Once upon a time, there was a strange and magical land. One filled with ordinary villages and ordinary people, a dark and forbidding Forest, and a castle shrouded in mist. In the castle lived a wicked King, whose court of Death Eaters did his evil bidding. And there was a curse. There was a curse, and a magic mirror, and a boy as white as snow.
But first, there was a Huntsman.
He had been in service to the Evil King for about twenty years. The King was most assuredly evil, though this was not a word our hero dared describe him as, at least not to his face. The King referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, or on occasion the Dark Lord. This is what everyone else called him too, unless they were not particularly attached to their vital organs. Whispers in the village called him he who must not be named, or occasionally spawn of the Witch Queen. The bravest might call him the monster in the castle, but if overheard by one of the King’s loyal Death Eaters, their bravery (and their lives) rarely lasted long.
The Huntsman was a clever man. He knew power when he saw it, and craved to be in its presence. He was marked a loyal servant of Voldemort at age seventeen, and had proven his loyalty time and time again since. If he were an older man he likely would have lived and died for the King’s mother, the Witch Queen Merope. As the defeater of the wise old wizard Dumbledore, she had taken his place as ruler of the realm and reigned with an iron fist. Skilled in the darkest magic, dark enough to create for herself the thing which was her son, an extension of her power and greed. So powerful, so clever, so beautiful was the old Queen, as the stories went. But her skills weren't enough to save her in the end, and the new Dark Lord arose, blood on his hands from the very beginning.
One day, when nothing of any particular interest had happened to the huntsman in quite a long time, he finished his work in his lab and made his way up to the throne room. His visits to the king were regular occurrences; he was not the king’s only huntsman and rarely, in fact, provided the service of one. The king was pleased to have his skills put to use creating all manner of potions and poisons for him instead. Other huntsmen, though skilled enough in collecting the meat the king required, did not have the patience or attention to detail that he had, particularly for preparation or preservation.
The king was a civilized man, he often reminded the court; no reason to get his hands dirty if they didn’t need to be. That was our Huntsmen’s job.
“You wished to see me, my Lord,” The Huntsman said with a low bow, entering the room with a servant carrying a domed silver platter trailing along behind him.
“Severus,” the king said, turning to fix blue eyes so pale they were almost white on the Huntsman’s deep black ones. He sounded pleased to see him as usual, though Severus could tell there was something bothering the king, an edge to his voice that could cross over to anger at any moment. Best tread carefully, then. The king glanced to the silver dome behind Severus and his dark red lips curved into an eerie smile, baring a sliver of sharp teeth.
“News from Hogsmeade, I take it,” he said quietly, and Severus could see he was almost salivating. It pleased Severus to know his skills were appreciated, but he had to quickly push aside a flicker of disgust. The king would often remark that he was starving whenever he indulged in his favorite delicacy. But Severus knew hunger, real hunger, when he saw it, hollow cheeks, bloated stomachs. The king had never once been hungry in his life, let alone starving.
What would you look like, starving? came to Severus’ mind, unbidden, Would your power weaken, would the flush in your face fade until you were whiter still, would you waste away? Severus flinched at the traitorous thought, answered his Lord’s question instead.
“The mayor continued to refuse the proper tribute, even after your courteous reminders,” said Severus. “He complained about the blighted crops, despite our assurances he should have been grateful for the warning.”
“Defiance can not be tolerated,” The king replied, nodding with certainty. “He knew he was courting death. Is that his...tribute, then?” The king's eyes followed the domed platter as the servant placed it at the table in front of him at Severus’ nod.
Glutton, thought Severus, treacherously. He knew it wasn’t even the king’s first one today.
“Delicious,” the king remarked with a hiss, as the red mass of flesh was revealed, neatly posed on the gold plate, swimming in a pool of thick red. The mayor’s heart still quivering, trembling on the platter thanks to the ingenuity of the king’s favorite Huntsman.
Before Severus was the Huntsman, he was the butcher’s boy.
Or Snape’s boy; the butcher’s son; nasty, little Snivellous still stinking of blood and meat depending on who you asked. So few people had the stomach for it, and Severus had been called many things, but never weak. Being the butcher’s boy didn’t make you many friends, particularly if you were as surly and ill-tempered as the Snape family. Severus learned his trade from his father, when he was sober enough to teach it. He found himself grateful for the practice later on, when he realized he could be in service to a king with...unique dietary requirements.
The nature of the Witch Queen’s magical deal, of the dark spell that had given her the Thing seated on the throne before Severus, with the mind of a great and terrible king, a body radiating magical power, pale white skin, blood red lips and a hunger he could not ignore.
“How do you keep them so fresh, Severus dear,” the king addressed him as he finished his meal with a final messy, overlarge bite. “I know it must have been...collected yesterday at the latest.”
“Potions, my Lord,” replied Severus. “A course I give the Huntsman to use during...collection,” he paused, using the civilized word for murder the king preferred, “and several more that I utilize during preparation. They keep the meat fresh, the liquid still warm and fluid.”
“Excellent work,” the king praised, using a white napkin to delicately wipe the blood away from his lips, which were as red as always, as if stained by his meal. He stared at Severus levelly, pale blue eyes as eerie as ever, sated appetite bringing an awful beauty to otherwise pale skin.
“My loyal Severus,” the king said, as if preparing to bestow a great boon. “I have a task for you.”
The Mirror of Erised was a family heirloom of the King’s, which is to say it was likely stolen by his mother.
Severus had been in the presence of the mirror before; the magical power that seemed to pour off of it entranced and unnerved him in equal measure. The Magic Mirror, as it was usually called, was the king’s most trusted advisor, because it could not lie. It showed what the viewer desired most, when ordered to. And, most helpfully, it told them how to get it.
Once they were standing in front of the mirror, an expanse of clouded glass encased by a thick silver frame shot through with glowing golden runes carved along the metal boundaries, the king spoke again. “I have sought counsel with my mirror, Severus. I will show you what it showed me.”
Severus felt called to the mirror by its unnatural force, but kept his eyes fixed on the king until the Dark Lord chose to continue speaking. An unfortunate former servant, captivated by the power the mirror possessed, had once dared to ask his own questions in the presence of the king, who was not pleased to discover that the heart’s desire of the Death Eater was a place on the throne.
The King had chosen to harvest that particular heart and eat it fresh in that moment. It had saved Severus his potions and presentation.
“Mirror, mirror,” the King began, and the mist that appeared within the glass began to thin, as if waking up from a slumber. “Who is the most powerful in the realm?”
You, my King appeared slowly, as if being etched on the inside of the glass by an unseen hand, an unearthly whisper humming in the air that caused the back of Severus’ neck to tingle. He suppressed a shiver. Whatever language the mirror was muttering, it was not one meant to be heard by human ears.
Severus was uncertain where this was going. He had seen this question and answer before, it was a favored question for the King to ask both alone and in front of his court, a magical proof that he was the rightful King.
A second line began to appear after a moment, and Severus had to stifle an expression of surprise.
But not for long.
“And who dares rise against me, the most powerful wizard and King who ever lived?”
There is a boy who lives in the Forest. He is the same as you. The mirror supplied an image, still hazy, but clear enough to see the outline of a young man, facing away. His skin was pale white, and his hair wild and black as coal, his features obscured. Severus was surprised at how unimpressive the figure appeared. Powerful enough to surpass the king? How?
“There is no one like me!” the King thundered, and although Severus knew the Dark Lord was simply recreating the conversation for his benefit, his rage at this idea was still present even now. “No one alive has the power that I possess.”
The King began to speak. “I wish for you to discover who this is, what whispers in the villages might explain where he came from and what threat he brings to my rightful rule.”
The mirror seemed to murmur, interrupting the king’s instructions, and though not asked a question, it supplied an answer anyway.
The boy was made the same as you, but possesses a power you know not. He will destroy you.
The King paused, and Severus finally spoke, concerned that the king suddenly no longer appeared to be as upset as he had been. “This is alarming news, my Lord. But there is no power you do not know. How could this be?”
The king smiled a full grin now, sharp points of thin white teeth bared to the light, the points glinting in the gold glow from the mirror. He chuckled. “The mirror taunts me. There is only one power I still seek. The mirror has told me this knowledge is impossible whenever I’ve asked before. But now I wonder…”
He addressed the mirror again, loudly, and with a clear, smug certainty he would finally be answered. “Mirror, mirror. What will bring me the power to conquer death?”
The image of the boy was shown again, the sharp angle of a jawline, a shock of black hair on white skin. The words appeared over the image, slowly, as if the unseen hand writing it was fighting against the compulsion of truthfulness.
The king turned to Severus. “You will find me the boy, Huntsman,” he said, his voice a low whisper that brokered no protest. “You will bring me his heart.”
The Forbidden Forest, where the king’s enemy was said to reside, was aptly named. Few rules applied to the king’s favoured huntsman, however, and so Severus had no trouble wandering in.
These woods, always shrouded in a thick mist, confounded the more inexperienced huntsmen. A few minutes walk from the forest’s edge and an inattentive woodsman would lose track of where they were and which direction they were headed in. The haze lifted the farther in one went, but by the time you were halfway in, most were already distraught, wandering in circles, unable to determine which way was in and which was out.
It was far from the first time Severus had entered these woods, but today he wondered if this time might be the last.
Heading from the castle, our Huntsman followed the instructions of the mirror to an unassuming little village toward the edge of the land. Casual yet probing questions to the ale-soaked dunderheads at the local inn confirmed he was likely in the right area and had given him a sketch of the boy’s story, as well as a potential location in the forest that bordered the edge of the town.
The name of the King’s young enemy was Harry. As rumor had it, he was the son of a witch, and there had been something obviously wrong with him since birth. Skin as white as snow and pitch dark hair. Skinny, wide eyed. Kept to himself. Or rather, kept away from everyone else by his mother’s relatives. According to the townsfolk, despite being a generally unsettling child, he hadn’t caused anyone any trouble until a few weeks ago, when some sort of disturbance had occurred at the home of those who had raised him since infancy. No one could seem to substantiate anything beyond blood curdling screams in the middle of the night, a fire, and three charred bodies. According to the baker’s daughter, the boy had fled into the woods. No one was too keen to follow after him.
“Did the monster kill his family, then?” Severus had asked her. It was likely the creature had gone mad with hunger, slaughtered them all and set the fire to cover his tracks. A feral creature, probably, with none of the civility of the king.
She had hesitated, gnawing on her bottom lip with bucked front teeth. “I wouldn’t have thought so. His family was...not kind to him, I knew that. But he was always a sweet child, on the rare occasion we saw each other. Unnerving, but…” she shrugged. “Most of us children were told to keep away, that he was full of dark magic. We haven’t seen him since the fire at the Dursleys’. I can show you where he entered the woods.”
It wasn’t quite what Severus had expected to hear. The possibility that the boy was a witch’s son and seemed to physically resemble the King made sense, if they shared the same...predicament. A blessing, the King always called it, but more rational minds would say curse.
The Huntsman considered the nature of the curse the king was under. What he knew of Lord Voldemort's appetites didn’t line up with what the villagers had shared about the boy. No one seemed afraid for their lives, no horror stories of a pint sized monster tearing the flesh and drinking the blood of innocent townsfolk. Wouldn’t he need to do so, to survive? He may have feasted on his family, that was certainly something one of his kind would do. But how long would that last? How long until he had to seek out new prey? How hungry would he be, when Severus came upon him?
Severus started at the crack of a branch on the forest floor near him. He lifted his bow, aiming it in the direction of the sound, and paused. Would this be the monster? A few tense moments of held breath passed as he searched through the mist, looking for an outline of a grim horror.
A sudden burst of motion and flash of tawny fur skittered into view beside him, before leaping away over the tangle of undergrowth.
A deer. Severus sighed, and lowered his bow. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to get so lost in thought. He continued on searching, more attuned now to his surroundings. He did ponder what level of hunger in the creature would be most ideal for Severus’ purpose of capturing and killing him. He had no idea how much human blood and meat the monster needed to survive. He had no basis of comparison with the king, as Severus had long suspected that he overindulged far beyond his need. This was the only village nearby, and no one had reported a mysterious disappearance since the incident at the Dursleys’. Where was he getting blood, if not from the town? Would hunger make the young Harry more powerful, more desperate? Or would he be weak, and easily subdued?
A few hours after entering the forest line, the haze had cleared, and Severus could see far enough through the trees to regain a sense of security. Up ahead was a small clearing, in which there sat a strange sight: a woodsman’s cottage. The simple building was in some disrepair and appeared years past regular use. However, the area around it was disturbed and smoke emanated from the chimney. Its abandoned appearance suggested the woodsman no longer resided here, so Severus took extra caution in his approach, uncertain whether he’d be coming upon a man or a monster. Had the boy taken shelter here? Had it been abandoned already when the creature had arrived or had he slaughtered the woodsman? He could see no bodies strewn around the area, even animal ones, which might be enough to tide him over, even if it would not be ideal. Perhaps this Harry also liked to think of himself as civilized, and had buried the remains?
He approached with practiced silence, rounding the corner from the back of the house.
As soon as the clearing in front of the cottage came into view, Severus stilled. A figure was lying on the grass in the clearing. A very small, skinny figure, who appeared to be peacefully sleeping in the weak sunlight.
It didn't look like a monster. It just looked like a boy.
A rather beautiful boy, at that.
The boy indeed had skin as white as snow, though much of it was covered by several layers of mismatched clothing. They were well into autumn, but the temperature was still too mild to justify the amount of clothing. Was he cold? The pale skin of the boy’s face practically glittered in the sunlight, almost glowing as if lit up from within. His skin contrasted with the dark mop of unruly hair on his head and the trace of black stubble along his jawline.
Without being truly aware of it, Severus began to move closer. He couldn't keep his eyes off the boy, hair black as a moonless night, skin as white as a fresh snowfall, and as he got closer he could see (yes, of course he would have) lips as vibrant red as spilled blood.
"Go away," said the figure, still unmoving, eyes still closed, and Severus quickly drew his bow and arrow, prepared to strike his enemy quickly and carve out his heart.
But it was what the boy said next that stopped him.
"I don't want to hurt you," the boy said, and he sounded almost mournful. As if he truly didn't.
Severus paused. What kind of monster was this?
"Perhaps I am here to hurt you," he replied in a sour voice. Our Huntsman doesn't enjoy being caught off guard.
"Ah. Go ahead then." The words were without emotion, serene. The monster was apparently unruffled by the idea of being hurt.
The scowl on Severus' face deepened. "Well, you don't seem terribly interested in the matter.” He was further confused and therefore further annoyed at the quick upturn of those blood red lips and the chuckle that escaped them.
"Perhaps I have the wrong cottage," Severus said, his annoyance making him want to goad the infuriatingly perplexing creature. "I'm out here looking for a monster."
The laughter stopped and those captivating lips smoothed back into a taut line. "You've found one."
At this point our Huntsman was going to pull back his arrow, kill the creature, and fulfill his duty to the king. He really was. And he would have, if not for the fact that our snow white boy opened his eyes.
The King was physically similar to the young Harry in many ways. Same white skin, same red lips. Same black hair, even, although the king wouldn't be caught dead with the untamed bramble bush atop the boy’s head. Voldemort’s eyes, however, were a pale blue, as cold and cruel and lifeless as the man himself. If the boy had the same eyes, no doubt the Huntsman would have done his job and our story would have ended here.
Harry's eyes were green.
And not just any green, the bright, joyful green of the first new leaves of spring. The green that blankets the hills in summer time. A green so vibrant Severus could practically smell the freshness and sunlight necessary to bring out such a colour..
When Severus saw the boy's large green eyes, he saw life and beauty. He stared, transfixed, and after several paralyzed seconds, he lowered his bow.
Now it was Harry's turn to frown. "Well, are you going to kill me or not? Didn't the village hire you? After what--" here the boy stumbled over his words. "After the accident at the Dursleys’?"
Severus studied him a moment longer. A curious case, this boy. If he had the King's gift, he had his power too. Why wasn't he mad with it? Why was he letting himself starve out here in the forest? Why did he seem unconcerned that a Huntsman had appeared to come kill him? Severus determined he was in no immediate danger from the boy, though he kept his weapons close at hand. He needed to know more about this creature. Person? He needed to know what power he had that Lord Voldemort knew not.
"Are you dangerous, then?" Severus looked him over, took in the too thin frame, the deep shadows under those life-colored eyes.
“Yes,” Harry replied.
Severus searched his face and waited, but no explanation was forthcoming. "You don't look well."
The boy looked away. "I'm hungry," he said, in a very small voice, as if he was a child asking for dinner when he knew there wouldn't be any. Severus had been a hungry child once too, and knew defeat when he heard it.
He contemplated his options. "I have bread in my satchel. Some fruit. Dried meat. Plenty for us both." He didn't take his eyes off the boy, and noticed the sudden bob of his throat as he swallowed thickly, the tight press of his eyes closing.
"Thank you. But that won't...that won't help."
Severus stepped closer still, and he could tell by the sudden tenseness in the boy, the sharp intake of breath, that he could smell him. He could smell the close proximity of blood when he was so clearly starving and was desperately holding himself back from acting on it. Curiouser and curiouser.
"Go away," the boy said in a low growl, his hands tightly clasped, the knuckles impossibly white, blue veins straining as he rose up and quickly stepped back, retreating towards the door of the cottage as Severus stepped closer still. "I said I don’t want to hurt you."
The boy was taken aback for a moment. "You don't understand," he said finally, collecting himself though clearly intent on retreating back inside the cottage. "You don't understand what I'm hungry for."
"Tell me," Severus said. He didn't understand the twist of empathy he felt for the boy's obvious agony. Why hadn't he lunged for him and torn into his throat? He didn't even know him, why was he holding back? "Do you even know what you are? What you need?"
Those green eyes widened in surprise. "Do you?" he asked, his voice a whisper.
Severus reached into his satchel. He'd experimented with alternative methods of nutrition for the king beyond fresh human blood, having been ordered by Voldemort to do so in case the supply was ever unavailable. He’d had no true successes, apparently the animal blends and additional additives didn't taste nearly as good, but he doubted the boy was in a position to care. He withdrew one of the three vials of the mixture he always carried with him, and extended his hand, offering it to the boy. "Drink this," he said. "It will help."
Harry tentatively reached for the vial, the obvious deep red of the liquid inside betraying its contents and he eyed it and Severus with suspicious confusion before taking it. There was a moment, just after clutching the potion in his hand that the boy’s eyes raked over the exposed wrist offering it, veins obvious below the surface, that Severus honestly thought he was going to toss the vial aside and sink his teeth into the flesh of his arm. He was thrilled suddenly at the image of it, much to his surprise, but before he could dwell on it, the moment passed. The boy must have had the exact same thought. Obvious horror overtook his features and he fled inside the cottage, slamming the door shut behind him.
Severus retreated a ways back and set up a small camp. He sat in the clearing in the space the boy had vacated. The boy was clearly under the same affliction as the King, but seemed terrified of what that meant. How could this skinny boy be any threat to Voldemort's power? He seemed content to starve himself to death in the forest. If he had any of the same magical abilities or power, it certainly wasn't apparent. Severus mulled for a moment on his options. He could kill the creature very easily. Carve out and preserve that highly sought after heart, return to the castle and the favor of the King.
Severus was surprised to discover he didn't want to do that.
The king was powerful, but had grown madder and madder in recent years. He was increasingly unpredictable, and the peasants were on the verge of revolt. What charisma he'd had, which was once attractive to Severus, had been soured by unbridled bloodlust. Paranoid about keeping his power, Voldemort now put his faith in magic mirrors and riddles.
He has power you know not. Was the mirror right, about this seemingly insignificant young man being the king's downfall? More powerful? So powerful, even, to be able to conquer death? The boy clearly hadn't a friend in the world, and he was starving and lonely and frightened. Severus had an idea of what that was like, being a lonely child who grew into a bitter, misanthropic adult.
Perhaps the land needed a new, young king, Severus mused to himself. If this powerful, young man were to trust Severus, rely on him, to listen and be convinced that he was needed to take down the evil monster who sat on the throne...well, wasn't that an idea worth considering?
Severus didn't need to wait long for the boy to exit the cottage again, looking flushed and bright-eyed, already stronger.
"What was that?" he asked, approaching Severus, his tone filled with awe.
Severus regarded him carefully. His skin was still pale, but the presence of veins was lessened and there was a blush to his cheeks. His lips looked fuller, darker. Those vivacious eyes were now nearly fever bright, the green gaze flicking towards the satchel, his hope for more obvious.
"A mixture of animal bloods. Some other ingredients in a highly specific order.”
“I’m Harry,” the boy said. “Who are you?”
“Severus,” the huntsman replied, and offered no additional details. “The potion,” he said, nodding at the empty vial in Harry’s hand. “Did it help?"
Harry just nodded, blinking in surprise. "I'm still...hungry. But it's bearable now. How did you know? What I needed?"
"I know of someone like you." Severus decided not to give away too much information too soon, as he'd rather gauge what the boy knew about his affliction. "What do you know about what you are?"
"A freak, you mean?" He said glumly, laughing ruthlessly. "That's what my aunt and uncle always called me. My mother was a witch, and meddled in something dark and evil, so they say. Got me in exchange. A monstrous freak with a monstrous appetite."
"For human blood," Severus said without emotion.
"That doesn't bother you?"
"It doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me, is how you've managed to stay alive so long without it. Unless…?"
Harry looked down. "As a child, it wasn't so bad. I was always hungry, but regular food still kept me alive, what of it my family actually gave me anyway," he said bitterly. "I caught animals when I could...I wasn't sure, for the longest time, what exactly it was I wanted. As I got older the need got stronger, harder to resist….I never wanted to hurt anybody," he finished with a whisper.
He looked to Severus, imploring, "Do you have more of that? Or can you make it? I think I could live on that, and then I wouldn't want to hurt anyone, or do something awful that being so hungry makes me want to do...you don't understand…," the boy was near tears now, and Severus felt a pang in his chest at the sight. What was wrong with him? Why did he suddenly want to reach out, wipe those tears away, offer his wrist? Take mine, he wanted to say, baring his throat. It’s yours.
“What happened at the Dursleys’?” Severus asked, suddenly, surprising himself with his interest. Would it matter at all if he admitted to devouring them all, revealing himself as the monster he certainly was? Severus didn’t think it would.
Harry looked down, ashamed, and his voice was scarcely above a whisper. “I’ve always been hungry, but that night...I had been starving for so long. They’d kept me locked up, I couldn’t hunt for anything, or even steal from the butcher.”
“So you ate them,” Severus filled in, matter of factly. He could understand, and wasn’t even disturbed by the fact that he was still quite prejudiced in the boy’s favor.
“No!” Harry exclaimed. “It was an accident. My aunt was screaming at me and I...I bit her.” Harry closed his eyes at the memory. “It was only a few moments, but it was like...for the first time--” Harry swallowed, and Severus could see the tips of sharp fangs behind his lips, the fact that he was salivating at the thought, and the misery on the boy’s face at his own reaction. “I don’t remember much after, but my uncle pulled me off her, started pummeling me...next thing I know there was fire everywhere and I was running away. I don’t know what happened.”
Severus considered that the boy's magical powers must have caused his family's death, apparently unintentionally, and decided not to burden him with that knowledge. It was already apparent that Harry was a poor monster with a tender heart.
"I can help you," he said instead. And if he had thought the boy's eyes were his most beautiful feature, that bright, glowing smile proved him wrong.
Though the potions supply was limited, after two more days with one vial each, and a few woodland creatures, Harry declared himself the least hungry he'd ever been in his life.
Least hungry, however, still did not mean full, and it certainly didn't mean satisfied. Severus was quite taken in with the looks of gratitude and adoration he received whenever he caught an animal for Harry, butchered expertly and presented raw. Grateful was not a word he'd ever have used to describe the king, even when he was pleased, and it was a new sensation to have earned the affections of the boy.
Affections? Hardly, he scoffed at the thought. He was a starving man being fed, of course he was grateful. But whether it was out of necessity or not, the little smiles and frequent glances that accompanied hunts together brought an unprecedented warmth to Severus' chest. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but once he'd experienced it, he was loath to let it go.
And they didn't just hunt. They ambled through the forest, Harry listening with rapt attention as Severus pointed out medicinal properties of various flora and fauna. Harry talked about his life a bit, such as it was. Severus was more sparing with his words, but had shared more than he ever had with anyone. He kept some details to himself still, not wanting to spook the boy with his profession just yet. The boy was quite charming, and even a bit funny. When he laughed, it was sweet as birdsong and Severus wanted to hear it again and again and again, to see those lips peel back in a glorious smile, to run his hands through that untidy hair, to--
Nothing. To do nothing. He should be testing the boy’s magic and helping him depose the wicked king, not indulging in ridiculous adolescent fantasies that would never come to fruition.
One day, as Severus handed over a fresh rabbit, his heart surged in painful longing as he watched the boy happily enjoy it, as if he was a child indulging in a sweet fresh from the bakery.
Harry paused at the same moment, inclining his head.
"What's wrong?" Asked Severus.
"Nothing. It's…," Harry hesitated, searching for the words he wanted. "It's better? More filling. It was almost like I was going to be full for a moment, I think."
"Perhaps rabbit blood is most nourishing for you." Severus frowned in consideration. Animal blood really shouldn't be more than a stopgap measure, if his experience with the king was any indication. Harry was still unhealthy looking, still far too thin from the lack of human blood. But he was right, he looked positively vibrant now, all from a few teaspoons of rabbit blood?
"Maybe," Harry said quietly, regarding him strangely, the green gaze flicking over his face. “Maybe it tastes better because you’re the one bringing it to me.”
Severus did not reply, the knowing look from Harry too intense to meet head on, and turned aside, scanning the horizon. They continued on, leisurely canvassing the area as Severus gathered vegetation for himself. He would cook his own meat later, Harry removing the necessity for Severus to bleed out his kills. "What do you know about me anyway? How do you know so much about...this?"
Severus took a deep breath. "What do you know of the king?"
Harry shook his head. “Not much. The village is fairly far from the castle, and no one shared much gossip with me. Just that we have a king and people don’t seem to like him very much. He’s frightening, supposedly, and has a reputation for being unjust?”
Severus scoffed. That was quite an understatement. “He has much the same...affliction as you. (How could they be the same?) Similar in appearance. (Nowhere near as beautiful as you). Similar nutritional requirements. (He would never let himself starve before he hurt anyone).”
“Oh,” Harry said, uncertain what to do with this information. “So he...he drinks--”
“Human blood,” Severus replied, annoyed and uncomfortable with the halting way Harry tried to ask for information. “Although he prefers eating fresh hearts.”
Harry stopped suddenly in his tracks, his back stick straight and his eyes wide.
Severus searched his face, unable to quite read the boy’s expression. “This horrifies you?”
Harry licked his lips, the tip of a pink tongue darting out to slide over those lips red as a beating heart. He looked up and their eyes met, Severus held back a shiver at the intensity of the gaze, that hunger.
“No,” Harry said, his voice low. “Not at all, it sounds lovely. And that is what horrifies me.”
Strange boy, Severus thought. And stranger still, what that look of intense hunger did to Severus: a quickening heartbeat, the hair on his arms raising in a heady mix of fear and anticipation. He wanted to see that look again. He wanted to be the one to inspire it.
“I’ve been in his service for nearly twenty years,” Severus said, finally coming clean. “He sent me here to kill you. That’s why I went looking for you.”
Harry looked struck. “Are you going to?”
“Never,” Severus said fiercely, surprising himself with the intensity. His loyalty had wavered from the mad king, and even though he had only known Harry for a few short weeks he knew he could never, ever hurt him.
Harry smiled slightly at that, and they locked eyes, silent for a few moments before curiosity overtook Harry’s features and he spoke again. “Why would he want to kill me?”
“He thinks you have the power to conquer death, that he will get this power by consuming your heart.”
“But I don’t know anything about that!”
“Do you know if you have any magical ability?” Severus asked.
“Magic? Why would I?”
“The king is very powerful. His mother was a witch, same as yours if your kin were telling the truth.”
“How would I know?” Harry asked, his head tilted to the side in bemusement.
“Try to make something happen.” Severus looked around, then gestured to a half dead bush. “Clear your mind. Focus on the bush. Want something and make it so.”
Harry furrowed his brow, obviously concentrating. When nothing happened after a moment, he moved closer and stretched out his hand. Severus had seen the King blight entire fields before, burn crops with nothing but a thought. He’d seen one unfortunate enemy of the king rot and waste away into dust in a matter of a few agony-filled minutes. If Harry had made fire happen before, perhaps he would choose to set the bush aflame, burn it to the ground as he had his family’s home.
He waited for the bush to shrivel, the last of its leaves turning black and falling to the forest floor. Or for the plant to be engulfed in flames, to turn to ash and disappear entirely. He had no clue what precisely to expect, particularly with the boy in a weakened state. Maybe just a few leaves then, not the whole bush.
But, of course, what Harry (sweet, gentle Harry) wanted wasn’t to cause destruction at all. As he moved his hands over the dry, wilted plant, it sprung up a vibrant green under his fingertips, filling out with leaves, and even, (of course he would) a single red rose, full and dark. Harry caressed the flower for a moment, a delighted smile on his face, before breaking it off of the bush.
He turned to Severus, that irresistible smile widening into a grin.
“Impressive,” said Severus, his stomach fluttering at the full force of that smile aimed at him, only for him.
Harry held out the rose. “For you,” he said with a smile, a faint blush on his cheeks and a twinkle dancing in those emerald eyes.
Severus took the offered rose silently, his expression slack with surprise at the gift. As their fingertips brushed in the exchange, Severus felt something beneath the blossom. A thorn.
With no sense of self preservation at all, only that irresistible desire, Severus sliced his thumb with the thorn, digging it into the flesh.
The effect was immediate; Harry’s eyes darkened and dilated like a predator’s, sharp, snakelike fangs visible beyond red lips as the scent of blood filled the air. Severus locked eyes with Harry, dragging the thorn across his skin, opening the gash more and spreading the blood as it trickled down to his wrist.
That hunger, that want, that need in Harry’s eyes shot through Severus like an arrow to the heart. He wanted nothing more than to present his wrist to Harry, to feel those lips, that tongue, to know that he was nourishing him, making him stronger.
He raised his hand, letting the rose fall to the ground. Harry stared, transfixed, at the rivulets of ruby red blood against Severus’ sallow skin. He opened his mouth, lowered his head toward what was on offer.
“Take it,” Severus said, his voice barely a whisper, but apparently loud enough to break the spell. Harry drew back, suddenly horrified.
“I...I can’t,” he said, trembling, eyes wide as a deer’s. Before Severus could utter another word Harry had retreated into the trees, escaping in another direction. Severus debated chasing after the boy, but knelt down to retrieve his fallen rose from the ground. He ran his thumb over the silky petals, the color of blood mingling with the brightness of the blossom. He retreated back to camp, pressing the flower between the pages of a thick book he’d brought along.
He waited for hours, but didn’t see Harry again until the next morning, the stain of animal blood still on the boy’s lips.
Harry wouldn’t meet his eyes and Severus felt a pang of loss at his avoidance.
Autumn turned to winter, the woods slowly filling with snow, and fresh game became harder and harder to come by.
The colder it got, and the less he was able to eat, the harder it was for Harry to keep warm. Severus built up the fires, brought him what animals he could to eat, but it was to no avail. Though Severus covered him in blankets, those that had been abandoned in the cottage and others Harry had magically conjured, they couldn’t keep the cold out, since the source of Harry’s freezing came from within, not without. His skin grew impossibly paler, the deep purple shadows under his eyes were more pronounced, and even the glorious dark red of the boy's lips had paled. He spent his hours shivering so hard he could hardly sleep at night.
Harry was seated on the simple pallet bed within the cabin. Once he had discovered his magical ability, he’d used his powers to make small changes to the interior of the cabin, wood into a bed, stones into cushions, small touches that made the abandoned woodsman’s cottage more like a home, strange one that it was. He was shaking from the cold, holding a cup of warm broth that might as well have been a block of wood for all the good it was doing him. Severus sat down beside him, reaching out to touch the smooth white skin along his hairline, cold as ice beneath his fingertips. Harry leaned into the touch, soaking up the warmth of Severus’ hand. “The cold’s not so bad,” Harry said, “when you do that.”
"It's been too long since you've had any human blood, Harry,” Severus said, frustrated that Harry continuously refused to take what he was so willing to give. “You know that's what you need."
"No!" Harry said, livening up with obvious anger. "I told you I won't do that!"
"You don't have to kill anyone. Even just some would be enough to get by." Severus would rather not admit it, but it was killing him so see Harry so sickly and in obvious pain from hunger.
"So what, I sneak into the village and pick some innocent to steal blood from?" Harry scoffed. "How would that work? How could I live with myself?"
"It may have escaped your notice, but I'm a human. I could easily--"
"No," he said, no longer angry, his voice an almost frightened whisper. "I couldn't do that to you."
“What if I want you to?” Severus asked, and Harry’s head snapped up.
“You wouldn’t. You couldn’t,” he said, disbelieving, but Severus grasped on to the tiny bit of hope and desire he saw in Harry’s eyes.
“You’re hurting,” Severus said, the honesty finally coming from him, “and I can’t bear it.” Severus slowly moved off the side of the bed and sank to his knees in front of Harry. He stretched out his wrist, baring his forearm in the firelight. “Please,” he said, pleading. “Let me help you.”
This position was one he’d found himself in countless times over the years. The king often took tribute from his loyal servants in the form of a bit of freely given blood. But where he had always been on his knees as a show of deference and humiliation, his arm outstretched to offer his blood as a sign of loyalty to a maniacal tyrant who took and took and gave back nothing but dominance and terror, this was something different. This was a gift, offered out of love, and Harry and Severus both were moved with the magnitude of it.
Severus expected Harry would do what any starving creature ought to do, and tear into the flesh on offer with razor sharp teeth, greedily sucking at the blood, pulling it painfully from his veins until Severus had no strength left and toppled over from his knees to the floor. But he didn’t, not Harry, not his Harry, he thought possessively, because of course the boy would never be anyone else’s after an act of devotion like this.
Instead, that strange, wonderful boy, that monster who was not a monster, tenderly stroked his fingers down Severus’ forearm, pulled himself up from the bed and sank to his knees instead, bowing his head in gratitude of Severus’ offering. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice betraying the tears in his eyes, the painful ecstasy at the promise of satisfaction and fullness, finally, after so very long without. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said again and again, his voice a whisper, his words a prayer as he sank his teeth into the taut flesh of Severus’ wrist with all the gentleness of a kiss.
Severus couldn’t have moved from the spot if he’d wanted to, rooted to the floor for somewhere between a few seconds and a hundred thousand years, as he lost all sense of the passage of time. He stared at the curly mess of coal black hair bowed low in front of him, the sensuous sound of licks and slurps mixed with the crackle of the fireplace beside them and thought I love you over and over again with an intensity he’d never felt before, as if he could push the emotion directly into Harry’s mind as surely as his blood was filling the boy’s belly.
Just as Severus was beginning to feel the slight tingle of dizziness at the edge of his mind, Harry gave a final lap at the wound at his wrist and drew back. He looked up at Severus, eyes dark but still a brilliant green, the purple ever-present shadows underneath them finally gone, skin white as snow but luminescent as a full moon, cheeks fully flushed and healthy, and lips so gorgeous and ripe berry red.
It was impossible in that moment for Severus to feel anything besides heart pounding, agonizing love, an impossibility to do anything but kiss those open lips. When Severus surged forward and pressed his lips against Harry’s, holding his beautiful face in his hands, he felt the skin below him was warm for the very first time. He twisted his fingers in Harry’s hair and deepened the kiss, tasting his own blood on his lover’s tongue, iron and salt, and kissed him and kissed him until he could taste it no more.
Our hero Severus, son of a butcher, wayward former huntsman of a king, and current lover of the monster in the woods who was not a monster at all, would have happily lived out the rest of his days in that shack in the forest, making love to the most beautiful creature that ever existed and drinking in the sight of a well-nourished Harry lapping up his blood every night. But although he was living quite happily, it was not yet ever after.
Unfortunately for Severus, the King had grown increasingly infuriated and extremely impatient with his favorite Huntsman's failure to return and had decided to take matters into his own hands.
Voldemort, the mad king, asked his favored question of the magic mirror on a night deep in winter, shortly after the young Harry's hunger was sated for the first time.
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most powerful of them all?"
"The boy whom you fear so much," the mirror replied, gold writing appearing over the image of the boy in question, clearer now than the image had ever been before.
Voldemort hurled a chalice at the stone wall. "I fear nothing!" he shouted, but the mirror did not reply.
"What of my huntsman? Why has he not returned or fulfilled his duty?"
The mirror's image grew cloudy again, but writing appeared over the glass. "The boy has taken the huntsman's heart."
Of course he had. The king spared a moment of regret for losing his loyal servant. The boy must have been too strong for him, and now stronger still, having feasted on his poor huntsman's heart. Another regret, as the king had rather been looking forward to consuming that heart himself once the huntsman had outlived his usefulness.
It was time to nip this threat in the bud, find the boy himself, and enjoy the delicacy of his heart. His mouth watered at the thought. What must the heart of someone like him taste like? Did the thrum of power come through in the flavor? And best of all, he would absorb the boy's power, that power he so frustratingly knew not. He would finally conquer death.
Voldemort made his way down to Severus' potions lab. A pity, that he was felled in the line of duty and would be unable to make any more lovely concoctions.
As he swept through the collection of books, turning pages in the old grimoires and spellbooks, as well as the personal notebooks of his departed Huntsman, he considered what his next step should be. Poison had a certain intrigue, but he wouldn't risk destroying that precious heart or it would all be for naught.
Ah, here it was. A sleeping potion. He would find the boy, trick him into consuming the potion, and bring him back to the castle, where he could defeat this so-called most powerful one in the land and devour his heart in front of his entire court. Yes, that was what he would do, reinforce his right to rule, his proper place as the most powerful wizard in the land.
The King journeyed through the forest in search of the boy, his magic making the travel much quicker and easier than it would have been for an ordinary man, and came within sight of a small cottage. He could practically smell the other creature from here, and Voldemort allowed himself a moment of pleasure at the novelty of another like him. A shame, of course, that he would have to destroy it.
He caught the scent of someone else nearby, familiar, but not anyone the king could place right away. No matter, if a human was still nearby they would be easily dispatched later. Voldemort only cared about the boy.
Voldemort considered what he knew of the boy. This far from the village he likely fed on animals, their blood was putrid in comparison to human blood, their hearts nowhere near as satisfying, but Voldemort supposed it could be done, if necessary. Luckily, it had never been a necessity for him. He had always been fed.
The king removed his prize from his satchel and unwrapped it from the soaked fabric. A boar’s heart, full and juicy, still dripping and soaked in the powerful sleeping potion. A deep, dreamless sleep from which one would never awaken, referred to in the Huntsman’s notes as the draught of living death. Voldemort placed the heart, so tantalizing that even his own mouth watered at the sight, on the doorstep to the cottage. The boy inside would catch the scent, be unable to resist. The king retreated back into the trees to watch and wait.
He did not have to wait long. After a minute, the boy opened the door, looked down. He picked up the heart and smiled. Foolish child, the king scoffed, too stupid and hungry to wonder where a heart had appeared suddenly appeared from? This would be easier than he thought. But what the boy did next caught the king by surprise.
“Severus?” the boy called out, still smiling and holding the heart like a treasure. Severus? It couldn’t be… But there, coming around the back of the cottage was none other than Voldemort’s favorite Huntsman, not dead at all! How was this possible?
The king watched the scene before him unfold with a mixture of fury and confusion. The boy did indeed find the heart impossible to resist. “Did you bring this for me?” the boy asked happily, raising it to his lips.
The huntsman scowled in confusion. “Where did you find that? Harry, no!”
But it was too late. The boy had raised the bright red globe of flesh to his mouth, sunk his fangs into the meat, and torn off a bite. Severus was now running towards him, continuing to shout, but the boy stilled, fell to the ground, the remainder of the heart tumbling down from his slack hand and rolling across the ground.
Voldemort approached very slowly, captivated by this view. His enemy lay on the ground, sleeping as if dead, but the victory was a hollow one, overtaken by the obvious betrayal of his Huntsman. How long had he been living here? For what possible purpose? And how could he have so flagrantly disobeyed his king? There was nothing to be done about the boy now, he was exactly where he wanted him to be. But he would deal with his erstwhile huntsman.
Severus was completely unaware of his proximity to the king; his only concern was Harry. He was still as death, as cold as the grave, and his life green eyes were shut as if he was peacefully sleeping. He clutched the boy’s lifeless body to his own, his mind working frantically, trying to figure out what had happened.
The land in which we set our story is a magical land, and though the king is correct that the only two wizards in the land are himself and the sleeping, snow white boy in Severus’ arms, ordinary people can sometimes do extraordinary things. Severus did not possess the magic of the man in his arms or the monster slowly approaching from behind, but he was not without power. He had true love.
And true love’s kiss is very powerful magic indeed.
Once Severus' lips met Harry’s, the sleeping curse was broken. The boy stirred beneath him, blinking slowly, those emerald green eyes fixing on the black ones before him, confusion evident in his at the wild fear in Severus’.
Severus’ relieved, frantic laughter was interrupted by an inhuman growl of anger from behind, and the two turned around and stood at the sudden appearance of a very angry king.
“Traitor!” shouted the King, infuriated that his prized Huntsman had taken up with his prey. The betrayal was unthinkable and could not go unpunished. He drew up his power and channeled his magic into a curse that his dear, departed mother had taught him, the same curse she had used to take over as ruler from Dumbledore, and the same curse he had used to end her reign and take his rightful place as king.
“Avada Kedavra,” he said, raising his hand and emitting a sickly green light, pulsing at Severus and hitting him square in the chest as he collapsed. “No!” screamed Harry, raising his hands to defend them both, but not in time.
“Foolish boy!” exclaimed Voldemort, his deathly white skin flushing with rage. “He is a traitor and he is dead!” He raised his right hand, ready to unleash the killing curse a second time. “As you now will be.”
But before he could utter the words again, his Huntsman stood up, not dead and blocked the boy behind him.
The king stepped back, horrified and aghast. “Impossible,” he whispered. Had he somehow missed? He glanced down to the man’s torso. The huntsman’s shirt was rent apart down the center, charred at the edges,revealing an ugly, ropy scar resembling a crack of lighting over the man’s heart. Voldemort was paralyzed, staring stricken at the evidence. He, the most powerful wizard to ever live, had hit a human in the heart with a killing curse that never failed. And the man had not died.
“Impossible,” he said again, louder now and wild-eyed. “No one can conquer death! My mirror never lies, my mirror told me that the only way to conquer death is to possess the boy’s heart,” he said, voice rising until it was a ghastly shriek.
“Oh,” Harry said, moving out from behind Severus to face the king head on. “Lucky him, then, because he does.” He turned to face Severus, his lips pulled back in a toothy grin and Severus could only stare back blankly.
The king shrieked again, raised his hand up, called upon all his power, and--
Well, the boy was plenty powerful on his own, but the boy with the strength of Severus’ heart, his love, was undefeatable. More than a match for the monster, and the king’s curse rebounded on him. Voldemort crumbled to the floor, screaming in agony, dissolving into dust at their feet.
“So, then,” Harry said, poking at the ash with his foot. “That was the king?”
“It was,” Severus agreed, still shocked from the rapid procession of events over the past several minutes. He brought his hand down to his shirt, pulling open the fabric and staring at the raised red design on the skin beneath.
“I like it,” Harry said, smiling at him as he stroked his fingers over the outline of the scar. “It looks like lightning.”
Severus was still not able to form much in the way of a coherent sentence, so he simply nodded. Harry smiled fully now, gazing at him in wonder. “That was a true love’s kiss. I could feel it. You love me,” he said, grinning so hard the corners of his mouth were pulled back tightly, sharp teeth glinting in the sunlight and lips a brilliant, rose red.
Severus nodded again, clearing his throat and replying in a slightly dazed whisper. “So it would appear.”
Harry laughed and laughed, pulled Severus in and kissed him. After a few moments, he pulled away, his head tilted in a question.
“Well, then. Am I king now?”
“Harry, you are the most powerful wizard in the land, and just turned the king to ash with barely a thought.” Severus had recovered his senses a bit, the kiss doing wonders for his constitution. “I’m fairly certain you could do anything you wish to do.”
“Ah.” Harry bit his lip and looked at him with mirth. “Will you be my prince then?”
“If...if that is what you wish,” Severus replied, instead of screaming yes, yes, yes, as he was in his mind.
“You love me. I love you. So what do we do now?” Harry asked.
“I’m not sure,” Severus said, holding him close. “We live, to start.”
“Happily?” Harry asked.
“I should think so,” Severus said with a smile.
“Ever after?” Harry added, his eyes lighting up in a teasing grin.
“As long as you’ll have me,” Severus said, pressing their lips together again in another kiss.
And Reader, of course you know what happens now.