matter. At least not until he gets over his ridiculous compulsion to manage Severus’ life.
After watching the fool complete what must be his 90th circuit of the room, Severus finds he can’t help himself. The words burst out of him, even though he knows Potter can’t hear them.
“There, you slavering idiot! The doorknob is there! You’ve touched it a dozen times at least as you’ve walked past--are you senseless as well as absolutely witless?”
And the boy...the boy jumps. “Hello?” Glass green eyes turn to face him, but they look through him, unfocused. Severus watches his lips twist into a frown as he shakes his head. “Imagining things again. Excellent, Potter,” he mutters.
Severus’ brows rise in surprise at the sardonic tone of the words. Surely the golden child wouldn’t be so callous with himself, when he’s known nothing but kindness and joy at the hands of the universe around him. But that isn’t true, is it, his traitorous mind whispers. He knows better, has known for years, had seen the whispering thoughts in the child’s own mind. Had relived Petunia’s screeching, experienced the cramped, muggy darkness of the cupboard that had been the center of the boy’s world for eleven years, felt the lingering discomfort of bruises long faded, all in those brutal Occlumency lessons in his Fifth Year.
He’d never been able to imagine Tuney managing to raise Lily’s boy with any sort of true maternal fondness, but he’d thought at least she would have seen the advantage to raising a boy hero, even a Wizarding one. Then again, maybe it wasn’t surprising that his assumption had been in error; she had always been remarkably short-sighted. Certainly she wouldn’t have made much of a Slytherin, if her begging letter to Dumbledore could have borne any fruit. Ravenclaw, perhaps, because the Petunia Evans he’d known had always been shrewd.
At some point, however, the Petunia he’d known had grown into one he hadn’t. Whatever he’d been able to imagine of her in childhood, shrill and horrid as she was, he wouldn’t have expected her to turn a blind eye to her husband laying hands on her sister’s child. It had been a disturbing revelation, even knowing that the boy’s childhood couldn’t have been wholly pleasant. Still, whatever Potter had suffered through in his time with the Muggles, hadn’t it all been washed away when he’d been welcomed into the Wizarding World with open arms?
Strangers greeting him in the crowded streets of Diagon Alley, awed girls flittering after him down the school corridors from day one, it was no wonder he’d let it go to his head. With the genes of Severus’ childhood tormentor running through him, he’d hardly had any choice but to go wrong. With even Dumbledore catering to his every whim as a First Year, was it any surprise that he had no sense of discipline? That the fame had gone straight to his head, leaving him with a casual disregard for rule-breaking and the bull-headed certainty that his decisions were always the right ones?
There should have been nothing shocking about the fire that burned in the boy’s eyes, whenever he looked at Severus. Nothing about the way Potter cried out over every perceived injustice should have surprised him. The boy should have been nothing to him at all, but a grim reminder of his need for atonement. And yet, and yet… the boy, it seemed, was a splinter driven ever deeper into his skin, no matter what method Severus used to try and remove him.
In front of him Potter has finally located the release to the kitchen entrance and watches with wide eyes as the door swings open in front of him with a ragged creak. “Brilliant,” Potter exhales the word, all awe under his breath.
Severus closes his eyes. It’s impossible, but he is absolutely certain he can feel his head pounding in frustration. Dumbledore wants him to find the meaning of life by haunting a Gryffindor only the barest step away from being a drooling idiot.
Harry is losing his mind.
It isn’t much of a surprise when he considers the moments in his life leading up to this one. The Prophet has called him every variation of crazy that exists over the years and it seems inevitable that they eventually get it right. Although he supposes Rita Skeeter would be disappointed to find out that his mental break doesn’t actually have anything to do with him ‘abandoning his childhood sweetheart on an altar of tears’ or ‘fleeing from the stressful demands of the Auror corps.’ Of course, Harry doubts her disappointment would last very long. Skeeter has always been an opportunist, after all.
The problem is that, while Harry has always expected that he would eventually lose the plot, he didn’t expect that his inevitable decline would come complete with an apparition of Severus Snape. Of course, standing in the gloomy, outdated kitchen of Snape’s home, perhaps he shouldn’t have expected anything else. It’s not as though it’s the first time his mind has offered up visions of missing people in the empty places he imagines they should be.
How many times had his mind offered up the spectre of his mother, as a child? He’d been so desperate for attention, affection, any small morsel of kindness, that he’d summoned her into the cramped confines of his cupboard nightly in the earliest years of his life. Humming softly, brushing the hair back from his forehead, and tucking his thin blanket around him gently; she’d never been real, of course. Neither is Snape’s flickering black shadow in the periphery of his vision.
That his guilt has taken so long to manifest is rather more surprising than how it has chosen to do so, but the sight of Severus Snape staring sullenly at him from the corner of his eye is still an unsettling one. Particularly when Harry knows very well that his body lies insensate in the Hogwarts infirmary. He supposes it’s something about the house. He’d seen Snape as soon as he walked in, hadn’t he? There is something about it’s shabby confines, some measure of weight that holds his presence, something strangely missing in those moments Harry has visited his bedside at Hogwarts.
The kitchen, for instance. Harry takes in the faded wallpaper that must have been a shade of green at one point in its existence, allows his gaze to drift over aged kitchen fixtures. The space is clean, but speaks of decades of ill-use: a undefined stain on the countertop, irregular circles of enamel chipped from the sink basin, doors of cupboards that don’t sit quite square, a refrigerator that looks as if it belongs in a museum. None of it seems like Snape, none of it truly suits the mordacious manner of the man he knows, but it tells a story of his history. Once upon a time, Severus Snape had a mother and a father and grew up lonely, just like Harry.
Throughout his examination Snape remains silent, scowling, just at the edges of his sight, and it’s enough to set Harry’s teeth on edge. When he can stand the eerie sensation of it no longer he swivels to face the figment, hoping that a head on confrontation might help to relieve his guilt, but no sooner than he puts his plan into literal motion, Snape vanishes.
With a huff of surprise, Harry finds himself examining a rickety looking dining table from his new vantage point, one that should seat four, but only shelters three unsteady looking chairs beneath it. He turns back to look over the kitchen again, considering. It’s narrow and more than a little worse for wear--presumably after years of neglect-- but the bones of it are good, Harry determines, appreciating the way the late morning sunlight streams weakly through the window above the sink. Strange, Harry thinks, that houses can reveal so much about the people who live in them.
In the corner of his eye, the dark silhouette of the hallucination reappears.
Tea, he decides tiredly. A quick survey of the pantry turns up a few mangled bags of PG Tips, a stale tin of shortbread biscuits, and not much else. Not what he would have expected to find in the kitchen of his most reviled professor, but then he’d never stopped to consider that Snape, like all of them, was merely human.
A dusty mug pulled from a cupboard and a quick set of spells and a mediocre cuppa later and he is ready to tackle the rest of the house.
Snape’s apparition sneers at him the entire way back into the sitting room, but Harry doesn’t bother to turn and look at him after the first attempt was so unsuccessful. His mind playing tricks on him is hardly anything new, best to just ignore it and move on. Instead he takes his time examining the clever mechanism that had concealed his way into the kitchen and then begins to pace curiously around the room again, taking a narrower look at the bookshelves-- there! Now that he knows what to look for, the door isn’t quite as well-hidden.
This passage opens into a crooked, claustrophobia-inducing staircase and Harry blinks into the shadowy heights of it. So far his inspection of the house has uncovered nothing out of the ordinary, if you don’t count a penchant for hidden doors, but what secrets could Snape have locked away upstairs? Raising his wand with a muttered Lumos, Harry steps forward and then immediately jumps back at the tortured groan the first step gives beneath his weight. Out of the corner of his eye Snape seems to be smirking. Git.
Harry takes a moment to calm his racing heart, then straightens his shoulders and steps forward again. The stairs give shrieking creaks all the way up, raising the hair on the back of his neck, but the landing at the top is blessedly silent. To his left a set of open doors leads into a dusty, shabby bedroom, cramped with water-stained packing boxes and a sagging metal bed frame and an equally cramped bathroom, with a narrow water-stained shower cubicle. To his right there is another door, tightly closed.
Alohomora doesn’t work, nor Resero or any of the handful of other unlocking spells that he knows. Briefly he considers using something from the Bombarda family, but decides that he doesn’t want to destroy anything, if he can help it. He knows he would be just as likely to bring the house down around his ears as get into the closed room, if he tried. After examining the landing once more, this time for potential hidden rooms, Harry makes his way down the stairs again, wincing all the while at the noise. Snape, flickering again on the outskirts of his line of vision, looks unbearably smug.
The moment passes as Harry moves to close the door to the stairway and finally gets his first full look at the apparition. Snape appears just as he did in 6th year, beetle-browed and intimidating, arms crossed over his chest as he glowers down at Harry. For a moment-- one heartbeat, two heartbeats-- his breath catches and he expects to be ripped into, eviscerated by a razor sharp tongue. And then, yet again, the shade vanishes. Harry is left blinking stupidly at the noisy set of stairs, his grip tight on his wand.
“Instaurabo!” The staircase seems almost to jump under the force of his spell, and gives a final noise of anguish as his magic weaves over and through each step to repair warped wood. He nods once, sharply, as the spell-light fades and then he turns away, retraces his steps through the house until he’s back out on the street. He squints into the early afternoon sunlight and takes in a slow, deep breath of fresh air. A tightness he hadn’t even been aware of loosens in his chest. It was a start. He would come back and start looking for answers in the morning.
With that settled, Harry sets off down the footpath to his Apparition point. He looks back at the house over his shoulder, and smiles to himself at the way it seems to sit just a bit straighter than it had that morning, just a little less downtrodden than the identical brick structures to either side of it. Yes, Harry thinks, feeling hope flutter in his chest for the first time in what seemed like years, it was a start.
Spinner’s End was infested. One might make the argument that an infestation couldn’t consist of a single entity, but anyone who made use of that rhetoric had clearly never experienced a nosy, interfering Gryffindor as a house guest. If it wasn’t bad enough that the brat had unraveled the work he’d put into his creaking stairs with a single, stupidly overpowered spell, the fact that he kept coming back was more than enough to make Severus practically homicidal. But that wasn’t even the entirety of the matter!
The house had played host to a number of changes over the past weeks; the first and most notable, of course, being the semi-permanent installation of the hero of the Wizarding World. Potter’s arrival was merely the beginning of a seemingly endless number of irritations. Irritations wholly devised by the nuisance himself. Potter apparently fancies himself something of an expert in home repair and improvement. Severus can grudgingly admit that it isn’t the worst thing to happen to Spinner’s End, but he has no intention of doing so with grace.
His sitting room has been enlarged with wizarding space and the hidden doorways he’d crafted so carefully the summer after his first year teaching were just as carefully dismantled and opened up. The sagging bookshelves lining the walls have been repaired and reinforced and two large windows have been enchanted into the newly created space on the south wall, letting in an obscene amount of light during the day.
The upstairs has been besieged as well. The decrepit metal frame of his childhood bed was hauled away and the boxes of his parents’ detritus that had littered the spare bedroom were now neatly repacked and stored away in the hall cupboard, which Potter had located and organized on his fourth or fifth visit, much to Severus’ annoyance. If clearing the room hadn’t been sufficient, the irritating pest has also managed to repair the persistent leak in the ceiling and paint the walls a cheery seafoam green. And dire mutterings about water pressure suggested that Potter had the WC in his sights as his next project.
All this between puzzling, frenetic bursts of reading through Severus’ collected library. He counts himself lucky that Potter has yet to either break through the wards on his bedroom or to locate the entrance to the cellar where his Potions lab was set-up. Merlin only knew what disaster that could lead to; any number of his more delicate potions stores downstairs could respond poorly to home improvement spells being thrown around carelessly.
It isn’t that he has any inordinate fondness for the shoddy state of the house, but the easy way Potter assumed apparent ownership over what Severus had once marginally considered his space left him seething with impotent anger. The emotion is only compounded by the constant reminders of his less than optimal state of being. There is likely someone somewhere in the vast unknown who would be pleased to be in Severus’ shoes, but Severus hadn’t particularly cared to be himself before being caught in the space between living and dead. Now he would be more than happy to trade places with anyone else in the universe, living or dead. Nothing, he thinks, could be worse than this.
In his many years as a spy, Severus had got used to going unnoticed. How better to learn things, if not by making yourself invisible? True invisibility, he has learned, is a vastly different sort of concept. Potter has obviously sensed his presence from the very first; he’s a distressingly powerful wizard, but he’s apparently unable to perceive Severus in any concrete way. At first being able to tell the boy exactly what he thinks about him without fear of recrimination or rejoinder is a heady pleasure, but as the days pass the novelty wears off.
As that approach to amusement leads to a dead end, Severus has to work to make his own entertainment. His lack of physical form is a hindrance to his usual avenues of distraction and he finds himself occupying time by watching Potter. Severus’ first act of desperation is to read over his shoulder--a tediously slow process, considering Potter reads at the speed of cold treacle and Severus has to peer around where he holds the pages close to his face. Eventually he finds himself resorting to simply staring at Potter’s face, memorizing the dark sweep of a brow or studying the ragged edge of a bitten fingernail.
It’s during one of these staring sessions, as Severus meditates on just how much he hates the brat, that he realizes Potter seems to be darting quick glances at him from the corner of his eye. He tests the theory by moving slowly to the opposite side of the room and watches Potter’s gaze follow him the whole way. He swears sharply and vigorously, to let Potter know exactly what he thinks of being ignored, but the display goes unheeded.
Potter can see him clearly, but doesn’t hear him. The absurdity of the situation is enough to drive anyone mad and Severus is self-aware enough to admit that he’s never been very firmly entrenched in his sanity to begin with. More and more often he finds Potter watching him from the corner of his eye, expression heavy and thoughtful, but nothing Severus can do induces him to look up. It’s infuriating.
The days continue to pass with no change in circumstance, though Severus finds measuring time tricky, unable to cast tempus or distinguish the days in any significant way. His main benchmark has been Potter’s comings and goings, but there are far fewer goings, of late. More often than not he watches the bewildering idiot drift to sleep on Severus’ dilapidated sofa which, for some reason, has not yet been replaced in the midst of all the other home improvements that Potter seems intent on.
Further muddling the issue are those moments when the space around him goes grey and insubstantial, tilting and bucking around him before it rights itself again. Each time it happens Severus finds himself blinking and disoriented, aware that a significant amount of time has passed, but never certain of how much.
When Potter is gone his sense of the world seems even foggier. There is less to keep himself occupied with, his thoughts chasing themselves in endless circles of increasing aggravation. His worst memories feature prominently in his thoughts as he considers the realities of his entrapment. He begins to doubt that it’s anything other than some particularly effective form of damnation after all. Was it any wonder he’d found himself missing Potter’s presence, miserable as it was?
It’s a moment of weakness that leads Severus to where he currently is now, blinking down at the graceless frippery of a Ministry function. Potter had left Spinner’s End the night before and Severus had never hated the house quite as much as he had in the eternity of hours since, pacing back and forth with nothing but memories and his own thoughts to keep him engaged. How could he help wishing for the brat to come back? At least then there was something to do, even if it was only to fling tired, unheeded insults at the rat’s nest he called hair.
The desire hasn’t even fully come into existence before the sitting room is twisting around him. Suddenly he’s at Potter’s side, standing in front of an audience of witches and wizards in their finest robes. Beside him, Potter flinches and his voice falters for half a breath, and then he continues with the speech Severus has apparently interrupted.
“--contributed to the war effort was incalculable, but I can guarantee that without his actions we would be living in a very different world today.” Honoring some insignificant Gryffindor for their paltry assistance, no doubt, while Severus’ body lies frozen in Hogwarts, life forfeit. Now, now, Severus, he can just hear Albus’ voice. Everyone had a part to play, there were no small roles.
“Severus Snape is more of a hero than any of us knew. He was utterly alone, surrounded on all sides by enemies--” Potter’s voice wavers again and he clears his throat. Severus sees that green gaze flick in his direction, but is too preoccupied with trying to accept what his ears are telling his mind. Him. Him? “He made the choice between what is right and what is easy again and again, and in doing so saved us all. He certainly saved me. Professor Snape cannot be here with us today, so I want to thank you all on his behalf, for the acknowledgement of his sacrifices, but more important, I want to thank him.”
Potter slides another quick look at him and takes an audibly shaky breath, giving the assemblage in front of them a smile that hovers on the edge of nervousness. “Thank you, Professor Snape.”
Severus watches with no small amount of disbelief as witches and wizards around the room stand and begin to applaud. Minerva McGonagall stands in the very front of the crowd, eyes suspiciously damp as Potter tucks a flat, black box into his pocket and leaves the podium.
He follows along in the boy hero’s wake, watching him get pulled into a hug by his head of house and whisper something into her ear, though Severus doesn’t catch what it is. Potter continues deeper through the crush of bodies, pausing briefly here and there to accept a clap on the back or a handshake, but he doesn’t stop for more than a moment until he reaches the dubious safety of his two Gryffindor shadows.
“There you are,” Weasley greets him with a brief smile and a firm thump on the shoulder. “Didn’t think you were going to make it through for a minute.”
Potter smiles, the expression wry, and ducks his head in a nod. “I suppose it’s been a while since I’ve been to one of these. Everyone wants to have their say.”
“More like it’s been a while since anyone has seen you at all.” Granger is every bit as sanctimonious as Severus remembers. He finds himself suddenly grateful that the brat has not allowed these two to invade Spinner’s End during his extensive stay.
“Ah, I guess I’ve gotten a little lost in research…,” Potter glances towards Severus and smooths a nervous hand down the front of his formal robes, the statement obviously evasive.
“A little?” Granger’s voice is just on the wrong edge of shrill. “We haven’t seen you in more than a month! I was half-afraid that you would forget to come tonight, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been. Of course you’d be here for this.” The last is said with almost obvious irritation and Severus wonders at the hidden implication there.
Potter ducks his head, shoulders coming up defensively. “It’s taking longer than I thought it would. Snape’s books aren’t exactly catalogued and indexed like the books in the Library. Half of them aren’t even in English and you know how reliable translation spells are. And I get the feeling there are still things I haven’t even found yet.”
Weasley snorts. “I don’t know why you’re bothering at all when--”
“Ron!” However irritated Granger seems to be with Potter, she’s apparently not interested in letting the situation devolve any further. Weasley looks put out.
“What? You said it yourself that the spell’s unbreakable!”
“I said that it seemed unlikely and I also said that we needed to be supportive of Harry, but somehow you missed that part of the conversation!” Granger hisses at him, eyes narrow slits of outrage.
“It’s fine,” Potter breaks in firmly, voice surprisingly calm. “I know you don’t understand. I know no one thinks he’ll wake up.” He gives both of them a tired smile, the expression fading as he looks up as he darts a glance at Severus still standing there, a black mark on the shine of the evening. “I have to do something. I have to try. I owe him that much. I owe him much more than that, honestly.”
“I don’t know about that, it’s not as if he’d do the same if your places were reversed,” Weasley mutters, apparently not content to hold his peace.
“Ron! Honestly!” She huffs and looks over at Potter seriously before giving an exasperated shake of her head. “You’re very kind, Harry.”
“Kindness has nothing to do with it.” He sighs, running an absent hand through his hair. For a moment he looks so much like his father that Severus’ chest aches, but there is a weight to his eyes that James Potter never carried. “I wasn’t kind when it mattered. I was anything but. I was everything he accused me of being, wasn’t I?”
“Harry, of course not! It’s only reasonable that the two of you had misunderstandings, when you consider the history--history you weren’t even aware of!” It’s true enough, Severus thinks. The boy had been treated abominably by all of them, when it came to the things he should have been told. How many things were left unsaid, even now?
Potter shakes his head, dismissive. “That’s not an excuse. How many people told me that Snape was on our side? You said it more than once yourself, Hermione.”
“We all believed what we were supposed to believe when Dumbledore died, Harry. You can’t keep torturing yourself every time you make a mistake. You’re just as human as the rest of us.”
“She’s right. It’s been almost two years. I think you’ve more than made up for it,” Weasley gestured to the room and people still mingling around them, but Severus doesn’t hear the rest of his words, drowned out by the sudden buzzing in his ears.
Two years. He had known that the war had been won, there was hardly any other explanation for Potter’s brazen invasion of Spinner’s End, and he had known that he must have lost some time, but he’d assumed a handful of months had passed at most. He looks at Potter, ducking his head at whatever Weasley is continuing to jabber on about, and he can see it suddenly: the subtle sharpening of his jaw, the fact that he stands a handful of inches taller than Severus had realized. He’s not looking at a ragged teenager any longer, but a man, settling into adulthood.
Abruptly, Severus finds that he feels cheated, though he hadn’t even wanted this in the first place. What other things has he missed? What other differences have bloomed into this new, free world, while he has been confined to the boundaries of Spinner’s End, Potter his only link to how life has moved on. And Severus missed it.
He looks at Potter, shaking his head and scowling now at the other two, and wishes desperately that he had stayed in Spinner’s End. Surely going mad from boredom was better than the roil of emotions in his chest. Around him the world tilts and goes blessedly colorless.
Snape turning up at his Order of Merlin acceptance had been something of a surprise.
Harry didn’t know why it was. Where else should he have been, if not with Harry while he accepted the award on his behalf? He has grown accustomed to his soundless companion in the months that he’s spent in and out of Spinner’s End--more in than out, apparently, according to Ron and Hermione. Until this evening he’d only seen Snape in two places since the end of the war: Spinner’s End and Hogwarts’ infirmary. He couldn’t say which version of Snape was more unsettling.
His Snape, as he’d taken to mentally calling the apparition, at least still had fire in his eyes as he flitted from room to room trailing along behind Harry, haunting his childhood home. The real Severus Snape, on the other hand, lay preternaturally still in his bed, as if he’d been carved of wax and left to gather dust, for all the interest the rest of the Wizarding World paid him. Both versions of Snape left Harry with his stomach twisted in knots. But, no, that wasn’t entirely true. He’d grown accustomed to the silent ghost of his professor, had learned to breathe easily under his mute, burning gaze.
Tonight, however, had rekindled the anxiety from the early days of their...acquaintance. When Snape had popped into existence at his side Harry had very nearly swallowed his tongue. There was something in the spectre’s expression that Harry couldn’t place, something unnerving, as he’d thanked the assembled witches and wizards and thanked Snape himself, for his actions in the war. He’d disappeared again before too long, before Harry could tie himself completely into knots at the sight of him, sober and black in the midst of the celebration.
Some celebration, when the guest of honor is hardly more than a bad memory to the majority of those in attendance. When the Ministry had fought him for more than a year over Snape’s acceptability, had gone so far as to hold a farce of a criminal trial to determine the man’s innocence when Harry had enough evidence to prove him beyond reproach. But they finally relented, in the end. It’s difficult not to wonder, though, how much of the reward was due to Snape’s merit and how much to his own ability to be a nuisance. Should he care, when the result is the same?
Harry lets himself into Spinner’s End and trudges tiredly through the sitting room, lighting a fire with a flick of his wand. He wants nothing more than to crawl into his bed and sleep for a week, but he has something that needs to be done, first, knows his mind won’t settle until he’s taken care of it. Reaching into his pocket, Harry pulls out the slim black box that the Minister of Magic had given to him only a few short hours before and opens it.
The award is surprisingly plain, a circle of gold that sits in the palm of his hand when he tips it free from its resting place. On the front, the image of crossed wands is portrayed in delicate relief, and on the back, the words ‘Order of Merlin, First Class - Awarded to Severus Snape - For bravery and honor in service of the Wizarding World’ engraved in a curling script. He sets the box on the mantel and tips the medal carefully against it, a display for anyone who cares to see it.
A shadow appears in the corner of his vision and Harry sighs, tired, so tired, of pretending that he hasn’t seen. Can you really hide from a figment of your own imagination, after all? He lifts his head and looks at Snape fully for the first time since the day by the staircase. In the low, flickering light of the fire he almost looks real, solid and just as dangerous as he ever was, swooping through the halls of Hogwarts after curfew.
Harry can’t help but give a slight smile. He’s been losing his mind for months, seeing Snape, but there’s something almost reassuring about it now, some sense of presence that he can’t explain. At the very least, Harry’s misgivings about where the medal should be kept fade. It belongs here, where Snape still truly lives, even if only in the boundaries of his imagination.
“Your Order of Merlin, First Class.” Snape sneers at him and Harry turns back to the shining disc leaning precariously upright on the mantel, wondering what he was expecting.
“I think not.”
Harry’s attention snaps back to Snape, eyes wide. He’s hearing things now, there’s no other explanation. His heart thumps madly in his chest. “What?”
“I said, I think not.” Snape’s eyes glitter in the low light and Harry’s breath seems to stick in his throat as he watches thin lips form each word deliberately, the low, familiar velvet of Snape’s voice sounding through the room. “That award has nothing to do with me.”
A huff of laughter escapes him, hysteria bubbling up after it in his chest, and he stares at Snape, hardly able to be able to believe what he’s hearing. “No? It has your name on it.”
Snape’s sneer stretches. “Really? What an honor. To be an afterthought to the whims of The Boy Who Lived.”
“An afterthought to-- Bloody hell, even as a hallucination you’re a miserable prick.” Harry ignores the fact that he’d been thinking much the same only a few moments before.
“A hallucination, is that what you think I am?” The voice sounds bewildered and he has to take a moment to admire how complex the human brain is, that it could produce a figment so true to life.
Harry snorts softly, torn between amusement and disbelief at the thought. He pushes his glasses off the bridge of his nose to rub tiredly at an eye. “Sorry, what else would you be?” Even he isn’t so naive as to think that Snape is somehow magically communicating with him from wherever it is his consciousness is trapped.
“What couldn’t I be?” Snape seems annoyed with him now, which is hardly a new experience, though he hasn’t experienced it interactively in years. “As I recall your only requisite for ghosts is transparency.” He holds up his hand and Harry can just see the way the light makes him translucent. “With such low standards for identification I could be any number of things.”
Another huff of laughter escapes Harry at the reminder of Sixth Year defense class. “Well, I’ve learned some things since school, I reckon.” Helplessly, he finds himself smiling at the apparition. Funny, the things you never realize aren’t so bad at all, until you’ve had the mirror turned around on your perspective and survived hell in the process.
Sure, Snape had been a dour bastard, bitter and snappish, immature enough to take his anger out on the wrong people, but Harry could hardly say he’d never done the same, that he’d never made the wrong choice when his temper got the best of him. What could have turned out differently, if he hadn’t had the support and love of his friends? Harry’s amusement fades.
“You’re not a ghost,” he says finally, after another long moment passes and he manages to work the words free from the trap of his throat. “You’re not dead.”
For a long moment the only sound is the crackle of the fire and Harry wonders if his clearly malfunctioning mind has exhausted its list of possible things for Snape to say before he speaks again.
“No? You seem to be the only one suffering from that misapprehension.”
Harry looks away then, staring down at the cheerful flames in the hearth. How can he feel so guilty about a conversation that’s only occurring in his mind? Still, he tries to change the subject. “You were there tonight, all those people were there to recognize what you did.”
“I do seem to be rather attached to you,” Snape agrees dryly, somehow managing to imply in the same breath that he would rather be anything but beholden to Harry’s whims. “And if you think those people were there for me you’re lying to yourself.”
“That’s not true,” Harry protests, but the words feel like gravel in his mouth, the questions flooding his mind again. How many months had it taken for the Ministry to bow to his demands, how many arguments had he had, how much scraping and bowing had he endured before they relented? He grimaces, looking back to the Order of Merlin gleaming in its space above the fireplace, the silky green ribbon that docilely adorns it. “You deserve to be honored for what you did.”
“What I did? Being instrumental in your parents’ deaths, you mean? Murdering Dumbledore?”
The questions are said flatly, without intonation, and they twist a knot in his stomach. He looks up at Snape’s likeness in horror. Does he still think that way, in the depths of his mind? Was this hallucination the revelation of some buried well of resentment, even as Harry works to clear his name, even as he looks for some way to release Snape from the grip of the spell that holds him? But even as he thinks it the feeling loosens, lets him breathe.
Voldemort killed his parents. Truth. Snape had made a mistake in whom to trust, whom to believe, but how many choices had the man been given, really? Snape had been expendable until Dumbledore had found a use for him. As for Dumbledore, he’d orchestrated his own death with the same finesse that he’d orchestrated most things in the years that Harry had known him. Truth. Harry wonders how many more times he’ll have to remind himself of the answers before his mind stops playing the questions on repeat.
“For doing what no one else could do.” He says, sounding the words out in firm syllables. “For fighting him from the inside, even when it was difficult, ugly. For realizing that you’d made a mistake, made the wrong choice, and working to correct it.”
The silence stretches between them again, Snape’s dark eyes unfathomable for all that he is a projection of Harry’s subconscious.
“I have always had plenty to atone for,” his voice is soft, barely more than a whisper, and it brings to Harry’s mind that first Potions class, when Snape delivered his speech about ensnaring senses. Now, as then, every word he speaks is deliberate, clear. “What is it you feel that you still owe, Potter? Why are you doing this?”
Trust Snape, even the shoddy facsimile his brain produces, to ask the difficult questions. Harry swallows against the sudden dryness in his mouth, thoughts spinning.
“You never had anyone.” How can he explain the drive he has, the burning need to see Snape whole again, to see him content, if not happy, when he doesn’t quite understand it himself? Surely if he can help Severus Snape, miserable git extraordinaire, he can figure out some way to piece himself together.
“You don’t honestly think that’s your fault?” Snape’s voice is startled, and Harry feels the ache of the reminder that this is not Snape, but a softer echo of him, a memory. The real Snape would never miss an opportunity to blame him for something, whether it was his fault or not.
“I...no, of course not. But if you’d had even a tenth of the support I got at Hogwarts--”
“Are you honestly so arrogant as to think you should atone for a guilt that doesn’t even belong to you?” The question has all the venom Harry remembers from his reviled professor, but there’s an unfamiliar edge to it that he can’t place, a suggestion of fragility. If he presses just the wrong way, he thinks, Snape will shatter into a thousand pieces and cut him open. Even knowing that this vision in front of him is just that, it feels like a clear and present danger.
“I could have made a difference! If I hadn’t been so stubborn, if I had believed in Dumbledore’s trust, in you.” It’s the same thing he’d told Hermione hours ago. It’s the same thing he’s been saying the whole time. If only he had known.
“You weren’t meant to, you fool! Are you going to devote your whole life to this unnecessary penance?” Snape’s voice is wild now, almost raw, and Harry doesn’t understand why. Isn’t the answer simple?
“It’s more penitence. But what else is there?” How can he be expected to live, carefree and uncaring, heedless of the fact that Snape is suffering and he might have done something to ease that suffering. How many people had been given the opportunity to step forward in Snape’s defense, to stand by him, to offer him a choice, and looked the other way? Maybe it wasn’t Harry’s fault, maybe it wasn’t his burden to bear, but if he didn’t, who would?
In front of him Snape stands, looking oddly stricken, his mouth opening and closing for a moment before he looks away from Harry, staring at the Order of Merlin on the mantel.
“You should put it somewhere else,” he says at last. “It will get ash all over it.” And for the second time that night, he vanishes.
Severus has never been comfortable with admitting his errors. He’s not perfect, he’s never claimed that, but there is a vulnerability that comes with the concession of a mistake, a weakness that, once uncovered, can lead to the collapse of whatever foundation your truths are built upon. And Severus has had plenty of time to learn that nothing good ever comes of vulnerability.
As dangerous a risk as the confession is, however, he might, perhaps, have been wrong about Potter.
Things have changed since their evening at the Ministry; as if someone has pulled a set of blinders from Severus’ eyes, he’s seeing Potter in an entirely new light. The arrogant Gryffindor troublemaker has been replaced with a quiet, diligent young man. Potter is still foolish and stubborn, make no mistake, but Severus had never before seen the well of kindness that ran deep within him. Harry Potter--or the man he’s grown into while Severus wasn’t looking-- is a surprise. Albus is going to be insufferable about it.
Because, if he’s truthful, not much has changed at all. He is still stuck in the infuriating boundaries of ‘in-between’ and Potter is still treating Spinner’s End like a summer home that he purchased for the challenge of renovations. The difference is that Severus has finally opened his eyes to the truth. He can finally recognize the ghost of Lily in more than just Potter’s eyes and, more than that, he can see shades of his younger self, can see the burden of guilt that Potter staggers under.
As he looks down at where the young fool has yet again fallen asleep on the sagging sofa in his sitting room, Severus can’t help but notice the deepening smudges under his eyes. His awareness of the passing of time is no longer entirely reliable he knows, but it seems to him that it’s been days since Potter has left Spinner’s End. The pallor of his skin and coarse stubble on his chin corroborate Severus’ suspicions. In sleep his face is almost peaceful, but awake Potter is drawn, almost haggard, as if he is only moments away from collapse. Every time he hints that Potter should not be locked up in the house, wasting time with whatever repair he thinks is necessary, he’s brushed off.
Severus hasn’t pressed as hard as he should, finding that he enjoys the tentative truce that’s grown between them. He suspects that the peace is due in large part to the fact that Potter believes he is some fanciful fabrication of his mind. As refreshing as his new perspective is, he’s under no illusions that his temperament gives any aid to fostering friendly relationships. It’s a peculiar enough circumstance, being amicable with Harry Potter, but in quiet moments, when he’s allowed to scrutinize Potter without consequence, he finds himself fretting. He’s never been given to softer emotion and the idea that Potter is suffering in an attempt to right a perceived wrong against Severus is unsettling.
As if he can sense Severus’ thoughts, Potter stirs in his sleep, dislodging the book that he’d fallen asleep holding. Long ingrained instinct has Severus lunging forward to grab it before it can hit the floor. When it connects solidly with his palm with a dull, fleshy thud he blinks in shock. He stares at the book wide-eyed with disbelief for a long moment and then reaches up with his free hand, carefully brushing his fingers against the coarse texture of its cover. Slowly, he lowers the book onto the rickety table Potter has pulled over beside the sofa for just this purpose, leaving it with a handful of others that have been stacked there for later review.
He has been terrifyingly insubstantial, unable to touch or feel, since Dumbledore first left him to the tender mercies of Potter and Spinner’s End. Somehow the idea of regaining a physical presence is almost more frightening than not having it to begin with. He tears his gaze away from the book, wanting to see if he can pick it up and read the pages within, but not quite daring to try. Potter stirs again in his sleep and Severus finds another desire within himself, one he isn’t as capable of denying.
With a shaking hand Severus reaches out and brushes a silky lock of hair off Potter’s forehead; he sighs and turns against the gentle contact. Heat seems to radiate from him like a furnace and Severus hisses softly in discomfort as it flares through his fingers, almost burning. How had he not realized that he felt so cold? He can feel it now, ice crackling through the very core of him, yearning for the heat that seeps so eagerly into his fingertips. Under his touch, Potter begins to shiver.
Reluctantly, Severus pulls away and rubs his hands together as if he can somehow spread the contamination of Potter’s warmth through the rest of him, even as the sensation of it begins to fade. He looks down at the sleeping Gryffindor, hungering to touch him again. But Severus knows the dangers of cravings better than most. He wraps his arms across his chest and tucks his hands beneath his elbows, instead, keeping silent watch over Potter’s slumber.
In the morning, the bruises of color beneath his eyelids seem ever darker, and Severus decides that something must be done.
“Potter. Wake up.”
Harry jerks awake all at once and looks up into eyes the color of unadulterated coffee. He blinks at Snape and Snape blinks back and he wonders just when he took the time to notice the color of Snape’s eyes in the early morning light. They don’t remind him at all of the dark, empty tunnels that they did at Hogwarts and he wonders why his foolish imagination would choose to change such a peculiar thing.
“You were having a nightmare.” Snape is watching him with that calculated expression that seems to be his default lately. Harry closes his eyes against the reality of being awake.
He doesn’t recall a nightmare; he doesn’t seem to have nearly as many of them when he sleeps over at Spinner’s End, but he breathes out slowly and takes stock of himself, of the lingering sense of anxiety knotted in his stomach. It must have been having some kind of bad dream, whether he remembers it or not. His body takes the opportunity to inform him that he feels stiff and sore, as well as uneasy, head feeling peculiarly as if it’s been stuffed to the brim with runny eggs. As in the last fifteen times it’s happened, Harry vows to stop falling asleep on the sofa at Spinner’s End. There is a perfectly decent bed in Grimmauld Place that is going to waste every night he falls asleep here.
It’s funny he thinks, decidedly unamused, that a large portion of the Wizarding World considers him a role model when he can’t even manage to sleep in his own bed. With a heavy sigh of reluctance, Harry levers himself off the traitorous piece of furniture and shambles toward the kitchen and, with any luck, caffeine.
He knows the instant that Snape enters the kitchen behind him, though for once the apparition is out of his line of sight. Strange, how that works. Or perhaps not, considering that the hallucination is an extension of his consciousness. Ignoring the heaviness of Snape’s presence for the moment, however, Harry focuses on the routine of brewing his morning tea. He briefly considers breakfast, but even the thought of it makes his stomach roll. Just tea, then. He’s halfway through the process, kettle filled and heating, reaching into a cupboard for the mug that has become his favorite in the last months, a sturdy, wide-mouthed creation, when Snape finally speaks.
“You’re only fooling yourself, you know. It’s called the King’s Sleep for a reason.”
“Yes, I know.” He knows every word by heart by now, as often as he’s read the description
The King’s Sleep, believed to be the spell cast over Arthur Pendragon as he returned to Avalon, mortally wounded. Those who have fallen to it lie frozen, unaffected by the comings and goings around them. Wounds that should be mortal disappear from the bodies of the spellbound overnight, but the healed no longer breathe, no longer require food or water, no longer live. The only signs that the afflicted are not dead is a sluggish heartbeat and a lack of any decay.
There have been more than a handful of victims over the centuries, leading to legends even in the Muggle world. Muggle fairy tales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty stem from stories of witches fallen to the King’s Sleep, though the Muggle understanding of the spell has the sufferers reviving through the application of true love. No witch or wizard has ever been freed from their frozen state, no matter the course of healing attempted or applied. No one knows how the spell comes to be cast, only that those who have succumbed are typically believed to be great heroes of their time. With one bitter exception, it seems to Harry.
“Do you? And yet you persist in this foolishness. How long has it been since you’ve seen your friends, Potter?” Each word is a barb under his skin and he doesn’t understand why it keeps coming back to this, when he is resolved to do whatever’s necessary.
Harry puts his mug on the countertop with more force than he intends and grits his teeth at the resounding crack of sound. He takes a deep breath, trying to rein in his anger. “They understand that this is important.” They did, even if they didn’t understand why, they both knew that it was something Harry had to do.
“Important?” He can hear the sneer in Snape’s voice. “Rescue your pathetic, pitiable Potions professor from becoming a martyr for the cause?”
“No!” Harry spins to face Snape, hands clenching into fists at his side. Where are these thoughts coming from? Why is his mind tormenting him like this, when all he wants to do is fix the wrong that’s been done? “You’re not pitiable. You’re the bravest man I’ve ever met.”
Snape goes still, surprise creeping into his expression for a moment before he shakes his head dismissively. “You’ve put me on some sort of pedestal, Potter.” His voice gets low, dangerous, as he continues. “I’m not a saint, if you’ll recall. How many years did you hate me? Now you want to set it all aside? As if I suddenly didn’t do all of the things you hated me for?”
Blinking, reeling a bit from the sudden shift of tension, Harry shakes his head. “No. No, I think I’m finally seeing you as human, actually.” He tips his head back slightly, his gaze traveling over the as-yet-unmodified kitchen. “Being here, where you lived when you weren’t busy tormenting Gryffindors… it’s been enlightening.”
“Enlightening?” Snape scoffs. “Humanity doesn’t excuse my choices, Potter. If anything it makes my actions more reprehensible.”
“I rather think you have the wrong end of it,” Harry murmurs, thoughts of tea abandoned as he reaches out and traces a fingertip over the faded wallpaper above the counter. He’s been reluctant to change anything here, inordinately fond of the evidence of that this house had once been a home. The dusty shambles of the spare room upstairs and the melancholy sitting room, divorced from the rest of the house, each hinted at a sense of emptiness, a sense of abandonment.
The faults of those rooms had grown from neglect, rather than use, but the kitchen, with its stains and chips and, as he had learned early on, wobbly chairs, were reminders that here there had been life, here memories had been formed, good or bad. As he looks at his finger trailing over the faded greenery of the design he thinks, perhaps, it’s time to start forming new memories. “Being human means we get to make mistakes,” he says at last, the words soft. “Being human means taking second chances when we get them.”
Snape gives a bitter laugh and Harry idly wonders if that’s what his laugh would really sound like. “I have received more than enough of those and bollocksed every one.”
"Nothing is so broken that it can’t be restored.” It has to be true, Harry tells himself. The alternative isn’t worth entertaining.
“And I’m your pet project now, I suppose?” Snape snarls the words and Harry startles at the thought. Maybe in the strictest sense, though he would never have described it as such. At least not outside of his subconscious, apparently. Finding some way to save Snape is his project, but it’s more of an…imperative.
“The kitchen today, I think.” He says, rather than focus too closely on that thought. Snape looks startled.
“You’ve spent an inordinate amount of time changing my living space, for someone who professes that you’re only keeping the house until I wake,” he rallies, after a moment. “You realize I could have made any of these changes myself, had I so desired.”
“I’m not hurting anything, just brightening the place up a bit.” He decides that he’ll use an apricot color on the walls. New fixtures, tiling to replace the worn out lino, and more space. Another window wouldn’t go amiss, either, to let in more sunlight.
“Interesting, that my opinion is not a consideration to your alterations.” The voice is dry as dust and Harry blinks, puzzled by the observation.
“Why should it be?” He hadn’t considered that Snape’s opinion would be different than his own, but he does have to admit that talking to him like this is a surprisingly good way to sort out his thoughts.
“Did you ever consider that I might not want your so-called improvements?” he asks silkily. “This is my childhood home, you know. Have you considered what reasons I might have for keeping it as it was?”
Harry blinks, startled by the thought. “I...I just assumed…”
“Of course you did, you’re a Gryffindor.” Snape sighs and makes a pointed show of looking around the still-shabby kitchen. “I suppose there is room for some slight improvement.”
“You say that now, but you’re an extension of my thoughts. Of course you’d agree with me in the end? What if you--you-you hate it?” Dread is forming a tight ball in the pit of his stomach. How could he have neglected to consider what Snape might actually think of the changes he’s making?
The figment rolls his eyes. “Bit late to be considering that, don’t you think?” Harry shakes his head, wondering if he can reasonably undo the changes he’s made.
“I want you to have some place nice to come home to.” If he ever figures out how to make that happen.
At the word ‘home’ Snape shrugs, the gesture sullen. He looks as if he’s trying to convince himself he doesn’t care. “It hardly matters, does it? It’s your house now. Your name is on the deed now, unless I am very much mistaken.”
“Of course not. Well I mean, yes, but I’m holding it in trust for when you wake up.” It’s not his house, Harry reminds himself firmly. It doesn’t matter that he’s slowly falling in love with it as he slowly works to shape it into what it could be.
“In trust? My, someone has been listening to Granger’s lectures, haven’t they?” Snape bites out, voice filled with frustration. “If you recall, I just informed you that I’m not going to wake up. The King’s Sleep, remember?”
“You will!” Harry’s temper flares once again at the reminder and the dishes in the cupboards rattle ominously.
Snape stares at him for a long moment and then sighs, looking away. If it were anyone else Harry would say it seems as if he’s been given up for a lost cause, but that would be a strange thing for a hallucination to do, he decides. He looks back at Harry after another few seconds have passed. “Well, then, you’ll have to paint the kitchen, as I haven’t any funds to do it myself.”
Harry starts, laughs and shakes his head. “It’s a good thing you’re not really Snape or I’d have to call you selfish.”
“And what’s wrong with being selfish once in a while? It’s not as if either of us has much experience with that. It seems to me that you might benefit from it yourself.” Harry goggles at the likeness of Snape, because he’s not wrong, which is an unsettling thought.
Then the kettle whistles and pain stabs sharply through Harry’s temples. “I’m not awake enough for this,” he groans softly, flipping off the hob. “I need more sleep.”
“I imagine you’d get more sleep if you used a bed instead of falling asleep on that horrid sofa at every opportunity--speaking of improvements that you should be making, if you insist on renovating this dump.” Snape observes dryly, arching a dark brow at him.
“And just where else do you recommend I sleep, then? If you’ll recall, the only bed in the house is behind a locked door. Presuming you sleep in a bed, of course,” Harry snipes back.
“I hardly sleep hanging upside down like a bat, Potter, no matter what rumors float around the student population. I’m surprised at you, though, letting the simple matter of a locked door stop you.”
Harry grinds his teeth in annoyance. “I’ve cast every spell that I can think of--including at least one spell that should have blown down the wall, to no effect!”
“Ah, there’s the problem.”
“You’re thinking like a Gryffindor.”
Harry’s eyes go wide. Turning on his heel he swiftly exits the kitchen and practically flies through the sitting room and up the stairs to face the locked bedroom door off the landing. Thinking like a Gryffindor. How many spells has he tried to use to get into this room? He’d lost count, all the time thinking that there must be some trick to it, some password or ward that he didn’t know. He scrubs his damp palms against his robe and reaches up, pressing one hesitant hand to the cool wood of the door, half expecting the sting of some hex or curse. Nothing happens.
“Please,” he says softly, and the door creaks slowly open.
Hesitantly he pushes through the entrance, stepping all the way through the room and blinking. Whatever he’d expected to be behind the locked door, this room is not it. Snape had clearly kept a stasis spell of some sort in here, because there’s not a speck of dust to be seen where sunshine streams in from the window.
There’s nothing fancy about the room, it’s not cluttered, but neither is it sterile. It’s surprisingly welcoming. On the far end of the room there’s a door that Harry assumes must open into an ensuite bathroom. A wardrobe takes up space in the corner, and a small bedside table holds a couple of books and a picture that he can’t make out from this distance.
But it’s the bed that holds his attention, large and made up with dark blue blankets and pillows that look obscenely fluffy, it dominates the room. A little helplessly, he glances at Snape, who, unsurprisingly, has followed him in his trek up the stairs. His mind spins with the reality of it. “I can’t sleep there.”
“It’s your bed.” Just the thought of it makes gooseflesh prickle along his neck. Severus Snape had slept between those sheets, pressed down by the weight of the blankets, snuggled down into the pillows. It’s unfathomable.
“Technically, as I believe I said earlier, it’s yours.” A strange, enigmatic smile curls Snape’s lips. “Besides, it isn’t as if anyone but the two of us will ever know.”
Tiredly, Harry gives a snort of laughter. The two of them indeed. He looks at the bed, imagining he can feel it pulling him magnetically forward. He turns back the blankets and a spicy, welcoming scent drifts up from the sheets. No one will know.
He’s asleep almost before his head hits the pillow.
Potter wakes slowly, in increments, and it’s just as surprising to witness the sixth time as it was the first. Severus watches him blink once, sooty lashes sweeping gracefully across his cheekbones and then falling still again. A low sigh follows a moment later and then he shifts under the drape of blankets, curling in on himself and then slowly stretching outward, as if he’s unfurling from sleep.
Severus thinks that if Albus never returns, if he’s truly stuck this way, lost to the spell that holds him unwillingly… Severus thinks he could watch this same sight every day and wouldn’t mind it so much. As if sensing the weight of his attention, green eyes finally slide fully open to regard him, still bleary with sleep. The room goes fuzzy at the edges and begins to spin into a colorless whirl, but the verdant shade of Potter’s gaze stays with him.
When he comes back to himself again, he finds the bedroom empty, the door ajar. The bedsheets are thrown back, a rumpled testimony to Potter’s presence within them. A dark hair clings to the pillowcase and Severus reaches out, brushing his finger over it. It’s unusual, after one of these episodes, to find himself back in the exact same room he left, even more unusual to arrive anywhere away from Potter’s side.
The faint strains of stringed instruments drift upstairs, the tune familiar. Ice grips Severus as the singer’s voice begins to croon the lyrics. Her eyes tell the story so well, that she tries hard to hide. So little expected, too often neglected, a woman stripped of her pride… He should have realized that willingly inviting Potter to further invade his personal space was a recipe for disaster.
Severus has never managed to shake himself free of the shadows of his parents, Spinner’s End an unintentional shrine to their memory. The bedrooms had been his only concession after their deaths; the rest of the house belonged to Tobias and Eileen, frozen in time until Harry bloody Potter arrived and began improving things. Severus hadn’t hesitated when he saw how exhausted the brat had seemed, but he regrets it now, the soft melody echoing in his ears.
Always so careful not to cry, until I fall asleep… a man without love's only half of a man, but a woman is nothing at all… His hands clench into fists at his sides, hard enough that he’s certain his fingers should ache with the force of it, but there are some advantages to being not-dead. Somehow Severus had forgotten, as Potter radiated light into the darkness surrounding him, that while shadows might be chased away, what they kept hidden would inevitably be exposed.
Severus hides in the bedroom, late afternoon sunshine streaming in from the windows, remembering the way his mother would play her records over and over in her blacker moods, music the only thing she would respond to, no matter how much he pleaded for her attention. He might have guessed that Potter would be able to ferret out the last few secret recesses of the house. When the song finally fades away, he makes his way downstairs, feeling more unsteady than he has since the discovery of his unfortunate disembodiment.
He finds Potter in the sitting room, just as he’d expected. The turntable on the floor beside him continues to spin its record, fruitlessly, the needle resettled in its cradle. Potter has a large, battered photo album open in his lap and Severus’ stomach clenches.
“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?” For all that his voice is low and hissing, his tone pointedly even, the boy still jumps as if he’s shouted. He blinks owlishly at Severus for a moment, then looks down again at the album in his lap.
Stalking closer, Severus catches a glimpse of his 8-year-old self smiling shyly and giving his viewer a hesitant wave before Potter closes the book with obvious reluctance. “You would react like that, wouldn’t you?” He asks with a put-upon sigh.
The question is an annoying reminder that Potter doesn’t even think that he’s real, but some made-up extension of his conscience, and he bares his teeth in irritation. “Should I have some other reaction? Wasn’t it enough that you invaded my house, decided to alter it according to your whims? When have you given a second thought to anyone’s privacy, to any sense of boundaries--”
“It isn’t like that, I was just curious!” The protest is filled with the same self-righteousness that the boy had favored at Hogwarts and Severus’ anger boils beneath the surface.
“Curious! Well, the irreproachable Harry Potter was curious, that certainly excuses everything!” His voice starts out quietly, but ends on a shout and Potter flinches.
“Of course not! But how else am I meant to learn about-- It’s not as if I read your journals!” He waves his hands demonstratively and Severus’ gaze flicks towards the stack of books at the gesture, stomach clenching at the sight of those familiar covers.
He’d forgotten that they were hidden with the rest of the things Potter has unearthed, each and every one holding the worst of his memories. He sneers half-heartedly to conceal the panic that flares in his chest. Just the thought of anyone reading those journals makes his stomach churn. The atrocities he’d detailed in their pages, trying to remove them from his memories...
“Well congratulations, you’ve managed to skirt the barest edges of decency while flaunting your disregard for it all at once. Were you expecting a reward?” he hisses, using his anger as shield and pulling his professor persona around him like a familiar set of robes.
Potter reacts much the same way he might have as a student, rolling his eyes. He looks back down at the photo album, dismissing Severus’ irritation and tapping his finger thoughtfully against its spine. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” he says softly.
Severus knows, he thinks, though it galls him bitterly to admit that it’s a reasonable desire. “I don’t have any pictures of your mother.”
The owlish expression is back as Potter looks up at him again, frowning. “No, but I didn’t want any.”
The words hold a startling edge of truth, but Severus raises a skeptical brow at him all the same. What else could he want, if not a connection to Lily? “No?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have been unhappy, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.” Potter says it slowly, as if he is weighing out the reality of what he was searching for and finding himself surprised by it.
“And what, pray tell, were you looking for?” Severus asks, the question arch.
Potter goes still for a second too long and then scrapes a finger over his thumbnail, faux-absently, obviously aiming for airy when he finally answers. “...you.”
“I beg your pardon?” Severus couldn’t have heard that correctly.
Potter gives a wry little shrug. “You.”
Severus shakes his head in disbelief, wondering just what the fool is playing at. “Me,” he says, voice flat. “Well, why didn’t you just read the journals, then? A dead man could hardly protest.”
“You’re not dead!” He gives up the pretense of disinterest and lifts his head to glare daggers at Severus.
“You’re the only one who believes that,” Severus says, calmly staring back.
“No, you’re not. You can’t be dead.” Potter seems almost frantic and Severus frowns.
“Why not? What, precisely, do you want from me?” Silence stretches between them for a long moment and Severus begins to think Potter won’t answer when he finally speaks.
“Do you think it’s possible to fall in love with someone’s empty spaces?”
“What?” The question is so bewildering that he can’t process it, can only ask for clarification, and Potter ducks his head once more under Severus’ appalled expression.
“With the things they leave behind, I mean. Your memories, this house… I probably know you better than anyone.” The observation is true enough, but what the boy is suggesting is… is just… What is he suggesting? Surely not what Severus is thinking, better not to even entertain the wild thought.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He says it as dismissively as he can manage, drawing himself up to his full height. “A person is not made wholly of memories.”
Potter shakes his head. “No. People are lots of things.” He looks up at Severus, his expression firming into one of resolve. “Choices. Guilt. Actions. Character. Memories guide us, but we’re more than that.”
“You’re forgetting flesh and blood. You can’t fall in love with someone who isn’t...who isn’t!” He can hear the strain in his own voice. Even if he weren’t practically dead he would hardly be a suitable… Surely Potter isn’t suggesting...
Potter sets the album down beside him and stands, stepping close enough that Severus can practically feel the heat radiating from him. He raises a hand as if he intends to touch and then stopping just short of Severus, gaze trailing slowly over him. “It seems I can,” he says softly.
Severus immediately steps back, shaking his head in denial. “Even if I weren’t lying unconscious somewhere, Potter, you’re forgetting that I’m still your nasty, ugly old Potions master. What you’re suggesting is ludicrous.”
“You know, it’s funny how your perceptions change from childhood.” He watches Severus move away, calm and collected and everything Severus is not.
“Perception has nothing to do with it, I’ve never been an attractive man, do you think I’m not perfectly aware of that?” He spits the words, trying to widen the distance between them more than physically, but Potter doesn’t seem interested in aiding his endeavor. He’s still watching Severus, gaze more calculated than he would have believed possible of a Gryffindor.
“I don’t know about that. You’re not classically handsome, of course, but there’s something--”
“Ugly?” He interrupts pointedly, but Potter continues without missing a beat.
“--striking about you. Something intense. If you were here I would…” Here, Potter finally loses his composure and Severus leaps on the misstep like a starving man on bread.
“You would what? Run screaming in the other direction?”
“I would kiss you.” Green eyes widen, Potter seems almost as surprised by the words as Severus is.
“Nonsense.” He utters it as firmly as he can manage. “You’d do nothing of the sort. And even if you were foolhardy enough to try, I wouldn’t allow it.”
“I think you would.” A smile is curling his lips now and Severus knows he is losing ground.
“And what are you basing that egregious assumption on?”
“I’ve seen your memories, Severus.” He opens his mouth to protest the free use of his given name, but before he can manage, Potter continues to charge forward. “You stayed and watched in the Forest of Dean. You could have left, but you watched me strip off so I could retrieve the sword.”
“Of course I did, I had to make certain you survived the attempt!” He won’t deny that the boy was beautiful, ivory skin glowing with reflected light from the snow, finally grown out of his childhood softness. He can hardly be blamed for looking, though he wasn’t nearly so lecherous as Potter is accusing him of being.
Harry smiles as if Severus has just implicated himself. Perhaps he has. “If you were here, I would kiss you and you would let me.”
“You have a rather high opinion of yourself,” he snarls, feeling rather like an animal backed into a corner.
“I would kiss you and then I would take you upstairs.” Potter blinks and again looks surprised to have spoken the words, a dull flush rising in his cheeks, but he meets Severus’ gaze steadily, heedless of any potential embarrassment.
“Upstairs?” Severus repeats the word hoarsely, the last rational thought sliding out of his head as he pictures just what might happen upstairs.
“Upstairs,” Potter agrees breathlessly, expression heated. Magic surges around him and Severus finds himself carried along, not by Apparition, but by some wilder magic, desire translated into need. Suddenly upstairs is no longer an abstract concept, but a very real place they’re standing in.
“And what do you suppose will happen now?” The words croak out of Severus, not nearly scathing as he intends, and he watches, fascinated, as the color blooming across Potter’s cheeks deepens and spreads.
“Well, you being you,” Potter says, slow and considering. Is this the part where the fool comes to his senses, Severus wonders? The part where this temporary madness wears off and he realizes that Severus is old and ugly and used-up? Potter’s tongue flickers across his lip and, as much as he wants to quash the desire that rises up inside of him, Severus finds, for just a moment, that he can’t look away.
“Me being me,” he prompts, unable to keep the edge of despair from his voice, finally dragging his eyes away to study the floor as he waits for the inevitable disappointment.
“You being you,” Potter repeats, unaffected, “I imagine I would have to...persuade you, a bit.” The soft sound of cloth pooling to the floor draws Severus’ gaze back upward and he finds he’s never been happier to be not-alive, because he seems to have lost the ability to breathe.
Potter steps out of the puddle of his clothing, nude and apparently unashamed. Severus can’t help but stare at the flushed pink revelation of bare skin.
The fact that Potter has grown thin and wan in his time at Spinner’s End has had no apparent effect on his beauty, Severus thinks as he takes in the sight before him. He’s seen it all before, of course, but while he couldn’t help appreciating pale, glowing skin in the winter moonlight, Potter is something else altogether in the streaming sunbeams of afternoon.
Stubble darkens his jaw and the line of his throat sweeps elegantly down to the shadowy arc of clavicles. Dusky pink nipples stand out through a sparse dusting of chest hair and while he’s too thin to be entirely healthy, Potter no longer bears the almost emaciated appearance he had in the Forest of Dean.
Helplessly Severus marks a handful of other differences from that night: the breadth of Potter’s shoulders; the way he stands straight and tall, comfortable in his own skin; and, most obvious, the jut of an erection, standing proud from the apex of his thighs.
“I’d have to persuade you,” Potter repeats, a bit breathlessly, and Severus watches as he wraps agile fingers around his prick, giving it a firm stroke.
"It looks more like you're persuading yourself," Severus says as Potter strokes again, fascinated by the jerk of his hips as his cockhead slides through the clutch of his fingers.
“Mmn,” he breathes, thumb sweeping out to collect damp beads of his pre-ejaculate as his hand sweeps downward again, and Severus doesn’t know if it’s an agreement or a protest. He decides it probably doesn’t matter, as long as Potter doesn’t stop touching himself.
All too soon, however, he does, gasping and releasing his grip on his cock as if it’s burned him. His stomach trembles, chest and face red, and he’s panting as if he’s just run a marathon. Severus wonders just how close he was to coming. Even without a physical body, he doesn't think he’s ever been so aroused, wants nothing more than to push Potter down on the bed and show him just what he thinks of his persuasive methods.
But Potter thinks that Severus is nothing more than a figment of his imagination, an overblown fantasy. He might have deluded himself into believing he wants Severus, but the fact of the matter is that things would be very different if he knew that his greasy Potions master could actually see the things he’s doing. Before he can decide what he should do, Potter takes matters into his own hands again, clumsily settling onto the bed and muttering a spell that leaves his hands shiny with lubrication.
“Wouldn’t take long, you’d want to show me I’m yours,” he mumbles, spreading himself out among Severus’ sheets, hands sliding between his legs again. The grip he wraps around his cock is tight, eager, as his other hand reaches further back, slipping behind his testicles. Severus doesn’t have a clear view of what Potter is doing, obscured by hands and the rolling motion of his hips, but the moment that he manages whatever he’s attempting is made obvious by the breathy moan that breaks free of his chest. The rhythm of his stroking falters for a moment and then quickens.
“Fuck me, Severus,” Potter breathes, hand moving over his cock once, twice more, before he stiffens with a ragged moan, the milky evidence of his release spilling over his fingers.
Harry Potter sprawled and blissed out in Severus’ bed is more temptation than he knows what to do with, but when he pulls two slick fingers out of his body with a shuddering sigh and relaxes back into the pillows, Severus can no longer help himself. He crosses to the bedside in two swift steps and reaches out, hands grasping Potter’s shoulders. Heat burns through him and he gives the idiot Gryffindor a hard shake.
“You don’t even know what you’re asking for, you little fool,” he hisses angrily, shocked green eyes filling his vision as he leans in to crash their lips together. Potter’s mouth is a fire, consuming, and his hands come up to grasp at Severus’ shoulders, burning brands into him wherever their bodies touch. Severus breaks the kiss almost as quickly as he initiates it, gasping at the inferno that blazes through him. In his arms, Potter stares up at Severus in obvious horror before his eyes roll back in his head and he goes utterly limp in a faint.
Severus gasps and jerks away from Potter, appalled at what he’s done. For a moment he thinks he might Apparate away, power and urgency crackling through him, and then a quiet voice speaks from behind him.
“Oh, Severus. What have you done?”
Unease fills him. He knows that voice, knows the sound of its disappointment intimately. He reaches out and pulls a twisted bedsheet over until it’s covering Potter, knowing he wouldn’t want to be seen this way. When Severus’ fingers brush bare skin a low groan escapes him and Severus notices how pale he suddenly looks, the bright bloom of a fever blush high on his cheekbones. Something is wrong, he realizes, unease shifting into dread.
Albus Dumbledore steps up to the side of the bed beside him. “This was not my intention, when I arranged for you to make your choice.”
“Maybe you should consider that it was your arrangement,” Severus spits bitterly, hands fisting at his sides. “I never asked for this!”
“No, I suppose you didn’t,” Dumbledore says tiredly. “It was never my intention… You deserved more, Severus. You have suffered so many wrongs, many of them at my own hands.”
He looks up in shock. “What?”
“I wanted to give you the opportunity to experience more, to learn true friendship,” Albus gave a dry laugh. “Harry has always had an unprecedented ability to love. I thought he could show you there is more to life. There was risk, of course, but I thought it would be manageable.”
“Risk.” Severus looks down at Potter, whose breathing has taken on a raspy quality. “He’s become ill. Because of me?”
“Spirits aren’t meant to have quite so much interaction with the living world. I thought you would make your choice long before it ever became an issue. It seems my hubris has led to your suffering yet again.”
“If I make my choice now, then? Will he improve?” Severus has given up his life for Potter once already, what’s a second time in the grand scheme of things?
Dumbledore won’t meet his gaze. “You have a choice, Severus, but I’m afraid it’s not quite the same one I offered originally.” He reaches out with his right hand, the flesh smooth and unblemished in death, and plucks his fingers through the air between Severus and Potter. It looks almost as if Albus is tugging a harp string and something resonates, low and humming, before a glowing strand of light snaps into existence between them.
“You may still choose, Severus, but whatever choice you make no longer just affects you. Harry must abide by it as well.”
Severus stares at the glow of magic, leading from his chest to Potter’s. “A bond.”
Albus gives a wordless hum of confirmation. “Harry has always had an unprecedented ability to love, but somehow I neglected to take into account your own ability to love. You have a choice, Severus.”
Severus looks down at black eyelashes trembling against flushed cheekbones as Potter’s body fights against fever, remembering the way they’d swept slowly open just that morning.
“No,” he says quietly. “There is no choice.”
Even having been out of school for almost three years, waking up in the Hogwarts infirmary is familiar. It’s even more so, after spending the past three days in what has jokingly referred to as ‘his’ bed since Second Year, drifting in and out of unconsciousness. Harry has had plenty of time, despite his battle with staying awake, to gain his bearings. Ron and Hermione have visited twice, and Professor McGonagall a handful of times. Madam Pomfrey has taken the time to explain the particular, peculiar circumstances of his current visit and give dire warnings about the dangers of pushing himself too hard to recover.
He’s had plenty of time, too, to address his roommate, but fully admits that he’s been too much of a coward to do so. His only saving grace is that his roommate has been equally silent--silent as a ghost. Wincing at the thought, Harry levers himself up in his bed and sneaks an unsubtle glance at the occupant in the bed next to his.
There’s no way that his motion hasn’t been heard, but Severus Snape doesn’t look up from where he’s idly dragging a spoon through his congealing breakfast porridge. Harry hasn’t seen him eat a thing in days, but apparently a lack of appetite is fairly average for an accidental transfer like theirs. Poppy assures him that eventually their energy levels will balance out again and return to normal.
“Madam Pomfrey says you sat bolt up in the bed and Floo’d to Spinner’s End, half buzzing out of your skin with magic.” It wasn’t the opening salvo he had planned, but when Severus’ spoon stills its circles, he presses forward. “And then you Apparated back into the infirmary, carrying me in your arms, like some bloody maiden in a Muggle romance.”
The silence stretches for one beat, two, and the spoon begins its rotations again. Harry feels his shoulders slump in disappointment. The last thing he remembered before waking up at Hogwarts had been the shocking burn of Snape’s lips against his, Snape, who had been real all along. An echo of that fiery sensation heats his cheeks as he remembers just what he’d been doing before he’d been kissed, certain that no one would ever know.
Except not only does Snape know, but if the Hogwarts Matron is to be believed they’re--
“What a remarkable bunch of Gryffindor claptrap,” Snape’s voice is gritty and hoarse, not at all the way he’d sounded in Spinner’s End. But the ropes of thick scar tissue on his throat hadn’t been present in Spinner’s End, either. “Does that sound like something I’d do?”
Harry blinks a bit at the denial and then slowly smiles as he realizes that it wasn’t a denial. “Maybe not,” he allows. “But you did it. And left the Ministry in a tizzy over it, too. The first survivor of The King’s Sleep. I’m surprised you aren’t being locked up in the Department of Mysteries as we speak.”
Snape stays silent. Harry squirms and fights the urge to continue filling up the silence with words.
Cling. Cling. Cling. The spoon travels around the bowl, metal dragging against porcelain.
“You weren’t a figment of my imagination,” Harry says softly, when it finally seems obvious that Snape has no intention of continuing their conversation.
“No,” he says shortly. Harry is surprised by how much he wants Snape to look up, to look over at him.
“You let me think--”
“Did I?” Snape’s voice is almost smug, and Harry recalls the first night they’d spoken, the brief insinuation that he wasn’t a hallucination.
“Well you could have tried harder,” he mutters sullenly, dragging his gaze away from Snape to look down at where his hands are clenched in his bedsheets. From the corner of his eye he can see Snape’s head jerk up in irritation, the spoon pauses in its endless circles.
“How would I have gone about that, exactly?” He pitches his voice slightly higher, mocking, “Potter, I know you think I’m trapped in a magical coma that no one has ever escaped from and I am, but I’m also an apparition standing right in front of you.”
“Well when you put it like that…” Harry raises his head, looking over at Snape again, grasping for anything to keep the conversation going. ”I fixed your house.”
Snape takes a quick, darting glance at him, and then grimaces down at his porridge bowl. “You made what you considered to be a passable attempt, I’m sure.”
“You said you liked it!” Harry protests, though Snape’s reaction had perhaps been a bit milder than ‘like.’
“Well you could hardly make the place worse,” Snape drawls, quietly amused.
“Well you could say I fixed you, too,” Harry teases back, heart light in his chest.
“I could not,” comes the dry rejoinder, but Snape relents quickly enough when Harry’s face falls. “Oh, what do you want, Potter? Shall I say you have quite the bright future in home repair?”
“That will do for a start,” he says quickly, pleased. He decides to press his luck. “You kissed me.”
Snape drops his head again, abruptly, mouth twisting into a peculiar shape. The spoon begins its path once again. “Ah.” It wasn’t a denial. Hope flutters in Harry’s chest, he pushes forward.
“Madam Pomfrey says that we’re bonded. Any idea how that happened?” The spoon slides through the porridge aggressively now.
“Should I have?” Harry smiles and thinks that, perhaps, the language Snape speaks won’t be so difficult to learn after all.
He ‘hmms’ noncommittally and sits back against starchy white pillows. He watches as Snape apparently grows bored of dragging his spoon around the bowl and instead lifts it to examine his reflection.
“Well,” he says, after Snape has had a moment to ascertain that his features are all still attached and arranged appropriately. “I hear these sorts of things happen.”
Snape’s attention snaps to Harry at that, staring at him with open disbelief. “What? What imbecile told you that spontaneous bonds happen naturally?”
“No one said that,” Harry says, giving him an easy smile. “I just mean, when two people truly love each other, a bond is inevitable, isn’t it?
Snape’s face goes pale, then slowly suffuses with red, before paling again. “You--”
“There’s only one reasonable solution, then,” Harry isn’t sure what he’d been intending to say, but he can hear the bluster beginning to rise in Snape’s voice. Cutting him off seems like the only reasonable action. “We’ll just have to take your advice.”
The bewildered look on Severus Snape’s face is the most perfect thing Harry has ever seen. “And what advice is that?” The question is almost hesitant and Harry can’t resist any longer, Madam Pomfrey’s orders be damned. He slips out of his bed and takes three wobbly steps to Snape’s climbing in beside him and pressing close. He feels warm for the first time in days.
“We’ll just have to be a little bit selfish.”