The owl arrived in the middle of the afternoon, but when it did, it felt like it should have been the middle of the night. After all, dire news that feels like a broomhandle in the gut? Ought to come at three a.m., not tea time.
But there it was, in Kingsley's firm hand. The first time through the letter, Harry did not absorb the details. All he retained from the several paragraph missive was the thought: Snape is alive.
He set the parchment down, the Ministry owl already having departed long since, through the kitchen window. Harry went and looked out over the weedy garden. He'd bought this place in Godric's Hollow a year ago but last summer hadn't been quite ready to garden, making only a token effort to clear the weeds and plant some vegetables and flowers. The scent of springtime was in the air, though it was still too early to plant.
He closed the window and re-read the letter.
He's in a sanitorium in Edinburgh, it read. Quite frail. For quite some time we were unsure if his mind could be salvaged, but I just received word that he is lucid and cleared to receive visitors. The name we've hidden him under is 'Brian Wulfric.'
Was that a hint? Harry wondered. Did Kingsley expect him to visit?
But of course he did. What sort of hero would Harry be if he didn't go and make amends with the man he'd hated since the moment they'd met, but to whom he owed his life?
He sighed. Ginny was off at Harpies training camp for a month at some secret location; they'd hardly seen each other for the past six months while Harry was in accelerated Auror training. He wanted to talk about this with someone, but who? Ginny and he were moving in opposite directions anyway, he thought sadly. Right after the war they had done a lot of talking, but after a while she didn't really want to hear about all the things she hadn't been a part of anymore, and they'd both figured out there were some things that just had to be dealt each on their own.
Snape, unfortunately, was probably one of them.
"Right this way, Mr. Potter," the mediwitch said, leading him down a stone corridor. He had been expecting the sanitorium to look more like a hospital and less like a monastery. She led him into a courtyard surrounded by stone arches, a tall steeple just visible beyond the roof. There was a dark, gaunt figure sitting by a fountain. The man reached down and trailed his fingers through the water.
The mediwitch left without saying anything and Harry stood there, trying to muster something to say. Professor? Snape? Severus? Sir? How the hell should he address him?
"Umm, hello," Harry finally said, feeling inadequate and stupid.
After a pause almost long enough to prompt him to say it again and feel even stupider, Snape looked up, his eyes travelling slowly up Harry's figure until his gaze settled on his face. "Did they tell you I'm a blathering idiot? You needn't speak to me as if I were a simpleton."
"Er," Harry shuffled. "Sorry, I just didn't want to... bother you."
Snape twitched an eyebrow. "Are you under the impression that your presence here is desired?"
Harry felt his hackles rise. "Kingsley said you wanted visitors." Which wasn't exactly true, but was close enough.
"Shacklebolt is surely far too busy with his brave new world to pay attention to the likes of me." Snape crossed his legs. He was wearing plain black robes, not as fine as those he used to wear as a professor.
"He wrote me. That's how I knew." Harry shrugged, trying to stay calm, trying to remember why he was actually there. "That you were alive, I mean."
Snape fixed him with a glare. "I assumed as much. I take it you've something to say? As you can see, I'm terribly busy here."
Harry shifted from foot to foot, feeling like a recalcitrant fourth year all of a sudden. He reminded himself he was a war hero and almost a full-fledged Auror. "May I sit down?"
Snape's face twitched slightly. "I have no power to stop you."
Yeah, well, I'm really happy to see you, too. Harry took a seat on the edge of the fountain. "Look, I just wanted to apologise."
Snape just looked at him impassively.
"Er, yeah. So, I guess, that's it." Harry wondered just how much more inadequate and stupid he could feel. "I'll just... go now."
They stared at each other for a few moments. Snape spoke, slowly and quietly. "That's the worst apology I've ever heard."
"Well, what the hell am I supposed to say?" Harry exploded. "You're supposed to be dead! And I don't even know what I'm apologizing for! I feel bad for hating you all that time, I guess, but God damn it, Snape, I didn't have a clue wh--" He broke off suddenly as it looked for a moment as if Snape were having some sort of coughing fit.
Then he realized the man was laughing. A dry, slow laugh, produced with great effort.
"What?" Harry demanded, running his fingers self-consciously through his hair, his cheeks reddening.
Snape eventually took a small vial from his inner robes and drank it down, as his last few wheezes really had been closer to coughs than laughs. Then he looked at Harry seriously. "Mr. Potter. If you wish to unburden yourself of your negative feelings far be it from me to stop you. But... the man you knew as Severus Snape is dead. I swore Shacklebolt to silence and I'm going to do you the same, unless you'd prefer Obliviation."
"What?" Harry blinked stupidly.
"It will be a few months before I can leave here, but when I do, I plan to start my life anew under another name." He raised an eyebrow as if unsure Harry could follow his plan that far. "Possibly... far from here."
"A few months?"
"Yes. You didn't think it was just a matter of patching up a few holes, did you?" Snape's smile was bitter. "I only regained the ability to speak about a month ago. Magic...? Well."
Harry nodded. It was nearly two years since the night Snape should have died. Of course he wasn't completely recovered yet. "Can you cast spells yet?"
Snape shrugged. "Simple ones."
"Ah." Harry fell silent, then felt the need to fill the gap. "For what it's worth... I really am sorry. For calling you a coward, especially."
Snape's eyebrow went up. "If you think I was the slightest bit affected by something you said in the heat of battle, you have quite underestimated me."
"Er, oh. Well, anyway." Harry took a breath. "So... why were you laughing?"
"Because you are laughable, Potter. Apology accepted."
"He's alive, Ron. He's alive and can only cast simple spells. He couldn't even talk until last month." Harry spoke in a whisper. They were in the dressing room of the Auror training centre, and as far as Harry knew, they were the only ones there. It was their habit to stay after every training session for an extra hour or two. But he still felt the need to be careful.
"And you say Kingsley wrote you about him?"
"Kingsley's the only one who knows. Well, and me. But he says as soon as he's healthy, he's going to change his name, start over with a new life."
Ron considered. "Well, he's got a right to, doesn't he? He's earned it. He may have been a hero in the end but too many people still remember him as Dumbledore's killer. If Kingsley's all right with him doing a disappearing act, who'm I to argue? I sure as hell don't want to run into him shopping on Diagon Alley."
Harry nodded. He didn't know why he was so uncomfortable with the idea that Snape was going to disappear. It didn't seem... fair somehow. He shrugged. "Well, it just threw me is all."
"Yeah. Quit worrying about him, though, will you?" Ron started pulling on his regular robes. "There's former Death Eaters who didn't turn out to be on our side all along out there to worry about."
"Yeah." Harry took out his robe and stuck his wand into his pocket. "They had a tip on Macnair's whereabouts, did you hear?"
Ron banged his fist against the bench as he leaned over to tie his trainers. "I wish they'd let us have a crack. I know we've got a few more months of training, but don't you think they'd get further with rounding them up with the Auror Corps back to full strength?"
Harry, in fact, agreed with that sentiment wholeheartedly. But he'd been told, when he'd argued that very point to the Head Auror recently, that 'full strength' meant with fully trained Aurors on the job. They were already cutting the training from three years to two, he was told roundly, and that they had only a few more months to go.
"Come on," he said, tying his own shoes. "Let's get something to eat."
The next time Harry saw Snape was a week later. He went back to the sanitorium, though he wasn't really sure why. Their last meeting had been... sort of friendly in the end. Hadn't it? And surely the man could use some company. Harry hated convalescing and he assumed Snape did, too. It seemed only right to visit.
This time Snape was in the library, reading a large tome set on the table in front of him. The book was large enough that he had to move back and forth from left to right to easily read the pages. Harry could not read the title since it was flat against the table.
He took the seat across from Snape. "How are you?"
Snape looked up sharply. "Thought of something more to say, have you?"
"Er, well, not exactly, but I was thinking, you know, it's not every day you get a chance to make amends with someone you thought was dead, and they say that closure is a really good thing..." Harry folded his hands instead of fidgeting, a gesture they'd been taught in Auror training for looking confident and authoritative.
"Closure," Snape said, voice dripping with scepticism.
"Well, yeah. I mean, I had some pretty strong feelings about you, and you had to act like you hated me all that time while you were hiding the..." Harry stopped short suddenly, looking at Snape's deepening expression. "Okay, maybe you actually hated me..."
"I don’t find it productive to talk about the past," Snape said shortly.
"I mean, I know you loved my mother and all..."
"And did it occur to you I might find it painful to talk about it? About her? With the son who bears uncanny resemblance to my most hated rival?" But Snape's voice was surprisingly calm and Harry did not hear the bitterness he expected there.
"Er, look, you shared all these memories with me, and I just really..."
"Want to apologise again?" Snape sighed and folded his own hands. "Potter, I assure you, it's unnecessary. Surely the wrongs we've each visited on each other... cancel out in the end. Would you feel better if I said I forgave you?"
Harry cocked his head. "Do you forgive me?"
"No, but that is not what I asked."
"I asked if you would feel better if I said so, which is a different thing entirely."
"But why would you say so if you didn't mean it?"
Snape sighed, covering his eyes with his hand briefly. "To spare your tender emotions, of course. I see the sentiment was misplaced. I'll not make the mistake of caring how you feel again."
Harry sat back, stung. "I didn't mean... that is... I didn't come here to fight. I just thought..."
"No, Potter, don't think. It's not your strong suit. Why don't you answer a question for me instead. What do you want?"
Harry sighed himself. "I don't know. I guess... I just want to talk. I mean, I don't want to force you to talk about anything too painful or anything, but..."
"But." Snape stood. "But I can see you'll plague me until I acquiesce. Very well. I have something I would like from you in return."
Harry's ears perked up. "From me?"
"This place is little better than a prison. They allow me the Prophet but not much else, the books here are woeful, and there are potions I would like to brew for myself which would speed my recovery, but the red tape involved in getting through the administration here has hampered the process considerably. You may pour your heart out to me and poke through my painful memories of your mother all you like if you can get me the books and ingredients I need."
"Sure, no problem," Harry said.
"Good. So long as we understa--" But Severus began to cough then, so seriously that he backed his chair away from the book and hacked into his closed hands.
So seriously that Harry rushed to his side of the table, placing a hand between his shoulder blades as if that would somehow help. "Are you all right?"
When Snape sat upright again, his face was reddened and his brow dotted with sweat. He took the kerchief Harry proffered and wiped his face with it. "Thank you. And no, I am not 'all right.' People who are 'right' do not have convulsive coughing fits, nor can they answer questions whilst in the middle of one."
"Er, right. Sorry."
Snape drew one deep breath, tentatively. "I think I had best retire. I will owl you a list of the things I need. And then we will talk."
"All right." Harry stood, reaching out to help him up.
Snape looked suspiciously at the hand for a moment, then took it, steadying himself with a hand on Harry's shoulder as well, almost as if they were about to begin some formal ballroom dance. Harry had grown two more inches in the past two years, but he was still shorter than Snape.
"I can manage," Severus said, then. "Please be on your way." And he walked, slowly but with great dignity, out of the library.
That week they undertook a brief owl correspondence regarding the books and ingredients. Harry was not surprised to find that Snape's missives were never signed, yet there was no doubting who they were from. They were curt, nearly dismissive, bordering on rude, just like Snape himself, and yet they often had a note of... softness in them. The final one included the instructions Come to my room next time. Along with exhortations to punctuality.
Harry was also not surprised to find that several of the ingredients he'd been asked to procure were on the restricted lists for the potions trade.
He confronted Snape with this, the following Sunday, in the stone garret that was Snape's room.
"I had a little trouble with a few of your requests..." Harry began cautiously, sitting in the wooden chair by the window and trying not to bounce his leg.
Snape looked up sharply from where he was tending the fire with an iron poker. "We had a deal, Potter."
"I didn't say I didn't get the things," Harry said, annoyed. "I just said I had some trouble. If I go asking after stuff like Inficium Anguineum?" He stumbled over the pronunciation of the ingredient. In fact, he'd had to copy it over from Snape's list and show it to the potions specialist in the Auror department in order to get some at all. The man hadn't questioned Harry, though, no--they rarely wanted to question the motives of the Boy Who Lived, after all. "Wilkinson said that's right nasty stuff. Dangerous."
Snape let out a bitter laugh and looked through the bottles Harry brought out of his satchel with a wave of his wand. "After all I showed you..." Snape said, shaking his head, "after all I trusted you with, you still suspect me?"
Harry coloured. "No, it's not like that..."
"Yet you are burning to know what could I possibly need with such 'nasty stuff.'" Snape seemed almost smug now, a gleam in his eye. He left the bottles on the table and sat on the edge of his bed as if too exhausted to stand, yet still somehow triumphant. He lay down wearily. "Did you ask your Wilkinson what Inficium Anguineum is?"
"Ah." Snape covered his eyes with one hand, but his voice was quite clear as he spoke. From this angle, when he lay like that, Harry could clearly see the scars of the huge puncture wounds that Nagini's bite had left in Snape's neck. "I take it before you came to Hogwarts you studied no Latin. Anguis is one of the language's many words for snake..."
"I knew you were going to say something like that," Harry said, leaning his elbows on his knees.
"Indeed? And an inficium, as you might recall from... oh, but we were not together for your NEWT studies in potions, were we? Well, it means poison. There are many kinds of snake venom, Mr. Potter, and this is one of the worst. As you already gathered. Now, you should recall from fifth year that the antidote to some poisons requires a small portion of the poison itself as part of the formula, yes?" He lifted the edge of his hand and peered at Harry through one cracked eye.
"Yeah, I seem to recall something like that," Harry admitted. "And call me Harry. When you say 'Mr. Potter' you make me feel like I'm fourteen or something."
Snape took his hand away and looked at him with both eyes then. "And you're... what. Twenty?"
Snape looked as though he were contemplating something cutting to say. Instead, his voice was even. "All right, then. Harry."
Harry felt as though he'd won a victory.
"Dammit!" Ron slammed his book shut, startling Harry. They were studying for the written portion of the Auror exam, though Harry felt it was unlikely they or anyone else in their training group would be turned away for a position if their marks were not stellar. They were sitting in the kitchen of Ron's flat, each with a book, and although Harry knew Ron was not fond of book study he'd never seen him react like that.
"Maybe we should take a break," he suggested.
Ron looked up darkly. "It's not that. I just..." He glanced side to side as if anyone else were there but them. "Look at this."
He handed Harry a piece of parchment that had Hermione's handwriting on it. At first Harry thought she had written him a letter, but then the reason for his sudden outburst became apparent. A new line was appearing at the bottom, as if it were being written right now, letter by letter:
I'll keep an ear out for any other news.
Harry scanned further up the page, where she had written:
Just heard. They tracked Macnair to a cottage in Kent but it looks like he's given them the slip.
"How are you...?"
Ron snatched the paper back and wrote something himself on it. "'ts charmed," he said shortly. "Hermione, you know."
Harry sighed. They'd argued recently about Ron's fixation on Macnair. He'd somehow got it through his head that Macnair in particular was responsible for the explosion that had killed Fred. Harry had been there and couldn't see how Ron figured that. The hex had blown apart the wall and had come from outside the castle--probably more than one Death Eater had been involved in it. But of all the former followers of Voldemort who were at large, Ron had fixated on Macnair.
Harry secretly hoped that Macnair would be caught or killed before he and Ron were made Aurors. Ron's obsession wasn't healthy.
"Come on." Ron was on his feet.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked.
"Headquarters. They might need us."
Harry sighed. "The answer's going to be the same as it was yesterday, you know. We're not ready. And if he's slipped away, we'd only muck up the search."
Ron's face closed in sullen frustration. "I don't understand why you're against me on this."
"I'm not against you," Harry said, equally frustrated. "But you aren't making sense, Ron. If the goal is to get all the Death Eaters rounded up, then Kingsley's right, sending a bunch of half-trained wizards into the field isn't going to get the job done."
"We did all right against the Death Eaters when we were on our own!"
Harry shook his head. "We were lucky. We nearly got killed when we fled the wedding and we would have been at Malfoy Manor if it hadn't been for Wormtail's hesitation and Draco's refusal to identify me. As it was, Hermione got tortured."
"Don't remind me," Ron said, still sullen, but more subdued. "You made your point."
Snape seemed sicklier than the last time Harry had see him. He was always pale, but he had a greenish cast to his skin that didn't look normal. He was sitting at the writing desk in his room, which he had converted into a rudimentary potion brewing station, dividing a measure of brownish powder into precise amounts.
"You don't look well," Harry said.
"I am supposed to be dead," Snape pointed out. "You've brought the ingredients?"
"Yes." Harry set the bag of vials down on the desk. There were, of course, several more things that had been tricky to procure, many of them related to poisons and venoms. "Will this help? The new things I've brought?"
Snape turned to look at him. "Are you so insecure that you need reassurance of your heroism? Of course they'll help. Are you under the impression that I've sent you on a wild augurey chase?"
"Errrr, no, that's not it, I just..." Harry sat on the windowsill. "Just worry about you is all."
Snape looked at him for a long moment. But he said nothing.
Then he turned back to his measuring. "Tell me about why you decided to become an Auror."
Harry did something he rarely did, which was he paused to think before speaking. "Do you really want to know?"
The last time they'd talked a little of the wizarding world, Kingsley as Minister, the continuing scourge of Rita Skeeter, and so on, but as if by mutual unspoken agreement had not touched any of the big topics. Lily. Dumbledore. Harry wondered if this was the lead in to it? If so, he would not shrink from it. After all, he was the one who insisted he wanted to talk. For closure.
"I guess it just always appealed to me. I mean, I know Voldemort's gone now, but there's still protecting that needs doing, right?" Harry disliked how corny he sounded talking about it like this. "Defence was my only really good subject, you know."
Snape hummed noncommittally.
"And they need Aurors. So many were lost in the final few months before Voldemort's death." He looked at his hands. "They're running us through an accelerated program. Two years instead of three. I guess... I guess I just want to feel needed."
"You are a bit young to rest on your laurels," Snape added drily.
"Yeah. I mean, a couple of Quidditch teams were interested in me, too, but... Quidditch is fun. I don't want to do it for work. Though it looks like Ginny will."
"Yeah. She's flying second string for the Holyhead Harpies right now, and will probably be first string by the time the season starts." He wondered if he'd have much time to see her matches.
"And are you and she still romantically linked?"
Harry was surprised by the question. "Well, I suppose. We're not really seeing each other, though. Her mother wants us to marry right quick... maybe that's the reason we've decided not to. She's going to pursue her career, me mine, and... in a couple of years maybe we'll try again. I don't know." He took a breath. Talking could be kind of like dueling, strike and counter-strike, each move leading into the next. Harry responded with a surprise question of his own. "Are you still in love with my mother?"
He was rewarded by a look, Snape's attention shifting from the potion preparation in front of him to Harry. His voice and face were deadpan. "Are you under the impression that I am? She's been dead nearly twenty years. A bit of a one-sided relationship that."
"But the memories you showed me..." Harry frowned in puzzlement. "Dumbledore convinced you... because... I mean..."
"I am sorry I could not present a more coherent picture," Snape said, not sounding apologetic at all. "Perhaps I can make one thing clear. Yes, I loved your mother. She was the only woman I ever loved. Do you find that pathetic? Perhaps you don't, if you are willing to wait for your Miss Weasley to return to you later in life. But it was not love that motivated me to join Albus. It was not love that opened my eyes to the wrongdoing, the iniquity of the Death Eater cause."
Harry chewed his lip, still not sure what to say about the comments about Ginny, but he could not help but ask, "Then what? What was it?"
"Remorse, Harry. Remorse." Snape considered a moment. "Not to mention revenge. I am not a noble-hearted man."
Harry lay awake that night, thinking about some of the things they'd talked about. Dumbledore had always talked about love as if it were a singular force unto itself--or at least Harry had always thought of it that way. It hadn't really occurred to him until now how dependent on other emotions love could be, how interconnected.
They had early training in the morning. He needed to sleep, but his mind kept going over the conversation.
Revenge. Snape had wanted revenge on Lily's killer as much as he had suffered remorse over his evil ways and his part in her death. But now? The main impression Harry had of Snape was of a man who was profoundly lonely and who did not know how to change that. Perhaps that's what the whole business about starting over with a new life was about. Starting over with friends and neighbours who wouldn't know who he was, wouldn't judge him based on his name or his past actions.
It was a seductive thought, wasn't it? Not that Harry wanted to disappear from Ron and Hermione, or leave the world he'd worked so hard to save. But it was a pleasant daydream.
He imagined himself in a cottage by the ocean, sweeping sand from the walkway with a broom--a non-magical broom--the rush of the surf in the background. The sound of the front door being pulled shut on the cottage next door catches his attention. He looks up? His neighbour is making his way down the path, the sea breeze blowing his hair across his eyes, whipping the edges of his dark coat.
The man steps up close, looking at him curiously. "I'm Harry," Harry imagines himself saying. Holding out his hand to shake. "Pleased to meet you."
The man shakes his hand and asks, "New in town? So am I..."
Harry jerked awake, his daydream having become a dream having become surreal when he realized he'd wanted to pull Snape by the hand in the dream, pull him into a hug, pull him into the house out of the cold wind.
It was the next day during their lunch break when they heard about Macnair. Harry and Ron were in the break room eating sandwiches when Wilkinson and Magruder came in, arguing.
"How did the Prophet get a hold of that little tidbit?" Wilkinson was saying.
"Merlin only knows," Magruder said. "We were going to release a statement, of course, but..."
He looked at Ron and Harry, who had gone silent the moment they'd come in. "You may as well know since it's in the bloody papers. We caught up to Macnair this morning, only someone else got there first. He was dead as a doornail."
"What?" Ron said in disbelief.
"Not a scratch on him or any sign of a duel. I'd say someone caught him unawares with one quick Killing Curse. That or, you know, natural causes."
"I wish some other natural causes would catch up with the others," Wilkinson went on. "Make our jobs a lot easier."
Harry quietly thought that an easy job wasn't really what he was after, but he couldn't help but feel relieved that Macnair was out of the picture. Ron finished his sandwich and left the room hurriedly. Harry followed quickly. They were due back in the training room and he supposed there was no time to dawdle.
Snape was lying down the next time Harry saw him. "Sorry I cannot act the better host," Snape said, again not sounding at all sorry, "but today I am weak."
Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Should I come back next week?"
Snape waved a hand. "Sit. Talking won't exhaust me."
"What did exhaust you? Have you been trying to perform spells again?"
Snape made a derisive noise. "You take for granted that you can Apparate at will. Conjure fire. Turn the pages of a book. You cannot imagine what it is like to have them fail on you."
"You can't turn the pages of a book?"
Snape sniffed. "Well, that one I can manage. But the others, I think to Apparate now would kill me."
Harry pulled a chair next to Snape's bed. "I wouldn't like that. For you to get killed now, after all this."
"Your concern is touching," Snape replied acidly.
"I mean it. You seem to be getting worse, not better. I'm worried about you." Harry had been talking with the Mediwitches before he came in and he felt his way forward carefully. "As I understand it, exert yourself too much and you could put yourself back into a coma or die. Aurors get rudimentary healing training, you know. Give me your hand."
Snape looked up, eyes hooded with suspicion.
"I just want to hold it."
Because my instinct tells me to. "You do know that hand holding is one of the five basic stimuli to magical healing, right?"
Snape sniffed, but did not disagree. He put his hand into Harry's and Harry gently let his fingers interlace with Snape's.
"There." Harry would have been sceptical of the idea, too, but they really had taught them that in magical first aid class, and he supposed it made a good deal of sense. Even Muggles often held the hand of a sick person without knowing why.
Snape was stiff at first, but perhaps when it became apparent that this was not a ruse of some sort--Harry actually intended to just hold his hand and not prank him, hex him, or anything else--he relaxed fractionally. That line of thought led Harry to open that day's conversation with, "My father was really horrible to you, wasn't he."
Snape let out a breath through his nose. "And your godfather, too."
Harry hadn't even gotten to that yet, but remembered suddenly how Snape and Sirius had fought at number twelve. "I would have thought you and he, Sirius I mean, would have... grown up a bit, I mean, between Hogwarts and... and later."
Harry was surprised to hear the words Snape then spoke were in Sirius' defence, not his own. "One does not grow up much when in Azkaban, I think." He pursed his lips. "Body and soul age under the withering effect of the Dementors and incarceration. But one's emotions? One's intellect? I do not think so."
Harry let that sink in. It sounded almost as if Snape were apologising for Sirius. Harry squeezed the hand in his gently. "And what about near-death experiences?" he responded softly.
Snape shook his head. "They don't change one at all," he said, voice equally soft. "Not at all." But it did not sound much like he meant what he said.
It was Magruder who pulled Harry and Ron out of class later that week, sat them down in a private office, and told them that they were going to be brought up to speed on the Death Eater investigations.
Ron nearly burst out of his chair with excitement. "You mean, we're going to be...?"
"Not full Aurors," Magruder said sternly, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands over his stomach. "You're still in training with the others. But you two, I want you to be in all the case meetings, following all the evidence as it's brought in, and so on. So that the moment you do graduate, you're ready to jump right into action. Your classmates will also be given... oh, some kind of things to do around the department. We're saying it's a transitional phase in the training. But only you are being given this shot. Not a word of it to your fellows, now."
"Yes, sir," Harry said automatically.
"But..." Ron seemed simultaneously excited and deflated. "Yes, sir," he said, echoing Harry.
That very afternoon they got their first look at the case files on Rabastan Lestrange. His brother Rodolphus was in Azkaban already. He'd gone willingly after his wife had been killed in the final battle, and under Kingsley's postwar decrees, was due to be paroled in fifteen years. They'd already pumped him for all the information they could that might lead to the whereabouts of his brother, and the files included Pensieve recordings of the interrogation, transcripts, and much more. It was well after dinner time by the time Harry reluctantly called a halt and the two of them went to grab dinner together.
Ron ate wolfishly of his stew. "Why d'you suppose they picked us?" he asked, between bites.
Harry shrugged. "If it was just me, I'd think it was, you know, the whole 'Chosen One' thing. But both of us? I think because it's like you said, we did fight the Death Eaters before."
"Can't wait," Ron said with a nod, his spoon never stopping.
Harry's next visit to Snape came on Sunday, as usual. Spring was really upon them now, and Snape had cracked open his window to let in the scent of the earth and the newly blooming flowers.
He had also fallen asleep with it open, and as the sun had shifted, the room had gotten cold. Harry found him shivering, but still sleeping. He closed the window with a flick of his wand, built up the fire with another, thinking on what Snape had said last time. Yes, he did take magic for granted now. It was a part of who he was and how he lived his life.
He made Snape a cup of weak tea then and brought it to the bedside, waking him gently with a hand on his shoulder.
Snape opened his eyes slowly, took in the sight of Harry with the cup and drawled, "Hot liquids. I know. One of the five stimuli to magical healing."
"Um, you looked cold," Harry said.
"Indeed." Snape sat up with effort but his hands shook too much to take the cup. He sighed.
"Here." Harry held the cup carefully toward Snape's lips, bracing himself with one knee on the bed. Snape glared at him, but sipped, then let his head fall back tiredly.
"Thank you," he said.
It was suddenly quite clear to Harry that Snape was not allowing the Mediwitches to feed him or help him the way he should. No wonder he was doing so poorly.
"Have some more," he said. "I'll put it down when you've had at least a third of it."
Snape did not argue, sipping carefully as Harry tipped the cup further and further each time. When it was half empty, he sent it floating to the side table. By then Harry was sitting on the bed, one knee folded under him, and he held out his hand silently.
Snape put his hand into Harry's and seemed to relax right away this time. "Despite my somnolence, I am doing better," he said with quiet insistence.
"If you say so," Harry said, scepticism dripping from his voice.
Snape clicked his tongue. "It's usual for me to waken with a slight tremor."
"As you say," Harry said placidly.
"How was your week?" Snape asked. "Mine having been so very thrilling here, of course, I have so very many things to tell you. But you first."
Harry actually laughed at the sarcasm this time. Snape's wit was ever sharp, but he could appreciate it more when it was not aimed directly at him. "Well, I did have an interesting week at work, actually. I spent the week reading the case files on Rabastan Lestrange, and next week I'll start on Avery and John James Greengrass."
Snape was silent for a moment. Harry felt slightly disappointed as he'd thought his news would elicit at least a slight reaction. Then he realized Snape was thinking hard. "Greengrass is a waste of time. He was barely a Death Eater, never did much. Went into it purely from peer pressure from the likes of Lucius Malfoy."
Harry shrugged. "Rodolphus Lestrange fingered him as the culprit on several Muggle-baiting incidents, and when he disappeared, that seemed to confirm his guilt," he said.
Snape nodded. "He may be in the thrall of one of the others, owed a favour too large to be ignored, and now he is on the run in the company of someone like Rabastan, little better than a hostage. Or a scapegoat." He made a sad noise. "Not that I have terribly much sympathy, of course."
"Yeah, well. We have to at least round them up if they've gone into hiding. Or it'll just look like they might rise up again under some other wizard who thinks he can be the next Dark Lord." It was Harry's only real worry about the new world that Kingsley was building.
Snape gave his hand a squeeze. "And yet if you use too much force, or go about it too zealously, Shacklebolt and the Ministry could well seem as if they are as bad as those they declare enemies. The new era of peace and harmony could seem a sham."
"Well, yeah. So we try to keep it quiet, but the Prophet always finds things out. You know."
"Indeed, I do."
They fell silent then, and Harry found Snape's thumb moving slowly back and forth against the back of his hand. It was far more stimulating than such a small touch had a right to be, but, well, that was the point of holding hands, wasn't it? It was powerful. That was why it worked for healing.
Harry suddenly felt--not just knew--but felt, how very lonely Severus Snape had been for so many years. "Where... where do you think you'll go, when you start over?"
A dry bark of a laugh. "I haven't decided. But when I do, I shan't tell anyone, you know."
"Oh, er, yeah. That makes sense." His breath caught just a little as Snape's thumb changed to slow circles.
"Harry." Snape's voice was calm, direct. Harry looked up and met his eyes.
"Um..." But he did not pull his hand away.
"Even Muggles know the last of the five stimuli, though only in fairy tales," Snape said, his eyes never wavering. "Though to do it properly, you should have tried it while I was asleep."
"It ought to work while you're awake, too," Harry said, as he was already leaning forward to press his mouth to Snape's.
It was not at all like kissing Ginny, who was all soft and wet. A firm tongue surged up to meet his lips and he parted them eagerly as a hand slipped into his hair, his own hand cupping a jaw rough with stubble.
When they broke apart, Harry was nonetheless somewhat surprised to find himself panting with desire. "How does this work?" he blurted out, one hand gripping the edge of Snape's robes.
"That depends," Snape said in a voice that was supposed to be impassive, but which was nearly as breathless as Harry's, "on what you intend to do now."
"I... I hadn't thought beyond kissing you."
Snape closed his eyes as if in some pain. "Then perhaps you should come back when you have."
Harry chewed on his lip. "I... all right." He couldn't tell if that was a dismissal or if Snape were merely letting him escape with a shred of his dignity intact.
Or if it was an invitation. Or none of the above. Or even all three.
Harry got to his feet. "Drink your tea," he said, and Disapparated on the spot.
"This is... some intense stuff," Ron said, rubbing his eyes. They were both hunched over a Pensieve in one of the secret rooms behind Magruder's office.
"You said it," Harry agreed. They'd just watched a Pensieve memory, not of Rodolphus Lestrange's interrogation, but one of his actual memories of a Muggle-baiting incident in which he and his brother and four other Death Eaters, all in masks, gang-raped a woman and her daughter. Harry felt slightly sick, even moreso to realize that under his robes he was hard as a rock. What they'd just watched was not about sex, it was violence plain and simple, and yet, ever since that kiss, the slightest thing seemed to arouse him. He ignored it and concentrated on the task at hand. "But anyone could have been behind some of those masks. He says one of them's Greengrass, but can we really be sure?"
Ron shrugged. "We better hope that when we find Rabastan, Greengrass is there, too. That'd be incriminating enough."
Harry thought about what Snape had said, about Greengrass possibly being almost a hostage. Most of their Most Wanted list had gone missing immediately after Voldemort's fall. Greengrass, on the other hand, hadn't disappeared until a year or so ago.
Still, if he had been a Death Eater, surely there were things he had to answer for.
Harry rubbed his eyes, too. "It's late. I'm heading home for some sleep."
Ron nodded, and they put the case file materials away, then left in silence. It wasn't until they reached the street that Ron said, "You want to grab a pint?"
Harry shook his head. "Nah, too tired. See you tomorrow." And, well, he was tired. He was also grateful that his robes hid the boner trying to poke out of his trousers.
Come back when you've thought about more than just kissing. Harry lay in bed a short while later, his hand heavy and warm on his cock but not wanking yet. He'd thought about more, he definitely had. He imagined that it was Snape's hand lying there, and then, as they kissed, his fingers would curl around the shaft, stroke upward once, twice, pulling his foreskin...
It would only be a minute or two of such images before his hand would be flying up and down his cock and making him spurt hot all over his stomach.
A nice fantasy. But he couldn't really imagine going into Snape's room again. Not without being sure that he was welcome. Snape had seemed to enjoy the kiss, but... how was this supposed to work? He thought about how long it had taken to figure out about Ginny, and she had liked him so much she'd finally been the one to throw herself at him... Figuring out an attraction to Severus Snape of all people was a far more complex problem.
The next day the owl came with a list of ingredients.
Harry entered the room nervously, the small sack of bottles held in both hands. He was fairly sure that the list of ingredients had been a form of invitation because they were all easy enough to get. No strange poisons, no restricted substances. He'd bought them at Slug & Jiggers on the way here.
Snape sat in the window. He looked up as Harry came in. Harry closed the door behind him, then put the sack down on the desk. "How have you been?"
Snape's look was placid, but underneath Harry imagined he could see thoughts churning. "Improving. Your healing techniques clearly work."
Harry felt his cheeks colour at that.
Snape stood, his robes falling straight and severe as he did. "I'd much prefer another kiss to a cup of tea," he said quietly. "I assume if that isn't all right with you, you'd not have come."
Harry took a step toward him. Then another. Then they were close enough to kiss, but as Harry tipped his face upward he said, "I've thought about more."
"As have I," Snape said, bending his head and kissing him. Harry let his arms circle the man's frail torso, the kiss inflaming him and making his blood rise.
Harry felt as if Snape took control of his breath somehow; he only seemed to need to breathe when the kiss shifted. Even when he had to gasp, as Snape slid a thin hand into the waistband of his jeans. His hips bucked, driving his half-hard cock against the palm of Snape's hand until he was achingly erect.
"Sit on the edge of the bed," Snape said into his ear. As Harry moved to comply, Snape caught hold of his beltloops, and as Harry lifted himself onto the edge of the bed, Snape pulled his jeans down around his knees. Two quick flicks of his wand and both shoes were on the ground, and then the trousers following.
Harry stared as Snape parted his own robes, dropping his trousers to reveal a cock as long and gaunt as Snape himself. He stood between Harry's knees then reached for Harry's cock, tugging it a few times until Harry moaned. Then he held it in place with his hand and began to rub his own cock against Harry's with rhythmic thrusts of his hips.
He did that until he himself moaned.
"Can you... can you come like this?" Harry asked, incredulous at the sensations flooding through him, at the thought that not only another man's cock against his could feel so good, but the thought that it was Severus Snape's.
"Yes," came the answer, from a voice roughened by desire. "Can you?"
"I've never... done anything like that," Harry said.
"Does it feel like you can?" came the more insistent question.
"I... yes. It feels... good."
"Then I shall endeavour toward that goal. Though I think you should lie back."
Harry moved himself further onto the bed, half-startled when as he did so, Snape lifted his shirt. Harry lifted his arms and the shirt came away, leaving him entirely naked now and lying flat on Snape's bed.
Snape kept the robe on his shoulders, but parted his own shirt, covering Harry's nakedness with his own body, the robe tenting over them both as Snape rubbed his cock sinuously against Harry's. Harry moaned, wondering what to do with his hands and then just clutching at the bedsheets as he let himself be overwhelmed by the sensations.
As the thrusts became harder, faster, he felt Snape's breath warm at his ear, their chests touching, damp skin against damp skin, but most of his attention was on that white-hot place at his groin, getting hotter and hotter.
When he finally came it was like catching fire, a sudden rush covering his skin, and he cried out, the intensity of the pleasure making his entire body shake. He could feel slippery heat on his belly and then a few moments later a deep grunt from Snape and more come flooded onto him.
Snape lay heavily on him then for several moments, both of them panting. He raised his head and looked down into Harry's eyes.
Harry looked back, searching for any hint of sarcasm or bitterness or... or something. Bracing himself to Disapparate in humiliation if Snape gave any sign of pushing him away. But it wasn't there. Just an open searching look.
The sarcasm, when it came, was relatively mild. Snape quirked an eyebrow. "You've yet to kiss me, you know."
"And I think perhaps you ought to call me Severus, considering."
"Lean on your contacts, that's all I can say," Magruder said, as the week's strategy meeting for the Death Eater task force was coming to a close. Harry and Ron sat at the back while nearly a dozen other Aurors sat around a large table. "Someone's got to know something we've missed."
Wilkinson cracked his knuckles. "Maybe it's time to talk to Lucius Malfoy again."
Magruder shot a glance at Harry, on whose word Malfoy had stayed free of Azkaban. "Malfoy's a waste of time. That well's been bled dry."
The meeting ended with much grumbling. Harry approached Magruder as they were about to leave the room. "I might have a lead," he said quietly. "A source, anyway."
Magruder's eyes were hooded. "You're just supposed to be observing right now..."
Harry shrugged. "If I learn something, though, don't you think I should bring it up? Any concerned citizen would..."
Magruder put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Right you are. Right you are... just don't get fancy."
"Put up privacy charms, would you?" Severus asked, sounding very much like he resented that he had to ask Harry to do it. "No one would believe the lurid headlines anyway: Dumbledore's Killer Back From Dead and Molesting Boy Who Lived..."
"Not a boy," Harry said, putting up the charms and then shrugging out of his robes and pulling off his jumper and shirt. When he was down to just socks he climbed onto the bed.
Severus sat on the bed's edge and used a hand to coax Harry into lying down. Then that hand slid over the slight hairs of Harry's stomach and down to grip his cock loosely. "I think you must trust me," Severus said, "to do what you are."
"Do what I am?" Harry asked, unsure what exactly Severus was referring to.
"To be naked in my bed. Defenceless. And wanting."
Harry nodded. "I do trust you. Dumbledore always said I should, and I didn't. But... now I do."
"Good boy," Severus said.
"Not a boy," Harry repeated.
"Hmm," Severus said, holding Harry's cock at this angle and that, examining it as if it were a cucumber at market. "No, not a boy," he agreed with gentle humour. "Though... inexperienced."
Harry's face was red, but he soldiered on. "But I have... thought about more."
"Ah," Severus said, his strokes becoming longer and lighter. "And what have you thought of?"
"Everything," Harry said, the word more bold than he felt.
Severus's fingertips alone played up and down his length now. "And do you trust me enough for... everything?"
"I..." Harry's hips bucked, his cock seeking a firmer touch. "Yes."
Severus' eyes glittered. "I must consider my position, Harry," he said, his voice part professor, part lover. "You're a twenty-year-old wizard who might agree to nearly anything at all if you thought it would end in orgasm, am I wrong?"
Harry moaned as Severus flicked a fingertip back and forth under the cleft of his cockhead. "Maybe," he gasped.
"And I want to fuck you so much my penis is leaking fluid into my trousers as we speak," Severus went on. "You have an enticing physique and a willing mien.
"But," he continued, his teasing touches never ceasing, "you are not just any willing body in my bed." He did not go on to describe what Harry was, but Harry could imagine the answers easily enough. He was the Chosen One. He was someone Severus had hated. He was the son of the one woman Severus had ever loved.
"But I want you," Harry said, hoping to head off all logical arguments that might arise for why they should not do what they were doing.
Severus' eyes searched his again. "But you want more?"
"Well... oh..." It was hard to answer these questions while a hand was playing with his foreskin, then the head of his cock, and so on. "Isn't that the way it goes, though?"
Severus' eyes narrowed. "You do not even know for sure that you like being stimulated anally, do you."
Harry wondered for a moment if Severus had just used Legilimency on him. "Well... no. But we’ve already done something. Is it really different to do something more?"
"For some people it is," Severus said, removing his hand from Harry's cock and climbing onto the bed. He nudged Harry's knees apart and felt Harry tense. "Did you think I was just going to ram it into you? I thought you said you trusted me. With everything."
"Sorry," Harry said, chastised, spreading his legs willingly, then. He found himself with a handful of bedsheets already though. "What should I do with my hands?"
Severus gave an exasperated sigh. He unbelted his trousers, ignoring Harry's wide eyed look, said "Your wrists, please," and belted them together with the leather, stretching them over Harry's head and tying the loose end to the bedpost. Harry now lay on his back, arms stretched up, knees wide.
Severus returned one hand to stroking Harry's cock, the other to running his fingernails lightly up and down the insides of Harry's thighs. When he ran a fingertip over Harry's entrance, Harry drew in a breath, but the sensation was all pleasure.
So was the next touch, and the next, feather light touches awakening the nerve endings all over the puckered flesh. Then Harry felt a hand under each knee, pushing his legs upward toward his chest, and spreading him wide.
And then something warm, wet, and muscular, lapping against his balls. He groaned. Severus mouthed one bollock, then the other, and for a moment Harry wondered if he were about to take his cock into his mouth. He hoped for it, in fact. But Severus' mouth moved in the opposite direction, toward his anus, and soon the flickering touches there were from that sharp tongue.
It was beyond any sensation he had ever imagined for that part of his body, and it only continued to get better as soon that tongue breached his hole, making him moan. He looked down his body, to his own cock, ruddy and leaking, to the cascade of black hair beyond, but unable to actually see the tongue-fucking he was receiving.
Severus's tongue moved slowly at first, working its way in, but soon it was darting in and out of the gently stretched hole in steady rhythm. Harry moaned, his cock twitching in time to the penetration and he felt certain that if Severus's tongue been just a little longer or more rigid he would likely come just from that.
He jerked his arms, the urge to reach down and stroke himself so strong that he'd forgotten he was bound.
And then Severus raised his head, slipping a finger into Harry's hole instead. Harry gasped and bucked his hips. "Well," Severus said drily, "we've at least proved that you do enjoy anal stimulation."
"Yes-s-s-s," Harry heard himself hiss, not Parseltongue, just the incoherence of overwhelming pleasure. Severus waggled his finger inside Harry and Harry saw stars. "More."
Severus clucked his tongue. "If you can come in under ten strokes of my hand, I promise I'll fuck you next time."
"All right," Harry agreed eagerly.
Severus just nodded and took a firmer grip on Harry's cock, the fingers inside him now moving in concert with the others. "One," he counted slowly, as he closed his hand over the head on the upstroke, "Two."
Harry shuddered. He'd never been teased or tested like this. Never. Whenever Ginny had gotten him off, she'd been proud of accomplishing it, and likewise Harry when he reciprocated. But suddenly the burden was on Harry to come.
"Five," Severus intoned, his strokes not getting harder or faster as they went. "Six."
Harry cried out, not quite there yet, afraid he wouldn't make it, his body straining. "Seven." Bearing down with his arse on the fingers inside. "Eight..."
And his cry turned to a scream as the orgasm came on, as he shot hot come into the air.
When he came to, his wrists were unbound and he was sleeping on his side atop the bedclothes, Severus' robe over him like a blanket.
Severus himself was drinking tea, or at least holding a steaming cup of it in his hands at the window. He turned at the sound of Harry stirring and sat. "Sleep well?"
Harry rubbed his eyes. "Yes. Yes, I did."
Severus nodded. "So, tell me. Now that I'm... getting you off, does that obviate your need to talk? Or... shall we talk some?"
Harry looked up, hearing something in Severus' voice he either had not noticed before or which he now could hear. Need. Want. Loneliness. He wanted to talk.
"Let's talk some," Harry said, but as he sat up he realized he was still naked but for his socks. "I'll get dressed first...?"
"If you like," Severus replied evenly.
By the time Harry was fully clothed again, he was beginning to feel a bit more normal. He took a seat at the window, too.
"I meant what I said before, you know," he said, looking out over the grounds. The hills were the pale green of springtime. "That Dumbledore always told me to trust you, but I didn't get a chance to really start doing it until after I thought you were dead. It was around the time I started to realise that the reason I hadn't trusted you all that time is because you and he hadn't trusted me. How could he expect me to trust you on his word, when he had been hiding the truth from me himself?"
Severus merely nodded. "Indeed."
They fell silent at that, each with his own thoughts, and it was Severus who made an attempt to fill the silence. "Things quiet at work? You've not said a thing about Aurors or Death Eaters today..."
Harry shrugged. "They caught Hypatia Parkinson and Alexander Rosier last week in France somewhere. In the fight, Rosier was killed and then Parkinson killed herself rather than be taken alive, or so the story goes. They managed to keep that one out of the Prophet."
Severus nodded grimly. "That cannot leave many more for your task force to pursue."
"Yeah, not that many. LeStrange, Greengrass, Avery, possibly Yaxley if he actually survived the battle--no body was found. And Mulciber, though we know where he is, we just can't get at him. His mother was apparently from Hong Kong and re-married into a powerful Thai wizarding family. They've got him there and won't give him up, basically." Harry shrugged. "At least he's out of trouble there."
Severus shook his head. "Foolish of Hypatia to kill herself, too. With the leniency Shacklebolt has shown, she would have done a token few years in Azkaban sans Dementors, and that would have been that."
Now it was Harry's turn to nod. "Did you know her? Well, okay, you knew them all somewhat--I know that. But I guess, more important, do you know anything that might help us track down the last few?"
Severus fixed him with a puzzled expression. "I thought you weren't an Auror yet?"
"Well, you know, I figured if you knew something I could say I got an anonymous tip." Harry looked at his tea cup. "I mean, I'm the only one in the department who knows you're alive. I can't go out and round them up, but I can still give information if I have it."
"Ah. Well, I'm sorry to say that between being near-dead for two years and never being well-liked by the other Death Eaters in the first place, I was not close enough to any of them to help you."
Severus set down his cup, then. "And you had best go soon."
"Why?" Harry asked. "Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?"
"Very funny," Severus said, not sounding at all amused at Harry's attempt to imitate Severus' own sarcastic tone. "No, it is best you leave before my resolve crumbles."
"Give me your hand," Severus said. Harry set down his cup and took two steps to close the gap between them. Severus then rubbed Harry's hand against the straining erection in his trousers. Harry almost thought he could feel Severus's pulse right through the cloth. "Next week, I said. Next week, this will be in you."
Harry met his eyes boldly. The flesh under his hand felt alive with desire and he realized he did want it. If it felt anything like that tongue had... he was hardening himself, he realized. "You haven't come yet today," he breathed.
"And I won't," Severus said, getting to his feet and leaning over as if to kiss him, but speaking instead. "The next time I come will be inside you."
Harry bit his lip, but said nothing. Asking if the man meant to give up wanking for a week seemed impertinent and possibly insulting. "All right," he said. "Next week."
The next day in their Monday meeting, Magruder announced that Avery's body had been found in a flat in Newcastle. Judging by the statements of his landlady and housekeeper, he had been using Polyjuice and glamours to hide his true appearance from them. There was no sign of a struggle or any forced entry. The housekeeper had discovered him when he did not come to the door to let her in.
"Could it be some kind of after-effect of being a Death Eater?" Wilkinson asked. "An effect of the Dark Mark or something?"
Magruder sighed. "Looks like I better talk to Malfoy after all."
"To ask about it?" Wilkinson inquired.
Magruder shook his head. "Maybe, but more likely to warn him that one of his former associates may be behind it and ask him which of our outstanding suspects it is most likely to be."
"My money's on Mulciber," said Dawlish from down the table.
"Shacklebolt is going to hate this," Magruder said, "but Robards probably won't." There were nods around the table. If someone else were eliminating their targets, the Head Auror would probably secretly thank them.
Harry found Severus' door closed and locked. He knocked. There was no answer. Suddenly in a panic that what he feared had come to pass, he banged hard on the door, then burst through it with a quick spell.
Empty. The corpse he feared to see was not on the bed. He put his hand over his wildly beating heart and then ran back out into the hall.
He checked the library, the common room, the courtyard. Nothing. Then he went back to the Mediwitch at the front desk and asked if she had any idea where he could have gone. He was told that patients could not leave the grounds so surely he must have fallen asleep somewhere?
They sent the house elves to do a magical search then, and Harry was shocked when the round-eyed creature returned only a few moments later to report that Mister Wulfric was asleep in his room.
He had to go up and see for himself. He Apparated into the corridor, looking up and down at the identical doors. All was quiet. He knocked.
Severus opened the door, looking disheveled and muzzy. "I told you a week," he began.
"I’m not here about that," Harry said. "I came to warn you."
"Warn me?" Severus's eyebrow arched upon his brow. He stepped back to let Harry into the room, but asked, "About what?"
"Avery's dead. Just like Macnair. No sign of a struggle. Could be a coincidence but... we think either there's someone killing off former Death Eaters or maybe there's something about the Dark Mark...?" Harry had paced to the window and he turned around to face Severus. "I was worried that whoever or whatever had got you."
"Apparently," Severus replied, the hint of an amused smile on his face. "Were you so distraught with worry that you knocked down the door to the wrong room?"
"Don't laugh! I was... concerned!"
Severus held up his hands. "I am not denigrating your concern," he said gently. "In fact, I'm touched by it. But... you have to admit it is amusing."
Harry blinked. Had he opened the wrong one? Was he sure that he had seen Severus's room and not one of the others? It was a blur now. He supposed if he really wanted to be sure, he could put the memory in a Pensieve and examine it more carefully--were there potions bottles on the desk? He hadn't looked over there, just at the bed where he'd been so sure he would see something horrible.
He realised Severus was looking at him with a hungry look in his eye. Harry closed the distance between them and rubbed his palm over the bulge in Severus' night shirt. "Do we have to wait a week?"
Severus pulled his hand away, but his chiding voice was mild. "Did you really come here to torment me? Yes, a week. Less than that, now. Now please, I need my sleep to maintain my strength."
"Oh." Harry backed away. "Of course."
Sunday came slowly for Harry. Unlike Severus, who seemed to be pledged not even to wank, Harry wanked himself nearly raw every morning and night.
But not Sunday morning. He had his usual fly around the town, picked up the paper and breakfast, and then left for the sanitorium in mid-afternoon as usual.
The clock in the hall read 2:30 when he knocked on the door, then pushed it open to find Severus asleep on the bed, looking drawn and greenish again. But very much alive. Harry lay down softly next to him, still fully clothed, and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.
The mouth came to life under his, and the kiss quickly deepened. Harry hadn't intended that, hadn't intended to turn it so sexual and wanting with Severus clearly drained.
But then he remembered Severus wanted him just as much as he wanted Severus. He pulled away. "How do you feel?"
"I can hear the disappointment in your voice," came the quiet reply. "It's not as bad as all that. I know you weren't expecting a beauty queen."
Harry swallowed. "But you're..."
"Hush. Your kiss has revived me considerably." He tugged Harry's hand toward his burgeoning erection. "If you can't stand the look of me, I'll blindfold you."
"Oh, er, that won't be... that is..." Harry stuttered uselessly for a few more moments only to find himself growing more redfaced and incoherent.
Severus eyed him levelly. "A blindfold it is, then. You'll thank me for it later."
"Well, but I..."
"Stop worrying and trust me on this, Harry."
Harry let out a breath, a little of his nervousness going with it. "All right."
"Close your eyes," Severus said. Harry did, then heard him moving about, though it didn't feel like he left the bed. Then Harry felt cloth over his eyes. The cloth tightened, then stayed. "Just relax. Let me undress you."
Harry felt sure hands undoing his clothes, encouraging him to lift up, move his arms, and so on, and soon he was not only naked, but quite aroused by all the touches and movements. A sudden wetness met his nipple and he gasped, both hands grasping at Severus' head. He gasped again as the slightest nip of teeth joined in, then disappeared before the velvet softness of tongue and gentle tugs of lips.
Soon he was flat on his back, Severus's mouth still on his nipple, then moving to the other one. The sensations multiplied as two fingers rolled the sensitive flesh between them even as that mouth began to tease the other.
His breath began to catch as the soft, wet mouth next travelled south, past his belly button with soft licks and sucks, and then latched itself eagerly onto his straining cock.
Harry swore. In the times when he and Ginny had tried to re-connect, they'd experimented some with sex. He recalled her bashfully licking his cock once or twice, just enough to make him wish he had the nerve to ask for more, or that she had the nerve to... Severus was swallowing him down, tongue fluttering and undulating as he did so, and for a moment Harry though he might come.
But then Severus was moving on again, pushing at Harry's legs, and now Harry knew what to expect, or thought he did. For once he was correct, and soon that muscular tongue was breaching his hole once again.
He lost himself in the sensation, in the darkness behind his eyelids and the sound of flesh and breathing. His awareness only returned when the tongue was replaced by something more rigid and slender.
"That's my finger," came Severus' voice. "Have you been told that this will hurt? It won't, not if I take my time. Or, not for more than a moment."
Harry could barely muster an answer. "Feels wonderful so far."
He could hear the deep chuckle of amusement. "Good." The finger slid in and out, in and out, the way he supposed that vibrant cock would when the time came. "I didn't know," came Severus' voice, as he prepared and lubricated and stretched him, "that when you insisted that we 'talk,' that the intimacy you craved would move in this direction."
Harry gave a wanton moan, letting the words wash over him.
"I debate at night sometimes, when I cannot sleep, with my conscience, which all too often sounds just like Dumbledore. I worried over the implications of your age, our past history, and... and other matters." He slid two fingers in now, spreading them this way and that as he pumped them in and out of Harry. "But Dumbledore approved of love in all forms, whether physical, spiritual, unrequited, or true. And having been forced to pass by so many opportunities in my former life, I was disinclined to let this one go."
"You think..." Harry's sentence was interrupted by a moan as Severus massaged his prostate between two long fingers. "Dumbledore would have approved?"
"Of this part, at least," Severus said, opening three fingers in him now like a small umbrella, "he would." Severus shifted so that he stood on his knees between Harry's legs. "Put your hand on my cock, now."
Harry propped himself up on one elbow, reaching down with the other hand until it closed over the silky steel. It twitched in his hand and he stroked it until a breathy sound escaped from Severus. Harry smiled at that.
"Guide me toward you," Severus said then, between breaths.
Harry shifted his own body until he felt the blunt end of Severus' cock touch the skin below his balls. "There?"
"Close enough," came the reply, low with amusement. "I just wanted you to be aware of it, rather than surprising you with it."
"I like touching your cock," Harry said, only a slight tinge of pink coming to his cheeks as he said it. It was the truth, after all.
"And my cock likes touching you," Severus replied. "Hush now. I'm going to put it in." Harry felt the wide, soft tip, smoother than the tongue and so much larger than a finger as it slid past his entrance once, twice, then a third time.
And then it stopped and pressed, and pressed, and for a few moments he thought it must be in the wrong place or at the wrong angle or...
"Oh, God!" came Harry's exclamation as Severus' cock went suddenly through the resistance, a dull ache burning for a few moments. But then a hand stroked his cock and all sensations below his navel turned to warm pleasure. "Oh, God..." he repeated, but in an entirely different tone. "Oh, that's... oh..."
And then Severus began to move, pulling back a little, then pressing forward, pulling back a little, then pressing forward, establishing a slow rhythm, a shallow thrust. "And now?" he asked.
"Feels... feels good," Harry answered. "Getting better and better in fact. How does it feel for you?"
Severus said nothing, just fucked him gently for several long moments, and Harry wondered if he was thinking over his answer, or if he would refuse to.
"Pardon me while I try to come up with a description that does not border on cliché," Severus said. "You may just have to try it yourself some time or my description will remain meaningless anyway."
"Oh." Harry tried to imagine his cock buried in slick heat. If it felt better than the blowjob Severus had given, then, yes, he could see how that would be hard to describe.
"I'm going to let go of your cock for a while," Severus said, "and just fuck you. If you want to play with yourself while I do, you can, but I'd like you to hold off coming for a bit."
Harry laughed, one hand patting the blindfold. "I better not touch it then. I'm... this is all pretty overwhelming."
"I want you to enjoy it, Harry."
"Oh, I am."
"Good." With that Severus did as he'd said, bracing himself on both hands and deepening his thrusts.
Harry moaned and clutched the bedclothes, the head of Severus' cock now sweeping past that place he'd tweaked with his fingers. "Oh, fuck, Severus..."
"Almost there, Harry, almost there," came the reply to a question Harry hadn't realised he'd been asking. Then suddenly the hand returned to his cock at the same time Severus' mouth met his, and Harry was coming hard, hot spurts onto his belly, cock and hand crushed between them as they kissed, as Severus' tongue drew pleasure from him even as his cock did the same, spasm after spasm until they were both limp and panting.
Severus's kiss moved to his brow, and then to his sternum as he slid his softening cock free. "Roll toward the wall," Severus said.
Harry did, and found himself being spooned from behind, a blanket pulled over them both. The blindfold came free and he blinked in the afternoon light.
"Just rest," Severus said.
"You too," Harry replied. "You're not supposed to exert yourself."
Severus sighed. "It's really only magical exertion that weakens me. Physical effort is secondary."
"Well, physical effort is... exemplary," Harry said, feeling silly but wanting to say something complimentary. "I feel amazing."
"As do I."
They lay in silence long enough that each thought the other asleep, but then Harry said, "You're really going to disappear? Start all over?"
The answer was immediate and calm. "Have I ever led you to believe I was not sincere about that?"
"Well, no. But if you do... we won't be able to do this again."
"I know. And I regret that."
Harry could hear the sadness in his voice. "You really mean that."
Silence, then a soft reply. "I do. But I think if I could keep myself from growing the slightest bit attached to you all those years I was charged with keeping you alive, that I can hold out a... bit longer. And while it is... gratifying that you no longer hate me, you should not grow attached either. For a thousand reasons."
"Hm," Harry said with a determined frown.
"Hush. One is supposed to enjoy the afterglow and the dreams one gets in the sleep that comes."
Harry woke some hours later. It must have been, since the room was dark, as was the sky beyond the window.
He was alone in the room, and a sudden chill came over him as he realised it.
The chill deepened when he saw the desk, completely clear of potion-making equipment except for one small, dark bottle, and a piece of folded parchment.
As he touched it, his name appeared in a familiar spidery script: Harry James Potter. His full name.
The parchment unfolded and inside were these words:
I don't expect you to understand this now, but one day you will come to appreciate it, I trust. Severus Snape no longer exists. Neither do any of the others who have plagued you and the wizarding world. Well, it is true, Rodolphus Lestrange is still alive in Azkaban as I write this, and Yaxley is, as well. But do not be surprised when Yaxley's body turns up in Scotland (probably tomorrow), just as Avery's did, nor when Lestrange dies in Azkaban (probably tomorrow, as well). I have spared Lucius and Draco Malfoy since you gave them amnesty, and John James Greengrass, who I trust will resurface now that Rabastan Lestrange is dead. I regret there will be no body for your Aurors to recover on that one--things did not go as planned. The bottle contains a few memories for you which should be sufficient proof.
I apologise for using you. Your mind has ever been an open book to me, Harry, and it still is. My plan was always to eliminate the Death Eaters that Kingsley's new world order could not, and then to disappear. Your assistance was not originally part of the plan. But when you fell into my lap (no pun intended), you allowed me to complete my task much more quickly than I had planned. Hence I am departing now.
I was tempted, sorely tempted, to drag my heels solely for the purpose of more time with you, but I fear that you would have only seen that as more exploitation. For my part, it would not have been. I would have worn the blindfold next time if you'd wanted. I wanted you to have a true experience, not tainted by Legilimency. I hope I at least gave you that.
You were kind and indulgent with me when you did not have to be. You assuaged my loneliness and were generous with your own body and feelings. For these things, I thank you.
Your new life, the new life for the wizarding world which you helped to bring about, begins now, too.
"That's some pretty heavy stuff, isn't it," Magruder said, standing in the doorway to the back room where the Pensieve and top secret case files were kept. Scattered across the table were the various parts of Rodolphus Lestrange's testimony.
"Um, yeah," Harry agreed. "I figured I'd just have one more look, since we won't be hearing from him again."
Magruder nodded. "It's the damnedest thing, isn't it?"
With that Magruder left and Harry put the memories swirling in the Pensieve back into their bottle. And then the bottle into his pocket. Because it was not the late Rodolphus Lestrange's memories Harry had been looking at.
Snape's memories explained some things the letter did not, while leaving other things still a mystery. For example, it showed how he'd slipped into Macnair's house, and that he'd poisoned him with a nearly undetectable poison, but not how he'd determined from what he saw in Harry's mind where to find Macnair in the first place.
He had not lied about being weakened by magical exertion. Although it was poison that killed his victims, breaching their defences and hiding himself had sometimes required a great expenditure of magical energy. Just getting to some of the places had required Apparition.
Nowhere was there a memory that explained how he felt about Harry.
Harry put the Lestrange files away and made his way through the Ministry to the Minister's office. It was nearly midnight, which meant none of the usual secretaries or guards were there.
But Kingsley was. Harry stood in the doorway. "He's gone."
Shacklebolt looked up, momentarily startled, but then his brain caught up. "Ah. A bit early, no?"
Harry shrugged. "Thanks for letting me know where to find him. We... made amends."
Kingsley looked at him curiously, but Harry did not flinch. Instead, he put the bottle on Kingsley's desk. "This is why you do not want to launch an investigation into the... random deaths of some former Death Eaters. And why I want a leave of absence."
Now the Minister's eyes darkened. "Where are you planning to take your leave?"
"Thailand," Harry said smoothly. He was sure Snape wouldn't be able to leave a loose end like Mulciber alone. Harry had all the skills of an Auror now--tracking him down in a foreign land was well within the realm of possibility.
"I'll arrange a portkey for tomorrow evening," Kingsley said smoothly. "Good luck, Harry." He stood and they shook hands. "When will you be back?"
Harry shrugged. He didn't know the answer to that question. "When I have closure, I suppose." That could be after one fight, or one fuck, or it could be weeks, or months, or years.
Or never. Start a new life, that was what Snape wanted to do. What he exhorted Harry to do, too. And what could be newer and more different from their old life than exploring love instead of hate for each other? It was an argument he hoped to get a chance to present.